Friday, October 12, 2007

Pest Pesters Peace Prize

There is a lot to like in this Nobel. First, it reinforces the (correct) public perception that global warming is a global political movement. Second, it is led by a retired politician looking for glory, a common occurrence that does not lend credibility to the cause. Gore is a liability to the Greens in many ways. We wish he would run for President. The "9 errors" British court ruling is a nice touch here.

But most of all, it certifies that the IPCC is also a political activist. We imagine this embarrasses them and it should be pushed at them. It will be interesting to see how the green press explains how "the world's leading scientists" (as they are laughingly called) can get a prize for political activism. IPCC credibility is damaged by this award.

IPCC=Gore. We love it.

The shift of the Nobel "Peace" Prize to environmental activism adds to the confusion. The Peace Prize is a hefty lefty prize. So be it.

The Washington Pest

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bush goes around, not Comes Around

The happy headline says "Bush aide says warming man-made."

Is Bush coming around?
No, he has been around all along.
This headline is a work of art. The press keeps reporting that Bush is changing, coming around at last, but it is wishful thinking born of abject error. Strange brew that.

Bush aide Marburger is head of the science and technology policy shop (OSTP). The US has a fistful of billion dollar S&T programs on CO2 reduction, so he is justifying them. (That is his job.) Bush has announced one such boondoggle almost very year. Hydrogen, FutureGen, most recently replacing 20% of the gasoline with mush. Bush even set a 5 year US CO2 intensity reduction goal in 2001, which he then met.

So it could not be clearer that the Bush admin believes in human induced global warming, and always has. (More's the fool's pity, but we digress.) Why then this latest in an endless, breathless series of newsies chanting "he is changing, he is changing"?

Because the great Green press insists on equating believing in global warming with invoking cap & trade rationing, so systematically misses the point. Thus too do the people. Fine by us, for as Machiavelli says, in war and politics the greatest advantage is to be underestimated by your opponent.

Nothing is changing and with luck Bush is going to ram a technology based, aspirational intensity goal down the UN's throat. Bush and China that is. China has also adopted an aspirational intensity goal.

He will do it precisely because he believes in "man-made warming," and has since the beginning. Won't everyone be surprised.

The Washington Pest

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Brief Lives Briefly Viewed

by John McCaughey

W.F. Deedes cheats a little with the title of this book*. First, "Brief Lives" was employed hundreds of years ago as a book title by the 17th Century scribbler John Evelyn and has been used often since then by other writers of books. Deedes ought to have scratched his head to find a more original title. In truth, they are not "Lives" at all in any real biographical sense but merely brief anecdotal sketches, mostly of contemporaries.

For all that, it is an interesting book. Bill Deedes, who died at 94 not long ago, had plenty of material. A politician, former cabinet minister, Editor of the national conservative newspaper The Daily Telegraph (known fondly as The Torygraph), he became a columnist in later life. His long career in London afforded him the opportunity to meet most of the history-making characters of the epoch. Unusually, for a politician and a newspaperman, he was much loved by his readers. His fame was greatly increased by a series of "Dear Bill" letters in the satirical magazine Private Eye. These were (ostensibly) letters from Dennis Thatcher (the then Prime Minister's husband) to his golfing friend Bill: two curmudgeonly old conservatives complaining about the vicissitudes of modern Britain. Deedes took the gentle mockery that the columns engendered with great good humor.

Nowadays, we are mostly cynical about and disenchanted with politicians. Deedes was more forgiving. "Whether they got it right or wrong," he says, "they serve as guideposts. That is what makes them worth writing about." And write about them he does, neither in a party hack nor a sarcastic style. He is especially good on the politics in England in the run-up to World War II. He understood politics, noting here: "That is a hard thing about politics: events may call upon a man to do something wholly contrary to his political creed. If he does so, his party will accuse him of betrayal; if he does not, then he will be seen as a man who put party before country."

Deedes is no flashy stylist but he writes with simplicity and lucidity --- perhaps a better thing. But he appreciates color. He tells an amusing yarn about Churchill who, refusing to take early retirement, "dons what looked like a cross between a bowler and a topper, mounted a horse and was declared to have joined a foxhunt."

Deedes‚ subjects (about 18 in all) are all over the shop: important (if now forgotten) politicians like Stanley Balwin or Anthony Eden, entertainers like Noel Coward (whose advice on getting the best seat on a railway train is alone worth the price of admission), mountaineers like Edmund Hilary (first man to climb Mount Everest) and more unlikely characters like Imelda Marcos (she of the shoes) and Princess Diana (with whom he shared a campaign against landmines), fellow journalists like Malcolm Muggeridge and even Mary Whitehouse, the oddball campaigner against what she perceived as pornography on BBC television. Some of these sketches may be of interest only to historians but it is good to have them in print, written by someone who was on the scene and knew the players personally.

In brief, Deedes‚ short book is in its way a serious work of British social, literary and political history. The tone is (very occasionally) a trifle self-congratulatory and one does yearn at times for a little sarcasm or satire. But that was never Deedes‚ way. He was gentle and kind. And he was an old man when he wrote the book so that he can easily be forgiven for not being Jonathan Swift.

*Brief Lives by W.F. Deedes. Pan Books (UK)


Monday, September 3, 2007


by John McCaughey

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838) was one of the most brilliant diplomatists --- indeed, statesmen --- of his era. A famed wit, a ruthless opportunist, aristocratic but a revolutionary, a liberal, a free-trader, pro-American, he was even a renegade bishop (Holy Orders were seen in those days --- perhaps still are --- as a path to material advancement). He helped make (and then break) Napoleon and then assisted in the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France. At the Congress of Vienna, which reshaped Europe after Napoleon, he played a weak French hand with consummate skill. He died reconciled to the Roman Catholic Church at the last minute --- to the fury of his critics. In this admirable new biography* Robin Harris has more than done justice to the complicated politics and psychology of one who, whatsoever his faults, was a great man.

Talleyrand, as depicted by Harris, had many virtues. Even his rivals admitted his self-possession and "extraordinary intelligence": cynical, his bon mots (although Talleyrand preferred to call these his mots juste) were polished and delivered in circumstances which assured their widest circulation (one of them, his famous disparagement of the Bourbons: "They forget nothing and learn nothing" has lived on); his conduct of affairs in his spell as Foreign Minister of France showed unmatched flair and finesse (as even Napoleon admitted); and he was extremely productive while affecting an air of nonchalance which his enemies often foolishly mistook for indolence.

A superb politician, he understood expediency and possessed (what few politicians do) the gifts of foresight, consistency, remorselessness and the character to follow the best course once he had worked this out. He had unmatched manipulative skills and political and social antennae. Sophisticated, he could appear open while giving nothing away. Said Chateaubriand: "You wonder if this man has not received an authority from nature to refashion or to obliterate the truth."

Always a wide-ranging reformer, he rewrote the French weights and measures system, then developed the modern, secular, centralized French education system. At the Foreign Ministry, he knew how to get the best out of his staff. More than that indeed. When one staffer brought back a monkey from Africa, the animal was set to work sealing letters at which the creature proved to be adept.

Politically, Talleyrand was what would nowadays be called a libertrarian: "What individual demands of every citizen," he said, "will be respected or re-established by the [revolutionary] Estates General. Beyond the law, all are free." It didn't quite work out that way, of course, but there is no doubting Talleyrand's sincerity.

Indeed he was really only a qualified supporter of Revolution, although he artfully concealed this fact. Inside, he was far too aristocratic to wish for a leveling of the social hierarchy.

At heart he was a royalist, but he managed easily to collaborate with Napoleon --to Talleyrand's and Napoleon's advantage and, it must be said, to the advantage of France. But it was a rocky, love-hate, conditional relationship that ultimately ended in bitterness. Talleyrand especially objected to Napoleon's bellicosity in foreign policy.

Nor did Talleyrand stick to his day job. On the side, he was an expert businessman. He speculated on property in the (as then, undeveloped) Champs Elysees and even explored buying land in Maine and upstate New York and he bought 100,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania which he resold in France, pocketing a 100 percent profit.

A gastronome, Talleyrand had a complicated system for drinking cognac, decided views on coffee (it had to be four-fifths mocha and one fifth Martinique) and he enjoyed peppered dishes which he fancied accelerated his slow metabolism and pulse rate.

For all his genius, Talleyrand had, unfortunately, great defects. He was a fearful snob, constantly high-hatting Napoleon, whom he regarded as a Corsican bourgeois upstart. He was a habitual liar (sometimes astonishingly so) -- never letting sentiment dominate calculation in determining his course of action. He was painstakingly vindictive both to persons and to governments which attempted to thwart him. He had huge reserves of ruthlessness and never hesitated to use them. He was madly ambitious, self-regarding and self-promoting. He made many mistakes, especially in military policy. He was shamelessly venal in soliciting bribes to a degree that would nowadays have instantly landed him before a grand jury. He was conspicuously promiscuous in an age when promiscuity was the norm.

Biographers are said usually to admire their subjects. In this book, Harris can't seem to quite make up his mind and takes refuge in rather too complicated (and sometimes boring) explications of 19th Century European politics and minor wars. "At the end," he writes, "I am left with the strong impression of a man quite unlike any other then or since His personality is as multi-layered as one of his chef Careme's millefeuille pastries." Perhaps the best Talleyrand quote, which applied as much to his statecraft as to his personal life, was: "I have never hurried, but I am always on time."

A supporter of the French reputation for logic and diplomacy (as opposed to the more robust English view of the French as a nation of intoxicated loonies stomping grapes in barrels), Talleyrand carefully rewrote just before his death his statement of reconciliation with Mother Church. Diplomatist to the very end, it was far from the statement that the Jesuits would have liked. When Talleyrand met his Maker at the Pearly Gates, it can only have been an interview fraught with difficulties for both men. Unfortunately, this biography omits a text of that interview.

On his birthday on 2 February 1837, Talleyrand wrote wearily: "That makes eighty three years that have passed! I do not know if I am satisfied when I recall the course of so many years. How much useless agitation! How many fruitless endeavours! Irritating complications, exaggerated emotions, worn-out strengths! Gifts wasted, ill-will inspired, equilibrium lost, illusions destroyed, tastes exhausted! And with what result? That of moral and physical fatigue, a complete despondency about the future and a profound disgust for the past. There are a mass of people who have the gift, or the deficiency, never to be self-aware. I have, in all to great a degree, the contrary misfortune; it increases along with the seriousness that the years bring with them."

On our deathbed, we should all write as well as Talleyrand.

*Talleyrand: Betrayer and Saviour of France. By Robin Harris. John Murray (UK) 2007.


Saturday, July 21, 2007


A Diary by John McCaughey

Blather [magazine] is here. As we advance to make our bow, you will look in vain for signs of servility or for any evidence of a slavish desire to please. We are an arrogant and depraved body of men. Blather doesn't care. A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?

---Flann O'Brien, Dublin, 1934

None of us can really be sure that we exist. My whole life, as this Diary shows, is a lie. All the characters in it are invented, none bears any resemblance to anyone living or dead. People who claim to find themselves here must know that the only real existence we can any of us claim is in the imagination of God.

---Auberon Waugh, Diaries 1972-1985

What's a Website?

On trial recently in Woolwich Crown Court in south London were three young Mohomaddens accused of helping to distribute Islamic propaganda over the internet in support of Al Quaeeda. One, who surfed the net using the name Irhabi007 (Terrorist 007) was said to have links with Al Quaeda in Iraq. The youths were also said to be involved in a murder plot organized by Islamaterrorists.

Hearing the case was Mr. Justice Openshaw who told stunned prosecutors: "The trouble is I don't understand the language. I don't really understand what a website is."

The trial had to be held up when it was all explained to the dim-witted jurist. He rather resembled the judge who decades ago asked counsel: "Who is this gentleman Mussolini, who appears to be an Italian?"

The trial of the Mohommadens continues. But aren't British judges wonderful? And it's not just the silly wigs.


Gates versus GM

At a recent computer expo, Microsoft's Bill Gates commented that "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response, a General Motors press release said:

If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

#For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash...twice a day.
#Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.
#Occasionally, your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.
#Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.
#Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive---but would run on only 5 percent of the roads.
#The oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "This Car has Performed an Illegal Operation" warning light.
#The airbag system would ask "Are you sure?" before deploying.
#Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.
#Every time a new car was introduced, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.
#You would have to press the "Start" button to turn the engine off.


Lingua Latina saepe dicitur mortua esse...

{It's often said that Latin is a dead language}

Ars gratia Artis

{Art for Art's sake}

----from Blather's "Bluffer's Guide to Latin"
Idiot Savant?

"I can calculate the movement of the stars but not the madness of men..."

---A rueful Sir Isaac Newton after losing a fortune in the stock market crash of 1720.

Plagiarism? Or Intellectual Magpie?

"I make others say for me what either from want of language or want of sense I cannot myself so well express..."

---The self-effacing French essayist Michel Montaigne who was fond of citing the Roman historian Suetonius.

Bossy women?

"The motive force that impelled some Crusaders [a 19th Century American anti-booze women's group] transcended the cause of temperance. The constant marching, the trapping of sinful men in the very commission of their sins, storming halls of legislature theretofore barred to women, the tumult, the martyrdom, the public attention---all this was adventure that liberated them from the tyranny of wifehood, motherhood and domestic duty........

"The [prohibitionist] group had the inquisitorial type of mind, said one critic. They want to coerce you into believing in their god...Temperance means moderation through self-control. When one is grown-up, compulsion through the law creates revulsion. You cannot make man just through the law, you cannot make man merciful through the law, you cannot make a man affectionate through the law."

----John Kobler: "Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition"

Impossible Things

"There is no use trying," said Alice. "One can't believe impossible things." "I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen, "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

---Lewis Carroll


"Whenever anyone asked Jerico why he was a mathematician...he would shake his head and smile and claim that he had no idea. If they persisted, he might, with some diffidence, direct them to the definition offered by G.H. Hardy in his famous 'Apology': "a mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns."

If that didn't satisfy them, he would try to explain by quoting the most basic illustration he could think of: pi--3.14--the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Calculate pi to a thousand decimal places , he would say, or a million or more, and you will discover no pattern to its unending sequence of digits. It appears random, chaotic, ugly. Yet Leibnitz and Gregory can take the same number and tease from it a pattern of crystalline elegance:

pi=1 -1 +1 -1+1
4 3 5 7 9

and so on to infinity. Such a pattern had no practical usefulness, it was merely beautiful---as sublime, to Jerico, as a line in a fugue by Bach---and if his questioner still couldn't see what he was driving at, then, sadly, he would give up on them as a waste of time."

---"Enigma" [a novel about breaking the Nazi code machine in World War II] by Robert Harris


The objective of life is not to be happy. The objective of life is to make society a better place in which to live. Every one of us has something to offer. Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the aeroplane and the pessimist the parachute.



Monday, June 25, 2007

Supreme Court Press Pollution Confusion

Anyone who enjoys confusion, and who doesn't, has to love the incoherent press coverage of the Supreme Court decision that EPA has the authority to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. Widely hailed as a victory for global warming, it was in fact just a small step in that general direction. But then every step, even backward, gets hailed as a victory. Best to celebrate now when nothing important may ever happen.

To begin with, the SC did not determine that CO2 is a hazardous pollutant, just a contributing pollutant along the lines of NOx, a precursor to ozone. The Clean Air Act defines a pollutant as any substance that has the potential to cause human harm if emitted. CO2 clearly fits this description if the theory of human induced warming is assumed possibly true, something the SC was not about to rule against.

The case was actually very narrow. The definition of "pollutant" occurs three places in the Act and climate change is specifically mentioned, but only in one of the three. The question was which definition controls? The Court ruled that the broadest definition holds, which we agree with as a matter of law. Nothing shocking about it, except maybe the 1990 language in the Act mentioning climate change. We have been at this a very long time. The press on this simple decision was suitably incoherent.

Now what? This action began with a citizen petition to EPA to regulate CO2 from autos. EPA said it did not have the authority to do so under the Clean Air Act. The Court says it does. EPA can now deny the petition on the grounds it offered the Court already -- uncertainty. Uncertainty so great the damage cannot be ascertained, if indeed there is any. If it does so that decision will be taken to court, where EPA has a good chance of winning because they are the experts and the courts seldom overturn agency expert findings.

Of course everything may change if we get a new administration and EPA suddenly wants to regulate CO2. Then we might get to the interesting little issues described below. You begin to see why 10-15 years is the timeframe.

Suppose EPA decides to regulate CO2, then if so, how? That too will be blockaded and litigated in great depth, as the Act does not provide a mechanism that is appropriate. The difference between being a hazardous air pollutant (HAP) and being an indirect or "criteria" pollutant is very big when it comes to possible EPA regulation. Rule making is itself heavily regulated and litigated, so many of the skeptical arguments will be tested in detail. This will take 10-15 years and serious regulation is by no means inevitable.

For example, EPA has to do a cost benefit regulatory analysis to show that any proposed rule is beneficial. Unlike the UK's nonsensical Nick Stern, who says helping people 200 years from now is just as important as helping them today, EPA has to use a large discount rate, usually 7 to 10%. This makes distant future benefits worthless. Positive net benefits based on a 100 year timeframe will be impossible to demonstrate.

The rules for cost benefit analysis of federal regulations are made by OMB/OIRA--

Specific OIRA rules for regulatory analysis (also called regulatory impact analysis or RIA) start here --

Here is a nifty database of RIAs--

Also, while HAP emissions can be regulated directly, for criteria pollutants EPA has to set a national ambient concentration level. Only areas that exceed that level can be regulated, as well as being punished. What level can they choose? If they say 440 then everyone is in attainment. If 300 then everyone is out of attainment but due to global factors beyond their control, like Chinese coal plants and the last 50 years of human life, which is probably unConstitutional. This local concentration reg mechanism simply does not work for CO2. The courts should agree.

Basic point is that if Congress wants EPA to regulate CO2 they need a new law. If the system is rational this view is likely to prevail.

The Supreme Court decision is just the first move, no more than P-Q4 in a very colorful chess game. EPA tried to duck the entire issue but they can't, so now the real fun begins. Skepticism will finally get its day in court.

Enjoy the show.

The Washington Pest

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Half Full of Nothing

A funny thing happened on the way to the headlines. Three major wire services covered the recent meeting of 40 EU and Asian foreign ministers in Hamburg, ahead of next week's meeting of the Group of Eight (G8). The topic was agreeing on a timetable for agreeing on a post-Kyoto international treaty to take effect in 2012. The EU wanted new targets set by 2009, to support the multi-billion dollar carbon market.

AP happily reports that
"EU, Asia set 2009 climate pact deadline"

AFP (the French AP) unhappily informs us that
"Asia and Europe fail to agree on climate change targets"

Reuters is more precise and even less happy:
"Japan rebuffs EU on Kyoto pact"

What happened? The answer is nothing but the glass is half full. The EU wants to make a deal on 2012 targets by 2009. China was adamant (as always) that it will never agree to emissions targets. Targets for all are what everyone means by a post-Kyoto deal so there is no deal, not even a deal to make a deal. That is what AFP reported.

Japan said it would not commit to setting targets until China does (likely never) so it is too soon to commit to setting targets by 2009. That is what Reuters reported, like it is Japan's fault that China just says no.

But diplomats all, everyone agreed in principle that there should be an agreement by 2009, even though no one can agree and likely never will. This agreement to agree on nothing at a later date certain is what AP is so happy about. AP's glass is half full of nothing.

Moral, this is high stakes climate poker in action. Do not believe the headlines, read between the fine print, and expect nothing. If China, India and the USA stand pat the ultimate agreement, announced with much fanfare, will be to Do The Best We Can. But who knows?

Above all, enjoy the show.

The Washington Pest