"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wherein our Hero Finally Makes Nature Magazine

Not as an author, but as a subject...

The first two words of doi:10.1038/nj7340-667a (Nature 471, 667–669 (2011)) are:
Michael Tobis
I have a strange life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Classic Bad Headline

"Arctic Ocean has become less salty, more unstable: scientists" says the Montreal Gazette (h/t Brad Johnson).

No, no, no, no.

Increasing fresh water may indeed affect the climate of the entire world, but that is because the water column is becoming more stably stratified as the salinity decreases, suppressing overturning. Somehow the deep circulation has to respond to this. In my opinion no ocean model and no oceanographic theory is really strong enough to predict how, or what effects that will have on climate.

But that qualitative uncertainty, which colloquially may be considered "unstable", traces back to an increase in the stability of ocean stratification in the Arctic.

Get it? Less salty at the surface = more stably stratified. The word "stable" does not appear in the article in any sense. It's just another bad copy editor headline.

Does this matter? To the editor, to most of the readers, no. Probably nobody will bother trying to get a letter published about this.

To those interested in science, yes. It makes things hard to understand when a word is used to mean the opposite of its technical meaning. To the press, yes as well, because the scientists interviewed will come away with a bad experience and lots of unnecessary explaining to do, adding to their reluctance to talk to the press.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Deus ex Machina

Science Magazine has the story of a potentially huge technological win, an "artificial leaf" made of cheap materials via MIT that uses ambient sunlight to catalyze the production of hydrogen and oxygen from water. If this works out, the "hydrogen economy" will suddenly be back on the table.

It won't solve all of our problems by any means, but if it's cheap enough it would pretty quickly resolve some of the biggest ones.

There are some other solutions out there that (as far as I know) remain in the plausible category. While it's crazy to depend on the technofix to our energy problems, it's equally crazy not to root for it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sustainability through Chemistry

An interesting compendium of problems and solutions is in a slick 30 page pamphlet put out by the British Royal Society of Chemistry entitled "A Sustainable Global Society: How can Materials Chemistry Help?", h/t Phil Randall via Twitter. The Foreword concludes with an interesting exhortation, oddly straddling nationalism and globalism:
With the aid of materials chemistry, we can create a
world in which our energy requirements are delivered
sustainably, where usable energy can be produced,
stored and then supplied wherever it is needed.
We can minimise and remove pollutants from our
environment as we create new consumer products
which place less of a burden upon our natural
resources. While the challenges in each geographical
and political arena may vary, it is important that
national thinking not be limited to the challenges of
that country alone.

Many of these goals should be achievable within a
relatively short timescale, and will help to improve the
world for this generation and the succeeding ones.
Although financial investment is required, in the mid-to-
longer term this investment can be economically
beneficial, will create new, greener industries that
create sustainable jobs, and will ensure global security.
We must act now if we are to reap the benefits
materials chemistry can offer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

FOIA and Fishing Expeditions Revisited

I have only mentioned William Cronon on this blog once, but I've been a strong admirer of his since his amazing book about the intricate relationship between city and countryside, Nature's Metropolis, came out. It is therefore horrifying to see him get the full Phil Jones treatment.

As always, I will preface my discussion of these matters with a protestation that I favor radical openness and strict reproducibility to the maximum feasible extent in publicly funded research products, with a couple of caveats. The relevant caveat here is that we are talking about research products. Email exchanges are not research products.

Academic life (despite some recent number-fudging that shows unrealistically low hours and high pay for "earth scientists", which might just possibly be distorted by petroleum geologists, don't you think...) generally doesn't pay very well. Its main reward is the blurring of the boundary between work and play. If you want to have any academics at all, you will need to reward them by letting them think for a living, and be wary of slicing their lives into "work time" and "off duty" time. A good professor is a professor in every waking hour. The distinction between funded research, speculative investigation, and goofing off is something that doesn't enter into the academic life. Some of us should just be whole people. That makes up for the hassles and the reduction in earnings.

And so, a professor writing opinions (short of blatant electoral advocacy, which is widely known to be illegal) more or less relevant to his professional interests is, well, par for the course. The question, here as in Phil Jones' case and those of other victims of anti-climate-science FOIA persecution, is whether this is a reasonable use of FOIA at all. Is a professor responding to a student email or chatting with a colleague acting as a government functionary?

If this is the case it is a disastrously bad law, as it allows anyone with a gripe against a faculty member of any sort to make a profound nuisance of himself or herself for no legitimate reason. Now, perhaps those who want to shrink government enough to drown it in a bathtub feel the same way about academia. If so, they should say so, and not hide behind a law intended to protect the public from official abuse.

FOI was never intended as a weapon to allow random members of the public to abuse people with hassles. In geek-speak, a "denial-of-service" attack: make so many demands that the normal services are disrupted for ordinary users of the service.

If the law can be so interpreted, it must be changed. And openness aside, once an intrusive request comes in a FOIA envelope the victim should oppose it with every available means. The fabric of academic life is at stake.

Fortunately, the victim chosen in this instance has a very high profile, as the propagator of the nuisance (who did not even spell Cronon's name correctly) must have been unaware. Cronon is the current president of the American Historical Association.

For anyone just picking up on the story:

The 'offending' blog post, the Times oped and Cronon's response. Josh Marshall at TPM, James Fallows at the Atlantic, Krugman, etc. etc., but so far the only person I've seen tie it back into climate is Alex Steffen.
"Wisconsin GOP tries using FOIA demands for chilling effect at WI universities: http://goo.gl/ehnxY (shades of "ClimateGate" fake scandal)"
So, somebody please tell the movers and shakers on this story that this is not without precedent.

Update: The New York Times follow-up editorial mentions the climate connection.
The latest technique used by conservatives to silence liberal academics is to demand copies of e-mails and other documents. Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli of Virginia tried it last year with a climate-change scientist, and now the Wisconsin Republican Party is doing it to a distinguished historian who dared to criticize the state’s new union-busting law. These demands not only abuse academic freedom, but make the instigators look like petty and medieval inquisitors.
Update: See also comment #57 on Krugman's piece for further precedent.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Key Realization

I think us climate folk have been trying to say this for decades, but it's nice to see it from new quarters. Judge Richard Posner, also a member of the University of Chicago law faculty (now where have I heard of them before...) discusses the policy failures behind catastrophic risks:
It would not be surprising, however, if as seems to be the case Japan failed to take cost-justified measures to minimize the damage from a 9.0 or greater earthquake. Politicians have limited time horizons. If the annual probability of some catastrophe is 1 percent, and a politician’s horizon is 5 years, he will be reluctant to support significant expenditures to reduce the likelihood or magnitude of the catastrophe, because to do so would involve supporting either higher taxes or a reallocation of government expenditures from services that provide immediate benefits to constituents. In principle, it is true, politicians would take a long view if their constituents did out of concern for their children and grandchildren. But considering how the elderly cling to their social benefits, paid for by the young including their own young, I doubt the strength of that factor, although I do not know enough about Japanese politics to venture a guess on whether politicians’ truncated policy horizons was indeed a factor in Japan’s surprising lack of preparations for responding promptly and effectively to the kind of disaster that has occurred.

Now, my present understanding of the nuclear issue in Japan is simply that the ample backup systems weren't sufficiently tsunami-hardened; thus it was (on my current understanding) a design failure rather than an expenditure failure that accrues the risks, such as they were. But the question raised by Posner stands.

The motivations for long-range thinking and planning are structurally missing from our institutions. Indeed, they are not easy to build in, but one could at least imagine doing better somehow. As things stand, our obligation to future generations is entirely imposed by ethics, and this in an era in which cold calculation reduces ethics to brand reputation and little else.

Fixing this is not a matter of a tax on carbon; it goes much deeper than that. But how can we imagine a tax on carbon otherwise? Any policy which takes us away from disaster imposes almost pure and certain costs in the short term in exchange for (as it happens, highly likely, but even this is not universally recognized) benefits in the future, essentially beyond the political careers of present day politicians.

And it always will! No matter how bad climate impacts get, policy implemented in a given year will impose immediate costs at the expense of benefits delayed by decades.

This is why there is so much focus on secondary benefits of "green economy" etc. But this comes down to an argument about public sector investment vs pure market-based employment. It's really secondary whether the public sector investments are "green" or not. So in the end, however compelling the need for a green economy, it fails on purely economic grounds, because the future is systematically discounted.

Whenever calculations are reduced to money, long term prudence fails. And this, not the fundamental truth of the Malthusian argument, but its conditional truth in contemporary institutional settings, is what is driving us off the cliff.

Who speaks for the future?

Friday, March 18, 2011

More Griping on Science Journalism

At Pharyngula there is a science journalism thread worthy of your attention.

Dissatisfaction with journalism among scientifically literate people is widespread. It's not just climate people. My favorite comment there is by llewely, who quotes Carl Zimmer saying "It's always important in these situations to bear in mind that reporters almost never write their own headlines." and responds
As a result of this practice, the headline is often the stupidest part of an article - even when the article itself is really, really stupid. Often times, the article goes to press with the equivalent of a fresh turd sitting on its head. Yet another case of an industry-wide practice that is blindingly stupid.
Ben Goldacre ("Bad Science") is piling on as well.

So people who are miffed at me for "broad generalizations" really ought to look at what the people who ought to be their market are saying.

h.t @BoraZ

New Rules™:
  • The first author of a peer reviewed paper has to sign off on any institutional press office press release.
  • The journalist writing the story has to write the headline.
  • Every research-related news report needs proper citation to every cited research article, with links in online versions.
  • The journalist reporting on a science story press release has to run it, headline and all, past an author, if possible the first author, of every cited paper
That would help a lot.

Again, nothing generalizes perfectly. There are plenty of good stories out there, and some reliably good science journalists. I thank them for their efforts in spite of a not very supportive environment. Meanwhile, though, I think that the real demands of a large swath of the population for reliable, informed, and proportionate science reporting simply aren't being met.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Willard Being Clear

Willard keeps the mystery and poetry out of his writing for a change, and ends up with a very clear and cogent critique of Judith Curry's claim of bridge-building in a salient instance.


This is an announcement for a talk tomorrow. I find it interesting at several levels, (not least the recent nonsense about how much atmospheric scientists are paid, if you lump them in with pertroleum geologists). There's much to think about here.
On Beyond Zebra: Moving from deep water deposit models to
successful integrated modeling of deep water deposits.

Dr. Lesli Wood
Quantitative Clastics Laboratory
Bureau of Economic Geology

The resource industry has struggled with how to develop heterolithic reservoirs for nearly 100 years. Today we continue to struggle with the same problems but the deposits are several 1000 meters under water, beneath 1000's of meters of sediments and, as if that is not complicated enough, beneath 1000 meters of salt or other image absorbing material. Today, more than ever we have to move beyond reliance on a single technology, or a single analog for addressing uncertainty, modeling flow and predicting resources in deep water deposits to a more holistic, integrated approach at understanding.

Professor Parke A. Dickey, University of Tulsa Petroleum Geology Professor, in September 1958 is quoted as saying "We usually find oil in a new place with old ideas. Sometimes, we find oil in an old place with a new idea, but we seldom find much oil in an old place with an old idea. Several times in the past we have thought that we were running out of oil, when actually we were running out of ideas." The next generation of subsurface scientists will face increased challenges as we move into ever more hostile and foreign environments in search of energy. Knowing that development of new tools for this search are often few and far between we must teach individuals unique ways for new discovery using integrated approaches to problems utilizing the tools they have at their disposal today. However not all geoscientists are made equal. For geoscientists to be successful in this new hostile world they must be able to visualize and predict subsurface structure, rock and fluid properties. They must be able to seek out, organize and abstract answers from masses of data, and seek new ways to combine observations to gain insight where often there is nothing but darkness. Academics, industry and vendors all have a part to play if the endeavor for these geoscientists to produce an integrated model of the earth is to be a success. Academics must abandon their often Elizabethan approach to education, a system where professors educate students as a personal legacy, with hope for these students to carry on the sometimes abstract interests of their mentor in academia and government arenas. We must recognize that every culture brings a unique perspective and skill set to problems. Industry must find ways to incentivize integrated approaches to problems and devolve habits that constrict expression of new ideas. Vendors must live in the problems if they are to provide solutions.

It was Wallace E. Pratt who said "Oil is found in the minds of men." I would challenge that the next generation of oil-finders will be men who are able to think beyond Z, to discover a new alphabet and therein describe the world in new ways – ways that open new opportunities in understanding and predicting the earth. We all have a role to play in development of these oil finders. This talk will discuss the challenges and the role that we all play in this effort to integrate the future.

It amazes me how such inspirational and heroic talk comes effortlessly from the people slurping up the last drops of the milkshake, while the people who actually are thinking about a sustainable future have been driven to being whiny and defensive and tiresome.

The future is not yet written. Let's write it.

The world beyond oil and coal is found in the minds of human beings. Let's start looking for a really nice outcome.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's All Connected

While we consider the complex threads of causality, like those from earthquake to tsunami to infrastructure damage to perverse increases in the value of the yen, revealed by the recent tragedies, we realize how tightly coupled everything is.

This image has been much passed around the earth science community in Texas. This one is the depth of the local aquifer in Central Texas. The compression wave from the earthquake is strikingly obvious as it passes by, affecting the porosity of the aquifer.

After a massive quake, the whole earth rings like a bell. It's all connected; the lines we draw between "us" and "them", between "here" and "there" are just convention and ritual, empty ceremony.

Infographics vs Eye Candy

Infographics (h/t @Tokyo_Tom )

Expensive Eye Candy

See the difference? In case you missed it, the eye candy one is prettier, but the infographics one contains actual information.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Meta-Journalism

So I had the pleasure and the privilege of watching Jay Rosen at SXSWi today. With exquisite timing, his topic was "The Psychology of Bloggers vs Journalists". In some ways his talk missed the mark of our recent multithreaded feud.

The talk was immensely interesting, though. Apparently the journalist/blogger feud runs deep and dark in the more mainstream press areas. Jay claims that each group defines itself in opposition to the other; journalists as professionals who have been trained to neutrality, bloggers as casual and emotional and impulsive. He has some great examples.

I feel a need to take exception to this one, though:
I’ve said that bloggers and journalists are each other’s ideal “other.” From the blogger’s side, the conflict with journalists helps preserve some of that ragged innocence (which is itself a kind of power) by falsely locating all the power in Big Media. Here’s another blogger in Columbus, talking about the same newspaper editor:
Note to Ben Marrison: If you want to pretend that you, as a professional journalist, are somehow better than political bloggers … because you are less biased and less lazy then you might consider actually NOT being both lazy and biased while writing online rants for the world to see.

Don’t you know that’s OUR job?
We can be lazy and biased. For we are young and irresponsible. You are supposed to be the grown-ups here. This keeps at bay a necessary thought: we all have to grow up… someday.
No, Jay, see, that was sarcasm.

And this is why, though the talk was first rate, it doesn't help us in our quandary. Because in the climate world, it's us science-aware bloggers who are holding the candle for the traditional journalistic value of evaluating the truth.

See, while false balance is what tipped me over the line (as far as science journalism goes, I am a genuine replacenik - I feel that the needs of the field simply aren't being served by existing institutions in a remotely adequate way) explicit false balance is not the problem. The problem, as with so much else these days, is with the press being incapable of challenging substantively incorrect statements. For instance, the he-say-she-say of the recent congressional hearing was duly, if unenthusiastically reported by all concerned (myself included). But there really is a story here. John Christy's testimony was at the very best egregiously and systematically in error. This falls under the old journalistic purview of challenging bunk.

I have heard the suggestion that the press challenging bunk just serves the perverse process of lodging the bunk in susceptible minds. This may be true in the case of isolated bunk. But we are looking at a bunk tsunami, and the press seems absolutely obsessed with finding little bugs on the other side (a Grist article being a recent cause celebre, for God's sake) and not pointing to the Mothra sized problems on the side of the so-called skeptics, whom most competent reporters on the beat know to be, for the most part, charlatans.

Yet, based both on the anecdotal evidence of my own ears and the polling evidence I have seen, most of the public doesn't know this. And it's not this or that article that is good or bad. It is the totality of the impression they have. Our complaint then is not with any individual reporter, but with the institution of the press in North America. (There is a different complaint entirely to be leveled at the British press, by the way.)

So the irony is that it's the bloggers demanding that journalists do the hard work of verifying public claims in climate science, and as I understand it, in other areas as well. This turns Jay's version of events on its head. We bloggers aren't offended by the voicelessness of the press; we are offended by the ballslessness of it. The view from nowhere is constantly capitulating to the view form somewhere, to the point where a good slice of the public is happily and habitually swallowing the most egregious lies. An objective voice isn't our problem; the fact that the objective voice actively refuses to be objective when one side is shamelessly manipulating them is our problem.

Sure, you can say, Tom Yulsman did a better job than the Grist article he critiques did. He verified with a competent scientist that there was no way the gigantic Japanese quake had anything to do with global warming. Kudos for that. An excessive article on Grist is thus put to rest. Now will Tom, or someone like him, put the same kind of effort into investigating Christy's testimony to congress as he does into a bout of excess on an activist website?

I will be happy to see such a thing but experience tells me I probably will not.

I remain a huge fan and supporter of Jay Rosen's, but perhaps not quite as much as before. I think his talk of the "view from nowhere" is crucially valuable. But I think the due diligence of the professional journalist that he defends in this very clever and insightful but in the end oddly symmetrical piece, is not actually what we see. Surely not every blogger is a champion of claim testing and truth telling, nor is every champion of claim testing and truth telling on the blogger side. Far from it. But on the whole, the demands for rigor do not seem to me to be mostly coming from the conventional press.

I did corner him in the hallway and attempt to raise this with him. He seemed distracted and in a hurry so I didn't get much out of him. He acknowledged my point without really addressing it in as much depth as I'd have liked. I hope he takes it up at some point.

I should point out that ThingsBreak has outlined a sort of a truce at Keith's and John Fleck finds it attractive. I'm not sure I'm buying it as it stands - I don't think I agree with TB's take on it. But I'm struggling to capture my thoughts of the day in response to the firehose of input from South by Southwest, so I won't have much more to say about it than this for a while.

Moderation is off. Have at it, but recall that Blogger does not allow for editing comments. I reserve the right to erase any comment containing attacks ad hominem or language that could reasonably be expected to enervate opponents more than is necessary to make the substantive point.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

No, nothing human caused a 9.0 earthquake. But the worst parts of the tsunami were very strange. Perhaps unprecedented?

Things are all connected now. We are a force of nature.

Some Hippie Punching of My Own

On the other hand, and at the risk of being accused of taking a swing back at the "good guys", let me insist that the good guys are the guys who get things right. When NCAR issued a dramatic press release announcing that oil from the Gulf spill would soon be appearing on the beaches of the Atlantic ocean, I realized that they were treating the oil as a passive tracer, and that the numerical experiment was of purely academic interest. That is, it did not constitute a remotely reasonable prediction or projection of the likely path of significant surface concentrations of oil. It was inconsistent with the behavior we had already seen.

And I would like you to recall that I said so.

So I am in complete agreement with Roger Pielke Jr. on this one. The experiment should not have been presented to the public in the way that it was presented. The phenomenology was not purely physical oceanography, and any physical oceanographer paying actual attention to the data ought to have known this. Persons familiar with the chemistry of oil released into the environment should have been consulted.

A mere hint of this does appear deep in the press release:
“The modeling study is analogous to taking a dye and releasing it into water, then watching its pathway,” Peacock says.

The dye tracer used in the model has no actual physical resemblance to true oil. Unlike oil, the dye has the same density as the surrounding water, does not coagulate or form slicks, and is not subject to chemical breakdown by bacteria or other forces.
Emphasis added. Well, duh, then, put that in your model first, before you bother us about it, okay?

This press release had consequences. It was widely reported. It hurt businesses on the East coast of Florida and in the Keys in a way that was not substantively justified. Making a situation appear worse than it is is just as bad of an interface between science and the public as the other way around. This was, in my opinion, a major blunder, and not one that should be dismissed lightly.

The press officers of scientific institutions are in positions of considerable responsibility. Highly trained professionals with a broad basis in science should be recruited, suitably rewarded, and held responsible for the quality of their communication. Scientists should take care how their results might be used in any case where a press release might have broad public interest.

A Question

Friday, March 11, 2011

Texas Branding

Texas Branding (*)

Making Doom Look Cool.

(*) Who do you think came up with the idea of branding in the first place, honey?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The K Word

Cenk Uygur says what we're all coming to understand:

Even Henry Waxman is willing to say it:

What does the New York Times say?


My favorite quote, about the prank call to my friend (the sort of person it gives me pleasure to recall) Governor Walker of Wisconsin
Mr. Koch joked that the call could cause him problems. “I was thinking to myself, ‘My God, if I called up a senator or a congressman to discuss something with them, and they heard ‘David Koch is on the line,’ they’d immediately say, ‘That’s that fraud again — tell him to get lost!’ ” he said with a laugh
Yeah, that must suck. You know, I certainly expect my senator to pick up the phone pretty much within five minutes of me calling, myself. I'd hate it if some prankster claiming to be me would so tarnish my reputation as to slow that down to ten or fifteen.

Ben Santer on Christy Testimony

Via a mailing list, reproduced here with permission:
I have had a quick look at John Christy's recent Congressional testimony. Many aspects of it are deeply troubling. From my own personal perspective, one of the most troubling aspects is that Christy cites a paper by David Douglass, John Christy, Benjamin Pearson, and S. Fred Singer. The Douglass et al. paper appeared in the online edition of the International Journal of Climatology (a publication of the Royal Meteorological Society) in December 2007.

Shortly after its publication, it became apparent that the authors of the Douglass et al. paper had applied a flawed statistical significance test. Application of this flawed test led them to reach incorrect scientific conclusions.

Together with a number of colleagues (including Gavin), I prepared a response to the Douglass et al. paper. Our response was published by the International Journal of Climatology in October 2008. (DOI: 10.1002/joc.1756) I am also appending a "fact sheet" providing some of the scientific context for both the Douglass et al. and Santer et al. International Journal of Climatology papers.)

To my knowledge, the Douglass et al. International Journal of Climatology paper has never been retracted. Nor have the authors acknowledged the existence of any statistical errors in their work. The fact that John Christy has now cited a demonstrably-flawed scientific paper in his Congressional testimony - without any mention of errors in the Douglass et al. paper - is deeply disturbing.

It is my opinion - and the opinion of many of my scientific colleagues - that the Douglass et al. International Journal of Climatology paper represents an egregious misuse of statistics. It is of great concern that this statistically-flawed paper has been used (and is still being used) as crucial "evidence of absence" of human effects on climate.

Benjamin D. Santer
Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Willard on the Meta-Journalism Meta-Thread

willard: you did stumble, you know
and made three posts in one
it's not a sin to post incomplete posts

me: yes, it meanders a bit, you are right

willard: more than a bit
we're talking about a 300-400% inflation!

me: I need to write fewer pieces like that and polish them better

willard: yup

me: well, a thread runs through it
and it did kick off this last bout of the coven starting a conversation wherein they refuse to sensibly account for themselves
I wonder why they bother

willard: a thread runs through your life

me: motifs
that Czech novel, what was it called...
Unbearable Lightness of Being
he says each life has its motifs

willard: that rings a bell

me: patterns that keep coming back in a life the way they repeat themselves in a building

willard: yup

me: did you see Kloor's latest?

willard: i never read Keith
i only read Gilligan

me: Gilligan is good
but Keith is bizarre

willard: not at all
not for me

me: he says he doesn't want to talk about it and then keeps bringing it up

willard: it's a ringtone
a theme

me: motif

willard: keith knows how to set up a feisty mood
he's secondary
you are not
he steps back and looks
you jump into fights

me: I need to stop that

willard: indeed
more so that it kills your brand
you even react to Tom
you saw me calling him a meme machine?

me: yeah

willard: Tom is an easy pick for me
he usually goes away from where i enter

me: he is such a phony.

willard: he's good at what he does

me: which is to keep me away from Kloor's?

willard: but he's fluff
to spot memes
he learns his lines
and then he repeats them
ad nauseam
copycat strategy
here is a skeptic blog
let's go tell them about green stuff
oh look, a warmist blog, let's try hockeysticks
behind his character
there is a loyalty to the contrarians
he took the whip away from jeff id at Bart's
he derails you

me: yes

willard: the trick is that what he says has no importance whatsoever
it's what he does that counts

me: I need to write a defullerator plugin if I am going to take on Kloor

willard: just ask yourself what he's doing
greasemonkey can do that
why take on Kloor?

me: that is a good question

willard: Keith is mocking you and your kind
just let him be
you have more to provide than a fight with keith

me: true

willard: love saves lots of time

me: but he will probably provide publicity when I go live

willard: there is a pragmatic problem with all this

me: this is the problem. I like them, Kloor, Fleck, Yulsman, Revkin
They are part of the problem but they are also role models
they make a living thinking about the big problems
I don't
I like them. I admire them. And I hate it when they screw up.
It makes me scream.

willard: they don't think about big problems
they think about staging

me: "staging"?

willard: they stage scenes

me: yes, "set pieces"
"In film production, a setpiece is a scene or sequence of scenes the execution of which requires serious logistical planning and considerable expenditure of money. The term setpiece is often used more broadly to describe any important dramatic or comedic highpoint in a film or story, particularly those that provide some kind of dramatic payoff, resolution, or transition."

willard: exactly

me: they tell "stories"
I want them to relentlessly tell *the* story

willard: in any case
there is a pragmatic problem with all of this
there is no conversation
only conversation about conversation

me: aha
well said indeed sir!
you justify the whole conversation about conversation about conversation thereby... (oddly)

willard: the basic argument is this:
1, look at person X
2. X is speaking about p
3. p is not what we should talk about
so everyone is arguing about what we should talk about
after it gets personal
everyone is arguing about how we should talk

me: !

willard: then someone says: why are we talking about that?
then comes another blog post

me: and another day passes, and the lemmings get that much closer to the precipice

willard: a miraculous leap in evolution
to sit and talk about talking, without really talking much
everyone getting frustrated, cynical, powerless


the conversation with Keith is portrayed like a fight, whereas it's a race
you are showing yourself
junior, fleck, gilligan, keith
when we think fight, it gets polarized
when we think debate, it gets how it should be
you all have an interesting voice
some more congenial to me than others
it's a contest where you are sales-pitching your voice
of course, a fight is good for the blood
but too much fight is bad
as what matters is the race
for credibility

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Congressional Hearing (yawn)

So at the invitation of Andrew Freedman of Climate Central I've been attending to the congressional hearings about climate this morning. I still think it something of a pointless charade; I doubt a lot of opinions are swayed, and the quality of discourse swings between awful and bizarre. But it provides a rich vein of ore for quote mining.

Interesting statements by congressmen:
Waxman: If my doctor told me I had cancer, I wouldn't scour the country to find someone who said I didn't need to be treated.

Rush is enthusiastic about a carbon sequestration project in Illinois. "Listen to what the science is telling us," he says as he ends his statement. Then he shows a giant cartoon that makes the "no-regrets" argument... "Even if its a big hoax, its a hoax that will provide" much good (green jobs, cleaner air etc)

If you're playing the skeptic drinking game, Griffith is committed to getting you drunk. Vikings, Mars, global cooling... (@climatebrad)

Inslee: CDC says climate change affects health

Inslee "folks in the press report this like a divorce trial. He said she said." Quote of the day? (Andrew Freedman)
Interesting points by witnesses:
Somerville: "Most of the people who claim to be Galileo are mistaken." (@climatebrad)

Somerville reminds panel that IPCC scientists serve without pay. (@climatebrad)

"We have a window to act, but it closes soon." - Dr. Richard Somerville http://bit.ly/hz5RMJ

Zwiers - best explanation for changes in extremes (particularly extreme temperatures) is "human influence on the climate system"

"The more we reduce emissions the less we will suffer" -- Somerville

Christy - proposes that if US funds IPCC via taxpayer dollars, there should be a review panel comprised of climate skeptics to check their work.

Chris Field is testifying that 40 million tons of food production [in the US] has been lost as a result of climate change. This based on observations, not models.

Stunning" 4.5 degree increase in Lake Superior. * (C or F?)

Scary stat from Chris Field. A single day of temps @ 104 F instead of 84 F can reduce corn yields by 7% (@suzyji)

Field - Warming of 1.8F in US increases loss in wildfires from 1.3m to 4.5m acres a year #eg http://bit.ly/32GHV (@suzyji)

Somerville: "Wrong to frame evidence [of climate change] as hanging from some very slender chain of evidence that can be cut by one paper."

Somerville: "There's a lot of misinformation out there, and we haven't done a very good job of challenging it."
My own two cents:
- It's interesting to contemplate where the burden of proof should be, given that EPA already has a finding of harm. Some speakers may raise doubts, but usually in emissions policy, the emitter has to prove that what they are doing is safe.

- [Christy's] claim of observed temperature increase is less than half of what most groups say is observed

- [Pielke Sr] Focuses on "accumulation of joules"; but energy balance is what drives accumulation of joules, and greenhouse gases are crucial to that.

- McKinley wants one of the contrarians to say GHGs not implicated at all; nobody on panel apparently willing to say so

- The Mars business was handled well at RealCLimate a couple of years ago

- "What is the optimum temperature for humans" misses the point - the rates of change are the issue

- Christy suggests that "due process" is needed in "climategate" but there are no substantive accusations!

- Claim that ice in Antarctic is growing is very misleading; there is a slight increase in SEA ice, but not comparable to decline in the Arctic meanwhile there is increasing melt from the West Antarctic contributing to sea level
Interesting commentary by scientists:

- Gavin Schmidt: This is not about sides. Bad arguments from any point of view devalue any discussion

- Gavin Schmidt: It's worth pointing out that all of the climate scientists on the panel agree on many issues: that CO2 is increasing rapidly due to human influences, that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that the net human impact on climate (including the other GHGs, aerosols, land use etc.) have very likely driven warming over the last few decades.

- Roger Pielke, Jr.: Because Congress has granted EPA authority to regulate, and the agency has followed its legislative mandate. If Congress wants to change how EPA operates, fine, but it must do it comprehensively, not by seeking to overturn the endangerment finding via fiat.

- Roger Pielke, Jr.: Christy' s discussion of extremes in his written testimony is sound. But irrelevant to regulatory decisions.

- Gavin Schmidt: Roger Pielke Sr. is pushing at an open door when discussing the multiple drivers of climate change. This has long been acknowledged by IPCC, the modelling groups, and most recently in assessements such as the UNEP report on black carbon and ozone. I think it is completely legitimate to take into account multiple forcings, and natural variability, yet still think that CO2, as the fastest growing forcing, and the one with the longest timescale, is still the dominant issue. But as the UNEP report showed, there are many actions that can be taken to reduce forcings from BC and ozone with current technology.

Roger Pielke Jr.: @thingsbreak, if either side wanted to discuss regulation, they should have regulation experts, not climate scientists, both sides are complicit in this charade

Gavin Schmidt: The IPCC has never claimed that "more hurricanes are directly related to climate change". The statements in the TAR and AR4 are far more nuanced.

Roger Pielke Jr.: IPCC issues are far more nuanced than a yes/no question, see http://e360.yale.edu/feature/major_change_is_needed_if_the_ipcc_hopes_to_survive/2244/

Magnus Westerstrand :Climate change definitely could make growing crops for big parts of the world a problem http://www.nature.com/nclimate/2011/110208/full/nclimate1042.html

Roger Pielke, Jr. : Somerville being asked about policy, not fair. After writing extensively now about policy in his testimony, he now claims to want to stick to the science. These guys need better tutoring.

Philip Duffy: Christy asserting that the conclusion that humans causing climate change is "purely model driven." Wrong!

Philip Duffy: Waxman: amazing that funding should be distributed based upon scientists point of view. I agree!

Magnus Westerstrand: Christy's testimony answers should be written down... I just cant take the man serious any more... hope the journalists will report on this

Roger Pielke, Jr. : Inslee still not right on CO2 as only effect on Arctic

Chris Colose : The peer-reviewed article is much more nuanced than Inslee
Interesting comments by others:

@milesgrant: 0 women, 0 minorities, 0 people younger than Yoda.

Eli Kintisch: In general I would say this hearing is a disappointment: the issue of whether congress can/should have a close control on EPA decisions is at least an interesting one that different people who are reasonable can disagree about. So far little discussion of that issue at all. :( Maybe because these are scientists the real issue is just not coming up. Weird hearing.

thingsbreak: First time point explicitly made that you have to compare costs of action directly to costs of inaction?

John Cook : Cost of inaction vs cost of action: http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=11

Eli Kintisch: A very prominent reporter I won't name is playing Hearts in the press table...

@climatebrad: @JimInhofe questions whether "more carbon into the air will cause higher greenhouse gas concentrations" http://1.usa.gov/hmYzyt #climate

@climatebrad: This Washington Times editorial might be the dumbest argument against global warming yet -- http://bit.ly/eKAvfB

@climatebrad: Pic of Inslee with his stack of science books #scopesclimatetrial http://yfrog.com/hsy3juoj

@suzyji: Here we go. Chair Ed Whifield: I only brought one of many books doubting global warming. Cdn't fit all of them in car. Sigh

@suzyji: V impressed that huge stack of climate books on Inslee's desk hasn't toppled over
Somerville vs. Pielke Sr. on science in politics: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/03/two-view-on-science-and-politics.html (via RPJr.)

http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2005/08/22/comment-on-my-resignation-from-the-ccsp-committee-temperature-trends-in-the-lower-atmosphere-steps-for-understanding-and-reconciling-differences/ (via RP jr.)

Burress falsely repeated the "cooling consensus" myth. paper here: http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1 (via ThingsBreak)

http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2007GL030948.shtml on extreme events (via Gavin Schmidt)

@milesgrant: Quick recap of some of top campaign contributors to a few of loudest questioners of #climate science in this hearing: http://bit.ly/i1pNWW

Conclusion: Issues duly ducked, many person-hours wasted. No minds changed. A few good quotes here and there, and a little more scary data to ponder. Count me out next time.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Texas Tea Partiers vs Canadian Energy

... and you may be surprised at who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
a delay could also be forced by activists along the proposed pipeline route through Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. About 750 landowners have refused to allow the company, TransCanada Corp, on their land, setting the stage for court battles over compulsory purchase. ...

environmental concerns alone did not turn Daniel's neighbours against the pipeline. They claim that bullying did.

Locals in east Texas accuse TransCanada's agents of threatening them with compulsory purchase and of dismissing their concerns about safety in case of a leak.


Daniel said the company did not bother to notify him when it sent the first survey team to his property in 2008. A neighbour told him outsiders had been on his land. He found surveyors' stakes with flags reading PL. "My heart was just falling," he said. "I knew that meant pipeline."

The anger spread to Tea Party conservatives, the local chapter of Hawks – which stands for Handguns Are Worth Keeping Sacred – and even those who owed their fortunes to oil.
Yes, I do think property rights are limited and contingent. Yes I do think we need energy. No I don't think oil sands would be a bad idea if it weren't for greenhouse gases. And no, I don't think gun rights are sacred. So whose side am I on?

Well, there are two other principles at work. Anything that slows down the oil sands is good for the world. And it's never a good idea to mess with Texas.

Seriously? The world often fails to line up with out preconceptions. This comment at the linked article is sensible:

Mike Richards

3 March 2011 12:47AM

The thinking* of the Tea Party does my head in:

They do everything possible to sabotage a switch from oil, blocking tightening up on emissions, gutting regulators and arguing against science. Their favourite politicians rail against America importing crude from OPEC nations because that strengthens the 'turrists'. They deny that extracting tar sand is an environmental catastrophe and they've spent the last few years saying how wonderful it is to have Alberta's oil reserves right next door.

Now they're going to try and block a reliable supply of their favourite brown liquid (after tea).

Sooner or later one of them is going to commit a grave heresy by admitting America doesn't have much crude left and it might be a good idea to cut down on consumption. At which point they'll be carted off to a giant wicker Bachmann.

*yeah I'm being unduly charitable.

No, their idea is that the world is big and property rights are absolute, and what I do on my property is not your business, and if you don't like it, get your own damn property. This response is not surprising to me, though I find it amusing. It is very much tied into the idiotic grass roots opposition to high speed rail or really to just about anything that amounts to new infrastructure.

I wonder whether the Canadian pipeline company was unprepared for it. American "liberals" are acting as conservatives these days, protecting existing arrangements and established proprieties against wild experiments propagated by an impulsive rabble. And "conservatives" are localist, populist, isolationist, survivalists, with much in common with what the rest of the world considers the far left. It's a topsy turvy country if you ask me.

Spot the Denialist Bug

OK, by popular request, this is the return of the spot-the-bug feature.

There is a book called "Slaying the Sky Dragon" based on the concept that all of climate science is completely wrong from the git-go. A whole book! Do you think I am making this up? Well, here's a key argument from that book, which is popping up here and there, via Jennifer Marohasy, who also propagates an amazingly fictitious history of climate science that I don't recommend without the requisite head-vise.

One person was overheard proclaiming "I am more dumb for having read this", but there is a cure to that sort of thing: make the dumbth explicit.

It won't be hard to just find a refutation of the general misunderstanding somewhere and link to it, but this is getting enough play as to deserve a custom demolition. Your mission is to explain in very clear terms what is wrong with this picture. The best answer, not the first answer, gets an OIIFTG No-Prize.

Anyway, here it is. You'll see variants of it all over the place.
‘There is an important point that was missed in your article about the Stefan-Boltzmann equation. Applying the argument to the “greenhouse gas” theory is quite simple: there can be no “back radiation” from the colder atmosphere to the warmer earth’s surface. It violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics as it applies to radiative transfer…’

More following from Dr. Martin Hertzberg, a coauthor of “Slaying the Sky Dragon-Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory”…

‘Consider two flat, parallel surfaces each with unit emissivity facing each other. One surface is maintained at a higher temperature, Th while the other surface is maintained at a lower temperature Tc . If the hotter surface were facing a complete void or surroundings at 0 K, the flux of radiant energy that it would emit and that the void would receive is sTh4.

‘Similarly, if the colder surface were facing a complete void or surroundings at 0 K, the flux of radiant energy that it would emit and that the void would receive is sTc4. But neither of the surfaces is facing a void: they are facing each other, and accordingly the net flux of radiant energy in the field between them is:

I (net) = s (Th4 – Tc4 ) ,

and is always from the hotter surface to the colder surface as required by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

‘Nowhere in the radiation field between the two surfaces is the flux of radiant energy equal to what either of the surfaces would emit if they were facing a complete void at 0 K! Thus, the simple use of the Stefan-Boltzmann equation to characterize the emission from a source of radiation as though it depends only on the temperature of the source without considering the temperature of the surroundings that are receiving the radiation, is a misuse of the equation, and the notion that a colder source can transfer radiant energy to a warmer object involves not only a misuse of the Stefan-Boltzmann equation but also a violation of the 2nd Law.

‘The situation is analogous to a simple problem in mechanics. A 1 Kg mass is sitting on a frictionless table and is subjected to a force of 10 Newtons from left to right and simultaneously subjected to a force of 7 Newtons from right to left. Now you are free to calculate what the motion would be if only the 10 Newton force acted on the mass, or if you prefer, you can calculate what the motion would be if only the 7 Newton mass operated on it. But, of course, neither of those calculations describes the real motion, which is that of a 3 Newton force acting from left to right. There is no motion to the left from the weaker force.

‘Thus it should be quite clear that the simple use of the Stefan-Boltzmann equation as though it can characterize the radiant energy being transferred from a source to its surroundings without any reference to the conditions of the surroundings that are receiving that radiant energy, is a misuse of the equation.’

Dr. Martin Hertzberg coauthor of Slaying the Sky Dragon-Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory
Follow the link to Hertzberg's biography; you will find an even more stupefying argument that the CO2 rise is not anthropogenic.

Proving yet again that a PhD doesn't actually prove you know what you are talking about.

Contest closes in a week, which is noon, March 12, Texas time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Strategic Risk Chart

This interesting item


showed up, via "Strategic Risk" at Dennis Dimick's this morning.

I don't think it fully captures the interconnectedness of everything; how health or decline in one area really brings down the robustness of the whole thing. After all, the links are crudely drawn as symmetrical and the sign of the reinforcement is not shown. It's a bit too crude.

And, astonishingly, long term energy supplies are not well represented. Pollution is completely missing. Also, the sorts of political instability and increasing incompetence that we are now seeing in the west aren't represented at all. And why does China merit a special bubble of her own?

But it's a start which is a good deal better than nothing. Anyone know of a more serious effort along these lines?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Bad Media Advice"

It's time to revisit the whole horror of the first ten years of the millennium. Could things have gone worse? Maybe a little bit, but not much.

Things were looking pretty much under control ten years ago. Dematerialization and disintermediation; information replacing goods; a transition from dirty energy to clean; increasing globalization in attitude and a decline in xenophobia; increasing respect for technical knowledge and rigorous education.

What happened? Others may disagree but I would argue that W. happened. The country leading the transition to the future was itself led by a buffoon. Speaking as a Texan, I have to sadly admit that he was an especially Texan sort of buffoon; a fellow who inherited more influence than he deserved who got by on a certain mischievous frat-boy backslapping and a peculiar sense of entitlement to his good fortune. A fellow who, no matter how hard he tried, could not fail. Who, after years of being bailed out by Daddy, managed to hand over the reins to a team of adults just in time to avoid utter collapse and is finally being bailed out by Barack Obama while he half-heartedly plans his Presidential Library in Dallas. (It will no doubt be a good deal less thought provoking and moving than the LBJ Library here in Austin.)

Leaving aside for now the frat-boys busy destroying many of the states, meeting only token resistance outside of Wisconsin, let's consider how we got not one but two terms of reckless buffoonery, enough to quite permanently and unmistakably damage America's prospects in the world, and to set the world back a couple of generations as well.

I think it's PR.

We all remember the peculiar way in which W defeated Mr. Gore, and dread the inevitable future tie elections which it harbinges. But the very idea of a tie election between a very serious, honest and educated man and a buffoon is terrifying. To some extent, it was Gore's very seriousness that lost him the election. As I've said elsewhere, the educated person speaking to the general public has a delicate dance to avoid the appearance of arrogance; on one hand you can appear patronizing as you explain in painful detail to some members of the audience what others will find obvious. On the other you can appear arrogant and insular as you bandy about concepts that some members of your audience find inaccessible. Meanwhile, the complacent, vaguely beery fool you are arguing with just needs to be quick with a quip or two.

But I've seen Mr. Gore argue on the Senate floor, before he was particularly famous (it happened to be about cable TV regulation), and I've seen him make the case about the CO2 quandary. He can be passionate, articulate, persuasive. For a white guy in the modern age, he can actually wax rhetorical without causing a wince. Why was his actual, real, compelling personality buried in the catastrophic 2000 election? Because he was stage managed within an inch of his life!

Because he had advisors who said the safest plan was to get a bare majority in a set of states with a bare majority of electoral votes (which, in fact, was correct except for some minor complications that basically boil down to backslapping frat-boy pranks against him). Because the safe path was not to engage Mr. Nader and carve out a position as a centrist, nor to engage the public on the real long-range issues the energized him, nor to rise to oratory, but simply to try to pass for a harmless wonk.

And now, he is a liability to the movement he started and a laughing stock among the frat-boys, not to mention his personal problems. Why? PR advice. Advice from 20th century media professionals, the very people that the very internet he promoted are happily making extinct. Advice about what color clothes to wear, what topics to raise, whom to engage, and what to talk about.

The amazing thing about this sort of advice is that it never gives up. No matter how often elections are reduced to random chance (if it rains in Eastern Ohio but not in Western Ohio...), no matter how matters are rendered shabby and superficial, no matter how much evidence there is that Americans are withdrawing from democratic processes in droves, they go on with their shallow and shabby frat-boy acts.

Science under attack

And now that science has been slapped in the face hard enough by the frat-boy pranksters (along with just about anything else outside commerce) that scientists are waking up to the fact that "whoa, we may have a public relations problem" , who is there to step up and offer advice? Well, public relations professionals, of course. Who else?

After all, if experts on biology should be taken seriously on biology, and experts on climate should be taken seriously on climate, whom should we look to for public relations advice? Why the experts of course!

Never mind that these are the exact experts whose clever advice brought the back-slapping beery frat-boy conspiracy to levels of power previously held only by grownups.

Or, going far enough back into history, psychopathic and deranged hereditary monarchs like the fellow the Americans rebelled against in the first place, but never mind that. Or the guys we've been propping up, apparently quite against the national will, in the petro-states. But never mind that either. Suffice it to say that most grownups would prefer adults to be holding these positions, and the fact that they aren't comes from the replacement of politics with the techniques used to sell detergents.

So who came along first? About the time I started blogging, Matt Nisbet starting pushing his "framing" meme. I have to say I bought it and in a way I still buy it. It seems sensible to target different communications to different audiences. But what ended up happening is that it turns out that Nisbet has absolutely no clue what the message of science is supposed to be. He is looking at it like an election; asking binary-valued questions of huge demographics. This is hopelessly clueless.

What we want is general understanding that there is a crisis, general trust in a cohort of problem solvers, and a cohort of problem solvers that deserves that trust. This is not about Tide vs Cheer. This is about collective decision making. I don't need help selling a meme. I need help starting a serious conversation.

Sweeping Uncertainty Under the Rug

As if that weren't bad enough, also stepping up to the plate is Randy "I used to be a scientist and you shouldn't act like one either" Olson. His claim to fame being a couple of documentaries that had zero influence, that is nevertheless two more than most scientists have mustered. So what should we do if we listen to Olson? That's simple. We should lie.
This has become one of the central points of my talks lately. EVERYONE wants to know, “How can we best communicate elements of uncertainty?” My answer is, “Very carefully, if at all.”

I say this because of simple logic with regard to storytelling. We know that the most effective means of mass communication is through storytelling. What we also know is that the teller of a story is expected to be all-knowing — i.e. omniscient. So what kind of omniscient voice is uncertain about what is being told?

This is a problem. It isn’t even about whether the warnings come true or not. This is long before that. This is about if you even MENTION something for which you are not certain, you’ve already entered into a realm of decreased credibility.

And I know that is precisely what is not happening with the mass communication of science and environmentalism, as evidenced by the countless blunt statements saying over and over again, “There MAY BE a crisis.” When people make those statements they are showing no clue of how the perception of environmentalism has changed in the past decade.
Dude, first of all, we are not "environmentalists". In fact, this leads directly to a much better article by Olson that makes the distinction clearly and well.

But if we have to think collectively under uncertainty, what is there to do but faithfully convey the uncertainties, the pretty scary expectations, the terrifying worst cases, and the not entirely eliminated relatively moderate outcomes. Including the questions of which disciplines and subdisciplines deserve the most trust, be they scientific, economic, or political.

The good news is that all this is very interesting. The bad news is that it is all very confusing, and only intelligent people enjoy confusion. To people who doubt their own intelligence, confusion is just an assault on their ego. To people who trust their own intelligence, confusion is a sign of a problem worth working on.

There is no way around it. We have a whole tangle of difficult and confusing problems. Until people understand that, they will keep proposing simpleminded answers and frat-boy practical jokes at the expense of their opposition. We can't afford that anymore.

What the PR Types are Missing

The thing is, it's a new world. If we try to control information that just makes it easier for our opponents to make shit up. And the past two years shows that they have a considerable talent for the job. We don't need packaging. We don't need spin. We need to tell the truth.

We don't need stories. We need the story.

Note In Reader Bug Fix

Update: As of an hour ago, Google has fixed the bug. Text below is altered to reflect that.

The "Note In Reader" bookmarklet for Google Reader is broken as of today was broken today.

In a brazen attempt to attract followers (and show off my chops) I came up with a Reader-Note Bug Patch/

The actual debugging was done by Flavio Gomes but it was something of a puzzle getting it to actually work as a bookmarklet, and I had to change the code slightly.

For those interested, the bookmarklet source looked like this:
<a href="javascript:{_IS_MULTILOGIN_ENABLED=false;
void(b.appendChild(z));}else{}}">Reader-Note Bug Patch</a>
That makes a "bookmarklet" link which you can drag to your bookmarks bar. Since it's not necessary any more I have removed it as a live link, and recommend you go back to standard practice.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Haven't Given up on Climate

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, there is this. Chart from American Progress. Photos from the recent rally in Austin Texas, photographer yours truly.

Note that 44 billion dollars is $130 per capita, or about $500 per household, or about $50,000 per top-percentile-household. Since we are clearly undertaxed in aggregate, the Bush tax cuts amount to a transfer of $500 from every household among the poorest 90% of households to every household among the richest 1%. I wish somebody could explain this effectively to the tea party. That same $50,000 going the other way would really have a lot more utility.

I think it would be crazy to let the richest 10% off the hook and just increase taxes on everybody else $500. But even that would be sensible compared to what is actually happening in response to this engineered crisis.

Be It Ever So Inconvenient

Mon pays malheureux, mon regard languissant vers toi se portera.

via Midnight Poutine. The redbuds are budding here in Texas, and it won't be long before we see the bluebonnets. Yet, I'm homesick sometimes for an icy city that has never been kind to me, and rarely enough to anyone else.

Go figure the human soul, nostalgic for a crowded frozen rock in a frozen river on such a beautiful spring day.

Train Wreck Rescheduled

A continuing resolution keeps the US government funded for two more weeks. The deadline is now pushed back to March 19.

It doesn't work that way with real trains.

It is interesting that Belgium has had no government for almost a year. In this way, Belgium is better set up than the US, which apparently needs active intervention by government in order to function at all.