Archive for April, 2009

Jacoby strikes… out… Part 2
April 29, 2009

Jeff Jacoby, a conservative Boston Globe columnist, wrote a column the other day castigating the call for automobiles with higher fuel efficiency (The Lion’s response is here).

Today he comes back with his promised Part 2 to prove his case that high fuel efficiency leads to greater demand for oil.

Some samples:

"It seems obvious that rising efficiency in cars, furnaces, and lawn mowers should, in the aggregate, significantly curb demand for energy," write Peter Huber and Mark Mills in "The Bottomless Well," their perceptive 2005 book on the supply, demand, and pricing of energy. "Sad to say, however . . . efficiency doesn’t lower demand, it raises it."

Why? Because improvements in fuel economy effectively make fuel less expensive, and when costs fall, demand tends to rise. As driving has grown cheaper in recent decades, people have done more of it – choosing to drive to work instead of taking the bus, for example, or buying a second car, or moving to a house with a longer commute, or sending the kids to college with cars of their own. Between 1983 and 2001, data from the Energy Information Administration show, the number of annual vehicle-miles driven by the average American household rose from 16,800 vehicle-miles to more than 23,000.

And…

This counterintuitive phenomenon – greater efficiency leads to greater consumption – is sometimes called the Jevons Paradox, after the 19th-century mathematician who first articulated it. In his 1865 book, "The Coal Question," Jevons explained that more efficient use of coal would increase the demand for coal. "It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption," he wrote. "The very contrary is the truth."

Does this mean you shouldn’t drive a more fuel-efficient automobile? Not at all: If you crave better mileage or you want to make an environmental statement or you think a hybrid can save you money, by all means get a more efficient car. Just don’t expect to see fuel consumption decrease. New technology is often wondrous, but that’s one miracle it can’t perform.

Well, of course cheaper fuel increases demand. But Jacoby leaves out a major factor in the demand increase in the United States.

Note this:

…Congress enacted the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in 1975, following the Arab oil embargo. At the time, US oil imports amounted to a little more than one-third of consumption. Today we import two-thirds. After more than three decades of CAFE standards, heightened environmental awareness, and steady improvements in fuel efficiency and engine technology, America’s demand for oil is greater than ever. In 1975, highway fuel consumption amounted to 109 billion gallons, according to the Federal Highway Administration. By 2006 it had climbed to 175 billion.

What Jacoby conveniently doesn’t mention in his columns is that the population of the United States since 1975 has increased by about 100,000,000 people(that’s one hundred million for the numerical illiterates). But of course that had nothing to do with increasing demand, did it, Jacoby? Three hundred million people use a hell of a lot more oil than two hundred million. That fact seems to have escaped Jacoby.

If the population had remained stable across this period at about two hundred million, and truly efficient autos had been put fully into play, yes, demand would likely have increased as people a) drove somewhat more and b) new uses were found for oil. But Jacoby chalks up the entire increase in demand to the outdated and pretty much ignored CAFE standards of 1975 and to increased fuel efficiency.

In fact it’s not unlikely that had the government  insisted on highly fuel efficient vehicles back then (when the rest of the world was already way ahead of American auto manufacturers in that regard) we might have had considerably lower demand across the decades since 1975, despite the growth of population and technology.

Let’s us all pause a moment to reflect on President Ronnie Raygun ordering that the solar panels be ripped off the roof of the White House in a fit of Republican Conservatism. He also ended the tax credits President Carter had created to encourage the use of solar energy. Reagan thus crippled the solar energy industry for decades. Reagan’s actions resulted from the sort of thinking that Jacoby apparently admires. The United States and the world are today paying a horrible price for what Conservative Republicans… oh, hell, any Republican… call ‘thinking’.

Jacoby’s agenda is typically Conservative. Let’s not change anything, let’s ignore science and evidence, let’s ignore inconvenient facts, and let’s go back to the good old days when white men ruled, greed was good, and everybody knew their place, and nothing would ever change, and God would save the world for rich white people.

Yes, and let’s bring back hand-pumped fire wagons to save our homes and cities from the flames. The Lion is sure that Jacoby will be only too happy to volunteer.

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Nixon And Reagan Committed Treason, Republicans Are Scum, Democrats Are Wimps. See America Crumble From The Weight Of Republican Scum.
April 27, 2009

Get this story here.

A tip of the hat to Miss Linda for the link. (There, you happy now, you got a credit. That and two bucks will get you a cuppa joe.)

Atheists Live Better Than Religionists
April 26, 2009

Today’s Globe offers a look at atheism versus religionism (okay, for you purists, theism), and we atheists look pretty damn good.

A sample…

The few studies that did treat nonbelief seriously offered tantalizing hints that to look only at religiosity was to miss an important part of the spectrum of human belief. One study conducted in 1985 by German psychologist Franz Buggle and his colleagues suggests that neither religion nor irreligion has a monopoly on improving people’s mental health. Among 174 people surveyed, it found that two groups enjoyed the lowest scores on a scale of depression: the most pious Christians and the convinced atheists. Those in the middle, the lukewarm believers, were most likely to be depressed. In 2005, a team at Newcastle University in Britain reported a similar result.

More recently, Karen Hwang, a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, decided to examine atheists at risk for depression more closely. Hwang’s interviews with atheists suffering from spinal cord injuries revealed how becoming debilitated strengthened their convictions, and their convictions strengthened them. "It doesn’t matter so much what a person believes in," she says, "but how consistent and cohesive their worldview is."

And…

One of the banner carriers for the new research is Zuckerman, the Pitzer College sociologist. His new book, "Society without God," offers a revealing portrait of irreligion in Denmark and Sweden, countries where paltry levels of church attendance coincide with economic prosperity, low crime, and abounding quality of life. These nations challenge the claim that piety is a prerequisite for a healthy society, but Zuckerman also takes care not to go too far in the other direction. "People think I’m arguing that secularity causes good social outcomes, and that’s not necessarily the case," he says.

Too bad the article doesn’t mention the bogus ‘prayer at a distance’ studies the religionists love to lie about. Kind of in the same category as those bogus human footprints alongside dinosaur footprints they love to brag about. What is it about religion that encourages practitioners to lie and deceive when it comes to promoting their delusions? Maybe it’s the only way they can create a ‘consistent and cohesive’ worldview?

One would expect atheists to live better lives than religionists. Atheists aren’t encumbered by unprovable, untestable beliefs in massive contradictions and deceptions, nor need they worry about being judged by some narcissistic, arrogant psychopath now or after death. Let’s see, should we choose to live in reality, or should we choose to live a neurotic delusion? Getting god(s) out of your life is like cleaning out the attic, the basement, and the bedroom closet all at once.

Anyway, score one for the atheists. At least the psych and sociology boys are doing some serious studies.

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Jeff Jacoby strikes… out… again.
April 26, 2009

Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist who writes for the Boston Globe and pretends that he’s a smart guy, continues his crusade against science and reason with a column today praising the benefits of cheap gasoline.

He calls the environmentalists’ call for higher gas prices, as a way to reduce the use of gasoline and cut emissions of greenhouse gasses, a minority view. Which it may well be. It may also well be a useful tool in the war to save civilization.

Jacoby has written before that he doesn’t believe global warming has anything to do with human activities, and cites selective sources who agree with him without noting that they are at best a tiny number of people, and none with credibility among serious climate scientists.

But, to be perfectly clear, here’s the last four graphs of his column.

Most Americans don’t regard automobiles as a blight and don’t blame human activity for global warming, so it goes without saying that most of them don’t want fuel prices to rise. For those who do believe that cars are a curse and climate change is caused by people, however, it makes perfect sense to call for more expensive gasoline.

Raise the price of something high enough and you invariably lower the demand for it. That’s why last year’s sharp spike in gas prices resulted in fewer cars on the highways and a plunge in miles driven. If your goal is fewer SUVs, less solo driving, and lower carbon-dioxide emissions, inflicting European-level gasoline prices on American motorists is a pretty good strategy. Conversely, it is hypocritical – or at least illogical – "to say you care deeply about global warming and advocate for the price of gas to go down," as AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson told Newsweek last year. "Those are mutually exclusive concepts."

And yet advocating for the price of gas to go down is essentially what environmentalists are doing when they clamor for higher-mileage cars. All other things being equal, raising fuel efficiency lowers the cost of driving. As Secretary Chu correctly told the House committee last week, "encouraging fuel-efficient cars" is one means of "reducing the price of transportation." But cheaper driving means more driving, and more driving means more energy use, more cars on the road, more demand for highways, more drilling for oil – all the things environmentalists abhor.

If greens and global-warmists really want the US automotive fleet to use less energy, they should clamor for cars that get lower mileage. Crazy, you say? Surely no crazier than $8-a-gallon gas.

Somehow Jacoby trips over his logic, or failure thereof. Again. It’s a trick he employs often.

Take a car that gets twenty miles a gallon. Put one gallon in it. It will go twenty miles and cost two dollars at today’s gas price.

Now wave your magic Harry Potter Wonder Wand and make the same car twice as efficient. It will now run forty miles on one gallon of gas for the same two dollars. Yes, the cost of driving is lower – the cost of gas per mile.

What that car won’t do is increase the loading rate of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, even though you drive it twice as far, all else being equal. It will still use one gallon of gas, for forty miles, and put a gallon’s equivalent of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. It won’t reduce emissions but it will do only half the damage for twenty miles of use that Jacoby’s low mileage favorite would. Hardly something that environmentalists would abhor.

Nor does Jacoby offer any proof that people will drive twice as far just because they can. Maybe they’ll only drive ten extra miles instead of the full twenty available, thus reducing emissions for that particular gallon of gas.

But Jacoby wants us to ignore a planetary crisis and keep building gas hogs in America. Meanwhile, Europe builds cars that routinely get forty to fifty miles a gallon while Jacoby apparently wants to pamper an American industry that creates a market for big, inefficient cars and then panders to it.

Perhaps the question we need to put to Mr. Jacoby is ‘When will you stop taking payments from Exxon to do their dirty work?’

But The Lion suspects that Jacoby just isn’t smart enough to milk Exxon and its friends, and is doing their deadly propaganda work for free.

The Lion hopes that Jacoby has taught his children to swim. They’ll need to be able to swim when Boston is under ten or twenty feet of water, quite possibly by the end of the century, if not decades sooner. And they’ll need good lungs too, to curse the blindness and stupidity of their father.

But perhaps The Lion judges Jacoby too harshly. He bills today’s effort as the first of two columns. Maybe the second column will… On the other hand, given what he’s put out there before on all sorts of matters, The Lion doubts that it is possible to judge Jacoby too harshly.

Kellogg’s Sweet Lies And Why America Tortures
April 21, 2009

“How sweet it is!” was the cry of Jackie Gleason as his stage personas wended their way through the trials of life.

Kellogg Company, the cereal sweeties, tried the same thing and got spanked by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising.

Some tidbits from the story from Bloomberg in today’s Globe:

The Federal Trade Commission said the settlement bars Kellogg, based in Battle Creek, Mich., from making unsubstantiated health claims about Frosted-Mini Wheats or other products.

The company agreed not to misrepresent the results of scientific tests, the FTC said.

The FTC said that in ads and on packaging Kellogg asserted the attentiveness of children who ate Frosted Mini-Wheats at breakfast increased by almost 20 percent. The FTC said the clinical study Kellogg cited in the ads found that only half the children who ate the cereal showed any improvement in their attentiveness.

"It’s especially important that America’s leading companies are more attentive to the truthfulness of their ads and don’t exaggerate the results of tests or research," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.

"We stand behind the validity of our clinical study, yet have adjusted our communication to incorporate FTC’s guidance," Kellogg said in a statement.

Summing up, Kellogg lied in the commercials they put before the public. They lied to increase their sales and profits. They obviously did not care what harm might have been done.

And they got caught.

But look at what the FTC said in the next-to-last paragraph. Go ahead, read it.

Talk about mealy mouth spankings. Talk about going all around the forest to avoid calling a tree a tree. Wassamatta, Leibowitz, afraid you might cost some politician some corporate donations?

And Kellogg’s reply? Beneath the corporatese, it sounds like this:

“We lied and got caught, but we will never admit it. We still claim the study we lied about was legitimate in the way we said it was, despite the proven evidence that it was not what we said it was. So we’re not gonna say we did anything wrong, but we’ll change our misleading ads because those psychos at the FTC caught us lying and cheating.”

Rest assured, America, Kellogg Company will find another way to lie to you about its products, and your faithful government watchdog will find another way to let them off the hook and to let them lie about that. That’s what corporations do, and that’s what the government lets them do, especially governments run by Republicans and Conservatives.

That torturous bit of legerdemain by the FTC and Kellogg is the tip of the iceberg for the reason why the United States tortured people these last several years and why the torturers, their enablers in the medical and psychological and legal professions, and the bosses, including the President of the United States, are getting away with it.

How many times have you read in the papers, or heard on the news that Corporation X lost a legal action, and then proudly proclaimed that although they paid a fine they admitted no wrongdoing? Time and time again the corporations get away with screwing the public, indeed killing any number of people in some cases (tires, cigarettes, what have you), get caught, and get to shout that they did nothing wrong.

Cozy little deals get worked out between the judges and the opposing lawyers, and the deals are sealed, and the public gets reamed.

The torture debate sounds a lot like that in Washington these days.

Let’s not get confused. Torture is a crime under American law and international law. There is no question of that. And there is no question that agents of the United States government, acting on orders of the people running that government, tortured people. Lots of people. Killed a bunch of them in custody, too.

The people involved in the American torture program are depraved. They had a moral choice to make, they were free to make that choice, and they chose to torture.

There is no question that the acts they performed were torture. There can be no question that they knew they were torturing, unless they were, each and every one, incredibly stupid and virulently mentally defective. By their own admission, the torturers waterboarded one man 183 times in a month. That’s six times a day for a month. To paraphrase Rachel Maddow on the claimed effectiveness of this particular torture, it apparently didn’t work the first 182 times.

And the depravity extended, indeed could be said to have begun and been generated from the President and Vice-President of the United States, and was covered up by an ethically and morally corrupt, and depraved, Department of Justice. It extended down through the bureaucracy of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military.

All of these people should be prosecuted. All should stand public trial. And every one found guilty should be locked away from the public until they are too feeble to bother anyone except the nurses who would clean up their drool in cheap nursing homes.

But now our latest President and his henchmen have decided to apply the Kellogg treatment. Despite the clarity of the law, despite the clarity of the obligation to prosecute, Obama will not countenance it. He will not even consider it. Not for the bloody-handed agents, not for the bloody-minded officials. Obama would allow them to walk away and claim that they did nothing wrong, that they acted on orders (tell it to the Nazis the Americans hung for making the same claim to cover their evils), that they did it for God and Country.

Those who carried out the most depraved and morally reprehensible acts that any government or institution can command will get to keep their jobs, their salaries, their pensions, their government perks. They get to walk around free in your neighborhood and talk to your children.

The American hypocrisy continues, under the banner of hope and change.

No country should, in any matter, trust the United States or the word of its top officers until the American house has been cleansed of the foul stench of torture, and purged of the people who sanctioned torture and the people who committed the acts of torture.

Until that cleaning is done the United States must be considered a nation that tortures people, no matter what its officials claim. Without an official accounting, without prosecutions and unbiased justice being meted out, the United States must be considered a rogue nation, a pariah, a mecca, if you will, of government sanctioned evil.

Boston Globe Slits Own Throat; Lion Grumpy And Morose; Life Goes On
April 8, 2009

Scott Lehigh, columnist for the Globe, today asked for ideas from readers on how the Globe could continue to live, especially how it could make money from its website.

The Lion’s response:

Mr. Lehigh,

I currently pay $442 a year at the newsstand for the Globe, which is actually cheaper than the subscription rate. I considered dropping it when the price went to a dollar for the daily.

After reading your column today I noted a box on another page saying that on May 4 the out-of-town newsstand price would go to $1.50 and $3.50, for $650 a year. And although the subscription price would remain the same, since there is no guarantee the Globe will remain in business, and since I know the hassles involved in getting my credit card out of a failed business’s system, and since it is likely that the subscription price will go up, I will have no incentive to continue paying for the Globe after May 4, if it survives that long.

While I much prefer to get my news from rustling pages of a reliable newspaper, I can just as easily get it from the web, for free, from any number of newspapers around the world. I will, of course, lose local coverage for Massachusetts, other than what comes on the television, NPR, or the local rag.

Two points:

1) If the Globe wants to retain subscribers, raising the price isn’t the way to do it. If it wants to add subscribers it should be dropping the price. Advertisers pay for eyes. Cutting out eyes merely exacerbates the death spiral.

2) I’ve always felt a newspaper has a duty and responsibility to the community, to the citizenry, to the voters, and that that duty preempts shareholder and owner expectations of profit. Corporate conglomeration of newspapers, in search of profit from a business that was never designed to generate other than a modest profit at best, has pretty much destroyed the business and undercut the practice of democracy.

The May 4 increase will likely be little more than the final knell of the Globe’s death march.

-30-

For Philly Chief And Other College Grads From Back When…
April 2, 2009

The Providence Journal published this piece of my mind long ago. My tribute to my Ivy League education… 🙂

The Working World of a Kelly Boy

"Hi!" I say in my gruffest voice when I arrive at a new workplace. "I’m your Kelly Girl."

It gets a laugh but I think the beard gives me away.

Being a temp sums the soul of my working life.

A rebellious understanding of the world of work started in high school, with my first real job, at Woolworth’s. (My newsboy job that won me a trip to Italy doesn’t count; nobody was constantly breathing over my shoulder.)

Woolworth’s dour manager took me on as a stock boy for $1.25 an hour. Now wealthy, now a real American with a place in mainstream society, I opened a savings account and eagerly looked forward to a mortgage someday. Then three things happened which set the stage for my real life in the American workplace.

Every morning I had to sweep the sidewalk with a push broom. No problem. Except I liked to sweep with one hand on the broom. More fun, more rhythm, and the sidewalk got just as clean. The boss yelled at me, "Use two hands! How do you think it looks, what you’re doing?!"

Then one day everybody was in a tizzy because the Big Boss from Boston was visiting. The manager even introduced me. Well, BB never cracked a smile, he had the coldest blue eyes ever seen outside a detective novel, and his handshake was as warm and lively as a two-day-old dead fish. "That’s a very successful man," the stockroom supervisor told me. I think his eyes glistened.

The final lesson of that job nearly cost me an arm. At the end of each day I had to clean the grill and cooking area. One day at home I caught my finger in a door and tore off a fingernail. When I explained to the boss that cleaning a food preparation area was not the best way to keep nasty little bacteria out of the injury, he said sympathetically, "Maybe we’ll have to get someone else if you can’t do the job."

Being adolescent and stupid, I thought the job more important than my health, so I continued to clean the grill. I got a septicemic infection. The doctor said if I had waited another day I’d have lost the arm. When I told the boss about it, he had already decided to fire me. So I quit, and those three weeks began a delightfully tortured journey through the world of work.

I’ve had more jobs than the New Age movement has oddballs. You name it, I’ve probably done it. Locksmith, waiter, dining-room host, reporter, news photographer, stockroom clerk (again), administrative assistant, legal administrator, computer-system manager, factory line worker (day and a half), parking lot attendant, electronic technician, technical writer, interviewer, laborer, warehouse worker, retail clerk, lab assistant, taxi driver, short-order cook, advertising writer, advertising salesman, juvenile corrections guard, movie ticket clerk and usher, office clerk, typist, data entry clerk, house cleaner, janitor, painter, and landscape laborer. There’s probably more but I can’t remember.

The only thing I’m fit for is writing.

After years of trying to be a regular, mainstream American worker, I ended up going to work for a temp agency.

Loved it.

What’s great about short-term temping is that I go in as a hero because somebody is out sick, or there’s a ton of work that just has to be done right now, and then I leave before anyone has a chance to see my warts.

I worked as an office temp once before for several months, even gaining recognition as an outstanding worker, but even that was temporary. Somehow I landed a real job with a fast-moving company. I got to play a lot with computers, which I really liked doing, as well as doing a lot of administrator stuff.

I said, "Richie, me boy, you’ve finally found something to stick with. You might even become a stable, steady working man, a credit to America."

I had said something like that both times I got married. Family man and all that. Six weeks for the first one, year for the second.

Well, after two and a half years, just when the job was getting tedious, I got sick. Really sick. Stayed sick for two years, lost the job.

So now I’m Kelly Girling again. I try to make it fun, and not stay at one place too long. Work is all so serious, and I just can’t take it seriously. It seems mostly to involve moving pieces of paper from one place to another until they end up in a drawer where no one, ever, will look at them. Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as adding up to a meaningful third of my life. Not too joyful, either.

I think the only thing I would not get bored with is news work, but I’m an old guy now, and the few news jobs around want young hotshots fresh out of J school.

When I was a reporter I was too young to realize why I liked the work. Something different happened all the time and I was the first to know. I was at the teletype when the first flash rang in on Kennedy’s assassination. On a typical day I might work an auto accident, a flower club show, a defense contractor’s office opening, court cases, and police, fire, and Coast Guard reports. I was forever meeting new people and learning something new, instead of going over the same ground day after day.

I’ve kept on learning but nobody wants to pay me for that, so I’ll keep on temping.

Ah, well, maybe I’ll be poor when I die, but at least I’ll be young from all the learning. My epitaph might read, "Here Lies A Kelly Boy, Born To Temp."