Contributor Post Created with Sketch. When Environmental Protection Laws Enable Pollution


shutterstock_258860813Shortly after my piece “Filtering the Clean Water Act” went up at Hoover’s Defining Ideas, I got an email from Eric Wolinsky, who asked this question:

Lake Champlain has a significant pollution problem caused in large part by runoff from agricultural fields. The current rules require a buffer between crop land and ‘waterways.’ The problem is that there are no required buffers between cropland and ditches that don’t meet the definition of ‘waterways.’ During rains, the runoff enters the ditches, [and then] travels to the ‘waterways’ and on to Lake Champlain. The waterways are buffered, but the ditches are not. The runoff gets to the lake just as if the buffers on the waterways weren’t there.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Oil, Oil, Everywhere But Not A Drop To Burn?


imageIn the last few decades — indeed, in just the last few years — a combination of demand and technology has greatly expanded the amount of oil and gas reserves that can be economically extracted. Unfortunately, cars and industry can’t run off crude oil anymore than freshly-fracked methane, so those raw hydrocarbons are essentially useless until they’ve undergone a myriad of available processes to refine them into useable fuels. The whole reason for the Keystone XL pipeline, after all, is to bring heavy Canadian crude down to the Gulf Coast for refining.

A little over a year ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that American refineries — already the largest in the world — were pushing to increase their capacity at their existing plants, while others energy firms were trying to get into the business, often at a small scale. The results sounded impressive:


Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Is Big Government Worth a Dam?


246-hoover-dam-bypass-4270In his monumental 1957 book Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, the historian Karl Wittfogel proposed the theory of hydraulic empire. He surmised that despotic governments and large-scale irrigation works arose in tandem because only a strong, centralizing power could compel the mass labor required to build and maintain these works. The surpluses of food and wealth resulting from successful irrigation projects conferred legitimacy upon absolute rulers; the mobilization of labor could also be directed toward monumental architecture, increasing their prestige.

Political progressives often cite the Hoover Dam as an example of government defined as “the things we do together” — projects so large that the private sector is incapable of undertaking them. The dam is a key icon of the mythology of the New Deal. In Canada, the Canadian-Pacific Railway holds a similar place in our founding myth. I believe both of these projects were public-private partnerships, but like the irrigation works of antiquity, they are now used to increase the legitimacy and prestige of a centralized, activist government — albeit not a very authoritarian one.


Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. The Impending Darkness


Hard not to be gloomy sadkurtzthese days. Just when you think there’s a chance, a glimmer, it’s gone. Like everything else.

It turns out that not only is the universe going to die a slow cooling death, but we’re not even in an interesting time. On the other hand, the 1980s under the very real Cold War threat and a resurgent Reagan’s America was the most optimistic time I have ever had in my life. The particles were symmetrical, and the Omega point was widely presumed to be a smidge better than one. The internet of cat pictures was just an embryo.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. On IT Evolution and Moore’s Law


ArtificialIntel_8_10_2015-e1439220952351Intel now says that the technological “cadence” of Moore’s Law is “now closer to 2.5 years than two.” Irving Wladawsky thinks that a semiconductor stutter-step could be signaling a new era approaching:

The Cambrian geological period marked a profound change in life on Earth. Before it, most organisms were very simple, composed of individual cells and simple multi-cell organisms sometimes organized into colonies, such as sponges. After a couple of billion years, evolution deemed the cell to be good-enough, that is, it’s continued refinement did not translate into an evolutionary advantage.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. So, What’s the Headline News Today?


Daily-News-headline-newspapersAs you probably know, Google, Facebook, and other news aggregators work very hard to please you. In fact, they’re sort of like the creepiest guy you could imagine dating. (Adapt the simile as appropriate, if you date ladies.)

They study every term you search and think deeply about what it says about you. They remember every link you’ve ever clicked, and they ask themselves, thoughtfully, “What does it mean that she was interested in that?” They keep a list of all your friends. They study what your friends search for and what they click. They know where you live. They know what you buy. They know when you’re sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know when you’ve been good or bad, and they know when you’ve got a touch of the flu.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Look, Up in the Sky! Perseid Meteors, August 12–13


Perseid meteor, 1993-08-13

Every mid-August, the Earth crosses the orbit of Comet 109/P Swift-Tuttle, and as debris from the comet enters the Earth’s atmosphere, meteors will be seen in the night sky with paths pointing back toward the comet’s orbit (the radiant of the meteor shower). As you might expect, for the Perseids this is in the constellation of Perseus which, for observers in temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, will be in the northeast sky in the evening hours, rising higher in the sky as the night progresses. Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but if you trace their paths back, they’ll converge at the radiant (with the exception of sporadic meteors which occur all the time and are unrelated to the meteor shower). You can produce a custom sky chart for your latitude, longitude, and observing time using Your Sky to help locate Perseus.


Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Carly Fiorina Destroys Katie Couric on Climate Change


It’s from May but — just in case you missed it — it’s here for your viewing enjoyment:


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The EPA’s Flawed Clean Coal Plan


shutterstock_296570639“On August 3, President Obama and the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan – a historic and important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants that takes real action on climate change.” So begins the Environmental Protection Agency’s homage to the President and itself. The harder question is whether it is true. On this point, there is a sharp division of opinion between the traditional supporters and traditional detractors of these sorts of measures, with few (if anyone) occupying a middle ground that finds some merit but expresses real concern over the structure and function of the plan. Nonetheless, it is better to back off for the moment from extravagant claims that the end is near if we don’t (or do) embrace this particular plan.

Let’s put aside the EPA’s shaky legal authority and concentrate on the plan itself. A sensible approach divides the regulatory inquiry into two halves. The first asks about the best institutional framework to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs), most notably carbon dioxide. The second asks how to assess, on empirical grounds, the severity of the carbon dioxide problem that the EPA purports to tackle. The EPA falls short on both counts. I shall take them up in order.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Ethical Dilemma


shutterstock_68073163The folks at Planned Parenthood and its defenders are trying to mitigate their public relations nightmare by reminding us that fetal tissue played a vital role in the development of vaccines, including polio. Their main points are:

  • We are doing vital work in saving lives.
  • If you received the vaccination and you don’t have polio you are already an accomplice, so get over it.

Where then, do you draw the line?


Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. How to Insult Friends and Not Influence People


Obama PipelinesIf there is a perfect microcosm of President Obama’s foreign policy, it is the Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed oil pipeline would stretch from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, essentially duplicating pipelines already in existence or under construction. It would deliver much-needed crude oil in a cost-effective way to the great refineries of Texas and Louisiana and — at a stroke — reduce American dependence on hostile foreign sources while also giving an economic boost to America’s closest ally. All this makes Keystone XL the foreign policy equivalent of a no-brainer. The crude will come into America whether or not Keystone XL is approved, either in existing pipelines or via an overstretched rail system. There would simply be less crude and likely at a significantly higher cost. Even if one accepts the global warming theories peddled by the Obama Administration, the crude that would flow through Keystone XL would have only a marginal impact. In a world where China is building coal power plants at a record pace, a few hundred thousand barrels of Canadian heavy crude is dust in the balance.

So why has the Obama Administration blocked Keystone XL since almost the moment it entered office? While the issue is a minor one in domestic politics, it is of disproportionate importance to a small group of Democratic donors. These wealthy activists have accepted the tenets of the Greenista creed and regard industrial civilization with contempt. They do not view the extraction of resources – or the constructions of great pieces of infrastructure – as tools that allow ordinary people to live richer and better lives. They view industrial civilization as a threat to the goddess Gaia; the common man be damned.


Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Controlling The Narrative: Climate Change


It’s always interesting to watch how the media tailor news to support their favored agenda, and The Washington Post provided an excellent example just last week. Written by Chris Mooney, “Alaska’s scorched summer” carried the subtitle “A state already affected by climate change has seen 5 million acres – an area larger than Connecticut – burned by wildfires.” The article continued on to the last page of the front section, where it took up the entire page.

Mooney is an environment and energy reporter for the Post. He is also author of the best-selling The Republican War on Science, writes frequently on the importance of the proper framing for narratives in support of his views on environmental issues, and is a prime example of what Instapundit refers to as “Democratic operatives with bylines.” He is a man with a mission to convince you to take action.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Ron Bailey: The Anti-Malthusian


As conservatives, we’re dispositionally inclined to worry about the things we might lose — or have already lost — and it sure feels like we’ve been on the losing side of things of late. And, heck, even if all goes well in 2016, it’s going to be devilishly difficult to undo the damage that’s been done. In short, there’s no shortage of legitimate reasons to feel down about some very important issues.

On the other hand, there’s also plenty of reason for optimism and hope, and Ron Bailey’s new book The End of Doom showcases some of the most promising trends of the next century. Specifically regarding population growth, access to commodities such as food and energy, medical advances, and the likelihood that we’ll be able to adapt to innovate our way out of the challenges of Climate Change.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Die Gedanken sind frei, But That’s About it


Privacy-spyThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Kentucky ruled this week that a person who dials another party by sitting on his cell-phone doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy if he is overheard.

In what is presumed the first “butt dial” ruling in a federal court, Judge Danny J. Boggs found that what you say over your cell phone is equivalent to standing naked in front of your bedroom window and expecting passersby not to sneak a peek:


Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. I, Robot, Am Not Taking Over any Time Soon


NoRobots-300x277In “Conservatives are Too Quick to Dismiss the Rise of the Robots,” James Pethokoukis worries that whereas in the past, technology has given rise to new jobs to replace those lost to innovation, this time it may be different.

James provides us with an excellent specimen of the kind of thinking that constantly causes macroeconomists, politicians, and other self-styled high-level thinkers to make serious errors when analyzing changes to economies and human societies. I’m not picking on James, who’s an otherwise excellent analyst, but on this error, which is so common that it really needs to be discussed.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Introducing: The Tone Analyzer


IBM Watson has sent out a press release, herewith dutifully reproduced by Gizmodo:

Taking a break from treating cancer and making cocktails, IBM’s Watson is now turning its attention to how people write. The supercomputer has been trained to judge the tone in people’s written messages—and can even give feedback about how to change it.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Red, White, and Pluto


At the very moment the New Horizons probe whizzed past Pluto, something rather beautiful happened at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, from where the craft is controlled (click “read on” to see it):


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. You’re From The Government? Come In!


shutterstock_148619159“Encryption” generally conjures up images of clandestine communication between spies, saboteurs, hackers, and the mildly paranoid, often typing away furiously on a keyboard in a dark room until someone says “I’m in!”

The truth, however, is far more mundane. Almost everyone in the West — and certainly everyone reading this — uses some kind of encryption technology on a weekly, if not daily, basis. You may not be aware that you’re using it, but you’re using it nonetheless. If you like buying things on Amazon, doing your banking from home, or paying your bills from your computer, you rely on ubiquitous, relatively inexpensive, and strong encryption. Companies also use it in a myriad of other, equally mundane, ways that are essential to their business. Encryption makes the world go ’round.


Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Misremembering History: The Scopes Monkey Trial


Rather than the often repeated adage that the victors write the history of an event, the story of anything is actually determined by the unswerving adoption of one version of it, and the telling of that version by a determined cadre of writers. In time, the version with the most persistent adherents becomes the “truth.” – David & Jeanne Heidler in Henry Clay: The Essential American (2010)

I still recall my entire family getting in the car for the drive to Hartford, Connecticut. It was the late 1950s, and my father was taking us to pick up a monkey. My father had a small role as an Italian organ-grinder in a play put on by a local community theater group. The director wanted to use a prop monkey, but dad insisted on the real thing. We housed that monkey for the next week; I remember it as nasty and mean-tempered, but the audience loved it and my father in his bit part (he always had a knack for showmanship). The play was Inherit The Wind. Last week was the 90th anniversary of the start of the trial (July 10, 1925) on which the play was based, an event that became popularly known as the Scopes Monkey Trial.


Contributor Post Created with Sketch. How are Tech-Libertarians Made?


180px-Nolan_chartJohn Walker left this comment in yesterday’s thread about modifying the Constitution:

One of the reasons operating system designers of my age tend to be the harder-edged kind of libertarians or anarchists is that we have seen, from our own experience, how top-down systems which try to plan and allocate resources among competing interests fail, in the same ways, every time they are tried. Set up a cost in which there is one or more step functions, and you will, in short order, see all kinds of schemes to game the system and unintended (though entirely predictable) consequences emerge. To operating system designers, a large amount of the dysfunction in social welfare schemes and phenomena such as the explosion of part-time work after the adoption of Obamacare were entirely foreseeable, because we’ve seen it all before.