29 Oct 2010

E Coli, the government and you

Jim Byrnum sent me this note on the dangers we are not looking for:
For the past 40 years it has been EPA's position that Coliform and Fecal coliform are not disease causing organisms, but are only indicators that fecal material from warm blooded animals may be present in food, sewage, reclaimed water, sludge and drinking water. That is a lie by omission as there are no coliform or fecal coliform organisms. Coliform is the name of a test for a group of gram negative [1] animal, plant, soil and water bacteria incubated for 24-48 hours at normal body temperature, of which, 30 will cause disease in humans. Fecal coliform is the name of a test for the same bacteria that may still be viable after being cooked for 24-48 hours at 112.1°F. Generally, less than 5% of two bacteria strains (Escherichia coli & Klebsiella) will continue to show some small amount of viable activity at the high incubation temperature. The growth of other disease causing bacteria are either suppressed or ignored [2]. An additional test for E. coli has been used as a confirmation indicator that fecal material may be present, based on the premise that it is not harmful, because it is part of the normal gut flora. The tests have a 100 year history based on the theory that harmful fecal bacteria should be separated from nonharmful bacteria found in cold blooded animals, plants, soil and water. According to the literature, bacteria found growing in the test at 98.6°F may be from cold blooded animals and of no sanitary significance. Therefore, it has been assumed that only bacteria that grow at 112.1°F can be considered as evidence of fecal pollution from sewage. It is hard to believe scientists have not challenged these 100 year old assumptions since medical testing is done at 98.6°F [3]. A review of the medical literature reveals that once the so called harmless E. coli is outside the gut (internally or externally) it will cause such diseases as blood poisoning, urinary tract infections, meningitis, etc., and even necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating) [4]. Some strains of Escherichia coli & Klebsiella have become antibiotic resistant superbugs. Lying, even by omission, about the tests has put the national economy and public health system at risk [5].
In response to this, I asked the following five questions (marked in the text above), which Jim answered:

28 Oct 2010

Going to the Rally!

Jon Stewart, Stephen ColberT and Oprah talk about the Rally to Restore Sanity (or Keep Fear Alive) on Saturday. I'm going :)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear Announcement
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Get your Sane Signs here.

That 10:10 video on climate change

If you haven't seen it, I recommend it for an example of counter-productive, over-the-top, fear-mongering by righteous zealots who think that climate change skeptics should be... [watch the video, but expect splatter].*

This is a perfect example of 20/80 dynamics in action. Only 20 percent of people want to "do the right thing" (more like 90 percent here, but the makers of this video are trying to show holdouts as a minority of anti-social idiots), while 80 percent cannot be bothered.

My solution is not to shoot the 80 percent; it's to provide a useful incentive to do the right thing, i.e., by taxing GHGs or carbon or pollution. Higher prices make it easy for people to change their behavior, instead of having to pray in the right direction, as the 10:10 folks seem to think.

Bottom Line: The gentle art of persuasion works with facts and dialogue, not death threats to infidels.

* It's sad that these guys have stooped to the level of people who deny that climate change is happening because their gut (or a lobbyist) tells them so. Climate change is going to cause big problems.

27 Oct 2010

Floating buildings and cities

I had a chat with Bart van Bueren, whose company "specializes in both architecture and technology for floating buildings."

Most of these projects seem to be directed at eco-geeks, but they may be more cost-effective than land-based buildings in flood zones.

Bart is looking for connections in California. If you like his stuff, email him.

Anything but water

  • No duh: "The majority of Kenyans are unwilling to abandon their traditional energy sources in favour of cleaner or renewable ones, unless their incomes rise significantly"

  • Annoying facts: "replacing all of Britain’s cars with subsidised electric cars would cost the taxpayer £150 billion and, with Britain’s current fuel mix, cut CO2 emissions from cars by about 2%. For the same money, Britain could replace its entire power-generation stock with solar cells and cut its emissions by a third."

  • Good service or job security? "In 1999-2000 there were 2,140 fires in the Merseyside area and 15 fire-related deaths; last year (2009-10), there were 1,299 and 8. Meanwhile, the number of traditional fire officers has fallen from 1,400 to 850, saving money."

  • Professor Frank takes Mankiw apart: "Economists who say we should relegate questions about inequality to philosophers often advocate policies, like tax cuts for the wealthy, that increase inequality substantially. That greater inequality causes real harm is beyond doubt... There is no persuasive evidence that greater inequality bolsters economic growth or enhances anyone’s well-being. Yes, the rich can now buy bigger mansions and host more expensive parties. But this appears to have made them no happier."

  • UCLA Professor Emeritus William Allen says: "Mathematics, with its econometric handmaiden, was to be an aide and a tool in the service of pertinent economics -- the technical medium was not to be the substantive message... But used unwisely and naively, it turns economists into pretentious parasites on the rest of the community."
In other words:

26 Oct 2010

Conflict inside a public organization

I just wrote this paper. It's a retake on the issues I covered in my dissertation, distilled into 24 pp or so.

Conflict Inside a Public Organization: Origins, Costs, Persistence and Solutions

Abstract: It is difficult to understand conflict within a business groping for higher profits or a bureaucracy producing unmarketed products for unknown reasons. Conflict within the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MET) is easier to observe because it has lasted for over thirty years and because MET produces water for a small number of customers. This paper explores the origin and cost of conflict within MET, a cooperative of 26 member agencies. It then turns to the persistence of conflict and some suggestions for resolving conflicts. The key action requires that institutions designed to handle abundant water be reformed to manage scarce water. I present an economic solution using auction markets that would fit within MET's legal and operational structure, ration water for both equity and efficiency, and recognize past contributions and subsidies by MET's member agencies.

I'd love to get any feedback/comments...

Speed blogging

HTs to CC, WEH, DL and MS

25 Oct 2010

My talks in DC this week

I will try to get AV recordings of all of these posted. If you can attend these, please do!

On 27 Oct (Wednesday) at CSIS, I will talk about "knowledge gaps in water management," (i.e., problems with quality, quantity and value) and point out how politics and bureaucracy have crippled efficient water management as the 9am keynote of a workshop that will last until 2pm. RSVP to Katryn Bowe at kbowe@csis.org if you want to attend. Here's the program, where there will be a link to streaming video.

On 28 Oct, I will talk about water policy and domestic agriculture at the Economic Research Service at the USDA and then talk about water policy and international agriculture at the International Food Policy Research Institute. These may be closed to outside audiences (email me). In both cases, I am going to ask a lot of questions about their propensity to avoid bad policies supported by politicians.

On 29 Oct at CEI, I'll give the opening remarks on "Water and oil can mix: the case for property rights in aquifers," a session that will last from 9 to 11am. RSVP to rsvp@cei.org if you want to attend.

How's that economy looking?

I participated in the Kauffman survey of economics bloggers [pdf] on the US and world economy.

Here are two good representations of results:

Monday funnies

This device (h/t MB) sends a signal, but I'm not sure if people want to wash their hands in fish pee...

Water managers, politics and corruption

A big theme in water management is monopoly, as in the monopoly that a water company has on service to your taps, your fields or your business.

Many people worry that for-profit companies will abuse this monopoly power to provide poor service at high prices, but those companies are overseen by regulators to prevent just such an outcome.

Others worry that municipal water agencies will abuse this monopoly power to provide poor service at high prices, but those agencies are overseen by politicians to prevent just such an outcome.

Unless the regulators and politicians fail to do their jobs because they are incompetent or corrupt.

That's how we get a public manager with 350 customers (meters) who makes $300,000 per year. Why? "I can only tell you that I get up every day trying to figure out a way to earn it."

On the service side, you get a public agency that abuses its customers.

These examples show how monopoly power results in a self-serving business-as-usual culture that puts managers first and customers last. Yes, the taps may be flowing (mostly), but at what cost and what quality?

It's clear to most people that the solution to incompetence and self-dealing is not to wait for managers to wake up with an enlightened view of customer service. It's to replace those managers with candidates that promise to do a better job.*

That's what makes this press release from a candidate for Treasurer and Tax Collector of Nevada County so interesting. Tina basically says that the academic qualifications of her opponent Carl are worthless. So at least they are fighting to see who is more qualified to balance the books.

This story (via RM) on the competition for seats on Arizona's Central Arizona Project (CAP) is even better. It's not just about water, but candidates for the CAP board who want to reduce costs. They may be from the Tea Party, and they may not have experience in the water sector, but they have the right idea: Compete for seats and lower costs for consumers. (The best way to do this, btw, is to stop selling water at a lower price to farmers. Auction it instead.) There were 125 comments on the story (not all of them moronic). So people are getting interested in this "backwater" of governance at water agencies. Good.

Bottom Line: Water managers have a lot of discretion on how to use their monopoly power. This can mean that they waste money or waste water through laziness or self-serving priorities.** Customers need to keep an eye on them and the regulators and politicians who watch them if they want cheap and reliable water service.

* I recommend this excellent podcast on why we should allow for more immigrants. One big reason is that migrants make consumers better off by competing with others. Those others may say "jobs for Americans," but they are really saying "I don't want to work as hard as them."

** Read this letter [PDF] to the Santa Clara Valley Water District from "one of SCVWD's retailers" to see the policy confusion that results from priorities that flip from conserving to selling water (and back again).

22 Oct 2010

Come listen to me talk in Washington DC, 2

You are Cordially Invited to CEI’s Jefferson Group Meeting


Featuring Water Policy Expert David Zetland, Ph.D.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2010 from 9 to 11 am

Competitive Enterprise Institute
1899 L Street NW, 12th floor
Washington, DC 20036

Coffee and donuts will be served. Space is limited.

RSVP to rsvp@cei.org if you are able to attend.

As some of you will recall, CEI once held "Jefferson Group" monthly meetings with participants from the media, policy, congressional and business communities who were concerned and knowledgeable about a topical policy issue. CEI would like you to join us for the first meeting as we revive this old tradition.

The discussion will open with comments from water policy expert David Zetland, who recently received his Ph.D. on this topic from University of California at Davis.

We believe this topic is of critical importance. Water is one of the most important resources still lodged into a open access framework and, as all such resources do eventually, is experiencing the tragedy of the commons. That problem has been hidden to some degree by federal and state funding of water projects (you know the drill -- politicians spend $100 of taxpayer funds to produce $10 of water, sell it for $1 and then are surprised that scarcities arise). CEI has long argued that water and oil do (or, at least, could) mix from the policy sense. Efficient, innovative management of aquifers could be encouraged by considering the way in which oil and gas have addressed comparable problems: acquiring mineral lease rights from a number of surface owners who (in the case of oil) actually own the sub-surface resource, while in the case of water have - at best - a restricted right of capture; negotiating acceptable leases and royalties to achieve voluntary transfers of these rights to the pool operator; achieving a high level of productivity improvements which have kept delivered oil prices reasonably stable in the face of massive increases in demand. Could these achievements be replicated with the water resource if the legal and cultural framework recognized property rights as a means of avoiding unsustainable over-exploitation?

Let's talk about it.

My talk on California water at Delft

I gave a talk ("Water policy failures in California") to a small group at Delft Technical University. About half the people were in engineering, the other half were in policy.

Delft is famous for its blue-patterned pottery (or garbage dumpsters?)

Here's an MP3 [10 MB] of my 54 minute talk (with questions).

Here are my slides [PDF]

And here are some tourist photos of the main church on the market square (left) and a swan begging for food (right)

21 Oct 2010

Speed blogging

  • Local control over forest resources improves sustainability.

  • The Cost of Energy has good stuff on politics. This post details a GMU professor and climate skeptic who plagiarized and made up data. Whoops!

  • Speaking of energy, Saudi Arabia is moving to raise water prices from their current level of 99.6% subsidy. It may be possible to spend oil to get water, but it's expensive.

  • Speaking of blogs, here are 30 that "cover" water, including this one. I was annoyed to see that many were neither blogs, nor up to date.

  • Why not? On the Public Record gives good advice: Don't blog unless you love it. The California Farm Water coalition "blog" fails that test. Their "blog" is just a bunch of news clippings. Better to read aquafornia. (Small bitch: OTPR went on holiday and shut off comments. I removed it from the list of awesome blogs because its awesome is too infrequent.)

Ideology vs tradeoffs

A few years ago, I read Jennifer Government (a dystopian book) and then went to the author's website and discovered NationStates, a kind of SimCountry where you create a nation and choose policies that affect your people. These policies create feedback that affects the health, happiness and success of your people, as measured by population growth.

So I clicked on my two nations to see how "my people" were doing.

In The People's Republic of Do the Right Thing, I always enact policies that are "the right thing" as far as government interference. As a result we get:
The People's Republic of Do the Right Thing is a huge, devout nation, notable for its anti-smoking policies. Its compassionate, cynical population of 449 million are ruled without fear or favor by a psychotic dictator, who outlaws just about everything and refers to the populace as "my little playthings."

It is difficult to tell where the omnipresent, corrupt, moralistic, socially-minded government stops and the rest of society begins, but it juggles the competing demands of Social Welfare, Education, and the Environment. The average income tax rate is 100%. The private sector is almost wholly made up of enterprising fourteen-year-old boys selling lemonade on the sidewalk, although the government is looking at stamping this out.

Do the Right Thing's educational system is the envy of many and regarded as a pinnacle of academic achievement, an enormous health awareness programme is underway, citizens are expected to be proficient in at least five languages, and manufacturers are sued for almost anything not covered in their catalogue-sized manuals. Crime -- especially youth-related -- is totally unknown, despite the fact that it is difficult to make it through a day without breaking one of the country's many laws. Do the Right Thing's national animal is the warm and fuzzy, which frolics freely in the nation's many lush forests, and its currency is the monopoly buck.

Do the Right Thing is ranked 54,043rd in the world [out of 54,331 nations] for Greatest Rich-Poor Divides [meaning everyone is equally dirt poor].
In The Dictatorship of Respectful Anarchists, I try to maximize individual freedom while preventing harm to others (a basic libertarian stand against negative externalities). Thus:
The Dictatorship of Respectful Anarchists is a huge, socially progressive nation, renowned for its absence of drug laws. Its hard-nosed, hard-working population of 556 million enjoy some of the most opulent lifestyles in the region, unless they are unemployed or working-class, in which case they are variously starving to death or crippled by easily preventable diseases.

There is no government in the normal sense of the word; however, a small group of community-minded, pro-business individuals devotes most of its attentions to Education, with areas such as Healthcare and Defence receiving almost no funds by comparison. Citizens pay a flat income tax of 10%. A healthy private sector is dominated by the Gambling industry.

Councils up and down the country wrangle over legal matters, the military has had to quell a recent insurrection by uninsured revolutionaries, travellers are often forcibly evicted by torch-bearing mobs, and the children of Respectful Anarchists are often remarked upon for their cheery attitude to extreme violence. Crime -- especially youth-related -- is a major problem, and the police force struggles against a lack of funding and a high mortality rate. Respectful Anarchists's national animal is the cockroach, which is also the nation's favorite main course, and its currency is the platinum thaler.

Respectful Anarchists is ranked 3,057th in the world for Greatest Rich-Poor Divides.
Note that the "right way" to win is by playing a lot (more decisions means more years means more opportunity for population growth) and doing things that the creators have decided are correct.

Bottom Line: Tradeoffs exist, so don't pretend that your great idea comes without a costs or unintended consequences. Be humble.

20 Oct 2010

Come listen to me talk in Washington DC

Bridging Knowledge Gaps in Water Management
Part of the Global Resource Futures series:
Integrating approaches to water, food, energy & the environment

October 27, 8:30am - 2:00pm
B1 Conference Center
CSIS 1800 K. St. NW, Washington, DC

Please join CSIS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Colorado State University in this participatory workshop on knowledge gaps in domestic and international water issues. The third in the three-part Global Resource Futures series, this event will a) identify research and education gaps that pertain to the intersection of water, food, energy, and the environment b) recommend solutions to these complex challenges.

The workshop will feature a keynote address by David Zetland, author of The End of Abundance: A Primer of Water Economics, two panel presentations, and an interactive breakout session moderated by representatives from CSIS and the federal Subcommittee for Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ).

During the event, a live video recording of the keynote and panel presentations will be made available on the CSIS website to reach a wider audience, and afterward CSIS will produce a summary document including recommendations from the working groups. Ultimately the suggested policy frameworks emerging from the workshop will be shared with various government agencies through SWAQ as they consider their future research and education needs.

Please RSVP to Katryn Bowe at kbowe@csis.org.

Missing your water gossip?

Sorry folks -- I've been putting up a lot of posts that are peripherally related (Spontaneous Order -- Traffic circle edition) or unrelated to water economics (China, trade and war or What I learned AFTER 40).

The Hungarian post and a few more in the next two days should give you a "fix."

I've been slightly distracted by the book and a paper I am writing about peace and conflict over water matters...

Next week will have a lot more water :)

Until then, enjoy the diversity of these diversions :)

Toxic waste spill in Hungary

From the Economist:
Predicting further leakages is extremely difficult, says Gabor Figeczky of the World Wildlife Fund’s Hungarian arm. Until last week MAL’s plant was not considered particularly risky... Zoltan Bakonyi, the company’s managing director, was detained for questioning on suspicion of criminal negligence, although later released without charge... there were reasons to believe that some people at MAL were “driven by their private interests” to avoid repairing the reservoir’s dodgy walls.
These guys (and many others) need to adopt my idea for insuring against pollution disasters and service interruption.

What I learned AFTER 40

A guest post from EF

I have learned so much after 40 that it is surprising that I made it to 40. I also realize that pre-40, I was probably insufferable--claiming to know things that I did not know.

Some of the big things post-40 are:
  1. If your boss is an idiot, there is a very good chance that his or her boss is also an idiot. Leave.

  2. People are more interesting and work differently than I thought they did.

  3. Narcissists and borderline personality disorder people are real, exist in high positions, and are dangerous.

  4. To be an expert in anything requires ten thousand hours of 'progressive practice' (Syed, "Bounce")

  5. Trusting others and delegating to others is scary but is required.

  6. Having a network of people who care about you is critical to health and happiness

  7. Microbrews are delicious

  8. Changing the direction of a bureaucracy is possible but tricky
Any old timers have more to add for us young 'uns?

19 Oct 2010

Addicted to Misery

I've got a guest post over at Aid Watchers on the endogenization of aid failure. In other words, the incentive to increase poverty and misery to promote demand for the aid "solution." Check it out.

China, trade and war

Two people yesterday "feared" China's economic rise. I don't, and that's because China is growing through trade -- every time China sells something, a buyer is made happier.

That's because the gains from trade accrue to both sides.

There are lots of statistics on how China has kept prices down in the US (benefiting consumers) and how China has helped the US expend into more profitable production (benefiting workers).

Two more things:

The complaints about "unfair competition" come from producers who want to raise prices for consumers and protect their market share from Chinese firms (and often international firms producing in China). They have politicians willing to wave the flag to defend their mercantile protectionism, in exchange for bribes.

Isn't it wrong that China is using its money and economic might for political leverage? Yes, but everyone does it. War is the tool of crazy people (N Korea, Iran), not traders who want to get rich. It's not inevitable with China.

Spontaneous Order -- Traffic circle edition

Hayek not only told us that it was impossible for a central authority to manage everyone's affairs. He also told us (with others) that spontaneous order would allow us to manage our collective affairs with greater success.

This video demonstrates how people can get along, without being told what to do:

This reminds me of the video I made of UC Davis students biking around a traffic circle (lost somewhere :(, in preparation for a paper I wrote on traffic circles [PDF].

Bottom Line: Sometimes engineers, politicians and bureaucrats do more harm than good, trying to "help" us.

18 Oct 2010

MP3 of my interview from last week

Here's the announcement post.

Here's the page with background materials and the MP3 for my interview.

If you like the program format, etc., you can subscribe to ALL their podcasts here.

Monday funnies

(via RM) A Paraprosdokian (from Greek "παρα-", meaning "beyond" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation") is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax.
  • I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

  • Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

  • I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

  • Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

  • The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.

  • If I agreed with you we'd both be wrong.

  • We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

  • War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

  • Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

  • Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening', and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

  • To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

  • A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

  • How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

  • Some people are like Slinkies ... not really good for anything, but you can't help smiling when you see one tumble down the stairs.

  • Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

  • I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted pay checks.

  • A bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don't need it.

  • Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says "If an emergency, notify:" I put "DOCTOR".

  • I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

  • I saw a woman wearing a sweat shirt with "Guess" on it...so I said "Implants?"

  • Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?

  • Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

  • Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America ?

  • Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

  • A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

  • You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

  • The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

  • Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won't expect it back.

  • A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

  • Hospitality: making your guests feel like they're at home, even if you wish they were.

  • Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

  • I discovered I scream the same way whether I'm about to be devoured by a great white shark or if a piece of seaweed touches my foot.

  • Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

  • There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

  • I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not sure.

  • I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.

  • When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

  • You're never too old to learn something stupid.

  • To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

  • Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

  • A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.

  • If you are supposed to learn from your mistakes, why do some people have more than one child?

  • Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

Australian desal at $24 billion

In Melbourne Australia...
Victorians would have to pay $15.8 billion to the Aquasure Consortium to operate the plant before a drop of water is bought. The figure was the equivalent of $4.6 billion in today's dollars. [With other expenses...] the maximum nominal cost* of the project and water would be almost $24 billion...

The report said the desalination plant along with spending on other water projects would result in the price that consumers would pay for water nearly doubling in the five years to 2012-13.

In Parliament Mr Brumby said he "made no apologies" for the project and the government's measures to tackle water security. He said the project price was determined after a "ferociously" competitive tender and was cheaper than if done by the public sector.
I have no doubt that the tender was competitive.

Given what I saw in Melbourne (consumption of under 200 lcd, or about 50 gcd), this may be the price they pay to live in a dry place.

OTOH, I am always skeptical of solutions that only address the supply side. Didn't they just build a mega-expensive pipeline that allows Melbourne to bring water from farmers to the North?

Bottom Line:The End of Abundance is expensive or uncomfortable. Take your pick.

* The cost is far less in current dollars, since the $24 billion is spread over 28 years.

HT to TS

15 Oct 2010

Listen to my interview tomorrow (noon PT)

This is the promo [I had to edit to get rid of the MASSIVE fonts]. One day, I hope to be a "scholar and expert" without quotes :) Oh, and there WILL be an MP3 archive of the interview, so don't kill yourself to hit the time deadline (it was taped about 10 days ago :)

Water for Sale - Should We Privatize Water? With Dr. David Zetland

Dr. Zetland received his PHD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of California Davis and is widely noted as a “Water Scholar and Expert”. He manages the blog www.aguanomics.com

Is the world Running OUT of Water? Why are a Billion People in the world today without Safe & Clean Water – or even Water At All?

Is this a Market Failure or the Failure of Governments? OR can we Blame Nature?

In this interview you will learn information about Our Most Essential Resource (next to air).

With Special Commentator Mr. Luke McGrath, who is a Fellow of the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation in Western Australia.

Please plan on joining us Tomorrow, October 16th, at 1PM CT on RepublicBroadcasting.org.

Reporting flop at Newsweek

SS and JW sent me "The Race to Buy Up the World's Water" from Newsweek.

It's a spectacularly bad article, full of cliches and void of analysis.

For your benefit, I edited the last paragraph for accuracy:
So what do we do? On the one hand, most of the world activists who don't have real jobs view water as a basic human right (the U.N. General Assembly voted unanimously to affirm it as such mom and apple pie good this July). On the other, it’s becoming so expensive to obtain and supply that most governments people cannot afford to shoulder the cost pay for government boondoggles alone. By themselves, markets will never be able to can easily balance these competing realities. That means state and federal governments will have to play a stronger role stop screwing up incentives in managing freshwater resources. In the U.S., investing as much money in water infrastructure as the federal government has invested in other public-works projects would not only create divert resources from useful jobs but also alleviate some of increase the financial pressure that has sent so many municipal governments running to private industry. That is not to say that industry doesn’t also have a role to play. With the right incentives big subsidies, it can develop and supply the technology needed to make water delivery more that is the least cost-effective and environmentally sound. Ultimately both public and private entities will have to work together. And soon As they always have. Unless we manage our water better now, we will run out continue to experience rain. When that happens, no pricing or management scheme in the world will save us... from empty hyperbole.

14 Oct 2010

Coping with social networks

Although I rejoined Facebook after I quit, I am still interested in how these sites screw up:
  • Renting friends, for example, as an extension of Facebook's abuse of "friend."

  • Facebook's "add your friends to this group" has backfired. Zuckerman's notion that we need to share everything and give everyone access meant that he was added to the Man-Boy love group without being asked if he wanted to. Be careful who you "friend."

  • Malcolm Gladwell nails it in this "Revolution will not be Tweeted" piece discussing the difference between weak links (useful for getting a job) and strong links (useful for saving your life). Don't mistake one for the other.

  • And, of course, XKCD has something to say:

Bottom Line: Humans are not easy to engineer, and they shouldn't be.

13 Oct 2010

Bleg: Help with Glossary for End of Abundance?

Hi Everyone,

Here's a progress report on The End of Abundance:

UC Press has my manuscript out for review by a few academics (to make sure that I am not making any foolish statements). These reviewers will decide if the book is worthwhile and suggest corrections and clarifications. Assuming that they give a thumbs up, I will make corrections before the manuscript goes to members of the UCP editorial board for review in early December. If they give the book a thumbs up, then it will go into production in early January. Yay!

So while I am waiting, I am working on some peripheral aspects of the book. One of them is the Glossary.

What I am hoping is that some of you will be interested enough to take a look at this draft [DOC] and make suggestions for improvements and clarifications. If you make changes, please TURN ON "Track Changes" and save the document before you send it to me.

I realize that it's not easy to read a glossary without the original text, but it should be possible to check your understanding of words against my definitions, to make sure that I am getting the essence of these ideas.

The tricky part, which I explain in the DOC, is how to deal with words/jargon that are used more than once (should I highlight later uses?) or only once (don't put them in the glossary, but do put them in the index?). Any suggestions welcomed!

Oh, and here are a few definitions to whet your appetite:

Acequias: Communal water management districts with semi-formal rules on water allocation and communal maintenance of common infrastructure.

Appropriative rights: The right to divert water from a source for use elsewhere. Often defined by priority (“first in time, first in right"), a quantity (“x units of flow at this diversion point"), and the requirement of continued use (“use it or lose it").

Aquifer: An underground pool of water that’s naturally recharged by surface water.

Asymmetric information: One person knowing more than another. In principal-agent situations, the principal knows less than the agent about the agent’s skill and/or effort, problems of “adverse selection" and “moral hazard," respectively.

Baptists and Bootleggers: An unholy alliance that combines moral righteousness with selfish greed to stop a reform (or enact a “reform") that would benefit degenerates (to the Baptists) and/or the competition (to the bootleggers). Thus, you may see a B&B coalition of environmentalists and corn-processors supporting a law that requires corn ethanol to be blended into gasoline.

[and so on...]

Anything but water

Hattips to GL and BS

12 Oct 2010

Tuesday funnies

from Burning Man (via DG)

Poll results -- Water issues

Hey! There's a new poll (political participation) on the right sidebar -->
In my experience, water issues...
... are growing worse 38%31
... are kinda better, kinda worse 12%10
... are getting resolved 2%2
...will always be with us 27%22
... are so fun! Who wants resoluttion? 2%2
...give me job security 18%15

Besides the obvious (issues do give me job security), I think that these issues will always be with us, in the sense that humans are hardwired to push utilization to the extreme, to the edge, to live on the margin. That said, they may be getting worse, because people are failing to acknowledging that we are on (or past) the margin. It's only when the threat gets too big, or the pain too great, that they pull back.

So, dear readers, can you give me examples and ways to convince skeptics that water issues deserve attention and action? Without using "crisis" to scare them?

Bottom Line: Everyone has priorities. We have problems when our priorities do not match others'.

11 Oct 2010

Columbus Day

... is today. The Europeans brought technology and used resources for population growth. The locals would have preferred to use the technology for themselves, but they didn't have the guns. (Reminds me of V.)

Speed blogging

Want to eat your cake and have it? Ecovea's shower system [pdf] will recirculate clean shower water while you drench yourself for 20 minutes. Dirty water is detected and allowed to drain. No idea of the cost, but nice idea from Canadians!

USGS: "Elevated concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and human health, have remained the same or increased in many streams and aquifers across the Nation since the early 1990’s"

National Geographic on the seafood crisis. Good article. I wonder about the accuracy of their whale-oil spill graphic.

PERC strikes again: "Three Columbia River fish species have been enlisted as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Millions of dollars have been invested by government agencies, boards and conservation groups in an attempt to boost fish populations, but they have failed." Instead, pay farmers to replace fruit trees with veggies, to restore the habitat for these fish.

An interesting discussion [PDF] of the human right to water, copied from LinkedIn

Hattips to WEH and SJ

8 Oct 2010

Sustainable bottled water?

Well, at least relative to other bottled drinks.

Read this report [PDF] from the European Federation of Bottled Water folks, but don't pretend the bottled water has a lower footprint than tap water. Nope, the difference is about 100:1.

Crime and punishment

I get a better view of US laws from Holland.

First, we have (via TM) a judge who is taking the cost of punishment into account, i.e., how much it costs to put someone away. This is a good use of cost-benefit that's been stripped from judges, via three-strikes type laws passed by populist politicians who think that "lock 'em up" solves problems.

Next, we have an interesting example of legal entrapment by a sheriff:

The trick was that the sheriff was at the end of the next offramp, searching everyone who stopped "on suspicion."

Third, I heard from a friend that her son was pulled over ("driving while hippie") in Tennessee. After heavy pressure, he admitted to possessing some marijuana. The fine was $2,400 plus one year probation. I'm going to call this "fiscal law and order." Nobody was harmed by this hippie van, but cops are pursuing easy targets for money, instead of solving crimes.

Fourth, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a law changing the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of pot from a misdemeanor to a citation (like a traffic ticket). The fine is still $100. Pot is now officially decriminalized (but not legal).

Fifth, here's a handy guide to the price of weed, updated by buyers wiki-style. It only covers the US. But weed costs about $10/g here (about $35 for an eighth). Good medical MJ costs about $44 in California (in fact, it's better than Dutch MJ). So much for a massive drop in prices fallowing decriminalization.

Sixth, I smoke marijuana here, in California and in other parts of the world. Nobody has died. Maybe that's because I have a PhD? According to this paper [pdf], more education means less crime. Hear that politicians?

Bottom Line: Laws should address actions that are harmful to society (murder, rape, theft), not actions that some people dislike (being gay, using drugs, driving "fast"). Can we get some more civilization please?

Addendum: Listen to this fascinating podcast on the "medicalization" of depression. It's not that you feel bad, but that we can sell you a drug that will treat your "disease." Wow.

7 Oct 2010

Anything but water

6 Oct 2010

Your opinion welcomed


Water innovation conferences

Today is the beginning of Water Smart Innovations Conference in Las Vegas. It's a $390 conference where "a wide range of professional sessions, workshops and technical tours, and an expansive exhibit hall, will connect attendees with the resources they need in an atmosphere of networking, collaboration and learning."

They have Hunter Lovins and Steve Solomon on the list of keynote speakers, which doesn't include me. That's because they didn't reply to my suggested talk idea:
Title: You're doing it wrong! How Las Vegas can restore its economy and secure its water

Abstract: Las Vegas has experienced the worst real estate bust in the US. It is also desperately short of water. Both of these problems can be traced to water management policies that are neither efficient, nor sustainable. In this talk, I will give some simple idea of how to increase market prices for current and future housing, how to ensure that existing water supplies are adequate for demand and how
politicians, water managers and real estate developers can benefit from this new paradigm in water management. Las Vegas can set an example of how to do it right, instead of the many ways of doing it wrong.
Their loss [seriously... really], but you may want to go if you just missed the Water Innovations Alliance Conference in Chicago. This $500 event is...
...designed to improve awareness and collaboration between large companies, engineering firms, universities, utilities, start-ups, NGOs and governments by educating attendees on new water technologies, innovations and prospects. Whether the developments are in materials, IT, engineering, financing or public policy, the conference will shine a spotlight on all advancements and provide best practices across the spectrum of the water field.
Their list of 35 (!) speakers includes a lot of big names and interesting topics,* so it seems like WIAC would be more interesting than WSIC, which appears to be a trade show for selling hardware.

Here's my question: What good ideas were presented there? I'm not interested in technology, I am interested in "new water innovations" that can be implemented elsewhere. That's because I am trying to overcome the impression that these conferences are just long cocktail hours where the conventional wisdom ("wanna see my water footprint?") is passed around.


* Organizer F. Mark Modzelewski invited me to keynote before he uninvited me. I guess he got enough speakers.

Hattips to PB and TS

5 Oct 2010

Entitlements, change and waste

A reader reflects on Westlands water District...

Westlands is an entitlement, like Medicare for rich people, unsustainable state pension promises, federal flood insurance etc. When you move those peoples' cheese (remember that POS) they mewl. Many left-leaning folks think that favoring, for instance wind farms and urban organic gardens (creating reward systems the markets will not) are a good use of public funds. Similarly, many "pro business" folks favor special rewards for selected industries that in their minds the market seems not to appreciate fully.

What the meddlers fail to see in their enthusiasm for these fine activities is that they too are creating a class of dependent creatures who will whine forever, regardless of whether the original idea, which might have seemed fine once, has become poor policy in the light of history.

Had the sponsors of any of the schemes said "hey, it's an experiment, and if it all blows up, too bad", that would be one thing. Instead, we end up with people telling the rest of us to shut up and pay.

Bottom Line: The beneficiaries become a burden to the original sponsors, because they must be defended, lest the sponsors admit error: political suicide. Natural and monetary resources are directed in irrational ways, creating waste.

How to pick a phone number

Today is 10-5-10 or 5-10-10, so this is appropriate* :)

So here's the task: You want to pick a number that's easy to remember.

There are different ways to do this:
  • repeating pattern, e.g., 555-1212 in the movies
  • related numbers, e.g., 455-4656 (my new number), which is (4 = n): n n+1 n+1 – n n+2 n+1 n+2
  • familiar numbers, e.g, 451-1812 (Farenheit 451 – War of 1812)
  • word-to-number mapping, e.g, 981-HUGH for my dad
  • did I miss any?
What's the best method to pick a number?

What's your favorite number?

* I was thinking of titling this post "numeric algorithms," but we're interested in keeping, not scaring, readers.

4 Oct 2010

Monday funnies

The wisdom of Socrates (via JWT):

Keep this in mind the next time you are about to repeat a rumour or spread gossip.

In ancient Greece (469 - 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom.

One day an acquaintance ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about Diogenes?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied, "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test."

'Triple filter?" asked the acquaintance.

"That's right," Socrates continued, "Before you talk to me about Diogenes let's take a moment to filter what you're going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man said, "Actually I just heard about it."

"All right," said Socrates, "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about Diogenes something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "You want to tell me something about Diogenes that may be bad, even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed. Socrates continued, "You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter, the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about Diogenes going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "If what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even useful, why tell it to me or anyone at all?"

The man was bewildered and ashamed. This is an example of why Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

It also explains why Socrates never found out that Diogenes was banging his wife.

Westlands, Nazis and Politicians

A few weeks ago, four Congressmen (Garamendi, Miller, Napolitano and Thompson) sent this letter [PDF] to Jean Sagouspe, President of Westlands Water District, asking some pointed questions about why Westlands was trying to sell water to MWD (urban Southern California), given that it had had just been engaged in a brutal campaign of its life-or-death need for more water (see this, this and this, among many posts).

I was as curious as everyone to see what Westlands would reply to questions like:
Why is the water that Westlands and its water users seek to sell, transfer or exchange this year not being used to replenish the groundwater basin overdrafted as a result of overuse?
Their reply to this question and eight other useful questions in the letter is here [pdf]. WWD claims that it cannot recharge groundwater (probably true, but not by accident) and that the water in their exchange with MWD does not come from their federal, subsidized water ("We estimate that 90 percent of the water in the exchange is not drawn from our CVP allocation at all.") This claim is deceptive, since water is fungible. It would be just as easy to say that all the water comes from the CVP allocation.

But wait, there's more. Rep. Nunes has added his words to this debate, Kanye West-style, in a blog post entitled "Westlands Water Boarding: The Truth About The Valley Water Masters" (but tweeted as "My birthday present to Westlands") that says, among other over-the-top cliches:
Water managers have made the decision to appease* radical environmentalists who have long sought to replace humans in the valley with tumble weeds and dust devils.


Radical environmentalists’ Field Marshall, Congressman George Miller, has taken aim at Westlands Water District. In a letter [the one above], Miller claims Westlands is deceiving the public and selling “extra” water.


While this grand game of appeasement continues, Westlands should keep in mind that their beloved valley drought master legislators are telling them one thing but doing something completely different in Washington DC.

Will the Westlands Water District be holding their next meeting in Munich?
So Nunes is accusing Westlands of appeasing Nazi enviros by responding to a letter from four Congressmen, with the consequence that Westlands will be taken over enviros (who apparently moved from San Francisco to Munich) as a slave colony full of tumble weeds.


Bottom Line: It's an election year. Who does Nunes need to please here?

* Yes, Nunes does explicitly compare environmentalists to Nazis.

Addendum: This article discusses Costa v. Miller et al. No sign of Nunes.

1 Oct 2010

Institutionalized racism

(via WEH) Thomas Sowell doesn't suffer fools:
Few things have captured in microcosm what has gone so painfully wrong, where racial issues are concerned, like the recent election for mayor of Washington, D.C.

Mayor Adrian Fenty, under whom the murder rate has gone down and the school children's test scores have gone up, was resoundingly defeated for re-election.


One key fact tells much of the story: Mayor Fenty received more than 70 percent of the white vote in Washington. His opponent received more than 80 percent of the black vote.

Both men are black. But the head of the school system that he appointed is Asian and the chief of police is a white woman. More than that, most of the teachers who were fired were black. There were also bitter complaints that black contractors did not get as many of the contracts for doing business with the city as they expected.

In short, the mayor appointed the best people he could find, instead of running a racial patronage system, as a black mayor of a city with a black majority is apparently expected to. He also didn't spend as much time schmoozing with the folks as was expected.


How did we reach the point where black voters put racial patronage and racial symbolism above the education of their children and the safety of everyone?

There are many reasons but the trend is ominous. One key factor was the creation, back in the 1960s, of a whole government-supported industry of race hustling.
I agree fully with this analysis. Racism will persist longer when governments make rules based on racism,* whether negative (allowing slavery) or "positive" (giving jobs or money to people with different skin colors).

Governments should not discriminate on the basis of color. If anything, government should help people under criteria that are not permanent. Poverty is ok, sick is ok. Tall, short, black, white, man, woman, gay, or straight? Not ok.

And that's not even acknowledging that most government programs crowd out private programs (educating kids, caring for the local homeless) that can do the same thing, better.

Bottom Line: Governments are necessary some of the time for some things, but for all of the time for all things. Just ask yourself: Is there another way? And then go do it.

* For more on why racism is NOT about skin color, read this brilliant research:

Cosmides, L., Tooby, J. & Kurzban, R. (2003). Perceptions of race [pdf]. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(4), 173-179.

Kurzban, R., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2001). Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization [pdf]. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(26), 15387-15392.