Wednesday, January 21, 2009

WaPo: Will the White House and Congress find a better way to nominate and confirm judges?

Courting Common Sense. Washington Post Editorial
Will the White House and Congress find a better way to nominate and confirm judges?
WaPo, Wednesday, January 21, 2009; page A10

MIGHT A NEW administration and Congress bring a new approach to the handling of judicial nominations? Might pettiness give way to rationality and fair-mindedness? Don't count on it. But in such a week, we can hope.

Activists on both sides of the political spectrum already have started saber-rattling. Conservatives threaten to block "extreme" appointments by President Barack Obama without bothering to define what that means. In the process, they have all but abandoned their battle cry of the past eight years that the president is entitled to judges who reflect his "judicial philosophy." Liberal interest groups, many still bitter that the Clinton administration did not move the courts more to the left, are pressing the incoming administration to appoint "progressive" legal thinkers who can undo what they see as eight years worth of Republican damage.

There's room for improvement all around. President Bush was slow to name candidates to long-vacant seats. At times he ignored bipartisan recommendations and tapped hard-right nominees he knew had little chance of confirmation. This approach served to erode goodwill even with moderate Democrats. Democrats, meanwhile, at times engaged in unjustified filibusters and gross distortions of some nominees' records. During Mr. Bush's first term, the highly qualified Miguel Estrada was nominated to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but the selection was filibustered and never given a floor vote. Democrats hid behind a flimsy, bureaucratic excuse to block the nomination. The real reason for opposition: Mr. Estrada, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Honduras, was seen as a top contender to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

Mr. Bush's second term brought the nomination of Peter Keisler to the D.C. Circuit. Opponents used a long-standing controversy over the number of judicial slots and the workload of the D.C. Circuit to argue against Mr. Keisler; that opposition did not abate when Congress settled the workload matter.

We're under no illusions that the partisan mischief will end entirely with the start of a new administration. But we can hope for improvements -- for well-qualified nominees who are judged fairly on their merits.

PPI: Asia Spends More on Research than Europe

Asia Spends More on Research than Europe
Progressive Policy Institute, January 21, 2009

The Numbers:

Spending on scientific research & development, 2007:
- North America: ~ $393 billion
- Europe: ~ $290 billion
- Asia: ~ $320 billion

What They Mean:

India's medieval mathematicians invented the zero and modern numerals around 500 AD. Engineers in neighboring China dreamed up paper, explosives, the compass, and movable type. But the 17th-century Scientific Revolution came not in Asia but the west, and so did the 20th century's medicines, airplanes, radio, computers, spacecraft, TV sets, and telecom gear.
Why? Albert Einstein, wondering about the issue in 1922, blamed Asia's high populations and low labor costs for slowing invention. ("In both India and China the low price of labor has stood in the way of the development of machinery.") A half-century later, British history-of-Chinese-science master Joseph Needham speculated that Europe had jumped ahead by inventing capitalism, which meant competition among businesses for customers and therefore innovation. The question remains interesting -- but only in an historical sense, because Asian science has roared back to life.

Asia's most sophisticated economies have been among the world's heaviest researchers for years. Japan's $130 billion in R&D spending amounted to 3.2 percent of Japanese GDP, far above the rich world's 2.1 percent average and topped only by Israel and Sweden. (The United States was at 2.7 percent, Australia 2.2 percent, Canada 2.0 percent, and Europe 1.7 percent.) Korea's $38 billion in research spending outstripped Britain's $35 billion, and made up 3.0 percent of GDP. Taiwan and Singapore are also well above the world's rich-country average.

Science is reviving in the two giants as well. Chinese research spending, relative to GDP, has doubled in a decade from 0.8 percent to 1.5 percent. In dollar terms, China's $85 billion spending ranks third or fourth in the world (depending on exchange rates), roughly at par with Germany. India's science spending is about $24 billion and about 0.8 percent of GDP. And within the last three or four years -- likely for the first time in four centuries -- Asia's research spending topped Europe's. The United States still tops the world, at $370 billion to Asia's $320 billion and Europe's $290 billion ... but for how long?

Further Reading:

Is Asia inventing, or just spending? In 1980, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, European researchers filed twice as many U.S. patent applications as Asians. By 2007, Japan's 79,000 applications alone outnumbered the 69,000 from all European countries combined, and Asia's total nearly doubled Europe. Korea's 23,000 applications were barely behind Germany's second-place 23,600; Taiwan, with 18,500, was above both Britain and France. India and China still file fewer patents than the top-tier Asian technological economies and the big European states, but are rising fast. Chinese and Indian researchers accounted for 30 patent applications in 1980, 900 in 2000, and 5,300 in 2007. The PTO patent records:

Science in Asia links:

Tokyo-based Asia Science and Technology Seminar trains young Asian scientists:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks to the Science Congress in Shillong on India's high-tech future:

The Robotic Association of Japan insists that soft, weak, vulnerable humans have nothing to fear from its metallic, computerized and remorseless creations:

Korea's Ministry of Knowledge Economy (until last year the Min. of Commerce & Industry), perhaps missing the real threat, proposes an ethics charter meant to prevent human abuse of androids:

China's Science and Technology Ministry:

Taiwan's National Science Council announces bio-tech parks, cryptography, license-plate recognition, and more: ASEAN's Science and Technology Network:

And San Diego's school system instructs America's youth on classical Chinese technology:

R&D around the world:

High end -- Israel is the world's most science-intensive economy, devoting 4.7 percent of GDP to R&D. Sweden is next at 3.7 percent, followed by Japan and Finland at 3.4 percent. South Korea ranks fifth 3.2 percent, with Switzerland sixth. Japan's commitment has risen from 2.0 percent in 1980, and 2.7 percent in the mid-1990s. America's 2.7 percent remains high on international rankings, but -- in contrast to Asian economies -- has not grown since the mid-1980s. American businesses spend heavily on R&D, and U.S. government investment in life sciences and medicine is high. The lag comes from low public funding for research on physics, aerospace, chemistry, and other hard sciences. The National Science Foundation has data on American research spending and other science matters over time:
And the OECD counts research totals by country for its members plus Argentina, China, Israel, the EU, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Romania, Russia, and Taiwan:

Can do better -- The luminaries of European science would not be pleased. Galileo would blush to see Italy's low 1.1 percent of GDP; Archimedes would likewise fume to see Greece spending only 0.6 percent. Newton would be startled to learn that Korea spends more on research than Britain. (The U.K. government research budget is high, but British companies apparently do less research than some of their rivals.) Copernicus might feel worst of all, with Poland the only advanced country to have cut its R&D budgets in this decade. The highest research commitments are in Scandinavia and Germany. The European Science Agency:

Developing world -- Latin America, the Middle East apart from Israel, Africa, and Southeast Asia are well behind East Asia as research powers. The World Bank's 2008 Development Indicators book finds the Latin average at 0.6 percent, led by Brazil's 0.9 percent. Tunisia is the Muslim world's most research-intensive state at 1.0 percent of GDP, followed by Malaysia, Morocco, and Turkey at 0.7 percent; Uganda's 0.8 percent and South Africa 0.9 percent are Africa's highest rates. Singapore tops Southeast Asia at a rich-world 2.3 percent, but larger ASEAN members could be doing more: the Philippines and Indonesia are at 0.1 percent, Thailand 0.3 percent and Vietnam 0.2 percent. Brazil's 0.9 percent is Latin America's highest rate, with Chile, Argentina, and Mexico next at 0.5 percent.

Voicing optimism, Ban congratulates US President on inauguration

Voicing optimism, Ban congratulates US President on inauguration
New York, Jan 21 2009 3:10PM

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today, “with great optimism,” congratulated Barack Obama on his inauguration as the new President of the United States, stressing that America and the Organization share a number of common goals.

Challenges – such as economic turmoil, climate change, peace and security issues such as disarmament and non-proliferation, and the food, energy and development crises – are global in scope and “require strong and collective responses,” Mr. Ban said in a statement.

In Mr. Obama’s inaugural address yesterday, he “was explicit in committing his administration to tackling all of these problems, urgently and decisively,” speaking of the need to tackle global warming, promote clean energy and cooperate with developing nations.

“This is also the work of the United Nations. Our goals are shared,” the Secretary-General stated. “Together, America and the United Nations can look forward to a new era of strong and effective partnership, delivering the results and the change we need.”

The UN Environment Programme also welcomed the swearing-in of the 44th US President, voicing hope in the new leader’s ‘green’ strategy.

One of Mr. Obama’s main election promises was an energy policy to address climate change, spur job growth and curb US dependence on foreign oil and gas. He also said he planned to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and create five million new environmentally friendly jobs.

“Obama’s green jobs strategy could deliver a ‘quadruple win’ – dealing simultaneously with the economic recession, energy security, job creation and emissions,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

The incoming US administration is being hailed as “unprecedentedly green,” with the creation of the post of Energy and Environment Coordinator who will serve as Mr. Obama’s ‘Climate Czar.’

Other appointments include Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy and John P. Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard University, as the President’s Science Adviser.

“These are not political figures [who came] to this issue yesterday,” Mr. Steiner said. “They are some of the most authoritative, competent and knowledgeable people.”

Conservative Views: Waiving green requirements previously imposed because they would create jobs and grow the economy

Reality, One Step at a Time, by Chris Horner

Benny Peiser’s invaluable CCNet circulates an Financial Times article today assessing the chances of some mandatory climate package as being very low: “[g]iven the short-term contractionary effects of imposing an indirect tax on carbon, it will now almost certainly be shelved.”

Never mind the long-term problems associated with doing something that harmful to yourself that the vast majority of the world, including our rapidly modernizing competitors who would love to host fleeing businesses, refuse.The update includes a particular comment, of which we hear a lot, but which really does deserve some perspective. That is:

If a climate regime isn't established until 2012 or 2013, how do you bridge paying for the work that's under way in the meantime? What do you tell to a big weatherization industry when everything dries up in 2011? 'Thank you very much and have a nice day?' — Steve Nadel, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 20 January 2009

Well, yes. Or you tell them to consider making a better (or different) mousetrap.

When you hear these plaintive wails—and you will hear much more of them in coming months—be aware that this is no different from the starving performance artist insisting that he cannot make it without taxpayer subsidies in the form of NEA grants.

That is, there’s no market for what I have chosen to do for a living, so you need to tax people to pay for it. It is simply couched in ever-so-slightly less embarrassing language.

Finally, and speaking of embarrassing, Benny also circulates a piece in something called Business Green quoting Gov. Schwarzenegger saying that, in order to create jobs and help the economy grow, he needs to waive all of those green requirements that he previously imposed because he claimed that they would create jobs and grow the economy. It is entertaining when these folks are reduced to such babble—if also sad, given the human consequences they engineer with all of their peacocking in the first place. We will continue to get the government we deserve until such rhetoric and irresponsibility are no longer rewarded

On Doran & Zimmerman's “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change”

An Obvious Double Standard Adopted By The AGU Publication EOS. By Roger Pielke SrClimate Science, Jan 21, 2009

In the January 20, 2009 issue of the AGU publication EOS, there is Feature article by P.T. Doran and M. K. Zimmerman titled “Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change”.

This paper is a polling paper that specifically reported in the EOS article on the two questions:

1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

The conclusion in the article is that

“It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes. The challenge, rather, appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.”

However, EOS rejected our polling study last year, as we reported on in Climate Science in the weblogs

Is There Agreement Amongst Climate Scientists on the IPCC AR4 WG1?
Follow Up By Fergus Brown To “Is There Agreement Amongst Climate Scientists on the IPCC AR4 WG1?”

In the first weblog, I wrote

“After the survey was completed last summer and the article written, it was submitted to the AGU publication EOS as a “Forum piece. The EOS description of a Forum is that it

”contains thought-provoking contributions expected to stimulate further discussion, within the newspaper or as part of Eos Online Discussions. Appropriate Forum topics include current or proposed science policy, discussion related to current research in our fields especially scientific controversies, the relationship of our science to society, or practices that affect our fields, science in general, or AGU as an organization. Commentary solely on the science reported in research journals is not appropriate.”

Our article certainly fits this description. However, after 4 months without a decision, our contribution was summarily rejected by Fred Spilhous without review. He said our article did not fit EOS policy. We disagreed, of course, based on the explicit EOS policy given above, but our follow request for an appeal was ignored.”

Thus, EOS accepts a poll P.T. Doran and M. K. Zimmerman (as a Feature), yet rejected our contribution which was submitted as a Forum contribution. This is an obvious double standard, and raises serious questions on the role of EOS as an objective vehicle to communicate climate science issues.

European Antitrust Officials Target Microsoft over Internet Explorer

European Antitrust Officials Target Microsoft over Internet Explorer. By Ryan Radia
CEI, January 20, 2009

Washington, D.C., January 20, 2009—The European Commission may order Microsoft to strip Internet Explorer (IE) from certain versions of Windows, according to a preliminary ruling against Microsoft stemming from a complaint brought by Opera. Opera claims that Microsoft is “abusing its dominant position” by bundling IE with Windows, and consequently denying consumers “genuine choice” among web browsers.

If the European Commission upholds Opera’s complaint against Microsoft, it wouldn’t be the first time Microsoft has been found guilty of antitrust violations stemming from applications bundled with Windows.

Back in 2004, the Commission ruled that it was illegal for Microsoft to bundle its Windows Media Player with Windows and ordered Microsoft to offer a Media Player-less version of the operating system. Microsoft responded by unveiling the wryly named “Windows XP Reduced Media Edition.” Unsurprisingly, the European Commission rejected the name, so Microsoft renamed the OS “Windows N.”

Despite Windows N’s fairly neutral-sounding name, consumers showed little interest in Windows N when it hit the shelves. It’s quite obvious why Windows N was a flop–why would anybody want to run an operating system lacking useful components, especially when plenty of alternatives are available online at the click of a button?

The same reasoning is sure to relegate a browserless Windows (Windows: Reduced Internet Edition, perhaps?) to commercial irrelevance. Such a product would be placed on shelves solely to satisfy regulators convinced that they’re somehow “protecting” consumers by ensuring inferior products can be had.

How would the average user even select a preferred browser in the first place without a pre-installed browser? While OEMs could always pre-install a browser, anyone who wanted to install (or reinstall) a browserless version of Windows from scratch would need to jump through hoops just to get online.

More to the point, Opera’s claim against Microsoft looks downright absurd given the reality of today’s increasingly competitive browser marketplace. Despite IE being bundled with Windows, Firefox has gained significant ground on IE in recent years. Four years ago, IE had 91% global market share, while Firefox hovered around 3.5%. Now, Firefox is almost at 21% market share, and IE recently dropped below 70%.

Firefox’s ascent did not happen because of a mass exodus of users from Windows to other operating systems. To be sure, Windows has faltered a bit as of late, but Firefox has gained the following of a massive number of Windows users who elected to download and install Firefox as a replacement for Internet Explorer. This illustrates that users are perfectly willing to pick their favorite application for a given task, even if that means downloading a third-party app on the Internet. Plenty of other programs, like VLC and Google Desktop, have taken off among Windows users even though these apps largely duplicate the functionality of bundled Windows components.

Where does all this leave Opera? Unlike Firefox, Opera is still a laggard in terms of market share. Blaming Opera’s inability to gain a large user base on the bundling of IE with Windows, however, is entirely misplaced. The folks at Opera may feel that going after Microsoft might help them peel off a few users - or, at least, get Opera’s name out there in the press - but Opera’s biggest enemy is certainly not Internet Explorer.