Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileak's Latest Leak

People like Max Boot think the job of journalists is to blindly ensure the supremacy of their particular nation-state, but fortunately some people still think otherwise.

The best defense of Wikileaks that I've read is by Simon Jenkins in yesterday's Guardian:
Anything said or done in the name of democracy is, prima facie, of public interest. When that democracy purports to be "world policeman" – an assumption that runs ghostlike through these cables – that interest is global.

Governments at all levels seem to have completely forgotten this.

Wikileaks asked the US govt for a list of people who might be put at risk by release of the documents -- the US, typically high-handed, refused to answer. Jenkins writes:
It is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets. Were there some overriding national jeopardy in revealing them, greater restraint might be in order. There is no such overriding jeopardy, except from the policies themselves as revealed. Where it is doing the right thing, a great power should be robust against embarrassment.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Al Gore May Have Just Lost All Relevance

All of a sudden, Al Gore may no longer be a credible player in the debate over global warming.

Gore sold-out. There are few other ways to interpret his recent admission that he supported ethanol not because of its potential to (partly) solve manmade climate change, but because he wanted votes for his presidential candidacy.

Let's be clear: ethanol was a decent effort. Not every proposed solution to the global warming problem is going to pan out, and it is often not clear whether a solution will pan out -- in whole or in part -- until you start down its path and learn about its problems, and its unintended consequences, in detail. (And you will only learn about some details by starting down the path.)

So I don't think you can fault anyone for having backing ethanol. But you can fault them if the primary reason they backed it was to garner votes -- which is what Gore seems to say he did:
"First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small," he said, referring to how much energy is produced in the process.
The U.S. ethanol industry will consume about 41 percent of the U.S. corn crop this year, or 15 percent of the global corn crop, according to Goldman Sachs analysts.
Gore explained his own support for the original program on his presidential ambitions.
"One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president" in 2000."
This is a noble proclamation -- but no less damaging. Gore did exactly what so many have accused climate skeptics/deniers of doing -- taking a position for political and/or economic gain.

Tonight, I can't see how he can outlive this or get his former credibility back.

America is No 1!

Here is a stunning portrait of where America ranks today, from a recent column by Thomas Friedmann:

  • sixth in global innovation-based competitiveness, but 40th in rate of change over the last decade; 
  • 11th among industrialized nations in the fraction of 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from high school; 
  • 16th in college completion rate; 
  • 22nd in broadband Internet access; 
  • 24th in life expectancy at birth; 
  • 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; 
  • 48th in quality of K-12 math and science education; 
  • 29th in the number of mobile phones per 100 people.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Golf

I like this, from some (unfortunately unacknowledged) AP writer in today's NY TImes:
Earl Woods understood golf is a solitary game played across the 5½-inch course between your ears. So that's where he set out to make his son unbeatable.

National Geographic's 2010 Photo Contest

Here's a great picture from National Geographic's 2010 Photo Contest, of a valley near Boise, Idaho. Many more great pictures here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

China is now the Big Dog -- Kinda

Well, at least China is being honest about it:
China acknowledged on Tuesday that it is the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, as it called on the United States to ensure climate change talks opening next week make progress.

Of course, their per-capita emissions are only about 1/4th that of the US, which keeps the moral responsibility for global leadership firmly in the US's hands. Not that we will do much with it. But let's at least keep the morality clear here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Glenn Beck: Suck This

For an American historian who researches totalitarianism and genocide, nothing is more disheartening than facile comparisons sometimes heard between Western leaders and Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin. When we are so wrong about history, we do a great injustice to ourselves.

The Stalin comparison rests on a basic misunderstanding of the history of communism. Americans often seem to think that social reforms are somehow steps toward communism. History tells a different story.

...Had Barack Obama been born in Nazi Germany, of one white and one African parent, he would have been sterilized. His election as president was actually one of the strongest refutations ever offered to Nazi ideology.


It goes without saying that Hitler and Stalin controlled parties that opposed democracy and legitimated themselves by ideology, propaganda and force rather than free elections. In both the Nazi and Stalinist cases, the rise to power required violence, and the sustenance of the regime more violence.

That some people would compare their own peacefully elected president to ideological mass murderers is a sign of reckless and shameful disregard for some of the most important lessons of history.

-- Timothy Snyder, NY Times, 11/16/10

Please, Shoot Us Now

It is starting to get very, very embarrassing to be an American, thanks to numskulls like this:
“The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth,” he said. “This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.”
“I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for his creation,” he said.

This is Republican John Simkus of Illinois, vying for control of the House Energy and Commerce committee, which has significant influence on federal energy policy and climate change regulation and legislation.

Earlier, Mr. Shimkus referenced what he called a theological debate over whether the Earth was a “carbon-starved planet.”
“If we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere?” he asked a committee witness. “We could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.”

How can you possibly overcome such an insane level of stupidity? Seriously.

Effect of the Montreal Protocol

Not all GHGs are CO2:
The Montreal Protocol has already delayed climate change by 7-12 years."

-- Mario Molina, UC San Diego, quoted in Environmental Science &Technology, Jan 1, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kill All the Drinking Cats

If I see one more link to another article about how cats drink I just might finally go live in a cave.

For some reason this week's Science magazine thought that news of cutting edge science should include an article about how cats drink water.

I was unaware that this was one of the great scientific problems of our age, but I must have been wrong.

True to form, every publication in the galaxy highlighted the story as if it were a major breakthrough, just as Science magazine knew they would. This is because science journalists, most of who have little scientific training, were thankful to finally have something to write about that they could understand, and that their increasingly uneducated readers could relate to.

Because no one cares that we have no idea what 96% of the Universe is composed of, or how we might solve our long-term climate issues, or even whether our standard view of particle physics is correct.

No, we need to know how cats drink.

What's worse is that I'm sure Science published this article, knowing it had no scientific importance and was merely an application of 150-year old physics, because they knew it would gets lots of attention from the hoi polloi and their magazine's name would be scattered across the publishing universe.

Not that anyone learned anything useful, except that fluid mechanics works. Not that that was ever in any doubt, of course, being a simple application of Newton's 400-yo laws of motion.

We can all be glad, of course, that cats are still escaping dehydration, and that they apparently have the necessary smarts to solve the differential equations to get fluid into their yaps.

But what about raccoons? Horses? Ferrets? I see a great many papers to come....


In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
-- Yogi Berra

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How *Not* to Advocate for Your Science

Great. Chris Mooney thinks climate scientists are supposed to make their case by... not being scientific:
So any scientist walking into this context had better be ready for one obvious trap: Being lured into talking about uncertainty to the detriment of what we actually know. It’s easy to ask a scientist a question that will invite a large volume of caveats and doubt-generating statements without leaving much time to discuss what’s firm, what we can rely on. A question like, “what are the limitations of existing climate models?” You get the picture.

Hey, you know what? Uncertainty is part of science. A big part. An inevitable part. Acknowledging the uncertainty of scientific conclusions is important. It's crucial. A scientist who doesn't talk about the limitations of his conclusions isn't a scientist, but just a pundit.

And God knows we have too many pundits out there already.

Anything else is, in fact, is a kind of lying. Is Mooney really suggesting that scientists should lie (i.e. not present the whole truth) for the sake of an agenda?

That would be exactly the wrong approach. You don't bow down to the audience. You elevate them and teach them what science is really all about.

These public relations people and English majors are going to ruin everything.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Chris Christie and Global Warming

Why doesn't the vaunted governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, believe in a human influence on global warming, as do essentially all earth scientists in existence? Because, well.... he can't really say. It seems to depend on which TV program he watched last night:
Mankind, is it responsible for global warming? Well I'll tell you something. I have seen evidence on both sides of it. I'm skeptical -- I'm skeptical. And you know, I think at the at the end of this, I think we're going to need more science to prove something one way or the other. But you know - cause I've seen arguments on both sides of it that at times - like I'll watch something about man made global warming, and I go wow, that's fairly convincing. And then I'll go out and watch the other side of the argument, and I go huh, that's fairly convincing too. So, I go to be honest with you, I don't know. And that's probably one of the reason's why I became a lawyer, and not a doctor, or an engineer, or a scientist, because I can't figure this stuff out. But I would say at this point, that has to be proven, and I'm a little skeptical about it. Thank you.

I wonder if he makes all his big decisions this way?

What Happened to Pittsburgh

Some blog called Urbanophile, written by Aaron M Renn, seems to know the big story about what happened to Pittsburgh and its environs in the '70s and '80s:
The lesson to be gleamed from Pittsburgh isn’t so much in what steps it’s taken on its way to recovery. Rather, the lesson to be learned from Pittsburgh is what happened to its Great Recession hit in 1983.

It failed. The steel collapse decimated Pittsburgh and its region, taking with it nearly 1 out of every 10 jobs there. Entire towns surrounding the city became obsolete. But it is because of that failure, that absolute bottoming-out, that Pittsburgh has been able to cast aside its past and emerge as a unique showcase of what a small, bustling, connected American city can eventually become.

Via Andrew Sullivan

This is the kind of bullshit I really can't stand, because if you lived anywhere near Pittsburgh in the '70s and '80s you know the truth about what happened and not what some theorist thinks happened.

You know that men in the prime of their lives, their 30s and 40s and 50s, lost their jobs with little understanding of what was going on. These were the men, or the descendants of the men, who, as Bruce Springsteen wrote, "did what Hitler couldn't do."

Yet they were still tossed aside as soon as it was convenient.

I knew these men. They were my father and my uncles. They went to work every morning or every evening on the night shift and labored in front of superhot furnaces and did what they were asked to do. My dad worked in a Pennsylvania steel mill, and I remember after he was promoted to supervisor I once went in to see him at work and to see his office, and was shocked to see that it was a tiny, very dirty glass enclosed space in the middle of a big mill, full of noise and dirt and torn manuals, and not at all like the position I thought my dad held as a "supervisor." I never quite saw him the same way after that.

These guys worked really fucking hard, and they always came home hungry, with dirt on their hands, and they drank Iron City beer on the weekends and never once complained, and when these big corporations were done with them they tossed them out and these guys had to became bar tenders or cut grass or moved thousands of miles away to jobs with less pay, their pride hurt in ways I never imagined until now.

So don't tell me how this was all great part of some big urban renewal. It was not. Pittsburgh isn't now some great center of creativity and rebirth. It is, in fact, a shell of its former self. It is still beneath the boot, the same boot that has always tread over working men in America, always in the apparent name of progress, always leaving broken bones (and broken families) in its wake. Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities and all the hard-working people in southwestern Pennsylvania suffered greatly in its contraction and never again found their previous glory, and never will, and trying to imply that Capitalism and the free market eventually made everything alright is complete bullshit. Capitalism has winners and losers, and it's a great system if you're one of its winners, but if you're one of its losers you're supposed to suffer in silence and think that it's all your fault for not being more ambitious or for not working harder. Which is shit. The only people who like capitalism are its winners. And they're the only ones that you hear about. The rest, and their suffering, are always and forever forgotten, and have forever been expected to remain so. Who speaks for them?

A Few Recent Amazing Things

  • About a thousand people (!) now live in the drainage tunnels beneath Las Vegas.
  • An amazing 90% of members of a downtown Portland health club are willing to give up their fingerprint for easier access. (Americans are so incredibly stupid.)
  • Only 7% of Oregon's high school graduates have the math skills "to compete for top jobs in the global market." And that's above the national average....
  • Reuters: Europe no longer sees the US as an important player in climate change. Imagine...the US not a factor in the most important long-term issue of our age. If that's not an indication of US decline and the dangerous path down which Republicans are taking us, I don't know what is.
  • NASA GISS: Oct 10 was the 2nd warmest October in their records. 2010 is almost certainly going to be the warmest year in their records.... I haven't yet done the calculations for the other three data sources (HadCRUT3, RSS, and UAH, though usually GISS is the highest among them).

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Quitter

How can you not like this?

Climate Scientists Fighting Back?

So besides that AGU has disputed some of today's LA Times story, I haven't heard much about what will actually occur. But I think it's a good thing that at least some climate scientists are planning to fight back.

I don't see this as activism. At all. These scientists aren't saying we should tear down oil wells or transition to electric cars or that Congress should enact cap-n-trade -- I don't think I've ever heard a single climate scientist say anything like that. They are simply communicating the science --that GHGs + land use changes are going to, in the long-term, change our climate. And for that, for their science alone, they are being attacked, and being accused of all manners of fraud and lies and misrepresentations. This is unprecedented and unacceptable, and they have a right to fight back about the science.

Personally I think some scientist ought to sue someone like Moran or Tom Nelson when they label them a "fraudster." That would get attention.

AGU disputes LA TImes story

In a press release just distributed, the AGU says that today's LA Times story (on climate scientists fighting back) represents its position:
WASHINGTON- An article appearing in the Los Angeles Times, and then picked up by media outlets far and wide, misrepresents the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and a climate science project the AGU is about to relaunch. The project, called Climate Q&A Service, aims simply to provide accurate scientific answers to questions from journalists about climate

"In contrast to what has been reported in the LA Times and elsewhere, there is no campaign by AGU against climate skeptics or congressional conservatives," says Christine McEntee, Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union. "AGU will continue to provide accuratescientific information on Earth and space topics to inform the general public and to support sound public policy development."

..."AGU is a scientific society, not an advocacy organization," says climate scientist and AGU President Michael J. McPhaden. "The organization is committed to promoting scientific discovery and to disseminating to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public, peer-reviewed scientific findings across a broad range of Earth and space sciences."

Friday, November 05, 2010

At Least Kitzhaber Still Cares about the Environment

Environmentalism may have lost big time on Tuesday, but at least it's still a strong value of the incoming Oregon governor, John Kitzhaber:
At a rally to celebrate his election victory, however, the Democratic former governor also made it clear that environmental protection -- often a wedge issue between Oregon's urban and rural communities -- would return as a hallmark of his new administration....

While Kitzhaber said his goal is to "create that political center" that can tackle the state's long list of recession-caused troubles, the jeans-and-boots-wearing white-water rafter asserted himself once again as the chief steward of the state's natural bounty.

In addition to tipping his hat to job-seekers and school children, he thanked "everyone who sees our state and recognizes its natural wonder, and knows it's worth fighting for, and that it's a legacy to be passed on to future generations. It's your victory, too.
This is especially quotable:
"The challenges aren't blue, the challenges aren't red," Kitzhaber said. "Hell, they're green."
It's almost embarrassing to say, but it's nice to have a governor who actually believes what scientists are saying (for decades now).

Just a Gesture

Steve Chapman, Hit and Run:
Some 300 candidates nationally have signed the Tea Party "Contract from America" calling for a balanced budget, radical simplification of the tax code, and strict limits on federal spending. The chance that any of those will come to pass in the next two years? Zero.

Our campaigns are generally a matter of theater, not to be taken literally. We like to be the kind of people who vote for drastic change, but we don't want to be the kind of people who actually experience it. The gesture is generally enough.

Feynman on Magnetism

Here's a great clip where Richard Feynman explains how magnets attract or repel on another. He answers it as only Feynman could.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Some Good News

From California:

Voters rejected a controversial proposal to suspend California's landmark greenhouse gas reduction law Tuesday, showing their support for the state's efforts to lead the nation in confronting climate change.
The measure, Proposition 23, would have suspended the state's climate law until unemployment dropped below 5.5 percent for 12 months, which economic analysts said was not likely to happen for several years. Proponents called the measure a responsible response to the economic slowdown, while opponents painted it as a hostile and thinly veiled attempt by Texas oil companies to kill California's progress on the issue.

Back and Forth

In a way, all this gets kind of tiring.

Now the Republicans win. Two years ago the Democrats won, and four years before that the Republicans held and four years before that Gore lost and six years before that the Republicans took over Congress yet again and blocked Clinton.

And yet what changes, really?

The economy goes up for awhile, then it goes down. A little lower this time, a little higher at other times. Some people get jobs, and some people lose them. People lose health insurance at the rate of about 1%/yr, and nothing seems to change that. Clinton or Obama try to make changes, and the Republicans try to cancel them out.

Meanwhile corporate interests make steady increases in influence year after year, since... when, at least since the '60s now?

Government gets bigger no matter who is in charge. Government gets more intrusive no matter who is in charge. People work even harder no matter who is in charge, and fear for their jobs no matter who is in charge.

Aren't we supposed to be progressing towards a kinder, more beneficent future, where people work less and have more time for their families and their leisure and opportunities to read great literature and see theatre and dance and movies? Isn't that what all this is supposed to bring us?

It seems like all we're supposed to do is work harder to beat (now) the Indians and the Chinese, instead of (then) the Russians and the Japanese.

Is this really progress?

Am I really supposed to think that that Republicans are now going to save our union, when four years ago they seemed to be doing all they could to screw it up? And that the best Democrats can do, with the White House and both houses of Congress, is to cap unemployment at 10%?

What exactly am I waiting for? Can you tell me?

Where are the Aliens?

Robert Park, What's New, Oct 29, 2010
The great physicist Enrico Fermi asked, "Where are they." This is referred to today as the Fermi paradox, but there is no paradox. They are peering through their telescopes, calculating the incredible difficulty of traveling to another star, and deciding to let others, somewhere else, make the effort. That's what I would do.

Of course, some people aren't content to just stay home, sipping Chardonnay in comfort.... But some people are.

Big Review Article on Solar Influences

There is a big review article on solar influences on climate that, if you want to preach on the topic, you definitely need to read first:
REVIEWS OF GEOPHYSICS, VOL. 48, RG4001, 53 PP., 2010
L. J. Gray, et al.

Read it. Then, read it. Once again, read it before you tell us how solar variability is responsible for recent decadal increases in worldwide temperatures.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

At Least Oregon Seems (Mostly) Good

Ron Wyden (Dem) {maybe the best Senator I've ever seen} wins.

David Wu (D) beats Ron Cornilles (in my district).

Peter DeFazio is leading the nasty climate skeptic Art Robinson (who was behind the infamous Oregon Petition). This is a defeat for climate skeptics, and should be the end of Robinson, who is now 68 years old.

Still unknown: John Kitzhaber (Dem) vs a basketball player.

A Natural Shapeshifter

Kind of spooky:

America's Turning Point?

NY Times:
In a CNN interview, Rand Paul, the newly elected Senator for Kentucky, defends extending the Bush tax cuts by saying that "we all work for rich people or sell stuff to rich people."

Really, is there any reason not to give up on America right now? I'm very, very serious about this -- is there any longer a reason for a rational, thinking person to stay here, to expect that the future is going to be better than the past?

Do any of you really believe that life in America is going to get better in the near future and not worse? -- that it's not going to continue on the path it's taken for 3 decades now -- middle-class wages absolutely stagnant, and about a 1%/yr decline in the population with health insurance?

I know not everyone can just pick up and leave. But some of us can....

O'Donnell loses

At least Christine O'Donnell has lost. Perhaps America still has an infinitesimal chance of survival.

Open Water

For reasons that still elude me, the vast majority of people who come here via Google searches come looking for "shark attacks."

Anyway, if that's you you should definitely watch the 2004 film Open Water. Not just for the sharks. In fact, not even primarily for the sharks. But just to have the complete crap scared out of you.

Like the Blair Witch Project, it's a very visceral movie that cuts right into what you know most. No birds pecking at your head, no shower scenes -- just situations you can easily imagine. Which makes it all the worse.


"What I desire is a corner of myself that is still unknown."

-- Paul Gauguin, 1889