Monday, June 30, 2008


Over on Dot Earth they're talking about James Hansen's recent call for criminal prosecution of oil and coal executives who deny anthropogenic global warming, and some objected to his comparisons to the holocaust. Commenter "16 tons" has a brilliant suggestion for what more coal would do to the environment that avoids the problem yet retains the heart of the matter:



Sunday, June 29, 2008

America in Decline?

"My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working."

-- Thomas Friedman, NY Times

Friday, June 27, 2008

Portland Public Transportation

Portland, Oregon public transportation subsidies per ride:

pink = buses
yellow = light rail
blue = system total


WWF ad

Ads like this are complete scaremongering, without any scientific basis whatsoever, foolish and unconvincing, and do damage to the cause of seriously tackling global warming. I wish these environmental groups would just cut it the hell out.

Natural Gas vs. Oil

Here's something I don't understand: if the spike in oil prices is due to Peak Oil, why are natural gas prices also spiking?

Ice free North Pole Overhyped

I was corresponding with someone at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado about today's Independent story that the North Pole is going to be ice free this year.

He said the paper has overstated the story -- that there's the possibility of an ice free north pole around the end of the summer. But there's certainly the possibility that it won't happen this year.

The Independent does qualify their claim lower in the story, but if you just read the headline you'll be confused.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

9:35 pm

9:35 pm, and there is still more than a bit of dusk in the atmosphere in Portland.


I think Dalia Lithwick perfectly captures the essence of today''s Supreme Court ruling on the second amendment:
At Slate’s Breakfast Table discussion, Dahlia Lithwick uses the occasion to tweak Justice Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion: “I must first pass along this rather brilliant observation from professor Stephen Wermiel from American University, who wonders why none of the dissenters cautioned the majority that today’s decision ‘will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.’ (Boumediene, Scalia, J. dissenting.)”
Scalia might just be the most dangerous person in American, and perhaps even the world.

Spreadsheet Blegs

A couple of questions, if anyone knows:
  • Sometimes a recently calculated MS Excel cell contains a colon after the number, i.e.
What does the colon mean?
  • I always format my MS Excel cells that are dates as MM/DD/YY. But periodically, about every 2 weeks or so (varies), Excel reformats them as MM/DD/YYYY -- and not just in one spreadsheet, but every spreadsheet I have (or at least, that I have in the same directory). Why does this happen?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Green Weddings

Does this make any (environmental) sense at all? “
More couples are wanting a low-impact, small, destination wedding, where instead of making everyone fly somewhere for one day, they have their close friends and family fly somewhere like Costa Rica or Mexico for a few days of celebrating,” said Ms. Meyers....

-- "Love, Honor, Leave No Carbon Footprint," Jennifer Conlin, NY Times, 6/22/08

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gingrich on Drilling

I have always had the impression, anytime I've ever heard Newt Gingrich talk, that he was half blitzed on Southern Comfort, in that all-day, keep-it-going kind of way:

Do you know what I mean?


That said, I can't see what offshore drilling has to do with American family values. It is hardly clear that it's a net gain. It's hardly clear that it would strengthen American families. In fact, I can't see anything but that it would strengthen American corporations, and to assume that that strengthens American families is a...very bold leap with, as far as I can see, little proof.

Why can't Newt Gingrich just go away?


Yes, I am a rutting intellectual fool, but I'm not immune to some common pleasures. And this Hancock movie with Will Smith looks pretty good:
Jason Bateman was beyond brilliant in Arrested Development (thanks,, and he looks equally brilliant here. Will Smith, eh, OK. I can tolerate him. The concept looks novel and I can see myself seeing this movie.

And I haven't been paid to write this.

Krauthammer Crap

On, Charles Krauthammer writes:
The entire Arctic refuge is one-third the size of the United Kingdom (which includes Scotland and Wales). The drilling site would be one-seventh the size of Manhattan Island. The footprint is tiny. I hope you know this is completely false.
There is not some 2,000 acre pool of oil waiting to be slurped up – oil drilling would occur over a vast area of almost 2 million acres. The famous “2,000 acre” figure that would supposedly be used for drilling includes only the spot where equipment actually touches the ground -- this perverse metric was snuck in by none other than New Hampshire's John Sununu, in one of the most dishonest pieces of legislation to ever enter Congress.
By Sununu's logic, your car occupies about 2 sq. ft. of land.

That figure does not include roads, pipelines (except for the tiny footprint of their support posts), gravel mines, exploration wells, and other sites that severely affect the well-being of wildlife to roam. You can be sure that heavy industry will criss-cross the entire area before they are through. And that seriously inhibits the ability of wildlife to roam freely and thrive.

Moreover, there’s relatively little oil in ANWR – high-end estimates are about 12 billion barrels. The U.S. uses over 7 billion barrels each year. And it’s not like ANWR oil will be reserved for Americans – it will be auctioned on the world market at the highest possible price.

Walking = 220 mpg

Clark Williams-Derry of Seattle's Sightline Institute has a nice analysis in their weekly mailing: walking burns about 220 mpg, or 1/12th that of driving.

The claim made awhile back that it's better, GHG-wise, to drive than walk, is bogus. It assumed that human calories were made up of beef, the most GHG-intensive food of all. Of course, those who wanted to use the study for ideological purposes failed to note this inconvenient fact.

Interesting Factoid

Yoram Bauman, an environmental economist at the University of Washington, says:
As a very rough rule of thumb, flying produces the same carbon emissions per passenger as driving the same distance solo in a 30 mpg vehicle.
He also agrees with Appell's Theorem:
Let’s be realistic: If Americans have to give up on air travel and hot showers in order to save the world, then the world is just not going to get saved.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

S Korea's protests over Beef

Can you imagine that tens of thousands of Americans might protest over the sale of beef greater than a few years old?

For that matter, can you imagine American's protesting about anything whatsoever?

I don't know to what extent the South Korea beef protests have been organized by their government. Not much, is my impression. And yet many of them are out there, vocal about what they are expected to eat. The French protest. Those in the middle East certainly do.

What a difference from this country.

Here, we eat whatever beef we get. The administration sends young men to be killed for the sake of Exxon and BP, and no one seems to even understand it at all (least of all the pitiful press). We accept high gas prices for the sake of high profits, and are generally content to be screwed up the ass on pretty much every economic factor in the universe.

And still no one complains.

What is going on? I never saw a protest in New Hampshire, about anything. Here in Portland there is the occasional protest march, until 3:00 when everyone decides it's time to go to the pub. The streets quiet very quickly.

We were born from the froth of revolution. Even a hundred and fifty years ago we felt so strongly about issues as to engage in a horrid civil war. People even tried in the '60s...and a few poor souls in Seattle in 1999.

Where is it now? Is everyone too happy, too afraid, too confused, too stupid? I don't understand.

Gore's Electricity Usage

Look, I know that we are not going to solve the global warming problem through conservation. And we will never revert back to some 1880's-lifestyle for the sake of the climate.

But, really, Al Gore ought to be a little more careful about his energy usage, given his profile, and especially given his commitment, last year, to installing solar power at his home. I'm sure it must be a pain in the rear to be the type of celebrity for whom activist groups request electricity bills, but knowing that, and knowing (as Gore must) that the global warming battle is now a matter of public relations and not so much science, shouldn't Gore be more cognizant of his energy usage?

Yes, he should. Even if he is buying carbon offsets. Most people don't understand offsets and just see that Gore is an energy hog when he's asking people to use less energy.

And really, how do you use 17,800 kW-hr/month, anyway? I use 450 kW-hr/mth. I couldn't get up to Gore's level if I tried my best. What's he doing with all that electricity?

Iraqi Oil

Of course the Iraq War hasn't been about oil. Of course.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


My nephew is now 3.65 years old, and I'm amazed at how abstract his thinking has become in the last few months. Tonight he said "That makes her nervous." I forget who he was talking about -- it doesn't matter. I can't believe he knows the word "nervous," or knows the proper way to use it, a fairly complicated emotional notion.

You can talk to him about almost everything, and hold a conversation, and have a good time with him for at least a half-hour at a time. Eight month ago he would ask lots of questions like "What does that mean? when you used the word "ketchup," but anymore there's none of that. He has lots of funny things to say, too, and he knows it. He is so simple and alive. His growth is astronomical.

On the other hand, he is fairly obsessed with poop right now, and it comes up ever 7 minutes or so.

Holding the Sun

Friday, June 13, 2008

Patek Quote

"When asked by a reporter what it felt like to be the smallest player in the Major Leagues, Patek replied- "it's better than being the smallest player in the Minor Leagues."

-- Freddie Patek

EIA's Lousy Predictions

Eric de Place at Seattle's Sightline Institute has some interesting recent statistics from the US Energy Information Agency:
  • In February 2008, the EIA forecast that gasoline prices would peak at $3.40 in the spring.
  • In March, they forecast that prices would peak at $3.50 in the spring.
  • In April, they forecast that gas prices would peak at $3.60 in the spring.
  • By early May, prices were at $3.57 and climbing, so the new official projection said that prices would peak this month, in June, at $3.73.
  • By late May -- just weeks after the new forecast -- the average price was already at $3.94. And yesterday's national average gasoline price was $4.04. So now they're saying that prices will peak in August, at $4.15.
Obviously, as de Place shows, the EIA doesn't know what they're talking about, or are making predictions purely for political purposes. Which means you might well wonder how accurate their predictions of peak oil are -- which put it far out into the future.

There have always been reasons to doubt the EIA numbers, simply because they were coming from a government -- a very interested party. I think de Place has show here that they are losing credibilty very fast.

Oil statistics (Peak Oil?)

BP says:
2007 Oil Production = -0.2% from 2006 (81.5 Mb/d), the first year oil production has ever decreased from the year before

2007 Oil Consumption = +1.1% from 2006 (+0.9 Mb/d)
It is difficult to imagine that every oil well in the world isn't pumping all the oil they can, with oil at $135/b. If you made widgets and were, 4 years ago, getting $1 apiece for them, and if today you were able to sell the same widget for $3, wouldn't you be pumping them out as fast as you can? OK, you might leave a few widgets for future generations -- you might -- but let's face it, caring about future generations is not exactly a strong suit of human beings.

Planets and Plutoids

I emailed the IAU for clarification -- I have to keep on top of this stuff now because my 3.5-yr old nephew is becoming interested in the solar system -- and here's what they told me:
There 8 planets and 3 dwarf planets (Pluto, Ceres and Eris). 2 of the dwarf planets (Pluto and Eris) belong to a sub-category called plutoids.
I can't really understand these without some numbers, so here you go:
Ceres: diameter = 950 km, mass = 1/3rd of the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt = 0.0002 Earths

Pluto: diameter = 2390 km, mass = 0.0021 Earths, avg. distance to Sun = 39.5 AU

Eris: diameter = 2600 km (greater than Pluto!) = 0.0027 Earths, avg. distance to Sun = 67.7 AU = 1.7 x Pluto

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Nomenclature

New nomenclature:
Plutoid: Plutoids are celestial bodies in orbit around the Sun at a distance greater
than that of Neptune that have sufficient mass for their self-gravity to
overcome rigid body forces so that they assume a hydrostatic equilibrium
(near-spherical) shape, and that have not cleared the neighbourhood around
their orbit. The two known and named plutoids are Pluto and Eris. It is
expected that more plutoids will be named as science progresses
and new discoveries are made.
So Pluto is no longer a planet, ruining all that time I spent on the toilet in 7th grade reading "The Search for Planet X" by Clyde Tombaugh. (I have no idea why, but that is my association with the book.)

The International Astronomical Union also says:
The dwarf planet Ceres is not a plutoid as it is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Current scientific knowledge lends credence to the belief that Ceres is the only object of its kind. Therefore, a separate category of Ceres-like dwarf planets will not be proposed at this time.
This is getting a little confusing, and frankly right now I don't know what to tell my 3-yr old nephew, who is starting to learn about dinosaurs and planets. How many planets are there (8?), and how many plutoids (2?), and what the heck is Ceres?

NYT Letter

A good letter in today's NY Times:

To the Editor:

Re “The Cons of Creationism” (editorial, June 7):

The debate over science versus creationism is in part fueled by the notion that everybody’s opinions and beliefs are equally valid. While in a democratic society we should be respectful of each other’s opinions and beliefs, this is not how science operates.

The scientific method has well- defined rules by which we decide whether a solution to a scientific problem is correct or not. It is not that we believe or have the opinion that a certain solution is correct — we prove it scientifically one way or another.

Thus there are right and wrong solutions that may seem unfair, undemocratic and elitist. But this is how science advances and produces the marvelous technological developments that surround us. And this is not a belief. It is a fact.

Ivan K. Schuller
La Jolla, Calif., June 7, 2008

The writer is a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Right Wing Radio

Right wing radio has gotten pretty heinous, but tonight I heard something on the radio that took it to a new low.

I was going to the store and heard Lars Larson -- who thinks he's Portland's answer to Rush Limbaugh -- comment on the radio that the tomato salmonella crisis might be because the Mexicans who pick our vegetables don't wash their hand, or because (and I couldn't really get this) something like these Mexican workers shared a low-flush toilet when they returned to Mexico.

This is just terrible racism. I know that right-wing talk show hosts gather their audience by saying audacious things, outrageous things, even, whether they truly believe them or not. They say the thing most calculated to outrage people and get their goat, which, unfortunately, people somehow love and it gets them to listen even more. And they get so deep in this web that they lose track of what they are exaggerating and what they think they are about and end up being the dumbest idiot's out there.

It is really sad when you break it down, what Lars Larson is willing to do just to make $140K/yr. I wonder if he ever wanted to do better.


Admit it: wouldn't you just once in your life like to say to someone, with your heart pounding in your chest, "We're go, Flight."

Just a Google

This seems destined to enter the Internets lexicon as yet another sign of a politician's cluelessness about the Internet:

Today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was fundraising in Richmond, VA, and joked about how he vets prospective VP candidates:

“We’re going through a process where you get a whole bunch of names, and ya … Well, basically, it’s a Google. You just, you know, what you can find out now on the Internet. It’s remarkable, you know.”

Could there possibly be any more succinct summary of why McCain is the wrong man for these times?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Coldest May in 8 years

Don't put away your ice ax just yet: May 2008 was the coldest May since 2000, according to NASA GISS: +0.36°C above the baseline.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

miles per dollar

Like most, some, a few, ok, maybe it's just me -- nerds, I keep track of most of the relevant numbers in my life. Perhaps a little obsessively.

Anyway, I've plotted the miles I get in my car per dollar of gas, over the years:

(The gap is when I either didn't have a car or kept lax statistics.)

I'm getting only 1/7th the miles I once did, per dollar of gasoline.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Why Did Clinton Lose?

Why did Hillary Clinton lose the Democratic presidential nomination?

The press is all over themselves today trying to figure it out. There so-called experts blame everyone from the pitiful fundraisers to her vote on Iraq to her husband, and more.

Maybe. But I think she lost for one simple reason, and it is completely encapsulated in this picture:

This is perhaps the fake, forced expression I can imagine. Completely ingenuine.

And yet, how many times have we seen this on this campaign? Every other day, it seems.

There is not a genuine sentiment in this picture. I do not believe it's how Mrs. Clinton looks when she is truly expressing astonishment.

This is, rather, her "I'm-on-camera-and-must-look-astonished look," and everyone knows it.
It is so obviously fake. It is clearly a lie. It is very off-putting.

You'd never catch Bill Clinton making this kind of face. Or Barack Obama. Or even John McCain.

This is why it's a good think Hillary lost. She just doesn't have that necessary, magical quality. She would have gone through her White House years fighting off all of the right-wing conspiracy that overwhelmed her husband, with the disadvantage of insincerity to boot.

It would have been a disaster, and we all now it. In fact, we now it by the sake of a very thin smile.

Tarbox Ramblers

The great thing about Michael Tarbox is that based solely on his voice you expect him to be some long-haired, bearded guy in a leather vest not unlike ZZ Top.

Instead, he's a completely normal-looking middle-aged white guy in shirt sleeves, and bald even. But he can sing:


Finally: a movie for the rest of us.

Friday, June 06, 2008


I have said publicly, and I will again, that unless he [Tom Delay] proves me
wrong, he is an asshole.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

rights to atmospheric carbon

On Stoat, William Connelley repeats Hansen's plan for a carbon tax returned directly to the public.

Not good enough. Not by far.

Humans don't own the atmosphere. No one does, and therefore everyone does. And that means, every cow and beetle and moose and human and worm on the planet. They all depend on the atmosphere; they all suffer when it is gone.

So how are we going to delegate atmospheric credits to other species, instead of just to humans. We already know that hundreds of them are going extinct because of climate change.

Why don' t they get a say?

PS: Yes, I'm serious.

Pet Peeve: Atomic vs. Nuclear

One of my biggest pet peeves is the way society uses the word "atomic" when they mean "nuclear." It has been going on for 60 years now, and now one seems to have the slightest clue.

For example, in tonight's NY Times:

2 Leaders Ousted From Air Force in Atomic Errors

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made the decision after an inquiry into the mishandling of nuclear weapons found systemic problems in the Air Force.

Atomic process take place in the space of an Angstrom. Nuclear processes take place in the space of a fermi. There's a factor of 100,000 between them.

Does it matter? I think it does. It is... well, it's 10:03 pm on a Thursday night. Too late to pontificate.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Inhofe Lies

The other day Sen. James Inhofe spoke on the senate floor, and this may well go down as the most brazen lie every uttered by a politician about any subject whatsoever:
“The vast majority of scientists do not believe that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are a major contributor to global warming.”
I don't believe in hell, and so I don't think James Inhofe is going to hell. But I simply cannot imagine the degree of complicity and utter truthlessness that a man must revert to to claim an absolute falsehood.

As lies go, this is as egregious as they come. Why is the press not all over this? I know, of course -- because they feel they have to respond to Hillary Clinton's endless and countless machinations in her withdrawal.

We are doomed as a species. I mean that sincerely and utterly. Our society has no ability whatsoever to clearly react to the environment around us, and to the changes we observe and measure that threaten us.