Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Twitter while you work . . .

From Bora, via Greg Laden, comes news that Twitter, or, more accurately, short burst cell phone communication, may be the next innovative tool in the fisheries manager’s toolbox. It seems that the North Carolina Sea Grant program is looking at ways to allow recreational charter boat captains to text in catch data from their cell phones.

As a fisheries oceanographer, I think this is huge for several reasons. First, recreational catch has been, and continues to be a huge hole in our data sets of fish populations. While commercial fishermen are almost drowned in reporting requirements, the Nation’s recreational anglers, from the guy standing on the dock to the family on a North Carolina head boat, have no such requirements. So there is a whole fishery related mortality component we can’t account for. That means that when federal and state fisheries managers calculate how much harvest a given fish population can sustain, they are probably over estimating harvest because they have an underreporting of catch.
Second, by making the charter boat captains part of the reporting chain, it reinforces their ownership of the resource. I suspect that, once this kind of data is regularly used for setting catch limits, charter boats will become even more responsible in terms of ecological operations then they are now. That would be a good thing.

And finally, this development may well mean Twitter is actually good for more then annoying me. Too bad I didn’t think of this first . . . . .

Friday, March 20, 2009

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming . . . .

It's not often that I get to blog about oceanographic or marine science issues these days, but thanks to the London Telegraph, today I can.

Yes, folks, that's a real, carp shaped robotic fish. The latest pollution sniffing device is a great example of what we in the ocean fields call an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle or AUV. These devices generally look like torpedos or flying saucers, and the technology has been in rapid transition for several years now.

Basically, AUV's - even shaped like robotic fish - are an iteration on manned oceanic exploration submarines (like Alvin). The carry complex sensors to detect all sorts of chemical, temperature, and ecological data. Some are wave or pressure differential powered, but most have internal batteries (as do our irridescent carp). They are launched from boats, shore, and docks; perform all sorts of missions, and then either transmit their data from their locations to a shore station, or swim back to shore so we can download and recharge them.

Will AUVs ever completely replace oceanographic survey vessels? No. They may gain longer battery life, they may gain many more specialized sensors, btu they will always be acompliment to our modern survey vessel fleet.

So, the next time you go deep sea fishing, be on the look out for these carp. And if you catch one, please practice Catch and Release.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This just in - Make sure you pay your taxes

If the AP report on MSNBC is correct, firms taking taxpayer funded TARP money owe the U.S. government 0.02% of that fund in back taxes. Yep, you heard that right, TARP recipients owe back taxes. And they all had to sign certifications saying they didn't in order to get their funds in the first place.

Two thoughts spring to mind. First, will the Republicans who have sunk so many Democratic nominees over tax issues holler as loudly about this? Me thinks not. And second, will this be the "smoking gun" that will finally open criminal investigations into the very companies who willfully and gleefully took our economy into the tank in the name of short term profits? After all, Al Capone got sent up for tax issues . . . .

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

There's No One more Irish!

Mike must get up earlier then I do, but I'm glad he did. Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why Wall Street needs to be put in Time Out.

Say what you will about Wall Street types - at least they are committed to a battle to the end so that they remain "relevent" to modern economic policy. But look at this graph,and ask yourself - how much do we really need to pay attention to these guys?

See, the data (from the work of Robert Shiller who lets you copy his data sets and then do your own graphing) makes the case clearly that 1) we haven't fallen as far as we did before, and 2) once you take all the "noise out" stocks are still likley to see growth in the future. How did I arrive at this conclusion? I just fitted the blue trend line to the graph. And it's the trendline that we all need to keep in mind, not the bounciness around it.

Every time one of the Wall Street brokerages, or their friends in the MSM or cable, gets on TV and talks about the market, keep this in mind - PE ratios (one o fthe best measures of the stock market's soundness) have not yet fallen as low as they did in the 1980's rcession under Ronald Reagan. In fact, by the time the Great Depression started in 1929, they were on a substantial climb from their earlier collapse. PE also hasn't fallen that low yet, and the trend line tells us even if it does, the rebound is likely to keep us on a slow but steady upward climb.

given that, why don't we let a few banks go into receivership and start the auctions? If history is our guide, the stock market will do just fine, and so will the economy.

Mr. Obama fails to restore civil lilberties

Glenn Greenwald is right - and it makes me sick. For A Democrat to do this . . . .

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Chas Freeman got me skinned

Thanks to my colleague Mike at The Big Stick, I’ve been reading some very interesting conservative and progressive blogs of late. I can’t say I always agree with what they write, but they write well, they are open to comments from seeming all sorts of people, and I think if the Republican Party can harness a few of them, then in 4 years Republicans might be a coherent opposition party again.

So I was interested yesterday when Megan McArdle took up the Chas Freeman Affair in her blog. She started by exerpting an Article from Foreign Policy:

David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy: “Financial trivia, minutiae from people's personal lives and political litmus tests have grown in importance while character, experience, intelligence, creativity and wisdom have fallen by the wayside.”

Then, perhaps forgetting that as a conservative she’s supposed to always rail against Democratic policies and politicians, she made this entirely reasonable point about how Mr. Freeman’s opposition had worked it’s magic:

Megan McArdle: “This new tradition of bulldogging every appointee in the hope of embarrassing the president has to stop. We should be focusing on whether or not the nominee can do the job, not whether there is some small breach of an onerous regulation in his history that can possibly be dug up. It feels good in the short term, but when ability to find a native-born nanny becomes a more important qualification for the presidential candidate than experience relevant to the job to be done, it's time for a national rethink.

While I may not agree with Ms. McArdle’s politics, I heartily agree with her assessment of the appointment process. Her commenters, however, took the opportunity to heap on as much spin as they could, to somehow deflect the fact that, when all is said and done, even Washington Post columnists think AIPAC gave MR. Freeman the shaft. So, 26 comments later, I said this:

Sadly, you have all missed the iceberg here. Mr. Freeman wasn't sunk because of these things, he was sunk because he speaks regularly and forcefully against current U.S. policy regarding Israel. Gleen Greenwald has the latest on his blog. All the things mentioned above were part of an organized campaign to discredit Mr. Freeman, without directly attacking him on this key issue. That it succeeded, and is intellecually dishonest at best, speaks volumes about the sad state of American foreign policy.
Posted by
Philip H. March 11, 2009 1:29 PM

Not content to attack Ms. McArdle, they began to fire at me:

So, Philip H., what you're saying is that it's okay to be on the Saudi payroll, support the crushing at Tiananmen Square, and support the US Army firing on the Bonus Army veterans, so long as Jews oppose you? Would you have opposed Mr. Freeman on the basis of those other things if only AIPAC and the Jews hadn't been involved? Sure, I'm upset that enough other people don't seriously care about that horrific statement about the Bonus Army, about being on Saudi payroll, or about Tiananmen Square. That doesn't make me support Mr. Freeman just because I think not enough people are opposing him for the right reasons. In any case, your theory may be wrong anyway. Newsweek's sources claim that Speaker Pelosi's opposition came about because of Tiananmen Square. Of course, the Speaker and Newsweek could just be lying too...
Posted by John Thacker
March 11, 2009 1:49 PM

Would if that were all true, but it isn’t. As has been noted by numerous bloggers and journalists, there is no Chinese or Tibetan human rights group on record as opposing the Freeman nomination. Nor is there any quote available anywhere from anyone who works on Chinese foreign policy and analysis that says anything bad about Mr. Freeman. What Mr. Freeman was saying, and said repeatedly, is that the Chinese government should have acted sooner to resolve the issue, whether by force or by negotiations. He never makes the case that what the Chinese did was right, just that it was done too late so that the Chinese governement had fewer choices in how to respond.

As to the Saudi payroll contention – if it’s perfectly acceptable for Republican officials to go back and forth through the revolving door of K Street lobbying firms (many of whom are also paid by the Saudi’s as well as other foreign countries), why is it not ok for Mr. Freeman?

Then I made the mistake of trying to bring this back to being a process argument, as Ms. McArdle intended her blog to be:

All, i'm not saying anything that other Atlantic Authors aren't saying. Railroading a guy out of public service because you don't like what he says is ok by me - so long as you are HONEST about it. Hiding behind supposed tax issues (unproven), or speeches (misquoted) on one subject when you really object for other reasons is LYING. That's where my problem exists.
Posted by
Philip H March 11, 2009 3:21 PM

From that point, I was dismissed using many classic conservative approaches. First, I was accused of having some sort of God-like ability to discern motives which other commenters supposedly lacked (as if it is hard to fathom what AIPAC’s motive might be). This is called an ad hominum attack, BTW:

Philip H., where did you purhcase your finely calibrated motive-o-meter, which allows you to peer into the souls of people who you don't know, and thus unerringly discern the real reasons all the critics of Freeman have for opposing his appointment to this job?
Does everyone say stupid things at some times in their life? Sure. We aren't talking about some off the cuff remarks at a cocktail party here, however. We are talking about scheduled interviews, in which there was plenty of time to antcipate the questions that would be asked, and then WERE asked. To anaswer in a manner which suggests you have had a psychotic episode does not engender confidence.
Posted by Will Allen
March 11, 2009 3:53 PM

Then, even though I’m trying to focus on the process by which all this was handled, the bus is backed over me because I haven’t said whether I agree or disagree with Mr. Freeman (which is irrelevant to whether he was dealt with fairly and honestly and evaluated on the credentials he would bring to the table):

so long as you are HONEST about it. Hiding behind supposed tax issues (unproven), or speeches (misquoted) on one subject when you really object for other reasons is LYING. That's where my problem exists.
Take it up with
Newsweek and Speaker Pelosi, then, as they insist that her (very important) opposition was about China. They're liars, too?
But if that's where your problem exists, fine. Just answer one way or the other, Philip H. Aside from all the "opponents were motivated by the wrong reason" crap, and your allegations that they wouldn't care if someone on their team made his other statements, do you think his statements on Tiananmen and the Bonus Army were disqualifying? Do you at least disagree with them?
Posted by John Thacker
March 11, 2009 4:11 PM

Finally, I am dismissed with a backhanded . . . compliment . . . . that what I’ve actually written is satire. I suppose one could argue that most political discussion these days is satire at one level or another, but clearly this is another attempt to move away from my central process thesis:

Aren't a lot of you missing Philip H.'s point? Do you really think he means to be taken at face value? He's written some pretty good satire there, and the uncertainty as to whether it really is satire only makes it better.
Posted by Bambi
March 11, 2009 4:19 PM

Quite the ringer. How I managed to get away from being accused of being shrill is beyond me. Here’ the thing – Walter Pincus made the very point I was making in his article in today’s Washington Post. To quote Pincus:

For example, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), often described as the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, "took no position on this matter and did not lobby the Hill on it," spokesman Josh Block said.

But Block responded to reporters' questions and provided critical material about Freeman, albeit always on background, meaning his comments could not be attributed to him, according to three journalists who spoke to him. Asked about this yesterday, Block replied: "As is the case with many, many issues every day, when there is general media interest in a subject, I often provide publicly available information to journalists on background."

All I was trying to get at is this – if you are the official, employed spokesman for a political action committee, as Josh Block is, and you tell everyone that the PAC you work for has no official position even as you are meeting off the record with various journalists who grant you anonymity in exchange for the real thinking of your organization; and that thinking goes against the public statements of your organization, then you are lying. That’s one of the major reasons why our national political discourse is so broken. It is one of the things that needs to be fixed. And there is nothing satirical about my belief in this regard.


Apparently I'm not the only one with the view that this is bad . . . . . .

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ways to fight back - Climate Deniers 101

On a fairly regular basis, the red headed wife sends me articles about science policy that are worth reading. Which is to say that, while everything she sends me is worth my reading, there exists a subset of articles that are worth reading by everyone. Pasted below is one such article:

Synthesizing Science and Politics

By Alexis Madrigal February 17, 2008 12:18:02 PM BOSTON, Ma -

Climate change highlights the interesting relationship that the political world has with science. While almost all scientists say that climate change is occurring, the policies of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the United States, continue to make the problem worse, flying in the face of the best available science. Lawrence Susskind, an MIT professor, presented an easy answer for why this is happening at talk here at the AAAS annual meeting. "We know that politically motivated stakeholders reject scientific analysis that challenges their policy positions," he said. "They reject the science, not just the policy."

Wish as we might, those political motivations aren't going away, so he suggests, we have to learn to deal with them. From the largest resource problems like climate change to much smaller decisions like protecting a wetland while incorporating a suburban development, everyone recognizes that increasingly complex science has not translated well into the public sphere. Susskind, however, thinks that he's developed a framework for making science not just useful but usable in the public sphere. Stakeholders, and that probably means environmentalists and businesses, need to be brought into the very design of a scientific study. Susskind argued that only if major stakeholders agree that the right questions are being asked will they be willing to accept the answers that come back. He calls the process of incorporating stakeholders from the beginning, joint-fact finding.

To execute on this so-called joint fact finding Susskind recommends bringing a new type of person into the normal debates about science: the neutral. Neutrals are mediators who all stakeholders agree can act as an honest conduit between, say, Chinese coal plant owners, American energy companies, and Greenpeace. As someone who writes about climate change regularly, this sounds like the worst job imaginable.

His basic prescription for the broken system is to make it a little more like collective bargaining. He's initiated a pilot program with the US Geological Survey called the MIT-USGS Science Impact Collaborative. Dryly, he said, "The acronym is MUSIC because we're trying to harmonize science and policy."

(A quick peek at the website revealed some interesting papers. I've added Alexis Schulman's "Bridging the Divide: Incorporating Local Ecological Knowledge into US Natural Resource Management" to my reading list.)

Regular readers here, and elsewhere will know that I've been advocating a different approach to climate change policy, and specifically denial of climate change, for some time. Simply put, we can't deal with the science, because those who don't want to change economic, transportation, and/or energy policy to prevent further climate damage either ignore the science, or they manipulate the data in ways that say something that it doesn't. So I definitely like the article's suggestion that we invite them to the table at the beginning.

There is, however, one major flaw in this plan - most folks who deny the impacts of AGW, and misrepresent the science in the process, do not actually care about science. They care about economics, or energy generation, or capitalistic markets, or ending regulation, or . . . . anything but science. They just use science as their excuse or their hiding post from which to attack the real issues. It's intellectually dishonest at best, and I don't think having them at the table would change that.

SIDE NOTE - If you were to design a process to do this, might I suggest the often successful NEPA Scoping process?

POSTSCRIPT - Yesterday I asked for a link to the original article. Lucky for me. Mr. Madrigal's Google Alerts is working, and he supplied it himself in the comments section. SO I've added it to the title in case you want to go to the source. Thank you sir!

Navy Federal Credit Union vs. Muslim Extremists - better watch what you wear to the bank!

So let me get this straight - a muslim woman was asked twice to do her banking in a backroom because she was wearing a headscarf? And this is to prevent bank robbery and identity theft? And we're still discriminating against those who "don't look like us" why, exactly?

Note to Navy Federal Credit Union - you aren't a big enough target for ost terrorist groups, and unless you're making Catholic nuns take off their habits, and Jewish men remove their yarmulkahs (sic), you may need really good lawyers. Or good PR people.

UPDATE: It looks like the Credit Union apologized which is a good thing, but if they had taken the time to think the policy through, and complete employee training first, apologies might never have been necessary.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Let's get it over, already!

It probably somes as no surprise, but Paul Krugman is one of my favorite economists. His column today about the continued failure of the Obama Administration's financial rescue package is spot on.

See, being a mere oceanographer, I see it this way. the BUsh Administration started out to buy up the toxic derivative investment packages from the banks to free up the capitol markets and restart lending. then they realozed that meant something other thenthe market would be putting certain banks, investment banks and insurance companies out of business (plus it might well create a run on helathy banks). And they didn't want that. So they shifted to bank recapitolization. Mr. Obama hired Mr. Geithner to essentially continue that policy while they looked for something else that might work. After all, no one wants to bring down the economy and be blamed for a second Great Depression.

All that said, it's time to bring in the army of federal program analysts, budget formulators, and accountants, and take apart the banks books. We have to figure out who has what in order to sell it, and we have to sell it so banks will start lending to each other again (as well as to other business). Otherwise, AIG will still have to be on the public dole, GM won't be able to be liquidated in bankruptcy, and Cerebus won't put more money into Chrysler. Painful to watch - perhaps, but only if the government and media focus on the "losers" and not the healthy and solvent banks.

And yes Martha, there should be losers here - they mad bad, risky decisions driven by short term profit. they contributed to the downturn of the U.S. economy. They do not deserveto be rewarded fo rthose decisions by being allowed to continue to pretned they don't hold anything that's bad.

Cool Ocean Friday

Here's further proof, as if it were needed, that I have to get out more:

H/T to inestimable Greg Laden at Science Blogs!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Real Stimulus Package

Over at Think Progress, Matt Yglesias has a good piece on what the final stimulus actually looks like. While some commenters got the colors wrong - I think there could have been a yellow in there instead of two greys - the basic idea is this. For all the howling by Republicans about the stimulus, the single biggest piece at approximately 32% is made up of . . . wait for it . . . tax cuts! Yes Sir, step right up, because Democrats are actually adopting Republican economic ideas, even after those ideas have been debunked by history. So, when they whine as they will about eing shut out, send them this graph and ask them to have Michale Steele apologize for their hystrionics.

And while we're at it, ponder this from teh Center fro American Progress study Matt cites:

"While Keynesian hasn’t been disproven, supply-side economics has. President Bush’s economic advisors assured the American public in the early 2000s that the president’s massive tax cuts would generate economic growth and create jobs. This classic supply-side policy intervention did no such thing. The 2000s economic recovery was the weakest of all post-World War II recoveries in terms of growth in investment, GDP, and job creation."

As I've said before, supply side responses to demand side issues just don't work.