Saturday, September 29, 2007

Brad Pitt on Climate Change

Gristmill highlights this video in which Brad Pitt make an appearance:

Pitt says: "It's nice to be sitting in a room with a bunch of people who are not debating the existence of climate change."

Oh please, please, fucking please. Every time I turn around I'm reading about how Brad Pitt and Angelie Jolie are flying to Africa or New York or Cannes or some such place. These people are more responsible for greenhouse gas emissions than 99% of the human population, probably more. And yet he has the nerve to get up on stage and look down on the rest of us for not taking global warming seriously. Stop the moralizing.

Either we think global warming is a problem or we don't. If we do, we will stay home and, well, emit less carbon. Otherwise, let's admit that we're not going to curtail our greenhouse gas emissions and get busy with the business of developing less emissive technologies or at least geoengineer the planet. Just stop the hypocrisy.

Climate change and technology

Joseph Romm over at Climate Progress makes fun of President Bush for stressing technology as a solution to climate change. Now I don't for a minute think Bush is serious about climate change, or technology -- Bush is now irrelevant, frankly -- but that aside, I'd like to know what Romm thinks is going to solve the climate change problem. We are never -- never -- going to regulate greenhouse gas cutbacks of 75% with today's technology, what's needed to stabilize the climate. Never. People just can't afford that and they'll never stand for it. People want to drive, and they want to fly, and they want to heat and air-condition their homes at a reasonable price. They want food at today's prices, not 30% higher. They just are not willing to significantly cut back their standard of living, even a little.

So it's only going to be technology, in my opinion, that makes the difference. We are going to use all the oil there is, and then we are going to use coal, and we will only use alternative technologies if they are cheaper and more readily available. So the best thing Bush could do -- although of course he will not -- is to establish a massive program that develops these alternative technologies. Yes, regulating greenhouse gases will put a price on them that will promote the development of greenhouse gases. But that's a kind of secondary effect. If you want to regulate greenhouse gases in order to promote the develoment of new, greener technologies, OK, but to dismiss the role of technology and expect greenhouse gas regulation to solve the global warming problem is just silly.

CFL article

I have an article in the October issue of Scientific American on compact fluorescent light bulbs: Toxic Bulbs: Recycling rules vary for mercury-containing fluorescents, p. 30.

Pat Michaels reveals

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, via Deltoid:
[Pat] Michaels withdrew as an expert witness in a recently decided landmark court case in which automakers sought to turn back state efforts to rein in cars' production of greenhouse gasses. Michaels said he would testify only if his funders' identities could be kept secret, court documents show.
That pretty much tells you all you need to know, doesn't it?

Bush on Climate Change

It is impossible for me to work up any enthusiasm about anything Bush had to say yesterday -- I can barely even bring myself to read the newspaper articles on it. It has long since been obvious that he has absolutely zero intentions of doing anything about climate change, and that's certainly not going to change at this late stage. "New rhetoric?" Please.
"I want to get the job done," he [Bush] told environment ministers and ambassadors at the State Department. "We've identified a problem. Let's go solve it together."
Yes, except he proposes not solutions whatsoever. Meanwhile, his government officials are busy actually colluding with lobbyists to oppose California's efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Of course, there isn't really much evidence that any other country in the world is doing much about climate change either. The European countries, by and large, can't make their Kyoto commitments. China and India certainly value economic growth far above limiting global warming. For almost all of them, it is all talk and no action.

Friday, September 28, 2007

California Elk

My friend Clinton was up visiting recently, and on the the way back to California took this picture of a elk just south of Orick, CA on the Redwood Highway. Click to enlarge.

"Climate Pricing 101"

The Sightline Institute up in Seattle has a nice little primer on pricing issues in climate policy.

They also publish a weekly newsletters on Fridays, which is a good way of keeping up on environmental issues here in the Pacific Northwest. You can sign-up here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"You'll Be Comin' Down"

Several more songs from Springsteen's new album Magic have leaked out, and so far my favorite is "You'll Be Coming Down." It sounds both old and new, with some poetic yet vicious lyrics. It's not an uplifting song at all, yet there's something to like about it. I wonder who he had in mind when he wrote it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Beth Ditto & Gossip

When I hear new music, which these days is usually through YouTube, I usually listen to the clip a few dozen times, until it is good and sunk in. After that I can't stand it, but until then it is great stuff. Boobs and all.

The latest clip: Beth Ditto and Gossip, "Standing in the Way of Control":

Lundberg denialism

Here is an incredible statement from Trudy Lungberg, publisher of the "Lundberg Survey," a national survey of gas prices quoted regularly by major news organizations. She does not think American's should conserve gasoline in any shape or form:

Q (CNN): As far as conservation, what are the trends you are seeing?

A (Lundberg): I'm hoping that consumers will see through the rhetoric about consuming less, demanding less, as faulty. It is not a given that consuming less will be good for our economy or for our personal freedom. It is not even established for our environment that we [should] deprive ourselves of gasoline for our personal mobility as well our commerce. And to suppose that it is good to do that, and pretend that we have consensus and put our heads together to deprive ourselves of this great product that makes the country go around, commercially and individually, I think is flawed. I'm hoping consumers and voters will see through that and be able to ignore some of the most extreme suggestions.

The woman seems to have absolutely no understanding of modern climate science as developed in the last 20 years. Or any sense whatsoever that oil supplies might actually be limited, as market trends seem to suggest. It is not immediately apparent to me that her schtick depends on increasing prices -- she seems to have a fair lock on price reporting, regardless of where prices are going -- so it is difficult for me to believe someone in her position can be so blind.

Bond's 756 HRer

I don't care too much about Barry Bonds, but this branding of his 756th home run with an asterisk really strikes me as wrong-headed. It almost seems sacreligious, and I say that with no particular fondness for him -- in fact, if anything, I suspect he probably did take performance-enhancing substances. But maybe he didn't. And if he didn't, the ball will be forever branded as if he did.

This is an ugly situation all around, and I don't blame the 49ers for cutting Bonds loose -- he has done absolutely nothing to show any nobility in this situation. But baseball has a long, glorified history and I don't think it's up to the very temporary, rich owner of his 756th HR to decide how the ball should be viewed for eternity.

First Landis, now this. Sports is getting very, very ugly, and who wants to follow it at this rate?

gas and oil prices

This is happening quietly and almost under the radar screen, but year-over-year gasoline prices are up 18% and oil prices are up an astonishing 39%.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Favoring Action on Climate Change

65% of the people polled in a world-wide poll said "it is necessary to take major steps starting very soon ... to take steps to reduce the impact of human activities that are thought to cause global warming or climate change." In the U.S. the number was 59%.

I do not believe these numbers. The poll notably did not ask what actions its respondents favor. It is all good and easy to be in favor of "action." Does that mean you're willing to drive 40% less? Pay 50% more for your gasoline and electricity? Tolerate significant increases in the cost of your food? I don't think any one of these would poll successfully.

People want action, as long as it doesn't cost them any money.


By the way, the true cost of gasoline in the United States is more like $7/gallon, when you consider all the money we spend to secure oil resources.

More on Clotheslines

Today's Oregonian says that clothes driers use 6% of U.S. electricity usage. The U.S. uses on average 3.3 Tera Watts, so that's 200 billion Watts just for clothes driers, or an incredible 650 Watts/person. Or 480 kW-hr/month.

If electricity costs 10 cents per kiloWatt-hour, as it does here in Portland, that's $48/month. Per person. Yikes.

That is to say, it's as if each and every one of us were constantly and continually burning six-and-a-half 100 Watt light bulbs just to keep our clothes dry. Every single minute of every day.


By the way, this same Wikipedia article says that in 1999 computers used 13% of total U.S. electricity consumption, expected to grow to 35-50% by 2020.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Someone pointed out in the comments that the 6% number for electricity use by clothes dryers is probably of total residential consumption, and that seems to be the case. Here is some EIA data from 2001: 107 million households in that year consumed 1.140 billion kW-hr, or 130 billion Watts, or 0.13 TW. Or only ~5% of total US electricity consumption. That sounds low, but that's what I get. Air-conditioning and refrigeration each accounted for 14% of the US total. Electric clothes dryers consumed 66 B Kw-hr, or 5.8% of total residential usage.

Wolfgang Panofsky Dead

Wolfgang Panofsky, the founding director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) and a renowned physicist and science administrator, died last night at the age of 88.

Monday, September 24, 2007


You often find global warming smart alecks, like Ben Shapiro here, suggest that we should all stop breathing in order to solve the carbon dioxide problem. I've always been (extremely) skeptical, but never really ran the numbers. It turns out the idea is indeed absurd -- of all the CO2 humans emit, only about 8.1% is from respiration:
  • The US Department of Agriculture says the average human exhales about 900 grams of CO2/day.
  • There are now about 6.62 billion people on the planet, says the US Census Bureau.
  • That works out to a total of 2.2 billion MT (metric tons) of CO2 exhaled per year by the human species.
  • Humans activities emit a total of about about 27 billion MT of CO2 per year.
  • So human respiration is responsible for 8.1% of all human CO2 emissions.
Of course, that is probably dwarfed by emissions of all the other species, but still it's a bigger percentage than I thought. But stop breathing will come nowhere near to solving the problem.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Yesterday I spent some time with my nephew Quinn, who is one month shy of 3 years old. We were talking and he used the word "tomorrow," so I asked him what it meant. I know he knows it intuitively, but I was curious what he'd say.

He said, "That's when I'll be older."

I thought that was an excellent answer, better than I could ever do.

Galileo's middle finger

Did you know that Galileo's middle finger of his right hand was cut off 100 years after his death and preserved? It's on display at the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence, Italy.

Appropriate that it was his middle finger.

(From the August 2007 issue of symmetry magazine.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bruce Springsteen - Mrs McGrath

"All foreign wars I do proclaim
live on the blood and the mother's pain
I'd rather have my son as he used to be
Than the King of America and his whole navy"

Super-smart Artificial Intelligence by 2030

I really, really hate articles like this one by Ronald Bailey of Reason:
By 2030, or by 2050 at the latest, will a super-smart artificial intelligence decide to keep humans around as pets? Will it instead choose to turn the entire Earth, including the messy organic bits like us, into computronium? Or is there a third alternative?
Please. 2030 is only 23 years from now, as far into the future as 1984 is into the past. Life just doesn't progress that fast. In 1984 we had the beginnings of personal PCs. We had an pseudo-intelligent telecommunications network -- AT&T's CCS7 signaling network had been in effect for about a year. The Internet existed and email, especially on a single computer, was well-established. I exchanged my first IM-type messages over the Internet sometime like 1985 or 1986, while a graduate student at Stony Brook.

Yes, there have been amazing advances since then, mostly in networking, in the development of HTML and Web browsers and all kinds of transactions over the Web. We now have cell phones and wireless communication most places.

But really there hasn't been all that much change. Especially in the arena of artificial intelligence. I do not feel threatened by robots or artificial intelligence any more now than I did in 1985. I spend absolutely no time worrying that some robotic intelligence is plotting to undo me and turn me into a biological slave. Robots are still not a part of our daily life, or even tangential to our lives. They are good at helping make cars, and some other basic manufacturing tasks. In no way do they threaten to undo us all.

I'm sure Reason spent a lot of money to send Ron Bailey to the Singularity Summit in San Francisco, and he had to come through with a provocative article. But we're not more threatened by robots in 2030 than we are by genetically engineered kittens. Try to calm down, please.

Hawaii v. Mt. Everest

I did not know this:

Hawaii is sometimes referred to as Earth's greatest mountain because its height above the seafloor exceeds the height of Mt. Everest above the plains of India.

Loudon Wainwright -- The Swimming Song

All I have been listening to for the last week, 200 times probably by now, is this Loudon Wainwright tune, "The Swimming Song." I just love it.

I'm about sick of it now -- only a few more dozen times to go. This is usually how I enjoy music.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Beastie Boys: "Sure Shot"

Incredibly, this Beastie Boys song was censored by Clear Channel Communications after 9/11: "Sure Shot" was deemed too controversial because a couple of airplanes slammed into the twin towers, and "sure shot" someone invoked that. Lame, lame, lame.

It sure doesn't take much, does it?? Americans can come across as real pussies....


"I'm gonna set it straight
this Watergate...."

-- Beastie Boys, Sabotage

On Not Treating Water

So there's been this lost hiker in Whatcom County up in Washington, Mary Wingfield. She's been lost since Sunday. OK -- anyone can get lost -- I was lost once in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, on a late January day, and it was a little scary. But I got out alright.

But this person is leaving notes around saying she has no water, when all around the Cascades there are plenty of streams and waterfalls for her to fall into. What she means is she has no treated water, but really, if you've been lost for four days, and you really going to leave notes that you're short on water, when really you're refusing to drink from the many, many streams that flow your way? I mean, even if they're not treated? Of course not -- you suck them up, and if you get giardia you deal with it later. Your chances are pretty small to begin with -- I've been drinking from streams my entire life, and I have yet to ingest any giardia. Better you die from giardia than you die from dehydration -- it will take a lot longer (though might be just as ugly).

Come on -- how can you die from lack of water in the autumnal Cascades?

I'm Goin' Down

You know, I love Bruce Springsteen -- I used to haunt him on the Jersey Shore, to little avail, although I once did go trick-or-treating at his house, even though I was an old fart and so was he -- and I like to think that he is some kind of genius about the human heart. And yet, here he is in this video, grasping awkwardly for the truth of the human heart. He is surprisingly awkward about it, with nary an insightful thing to say, until he gets to his music. Then it all takes off and it all makes sense. But I am surprised about how little he actually has to say before he gets to the singing part. It really humanizes him....

Souring on the Blogosphere

I am really beginning to sour on the blogosphere. I mean, I am more than happy to read the blogosphere as long as I get a significant percentage of my news from it. But when pseudo-intellectuals like Andrew Sullivan insist on running useless contests like the Best Movie Line Ever and Front Porch Window Views, then I tune out. Sullivan hardly ever seems interested in ideas any more, but merely in accumulating traffic. And he thinks the blogosphere is some kind of great advance for writers, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It would be, if he had something to say. But I have read him for about three years now and I just have not seem his great contribution to human thought. And so I am giving up on him -- I've deleted him from my reading list. I just can't deal with this waste of time, even at 20 seconds a pop. The more I read the more I think the blogosphere is merely derivative on original thought and original reporting and original investigation, and really, who has the time?

What I Hate About the YouTube Era

Here is what I hate about the YouTube era: are we so fucking desperate to appear online that we will admit to every single stupid thing we have ever done??

The answer appears to be yes.

Evidence: this idiotic Oregonian who put a rattlesnake in his mouth.

Yes, a rattlesnake. In his mouth.

He admits he was drunk at the time. He admits that he was stupid. And yet these conditions seem to have absolutely no effect on his willingless to share his stupid and repulsive story with the rest of the world. I really think he thinks he's something special for all his efforts.

How utterly fucking depressing.

I don't know about you, but if I was so drunk that I tried to put a rattlesnake in my mouth -- I feel foolish even typing these words -- you can be sure I would wake up feeling so utterly stupid and foolish that there's no way I'd ever -- ever -- never ever -- share this information with anyone at all, let alone with my town's newspaper.

I mean, I have done some stupid things -- though nothing near as stupid as putting a rattlesnake in my mouth -- but in any case I am quite happy to keep each and everyone one of these stupid things to myself and avoid the extreme embarassment of the Internet and of YouTube. It simply kills me that someone is so stupid -- that, specifically, Matt Wilkinson of Southeast Portland is so stupid -- as to admit to this kind of utter stupidity.

Where the hell are we headed? I am afraid to think about it.

clothes drying and global warming

We are never going to solve the global warming problem if we can't even make the smallest sacrifices -- and that seems to be the case at least when it comes to hanging out clothes to dry. According to yesterday's Wall Street Journal, neighbors in Bend, Oregon are all up in arms because Susan Taylor wants to hang her clothes out to dry. The nerve! It might affect property values, you see, and what possibly could be more important than that?

Personally, to me a house with a line of drying clothes outside of it says here is a neighbor who is intelligent, economical, caring, and unselfish, and frankly the sight of a line of drying clothes invokes memories of how things were done back in the days of my youth. It would raise property values for me.

American electric dryers use the equivalent of 30 million tons of coal a year, according to today's Oregonian. That works out to 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, or a full 1.3% of US annual emissions. Just for drying clothes. And people aren't willing to make a few sacrifices for that? We will never solve global warming at this rate.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Into the Wild"

I am deliberately not going to see the movie Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn and partly filmed here in Portland. It's based on the 1997 book of the same title written by Jon Krakauer, about the short life and mysterious death of free-spirit Chris McCandless. It was a book I liked a lot, which is why I don't want to see the movie -- I don't want the picture I have in my head overwritten by the movie's interpretation. In all my life I've only seen two movies that seemed faithful to my imagination -- A Separate Peace, based on the John Knowles book, a book I absolutely loved as a kid, and The World According to Garp. Every other movie was relatively disappointing compared to the book, but the instant you have the movie's interpretation in your head you lose absolutely everything that you spent so long building so tenderly in your head. I actively tried to avoid all shots and commercials from All the Pretty Horses, a book I was pissed they made into a movie. How can you improve on it? You can't. I feel the same way about Into the Wild. It's not for me.

Oregon suicides

Here is something I never would have guessed:
Suicide accounts for three-quarters of all violent deaths in Oregon, outnumbering homicides by more than 5-to-1, state health officials reported Monday.... Oregon is one of nine states where more people die by suicide than in vehicle crashes.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hillary's Health Plan

I am intensely interested in Hillary's health care plan -- but so far, I can't make heads or tails of it.

I am a single, childless, self-employed white, middle-class male. I have a beard and a paunch. I am the last person anyone in this country will ever care about. I would like to know how Hillary's plan affects me, but I can't figure it out at all from what it on her Web site. I make enough to eat, but not enough to afford a house. I fall in-between where your average American is supposed to be and frankly, my health has suffered because I cannot afford health insurance right now. I'll spare you the details. I was able to afford it early in my freelance career, when I was under the auspices of COBRA, but when it rose to more than $400/month sometime around 2003 -- and that was without prescription coverage -- I had to drop out. I especially had to drop out when I moved from New Hampshire across the river to Ogunquit, Maine -- only about 20 miles -- and my premium suddenly went up to $680/month. For no reason other than that I lived in a different state. Some politician told me something about the "spiral of death," but fuck them.

So where the hell does Hillary's plan leave me? I won't vote for her until I know. Now -- fuck -- I have to go dig it out. Why can't she just tell me??

"I don't understand it. All we're trying to do is destroy everything.”
Johnny Rotten, after EMI released them from their record contract

TimesSelect is No More

I knew that if I held out long enough the New York Times would cave -- and now, ipso facto, they have announced that TimesSelect is going away.

My persistence will save you $49.95/yr, from now until eternity. See how easy that was? Power to the people.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Iraq and Oil

Kevin Drum quotes a line from Alan Greenspan's memoir:
"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."
I have perhaps been influenced by too many Richard Heinberg books, but I have thought all along that this war is all about -- and only about -- oil. I have been amazed and disheartened by the degree to which the media here in the US have ignored this angle and barely even mentioned it. It gets no press at all, even in the liberal papers -- how can that be? I am sad about how easily we have fallen for this Administration's claim that is is all about Al Qaeda in Iraq, and all that crap. We are building massive military bases in Iraq, at least four, and the media is barely even covering this. Oil company profits are through the roof and they are barely even covering that.
This is an ugly, corporate war, and American men and women are dying for these corporations, and they do not even know it. It is an amazing phenomenon, really, and the American public has been completely thrown off by challenges to their patriotism. It all seems so easy, really.

Wave Energy in the Oceans

I was doing a little investigation into oceanic wave energy, and came across this interesting statistic:
The total power of waves breaking on the world's coastlines is estimated at 2 to 3 million megawatts. In favorable locations, wave energy density can average 65 megawatts per mile of coastline.
That works out to an incredible 12,300 Watts of energy per foot of coastline, or enough energy to power nine typical American homes. (The average American household uses about 1370 Watts, or 12,000 KW-hr/yr. In the past 12 months, I have used 5,540 kW-hr. But then, I'm just one person.)

Friday, September 14, 2007


John Marburger reiterates to the BBC that that greenhouse gases cause global warming:
I think there is widespread agreement on certain basics, and one of the most important is that we are producing far more CO2 from fossil fuels than we ought to be.

And it's going to lead to trouble unless we can begin to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we are burning and using in our economies....

The CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere and there's no end point, it just gets hotter and hotter, and so at some point it becomes unliveable.

Marburger has admitted before that the climate is changing, but this is the strongest statement I can recall from him about man's role in it. But, in a somewhat illogical conclusion, he's still not sure we should do anything about it:

It's not clear that we'll be in a position to predict the future accurately enough to make policy confidently for a long time," he said.

"I think 2C is rather arbitrary, and it's not clear to me that the answer shouldn't be 3C or more or less. It's a hunch, a guess."

The truth, he said, was that we just do not know what the 'safe' limit is.

How can you believe that the atmosphere will just get "hotter and hotter" and yet still refrain from action?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"I Am Legend"

I am a big fan of any book or movie about the apocalypse -- pre-apocalypse (Deep Impact, Armageddon), apocalpyse (The Day After, The Day After Tomorrow, Children of Men), or post-apocalypse (The Stand, On the Beach, Omega Man, Mad Max, The Postman, Red Dawn, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Oryx and Crake). Maybe this explains my interest in global warming, although I hope not. Anyway, this looks like a good upcoming movie: I Am Legend with Will Smith:

Kind of an Omega Man for the 21st century. Coming in December.

Sort of like Afterworld (, which has some amazing animation.

Then there's this JJ Abrams film (project name Cloverfield, potential title Monstrous) that is being kept under wraps, which has one of the best trailers I have ever seen....

floating sand

Here's an interesting phenomenon I've never seen before: sand floating on the ocean.

Monday, September 10, 2007

August ties a Record

Last month tied a record for the warmest August in recorded history -- +0.77 C above the long-term average, which ties 2003.

For the year, month-to-month, 2007 is only 0.03 C below the record set in 2003.

Global warming is just a myth, though. Of course.