February 27, 2012

Matt Ridley reviews Watermelons by James Delingpole

In short, he likes it and thinks it deserves your attention:

With each passing year it becomes clearer that the cure for global warming is worse than the disease. While wind power and biofuels devastate ecosystems and economies, temperatures and sea levels rise ever more slowly, just as the greenhouse theory — minus feedbacks — predicts. As James Delingpole acutely observes, the true believers are left with a version of Pascal’s wager embodying a ‘dismally feeble grasp of cost-benefit analysis’: that, however unlikely it is, the potential cost of global warming is so high that anything is justified.

[. . .]

In keeping with that tradition, sometimes he goes too far. Before 2009, I had more sympathy for his targets. But the leaked emails of ‘Climategate’ — a word that Delingpole popularised — and the official whitewashes of that episode leave no doubt about the tactics that have been used by the climate orthodoxy to bully doubters and suppress dissent, while raking in money from carbon indulgences. This church deserves a rude Luther.

[. . .]

To Delingpole’s surprise as well as the reader’s, this book is not really about climate change after all. As he digs deeper into the writings of the Club of Rome and their ambitious disciples (such as John Holdren, science adviser to Barack Obama, and Maurice Strong, first director of the UN Environmental Programme, godfather of both the Rio Conference of 1992 and the Kyoto treaty of 1997, and deviser of the Earth Charter to replace the Ten Commandments — who moved to China at the moment that he was implicated in the Iraqi ‘oil for food’ scandal), Delingpole finds he cannot avoid an uncomfortable conclusion:

    Look, when I began researching this book, I thought it was going to be about Climategate and global warming — not some massive international plot to destroy Western Civilisation and replace it with some grisly New World Order based on rationed resources, enforced equality and the return of the barter system. Unfortunately, though, the weight of evidence was against me. So brazenly open are the leading ideologues of the green movement about their plans for New World Order, I’m not even sure the word ‘conspiracy’ properly applies.

The grand green faith has two commandments: that humanity is the problem not the solution; and that international central planning is the solution, not the problem.

BBC: Could Britain still defend the Falkland Islands?

Filed under: Americas, Britain, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:09

The BBC has a then-and-now summary of the military balance in the south Atlantic in 1982 and today:

1982: On the eve of the invasion, there were about 70 Royal Marines stationed on the islands — twice the usual number due to a changeover. They were, in theory, backed up by about 120 local reservists, although only a small proportion reported for duty. HMS Endurance, an Antarctic ice patrol vessel, was the only ship based in the South Atlantic at the time. And there were no fighter jets — none of the island’s airstrips were long enough. The only planes that could land before the war came from Argentina. Supplying the Falklands by sea from Britain took two weeks.

2012: The major difference is the construction of RAF Mount Pleasant, a modern air base housing four Eurofighter Typhoon strike fighters, a Hercules transport plane and VC-10 tanker plane. There are also Rapier missile batteries in several locations. The British garrison numbers 1,200, including 100 infantrymen, with 200 reservists in the Falkland Islands Defence Force. The Royal Navy has a patrol vessel, an auxiliary support ship, and frigate or state-of-the-art destroyer. It’s reported that a British nuclear-powered submarine is in the South Atlantic, but the Ministry of Defence will not discuss operational matters. “It’s quite a considerable deterrent force,” says Peter Felstead, editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly. Military experts believe the islands are now virtually impregnable. Any sign of Argentine invasion and the islands could be quickly reinforced by air.

Just as we established the last time this was up for discussion, Argentina doesn’t have the military forces for a stand-up fight, but if they can take the RAF base in a surprise attack by special forces, Britain probably can’t recapture the islands.

Goodbye and good riddance to the architect of “Canadian Content” media rules

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:28

Marni Soupcoff on the lasting legacy of former CRTC head Pierre Juneau, the mandatory “CanCon” ratio for TV and radio:

Former CBC and CRTC president Pierre Juneau died last week at the age of 89, and the requisite obituaries followed. Almost all of them congratulated Mr. Juneau on his most well-known achievement: having mandated minimum standards for Canadian content on radio and television. It is an unfortunate legacy.

The troubles with CanCon requirements are both moral and practical: It is not simply wrong to try to forcibly engineer a population’s taste in music in television. It is also impossible. People like what they like, and if what they like is Canadian, they will watch and listen to it even absent rules dictating that they must. If what they like isn’t Canadian, rules saturating the airwaves with all the Loverboy ditties in the world won’t make them tune in.

So even if you aren’t bothered by CanCon rules’ violation of freedom of expression, you should at least ask yourself how effective the regulations can possibly be — especially today. More and more people are selecting their music and television shows on their own, now, picking an episode from iTunes here, a free song download from a band’s webpage there. The idea that the nation’s culture can be shaped by mandating the nationality of prime-time content on TV networks and radio stations is as antiquated as it was flawed to start with. And we’re wasting money and time by continuing to force media outlets to comply.

And yes, my Cancon blog category is a backhand at the longstanding regulation.

David Friedman: The boy who cried wolf

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:15

Although it mentions the global warming debate, it’s really more about being skeptical in general:

A number of political commenters have compared the current Republican contestants unfavorably with Barry Goldwater. The current crop, we are told, are religious nutcases, or possibly pretending to be. Goldwater, on the other hand, was an intelligent and reasonable man, even if not on the right side of every issue.

I have been reading my parents’ autobiography, and recently got to the Goldwater campaign. Their description fits my memory. What we were being told then — by people almost none of whom could have done a competent job of explaining Goldwater’s positions or the arguments for them — was that he was a dangerous madman. There was even a piece by some large number of psychiatrists, none of whom had ever examined the candidate, explaining how crazy he was. And the TV ad with the little girl, the countdown, and the mushroom cloud.

[. . .]

I am not competent to judge the climate science behind global warming, but I am suspicious of orthodoxies pushed relentlessly in the popular media, orthodoxies that claim that everyone competent agrees on an urgent problem which requires drastic action immediately if not sooner. I remember when we were being assured that it was simply a scientific fact that overpopulation was the cause of poverty and a near term threat to our own well being, if not survival. Also when we were assured that the only way to get the poor countries of the world up to our level was central planning, if possible supported by generous foreign aid.

When I see news headlines about global warming having shrunk horses to the size of cats, along with a picture comparing a cat sized dog to a modern Morgan — you have to read down a bit to discover that the ancestral horses shrank to the size of cats from the size of dogs, from 12 pounds to 8 1/2 pounds, and spent tens of thousands of years doing it — I suspect that what I am seeing is driven at least as much by what people want other people to believe as by the evidence for believing it.

The dematerialization of the future

Filed under: Economics, Science, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:06

Matt Ridley reviews a new book by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler:

Economic growth is a form of deflation. If the cost of, say, computing power goes down, then the users of computing power acquire more of it for less—and thus attain a higher standard of living. One thing that makes such deflation possible is dematerialization, the reduction in the quantity of stuff needed to produce a product. An iPhone, for example, weighs 1/100th and costs 1/10th as much as an Osborne Executive computer did in 1982, but it has 150 times the processing speed and 100,000 times the memory.

Dematerialization is occurring with all sorts of products. Banking has shrunk to a handful of electrons moving on a cellphone, as have maps, encyclopedias, cameras, books, card games, music, records and letters — none of which now need to occupy physical space of their own. And it’s happening to food, too. In recent decades, wheat straw has shrunk as grain production has grown, because breeders have persuaded the plant to devote more of its energy to making the thing that we value most. Future dematerialization includes the possibility of synthetic meat—produced in a lab without brains, legs or guts.

H/T to Virginia Postrel, who also linked her own article from last year covering a related area:

The hardest economic question is, What comes next? What, in other words, are the new sources of economic value? How can businesses grow and our standard of living rise?

Sometimes the answer is simply more of the same. Growth comes from rolling out existing goods and services to new markets, until there’s a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. This kind of progress may be hard to achieve, but you at least start with a clear notion of what it would look like.

That’s why catch-up economies like China today or South Korea in the past can grow so fast. Their businesses don’t have to figure out what to make or sell. They know what’s possible by looking abroad, and have a reasonable idea of what consumers, local or international, want to buy. Refrigerators and air conditioning are popular; so are shampoo and disposable diapers.

At the economic frontier, the hardest question gets much harder. You no longer have a clear vision of the future. You know neither what’s possible nor what people want. You can only guess. Starbucks or FedEx may sound obvious in retrospect, but they were once crazy ideas.

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