Monday, August 30, 2010

This Will Be Fun....

Bjorn Lomberg does an about-face and is now calling for $tensB/yr spending on climate change mitigation and adaptation....

The Catholic Church

NY Times: "The former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium urged a victim of serial sexual abuse by a bishop to keep silent for a year, until the bishop — the victim’s own uncle — could retire, according to tapes made by the victim last April and published over the weekend in two Belgian newspapers."

Steven Weinberg: "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
Steven Weinbergquoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999

US debt, today vs WW2

Here's an interesting graph of US federal debt vs GDP:

This is interesting because it shows that it's been mostly Republican administrations that have created the debt problem.

Is the debt a problem? Who knows, but here's an important data point, as elucidated by Jim Quinn on the ultra-libertarian site At first glance, it does seem to make a certain amount of sense -- we are not at all in times like post-WW2:

When I read Paul Krugman and the other Keynesian boneheads saying that our debt is not a problem, they quote figures about our debt of $13.3 trillion versus our GDP of $14.6 trillion not being so bad. That is only 91% of GDP. They point to World War II when our national debt reached 120% of GDP. They say everything worked out after that.
Well lets analyze that comparison for just a second. In 1945, Europe, Russia and Asia lay in ruins. The devastation was epic. The United States stood alone as the only unscathed country in the world. America became the manufacturer to the world. We rebuilt Europe and Asia. Our GDP soared, as our National Debt declined from $269 billion in 1946 to $255 billion in 1951, remaining below $300 billion until 1963.


“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
-- Stanislaw Lec

Via: The Long Now Blog

PS: I agree, this is kind of dumb. Anthropomorphizing snowflakes doesn't really help.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

U.S. Energy

Here's a great chart from The Oil Drum that shows how just little renewable energy the U.S. uses and how much fossil fuel usage there is to overcome. By the way, the green wind energy band is only visible in the last few years, atop the thin orange band.

The Majestic Plastic Bag

via: Dark Roasted Blend

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Cameron Problem

Somehow, the scientific issue of anthropogenic climate change now seems to depend on whom the movie director James Cameron is willing to debate.

Man, this subject changes fast. Just a minute ago I was studying a recent paper about statistical anomalies of the Greecian climate since 1955. I didn't realize that the scientific case now depends on the eccentricities of Hollywood celebrities. I guess I need to pay more attention.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why Won't People Listen to Liars

Professional liar Marc Morano was, somehow, surprised that people would not sit still and listen to his lies at a recent conference on climate change.

And somehow he thinks this is supposed to discredit the conference, and not the liar.

Anne Rice

"As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ...Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen." 
-- (8/23/10).


You know times are tough when even letters are getting laid off.

-- Conan O’Brien, on the YMCA's recent decision to rebrand itself as the "Y"

How Rights Erode

In a  demonstration of how individual rights erode one bit at at time, always for a supposedly good reason, a high school in Scio, (central) Oregon is now requiring mandatory testing athletes for drugs and alcohol. Here is the incredibly disingenuous claim of the school district's superintendent, Gary Tempel -- it gives the kids a way to say they're against drugs!
“We don’t look at this as a way to catch people,” Tempel said. “This is an opportunity for our students to stand in the gap, to say this is not what they’re about.”

“This is a tool for them to use, for them to be able to say no.”

-- Corvallis Gazette-Times

Unfortunately, only athletes are given the opportunity to make this statement, because, in the most admirably strained of non sequiturs, the chess club is "not hazardous."

I wonder if Tempel considers a speeding ticket a way for his to show he's opposed to dangerous driving. Somehow, I doubt it.

Moonrise Over the Columbia River

St Helens, Oregon

Friday, August 20, 2010


"What do you think, that a dollar in a savings account is freedom? Maybe you have understood nothing I have said."
-- Klaus Kinski

(Yes, Kinski was kind of a nut, but he was a kind of genius, too. If you haven't seen Fitzcarraldo, or Aguirre: The Wrath of God, you should. In fact, you must.)

GISS Presents Some Revisions

NASA GISS has revised their surface temperature data and 1998 has been determined to be only tied for the fourth warmest year. For January-December their top years (relative to the 1951-1980 average) are now:

2005               +0.62°C
2007, 2009      +0.57°C
1998, 2002      +0.56°C
2003               +0.55°C
2006               +0.54°C

The NASA page doesn't give the uncertainty in these numbers -- they should -- so it's hard to see any real difference in positions 2-7.

Regardless -- it's been very, very warm lately.

Here's a paper that explains their recent revisions.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More Fields Medal Gossip

I'm hearing from non-ICM sources that three of the Fields Medal winners are purported to be:
No confirmation yet (so take these with a grain of sea salt), or word yet on the other....

Allocating the Greenhouse Effect

Here's a very useful result for arguing with climate skeptics who claim that, at only 0.04% of the atmosphere, CO2 is too small a fraction to have much effect on climate. This paper finds it's 20% of the Earth's total greenhouse effect.

From Gavin Schmidt et al, to appear in JGR:
The attribution of the present-day total greenhouse effect:
Abstract. The relative contributions of atmospheric long-wave absorbers to the present-day global greenhouse e ffect are among the most misquoted statistics in public discussions of climate change. Much of the interest in these values is however due to an implicit assumption that these contributions are directly relevant for the question of climate sensitivity.... With a straightforward scheme for allocating overlaps, we find that water vapour is the dominant contributor (50% of the effect), followed by clouds (25%) and then CO2 with 20%. All other absorbers play only minor roles. In a doubled CO2 scenario, this allocation is essentially unchanged, even though the magnitude of the total greenhouse e ect is signi cantly larger than the initial radiative forcing, underscoring the importance of feedbacks from water vapor and clouds to climate sensitivity.
(highlight mine)

People Are Not Trees

The consequences of living with a kitten who is enthralled with his newfound ability to climb, but hasn't yet figured out you are not a tree:

Monday, August 16, 2010

How Times Change

If you need no other explanation of why network television is dead, kaplunk, kaputt, shot squarely in the ass, simply watch this clip. It's nothing but embarrassing, and that neither CBS or Andy Rooney seems to have the slightest clue that it might be just makes it all the worse:

And to think that in high school my history teacher insisted that we watch 60 Minutes every week....

2010 Fields Medals

This is the year of the Fields Medals -- Mathematic's equivalent of the Nobel Prizes, except you have to be  under 40 yrs old to win.

(That's got to be a big smack in the face for older mathematicians.)

2 to 4 people usually win.

They will be announced in a few days, on Aug 19th at the International Congress of Mathematicians 2010 at Hyderabad, India, at 6 am GMT (that's 8/18 11 pm PDT, or 8/19 2 am EDT). The ceremony is supposed to be streamed live.  

Here's an article I wrote for about the Fields Medal winners in 2002.

Here's a list of past winners. There are a lot of names on there you ought to recognize:

  • John Milnor, 1962 (Sidenote: Mm 2nd summer in graduate school, I housesat in Milnor's wife's house in Stony Brook. She didn't know me, as I was leasing from someone who was leasing from her, and he certainly did not know me, though I looked glowingly at many of their math books on their bookshelf. But mostly I tried to get home each night in time to watch the Nightly Business Report. I was really into the stock market back then -- a few of my grad school friends made a killing (about 300%) on Adobe Systems, all because my friend Tom liked their manuals. I made enough money in the stock market in the '80s to buy my first car.)
  • Michael Atiyah, 1966
  • Grothendieck, 1966
  • Alain Connes, 1982
  • Gerd Faltings, 1986
  • Edward Witten (of course), 1990
  • Grigori Perelman, 2006 -- he proved Poincare's Conjecture, and has famously rejected a $1M prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute
  • Terry Tao, UCLA (2006) -- he has a blog here.
The Fields Medals announcements are notorious for leaking early. I've been asking around, and here's what I've been able to come up with:
  • Ngô Bảo Châu -- Vietnamese; now is a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Semi-human (he obtained his PhD at age 25) he solved the fundamental lemma proposed by Robert Langlands for the case of unitary groups. (Here is an article from Time magazine about it that explains nothing.)
  • Other than Ngo, I've only heard speculations about Mikhail Khovanov from Columbia University....
Have anything to add? Email me....

Another Result of Decreasing Arctic Ice

Here's an angle you might not have seen before:

Suppose Arctic sea ice melts. What does that mean?

Among many other things, it means that more sunlight will penetrate into the water. What does that mean?

According to a new paper in Marine Ecology Progress Series, it means that sea ice algae become less nutritious.
"Increased irradiance reduces food quality of sea ice algae," E. Leu1 et al, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Vol. 411: 49–60, 2010, doi: 10.3354/meps08647.

The nutritional value of sea ice algae is related to their content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which also matter for reproductive reasons. These researchers followed sea ice algae for a complete reproductive cycle and found that light conditions "proved to be decisive in determining the nutritional quality of sea ice algae, and irradiance was negatively correlated with the relative amount of PUFAs. Algal PUFA content decreased on average by 40% from April to June, while algal biomass (measured as particulate carbon, C) did not differ."
I suspect we are going to be learning about a lot of these types of nonobvious chains of consequence in this decade....
Here's an angle you might not have seen before:

Suppose Arctic sea ice melts. What does that mean?

Among many other things, it means that more sunlight will penetrate into the water. What does that mean?

According to a new paper in Marine Ecology Progress Series, it means that sea ice algae become less nutritious.

"Increased irradiance reduces food quality of sea ice algae," E. Leu1 et al, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Vol. 411: 49–60, 2010, doi: 10.3354/meps08647.

The nutritional value of sea ice algae is related to their content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which also matter for reproductive reasons. These researchers followed sea ice algae for a complete reproductive cycle and found that light conditions "proved to be decisive in determining the nutritional quality of sea ice algae, and irradiance was negatively correlated with the relative amount of PUFAs. Algal PUFA content decreased on average by 40% from April to June, while algal biomass (measured as particulate carbon, C) did not differ."

I suspect we are going to be learning about a lot of these types of nonobvious chains of consequence in this decade....

Funny (ha ha) Scientists

You have to appreciate scientists with a sense of humor (notice the affiliation footnotes):

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How Rare Was the 1998 El Nino?

A paper in JGR on measuring El Ninos says that the 1997-1998 El Nino was a one-in-70 year event (± 20 years).

An El Nino just 25% larger is predicted to occur every 700 ± 200 years. (Read the paper, by noted climate skeptic David Douglass, to find out exactly what "larger" means -- basically, it's sea surface temperature.) Douglass finds that ENSO magnitudes follow a Gaussian ("bell curve") distribution. He also finds no increase in the frequency of ENSOs, going back to 1865.

Total Solar Irradiance

Here's a nice plot of Total Solar Irradiance, from a recent paper in JGR (Morgenstern, et al, JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 115, D00M02, 18 PP., 2010
doi:10.1029/2009JD013728). Because you never know when you might need it.

Jay Inslee Greets Christopher Monckton

I hadn't seen this before: Rep Jay Inslee (D-WA) greets Christopher Monckton at May 2010 hearings in Congress. It's only about 10 seconds in. Priceless.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Climate in Wonderland

Amazing. Over at Climate in Wonderland, there is nary a hint of the extreme temperatures in Russia-- except, of course, to deny that they even exist.

When I look at ClimateDepot it's like looking into Alice's looking-glass -- up is down, right is left, and hot is cold.

Has there ever been a better professional liar than Marc Morano? I can''t think of one....

US Coal Production

I'm including this graph mostly because I appreciate dedicated data collection that is well expressed:

Ollie Update

For the 0.37 of you who followed my new kitten: Oliver is now over 10 weeks old, and growing like a weed. He's entered that "long" phase of kittenhood, where he seems all length and no width (but still huge ears):

I remember when Eli looked like this:

As far as I can tell, Oliver is as happy as a clam -- full of energy with nary a concern in the world. His favorite activity is, unfortunately, chewing on human toes. When that gets tiring he becomes more interested in chewing on the tails of certain other felines in the house, who tolerate that for about two minutes before giving him the business. Then he wails and squawks like he's being killed, even though Sophie and I both know that the devil certainly deserves that, and probably more.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How Bad Was the Russian Heat Wave?

The recent Russian heat wave was the worst in about a thousand years, says the head of the Russian Meteorological Center.

He also says that Russia's grain crop may decrease by at least 30% compared to last year.

Russia's wheat production is about 50 Mmt/yr, so their grain crop will be reduced by about 15 Mmt (=550 M bushels). Even at pre-drought prices (about 450 cents/bushel), that's a loss of $2.5B.


Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!"

He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"

He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?"

He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?"

He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too! "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."

I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

-- Emo Phillips

Thursday, August 12, 2010

GISS Temperature Anomaly for July

NASA GISS's global temperature anomaly for last month is +0.55°C, which is a bit surprising considering the heat waves in the US and Russia. Must be a conspiracy!

Still, it's in the top 5 warmest July's in their records.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


"...any assumption that a conspiracy could exist among scientists to keep a widely current theory alive when it actually contains serious flaws is completely antithetical to the restless mind-set of the profession."

-- Francis Collins, The Language of God (2006)

"What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying: Hello?"

-- Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (1988)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How Minds Change (At Least for Awhile)

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, summer 2009:
Only last year, he announced that Russia, the world's third largest polluter after China and the U.S., would be spewing 30% more planet-warming gases into the atmosphere by 2020. "We will not cut our development potential," he said during the summer of 2009 (an unusually mild one), just a few months before attending the Copenhagen climate summit....
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, summer 2010:
At a meeting of international sporting officials in Moscow on July 30, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced that in 14 regions of the country, "practically everything is burning. The weather is anomalously hot." Then, as TV cameras zoomed in on the perspiration shining on his forehead, Medvedev announced, "What's happening with the planet's climate right now needs to be a wake-up call to all of us, meaning all heads of state, all heads of social organizations, in order to take a more energetic approach to countering the global changes to the climate."
My prediction: Russia will do essentially nothing about its GHG emissions and they will continue to grow.

The Russian Heat Wave

Here's a great map of just how bad the Russian heat wave is:

This is the difference in temperature between July 20-27 of this year and the average temperature for 2000-2008. It's in degrees Celsius -- a change of 12°C is equivalent to 22°F.

More information here.

Scott Rosenberg's "Say Everything"

I recently finished Scott Rosenberg's book about blogging: Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why it Matters, which is now out in paperback. It's a good book and I heartily recommend it. He recounts the early history of blogging and some of its more notable personalities (A-listers, mostly), as well as inside stories about sites like Gawker and companies like Pyra Labs and people fired for their blogging. But he spends a lot of time on the question of to what extent blogging can replace traditional journalism, which I found especially interesting. I wish he's spent more time on where blogging is going, but perhaps he doesn't know more than anyone else does.

Rosenberg is a good writer with an enviable talent for finding exactly the right word. I hope he writes a follow-up book in ten years on where this decade has taken the Web, and how the greatest communication medium in history is changing the world. One way or another, it will.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Colorado River Water Use

John Fleck has a startling plot of trends in Colorado River (Basin) water usage:

He thinks it's at the point where something (especially in Phoenix) has to give: less water for agriculture, or esp reduced consumption, to the extent that is possible.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Stuff

Some tidbits I've come across recently:
  • The S&P500 is up at an annualized rate of 20% since Barack Obama's inaugural.
  • "The U.S., once the world’s leader in the percentage of young people with college degrees, has fallen to 12th among 36 developed nations." -- Bob Herbert, today's NY Times.
  • An amazing catch where the centerfielder just about leaves the field for a hot dog.
  • Arctic sea ice extent averaged for July was the second lowest in the satellite record, after 2007.
  • How they lie: In an article on arguing against cap-n-trade, Paul Driessen of CFACT writes: "And for what? Cars and power plants are already 90% cleaner than their 1970s era predecessors." Of course (as I'm sure Driessen well knows), it's traditional auto pollutants that have decreased over time, not the CO2 content of gasoline. That's remained completely unchanged. Do people really think they can get away with such claims?
  • David Biello: "Two German Shepherds kept as pets in Europe or the U.S. use more resources in a year than the average person living in Bangladesh."
  • Haze in the Williamette Valley here in Oregon is being blamed on the wildfires in Russia.

Friday, August 06, 2010


"When did a life become something you buy?"

-- Ray Drecker, Hung, Season 1 Episode 1

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Cost of Russia's Heat Wave

How much does climate change cost Americans? Who knows exactly, right? Here's one little estimate from one little corner of the economy: wheat prices.

Russia just announced that they are going to cease exporting wheat for the remainder of the year, because of the extreme drought they're now experiencing. Wheat prices have soared.

Let's assume that the historical Russian heat wave and severe drought are due to anthropogenic climate change. (I know there are all sorts of caveats, but let's assume.) Here are the input numbers:
Do the arithmetic and we find that the cost to the country is $175 M/month, or $2.1 B/yr.   

That's just for wheat. For just the US. 

Global production/consumption is 607.0 Mmt/yr. Do the same calculation as above and you find that this rise in wheat prices costs the world $67 B/yr.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

No Aurora Last Night, Here Anyway

I got up twice last night to look for an aurora, but didn't see anything.

Did anyone else?

There were some reports from northern states.... Frankly I was surprised at how much light pollution there was here to the north, given that this is a small little town with not much around.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

RSS: Warmest July in their Records

RSS's satellite measurement for the temperature anomaly last month was +0.608°C, making it the warmest July in their records (which go back to 1979).

They still don't show a 12-month record, though: the most recent 12 months were +0.480°C, while their record is +0.551°C set in December 1998.

Possible Aurora Tonight

UPDATE: A solar model in Belgium is now forecasting a Kp of 6.

If you're in a northernly latitude, you might look for the northern lights in tonight's sky. A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME -- a big stew of protons and electrons spit out from the Sun) hit the Earth at about 1:30 pm EDT today, and another is on its way. Conditions are fair, solar scientists say.

Here's an auroral forecast. This storm currently has a Planetary Index (Kp) of about 5, so the site predicts a possible auroral viewing north of curve from Calgary, to northern Minnesota, to Halifax. Hardly any of the U.S. But that might change.

I've seen the northern lights only once, in New Hampshire, on a summer night around 1900 2000. It wasn't until about 1 am that they showed up, towards the north, and were whitish, like a thin lacy curtain fluttering in the sky. I hope someday to see them in their full glory. I heard they were prominently visible in NH about 10 years earlier, full swaths of green and red, and said to be quite spectacular.

PS: Sorry to demonstrate a Northern Hempisphere bias here. I don't have any information/sites about the potential for southern lights.

Monday, August 02, 2010

BP Oil Spill Compared to Niagara Falls

Scientists said today that about 5 million barrels of oil have leaked out the faulty BP well in the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest accidental oil release in history.

That's only about 800,000 m3 (or a cube about 93 m on a side), but here's a more impressive way of looking at it: it's the same volume of water that goes over Niagara Falls in 7 min 14 seconds.

The Best of Miss Sweetie Poo

The IgNobel Prize has solved the problem of droning speakers:

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Blogger Has Become Crap

Are you a blogger?

If so, do you blog here on

If so, are you happy with it?

I'm not. In the last few months it has turned into crap, where I have to code even moderately long posts by hand.

Otherwise I get endless crap full of span's and pre's and /pre's and all kinds of font changes I never asked for.

I invariably have to go in and do the HTML coding by hand if I want my post to look presentable. It's a royal pain and I'm sick of it.

Blogger seems to have tried to make their system great for everything, and as a result it is not good for nothing. I'm back to coding by hand -- not what I'm looking for in a content management system.

Is it just me?

I would switch to some other system tomorrow if I thought the transition would be smooth and easy. But I'm sure it will be a complete mess and require an entire weekend, which I won't do.

What Would Convince Benny Peiser?

So I recently asked Benny Peiser what would convince him of an anthropogenic influence on climate. Peiser, as you may know, is not a climate scientist but a social anthropologist and a dedicated climate skeptic. He is the author of CC-Net, an email list that leans strongly against AGW.

Here's what Peiser told me:
I think that the release of anthropogenic greenhouse gases into theatmosphere has an influence on the climate. However, I don't think this in itself is the big issue in the climate debates. What remains largely uncertain is the extent of the warming effect of increased levels of
atmospheric CO2.

I'm an empiricist at heart. I look for clear observational evidence that would indicate a signal of accelerated warming or extraordinary environmental impacts that have been predicted. What I am looking for is a significant and continuous decadal warming trend as predicted by the IPCC
(0.2-0.7 degree C) or a significant acceleration of sea level rise. The real problem, however, is that even if these signals were to be detected in the near future, we would still don't know what the best policy response would be.
I'm not sure why Peiser needs evidence of accelerated warming, as opposed to just linear warming. I've asked him about a paper that finds an acceleration of sea-level rise, in New Zealand, and will report back what he says.

Shark Attacks in Massachusetts

For some reason I have never understood, about half of the Google Searches that land on this blog come from "shark attack."

So, have you noticed that there have been at last three Great White sharks off the coast of Massachusetts in recent days?

A 1,500-pound great white shark was tagged off the shore of Chatham on Tuesday. It was the first tagging of the summer for scientists, who say that the great white shark sightings have grown thanks to a growing seal population. For more, click here . A day after a great white shark was tagged by scientists, three more sharks were sighted off the Chatham coast. They were described as up to 16 feet long and about 100 feet from the shore. Swimmers are being warned to stay away from seals.

Local official are blaming it on the plethora of seals that have invaded the area. But why are there suddenly so many seals?

Naturally, humans all across the area are panicking and staying out of the water.

Heck, I'd probably do the same. And then go out for a lobster roll.

You can't get lobster roll in Oregon. Sigh.