Friday, November 30, 2012

Bring Yer Food to Room 50...See the Pats Squish the Fish

Starting on Monday December 3, every pound of non-perishable food you bring to the Mayor’s Office (Room 50 on the 2nd Floor of City Hall) will earn you a raffle ticket entering you into a drawing for two tickets to the New England Patriots/Miami Dolphins game on Sunday December 30 at 1 p.m.

All food collected will be donated to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. Items needed include: Peanut butter and jelly, canned tuna and chicken, pasta, rice, soups and stews, macaroni and cheese and canned ravioli, bottled juice and juice boxes, canned veggies and canned fruit.

When you do your grocery shopping pick up a few extra items to fill someone else’s belly this holiday season and you may just find yourself at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 30.

Food will be collected until 4 p.m. on Thursday December 13. The winner will be announced at the Mayor’s Holiday Reception that evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Mayor’s Reception Room.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Agreeableness? Sure, I'll Have Some of That...

Imagine, if you will, that you're setting up a room for an event that will be catered.  Your answers are in italics.

A co-worker says, "Let's put the drinks on the left side of the room, and the food right nearby there, over towards the window." 

"Sure, sounds good."  

The co-worker: "On second thought, the drinks should probably go closer to the window, but the food would be better off tucked over on the table to the left."  

"Okay, that works."  

Again, co-worker: "You know, I think it would be easier if people could access the food and drinks together.  Let's put them both on the table in the far corner on the right."

"Yeah, we could do that."  

By this point, the co-worker might say, "Well, what is it that you REALLY think?  You were fine with all of the options, but I can't tell which one you think is best.  You're just agreeing with whatever I say!"  [The implication is that you're just 'going along to get along' or being passive-aggressive.  How, otherwise, could you be okay with the drinks being on the left side or the right side?].  

If I had to listen to a transcript of the conversation above, here is how I would interpret the italicized responses: The person doesn't really have a dog in the fight, and is trying to be cooperative and help move the chains ten yards down the field.  Period.  

Sometimes when someone is being "agreeable," even though that might have a bad connotation to some, it's really just that simple:  when the matter at hand is deemed to be inconsequential, it's not that the person responding doesn't care or isn't listening.  It's that he or she doesn't see any real difference between the alternatives.  What's the best way forward in those situations?  In my opinion, it's whatever it takes to help get that proverbial first down.  If someone says paint the wall white, then YES! Let's whitewash it.  But now they're leaning green?  Let's break out the Forest primer!  If it's just arbitrary to me, then yes, I am going to be *with* whatever is going to get it done. Especially if the alternative is a lot of truly worthless dithering...think back to the example of the story about the donkey who was hungry and thirsty, came upon food and water, couldn't decide which one he wanted more, pondered for days, and then died from starvation and thirst...don't be that ass!  

And that is what I REALLY think about being agreeable!  But if you disagree, I suppose I could see it from your perspective...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Very Quick LDNA Summary

Tonight's LDNA meeting had no formal agenda, but the LPD report and some related issues took us well past eight.  In the interests of time (my own, that is...I have to study non-linear optimization models and then wake up in a few hours without turning into a zombie), I will keep this short.

Sergeant Michael Giuffrida (LPD) led off with a crime summary for events downtown this month.  They included:

  • An unprovoked robbery/beating by 4-5 assailants against a single victim at Middle and Shattuck;
  • Disorderly conduct and vandalism incidents in the John/Paige/Lee areas;
  • An armed robbery of a female UML student near the ATM at Warren/Central;
  • A shoplifting incident at Kenner Shoe (189 Market);
  • Vehicle break-ins.  We were told that city-wide, the overwhelming majority (70 percent or so) of thefts from vehicles take place when the vehicle is left unlocked;
  • Recently, a man who was "not of sound mind" made quite a scene at Palmer and Middle.  LPD handled the situation and a drunken punching of a Centro patron simultaneously.  The LPD Captain present at the meeting credited the Thurs-Fri-Sat overtime force authorization, which is allowing LPD to quickly respond to incidents downtown.  He also emphasized that although petty crime incidents may appear higher in some categories, the activity itself is unchanged...but the response is swifter.  The Centro incident had a two-minute response time;
  • Incidents in the Kerouac Park/Mass Mills area have come down a bit because of the stronger LPD presence and because of the colder temperatures, which make youth less likely to congregate in the area;
  • An incident in which vandals were jumping on the roofs of cars (and causing serious damage to at least two cars) on Market Street.  Building residents were able to shoo the vandals away and get the license plate of the "getaway" car (details pending on this);
Henri Marchand, Asst. to the City Manager, was present on behalf of the city. Issues that came up included: scaffolding and poor lighting in the area between Canal Place I and Canal Place III; the status of the Victorian Gardens/Bacigalupo Park; downtown voting location alternatives (handicap accessibility to Masonic Center and proximity of political sign holders to building were mentioned by Craig Himmelberger); the Enel status update on the E. Merrimack Bridge (recently updated to LDNA site by Corey Sciuto); flood insurance policies being forced onto downtown condo owners; and some issues surrounding the crosswalk on Market Street near the Natty Park Visitors' Center.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Military Budget: Keep the Circumstance, But Let's Go Easy on the Pomp

We will hear quite a bit in the coming days about the defense budget.

Yes!  It is not comparable to those of other nations because of our unusually high personnel costs.

Yes!  It is not comparable to those of other nations because of the amount of government research and general programs that fall under DoD.

Yes!  It is not comparable to those of other nations because of our unique worldwide training engagement requirements and our role in sea lane protection.

So when someone starts off with, "Our DoD budget exceeds our nearest competitor by..." or plays sound bite bingo with "combined total" "other nations" and "surpasses" you can rein them in a bit.

But...that doesn't change the fact that we're tremendously bloated and ripe for cuts.  Every time someone stands up and proposes specific cuts, the supporters of [insert name of program or department] will inevitably cry "But what about the troops?"  The people yelling that will likely be thinking about anything but the "troops" on whose behalf they cry.

Well, here's an area ripe for fixing:  General Officer Creep.  By using the term "Creep," I'm not referring to any particular General's behavior, but am instead adapting the way we say "Mission Creep" to refer to gradual expansions in a mission's scope that eventually lead it to grow to an unwieldy size.

We have more Flag Officers today (that's Generals and Admirals...rank O-7 and above) than we had in World War II.  That statistic is really all you need to know.  The ratio of Admirals to Ships in the Navy is the highest it has ever been (it's not quite 1:1, but it could conceivably get there if we contract the ship fleet further without pulling back on the # of Admirals).  If you look back at our last huge RIF (Reduction in Force), back in the early 1990s after Desert Storm, you can see that the combined number of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines is much lower...but the number of Flag Officers has GROWN.

Why is this such a big deal?  Because it's not *just* about those Officers themselves.  Anytime an Officer with two or more stars on his collar breathes, there is a phalanx of OTHER servicemembers complimenting him on the magical way he converts oxygen to carbon dioxide...and how he makes it look so natural and easy.  One General's salary isn't going to make your eyes pop out (base pay could be in the range of 10k to 12k per month) but when you start adding up all the accoutrements and then you add up the pay and benefits of the dedicated staff, you can start to see the size of the problem.  If we can get rid of that Flag billet, we can repurpose those enlisted folks and mid-grade officers in another direction.

Don't be deceived by the people who say that any cuts to our military budget will weaken our national defense posture or hurt the troops.

Any honest assessment of our defense spending has to begin with this statement:  For all its wonderful attributes and capabilities (and they are legion), the force is way too top-heavy.

Gates had the guts to say it, but he already had an eye on the exit door when he did.

Can Leon Panetta (or whoever might be about to replace him) muster up that same courage?  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Name Changes and the Future

Several years ago, Google's then-CEO Eric Schmidt said that in the future, name changes would become much more common.  


Because of the Internet's long memory, that's why.  Changing your name is never going to let you *really* escape from things like the law, the Social Security Administration, and the IRS, but it will offer you the opportunity to escape from amateur-level Google searches by people who might want to learn about you.  The reasons for a name change could range anywhere from someone's desire for greater *uniqueness* in search results, to embarrassment over youthful high jinks, to actual attempts to mask previous criminal behavior.

Thankfully, Jeffrey Curley's killers, including the one featured as the protagonist in this article, received life sentences (though this guy does have parole eligibility fairly soon).  The article caught my eye because this convicted murderer is attempting to change his name, and Curley's father is working to stop it from happening.

The ostensible reason for the name change is because of his affiliation with Wiccanism, but part of me wonders whether it might have anything to do with whether he thinks he'll someday be paroled, and how his current name carries the stigma of the truly heinous act he committed in the late 1990s (and of course the now-public connection between his desired name and his real name means that any future searches for the new name will tie right back to the slaying).   

Regardless, expect to see more stories like this in the years to come.  As Eric Schmidt predicted, expect more interest in name changes; in turn, expect a backlash from those with reasons to oppose the desired changes.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Game Theory as Laughing Matter?

I met up with a buddy named Justin on Saturday who has been pursuing a career in stand-up comedy for the past ten years.  He truly started from the bottom -- amateur nights with homeless comedians in San Francisco, and performances everywhere from laundromats to frat houses to hole-in-the-wall coffee shops.  Now, he "gives them a stand-up routine in LA" (h/t to Billy Joel) but also spends much of the year on the road, traveling around the nation's college campuses to tell jokes, and earning a comfortable living in the process.

I asked him a few general questions about "the industry," and he shared a few observations.  One that he hit on right away is that many young, upwardly-ambitious comedians maintain an obsession with creating "something that will go viral."  They might not be sure what it is, whether it would fit their style, or whether it would even be funny, but they know they want to become a big name -- quickly -- and see some kind of viral video as the way to do it.  Oftentimes, that comes with an obsession of knocking some other comedian off of his or her perch in order to snag more popularity, or perceived zero-sum market share.

Instead of holding a single-minded focus on instant popularity, or on going after the competition, he has carved out a niche that lets him pay all his bills while doing something he loves.  And as to that last combination, how many people in ANY job can say that?

In Microeconomics, we've started to hit on Game Theory in the last couple weeks.  Throughout the Game Theory classes, our Professor has emphasized and re-emphasized a central point:  It's a junior varsity-level error in game theory, or in business, to obsessively focus on the competition.  When companies build pricing decisions solely on *getting one over* on the other guy, they get into self-destructive pricing wars that may bring about their own downfall.

What people forget is that the central purpose of a business is to make a profit.  If your business makes $5 million in annual profits, and another firm in your industry makes $10 million in annual profits, you're still making a profit.  By most people's definitions, you're still successful.

The parallel between pricing strategies and publicity strategies isn't really perfect, but I would say my buddy is a major success with a sound overall strategy.  As a one-man "business," he turns a tidy profit, even if he's not someone you've ever heard of [that could change, though...he's pitching a special on a major network].

I'm not saying competition doesn't matter.  It does.  It really matters when you consider over-saturated markets (i.e. freelance photography).  But it's a JV move to focus more on undercutting or destroying someone else than on building the basic fundamentals that will make you profitable.  Going off on a slight tangent, I would also posit that it's a JV move to respond to an entrepreneurial pitch with "But doesn't somebody already do this?"  Ceteris paribus, I'd be more worried about a start-up in a totally unpopulated industry than one in an existing field with a real live customer base [insert cliche about mousetrap quality].

In other words, if a beauty salon or Irish bar opened in downtown Lowell next to an underwater juggling studio, the latter concept would certainly be more original.  However, I would never bet on it against the salon or the bar, no matter what odds you gave me.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thinking Globe-ly, Living Lowell-y (Globe North Feature)

I picked up a Sunday Globe this morning at Brew'd, and my eyes got twice as big when I saw a picture taken on Market Street gracing the cover of Globe North.

This article about veterans and business features Glenn Morales of L & I (the military store that moved to Market from its old spot at Bridge & French).  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Downside of Unlimited E-mail Storage

Personal e-mail storage is mostly unlimited these days.

Back in the pre-Gmail era, most people had accounts with Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, or other major providers.  These accounts had pretty strict storage limits, so you had to either store your e-mails (and the information they contained) in a separate, "dummy" e-mail account, file them on your hard drive or an external device, or just delete them.  As a result, users would not have been able to keep very many personal photos or large .pdfs sitting around in their primary inboxes.

The advent of Gmail changed all of that.

Gmail tore the roof off in terms of storage capacity, and other commercial providers followed suit.

This is a MAJOR convenience for anyone who uses e-mail.  It means we can put sub-folder in our inbox to store e-mails that don't require immediate attention, but that we don't want to delete "just in case."

However, it completely changes the game in terms of the risks associated with an account breach.  It means there is virtually NO LIMIT on the amount of personal data or company data that could be left out in an "unauthorized access" event.  The FBI would be interested in a potential breach of the CIA Director's e-mail anyway, but the era of unlimited commercial storage accessible from anywhere just raises the degree of *care* that many notches higher.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About American Politics....In One Graph

If you understand the graph here to the right, you basically grasp everything you really need to know about the Big Big Picture in American Politics.

No hyperbole intended.  

We can talk all day about specific policies -- Medicare, Social Security, defense spending, foreign policy, gay marriage, balanced budgets, capital gains taxation, hurricane readiness, or whatever other issue is on the current radar.  All those things are very important in and of themselves.

But let's get back to the graph:  A national "Winner Take All" Presidential system like the one we have in the U.S. is always going to do one particular thing:  it's going to push the national parties towards the middle.  

Why?  Because they're out to capture votes, that's why.  

A winner-take-all system doesn't lend itself to extremist parties finding their way into power, because it means that another party could capture the entire "rest" of the spectrum (remember, the first horse past the post takes the whole enchilada here).  If any party parked itself right along the Liberal or Conservative "hash marks" above, it would only capture voters at that point and further out towards the fringes.  

That's why some of the gloating editorials you're seeing today are so completely off-the-mark.  I read a particularly bad one in the NY Times at oh-dark-thirty this morning that implied the Republican Party O'White Male Dinosaurs is ready to just be taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery (never mind its 30+ governorships, several of which are held by people who aren't middle-aged white males).  

Some of the going "wisdom" suggests that demographics are going to morph the nation's political landscape into a long-term era of one-party rule.  [N.B. Any time you hear anyone heralding a coming period of 'long-term one-party rule,' you should be reasonably worried.  In case you need to know why, go stand at the corner of Branch and Coral, and ask anyone over the age of 30 how they feel about a single-party that knows what's best holding all the reins and not letting go].  

What this so-called "wisdom" ignores is that the pendulum will swing along with the demographic landscape. Inevitably, in order to capture votes, the national GOP will adopt policies that are popular across a wide range of the spectrum (look at what Clinton did so well in 1992 to break a 12-year GOP reign in the White House).  This will in turn attract new voters, and new leaders, which will eventually weaken the grip of identity politics on party affiliation in the U.S. 

In some particular states, there are factors that lead certain parties to dominate (i.e. Dems in MA legislature, Repubs in Wyoming, etc.)  However, the median voter theory basically means that many still govern from the center...(notice the prevalence of DINOs on Beacon Hill).  

Nationally, the party that can capture that proverbial Median Voter is going to win the day.  Sometimes that means parties will co-opt the other party's most popular ideas (look at Clinton, look at welfare reform, and look at how he sailed to victory in 1996).  When that happens, the co-opted idea essentially comes "off the table" because it stops being a wedge between the two sides.  

The Republican Party of 2042 isn't going to look or sound exactly like the Republican Party of 2012.  Ditto for the Democrats.  New allegiances will be made, new coalitions will be formed, and new leaders will be elected.  Voters who are currently ignored by both major parties will find themselves being courted by both major parties as the landscape shifts.  

So if you run into anyone today who is stocking up on champagne bottles, plastic top hats, and noisemakers in order to herald some coming era of a benevolent, utopian, one-party rulership, I would ask you to ask them to hold the phone on that celebration.  Should they come back at you with almanacs, statistical registers, and other forms of demographic "proof" that this is truly happening, I would start by presenting the median voter graph above, and then ask who anointed them to speak on behalf of such huge swathes of people who are apparently incapable of choosing between alternatives.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Three Quick Thoughts

Happy post-Election Day!

(1) I'm looking forward to seeing some in-depth post-mortem analysis of the Brown-Warren race.  Here's the big question I'm hoping to better understand: How much of this result centers around the candidates themselves?  Specifically, how many people who might otherwise have tipped to Brown were put off by the negativity of his campaign, the frequent 'put-downs' (i.e. the "I didn't need a GPS to get here" line that he pulled out at every campaign stop), and the candidate's positions and statements?  Then, how much of the result can *just* be attributed to the fact that it was a Presidential election year and the strong union support for Warren?

As others including Gerry Nutter have pointed out, the fact that Tierney still hung on and beat Tisei out on the North Shore helps point toward the latter explanation.  Still, I'd like to think the former matters, because then I'd have more faith in the electorate.  In the end, I still voted for Brown...but after having had the chance to meet both of them in Lowell in one-on-one settings, I blogged here on this site to say that the whole "Brown is a man of the people" and "Warren is an elitist out-of-touch academic" was completely turned on its head for me.

(2) Seeing the diversity last night at the Masonic Center (my polling place) was awesome.  It spanned huge differences in terms of age, ethnicity, appearance, language, etc.  It is my hope that the election and re-election of President Obama -- someone 'other' than a middle-aged white male, helps increase the sense of 'buy-in' that many Americans who might otherwise be disengaged feel toward the political process.  One of the most disheartening things I heard in the run-up to the 2008 vote was that "they won't let him win," with the 'they' referring to a small, mysterious cabal of WASP males pulling all the nation's strings, and the 'him' referring to then-Senator Obama.  Then Obama surprised them all -- he won.  In the run-up to this election, I heard a lot of chatter about 'the difficulty of re-electing a black President.'  (Aside:  Has anyone considered the difficulty of re-electing ANY President?)  For the second straight time, Obama then went and defeated a wealthy, middle-aged, Protestant white male.

It's one thing to say "the system isn't rigged, I swear!" to people who are stuck on the outside while you're perched up on a balcony inside.  It's quite another to be able to show that, and then take the wind from the sails of the racists on both sides of the aisle (the right-wing fear-mongerers and demagogues who make a living trying to scare people into keeping others out, and the left-wing fear-mongerers and demagogues whose living depends on a huge group of people believing they are not really allowed to participate in the system).

The Obama re-election undercuts both of those groups of people in a way that I love.  Once all of the major voting groups feel like true stakeholders, we'll be much closer to eventually seeing a system in which monolithic group voting patterns are broken, and those same people aren't taken for granted anymore.  
That has huge implications for both major parties, and for the whole country, and I love it.

(3) The last time we had a marijuana-related ballot initiative, there was a lot of Chicken Little-ism immediately before and after the vote.  Still, life went on across the Commonwealth, pretty much the same as it did before (minus all the time and energy spent treating small-time marijuana possession as a criminal offense).  Here, again, there were a lot of dire warnings...and yet again, the people spoke to the contrary.  Many of the same nonsense arguments (the 'marijuana is bad because it is illegal so should therefore stay illegal' tautology) and the old 'gateway' standby (how many Ph.D's do you know who didn't finish 12th grade, eh?  Motorcycle riders who started with two-wheeled bicycles?) were brought out, but the crowd spoke.  Loudly.  I am predicting a sky that will remain fixed in the firmament much as before, save for the perspective of some suffering glaucoma patients or maybe chemotherapy patients in need of 'appetite stimulus.'  They might see some relief. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Concrete Advice? Trying Staying Mum

I have come to learn that guest lectures from CEOs and other VIPs are often a waste of time.  Even though the people speaking may be incredibly interesting, and their jobs may be incredibly interesting, they sometimes succumb to the temptation of getting bogged down in platitudes (i.e. Always maintain integrity, stay flexible, keep a global outlook, etc.)  The worthlessness of these sayings can be proven by asking whether their opposites would ever make sense in a speech (i.e. Sometimes integrity needs to go out the window, be rigid and unyielding, view the world through a soda straw, etc.)

If they spoke in a frank way, and offered real "lessons learned" (i.e. lessons they found out about the hard way, after making major screw-ups) the speeches might be more interesting.  The problem is, when you have  $180 billion on your balance sheet, and another several trillion (with a t!) in custodial assets, maybe you don't feel the need to speak off-the-cuff 'just cuz' for a bunch of inquisitive late twenty- and early thirty-somethings.

Fair enough.

One useful lesson I've learned along the way is be extremely careful about saying anything remotely negative regarding others.  The basic supporting reasons are that good things you say tend to be 'lost in the sauce' whereas bad things tend to be repeated, that people often feel betrayed when they hear such criticisms through a third-party, and that your personal feelings about someone might change, but the 'out loud' comments you made are essentially frozen in time.

That last point is extremely important -- hence the italics.  If I'm angry about Person A today, and I go vent to Person B, that might be the only frame of reference that Person B has about my relationship with Person A.  My relationship with Person A might be very complex, however.  Weeks, months, or even years down the line, Person B could potentially poison the well by simply repeating something that was said in a context he or she never initially understood.

You could use other examples -- you get a bad first impression, you share that opinion...but YOUR impression evolves for the better over the course of time.  The problem is, unless you went back and covered your tracks, whatever you said initially is all that anyone heard at first.  If you make a habit of not saying bad things about people to begin with, you never have to worry about covering your tracks, or about who said what, etc.

You could do endless twists on this, but you get the idea.  To tie this entry up, I will explain that I think extreme caution is also needed whenever you are asked/forced to provide some sort of mandatory feedback that includes a 'constructive' or 'corrective' component...especially to peers or superiors.

My "Core Team" has to do an Intra-Team feedback session on Thursday, and let's just say I'm not looking forward to it.  After that initial hiccup (I tried to get some things clarified/organized, there was some pushback, I retreated to my shell) things have really smoothed out and gotten better.  I have actually kind of enjoyed my subdued's more of a learning opportunity, anyway.

If you really forced me, I could probably recall some occasions when people dropped the ball on something, or knocked down a suggestion without offering a better alternative, didn't listen clearly before offering a dissenting view, etc.  But that could be pretty obnoxious.  I wouldn't want to go through life having people critique me for specific incidents that occurred in the past, so I'm not going to do that in this situation.  Instead, I'm going to opt for much blander, more general themes (i.e. 'you could show more enthusiasm in presentations' or 'you could participate more in class').

I would do the same thing, willy nilly, if someone stopped me 'cold' and said something like, "I'm soliciting feedback about myself, and I want you to identify something that I need to work on."

If that comes off to you as being phony or disingenuous, I'll go ahead and accept the charge.  Seriously.  I'd rather plead guilty to possession of an ounce of conflict avoidance than have to deal with a pound of strife and hurt feelings for weeks afterwards.

Why am I so cynical about constructive feedback?

Because it's subject to the one of the purest Catch-22s out there:  The people who would be most receptive to it are the ones who need it the least, and vice versa.  

The world around us is constantly providing feedback -- some people can instinctively separate the signal from the noise, and really listen.  Others, not so much.  Anyone who takes it upon himself or herself to 'educate' or 'enlighten' the latter group is in for a long, uphill slog.  And a very lonely existence.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricanes and Climate? Data, Shmata

I am going to paste in a response I just posted on Facebook to a buddy I haven't seen in a while. I'm giving no context, but you'll figure it out:

Ben: To your first point, well said. I will answer those questions, provide links, and then tap the proverbial mat (but pls respond back if you'd like). To both of our credit, we've already broken the Unwritten Rule of Internet Debating (by going a full round of back-and-forth without either of us resorting to an ad hominem or straw man teardown of what the other person is saying). From Roger Pielke, Environmental Science Prof at UC-Boulder: "While it's hardly mentioned in the media, the U.S. is currently in an extended and intense hurricane "drought." The last Category 3 or stronger storm to make landfall was Wilma in 2005. The more than seven years since then is the longest such span in over a century." From NOAA's National Hurricane Center (dated to the mid-1990s, but longitudinal data is still relevant: "In summary, contrary to many expectations that globally tropical cyclones may be becoming more frequent and/or more intense due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, regionally the Atlantic basin has in recent decades seen a significant trend of fewer intense hurricanes and weaker cyclones overall. In addition, the maximum intensity reached in each year has shown no appreciable change." As for dollar-value-as-proxy, in some areas like Florida, in-migration and coastal buildup account for big changes in the value of whatever would be in a hurricane's path. From Pielke: "There are more people and more wealth in harm's way. Partly this is due to local land-use policies, partly to incentives such as government-subsidized insurance, but mostly to the simple fact that people like being on the coast and near rivers." For population-stable areas like greater NYC, it's less about in-migration than it is about land and property value. [sound of hand tapping a mat] If you are ever in Boston and have some time, drop me a would be great to catch up.

So that's what I said.  I'm not going to pretend to be something I'm not (i.e. climate expert).  I also won't deny that man-made activity can make storms worse (how much of Katrina's impact could've been blunted if all those wetlands had still been there?) BUT for all the people who are spouting off about "increased frequency and strength" of hurricanes, there are some pesky facts that could get in their way.

My late great boss Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to love to say, "Everyone is entitled to his opinion.  But everyone is not entitled to his facts."

Should we be concerned about greenhouse gases?  Yes.  Should we worry about beach erosion?  Of course.  Do human actions impact the world around us?  All the time.

Sandy was a terrible storm.  So were Carol, Hazel, and Diane, all of which hit the East Coast between 1954 and 1955...and would've caused twice as much damage than Sandy had they hit today.  So when you hear someone yapping today about "The New Normal" in reference to bad storms along the U.S. East Coast, you might consider stopping and asking if he or she prefers the Old Normal.