February 25, 2014
Look, we did something.
From Charles C. Mann’s fascinating book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (p. 235, emphasis added):
Spread at its greatest extent over seven hundred miles of the coastline, Chimor was an ambitious state that grew maize and cotton by irrigating almost fifty thousand acres around the Moche River (all of modern Peru only reached that figure in 1960). A destructive El Niño episode about 1100 A.D. made irrigation impossible for a while. In response, the government forced gangs of captive laborers to build a fifty-three-mile, masonry-lined canal to channel water from the Chicama River, in the next valley to the north, to farmland in the Moche Valley. The canal was a flop: some parts ran uphill, apparently because of incompetent engineering, and the rest lost nine-tenths of its water to evaporation and seepage. Some archeologists believe that the canal was never meant to function. It was a PR exercise, they say, a Potemkin demonstration by the Chimor government that it was actively fighting El Niño.
Whenever I hear a politician or government official say: “This may not be an ideal solution, but we must do something about [you name it].” I think of the ancient Peruvians and their up-hill canal — and about ways to hide my wallet.
February 20, 2014
North America getting its polar vortex on. (NASA)
In a post about how very badly NOAA did not predict our frigid winter, the Washington Post’s excellent Capital Weather Gang concludes:
The bottom line is that – irrespective of the source – seasonal forecasting is a relatively young, immature science and should be viewed with some skepticism.
Let me translate for those of you unfamiliar with climatologist speak: “Much past 10 days out and we have no idea what the Hell is going on.“
Given the incredible complexity of interrelated feedback loops, both positive and negative, it takes a special kind of hubris to think that one can predict what our climate will be doing a century from now.
January 15, 2014
The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”–which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants–becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.
- Why most economists’ predictions are wrong.
I’m sure he’s right about everything else though.
March 22, 2013
In a recent post, Adam Garfinkle talks about why our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan will necessarily fail.
Well, strictly speaking, he is talking about statism and anarchism, and advertising campaigns, and the Tower of Babel. But he still gives a pretty good explanation of why we are tilting at windmills in the Middle East.
What also follows from this is a second verity of political life, namely that the political institutions of any society emerge from that society far more than the other way around. The United States is a democracy because its founding society was egalitarian-minded, not the other way around. All of the American Founders and all of their tutors, from Locke to Montesquieu to even the great bad-boy of the time, Rousseau, understood this. The idea that a governmental form could remold or create a society after its desired image earned the derisive label “talismanic” at the hands of William Taylor Coleridge.
I have noted this concern before, in my much less erudite way.
November 27, 2012
Over at Mark Perry’s excellent Carpe Diem blog, Mark has an ongoing series about “markets in everything.” As soon as I saw this, I thought of his series.
As you can see from this photo, Hurricane Sandy took out a section of Hwy 12 on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
There is a bypass across the sand, but it requires a 4×4 vehicle. When we drove through today, there was a thriving trade of locals with 4x4s and trailers ferrying two wheel drive vehicles (sometimes with an entire family still inside) across the half-mile or so of sand. A waitress at a local restaurant told us that the going rate was a surprisingly reasonable $25.
There were orderly queues of cars waiting on the side of the road to be loaded, and the only government presence I could see was an NC DOT pickup truck who was keeping an eye on the condition of the sand road.
Edit: I sent these pictures to Mark, and Carpe Diem is carrying the story.
July 3, 2012
To paraphrase George Monbiot:
There is not enough oil. We are all going to die!
. . . oh, wait . . .
There is too much oil. We are all going to die!
It must be really depressing being an environmental alarmist. No matter what happens, you have a compelling need to see it as a dire threat to the very existence of humanity.
As one would expect, Mr. Monbiot fails to note that much of the United State’s newly found energy wealth is in the form of natural gas, and as a result, “total [U.S] CO2 emissions this year are on track to drop to the lowest level since 1991.”
If you were wondering where all the Puritanical guilt went as our society become more secularized, I think the environmental movement has found it for us.
June 8, 2012
This is borderline sacrilege . . . but funny none the less.
As Aragorn might have put it if he was in the oil business, “A day may come when the hydrocarbon supply of men fails, when we forsake our internal combustion engines and break all pipelines and refineries, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and solar cells, when the age of oil comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we frack! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you drill, Men of the West!”
– Walter Russell Mead, Global Warming in the Golden Age of Oil