Monday, November 30, 2009

Fisheries Management in Chile

Two chapters about Chilean fisheries management from this recent book are quite interesting. In them Castilla et. al discuss the implementation of a fisheries management policy that encouraged the development of what basically amounted to mini community run EEZs all along Chile's coast. Within these management zones local fisher community committees, formed under government guidance, were given the right to regulate access. Although great regional variation existed, generally this process was thought to work fairly well from a governance and sustainability perspective.
It also put some artisanal fishers out of jobs or forced them to move to unregulated fishing grounds.
This is not a bad thing. Modern fisheries simply require fewer fishers. Wishing back those jobs is as futile as Pittsburgh wishing back its steel industry.
What I like about the policy is that it seems to have been able to act as an effective transition mechanism. Shutting down fisheries suddenly and completely is rarely possible, ICCAT has proven that. However shifting management authority closer to the fishers, or at least some of them, looks like it might be an effective way of ultimately limiting fishing pressure in a management zone. The self-interest of those fishers with management control will encourage them to crowd out other fishers.
To put it crudely the managing fishers will do the government's dirty work for it. What government couldn't do for political reasons, fishers will do for economic ones.
Communal property rights ala Mrs. Ostrom.

The only problem left, which to their credit the two chapters acknowledge, is how to get those out of work fishers new jobs.


For the Christian folks out there

My father, a former Catholic priest, professor, and all-around amazing guy, spent the first years of his retirement re-translating the Book of Psalms into meter and verse and publishing them as a prayer book. Never one to slow down he has also recently set up a website called A People's Breviary at which one can stop in daily, or whenever the mood strikes, and follow the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar and pray.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Climategate, one more time.

The recent theft and publishing of emails written by top climate scientists in which various troubling statements (see below) are made has made a lot of news headlines. Disappointingly many academics have treated this story as no big deal stating that anyone who knows academia should not be surprised by such vitriol. To me this response smells suspiciously like academic damage control. The best response by far that I have read is here in the Economist. Instead of brushing off the email statements the Economist rightly contends that skeptics should not be silenced if for no other reason than Science itself works only to the extent that it is open to alternate or new theories and data. Without and open mind Science literally cannot function.
My personal position, as I have said before, is that anthropogenic climate change is likely a reality, though I don't think anyone has good numbers on its extent, or on our ability to reverse it. What is certain, however, is that the attitudes represented by the below statements are not helpful towards furthering our knowledge and that reasonable people should question the data that such scientists have produced.

"I've tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC , which were not always the same."(

"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !"(

"If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences."(

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nanny governments, should I get one too?

As an American who has lived in two and a half other western countries, Scotland*, New Zealand, and South Africa, I have always found that people from those countries have a much greater comfort level with big government than I do. Blanket statements are always crude, but most of them seem to accept the idea that government is there to take care of them as a life-long Nanny might do. Most feel entitled to free education (even at the University level), healthcare, water, and even in some cases housing. They argue that government must supply such things because they are basic human rights, or because it is a matter of equality, or because the poor will suffer without them.

I don't quibble with the values behind any of these reasons. I'm a big fan of human rights, equality, and helping the poor. But strangely enough I can't really personally identify with the sense of entitlement of my foreign friends.

I don't feel that government owes me a free university education.
I don't feel that government owes me healthcare.
I don't feel that government owes me free water, or housing, or welfare checks if I don't have a job, or even a monthly Social Security check when I retire.

Why this is the case I'm not really sure. And while in the company of those with such senses of entitlement I do feel rather strange. Yet perhaps even more strangely I don't feel any urge to adopt such a sense of entitlement, though it would obviously be to my benefit to do so.

In fact I usually feel rather ashamed when I ask someone else to do something for me and even somewhat annoyed when someone claims to be doing something 'for my own good.' Flowing, naturally I think, from these feelings is my general inclination to provide for myself, help others who haven't been as lucky as me, and be suspicious of, or at least uncomfortable with, those who claim an interest in protecting me or giving me stuff. So if given the choice between having the government provide something for me or others by taxing me and keeping my money and doing that thing myself I will usually opt for the later.

Am I weird? Should I be more willing to let the government do stuff for me? Should I simply try harder to embrace dependency and entitlement like my non-American western friends by demanding my own Nanny?

*Yes I am aware that Scotland is not technically a country but I love the place and enjoy flattering it. As to South Africa being only half western, the statement is entirely complimentary. South Africa's multiculturalism is its greatest treasure.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Want to Know How a Whale Eats? Think Parachutes

This is a great article at Discover magazine about how large whales, Fin and Blue specifically, manage to feed their enormous bodies. Here is an excerpt:

"In order to make lunge-feeding work, you have to have a really big mouth to capture enough water in one gulp. But in order to have a big mouth, you need a big body. And in order to keep that big body running, you need to get a lot of food. And in the very act of getting that food–diving deep, lunging open-mouthed, and then pushing a school-bus-sized volume of water forwards–requires a lot of energy on its own."

Thanks to MR for the pointer.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The NOAA's fate and One Angry Man's Choice.

Edward Wenk Jr.'s account of The Politics of the Ocean in 1960s era America argues that President Nixon placed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce instead of the Department of Interior in 1970 because he was annoyed at Walter Hickel, the Head of the Interior, for some anti-Vietnam statements that he had made and so was unwilling to increase his funding by giving him a new institution to administer.
I have read elsewhere that Walter Hickel also embarrassed himself at some Congressional hearings by admitting that he unaware of the report that was calling for the establishment of the NOAA.

In either case it is troubling that such an important decision seems to have been made on such petty considerations. One hopes that most government decisions are made with more deliberation.


Peak Oil? Not Likely

In this article George Will argues that new sources of fossil fuels are being found everyday and that known current supplies are not going to run out anytime soon. Although I dislike the tone of the article, particularly his disdain for, and mis-characterization, of environmentalism, I pretty much agree that oil, natural gas, and coal are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Furthermore he is right in saying that as of now we really don't have viable alternatives. Solar, wind, and nuclear technologies are simply not capable of producing the amount of energy we need.

This doesn't mean we should abandon developing those technologies further, or that we don't need to worry about using energy as efficiently as possible. But it does mean that doomsday scenarios can't be responsibly employed to motivate these actions.

I for one don't see this as a big loss. The story is the same with climate change. We don't need hysterical, and dubiously grounded, predictions to motivate us to reduce our carbon footprints. There are plenty of other reasons why doing so is a good idea.

When are we going to start treating each other like adults who can be reasoned with rather than children who need to be scared into action?


Fantastic talk by author Chimamanda Adiche

The TEDx conferences held around the world showcase some fascinating speakers.
Here is one by Chimamanda Adiche, a Nigerian author talking about the dangers of the Single Story.

It is eloquent.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why I hate partisan politics.

So as Americans become more confident that the US economy is not going to fall off a cliff, people are beginning to reflect on why it got into such a mess in the first place.

Democrats predictably blame Wall Street greed and poor, and too few, government regulations. They also tend to believe that the Stimulus Package was critical in pulling the economy back from the abyss.

Republicans and Libertarians on the other hand predictably blame government regulations which they claim created perverse incentives for businesses to take risky action that they could not calculate well. They also tend to believe that the Stimulus package has been poorly executed, too big, and created a budget deficit that is going to be a huge long term problem.

Neither side credits the other's arguments as being remotely valid.

Yet from where I stand both are exactly half right.

Democrats are right that Wall Street is hopelessly decadent and greedy.
They are also right that existing government regulations proved incapable of stopping the economic crisis.
They are also probably right that the Stimulus package, if only for psychological reasons, was neccesary.
Republicans are right that government regulations and institutions contributed to the economic crisis.
Republicans are also right that there is little reason to believe that increased government regulation and bureaucracy will prevent future economic crises.
And finally they are also right that huge deficits need to be avoided and that the Stimulus Package and TARP are terribly flawed.

Yet no one I know is saying ALL of these things. Rather partisanship forces Democrats and Republicans to harp loudly about the cherry picked realities that suit their ideology and remain silent about those that don't.

Republicans caution against demonizing Wall Street, and Democrats label anyone skeptical of the government's ability to save the day as doomsday preaching crazies.

God (please do) Bless America, it needs all the help it can get.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Rise of the American Fishstick

Michael Webster in his history of American fisheries policy notes that the destruction of traditional fish species such as cod and haddock forced the American government and fishing industry to promote new species of fish to the American consumer. However because many of these fish were, to put it delicately, ugly, they recommended that sellers display these fish only after they had been cut up into fillets or steaks and that in the case of the Monkfish they really would be wise to remove its hideous looking head before marketing it.

Julia Child with a monkfish

I find this very sad but also slightly amusing. Apparently these days we are eating some really god-awful looking fish. Webster goes on to say that the good old American fishstick was hailed by no less than President Eisenhower for its ability to increase fish consumption, convenience, and eliminate odors, not to mention its ability to hide those ugly fish under a crisp golden fried batter. He reports that production of fish sticks went from 3000 metric tons annually in 1953 to over 28,000 metric tons just two years later in 1955.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Complexity and Story-telling

As I have been investigating the process by which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States was established I've been impressed by the number of factors that need to be considered. Writing a simple, clear, readable, narrative is extremely difficult. For awhile now I've simply thought this was due to my poor writing skills and muddled thinking.
Fortunately for my ego however I have begun to think that my inability to develop a clear story might be a strength rather than a weakness. A couple of weeks ago I listened to this talk by Tyler Cowen, an economist, about the dangers of story-telling. His basic message was that the stories that we tell ourselves or tell others cannot give us greater clarity on a subject by disentangling or highlighting the Truth, but rather are always simplifications of the Truth and therefore always misleading. Listen to the talk, he speaks much more eloquently and entertainingly than I can write and its not that long.

In any case, what I take away from that talk is that I needn't be so concerned with attempting to identify, rank, and weave together all the various factors that led to the establishment of the NOAA.

Simplifying reality is simply lying.

Rather a better approach may be to discuss humbly the multiple, messy, complex, and ultimately bewildering factors that produced the NOAA (and everything else for that matter) in as organized and as readable a manner as possible.

Perhaps doing so will produce the strongest argument for believing that any idea or event like the establishment of the NOAA is inextricably entangled with, and contingent upon, an innumerable, and ultimately indescribable, web of interconnected historical and cultural factors.


Monday, November 16, 2009

An Interesting Statistic, Imams on the Dole

On Colbert Nation, Christopher Caldwell, author of this book about Islam and Europe, offered an interesting statistic. Apparently 2/3rds of the imams in France receive public welfare support.
Particularly in a country with such a strong secular tradition in terms of government/religion relations, that's quite an anomaly and begs are sorts of interesting questions.

For example is the French government aware of the extent to which it, albeit indirectly, is a very strong supporter of Islamic evangelism in France? After all, but for its financial support most imams in France would have to find other occupations. And if the French government is aware, what do they think about it?


Blending In

Courtesy of Marginal Revolution, here are some amazing pictures by Chinese artist Liu Bolin. He paints himself. Unfortunately the Chinese government apparently doesn't appreciate his skills.

There is no accounting for bad taste.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Debating Corruption

This is a great discussion/debate by two leading economist/development experts. I tend to agree with Mushtaq Khan that corruption is a very tricky concept with a lot of implicit western biases and that attempts to stamp it out in developing nations rarely produce helpful results.
On the other hand I personally hate working in places where I have to deal with corrupt entities. It really cramps my style when I am constantly being hassled for bribes.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Running like a Tarahumara

Quite often Google Talks invites interesting people to talk about books they've written. This guy wrote a book called Born to Run about a group of Mexican Indians who can run for hundreds of miles just for the fun of it. Here is the link to his talk at google. I've personally never cared for distance running very much, although I remember liking it briefly in middle school. But this dude has actually made me think about giving it a try again. The island I live on has beautiful mountain and ocean scenery so I really have no excuses. I also like his anti-hightech gear philosophy. Apparently barefoot running is the way to go.

Understanding is hard.

Here is a good interview with Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan. I don't know anything about the situation there or have any opinion on Karzai or what the West should do in Afghanistan but I like this exchange between him and the interviewer. As background they are talking about how Karzai pardoned some young drug traffickers at the same time that he pardoned a young man who had been convicted of posting material on the internet that was deemed offensive to Islam. The drug traffickers were connected to Karzai, while the international community was pushing for the release of the internet boy.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s just hard for a Western audience to understand, when you have the Afghan government, with the help of the international community, established this special drug court, with very strict rules of evidence, very strict procedures, they actually make an arrest, they make a prosecution, they sentence these drug traffickers to prison and they’re freed. And they’re connected to somebody close to you.

HAMID KARZAI: You put it very well. It is very hard for the Western audience to understand what I’ve done. It is equally hard for the Afghan audience to understand what some members of the international community are asking us to do against our judicial procedures, against our laws. So I guess that finds the answer to it. Therefore in that context of the West not understanding what we do and we not understanding what the West asks of us is the problem. That’s why we must sit down and settle some of the issues between us.

I like how unapologetically and symmetrically Karzai answers Ms. Warner. Of course I personally do not support drug trafficking or locking up people for expressing their views on the internet. But how willfully naive do we Westerners have to be to not realize by now that most Afghans think that saying bad things about Islam is a graver offense then selling poppies?

And what unmitigated arrogance must we appear to have to the Afghans when we cry indignantly anytime that Karzai doesn't hop when we tell him to, in exactly the way that we want him to.

The point is not who is right and who is wrong, but how stupid we are to believe that we can change Afghan culture through guns and money.

People think differently, really differently, and that ain't gonna change.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Military-Industrial-Academic Complexes

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, historian of science has written a great book entitled Oceanographers and the Cold War about the close relationship that existed between the US Navy and marine science during the Cold War.
Its pretty ironic that the technology now used by the commercial fishing industry was nearly all developed under the auspices of the US Navy and federal government which also funded most academic oceanographic research. In fact, the line between the two kinds of research was often hard to distinguish. However the work of those academic researchers has since revealed the devastating effects that such technologies have enabled the commercial fishing industry to have on the world's oceans. Which in turn has motivated the US government to spend more money on trying to regulate such destructive activities.

As my old high school woodshop teacher used to say "Every new solution creates two new problems."


Oldies but Goodies

Recently I've been watching old classic movies. Specifically I've been watching every movie made in the 1930s that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Some of them are a bit dull. For instance I wasn't particularly impressed by All Quiet on the Western Front. The book is much better. However 1937's Life of Emile Zola is quite good. The late 19th century was an interesting time in France. From Here to Eternity is also good but I never knew Sinatra was such a scrawny little fella. Most interesting are the masculine, pre-feminist era, cultural mores that unconsciously permeate these movies. If anyone has watched the HBO series Mad Men and wants to see the real thing I particularly recommend watching On the Waterfront in which Marlon Brando plays a fantastically macho and yet richly complex character.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cool Maps

These maps show population densities of countries in a very unique, and slightly humorous fashion. Most of them remind of the Venus de Willendorf statue.