Mittwoch, Juli 19, 2006

Another unfinished post...

Finally we're off for vacation and blogging here will be even worse than normal. But here is yet another unfinished post, or rather I got too disgusted to go any farther...

My father sent me this.

I took a brief look at it.

First of all, it's very subjective, yet uses a numerical index to suggest that there is an objective basis for what they are saying. This is fundamentally dishonest: you cannot, legitimately, express uncertainties (subjective evaluations) as a number, which is based on objective analysis. This must be done rather with valences (such as +++ or ----) rather than a number. In my work, the moment where we start using numbers that are not based on "real" facts, we no longer publish them as numbes, but rather use valences. Otherwise you are misleading your customers that you have the real numbers, and in the commercial environment you will be found out and you will lose your reputation. Shame that this is apparenly not the case here. Shoddy work at best and deliberate misleading at worst...

Secondly, the environmental footprint claims to include something that I know as a professional international economist can't be included: they claim to be able to reduce the footprint of a country by excluding products and services that are exported, counting these instead with the importing country.

I work extensively with import-export data (UNIDO, UNCTAD, COMEXT databases are part of my daily bread and butter) and there are no such numbers available on the basis that they are claiming (of being able to identify which El Salvdorean bananas are sold to the US and consumed by the US, for example). While there are direction of trade statistics, and there are detailed direction of trade by product numbers available (this is the UNCTAD data set: roughly 6 mn time series!), the ownership of those products cannot be determined, and indeed is the basis for developing the statistics: anonymity is guaranteed and there is no way for this group to have ***any*** idea of whether a Chaquita plantation produces for the local market, whether it produces for a secondary downstream manufacturer located locally or whether it delivers directly to the mother company. This would make a HUGE difference in terms of how the ecological footprint is measured. I am professionally unaware of any one who claims to have world trade modelled at even a two-digit level of detail, let alone the 6-digit level of detail that the UNCTAD data base offers.

If they are working with proxies, these are not stated. Again, very poor.

And **if** they are working with the raw UNCTAD data, I'd like to know how they summate the data: is this an averaged number, is it simply the most recent data, is it modelled for the future, what? After all, they should have a forecast, since they are looking at things like

Third, only one of the three indicators is "real". This goes back to the first point. The life satisfaction and the environmental footprint are subjective or are based on proxied data; only the life expectancy is "real", and even here it appears that it is modified to account for some sort of "happiness" factor. There is a fundamental truth in economic modelling: GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out. You can have the most exquisite models, but unless they are properly fed and cared for, they are useless.

I really wish that ideology wouldn't drive such attempts to make guesswork appear scientific. Economics is called the dismal science because it is the only branch of the human sciences that insists on at least a modicum of actual data and empirical verification of correlations and causality. If these folks were honest, they'd be using Chernekov faces instead of trying to look objective.

The goal of the group is not furthered by making numbers up. If anything, they make me very suspect of whatever their goal is, given that they are presenting subjective judgements as objective evaluations. And arguing that it is better to have something rather than nothing doesn't hold water: they are deliberately presenting these subjective evaluations as if they were objective facts.

Columbia as being one of the happiest places around? Give me a break: murderours drug wars, coupled with significant abject poverty. The only reason that they are so highly ranked is that their ecological footprint is "calculated" to be so low. This fails a first, basic assessment of how believeable their product is. It isn't.

Sorry to be so harsh, but I've run into too much bad "science" recently, of ideologically-driven "science" masquerading as "truth". Doing science properly is hard work and more often than nowarding: the benefits, especially in this area, of making stuff up (Mann et al with their hockey stick curve) for personal glory and financial gain are very seductive and very destructive. And the claim of a consensus is facetious at best and downright dishonest at worst.

Posting will be sporadic for the next several weeks...

Montag, Juli 17, 2006

Unfinished Post #1 - Asymmetry

Despite my best attempts, I haven't been able to finish this, but wanted to post it nonetheless. This will continue as a series of unfinished posts until I can finish them... :-)

Ah, finally some time after assorted deadlines, disappointments and triumphs. The bittersweet joys of parenting teenage children mixed with the deep sorrow of watching friends slowly die. The last quarter hasn't been the best. But I disgress...

This particular post was prodded by this post on The Adventures of Chester.

Up front: I'm a professional forecaster: I earn my money doing industrial forecasts and have been doing this successfully for the last 20 years. You won't read my name in the papers because I'm not interested in that: instead I provide my customers with the knowledge they need to make decisions today that changes their futures.

We live in a world which is undergoing massive infrastructure and demographic changes, changes that are rarely understood.

Read and see what the future will bring and why it's not the future many think it might be. And why asymmetry is going to be a real ball-buster for everyone involved. And when I say that I mean everyone involved, from the wooliest leftist intellectual to the gung-ho America firstest,  to the ignorant uneducated peasant to the highly trained Eurocrat, from the Nepali family living in abject poverty to the billionaires.

Demographics is sometimes hard for people to really get a grasp on because demographic changes are slow in coming and are even less reversible than climate changes (and no, I don't think climate change is anthropogenic: to believe that is an act of literally incredible and more than annoying hubris). It's also a matter of simple arithmetic and only slightly more advanced analysis.

Infrastructure changes refer not merely to roads and bridges, but more fundamentally to how societies actually function and meet the needs of their populations. Who controls the infrastructure also controls the nature of how citizens of that country will view the world and understand how to make their way within the sets of rules, procedures, taboos and limitations that characterize all societies.

We in the West see our lives within a strongly structured and delineated world. Local governments that provide services for which we pay taxes; state governments who ensure that local developments mesh with at least a modicum of sensibility; central governments who are tasked with dealing with the problems that local and state governments don't and can't deal with. This is true regardless as to the exact form of how a government is organized: in France, for instance, the central government is much more dominant, but the local bureaucrats appointed by the central government fill the function of local governments. We know, largely, who is responsible for what function, what we must do in order to build that deck on the back of the house, who to call when the garbage doesn't get picked up.

The third world isn't like that at all: you pay (bribe) to get even a moderate sense of stability in your life, unless, of course, you have no money: then your life is tremendously stable. Of course, it is also rather nasty, brutish and short as you do not own anything, cannot hope that your children have it better, and can expect that the government and the thugs that pass for government will take any and everything of value you may posess, up to and including your life.

Big contrast that. Biggest we have on the planet.

Why The Democrats Still Don't Understand It...

This shows that while some Democrats have learned to actually think, that the party as a whole is still adrift and doomed.

Air America is failing because no one wants to listen.

The demography of Democratic supporters, those who finance the party, says it all: the party is behoven to big moneyed interests, be it the unions (who are deeply undemocratic in spending their member's money) or the fat cats like Soros and his ilk. They have become what they always say the Republicans are, whose financing oddly enough is now grass-roots based and comes from their consituency.

Sad, really.

What this money means is that the radicalization of Democratic politics will continue at the cost of any sort of centrist development. Are we sure that Karl Rove isn't advising these folks?

Their pseudo-religious righteous anger won't win them elections: while "energizing" their base (all I can think of is the Energizer Bunny) it alienates the vast majority of voters, especially when you look a tad past the veneer and see how radical some of these folks really are.

And the secrecy is probably in violation of some sort of campaign or financing law - IANAL, so I don't know for sure - but is certainly indicative of the fundamental cowardice of these donors - they fear the light of publicity - and their fundamental contempt for how the American elective system is run.

Freitag, Juli 14, 2006


OK, I'm a lousy blogger. But there's a lot going on on my plate, more than I want to talk about, and reality intrudes. :-)

I posted the following at Asymmetrical Information in response to this:

Two points.

First: the goal of the insurgent is to win the hearts and minds of those he sees as oppressed, to radicalize them into becoming as he is. This means that for the insurgent, the use of terror, as long as it is either non-ascribable (anonymous death squads) or directly from the opponent, is a fundamental part of his panoply of tools. He needs to radicalize the population, turning them into terrorists themselves, in order to win. This means that everything is fair, in his eyes, as long as the hated, existing government and society is destroyed and he, as a revolutionary elite, can recreate society in the way that he wants. I'm simplifying here, but this is fundamental to the ways that urban terrorists operate.

In other words, the terrorist, the insurgent, doesn't give a rat's crap about how he achieves his goal: the goal is taking power. Everything else is secondary. This is part of the legacy that the generation of communist training of 3rd-world terrorists by the former SovUnion has left us: this is part and parcel of how the Sovs trained their useful idiots to destabilize countries in order to achieve the revolution. If anything, you targeted the opponent's morality directly, get him to do terrible things in order to drive a moral dagger into his heart to destroy his will to resist. If he didn't do it, if he was strong enough to refuse to be manipulated into blowing up schools and churches that you were using, if his soldiers were so good that they would shoot between the human shields in order to get you, well then you create atrocities and get useful idiots to make it look like your opponent did it instead of you.

Second: the goal of the non-insurgent is to win the hearts and minds of the people, to get them to collectively deny and reject the terrorists. This is heavily dependent upon the structure of society: if you have a largely intact society, this is relatively easy, especially if the terrorists really don't have a base to operate from and really don't have legitimate grievances (like Baader-Meinhof in Germany).

The problem is when the society involved is in tatters, as it is in Iraq, as it was to a certain extent in Vietnam. Then you have the joint task of reconstructing society **while** denying the enemy the necessary radicalization at the same time. This is much, much more difficult than what the insurgent must do: he must merely destroy; you must not merely prevent the destruction, but also aid in the reconstruction.

This is part of the asymmetric nature of the conflict. It's not just that one side has all the neat toys and walks the walk, forcing poor Mr. Terrorist to hide and skulk (a rather irresponsible romanticizing of how terrorists work!); it's much more that Mr. Terrorist has a vastly simpler job, of using terror and the ensuing intimidation to dominate the situation. That's his advantage in the asymmetric side of the story.

So, given this, the key question becomes: are we even talking the same language here? Those perpetrating terror see their aims as being absolutely just, of having perfect and indeed moral certainty that their aims are just, that the society they are destroying is not one that is just and therefore MUST be destroyed (otherwise they'd not have bothered!).

But their goal is the destruction of the existing system. That is the difference, the fundamental and core difference. They are not interested in the niceties of restoring pre-war borders, or of returning territories once lost, or stopping genocide, or any such goal. They are only interested in destruction and acquiescence, and indeed have moved violence from the military to the population in order to force the issue.

The difference is fundamental: on the one side you have existing societies with their inherent problems, contradictions and conflicts. Wars may be fought, but tradition has it that you have a winner and a loser and that you no longer behave like a barbarian, slaughtering and depopulating in order to destroy your enemy.

On the other side you have the destroyers and nihilists, those who hate societies so much that they will do literally anything to destroy their structures. They are, literally, outside the realm of civilization.

And failing to see the fundamental difference between the two is an act of appalling political and cultural blindness.