Friday, December 12, 2014

H.R.4681 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015

I looked at the text of H.R.4681 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 because I saw SOPA 2.0 was passed under the radar under H.R. 4681, Section 309.

In the summary of the bill, I also noticed:

(Sec. 315) Expands a grant program for historically black colleges and universities to include predominantly black institutions.

Why is that in this bill?

I am going to guess it is to ensure that if a representative votes against this bill, her opponents can then claim, truthfully, that the she voted against expanding grant programs to predominantly black institutions.

Oh, no, it could not possibly be that someone voted against this bill because it contains:

(a) Definitions.--In this section:
(1) Covered communication.--The term ``covered communication'' means any nonpublic telephone or electronic communication acquired without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication, including communications in electronic storage.

(A) Application.--The procedures … shall apply to any intelligence collection activity not otherwise authorized by court order … that is reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of a covered communication to or from a United States person and shall permit the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of covered communications subject to the limitation in subparagraph (B). (emphasis mine)

You may have guessed by now, but, just for the record, the limitations of subparagraph (B) are simply vacuous.

In 1984, I told my high school English teacher, Mrs. Ann, that I thought 1984 was far fetched. That freedom was on the march in the world, that we, humanity, would defeat the communist and fascist power-grabbing instincts by adopting institutions that affirmed the primacy of individual rights, ignoring whatever rhetorical tools could be used to place a fictional society's interests ahead of ours.

I was raised to believe in the virtue of Live Free or Die!

America was setting a shining example of the path to freedom.

I was wrong.

Ah, Kafka!

"It's true that you're under arrest, but that shouldn't stop you from carrying out your job. And there shouldn't be anything to stop you carrying on with your usual life."

… Who was that? A friend? A good person? Somebody who was taking part? Somebody who wanted to help? Was he alone? Was it everyone? Would anyone help? Were there objections that had been forgotten? There must have been some. The logic cannot be refuted, but someone who wants to live will not resist it. Where was the judge he'd never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached? He raised both hands and spread out all his fingers. …

The Trial, Franz Kafka

Thursday, December 4, 2014

An exercise in excessive excise taxes

Here is a simple question from the first prelim in my non-calculus Intermediate Micro class I taught at Cornell in Fall, 2007. I liked bringing levity to my exams, so it is formulated in terms of taxes on doughnuts, but the same analysis applies to cigarettes.

The non-calculus nature of the class does limit the mathematical complexity of the question (and explains why I used a quasi-linear utility function), but you'd be shocked how many people have a mental block against understanding that you can tax a resource so much to create entire new fields of "criminal" activity. This is government violence on the people at its worst.

In the case of New York, the violence is three-fold: 1) High taxes on businesses who hire labor (i.e. the fact that a $10/hr job might cost an employer about $35,000/year — work that out assuming 200 working days, and eight hours a day) prevent many low-skilled citizens from being able to find employment; 2) Favorable treatment of illegal aliens, and their dependents, means employers can easily replace expensive citizens; and 3) high excise taxes on easily transportable goods make it profitable to obtain them elsewhere, and sell them in poor areas.

Solution, and more commentary in a later post.

Question 2) Bob lives in Manhattan and likes doughnuts. His utility function over bundles of doughnuts (x) and all other goods (y) is given by:

U(x,y) = y + 10√x

His marginal rate of substitution between doughnuts and all other goods is thus given by MRSx,y = 5/√x.

Suppose Bob has an income of $200/week to spend on bundles of doughnuts and all other goods.

( i ) (1 point) Suppose the price of doughnuts is Px = $0.50 and Py = $1.00. How many doughtnuts and how much of all other goods will Bob consume? We will refer to this as Bundle A. For your convenience, fill in the following values after finding Bob’s choice:
xA = ______ and yA = ______.

( ii ) (1 point) After failing to ban transfats (n o t !), the mayor of New York City decides that he is going to put a tax on doughnuts to discourage people from eating doughnuts. Suppose, after the tax, the price of doughnuts in Manhattan increases to Px = $2.50. How many doughnuts and how much of all other goods will Bob consume after the tax? We will refer to this as Bundle B. For your convenience, fill in the following values after finding Bob’s choice:
xB = ______ and yB = ______ .

( iii ) (1 point) Bob realizes that the price of doughnuts in Jersey City is Px = $0.25. A round trip to Jersey City costs $3. So, if Bob were to buy his doughnuts in Jersey City every day, he would have $179/week to spend on doughnuts and all other goods. Suppose Bob does go to Jersey City every day. How many doughnuts, and how much of all other goods would he consume? We will refer to this as Bundle C. For your convenience, fill in the following values after finding Bob’s choice:
xC = ______ and yC = ______ .

( iv ) (1 point) Compare bundles B and C from Bob’s perspective. Will the tax on doughnuts succeed in reducing Bob’s doughnut consumption? Why? Explain very briefly.

You will not find this exam question in any publisher's question bank (unless someone lifted it from me ;-), so if you decide to use it, please do give credit. Better yet, let me know if I can help you develop an interactive classroom environment.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

So long New York Central Park thermometer

Back in 2010, I remarked on the fact that the venerable Central Park temperature station in Manhattan was missing recent data.

Now that I had a chance to look at Global Historical Climatology Network-Monthly version 3, I must report with great sadness that, apparently, the thermometer located only a short distance from Jim Hansen's office did not make it:

$ grep ^42572503001 ghcnm.tavg.v3.2.2.20141118.qca.dat | wc -l

$ grep ^42572503001 ghcnm.tavg.v3.2.2.20141118.qca.inv | wc -l

$ grep -i 'new york' ghcnm.tavg.v3.2.2.20141118.qca.inv 42572503002 40.7800 -73.7700 7.0 NEW YORK/FORT TOTTEN …
42574486001 40.5800 -73.8800 10.0 NEW YORK/FLOYD BENNETT FIELD …

Note that this means the entire history of the temperature record at Central Park no longer appears in the the dataset for operational climate monitoring activities.

At least, Ithaca is still represented:

grep -i 'ithaca' ghcnm.tavg.v3.2.2.20141118.qca.inv
42500304174 42.4489 -76.4489 292.6 ITHACA CORNELL UNIV …

On the other hand, the National Weather Service has no difficulty tracking temperatures at KNYC:

Here are the details:

ICAO Location Indicator: KNYC
Station Name:            NEW YORK CITY CENTRAL PARK
State:                   NY
Country:                 United States
WMO Region:              4
Station Position:        40-47N    073-58W (dms)
Station Elevation (Ha):  48 Meters
Upper Air Elevation (Hp):48 Meters

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My kingdom for a thermometer!

Back in May 2010, I asked Dude, where is my thermometer?. This was after realizing 1) The sharp drop-off in the number of temperature stations in GHCNv2 during the past two decades; and 2) The geographical concentration of the remaining data to mostly U.S. locations. Frankly, at the time I had not fully anticipated what I ended up seeing in the data set.

Since then, GHCNv2 has been superseded by GHCNv3:

Effective May 2, 2011, the Global Historical Climatology Network-Monthly (GHCN-M) version 3 dataset of monthly mean temperature has replaced GHCN-M version 2 as the dataset for operational climate monitoring activities. (emphasis mine)

A few days ago, I downloaded the 20141118 version of the quality control adjusted monthly average temperature series. A cursory look at the number of non-missing data points for January and October between 1702 and 2014 shows that not much has changed since GHCNv2:

As before, what is really striking is how few countries' dominate the data set even when there are a lot of data points:

January 1984

January 1994

January 2004

January 2014

And, of course, here is an animation of the entire data set between 1702 and 2014:

Again, the point here is simple: Humans have not measured and recorded temperature observations across the globe as part of a well-designed experiment. The data sets we have are by-products of historical coincidences.

Our guesstimate of mean temperatures in 1913 is qualitatively different than our guesstimate of mean temperatures in 2013, and they are also different than our guesstimate of temperatures in 1813.

I find it interesting that as the noise about "climate change" gets louder, as it becomes more and more expensive just to exist, and travel from one location to another due to oppressive taxes and subsidies justified by this climate change phenomenon, the more dominant the contribution of continental U.S. temperature stations is becoming to the "global" climate record.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Scenes of Democrat tolerance

Bobby Jindal used four teeny weeny messages to cut through the noise around the Obama administration's ineptitude.

Here is a screenshot of the first one:

This gave us an opportunity once more to see what happens when minorities in the U.S. do not act in accordance with the wishes of the "liberal" crowd.

According to these people, it is somehow OK to say Go back to India to a U.S. citizen born in Baton Rouge, but not OK to criticize the Federal Government that issued a visa to a person from a country where a dangerous disease runs rampant. According to these people, it is unacceptable to deny subsidized tuition to people who are in the United States illegally, but it is OK to tell the American-born American governor of an American state to go "back" to India.

Here are the four incisive tweets that lay bare our predicament:

Winter is coming … and it is going to be a long one.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Do you think you understand what Iran is doing?

Here are two reports.

One, from Yahoo! News, via AFP:

Iran trying to convince Turkey to save Kobane

Tehran (AFP) - Iran has begun talks with Turkey aimed at convincing it to help stop Islamic State group jihadists from taking the key Syrian border town of Kobane, an official said Thursday.

The person who wrote this report, and the person who are the headline, are illiterate.

Here is what the second paragraph says:

"Iran will take any action to help the Kurdish (people) of Kobane in the framework of the support that it provides to the Syrian government to combat terrorism," Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdollahian said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

That means, Iran is telling to Turkey not to even consider intervening in Syria.

If you don't get that, you are not qualified to offer any opinion in any international matter.

The second report, this time from Iran's PressTV, is much more honest:

Iran warns Turkey over military presence in Syria

ran has warned the government of Turkey against possible military intervention in Syria as ISIL Takfiri terrorists close in on the Syrian town of Kobani near the Arab country’s border with Turkey.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Thursday that Tehran and Turkey are in consultation over the situation in the Kurdish city, noting that the Islamic Republic has warned Turkey against ground operations in Syria.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will take any necessary action to help the Kurds in Kobani in line with its support for the Syrian government in its fight against terrorism,” added Amir-Abdollahian.

Both reports are based on the same source and the same words. For some reason, the AFP portrays this as the wonderful and kind Mullahs of Iran begging Turkey to help.

Iran's PressTV accurately portrays the statement as a threat to Turkey to stay out.

And, Mr. President and his botoxed bosom buddy Kerry want Turkey to invade Syria without committing to supporting her when Russia, and Iran make good on their threats.

Democrats' idiocy kills real people

New York Times shouts from the rooftops Turkish Inaction on ISIS Advance Dismays the U.S.. Apparently, Chicken-in-Chief Obama does not like Turkey's stance:

Even as it stepped up airstrikes against the militants Tuesday, the Obama administration was frustrated by what it regards as Turkey’s excuses for not doing more militarily.

And, some anonymous turd in the administration that lost Iraq and Afghanistan, that messed up Libya and Egypt, was frustrated:

“This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to avoid publicly criticizing an ally.

Let's deconstruct that, shall we?

First, President Obama abandoned Iraq. This was a move akin to all American military withdrawing from Europe right after Hitler killed himself, and leaving the entire European continent to the Russians. The void in Iraq was filled by Iran where they could, but vast areas remained beyond reach of official Iraqi security forces where bloody-thirsty Muslim terrorists grew in influence, and spread into Syria.

Now, in the aftermath of the killing of two Americans, Mr. President thinks he must do something to save a little bit of the election for his party. Therefore, he wants to appear to be tough enough in the eyes of those stupid enough to have brought his party to power, and those who are even stupider to want to keep it in power. Therefore, with no strategy other than a desire to avoid personal embarrassment, he is using really expensive military hardware to tickle ISIS occasionally.

In this environment, he and his aides are apparently pushing Turkey to unilaterally invade Syria. Let's repeat that: The administration that did not back Turkey up when Syria shot down an unarmed Turkish reconnaissance plane, the administration that did not follow through on their red line against Syria, wants the Turkish military to invade Northern Syria.

Let me remind the Democrats among you about basic geography: Turkey has looong land borders with Syria, Iraq, and Iran:

Both Iran and Syria are supported by Russia.

United States and other supposed NATO "allies" have shown that they do not have the strength to stand up against Russia, neither in Europe, or in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Let's say the Turkish Army invades Syria. What happens then?

To answer that question, we just need to look at the current disorder that, to the untrained eye, seems to have come from nowhere.

For decades, the Assad family provided safe haven to various terrorist groups in Damascus. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union used Syria to undermine the stability of NATO's Mediterranean front. In the late 70s and early 80s, members of various leftist terrorist groups from Turkey found safe-haven in Syria. Among them were the leaders of the PKK, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization.

On the one hand, you hear stories that PKK supporters and sympathizers in Turkey are burning buildings with people in them, shooting, beating cops, looting ATMs and shopping centers, because they want the the Turkish Army to violate the territorial integrity of Syria, and help their compatriots.

On the other hand, your logic ought to tell you, if a more effective way to mobilize the Turkish public and government would be not to try to kill people, burn buildings, and destroy other property. After all, most of the Turkish public has no sympathy for crazy Muslim terrorists. What they have less sympathy for, however, is supporters of a terrorist organization which is responsible for deaths of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens.

There is no easier way to create chaos in Turkey than to have PKK supporters start killing, burning, and destroying.

Western press may claim that this outbreak of violence in many Turkish population centers is being created by the concern among Kurds in Turkey for their compatriots in Syria, but that is BS. Turkey has provided refuge to more than 150,000 Kurds since the most recent ISIS offensive started, and allowed him almost two million refugees since the start of the Syrian civil war.

In reality, the current reign of chaos in Turkey is being directed by Putin himself via Damascus. It was Putin's KGB who fed and groomed the PKK, via Assad Sr., and it is Putin who is moving the pieces again.

The purpose is the same as before: Turkey, whose position of controlling Russia's access to the Mediterranean, is a strategic obstacle that must be removed. Outright invasion might be risky, but a Turkish government weakened by internal chaos would still do.

So, let's say a foolish Turkish government decided to do as Obama and Kerry tell them: Let's say the Turkish Army invaded Syria tomorrow. Say, Assad does not appreciate this violation of Syria's borders, and declares that it considers this operation casus belli.

Now, Turkey is at war with Syria.

Putin says he is sending help to Syria via the Turkish Straits.

If Turkey does not allow the Russian ships to go to Assad's aid, Turkey is at war with Russia as well.

If Turkey does allow Russians to send help to Syria, well, Turkey is at war with Russia in that situation, too.

Do you think any NATO member country, including the United States, would risk fighting Russia to help Turkey?

The PKK would also immediately launch a public relations campaign, telling everyone and anyone that Turkey is using the excuse of stopping ISIS' advance to exterminate Kurds in Syria.

Most importantly, the election in the United States would be over, and Mr. President would no longer have any reason to worry about the Middle East.

Many thousands of Turks would end up dying just like the hundreds of thousands others killed as a consequence of Mr. President's choices.

I am not a fan of President Erdogan. But, in this instance, just as John McCain also points out, he is right: Turkey cannot go it alone. She must secure United States' and NATO's commitment before any irreversible action:

Oct 09 2014

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today released the following statement on Turkey and the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS):

“The growing criticism of Turkey for not acting to save Kobani does not reflect the reality on the ground that both ISIS and Bashar al-Assad must be defeated. We certainly believe Turkey should play a greater role in the fight against ISIS, and we have disagreed in recent years with some of Turkey’s policies and actions in the Middle East, especially on Israel and the management of its border with Syria.

“In this instance, however, President Erdogan has said that we need an international strategy not just to destroy ISIS, but also to force Assad to leave power and end the conflict in Syria – for the former objective cannot succeed without the latter. This strategy, Erdogan has said, must include the establishment of safe zones in Syria for civilians and opposition forces, protected by no-fly zones – a strategy we have long advocated and continue to believe is vital to success in both Syria and Iraq.

“This view is shared by many of our friends and allies in the Middle East. We are confident that if President Obama adopted a strategy took the steps that Turkish leaders are advocating to deal with Assad as well as ISIS, he would have significant support from our regional partners, including Turkish military involvement, which can be so important to success.”