August 27, 2014

#ClimateChange alarm — new secular #Puritanism? New #socialism? Maybe not

While I generally agree with the idea that we should be climate change alarmists, even as we learn new threats to our climate, like methane vents and hydrates far south of the Arctic, nonetheless, while not calling climate change worries "socialism," I think Charles Mann is onto something.

Mann, in a long new piece in the Atlantic, talks about doing a better job of communicating climate change. As author of "1491" and "1493," he's arguably a climate historian in small part, therefore has a legitimate "standing" to talk.

That said, first, a few concerns. No. 1, I think to some degree he overestimates the willingness to dialogue of many deniers, "skeptics," and people halfway in that neighborhood.

That said, he's right to note that putting this issue in terms of economics and cost-benefit analysis is bound to fail, because how can we price out something like, say, being unable to grow corn in Texas in 2100, at least like we do today? That itself doesn't go far enough. It still buys into the neoliberal conceit that everything is reducible to cost-benefit analysis.

Example 1? This, about leading "New Environmentalism" neoliberal William Nordhaus:

Nordhaus provides graphs (!) showing how a gradually increasing tax—or, possibly, a market in emissions permits—would slowly and steadily ratchet down global carbon-dioxide output. The problem, as he admits, is that the projected reduction “assumes full participation.” Translated from econo-speak, “full participation” means that the Earth’s rich and populous nations must simultaneously apply the tax. Brazil, China, France, India, Russia, the United States—all must move in concert, globally cooperating.
Problem is, as the European Union has shown, there's a huge difference between a tax and emissions permits. If he can't grasp that, then, yeah, he's going to be a sucker for Nordhaus-style environmental neoliberalism. (Mann also ignores that cost-benefit analysis conservatives, and many neolibs, in the public policy sector have done only mild lifting, if that, for a carbon tax.)

Mann does mildly chide Nordhaus thinking later on, but not nearly enough.

Where does, say, Yellowstone National Park fit into that? If it does, it's a lot more pricey than Nordhaus will admit, if the Colorado River basin is worth as much as $500 billion — per year. More from High Country News, here, on how that was derived. Also from HCN, what price do you put on still-traditional Alaska Natives traditional style of life?

That said, the piece isn't all bad. And, the "good" part, per the first paragraph and the header, is near the bottom.

But, there's more than that.

This graf, which shows that environmentalism wasn't always liberal, is our real starting point:
The bet demonstrated little about the environment but much about environmental politics. The American landscape first became a source of widespread anxiety at the beginning of the 20th century. Initially, the fretting came from conservatives, both the rural hunters who established the licensing system that brought back white-tailed deer from near-extinction and the Ivy League patricians who created the national parks. So ineradicable was the conservative taint that decades later, the left still scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. At the University of Michigan, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day, in 1970, as elitist flimflam meant to divert public attention from class struggle and the Vietnam War; the left-wing journalist I. F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.” By the 1980s, businesses had realized that environmental issues had a price tag. Increasingly, they balked. Reflexively, the anticorporate left pivoted; Earth Day, erstwhile snow job, became an opportunity to denounce capitalist greed.

And, from there, we move to the worries about "socialism." As someone who often votes for Green Party candidates, but isn't a registered Green, I think Mann is about 60 percent right.

The so-called "Gang Green" environmentalists got in bed with industry after Bill Clinton's election, after all.

But, beyond the idea that modern environmentalism is a new socialism, maybe Mann is right that it's a new Puritanism.

He focuses on Bill McKibben, rimshotting off Paul Ehrlich of 1970s fame.
To stoke concern, eco-campaigners like Bill McKibben still resort, Ehrlich-style, to waving a skeleton at the reader. Thus the first sentence of McKibben’sOil and Honey, a memoir of his climate activism, describes 2011–12, the period covered by his book, as “a time when the planet began to come apart.” Already visible “in almost every corner of the earth,” climate “chaos” is inducing “an endless chain of disasters that will turn civilization into a never-ending emergency response drill.”
 The only solution to our ecological woes, McKibben argues, is to live simpler, more local, less resource-intensive existences—something he believes is already occurring.
To that, Mann responds with this riposte:
Poppycock, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner in effect replies in The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse. A best-selling, telegenic public intellectual (a species that hardly exists in this country), Bruckner is mainly going after what he calls “ecologism,” of which McKibbenites are exemplars. At base, he says, ecologism seeks not to save nature but to purify humankind through self-flagellating asceticism. 
 To Bruckner, ecologism is both ethnocentric and counterproductive. Ethnocentric because eco-denunciations of capitalism simply give new, green garb to the long-standing Euro-American fear of losing dominance over the developing world (whose recent growth derives, irksomely, from fossil fuels). 
While we don't need 2 billion sub-Saharan Africans lusting after 8 ounces of beef a day from farting, belching, climate-damaging cows, there is, much more than with China, the issue of asking others to wear the hair shirt. That's especially true because, perhaps even more than with Peak Oil, we stand to lose more than them from climate change.

That said, Mann had easier targets than McKibben, albeit less-known ones, James Kunstler comes immediately to mind as a nutbar.

Jevons' Paradox comes tangentially into play, and that's that the Western world will also adjust its energy use to new technologies and modes of production. In other words, if those LED lights save electricity, people will use it elsewhere.

However, just when I think the piece is good, overall, even if bumpy?

It gets better, but still bumpy.

Mann warns us that the idea of geoengineering may raise its head up enough to draw more airplay — and more legitimate alarm.
A single country could geo-engineer the whole planet by itself. Or one country’s geo-engineering could set off conflicts with another country—a Chinese program to increase its monsoon might reduce India’s monsoon. “Both are nuclear weapons states,” (David) Keith reminds us.
Let's hope it doesn't get that bad. 

August 26, 2014

Yes, the Angels can sign Bartolo Colon

Mike DiGiovanna at the LA Times bloviates that the L.A. Angels can't sign Bartolo Colon without going over the lux tax of $189 million next year.


Looking at Cots Contracts for the basics of 2015 Angel overhead, here we go.

The Angels have $123M committed next year. Colon would make it 134. Huston Street's option goes to $141M. There's what, $12M or so that each team owes MLB for pensions, etc. annually, that counts toward the lux tax? (I'm not exactly sure what the 2014 number is, but it was just under $11M for 2013.) That's $153M now. David Freese on his final arbitration year? We'll say that's at $6M for $159M on our count. Other arb cases, by my math, come in at $17M, on a rough guess, for $176M. Let me add $4M, or a bit over 2 percent, to take that up to $180M.

Others? Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher are gone, if necessary. Even with minor league call-ups, the Angels are below $189M for next year. Other small free agents, like John McDonald, also will be let go.

Plus, if any MLB player is traded for Colon, his pay comes off that total, remember.

It would be tight, yes, but very doable.

August 25, 2014

Is #TigerWoods even closer to the end of his career?

He has now split up with his latest swing coach, Sean Foley. Per the ESPN story, Foley improved slightly on Tiger's accuracy length, but at the cost of a dozen yards in distance.

Now, Woodsaholics will likely claim that that loss is all due to Tiger's injury. I doubt it. Even before his year of injuries, Tiger was becoming ever more reluctant to use driver except when really needed. That is part of the distance loss — and part of the accuracy gain. Unfortunately, ESPN didn't do the smart thing, combine accuracy and distance under an already existing stat — greens in regulation.

That said, since Tiger is leaving the clubs totally aside until December, there's no way he can get a new swing under his belt for next year's Masters. On the other hand, Golf Channel says that sorting out his swing might have been part of why Tiger announced his planned long layoff.

That next coach won't be a reunion with Butch Harmon, who wasted no time in a peremptory no.

We know it won't be Haney, either. That said, "damaged goods" aside, could Foley have done closer to as good than either of his predecessors than he actually did? This piece shows what a steep difference exists and also shows that Haney was arguably better than Harmon.

If you're still thinking, "but whom," here's your prop bet list. I'd love to see Johnny Miller trying to coach TW.

Back to the more serious side. I agree with Harmon, as quoted in this story, that it was surely rough working with Tiger; his condolence to Haney is only part of that. I disagree with comment, along with saying no to coaching Tiger again, that Tiger doesn't need a coach.

Whether it's overthinking, trying to play through injury, trying to overcompensate, all of the above, or all of the above and other things, Tiger's swing is a mess, and it's a mess he's not going to solve by himself.

Per the second page of the story and interview with Harmon, the mental is the hardest part with being a Tiger Woods swing coach, and will be for the future. Jaime Diaz notes well that Woods has been damaged goods mentally ever since #Hydrantgate, and may never totally recover that. He's lost the intimidation factor, and the confidence factor, too, no matter what his public chatter is.

Texas' race to the bottom on corporate property taxes

Saturday's Waco Trib has a good story about how a 1997 change in state law essentially lowered the bar for what it takes companies in Texas to challenge the appraised value of their property by the local appraisal district.

Result? Big businesses, which can more easily afford the amount of lawyering necessary to seek big cuts in appraisals, are winning the battle to pay less and less in property taxes.

Example 1:
This summer, Sandy Creek Energy Associates protested the value on its Riesel coal-fired power plant, which was completed in 2013 for $1.2 billion and was on MCAD’s books for $884.5 million. Sandy Creek asked the judicially appointed Appraisal Review Board to reduce the value by $631 million, citing unfavorable business conditions. The board upheld the MCAD appraisal, but Sandy Creek has until next month to appeal the value to district court. 
Not reduce the value TO $631M, which would itself be a 25 percent cut or so, but reduce it BY $631M, or approaching 75 percent less.

Example 2:
H-E-B this summer protested the value of the giant store it opened a year ago on Valley Mills Drive and Interstate 35. MCAD valued it at $20.2 million, close to what H-E-B officials announced they were investing in the project. H-E-B this summer argued that it was worth only $8.5 million. The review board rejected the claim, but a lawsuit is still possible.
Nice if you can win a 60 percent deduction. How do you avoid testifying against yourself, though?

Example 3:
Hollywood Theaters is in litigation to reduce a $7.1 million valuation on its Woodway theater. Its most recent settlement offer to the appraisal district was $4 million.
Beyond this shifting more of the corporate tax burden to small properties, it also shifts it to John and Jane Q. Taxpayer.

By this much:
In all, the appraisal district has spent $424,863 since 2010 defending legal challenges from taxpayers, an average of $85,000 a year.

The litigation costs helped drive MCAD’s request for a 24 percent budget increase this year, from $3.6 million to $4.4 million. The district is funded proportionally by the 44 taxing entities in McLennan County.

That said, the city of Waco, the biggest such entity except for Waco ISD, is fighting back, by expanding "clawback" provisions in economic development offers.
The new “clawback provision” states that companies that dispute their property tax appraisals at a level lower than originally predicted in the agreement could lose all of their tax incentives retroactively. The provision takes into account normal depreciation of equipment.
This all said, let's not blame Republicans for this. As noted, the bill that allowed this passed in 1997. The 75th Lege had a Democratic majority in the House and Democrat Bob Bullock as Lite Guv. Yet another example of too many conservative Democrats in this state (starting with Bullock being Shrub Bush's pre-presidential tutor) having contributed their own fair share to many of Texas' problems.

Anyway, the second half of the Trib's story has details about how the changes changed the playing field. And are continuing to do so.

August 24, 2014

Korda on Lee: A papier-mache bio of a plaster saint

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. LeeClouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A horrible, ethically challenged book that's also not that new, not that good

Korda's treatment of the Seven Days campaign is the only good think in this book, but not enough to save it from a 1-star rating.

First, despite the volume of endnotes, there's really not a lot of depth, so it's not that new in that way. That's especially true of him never referring by name to a 2007 Lee biography which is much "newer" than his, especially in matters off the battlefield. I find Korda's editors to be flat-out deceitful in their blurbs for this book, and Korda as well for never even mentioning Elizabeth Brown Pryor's 2007 work in the main text.

Related to that, when you're referring to D.S. Freeman once every dozen pages and Fuller and others once every 25, it looks more like you're either cribbing from them, or cribbing from views opposing theirs, than writing anything new.

On the not that good side, here's just a couple of highlights.

1. NO MENTION by Korda that Lee was offered the leadership of the Klan before it was given to Nathan Bedford Forrest after Lee said no. Whether Lee would have accepted without the issue of poor health, who knows. But, it's inexcusable for Korda to not even mention it.

2. On Grant, the man who rapid-marched from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson, then, just over a year later, masterminded the Vicksburg Campaign, didn't have Lee's skill at maneuver, let alone his taste for it, according to Korda???

3. Despite repeatedly talking about Lee's failure to name a chief of staff, the indirectness of his orders, and (contra the work of Longstreet) failure to allow for adequate time for infantry reconnaissance of battle ground, especially in unfamiliar territory like Gettysburg, Korda flat-out refuses to make an overall assessment of Lee's generalship. It's like he's got his plaster saint in mind as military leader and isn't going to listen to reality.

4. As for Lee's relative enlightenment on slavery? Not so fast.

For her 2007 biography, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters, historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor, per this interview, "drew on a cache of previously unknown Lee family papers, discovered in 2002 in two sturdy wooden trunks that Lee's daughter stored in a Virginia bank about a century ago. Pryor presents a multifaceted man, more accessible and at the same time more puzzling than ever.  Lee not only believed in slavery; he was capable of treating his own slaves cruelly."

Pryor notes:

"He also started hiring slaves to other families, sending them away, and breaking up families that had been together on the estate for generations. ... He also petitioned the court to extend their servitude, but the court ruled against him."

So, on the public persona of Lee as a "moderate" on slavery just doesn't ring so true.

In short, this book looks like a cheap knockoff by Korda to capitalize on the Civil War sesquicentennial. I thought he was better than this as an author, and better ethically.

I've read other books by Korda that if not five-star, were decently four-star. But, after this crap, and there's no other word for it in light of Pryor's book, I'll never read anything by him again.

View all my reviews

August 23, 2014

#StevenSalaita is NOT a cause celebre in my book — #schadenfreude!

I had started out planning on just doing a long Facebook/G+ comment, but realized that, like Corey Robin, I was getting into blog-post length.

So, here goes.

Steven Salaita had been offered a tenure-trace position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Indeed, even though the new school year had not started yet, and the board of trustees had not officially confirmed his hiring, he was mentioned in university PR as faculty.

Until the latest Israel-Hamas violence, and a series of Tweets by him related to that, corralled with commentary (not all of which I accept in any way) here, which led the university to rescind his appointment.

And now, per my header, modern academia, as detailed by this piece at Puff Hoes, is making him into a cause celebre indeed.

First, anybody who regularly reads me knows I'm not pro-Zionist or even close to it.

But I, although I am in less than no way a Zionist, and I fully support a Palestinian state, do NOT see Steven Salaita as a cause celebre. Nor, unlike a number of academics, do I see this as a constitutional issue or anything like it. Unlike the likes of Corey Robin, I don't necessarily see this as the Israel lobby doing intellectual judo with the phrase "anti-Semitism," either.

I'll be honest that I'm kind of torn on this. His initial Tweets were fine in my world, but, when he went to wishing that West Bank Israeli settlers would "go missing," he was arguably then in hate speech territory; even if not an incitement to violence, it was directed at a particular class of people, and therefore is arguably hate speech.
You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing. — Steven Salaita (@stevesalaita) June 20, 2014
And, I would argue that his "go missing" Tweet, though not specifying how the settlers should go missing, wants them to die, if nothing else. And, it doesn't make any objections to how they might die, if that's part of them going missing. 

Per the last link before the quoted Tweet, I disagree with the defender of Salaita that at worst he was talking about kidnapping; I think at worst, he could be seen as talking about killing.

Why didn't he just say that then?
But if “‘go missing’ refers to kidnapping,” why didn’t Salaita just write “kidnap”? After all, he prefaced his statement with the warning that it was “unrefined” and described the settlers with the expletive “fucking.” Why then, after all the build-up, would he resort to a euphemism?
Erm, because he is smart enough and young enough to know that somebody might be looking at his Twitter account and he was trying to play it both ways? 

Anyway, let us consider that to be hate speech, even if not an outright incitement to violence. We know how academia, including the modern Social Justice Warrior type Left, likes its codes like that, just as much as it likes its free speech absolutism for tenure-track faculty.

Well, first, he had not been officially hired yet. Even if he had, you're not "tenured" until you cross the tenure-track finish line. So, what we have is two SJW codes colliding in a big, steaming pile of schadenfreude. And regular readers of my blog know I loves me some schadenfreude. And, I love the sound of petards hoisting in the morning!

And, that's where Puff Hoes jumps the track into the big steaming pile:
That now brings us to Friday's shocking statements. Chancellor Wise declared that "we cannot... tolerate... personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them." Yet as a matter of well-settled American constitutional law, the University of Illinois must tolerate "words... that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them." 
"Must"? Really? So, should black students then put up with every antic of differently-priced cookie sales and worse done by Young Republican groups? Should women put up with men's rights advocates telling women students that they're "dressing for rape"? I'm sure many people, even if not Brian Leiter, author of the Puff Hoes piece, would disagree.

This all said, I don't give a flying fart if Leiter is a law professor.

Now, one can argue that, as a public institution, a state university has a different standard on speech than, say, a Notre Dame. I'm not a lawyer, but I think that would be a tough sell in the court system still, especially if the state of Illinois also has hate crimes legislation, which could, at a stretch, be brought to bear on matters civil as well as criminal.

That said, per this NPR interview with labor and labor law reporter Steven Greenhouse, even in the public sector, employees' First Amendment rights aren't absolute:
However, if, you know, a government employee does something that really, you know, betrays trust or is direct insubordination or helps an enemy or endangers a nuclear power plant, then the government might say, you know, we have ample cause to fire that person for what he or she said despite, you know, the First Amendment protections of free speech.

I can do that one better.

In my day job as a newspaper editor, the community here fired a police officer for making a socioeconomically biased rant on Facebook. It violated the department's social media policy, which was part of the hiring process. The social media policy was designed to make sure police officers did not appear biased to certain classes of people — very similar to what the university can argue against Salaita.

Even then, though, such protections would apply only after official hiring. Since Salaita had never been hired, he's SOL to put it bluntly. (Related to that, he wasn't fired, because he never was hired.) As part of that, as an educated layperson, I disagree with this post; I think the Illinois case at hand is far different. Especially given that U of I had NOT supported a boycott of Israeli goods and services, I think that the idea, as alleged by some, that board approval would be a rubber stamp is questionable and that, as this layperson understands the term, promissory estoppel may not come into play. The fact that, even though Kubota lost the case at hand, it claimed that promissory estoppel is normally only a cause for defense, not for suit, means that, even with Illinois allowing it here, it's probably got a pretty high bar.

Beyond that, Saltaita's own Tweets would also offer the university additional ammunition against a promissory estoppel claim, beyond their content. The juvenility, beyond just the vulgarity, they should, if otherwise and previously unknown to the university, could be used to argue that it did not know the "full package" it was buying. And, as a non-lawyer, I think the burden of proof would be on Salaita to show that the "full package" was publicly visible and known before this. In other words, in non-legal everyday English, if this comes to a lawsuit, Salaita might need to prove that he was a doofus before midsummer 2014, and that he was a publicly known doofus.

At a minimum, it's not a slam dunk, such a case. Also speaking of slam dunks? College boards of regents don't like being assumed to be rubber stamps, either; that I know. So, legal defenders of Salaita? I think you're overassuming.

I can now also say that the University of Chicago has a current professor of law who understands constitutional law no better than Dear Leader, our constitutional law scholar president.

Whether Salaita should have been non-hired, of course, is a different question as to whether or not the U of I was in its rights to do so.  So, too, is the question of "the Israel lobby" having any influence on this decision or not.

Had he not made the "go missing" Tweet, I would be more supportive of him ethically, even if not legally. But, I think he did go a Tweet too far with that.

Follow-up thoughts

But, let's get back to the schadenfreude at the start of this. The academic Left is going to have to decide whether protected speech is more important than protected classes of people, or not, when the two collide.

Let's go further on the issue of tenure. A lot has been rightfully made about universities, both public and private, using ever more part-time adjunct faculty. However, tenure-track professordom has its own problems. Beyond a Saraita, or a Ward Churchill, whether in appearance or in reality, every large university has tenure-track professors who are lazy, who are bad teachers no matter how much or well they public, who commit sexual harassment and worse. This, like many issues in life, per Idries Shah, has more than two sides.

A third side is full-time professors, without them necessarily being tenured. Now, part of that is removing the stigma from being non-tenured. Related to that, part of the solution may be extending the number of years it takes to get tenured.

Another issue is that of "privilege" (forgive me for sounding like an SJW!) and the First Amendment. Academics (setting aside the public vs private schools issue) and journalists (I'm one, so I can speak) often seem to assume they have a special level of First Amendment protection that nobody else does. And, it seems that the higher one goes up  the academic or journalistic ladder, the more common such views are.

Well, other than the government being differentiated from the private sector, last I checked, no class of persons, including no class of employees, had a special privilege to the First Amendment. And I may blog in more depth on this later. Actually, I'm pretty damned sure I will. I think this is part of why certain strands of upper-tier academics and journalists irritate not just man-on-the-street wingnuts, but right-wing talking heads. And, the irritation isn't 100 percent wrong.

Also, it's clear that this issue is about as politicized as the reproductive choice movement, with both "ends" having little room for centrists of some sort. I guess that, in one sense, that's good; despite some academic liberals claiming that U of I's change of mind shows the power of Zionism, it's more complex than that.

It's also an issue of how many younger people, even ones paper-smart enough to be offered tenure-track jobs in academia, aren't necessarily real-world-smart, at least not when it comes to the issue of electronic "devices," the social media world, etc. And I have blogged about that before.