Saturday, February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy Explains Origin of Vulcan Greeting

America's Least Sprawling City Is...Los Angeles?

America's Least Sprawling City Is...Los Angeles?

Forget the clichés. L.A. isn't the capital of sprawl.

L.A. learned to write from Prince.Carolco PicturesWhich of America's metropolitan regions has the least sprawl? Thomas Laidley, a sociologist at New York University, has just published a paper in the Urban Affairs Review that draws on satellite and Census data to create a sprawl index. By his calculations, our most sprawling city is Columbia, South Carolina. The least? Los Angeles.
This flies in the face of every cliché about L.A. But it makes sense, and it is consistent with past research. "Although Los Angeles is often popularly associated with sprawl because of its pollution and traffic," Laidley writes, "its sheer lack of very low-density development places it atop all U.S. metro areas."
This fits my anecdotal experience as a former Angeleno. Indeed, if you live near your workplace in Los Angeles, as I did from early 1999 through early 2002, even the city's fabled traffic isn't the problem you might expect. My apartment was within walking distance of a supermarket, and I often didn't bother to use my car when I bought groceries. I was also just a few blocks from several restaurants, movie theaters, and other places to socialize. And my brief drive to the office didn't require me to get on the highway. Of course I sometimes had to cross the city to cover a story, attend an event, or visit a friend, and that could mean congestion. But I lived in a compact and walkable neighborhood with all the basic urban amenities, precisely the sort of place that the anti-sprawl warriors ought to like.
It's an interesting study, at any rate, and you can read it yourself here. And if you want to know what other cities are especially sprawly or not, here are the top and bottom 10metropolitan statistical areas:
[Via Curbed.]


Friday, February 27, 2015

Cell Phone Tracker has High Potential for Abuse.

Proposed Santa Clara County cellphone tracker has high potential for abuse, say critics

By Eric Kurhi

A sheriff's proposal in Santa Clara County is placing new scrutiny on a surveillance technology already in use around the Bay Area -- a cellphone tracking system that may help in the war on crime but has the ability to infringe on innocent bystanders' privacy.

The technology in question -- which was quietly implemented in San Jose, Oakland and Fremont but will get a public hearing Tuesday when supervisors are asked to approve its purchase -- is a suitcase-sized device that mimics a cellphone tower to connect with all phones in a specific area. How large an area is one of many aspects that agencies have not made known, citing nondisclosure agreements regarding the technology. Sheriff's officials said it will be used purely to locate the subject of an investigation since it can find a phone through walls, even if the owner isn't making a call.

But privacy advocates argue that it can do far more than that -- for instance, scooping up details about the phone use of thousands of people at a demonstration -- and have called for greater public disclosure when law enforcement agencies seek to acquire the devices and strict limits on how they are used in the field.

Commonly known by its brand name "StingRay," the device is technically called an "International Mobile Subscriber Identity catcher." When cellphones within its range connect, it harvests the IMSI from all of them, which could include data from thousands of unsuspecting people. If the authorities have the IMSI of a subject -- which sheriff's officials said they wouldn't obtain without a search warrant -- they can focus on where the phone's signal is coming from and, after moving the device a few times, triangulate a location to within 10 feet.

Alan Butler, legal counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said researchers have successfully demonstrated it can be much more invasive.

"It could process calls, monitor what numbers are being called, reroute calls," Butler said. "There's a tech term called 'man-in-the-middle attack,' where if it's between me and the phone company tower, I would think I'm connected to AT&T but in reality in between is the phony tower."

Butler said it could also work to identify an unknown person of interest. The target's IMSI could be collected along with everyone else's in a given area, such as a street corner known as a hot spot for crime. Another sweep could be done when the person is at a new site and a comparison of codes found in both locations would reveal the repeated digits belonging to the subject.

"It's a unique ID that might as well be your Social Security number," Butler said. "It is tied to your device and your account, the thing that is always in your pocket. It's an identifier that can be used to track you wherever you go."

And Butler said it's not hard for authorities to find out who is behind that number.

"Typically subscriber information can be obtained by law enforcement without any court order whatsoever," he said.

That kind of function is of grave concern, said Nadia Kayyali of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been closely watching jurisdictions that have acquired StingRays, including Oakland, Fremont and San Francisco.

"Nationwide, there has been at least one agency that said it intended to use it to collect data on protesters," Kayyali said.

The ACLU has been pushing for local agencies to create a clear policy that would mandate a public vetting and evaluation of potentially invasive technology such as the cellphone interceptors and drones. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who asked staff to look at such an ordinance in November, was concerned about the lack of opportunity for public input before the matter goes up for a vote Tuesday. Simitian said he would like to see the request -- which would be paid for by an approved $500,000 federal Homeland Security grant that expires in May -- put before a committee for discussion before returning to the board for a vote.

"Here we are at the point of approving it, and we don't have a draft policy and no real protections to prevent the misuse and abuse of technology," he said. "Without a complete understanding of what we are buying, how it will be used and what privacy measures will be in place, it's premature to say the least."

Kayyali said that while the StingRay in Oakland was quietly implemented, crowds raised a ruckus at City Council meetings last year when that city aimed to create a sort of one-stop shop for collected information called the Domain Awareness Center. The resulting backlash resulted in a scaled-down vision for the surveillance hub and a privacy ordinance moving through committee that if approved would be among the "strongest in the country." It would set very specific rules regarding collected information, including that from the StingRay, defining who can access it and how it can be used.

While such proposals are encouraging, Kayyali said it's been "incredibly frustrating to see this keep happening again and again in the Bay Area. If there's a silver lining, it's that when people do hear about these things the concern is real."

A Conflict of Visions about our Future

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Greedy Green Business exposed.

Kitzhaber and the Greedy Greens Oregon governor John Kitzhaber

Energy isn’t the only thing that’s green when you’re pushing the clean-energy agenda. Oregon governor John Kitzhaber may have announced that he will resign, but a sweeping FBI investigation of him and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, is only getting started. While the story involves personal failings, the green-energy lobbying scandal that brought them down has national lessons and implications. If oil companies and pharmaceutical concerns shouldn’t exercise undue influence in government, the same is true for green energy — which can’t yet survive in the marketplace without giant subsidies or special tax favors. 

While Hayes was living in the governor’s mansion with the self-bestowed title of “Oregon’s First Lady,” she collected a series of consulting contracts and “fellowship” money from people with an interest in shaping state energy and environmental policy. She then ordered state employees to help run her private business and take actions in accord with the wishes of the green-energy groups that were paying her. Some of the groups first identified by Willamette Week were sketchy. 

The Clean Economy Development Center (CEDC) gave Hayes $118,000 as a “fellow” for “work that Hayes and Kitzhaber’s office have yet to describe in any detail.” The arrangement was made by Dan Carol, a Kitzhaber campaign adviser who was later hired by the governor and his highest-paid aide, at $165,000 a year. CEDC had its tax-exempt status yanked by the IRS in 2014. 

Then there was Demos, a New York–based left-wing group normally prominent in attacking voter-ID laws. But in Oregon, Demos persuaded Hayes and Kitzhaber to consider using a “genuine progress indicator” as a substitute for traditional GDP models of growth. In 2013, Governor Kitzhaber and Hayes accepted the invitation of Demos executive Lew Daly to accompany him to the Himalayan nation of Bhutan to study the “genuine progress indicator” concept. The next month, Hayes landed a $25,000 consulting contract with Demos. Within days, in violation of the law, she held a meeting promoting Demos’s concept at the state-owned governor’s mansion. 

The San Francisco–based Energy Foundation gave Hayes $40,000 in 2013 to create a green-energy communications strategy. This foundation had also funded almost two-thirds of her $118,000 CDEC fellowship. Although much of its funding is obscure, one of the Energy Foundation’s most prominent backers is Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who last year plowed millions into Democratic campaigns and fighting the Keystone pipeline. Among the recipients of his largesse was the Oregon Democratic party, which netted $100,000 from his NextGen Climate Action group. More scandals might be waiting in the wings. 

Last year, the Daily Caller reported that Kitzhaber signed a deal with the governors of Washington and California to implement low-carbon fuel standards that would raise the cost of transportation. But that may have been just the beginning of a much bigger scheme to push green-energy agendas. Chris Horner, of the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, used Freedom of Information Act requests to unearth a ten-page 2014 e-mail thread from the Washington governor’s office to allies working in various other governors’ offices. 

The thrust was advice on how to launch “a nationally coordinated, multi-year ‘states strategy’ focused on driving outcomes contemplated by the president’s climate action plan,” to “spread climate coordination and collaboration.” The Kitzhaber aide in the e-mails is Dan Carol, who was so helpful in securing that lucrative green-energy fellowship for the governor’s fiancée. The e-mail participants discuss “Dan’s concept” to use their offices to push the climate agenda. It would be funded by “major environmental donors,” such as Steyer and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. A private White House dinner would be arranged “to create buy-in among” the donors. Recipients of the e-mails were assured that Council on Environmental Quality staff at the White House “were interested and felt [the White House’s David] Agnew, [counselor to the president John] Podesta, et al.” would also be interested. 

Far from being embarrassed by the green-energy scandals that piled up during its first term, the Obama administration is doubling down on its green agenda. It has dismissed Solyndra, the politically connected solar-panel maker that wasted $535 million of taxpayer money and got President Obama to promote its wares, as an aberration. But the Washington Post reported in 2012 that Solyndra was hardly an anomaly, given that under Obama “$3.9 billion in federal grants and financing flowed to 21 companies backed by firms with connections to five Obama-administration staffers and advisers.” It’s not that no one raised warning signs.

Then–Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, then–budget director Jacob Lew, and then–National Economic Council director Gene Sperling all opposed many or most of the green-energy schemes that have since failed. But Energy Secretary Steven Chu ignored these voices and handed out the cash anyway. Obama may not have had a Cylvia Hayes advising him, but the conflicts of interest he created were nonetheless major-league. 

By now, it must be clear that just because green-energy advocates claim the “cleanest” of motives, they haven’t overcome the all-too-common desire to reap personal profit at the expense of the general public. “The modern green machine is a network of wealthy foundations and consultant groups that finance activists who promote and advise sympathetic politicians,” the Wall Street Journal editorial page observed on Saturday. 

Just as with any business lobby, such groups deserve scrutiny about the lengths to which they will go to further their self-interest. As the Kitzhaber scandal in Oregon has shown, green-energy interests can be the most brazen of all because they believe their perceived good intentions will block needed scrutiny. The scandal involving a lone food-supplement owner who corrupted Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife with gifts pales by comparison with what happened in Oregon, and the McDonnell scandal received far greater coverage. It’s time the media woke up and realized that they have a new watchdog role in covering the financial — or “green” — interests of the green lobby.

Read more at:

Electric car benefits? Just myths

Electric car benefits? Just myths

It is time to stop our green worship of the electric car. It costs us a fortune, cuts little CO2 and surprisingly kills almost twice the number of people compared with regular gasoline cars.

It is time to stop our green worship of the electric car. It costs us a fortune, cuts little CO2 and surprisingly kills almost twice the number of people compared with regular gasoline cars.
Electric cars' global-warming benefits are small. It isadvertised as a zero-emissions car, but in reality it only shifts emissions to electricity production, with most coming from fossil fuels. As green venture capitalist Vinod Khosla likes to point out, "Electric cars are coal-powered cars."
The most popular electric car, a Nissan Leaf, over a 90,000-mile lifetime will emit 31 metric tons of CO2, based on emissions from its production, its electricity consumption at average U.S. fuel mix and its ultimate scrapping. A comparable diesel Mercedes CDI A160 over a similar lifetime will emit 3 tons more across its production, diesel consumption and ultimate scrapping.
The results are similar for the top-line Tesla car, emitting about 44 tons, about 5 tons less than a similar Audi A7 Quattro.
Subsidies vs. savings
Yes, in both cases the electric car is better, but only by a tiny bit. Avoiding 3 tons of CO2 would cost less than $27 on Europe's emissions trading market. The annual benefit is about the cost of a cup of coffee. Yet U.S. taxpayers spend up to $7,500 in tax breaks for less than $27 of climate benefits. That's a bad deal.
The other main benefit from electric cars was supposed to be lower air pollution. Yes, it might be powered by coal, but unlike the regular car, coal emissions are far away from the city centers where more people live and where damage from air pollution hits hardest.
However, new research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences foundthat while gasoline cars pollute closer to home, coal-fired power pollutes a lot more.
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The researchers estimate that if the U.S. has 10% more gasoline cars in 2020, 870 more people will die each year in the U.S. from air pollution. Hybrids, because they are cleaner, will kill just 610 people. But 10% more electric vehicles powered on the average U.S. electricity mix will kill 1,617 more people every year, mostly from coal pollution. The electric car kills almost three times as many as a hybrid.
Of course, electric car proponents would venture that the perceived rapid ramp-up of renewables will make future electric cars much cleaner. This, however, is mostly wishful thinking. Today, the U.S. gets 14% of its electric power from renewables. In 25 years, Obama's Energy Information Administration estimates this will have gone up just 3 percentage points to 17%.
Similarly, fossil fuels generate 65% of U.S. electricity today, and will generate 64% in 2040, although natural gas will gain four percentage points and lead to slightly cleaner power.
Instead of focusing on electric cars, we should focus on making coal-fired power cleaner.
What proponents say
Proponents could also argue that the more mileage an electric car logs, the more its carbon footprint is reduced because the battery production is a significant part of their total emissions.
Yet, it hardly matters. The added mileage saves little in the way of emissions, and the electric car's extended use might mean it would have to replace its batteries, entirely blowing the climate benefit.
Moreover, because the Nissan gives you only 84 miles on a charge, most people buy it as a second car for shorter trips. If such a second car goes only 50,000 miles, it will actually end up emitting more CO2.
In the public conversation, electric cars are seen as the new uber-green. But they're nothing of the sort. If we had 25 million extra electric cars rather than gasoline cars on the road in 2020, they would over their lifetime avoid 75 million tons of CO2 at a market value of more than half a billion dollars.
However, at present-day subsidies, they would cost a phenomenal $188 billion whilecreating more pollution than gasoline cars, costing about $35 billion in lives cut short by poor air quality. For every dollar of cost, the electric car does less than half a cent of good.
For the next decades, hybrids are the way to go, while we innovate cheaper green energy that hopefully over some decades will make the electric car worthwhile.
Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalistand Cool Itis president of theCopenhagen Consensus Center.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

FCC's Ajit Pai: Net Neutrality is a "Solution That Won't Work to a Problem That Doesn't Exist"

'Nobody My Age Can Afford to Stay Here Forever'

'Nobody My Age Can Afford to Stay Here Forever'

London billboards are sharing the stories of people moving both to and from the rapidly changing city. Some of them are quite painful to read.

Image Duarte Carrilho da Graça
Billboards in London share stories of relocation—both in leaving the city and moving to it. (Duarte Carrilho da Graça)

Why do people choose to move to London? And why do they choose to leave? A new project exploring these questions is currently playing out in an unlikely venue—two advertising billboards in the center of the U.K.’s capital. Called London is Changing, the project is run through a website that invites people who are moving into, out of, or across London to share the reasons and emotions behind their migration. These messages are then displayed on the billboards, hopefully giving passers-by pause for thought as they walk or drive.

(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
The project is the work of communication design lecturer Rebecca Ross, who traded for use of the electronic display units in lieu of payment for some consulting work she did for the billboard company. The results of her call for submissions make for compelling, surprisingly nuanced reading. While most of those taking part so far have been leaving rather than arriving, Ross hopes that greater publicity for the project (which runs through 2015) could help spread the word to a wider pool of people.
Even now, contributors’ reactions don’t fit comfortably into one camp. Some sound justifiably embittered by London’s intern culture and dodgy landlords. “What creativity can there be when only money can buy you your next opportunity?” asks a freelance filmmaker relocating from West London to the Netherlands. “I have had to move four times in the last two years because of unscrupulous landlords, rent increases or nightmare housemates,” protests an arts worker moving from expensive Southwest London to the cheaper Northeast.

(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
Others seem lucky enough to have more control over their choices. “I wanted to live within walking distance of a cinema, a decent restaurant or a bookshop!” says a civil servant who moved from the edge of the London region to the inner borough of Greenwich. “By selling up I can clear my mortgage and live on my pension,” declares a retired naval officer who is himself leaving Greenwich and traveling outwards. And while some who have already left the city seem delighted to be free of the place, others look back wistfully to its diversity and choices. For some, London’s allure is largely in the past. “It's not the city I knew. It doesn't feel like it's for people like me anymore. It's a hell of a lot richer and duller,” says a student relocating to the South Coast. A graphic designer heading for the English Midlands sounds rather more regretful. “As a gay woman, I love the anonymity of the capital—it's tolerance and diversity has made life very comfortable.”
All round, the messages capture the alluring but frustrating pressure cooker atmosphere of a city going through rapid change. You can read a full transcript of all the billboard messages displayed so far on this page, or keep scrolling to view more.

(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)
(Duarte Carrilho da Graça)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When government controls business, it can buy silence

Gallup chairman and CEO Jim Clifton made news recently by writing on his company’s blog that the nation’s official 5.6 percent unemployment rate is a “Big Lie.”
The capital letters make that a reference to the propaganda technique of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, who recommended telling a lie so big that people would believe it only because no one would have the gall to make up such a thing.
A few days later Clifton appeared on CNBC and tried to clarify that he wasn’t calling the Bureau of Labor Statistics a bunch of liars. “I need to make that very, very clear so that I don’t suddenly disappear,” he said. “I need to make it home tonight.”
That “disappear” comment is a reference to Stalin’s purges of intellectuals in the Soviet Union.
Was he joking?
They’re never joking.
What is in Jim Clifton’s head that’s causing these totalitarian references to fall out of his mouth? He sounds like he’s afraid of the government.
Maybe he is.
Gallup is a U.S. government contractor, and it’s risky to tick off a client. Gallup has done consulting work for the U.S. Army on civilian personnel recruitment, for the Social Security Administration on marketing research, for the Department of Agriculture, the Office of Personnel Management, the Peace Corps, the Farm Service Agency, the Department of Education, the Federal Trade Commission, the Air Force, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, according to the Federal Procurement Data System.
There have been a few bumps.
In 2013, Gallup paid $10.5 million to the U.S. Department of Justice to settle charges that the company overstated its costs on no-bid contracts with the State Department and the U.S. Mint. The settlement also ended litigation over charges that Gallup offered a job to a FEMA employee in exchange for help getting work for the company. As the U.S. attorney explained it, “This case exposed a cozy arrangement between a contractor and a government employee where nobody was looking out for the American taxpayer.”
But all was forgiven. Last October, Gallup won a $2.5 million contract to do a customer satisfaction study for the Department of Labor.
And then the CEO compared their unemployment numbers to the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels.
In a totalitarian state, the government exercises total control over business, and an executive who steps out of line could very well disappear, but what we have here is a totalitarian state of mind.
Before he was afraid of disappearing, Jim Clifton wrote a scathing commentary exposing the tricks of government statisticians. He revealed that “a job” is defined as at least one hour of work for at least $20, “unemployed” doesn’t include people who desperately want a job but have given up trying to find one, and the number of full-time jobs in America is a “staggeringly low” 44 percent of the adult population, leaving 30 million “out of work or severely underemployed.”
He must have felt a cold stab of fear when he realized he was criticizing a client worth millions of dollars to his company. That kind of thing can cause a CEO to lose his job.
In this economy, that’s the same as disappearing.
Where the government has too much control over business, executives have a strong incentive to shade their public comments in a way that’s pleasing to government officials. This is especially dangerous when the business is news and information, or polling data, because the public may be fed a distorted picture of reality.
If it’s not quite totalitarian propaganda, it’s a little too close for comfort.

Confessions of a Computer Modeler

Confessions of a Computer Modeler

Any model, including those predicting climate doom, can be tweaked to yield a desired result. I should know.

ROBERT J. CAPRARAJuly 8, 2014 7:15 p.m. ET

The climate debate is heating up again as business leaders, politicians and academics bombard us with the results of computer models that predict costly and dramatic changes in the years ahead. I can offer some insight into the use of computer models for public-policy debates, and a recommendation for the general public.

After earning a master's degree in environmental engineering in 1982, I spent most of the next 10 years building large-scale environmental computer models. My first job was as a consultant to the Environmental Protection Agency. I was hired to build a model to assess the impact of its Construction Grants Program, a nationwide effort in the 1970s and 1980s to upgrade sewer-treatment plants.

The computer model was huge—it analyzed every river, sewer treatment plant and drinking-water intake (the places in rivers where municipalities draw their water) in the country. I'll spare you the details, but the model showed huge gains from the program as water quality improved dramatically. By the late 1980s, however, any gains from upgrading sewer treatments would be offset by the additional pollution load coming from people who moved from on-site septic tanks to public sewers, which dump the waste into rivers. Basically the model said we had hit the point of diminishing returns.

When I presented the results to the EPA official in charge, he said that I should go back and "sharpen my pencil." I did. I reviewed assumptions, tweaked coefficients and recalibrated data. But when I reran everything the numbers didn't change much. At our next meeting he told me to run the numbers again.

After three iterations I finally blurted out, "What number are you looking for?" He didn't miss a beat: He told me that he needed to show $2 billion of benefits to get the program renewed. I finally turned enough knobs to get the answer he wanted, and everyone was happy.

Was the EPA official asking me to lie? I have to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he believed in the value of continuing the program. (Congress ended the grants in 1990.) He certainly didn't give any indications otherwise. I also assume he understood the inherent inaccuracies of these types of models. There are no exact values for the coefficients in models such as these. There are only ranges of potential values. By moving a bunch of these parameters to one side or the other you can usually get very different results, often (surprise) in line with your initial beliefs.

I realized that my work for the EPA wasn't that of a scientist, at least in the popular imagination of what a scientist does. It was more like that of a lawyer. My job, as a modeler, was to build the best case for my client's position. The opposition will build its best case for the counter argument and ultimately the truth should prevail.

If opponents don't like what I did with the coefficients, then they should challenge them. And during my decade as an environmental consultant, I was often hired to do just that to someone else's model. But there is no denying that anyone who makes a living building computer models likely does so for the cause of advocacy, not the search for truth.

Surely the scientific community wouldn't succumb to these pressures like us money-grabbing consultants. Aren't they laboring for knowledge instead of profit? If you believe that, boy do I have a computer model to sell you.

The academic community competes for grants, tenure and recognition; consultants compete for clients. And you should understand that the lines between academia and consultancy are very blurry as many professors moonlight as consultants, authors, talking heads, etc.

Let's be clear: I am not saying this is a bad thing. The legal system is adversarial and for the most part functions well. The same is true for science. So here is my advice: Those who are convinced that humans are drastically changing the climate for the worse and those who aren't should accept and welcome a vibrant, robust back-and-forth. Let each side make its best case and trust that the truth will emerge.

Those who do believe that humans are driving climate change retort that the science is "settled" and those who don't agree are "deniers" and "flat-earthers." Even the president mocks anyone who disagrees. But I have been doing this for a long time, and the one thing I have learned is how hard it is to convince people with a computer model. The vast majority of your audience will never, ever understand the math behind it. This does not mean people are dumb. They usually have great BS detectors, and when they see one side of a debate trying to shut down the other side, they will most likely assume it has something to hide, has the weaker argument, or both.

Eventually I got out of the environmental consulting business. In the 1990s I went into a completely different industry, one that was also data intensive and I thought couldn't be nearly as controversial: health care. But that's another story.

Mr. Caprara is chief methodologist for PSKW LLC, which provides marketing programs for pharmaceutical firms.