Serendipitous Reading

On Sunday, I read this New York Times article about curricular changes brought about by No Child Left Behind.

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it. …

The intense focus on the two basic skills is a sea change in American instructional practice, with many schools that once offered rich curriculums now systematically trimming courses like social studies, science and art.

And I'm thinking: "Social studies, well, OK. Art, OK. But science? That's kind of a shame."

But then I read this Shannon Love article at Chicago Boyz. And suddenly, I'm more relaxed about cutting back on "science" curricula too.

(Seriously: kids need to be up to speed in reading and math. Are they going to get much of worth out of any other classes if they aren't? Unlikely.)

URLs du Jour


  • Charles Murray has a thought-provoking new scheme to scrap the American welfare state:
    … I call it simply "the Plan" for want of a catchier label--makes a $10,000 annual grant to all American citizens who are not incarcerated, beginning at age 21, of which $3,000 a year must be used for health care. Everyone gets a monthly check, deposited electronically to a bank account.
    OK, so now almost everyone's saying "Waiiiit a minute …" Murray's written a book about the Plan: In Our Hands : A Plan To Replace The Welfare State (which I've just ordered). Tech Central Station's Max Borders interviews Murray here. K-Lo is the interviewer here. Andrew Ferguson comments here. I'll write more once I've read the book.

  • It occurs to me that I could, if I wanted, get a lot of cheap posts by simply filling in the blank in the template: "Thomas Sowell makes a lot of sense today with a column about          ; check it out." And then maybe quoting one or two paragraphs to give readers a feel for what he's saying, wrapping it up with a short snappy remark.

  • Thomas Sowell makes a lot of sense today with a column about immigration; check it out.

    How often have we heard that illegal immigrants "take jobs that Americans will not do"? What is missing in this argument is what is crucial in any economic argument: price.

    Americans will not take many jobs at their current pay levels -- and those pay levels will not rise so long as poverty-stricken immigrants are willing to take those jobs.


  • Is it wrong to cheer for a college basketball team simply because you admire the school's economics and law faculty? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't recognize as many names from any other school. Including UNH.

    I don't remember when I last watched a basketball game. But I watched George Mason beat … um … oh, yeah, UConn on Saturday. Go, Pats: the team of the libertarian blogosphere.

    But go ahead and improve your mind while you're waiting for the next game: via Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy, here's a PDF resource about the Forgotten Founder, the Father of the Bill of Rights, George Mason. (It does not, unaccountably, mention what Mason's free throw percentage was, but gets in a lot of other impressive stuff.) Andy at the Club for Growth has additional links and Mason-related tourism suggestions.

  • Consumer note, Entertainment Division: USA Today reports that the King Kong DVD out today is OK,
    But you won't see any deleted scenes or added footage. Director Peter Jackson is saving that for an extended cut of the film to be released on DVD later this year and will include a new making-of documentary.

    Bottom line: just wait, if you think you'd like that stuff.

Setting the Global Thermostat

Drudge points out Time's "Special Report" on global warming. It's unusually hysterical, even for Time. And it has drawn the usual debunkers; for example, see Red State.

There are plenty of risks on all sides. One possible near-term outcome is draconian regulation that will wreck the global economy, increasing international resentment, and have minuscule effect on greenhouse gas levels. The folks that (for example) criticize the Kyoto treaty in this regard are pretty convincing. (For example: Pete Du Pont in today's WSJ.) But they're getting drowned out by doomcriers on all sides.

However, I think nearly everyone is arguing about the wrong stuff: whether global warming is happening, how much is caused by human action, how much regulation could help, whether Al Gore is insane by official clinical standards or just in an eccentric-aunt kind of way, etc.

Here's something that totally changed my thinking on the issue: read this 1997 Reason article by Gregory Benford. Go ahead, I'll wait here. Here's the thesis:

Forty years ago, the noted atmospheric scientist Roger Revelle declared that "human beings are now carrying out a large scale geophysical experiment" by pumping billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air. The question before us should not simply be how best to stop the experiment--and, by extension, the prosperity and progress allowed by cheap, abundant energy.

Rather, the question should be how best to design that experiment, so that we maximize benefits and minimize costs. As the citizens of the advanced nations become convinced that global warming is an immediate threat worthy of response, they will legitimately ask for solutions that demand the least sacrifice.

Benford goes on to propose a host of relatively cheap technical "geoengineering" fixes to sop up carbon from the atmosphere, raise planetary albedo, and the like.

This goes against the environmentalists who see "mankind as the problem", of course; their quasi-religious vision is an Earth on which humans have at best minimal environmental impact. Let's ignore that for now. (And hopefully forever.)

It seems this argument is hard to refute:

  • We have the ability to mitigate global warming right now; we even had it back in 1997, when Benford wrote his article.

  • We're only going to get better at it; on the decades-to-centuries time scale envisioned by global warming proponents, advances in technology and climate modelling will easily outstrip the problem.

  • Hence, Real Soon Now we'll be able to dink the global climate to pretty much whatever temperature we want, without driving the global economy into a regulatory ditch.

So what's the problem again? Well …

There's a sense in which technological solutions to global warming are even scarier than global warming itself. You think you have conflicts setting the thermostat in your house, with Pa wanting to save energy and Ma wanting it warmer, and the kids complaining no matter what? Multiply that kerfuffle by a few billion, erase the familial love, and give everyone armed forces. Uh oh.

But if geoengineering our way out of global warming seems difficult, it's even less likely that we'll do it via legislation and the heavy hand of regulation. I know where I'd be putting my money.