Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Extreme Weather Events Fuel Climate Change

In an August 14, 2013 paper, Dr. Markus Reichstein, of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, stated that, “...droughts, heat waves and storms weaken the buffer effect exerted by terrestrial ecosystems on the climate system.”

If correct, and if climate change itself is a systemic cause of extreme weather events, then without immediate, substantive, and sustained efforts to decrease and ultimately halt human-caused green house gas emissions, the planet Earth and its inhabitants are likely to experience a climate destabilization event that could lead to global catastrophe.

Extreme weather events fuel climate change
Extreme meteorological events and global warming: a vicious cycle?

Dr. Markus Reichstein

August 14, 2013

When the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere rises, the Earth not only heats up, but extreme weather events, such as lengthy droughts, heat waves, heavy rain and violent storms, may  become more frequent. Whether these extreme climate events result in the release of more CO2 from terrestrial ecosystems and thus reinforce climate change has been one of the major unanswered questions in climate research. It has now been addressed by an international team of researchers working with Markus Reichstein, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena. They have discovered that terrestrial ecosystems absorb approximately 11 billion tons less carbon dioxide every year as the result of the extreme climate events than they could if the events did not occur. That is equivalent to approximately a third of global CO2 emissions per year.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Art of Failure

My son, who is a reference librarian at our local college, responded to my questions about video game design, by bringing home a book for me to read; "The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games," by Jesper Juul.

Juul, who is a video game theorist,  researcher, and lecturer, writes that the best games, the games we are motivated to continue playing, are games designed to cause the player to fail frequently and sometimes, catastrophically, i.e., to die. Well designed games keep us playing by allowing us to improve and avoid past failures, only to experience future failure, followed by opportunities to once again improve and reach advanced levels of expertise.

There are other game designs that simply reward players for the labor they expend, such as FarmVille, in which players gain new powers by planting and harvesting. The new powers increase the players ability to plant and harvest and expand their "farms." The player is rewarded for labor, not skill acquisition.

Juul includes some interesting psychological and philosophical discussions in his essay, especially those dealing with deception, complicity, and guilt.

All in all, a very interesting book, especially for the game player, who wants to understand how he/she is being manipulated by the game designers.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Verdict in Florida Loud Music Killing

Jurors in Florida found Michael Dunn innocent of murder in the shooting death of Florida teen, Jordan Davis, but guilty of three counts of second-degree attempted murder for getting out of his car and firing 10 times at the Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle in which Davis, 17, was killed. Three other teenagers, the subjects of the attempted murder charges, were in the car but were not struck. Mr. Dunn continued to fire at the car even as it pulled away. 
Michael Dunn reacts to verdict in his murder trial, in which he shot and killed a teenager for playing loud music. Under Florida's Stand Your ground law, the jury apparently felt that Mr. Dunn was sufficiently frightened by the loud music that he felt threatened and was compelled to shoot ten times at the car in which the teenager was a passenger.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Climate Change is Top Threat according to the Commander of US Forces Pacific

Reposted from Climate Science Watch

According to the Commander of U.S. Forces Pacific (PACOM)significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about."

Admiral Samuel Locklear had a meeting the other day with national security experts at Tufts and Harvard.  After this session, he met with a reporter who asked him asked what the top security threat was in the Pacific Ocean.  Rather than highlighting Chinese ballistic missiles, the new Chinese Navy aircraft carrier, North Korean nuclear weapons, or other traditional military threats, Admiral Locklear looked to a larger definition of national security.

Locklear commented that “People are surprised sometimes” that he highlights climate change — despite an ability to discuss a wide-range of threats, from cyber-war to the North Koreans.  However, it is the risks — from natural disasters to long-term sea-level rise threats to Pacific nations that has his deepest attention.

“You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”

Climate Change merits national security — military — attention for very pragmatic reasons. The ice is melting and sea is getting higher,” Locklear said, noting that 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of the coast. “I’m into the consequence management side of it. I’m not a scientist, but the island of Tarawa in Kiribati, they’re contemplating moving their entire population to another country because [it] is not going to exist anymore.”

And, Admiral Locklear is now — almost certainly with Joint Chiefs of Staff and Office of Secretary of Defense knowledge and support — taking this up seriously with other nations.

“We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations,” he said. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’

BANGLADESH (Nov. 24, 2007) An aerial view of damage to villages and infrastructure following Cyclone Sidr,
which swept into southern Bangladesh Nov. 15. The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), as well as
elements of Amphibious Squadron 8 and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations
Capable (SOC) arrived off the coast of Bangladesh Nov. 23 to support ongoing disaster relief operations.
The Pacific region has seen some of the largest multi-national disaster relief operations.  Operation Sea Angel in 1991, following a devastating typhoon on Bangladesh, involved numerous military forces — including the Chinese Navy. Similarly, many nations used military forces to respond across the Indian Ocean to the disastrous December 2004 Aceh Tsunami.  Admiral Locklear is looking to the reality of mounting seas, more damaging severe weather, and looking to other climate impacts — and is working to set the stage for the region’s military forces to work together more effectively in responding to climate disruption driven disasters.

This interview is not an isolated comment by Admiral Locklear but an indication of increasing concern about and focus on climate change.  In December 2012, he raised climate change in a speech to the Asia Society. From this speech highlighting the importance and complexity of the Pacific region.  His first example of a non-region specific complicating issue: this complexity is magnified by a wide, diverse group of challenges…challenges that can significantly stress the security environment…. – Climate change – where increasingly severe weather patterns and rising sea levels will threaten our peoples and even threaten the loss of entire nations…and of course the inevitable earthquakes and tsunamis will continue to challenge all of us in a very unpredictable way as our planet ages. Just as today our friends and partners in the Philippines are dealing with the challenges of the most recent super typhoon.

Admiral Locklear spoke a month ago to the U.S. Indonesia Society. In the speech, he linked climate change to the military, the need for resiliency and the ability for coping with mounting disaster relief requirements. As Indonesia’s capabilities grow, the Indonesian military should also build on its tradition of contributing forces to U.N. peacekeeping operations…yet another area where the Indonesian and American militaries  can collaborate more closely to increase the level of interoperability between our forces.

While resilience in the security environment is traditionally understood as the ability to recover from a crisis, using the term in the context of national security expands its meaning to include crisis prevention.
With large populations vulnerable to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, both our nations have a significant interest in improving our ability to quickly respond and mitigate the ongoing risk these threats bring.

We learned how local communities prepare themselves for the inevitable disruptions are critical to the region’s efforts to maintain peace, security and prosperity. This means working on disaster response alone is no longer the answer for the types of scenarios that we face. Disaster risk reduction through mitigation, planning, and recovery that starts at the community level is required if we are to create more resilient societies. Private businesses and communities must look within and beyond their current capabilities to ensure that they are prepared to handle what may occur as a result of some catastrophe.

Admiral Locklear as a strong voice on climate change issues might surprise some.  Consider, for example, the range of Combatant Commander formal statements to Congress as to the discussion of climate change.  Writ large, not much there — and Admiral Locklear is no exception in that list.  Admiral Locklear has mentioned climate change before, such as commenting that it would be a stress factor in Europe (where he commanded Operation Odyssey Dawn, the attack on Qaddafi’s Libya during the Arab Spring).  That Admiral Locklear is putting climate change on the top of the long-term security challenge seems to be new — to be news.

That a four-star flag officer is publicly stating that climate change dominates the long-term strategic discussions in his command matters. It matters for the substance of discussion with other nations and for what this might portend for the highest levels of the U.S. military. (Sadly, there are reasons to expect the (older) uniformed military to be strongly climate denial — having a 4-star speak different can impact this.) It perhaps is most important because the military is a path toward serious cultural change as to a broader acceptance of the basic reality of climate change.  Who ‘listens’ when someone in uniform speaks?  For me, the military is one of the key institutions for changing Americans perspectives on clean energy and climate change.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Threats from a warming climate come in extra large and very small packages: Mosquitoes Carry Yet Another Tropical Disease toward the U.S.

Cases of chikungunya fever have already spread across the Caribbean islands.
Feb 6, 2014 |By Dina Fine Maron, in Scientific American
It began last October, with a simple mosquito bite on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. With that itch-inducing nip from an infected mosquito, a disease known for causing patients to stoop over in pain made its first locally acquired appearancein the Western Hemisphere. By mid-December, two dozen cases of the viral disease had been confirmed. More than 1,000 cases have since scattered across the Caribbean isles, inching ever closer to the U.S.

The disease—chikungunya fever (pronounced chik-un-GUHN-ya)—is named for its trademark overwhelming joint pain: In the Makonde language of southeastern Africa the word means “that which bends up.” There is no vaccine for chikungunya, but the virus is rarely fatal. It typically causes high fevers, joint pain, rash and headaches that last for about a week. In severe cases it leads to longer-term joint pain.

Risk that it could soon show up in the U.S. Virgin Islands or Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is “high” says Mark Fischer, a medical epidemiology with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Arboviral Diseases Branch. “I think it’s very likely that this virus will further spread throughout the Caribbean or the Americas,” he says. That means the continental U.S. could soon be feeling the pain, he adds. And although the cold weather would afford some level of protection to some areas of the U.S. (because mosquitoes are less likely to be out supping on humans in the cold) that modicum of protection will disappear as the weather gets warmer. In fact, the spread of chikungunya in the Western Hemisphere could be poised to create a new normal. “This will move from country to country and could basically establish itself and become endemic in this part of the world,” Fischer says.

There are no guarantees about when, or even if, a massive chikungunya fever outbreak will happen. Consider the example of dengue, another virus transmitted by the same mosquito species. It has taken hold in some parts of the U.S., such assouthern Texas, but not in other areas, including Tucson, Ariz., where the conditions are perfect for an outbreak. Chikungunya outbreaks are equally hard to predict.

Whereas it is unnerving that chikungunya has landed on islands close to the U.S., that in itself doesn’t necessary increase the risk it will end up in this country. “I don’t know if we are at any greater risk now that it is in the British Virgin Islands than we were weeks ago when it was in Saint Martin,” Fischer says. It is not that mosquitoes will cross the ocean. Instead, chikungunya is most likely to spread with infected people hopping from island to island and to the mainland. So will it land here? We’ll have to wait and see.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

In Defense of Bitcoin: Erik Voorhees Open Letter to Peter Schiff

Would You Like a Coffee? It's Possible to Pay with Bitcoins
The following explanation of Bitcoin is taken from Wiki.

Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency created by developer Satoshi Nakamoto. It does not rely on a central server to process transactions or store funds. There are a maximum of 2,100,000,000,000,000 Bitcoin elements (called satoshis), currently most commonly measured in units of 100,000,000 known as BTC.

As of April 2013, it is the most widely used alternative currency, now with the total market cap over 11 billion US dollars.

Bitcoin has no central issuer; instead, the peer-to-peer network regulates Bitcoins, transactions (see diagram at the end of this post) and issuance according to consensus in network software. Bitcoins are issued to various nodes that verify transactions through computing power; it is established that there will be a limited and scheduled release of no more than 21 million BTC worth of coins, which will be fully issued by the year 2140.

Internationally, Bitcoins can be exchanged and managed through various websites and software along with physical banknotes and coins.

Bitcoin enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world, using peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out collectively by the network.

The original Bitcoin software by Satoshi Nakamoto was released under the MIT license. Most client software, derived or "from scratch", also use open source licensing.

Bitcoin is one of the first successful implementations of a distributed crypto-currency, described in part in 1998 by Wei Dai on the cypherpunks mailing list. Building upon the notion that money is any object, or any sort of record, accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context, Bitcoin is designed around the idea of using cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money, rather than relying on central authorities.

The following "open letter" provides a glimpse into some of the controversy surrounding the introduction of the digital currency. It involves a discussion between Peter Schiff, a critic, and Erik Voorhees, a supporter.

An Open Letter to Peter Schiff A follow-up to the discussion on the Peter Schiff Show, December 2, 2013 (this has been emailed to Peter just now)
Dear Peter,
It was a privilege and an honor to be a guest on your radio show today. I’ve been a fan of yours for more than five years; you were one of the reasons I discovered Austrian economics (and, in turn, Bitcoin), and your eloquent explanation of consumption vs. production in an economy has guided my outlook of the world ever since. So thank you sincerely for what you’ve taught me, and for the opportunity to appear on your show. It was a really special moment for me.
While we had some valuable discussion today, I felt a follow-up was appropriate to better articulate my points. You’re right to be highly skeptical of such a new technology and monetary system, but please take the time to ensure your skepticism doesn’t blind you from what I humbly suggest is one of the most important tools for human freedom ever conceived.
The Fundamentals
First, Bitcoin must always be considered as two things: the payment network (Bitcoin) and the currency units (bitcoins). Condemnations of the latter can often be resolved with an understanding of the former. Satoshi should have named them differently to avoid this initial confusion.
When you suggest that bitcoins have “zero intrinsic value,” you are only considering the currency unit itself and ignoring the payment network. While I prefer the term “utility” over “intrinsic value” (because all value is subjective to the valuer), I may indeed admit that bitcoins, as currency units all by themselves, have no fundamental utility and are completely uninteresting. But – and this absolutely critical – the payment network has vast utility.
In fact, this network is probably one of the most valuable and consequential technologies currently on the planet. Some of us realized this a few years ago. Others are realizing it now. Many more will realize it in the future. The Bitcoin network is, fundamentally, a ledger of title controlled by no man. Ponder that for a moment. The transmission of value and ownership has thus just been severed from the State, not by impotent voting, but by the technological achievement of man.
Now, during the show, you agreed that perhaps this payment network has utility. So, if the network (Bitcoin) has utility, and only one currency is accepted on this network (bitcoins), and those bitcoins are scarce, then should not those units themselves command a market price? Who knows what that price should be, but there should be a price, no?
Any good that is useful and scarce will have a price (consider that air is useful but not scarce, and fish with three eyes are scarce but not useful, thus no price for either of them). Because the Bitcoin network is useful, and because only scarce bitcoin currency units are permitted on this network, the bitcoins themselves have a price. Indeed, they must have a price until the network is no longer useful, or the coins are no longer scarce.
This is not magic. It is not a Ponzi scheme or elaborate fraud. It’s just the market pricing something that it finds useful. As the network grows in usage, its utility subsequently grows, and thus scarce bitcoins appreciate further. Those who grabbed coins in the early days benefit hugely, just as those prospectors grabbing nuggets of gold out of the California foot hills did in the early days of the gold rush. Gold is not a pyramid scheme merely because early acquirers profit from later subsequent adoption and demand.
The Utility of Bitcoin and Competitors
So to adequately claim that bitcoins ought to have no price (which is the implicit assumption from your claim on national television that Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme), you must demonstrate that the Bitcoin network has no utility. As someone who has transferred $100,000 worth of value to another person instantly in another country (on a Sunday when banks were closed, no less), I am confident that you will not succeed in this demonstration.
I believe that you will understand and agree with my above arguments if you objectively ponder them for a while. Your contention then moves to the following: that if Bitcoin (the network) can be replicated by anyone, it isn’t actually scarce at all and thus even though the network is valuable, the price of individual coins will fall toward zero as the system is replicated over and over by competitors. You would explain that while bitcoins are limited to 21 million units, anyone can create a competing crypto-currency and thus the number of possible crypto-currency units are unlimited, thus not scarce, and thus not fundamentally worth anything.
You made this argument several times on the show today. It is a fair point for you to raise, but please allow me to counter it.
Bitcoin, after all, cannot really be copied. True, the open-source code can be copied and the copier could release CopyCoin (indeed this is happening all the time). But, the copier cannot copy the infrastructure. The protocol layer is easily copied. The infrastructure layer is not. On Day 1 of Bitcoin, it had no infrastructure layer. I can tell you, as an entrepreneur in this space for the past few years, Bitcoin’s infrastructure layer is now substantial. Indeed, I am sitting in my office, and looking at my employees building this very infrastructure as I write this. Their work, and that of many thousands of others around the world, is not so easily replicated.
Let’s use an analogy, which you so often convincingly do when describing the absurdity of Fed policy or the counter-productive nature of various government programs. I believe the following is a very fair analogy.
Consider that language itself is a protocol – a set of rules for conveying information. Consider then that one could copy the English language, and change parts of it, and release it as English 2.0. However, why would anyone use it? Even if it had marginal improvements over traditional English, where is the infrastructure? Where are the vast tomes of literature written in English 2.0? Where are the speakers and writers and scholars of this new language? Where are the libraries and Wikipedias full of English 2.0 articles? How many newspapers are written and conveyed in English 2.0? How many Peter Schiff podcasts are disseminated in this new alternative? That infrastructure wouldn’t exist, and neither therefore, would the users. This is merely the natural, spontaneous consequence of network effect, and it applies to English as a protocol for language just as it applies to Bitcoin as a protocol for money.
Now, does the network effect mean English, or Bitcoin, can never be replaced? No. But it does mean it’d be extremely difficult in either case.
But let’s remember something. Even if a superior crypto-currency overcomes Bitcoin in the open market (certainly possible), does that make Bitcoin a failure or Ponzi scheme? Does that negate the utility bestowed by Bitcoin while the market still favors it? Consider that one can benefit from the Bitcoin network with zero or very low exposure to the currency price long term. This means a payment made with Bitcoin last year still accomplished its objective – value moved freely, the users benefited, even if a year later the system falls apart and goes to zero. Thus, there is real utility today even if the system doesn’t work next year. The assumption that Bitcoin will be around for eternity is not a prerequisite for benefiting from its utility in the present.
Mutual Respect for Market-Based Money
I think you will discover, upon reflection, that your concerns about Bitcoin boil down to the thesis that Bitcoin is a volatile, highly speculative, and non-conservative asset class. In this, I wholeheartedly agree. But if your arguments are claiming that the payment network itself is some kind of fraud – a Ponzi scheme undeserved of respect or even consideration – then I must take issue with that. The Bitcoin network is an utterly revolutionary technology. It separates money from the state, in a way that gold, unfortunately, has been unable to do.
When fully understood, Bitcoin should bring tears to the eyes of anyone who fights against the tyranny and ignorance of coercive governments and their monetary witch doctors. This is why thousands of people around the world have dedicated their lives to this campaign. We are carrying out this experiment without anyone’s permission. We’ll either fail, or change the world in a way that was inconceivable before this technology existed.
I wholly support your idea to make a gold-backed digital currency. Please do it. I’d love to be your first customer, because I love gold. But being in this business, seeing how the payments and banking and regulatory world works, I can tell you that your initiative will likely fail, either by self-immolation (GoldMoney severing inter-account payments), or by governmental take down (e-gold).
A monetary/payment system that relies on gold backing is reliant on the backer. It relies on a centralized, trusted party, to warehouse the gold and provide convertibility. This is the counter-party risk eliminated by Bitcoin.
If there is a centralized backer for any payment system, then the system will have to follow all government laws, or be shut down. To follow the laws, personal customer information must be known, meaning privacy is impossible. Transfer limits and strict terms of use will be imposed, meaning financial freedom is impossible. And have fun with the compliance costs. Have you noticed international banks dropping American customers around the world? It is due to this unfortunate dynamic. And then, if the stars align, and the gold-backed currency manages to grow big and become a successful global payments network, it’s not unreasonable to assume that governments will take it down anyway, because it would compete with fiat – from which great swaths of their power originates.
You cannot compete with fiat by having a competitor that is vulnerable to the guns of government. Bitcoin may not be perfectly immune, but it is highly resistant. Censorship of e-gold was easy. Censorship of Bitcoin will be… entertaining.
Regardless, if you’re honestly interested in trying that experiment again, I will help you and support that effort, because I recognize the value of precious metals as commodities and as money. Until such a system actually exists, I am humbly asking you to support our efforts in kind, and am humbly suggesting to you that bitcoins, while non-physical, are indeed real and indeed have real value, because they are the one currency accepted on the most revolutionary payment network known to mankind. This is not theory – it’s actually working for millions of dollars of payments every day. We’ve moved beyond the Mises textbook. We’re running in the open market.
While Bitcoin is still a highly-volatile experiment, it deserves more respect than dismissal as a Ponzi scheme, and regardless of whether you think the current price of a bitcoin unit is justified, you must acknowledge that this technology, broadly speaking, has utility both for both economic exchange and, more importantly, individual freedom.
When my grandparents ask me how to protect their wealth, I don’t tell them to buy bitcoins. I tell them to buy precious metals. When they ask me how to transfer value across distance, I don’t tell them to ship gold. I tell them to use Bitcoin. My hope in writing this letter is simply this – that perhaps you’ll come to see Bitcoin and gold as beautiful compliments and important tools in the advancement of free-market money – one long-standing, conservative, and physical, the other new, technologically and politically disruptive, and digital. One will not replace the other, but I believe both will come to replace fiat, and good riddance to that stuff.
In Liberty, Erik Voorhees
How a Bitcoin Transaction Works