Monday, May 31, 2010

Last Ride of May

Got out for a nice Memorial Day recovery ride with the guys this morning. We only ran into a few raindrops along the 38-mile route. I'm not sure the pace was truly "recovery," but it was a very pleasant ride.

Rate this ride: ****

Memorial weekend total: 140.5 miles

May cycling total: 787 miles

Year to date: 1921 miles.

Happy Birthday John Bonham (1948-1980)

A great drummer, who died way too young.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Congratulations Ivan Basso

For winning the 2010 Giro d'Italia. David Arroyo was second, and Basso's teammate Vicenzo Nibali was third. It's not clear whether Basso's victory constitutes vindication for the previous Giro winner, who served a two-year ban for doping, or an indication that dopers continue to dominate the sport. Needless to say, Basso insists that he is now riding clean.

Sunday Pre-Race Ride

Got out with Coach Bob and the boys for a 40-mile ride before heading to the track for the Indy 500. The ride was easy going out and coming in, with a flurry of attacks in the middle. Karl did a great job creating and holding on to a gap with Bob.

Rate this ride: *****

I usually don't attend the 500, but my friend and former colleague Ron Krotoszynski (now at the U.Alabama Law School) has a spare ticket and kindly offered it to me. I may report on the race later.

UPDATE: One word to describe this year's Indy 500: HOT.

Does the Gulf Oil Spill Make Climate Legislation More Likely or Less Likely to Pass the Senate?

Many commentators seem to think not (see, e.g., here and here), but I beg to differ. As the scale of the disaster in the Gulf comes to light, public opinion increasingly is turning against offshore oil drilling. The only way to save it from a complete ban or moratorium may be to enact the Kerry-Lieberman "American Power Act," which includes provisions allowing - even expanding - offshore oil drilling. It is at least possible that the oil industry will now get behind and help push for the climate bill (so long as the oil exploration provisions are not substantially amended or excised).

Happy 67th Birthday Gale Sayers

Still amazing to watch.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Very Definition of "Self-Serving"

Even assuming all of his allegations are true, it's all about the money and notoriety. Totally classless.

Summer Writing Means Fewer Blog Posts

As I start working assiduously my summer writing projects, which could well keep me busy through next winter, the volume of blog posts will likely drop for the next couple of months. I will try to keep on top of the important stuff, like birthdays and bike rides, but more substantive posts will be fewer and farther between.

Early Saturday Ride

Thanks to David, Karl, Kenny, Ed, Tommy, and Big Frank for an excellent (though tiring) 60-mile trek around central Indiana, which started at the ungodly hour of 7 am. Thanks also to Mrs. Cyclingprof, who greeted me when I got home with steak and eggs for breakfast.

Rate this ride: ****
Rate the post-ride meal: *****

Happy 29th Birthday Andrei Arshavin

One of the world's most talented footballers.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Big Day in the Giro

Lots of climbing today, including the famous Mortirolo. Today's stage could determine the winner. Here's the profile (courtesy of

UPDATE: Basso rides into the pink jersey today, taking back all 2.5 minutes he trailed David Arroyo going into today's stage. I don't see anyone taking it away from him over the weekend. Tomorrow is another mountain stage, where Basso, with the support of teammate Vicenzo Nibali, could well extend his lead. Evans, Sastre and Vinokourov are already too far back to close the gap in the race's final time-trial on Sunday.

Happy Birthday Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006)

An important, challenging, and invariably interesting composer. Here is one of his etudes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jason Scott Johnston "Cross-Examines" Climate Science

In a new working paper (available here), Penn law professor Jason Scott Johnston bravely (for a non-scientist) and provocatively assesses the extent to which "establishment" climate science, as reflected in IPCC assessment reports, constitutes policy advocacy rather than sound science. His purpose is not to deny or cast doubt on whether anthropogenic climate change is occurring, but to correct what he perceives to be a rush to judgment (or rush to policy) by legal and other scholars, who may be overreacting to the problem.

Here is the paper's abstract:

Legal scholarship has come to accept as true the various pronouncements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientists who have been active in the movement for greenhouse gas (ghg) emission reductions to combat global warming. The only criticism that legal scholars have had of the story told by this group of activist scientists - what may be called the climate establishment - is that it is too conservative in not paying enough attention to possible catastrophic harm from potentially very high temperature increases.

This paper departs from such faith in the climate establishment by comparing the picture of climate science presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other global warming scientist advocates with the peer-edited scientific literature on climate change. A review of the peer-edited literature reveals a systematic tendency of the climate establishment to engage in a variety of stylized rhetorical techniques that seem to oversell what is actually known about climate change while concealing fundamental uncertainties and open questions regarding many of the key processes involved in climate change. Fundamental open questions include not only the size but the direction of feedback effects that are responsible for the bulk of the temperature increase predicted to result from atmospheric greenhouse gas increases: while climate models all presume that such feedback effects are on balance strongly positive, more and more peer-edited scientific papers seem to suggest that feedback effects may be small or even negative. The cross-examination conducted in this paper reveals many additional areas where the peer-edited literature seems to conflict with the picture painted by establishment climate science, ranging from the magnitude of 20th century surface temperature increases and their relation to past temperatures; the possibility that inherent variability in the earth’s non-linear climate system, and not increases in CO2, may explain observed late 20th century warming; the ability of climate models to actually explain past temperatures; and, finally, substantial doubt about the methodological validity of models used to make highly publicized predictions of global warming impacts such as species loss.

Insofar as establishment climate science has glossed over and minimized such fundamental questions and uncertainties in climate science, it has created widespread misimpressions that have serious consequences for optimal policy design. Such misimpressions uniformly tend to support the case for rapid and costly decarbonization of the American economy, yet they characterize the work of even the most rigorous legal scholars. A more balanced and nuanced view of the existing state of climate science supports much more gradual and easily reversible policies regarding greenhouse gas emission reduction, and also urges a redirection in public funding of climate science away from the continued subsidization of refinements of computer models and toward increased spending on the development of standardized observational datasets against which existing climate models can be tested.
I applaud Johnston for the detail of his cross-examination of the scientific evidence, and for raising important considerations such as the extent to which presumed feedback mechanisms drive both scientific and policy conclusions. But that doesn't mean Marty Weitzman is wrong about the need for "climate insurance" to protect against what he calls the "bad fat tails" of probability density functions (PDFs) of climate sensitivity models. To set policy only according to the means of the PDFs could be a grave mistake.

For all his searching "cross-examination" of the "establishment" climate-science community, Johnston does not seriously challenge the following graph from the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (2007), which shows that observed global mean temperature trends confirm models of anthropogenic climate change:

Johnston may be quite right that some climate scientists, such as James Hansen, are basically "doomsayers," who should not dictate policy. But there is no evidence that policy makers are paying much attention to Hansen. And, as Johnston notes, on the issue of sea level rise (which provides the basis upon which Johnston criticizes Hansen), the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report was, in fact, overly conservative. Johnston expressly recognizes the potential consequences for less developed countries of a two-meter sea-level rise, but may underestimate the consequences for developed countries, including the US.

Finally, from a legal-policy perspective Johnston's presumption that advocacy-based, "establishment" climate models are leading to overly ambitious and expensive climate policies seems to conflate the climate-policy rhetoric of 50-80 percent reductions in GHG emissions by 2050 with the reality of very modest - arguably insignificant - climate policies that have so far been adopted or are presently being contemplated for near-term adoption. His concern about "expensive, immediate and irreversible policy commitments" is, at least so far, unwarranted. Over-commitment to avoiding climate change hardly seems to be the problem right now. Rather, the immediate problem seems to be either no or too little climate policy. Before we concern ourselves with attaining (but not exceeding) some "optimal" level of GHG control, it would be nice if we could at least get the direction right.

UPDATE: I've asked Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA, and contributor to the highly respected RealClimate website for his opinion of Professor Johnston's "cross-examination" of climate science. If he e-mails me or posts about it, I will let you know.

Happy 52d Birthday Neil Finn

One of my all-time favorite musicians and songwriters.

And because one of Neil's songs isn't enough, here's another:

And one more with brother Tim:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Five Star Recovery Ride

The best kind of recovery after a trip (of any distance or duration) is a nice recovery ride on the bike of the kind I had this evening with a small group of like-minded riders. 30+ miles at a pace that ranged from 17-22 mph. Nice and easy. Tomorrow I hope to have a two-ride day, with some hard intervals in the morning and a group ride with my son in the evening.

A new feature of my blog will be rating my rides (5 stars denotes an excellent ride; 1 star is a terrible ride; and 0 stars means I crashed).

Rate this ride: * * * * *

Happy Birthday Miles Davis (1926-1991)

Kind of Blue remains one of my all-time favorite recordings.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On My Way Home from Boston

Have I ever mentioned that I hate traveling? I don't mind being away from home for a short time at an interesting conference in an interesting place, and the Lincoln Institute Land Policy Conference and Cambridge, Mass. certainly qualify as interesting. It's the getting there and back that I mind, especially given the current state of air  travel. A nice hotel helps to make for a good trip, but increasingly I find that hotels - even the independent ones -  and hotel rooms are pretty much the same.

The Role of Conference "Discussant"

A "discussant" should critique, highlight, and draw out implications from the paper(s) he or she is discussing.

A "discussant" should not talk about herself, focus on his own work, or present an alternative/supplementary paper.

Don't Hold Your Breath for a New E.O. on Regulatory Benefit-Cost Analysis

I have it on very good authority that the long anticipated Obama Executive Order on Benefit-Cost Analysis (or Regulatory Impact Analysis) will not be promulgated any time soon. It is being held up by politics (go figure). According to my source, the main resistance appears to be among environmental groups that continue to object to any assessment of costs and benefits in the regulatory process. Of course, that horse left the barn decades ago. The real question is whether the Obama Administration can substantially improve BCA processes that already exist, e.g., by establishing an official schedule of declining discount rates, such as the UK Treasury uses, or institutionalizing the use of regulatory prompt letters.

The delay in promulgation of the new E.O. is disappointing, as I was hoping to organize a panel of law professors for this fall's MacArthur/Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis conference around it. We'll have to resort to Plan B, which is to focus on distributional issues in benefit-cost analysis.

Day 2 of Lincoln Institute of Land Policy Conference on "The Environment, Climate Change, and Land Policies"

Several interesting panels today, including on "Market Incentives for Resource Land Management," "Market Approaches to Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions," "Environmental Risk Assessment, Mitigation, and Adaptation," and "Governance of Environmental Policy."

Happy Birthday Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Champion of individualism and nonconformity.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Most Interesting Fact I Learned Today

In a conference presentation on "Coastal Zone Management and Sea-Level Rise," Robert Nicholls of the University of Southampton provided reason for some optimism (or less pessimism) about adaptation to substantial levels of sea-level rise for highly populated coastal (mega-)cities such as Los Angeles, Tokyo, and even relatively poor cities such as Jakarta because those very cities have long been adapting to subsidence.

During the course of the 20th century, Tokyo subsided by 5 meters, parts of Los Angeles by 9 meters (due mainly to oil extraction), and Jakarta by about 1 meter. Not only did those cities successfully adapt without major disruption to human life or welfare, hardly anyone noticed (at least, I didn't have a clue) that they were doing so.

How "Permanent" Do Conservation Easements Have to Be to Obtain Tax Benefits?

All states now allow for the imposition of conservation easements on land, which essentially prevent the land from being developed (at all, in the case of wild lands; for non-agricultural uses, in the case of agricultural lands). Why would landowners voluntarily allow conservation easements to be imposed on their lands? One big reason is to earn tax reductions that are applicable to lands subject to such easements. In most, if not all states, lands that ordinarily are taxed at their highest and best use (for development) will be taxed only at their existing use if subject to conservation easements. Agricultural lands, which are already taxed based on existing use, still benefit from lower federal inheritance taxes, if they are subject to conservation easements.

The rub is that in virtually every state, the tax benefits of conservation easements apply only if the easements are perpetual. This principle, which is clearly specified in the text of just about every statute authorizing conservation easements, was recently tested in the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, in the case of Manchester Water Works v. Town of Auburn (the slip opinion is available here). In that case, the Water Works granted a conservation easement to the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests, a qualified land trust organization, which covered 460 acres of watershed it owned to protect water supply. However, the conservation easement expressly reserved to the Water Works the right to terminate on 30-years notice. The Water Works then applied for a tax abatement, based on the conservation easement.

The courts, including the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, rejected the tax abatement request because the conservation easement really just amounted to a self-imposed restriction that could be enforced by the land trust against the Water Works only so long as the Water Works chose not to terminate.

This case makes clear that conservation easements must be truly in perpetuity to earn tax benefits, under existing law. Whether the law should require perpetuity for tax benefits is another - completely legitimate - question. Forever is a long time, and circumstances do change. See, e.g., this NPR story on a dispute over efforts to amend or terminate a conservation easement. Courts sometimes amend property interests such as subdivision covenants and charitable trusts - which are also presumed at the outset to be perpetual - under the doctrine of changed circumstances. Arguably, conservation easements should fall into the same category. Even so, there seems good reason for the courts to require that the makers of conservation easements to intend them to be perpetual at the time they are imposed.

Hat tip: Preservation Law Digest

Babbitt on Sea-Level Rise and Protecting Coastal Lands

Former Arizona Governor and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt gave the keynote talk this morning at the Lincoln Institute Conference on the Environment, Climate Change, and Land Use.

His talk began with the expectation of a 3-foot sea-level rise during the present century, and its anticipated effects in US states as diverse as California and Louisiana. In California, the chief effect would not be on the coastline itself, which is rising because of tectonic activity, but inland on the Bay Delta, where it could disrupt not only local agricultural activities but the water pumps that supply most of Southern California's vast and ever-growing water needs.

Sec. Babbitt focused most of his discussion on the Louisiana coast, which he believes will actually drive national policy going forward. The Louisiana delta will subside by about 2 feet this century, while sea level rises. He believes that urban areas like New Orleans will be saved; they will essentially become islands like Venice. But somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 square miles of Louisiana delta will be submerged; and it is this coming change that will likely drive policy.

So far, Congress is ignoring projected sea level rise and its likely effects on coastal marshlands. The US Army Corps of Engineers has a simplistic solution of building more levees in a piecemeal fashion. What's really needed is something like the "Great Wall of Louisiana," extending from the Texas border to the Mississippi border. But even that would come at a very high ecological cost to Louisiana's coastal fisheries. Sea walls are really not the answer, as the Dutch have recently started to realize; they're starting to take down some of their sea walls.

Underlying current policy debates, according to Sec. Babbitt, is a "lack of candor" about what's really necessary to deal with sea-level rise and its effects on US coastal lands. We need a "managed retreat" from the coast, which requires careful and far-sighted land management planning at the national level, but coordinated with the states, including a financing plan. Babbitt's analogy for this is the national interstate highway system, which was a national plan, coordinated with the states, and financed by earmarked gas taxes.

If we are serious about dealing with the looming problem, Sec. Babbitt says four steps are necessary: (1) legislation that sets standards for a coordinated, national effort, including the creation of something like a "coastal restoration agency;" (2) the management effort must be driven by careful benefit-cost analyses; (3) associated state projects should only be funded if they are based on existing state comprehensive plans for coastal restoration; and (4) financing should come from the beneficiaries of coastal restoration projects, including perhaps the creation of special taxing districts.

It was a very interesting and substantive talk. I have serious doubts as to whether Sec. Babbitt's proposals are politically feasible at present. But then, so does he.

On a side note, Sec. Babbitt suggested that BP should not only pay damages for the oil it has spilled, but should also pay royalties to the US government for it. I think this is correct as a matter of legal interpretation of the mineral leasing laws, which do not exempt spilled oil from the royalty requirement.

Duncan Keith is a Warrior

Hockey players are a pretty tough group, but Chicago Blackhawks defender Duncan Keith took it to another level yesterday during the Hawks' series-clinching victory against the San Jose Sharks. Inadvertently blocking a clearing pass with his mouth, he lost his mouth guard and seven teeth. After missing just two shifts, he was back on the ice. has the full story here.

In Memoriam: Jamie Grodsky

I have just learned that Jamie Grodsky has died. I don't know any details, just that she passed away after a brief illness. Jamie was a fabulous environmental law scholar at the George Washington University School of Law in D.C. She had taught previously at the University of Minnesota Law School. She couldn't have been much older than 40, if that. I didn't know her well, but well enough to know that she was a kind person as well as a formidable young scholar. Her former colleague Dan Farber has a more extensive profile of Jamie's career over at Legal Planet (here). The news of her premature death makes shocks and saddens me.

Conference on "The Environment, Climate Change, and Land Policies"

I'm attending this conference today and tomorrow in Cambridge, Mass., courtesy of an invitation from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (the same organization is sponsoring the conference Lin Ostrom and I are co-organizing for September of this year on the evolution of property systems in natural resources). A program of the current conference can be viewed here.

I'm not sure whether I'll have internet access during the conference, but if so I might do some live blogging.

Happy Birthday Justice Benjamin Cardozo (1870-1938)

Arguably, Cardozo made his most important contributions to American jurisprudence opinions while serving on the 2d Circuit US Court of Appeals, but he wrote more than 100 opinions during his brief 6-year stint on the Supreme Court.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What, Levi Didn't Win?

Finally, someone other than Levi Leipheimer has won the Tour of California. Congratulations to Aussie Mick Rogers of Team HTC Columbia.

Early Sunday Ride

Heading out at 7 am for a two-hour ride before flying to Boston later this morning for a conference at the Lincoln Land Policy Institute on "The Environment, Climate Change, and Land Policies."

Happy Birthday Carl Linneaus (1707-1778)

The father of modern taxonomy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Long Wait Nearly Over

An article in Sunday's The Independent (here) reports that the first of three-volumes of Mark Twain's autobiography will be published this fall. Twain left instructions that it should not be published until 100 years after his death, and this is the year. It requires a tremendous belief in one's own legacy, I suppose, to believe that  people a century after one's death would remain interested to read one's autobiography; but in Twain's case, of course, that self-belief was well justified. I'll be eagerly awaiting each volume.

"Tour of Three Counties"

I rode a CIBA (Central Indiana Bicycling Association) ride today because it was leaving from my neighborhood (Fishback Creek Elementary School). I don't much like CIBA rides because of the huge crowds of disparate riders, the most dangerous of which are those who try to ride with the racers, even though they clearly lack the ability. Also, it becomes tricky to ride with my buddies on CIBA rides because it's difficult to keep the group together with so many riders on the road.

Today's ride started with a group pre-ride an hour before the start of the CIBA ride. We arrived back at Fishback Creek shortly before the official start of the CIBA ride, and I'm happy to report that the start of the ride was uneventful, though quite fast. Dr. Wilkes (as usual) could not prevent himself from chasing the big boys up front. Then, after a few miles, Dr. Raynor flatted. Several of us stopped with him, but we immediately split into two groups after he changed his tire. He continued north on the official route with Kenny G. (no, not that Kenny G.) and big Frank, while I took a short cut with the Bahrets, and Rebecca to make up for lost time. We never saw Karl, Kenny or Frank for the remainder of the ride, which I hope was safe for them.

The Bahrets, Rebecca and I soon enough made contact with the second group on the road, which included Dr. Wilkes. We all agreed that we would stop at the first SAG (and officially designated stopping point to snack and refill water bottles) and wait for Karl  et al. When we got there, however, Dr. Wilkes and the Bahrets blew right past it, while Rebecca and I slowed to a near stop. The two of us then decided to continue on our own, at our own pace. We took another short cut to avoid the short but nasty climb of "the Wall," and finished the nearly 50 miles at an average speed of 19.3 mph. Including the miles from and to home and the pre-ride, I covered 67 miles today.

Hopefully, I'll get in at least a short ride tomorrow before heading out of town late tomorrow morning for a conference in Cambridge, Mass.

Wear Your Helmet!

From this article in today's New York Times:
Whether you ride on hectic city streets or bucolic back roads, helmets are essential armor. Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injuries by up to 88 percent and facial injuries by 65 percent, according to a Cochrane Database Systemic Reviewpublished in 2000. Bike riders who play against those odds do not fare well in accidents. More than 90 percent of the 714 bicyclists killed in 2008 were not wearing helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Even a light blow to the head can be serious.

“You don’t have to be going fast to hurt your brain,” said Dr. Angela F. Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. A simple concussion can be debilitating, keeping you off the job or operating at half speed for weeks. “And every concussion increases the likelihood that you will have an injury to the brain if another concussion occurs,” Dr. Gardner said.

People over 30 should be particularly careful because their gray matter is not packed as tightly as it used to be. And I don’t mean that only figuratively.
I have two cracked helmets displayed in my office at school as a reminder to myself and to my students of the importance of never throwing a leg over a bike without wearing a helmet.

Happy Birthday Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Toxic Waste in Bloomington

The Daily Beast (here) lists the 28 most contaminated sites in the United States. I was surprised to learn that 3 of the top 11 are found in and around Bloomington, Indiana, all courtesy of Polychlorinated Biphenal (PCBs) dumping by Westinghouse. According to the story, clean-up at all three sites has been slow, and groundwater remains contaminated.

Happy 25th Birthday Mark Cavendish

The "Manx Missile" is the world's fastest sprinter.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Unwritten Rules of Cycling Are Now Written

Read them (here) at Velominati.

Hat tip: Coach Bob

Manual Labor Before Writing

I drove to Cincinnati yesterday to buy some bookcases for our bedroom at IKEA. After returning home, I spent about four hours putting them together. I finished their installation this morning. Now, I'm in the midst of moving all my fiction books to them from the home office. That will free up much-needed space in my office bookcases for all the non-fiction works that have been piling up. Reorganizing my office should take pretty much the rest of the day today. It's not fun, but it's a necessary prelude to getting serious writing done.

Glaeser on the "American Power Act"

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser had a column (here) a couple of days ago in the New York Times in which he decried the length and complexity of the Kerry-Lieberman Senate Climate bill and placed himself firmly on the fence as between passing the bill and taking no action on climate policy. I agree with him that the bill is long and complicated, but it's not obvious to me that long and complicated necessarily equates with bad.

The Clean Air Act (here) is about the same length as the Kerry-Lieberman bill (after adjusting for differences in spacing); and it is certainly as complicated. It is also one of the most environmentally and economically successful pieces of social/environmental welfare legislation ever enacted, having reduced emissions conventional air pollutants. Between 1980 and 2008, emissions of the seven criteria pollutants declined by between 40% and 99%, and overall air quality (from decreases in ambient concentration levels of those pollutants) improved by between 46% and 92% (see here). Meanwhile, according to the most comprehensive post hoc regulatory benefit-cost analysis ever undertaken (available here), between 1970 and 1990 the CAA produced net, direct, monetized benefits $21.7 trillion (central estimate). A prospective study for the years 1990-2010 estimated a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4/1 (central estimate), despite increasing marginal costs and declining marginal benefits of attaining higher levels of air pollution control and air quality.

As Professor Glaeser notes, one of the main reasons the Senate climate bill is so large and complicated is that it does much more than set up a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions. It is not just a climate  bill, but a comprehensive energy policy bill that provides subsidies for nuclear power, expands offshore oil drilling, and promotes "green" transportation. Professor Glaeser is quite right that "many of these interventions would be unnecessary if we had the right tax on carbon emissions," but getting the "right tax" on carbon is easier said than done. Even if it is technically feasible, as a matter of practical politics it is inconceivable. Moreover, Glaeser quite rightly points out "[f]ixing the number of permits may actually be the right thing to do" (according to Marty Weitzman's model of quantity regulations versus taxes) because "we may arguably be more confident that the amount of carbon should stay relatively flat than we are about the per-ton damage from carbon emissions."

Given that observation, and the rest his comments, I frankly do not understand why or how Professor Glaeser winds up sitting on the fence between supporting the Kerry-Lieberman bill and no climate policy. Like him, I find several aspects of the legislation troubling, including the offset provisions (read, farm subsidies), which Professor Glaeser does not mention. On balance, however, this legislation, however imperfect, is plainly better than doing nothing on the climate problem. It may not move the ball very far, but it moves it generally in the right direction, which is probably the most for which we can reasonably hope.

Happy Birthday John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ideology Matters!

Over at the Vox website (here), UCLA economists Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn report on an empirical study of the effects of ideology on "nudging" - non-regulatory efforts to generate individual behavioral changes, e.g., by the provision of information, to improve the well-being of the nudged individuals. They provide evidence from a randomised nudging strategy in which energy consumers were given energy saving tips and information about their energy use relative to their neighbors. Interestingly, they found that Democratic households responded to the nudges by reducing energy consumption by between 3% and 6%. But Republican households actually responded by increasing energy consumption. Their conclusion: "If the same message 'turns on' greens but 'turns off' more conservative individuals, then to reach out to all members of a diverse population requires a mixed-message strategy."

The full article is here.

Tuesday Night World Championships

It had been awhile since I rode the Tuesday evening Nebo Ridge training ride. I've mostly been doing interval training on Tuesday evenings. I rode Nebo Ridge this evening because I needed to bring one of my bikes in to the shop for service anyway; and I figured the ride would be a bit of a test to see if my training and my special ice-cream diet have been working. The answer is yes.

I was in the front group the entire ride this evening, and even took a couple of pulls at the front. We averaged 22.5 mph for the 30-mile ride (I didn't take the extra 6-mile loop). That certainly motivates me to keep up the interval work-outs.

UPDATE: I shouldn't underestimate the effects on my riding of drinking coffee from my new "Jens" mug. It's probably given me an extra 10 watts of power as well as an urge to breakaway.

A Disaster for Arsenal?

The Telegraph is reporting (here) that Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas will meet with manager Arsene Wenger to request a transfer to Barcelona. Although it is intriguing the imagine what Andrei Arshavin might be able to do playing in Fabregas's "quarterback" role, make no mistake about it: Fabregas's departure would be a huge blow to the Gunners.

Mini-Review: Anthony Scott, "The Evolution of Resource Property Rights"

Antony Scott, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, is one of the pioneers of resource economics, having done fundamental work on fisheries in the 1950s. In 2008 Oxford University Press published his maxim opus, The Evolution of Resource Property Rights, which not only sums up but expands on the work of his entire career.

Interestingly, it is a book that seems designed to appeal more to legal scholars than mainstream economists. Each chapter explores in remarkable depth the wide array of legal institutions that have evolved in different polities - sometimes over the course of several centuries - to govern the extraction, possession, use, and disposition of resources as varied as water, fish, hard-rock minerals, oil & gas, trees, and wildlife. In addition, Chapter 1 of the book provides a useful conceptual introduction to the field, which provides a context for understanding individual chapters and sections devoted to different resource regimes.

What I found most impressive about the book was Professor Scott's attention to legal detail, unusual for a resource economist. This book could have been written by a legal historian (which I mean as a compliment). The treatment of the legal regimes that create private property rights in natural resources is truly comprehensive. But I highlight the word "private" as a prelude to my only disappointment about the book, which is its relative neglect of public and common property systems, to which Professor Scott gives only token attention.

It is, perhaps, understandable that Professor Scott would focus primarily on private property rights in natural resources; the book is approximately 500 pages long as it is. However, I think a more appropriate title might have been "the evolution of private property rights in resources in Europe, the US, and Commonwealth Countries." There is virtually no discussion of resource property regimes from Africa, Asia, or South America. This does not detract, however, from the book's great value as a resource on property regimes in resources, so long as the reader is under no illusions that the book's coverage of the subject area is complete.

I am very pleased that Professor Scott will be participating in the conference Elinor Ostrom and I are co-organizing for the Lincoln Institute on Land Policy this September on the "Evolution of Property Rights Related to Land and Natural Resources" (see here).

Happy 73d Birthday Brooks Robinson

My all-time favorite baseball player.

I should also recognize the birthdays today of two great twentieth-century philosophers: Bertrand Russell and Rudolf Carnap. It's unfortunate for them to have to share a birthday with Brooksie.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Start-of-Summer Ritual

Today marked an annual ritual. I turned in my last set of grades this morning, and immediately began reorganizing my two offices (at school and at home) in preparation for summer writing. I finished cleaning up my school office more quickly than usual, reorganizing bookcases, moving papers from vertical stacks on the desk to either filing cabinets or recycling bins.

The situation is much worse at my home office, where I've simply run out of bookshelf space. I manage to clear off my desk and organize papers. Tomorrow, I'll resolve the bookshelf problem by purchasing a couple of new bookcases, which will go into my bedroom (with Mrs. Cyclingprof's permission) along with all of the fiction books currently in my office. That should buy me at least a couple more years of available bookshelf space to fill in my home office. I suppose I could avoid such problems in future by buying a Kindle or similar e-book reader. I still like the feel and smell of books, however.

By Wednesday, I should be writing.

Happy Birthday Erik Satie (1866-1925)

An underrated composer best (really, only)  remembered for his delicate piano melodies, like this one (played by Aldo Cicollini):

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Beer Ride

Moderation was the order of the day today, starting with a moderately paced ride of moderate distance, and followed by beer drinking in moderation at Coach Bob's house. Many thanks to Coach Bob and fellow riders Brian, Rebecca and Frank. The only surprising thing about today's ride was that more riders didn't show up knowing it was a beer ride.

Profile of Cass Sunstein

Today's New York Times magazine (here) has an excellent, in-depth profile of University of Chicago Law Professor Cass Sunstein, who currently heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OIRA is a little known but very powerful sub-agency, which imposes rules that federal, executive-branch agencies must follow when promulgating regulations.

Happy 66th Birthday Billy Cobham

Here's a clip of some very tasty drumming (with Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Giro After Week One: Who's Left in Contention?

It's been a perilous week to be a rider in the Giro. Between the winds of Holland and the rains of Italy, it's been a muddy, crash-filled mess. With two weeks yet to ride before they finish in Verona, some of the pre-race favorites are already too far back on time to have a realistic chance of pulling on the final maglia rosa of race champion. Carlos Sastre is already more than 7 minutes back. Brad Wiggins is a further minute behind him. Pippo Pozzato is a full 16 minutes behind the current race leader. That's after just one week of mostly flat-course racing.

The good news is that plenty of pre-race favorites remain at or near the top of general classification, including Alexander Vinokourov (currently in the pink jersey), Cadel Evans (in second, a minute back), teammates Vicenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso (less than 2 minutes behind), and former Giro winners Stefano Garzelli and Damiano Cunego (around 3 minutes back). I would be surprised if the winner is not one of those 6 six riders.

Saturday Ride

A small group met at Fishback Creek this morning for a ride up to Kirland, over to Lebanon, and back home. At the start, the winds were calm (very unusual for this particular month in this particular year), but they picked up to between 5 and 10 mph from the East during the ride, which made for a fun romp to the SW on the road from Elizaville to Lebanon. For the entire 53-mile ride, the group averaged a nice pace of 19.7 mph. Everyone worked reasonably hard; and a good time was had by all. Thanks to Karl, Larry, Terry, Kenny, Mark, and the tandem duo of Bill and Kris, with whom we hooked up in Lebanon.

Happy Birthday Paul Samuelson (1915-2009)

He influenced the teaching and practice of modern economics more than anyone else (for better and for worse).

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Hey, Lama!"

The Dalai Lama appeared today at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. According to this story in the Indianapolis Star, he called for world peace.

Below is a photo of him during the evening gown competition. I think he finished second runner-up.

Pinker on the Coevolution of Intelligence, Sociality, and Language

In a special issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol. 107, suppl. 2, May 11, 2010, pp. 8993-8999) devoted to issues relating to evolution and the human condition, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has a very intriguing article that offers up a testable theory that "the human mind..., like other complex organs, owes its origin and design to natural selection." Based on cognitive science and psychology, Pinker theorizes that "humans evolved to specialize in the cognitive niche, which is defined by: reasoning about the causal structure of the world, cooperating with other individuals, and sharing that knowledge and negotiating those agreements via language. This triad of adaptations coevolved with one another and with life-history and sexual traits such as enhanced parental investment from both sexes and multiple generations, longer childhoods and lifespans, complex sexuality, and the accumulation of local knowledge and social conventions in distinct cultures."

You can read the full text of the article here (ungated).

More on Regulating Offshore Oil Drilling

Earlier this week, I blogged (here) about President Obama's plan to break up the Minerals Management Service into two agencies, one of which would negotiate leases with oil companies, while the other would regulate lessees to ensure public and environmental safety. Today's New York Times has a disturbing story (here) that illustrates why this reform is necessary (but probably not sufficient):
The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half-dozen current and former agency scientists.

Those scientists said they were also regularly pressured by agency officials to change the findings of their internal studies if they predicted that an accident was likely to occur or if wildlife might be harmed.
There is no reason to believe that merely breaking the agency in two, with both still within the Interior Department, would prevent this kind of pressure from undermining environmental protections in the future. Regulatory authority should, instead, be vested in an independent agency, perhaps the EPA.

Happy 58th Birthday David Byrne

A true original.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

UK Barristers Put the US Death Penalty on Trial

The Guardian has posted (here) a video of a mock trial, organized by the legal charity Amicus, in which the defendant is the American death penalty. Two of Britain's leading barristers present arguments and cross-examine expert witnesses. Former lord chief justice Lord Woolfe presides. I won't spoil it by telling you which side prevails.

I should think the video would be a very useful teaching device. It is very well done.

Bankers Say Brazil Will Win World Cup

According to this article in today's Telegraph, bankers at UBS have generate a mathematical model to determine the outcome of this summer's World Cup in South Africa.
UBS used its "econometric toolbox and quantitative models" to forecast the winner based on factors including historic results and the teams' current "Elo ratings" – which take account of not only recent wins, losses and defeats, but the conditions under which those events occurred. Beating a powerhouse like Brazil or Spain would improve a team’s Elo ranking much more than beating a smaller side like Malta or Andorra.
After running the model, the bankers make Brazil the favorite with a 22 percent chance of victory, followed by Germany at 18 percent and Italy at 13 percent. The chances of the US team are not reported. Six of the eight most likely winners are from Europe (France, Holland, Spain, and England, in addition to the two already named). Argentina joins Brazil on the list, but with only a 5 percent chance of victory (although I wonder whether the modelers properly accounted for the likely contribution of Lionel Messi).

Epstein on Kagan

Professor Richard Epstein, a conservative/libertarian legal scholar at the University of Chicago, supports Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court (here).

I must say, I admire Professor Epstein's principled approach to the process: the President's nominee should begin with a strong presumption in favor of confirmation - regardless of judicial philosophy - which can be overcome only by clear lack of qualifications or convincing evidence of unworthiness.

EPA Ups the Ante on Climate Legislation

On the heels of yesterday's introduction of the Kerry-Lieberman bill to the Senate (see here), the Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it is preparing to finalize a substantive rule under the Clean Air Act to control greenhouse gas emissions from major sources. The completely transparent purpose of this announcement is to increase political support for the climate bill, which is regulated industries are likely to prefer  - because of the compliance-cost advantages of the bill's cap-and-trade regime - to traditional forms of regulation under existing statutory authorities. Quoted in today's Washington Post (here), co-sponsor Joe Lieberman makes no bones about the coordination of the bill's introduction and the EPA's  announcement:

Lieberman told reporters that he believes the prospect of EPA imposing a carbon cap could help mobilize 60 votes in support of climate legislation, since any regulation the agency issues would lack their bill's flexibility and generous incentives for different forms of energy production.

"The gun being held up in the air by EPA is having an effect," he said. "That's a genuine worry, and that's different this year than we've had before, and that's what makes me feel we can get to sixty" votes.
 It is unfortunate that the Obama Administration and Senate Democrats have to play such political games to pass climate legislation, but this is hardly the first time threats of regulation have been used to motivate political support for new legislation. Moreover, there is no question that EPA possesses authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (although particular aspects of its proposed regulation are legally questionable and will certainly be subject to legal  challenge).

A fact sheet on EPA's new rule is here. The full final rule is here.

Happy 46th Birthday Steven Colbert

An American icon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kerry-Lieberman Climate Bill

The Kerry-Lierberman Climate Bill (formerly Kerry-Lieberman-Graham, before Republican Lindsay Graham got cold feet, see here and here) was formally introduced in the Senate today (see here). The "American Power Act," a short summary of which is available here, includes the following features:
  • a federal cap-and-trade program for the largest carbon emitters (i.e., those that emit more than 25,000 tons per year of carbon), totaling about 7,500 energy and industrial facilities
  • the cap-and-trade program is phased in, first, for utilities, then, in 2016, for industrial sources, with a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2020 and more than 80 percent by 2050
  • most (if not all) allowances are to be auctioned to the utility sector; producers and importers of refined products must purchase allowances under the cap at a fixed auction price
  • carbon allowances have price floors of $12 (rising by 3 percent over inflation per year), and price ceilings of $25 (rising by 5 percent over inflation each year) 
  • separate state cap-and-trade programs are preempted, but EPA regulations under existing statutes are not
  • farmers are exempted from the program but can benefit from a new "multi-million dollar benefit stream," in the form of a domestic carbon offset program 
  • until 1916 (when industrial sources are phased into the cap-and-trade program), all revenues generated by the cap-and-trade program are to be used to offset electricity and natural gas rate increases for consumers
  • border tax adjustments are phased in if the international community does not adopt a new global agreement on greenhouse gas reductions
  • $5 billion clean energy manufacturing tax credit
  • $2 billion per year plus incentives for development of carbon capture and sequestration technology
  • incentives for new nuclear plant development
I have not read the entire bill yet, but I will be doing so soon, and will probably have more to write about it after I do. Feel free to read it for yourself (here); it's only 987 pages long. I am unlikely to love the bill; I already deplore the offset provisions, which, unless accompanied by very strict monitoring and verification provisions, are little more than an invitation to fraud, which would undermine the environmental integrity of the legislation. Nevertheless, let me be clear about one thing: 


Cycling Question of the Day

What percentage of avid road cyclists are Pavlovian responders, who cannot stop themselves from chasing down another rider, even during a designated "recovery" ride?

My guess is that the answer is pretty close to 75% - maybe more.

The Kagan Nomination

Since President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court on Monday, the pundocracy has been spewing out all kinds of commentary about her qualifications (or lack thereof),  the paucity of a "paper trail" (she didn't publish much as a legal scholar, and most of what she did publish was narrowly analytical, rather than intellectually trailblazing), her supposed "timidity" in eschewing public statements of her political or constitutional views, her status as an Ivy League-trained, East Coast insider, working strategically to position herself within corridors of power, and (most sadly) her sexuality (or lack thereof). I have not bothered to link to the myriad sources of all this commentary. Just pick any news or blog site more or less at random.

I will, however, link to one commentary that really confounded me. In yesterday's New York Times, columnist David Brooks (here) laments that Kagan's law review articles were limited to analytical and procedural issues, that she has not sought to influence public debate on the law, and that she appears to be more cautiously strategic than creative. Personally, I do not consider it a drawback for a judicial nominee to possess the qualities of analytical sharpness, parsimony, and carefulness in public utterance. However, the clear inference from Brooks's column is that, throughout her entire career, Kagan has been positioning herself for a seat on the high court. That strikes me as a bit far-fetched, given the vanishingly small probability of a Supreme Court appointment for any individual, no matter how gifted and politically well-connected. Even if Kagan's reticence dovetails nicely with a dysfunctional Senate confirmation process, as Brooks observes, the supposition that Kagan is nothing more than a strategic careerist strikes me as implausible, especially given her previous experience as an unsuccessful nominee to the D.C. Circuit under President Reagan (the Republican-controlled Senate never brought her up for a vote).

Finally, I am surprised to learn that David Brooks considers creativity and a willingness to stake out controversial positions as values that judges should possess. Perhaps he's right, but I can't imagine many of his fellow conservatives would agree. Nevertheless, we shouldn't underestimate the value of thoughtful, careful analysis either. I don't know what Elena Kagan's constitutional philosophy is, what positions she would take on issues that are important to me, or whether her positions on those issues would match my own. But I actually find her careful, analytical, and conciliatory approach to issues comforting.

Conservative/Liberal Democratic Coalition Government Taking Shape in UK

With Tory leader David Cameron finally ensconced in #10 Downing St as Prime Minister, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister, the UK's first coalition government in 70 years is beginning to take shape. The Telegraph has the rundown on cabinet appointments so far (see here). Here are three appointments of particular interest to me:

The new Chancellor of the Exchequer is Conservative George Osborne, on whom primary responsibility will fall for dealing with the UK's existing budget woes. At 38, he is the youngest Chancellor for more than a century.

The new Secretary for the Environment and Climate Change is Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne. Huhne's  selection should appeal to both environmentalists and economists. He is a strong supporter of greatly expanding pollution taxes and offsetting them with reductions in income taxes.

Finally, former Conservative Party leader, and prize-winning biographer, William Hague makes a return to power as Foreign Secretary. He should be a great asset to Cameron.

An interesting piece of trivia: Osborne, Huhne, and Hague all attended Magdalen College, Oxford (though not together). Prime Minister Cameron attended Brasenose College, Oxford, while Deputy PM Clegg attended Robinson College, Cambridge.

There have not been many coalition governments in the history of the UK, and the few that have existed have not been overly successful or long-lived. Will this one be different? My guess is that it is possible for the Tories and LibDems to co-rule successfully, at least for a year or two. Neither party seems to have much reason to push for new elections in the hope of obtaining a clear majority any time soon - at least not before a sustained and robust economic recovery - as the likely result would be another hung parliament. The real test will be whether (a) the Tories seek to delay or derail a promised referendum on electoral reform and (b) how much the LibDems are willing to push Cameron on that issue.

Of course, if the LibDems succeed in their efforts to reform the UK's electoral system, it would be the most profound change in the British constitution for more than 100 years. Under proportional representation, hung parliaments would become the norm, and virtually all governments would be coalitions. However, that result might be avoided by holding run-off elections between the top vote-getters in each electoral district. It will be interesting to see the final shape of electoral reform proposals, assuming that the Tories do not scupper, by hook or by crook, the promised referendum.

Happy 62d Birthday Steve Winwood

The wunderkind of rock and blues, who backed Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Howlin' Wolf in his early teens. At age 14, he joined the Spencer Davis Group, for which he wrote "I"m a Man" and "Gimme Some Loving."  In 1967, he formed Traffic, which he left two years later to start supergroup Blind Faith with Eric Clapton. All that by the age of 20. He remains a remarkable musician.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

From last night's Colbert Report:
Detroit used to be a city in Michigan.

Regulating Offshore Oil Drilling

I've written recently (here) about regulatory conflicts of interest that arise whenever the government has a direct financial stake in industries it is charged with regulating for public or environmental health and safety. Those conflicts of interest usually lead to lax regulatory oversight.

The problem is well exemplified by the recent Gulf oil spill. The Minerals Management Service (MMS), the federal agency charged with regulating offshore oil drilling, earns revenues, in the form of lease payments and royalties, from oil companies. It is a very lucrative business. According to an article published today by Bloomberg (here), the MMS is second only to the Internal Revenue Service in the revenues it generates for the US government, upwards of $13 billion per year. The Bloomberg article quotes Kevin Book, managing director of a policy research firm, Clearview Energy Partners LLC, as follows:
“The oil spill is the cost of having a relationship with industry like the one MMS has,” Book said. “MMS by charter is in the business of doing business with industry.”
In belated response to this institutional and organizational problem, the Obama administration has released a proposal today (see here) to split the MMS into two separate sub-agencies within the Interior Department, one in charge of negotiating leases and collecting royalties, the other in charge of regulating drilling operations. It's a step in the right direction, but I don't think it is enough. Also needed are clear rules for cases where conflicts between the two sub-agencies arise. It is easy to imagine circumstances in which the financial side  pressures the regulatory side to relax conditions. That needs to be institutionally prevented by clear rules that prevent the regulatory agency from negotiating regulatory adjustments. In addition, I continue to support legislation or a regulatory rule that would mandate the installation of remote shut-off valves for all offshore oil rigs.

Happy Birthday Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

Physicist, father of nanotechnology, and Renaissance man.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marian College Cycling

Congratulations to the Marian College (of Indianapolis) Men's Cycling team for winning the Division I Collegiate National Championships this past weekend in Wisconsin. They've had a great cycling program for years.

Velonews has the story on the collegiate championships here.

Political Obituary: Gordon Brown

The BBC reports (here) that Gordon Brown will step down as the leader of the Labour Party, following its massive election defeat last week. Unpopular since taking over as Prime Minister following Tony Blair's retirement in June 2007, Brown steadfastly withstood calls for early elections, and almost succeeded in clinging to power by his adept handling of the 2008 economic recession. In a November 2008 poll by the Times (London) (read here), Brown "comfortably" beat Tory leader David Cameron as the party leader best able to manage the economy. However, as the British economy continued to struggle in the run-up to the election, Brown lost his recession "bounce," and more. It must be said that many in the UK (and elsewhere) did not think Brown would last as long as he did in 10 Downing Street. On the other hand, he never had any incentive to call for elections any earlier than absolutely necessary.

Why did Brown announce his resignation today, rather than await the outcome of coalition talks to create a new government? This is speculation, but I suspect the move is intended to break up coalition talks between the Tories and the LibDems, and enhance prospects for a Labour/LibDem coalition government. There was never any chance of Brown remaining as Prime Minister in such a coalition, anyway. LibDem leader Nick Clegg had made that much clear even before the elections. So, Brown's announcement today may be viewed as a credible commitment to meeting LibDem demands.

Will it work? I doubt it. A Labour/LibDem coalition would still be a minority government, leaving the Conservatives positioned to block any legislative initiative, including the LibDems chief goal of election reform. The LibDem agenda would clearly be much better served by a majority coalition with the Tories, if they can cajol David Cameron into making a credible commitment in the direction of electoral reform. So far, Cameron has stopped short of such a commitment, only agreeing to study the issue.

Whatever the outcome of coalition negotiations, Gordon Brown's political career seems all but over. Of course, the same was said of Winston Churchill even before he became Prime Minister for the first time. But if there's one thing we know about Gordon Brown, it's that he's no Winston Churchill.

UPDATE: The Independent is reporting (here) that the Conservatives have responded quickly to Brown's sacrifice for a Labour/LibDem coalition by agreeing to offer a referendum on electoral reform. If true, I would expect this offer to clinch a LibDem/Conservative coalition.

Bad Luck Vande Velde

American favorite Christian Vande Velde has crashed out of the Giro d'Italia during Stage 3 for the second year in the row, this time with a suspected broken collar bone. Very unfortunate.

Kagan for the Court

As I guessed on Saturday (here), current Solicitor General Elena Kagan is President Obama's choice to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the US Supreme Court. Over at Concurring Opinions blog (here), my colleague Gerard Magliocca calls this an "uninspired choice"; Gerard thought she mishandled the Citizens United case (in which the Court overturned campaign finance restrictions on corporations), and is not a very good writer (although he does believe she should be confirmed). He may be right that Obama has missed an opportunity to appoint a truly outstanding jurist qua jurist. But that hardly distinguishes Obama from other recent presidents. Certainly, Kagan is no less inspired a choice than several other recent additions to the Court.

If Kagan's appointment is "uninspiring," it is nonetheless solid. She is smart, able to forge consensus (as her successful deanship at Harvard indicates), and sensible (another quality currently in short supply on the Court, IMHO).

The Senate confirmation hearings should be interesting. If I recall correctly, more than 30 Republican Senators voted against confirming Kagan to her current position as SG. I can only suppose that many more will line up against her confirmation to the Court. One point of controversy will surely be her support, as Dean at HLS, to prevent the armed forces from recruiting at the law school for violating the law school's policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Opponents will also seek to make an issue of her lack of prior judicial experience. But, of course, many Supreme Court justices in the past lacked prior judicial experience.

I don't intend to watch the dog-and-pony show known as the Senate Confirmation Hearings, though I will read reports on them, and pass along any interesting tidbits.

Happy 41st Birthday to the "Dutch Master"

Dennis Bergkamp was and remains my favorite soccer player. His combination of ball skills, touch, creativity, brains, tenacity, artistry, vision, scoring ability, and passing ability were unmatched when he was playing, and remain unsurpassed since his retirement. A photo is not enough. You must watch the video to appreciate the sheer beauty of his game.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rooftop Landscaping in Chicago

Rooftop landscaping is an increasingly popular method of insulation, energy conservation, preventing rainwater runoff, creating wildlife habitat, and reducing urban air temperatures. Here's a cool one I saw in Chicago this weekend.

Henri Matisse in Chicago

I highly recommend a trip to the Chicago Art Institute to see the new Matisse exhibit, "Radical Invention 1913-1917." It is wonderful. You can read information about the exhibition here. Below is one of my favorite works from the exhibit, "Piano Lesson," featuring his son Pierre at the piano.

By the way, I highly recommend Hilary Spurling's magnificent two-volume biography of Matisse - The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Early Years, 1869-1908 (Knopf 1998) and Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Color, 1909-1954 (Knopf 1997).

Happy Birthday Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005)

One of my all-time favorite conductors.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Next Supreme Court Justice?

It sounds like the Washington Post has inside information that President Obama plans to nominate Elena Kagan, current Solicitor General and former (very successful) Dean of the Harvard Law School (see here). She would be the first nominee since William Rehnquist, nominated in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, without prior judicial experience; and she would be the first Solicitor General - the US government's chief litigator before the Supreme Court - to be nominated since President Franklin Roosevelt named Stanley Forman Reed.

I believe that Dean Kagan would make an excellent Supreme Court justice. She clearly has a judicial temperament (without which she could never have managed the Harvard faculty as she did), and a great intellect.

One interesting piece of triviata: if Kagan is nominated and confirmed, it would mark the first time in US history that no Protestant sat on the nation's highest court. The Court would be comprised of six Catholics and three Jews.

The nomination should drop this coming Monday or Tuesday.

CBO on Employment Effects of Climate Policies

This past week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an issue brief in which it assesses (just three) studies projecting  the effects on employment of policies to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Not surprisingly (to anyone who has not drunk the kool-aid on so-called "green jobs"), the CBO found that
total employment during the next few decades would be slightly lower than would be the case in the absence of such policies. In particular, job losses in the industries that shrink would lower employment more than job gains in other industries would increase employment, thereby raising the overall unemployment rate.  
The key word in that quote is "slightly." The CBO acknowledges that most workers would only be temporarily displaced as those "who lost jobs would find new ones."

The bottom line is that regulatory policies - not just climate policies - entail economic costs, including to employment. All environmental regulations both cost and create jobs. Sometimes they cost more jobs than they create. The idea that shifts in production - whether due to regulations or technological changes - can occur without trade-offs, so that no one in society suffers, is a myth. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has some responsibility for propagating that myth with its talk about "green jobs" and a "green economy."

If the government's only goal is to maximize employment (rather than social welfare), it probably should not enact climate legislation. (It should also do a lot of other things, including abolishing all existing environmental regulations, announcing the immediate opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and all reaches of the US coastline for oil exploration and drilling, selling all the timber in Yellowstone National Park (among others), abolishing the minimum wage, and repealing laws prohibiting child labor).

If, however, the government's goal is to avert potentially great social and environmental harm, then it should enact a modest regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if it has some temporary, marginal effect on overall employment.

Happy Birthday Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992)

One of the most important political-economists of the 20th century.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Giro

The world's best three-week stage race begins tomorrow. No, not the Tour de France, which is in July. I'm talking about the Giro d'Italia, which is often a more interesting and open race than the Tour, with better scenery for viewers, and, for anyone who gets to go there, better food.

The race begins this year in Amsterdam with no clear favorite, according to (here). Last year's winner, Dennis Menchov is not competing. Carlos Sastre, who won the year before last, has not ridden much this Spring. Past winner Ivan Basso admits to not being on top form, although he might be sandbagging a bit; it's not uncommon for riders to ride themselves into form during a 3-week stage race. Another former winner, Damiano Cunego has shown some decent form this Spring, but much depends on whether his teammate, and now elder statesman of the peloton, Gilberto Simoni, is willing to cooperate with him.

Current World Champion Cadel Evans should have a great chance to win, but it might require him to expend more energy than he wants to prior to the Tour de France. Another good, but probably unpopular, choice would be Alexander Vinokourov, looking good off his win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Americans would no doubt like to see Christian Vande Velde return to the good form he showed at last year's Giro.

My picks for the podium: Pippo Pozzato, Bradley Wiggins, Ivan Basso

The UK Elections

The returns are still being tallied, but the overall contours of the results of yesterday's UK elections are already becoming clear. First, the results seem to more or less confirm the exit polls. The Conservatives gained big; Labour lost big; and the Liberal Democrats did worse than anticipated, given Nick Clegg's strong showing in the debates. With nine seats still undetermined, the Tories have 302, Labour have 255, and the LibDems have just 56. With 326 seats required for a clear majority, the result will surely be a "hung parliament," which means that no one party will be able to form a government by itself. A coalition government will be required. The chance that the Tories and Labour will form a coalition government is, of course, zero. It is possible, but unlikely, that the Tories could enter a coalition with some of the smaller parties. Absent that, it appears that the LibDems, despite their relatively poor showing at the polls, are in the catbird's seat.

According to constitutional convention in the UK, the sitting Prime Minister - Labour's Gordon Brown - gets the first crack at cobbling together a coalition, despite the fact that the election was, in effect, a repudiation of his leadership. However, this morning LibDem leader Nick Clegg stated that victorious Conservative leader David Cameron should have the  first chance to create a government. Moreover, in the days leading up to the election Clegg rejected any possibility that the LibDems might enter a coalition with Labour with Brown remaining as Prime Minister. Despite this, Brown has already offered a coalition to the LibDems, dangling a carrot they might find hard to refuse: electoral reform.

Under the current system - "first past the post" - a candidate does not need to win a majority of votes from their constituents to be elected; he or she just needs to win more votes than any other candidate in that district. This rule serves the interest of the two main parties, and reduces the influence mainly of the Liberal Democrats, who regularly receive over 20 percent of the national vote, but usually wind up with fewer than 10 percent of seats in Parliament. The LibDems want to change to a system of proportional representation under which each party would get a number of seats in Parliament proportionate to their national vote tally.

In contrast to Labour, which has recently come round to support the LibDems call for electoral reform, the Tories have remained adamantly opposed to electoral reform, in which they would surely lose seats. This greatly reduces the prospects that David Cameron will tempt the LibDems into a coalition. If he fails, that leaves Gordon Brown and his offer of electoral reform.

No matter what the outcome, it will be fascinating to watch the inter-party negotiations that ensue over the next few days. The worst case scenario would be a deadlock from which no government emerges, requiring another round of elections with no guarantee of any chance in outcome.

UPDATE: According to this story in The Daily Telegraph, Tory leader David Cameron has offered to create a "committee of inquiry" to "look at the possibility" of electoral reform, which is far short of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's standing promise to immediately introduce legislation that would lead to a public referendum on switching from first-past-the-post to proportional representation.

Happy Birthday David Hume (1711-1776)

One of the most enlightened and sensible people who ever lived.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Does Biodiversity Conservation Alleviate Poverty?

A story in the May 6th issue of Nature (here) discusses recent studies that raise doubts that preserving biodiversity naturally acts to reduce poverty in developing countries. Here's an excerpt:
In a separate survey, Leisher and his colleagues reviewed more than 400 studies and documents on projects that sought to conserve biodiversity and alleviate poverty. He and his team found that about 150 of these showed at least some evidence that the projects had benefited the poor. These included projects on marine tourism, mangrove restoration and agro-forestry.

But more often, the team found, projects had little or no economic benefit for the poorest people. And like Belcher's study, there was ample evidence that wealthy households were more likely to participate in and benefit from conservation initiatives. Leisher adds that control sites are rarely used in project assessments, meaning that any reduction in poverty cannot be directly attributed to conservation efforts.

Meeting co-organizer Matt Walpole, head of ecosystem assessment at the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, UK, says that conservation agencies have been naïve about the contribution that biodiversity can make to poverty reduction, and that they need to be more rigorous in assessing costs and benefits.

This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an argument against biodiversity conservation. It is merely a reality-check, as Walpole notes, for those who blithely assume that conservation automatically leads to poverty reduction.

Happy Birthday Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)

One of the founders of German Expressionism.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Statement of My Cycling Principles

Here are a several principles of cycling to which I've committed over the years. I was reminded of some of them this evening, while pedaling on my own after being dropped from the group (for the second, and final, time):

1. I am a rider, not a racer. I ride for fun and health.
2. I sometimes enjoy riding hard and fast, but not always.
3. Riding easy is sometimes more fun than riding hard, and can be productive.
4. Regular interval training makes you stronger; but so do regular recovery rides.
5. Riding in large groups (e.g., of 10 or more riders) usually sucks.
6. Riding with hammerheads (defined as riders who have only one speed - really fast) always sucks.
7. Riding with friends is usually, but not always, better than riding alone.
8. I will not ride with "squirrely" riders (i.e., those who move around in more or less random ways).
9. Whenever a group ride turns into a race, I almost always go backwards (usually by choice).
10. Cycling, at my level, is not about which rider is better than which other rider, but which group of riders have the most fun riding together.
11. Contrary to what some coaches say, there's no such thing as a "junk mile."
12. In cycling, my only competition is myself. I work to improve because being a better cyclist is more fun.
13. The most fun I have on a bike is riding with my son.
14. When cycling stops being fun, I do something else.