29 September 2007

About this blog

Pressures of work mean that I'm only likely to add pieces at weekends. I've always gone more for analysis than instant response, so that shouldn't matter much.

I rarely actually look at the blog from outside. I just did, and I've noticed that blogger has eaten all my paragraphs. I tend to write in the "Edit Html" tab, becaues the WYSIWYG mode used to be rubbish, and I would use the preview view before posting. I'm sure blogger used to put actual paragraph breaks in when you used blank lines in "Edit Html", and the preview view still shows them, but blogger itself doesn't. So I'm going to be going back through adding paragraph breaks to older articles. Expect the feed to go haywire.

Note to Google. If the Preview link doesn't show what the piece is going to look like, it's useless. Get rid of it.

It's worse than that! I just wrote this in the "Compose" tab, and it's still eaten all my paragraph breaks. How am I supposed to write paragraphs?? I'm actually going to go in and add paragraphs manually to the HTML. How crap is that?

I've found a setting (under "formatting" on the settings page) which puts the paragraph breaks back. Nevertheless, I consider it broken, because (a) what is the point of having a setting which means the only way of writing paragraphs is to edit the HTML, and (b) why does the setting affect the real blog pages but not the previews in the editor?

Adams on Lomberg

Scott Adams has a very interesting piece on his blog, describing Bjorn Lomberg's appearance on Bill Maher's TV show.

The Danish economist’s argument doesn't fall into the established views about global warming. He wasn't denying it is happening, or denying humans are a major cause. But he also wasn’t saying we should drive hybrid cars, since he thinks it won’t be enough to help. He thinks we need to make solar (or other alternatives) more economical. That’s the magic bullet. His views don’t map to either popular camp on this issue, and it created a fascinating cognitive dissonance in Bill Maher (a fan of hybrid cars) and his panelists.

Adams went on:
"It looks to me like a classic case of cognitive dissonance . They literally couldn’t recognize that the economist was on their side because he suggested considering both the positive and negative effects of global warming."

But the economist certainly was not on their side. For Maher and the others, the important thing is that a policy of austerity be introduced, because they consider it morally right. Global Warming is just the excuse. Global Warming is true because it justifies austerity. If Lomberg or anyone disagrees with austerity he is not on their side, whatever he says about the climate. By arguing against austerity, he is removing the reason for Global Warming to be considered true, and therefore he is anti-Global-Warming. Denier! Burn Him!

Adams is imagining a world where observations lead to judgments about facts, which lead to conclusions about policy. That is alien to politicians, and to Maher. For them, policies lead to search for observations which can be connected to possible facts that justify the policy.

I would like to describe myself as in the Adams camp, but in honesty, as I've admitted previously, I can't. The political vision of Gore, Maher and the others is so terrifying to me that it is surely colouring my assessment of the facts concerning climate. All I can do is put up the arguments as I see them, admit my bias, and make sure I don't hide from evidence that contradicts my position. I've yet to see any evidence that I've felt I need to hide from.

This is my most detailed piece on climate. This is all of them.

Falkland Island Oil

This Guardian article (via L&P) talks about national claims to mineral rights beyond territorial waters -- in particular the UK's claims around the Falkland Islands and Rockall.

My immediate response was to the claim in the article:

the value of the oil under the sea in the region [of the Falkland Islands] is understood to be immense: seismic tests suggest there could be up to 60m barrels under the ocean floor.

60 million barrels.

At $80/barrel, that is worth a bit under 5 billion dollars, or 2.5 billion pounds -- less than a third of the cost of the 2012 Olympics, and probably much less than the cost of setting up extraction infrastructure.

Either The Guardian has lost a lot of zeros, or the oil in the region is utterly insignificant.

Luckily, I didn't get where I am today by believing everything the Guardian told me. Looking at Wikipedia, it appears the Guardian is confusing millions and billions.


It is considered probable that more than 60 billion petroleum barrels (10 km³) have been generated in the North Falkland Basin

(I also learned that 60 million barrels is about two weeks' current production from the North Sea.)

Things to consider:

  • There is believed to be significant oil near the Falklands.
  • The Guardian doesn't know millions from billions.
  • Liberty and Power can't see at a glance that 60 million barrels of oil is nothing, despite the fact that the price of a barrel of oil is hardly an obscure piece of knowledge these days.
  • I was going to go on about much-maligned Wikipedia being more reliable than the Guardian, but between drafting and posting this, the Guardian has (a) corrected the error and (b) left a note explaining the correction. Perhaps I should say that Wikipedia is more reliable than today's Guardian, in that today's Guardian has had little time to be fixed. However, if the fact in question is actually new (as opposed to background, like the 6 million barrels), which is at least suggested by insisting on today's paper, then we all know Wikipedia is unreliable too. So scrub that one. Full marks to the Guardian for the promptness and manner of the correction.

In the long term, we cannot hold onto valuable mineral reserves in the South Atlantic. Defending them is justifiable, but probably not practical.

The time to negotiate is now. (Well, I've been saying this for 10+ years, so the best time has passed, but there is still an opportunity). We want:
  • A revenue-sharing agreement for mineral rights for 50 years.
  • Rights of the inhabitants guaranteed for 50 years.
  • A Northern Ireland style arrangement with oversight by the South American partner.
  • Sovereignty to devolve to the South American partner after the 50 years, Hong Kong style.
Argentina is the obvious partner for such a deal, but not the only possible one. Chile is, I believe, the closest mainland. Venezuela has the oil production infrastructure. And if none of them offer anything decent, hey, maybe the US would like a naval base or something. Let the bidding commence.

17 September 2007

Carl Hiassen, call your office

Local government attempts to shut down pool club for allowing "lewd conduct", while the vice-mayor, working at club as a DJ, is photographing said conduct.


h/t to Language. Log for the post title.

08 September 2007

ICI: the investment fund

John Kay mourns the decline of ICI, now taken over by Akzo Nobel.

The products, the jobs, and the profits that old ICI used to make are all still going. What has gone -- and what Kay is specifically mourning for, is the old ICI management organisation.

The heart of his argument is this:
The board of ICI accepted losses in pharmaceuticals for 20 years, in the conviction that drugs would eventually provide future sales and profits growth. Only after two decades was this belief vindicated through the commercialisation of Black's discovery. Through his subsequent work for SmithKline, and the influence of his work on Glaxo, Black was the architect of Britain's broader success in the industry.
Old ICI financed research out of its manufacturing profits. To my young mind, this seems an odd arrangement. Financing new business is the job of financiers, not manufacturers.

Kay picked one example of where the old arrangement worked well, but to me it sounds dreadfully fragile. If development of pharmaceuticals is the responsibility of the paint industry, then a bad couple of years in the paint market would mean no development. If managers of the paint industry feel themselves mainly responsible for development of other industries, they are likely to be less effective managing the paint.

Kay does not seem to be making the argument that investment in future industries is not happening - and indeed it is happening, in Britain, and elsewhere, but the investments are being made by specialist venture capitalists drawing on the broader capital markets, not by managers of other industries having a flutter with their firm's profits.

There are several reasons why such investment funds (random example from Google) would be expected to do it better -- they are specialists, they have wider access to capital. Today we see a great deal of investment into early-stage development of potential future chemistry-related industries.

The only reason why the old ICI model might be better would be if the successful managers in one industry, were, by virtue of their position and proven technical expertise, the best placed to make decisions about investment in future industries. If this were ever the case, it is by now much less so - it has been widely observed that the advance of science and technology has meant that specialisations become ever more narrow.

The story Kay tells of ICI sounds to me not so much a model to be emulated, but the rare exception to the story he has told many times, and more convincingly, of megalomaniac bosses trying to turn their companies into something else. See on Swissair, on HP, on BT -- "policy making in business requires more than slogans and visions". "Dreams are no basis for a sound corporate strategy". That one dreamer got lucky at ICI in the 1960s does not shake the wisdom in those other columns.