Author Archives: Matt Souders

Fair Competition Illegal in Auburn, AL

When surveyed, 100% of Americans think fair competition is good for the economy (give or take a few communists). So when is it a crime for a competitive business to even attempt to operate in the land of opportunity? When government has chosen the winner before the fight.

Witness: Uber in Alabama

CULLMAN, Ala. — If Auburn residents are driving for Uber, as company officials claim, they risk arrest like their counterparts in Tuscaloosa.

“Yes, we’re operating in Auburn,” spokesman Taylor Bennett wrote in an email to Watchdog.org on Thursday.

However, no Auburn residents have applied recently for a vehicle-for-hire business license, meaning if anyone is driving for Uber there they’re doing so illegally, City Manager Charlie Duggan told Watchdog.

This notion that you must be licensed and bonded by the city in order to do something as simple as drive a car and pick up passengers ALMOST sounds reasonable from a legal perspective (towns covering their butts to avoid liability, right?), but it’s a ploy in most towns that have this rule, because the process of getting licenses involves insane compliance to standards frequently only accessible to the government-favored cartel, such as:

requiring background checks on drivers, adequate liability insurance and a business license

The last feature is key since the state provides businesses licenses at its discretion. If you read on you find that noncompliance poses the risk of a $500 fine and up to six months in jail (!) – a bit harsh for participating in an enterprise which chooses to have different standards than those foisted on the industry by local and state authorities.

I’ll be talking about this issue in more depth another time, complete with a brief history of the taxi business in most American cities. For now, it suffices to say that Uber is a private sector competitor to the traditional public-private partnership that is the cab cartel. The company features innovations centered around the customers and their needs. Those innovations include an app for your mobile device that lets you reserve a ride, see where your car is currently located, and gives an ETA for its arrival, a way to pay for the ride in advance, and roomier, nicer vehicles, all at competitive prices. Urban cab services are stuck in the bygone era of street-side and phone arranged reservations, payment upon arrival, and aging cabs, complete with no ability to plan your trip on your terms. But the cities love this older model because they are able to obtain revenue from it, and their model is designed to protect both that revenue and the drivers (who are often unionized).

I’ll build on this in later posts, but I’ll leave with this parting thought: Uber and the cab cartels perfectly summarize the capacity of the private sector to service the customer and the capacity of big government to service itself and the worker at the expense of the customer and all of our rights to pursue happiness by building a better business.

Outsider’s View from Inside – Climate Change and Big Government

This post will not be a review of the facts, theories and implications of the anthropogenic global warning (AGW) hypothesis. Watts Up With That has, throughout its lifetime, done a pretty good job of laying out the “skeptical” case against the alarmist position on climate change and this blog is not meant to rehash that case in detail, nor is this a post intended to blindly support all tenets of the skeptical argument. This is a post about the dangers of group-think (defined as a ‘thought’ or idea which gains enough momentum within a tight-knit group to be believe by all members of that group specifically because the group believes it – as in, “you can’t be in this group unless you believe X”).

I’ll start with an anecdote from my days as a grad student at Stony Brook University. I came to the school because it had strong ‘street cred’ among academics in atmospheric science. I was interested in medium and long range (days 4 to 45) forecasting challenges and my adviser was well respected in that venue. I cannot stress enough that the people at Stony Brook were, by in large, fantastic scientists doing top notch research and a privilege to work with. The school has its flaws, but one of them is NOT the rigor of the education it offers aspiring oceanographers and meteorologists. However; the school was heavily invested in climate change science, having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its partnership with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in preparation of the third assessment report. The School of Marine and Atmospheric Science was, at least in part, allowed to grow due to funding that arrived as a result of this honor; and the scientists there were fairly committed to their position regarding climate change.

And, to be fair, so was I. I entered Stony Brook already pretty well versed in the skeptical position on climate change, and my education at Stony Brook, if anything, hardened my position.

At any event, one of the things the department stressed was the importance of attending scientific lectures and meeting successful people in your field. They held (and still hold) weekly seminars with speakers invited from around the region to discuss their research, and strongly encouraged all grad students to attend (it was required in your first two years). At one such lecture, the speaker – who up until the final fifteen minutes or so in her talk had done a fairly decent job of staying objective, though her presentation was fairly weak – used the phrase “We can represent these changes in a way that no one can possibly miss – even climate deniers and people who hate science.” Thankfully, the talk was nearly at an end, and I walked out in disgust before the Q&A period.

This talk had followed a run of three lectures in four weeks on the subject of climate change, all of which had been seriously flawed and filled with rhetorical language that has no place in science, so I finally drafted an open letter to the entire department. I basically requested that the department not condone such statements as above, and that they make an effort to aspire to a higher standard of discourse that better cleaved to the scientific method. Here are some of the actual responses I got (no names named, for the protection of their right to privacy in academic conversation).

PROFESSOR IN PHYSICAL OCEANOGRAPHY

I would suggest that you better acquaint yourself with the standards of the scientific method. Nothing said in the above is inconsistent with it.

PROFESSOR OF ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE

We do, on occasion, invite speakers skeptical of the prevailing theory to give presentations. Last February, we had a talk by Willie Soon that generated some intense discussion, for example. If you believe you are sensing bias, it is likely because there is such a strong consensus in the literature in support of this theory. In short, it’s human nature that we, as climate scientists, show a bit of contempt in the face of skeptics who are still trying to undermine such a strong consensus. If there is a shift in that consensus, it will be reflected here.

ATMOSPHERIC CHEMISTRY STUDENT

Do you have a career death wish? What kind of idiot are you?

PROFESSOR IN PALEO-OCEANOGRAPHY

Please do not waste the time of this department to air your personal grievances. We do not exist to make sure all viewpoints are equally heard – we exist to promote scientific progress.

STUDENT IN PHYSICAL OCEANOGRAPHY

I missed this particular talk, but attend the Wednesday seminars regularly enough to know that this is nonsense. The only bias shown by this school is a bias toward good science. I guess they corrected that bias by accepting you.

As you would expect, the students were less civil, but look carefully at the comments of the professors. Every one of them equates consensus with truth, and the second professor I quoted also managed to dismiss all notion of bias by referring to the one talk every three or four years that they graciously allow from a known climate skeptic. I did get one reply that I would consider a representation of what a pro-AGW scientist should be saying in the face of an accusation of bias. He wanted to start a dialogue, and offered up a recent paper of his on solar-climate variability as a starting point in the discussion of the types of climate forcings that the models might be missing. It’s funny, because he was my least favorite professor as a student, but became one of the ones I most respected as a pure scientist.

But let’s ask the question – was their a bias toward “good science”? Here are a few examples of the science that the school supported in seminar talks leading up to this incident:

1) Climate modeling team from NASA attempted to add in the feedback effects of black carbon dust on arctic ice – their calibrated model without these feedbacks produced the usual global warming forecast – with the feedbacks added, the forecast produced 15 degrees of cooling almost instantly (within a few years).

2) In a study on sea-ice / low cloud cover interaction, Goddard scientists managed to gather six whole data points (the satellite data up there is limited and they needed to bin the data over 2 year periods to get reduced error estimates), which they attempted to fit to a linear trend projecting 0.1 C / decade warming rates in the arctic as sea-ice was lost, supposedly reducing low cloud clover. They later mentioned that there was some reason to be conservative with their estimates because if they removed the last data point from that fit, the trend dropped to 0.02 C / decade.

3) In a talk on global warming as revealed by SST warming in the Atlantic, the scientist concluded the presentation with a plot showing a cubic curve fit to some of his data, indicated calamity was ahead. He said “this isn’t really scientific, but I think it gets the point across.”

4) A scientist attempted to reconcile earlier consensus that the Sahel region in Africa would suffer unending drought due to global warming with data from the most recent 15 years suggesting that the drought of 1955-1985 was completely over. Their conclusion: although earlier tend analyses showed that the Sahel should dry under global warming, current modeling suggests the opposite. No mention of whether this trend would continue indefinitely.

I’ll let you folks be the judge if this is “good science” or not.

I want to be clear – I am not a hard skeptic (as in, I don’t believe there’s no such thing as human-induced climate change) – I believe that humans almost have to be having some sort of impact on climate. I question the rate of change, and the portion of that change caused by us, rather than natural factors like the sun. But what I saw in my time as a graduate student convinced me that the problem was not the scientists or their understanding of the scientific method, and it was not a coordinated government conspiracy to enslave us all – at least not among the scientists themselves – it was the funding.

I can’t count the number of times I had people at Stony Brook tell me that I should consider focusing on climate change because that was where the money was. I think what is happening is that scientists are falling for a group-think created by strategic government funding of a biased perspective on key issues, including climate change. As usual – when government distorts any market, including the marketplace of ideas, it only screws things up.

If you have an idea to study natural climate variability, you might get a small grant if you grovel enough and promise not to conclude that AGW is non-existent. If you have ANY idea remotely linked to climate science orthodoxy, you’re in the money. Even my adviser – whose main area of specialty is synoptic meteorology and terrain modeling – has extended himself into research on storm track changes under global warming, and regional climate downscaling studies, because synoptic meteorology doesn’t pay the bills. That’s not an insult to my adviser. We butted heads quite a bit, but the adversarial process produced in me my best work and I wouldn’t be where I am without his guidance. It’s a statement of reality.

In the 1970s, there was a group-think induced panic about the coming ice-age. Now, the direction sign has changed, but the culprit remains the same. I would ask my more liberal friends and colleagues why they are so ready to point out that skeptical papers are often funded by the private sector, but aren’t willing to take note of the same profit motive on the AGW side of the debate, where the funding is much larger and the source is more dangerous, big government? Big governments can twist arms, destroy careers, and enact policy more efficiently than private sector companies and lobbies.

Houston Loses Collective Mind – Subpoenas Pastors

Here is the news story in its original form for your shocked brains to attempt to process:

Houston Subpoenas the Churches Over ‘HERO’

The Alliance Defending Freedom is countering this abuse of freedom with legal action – a motion to stop these subpoenas from going ahead (and you can find their legal reasoning here.

Notably, ADF claims that the city’s subpoenas, which the city claims go toward answering a lawsuit filed by Houston citizens over this new rule (dubbed HERO – cute), is a fishing expedition, and that the pastors being subpoenaed were not even involved in the lawsuit. It looks as though the city may be hunting for some way of legally punishing the city’s religious leaders for taking a position counter to ‘HERO’, and their methods are questionable at best.

But let’s step back a minute and talk about that rule.

‘HERO’ states that transgendered persons who identify as a different gender than what shows up biologically cannot be denied access to opposite-gender bathrooms in any public building in Houston. The theory is that it is a hardship for a biologically male (or female) person who identifies as the opposite gender to be forced to use the bathroom of their biological gender.

A lawsuit filed to stop this rule from going live is what brought the debate to a boil, but I do want to briefly discuss the merits of the rule itself. I want to be sympathetic here – but how can any purveyor of a public restroom be certain of the state of mind of anyone wishing to use the opposite gender bathroom? It is well known, thanks to the internet and its cornucopia of platforms for discussion of sexual orientation and proclivities, that there exist a not-insignificant number of individuals who obtain sexual gratification from spying on the bathroom habits of the opposite sex. Houston is the place for these folks! Simply claim you are transgendered and spend all the time you want in there. I, for one, do not believe it is possible to uphold this law without creating a huge array of unintended consequences, not the least of which being a big increase in sexual assault and rape in ladies rooms in the city.

But – and this is hard to believe – there is a bigger issue. In order to enforce the rule and punitively punish anyone who would bring a legal challenge, city officials feel within their rights to spy on – oops, I mean subpoena – the sermons of pastors not directly involved in said legal challenge on the topic of this rule. It is a deeply alarming world in which we now live, if it is considered normal behavior for a city to decide that compliance with this rule shall include absolute verbal agreement at the threat of legal action; and that in order to obtain this agreement, they shall have the unfettered right to pry into the private worship of any congregation in their jurisdiction on a fishing expedition. What’s next – the Justice Department deciding that it has the right to subpoena all churches to make sure they comply with the Affordable Care Act or do not explicitly oppose democrat candidates? Oh wait – the IRS is beginning to consider spying on churches to make sure they do nothing “political”.

Here’s hoping that ADF is successful in its challenge – but, to be honest, I doubt it will matter in the long run if these abusive legal tactics become the norm (as they already seem to be doing).

I fear for us all.

Greetings All – Sorry in Advance!

Good day to my fellow lovers of liberty! My name is Matthew Souders – I am a lifelong conservative, but don’t let that fool you into thinking I’ve always held the same beliefs – or that I always knew what I was talking about. Or that I know what I’m talking about now. Warning – headshot below may cause brain damage!

Me_Citi_Field

NYAAHH!!

Now that we got that out of the way, I’ll tell you a little about my history. Some basic facts that have contributed to my political development.

1) My father was a Navy submariner – he trained as a nuclear technician and gradually rose through the officer ranks. He saw all of the strengths and all of the weaknesses of the Navy, and is not shy about discussing either side of that ledger (anything he’s allowed to discuss, at any rate!). So I developed a general respect for our men and women in uniform.

2) I am legally blind, and therefore faced a number of challenges in life. My mobility is limited (can’t drive), my freedom is cherished.

3) I spent most of my young adult life agnostic, but, through a long and winding philosophical journey and scholarly study of Catholic history and teachings, I returned to the faith in which I was baptized, and did so with great enthusiasm. I believe that the long history of Catholic scholarship is ideal for a scientist seeking faith.

4) I began my political life a dedicated Republican (briefly, a denizen of FreeRepublic.com, to my lasting sorrow). I even still have a couple of counter-protest shirts!

5) Since then, I’ve developed a deep skepticism of all sources of concentrated power. Big corporations, big government, big labor, big lobbies, big press, big churches. I’m a Catholic, so how can that be? Because the Catholic Church no longer exercises centralized power over anything but the faith itself. I’d have been very skeptical of a church that ruled over kings had I lived back then, and, in fact, most of the worst parts of Catholic history were directly the result of that kind of power. But Catholics figured that out on their own and dialed back the Papacy, and the authority of the Pope is now limited to matters of faith. That’s the great thing about 2000 years of scholarly work – change might come slowly, but it comes, and it always moves in a direction that is progress….without being progressive.

6) I am also a scientist and jack of many trades. My current profession is meteorology (specifically at the intersection of longer-range forecasting and seasonal and climate forecasting), which means you’ll probably get a lot of commentary from me about the state of climate “science”, since, to get a Masters in Meteorology, I attended the University that is directly tied to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize in climate alarmism. This means I got a big whiff of the stench of dry-rot coming from climatologists who think they know anything about the weather.

All of which has left me in an awkward position. I’m socially conservative, but not in the top-down way that the GOP is except on the matter of abortion. I’m pro-liberty, first and foremost, but highly skeptical of some planks in the straight Libertarian platform. I’m a man without a party. The closest description for me would be: conservative counter-cultural populist.

I’m happy to join the Liberty Papers as a commentator and lightning rod of contention, since it seems I’m not really on anyone’s side at the moment. I variously get accused of being too libertarian by Republicans and too Republican by libertarians…it’s a boatload of fun.

I’ll be around to annoy all of you soon!

Sorry about that in advance. :)

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