June 30, 2008

Possibly The Dumbest Thing Ever Said

And it doesn't shock me much that it relates to Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). This is from Maurice Strong, adviser to Kofi Annan:
"We may get to the point where the only way to save the world will be for industrial civilisation to collapse."
Because things were soooo much better before industrial civilization.

Just do me a favor, and go back and read that one more time. Go on; I'll wait. The logic is astounding, isn't it? It's like saying "it may be that the only way to prevent further wars is to all commit suicide tomorrow." Oh, sure it will work, but at what cost. Someone needs to introduce Mr. Strong to the term "Pyhrric victory."

Let's face it: the "world," or "the planet," or "the environment," or whatever term you want to use has been here a long time in one form or another, and it's going to be here a long time after our species is gone. Our whole of recorded history, cosmically speaking, is a blink of the eye, a fart in the wind. Less, even. I'm getting really sick and tired of people trying to cloak their political views, or some misguided hatred of industry/capitalism/etc. in a robe of altruism.

Anyway, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If I were a betting man, I'd wager that an apocalypse by asteroid is much more likely (and sooner) than an apocalypse by AGW.

June 29, 2008

I Did A Little Climate Modeling In College...For The Money, Though. I Swear!

I'm sure I'll have the wonderful experience of being called a "climate change skeptic," or even better, a "climate change denier." The second term has the one-two punch of making it seem like I don't believe in climate change (I do. It changes from day to day, season to season. It's always changing.) and it uses a pejoratively loaded term like "denier" which makes it sound like I'm ignoring some basic truth while at the same time drawing comparisons to terms like "Holocaust denier." Just take a little look in my dictionary:

Skeptic: noun; 1) a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions. From skepsis 'inquiry, doubt'.

Deny: verb; 1) refuse to admit the truth or existence of.

See the difference? In one, you are questioning opinions; in the other, you are refusing to admit the truth. Big difference.

In any case, my feeling is that open questioning and debate are key components of scientific inquiry. Those who shout "the debate is over!" too often seem too desperate for the rest of us to believe them.

Now, on to the main course.

This is one of the best articles I've read discussing computer modeling--and its shortcomings--as it relates to climate change studies.

"The IPCC issues predictions for 20- to 30-year periods into the future, and updates them every 6-7 years, so in practice its current predictive capabilities can never be evaluated against real world data. As Tebaldi and Knutti observe, 'climate projections, decades or longer in the future by definition, cannot be validated directly through observed changes.'"

But more importantly, groups like the IPCC have created a "no-lose" situation. If the predictions from 20 years ago are correct, then the response is "see? We told you so!" If the predictions are incorrect, the response is "well, those predictions were based on the old models. We know much more now. Watch and see; we'll be right for the next 20 years." And so on.

Think I'm wrong? Read this:

The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth's climate seems to be _______ ____. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the ________ trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. "A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale," warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, "because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century."

Sounds pretty familiar doesn't it? You'd know enough to fill in the blanks with the terms "warming up" and "warming," right? Except you'd be wrong. Fill in those blanks with "cooling down" and "cooling," and you have an article from the April 28, 1975 issue of Newsweek. Want to see a little more?

There are ominous signs that the earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production - with serious political implications for just about every nation on earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only ten years from now.

And this little gem:

Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or divering[sic] arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve.

Yeah, that's right. Just 33 years ago, scientists were suggesting melting the arctic ice cap! The same one that we're now being warned will melt and kill us all! Okay, I'm exaggerating, but I think you can see my point. No? Well, what about this little nugget from an NPR report on the Argo system, which measures ocean temperature up to a depth of 3,000 feet:

Since the system was fully deployed in 2003, it has recorded no warming of the global oceans.

"There has been a very slight cooling, but not anything really significant," Willis says. So the buildup of heat on Earth may be on a brief hiatus. "Global warming doesn't mean every year will be warmer than the last. And it may be that we are in a period of less rapid warming."

I won't bother making fun of Willis for equating the terms "less rapid warming" and "slight cooling," but I will point out that the report also states "In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of global warming involves heating up ocean waters." So, of course the article is critical of the global warming theory, right?

That could mean global warming has taken a breather. Or it could mean scientists aren't quite understanding what their robots are telling them.

Wow. Global warming exists, damn it. This new info means either it just stopped (but only temporarily), or these scientists are just too dumb to understand the data. But global warming exists. So with a "less rapid warming" of our oceans (combined with satellite temperature measurements--which some people seem to think are more reliable than ones on the ground--that also seem to be showing a "less rapid warming"), where is all this heat going to?

Kevin Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research says it's probably going back out into space. The Earth has a number of natural thermostats, including clouds, which can either trap heat and turn up the temperature, or reflect sunlight and help cool the planet.

That can't be directly measured at the moment, however.

"Unfortunately, we don't have adequate tracking of clouds to determine exactly what role they've been playing during this period," Trenberth says. It's also possible that some of the heat has gone even deeper into the ocean, he says. Or it's possible that scientists need to correct for some other feature of the planet they don't know about.

Or maybe it was carried away on the wings of fairies. Are you kidding me?! We're talking about making climate policy decisions that could themselves have serious repercussions and we don't know "where the heat is going"?! We can't even track the freakin' clouds?!

I think the debate is far from over. And for some people, that's a really inconvenient truth.

Best. Video. Ever.

Music video, that is. I have to admit that it took me about halfway through it to realize I was supposed to be watching the bars.

I really do love the song & the video, though. It has David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Dizzee Rascal, and a bunch of naked people.

What's not to love?

June 27, 2008

"I'm Not Sure, But I Can Guess..."

"...San Francisco's extremely Left."

I'm sure it's not much of a surprise to anyone, but this is a little too much, though. It seems that the San Francisco school board voted 4-2 to phase out the Junior ROTC program over the next two years. I'd like to be funny about this, but frankly, it's just reprehensible. How can four individuals decide to eliminate a program that has been a part of the SF school system for the last 90 years?

A former teacher, Nancy Maniacs...oh, I'm sorry. That's Nancy Mancias. Nancy said "We need to teach a curriculum of peace." That's going to make that "History of World War II" chapter very difficult, I'm guessing. Or maybe not...

Chapter Ten: The Fireside Chats
And then Franklin Delano Roosevelt began what were known as "Fireside Chats." These were chats where FDR and Hitler got together in front of a warm fire to drink tea, braid each other's hair, and talk over their differences. Hitler apologized for trying to kill all the Jews and take over the world, and FDR forgave him and gave him a big hug. The next morning, all the guns had turned into chocolate. The end.

Let's call the cancellation of this program what it is: pushing a political ideology upon students. Full stop.

Mark Sanchez, one of the board members who voted to end the program:
"I think people should not despair too much," Sanchez said. "I think now the work begins -- to work within the community to develop new programs that will fulfill the needs of our students."
As opposed to what? The extra work that isn't required to continue the program already in place that was already fulfilling the needs of 1,600 of your students? I'm anxious to see just what these new programs will be, and just what "needs" those programs will fill. I've watched while higher education has become increasingly compartmentalized and esoteric in term of its programs, resulting in graduates often unprepared for life outside academia. Add to that increased college costs and you end up with a significant number of graduates with a tremendous amount of debt, and a degree that qualifies them to...well...teach in academia, I guess. That, in an already saturated market, no less.

Are they worried about the safety of the JROTC students? Then perhaps we should get rid of sports programs as well, especially full-contact sports, like football. Certainly JROTC stands a better chance than sports of fulfilling at least one student need: that of making a living. Only 252 players were selected for this year's NFL draft, for example.

But why stop there? Let's get rid of some of the other aspects of the curriculum that might prove dangerous to the students. First thing to go? Driver's Ed. Over 42,000 people were killed in auto accidents in the U.S. in 2001 alone. And as of 2008, it's the number one killer worldwide of persons aged 10-24. Based on the 2006 casualty rate, the U.S. would have to be in Iraq for over 50 years to equal one year of domestic auto deaths. One last, sobering (but appropriate) comparison:
If you made a yearbook containing the photos of those killed this year, putting 12 photos on each page, it would have 3,500 pages.
How many pages in a San Francisco yearbook, I wonder?

Encouraging the little moppets to stay out of a car is good for them. It's good for all of us.

Maybe we should eliminate schools all together. After all, the CDC estimates about 20,000 people die every year from the flu. Home schooling might cut that number down significantly, no? (BTW, both numbers are higher than the number of homicides for the same year.)

Oh, and you can forget physics and biology, too. At least for those who want to become astronauts, anyway. Percentage-wise, that could be one of the most dangerous professions of all. They have to face radiation (possible cancer/sterility), mechanical failures, effects of zero gravity, fires and explosions, and any other risks of being shot into space. Whew. Spirit of exploration, my eye. Lets not encourage that.

Sandra Schwartz, member of the American Friends Service Committee:
"We don't want the military ruining our civilian institutions. In a healthy democracy... you contain the military. You must contain the military."
That's right. The military does nothing. Well, except secure our liberty. Oh, and safeguard those civilian institutions Sandra was talking about. But that's it. Secure liberties and safeguard institutions. And provide discipline and direction. Secure liberties, safeguard institutions, provide discipline, and that's all. Oh, crap...providing money for college. Secure, safeguard, discipline and money. And nothing else. (Kudos to anyone who recognizes the film reference!)

Maybe they aren't worried about the safety of the JROTC students, but if that's the case, then someone has some 'splaining to do because I just can't see another reason that justifies this policy. I can understand wanting to place restrictions on recruiters; depending on the conditions, I might even agree with them on that one. After all, the military does have a bit of a reputation for "questionable" recruitment tactics. But that's not what's been done here. Besides, when it comes right down to it, I'm not sure that the promises made by a military recruiter are any more exaggerated than, say, the promises made by a college recruiter to a student interested in Medieval literature. "It's a fast growing, wide-open field." "Don't worry, I'm sure you can get student loans." "It's a very flexible degree." Uh-huh. And the financial aid check is in the mail. (My apologies to you ML majors out there, but I call 'em like I see 'em.)

I suppose the board members might think that the JROTC program encourages students to enter the military. (See Nancy's quote) In that case, I'd be curious to know what their thoughts are on an abstinence-only sex-ed program. I only ask because it would seem a little odd to me to argue one the one hand that telling students to stay away from sex is an ineffective deterrent, while at the same time arguing that keeping students away from a program like the JROTC is going to prevent them from joining the military, if that's what they're really interested in.

I found a nice quote by Claire Bindis, a health policy professor at University of California at San Francisco. She's talking about sex-ed, but I think the main idea is valid in this case as well:

There's a lot of people who believe knowledge is dangerous, that if you give kids more information about condoms they'll go out and have sex.

"But isn't it better," Brindis asked, "to give young people and our large immigrant population the tools to plan? I can't think of anything more moral."

Me either. Ultimately, I find it distressing that four individuals can make such a politically-charged decision that will affect 1,600 or so students. I don't know what's worse--the fact that they actually voted to end the program or their astounding arrogance in thinking that they were being anything but self-serving.


Maybe I Should Pick "Less" Nits...

...but I can't help it. I just sent an e-mail out to some friends, and the whiz kids over at Yahoo! have apparently written a little blurb designed to pop up after sending my message informing me that I can "download in less steps." It's fewer steps, damn it! This is not a difficult rule, and you people are supposed to be professionals.

This makes me fewer confident in our educational system.

June 25, 2008

Somebody Hand Me A Dictionary!

Over at Salon.com there's an article by Andrew O'Hehir about the death of independent film. I've seen the same sentiment in a couple of other places (which I would link to if they weren't print sources, and I could even remember which ones...Entertainment Weekly, possibly?) As evidence, the authors offer the cutbacks/closings of New Line, Paramount Vantage, and Warner Picturehouse. I guess I really should know more about this, but when did "independent" go from being a method of production to being a genre? That is, if a production company is a subsidiary of, or at least subject to closing by a studio, doesn't that sort of preclude that company from being called a maker of "independent" films?

From my Concise Oxford Dictionary:

· adj.
1 free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority.

I'm just sayin'...

June 21, 2008

It Never Fails

It just amazes me how invariably it's the student who put the least amount of effort into the class who ends up complaining about his or her grade. Where does that come from?

June 15, 2008

Wal-Mart: Beating Down Sugar Theives At A Plaza Near You

This is typical of a company that doesn't bother to put out the cash for better-quality security officers. I'm sure while they were detaining him over a couple of bucks worth of sugar, they got ripped off for much more.

June 14, 2008

A Good "Pounding"?

I'm sure by now you've all heard of the Fox News "terrorist fist jab?" fiasco. If you haven't, you can check it out here, in a NY Times story which criticizes Fox for having made three apologies in as many weeks for statements made about Obama. I'm sure I don't need to point out to you that at least Fox is making apologies, as opposed to some NY daily newspapers, who even when on that rare occasion that they do apologize, make it less about being sorry and more about pointing fingers and making excuses.

Anyway, I did have a few thoughts about the whole thing. I'm just going to list them for the sake of organization.

1) The "terrorist fist jab?" comment is such a non-issue, for reasons I'll cover shortly. However, one of the other incidents mentioned, the "Obama's baby mama," is inexcusable. Whoever did it should be fired on the spot, and not even because of the term itself, but because by including it, he or she exhibited the worst judgment I've ever seen in news broadcasting, and is obviously an incompetent.

2) It's amazing to me how little people understand the language we speak. In researching this post, I saw literally dozens of writers (some major media, some other bloggers) claim that E.D. Hill was "calling Barack and Michelle Obama's fist-pound a 'terrorist fist jab'" or some such variation. That isn't quite the case. First of all, it was phrased as a question, not a statement. It's the difference between "You're asking for a punch in the nose?" and "You're asking for a punch in the nose." Secondly, she followed the list with the phrase "The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently." This clearly means that the preceding list is not her belief, but the way in which she feels other people may have interpreted it. Once again, there's a world of difference there. It's the difference between someone saying "Hey, you're a no-good lying bastard," and saying "Hey, I read this post that called you a no-good lying bastard."

3) That brings up the question as to whether or not it's reasonable to think that some people may have interpreted the fist bump (or FB as I will refer to it from now on) as a "terrorist fist jab." Well, there's a number of emails circulating the net that claim that Obama is a Muslim, that he and/or his wife have ties to groups that are...to be kind, I'll say "intolerant" of white people, that he has something against the Pledge of Allegiance, that he secretly hates America, and various other character flaws. (Please note: I am not saying those things. They are circulating in e-mails.) There was even a post out there which called it a "Hezbollah-style fist jabbing." (The post has since been edited to remove the term, which is why I didn't bother linking to it.) Even a member of his own party--Ted Kennedy--accidentally started calling him "Osama bin.." at a press junket before correcting himself.

And then there's the name. Barack Hussein Obama. Most reasonable people (including me) will have no problem with it--it's just a name. But running for president in the U.S. with a name that sounds somewhat the same as some of those who want to destroy us and our way of life? You've got to expect that some people will be suspicious of your motives. Can you imagine running for office in Israel with a name like Adolph Stalin? You could have nothing but the best intentions, and be the best politician in the world, but c'mon...you're going to draw fire.

4) I would guess that Fox's audience on the average is a bit older than some of the other news outlets (although I have no real basis for that). I've seen a lot of people comment on how the fist bump, or "pound" as they refer to it started in sports. One particularly telling comment said "The dap came from sports players a long time ago. Look at some old sports taps[sic] from the 80's 90's and even now." Let's just assume for a second that there are some people alive who might not consider the '80s "a long time ago," and who might also remember the "DAP" which "has existed in the African-American community for centuries" and most notably (for this discussion, at least), has been associated with Black Power advocates in the '60s and '70s, many of whom "believed in racial separation, black nationalism, and the necessity to use violence as a means of achieving their aims." This includes the Nation of Islam: Black Muslims who shouldn't be--but often are--confused with Muslims. It might not be as far of a stretch as it first seems to think that there might be people out there whose minds call up those images when seeing Obama and his wife fist bump. After all, in almost every other case, a closed fist gesture is considered hostile, or at the very least revolutionary, whether it's the "One of these days, Alice" fist waving or the upraised fists of Northern Ireland loyalists or the Black Panthers, both of whom at one time or another have--let's face it--been called "terrorists."

5) I've seen a number of places insinuate that because Hill brought the term up in the "teaser" and not the segment proper that somehow, she was not refuting the term. I think the reverse is true. The segment itself makes it clear that this is nothing more than, as the Times so quaintly put it, a "closed-fist high five." I think had she added something about the "terrorist fist jab" to the segment, not only would that have been in worse taste, I firmly believe that those who are criticizing her for not following up on the teaser would actually have criticized her much more.

6) In the end, I think it was a poor choice of words. She shouldn't have said it. But neither do I think she deserves the shitstorm thrown her way. The press has given so many "passes" to Obama (wonder why?)--for thinking there were 60 states instead of 50**, for his 'I-see-dead-people' gaffe on Memorial Day, his story about his uncle liberating Auschwitz, inflating the death toll of a Kansas tornado from 12 to 10,000, for claiming that he was losing the primary in KY because Hillary was "much better known, coming from a nearby state of Arkansas." (for the record, IL--the state in which Obama has lived since 1985, and the one he serves as senator--actually borders Kentucky!), and the two that I think are incredibly egregious and much more than "misstatements": not knowing the details of a nuclear waste-treatment plant he voted on, and shamelessly using Selma, Alabama to associate himself with the civil rights struggle.*** I could go on, but you can pretty easily find the rest of them with a quick search. The point is that the media seems to be okay with the Right being called Nazis, fascists, racists, etc. They seem to have little problem with Obama's association with Reverend Wright, Louis Farrakhan, James Johnson, Tony Rezko, and Reverend Pfleger. And yet they bring the wrath of god down on Hill for a stupid (but ultimately innocuous) comment? How about a little consistency?

One last thing: No one's really mentioned it, but what I found a bit offensive about the whole thing was that after the fist bump, Obama smacks his wife on the ass! It you're looking for something inappropriate and a little sexist, focus on that.

** He said he had visited 57 states with one more to go, while also admitting that "his staff wouldn't let him go to Alaska and Hawaii" (the latter is where he was born, by the way--there's loyalty for you). I don't know what's more troubling--that he could mistake the number of states (even as a misstatement, that's a pretty bad one to make for the man who wants to be president. Can you imagine if John McCain said this? There would be cries of "senile!" all over the media.) or that he lets other people tell him what to do (just the kind of thing I want in a leader).

*** Apparently this shows that he votes on things he doesn't read and/or understand and that he feels the need to be the Forrest Gump of modern politics, tying his life to famous people and events. Is there something wrong with having a largely unremarkable life? Do we need politicians who grow from myth, having thrown coins over rivers, split logs, overcome polio, or survived sinking PT boats?

June 05, 2008

Yeah, That's Right...I Said It!

A little billboard has been causing a stir--first in Pennsylvania, and eventually nationwide.

"Don't believe in God?" it asks. "You are not alone."

Think of it as a sign of the times.

Perhaps it is. This whole free speech thing IS frustrating, after all. It's becoming harder and harder to torture these Godless heathens into recanting without getting flak. And don't even get me started about how difficult it is to slaughter them these days in the name of a loving God.

For fun, read some of the comments after the article linked above.

As you can imagine, this billboard has caused a fit in a number of people out there, which I think goes to show that the much-touted Christian compassion and tolerance aren't all they pretend to be. There's nothing in this message that denigrates believers or is even the slightest bit critical of religion. Apparently, just the idea of like-minded people coming together is enough to scare or offend some people. I mean, it's like they're trying to form some sort of...church?

NOTE: Many of the people I know (and care about) who belong to the various religions are reasonable, very nice people, and I suspect that they wouldn't have much of a problem with said billboard. It's a shame that a select few have to ruin it for the others.

Look Out! There goes the Araignee-Homme!

So the French "Spider-Man" climbed the NY Times building. He said he did it to protest climate change. He even unfurled a banner that read:

"Global warming kills more people than 9/11 every week."

Apart from the grammatical issues in it, including what I believe is a misplaced modifier*, that sentence troubles me. Protesting climate change is much different than protesting man-made climate change:

"Sacre merde, World! Will you stop getting warmer, and then cooler, and then warmer, and then cooler?? It seems like we go through this every year, no?"

Claiming that "global warming" kills people is like saying that time is the leading cause of death. If we could only stop it, everyone could live forever! But seriously, I can understand his wanting to bring attention to man's impact on the environment because that's the one issue that I haven't really seen much about in the news.

*First of all, 9/11 didn't actually kill anyone. It's just a day...and I guess technically, it should be 9/11/01. I think it would read better as "Every week, global warming kills more people than were killed on 9/11" or "Global warming kills more people every week than were killed on 9/11." It may seem like I'm nit-picking, or being hard on a non-native speaker, but c'mon--if you're going to risk your life to make a statement, I would think you might ask around and make sure what could be your final words are grammatically correct.

UPDATE: Apparently, there was a copycat climber. The new guy was climbing with a shirt that read "malaria no more." What's next? Erectile dysfunction? I can see the banner now: "I'm gonna get up it so you can get it up!"