Weather Forecasting still has a ways to go

Weather forecasters have gone from predicting a very wet, warm winter in Southern California. Instead they have had record a cold and dry winter. Just a thought, but people have a much greater incentive to get the current weather forecast right than a forecast 50 or 100 years from now simply because no one will remember what you said 100 years from now.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday dramatically downgraded its forecast for a winter of warm El Niño rains . . .

Federal weather officials had been saying for months that the region would have a wet winter, but the Southland hasn't recorded significant rain since May. . . .

Some forecasters now believe the region is in for a record dry spell.

California was hit by a record heat wave that killed more than 100 people in the summer, and is just now emerging from a near-record cold snap that destroyed at least $800 million worth of crops and brought a dusting of snow to unexpected places, such as Westwood.

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Defensive gun use in Columbus, Ohio caught on video tape.

Defensive gun use caught on video tape. This clerk apparently stopped a previous attack that was even much more dramatic where the robbers had ordered customers on the floor at gun point and had been threatening people.

Thanks to Robert Aldridge for sending me this link.



In honor of Groundhog Day

For those who don't know, today is Groundhog day. Here are some amusing quotes from "Groundhog Day," the movie.

Rita: I like to see a man of advancing years throwing caution to the wind. It's inspiring in a way.
Phil: My years are not advancing as fast as you might think.

Mrs. Lancaster: Did you sleep well, Mr. Connors?
Phil: I slept alone, Mrs. Lancaster.

Rita: I think it's a nice story. He comes out, and he looks around. He wrinkles up his little nose. He sees his shadow or he doesn't see it. It's nice. People like it.
Phil: You are new, aren't you? People like blood sausage too.

Phil: I'm a god. I'm not *the* God... I don't think. [I liked the back and forth with Rita on this one, especially her reference to her Catholic education.]

Phil: So, did you sleep OK without me? You tossed and turned, didn't you?
Rita: You're incredible.
Phil: Who told you?

Phil: I promise I won't touch you ... much.

Jonah Goldberg's take on the movie.


John Fund: So much for the Democrats getting rid of earmarks

But the claim of "earmark" purity doesn't stand up to scrutiny. New House rules stipulate that a bill can be said to have "no earmarks" if the committee chairman under whose jurisdiction the bill falls simply declares there are no earmarks in it. As Humpty Dumpty said in "Alice in Wonderland": "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

The "no earmarks" loophole was big enough to allow a convoy of earmarks into the final bill, including $185 million for agricultural research projects and $50 million to build an experimental rain forest in Iowa. "I can give you a list of projects in my district that are gone from the bill, but they're certainly not gone in West Virginia and Nevada," Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole told me yesterday. He didn't have to elaborate that those two states are the homes of Senate appropriations committee chairman Robert Byrd and Majority Leader Harry Reid.



The "Bogus" Science of Secondhand Smoke

This person must be really hated among medical people, but my guess that he is sufficiently only that he is willing to go against the political correctness on the smoking issue. Look at his background: "former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, and he received the U.S. Public Health Service Superior Service Award in 1976 for his efforts to define less hazardous cigarettes."

In any case, from an economist's point of view, the entire debate over secondhand smoke is largely besides the point when it comes to these regulations. The question an economist would ask is whether whatever harm from the secondhand smoke in born by the smoker, and the answer is that there is not a problem as long as someone owns the air. In a restaurant or other building someone clearly owns the air and bears the cost of allowing the air to have more smoke in it than their customers desire. Some people may like to smoke with their meals and they will pay to do it and others might want perfectly clean air. Even if you only had one restaurant in town, the restaurant owner has a strong incentive to give the customers who value the type of air the most what they want.

Smoking cigarettes is a clear health risk, as most everyone knows. But lately, people have begun to worry about the health risks of secondhand smoke. Some policymakers and activists are even claiming that the government should crack down on secondhand smoke exposure, given what "the science" indicates about such exposure.

Last July, introducing his office's latest report on secondhand smoke, then-U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona asserted that "there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure," that "breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the cancer process in motion," and that children exposed to secondhand smoke will "eventually . . . develop cardiovascular disease and cancers over time."

Such claims are certainly alarming. But do the studies Carmona references support his claims, and are their findings as sound as he suggests?

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Wisconsin: "Prosecutors say shootings justified, but gun concealed"


Letter in Today's Washington Times on Gun Show Regulations

The article on gun-show regulations in Virginia contains a serious mistake ("Panel kills gun-show checks for private sales," Metropolitan, Thursday). The article cites state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis as claiming that "the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has reported that gun shows are the second-leading source of guns used in crimes, behind only unscrupulous licensed dealers." Unfortunately, the study she cites simply was not designed to reach the conclusion that Mrs. Davis claims, because the ATF report looked at 198 non-randomly chosen investigations. The ATF doesn't make the claim that its investigations are representative of the distribution of sources of illegal guns.

By contrast, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a survey of 18,000 state prison inmates in 1997, the largest survey of inmates ever conducted. Less than 1 percent of inmates (0.7 percent) who had a gun indicated they had obtained it at a gun show. When combined with guns obtained from flea markets, the total rises to 1.7 percent. These are tiny fractions compared to the estimated 40 percent of the criminals' guns that are obtained from friends or family and the 39 percent that are obtained on the street or from illegal sources. The numbers also had changed little from a similar 1991 survey that indicated that 0.6 percent of inmates had gotten their guns from guns shows and 1.3 percent from flea markets.

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New York Times attacking Florida's Right-to-Carry Laws

Picking up on articles in two Florida newspapers, the New York Times goes after concealed handgun laws. This editorial is very deceptive in that it implies that felons are obtaining permits. But these individuals were not convicted of "felonies." Florida judges have the power to take a plea, impose probation (without entering a conviction) and once the person completes that, "withhold conviction." These individuals are eligible for a permit because they were not convicted of anything. If the cases are as horrible or the evidence as clear as you claim, why are the judges withholding convictions? Second, I talked to a Mary Kennedy with Florida's licensing department and she confirmed for me that only one person last year lost his permit for any firearms related violation. That is 1 out of 410,000 permit holders. See my similar discussion here.


Rudy Giuliani’s view on gun control

SayUncle has some interesting information on Rudy Giuliani’s view on gun control. Apparently Giuliani is willing to question the efficacy of the so-called assault weapons ban. Possibly the fact that the law's supporters wrongly predicted what would happen what would happen after September 13, 2004 had an impact on his views.

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Take guns from police and crime soars?

This is shocking: you take guns away from police, arrests plummet, and crime rates soar. How could that possibly happen? This occurred even though there was widespread concerns of corruption among the police.

Police in the violent border city of Tijuana have their guns back three weeks after being forced to hand them over to federal authorities on allegations on collusion with drug traffickers. . . .

The officers handed in their guns Jan. 4 after President Felipe Calderon sent 3,300 soldiers and federal police to Tijuana to hunt down drug gangs. . . .

The Tijuana police initially stopped patrolling when their guns were taken, saying it was too dangerous, but most later returned to work. . . .

Last week, the Tijuana police department announced it had issued some officers slingshots and ball bearings to defend themselves.

Algorri said the drastic action put the city's safety at risk, and cut in half the number of arrests made in January compared to the same period last year. . . .

In several neighborhoods, residents took the law into their own hands, grabbing suspects off the street and tying them up before calling police to haul them off. . . .

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Revisiting Pilots with Guns

As the number of armed pilots aboard U.S. jetliners has steadily expanded in recent years, the program is showing signs of growing pains. Pilots and their labor groups complain about a lack of supervision and the difficulty in finding time to participate in training courses.

Worried that pilots' handgun skills may be eroding, federal security officials are launching a refresher training program next month. Armed pilots must attend a two-day mandatory course at a training facility near Atlantic City three to five years after getting their guns. Some pilots have already taken prototype refresher courses that are being evaluated by authorities, said officials with the Federal Air Marshal Service, which runs the program. . . .

When the program began, union officials said as many as 30,000 pilots would eventually carry firearms in cockpits. The number of armed pilots is well short of that number, but there are now more armed pilots than there are federal air marshals, according to sources familiar with the program.

I don't know who in the unions were claiming that the program would produce 30,000 armed pilots (I for one wrote several op-eds criticizing the program) and all the union people I knew were unhappy with it. What I think that the Washington Post is confusing is the number of pilots who expressed interest in carrying a gun and the number who were willing to put up with the bizarre rules required by the government.

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Comments on Bush's State of the Union Address

I was very disappointed with Bush's talk about energy independence and alternative energy sources. Ethanol costs well over $100 per barrel. Oil costs about $50 per barrel. You are throwing out $50 for each barrel of ethanol you buy (actually it is even more than that since the energy produced by burning a barrel of ethanol is apparently less). Bush’s and the Democrat’s policy on this will just make us much poorer. I know the responses: that the price of ethanol is coming down. But that doesn’t justify a subsidy. Firms can take that into account just as they do with any other product. If they think that cost will come down enough that it will pay for them to produce the product, they will start producing the product.

The other claim involves energy security. This makes little sense to me. If gas is risky because oil might get cut off in a war or if there is a boycott, that causes the current price to rise to reflex that future higher price. That higher price then will be taken into account to see whether because of that risk we should be relying on other energy sources. The only justification that I can make for this last claim is that the threat of price controls prevent gas companies from profiting from those higher future prices and thus eliminate their incentives to do things such as store more gas today. The problem here then is the threat of government intervention in the market that is then used to justify more government intervention. There is no reason to believe that the government is going to get anywhere near to picking the right levels of investments here.



Florida Newspapers Question Concealed Handgun Permit System in State

Orlando Sentinel: Some criminals qualify for concealed weapons. But what is the bottom line? During over 19 years from October 1, 1987 to December 31, 2006, Florida issued 1,206,616 permits but revoked just 158 for any type of firearms violation. Almost all of those were for non-threatening incidents such as accidentally carrying a gun into a restricted area such as an airport. (Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, Concealed Weapon / Firearm Summary Report, October 1, 1987 - November 30, 2006 (see here). See also More Guns, Less Crime (2000), p. 221.) One minor point is that I think that there are actually about 550,000 people with concealed carry permits in Florida, not just 406,000. The question is whether you want to include retired police, private investigators, firearms instructors, private security officers, etc. who have permits to carry.


Book Review in Today's New York Post on Ben Witte's New Book

I have a review of Ben Wittes very interesting book CONFIRMATION WARS: PRESERVING INDEPENDENT COURTS IN ANGRY TIMES in today's New York Post. There were a couple of typos introduced in the piece (I corrected one).


Hillary Clinton gets National Anthem wrong

Youtube (via Drudge) has a recording of Hillary singing the National Anthem. I don't know how important this is or even if it is important at all, but I am pretty sure from what few words you can hear from Hillary singing that she got one of the words wrong. (The Drudge report doesn't explicitly note that this happened.) Simply out of academic curiosity, it would have been interesting to hear more than part of just two lines from the song. She should have sung:

"O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave"

But she seems to be singing:

"O say, does our star-spangled banner yet wave"

All I can say is that if it were Bush or Quayle making such a mistake, they would get all sorts of grief. My guess is that this will get as much coverage as Al Gore misidentifying Thomas Jefferson's bust soon after he was elected to be vice president. On the other hand, the Drudge Report probably took the right and honorable route and did not make an issue at all of the mistake, though I suspect that they could have done so if they wanted to. The Drudge Report didn't even raise the issue of the mistake.


The economics of baseball and football

Russell Roberts, someone who I have coauthored multiple papers with, has a very interesting interview with Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball and The Blind Side. I guess that I have a hard time accepting Roberts' claims about the lack of competitive pressures in baseball. To say that these guys are the only baseball team in town so that they don't really have to compete seems wrong to me. There must be more teams than the Oakland A's that care a lot about winning. What about the Yankees for example? On the other hand, there were lots of points that I thought were great about the interview. I really like the NCAA recruiting discussion.