Heretics to the Religion of Global Warming


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A19) Suppose for a minute–. . . –that global warming poses an imminent threat to the survival of our species. Suppose, too, that the best solution involves a helium balloon, several miles of garden hose and a harmless stream of sulfur dioxide being pumped into the upper atmosphere, all at a cost of a single F-22 fighter jet.

. . .

The hose-in-the-sky approach to global warming is the brainchild of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue, Wash.-based firm founded by former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold. The basic idea is to engineer effects similar to those of the 1991 mega-eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which spewed so much sulfuric ash into the stratosphere that it cooled the earth by about one degree Fahrenheit for a couple of years.
Could it work? Mr. Myhrvold and his associates think it might, and they’re a smart bunch. Also smart are University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner, whose delightful “SuperFreakonomics”–the sequel to their runaway 2005 bestseller “Freakonomics”–gives Myhrvold and Co. pride of place in their lengthy chapter on global warming. Not surprisingly, global warming fanatics are experiencing a Pinatubo-like eruption of their own.
. . .

. . . , Messrs. Levitt and Dubner show every sign of being careful researchers, going so far as to send chapter drafts to their interviewees for comment prior to publication. Nor are they global warming “deniers,” insofar as they acknowledge that temperatures have risen by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.
But when it comes to the religion of global warming–the First Commandment of which is Thou Shalt Not Call It A Religion–Messrs. Levitt and Dubner are grievous sinners. They point out that belching, flatulent cows are adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than all SUVs combined. They note that sea levels will probably not rise much more than 18 inches by 2100, “less than the twice-daily tidal variation in most coastal locations.” They observe that “not only is carbon plainly not poisonous, but changes in carbon-dioxide levels don’t necessarily mirror human activity.” They quote Mr. Myhrvold as saying that Mr. Gore’s doomsday scenarios “don’t have any basis in physical reality in any reasonable time frame.”
More subversively, they suggest that climatologists, like everyone else, respond to incentives in a way that shapes their conclusions. “The economic reality of research funding, rather than a disinterested and uncoordinated scientific consensus, leads the [climate] models to approximately match one another.” In other words, the herd-of-independent-minds phenomenon happens to scientists too and isn’t the sole province of painters, politicians and news anchors


For the full commentary, see:
BRET STEPHENS. “Freaked Out Over SuperFreakonomics; Global warming might be solved with a helium balloon and a few miles of garden hose.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., OCTOBER 27, 2009): A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Copenhagen Global Warming Performer Asks for More Summer “Because It’s Too Cold to Be Out Here”

(p. 12) . . . a small contingent of climate skeptics and libertarians opposed to caps on heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions derided the United Nations talks.

“We want to be able to live our lives like we’ve always led them before — as free citizens in free democracies,” said David Pontoppidan, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Copenhagen, who addressed passers-by through a megaphone over the chatter of two helicopters hovering far above. “We want free debate; we want to be able to be taken seriously even though we don’t agree with the U.N.”
. . .
Leading the march from the square this afternoon, a man in blue coveralls, with vaudevillian face paint and a faux Cyrano nose, could be seen sweeping the street and peering into a rolling trash bin painted to resemble the planet. It emitted plumes of white dust and mournful musical notes.
“This is our comment on global warming,” said the sweeper, Jens Kloft, a Danish performance artist. “We want to have an international compromise on global warming — a better climate, but two more months of summer in Denmark please. Because it’s too cold to be out here.”

For the full story, see:
TOM ZELLER Jr. “Thousands March in Copenhagen, Calling for Action.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 13, 2009): 12.
(Note: the last two paragraphs quoted above are from the print version; the NYT deleted them from the online version. Also, the first paragraph quoted, is from the print version of that paragraph, and not the shortened online version. The online version of the article is dated Sat., December 12, 2009.)
(Note: ellipses added.)

Packard Was Told, If He Wanted a Better Car “He Had Better Build It Himself”

PackardPanther1954SteeringWheel.JPGThe steering wheel of the 1954 Packard Panther. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 11) The company may have started on a dare, according to “Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company,” edited by Beverly Rae Kimes (Automobile Quarterly Publications, 2002).

After graduating from Lehigh University’s engineering school and returning home to Warren, Ohio, James Ward Packard considered buying his first car, a Winton. When Packard asked for some special features, he got this response from Alexander Winton: “The Winton waggon (sic) as it stands is the ripened and perfected product of many years of lofty thought … and could not be improved in any detail. If Mr. Packard wants any of his own cats and dogs worked into a waggon, he had better build it himself.”
Despite the rude reply, Packard bought the car, but it broke down often. Commiserating over dinner with George Weiss, a friend (and Winton stockholder), Packard decided to take Winton’s words seriously. It must have been an especially satisfying day for Packard on June 17, 1899, when Weiss sold his Winton stock and invested in Packard’s new business, soon to be named the Ohio Automobile Company.
Although its first cars looked conventional, they had some unusual features. It was one of a few cars with an accelerator pedal, and its H-gate gearshift pattern, a Packard patent, was widely used in later years.
Packard’s reputation for reliability and durability was established with its model A and B cars, but the company did not stop development there, even taking the lessons of early mishaps to improve subsequent vehicles.
During the summer of 1900, a model B swerved into a ditch after hitting a pothole — a hazard on cars with tiller steering, as the impact could jerk the steering lever from the driver’s grasp — injuring the passenger and damaging the car. Packard started work on a solution; when the model C was introduced later that year, it featured the industry’s first steering wheel.
. . .
After flirting with Nash in the early 1950s, Packard purchased Studebaker in 1954 (which explains why the Packard Predictor resides in the Studebaker Museum). Studebaker was larger but struggling. The merger hastened the end of both makes.
Still, Packard left its mark on the American auto industry.

For the full story, see:
ROBB MANDELBAUM. “Collecting; Packard’s Visions of the Future, When It Still Had One .” The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., September 10, 2009): 11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Did Fairchild Fail Due to Bad Management or Disruptive Technology?

Clayton Christensen has shown how good management, following respected practices, can fail in the face of disruptive technologies. It would be interesting to investigate whether Fairchild was an example of what Christensen is talking about, or whether it just did not have good management.

(p. 89) Andrew Grove . . . had played a central role in bringing Fairchild to the threshold of a new era. But Fairchild would not enjoy the fruits of his work. Following the path of venture capital pioneer Peter Sprague were scores of other venture capitalists seeking to exploit the new opportunities he had shown them. Collectively, they accelerated the pace of entrepreneurial change–splits and spinoffs, startups and staff shifts–to a level that might be termed California Business Time (“What do you mean, I left Motorola quickly?” asked Gordon Campbell with sincere indignation. “I was there eight months!”).

The venture capitalist focused on Fairchild: that extraordinary pool of electronic talent assembled by Noyce and Moore, but left essentially unattended, undervalued, and little understood by the executives of the company back in Syosset, New York. Fairchild leaders John Carter and Sherman Fairchild commanded the microcosm: the most important technology in the history of the human race. Noyce, Moore, Hoerni, Grove, Sporck, design genius Robert Widlar, and marketeer Jerry Sanders represented possibly the most potent management and technical team ever assembled in the history of world business. But, hey, you guys, don’t forget to report back to Syosset. Don’t forget who’s boss. Don’t give out any bonuses without clearing them through the folks at Camera and Instrument. You might upset some light-meter manager in Philadelphia.
They even made Charles Sporck, the manufacturing titan, feel like “a little kid pissing in his pants.” Good work, Sherman, don’t let the big lug put on airs, don’t let him feel important. He only controls 80 percent of the company’s growth. Widlar is leaving? Great, he never fit in with the corporate culture anyway. Sporck has gone off with Peter Sprague? There are plenty more where he came from.
“It was weird,” said Grove, “they had no idea about what the company or the industry was like, nor did they seem to care. . . . Fairchild was just crumbling. If you wish, the semiconductor division management consisted of twenty significant players: eight went to National, eight went into Intel, and four of them went to Alcoholics Anonymous or something.” Actually there were more than twenty and they went into startups all over the Valley; some twenty-six new semiconductor firms sprouted up between 1967 and 1970. “It got to the point,” recalled one man quoted in Dirk Hanson’s The New Alchemists, “where people were practically driving trucks over to Fairchild and loading up with employees.”


Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.
(Note: the first ellipsis was added; the others were in the original. The italics were also in the original.)

Steve Perry’s Passion for Better Education


Source of book image:!.jpg

I have seen Steve Perry interviewed on education issues a couple of times on CNN, and have been impressed. He makes a credible case for vouchers.
I have not read either of the books pictured in this entry, but have put them on my “to read” list.

The books are:
Perry, Steve. Man Up! Nobody Is Coming to Save Us. Renegade Books, 2006.
Perry, Steve. Raggedy Schools: The Untold Truth. Renegade Books, 2009.


Source of book image:

Safe Drinking Water Matters More than Global Warming

(p. A17) Getting basic sanitation and safe drinking water to the three billion people around the world who do not have it now would cost nearly $4 billion a year. By contrast, cuts in global carbon emissions that aim to limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius over the next century would cost $40 trillion a year by 2100. These cuts will do nothing to increase the number of people with access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Cutting carbon emissions will likely increase water scarcity, because global warming is expected to increase average rainfall levels around the world.

For Mrs. Begum, the choice is simple. After global warming was explained to her, she said: “When my kids haven’t got enough to eat, I don’t think global warming will be an issue I will be thinking about.”
One of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable citizens, Mrs. Begum has lost faith in the media and politicians.
“So many people like you have come and interviewed us. I have not seen any improvement in our conditions,” she said.
It is time the developed world started listening.

For the full commentary, see:
Bjørn LOMBORG. “Global Warming as Seen From Bangladesh; Momota Begum worries about hunger, not climate change.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 9, 2009): A17.

The Wall of Wall Street Failed to Repel the Invaders


“New York City’s history begins in the small space below Wall Street.” Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 34) Bowling Green was then part of “a parade ground where soldiers practiced maneuvers,” he continued. “That very quickly turned into a market space where farmers in outlying districts brought their produce to sell. It became a famous place for prostitutes to haunt in the evening. And in the early 18th century it was where people played lawn bowling.”

From the start, Mr. Caldwell said, it was a party town, known for its many taverns, “the all-purpose repositories of night life. There were theatrical performances, dancing, gambling and concerts.”
In 1979 and 1980 archaeologists dug for the remains of two famous taverns that had stood on Pearl Street near Coenties Slip. Transparent panels in the plaza along Pearl Street display part of the stone foundation they found of the King’s House tavern (also known as Lovelace Tavern), built in 1670. Light-colored paving stones nearby outline the modest footprint of the City Tavern (Stadt Herbergh), built in 1641. In 1653 it also became the first City Hall, the Stadt Huys. And it contained a jail.
“So you could, in one day, go from sitting on a court case to a drunken debauch to jail, without ever leaving this little place where we’re standing,” Mr. Caldwell noted.
A few blocks north, at what was then the edge of the city, the Dutch built a defensive wall across the island in 1653. Like Fort Amsterdam, it proved of no use when the British seized New Amsterdam in 1664 and renamed it New York.
“It was essentially an earthwork with a wooden palisade on top,” explained Steve Laise, the National Parks Service’s chief of cultural resources for Federal Hall National Memorial, a Greek Revival landmark on Wall Street. Today’s Wall Street follows the dirt lane that was just inside this defense. “When you walk on Wall Street, you’re literally walking in the footsteps of the burghers of New Amsterdam,” Mr. Laise said.

For the full story, see:

JOHN STRAUSBAUGH. “Weekend Explorer; Home on the Corner of Boom and Bust.” The New York Times (Fri., January 2, 2009): C29 & C34.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Thurs., Jan. 1st.)