URLs du Jour

2022-03-29

  • Understanding "risk". It's the theme of the latest xkcd:

    [Spacecraft Debris Odds Ratio]

    Mouseover: "You say this daily walk will reduce my risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 30%, but also increase my risk of death by bear attack by 300%? That's a 280% increased! I'm not a sucker; I'm staying inside."


  • Diogenes has given up looking for honest men and returned to his barrel. Where he said, "Hey, Joe, get your own damn barrel!"

    (Geez, maybe that joke is too strained?)

    Anyway Chris Stirewalt does not have Diogenes in mind in his article: Biden Has Company at the Bottom of the Barrel

    The 2016 presidential election was so notable, among other reasons, because it pitted the two least-liked major-party nominees in modern political history against each other.

    In an average of the five final high-quality polls of 2016, 41.4 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton, and 37.4 percent felt similarly about Donald Trump. That was about 10 points below the candidates in the rancorous 2012 election and about 5 points worse than Trump and President Biden in the historically heinous 2020 contest. 

    Well, if you thought 2016 was a race to the bottom, 2024 is shaping up to be a journey to the center of the earth. 

    The most recent NBC News poll […] has gotten a lot of attention for its finding that Biden has reached the lowest job approval rating of his term at 40 percent. As one would expect, Biden’s poor showing was driven by voter concerns over rising prices and the economy in general. But the poll also dashes Democratic hopes that Biden would get a boost from the mostly united response of Americans in opposition to Russia’s effort to conquer Ukraine. 

    But you know who has even worse approval numbers? That's a pretty easy guess.

    Stirewalt's article sent me to electionbettingodds.com for the first time since November 2020. As I type, the favorite to win the presidency in 2024 is… Donald J. Trump, with a 34.5% chance awarded by the surveyed betting markets. Wheezy Joe is in a distant second place at 15.2%.

    Well, it's early. When I started looking at betting odds for the 2020 election in November 2018, Wheezy was only given a 7% shot at winning the Democratic nomination. He trailed Kamala, Elizabeth Warren, … Caroline Kennedy?!

    And things were volatile. The very next week, Caroline had dropped off the charts. But Biden was behind Kamala, Warren, Beto O'Rourke. And tied with Bernie Sanders.

    Let's go out on a limb: things may change.

    Change for the better? Magic 8-ball says "Reply hazy, try again."


  • Boob Bait for the Bubbas. Ira Stoll notes that Wheezy Joe, not having much success so far in his efforts to start World War III, has moved on to the less ambitious goal of further wrecking the American economy: Biden Is Trying To Pass a Wealth Tax—Again. It Could Be Unconstitutional.

    President Joe Biden got elected in part by portraying himself as a moderate, rejecting calls for a wealth tax by his primary campaign rivals, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.).

    Now that Biden has made it to the White House, though, he just won't drop the idea, even though, like many of his tax-and-spend plans, he can't manage to get it through the Democrat-controlled Congress.

    Biden first floated what I called the "Biden-Wyden wealth tax," after Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, back in October 2021. It went nowhere, thanks in part to the dynamic duo of Sens. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D–Ariz.), who deserve credit for saving Biden from his party's worst policy ideas. It was too much even for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.), who, The Washington Post reports, privately derided the Biden-Wyden wealth tax as a publicity stunt.

    How many ways is this a bad idea?

    Many of the same problems that applied to the original Biden-Wyden wealth tax apply to this new iteration of it. It could well be unconstitutional. Its retroactive application violates a principle of the rule of law. The small number of people targeted by it raises concerns about consent of the governed and about taxation without representation. There are practical issues having to do with the valuation of assets whose value may fluctuate wildly over time. We should be figuring out ways to ease the burden of taxation and shrink the size of government, not moving in the opposite direction. The money would be better used by the rich people who own it than by the lobbyist-influenced politicians in Washington.

    I'd like to think this is (as headlined above) is Boob Bait for the (left-wing) Bubbas. But doesn't Wheezy have the left wingers in his pocket already?


  • Another dumb idea. And this one is local. Drew Cline at the Josiah Bartlett Center observes: Requiring U.S. steel in N.H. public projects would hurt taxpayers and workers

    With inflation at a 40-year high and March approaching the highest one-month gas price increase on record, this would be a strange moment for legislators to purposefully inflate public works costs for taxpayers. But that could happen, started by a Senate vote this week.

    Senate Bill 438 would raise costs on New Hampshire taxpayers for the sole purpose of protecting jobs in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and New York. It has 14 co-sponsors, 58% of the Senate.

    The bill would require all state-administered public works projects of $1 million or more to use American-made steel. Similar bills are being pushed by the steel industry in state legislatures around the country. It is a classic example of protectionism masquerading as patriotism.

    There's enough of this taxpayer money-wasting going on at the Federal level; we don't need to make things worse here.


  • Finally, a good article in WIRED. If you look up "photosynthesis reaction" at the Google, you'll see a deceptively simple equation:

    [Photosynthesis]

    Plants do this: suck in carbon dioxide and water, and use the energy of incoming photons to change those molecules into sugar and oxygen. And they've been doing it for billions of years, thanks to the dumb-but-persistent workings of evolution putting together a pretty stupid enzyme. (Click the pic, Wikipedia will give you the deets.)

    Which has long made me wonder: how come we smarties can't come up with a synthetic version of the same idea, much more efficient? Suck as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as you want! Climate change solved! You're welcome!

    A recent WIRED article comes pretty close to exploring that idea: A Bold Idea to Stall the Climate Crisis—by Building Better Trees

    Of all the potential fixes for the climate crisis, none has captured hearts and minds quite like tree planting. It’s a goal that seemingly everyone can agree on: Scientists, politicians, even billionaires are putting their heft behind efforts to green the land with new forests that will capture carbon and—hopefully—lock it away in trunks and soil for decades.

    But no climate fix is ever that simple. Multiple studies have found that tree-planting campaigns don’t always deliver the benefits they promise. If newly planted forests aren’t properly cared for and monitored, the trees can die and any carbon they stored will be released back into the atmosphere. Sometimes there aren’t enough seedlings for these programs in the first place. The mass enthusiasm for tree-planting programs has sparked a partial backlash, with scientists arguing that planting trees is important, sure, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that it’s a silver bullet for the vast challenges of the climate crisis.

    Other scientists point to a different problem with mass tree-planting efforts: the trees themselves. What if existing trees just aren’t good enough at storing carbon? If scientists could find a way to increase trees’ carbon-sucking potential, we’d be unlocking more cost-effective carbon capture with every tree planted. A better tree could be what we've been waiting for. We just have to make it.

    Interesting! Trees are nice, but my vision is more techy: arrays of panels, maybe looking like solar panels, that just sit there in the sun. Water is pumped in as needed, CO2 is absorbed, sweet O2 is emitted, and… sugar comes out the other end. Which we put on our cornflakes.