Monday, July 31, 2006

Just My Luck

Just my luck: the year I move out of New England, I miss all kinds of record breaking floods, and now forecasters anticipate a major hurricane along the eastern seaboard. The weather in Oregon is fairly staid and sedate by comparison--even by normal standards. There hasn't been even one good thunderstorm here this summer.

Portland, Kyoto, and Kristof

Yesterday Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times repeated what's now become an urban myth, that Portland, Oregon (actually Multnomah County, where it sits) has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990 levels. This claim, made by Portland's Office of Sustainable Development (OSD) in 2005, is wrong. Kristof made the same error last July as well. He's not the only one--Google searches show that the error has propogated widely.

Besides numerical errors that Portland's Office of Sustainable Development admitted to, the statement doesn't pass the smell test, it seems to me. Multnomah County's 1990 population was 583,887. By 2004 it was up to 685,950, a 17.5% increase in 14 years. US greenhouse gas emissions were up 16% over the same period of time. Portland's light rail systems and compact development zoning seem fairly minimal measures and unlikely to cancel that increase. What smells even worse is OSD's contention that there was an actual decrease in transportation-related CO2 emissions since 1990. Transportation emissions are typically the largest sector of CO2 emissions.

Multnomah County used gasoline sales as a proxy for CO2 emissions, which doesn't seem very precise considering that (1) gasoline prices fluctuate widely, and (2) car and truck fleet miles per hour vary, and (3) the car/truck ratio has undergone changes over the 14 year period. As the free-market Cascade Policy Institute put it,
Since 1990, Multnomah County gasoline sales have increased by less than 1 percent, despite a huge increase in the number of vehicles registered in the county. The OSD used these fuel sales as a proxy for vehicle miles traveled and concluded that CO2 emissions from automobiles in MC have not increased much over this time period.... Also, the Oregon Department of Transportation estimates that total travel on state-owned highways within MC during the 1990-2004 period increased from 2.70 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) annually, to 2.99 million VMT, an 11 percent increase.
I looked in to this a little early last month, and was told by the City of Portland's Office of Sustainable Development that the next update to this report would be "summer 2007 at the earliest."

BLEG: Anyone have access to TimesSelect and could send me Kristof's entire column of yesterday?

Friday, July 28, 2006


"Just when we thought our children might have a hero — someone to smile at, to say, 'This guy overcame such obstacles' — we get hammered with this," said Steven Ungerleider, an Oregon researcher and anti-doping expert, LA Times

Floyd's Look

Here's the thing about Floyd: he doesn't look guilty. Look at him in this picture, taken at today's press conference in Madrid. He looks confident. He's wearing the backwards cap just like always and he's smiling confidently, not sheepishly. He looks sure of himself. That says a lot, I think.

Here's the other thing about Floyd: he grew up in Pennsylvania. That's my home state. Pennsylvania boys don't cheat.

Oil Company Profits

Just to keep score, here are the 2Q06 profits of the major oil companies:
ExxonMobil $10.36B
BP $7.27B
Royal Dutch Shell $6.3B
ConocoPhillips $5.19B
Chevron $4.35B
What can you say? When your expenses stay about the same and the substance you're hawking goes up drastically in price, profits will rise. Unless you lower the price of your product. And who in this greed-forsaken world ever expects that to happen?

Actually I don't really mind the obscene profits of the oil companies, because Americans and the rest of the world will not decrease their demand by buying more efficient automobiles, reducing development and sprawl, and driving less or taking mass transportation. We deserve to get screwed because we're as selfish and greedy as they are. But what does really piss me off are the huge tax breaks the oil companies are granted by Congress and the Administration even in the face of these large profits. That is wholly unnecessary and a sign of real corruption. Politicians deserve to lose their jobs for it (read: Republican politicians--they're the ones doing the granting). I hope high gasoline prices are a factor in the November elections, but overall I am not very confident they will be. Americans simply don't seem to mind getting royally screwed. Oh sure, they complain when the TV cameras show up at the gas pumps, but they don't seem to translate into votes in November.

Floyd says....

At least he wore the backwards cap. Floyd always wears the backwards cap and at least he's being consistent. He also says he's not guilty:
“I would like to leave absolutely clear that I am not in any doping process,” Landis said in a news conference in Madrid today.
What more can he say, really? What would YOU say if you weren't guilty and a test somehow said you were?

Landis said today that he, like many athletes, has naturally high levels of testerone. He also insisted that he has never been involved in doping and has high regard for cycling because it is a “clean” sport.

“I’m proud of the fact that I won the Tour because I was the strongest guy there,” Landis said.

Speaking from Europe on Thursday in a teleconference with reporters, Landis said a “disastrous feeling” swept over him when he heard about his positive test. He said he had never used performance-enhancing drugs and was mystified by the abnormality of his testosterone level.

One thing Floyd can do, it seems to me, is to have the same T(estosterone)/E(pitestosterone) test performed on him right now, and publicize the results. If it gives the same ratio, it's at least some evidence in his favor that he has a naturally high T/E ratio. (Why would he still be doping after the race?)

After hearing the news, the German television network ZDF said it might stop broadcasting the Tour de France because it had signed on to show a sporting event, not “the performances of the pharmaceutical industry.”

Floyd's press conference

Floyd Landis is holding a press conference in about 10 minutes to discuss his test results. I'm not sure what more he can say that he hasn't said already (the Boston Globe has a pretty good article on it today), especially in the absence of the B sample results. Two experts quoted in the Globe article say something smells fishy (in Floyd's favor), but you have to wonder if damage hasn't already been done and that Floyd and his victory are going to be forever tainted no matter what the B sample results show.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Floyd Says No

Floyd Landis said today that he didn't dope, and that he doesn't know why he tested positive for an overly high level of testosterone. I believe him. I do. I mean, I want to believe him, it is true, and it's difficult to separate one's feelings, but he strikes me as honest and so I believe him. I have no facts beyond what you do. True, I'm still waiting on sample B. I think it is worth starting to ask questions about how an athlete could test for high levels of testosterone without having doped. But I am hoping sample B comes back clean. Floyd says, "But it was not from an exogenous outside source of testosterone." That's a big word, exogenous--it sounds like something his handler's told him to say, something like Al Gore's "no controlling legal authority" remark. Here's hoping Floyd and his big words are right.

still more on "Cold Hard Facts"

As John Fleck has pointed out to me, NYT author Peter Doran commented on Cliff Harris's piece (scroll down), telling Harris he was quoted incorrectly. And yet Harris still did nothing.... That's not really the kind of reaction you'd expect from one of the top 10 climatologists in the world, is it???

more on "Cold Hard Facts"

In his op-ed in today's NYT, "Cold Hard Facts," Professor Peter Doran claims he was misquoted. In particular, he says
One recent Web column even put words in my mouth. I have never said that “the unexpected colder climate in Antarctica may possibly be signaling a lessening of the current global warming cycle.” I have never thought such a thing either.
As Doran details on his personal Web page, this quote comes from an article by Cliff Harris of Coeur d'Alene Press, "Weather Gems: The current cycle of global warming may have peaked!"

Where did Harris get this quote from? That's a good question. I have a message in to him ( with a Cc to his managing editor, Mike Patrick of Coeur d'Alene Press. I'll report what he has to say -- if anything.

Harris says he's been rated one of the top ten climatologists in the world for nearly 4 decades. He doesn't say who did the rating. Maybe I'll ask him. He also says he operates a weather station in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and is the exclusive climatologist for the Coeur d'Alene Press. Sounds like quite a gig.

"Cold, Hard Facts"

Did you read Peter Doran's op-ed in today's NY Times? He's a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who's done research in Antarctica, and he writes how his work has been misrepresented by Michael Crichton and Ann Coulter. Do you think either of these authors will have to answer for their representations? That either will even be asked questions about it? That either's book sales will suffer as a result? That either even cares? Ha ha, what a big fat joke.

Pat Michaels

Pat Michaels gets caught taking $100K to do the coal industry's dirty work of denying global warming. If there is any justice in this world this ought to be the end of his inglorious career, and if I was the U of Virginia I think I'd run him out of there as well.

Here is the IREA memo that spells out the dirty deal. (IREA = Intermountain Rural Electric Association.)


Man, I will be very disappointed if it turns out that Floyd was definitely doping. There is still the B sample to test and hopefully that will clear him. Or maybe he has some medical reason related to his hip about why his testosterone level was higher than normal, although it's hard to imagine what it'd be that would be legal. I'd hate to think it was plain old cheating. He was a really good story and I thought he was truly inspiring. I got up early every day last week just to watch the Tour live. (No small feat in the Pacific time zone.) I was with him when he first won the yellow jersey, then when he bonked, and then on that great day afterwards, and then on the final time trial too when he really sailed. Does everything have to be rigged--can't there be just one good thing in this world that is genuine?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Into the Wild"

They are making a movie out of Jon Krakauer's book "Into the Wild," a great story about Christopher McCandless, a free-spirit who dropped in and out of civilization and who ultimately starved to death in an abandoned bus in Alaska. I'm disappointed. I'm always disappointed when they make a movie about a book I've read, because they always ruin it. I try to make a point of not seeing the movies, and I even try to avoid the commercials, as I did with "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy. You just can't improve on a Cormac McCarthy book and any movie based on it is going to be a pale and shallow imitation. I've only ever seen one movie that came anywhere near what I imagined the book to be, and that was "A Separate Peace," one of my favorite books as an adolescent. I also thought "The World According to Garp" was pretty good, and perhaps even an improvement on the book. Perhaps. But beyond these I've always been so disappointed by movies-based-on-books that I've vowed not to see them and I will certainly not see "Into the Wild." I'm a little disappointed in Jon Krakauer that he even sold the movie rights, although if I was an author I'd probably sell the movie rights too. But there's no way I'd go to the theatre to see the final product. No way.

Andrea Yates

My God, Texas does a decent, humanitarian thing--can you believe it? Andrea Yates found innocent by reason of insanity.

Washington & Same-Sex Marriage

Today's Washington State Supreme Court decision against same-sex marriage is quite intellectually vapid, and you only need to read a few paragraphs in to see how the justices strove to find something--anything--to back up their personal prejudices. Here is the core of the decision:
In brief, unless a law is a grant of positive favoritism to a minority class, we apply the same constitutional analysis under the state constitution’s privileges and immunities clause that is applied under the federal constitution’s equal protection clause. DOMA does not grant a privilege or immunity to a favored minority class, and we accordingly apply the federal analysis. The plaintiffs have not established that they are members of a suspect class or that they have a fundamental right to marriage that includes the right to marry a person of the same sex. Therefore, we apply the highly deferential rational basis standard of review to the legislature’s decision that only opposite-sex couples are entitled to civil marriage in this state. Under this standard, DOMA is constitutional because the legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not, in the legislature’s view, further these purposes. Accordingly, there is no violation of the privileges and immunities clause.
Yes, God knows, the human race would miserably fail to procreate itself if a tiny minority of individuals were allowed to love members of the same gender, the continued existence of the human race being in such precarious position and all. And logically speaking the the marital existence of all childless or post-menapausal couples should not be granted either. What a joke.

To be clear: these justices are bigots and homophobes (Sartre: "Only actions determine intentions"), probably on account of their advanced age. But that is no real excuse. Their backwards views will, not so far into the future, be found to be as antiquated as the notion that whites can own black slaves, that women should not vote, or that that different races should not marry. It's only a matter of time, and history will remember who was on the wrong side. "Positive favoritism." What assholes.

Dissension from some right-thinking members of the court: "The plurality and concurrence condone blatant discrimination against Washington’s gay and lesbian citizens," Justice Fairhurst wrote, adding that the 1998 law "was motivated solely by animus toward homosexuals."

Justice Bobbe J. Bridge went further, equating the majority’s position with favoring racial discrimination. The majority, she wrote, contended "that it is not our place to require equality for Washington’s gay and lesbian citizens." Under that reasoning, she said, "there would have been no Brown v. Board of Education," the 1954 United States Supreme Court school desegregation case.

New Hampshire primary

I have a letter in today's Concord (N.H.) Monitor arguing that it's high time New Hampshire gave up its special position in the presidential primary process. (And yes, I felt the same way when I lived in New Hampshire.)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Inhofe's Extremism

How extreme is Sen. James Inhofe? On Saturday he equated contemporary climate science with Naziism:
In Saturday’sTulsa World, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, reiterated his stated belief that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” by comparing it to the lies told by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

In an interview, he heaped criticism on what he saw as the strategy used by those on the other side of the debate and offered a historical comparison. "It kind of reminds . . . I could use the Third Reich, the big lie," Inhofe said.
Reminder: Inhofe is afraid to be interviewed by climate specialist Andrew Revkin of the New York Times and prefers to spit out his vile accusations via overly friendly media such as the Fox Network and home town newspapers.

Us vs. Them


Lebanese casualties

A Lebanese family trying to flee is devasted by the state of Israel:
They're not the only ones: By the Lebanese official count, Israel’s attacks have killed more than 380 Lebanese.
A family such as this should have the right, in a just world, to bring criminal charges against the Israeli state, via the U.N., and to extract both financial compensation from the state of Israel and criminal charges against the soldiers, commanders, and politicians who ordered, planned, and executed these deadly attacks.

Kunstler on the Middle East

James Kunstler--who I piled on last week--this week writes what needs to be said about everyone who is less than enthusiastic about current-day America but also concerned about the carnage in the Middle East:
I hasten to add that I am myself an opponent of American culture and polity in many of their current manifestations -- everything from Nascar to US Department of Agriculture subsidies, and plenty in between -- and yet I do not regard any victory of Islamic Jihad, whether in Iraq or Jordon or the subway tunnels of London or the skyscrapers of Manhattan, to be necessarily a good thing for the world.


European glaciers, already diminished by 50% since 1850, will diminish another 80% if temperatures rise by 3°F by 2100. If temperatures rise by 5°F by 2100, Europe's glaciers will be completely gone.
AGU press release: "During the last 150 years, many mountain ranges in Europe have lost a significant proportion of glacial extent, with strong acceleration occurring in the past two decades. To quantify past, as well as potentia,l evolution of the area and volume of glaciers within the European Alps in the context of impending climate change, Zemp et al. characterized the system using on-site measurements, remote sensing techniques, and numerical modeling. They found that between 1850 and 1970, Alpine glaciers lost 35 percent of their total surface area; by 2000, almost 50 percent had disappeared. Their estimates also place current glacial volume at only one third of the 1850 value. Using models based on the rate of glacier loss, and predicted temperatures and precipitation levels over the next century, the authors determine that a 3 degree Celsius [5 degree Fahrenheit] warming of summer air would reduce the currently existing Alpine glacier cover by 80 percent. However, if temperatures were to rise by 5 degrees Celsius [9 degrees Fahrenheit], the Alps would be completely free of perennial surface ice by 2100.


The eminent gene therapist W. French Anderson has been convicted of child molestation. "He faces up to 22 years in state prison for molesting the now 19-year-old girl, the daughter of his colleague, in his home when she was 10 to 15 years old." According to the LA Times, Anderson actually had the audacity to argue to his victim that her accusations "would prevent him from saving lives through medical cures and disillusion those who viewed him as 'a model of the right way to live.'"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Stem Cells

Mark Graber, Balkinization:

Seems to me that the perfect compromise that might resolve the stem cell controversy is for the scientific community to agree to do research only on embryos that could possibly mature into terrorists. After all, our president who so emphasizes morality believes there is nothing immoral about torturing persons who are suspected of being terrorists, even in the absence of any legal procedure that even confirms the suspicions are reasonable (much less a legal procedure which convicts them of any crime). Our president who so emphasizes morality also finds nothing immoral about killing innocent civilians and children in military missions that also kill a certain number of terrorists. If we can torture and kill people suspected of terrorism or people who live near people suspected of terrorism, then surely we ought to be allowed to experiment on embryos that we suspect might have become terrorists.


Portland, 5:20 pm: 101°F. (Today's average daily high is 80°F.) Friday it got to 104°F. Up in Hillsboro, just up and to the west of Portland, it got up to 108°F.


Gristmill: Senator James Inhofe has been avoiding an interview with Andres Revkin of the NY Times for two years now. What a pussy--to go around denigrating the good work of all kinds of climatologists on friendly networks (Inhofe has plenty of time for Fox), yet afraid to go on the record with a legitimate news source. The height of cowardice.


Sorry for the lack of blogging. I have been busy on some deadlines, or babysitting my little nephew, or getting up super-early (Pacific Time) to watch the Tour de France. And I just don't feel like I have any worthwhile opinions lately. I'll try to get back in the game.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Environment as a Campaign Issue

Wasn't it Chris Mooney who said that global warming would be a big issue in the 2004 presidential campaign? That was dead wrong, needless to say. He's hawking the same bullshit for the 2008 campaign. But there's no evidence that it will be a campaign issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, either. At left is a Washington Post/ABC News poll taken about three weeks ago. Global warming or the environment appears nowhere on the list, not even in the bottom rungs. Let's face it, whether we like it or not, Americans just aren't that interested in the environment, and it's most likely not going to show up in the 2006 or 2008 campaigns. Personally speaking, I place health care above environmental issues, and probably I place the economy above it as well. For better or worse both effect me more directly and more immediately. Those are the facts.

Metal vs. Wood Bats

This New York Times story scares the crap out of me, about how metal bats are causing vicious line drives that have killed a few people. In 1990 I was working at Bell Labs and was the third baseman for my softball team. I thought I could handle the hot corner, and did for a couple of years. But one game a vicious line drive went right over the top of my glove and I took it square in the face. I had a broken nose, that eventually required surgery to straighten, but it could have had a lot worse -- broken teeth, broken orbital bones, brain damage, all of that kind of stuff. I was really lucky--the older I get, the luckier I feel I was. A baseball would have been even worse than a softball. I would vote to do away with metal bats in a heartbeat.

Here is what I don't get about human beings:
Scott Kvernum of Williston, N.D., was in the stands at Denton Field as his son’s team played recently against Miles City.

“We’re a home-run-hitting team with metal bats, but with the wood bats we don’t have nearly the same pop,” he said. “It takes a big, strong man to poke one out with a wood bat. That’s why I’d like to see us playing here with metal bats.”

His son, Devin, is a catcher. How would he feel if his son were a pitcher? “With metal bats?” he said. “Oh God, I’d be leery.”

Why is Scott Kvernum so incapable of identifying with the pitchers on his (and other's) team, regardless of whether his son is a pitcher or not? Is he just stupid? Can he not make the abstract association between the life of his son and the life of pitchers? Why can't he figure out that if his son were in danger as a pitcher, then all pitchers are in danger?

Scott Kvernum's stupidity, his lack of an ability to reason, seems responsible for the vast majority of human idiocy, it seems to me. Here human stupidity is summed up perfectly. We are at base just idiotic, selfish, self-interested, narcisistic neanthedals. Go ahead, try to prove me wrong. Just try it.

Middle East

I don't really have a lot to say about the problems in the Middle East--no one looks particularly righteous in my eyes (least of all those odious Americans who seem in favor of nothing except more war), and as always it is the civilians who suffer the most--except to say that once again we see the result of misguided religious beliefs in action. Here's a Washington Post op-ed that shows how the beliefs of Islamists in Hezbollah drive their violent actions, and Israel has, in the big picture, been no less guided by their attitude that their beliefs must take precedence over those around them.

The day that religion and its mythical fairy tales vanish from the face of the earth will be the day we may begin to see some true peace, and until then I find it sad and disgusting that people who think their way is the only true path to truth find they must kill people (thus violating all that their religion supposedly stands for) who believe different fairy tales than they do. The only thing worse than nationalism is religion, of all stripes.

Portland and Biofuels

Starting next year Portland will be the first American city with a renewable fuels standard.

Requirements are a minimum 5% blend of biodiesel for all vehicle diesel fuel sold in the city limits, and gasoline is required to contain at least 10% ethanol.
With this effort, the City is helping create demand for thousands of gallons of renewable transportation fuels, in order to spur market development of large-scale Oregon based biofuel production facilities to meet that demand.
Is this a good idea? There have been a lot of newspaper articles here in Portland that have not really arrived at a conclusion, and the consensus seems to be that the city is taking this action before all the facts are in. I don't really know. Here's a UC Berkeley press release from January that concludes:
Producing ethanol from corn uses much less petroleum than producing gasoline. However, the UC Berkeley researchers point out that there is still great uncertainty about greenhouse gas emissions and that other environmental effects like soil erosion are not yet quantified.

"Despite the uncertainty, it appears that ethanol made from corn is a little better - maybe 10 or 15 percent - than gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas production."

The people who are saying ethanol is bad are just plain wrong. But it isn't a huge victory - you wouldn't go out and rebuild our economy around corn-based ethanol.

"The transition would be worth it, the authors point out, if the ethanol is produced not from corn but from woody, fibrous plants: cellulose."

There isn't much corn grown in Oregon (I think), so I imagine most of the ethanol produced in OR will come from (as the city's press release says) "oilseed crops like canola and mustard seed, that can be grown as rotational crops by Oregon farmers."

Heck, I don't even know if my car, a 2000 Ford Saturn SL1, will run on 10% ethanol. I suppose it will, or they wouldn't be passing this ordinance. Can any car that runs on 100% gasoline run on a 90-10 gasoline/ethanol mixture.

Smith on Stem Cells

Somewhat surprisingly, Oregon's anti-choice Republican Senator Gordon Smith has come out in favor of stem cell research and says he will vote Yes on HR810, The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. (Senate debate begins tomorrow.)
Unfortunately, only 22 of the 78 stem cell lines approved by President Bush remain, and many of those lines have been contaminated and rendered useless. But more than 400,000 frozen embryos exist in the United States and, through further research, may lead to cures for some of life's most malicious maladies -- Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and more.

What could be more pro-life than that? Surely an "ethic of life" includes caring for the living.

Smith's reasoning? Parkinson's diseases runs in his wife's family. As an Oregon resident in favor of stem cell research I suppose I should be thankful for whatever it is that makes Smith in favor, but his reasoning somehow irks me. It shouldn't have to be that a Senator's wife is in medical danger before he comes down in favor of research that might someday save her (and many other's) life. (You can count Nancy Reagan in these ranks too.) The job of a representative is to understand his constituents needs and desires regardless of whether he has a personal stake in the matter. Even if his wife were not in danger of developing Parkinson's disease, thousands of his constituents would be and their desire to live is no less important than is his wife's. While I'm glad Smith is in favor of stem cell research, I'd somehow be more approving if it was based on the abstract reasoning that stem cells have the potential to help thousands of his constituents instead of the more selfish thinking it may someday save his wife.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hockey Stick Hearings

The hockey stick hearings, held by Congressmen dripping fossil fuel money from their fat, fleshy jowls, will be viewable here, on Wednesday the 19th at 10:00 am EDT. They say the guest list is still to be determined.


The data I'm reading doesn't support yesterday's claim that the first half of 2006 was the warmest first-half of the year on record. According to NASA GISS statistics, 1H06 was +0.65°C above the long-term (1951-1980) average. That's only fourth compared to, in order of hottest, 2005/2002 (+0.78°C) and 1998 (+0.77°C). Of course, it's awkward to argue about a few hundredths of a degree amidst a vast global network of thermometers. Sure, it's hot, and 5-year, 10-year, and 25-year moving averages are all at record levels. But I don't really see 1H06 as the warmest 1H given NASA GISS data. Maybe the National Climatic Data Center has different numbers.

UPDATE: Here is the NCDC data. They peg the Jan-June'06 average temperature for the contiguous United States at 11.0°C. They are basing their conclusions on the contiguous U.S. (U.S. minus Alaska and Hawaii) temperature, whereas NASA GISS is taking the global view. I think NASA GISS's view is more comprehensive and more reliable as a global indicator.

Kunstler, Y2K, and the "Long Emergency"

I'm not really a "fan" of James Kunstler. I'm interested in what he has to say, and I think he's a gifted, literary, interesting writer. I first heard him talk at the PopTech! conference in Maine a few years ago, when he quite humorously presented a sideshow of pictures that gave his take on suburbia. I reviewed The Long Emergency for a little newspaper in Maine, and after that read The Geography of Nowhere. Lord knows I'm no fan of suburbia, although having lived in Portland the last six months I've learned that suburbia, whatever its faults, is a good deal quieter than the city. (Though the city has its advantages.)

So I was very interested to read that Kunstler took the Y2K crisis quite seriously, believing even that people might die as a result of it. Needless to say, he was about as wrong as one can be on the Y2K crisis:
...Y2K is real. Y2K is going to rock our world.

People will consequently suffer. I don’t know how much. Some people may lose their lives - but more likely at the hands of a disabled medical establishment than because of civil disorder, loss of power, starvation, bad water, or other projected horrors (though these, too, are possible). Some will suffer the loss of fortunes, some of any income whatsoever, and many of something in between. Quite a few will find themselves suddenly without an occupation, and few ideas about how to make themselves useful to other people (without occupations themselves). Many will suffer a loss of comfort and modern convenience, and if that goes on any longer than a week, it may escalate into serious problems of public sanitation and infectious disease.

I have to admit that since learning about Kunstler's Y2K beliefs last week he's come down several pegs in my book. I mean, fool me once.... But fool me twice--I don't think so. The man seems to have a proclivity for doom, and seems determined to make money off of it one way or the other.

I think the world is probably due for some Peak Oil shortcomings--in 10 or 25 years--and that oil is only going to be more expensive in the near- and long-term future. But technology does adapt, as it did with Y2K. People adapt. Programmers recognize their code's shortcomings and fix it.

(And yes, it was possible to view the Y2K issue as a computing problem that programmers needed to fix, but which did not imply the end of the world. I wrote such a perspective in a now-defunct magazine in 1997: "The Year 2000: Software Hits the Wall," Internet World, January 1997, p. 68.)

Mostly I don't know whether Peak Oil will "rock our world." But Kunstler did (and does) claim to know, and after one massively blown prediction his stock falls considerably in my eyes. I won't view what he writes in the same way ever again.

Friday, July 07, 2006


"I don't think scientists involved with embryonic stem-cell research would care if they are excommunicated or not."

-- Cesare Galli of the Laboratory of Reproductive Technologies in Cremona, Italy (the first scientist to clone a horse), on the Vatican's vow to excommunicate stem cell researchers


Since going cell phone-only in January, I've saved about 20% on my phone expenses, plus I get to have a phone wherever I go. Except until next week I haven't had to call internationally, and my cell phone's plan (Sprint) is pretty pricey for calls to Europe: about $0.40/min. So I thought I would check out Skype. I was a little apprehensive, but it's amazingly simple and it works great! I should have gotten it a long time ago. All I had to do was buy a headphone/mic that plugs into my computer's USB port ($52 at Staples) and download a piece of software, and it worked great the very first time. Call quality was fine--a little hiss here and there, when I called my mother in New Mexico, but otherwise very clear. Skype's offering free calls to landlines and mobiles in the US and Canada until the end of the year, and phone calls to land lines in Europe are only $0.021/min. David says, check it out.

Only in Portland

Portland now has a Peak Oil Task Force.
The Task Force is intended to identify key short-term and long-term vulnerabilities and develop recommendations for addressing these. The Task Force is expected to produce a set of options and recommendations to City Council about how Portland can best prepare for constraints on the supply and affordability of oil. The recommendations will also address how to educate the public about this issue.
I bet not many cities have one of those. So don't come crying to us when the oil runs out and you are unprepared and we here have it all figured out. We will just ask why you were twiddling your thumbs all this time, while going about our merry way.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What if GW Were Natural?

David Roberts of Gristmill wades into the swampy debate posed by Jonah Goldberg of the National Review, but I think Roberts comes to exactly the wrong conclusion.

Goldberg asks about what environmentalists would do if the global warming seen since ~1900 were natural and not anthropogenic:
If Al Gore were to be convinced that global warming WAS a natural phenomena, would he be so worked up about it? I don't think so, yet the consequences would be the same.
Roberts replies:
If global warming is anthropogenic, we need to both stop exacerbating it and start adapting to the effects that are already inevitable. If it is natural, then we only need to adapt, since apparently nothing we do can affect the natural course of climate changes. OK?
That's exactly wrong. Atmospheric physics does not change if the last 30 years of warming have been natural. The potential for carbon dioxide to heat the atmosphere is still the same, and we're still pumping it into the sky. Climate models still have the same validity they do today if the last 30 years of warming were natural. We'd still need to be just as concerned about the potential for ~3°C warming by 2100 due to the greenhouse gases we're putting into the atmosphere. In fact, if the last 100 years of warming were natural, we're even in worse shape, because we're pumping heat-generating gases into the atmosphere on top of a natural bubble.

So whether the last 30 years of warming, or even the 20th century's warming, are natural or not, we still have a big problem and we still need to find alternative ways to generate our energy. It's the physics of the situation that is the big problem, not the explanation for past warming.

UPDATE 7/7/06: William Connolley thinks I missed the main point: if global warming "is natural, there is no reason to expect it to continue." If by saying recent global warming is natural Jonah Goldberg is implying that CO2 has no heat-trapping ability (as David Roberts points out in the comments here), then I think I misinterpreted this. Or maybe he means that CO2 does trap heat but it just hasn't trapped much yet. If he doesn't think CO2 traps heat, I'd like him to explain why the earth isn't a frozen ball at 0°C instead of a relatively balmy ball at 14°C. I like to know what his calculations show for the climate sensitivity.

Howard Zinn on Nationalism

Read the whole thing, from The Progressive magazine:
On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

...We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government's lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for "liberty," for "democracy"?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

...We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

Murray Review

I keep up with these kinds of things, but completely missed that Iain Murray of CEI wrote a 6/22 review of Al Gore's movie & book. I wouldn't have noticed it at all except that Ronald Bailey mentioned it today on Reason's blog. It's a sign that the debate over global warming has really turned a corner that reviews like Murray's goe essentially unnoticed. I think people have finally learned not to take them seriously due to their funding from the fossil fuel industry, and I think they lost a lot of credibility with those silly carbon dioxide commercials of a few weeks ago. Must be frustrating for them.

Wildfires and GW

Funny, the press release I have says this story is embargoed until 2:00 pm ET.

UPDATE, 9:01 am PT: Well, Science magazine said the story is released now that there's been an embargo break by the Sacramento Bee. "Embargo violators lose access to the Science Press Package." Personally, I hate embargoes and think they're antithetical to the free exchange of information. But as a science journalist you have to play to be part of the system, however odious.


"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." — Sinclair Lewis

(NY Times story here.)

Letter to the Editor

Today's spot-on Letter to the Editor:
Max Boot thinks we need more troops to achieve victory in Iraq ("Winning would do more than withdrawing," July 2). I have a suggestion: He could quit his job at the Council on Foreign Relations and do some fighting himself.

Boot graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1991. He got a master's degree from Yale University in 1992, then worked for the Christian Science Monitor for two years. He then spent eight years at the Wall Street Journal and since 2002 he has toiled at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also has lectured at the Army and Navy War Colleges.

So here we have a classic desktop warrior. He has made a career talking about war, and now he wants to send even more troops to fight and die--while he keeps talking safely at home.

-- Per Fagerent, Southeast Portland
The Oregonian, July 6, 2006
The same goes for Andrew Sullivan, too.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Marketing Global Warming

The UK's Asi Sharabi wants to know how better to market global warming--how to convey a sense of purpose and urgency to it. I'm always suspicious about such things--if people can't grasp the abstract concept, I'm not sure wrapping it up in a pretty package will make much difference. Seth Godin thinks part of the problem is the name "global warming," which to him are a couple of good-sounding words that fail to convey the urgency and seriousness of the problem.
Global is good.

Warm is good.
Even greenhouses are good places.

How can "global warming" be bad?

I'm not being facetious. If the problem were called "Atmosphere cancer" or "Pollution death" the entire conversation would be framed in a different way.

From the number of trackbacks on his site, it looks like a lot of people think he's on to something.

Back to Reality

Hope you had a good long holiday, and welcome back to the real world. Robert Samuelson does his part to shake you back to reality with this op-ed in the Washington Post that says the fight against global warming is exponentially tougher than it's being made out to be. He at least appears unready to give up the struggle:
The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.
If you want more of this kind of thing, read Paul Davies' thoughts from awhile back, "The fight against global warming is lost" (click here and scroll down). Davies advocates that we adapt to global warming, but the problem with that is it sounds doable if you think that global temperatures rise ~2-4°C, but who says it stops there? I guess by that time we're supposed to have hydrogen cars and all, but the reality is that after petroleum production begins to decline we'll probably be using more coal than ever before. Even the IEA projects that--click here and scroll down and click on the first illustration link. And that only makes GW worse. So adaptation is a never-ending game where the temperature gets higher and higher and the problems get worse and worse....

Back to Reality

Hope you had a good long holiday, and welcome back to the real world. Robert Samuelson does his part to shake you back to reality with this op-ed in the Washington Post that says the fight against global warming is exponentially tougher than it's being made out to be. He at least appears unready to give up the struggle:
The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.
If you want more of this kind of thing, read Paul Davies' thoughts from awhile back, "The fight against global warming is lost" (click here and scroll down). Davies advocates that we adapt to global warming, but the problem with that is it sounds doable if you think that global temperatures rise ~2-4°C, but who says it stops there? I guess by that time we're supposed to have hydrogen cars and all, but the reality is that after petroleum production begins to decline we'll probably be using more coal than ever before. Even the IEA projects that--click here and scroll down and click on the first illustration link. And that only makes GW worse. So adaptation is a never-ending game where the temperature gets higher and higher and the problems get worse and worse....

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Popping the Ethanol Bubble

A couple of Polytechnic University (NY) professors put a pin in the rapidly expanding ethanol bubble, concluding that we could never make enough of the stuff to make a difference:
...Thus the entire U.S. corn crop would supply only 3.7 percent of our auto and truck transport demands. Using the entire 300 million acres of U.S. cropland for corn-based ethanol production would meet about 15 percent of the demand.
For good measure, they add a moral component to their argument:
Finally, considering projected population growth in the United States and the world, the humanitarian policy would be to maintain cropland for growing food -- not fuel. Every day more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes -- one child every five seconds. The situation will only get worse. It would be morally wrong to divert cropland needed for human food supply to powering automobiles. It would also deplete soil fertility and the long-term capability to maintain food production. We would destroy the farmland that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will need to live.
These arguments from general energy principles would seem to dominate over enthusiasm for ethanol, as was highlighted in today's Boston Globe. Although this article primarily discussed cellulosic ethanol, not corn ethanol.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Thanks to Adam for pointing out this article by Raymond Pierrehumbert:
Pierrehumbert RT 2005: Climate change: A catastrophe in slow-motion. Chicago Journal of International Law, (in press) pdf
It's worth checking out. I hadn't heard of this guy Pierrehumbert, but he writes a lot of interesting things. Here puts the future in stark perspective:
...The situation is about to become much worse. In China, India, and the US combined, there are currently 850 new coal-fired power plants on the drawing board, and these will annually add some 681 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. By way of comparison, the signatories of the Kyoto Protocol (an agreement that the US declined to sign) will reduce their annual carbon emissions by only 131 million tons if they meet their targets. The 850 planned coal-fired plants almost irrevocably foreclose future opportunities to reduce carbon emissions.

Seeing Gorillas

Press release of the day:
People who were given a simple visual task while mildly intoxicated were twice as likely to have missed seeing a person in a gorilla suit than were people who were not under the influence.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"Ten Years"

There's another part of Al Gore's performance that bothers me--this notion that we have "ten years" in which to turn the global warming picture around." I think he said it in his movie, and here he says it in the Rolling Stone interview:
Rolling Stone: And that has to be done within ten years?

Gore: No, we don't have to do all of it in ten years -- that would be impossible. What the scientists are saying when they give this dark warning is that we may have as little as ten years before we cross a tipping point, beyond which there's an irretrievable process of degradation.
Where does this 10-year figure come from? Throwing in a cool term like "tipping point" doesn't give it any more heft. Maybe it comes from James Hansen. In his recent book review in the NY Review of Books, he writes:
...we have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.
This in turn comes from a statement he makes earlier:
Any responsible assessment of environmental impact must conclude that further global warming exceeding two degrees Fahrenheit will be dangerous. Yet because of the global warming already bound to take place as a result of the continuing long-term effects of greenhouse gases and the energy systems now in use, the two-degree Fahrenheit limit will be exceeded unless a change in direction can begin during the current decade. Unless this fact is widely communicated, and decision-makers are responsive, it will soon be impossible to avoid climate change with far-ranging undesirable consequences. We have reached a critical tipping point.
I've never seen this 10-year anywhere in the scientific literature, or this two degree figure. Carbon emissions are a continuum that rise by 1-2% a year. Nothing spectacular is going to happen to them 10 years from now--most likely they'll just be rising 1-2%/yr as they are now. Ice melts in a continuum. It melts basically the same at +1.5°C as it melts at +3.0°C. Species shift in a continuum. Sea level rises in a smooth and continuous fashion.

Yes, there can be nonlinearities in the climate system that result in abrupt shifts, like the Younger Dryas, and we may be at risk for them in the future. But I've never seen anything scientific that suggests that an abrupt change is going to happen in ten years if we continue on our current path for ten more years. That's not what Gore and Hansen are talking about, anyway. What "tips" in ten years? What quantity, what physical phenomena? In ten years we're just ten years deeper in debt, ten years warmer.

I think people are making this number up, for political reasons, to impart a sense of urgency in their listeners and viewers and readers. There's nothing scientific about it. And I think that's misleading when you're talking about a scientific answer to a scientific problem. I think it's better to just be honest: Look, this problem is only going to get worse, gradually worse, year-by-year-by-year. There's a possiblity that certain phenomenon, like Northern Atlantic currents, will shift abruptly in a short period of time and shut-down, but we don't really know when, or if, this is going to happen. But it might. It could. Prudence demands that we begin acting now.

What's wrong with that?

GW List

A complete list of things caused by global warming (posted half in jest, half not).

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Shuttle Launch

The space shuttle is launching in an hour and I just realized the only reason I want to tune in is to see if there's an accident. Space science now has the same attraction as auto racing.

3:42 pm EDT: Launch scrubbed for today--anvil clouds within 20 miles of the launch facility. They'll try again tomorrow at 3:26 pm EDT.

The Thin Line

Robert Kuttner in the Boston Globe: "The Bush era has been a slow-rolling coup d'etat":
THOSE WHO CARE about the Constitution and the fate of American democracy should go easy on the champagne.

Yes, it was immensely reassuring that the Supreme Court, voting 5 to 3, held that President Bush lacked the authority to create military trial commissions by executive fiat, bypassing both Congress and international law. By extension, the court challenged Bush's entire theory of extra-constitutional wartime powers as commander-in-chief.

...But this slender victory for constitutional democracy is nothing like the high court's 1974 ruling, 9 to 0, compelling Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes. It is crystal clear from the dissent that a hard-core bloc of four justices will defer to Bush, whatever the cost to the Constitution.

...The rule of law now hangs by a thread. It depends on the health of an increasingly frail 86-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens, and the willingness of the Court's inconstant swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, to side with the Constitution.

...With increasingly partisan courts, there is no one to complain to.

...If American democracy is to survive, Congress, as well as the courts, needs to rein in this president. But Congress has typically put partisanship ahead of constitutional democracy. This week, Republicans were far more eager to defend the flag than the Constitution.

...The Bush era has been a slow-rolling coup d'etat. People are afraid to say so, lest they look like extremists. But the real extremists are in the White House. If our democracy slips away, it will be because its defenders were irresolute and in denial of what is plainly occurring. And if our democracy ultimately survives, it will have been a very close call.


The United States has 4.6% of the world's population, 30% of the world's cars, and emits 45% of the world's automotive CO2 emissions.

In 2004 U.S. cars emitted 314 MMT CO2. That's 6% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. It equals the amount of carbon in a coal train 50,000 miles long, says the report from Environmental Defense.

Vehicles per capita have risen from about 0.3 in 1950 to about 0.8 today. The cars per capita in my household exceed even this number by 25%.