Friday, 7 August 2009

Cash For Clunkers seems a little Clunky to me

I don't doubt at all that Cash For Clunkers has a stimulative effect on the economy. I'm far more sceptical about claims that it has a positive environmental impact.

Consider the environmental impact of producing a new car, let's call that amount EIP. Suppose that we can expect a car to last Y years, then the environmental impact of producing (EIP) a car is EIP/Y for each year it's on the road. If I have an old car that I might have driven for, say, three more years but which I retire early, then I have to replace my old car but the EIP of my old car has already been paid. It's paid if it lasts for a week or a century (the longer a car lasts, the less its EIP/year). So the total EIP is a fixed amount and we might even say that, in effect, the EIP/year goes up if I take the car off the road early.

Now consider the new car that I buy3 years earlier than I would have. That is a brand new cost of 3*(EIP/Y), a cost we wouldn't have had to pay had we kept my old car on the road for three more years. Now, further suppose that I drive 12000 miles/year and my new car gets 22 mpg while my old one got 17. With my new car, I'd have to buy 1636 gallons of fuel vs. 2117 with my old car. Let's call the environmental impact of burning a gallon of gas, EIGG. Is it obvious that 3*(EIP/Y) < 481*EIGG? If it's not, we incur an environmental loss from the C for C program here. (And what if the buyer uses the program to gain a 2 mpg improvement?)

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Future of Journalism???

Some time ago I wrote out some thoughts on what might be done to save the newspaper, essentially a coming together of newspapers in sort of a cable TV model, i.e., where one pays for access to any and all of the sources, and where revenue is split according to proportion of page clicks. Since then I've realized that I'm not alone in making this suggestion. For instance, David Simon has been arguing for the newspapers to do essentially the same thing and lobbying to get an antitrust exemption exactly for these purposes. Personally, I like the idea because it retains newspapers in something like the function, if not the same form, we have now, i.e., a relatively independent group beholden to no one doing the kind of job that we once envisioned newspapers doing.

On the other side, we have, well, a lot of people. A lot of people oppose efforts at walling off content, and, relatedly, of obligating news aggregators to cough up fees. I've been following King Kauffman, who used to write a brilliant sports column for Salon, and Katherine Mieszkowski's blog: The Future of Journalism. They've been fairly critical of the David Simons and even the Ian Shapiras (who recently complained that Gawker was stealing his content). But, I'd think and sometimes even comment, what in the world do we propose in their stead? Are bloggers ever going to provide the kind of painstaking journalism which Simon has described? Will amateur bloggers ever break a Watergate? Well, I was assured, you're assuming they'd be amateurs, maybe they'll be paid, this is America, we're full of ingenuity, we'll find a way to monetize. Don't worry.

Ah, yes, well, apparently they've found it. According to a tweet from Kauffman and an article in their blog, the "future of journalism" may very well be what is described in this article: "From a Texas Small Town and a Bedding Company, the Future of Journalism, Marketing, or Both". The article discusses a corporate sponsored blog, in which some former journalist is now paid by Carpenter Company to write about Stephenville, TX. Yup, that's the future of journalism, that's why we can all laugh at David Simon and say's he's just being paranoid and standing in the way of progress. We've found a way to monetize. We can now safety let the newspapers die. Good riddance ya bums and don't let the door hit you on the way out But what about independence of the press? Oh, don't worry, the article assures us, "Dan's free to chronicle small town life as he sees fit. So he roams Stephenville, capturing residents' hopes and dreams and idiosyncrasies and taking literal and figurative snapshots" Yeah, sure he's free. And I'm sure the town can look forward to his hard-edged articles on, for example, how questionable corporate practices at the town's largest employer affects the residents of Stephenville. Mieskowski bizarrely dismisses this kind of potential conflict as Hollywood fantasy, "But this is real life." Um, yeah, you got me there.

You thought GE telling Olbermann to shutup was bad? You ain't seen nothing yet.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Papa Bear on life expectancy

In this clip Bill O'Reilly claims that the reason life expectancy is higher in Canada is because the US has 10 times as many people resulting in ten times as many deaths and crimes, etc. I try to be charitable, I've misspoken lots of time, momentarily misunderstood a metric or a stat when presented with it in the heat of discussion, and as such, probably made a stupid remark or asked a dumb question. But this is uttered by a "talking head", a man whose job it is to analyze, discuss and elaborate on the issues of the day. He's ostensibly doing an analysis of health care systems and it's a prepared bit, not an off the cuff reaction to someone calling in. Life expectancy, for better or worse, is a very simple metric frequently used in comparing health systems. There cannot be any excuse for coming on the air and pretending to speak intelligently on an issue while failing to grasp such a simple idea. Try as one might to be charitable, it's hard to conclude anything other than the man is a complete moron, a blowhard who cares nothing for truth, only winning arguments. Yet tens of millions of people listen to him and form opinion based on what he's saying, a man so fucking stupid and/or pig-headed that he doesn't even understand, or bother to try to understand how to interpret life expectancy metrics. This is the man playing a key role in helping Americans form opinions in the health care debate. Sometimes I think my head will explode.