Daily Archives: November 28, 2009

If you have nothing better to offer, offer lemonade

The New York Times, taking a break from its extensive reportage on the global warming email scandal, writes of real estate agents who bake dinner for their clients, scrub their floors and reseal their driveways, all in a desperate attempt to hold onto the listings over the years it doesn’t sell. I don’t do floors, but I see no reason why these people should either. Why not price the house right and sell it? D’uh.


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The Times (of London) takes on Climategate. Our own NYT remains mum, of course

I’m beginning to suspect that the New York Times never reported things straight – witness Walter Durante’s coverage of Stalin’s glorious campaign against the Kulaks in the 1930s. But now the Internet reports the news for them.

Good discussion here:

The storm began with just four cryptic words. “A miracle has happened,” announced a contributor to Climate Audit, a website devoted to criticising the science of climate change.

“RC” said nothing more — but included a web link that took anyone who clicked on it to another site, Real Climate.

There, on the morning of November 17, they found a treasure trove: a thousand or so emails sent or received by Professor Phil Jones, director of the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

Jones is a key player in the science of climate change. His department’s databases on global temperature changes and its measurements have been crucial in building the case for global warming.

What those emails suggested, however, was that Jones and some colleagues may have become so convinced of their case that they crossed the line from objective research into active campaigning.

In one, Jones boasted of using statistical “tricks” to obliterate apparent declines in global temperature. In another he advocated deleting data rather than handing them to climate sceptics. And in a third he proposed organised boycotts of journals that had the temerity to publish papers that undermined the message.

It was a powerful and controversial mix — far too powerful for some. Real Climate is a website designed for scientists who share Jones’s belief in man-made climate change. Within hours the file had been stripped from the site.

Several hours later, however, it reappeared — this time on an obscure Russian server. Soon it had been copied to a host of other servers, first in Saudi Arabia and Turkey and then Europe and America.

What’s more, the anonymous poster was determined not to be stymied again. He or she posted comments on climate-sceptic blogs, detailing a dozen of the best emails and offering web links to the rest. Jones’s statistical tricks were now public property.

Steve McIntyre, a prominent climate sceptic, was amazed. “Words failed me,” he said. Another, Patrick Michaels, declared: “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud.”

Inevitably, the affair became nicknamed Climategate. For the scientists, campaigners and politicians trying to rouse the world to action on climate change the revelations could hardly have come at a worse time. Next month global leaders will assemble in Copenhagen to seek limits on carbon emissions. The last thing they need is renewed doubts about the validity of the science.

The scandal has also had a huge personal and professional impact on the scientists. “These have been the worst few days of my professional life,” said Jones. He had to call on the police for protection after receiving anonymous phone calls and personal threats.

Why should a few emails sent to and from a single research scientist at a middle-ranking university have so much impact? And most importantly, what does it tell us about the quality of the research underlying the science of climate change?

THE hacking scandal is not an isolated event. Instead it is the latest round of a long-running battle over climate science that goes back to 1990.

That was when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the group of scientists that advises governments worldwide — published its first set of reports warning that the Earth faced deadly danger from climate change. A centrepiece of that report was a set of data showing how the temperature of the northern hemisphere was rising rapidly.

The problem was that the same figures showed that it had all happened before. The so-called medieval warm period of about 1,000 years ago saw Britain covered in vineyards and Viking farmers tending cows in Greenland. For any good scientist this raised a big question: was the recent warming linked to humans burning fossil fuels or was it part of a natural cycle?

The researchers set to work and in 1999 a group led by Professor Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University, came up with new numbers showing that the medieval warm period was not so important after all.

Some bits of the Atlantic may have been warm for a while, but the records suggested that the Pacific had been rather chilly over the same period — so on average there was little change.

Plotted out, Mann’s data turned into the famous “hockey stick” graph. It showed northern hemisphere temperatures as staying flat for hundreds of years and then rising steeply from 1900 until now. The implication was that this rise would continue, with potentially deadly consequences for humanity.

That vision of continents being hit by droughts and floods while the Arctic melts away has turned a scientific debate into a highly emotional and political one. The language used by “warmists” and sceptics alike has become increasingly polarised.

George Monbiot, widely respected as a writer on green issues, has branded doubters “climate deniers”, a phrase uncomfortably close to holocaust denial. Sceptics, particularly in America, have suggested that scientists who believe in climate change are part of a global left-wing conspiracy to divert billions of dollars into green technology.

A more cogent criticism is that there has been a reluctance to acknowledge dissent on the question of climate science. Al Gore, the former US vice-president turned green campaigner, has described the climate debate as “settled”. Yet the science, say critics, has not been tested to the limit. This is why the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia is so significant.

Its researchers have built up records of how temperatures have changed over thousands of years. Perhaps the most important is the land and sea temperature record for the world since the mid-19th century. This is the database that shows the “unequivocal” rise of 0.8C over the last 157 years on which Mann’s hockey stick and much else in climate science depend.

Some critics believe that the unit’s findings need to be treated with more caution, because all the published data have been “corrected” — meaning they have been altered to compensate for possible anomalies in the way they were taken. Such changes are normal; what’s controversial is how they are done. This is compounded by the unwillingness of the unit to release the original raw data.

David Holland, an engineer from Northampton, is one of a number of sceptics who believe the unit has got this process wrong. When he submitted a request for the figures under freedom of information laws he was refused because it was “not in the public interest”.

Others who made similar requests were turned down because they were not academics, among them McIntyre, a Canadian who runs the Climate Audit website.

A genuine academic, Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada, also tried. He said: “I was rejected for an entirely different reason. The [unit] told me they had obtained the data under confidentiality agreements and so could not supply them. This was odd because they had already supplied some of them to other academics, but only those who support the idea of climate change.”

IT was against this background that the emails were leaked last week, reinforcing suspicions that scientific objectivity has been sacrificed. There is unease even among researchers who strongly support the idea that humans are changing the climate. Roger Pielke, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said: “Over the last decade there has been a very political battle between the climate sceptics and activist scientists.

“It seems to me that the scientists have lost touch with what they were up to. They saw themselves as in a battle with the sceptics rather than advancing scientific knowledge.”

Professor Mike Hulme, a fellow researcher of Jones at the University of East Anglia and author of Why We Disagree About Climate Change, said: “The attitudes revealed in the emails do not look good. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organisation within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”

There could, however, be another reason why the unit rejected requests to see its data.

This weekend it emerged that the unit has thrown away much of the data. Tucked away on its website is this statement: “Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites … We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (ie, quality controlled and homogenised) data.”

If true, it is extraordinary. It means that the data on which a large part of the world’s understanding of climate change is based can never be revisited or checked. Pielke said: “Can this be serious? It is now impossible to create a new temperature index from scratch. [The unit] is basically saying, ‘Trust us’.”

WHERE does this leave the climate debate? While the overwhelming belief of scientists is that the world is getting warmer and that humanity is responsible, sceptical voices are increasing.

Lord Lawson, the Tory former chancellor, announced last week the creation of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank, to “bring reason, integrity and balance to a debate that has become seriously unbalanced, irrationally alarmist, and all too often depressingly intolerant”.

Lawson said: “Climate change is not being properly debated because all the political parties are on the same side, and there is an intolerance towards anybody who wants to debate it. It has turned climate change from being a political issue into a secular religion.”

The public are understandably confused. A recent poll showed that 41% accept as scientific fact that global warming is taking place and is largely man-made, while 32% believe the link is unproven and 15% said the world is not warming.

This weekend many of Jones’s colleagues were standing by him. Tim Lenton, professor of earth system science at UEA, said: “We wouldn’t have anything like the understanding of climate change that we do were it not for the work of Phil Jones and his colleagues. They have spent decades putting together the historical temperature record and it is good work.”

The problem is that, after the past week, both sceptics and the public will require even more convincing of that.


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YWCA ladies heading for jail

I didn't know it contained lead!

The group is planning a toy tag sale and intends to sell used, donated toys. That is forbidden by our federal watchdogs under the Consumer Safety Product Improvement Act, the same beneficent law that bans old children’s books and new motorbikes. For everything about CPSIA you had no idea about but really should know, try Overlawyered.com for a primer.

As for me, I think I’ll drop a dime on these folks with the Consumer Product Safety folks and watch the fur fly.

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The new world order

“Momentum building for global warming pact”. We’re supposed to shut down our economy and give billions to Third World beggars. Leaving aside the question of how we’re supposed to give away our wealth if we have none, any leader who comes back from Oslo with his name on a treaty like this should be denied re-entry. Maybe even sent back to Kenya.


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Mr. Borrower, your colostomy is irreversible

False hope, rather than hearing the truth and getting on with one’s life, leaves patients unhappier. There are so many houses out there now worth, say, $1.6 million but owing $2.1 and the borrowers are stuck. You call their broker to see if you can get permission to cut a deal with the bank and are told, “well, they’re still hoping to figure out a way to keep the house.” They can’t, and won’t, but the house will sit for another year or more while the bank foreclosure process wends its slow way to conclusion. This is not necessarily the best approach, as these medical researchers learned:

Study shows that colostomy patients who believed their condition was
irreversible reported better quality of life than those with faith that they
would be cured

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Nov. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Holding on to hope may not
make patients happier as they deal with chronic illness or diseases, according
to a new study by University of Michigan Health System researchers.

"Hope is an important part of happiness," said Peter A. Ubel, M.D., director
of the U-M Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine and one of
the authors of the happily hopeless study, "but there's a dark side of hope.
Sometimes, if hope makes people put off getting on with their life, it can get
in the way of happiness."

The results showed that people do not adapt well to situations if they are
believed to be short-term. Ubel and his co-authors -- both from U-M and
Carnegie Mellon University -- studied patients who had new colostomies: their
colons were removed and they had to have bowel movements in a pouch that lies
outside their body.

At the time they received their colostomy, some patients were told that the
colostomy was reversible -- that they would undergo a second operation to
reconnect their bowels after several months.  Others were told that the
colostomy was permanent and that they would never have normal bowel function
again. The second group -- the one without hope -- reported being happier over
the next six months than those with reversible colostomies.

"We think they were happier because they got on with their lives. They
realized the cards they were dealt, and recognized that they had no choice but
to play with those cards," says Ubel, who is also a professor in the
Department of Internal Medicine.


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What recession?

Not in this household (NYT photo)


Or here






On the other hand, if this is really where Santa does his shopping, it’s another good reason to move to Texas. If they only had snow and mountains ….

"Bobby needs new roller skates, Suszy needs a gun, please continue Dear Saint Nick I'll tell you when you're done" (WSJ photo)











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When golf clubs are outlawed, only angry wives will have clubs

A time to run, a time to hide, a time to slice, a time to fade, a time to hop in your Escalade, I swear it's not too late

This makes more sense than the earlier stories: Tiger’s facial injuries were caused by a three wood swung by the mother of his children. “Fore” play jokes may now begin.

UPDATE: Pulled up in OG sends along this Aussie lede showing that they know how to cover a story down under.

TWO days after a lurid story broke about Tiger Woods having an affair with a New York nightclub hostess, the golfing superstar was found by police lying on his back outside his Florida mansion, incoherent and bleeding – with his distressed wife standing over him with a golf club in her hands.



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More statistics

In the history of the world (well, Greenwich MLS records going back ten years), 17 condominiums priced at $3,500,000 and above have sold, total. There are presently 12 condos for sale in that price range, and that number does not include the many failures that have gone over to the rental market (like those two on Milbank Avenue below the Whole Foods retaining wall). Exactly two condos in that range sold in all of 2008 (suckers) and zero this year. Builders with expensive downtown condos to move (Sound View? Manero’s?) are in for a long wait.

In the single family market, we have 103 houses for sale priced at $5,995,000 and up. Three sold or went to contract in the past month, 12 in the past 90 days and 40 in the past 12 months. That’s a 2 1/2 – year inventory, which isn’t all that bad for this price range, but not good news if, like Raj, Walt, Ric or Gary, you want to get away in a hurry.


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Pending contracts and assessments

On a lark, I pulled the 9 lowest and 9 highest properties of the 50 Greenwich single family homes currently under contract (leaving 603 still for sale and more, presumably, coming on in January). It seems to me that many of the higher end houses are selling for a huge premium to their assessed value (which, I remind you, is supposed to be 70% of their 2005 market value). Either of two explanations come to mind to explain this phenomenon: either higher end homes are really holding their value better or the assessments were skewed to their advantage back in 2005. I don’t have the answer, but here are the statistics:

Address                  First price                       Last asking price         Assessment (70%)

10 Lyon Ave.          $695,000                             $489,000                          $444,000

36 Hartford            $650,000                             $550,000                          $442,000

9 Miltiades              $985,000                             $695,000                           $667,000

7 Mill Pond              $925,000                             $739,000                           $705,000

11 Somerset            $940,000                             $895,ooo                            $1,008,000

 4 Janet Ct               $799,000                              $779,000                          $533,000

73 Halsey                $920,000                              $799,500                          $570,000

1 Fairfield                $1,199,000                            $899,000                         $668,000

14 Windy Knoll       $1,239,000                           $987,000                          $498,000 (renovated ’08)


51 Mooreland            $9,500,000                        $5,995,000                      $3,535,000

74 Lower Cross       $6,995,000                           $6,450,000                     $4,000,000

21 Willowmere Cir  $7,400,000                           $6,850,000                     $4,300,000

10 Cornelia               $9,750,000                           $6,950,000                     $4,757,000

15 N. Crossway        $7,195,000                           $7,195,000                       $3,148,000

205 Clapboard          $12,500,000                        $7,975,000                      $6,120,000

21   Guinea                $8,950,000                           $8,950,000                    $5,171,000

67 Harbor Drive       $11,950,000                          $11,950,000                  $8,366,000

54 Byram Drive       $23,000,000                          $17,950,000                  $5,644,000


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Old Media is dying because it won’t report news

Which at one time was its reason for being. Now, not so much.

What Story? [Mark Steyn]

Michael Gerson has lousy timing. In The Washington Post, in one of those now familiar elegies for old media, he writes:

And the whole system is based on a kind of intellectual theft. Internet aggregators (who link to news they don’t produce) and bloggers would have little to collect or comment upon without the costly enterprise of newsgathering and investigative reporting. The old-media dinosaurs remain the basis for the entire media food chain.

That’s laughably untrue in the Warmergate story. If you rely on the lavishly remunerated “climate correspondents” of the big newspapers and networks, you’ll know nothing about the Climate Research Unit scandals – just the business-as-usual drivel aboutBoston being underwater by 2011. Indeed, even when a prominent media warm-monger addresses the issue, the newspaper prefers to reprint a month-old column predating the scandal. If you follow online analysis from obscure websites on the fringes of the map, you’ll know what’s going on. If you go to the convenience store and buy today’s newspaper, you won’t. That’s the problem.

If anyone needs newspapers, it ought to be for stories like this. If there were no impending epocalypse, then “climate science” would be a relatively obscure field, as it was up to a generation ago. Now it produces celebrity scientists living high off the hog of billions in grants. They thus have a vested interest in maintaining the planet’s-gonna-fry line. So what do the media do? Instead of exposing the thesis to rigorous journalistic examination, they stage fluffy green stunts, run soft-focus “living green” features with Hollywood “activists”, and at a time of massive staff cutbacks in every other department create the positions of specialist “climate correspondent” and “environmental reporter” and fill them with sycophantic promoters of the Big Scare to the point that, as Dr Manncoos approvingly to The New York Times, “you’ve taken the words out of my mouth”.

What Gerson writes ought to be true. Warmergate demonstrates why it isn’t.


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I hope that I will never see, a MacMansion stopped because of trees

Alas, poor Yorick...

The NYT reports that Greenwich tree huggers are back at work, trying to regulate homeowners’ unregulated right to whack down trees.

“In the past, you would hear people talking about losing their rights as homeowners, but with all the clear-cutting we’ve had in recent years, and with people caring more about the environment, I think they realize that trees are a precious resource,” Ms. [JoAnn]  Messina said. “I keep telling people, ‘You have to get a permit to build, a permit for your dog, so it’s just a way to establish a sensible procedure.’ ”

I say, give it a break. The Fountain boys were all taught how to fell trees on our property by our father – sure, we hung a few up in other trees’ branches, where they created a wonderfully fearsome danger until the next windstorm brought them down, but we learned from all that, and as the result we’re ready to stop by your neighbor’s house at midnight and drop that tree that’s been blocking your view – call us.

On a slightly more serious note, I think this is a solution in search of a problem. While there are indeed a few builders who knock down trees with abandon, anyone who has any knowledge of the value mature trees add to a property and what they cost to replace usually takes great care to preserve what’s there. Furthermore, Ms. Mesina’s concern about clear-cutting overlooks the fact that the stuff being removed is fourth-growth scrub – Greenwich was cleared pasture land no so long ago and if it returns to that look again, no harm – it would help the deer tick problem, too. As a reminder, next time you are walking with Ms. Masina through virgin forest and encounter the stone walls littering our Greenwich woods, reflect on the idea that farmers didn’t build walls in woods.


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