Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, May 15, 2014 9:25 pm

In which Michael Gerson notices that we have a Republican problem without using the word “Republican”

Gee, he says, no one trusts science anymore, even though not trusting science is going to lead to some very bad things.

This man wrote speeches for arguably the most antiscientific administration since before the Civil War, if not ever, and he wonders why “we” have a problem?

We don’t have a problem, Mike. The Republican Party, for which you shamelessly whored, both has the problem and is the problem. And you know it. So stop pretending you’re stupid. And for God’s sake stop talking to us as if we are.

 

Friday, December 27, 2013 12:57 pm

And you thought the bursting of the housing bubble was bad …

From the Nov. 11 New Yorker (paywall) on a company called Climate Corporation that uses big data to project crop sizes for every field in the country and insures crops on the basis of that data:

(CEO David) Friedberg is convinced that climate change has the potential to alter land values dramatically, and soon. “We had this economic bubble because of a major housing crisis,” he said. [Strictly speaking, that's backward -- we had an economic crisis because of a (burst) housing bubble -- but forget it; he's rolling. -- Lex] “Residential real-estate values dropped, and the debt-equity ratio was so high that there were massive economic consequences for the nation. There is almost certainly a much more significant devaluation that needs to occur with land affected by climate change.” In Kansas, he noted, real estate trades at prices that make sense only if a farmer gets the kind of yield on an acre of corn that is now rare. “In parts of Kansas, farmers should simply not be growing corn,” Friedberg said. “Historically, you would have a heat wave every 20 years there. Now it happens every three years or so, and in those years the crops die.”

The Climate Corporation charges roughly forty dollars an acre to insure crops, and its customers farm more than ten million acres. Many of them give little credence to terms like “climate change” and “global warming.” That doesn’t bother Friedberg. “You don’t need to talk about climate change per se,” he told me. “Statistically, you are looking at a series of numbers. If it were a roulette wheel, you could say, ‘It’s coming up black more and more frequently.’ Can I attribute that to black being overweighted by the croupier? Or to the pit boss, or to the machine being broken? It doesn’t matter. Some people will argue that ice ages have waxed and waned for tens of millennia and that this is part of a natural cycle. That doesn’t change the fact that black is coming up more frequently and you will get less out of an acre of corn than you used to. The price for that land simply cannot be justified by the income it can generate.”

He went on, “It’s going to take a few climatic events in a row, I guess, and then everyone will say, ‘I’m not going to keep buying Kansas real estate at this price,’ or, ‘I’m not going to keep developing in this harbor zone in Florida.’ If you mark down all the stuff to what the discounted value should be — holy shit.” He practically shouted, “It is bad. I am convinced it is going to happen because, the math says it has to happen in at least one or two or three parts of the world. And if it happens at any of them at any point in the next ten years, it will make the housing crisis look small.”

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 7:30 pm

Robert Jensen on pro journalism’s next, last mission

Filed under: Journalism,We're so screwed — Lex @ 7:30 pm
Tags: , ,

The collapse of pro journalism parallels the collapse of the planet, he argues, and journalism shouldn’t treat or respond to the phenomenon as a coincidence:

For those who believe that a robust public-affairs journalism is essential for a society striving to be democratic, the 21st century has been characterized by bad news that keeps getting worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of traditional advertising-supported news media (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), the unraveling of that business model has left us with fewer professional journalists who are being paid a living wage to do original reporting. It’s unrealistic to imagine that journalism can flourish without journalists who have the time and resources to do journalism.

For those who care about a robust human presence on the planet, the 21st century has been characterized by really bad news that keeps getting really, really worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of high-energy/high-technology civilization (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), it’s now clear that we are hitting physical limits; we cannot expect to maintain contemporary levels of consumption that draw down the ecological capital of the planet at rates dramatically beyond replacement levels. It unrealistic to imagine that we can go on treating the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We have no choice but to deal with the collapse of journalism, but we also should recognize the need for a journalism of collapse. Everyone understands that economic changes are forcing a refashioning of the journalism profession. It’s long past time for everyone to pay attention to how multiple, cascading ecological crises should be changing professional journalism’s mission in even more dramatic fashion.

It’s time for an apocalyptic journalism (that takes some explaining; a lot more on that later).

It’s a bit of a long read, and well worth the time even if you don’t much care for or about mainstream journalism, unless you’ve got a spare planet somewhere that you can go live on.

Which leads to why I call this pro journalism’s next, last mission: because I believe that global environmental degradation (largely anthropogenic) is the biggest story on the planet right now and will continue to be for at least a couple more generations, and because I believe that that degradation already is too far gone for us to prevent widespread death and destruction within my children’s lifetimes. Only global thermonuclear war, impact with a sizable comet or asteroid, or invasion by hostile space aliens risk greater damage, and none is anywhere near as likely as harm from environmental damage.

If you, a journalist, want to be relevant, you can put start by putting variations of that story on your front page every day. I don’t care if you’re The New York Times or the Podunk Daily Bugle, there’s an angle you can work. If your downtown were being destroyed, you’d cover it. The fact that the damage is in slow motion or that you can’t see it from your office window doesn’t mean the damage to your home planet is any less real or any less of a story.

Thursday, January 3, 2013 9:26 pm

What the next generation of maps is telling us that we don’t want to hear

As I think I’ve mentioned a time or three, I’m a map geek. Old, new, paper, digital, real, fictional, silent or talkative, I love ‘em. (I do mute the talkative ones sometimes, but still.)

So I was tickled that James Fallows at The Atlantic did a Q&A with Michael Jones of Google, one of the people who helped create Google Earth (now installed on a billion computers worldwide). And he talked about how mapping apps on smartphones are becoming even more personal because they can use info the phone already has gathered about your locations, likes, and so on to craft maps that not only show how to get from here to there but also tell you potentially interesting things about some of the places you’ll pass along the way, or the places around where you are right now. (One manifestation is Google’s new Android app, Field Trip, coming soon for iOS as well.

Then Fallows asks what I think is both a creative and perceptive question. He points out that some of the first photos of the Earth from space, such as the iconic Christmas Eve 1968 photo shot by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, “created a different kind of environmental consciousness.” (The American nature photographer Galen Rowell has described this image as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” I was in the third grade at the time, and even now I can recall what that “different kind of environmental consciousness” meant: We — all of us — share one single planet, a planet that amounts to a speck in the vastness of space, and it’s the only planet we’re going to get. I think the first Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other developments, are attributable in significant part to that photo.)

Could the current mapping revolution, Fallows asks Jones, have the same effect? Jones’s answer was both hopeful and heartbreaking:

My father is in his 80s. He wanted to know more about what I do, so I recently showed him Google’s underwater Street View. [This is an aspect of Google Earth that shows reefs, seamounts, and other underwater features in the oceans.] We dove in the water and we were basically swimming along. We stopped and zoomed in, looked at turtles, looked at fish. We went down under a big reef and we could see a tunnel in there, and there were fish resting in the tunnel.

After a while he said, “Son, this is so beautiful.” He’s never been scuba diving, but he said, “This is so beautiful. I just can’t believe how beautiful this is.” And I said, “Well, Dad, we chose beautiful places because most of the corals near islands around the world are already dead. They look like old concrete. No fish, just dead.”

He almost cried. He stared at me with a “What has the world come to?” kind of look, and we talked for a while about that. And so he was brought to an awareness of the grotesque damage that’s happening worldwide due to the ocean acidification that follows from the externalities of the way we live as a human race right now. It was powerful for him because he could personally experience the ocean in a way that, with his mobility challenges, he’s never going to see by scuba diving. Yet he felt what people who have experienced the sea know to be true and care about.

I believe that only this kind of understanding leads to activism, whether it’s a passive activism of a vote or an active activism of changing your lifestyle to protect the world.

The problem is that although this kind of activism is, as Jones observes, necessary, it is not sufficient. At current prices, there is something like $27 trillion worth of combustible carbon — coal, oil, gas and fuel wood — still in the ground. The industries that extract those resources will not willingly relinquish the opportunity to do so, and they have largely achieved a stranglehold on any other force that could force them to do so.

The way we live is killing the only planet we’ve got. The process has been proceeding even faster than we thought, so fast that my children, now adolescents, may well live to see global disruption and human suffering on a scale worse than that of World War II, with no country, no matter how geographically isolated or politically nonaligned, left unaffected.

No map, no matter how cool, is going to stop that. In fact, I don’t know that anything will.

Monday, November 5, 2012 10:09 pm

Quote of the Day, One Week After Sandy Edition

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

– Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, a member of the commission that investigated the cause of the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, in his appendix to the commission report.

Sunday, April 8, 2012 9:05 pm

He Is Risen: An outsourced reflection, a prediction, a prayer

I spent this weekend finishing up a final project for one of my courses for the semester. Save a proofreading, it’s done, and I can turn it in two weeks early. Which is good, because the project in the other course is going to kill me, but that’s not today’s point.

What’s today’s point, and yesterday’s, and, really, the point for all of Holy Week and the point for all time for anyone who claims to be a Christian or just admires Christ as a historical figure, is the radical nature of what Jesus asked us to do and who he asked us to be. I’ve read volumes on that subject over the years, and despite my misanthropy, recent dearth of church-going and occasional proclivity for PG-13 language here, I take it seriously.

And I’ve found few pithier summaries than this one, posted on Good Friday by Charlie Pierce. He responded to a temporal event in a specifically Roman Catholic context with small-c catholic truths that show no sign of dimming after 2,000 years:

… the liturgies of Holy Week … are the most moving because the one thing they’re not about is authority.

Authority is the villain during Holy Week. Secular authority, in the person of Pontius Pilate. Religious authority, in the institution of the Sanhedrin. What matters most throughout the season is the individual conscience. As Garry Wills never tires of pointing out, Christ did not make priests. He did not make a Church. And he sure as all hell didn’t make a Pope …

What stands out in the Holy Week services is humility in the face of unreasoning authority. What stands out, ultimately, and whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, or think the whole thing is a bunch of hooey imported from the Egyptian mystery cults or somewhere, is that, in the story of Easter week, unreasoning authority loses. It loses badly.

I am under no illusions about what life is going to be like in this country in the coming decade or two. Our bankers are going to insist that the rest of us kiss their asses and give them our money, and no one is going to stop them. Our church leaders are going to continue to engage in the decades-long continuing criminal enterprise of protecting child abusers and enabling history’s biggest thieves. Our police officers are going to use sexual humiliation to subjugate us and pepper spray and worse to keep us from exercising the rights our ancestors (and some of our contemporaries) died to obtain and protect, all in the name of protecting unreasoning authority. And our so-called leaders are going to continue to ignore the protests that the Earth itself is voicing in the plainest language, because, as Upton Sinclair famously observed, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends upon his not understanding it.

And, make no mistake, the pain will be widespread and it will be awful. We or people close to us will lose jobs, homes, health, even lives. And as bad as it will be here, it will be worse still in other places, many already enduring suffering unimaginable to most Americans.  I’m old enough not to care so much anymore about myself, but I’m terrified for my kids.

But, as cynical and pessimistic as I am, I also have faith — literally, the belief in and hope for something of which no evidence is visible — in this: Every single theft, every single swindle, every single assault, every single official lie, every act of abuse and dereliction of duty, every sin of commission and sin of omission by our unreasoning authorities, will, by engendering actions by Americans, others, or even God’s creation itself, bend the long moral arc of the universe just a tiny fraction closer to justice … in this world or the next.

Amen. Be armed, but go in peace.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8:18 pm

Climate change: What’s more likely?

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:18 pm
Tags: ,

As regular readers know, I believe that the Earth’s climate is changing in undesirable ways, that this change is being driven primarily by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that human activity (both carbon emissions and logging the rain forests that turn the greatest amount of carbon dioxide into oxygen) is to blame.

Not coincidentally, this is essentially the view of the vast majority of climate scientists, whose work, comprising more than 30,000 studies dating back decades, many of those studies confirming earlier findings, would seem to put this question beyond the range of rational dispute — the key word, of course, being “rational.” I waded into the discussion thread of one of Atlantic economics blogger Megan McArdle’s posts on climate change last week, and lemme tell you, for every halfway cogent criticism of the theory of anthropogenic global warming, there were 20 dittoheads who just wanted to repeat talking points and punch hippies. It was a Sargasso Sea of DERP.

Well, when rationality fails, I fall back on Occam’s (or, as my research textbook spells it, Ockham’s) razor, which sounds painful. But Occam’s razor is actually a principle of logic: In plain English, it means that all other things being equal, the simplest explanation for a problem is most likely correct.

And so it is in the spirit of Occam’s razor that I present the following graphic, created by Brooke Jarvis.

I know which of these I think is more likely, but set that aside for a moment and just answer me this: Which one is simpler?

(h/t: Grist)

Thursday, February 23, 2012 7:49 pm

How the climate-change denial industry, and it IS an industry, works

The same way the tobacco industry promoted a smoking-and-health “controversy” for more than half a century: money and evil:

Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel industry funded many of the initial efforts to prevent adoption of climate change policies. Both individual corporations such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal, as well as industry associations such as American Petroleum Institute, Western Fuels Associations, and Edison Electric Institute provided funding for individual contrarian scientists, conservative think tanks active in climate change denial, and a host of front groups that we will discuss below. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:148)

Although the initial funding in the campaign may have come from certain corporations. McCright and Dunlap argue that recently conservative, free-market, and anti-regulatory ideology and organizations have been the main forces fueling the denial machine first and foremost. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:144)

According to Dunlap and McCright the glue that holds the elements of the climate disinformation campaign together is a shared hatred for government regulation of private industry. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:144) And so, a staunch commitment to free markets and a disdain for government regulation are the ideas that most unite the climate denial community. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:144)

The mainstream conservative movement, embodied in conservative foundations and think tanks, quickly joined forces with the fossil fuel industry (which recognized very early the threat posed by recognition of global warming and the role of carbon emissions) and wider sectors of corporate America to oppose the threat of global warming not as an ecological problem but as a problem for unbridled economic growth. (Dunlap and McCright, 2011:144) And so the disinformation campaign has been a movement that has been waged both by conservative organizations and some corporations.

To use the word “campaign” is not meant to connote an organized conspiracy led by one or a few entities who coordinate all actors, but rather a social movement that creates widespread, predictable, and strong opposition to climate change policy and that consistently uses scientific uncertainty arguments as the basis of its opposition. This movement is a campaign in the sense that it is a systematic response of aggressive actions to defeat proposals to limit greenhouse gas emissions even though no one organization is coordinating all other organizations or individuals that participate in responses. And although some of the actors may be sincere, the tactics discussed in this article are, as we shall see, ethically reprehensible.

I suspected that the rule of law was over in this country when Reagan and the elder Bush were not held legally or constitutionally accountable for their roles in Iran-contra. But I knew it was over when the tobacco company execs trooped before Congress, dutifully placed their hands on the Bible, lied their asses off and were not taken into custody on the spot.

And as Tim F. at Balloon Juice, a scientist with background in this area, points out, next to the denialist industry, the cig makers were punks, adhering to what appears to be David Brooks’s first rule of column-writing: If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit:

However, I have to point out that Wonk Room’s flow chart [at first link above -- Lex] of how the business works, although accurate, also illustrates what makes the doubt business so pernicious. The graph (and the industry) is a forest of organizations, businesses, media outlets, scientists and pseudoscience institutes, political interest groups, thinktanks and so on. It dazzles you in the worst sense: the eyes defocus and your brain (at least my brain) freezes up trying to track what goes where. This is the magic of arbitrary complexity: anyone can bury a ridiculous idea in a maze of apparently credible but irrelevant stuff until it overwhelms the ability of an ordinary person to evaluate it critically. This is how the Big Mortgage Shitpile got so big – nobody would buy a mortgage written on toilet paper, so investment guys put hundreds into a box, wrote ‘mortgage’ on the side of the box with a Sharpie and shuffled around the boxes until nobody had any idea what was in each box except ‘mortgages’ in the vaguest possible sense. (snip)

Cigarette firms held public health science at bay for something like fifty years, and the $380 billion global tobacco trade fits neatly inside the $405 billion market capitalization of a single oil company. …

Anyhow, denying climate has an enormous pile of money at its back. Want an easy $10,000 plus travel perks? Write an editorial that criticizes the IPCC. Campaign cash? Not a problem (there goes the public policy option…). Maybe you want to start a think tank where Ivy League legacy cases can draw six-figure slaries and build a reputation doling out rephrased press releases in conservative journals, on broadcast networks and in discussion panels that need a douchebag for “balance.”. Choose a name that evokes eagles shooting apple pie machine guns and the money’s there.

On the other hand maybe you want to make a serious contribution to climate science. Get ready for years of difficult graduate study while living on ramen and cheap beer. Graduated with your degree? Have a tenure track job? Congratulations! Now you get to compete with some of the smartest people in the world for a shrinking pool of stingy grants, crappy pay, abuse, threats and bad-faith attacks from the most powerful people in the world. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it. Or maybe you want to end a very successful public career by speaking out too aggressively about the STUPID CLIMATE METEOR THAT IS ABOUT TO SCREW UP HUMAN CIVILIZATION, like Al Gore did.

As with tobacco, the glorious moneygasm only works because of the long delay between cause and effect. You would never see a doubt campaign by the punching-guys-in-the-groin industry, for example, because punching dudes in the groin hurts right now. A tobacco habit might kill you later. Epidemiology and climate science are arcane enough that a determined troll can create all kinds of confusion, even while Marlboro Men kept dying of lung cancer. It takes a long time to build up carbon in the atmosphere. Even then the ocean absorbs both heat and carbon for a while longer. Only when that slows down does the bill really start to come due, and feedback effects kick in such as methane and open water absorbing vastly more solar energy than sea ice. Svante Arrhenius figured out how warming will work in 1906, yet my local dog park will only this year become a living mat of deer ticks thanks to the hot rods that his grandkids drove fifty years ago. The worst case scenario keeps getting worse, but it always gets worse twenty or more years in the future and is therefore easy to ignore or deny. Until it isn’t, of course. But by then it is too late.

And that, I semi-seriously hypothesize, is why the very wealthiest among us want to take our homes, our pensions, our Social Security, and get wealthier still: They know what’s coming, and they intend to hide themselves and their progeny behind thick walls built of enormous bricks of U.S. government portraits of Benjamin Franklin. And the rest of us can drown or eat each other. It’s all good to them.

Sunday, November 6, 2011 11:06 am

More on those faster-than-light neutrinos …

… from Tom Levinson at Balloon Juice (but also cross-posted at Scientific American if you want to avoid Reality-Based cooties). Short version: Light interacts with charged particles and thus slows down, while neutrinos don’t. Thus, it is possible for some neutrinos to go faster than some light, but we’re a long way from proving that things actually can go faster than light generally:

That’s the problem for any challenge to a fundamental pillar of knowledge:  if the new observation is correct, it must be understood in a way that accommodates all the prior work consistent with the older view that is under scrutiny.  As physics popularizers always note:  Einstein’s account of gravity — the General Theory of Relativity — delivers results that collapse into those of Newton’s earlier theory through the range of scales for which Newtonian physics works just fine.  If it didn’t, then that would be a signal that there was something wrong with the newer theory.

It’s a nice, plain-English discussion of the issue, with several links to other, equally good related discussions. He goes on to point out how this aspect of scientific research has important implications for the climate-change-denial crowd. I’m sure they won’t want to hear about it, but still.

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 8:11 pm

Just the facts, ma’am.

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 8:11 pm
Tags: ,

More Americans have died in weather events in the past 10 years than in terror attacks (including 9/11).

Thursday, August 25, 2011 8:16 pm

Remember how climatologist Michael Mann was fabricating climate-change research?

Not so much, it turns out:

An investigation by the National Science Foundation has found no evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct by Penn State climate-change researcher Michael Mann.

Mann, Penn State professor of meteorology, was the target of accusations from climate-change skeptics after thousands of e-mails exchanged between climate-change researchers were hacked from the University of East Anglia and made public.

Critics pointed to the e-mails as evidence that Mann and other scientists had hidden and manipulated data to bolster the argument for global warming.

The university was swamped with e-mails and calls criticizing Mann. Although no formal allegations were made, the university formed a panel of five faculty members to investigate the Mann’s conduct.

The panel found no evidence of research misconduct in three of the four areas it examined, including falsifying data and misusing confidential information.  But it concluded that further investigation was needed into whether Mann did anything not in keeping with accepted practices for proposing, conducting or reporting research.

University Vice President for Research Henry C. Foley said the Office of Inspector General then reviewed both the allegations of research misconduct against Mann and the university’s inquiry.

“We appreciate the Inspector General’s careful assessment of the facts involved in this case,” Foley said in a news release issued Tuesday by Penn State. “The report clearly exonerates Professor Mann from any professional improprieties in his research, and adds credibility to the university’s own process of inquiry, which the OIG findings essentially upheld.”

A closeout memorandum by the Inspector General’s office on the case states that “as part of our investigation, we again fully reviewed all the reports and documentation the University provided to us, as well as a substantial amount of publically available documentation concerning both (Mann’s) research and parallel research conducted by his collaborators and other scientists in that particular field of research.”

The review notes “the research in question was originally completed over 10 years ago. Although the subject’s data is still available and still the focus of significant critical examination, no direct evidence has been presented that indicates the subject fabricated the raw data he used for his research or falsified his results.”.

I’m quite sure this will shut all the denialists up.

Saturday, June 18, 2011 7:03 pm

Dammed if you do …

Filed under: Geek-related issues,We're so screwed — Lex @ 7:03 pm
Tags:

Right now, there is a really bad drought in central China. That’s bad news for a lot of Chinese, for whom food is rapidly growing more expensive. But it might be bad news for all of us: Apparently, according to Scientific American, there’s at least some reason to think that China’s Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project and the reservoir that that dam holds, may indeed be contributing to the drought:

Experts say that the 600-km (350-mile) long reservoir required to serve the 26 700-megawatt turbines at the Three Gorges hydropower plant prevents considerable volumes of water from flowing downstream.

But some environmentalists and climate specialists have also said that the reservoir acts as a giant heat reflector that affects the microclimate of the region, raising temperatures and reducing rainfall.

They also point to longer-term impact, saying that large reservoirs like the Three Gorges are net greenhouse gas producers because they submerged vast tracts of forest and farmland that would otherwise have absorbed climate-altering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

It would be ironic if a method of generating electricity that is believed to be a solution to anthropogenic climate change turned out to be part of the problem. But Dave Schuler at Outside the Beltway makes a point worth remembering:

… while we’re worried about greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicles and global climate change, we shouldn’t lose track of localized anthropogenic climate change which can be induced by massive construction projects, bad land management, and air pollution just to name a few possibilities.

Science. It’s complicated.

 

Monday, October 11, 2010 8:49 pm

Alone among the world’s nations …

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:49 pm
Tags: ,

in its levels of Teh Stoopid:

Just for the record, when the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences last reviewed the data this spring, it concluded: “A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” Not only William Hague but such other prominent European conservatives as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have embraced that widespread scientific conviction and supported vigorous action.

Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is “no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of.”

It will be difficult for the world to move meaningfully against climate disruption if the United States does not. And it will be almost impossible for the U.S. to act if one party not only rejects the most common solution proposed for the problem (cap-and-trade) but repudiates even the idea that there is a problem to be solved. The GOP’s stiffening rejection of climate science sets the stage for much heated argument but little action as the world inexorably warms — and the dangers that Hague identified creep closer.

Are Americans taking this position because we’re stupider than people of other countries? No, although our educational system does suck in ways large and small.

No, Americans, and in particular the Republican Party, are taking this position because their corporate benefactors have rigged the system. Corporations are buying public policy that is directly counter to the best long-term interests of Americans and residents of this planet generally, and our dysfunctional political system is too far gone to stop it.

 

 

 

Sunday, October 10, 2010 12:44 pm

Dear Washington Post: Just die already

Dinesh D’Souza recently published a book suggesting that President Obama is full of anger that he inherited from his anticolonialist Kenyan father. Or something like that. And Forbes magazine published a D’Souza cover story harping on the same theme.

You have to be seriously screwed up to attract criticism from the right-wing noise machine. D’Souza is seriously screwed up. Even the race-baiting, vote-suppressing Right couldn’t stomach this. Card-carrying member David Frum wrote, “When last was there such a brazen outburst of race-baiting in the service of partisan politics at the national level? George Wallace took more care to sound race-neutral.”

So you would think that any reputable news organization wouldn’t touch this crap with a 10-foot pole. And you’d be right. But The Washington Post isn’t, and for quite some time hasn’t been, a reputable news organization. A couple of days ago it published an op-ed from D’Souza rehashing some of these same themes. Even outgoing Post media critic Howard Kurtz, who never has a harsh word to say about his soon-to-be-ex-employer, found this decision inexplicable.

Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt was asked why he ran the piece. He said, “I approved publication of this Op-Ed. D’Souza’s theory has sparked a great deal of commentary, from potential presidential candidates as well as from commentators on our own pages.”

Memo to Hiatt: Lots of things spark a great deal of commentary, among them Klan marches, allegations that the president is not a U.S. citizen, and arguments in favor of creationism. But “sparking a great deal of commentary” is not, by itself, grounds for giving a wacko a forum on the op-ed page of what is supposed to be one of the country’s greatest newspapers. And the fact that I even have to explain this to you proves you are unqualified for the job you hold. And, no, publishing Michael Mann’s excellent piece calling out politicians on their hostility to the inconvenient truths yielded by disinterested scientific research doesn’t get you off the hook.

Friday, October 8, 2010 8:00 pm

Who are the climate-change skeptics?

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , ,
Hacks for hire who used to whore for the tobacco companies:
Singer is one of the most influential deniers of climate change worldwide. In his world, respected climatologists are vilified as liars, people who are masquerading as environmentalists while, in reality, having only one goal in mind: to introduce socialism. …
Born in Vienna, Singer fled to the United States in 1940 and soon became part of an elite group fighting the Cold War on the science front. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Singer continued his struggle — mostly against environmentalists, and always against any form of regulation.

Whether it was the hole in the ozone layer, acid rain or climate change, Singer always had something critical to say, and he always knew better than the experts in their respective fields. But in doing so he strayed far away from the disciplines in which he himself was trained. For example, his testimony aided the tobacco lobby in its battle with health policy experts.

The Arlington, Virginia-based Marshall Institute took an approach very similar to Singer’s. Founded in 1984, its initial mission was to champion then US President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), better known as “Star Wars.” After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the founders abruptly transformed their institute into a stronghold for deniers of environmental problems.

“The skeptics thought, if you give up economic freedom, it will lead to losing political freedom. That was the underlying ideological current,” says Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied Singer’s methods. As scientists uncovered more and more environmental problems, the skeptics “began to see science as the enemy.”

Oreskes is referring to only a handful of scientists and lobbyists, and yet they have managed to convince many ordinary people — and even some US presidents — that science is deeply divided over the causes of climate change. Former President George H.W. Bush even referred to the physicists at the Marshall Institute as “my scientists.”

Whatever the issue, Singer and his cohorts have always used the same basic argument: that the scientific community is still in disagreement and that scientists don’t have enough information. For instance, they say that genetics could be responsible for the cancers of people exposed to secondhand smoke, volcanoes for the hole in the ozone layer and the sun for climate change.

About 97% of scientists who work in the field buy into the concept of anthropogenic global warming. Singer works hard to make the split look more like 50-50, and a lot of credulous journalists and craven politicians are happy to let/help him do it.

And so the ice melts.

And so the sea level rises.

And so poor coastal dwellers suffer and put strains on their (mostly poor) governments, creating untold human and economic misery.

Friday, July 2, 2010 6:04 am

Cleared

Michael Mann, the former UVa climatologist now at Penn State, has been cleared unanimously by a second Penn State committee of scientific misconduct.

This has not stopped Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli from pursuing a witch hunt, ostensibly to investigate grant fraud (though no state grant money was at issue in Mann’s work).

Sure, there’s a tendency among climate-change skeptics to believe that any internal university probe would be nothing more than a whitewash, and I have a certain sympathy for that viewpoint (except when it comes from groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute that are funded by carbon interests). But from Day One in Mann’s case, there has never been any there there.

Friday, June 18, 2010 8:29 pm

Climate/environment sustainability and theater

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 8:29 pm
Tags: , ,

G. Rendell, writing at Inside Higher Ed, notes that global-warming denialists and envirohaters like Cal Thomas equate sustainability advocates with weakness and cowardliness. But not only is Thomas’s argument weak and cowardly, Rendell writes, it’s just flat wrong:

Thomas, for all his faults, has a good grasp of popular American imagery. Sustainability, environmentalism, liberalism and intellectualism are all the territory of nerds. (You know that’s true, in the popular mindset.) And nerds are weaklings. And weaklings are cowards. And cowardice is un-American. You don’t need to do the math — the images are familiar and the result is pre-ordained.

But sustainability and environmentalism don’t have to be nerd territory. They could just as readily be associated with outdoorsmen, and outdoorsmen are (The Lumberjack Song aside), rugged and masculine. (Not sure how far I want to go with that “masculine” thing, of course. Still . . . ) Pioneers, cowboys, family farmers, hunters, fisherfolk, even lumberjacks and -jills. Daniel Boone. Davy Crockett. Lewis and Clark. Et al. (Lots of al.)

Thomas mentions George Washington (if only to ding Obama) in his column. George Washington heated Mount Vernon by burning biomass. If it was good enough for him . . .

And why are people who ride bikes less rugged than folks who drive cars (usually alone)? Which one’s the weakling in that comparison? (And, by Thomas’s own extension, the coward?) Even walking to the bus stop builds muscle mass better than backing out of your driveway.

Which reminds me, I need to lose some weight. Again. (sigh)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 10:17 pm

Shorter Harry Reid: I am going to kill this bill dead and then stomp its dead guts out of its broken corpse.

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 10:17 pm
Tags: ,

Leading Democratic senators tasked Joe Lieberman on Thursday with finding a compromise measure that would satisfy a diverse caucus split between doing energy-only legislation or a more comprehensive approach to climate change, Democratic aides said.

Because he has been such a beast in chairing the Homeland Security committee and leading the post-mortem on federal response to Katrina and all.

Thursday, June 3, 2010 8:19 pm

Yeah, there’s fraud, all right …

… but, despite what Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli might think, former University of Virginia climate-change researcher Michael Mann ain’t the one who’s committing it:

Whatever the judicial doctrine of academic freedom may mean, at its heart it must protect those exercising core First Amendment rights—like researching, writing, speaking, and teaching. If government officials are allowed to dictate how the faculty exercises those rights, they are surely impinging on free speech. Indeed, the government impinges most directly on free speech by threatening to prosecute faculty for academic work that is wrong, shoddy, incomplete, mistaken, or fraudulent.

And this is precisely what Cuccinelli has asserted. He says he issued the subpoena because he wants to explore allegations that Michael Mann falsified data in his scholarship. Despite the fact that multiple academic inquiries into Mann’s research have vindicated him, it’s important to understand what the attorney general seeks to do here: Cuccinelli is not alleging fiscal fraud—he isn’t saying Mann used state funds to buy a Mercedes or finance trips to Aruba. Instead, Cuccinelli is investigating the scientific scholarship to make sure it meets his standard of academic integrity.

Using the threat of criminal or civil sanction to pursue “academic fraud” is the paradigm First Amendment case. Academic fraud is essentially what the authorities charged Galileo with—when he dared question the conventional religious wisdom that the sun revolved around the earth. It is what prosecutors alleged when they threatened academics during the Red Scare. And it is exactly what Cuccinelli is alleging here. The UVA subpoena violates both the individual rights of academics engaged in the exercise of speech rights on matters of public concern and the autonomy rights of the university to act independently from the government, as Frankfurter described in Sweezy.

“Academic fraud” is too easily used to suppress ideas that the authorities do not want to hear—in one case, the earth revolves around the sun; in another case, the earth is warming. It may be that what academics say is wrong, it may be that their methodologies are faulty, it may even be that they are twisting the evidence or making stuff up. But the government, through its prosecutors, cannot say anything about that.

I would add that not only is there zero evidence that Mann has committed academic fraud, we have multiple, independent reviews of his work that have found it sound. Pat Robertson protege Ken Cuccinelli is in this for the politics, pure and simple. Sadly, the only remedy for this kind of official misconduct is political as well.

Saturday, May 1, 2010 11:03 pm

“Say goodbye to science in Virginia.”

Virginia’s attorney general, Pat Robertson acolyte Ken Cuccinelli (and although I call him Robertson’s acolyte, I should clarify that I have no evidence suggesting Robertson ever sexually molested Cuccinelli), has gone fishin‘:

Now, it appears, [Cuccinelli] may be preparing a legal assault on an embattled proponent of global warming theory who used to teach at the University of Virginia, Michael Mann.

In papers sent to UVA April 23, Cuccinelli’s office commands the university to produce a sweeping swath of documents relating to Mann’s receipt of nearly half a million dollars in state grant-funded climate research conducted while Mann— now director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State— was at UVA between 1999 and 2005.

If Cuccinelli succeeds in finding a smoking gun like the purloined emails that led to the international scandal dubbed Climategate, Cuccinelli could seek the return of all the research money, legal fees, and trebled damages.

“Since it’s public money, there’s enough controversy to look in to the possible manipulation of data,” says Dr. Charles Battig, president of the nonprofit Piedmont Chapter Virginia Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment, a group that doubts the underpinnings of climate change theory.

Mann is one of the lead authors of the controversial “hockey stick graph,” which contends that global temperatures have experienced a sudden and unprecedented upward spike (like the shape of a hockey stick).

Translation: Cuccinelli’s going to try to create a whole new East Anglia brouhaha in Charlottesville, and never mind that the East Anglia scientists were cleared of all accusations of wrongdoing. Prediction: He’ll find something that he doesn’t understand, claim that it is a Bad Thing, and laugh up his sleeve as the scientifically illiterate media go along with him.

Even if my prediction is wrong, and even granting that a state AG has a right and even a duty to ensure that state funds are not misused, given the lack of probable cause to believe anyone has done anything wrong*, this strikes me as political harassment, pure and simple.

*”Somebody said some guys at a different university in a completely different country did something wrong (but they really didn’t)” does not constitute probable cause. Just sayin’.

UPDATE: What Cuccinelli is up to when he’s not on fishing expeditions:

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli apparently isn’t fond of wardrobe malfunctions, even when Virginia’s state seal is involved.

The seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus, or virtue, wearing a blue tunic draped over one shoulder, her left breast exposed. But on the new lapel pins Cuccinelli recently handed out to his staff, Virtus’ bosom is covered by an armored breastplate.

When the new design came up at a staff meeting, workers in attendance said Cuccinelli joked that it converts a risqué image into a PG one.

The joke might be on him, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

“When you ask to be ridiculed, it usually happens. And it will happen here, nationally,” he said. “This is classical art, for goodness’ sake.”

Apparently just being a screwup at his job wasn’t generating enough persecuted-Christian hormones to warm the cockles of Cuccinelli’s Robertsonian heart, so now he’s pulling an Ashcroft and draping the government’s iconography. Yo, Ken, from one Christian to another, stop making us look bad, bro.

Previously.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 9:57 pm

Fraud

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 9:57 pm
Tags: , ,

Mother Jones likes to say it does smart, fearless journalism. Here, it talks about how climate change can cause kidney stones (and other health ailments). Which is fine. But do these smart, fearless journalists think to mention the SNAKES? Why, NO! No, they do NOT! Is it because they’re stupid or because they’re afraid?

Smart, fearless journalism? I think not.

Monday, April 26, 2010 8:38 pm

Climate change: Making a decision amid uncertainty

For the record, my views haven’t changed …

… I’m just suggesting there’s a way to proceed that acknowledges the level of uncertainty, even if the real level is lower than the apparent level.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 11:07 pm

Odds and ends for 12/23

Psych! That $45 million in bonuses that AIG executives promised earlier this year to return? Ain’t happening.

Climate-change treaty murder mystery solved: It was China in Copenhagen with an attitude, but at least one witness survived. China’s playing a dangerous game: The average elevation of Shanghai (pop. 20 million) is only 13 feet above sea level.

House to Senate: Oh, no, you di’nt!: Three House Democratic leaders, including the Rules Committee chairwoman, who gets to decide what does and does not constitute an acceptable conference bill, are saying they won’t sign off on anything without a public option. Wellnow. This is about to get interesting.

Republicans are still riding the crazy train: Now they’re complaining that the health-care bill’s death panels can’t be abolished even if the rest of the bill is repealed. There’s a flaw in that logic, but I can’t quite put my finger on it….

Republicans are still riding the crazy train, cont.: Not content to lie, Sarah Palin is now lying about her lie.

Out of the frying pan …: Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama’s 5th Congressional District switched parties from Democrat to Republican this week. I speculated on Facebook and elsewhere that he’d get primaried by a more-conservative-than-thou candidate next year, not realizing that there already are three other Republicans in that race. That oughta be entertaining. For those of you keeping score at home, the primary is 6/1/10 and a runoff, if needed, will be 7/13/10.

This is not a trick question: What could bring liberal Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher and drown-government-in-a-bathtub conservative Grover Norquist together? The idea that Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, during his service on the Freddie Mac board in 2000-01, may have violated his fiduciary obligations, then used his subsequent election to Congress and current role to prevent any investigation. They want Emanuel to quit, they want a criminal investigation before the 10-year statute of limitation kicks, and they want to prevent the showering of almost $1 trillion on Freddie, which currently lacks an inspector general and other appropriate oversight. Presented with that information, so do I. Here’s a petition you can sign.

A multi-voice oral history of Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of Dow Jones, produced by GQ, comes off as more circular firing squad. Nobody, but nobody, ends up looking good, and only former managing editor Marcus Brauchli comes close.

Monday, November 9, 2009 8:43 pm

Maybe they really do worship trees

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:43 pm
Tags: ,

Critics of people who believe human behavior is driving climate change have, on occasion, suggested that to these people, anthropogenic climate change is a “religion.” Apparently, at least one judge agrees:

In a landmark ruling, Mr Justice Michael Burton said that “a belief in man-made climate change … is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations”.

The ruling could open the door for employees to sue their companies for failing to account for their green lifestyles, such as providing recycling facilities or offering low-carbon travel.

Let me file a brief amicus brief in this case: Science and religion are not the same thing. You moron.

 

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