King v Burwell office pool

Here’s my card. I’m not a lawyer, but do you really think this is about the True Meaning of the Law, and not politics?

King to lose 6-3. Majority: Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, Kennedy, Roberts, Sotomayor. The opinion, written by Roberts or Kennedy, will be on narrow grounds that the plaintiff’s reading would amount to unconstitutional federal coercion of the states, precedent NFIB v Sebelius. So it will duck the statutory construction issue.

Dissent by Alito, Scalia, and Thomas to uphold, because Obama. Scalia’s contortions on statutory construction, contradicting his own previous opinions, will be fun to read.

Dissent Concurring opinion [if I don't fix this I will never hear the end of it] by Sotomayor and Ginsburg listing about 200 reasons why the suit is frivolous, starting with the absence of standing. I’m not so confident about this; Roberts may have extracted their moderation as the price of his vote. But Sotomayor at least was very angry on the record about the Wheaton College double-cross after Hobby Lobby:

Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.

Payback time maybe.

Your counter-offers?

The too sane negotiator

Like you, I’ve been watching at a safe distance the bitter wrangles and brinkmanship in Europe over Greek debt. It is horribly reminiscent of August 1914. Could the disaster have been avoided?

Europe’s financial establishment has been complaining that their Greek negotiators are childishly obstinate. Why don’t they just give in to the astonishingly detailed neocolonial prescriptions they have been mailed?

You don’t win a negotiation by being conciliatory. Possibly, the Greeks have been rather too sane. A proper mad negotiator would have threatened not just partial but complete default if forced out of the euro. What would Greece have to lose? Better wipe the slate of odious governmental debt clean, which would reassure new private lenders (cf the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Argentina). To protect German taxpayers, the correct strategy for Berlin and Brussels at this point would then be surrender on the terms already offered. This gets most of what they want and already more than Greek voters can stand.

Either you have the institution of debt bondage or that of bankruptcy. International law does not provide for the former. The attempt by France to enforce Germany’s Versailles reparations in 1923 by occupying the Rhineland did not turn out well, even from the narrow viewpoint of French taxpayers.

It’s true that Grexit would have costs for Greece too. In the short run it would be even worse for Greeks than the austerity hair-shirt, though it offers better prospects for growth a few years ahead. The non-cooperative bad payoffs still look asymmetric. However, my speculation is unrealistic. Tsipras campaigned on a promise to keep Greece in the euro, not to threaten to take it out. So Grexit is up to Germany, not Greece.

Stuff you couldn’t make up dept.

The ill-loved Confederate flag flies in deluded pride at the South Carolina state capitol.

A Confederate flag flies outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia

Attached to its flagpost by chains.

Image by Reuters, h/t Daily Kos.

Courtiers and tweetstorms

We have been here before, Keith: a densely connected and hyper-gossipy society where every word can be used against you, those who speak rashly like Sir Tim Hunt come to a rapid social end, and cruel words are used as deliberately as daggers. It was the courts of Renaissance Europe: those of Henry VIII, Cathérine de Médicis, Philip II, and Alessandro Borgia.

Recently I brought up Holbein’s portrait of the English courtier Richard Southwell, a sidekick of Thomas Cromwell who rose to be Master-General of the Ordnance under both Mary and Elizabeth. The portrait shows exactly the kind of man who thrives in such a régime; a man who gave evidence in a treason trial against a childhood friend, the Earl of Surrey.

Sir Richard Southwell, Hans Holbein the Younger

Sir Richard Southwell, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1536

Shakespeare had the number of men like Richard Southwell:

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow:
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

Sonnet 94

Tell me: would you want for a colleague, superior, subordinate, friend, or spouse a person who never spontaneously made a stupid and prejudiced remark?

O Lord, make us green …

. .. but not yet.

Rembrandt, The Actor Willem Ruyter as St. Augustine, 1638

Rembrandt, The Actor Willem Ruyter as St. Augustine, 1638

Declaration of the G7 on climate change, 8 June, my italics:

Mindful of this [2º C] goal and considering the latest IPCC results, we emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century.

The 85-year timeframe that was all they could agree to has attracted righteous scorn from climate scientists. Kevin Trenberth:

Decarbonization by the end of the century may well be too late because the magnitude of climate change long before then will exceed the bounds of many ecosystems and farms, and likely will be very disruptive.

Michael Mann:

In my view, the science makes clear that 2050 or 2100 is way too far down the road. We will need near-term limits if we are going to avoid dangerous warming of the planet.

Sure. It’s still a landmark, an Overton shift, that leaders at this level have spelled out that the goal isn’t a 40% or 50% or 80% reduction in human carbon emissions, it’s stopping them completely. Everybody can understand this. Bye bye coal, bye bye oil, bye bye gas. Like Augustine’s self-reported prayer “O Lord, make me chaste, but not yet”, the G7 have conceded the principle. The rest is just timing.

Activists should note that the declaration was drafted by professionals. Over the course of this century isn’t the same as by the end of this century, and carefully leaves the door open to an earlier target.

The beauty of the full decarbonisation goal is that it immediately generates the full list of problems to be solved and new technologies needed. It’s impossible not to use some oil for petrochemicals? The residual usage will have to be offset by sequestration. Once you have robust sequestration options, the door is open to going carbon negative, as James Hansen insists.

The top of the list is obvious, and under way, if not fast enough.

  • Efficiency: check.
  • Cutting out coal for power generation: check.
  • Rolling out solar and wind generation: check.
  • Electric vehicles: check.

The LLNL energy flowcharts show that electricity and transport between them use two-thirds of US primary energy, so these are the big ticket items.

I am getting a little bored with just cheering on solar, wind, electric cars and buses, and smart controls, and I expect that goes for my readers. Some of the smaller problems lower down the list are technically more difficult and interesting. They include deforestation, aviation, shipping, steel-making, and cement. So let’s get started.

In my next post, I have a suggestion on cement.

Warhol revised on the NSA

From Brazilian cartoonist André Dahmer (I can’t find the image on the Web, but it’s purely a verbal joke):

In future, everybody will have their 15 minutes of anonymity.

Flea markets

One of the local sports round Perpignan, where we’ve just bought a house, is going to village flea-markets on Sundays. They don’t go in for car boots: trestle stalls are rented cheaply by the organising villages, so the atmosphere is pleasant, even for a reluctant shopper like me. This is Latour-bas-Elne. On a given Sunday, there are half-a-dozen such dos.


How do flea markets by amateurs match up against the idealised markets of Walras and Arrow? Continue Reading…

The pain of Easter

Neither Google nor Bing show a results count when you search images (why not?), but it’s obvious that the number of Christian images of the Resurrection, especially of serious works of art, is enormously less than the number of images of the Cruxifixion. This is to some extent a reflection of the technical difficulty: if a painter can’t make a Cruxifixion affecting, he’s in the wrong business; a convincing Resurrection is hugely difficult. But religious artists basically respond to commissions, and the ratio reflects the unease of Christians with the idea. It was there in the proto-Church, see 1 Corinthians 15:12:

How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

And if Christians are honest, it’s still a hard sell.

It is not then surprising that good Resurrection art is scarce. The works are often the work of oddball artists: Grünewald, whose day job was as a millwright; Piero della Francesca, day job mathematician; and the anonymous painter of the Chora in Istanbul (image, discussion).

Continuing our little RBC series of Easter artworks, here is one by Bramantino (who he?) in the Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, dated to around 1490. Hi-res version on their website.

Bramantino Risen Christ

Bramantino takes the unease into outright shock and weirdness. It starts with the corpse-like pallor of the skin and the knife-like folds of the drapery: this isn’t fun. The most striking thing is the face: a head-on gaze, without joy or triumph, but inward-looking rather than judgemental. There is no glory here, and much recollected pain in the twisted mouth and bloodshot eyes. Victory no doubt, but that of a soldier who has survived a bloody battle; a Malplaquet, with no ringing of church bells in celebration.

The take is I suppose orthodox theologically. In the standard Christian theodicy, God became Isaiah’s suffering servant in the Passion, and suffers still through the ongoing sins of men and women. The eccentricity is in Bramantino’s omission of the joy of reunion, the humour, and the empathy we find in the Gospel accounts of the appearances, and the eschatological hope and triumph emphasised by the other artists in our series. Also in the lovely 8th-century Easter hymn by St. John of Damascus (take note of the hapless mediaeval geography, Ted Cruz):

The round earth keep high triumph, and all that is therein.

Enjoy your Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies, everybody.

The bottom of the pit

Will Rogers said it first:

When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.

From an IEA press release on Friday 13 March (sic), my emphasis:

Global emissions of carbon dioxide stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year. [...]
In the 40 years in which the IEA has been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions, there have only been three times in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness: the early 1980′s; 1992 and 2009. In 2014, however, the global economy expanded by 3%.

This statistic is highly reliable. The IEA was set up in 1974 with the initial task

to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks.

Keeping tabs on the oil market and giving advance warning of another price spike means counting barrels of oil, and later wagons of coal and millions of cubic feet of gas. It’s what they do for a living. If you want to challenge their methods, outlined here, feel free, but I reckon it’s a waste of time. Continue Reading…

Freud, the !Kung and teddy bears

Acerbic Aussie economist John Quiggin recently had a post up at Crooked Timber on the dependence of property rights on the state. The argument is with the natural property rights crowd. Worth reading, though I can’t get worked up about the issue. Property is a claim recognised by society. Our form of society is the state. Where’s the problem?

The interesting side to me is where the claim comes from. I got thinking about infants and property. Any parent who has tried to deprive a toddler of the favourite teddy bear or rabbit, if only to wash the crust of dried food off it, will have encountered a fierce and absolutist defence. Not everything is property to a toddler, but what there is matters. Toddlers constantly squabble over the use of toys, often based on a claim to ownership. (Nice joke from a CT commenter: of course kindergartens are Hobbesian – the participants are all nasty, brutish, and short.) The idea of natural child communism is wishful thinking. It’s the adult carers who promote sharing, in an uphill struggle.

I commented that toddler property in teddy bears is a difficulty for the statist theory. States do offer their theoretical protection against teddy-nappers on buses, but it is both ineffectual and practically unimportant. States do not intervene to protect such rights against those who really do threaten them, caregivers, siblings and playmates. State judicial systems barely recognize toddlers as individuals, except in custody disputes and cases of abuse. When a young child, perhaps an orphan or grandchild, does legally own substantial property, it is managed by parents, step-parents or guardians. It doesn’t look as if property in teddy bears derives from the state. But it’s clearly of some psychological importance in the genesis of our complex attitude to the institution.

Is Freud any help here? Not much. Continue Reading…