Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another Single Payer State?

Maybe the health care barrel really is splintering: now the governor of Montana says he will, like Vermont, seek a waiver from Obamacare in order to implement a single payer system in his state, where half the population gets their health care from the government (so much for the myth of hardy, go-it-alone westerners). Video here.

It's interesting this is coming from another small state. I think states like Montana and (certainly) Vermont have much more of a sense of community in the old-fashioned sense of caring for their neighbors. Both have populations under 1 million. I lived in Vermont for about 8 months, and in New Hampshire (pop 1.3 M) for 7 years, and in both places I received calls from my state representative when I wrote them about something or other. The first time it happened it really threw me, because I hadn't even conceived of such a thing. I even once received a call from a state rep who wan't my own, after I sent him an email about his idea on an obscure law specifying the exact boundary between NH and Maine. He talked to me for an hour! I think that kind of connection is largely gone in the US, where 312 million people are mostly just numbers, invisible to national-level politicians. (I was watching the introduction to the new show Person of Interest, and one of the main characters who was the victim of a crime told a detective, "Any more, the only time people ask for your name is when you're in trouble.") That's why a Tea Party debate audience could boo the gay soldier and jeer at someone without without health insurance -- we're such a big country, and so stratified, and so individually isolated behind TV and computer screens, that we don't know one another anymore. Problems are just abstract, just cells in a spreadsheet. But in smaller places like Vermont (and, I'm guessing, Montana) there is a sense that individuals count and community is valuable. Maybe in Europe, too -- all the lone wolves with individualism genes set off for America, leaving behind the homebodies with the social genes. At least, that's my theory. (Actually it was Darwin's -- I'll post that when I get a chance.)

Just a Cool Picture

A picture of the tiny hairs inside the cochlea of the human inner ear:

A Geeky Joke With No Apologies

A geeky physics joke:

("Tachyons" are hypothetical particles that can only travel faster than light; and Einstein's special theory of relativity says information can only travel up to the speed of light).

Via: viXra log

"No Cause to Dispute Einstein"

This is the best response I've seen about those wayward faster-than-light neutrinos, from physicist Victor Stenger:
"...If the observation is confirmed, it may be the most important discovery in science in the last 100 years.

Supernova 1987a
"However, a big fly in the ointment is the supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which sits just outside our galaxy 168,000 light-years from Earth. It was first seen by the naked eye on February 24, 1987. Three hours before the visible light reached Earth, a handful of neutrinos were detected in three independent underground detectors. If the CERN result is correct, they should have arrived in 1982. So, if I were a wagering man, I would bet the effect will go away because of some systematic error no one has yet been able to think of."
The 1987 neutrinos arrived slightly ahead of light not because they traveled faster than light, but because they got out of the supernova more quickly--light interacts more strongly with matter than do neutrinos, so it got held up in all the mess. Neutrinos hardly interact with matter at all--a neutrino can travel through more than a light-year of solid lead, on average, before it interacts with a lead atom. And a light year is almost 1016 meters!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

But What About My Pants Pockets?

Some House Republicans want to do away with the $1 bill, saying a dollar coin would save the country $184 million a year.

Excuse me, but what about our pants pockets? Big dollar coins are going to wear holes in them very fast. Then you're either out a pair of otherwise good pants, or you have to find someone to spend a half-hour patching them. And what are you going to lose out of that pocket before you discover the hole? Tic tacs? Cell phones? Car keys?

This is a bad idea that will save the government only $0.59 per capita per year while costing every man several dollars annually. It will create jobs for seamstresses, but reduce employment in the pickpocket sector. There's a reason my change stays in a coffee can on my dresser while my bills head out daily into the global marketplace.

Stick with the dollar bill. Better yet, get rid of currency completely and go all-electronic. But don't mess with my pants.

Those Liberals

On his radio show this morning Thom Hartmann read this excerpt from a recent conservative column he was discussing:
It must be admitted that all this was partly the result of extraordinary crafty tactics on the part of Liberals on the one hand, and obvious official stupidity or naïveté on the other hand. The Liberals were too clever to allow a simultaneous attack to be made on the whole of their Press. No one section functioned as cover for the other.…the national papers, also in Liberal hands, knew how to camouflage themselves as model examples of objectivity. They studiously avoided harsh language, knowing well that blockheads are capable of judging only by external appearances and never able to penetrate to the real depth and meaning of anything.… This form of human frailty was carefully studied and understood by the Liberal Press.

Certainly in days to come the Liberals will raise a tremendous cry throughout their newspapers once a hand is laid on their favorite nest, once a move is made to put an end to this scandalous Liberal Press and once this instrument which shapes public opinion is brought under Conservative control and no longer left in the hands of Liberals and enemies of the people. I am certain that this will be easier for us than it was for our fathers. The scream of the twelve-inch shrapnel is more penetrating than the hiss from a thousand Liberal newspaper vipers. Therefore let them go on with their hissing.

By means of the Liberal Press, the Liberals spread the colossal falsehood about ‘American Militarism’ throughout the world and tried to inculpate America by every possible means, while at the same time the Democratic Party refused to assent to the measures that were necessary for the adequate training of our national defense forces.

What soon gave me cause for very serious consideration were the activities of the Liberals in certain branches of life, into the mystery of which I penetrated little by little. Was there any shady undertaking, any form of foulness, especially in cultural life, in which at least one Liberal did not participate? On putting the probing knife carefully to that kind of abscess one immediately discovered, like a maggot in a putrescent body, a little Liberal who was often blinded by the sudden light.

In my eyes the charge against Liberalism became a grave one the moment I discovered the Liberal activities in the Press, in art, in literature and the theatre. All unctuous protests were now more or less futile. … Here was a pestilence, a moral pestilence, with which the public was being infected.

I was happy at last to know for certain that a Liberal is not an American.
After he was done reading Hartmann admitted that the word "America" was a replacement for "Germany" and "Liberal" for "Jew." It's an excerpt from Mein Kampf.

This goes back to a 2004 column Hartmann wrote for (though he makes a few unwarranted generalizations of his own). Anyway I think his point is mostly valid, as you hear and read this kind of rhetoric all the time now from extremists in the U.S. You could even do the same thing with some of these sentences with the replacement word "climate scientists."

Someone had some fun with this Mein Kampf excerpt here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Health Insurance *Has* to Be Fixed in 24.6 Years

Here's another ridiculous chart from the Kaiser Family Foundation, showing the projected cost of a health insurance policy for a family of four: over $32,000 by 2021. Policies bought in the individual marketplace will surely be higher.

Clearly this seems absurd, and that something has to be done before then. But I would have thought the same things 10 years ago, yet rates have more than doubled since then with little-to-nothing having been put in place to address the problem. Why should the next ten years be any different, especially when the Supreme Court is sure to strike down the heart of the PPACA (after all, they all have nice government health insurance) and Republicans determined to institute "free market" principles even if they have to restart the country back in 1850 to do it.

Well, something has to happen by 2036, when health insurance will cost 100% of median salary(*). Amazingly, that is also when an asteroid could slam into Earth. See how this is all beginning to make sense...?

* Assumes 2011 median family income is $47,000/yr and increases at a annual rate of 3%, with the 7.9% annual increase in health insurance premiums implied by the projection above.

There's Nothing Wrong With the Mirror

This clip from The Daily Show is priceless:

Funny, or Not?

The door to a underground U.S. nuclear missile silo, from the documentary film Countdown to Zero:

Nuclear weapons don't get much attention these days. This film will help convince you that's a mistake.

A Spike in Health Insurance Rates

Employers are paying 9% more health insurance this year, it was reported today, triple last year's rise of 3%. A family premium now costs $15,073 per year.

This is bad news if your employer pays for most of your health insurance, but good news if you're an advocate of a single-payer system. Since no politicians really care about the 50 million people who can't get health insurance on their own, and voters don't seem to care much either, the only way we will ever get insurance for all is when employers hurt so badly they start dropping insurance (which is already happening and will likely continue; see Exhibit 10 here) and the middle class starts whining so loudly politicians can't ignore them.

The Kaiser Family Foundation said today:
Since 1999, the dollar amount workers contribute toward premiums nationally has grown 168 percent, while their wages have grown by 50 percent, according to the survey.
KFF estimates that about 1.5 to 2 percentage points of the 9% increase came from new rules put in place by Obama's PPACA health care legislation.

Here is the history:

More informative charts from KFF can be found here.

Health care seems like it's in a barrel that's bursting at the seams. Every year the news is bad and the barrel bulges a little more. How long until the staves give way and it breaks completely?

Apologies for my cynicism (well, not really).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More Evidence That Rick Perry is a Bonehead

I mentioned before that Rick Perry averaged a D+ in the basic sciences in college; here's the reason (or perhaps the result)--he has very poor critical thinking skills:

As Jonathan Chait wrote, "Perry appears completely unable not only to answer the question but even to think in empirical terms."

Maybe people are starting to pay attention to these kind of things.

Then again, maybe not.


“Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term."

-- Sophocles

Via Goodreads.

Friday, September 23, 2011

About Those Mysterious Neutrinos....

Possible explanations for why neutrinos were measured traveling faster than the speed of light:
  1. In a hurry to get out of France.
  2. World needs a new shaggy haired genius for a new century.
  3. God challenging Tea Party's desire to cut research funding.
  4. Neutrinos have always been into causing trouble.
  5. Edward Witten was coming too close to a Theory of Everything.
  6. French Alps filled with Silly Putty.
  7. Prank by tech support tired of being taken for granted.
  8. Europe doesn't have enough problems already.
  9. Anthropogenic climate change now affecting even the passage of time.
  10. It's the end of the world as we know it.... 

Video of Falling Satellite

Here's a video of NASA's falling UARS satellite in one of its last orbits, captured by a French astronomer. By the way, you can see the latest -- or, at least, what NASA wants you to hear -- at .

Via the Washington Post.

"Corporations Are Certainly Not Americans"

I'm really busy without much time for blogging, but Jon Stewart's interview with Michigan ex-governor Jennifer Granholm is definitely worth watching. They discuss the economic situation in terms of how state and federal governments treat, and relate to, multinational corporations. In it Stewart made an excellent point:
"They may want to insist that corporations are people, but corporations are certainly not Americans."

-- Jon Stewart
Why is it that a comedy show does better interviews than any mainstream media show in the US?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bet on the Falling Satellite

The UARS satellite is going to fall back to Earth on Friday -- up to 26 pieces that weight up to 532 kg -- and Irish bookmakers are taking bets on where it might land.

Here's one of the actual betting sites.

Congruent with most human problems, Africa is thought to have the worse of it: bookmakers are giving odds of 9-to-4. (That is, win €9 for every €4 you bet.) South America has odds of 11-to-4, and Asia and North America are 3-to-1.

They're giving 66-to-1 that part of the satellite lands on Ireland. They say its authenticity must be confirmed by NASA.

If you live within 57° latitude of the equator you are at risk of being hit. That includes pretty much everyone. What a terrible way to get famous.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Baptist Church With Chutzpah


Via Andrew Sullivan.

UPDATE: As a commenter notes, this sign may be a fake.

"A Crime Against Childhood"

“Religion teaches you to be satisfied with nonanswers. It’s a sort of crime against childhood.”

-- Richard Dawkins, quoted in the New York Times, Sept 19, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Michael Crichton's Lousy Prediction on Japan

Michael Crichton wasn't just a science fiction writer and M.D. He was also an apparent expert on climate science, testifying before Congress on the subject in 2005, and apparently thought of himself as an expert on international economics as well. Here's what he wrote about Japan in 1992:
"Sooner or later, Americans must come to grips with the fact that Japan has become the leading industrial nation in the world. The Japanese have the longest lifespan. They have the highest employment, the highest literacy, the smallest gap between rich and poor. Their manufactured goods have the highest quality. They have the best food. The fact is that a country the size of Montana, with half our population, will soon have an economy equal to ours."

-- Michael Crichton
Of course, this did not come even remotely close to being true:

In 1990 Japan's GDP per capita was 81% of the US's (on a PPP basis), having been 68% just 10 years earlier.

In 2010 it was 71%.

Maybe NOAA Did Exaggerate

Awhile back I questioned whether Steve Goddard was right in his claim that NOAA exaggerated in their press release about the 2010 State of the Climate Report, where they wrote that "...sea level continued to rise."

I asked NOAA public relations about this, and the answer I got back (awhile ago) was:
The statement in the press release was made on the basis of the following statements in the text:

    * "The global rate of sea level change computed over the years 1993-2010 (cited references) is 3.1 +/- 0.4 mm yr-1"
So by "continued to rise" NOAA apparently meant 'continued to have a positive trend.' That's kinda different. Yes, I understand you can't make conclusions about AGW or sea level based on a few year's worth of data, but you need to be precise too or you look like you're pushing inconvenient details under the rug. Anyway, NOAA continued:
    * "Over this brief time period and in areas more than 200 km from the nearest coast where comparisons can be made with Argo and GRACE, the mean rate of total sea level rise is 1.5 ± 0.9 mm yr–1 (note that the uncertainties from here to the end of this section are 95% confidence levels). This rate cannot be compared with the global average over the entire altimeter time period cited above since at least 10 years of data are required to determine a reliable rate (Nerem et al. 1999). This rate is, however, in agreement (Fig. 3.29) with the sum (1.6 ± 0.6 mm yr–1) of the rates of the upper (depths < 700 m) ocean steric (0.5 ± 0.5 mm yr–1) and ocean mass components (1.1 ± 0.6 mm yr–1)."

Also, the graphic depicts monthly results, so while there is variation from month to month, the overall trend, if looking on a yearly basis, still looks to be upward. But it is true that that is not explicit in the graphic.
Maybe they're worried about giving anti-AGW people any ammunition, but really they're supposed to be a science organization first and would it really have made a difference if they said "despite its long-term upward trend, sea level has remained the same over the last few years, though scientists expect it to eventually resume its upward trend" or something to that effect?

Anyway, now that I look at the sea level graph again from the University of Colorado (see figure) I think my question was nitpicking, because it's really only in the last 15 months or so that the 60-day smoothing trend is down, and that's not unusual at all (look at 2007-2008, or 1998-2000, or 1994-1997). I didn't ask a good question, and, as usual, Goddard was just trying to manufacture doubt.

Today's Sun

You can never go wrong posting an astronomical picture. Here is the Sun earlier today at 171 Angstroms (UV), taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly.

"Rick Perry is a Ponzi Scheme"

Headline of the Day:

Rick Perry is a Ponzi Scheme
Oregonian, Sept 19, 2011

Click here to read it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Smartphones in Restaurants

Last night I went to a nice restaurant in Portland, and was surprised to see someone checking their smartphone during their meal. Then I started noticing it and saw five different people doing it at several different tables. And one guy was wearing a trucker hat. And one woman was wearing sweatpants.

I know Portland is supposed to be an informal town and all that, but all of these strike me a quite rude. Especially the phones. Is this now considered acceptable? I sure hope not.

This is one reason I don't want a smartphone: checking habits. Last week my Internet connectivity wasn't working and once I figured out it was the modem and I couldn't replace it until the next day I dropped my anxiety and read some things and got more work done than on a typical day. Anymore it seems that getting some good work done is more often than not a matter of staying off the Internet and focusing.

On Challenging Politicians' Religious Beliefs

For a long time, meaningful engagement between believers and nonbelievers was, especially in the United States, blocked by an implicit mutual agreement: religious belief was exempted from challenge, provided it remained within a private sphere of religious life, and was not asserted as relevant to any issues of public concern. Over the last few decades, however, conservative Christians have rejected this agreement, particularly over issues like abortion and evolution. The scientific atheists, led by Dawkins, rightly responded with their aggressive insistence that militant believers justify the claims they wanted taken seriously in the public sphere.

-- Gary Gutting, "Beyond 'New Atheism,'" New York Times

The Warming of the Atlantic Ocean

There's an interesting paper by Lee et al in Geophysical Research Letters: "What caused the significant increase in Atlantic Ocean heat content since the mid-20th century?"

The warming is large: In the last 40 years the upper 700 meters of the Atlantic Ocean have gained heat at a rate of 20 ZJ/decade. (Here "Z" = "zetta" = 1021, which I used only because I've never had the chance to use it before.)

File:Agulhas sst.png
The Agulhas Current around south Africa
Other oceans are gaining heat too: the Pacific Ocean at 15 ZJ/decade, and the Indian Ocean at 5 ZJ/decade.

These are large amounts. For the Atlantic Ocean it works out to 60 TW (terawatts; tera = 1012), which is 4 times the amount of energy used by humans worldwide.

Put another way, though, it's only 0.04% of incident solar energy. (The latter value is 170 PW (petawatts), where "peta" = 1015.)

Why have these oceans warmed? You get one guess (hint: it's a three-letter word, and rhymes with "can."). Click here for the answer.

But why has the Atlantic warmed more than the Pacific or the Indian, when it comprises only 20% of oceanic surface area? That's more complicated, and I can't do it justice here, but mostly the heat it is coming from the Indian Ocean, much of it via the Agulhas Current flowing around south Africa, "which is augmented by the strengthening of the wind stress curl over the South Atlantic and Indian subtropical gyre." The amount of water "leaking" from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean via this route is about 15 times that of all freshwater flowing into the world's oceans.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Nobel Laureates and Global Warming

I see another older scientist, Ivar Giaever, resigned from the American Physical Society because they say their is incontrovertible evidence that global warming is occurring. I guess that will show them. But he doesn't seem at all aware of the evidence, or try to refute it. Even Nobel Laureates can be wrong, you know.

The "laptog bloggers" are having a field day, of course, but seem completely unaware that the IPCC itself won a Nobel Prize.

Or that 20 Nobel Laureates who signed the St James Palace Memorandum in 2009 calling on action for a low carbon future, saying it “must be seriously explored NOW”:

And unaware of this 2010 letter, signed by 11 Nobel Laureates, defending the integrity of climate science.

Or the 1992 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity signed by 101 Nobel Prize winners:

Or the six Nobel Laureautes who in 2010 called upon the leaders of the G8/G20 to make climate change a central focus of their agenda:

Or the 34 US Nobel Laureautes who send President Obama a letter in 2009 calling for more R&D funding in climate change and energy:

There are more, too -- but I am tired of Googling.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Michele Bachmann Gives Me Hope

Michele Bachmann is getting a lot of heat for her comment after Monday night's debate about the woman who told her her daughter became mentally retarded after getting the HPV vaccine. Here's only one editorial I've seen on this:

Wouldn't it be great if a presidential candidate finally sank after making a scientifically false or dubious statement? Wouldn't it resurrect your faith in the electorate, in the media, and even in America for at least one brief moment? Might candidates also start getting slammed for their junky views on evolution and their inanities on climate science, and begin to actually read the Executive Summaries of all those reports being produced?

Could this be the turning point we're waiting for, when the fever of irrationalism broke and half the country didn't dismiss science and critical thinking as elitist?

Probably not. But it's a glimmer of hope. And who doesn't need that now?

Arctic Sea Ice in 2nd Place, However...

Arctic Sea Ice appears to have reached it minimum extent for the year, at 4.53 Mkm2 (IJIS data; NSIDC gives 4.33 Mkm2).

That's the second lowest in the records, after 2007's 4.25 Mkm2 (IJIS).

However, I think a more relevant metric (after volume, of course) is the extent's yearly average. By that measure, 2011 is the lowest, at 10.65 Mkm2 (as of Sept 14th), lower than 2007's 10.70 Mkm2 as of the same date that year.

Last year at this time the year-to-date average was 10.91 Mkm2. We'll see how the year ends. The 2007-2011 difference peaked at 0.062 Mkm2 on August 24th, and lately 2007 has been gaining ground to where the difference is now 0.043 Mkm2.

In terms of volume it's not even close: the latest PIOMAS data, which gives modeled ice volume up until 8/31/11, has that date's sea ice volume as 36% below 2007. (4.28 Kkm3 to 6.65 Kkm3.) That's astonishing. Over 1/3rd of the sea ice have melted in just 4 years.

Ray Bradley's New Book

I just finished reading Ray Bradley’s new book Global Warming and Political Intimidation: How Politicians Cracked Down on Scientists as the Earth Heated Up. It’s really good – I recommend it. I’m left with the impression that he’s pretty fed up and can’t, or won’t, or doesn’t need to, hold in his frustration anymore. He’s direct and honest, but still polite (he’s British, after all).

He goes through the Hockey Stick War, the case for anthropogenic global warming, and his thoughts on the intimidation of scientists coming from politicians, certain media, and numerous bloggers. Bradley is particularly direct about his thoughts on Joe Barton and James Inhofe, and his book is, notably, dedicated to Republican representative Sherwood Boehlert.

Some of the highlights:

  • He essentially calls John Christy a flat earther: “John is one of a handful of scientists who have become known as ‘climate skeptics’ or ‘contrarians,’ who are often invited to hearing such as this one to provide some sort of ‘balance.’ I wonder if, when the Space Science Committee meets to discuss the latest shuttle mission, they also invite someone from the Flat Earth Society to ensure they are getting both sides of the story.”
  • He introduces the term “lapdog bloggers.” I like it.
  • Regarding attaining an atmospheric level of 350 ppm CO2, Bradley notes that “If we continue to increase CO2 levels to, say, 450 parts per million (a virtual certainty, given that by the beginning of this century we were at 390 ppm) and then suddenly decided to stop all fossil fuel consumption—instantly, overnight—carbon dioxide levels would gradually decline, but they would not drop below about 350 ppm for the next one thousand years! (Emphasis his.) I wonder if the people at are aware of this.
  • He follows this with a point you don’t see often enough: “To put this another way, we can’t just keep ‘testing the waters’—adding more and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere until things ‘start to go wrong’ with the global climate, and only then put the brakes on. At that point, even completely eliminating fossil fuel use overnight will bring only a very, very slow decline in the atmospheric concentration, and will do little to rectify the immediate climate problem.”
  • I was unaware of this: American scientists who agreed to participate in writing the CCSP report (published in in 2008) were required to be fingerprinted. This report (Climate Change Science Program) was requested by the Bush Administration after they didn’t like the conclusions of the IPCC 3AR or the report by the National Research Council they also didn’t like, as a way to continue stalling action on the problem. (And it worked.) Bradley says that the fingerprinting (which is required of all US government employees) was a way to the scientists temporary government employees so the report would be considered a government document so that any editing or redactions by the Bush Administration would be hidden or justifiable.
  • He notes this from Marc Morano, said on a radio interview on April 22, 2010: “It is so nice to have the light of day and stench of corruption coming from people like Michael Mann and Rajendra Pachauri and Phil Jones and the upper echelon of UN scientists. We should be rejoicing that their entire careers are getting pissed on at the moment and justifiably so.” Later Morano said, “I seriously believe we should kick them while they’re down. They deserve to be publicly flogged.” I believe the day will come where Morano admits that he regrets that.
  • Bradley uses the term “scientific prostitutes” for those scientists who “perform” on the behalf of “energy companies and right-wing foundations” on topics like smoking, acid rain, and global warming.
  • In 2010 the South Dakota House of Representatives
    passed a resolution urging that public schools teach about the "astrology dynamics" that can "effect" [sic] world weather phenomena. Only in America. (An amended version, less comical but no less outrageous, later passed the SD Senate.)

Bradley's book is definitely not the kind you usually see from scientists. That makes it well worth reading.

About that Texas Drought

Here's a chart showing just how much of an outlier this summer has been in Texas:

Texas temperature and precipitation for summer, including 2011

On a press teleconference this morning John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist, said the drought's economic impact on Texas was estimated at $5.2 billion through mid-August, and that the fires have caused $1-2 billion in damages. (Their gross domestic product is $1300 billion/yr.)

La Nina were said to cause a 4 in 5 chance of below average precipitation in that region, so the drought there looks likely to continue. Why can't a moderator at the next Republican candidate's debate ask about these numbers in particular instead of simply asking another bland question about climate change that merely challenges Rick Perry to give another over-the-top, meaningless answer about how it's all a hoax?

Here's the global anomaly map for August. Note how warm it was in Texas. (And it was below average in western Russia, site of last summer's horrific heat wave.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Most Amazing 9/11 Photograph I've Seen

The blog Iconic Photos, which is always thoughtfully good, has some amazing photographs from 9/11 that I've never seen before, including the one below. This is one of the most startling photographs I have ever seen, and even though it's difficult to look at I don't think it's in bad taste or should be hidden away, or even come with a warning.

I feel ten different things at once when I see this photograph, and after discovering it yesterday I feel them all over again now that I'm writing this. This is the reality of what happened. Before I saw this photograph I knew that, on some level.... I'm sitting here now trying to figure out what to write next, and I just don't know. I think that's why this photograph is necessary.

"The Hand, 9/11" by Todd Maisel

It is a shame our media almost always suppress these kinds of photographs, whether they're from 9/11 or the wars that America wages and that are suffered on all sides. (This particular picture was taken by Todd Maisel and appeared in the New York Daily News, and was thoroughly criticized.) Of course, the media is effectively forced to do this by public reaction and public expectations. Which it unfortunate, because I think photographs like this one have a lot to teach, and not just the obvious things, either. (Or even the things that occur to me.)

Tip of the Day

Never use vanilla flavored soy milk when a pasta alfredo recipe calls for "milk."

4th Warmest August

GISS puts August as the 4th warmest in their records, +0.61°C above their baseline:

Year-to-date (i.e. Jan-August) this is the 8th warmest year in their records. (2010 had the warmest Jan-Aug.)

The other day NOAA said this summer was the 2nd warmest summer the US has ever seen. (The meteorological summer is defined as June-August.)

And also, that a new La Niña has started (which is bad news for the southwestern drought).

By the way, here is why you need to look at 30-yr trends (or so) to detect climate signals: El Niños and La Niñas can cause swings of several tenths of a degree. Since we're warming now at about 0.2°C/decade, an ENSO fluctuation of, say, 0.4 degrees would temporarily swamp, or exaggerate, about two decades of climactic warming.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"War: The Fiscal Stimulus of Last Resort"

Ellen Brown at Nation of Change:
Protesters have been trying to stop the military juggernaut ever since the end of World War II, yet the war machine is more powerful and influential than ever. Why? The veiled powers pulling the strings no doubt have their own dark agenda, but why has our much-trumpeted system of political democracy not been able to stop them?

The answer may involve our individualistic, laissez-faire brand of capitalism, which forbids the government to compete with private business except in cases of “national emergency.” The problem is that private business needs the government to get money into people’s pockets and stimulate demand. The process has to start somewhere, and government has the tools to do it. But in our culture, any hint of “socialism” is anathema. The result has been a state of “national emergency” has had to be declared virtually all of the time, just to get the government’s money into the economy.
If Rick Perry really believes that Keynesian is dead and government spending doesn't provide a stimulus, I wonder how he would feel about the US cutting defense spending by pulling all its military bases, personnel, and defense contracts out of Texas.

Ebert Quote

"I know the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are individuals, but when did one ever tell you a good joke?"

-- Roger Ebert, review of The Company Men

If Galileo Could Speak For Himself

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lancet 9/11 Cover

Here is the cover for The Lancet's special issue on 9/11:

Pretty good. Personally, it reminds me of this. And this.

What the Ozone Nonregulations Won't Prevent

I know I'm beating a dead horse (or, at least, a horse Barack Obama won't feed until he gets himself reelected, and one whose entire herd the Rs and Ts want sent to the glue factory), but here are a few more relevant items about the stricter ozone regulations the President won't enact.

The federal regulations would have only established a goal for state air pollution programs, and so wouldn't have cost anything now. From a letter to the NY Times from an instructor in environmental law at Syracuse:
"...The withdrawn standard, however, would establish a goal for state air pollution programs and therefore produces no immediate costs at all.

"Companies will incur costs only many years from now after states translate these goals into specific requirements for polluters. And if history is any guide, those costs will have a vanishingly small effect on employment, and some of that effect may be positive.

"Environmental regulations account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of mass layoffs. An administration seriously concerned about unemployment, rather than appeasing polluters and their allies, would focus its attention elsewhere.

"The recession does not justify sacrificing thousands of lives by suspending a crucial health-protective standard being carried out many years hence.

Syracuse, Sept. 5, 2011

The writer teaches environmental law at Syracuse University."
From Democracy Now: the new standards were projected to prevent 2,200 heart attacks and 23,000 asthma attacks every year. (To be fair, though, such people probably don't give a lot in political contributions.)

More numbers politicians don't care can be found here.

We Need More of This

The former Speaker of the Massachusetts House gets 8 years in prison for steering a software contract to Cognos in exchange for a kickback of $65,000. A State House lobbyist gets 7 years. The company salesman will get less in exchange for his cooperation.

He is the third consecutive Mass House Speaker to be convicted of a crime.

Friday, September 09, 2011

EQ Felt in Seattle

The Seattle Times says the earthquake happened 173 miles west of Vancouver, at a depth of 16 miles, and was felt as far south as Seattle. They haven't reported any damage.

The quake happened at 12:41:35 pm PDT, so it took just over one minute to travel to where I am, even if I didn't notice anything.

No tsunami warning, either.

Local Seismograph Reading

Here's a seismograph reading from a PNSN station (B023) in Clatskanie, Oregon, about 25 miles to the northwest of me; it shows the earthquake's waves arrived here at 19:42:40 pm UTC (12:42:40 pm PDT):

Vancouver Quake's Location

City map


There was a M 6.7 earthquake in Vancouver BC about a half-hour ago:

That's fairly big.... I didn't feel anything here.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

4th Circuit Appeals Court Rejects Virginia, Liberty University Challenges To Health Law - Kaiser Health News

Today a court rejected the case brought by Ken "Show me your emails" Cuccinelli et al on the individual health insurance mandate, ruling that they had no "a personal stake."

Perhaps Cuccinelli should refuse his government-bought health care and try again.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Smog Levels to Remain Higher than Scientists Suggest Safe for Public Health

David Biello at Scientific American has a nice writeup on the recent Obama decision not to lower ozone levels:

Had the new regulations been enacted, the bottom line would have been:

$90 B/yr

$100 B/yr in health costs
1500 lives/yr
probably tens of millions of dollars/yr in crop damages

Instead Obama clearly capitulated for the sake of getting reelected. It was probably a good decision from a purely political point of view, but it probably won't help  It certainly won't help the people breathing in all this crap.

No, a new study does not show cosmic-rays are connected to global warming

Phil Plait ("Bad Astronomy") has a nice writeup on how the CERN CLOUD experiment does not provide proof that the Sun is responsible for global warming:

Note especially his excerpt from the paper's abstract.

By the way, I recently watched his three part TV series "Bad Universe" and thought it was really good. I hope they let him make more.

A Very Fast Fire

Michael also has this amazing video of an advancing fire in central Texas. It looks to be moving forward at roughly a meter every two seconds (if not more, at least during this particular minute), which is over one mile-per-hour. Walking speed is 3 mph, so you would want to be running to get out of the way of this thing.

Striking Fire Picture from Texas

A striking picture from the Texas firefront, from Michael Tobis (who has lots of good, local information about what's going on there):

The Essence of Dessler's Rebuttal

I've been trying to understand Andrew Dessler's new GRL paper that rebuts the infamous Spencer & Braswell (SB) paper [and also Lindzen & Choi (LC)]. It seems to me that the essential argument made by Dessler is this: SB made an assumption that clouds have an important relative role in the climate system, and then found that...clouds have an important relative role in the climate system.

They also made two other big mistakes.
  1. SB & LC both used a simplified description of the climate system that likely violates conservation of energy. It involves how they treat the ocean, but it's as if if one assumed that the Sun not only heats the Earth, but also that the Earth significantly heats the Sun. 
  2. Later in their analysis they make a different assumption: that the ocean exchanges no heat.
  3. The most important issue, though, involves the relative role of clouds. SB simply assume a value for the importance of clouds relative to the ocean: that they have 2.3 times the forcing. (LC assumes this number is 0.5.) Dessler calculates the value from actual data and finds the value is 0.05. 
SB's assumed value for the relative importance of clouds is 50 times that Dessler finds from the data.

By the way, these are very, very simple climate models SB and LC are using. It's essentially just air on top of water, warmed by the Sun. All the things we hear about: carbon dioxide, other GHGs, land use changes, are shoved in one term with a given climate sensitivity. All the "radiative forcings," like changes in clouds, are shoved into another term, and all the other "nonradiative forcings," like heat exchange between the air and oceans, are shoved into another term. The air changes temperature just liked you learned in 8th grade science: according to its specific heat value. That's it.

Dessler uses the same model only by way of comparison and rebuttal.

This is, of course, a simplification of their scientific arguments, but I think it boils down to these items (and essentially to #3). I haven't interviewed anyone or confirmed the above, I'm just a journalist so I could well be wrong. In any case, people will no doubt fight over them for a good while longer.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Dessler's Video

If you're trying to keep up with the fireworks-- and who isn't?-- this video by Andrew Dessler is probably the best explanation of the basic difference between the camps. A copy of his new Geophysical Research Letters article is here, and the press release is here.

Notice the difference in tones between the two press releases...matter-of-fact versus sensationalistic.

Monday, September 05, 2011

One Good Movie and One Good Book

The Movie:

Monsters (2010) is a bit derivative of Cloverfield, but if it had come first (and been made by JJ Abrams) it would have received just as much attention. (And without making you nauseous.) It's about two people who are trying to get back into the U.S. through the "infected zone" inhabited by extraterrestials brought to Earth from a moon in our solar system when a space probe crashed. That sounds like it could be a bit silly, but the movie is anything but. It's filmed in that verisimilitude style that started with The Blair Witch Project, and it feels extremely real. The settings and the acting and the special effects are fabulous -- the latter were all done by the director on a laptop in his bedroom, and the entire movie was made for only $500,000. I don't want to say much more than that, because it's the kind of movie that is more special the less you know going in. If you like contemporary Sci-Fi like Cloverfield and District 9, you'll surely like Monsters -- rent it. Here's the trailer

The Book:

The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century by Scott Miller. The story of the 1901 assassination of President McKinley, the man who shot him (your stereotypical loner who couldn't fit in), and the subculture of anarchism and terror that was in the air at the time (and the exploitation of workers that gave it traction). The author weaves it all together very well; he discussed his book on the July 21st Daily Show. History the way it should be written. Here's a video clip from a History Channel program of a few years ago on the same topic.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Downright Moron for President?

H.L. Mencken in the Baltimore Evening Sun in 1920:
“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people....On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
(From a letter in the NY Times.) Perhaps next year?

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Heartland Institute's Epic Fail

So, this past Monday the Heartland Institute released a "report" called Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report. It was authored by Craig Idso, Robert Carter, and Fred Singer, and typed up to look like a real IPCC report. It was as big a ball of crap that you would expect, and.... it dropped like a stone.

A Google News search for the report's title finds five results, none of them the least bit significant.  

A Google News search for "NIPCC" finds four results, none of them even in English.

No one cares. Everyone knows their game. Maybe even Fred Singer has lied one too many times.

I'd write and call the Institute and authors, and ask what they were paid and where the money came from, but the report is so...inconsequential that it's not even worth it anymore. Clearly, no one cares.

Maybe the world really is learning about all this.

The End of Day One of Today's Battle

There has been full-out war in the comments at Roy Spencer's blog, with Spencer responding to many of them. Just read it.

David Deming, a contrarian from the University of Oklahoma, says there was "political pressure" for Werner Wagner (the editor) to resign. But he offers no evidence at all. Spencer himself writes
"The 'gatekeeping' activities of IPCC scientists is indisputable, and has been reported on repeatedly (e.g. here)."
As far as I can tell, that link is just more of the usual misinterpretations of the "Climategate" emails. When asked what evidence there is of IPCC involvement in Wagner's resignation, Spencer says he has nothing specific:
"Only their history of interference in the peer review process. And why would the editor not even bother to ask for my side?"
To me it's obvious why the editor didn't ask for Spencer's side: he saw all he needed to know from Spencer's blog posts, and he said as much in his resignation letter (third paragraph).

I don't see any evidence that any "IPCC scientist" (for want of a better term) put "political" pressure on the editor (doe anyone know of any?), but I suspect they did let him know their thoughts on the paper he published. Is that wrong? I don't think so. Is it normal? I don't really know. Sure, it'd be nice if everyone made their comments in the peer reviewed literature, via rebuttal papers and letters, and maybe in four years there'd be a resolution to the issue that no one would notice.

But, for better or worse, we don't live in that era anymore.

Moreover, today's climate science isn't a normal scientific situation. I'm sure the "IPCC scientists" are absolutely sick of being insulted, of having their integrity questioned, of receiving abusive emails, of being said their life-long work is all a "hoax" and a fraud and worse. You would be too. They're no doubt fed up with being hauled before Congressional committees (as Barton did to MBH), of having their emails stolen, of being the target of certain Attorney Generals, of being bullied by $240,000/yr Marc Morano, and of having their personal emails requested through legal channels. I would be too, and so would you.

So they're fighting back. Spencer can't complain now, when he's one of the most political scientists out there. And he is. He is on the Board of Directors of the George C Marshall Institute. If he dislikes being called "political" he can start by resigning from that position.

After today, though, I can't see how Spencer escapes from being irrelevant.

PS: Do you think the BBC took a cheap shot when their captioned of their picture of Spencer by writing he was a "committed Christian"? At first glance I thought so, but upon reflection I changed my mind. He is. Is that relevant? Is it relevant if someone believes in something for which there is no evidence?

Some Reactions

As of 2:49 pm EDT, Climate Depot doesn't have a word about the resignation. Perhaps he is huddling with his buddies trying to figure out how they can spin all this?

Tom Nelson: silent

Watts: Silent except to repeat Spencer's post.

Best comment at Watts so far:

Alan Clark of Dirty Oil-berta says:September 2, 2011 at 10:00 am7. Trenberth, K.E., Fasullo, J.T., O’Dell, C., Wong, T. Relationships between tropical sea surface temperature and top-of-atmosphere radiation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 2010, 37, L03702.
Nuff said.

A Devastating Comment on Spencer

In a news story at The Guardian, John Abraham (the man who demolished Christopher Monckton) is quoted:
"Spencer and his colleagues have a long history of minimising the effects of human-caused climate change; they also have a long history of making serious technical errors. This latest paper is only one in a decade-long track record of errors that have forced Spencer to revise his work as the errors are brought to light. Spencer is well known in the scientific community for publishing high-profile papers that initially dispute global warming and only later are found to be faulty.

3rd Warmest August

Amidst all this, UAH releases their calculation of August temperature anomaly: +0.325°C, which sounds low but is the 3rd warmest August in their 32+ years of record keeping. (Recall that last September they moved their baseline from 1979-1998 to 1981-2010.)

Their overall slope remains 0.13 ± 0.01 °C/decade (r2 = 0.32).

Slope of last 10 years = -0.01 ± 0.05 °C/decade (r2 = 0.001).

Slope of last 15 years = 0.08 ± 0.03 °C/decade (r2 = 0.03).

Slope of last 20 years = 0.20 ± 0.02 °C/decade (r2 = 0.28).

Editor's Most Important Words

This, also from Wagner's resignation letter, may be his most important words of them all:
With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements, e.g., in a press release of The University of Alabama in Huntsville from 27 July 2011 [2], the main author’s personal homepage [3], the story “New NASA data blow gaping hole in global warming alarmism” published by Forbes [4], and the story “Does NASA data show global warming lost in space?” published by Fox News [5], to name just a few. Unfortunately, their campaign apparently was very successful as witnessed by the over 56,000 downloads of the full paper within only one month after its publication. But trying to refute all scientific insights into the global warming phenomenon just based on the comparison of one particular observational satellite data set with model predictions is strictly impossible. Aside from ignoring all the other observational data sets (such as the rapidly shrinking sea ice extent and changes in the flora and fauna) and contrasting theoretical studies, such a simple conclusion simply cannot be drawn considering the complexity of the involved models and satellite measurements.
Wagner linked only to Roy Spencer's home page, but I suspect he had in mind these specific posts. Really, is there a more consistently political scientist than Roy Spencer?