Friday, February 27, 2009

Pleasant Grove City v. Summum

There was a remarkable decision handed down by the Supreme Court the other day, and it hasn't gotten nearly enough attention.

The case was Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, No. 07-665. You can read the background and decision here -- I won't repeat it.

Most amazing is Justice Alito's explanation of the court's decision. Essentially, he says the government has a right of "government speech" and on that basis alone can decide what does and does not appear in government property.

Such a right is completely without precedent and a clear affront to the First Amendment.

Essentially, it says that whatever government wants to establish, it can, regardless of the feelings of anyone else not in the government. It is no less than an excuse for the tyranny of the majority.

Lapdogs Scalia and Thomas concurred (of course).
In a concurring opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the decision on Wednesday should foreclose all challenges to the Ten Commandments monument.
This is simply unbelievable to me. It essentially says that the government can choose which religions they will publicize and which they will not. Which they will support (tacitly or not), and which they will not. How can this not be contrary to the honest meaning of the First Amendment?

I am amazed at the degree to which people like Alito will dishonestly twist language to enact their favored weltenschaung.

This decision is a travesty. There ought to be a rally in Salt Lake City, with about 300,000 citizens, who go and dig this Commandment memorial out of the ground.

Bottled Water

Here are some amazing facts about bottled water quoted from Jackie Grom's article in the 2/26 ScienceNOW Daily News:
  • From start to finish, bottled water consumes between 1100 and 2000 times more energy on average than does tap water.
  • Bottled water consumption has skyrocketed over the past several years. In 2007, some 200 billion liters of bottled water were sold worldwide, and Americans took the biggest gulp: 33 billion liters a year, an average of 110 liters per person.
  • bottled water has now surpassed milk and beer in sales
  • the global demand for bottle production alone uses 50 million barrels of oil a year--that's 2 1/2 days of U.S. oil consumption.
  • U.S. bottled-water consumption in 2007 required an energy input equivalent to 32 million to 54 million barrels of oil. Global energy demand for bottled water is three times that amount. To put that energy use into perspective, Gleick says to imagine that each bottle is up to one-quarter full of oil.

H+ Magazine

Here's a new magazine worth checking out: H+ Magazine, where H stands for Human. Stories on transhumanism, nanotech, the Singularity, living longer, and the like. Check it out.

Viewing the ISS

Here is a neat site that will tell you when and where you can see the International Space Station orbit overhead of where you live.

If you get out in the country it's really amazing how many satellites you can see go by, once you lay still on the ground for awhile and your eyes adjust a little. I don't do enough of that kind if thing anymore.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Chris Horner thinks that because NASA's carbon observatory satellite went into the ocean the other day the science is still unsettled:

The meaning of that global-warming satellite splashing down has struck home.

It looks like the science is just going to have to remain settled for a little while longer.

Which we have had officially confirmed by President Obama last night, of course, because without the massive revenues derived from the new, biggest-revenue-measure-in-our-history global-warming tax that's built into Obama's budget assumptions, he can't pay for his social engineering. The science has gotta be settled.

By the way, I have been reading -- or trying to read -- Horner's latest book, Red Hot Lies. Even considering the fact that I don't agree with his major thesis, I don't think I've ever read a whinier book than this. Everyone Horner disagrees with is an "alarmist"or a fraud. Everyone he agrees with is inevitably painted as a hero fighting the good fight.

I honestly don't mind -- and, in fact, welcome -- legitimate scientific arguments that purport to call anthropogenic climate change into doubt. But Horner's half-truths and fabrications and utter whining is so off-putting is so horrendous it's difficult to stomach for even a few pages. It is a crime that he has received all the publicity he has, which I can only attribute to a robust, colluding right-wing machine.

Carbon Sequestration

Is there something I'm missing about carbon sequestration? I just don't see how people (besides the coal industry) can get interested in it. For example, here the EPA boasts about an experimental project that will sequester... 1 Mmt (1 million metric tonnes), and say that ultimately the site could hold 100 Bmt.

The world emits 70 Mmt/day. Per day. And the US emits about 7 Bmt/yr (2006). So this site would only work for about 14 years.

OK, so maybe there are several such sites possible around the US.

But beyond that, it seems to me the chances of an accidental release of the sequestered CO2 could be phenomenal. If the CO2 escapes, it tends to lie low to the ground (being heavier than air) and suffocates people. You might recall Lake Nyos (1986: 1700 people dead, 3500 livestock dead).

Claims that these underground caverns will be safe...forever... something about it just doesn't smell right. Placing nuclear waste deep underground for millenia is bad enough.... but nuclear waste isn't a gas, even though one heavier than air....

Gas-to-Oil Price Ratio

I don't really know what this means, but the ratio of the price of gas to that of oil (on a per-volume basis) has been acting really strange lately:

(Click to enlarge.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Incongruous Things

1) Portland is considering cutting 8 days of school this year because of lack of funds.

2) More than 5,000 profitable corporations operating in Oregon paid no income taxes in 2006 beyond the $10 minimum, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy. Among the 5,156 profitable corporations that paid just $10 were 31 with over $1 million in Oregon taxable income.

3) Business leaders complain that Oregon workers often are poorly educated.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


"Putting astronauts on space stations is like putting little human tellers inside ATM machines."

Robert Park, What's New

"Inside the Meltdown"

For a great review of the unfolding of the financial crisis, watch this 1-hr Frontline episode, Inside the Meltdown.

Frontline is always good, anytime I've taken the time to watch it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Have Arrived

I have arrived -- there is now a blog dedicated to calling me all kinds of names and denigrating what I think. And it's by a wanna-be-Limbaugh talk show host in Portland!

Unfortunately, she seems to have run out of steam lately.

A Very Good Guide to Climate Change

This 9-page document from the UK Met Office is the clearest and most succinct introduction to anthropogenic climate change I've seen. If you want a 10-minute rehash of the argument or need something sharp to give to a skeptic friend, you probably can't do better than this.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Shark Attacks Down

Well, here's one good thing about the current economic downturn: shark attacks were down 17% last year, because fewer people
could go to the beach

I suppose chocking deaths decline
during a famine, too.

Vulcan for Google Earth

Vulcan is an application that gives you CO2 emission data on Google Earth:

The CO2 data is from 2002, but the researchers say they hope to update it -- and eventually get down to the single building level.

You can download it here.

Australian Fires

The fires in Australia have burned 3,900 square-kilometers, which is just about the size of Rhode Island -- or, and this sounds scarier -- about 15% of Massachusetts.

Here's a satellite view.


The new U.S. climate envoy's name is Todd Stern. This guy. Not this guy, though there is some potential for confusion. If only his approach to climate change is as good as his name.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Regulating Carbon Dioxide

This seems almost impossible to believe:
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.
(NY Times, Feb 18, 2009).

Sometimes I think like I fell dead a few months ago and have woken up in a completely foreign world.

I am still not optimistic, though, that we -- i.e. the world -- can get to a zero-carbon society anytime soon, which is really what we need. These are good starts, though 30 yrs too late.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Talk at the MAC, March 6th

I'll be at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Oregon on Friday, March 6th, 11:30 am, to talk about global warming. I believe it's only open to MAC members. Look for the meeting room of the "Entrepreneur's Underground Group."

I'll talk for about 20 minutes, meteorologist Chuck Weiss will talk for about 20 minutes, and then there will be about 30 minutes of Q&A.

Should be interesting.

George Will and Global Warming

As he does about once a year, George Will again wrote a column denouncing anthropogenic global warming. Except he got a few vital facts wrong, and this time the very scientific organization he quoted called him out on it.

This is, unfortunately, nothing new. In the past I've written to Will's given email address,, about errors in his column. Of course, no one ever writes back.

I just don't understand how a supposed esteemed columnist can get away with making such blatant errors. Perhaps this time there is more pressure than usually to get him to correct. You can help by writing to Will at the above address, and/or his editor Fred Hiatt, demanding objective and factual reporting.

Harrison Schmidt

It is difficult to know what to make of this article about former astronaut, former New Mexico Senator, and MIT-educated geologist Harrison Schmidt, written by the Associated Press.

The article says:
Schmitt said historical documents indicate average temperatures have risen by 1 degree per century since around 1400 A.D., and the rise in carbon dioxide is because of the temperature rise.
It is difficult to see how Schmidt can be right in either of these claims.

The article is sloppy and doesn't say whether Schmidt is referring to Fahrenheit or Celsius degrees, but even if it's the former that would be a 6°F (3°C) degree increase in average global temperatures since the middle ages. I have never seen any scientific paper that shows anything like that, by a factor of at least 5.

Also, I thought it was well-established that the carbon dioxide being added to today's atmosphere by human activities is different than "natural" carbon dioxide by its carbon isotopes.

The AP article did not bother with any other opinions or appear to have fact-checked Schmidt's claim in the least. Nor did Tom Sharpe, the reporter at the Santa Fe New Mexican from which this article seems to have originated.

Could an MIT-PhD in geology really not know this? Or am I missing something?

Transit Ridership Up, Services Down

With the economic downturn and the continuing difficulty with energy prices, you'd think use of mass transit would be up. And it is. But Portland's TriMet is culling back its services. Why?

Because the system is heavily subsidized. Fares only pay for about 20% of the cost of a ride. The rest comes from taxing businesses, and those businesses are suffering.

So, just when it's needed most, public transportation is being cut back. Clearly something doesn't compute here, but it's difficult to see another solution.

(Personally, I would raise gas taxes by about 50 cents/gal and give it all to mass transit.)

Wyden in Oregon

Senator Ron Wyden makes a point of visiting every county in Oregon every year.

There are 36 counties in Oregon, and it is the 9th largest state in the country.

That's a pretty good Senator.

Bloggers Asking Questions

John Quiggin is again blogging about my post of awhile back, asking why bloggers can't pick up the phone once in awhile and ask a few questions, instead of sitting back and waiting for journalists to do it for them.

My example was Kevin Drum asking about the governor of Alaska. Come one, all Kevin Drum has to say is that he's with Mother Jones magazine. He is with Mother Jones magazine. That's all the entr'ee he needs, and it's far more than most bloggers have.

As a freelance journalist I face this problem all the time -- how do you poke around and find out enough information to see if there's a story, when you don't yet have an assignment and can't say you're writing for X magazine? Well, you just screw up your courage and do it. You just say you're a freelance journalist looking into a possible story. Call yourself a "citizen journalist" if you must.

I thought bloggers took pride in being "citizen journalists."

If traditional newspaper journalism is dying, then citizen journalism is one of the models that is going to take its place. And if you want to be a citizen journalist you need to be no less bulldogged, courageous, and (when it's called for) pissy than traditional journalists. Those in authority won't want to answer your questions either way. They never have. That's exactly why you're needed.

At the very least, you're a citizen, aren't you? Start acting like one. Because they are counting on your docility.

So if you're a blogger, especially from a major magazine or even a major blog (like Crooked Timber certainly is), or you just want to make a difference, get over your fear and make some calls anyway. Already we see that people are responding to blogs and their worth -- Obama called on the Huffington Post in his first press conference, didn't he?

Camille Parmesan profile

I have an article about assisted migration of species in response to global warming, as part of a profile of associate professor of biology Camille Parmesan of Univ Texas at Austin, in the March issue of Scientific American.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Battlestar Galactica

I gave up television a year and a half ago, and I have no regrets.

Sure, there are some good programs there.

But there are also many programs that are, let's face it, simply crap.

In fact, most of the are.

Not to mention that you have to spend 1/3rd of the time watching advertisements.

So now I rent DVDs from my local library -- which is, frankly, a really, really great library for a community this size -- or even rent a few from the local Blockbuster.

Lately I am into Deadwood Season 2 and Battlestar Galactica S1 E5+. I have never watched television when you were supposed to, when it first came out. I only discovered Seinfeld about 2002, long after it was in syndication. Same now for Deadwood and BG.

But I don't mind.

Anyway, my sister saw The Gourds the other night in Portland, and it turns out they're pretty good:

Consensus on Climate Economics

In Slate, Eric Pooley -- who spent a semester at Harvard studying this -- says that not only is there an scientific consensus on the causes of climate change -- something anyone here knows -- but that there is an emerging economic consensus on the costs and benefits of addressing the problem.

You can read his detailed thoughts here. The bottom line is:
  • "...there is a broad consensus that the cost of climate inaction would greatly exceed the cost of climate action—it's cheaper to act than not to act. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving to alternative energy sources and capturing carbon from coal-fired power plants will cost less in the long run than dealing with the effect of rising sea levels, drought, famine, wildfire, pestilence, and millions of climate refugees."
  • the cost of acting is less than 1% of GDP through the middle of the century,
US GDP in 2007 was $13.8T. One percent of that is $140 billion/yr, or about what all environmental regulations currently cost the US.

Is this affordable? It's about 1/4th of what we spend on the military, and about 1/2 what we spend on servicing our debt.

It is, of course, only a fraction of what we're currently spending to bail out banks and stimulate the economy. Last quarter the US GDP fell at an annual rate of 3.8% -- four times more than solving the climate problem entails.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Stuff I've come across lately:
  • NASA GISS says Jan 2009's global surface temperature anomaly was +0.52°C, much warmer than the previous January's +0.15°C.
  • This is wholly depressing: According to a new poll from Gallup, only 39% of Americans say they believe in Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. 25% do not believe in it, and 36% had no opinion. Even among people with postgraduate degrees, 27% did not believe or had no opinion. And maybe even worse, only 55% could associate the name "Darwin" with the correct scientific idea.
  • A recent email from DeSmog blog advertises an upcoming book, Keeping Our Cool, by "Nobel Laureate" Dr. Andrew Weaver. This guy. The Nobel Laureate appellation is because of his participation as an IPCC scientist.

    I have all the respect for any IPCC scientist and they can be certainly be proud of their part in its being awarding half the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. But as the prize went to the organization, comprised of hundreds (if not thousands) of scientists, it seems to me a bit haughty to then call yourself a "Nobel Laureate." Ironically (and hypocritically), DeSmogBlog called this out when Fred Singer did something similar. It shouldn't depend what side of the fence you're on.

    By all means, any IPCC scientist deserves to note that he/she was part of the Nobel-winning IPCC team. But "Laureate?" It seems appropriate the way Mann notes it:

    "Co-awarded (along with several hundred other scientists) the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for involvement in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (lead author of chapter 2 of the Third Assessment Report, 2001)."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Portland's Downtown Stadium

Something very suspicious is going on in the Portland (OR) sports scene, and I don't see anyone from anywhere covering this.

Portland has an absolutely beautiful baseball stadium, PGE Park, directly adjacent to its downtown area (about 10 blocks north) and only about 3 minutes by public transportation from downtown.

This park sits well-placed where it is, home to the minor-league team Portland Beavers and Portland State University's home football games.

It's a beautiful park, better even than Fenway -- which says a lot. I've only been to Fenway once, and even then had a big thick neck brace on after a surgery, and sat in the far right-field bleachers with all the other mopes, but right after then game when the crowds left I sat there mostly alone and watched the park and it was a glorious thing.

And PGE Park is equally well situated.

So why are the city commissioners of Portland trying to undo this thing of beauty? The son of Henry Paulson -- himself worth $800M and a big architech of the Bush's administration's supposed bailout in the administration's last months -- is trying to move the Beaver's out of this stadium so it can be used for professional soccer.

He expects the city to build a new stadium, somewhere out in the Lents district.

What a complete, utter waste. First of all, this is a beautiful, functional baseball stadium. Why replace it?

Second of all, why can't the Paulson's build their own fucking stadium? They're worth $800M. What's stopping them, if this is such a good investment?

There is something very suspicious going on here, and Portland's city commissioner's aren't talking at all.

The Senate's Stimulus Plan

The Senate today passed the administration's stimulus plan.


I think. Maybe not. I mean, who the hell knows what this plan really is.

Let's face it: 98 out of 100 Americans have absolutely no idea if this plan is good, bad, or indifferent. They have absolutely no idea what it does.

Quick: name one thing this plan does. Just one.

I didn't think so.


All I know is they are spending another $800+ billion that we apparently don't have. Didn't we just spend about $800 last fall before the Bush administration finally croaked to shore up Wall Street and various banks?

I sure as hell don't know. I read that as much as $87B of this was wasted.

Who knows?


The New York Times -- supposed to be the paper of record -- produces a completely useless article announcing the stimulus package.

Tell me, from reading this article, what it is all about.

I dare you.

You can't. I can't either.


Let's face it -- the vast, vast majority of Americans have no idea what is being done right now in Washington, what is being spent, how much, where, or anything like that. This is all a huge crap shoot.

It is the best argument for Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful" that I can possibly imagine.


Where can I go to join another country -- or, better yet, be part of no country whatsoever? I am only halfway serious -- but that definitely leaves the other half where I am serious....

Wind Employs More than Coal

The wind industry now employs more people than than the coal mining industry.

That's according to a recent report from the American Wind Energy Association.

So don't tell me that a switch to a green economy is some kind of communist plot intended to put the US on a path to socialism.

Energy efficiency is a job-generating paradigm, no less than is replacing old bridges or building new, energy-sucking buildings.

Bill Gates's Mosquitoes

"Gates said the mosquitoes were malaria-free. But this was a Microsoft release -- there's no way it didn't have some virus."

-- Stephen Colbert, Feb 9, 2009

UAH temperature anomaly

UAH's global tropospheric temperature anomaly for Jan 2009 is +0.30°C, just about the same as RSS.

That's the warmest since Mar-07.


Some interesting stuff I've come across lately:
  • frequent and/or long-term marijuana use may increase a man's risk of developing the most aggressive type of testicular cancer by up to 70%.
  • Barack Obama at yesterday's press conference:
    "When people suggest that, what a waste of money to make federal buildings more energy efficient -- why would that be a waste of money? We're creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings, or weatherizing 2 million American's homes, as was called for in the package. So that right there creates economic stimulus. And we are saving taxpayers when it comes to federal buildings potentially $2 billion. In the case of homeowners, they will see more money in their pockets, and we're reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East. Why wouldn't we want to make that kind of investment?"
  • Galileo first used a telescope in 1609, 400 years ago this year.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Vandals Took the Handles

I swear, if anyone else tried to do this -- you or me -- just showed some cards as the song played -- we'd look like first class idiots. But Dylan pulls it off without even trying. Where's the difference?

Australlan Wildfires

The wildfires in Australia have killed at least 173 people, as of today.... Australia's population is only about 21.6M -- so an equivalent number for the U.S. would be an inconceivable 2,430 burned to death.... essentially another 9/11....

This heat wave in Australia has been said to be (from what I've read) a one-in-a-hundred year event.... and the accompanying wildfires.... well, it's exactly the kind of thing predicted to be more frequent as the globe warms. (I think I read that the last 1-100 fire in Australia was 1973.)

I suspect this event is going to rank with the 2003 French heat wave, where about 35,000 people died.... and no, it's not direct proof of anthropogenic global warming. No single weather fluctuation can be proof of anything. But, let's be clear, it is exactly in line with the kind of increase in tragedy that one expects with AGW.... Yes, I'm sure that the number of deaths in Australia have been larger because there is more development going on in Australia and its population is growing year-by-year....

When the Aliens Arrive

The current issue of The New Yorker has a great little short story, "The Invasion from Outer Space," by Steven Millhauser, that is probably more realistic than anything Heinlein, Asimov, or Spielberg ever wrote. And even better in its own way. It probably wouldn't make as good a movie, though. Read it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

January RSS temperature anomaly

RSS says that January's troposphere was +0.322°C above the long-term average. That's the largest figure in year and a half and much larger than last January's -0.066°C.

It's interesting to read the comments at What's Watts Up With That. This number must be wrong, of course, because it's too large for their ideologies. Of course, the numbers seemed alright last year when they were relatively low. So it goes. Kind of reminds me what Planck said:
"An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarised with the ideas from the beginning."
-- Max Planck

Monday, February 02, 2009

Phelp's Pot

I am, frankly, happy to see that a few tokes by Michael Phelps on a bong are not getting very far in the media -- despite the best efforts of the always atrocious British press to make a controversy out of every little thing, as they always do.

It's just pot. It's no worse than alcohol, and, in terms of the damage each inflicts on society, probably even less benign. All of our recent presidents have done it -- and worse -- and you can hardly be a normal member of society and not have tried marijuana (at least) in your youth. There's almost something wrong with you if you have not.

When are we going to stop playing this stupid game of demonyizing pot, spending billions on a drug war that doesn't matter (and, worse, gets no results), and imprisioning perfectly sane people who like to get a little high (no different than a little buzz)?

The problem, I suspect, is that too many companies who run prisons and too many enforcement agencies who have nothing better to do are getting rich/jobs off this scheme.

This is really getting insane.

ADDITION: Tunku Varadarajan of wrote: In the hierarchy of life forms on this, our earth, the British tabloid journalist lies somewhere between the hagfish and the dung beetle. However, a story Sunday in the News of the World (proprietor: Keith Rupert Murdoch) has made me scratch my chin and wonder whether we are, in fact, being a tad unkind to the dung beetle.

And here's the best part: Given that Michael Phelps' career would have remained blissfully undestroyed had the paper chosen not to publish the photograph, one has to marvel at the amoral audacity of the News of the World: in purporting to report on the potential harm to Phelps' image and career from his having smoked cannabis, the newspaper was, in fact, perpetrating that very harm.

It's no different than the Limbaugh's/Hannity's/Beck's of the world, who say the most outrageous things they can get away with because they know that people like to be outraged. It only adds to their ratings.

It is a screwed up world.

Usama Young

Usama Young of the New Orleans Saints make a commercial that appeared during the Super Bowl:

Where are the Republicans making fun of his name? Where are the Ann Coulters implying that he's somehow a terrorist because he name is spelled like Osama bin Laden?

Nowhere, of course. He's an NFL hero -- they're afraid of him.

Man, I really, really hate politics. It was bad enough this year, but it never seems to change. And notice how quickly the cowards shut up as soon as the election is decided.

From what I've read, it was just as nasty in the 19th century as it is now. And it's always the same old cowardly people. Why can't this change?

Overrating the Fishing Industry

There's something I have noticed about Oregon, but I think it's probably true about a lot of places. It was back in New England.

The fishing industry here gets a lot of coverage. In particular, it gets a lot of scientific analysis from the state universities. It's a noble industry, old, part of the state's heritage, no less than timber. For example, everyone seems to fret about the salmon catch every year, or its prospects, or about whether its fisherman need state or federal help.

But the coverage is, it seems to me, all out of proportion to the industry's impact. Commercial fishing in Oregon nets about $300M/yr and employs roughly 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, the state's GDP is about $140B (2006). It's population is 3.7M.

The fishing industry is, in Oregon, tiny. By comparison, about 2% of Oregon's GDP comes from the solar industry -- roughly $3B/yr, or 10 times that of the fishing industry.

But, when times are hard or the fish run scarce, you see lots of stories about laid off fisherman, yet very few about laid off solar engineers. They are, for the most part, men who have spent their entire lives in the field -- which is, admittedly, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world -- and have little training or education for anything else. And people here, just as they did in New England, like their heritage and like to think about the old days. So the fisherman tend to get a lot of attention and a lot of help.

I'm just not sure it's really the best way to support the economy.