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The Angst of Wal-Mart April 21, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Business & Society, Economics.

BusinessWeek has an article about the problems facing Wal-Mart as it tries to regain its reputation with Wall Street. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart that often, in fact months can go by without me setting foot in there. I go there if it seems to be the most likely place for me to find something I haven’t found elsewhere. Given that there is a Target in walking distance should I choose to walk that far and the weather is cooperative it would be silly, wouldn’t it? In fact it’s mostly when I need something from their automotive department that I head that way because it’s one aspect of their store that beats Target hands down.

The article addresses many of Wal-Mart’s problems and how it got where it is today. It mentions the competition adapting to Wal-Mart’s tactics and learning some of them as well. It mentions Wall Street’s doubts about Wal-Mart’s claims to be able to still add thousands of stores in the U.S. and their problems trying to expand internationally.

What does it leave out? That there are just limits to Wal-Mart’s model. While it mentions as one of the key’s to Wal-Mart’s early success their ability to pressure suppliers and a refusal to accept automatic increases in wholesale prices it doesn’t mention other, less pleasant aspects to that strategy. Fast Company wrote about The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart. Why would someone do that? Because they have a product that has a reputation for quality. A reputation that could not possibly survive continuing to sell to Wal-Mart. They had already taken efficiencies of manufacturing about as far as they could go. To follow the model Wal-Mart would want them to would mean lowering quality significantly. Mr. Wier refused to do so. Bravo for him.

While I do not want to turn this into (too much of) an anti-Wal-Mart screed the things that they have done must be considered. Frontline did a piece on them entitled “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?“. The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer for their reporting on Wal-Mart. Even as they are defended by themselves and others as providing low cost merchandise for low income Americans it is a legitimate question as to how many Americans they have helped turn into low income Americans. Their pay per hour isn’t the worst and most certainly isn’t the best. But in the name of efficiency and being tightwads they do keep as many employees as possible part-time and with no benefits. The moves they’ve made to counter that reputation lately just don’t help most of their part-timers in spite of Wal-Mart’s claims. But it is entirely possible that the single biggest contribution Wal-Mart has made to the rate of poverty in America is that their demands for low costs to them at any price to their suppliers has caused suppliers to find it impossible to continue operations in the United States any longer. Sure, there might be an office with as lean a staff as possible but no manufacturing jobs. Very few, if any jobs to help Americans stay in at least the lower middle class. It is a pattern that has been repeated over and over again. So Frontline’s question is a valid one. Where is Wal-Mart and those who believe in them and their model taking America? Do we really believe that we can have an easy transition to becoming more like the Third World economies that can provide low cost labor? Is that where we want to go?


Is Richard Lindzen Credible? April 15, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Environment.
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Newsweek gave prominent AGW denier Richard Lindzen a platform to make some of his usual claims. When the letters objecting to those claims came pouring in they posted them with a reply from Lindzen and called it a forum.

Here are some links to various articles and opinions about Lindzen from Wikipedia, SourceWatch, Environmental Economics, Logical Science, Physics Web and Scientific American. Also, while I’m not going to link to everything there if you go to realclimate and search for Richard Lindzen you’ll find some interesting reading if you’re really interested in the subject. The web site is run by climatologists and really does present what I consider a balanced view. This does not mean that they go searching for deniers (I won’t give them the legitimacy of calling them skeptics.) to provide a false balance like so many general media outlets do. That would be misleading on where the science stands. But you will find people like Lindzen occasionally commenting and others who are even more shrill in their accusations against anyone who thinks that AGW is real.

Why do I question his credibility? The overwhelming majority of climatologists disagree with his opinions and can back it up with logical reasoning for one thing. His favorite publications to write for nowadays are places like the Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute, not scientific journals. Note in the Scientific American article where Lindzen makes a claim concerning the use of tree rings for estimating temperatures in the past in a study that was absolutely false.

 Look at this exchange in the Newsweek “forum”.

Tofino, Canada: Richard Lindzen should have done his homework before writing the article. He is wrong on numerous counts. To comment on only one; sea levels are certain to rise because glaciers around the world are melting, the Greenland ice cap, for example, by as much as 200 cubic kilometers per year. And Tibet’s 147,000 claciers are receding by about 50 percent per decade. Mr. Lindzen, I’m afraid, still has the blinders on.
Since you only specifically mention one, that is all I can respond to. There is actually nothing in your comment that contradicts what I wrote. You might want to calculate how much such a discharge from Greenland would add to sea level. You will discover that it is virtually unmeasurable. The other claims, even if true, would add much less. That said, the net mass balance from Greenland changes sign from year to year, and is mostly in balance between accumulation in the center, and discharge from the perimeter. Icebergs are huge, but the ocean is much bigger. Moreover, water evaporated from the ocean contributes to the growth of Greenland and is lost from the ocean. The earth is a remarkable, huge and dynamic system; it always has been.

What’s wrong with it? It’s a very basic concept that one shouldn’t confuse a constant with a variable. The letter writer refers to the current rate of glacier melting in Greenland. Lindzen replies to the writer by referring to the rate he quoted. Reality is that anyone who follows these issues knows that the rate is in fact accelerating. Drastically. When another reader expresses doubts about even government funded research given the attitude of the current administration Lindzen flippantly claims that the agencies are remarkably isolated from the President. While I do not necessarily share the writer’s doubt about government sponsored research I notice that Lindzen doesn’t address the efforts that the administration has made to affect it as though it doesn’t even exist.

And then there’s this exchange:

Houston, Texas: As with the typical naysayers, Lindzen confuses the audience by equating weather and climate. If one assigns the controversy to professional acrimony among climatologists, and asks, “What if global warming is real? What is the present evidence?” The actual data for the last 25 years corresponds exactly to the worst possible scenario envisioned in 1990 by the IPCC. Perhaps the agreement is coincidental. However, the infrared energy (heat) radiated by the planet has decreased, as measured by satellites, which means the heat has been retained by the planet. The melting worldwide of mountain glaciers and the copious methane release by thawing permafrost in Siberia are processes too ominous to ignore, just on the personal authority of one expert.
You might want to check your claims. According to all studies including those summarized by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], methane levels in the atmosphere have ceased increasing at all. Similarly, global mean temperatures have not changed to any extent that can be statistically confirmed for almost 10 years. The worst predictions in 1990 predicted a great deal more than was actually observed.

While the writer may not have been as clear as he ought to have been if Lindzen really is knowledgable about what’s going on in climate research he knows that the references made to glacier melting and methane release are speaking of potential problems that would make the problem worse should current warming trends continue. But Lindzen refers to the past, not potential future problems as discrediting the writer’s point.

Do yourself a favor. If you’re really interested in hard facts about global warming take any claims from Richard Lindzen with a salt mine, not just a grain.

If She Meant It April 13, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Does Not Compute, Environment.
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So I’m listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday. They’re discussing how to reduce your carbon footprint. I’ve done a bit and have lots more to do in that area so I’m listening and feeling a bit sheepish. Then a woman comes on and talks about how she moved from an urban area in the Midwest to Alaska and was “trying to live the right kind of life” there. And it pops into my head to wonder what made her think she could do that in Alaska. Because if she wanted to reduce her carbon footprint the only way she could do that in Alaska was to live like the natives, not the typical Alaskan. Because living in Alaska means that unless you’re eating an old style native diet virtually all of your food is being shipped there. A normal modern diet meant you couldn’t “eat locally”. And if you’re going to stay comfortable you’re using a lot of fuel to heat your home for most of the year. Alaska and other places near the Arctic Circle are not places to have a low carbon footprint…and I really really hope we can figure out a way for it to stay that way.

Appearance, not substance April 10, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Environment, Government, Politics.
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…is apparently all that matters to this administration. Ethanol is only good if a way is found to produce enough to make a difference without wreaking havoc in the corn market. They trumpet a fuel standard but refuse to consider CAFE standards.

Things are rarely simple April 10, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Environment.
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In another article related to global warming it seems that it isn’t always good to plant trees. Remember, location, location, location. Trees in the subarctic would apparently seem to reduce albedo in areas that do still have snowpack and therefore be a negative for helping with global warming.

It’s Not Just the Polar Bears April 10, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Environment.
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Polar bears aren’t the only arctic species threatened by global warming. National Geographic reports that the arctic fox is also threatened with extinction.

Useful Info about cars April 7, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Environment, Government.
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When you think about cars and their effect on the environment here’s some useful information from howstuffworks.com. Remember, CAFE standards matter too.

A Really Big Book April 3, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in The Book List.
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I’m currently re-reading Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton before proceeding to read it’s sequel, Judas Unchained.

It would make for a great class. April 3, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Education, The Positives.
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The New York Times’ region section tells a wonderful story about someone who tells stories. To young people it often doesn’t take too many years for something to have moved into ancient history that they feel has no relevance to them. An 81 year old substitute teacher who combines more standard instruction with oral history from his own life seems to be able to bring things to life for some students that I consider to be very fortunate.

Multiple Government Disorder April 3, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Foreign Relations.

I am always somewhat puzzled when I read of people speaking of how everyone needs to reason with Iran. While it is most certainly true that there is no justification for the use of military force in the near future I question how much attention the people who make these statements are really paying to conditions in that country. Because I always want to know which Iran they expect us to reason with. An article in the New York Times points out the conditions there that lead me to my opinion.

 There is not one Iran. There are multiple centers of power that don’t always agree with each other but the only two with any real power are the extremely conservative and the fanatically conservative.