Monday, April 28, 2014
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Monday, April 14, 2014
"If all you have is a hammer,” the old saying goes, “everything looks like a nail.” Left unsaid is the fact that the real problem isn’t the possession of a hammer, but the certitude that all you need is the hammer. In other words, it’s a failure of the imagination — which is a kind of arrogance — that’s really to blame. “I’ve got my hammer, and that’s all I need. Besides, have you ever seen a problem that didn’t look like a nail?”
This is a version of what academics call “confirmation bias” — the tendency to accept only the facts that buttress your closely held views. It’s a hot topic these days. Ezra Klein, a young liberal writer, has launched a news website, Vox.com, that purports to be the vanguard of something called “explanatory journalism” (which is something of a redundancy, like culinary cooking or belligerent war). In his inaugural essay, Klein argues that conservatives and liberals alike are prone to confirmation bias, which he is here to fix.
This is a very old idea. Legendary journalist and one-time progressive intellectual Walter Lippmann argued the same sort of thing nearly a century ago. Like many progressives, Lippmann was an often deeply ideological advocate of purging competing ideologies from public life. We needed “disinterested” servants who were free of the partisan or ideological bias.
The problem, as we discovered, was that disinterested public servants were deeply interested in their jobs and expanding the power of the state. The government was their hammer and we the people were the nails.
That went for newspapers, too. Lippmann wrote that “good reporting requires the exercise of the highest of the scientific virtues.” Klein’s effort seems like a newer version of the same thing. It has slideshow presentations telling the reader, for instance, “Everything you need to know about the Internet” (Al Gore sort of did invent it after all). Even his introductory essay, “How politics makes us stupid,” focused heavily on what he finds to be conservative examples of confirmation bias, but Mr. Klein couldn’t muster much of an effort to find examples of liberal confirmation bias.
At least he concedes it exists. Even that much of a concession New York Times columnist Paul Krugman cannot abide. He insists conservatives are more prone to confirmation bias because he and all the liberals he knows are so much more open-minded than conservatives.
Of course, President Obama has the same mindset. He often talks about how he’s not an ideologue but a pragmatist, and how he’s essentially a disinterested public servant pushing no agenda other than what all the experts agree is the best policy — on health care, the environment, the economy, etc. He likes to say how he’s open to new ideas from everywhere, but the new ideas he takes seriously just happen to come from the left and always involve more government. It’s not that he’s liberal, he’s just right. Or, as Krugman once put it, “The facts have a liberal bias.”
Such arrogant groupthink not only leads to bad policies, but it also reinforces a mass psychology that simply takes it for granted that liberals have sole access to the Truth. It’s like having God on your side without having to believe in God.
This attitude isn’t reserved for small technocratic squabbles. Sometimes government takes an active role, as when the Obama administration unilaterally decides that religious exemptions to Obamacare are illegitimate, at least for a bunch of nuns or companies such as Hobby Lobby.
Other times, the truth-is-liberal crowd thinks it’s okay to use government to punish the un-liberal philistines. No agency is supposed to be more disinterested than the IRS, but it appears that Lois Lerner considered neutrality to be something reserved for her ideological tribe.
And sometimes this stuff spills out into the culture. As defenders of Brendan Eich’s defenestration from Mozilla are right to note, the government didn’t force him out. The company merely exercised its rights in a free society. The same goes for Brandeis University, which rescinded Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s invitation for an honorary degree because she’s considered politically incorrect for her criticism of Islam.
But the liberal tribe seems to champion such freedoms only when they line up with its own worldview. You can have all the freedom and autonomy you want, so long as it yields progressive ends. But if you don’t want to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding, or if you’re a nun who doesn’t want to pay for something you don’t need and are morally opposed to, that’s too bad. The right to be wrong, in liberals’ eyes, is a right only liberals should have, even if, like Paul Krugman, you never need to exercise it. And, all too often, when you are wrong, that’s when liberals bring out their hammers.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Monday, April 7, 2014
from The Independent
Between 1975 and 2008, Oklahoma recorded an average of no more than six earthquakes per year, yet now it is the second most seismically active of the contiguous United States, beaten only by California. Scientists have linked this surge in seismic activity to a parallel increase in oil and gas exploration, including fracking.
In 2009, there were almost 50 quakes in Oklahoma. The following year, that number leapt to more than 1,000. Most were not “felt” earthquakes – those of magnitude 2.5 and above, which can be detected by humans. However, the state’s annual record of 222 felt quakes, set in 2013, has already been broken this year, with 253 so far. Seismologist Austin Holland of the Oklahoma Geological Survey told Reuters: “We have had almost as many magnitude 3 and greater already in 2014 than we did for all of 2013… We have already crushed last year’s record for number of earthquakes.”
Earthquakes rarely cause damage unless they are of magnitude 4 or higher. A 4.3-magnitude temblor struck the same area near Oklahoma City on 30 March. In November 2011, the state suffered a 5.6-magnitude quake – the largest ever recorded in Oklahoma – which destroyed 14 homes.
Scientists have connected a sharp rise in small earthquakes in several states to the boom in underground oil and gas exploration, notably the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Waste water from fracking and oil drilling is pumped back into the earth to be stored in so-called “injection wells”. Several studies have shown that the water, forced deep underground in layers of porous rock, can trigger seismic activity.
Oil and gas companies insist that the techniques are safe, yet federal scientists believe their activities have contributed to a 20-fold rise in the number of small earthquakes striking the central and southern US in recent years. So-called “earthquake swarms” have occurred not only in Oklahoma, but also in previously sedate regions of Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio and Texas.
During 2010 and 2011, up to 1,000 micro-earthquakes occurred in and around the town of Greenbrier in Arkansas, thought to have been caused by underground waste-water disposal, which forced open a small and previously inactive seismic fault, generating the quakes – the largest of which had a magnitude of 4.7. The state’s oil and gas commission declared a moratorium on injection wells within 1,000 square miles, and a group of residents filed a class-action lawsuit against two energy companies, Chesapeake Energy and BHP Billiton Petroleum, for the damage caused to their homes. Five homeowners reached an undisclosed settlement with the firms last August.
Dozens of civil lawsuits related to fracking have been filed since 2009 in eight US states, for complaints including air pollution, noise pollution and groundwater contamination. But the Greenbrier case was the first in which oil and gas companies were sued for causing an earthquake. It may not be the last. Within 24 hours on 10 and 11 March, five earthquakes were recorded at a fracking well in Ohio, the largest of which registered as magnitude 3.
The state’s government ordered an immediate halt to the operations pending further investigation.
It is already familiar with the issue. In December 2010, an injection well in Youngstown began deep-storing waste water from fracking operations in neighbouring Pennsylvania. In the centuries since records began in 1776, Youngstown – which sits atop the Marcellus Shale gas-producing region – had never registered a single earthquake. In 2011, it experienced more than 100, with the strongest, a magnitude-3.9 temor, on 31 December.
The well was shut down shortly afterwards, and the quakes duly stopped. John Kasich, the state governor, issued an executive order demanding operators conduct seismic studies before being issued permits for injection wells.
The controversy has also come to California, a state that is all too familiar with seismic activity. This year, the Los Angeles city council voted to ban fracking in the city until council members were content that the process would not have a detrimental effect on Angelenos’ drinking water. The risk of earthquakes was also cited in the ban.
On 17 March a 4.4-magnitude earthquake struck the Santa Monica mountains near Los Angeles, close to an area where oil extraction activities have been reported. Though seismologists said it probably occurred too deep underground to be attributable to fracking, a group of LA council members have demanded an investigation into whether oil or gas exploration could have caused the quake.
Friday, April 4, 2014
The head of the Maryland Health Insurance Exchange testified Thursday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that only 60,000 people have signed up for Obamacare through the state’s exchange - 13,000 less than the number of individuals reported to lose their insurance due to Obamacare.
“According to our reports, according to AP, press accounts, 73,000 individuals in Maryland were going to lose their insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, and what you’re telling me is your revised goal is approximately the same number – 75,000. So your revised goal of people you’re gonna sign up is: We’re gonna sign up the people who were kicked off of the Affordable Care Act,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said.
On Nov. 4, 2013, the Baltimore Sun reported: “About 73,000 policy holders around the state will lose their insurance in coming months because nine insurance companies are dropping some health plans that were not grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act, the Maryland Insurance Administration confirmed Monday.”
In prepared written testimony, Joshua Sharfstein, chair of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, said, “We expect that by the time the dust settles, more than 290,000 Marylanders will have enrolled in coverage since January 1, including more than 60,000 Marylanders in qualified health plans and more than 230,000 Marylanders in Medicaid.”
Jordan grilled Sharfstein on the statement he made earlier to the committee that Maryland was “meeting our goals.”
“I think a lot of people would disagree with that,” Jordan said. He pointed out that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) gave the state the goal of 150,000 enrollees in the individual exchange by April 1, “and as of April 1, as of a couple days ago, you’ve enrolled 60,000 people.”
According to Sharfstein, the Hilltop Institute at the University of Maryland Baltimore County - not CMS – revised Maryland’s goal for enrollment in the individual market down from 150,000 to 75,000.
Sharfstein took issue with Jordan’s comparison of those who would lose insurance due to Obamacare to the number of Obamacare enrollees.
“You’re comparing apples and oranges with all due respect,” Sharfstein said.
“I’m comparing people who got kicked off because of this law, and I’m comparing the number you said you’re going to sign up through your exchange, which is far below roughly half of what the initial number that CMS gave you,” Jordan said.
“I think an apples to apples comparison would be the size of the individual market before and after, so whether people have coverage in the individual market before January 1st versus after, because some people don’t need subsidies. They’ll go right to a carrier,” Sharfstein said.
“We’re seeing not only just the exchange enrollment, the outside the exchange enrollment, which is probably going to be at least that, plus the fact that people could renew early. We’re gonna see a much bigger individual market. That’s the apples to apples comparison,” he added.
“I think you’re leaving out the fact that your calculation, what you just went through, those that are kicked off. There are certainly people who are now in the individual market. They just get kicked off their plan,” Jordan reiterated.