Sunday, January 31, 2010

More on climate

The previous blog entry 'Climate change and doubt' touched on two reasons why there are some who doubt the consensus view on climate change, namely that the subject and science is so complex that to get an understanding of the general idea across to the lay public :

a) Experts have had to greatly "simplify" an incredibly complex set of phenomena e.g. very roughly reducing the issue to "man's use of fossil fuels has added such great quantities of greenhouse gasses, mostly carbon dioxide, to the planet's atmosphere that the globe is warming; that this is causing multiple negative changes; and that unless the concentration of carbon dioxide and the temperature rise are held below a certain level, there will be catastrophic consequences", and,

b) The complexity is such that its "proof" has to rely on a heavy dose of "an appeal to authority."

The problem with the first is that occasionally new information is developed that may seem at odds with the "simplified story," leading to weakening it in the eyes of the lay public (even if/when the new information actually still fits within the experts' more complex models). The previous blog entry had provided a couple of examples (i.e. the "Bering Straits effect" and the effect of solar radiation on the Alps)... Recently 'New Study Turns Up Heat On Soot's Role In Himalayan Warming' suggested that black carbon (i.e. soot) may be as much, if not more responsible for the melt rate of the Himalayan glaciers than greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide. Note that this does not vitiate the warming argument, or necessarily change the model. However it also does not fit neatly with the simplified narrative - it puts forward black carbon as a big issue rather than mostly blaming greenhouse gas, and it also thereby shifts responsibility somewhat from the developed nations (who historically have been larger consumers of fossil fuels, and bigger emitters of carbon dioxide) to the developing nations (more responsible for soot emissions)!

The problem with the second (i.e. the "appeal to authority" issue) occurs when issues or facts come up that prove negative to the credibility of the authority in question... Note, the issue is that in this case a weakening of credibility results in a weakening of the acceptance of the argument that rests upon it. This does not mean that the negative issue has to completely disprove the authority, it simply needs to raise doubts about the authority's competence or probity... Thus the "Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035" kerfuffle has proven very negative, to the consternation of the scientists and others who, fixated on the science, don't understand why their protestations that a simple error in one report on the issue does not detract from the solidity of the underlying science! Well, get ready for more! UN climate change panel based claims on student dissertation and magazine article reports that other parts of the seminal IPCC report are also problematic and include assertions that are not based upon peer-reviewed science! A huge issue, since when additional doubts of this kind are raised, the effects are not simply additive but probably exponential... Ditto for 'UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim.' Temperature and CO2 feedback 'weaker than thought' reports that although research "confirms that as the planet warms, oceans and forests will absorb proportionally less CO2..." the effect is less than recently thought and at the low end of IPCC assumptions (where they are included...). Again, a blow to authority even though it does not run counter to the models and actually agrees with them re process, if not with projected outcome!

The bottom line is that perhaps these two efforts (excessive simplification and an appeal to authority) need to be revisited, and perhaps jettisoned...

On a slightly different tack, one effect of the mounting criticisms is that the scientists and those who accept the consensus view are feeling justifiably beleaguered, and thus inclined to 'circle the wagons" in defense! This would be a mistake on their part, and counterproductive. They need to develop a new narrative and explanation as mentioned above, and also jettison the IPCC chair. There already were sufficient grounds to question his fitness for the position (e.g. see here) and now things are getting worse, with additional questions being raised regarding his credibility and actions and activities, see Climate chief was told of false glacier claims before Copenhagen and UN climate chief Rajendra Pachauri 'got grants through bogus claims'

Previous related blog entries:
Climate change and doubt - Jan 24th, 2010
Meet Dr. Rajendra Pachuri - Jan 23rd, 2010
We wuz wrong - Jan 23rd, 2010

Tweets for Today (Jan 31st)

House Speaker's Mil Travel Cost USAF $2,100,744.59 over 2-Years, Inc $101,429 for In-Flight Expenses Food & booze #

Democrats and Republicans Can Be Differentiated from Their Faces #

RT @DaveedGR RT @azelin A New Totalitarianism: World Purificationists: #

US-PAKISTAN: USAID FATA Programme Largely a Flop, Audit Says #

Give leprosy-affected a chance #

Today, Jan 31st, is World Leprosy Day. #

Ain't that the truth! Cyber wars- Everybody's under attack constantly, says SCIS #

RT @jranck: The myth of undergoverned spaces in Yemen #

1/2 Bush Sr. has threatened Obama & his family. Plot to replace Obama with Hilary and keep the stolen funds. ¶ Tee hee! #

2/2 Hah, this from a site entitled "Global Analysis. Int ernational Intelligence"!! Intelligence, yeah right! #

"Israel thus maintains its policy of whitewashing..." #

Cheesy, but for some unknown reason I really like this: 18 diff "versions" of What is Love? by Kontraband #

Nostalgia for Bush/Cheney radicalism #

Misc update

The February 2nd, 2009 blog entry 'King of Kings' noted that Muammar Gaddafi (fresh from a meeting during which 200 plus African kings and traditional tribal rulers had named him "king of kings") had assumed the chair of the African Union... which he pledged to turn into a "United Staters of Africa." Well his one-year term is up and he has been replaced by the president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika.

However, apparently not before he tried (and failed) to get his term extended!

Gaddafi thwarted over African Union presidency

Random charts...

Source: Economic Policy Institute's Economy Track - "an interactive look at the U.S. labor market."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Misc update

This blogger earlier commented on the low percentage of inhabitants that have birth certificates or registrations in some countries, and quoted some of the difficulties that this engenders (see links below). Various organizations (e.g. UNICEF) and countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, etc.) have been promoting registration programs to combat this problem. Now some NGOs based in India are attempting to use SMS to remind people of the importance of birth registration , see 'An SMS to remind you of the importance of birth registration.'

Previous blog entries on birth registration:
Update - May 5th, 2009
Registered identity - Jul 2nd, 2008

Misc update

Turkmenistan ex-leader Niyazov's arch to be removed It seems that Turkmenistan's strongman Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ordered the removal of the big arch (in the capital, Ashgabat) which is topped with a gold-plated statue of the previous strongman Turkmenbashi, i.e. Saparmyrat Niyazov. No doubt to make a future place for one of his own as he replaces Turkmenbashi's cult of personality with one of his own...

Previous blog entries on Turkmenistan:
Brief update - Nov 4th, 2009
January is back - May 1st, 2008
Turkmenbashi - No laughing matter - Sep 6th, 2002

Random picture

Source: Judicial Watch: Taxpayers pay $101,000 for Pelosi's in-flight 'food, booze.'

"Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents from the Air Force detailing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of United States Air Force aircraft for Congressional Delegations (CODELs). According to the documents, obtained by Judicial Watch through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Speaker’s military travel cost the United States Air Force $2,100,744.59 over a two-year period — $101,429.14 of which was for in-flight expenses, including food and alcohol..."

Tweets for Today (Jan 30th)

California lists moon junk as historical resource ???? #

Recording mass attendance goes high tech: #

"Being Poor and White Is Not the Same as Being Poor and Black" On racism in Cuba #

Dr. Fadl Publishes New Book "The Future of the Conflict in Afghanistan" #

Will a Roman Barber Help Secure Sainthood for John Paul II? So link to JP II is that he saw a pic of him just before? #

Study: Distractions, not phones, cause car crashes Well, duh! #

RT @MParekh: Examining the saying, "in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing" ¤ If so, not good for Pres O. #

Justice Dept.: Obama administration may take action on BCS #

RT @Rat_des_champs Haiti med evacs suspended amid dispute over pay qd on prétend être le + grand donateur, faut assumer #

RT @jranck: The U.N. Addresses a Critical Issue (comic) #

RT @Pragmatics_Anon ACLU Considers Reversing Free Speech Position To compromise principles becoz poss of neg outcome? #

RT @GlobalIntegrity The Zero Rupee Note - fake bill for scolding Indian bribe-seekers. ¤ Brilliant! #

RT @trixl: RT @NCYW "There is no glass ceiling. There is just a thick layer of men" quote from a women's dinner in #Davos /via @ZainabSalbi # - WEF session on Haiti, Schwab intros Clinton w/nauseating paean to how great Clinton is #

Spending Even More, Buying Even Less: The New Pentagon Budget # Interactive look at the U.S. labor market. Tools to track the recession and unemployment crisis #

Worst economic crisis since the Great Depression? By a long shot. #

Temperature and CO2 feedback 'weaker than thought' Bad news, good news (confirmed, not as bad as thought)? #

War on water calls for ingenuity The Netherlands and sea levels... #

Beheaded by the Taliban? No, this time it was about sex ¶ Sloppy reporting (unfortunately *not* atypical) #

Study Warns of Myanmar's Nuclear Activities Actual rpt: #

Tomgram: Anand Gopal, Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan #

Ooh, ooh, "by 2015, China is projected to have in excess of 100 nuclear-armed missiles" #

Rattling the Cage: Segregation blues #

Female soldiers break their silence Ugh... #

Misc update

La RATP déploie des «Flashcodes» sur 11 000 arrêts de Bus et de Tramway reports that the RATP (the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, the transit operator in Paris) has deployed 2D barcodes at every bus and tram stop in Paris to allow voyagers to use their mobile phones to find out when the next bus/tram is scheduled to arrive at their stop... The article also has a video .

Article (partial) and translation:

Afin d'informer les voyageurs en temps réel des arrivées de bus ou des tramways, la RATP déploie la technologie «Flashcode». L'ensemble des points d'arrêt à Paris et en Ile-de-France seront équipés.

In order to io inform travelers re the real-time arrivals of buses or trams, the RATP is deploying "flashcode" technology. All stops in Paris and Ile de France will be included.

La RATP déploie la technologie «Flashcode» sur l'ensemble des points d'arrêt de ses réseaux de Bus et de Tramway, à Paris et en Ile-de-France. Les flashcodes mis en place permettent aux voyageurs d'accéder aux horaires de passage des deux prochains bus ou tramways, en temps réel, directement sur leur mobile.

The RATP is deploying "flashcode" technology at all stations on its bus and tram networks in Paris and Ile-de-France. The flashcodes set up allow passengers to access the arrival times of the next two buses or trams, in real time directly on their mobile phone.

La RATP souligne qu'elle est le premier transporteur à généraliser l'usage des flashcodes pour une application en lien direct avec son offre de transport. Avec 20 000 flashcodes déployés, c'est désormais l'ensemble des 11 000 points d'arrêt des réseaux de surface de la RATP, 350 lignes de bus et 3 lignes de tramway, qui disposent d'une information voyageurs en temps réel, incluant notamment tous les points d'arrêt déplacés pour raison de travaux.

The RATP underlined that it is the first carrier to spread the use of flashcode for an application directly related to its transport services. With 20,000 flashcodes deployed, now all 11,000 stops on the RATP's network, 350 bus lines and 3 tram lines, provide passenger information in real time, including all stops effected by work.

L'information voyageur est fournie en temps réel. Chaque flashcode est unique. Il correspond à une ligne de bus ou de tramway pour un point d'arrêt donné. Localisé sur chaque plan de ligne, il peut être lu et décodé par tous les téléphones mobiles compatibles (pour savoir si votre téléphone est compatible voir sur Pour lire les flashcodes, il faut avoir télécharger l'application de lecture du flashcode sur son mobile et disposer d'un abonnement à l'internet mobile.

The passenger information is provided in real time. Each flashcode is unique. It corresponds to specific stop for a bus or tram line. Located on every transport map, it can be read and decoded by any compatible mobile phone

... see the remainder of the article here.

French flashcode site

Previous entries on this topic:
Barcode update - Dec 29th, 2009
No luck - Dec 15th, 2009
QR codes to hit the U.S.? - Dec 13th, 2009
Misc. update (BB/2D barcodes) - Aug 22nd, 2009
QR update - May 19th, 2009
BB & 2D barcodes - Apr 21st, 2009

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tweets for Today (Jan 29th)

13 Health Leaders Respond to Obama's State of the Union Address #

Obama's latest speech seen by 48 million Americans #SOTU #

Indonesian boy facing criminal charges because he caused a classmate to be stung by a bee Facing 32 month prison #

HAITI: Local Leaders Shut Out of Military-Run Relief Efforts #

Australia most sinful nation in the world: Study ¤ Silliness #

RT @gutelius Refined Petroleum Sanction Pass the Senate ¶ Oh yeah, increase their need for PNE! #

RT @SteveBrant iPad influence in 2-3 yrs when basic price $199 "media consumption & entert" isn't exactly "computing" #

Prev tweet just fussing re headline. Bigger issue w/art is assumption in 3-4 yrs will still be *all* Apple... Not expecting other vendors? #

"South Pillar of the Heaven" (Hunan province, China) inspiration for Avatar's "Hallelujah Mountain"? HGT77 #

Great quotes. Imagine!

"Each year as we watch the state of the union we see half the chamber rise to applaud the President, and half the chamber stay in their seats. We see half the country tune in to watch, but know that much of the country has stopped even listening. Imagine if next year was different. Imagine if next year the entire nation had a President they could believe in, a President who rallied all Americans around a common purpose. That's the kind of President we need in this country, and with your help in the coming days and weeks that's the kind of President I hope to be..." - Senator (and candidate) Barack Obama,

27th, 2010... and keep imagining...

Random chart

Source: Historical look at the labor market during recessions

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tweets for Today (Jan 28th)

What we *don't* want at the SOTU... #

Jeez, the hooting and hollering has already started... Some decorum please! #SOTU #

Is Geithner toast? President just gave him a big hug, is it a "Godfather" hug? #SOTU #

Start off with paean to the resilience of the U.S. people, always an applause getter. #SOTU #

Bank bailout yucks! Yay, fee on biggest banks! More hooting and hollering. #SOTU #

Cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes. You can't run to the right of the Republicans on this. #SOTU #

"We haven't raised anyone's taxes by a dime" Aha, so there *is* a positive side to the failure to pass health care reform #

Jeez, John Boehner needs to keep out of the sun (or the tanning salon) #SOTU #

Hmm, more tax cuts and more spending proposals. Guess he'll get to deficit and the spending freeze a little later #SOTU #

"I've been told...." Straw men being built, just to be knocked down #SOTU #

Twice already "The House has passed.... the Senate should..." Pelosi looks like the cat who swallowed the canary! # SOTU #

New nuclear power plants, new offshore drilling. Applause and hooting from the Republicans this time, until he mentioned climate bill #SOTU #

Hmm, sufficient rationale for many initiatives seems to be 'we have to do this before other countries, to remain no 1' #SOTU #

College loan forgiveness after 20 years/ WTH? #SOTU #

RT @fuzheado: RT @dweinberger: Ah, how to get the Repubs to stand: Say U.S.A is Number 1 ! #sotu #

More tax credits and tax cuts; more spending programs and loans. The economy had better come around or deficit increase will speed up #SOTU #

"Don't walk away from health care" and "let's get it done." No suggestions how. #SOTU #

Assembled pols have no problem cheering tax cuts, inc spending and then being 'serious' about deficits and a 'freeze' on 28% of budget #SOTU #

Hmm, apparently none of the folks present at the #SOTU were in the House or Senate these past eight years when all this crap happened. #

Ooh, watch out for those nefarious foreign entities who can now intervene in U.S. elections, thanks to the SCOTUS #SOTU #

PA folks need to better calibrate President's mic, really annoying that it picks up every time he puts his hands down on the lectern #SOTU #

Hmm, berating House and Senate for their stupidity isn't actually a way to get post-partisan (even if his criticism is bipartisan) #SOTU #

"We have prohibited torture" <-- Not exactly #SOTU #

Obligatory kicking of North Korea and Iran #SOTU #

Must be getting to the end, reprise of paean to American idealism and goodness to the rest of the world #SOTU #

"Pundits reduce issues to silly sound bites" Is he talking about Chris Matthews? #SOTU #

Bottom line: Amazing how none of those assembled at #SOTU take much responsibility for anything that has happened, President, Cong, Senators #

Chris Matthews, Rachael Maddow seem impressed by fact that Repubs applauded more towards end. Theatre, proved the Pres' dig at pundit idiocy #

After watching #SOTU have reached pol-speak overload, can't handle Republican "response" Changing channel. #

#SOTU Unsurprisingly not one mention of Gitmo #

Twitter works on technology to evade censors #

"Drill, baby, drill"-lite version #SOTU #

German couple who wanted to homeschool their children have been granted political asylum in the US ¤ Huh? #

Does Pakistan's Zardari slaughter goats to ward off evil? #


In the Pre-SOTU blog entry this blogger listed five things he hoped he would not see at President Obama's state of the union speech - see the video and transcript of the speech. Well, not much luck with that!

'Bankers' bonuses" red meat? Check. Excessive 'Jack-in-the-Box' applause, with hooting and hollering? Check. Some sitting on their hands,and/or clucking disapprovingly? Check. The set-up and knock-down of straw men? Check (although the "... Some say that..." formulation was replaced by "... I've been told..." and "... I know that some ... will argue...").

The only one of the five that we, thankfully, did not see was the use of invited guests to push "policy by anecdote." All in all, a grievous disappointment. One would hope that this solemn occasion should have been marked by more decorum...


Wednesday, January 27, 2010


As the hours and minutes wind down to President Obama's state of the union address to a joint session of the Congress (plus various other dignitaries, including Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, associated guests, etc.) after his first full year in office, the airways are full of discussion re what we are going to see in the address... Pundits opine on what they would like to see, what "the people" are expecting from their President, etc., etc. This blogger will take a different tack and will list some things that he does not wish to see!

It is this blogger's fervent hope that he will not need to feel embarrassed on behalf of the assembled politicians... Hopefully their behavior will be (dare we hope) adult, and not puerile as it often is at this occasion. So, hopefully the following will not occur:
  • Excessive applause by some, with politicians bobbing up and down like so many Jacks-in-the-Box while applauding wildly, and occasionally even hooting and hollering as well.
  • While some engage in over-the-top enthusiasm, a number of others sit on their hand, or, worse, cluck disapprovingly...
  • The set-up and immediate knock-down of multiple straw men! Let's minimize the number of times we have the "Some say that..." formulation...
  • No (apparently obligatory) references to invited guests... Most likely an injured service-person who can be verbally saluted; a person who got some dread disease and had trouble with his/her insurance company; someone who lost their home to a mortgage foreclosure; or even one of each to hit the trifecta. This blogger dislikes the "policy by anecdote" approach that these represent, and wonders what is going through these people's heads. Sure, it must be very cool to be invited to a prestigious occasion by the POTUS, but allowing oneself to be used as a political prop! Ugh!
  • An obligatory toss of red meat to the crowd, say banker bonuses, or some similar easy target!
This blogger could go on, but will stop with this short list. Let us see if there really is "change' and a new era, or if it is more of the usual.

Tweets for Today (Jan 27th)

RT @JusticeMakers: RT @Vigilo: N Korean defectors reveal prison camp life torture, forced labor & arbitrary execution #

China's odd climate-change remark keeping open mind on whether global warming man-made or result of natural cycles #

EU: Gaza fuel crisis no longer our responsibility #

125 M pregnancies at risk of malaria annually About 10,000 women and 200,000 babies die annually #

RT @CaracolRadio: Honduras apru eba amnistía política que favorece a Zelaya y golpistas #

RT @securitylaw: Honduras Supreme Court clears military officers of charges #

Another baloney "it's easy to do" story #

RT @NoamShelef_APN RT @mjmediamatters Unprecedented! 54 House Ds Call on IL to End Gaza Siege ¶ Also surprised by num #

RT @Maitre_Eolas La newsletter de Ségolène Royal est en Comic sans MS #fail (via @marion_mdm) ¶ Why the font hate? ☜ #

CIA Man Retracts Claim on Waterboarding A study in "enhanced reporting techniques" ☜ Heh!, good one #

RT @pwire 12 hrs to SOTU & some Cong already saving seats ¶ Let the antics begin: (from '02) #

RT @jranck Poor swiftly tire of bednets Here's a new design challenge ¶ Must read for all the "#malaria" Twitter accnts #

America's Least Deadly Hospitals The actual list: #

One of the silliest statements of 2009: (from early in the year) #

" a magical truly revolutionary product"?? #

The ultimate bad idea in 'toys' #

. @GeekCQ If one takes the report as correct, then al Qaeda had nukes ten plus years ago... #

RT @CatoInstitute The #NRA cares more about the NRA than gun rights, liberty, prof courtesy ¶ Shock! shock! #

RT @SteveSchippert RT @NYkrinDC Al Qaeda's WMD Pursuit. Authoritative timeline ¤ So they've had nukes/anthrax since '01? #

Random charts...

Source: Indian Nuclear Assets Danger To The World

This blogger finds the article unpersuasive... but the charts are interesting. Note: the site that has this report is rather 'sketchy'... other headlines include nonsensical junk such as 'Israel did 9/11' (and apparently, also the USS Cole attack)...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Al Qaeda and WMD

A sudden spate of articles (e.g. see the links below) regarding Al Qaeda and its nuclear ambitions caught this blogger's eye...

A Failure to Imagine the Worst
Warning from Harvard study on WMD terror
Harvard report: al-Qaeda WMD threat a reality
Al-Qaeda Remains Intent on WMD Strike Against U.S., Report Says
Report says Al-Qaeda still aims to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S.

All of these are in reference to a January 2010 report published by Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 'Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?'

In the articles referencing this report we read that the author, Mowatt-Larssen, "... provides a detailed chronology of relentless efforts by Al Qaeda from 1988 to 2003 to get and use chemical and biological weapons including ricin and anthrax, and, most worrying, nuclear weapons. Most of the details he cites have been reported before, but Mowatt-Larssen assembles the evidence in a fashion that leaves little doubt that Al Qaeda operatives would not hesitate to launch attacks that could kill tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans if they could pull off such an attack..."

OK, so let's take a look at the "detailed chronology"... It bullets 51 points during the period from 1988 to August 30th, 2003. This blogger is somewhat mystified why a "detailed chronology" published in 2010 appears to be blank for the past six and a half years! In reference to nuclear weapons the actual information related to acquisition (as opposed to the issuing of fatwas and declarations, and references to nuclear drawings, etc.) would seem to indicate that al Qaeda got nuclear materials and/or actual nuclear devices as far back as in the 1990's and early 2000's For example:

"Late 1993-Early 1994: "he heard later the uranium, which al Qaeda acquired for $1.5 million and was tested in Cyprus, was “genuine"; "1996... statement that al Qaeda had obtained nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union"; "November 7, 2001: "we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as deterrent.” In the same interview, Ayman Zawahiri states that, “If you have $30 million, go to the black market in the central Asia, contact any disgruntled Soviet scientist, and a lot of dozens of smart briefcase bombs are available. They have contacted us, we sent our people to Moscow to Tashkent to other central Asian states, and they negotiated and we purchased some suitcase bombs"; January 2002: ... Ibn al-Shaykh al Libi during interrogation by Egyptians, al Libi claims al Qaeda operatives received chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training in Baghdad. He claims several small containers of nuclear material were smuggled into New York City by Russian organized crime." And, finally, June 26 2003 An Armenian citizen, Garik Dadayan, was caught with 170 grams of unsheathed highly enriched uranium (HEU) on the Georgia Armenia border. This was a sample of a larger amount of HEU that was being offered for sale to an unknown customer, possibly in the Middle East..."

However, actual evidence that they have come close is rather thin. In fact the report actually undermines its central thesis by arguing (and convincing) that Al Qaeda would not hesitate to launch attacks that could kill tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans. If you would believe the chronology, then al Qaeda actually has had nuclear weapons for up to a decade or more but for some reason has refrained from using them, a complete contradiction of this argument!

It needs to be said that even given that a) Bin Laden and crew are "incredibly patient", b) "... al Qaeda’s top leadership has demonstrated a sustained commitment to buy, steal or construct WMD...:", c) They have undertaken multiple approaches to achieve their ends, and d) the detonation of a nuclear device could have horrendous consequences, this still does not add up to President Obama's formulation that this would "destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life."

There is no doubt in this blogger's mind that al Qaeda would love to get their hands on one or more nuclear devices, and that they would love to cause untold U.S. casualties. Work needs to be done to degrade their organization and its capabilities, and to prevent their acquisition of nuclear materials. However, breathless reporting that this is the central issue our time is over the top...

Note: while this blog entry has looked at this report from the radiological and nuclear angle, the report's focus on WMD also included chemical, biological weapons. A couple of other responses that take issue with the Belfer report with regard to these dangers are linked below:

Terrorism Experts Can Be Alarmists, Too
The Busted Watch Of U.S. WMD Threat Assessment: More evidence

Note: This blogger would be remiss if he did not mention that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is charged with the attempted use of WMD, see the Bomb - explosive, firearm, and WMD blog entry. Since Bin Laden has 'claimed' the "underwear bomber" this blogger is forced to concede the al Qaeda - WMD link, but only on the basis of the expansive definition under criminal law!

Additional note: This isn't particularly new, for example see this article from April 2006, Osama Bin Laden All Nuked Up.

Tweets for Today (Jan 26th)

Call to "save" the IPCC, fire Pachauri #

Israel's prime minister and the media: Why they are getting at his wife #

The Complete Guide to Killing Non-Jews #

"Perhaps most amusing, 52% of Brown voters approved of Ted Kennedy's job performance" #

?!?!?! (a little dated) #

RT @mikeythecat Al-Qaeda WMD Threat: Hype or Reality? ¶ How about both? They would like to, but still massively hyped #

The Strategist: "Oh Lordy, this must be the worst website in the world" Dunno about that, certainly that *I* have #

Commission of Inquiry on Torture: A Road Not Taken #

1/2 Information minister has a new definition of anti-Semitism #

2/2 "After WW II & the establishment of the State of Israel , anti-Semitism is not directed at Jews but at Israel & the Israelis" #

Random charts

Source: Top All-Time Donors, 1989-2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tweets for Today (Jan 25th)

On climate change and doubt... #

1/2 IRAN: Ahmadinejad va annoncer une "bonne nouvelle" sur le nucléaire #

2/2 Quote: "Cette nouvelle est si douce qu'elle réjouira le coeur de tout Iranien et de tout amoureux de la liberté dans le monde" #

Italy disaster expert slams U.S. response to Haiti #

Plea Rejected in Case of Hepatitis Infections (20 years in prison not enough) Good grief, what a horrible person #

Does Mandating Nurse-Patient Ratios Improve Care? More analysis needed... #

Spearphishing targeting physicians... #

Ten reasons health reform stalled (The Hill) #

RT @mercatus: Why does the Fed get good press? It's publishing it itself. "Rewriting the Fed's History" # - ... is reading 'Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan' #

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Climate change and doubt

Why do many people have great difficulty believing in 'global warming'? If you listen to the convinced/converted it often seems that they attribute others' doubts to stupidity and/or a willful disbelief of the obvious... While this may be true for some small percentage, a much larger number simply are not equipped to understand the science... Climate science is incredibly complex, especially when you are talking about it on a global scale... a large number of different phenomena that have varying effects, and which interact with one another in different ways, and differently at different points in time, etc. Unfortunately the very difficulty in neatly explaining this complexity has resulted in attempts to encapsulate and/or recap the overall effect that have not been very useful. A prime example is the term 'global warming.' This 'short-hand' is hard for folks to grasp and/or believe when there is so much variation in temperatures - people see record cold snaps in many areas and have trouble squaring their observations with the notion of 'global warming'.... It doesn't help to point out to them that they have to think in terms of decades or centuries; that they have to distinguish between individual variations and the long-term trend; and so on.

OK, so 'climate change' is a better term. Changes in climate are occurring across the globe. For example, some areas are getting hotter and others colder; some are seeing increased precipitation while others are seeing an increase in droughts; the changes happening differ at the various latitudes and at different elevations; and the changes happening also differ on the surface of the oceans versus in the depths. The important issues that we need to understand, and the questions that we need to answer are re how these are connected, what the various trends are, what the longer-term trends are, and (very importantly) which of these are natural and/or cyclical versus which ones of these are caused by human activity. And if we are able to fully understand and answer these questions, the next thing to determine is what we should do about it, if anything.

The overall scientific consensus appears to be that there is an overall warming trend, and that this has been exacerbated by human activity (most importantly the use of fossil fuels)... and that unless very significant changes are made in the way we do things, this trend will reinforce itself and continue, with significant detriments to the future of mankind. While this is an overall consensus there is an argument by some re whether this is 'settled science', and even among those who do believe the consensus there are differences in emphasis and degree...

Like many others, as a lay person this blogger doesn't know the answer. He struggles with a number of issues, including:
  • Given the complexities briefly touched upon above, it is extraordinarily difficult to have the time, inclination, or background to vet the science on an individual basis. As a result a large part of the argument in support for the consensus agreement is based on an appeal to authority. We are asked to take on faith that the climatologists and other scientists have studied this in sufficient detail; that they have constructed sufficiently detailed models and have taken into account all the appropriate variables; that they have the best data; that they have crunched the available data and applied their models; and that the simplifications, interactions, and assumptions built in the models work accurately to produce results that not only explain past events (something that is always much easier to do) but also can be used to accurately predict the future (something that is exponentially more difficult, as can be attested to by any economist!). At the same time one has to believe that there is a sufficient degree of rectitude and self-disinterest among the postulates of the consensus position, something that this blogger and many others may find difficult to do automatically - based primarily on a somewhat jaundiced view of the general human condition (i.e. that most people act in their self-interest), but also not helped by instances such as this or this...
  • The sources of information on the topic (e.g. the press ) often purvey incorrect and/or contradictory information, leading this blogger to scratch his head re what to believe. An example here would be the spate of articles (e.g. see this) saying that the earth is in for a period of cooling, immediately followed by other articles attacking the earlier ones as an incorrect reading of the situation (e.g. see this).

  • On a fairly regular basis, new theories and/or data points pop up that do not necessarily fit neatly with the consensus position.. A recent example would be the observations regarding the cycles with which the Bering Strait is free from or closed off by ice, see Global Ice Age Climate Patterns Influenced by Bering Strait. While the article by the NSF says "... the findings do not directly bear on current global warming ..." it also says "... "If we can improve our understanding of the forces that affected climate in the past, we can better anticipate how our climate may change in the future ..." Another example would be from this finding, Sunshine speeded 1940s Swiss glacier melt: scientists, which seems to indicate that in this specific case solar radiation at one point might have been a better explanation for melting of the glaciers in the Alps than temperature... Note: this disagrees with the thrust of the consensus position that it is carbon dioxide levels (worsened by human activity) and the associated higher temperatures that are the main reason for the loss of glaciers rather than solar radiation (natural i.e. no human intervention). Now it is true that the article also says that "... this should not lead people to conclude that the current period of global warming is not really as big of a problem for the glaciers as previously assumed ..." But how often can we accept these 'outliers' and/or exceptions and still say "it does not change the consensus"? At what point are there sufficient numbers of these that we need to admit to some doubt of the underlying models?
  • The last item that this blogger will discuss is the putting forth of very specific examples of "the effects of climate change." For example, see "Angry Greenhouse Gas Victims Demand Action.' Here, proponents of the consensus theory have identified specific areas that have been adversely effected by human-induced climate change in very specific ways. So, apparently farmers in the Kericho District of Western Kenya have been adversely effected by decreased rainfall compared to twenty years ago, and the WWF somehow "knows" that their plight has been caused by human-induced climate change and puts them forward as "greenhouse gas victims." Now, this blogger has no trouble believing general propositions such as "if current trends persist then crop outputs will decrease by x percent by 2050'"and other similar predictions. But identifying current "victims"? The WWF has managed to do this with such specificity and has managed to rule out all other contributing factors? This blogger has a hard time swallowing this... And, in fact, the putting forward of such propositions to support the consensus view is something that he feels undercuts rather than enhances its likelihood of acceptance!
The bottom line: a very complex issue. This blogger is inclined to believe the consensus view, but admits to periodic doubts raised by the issues noted above, among others...

How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic
Global warming hike may be steeper: research
Global Ice Age Climate Patterns Influenced by Bering Strait
Earth could be entering global cooling for the next 30 years
Addressing "Global Cooling"
Sunshine speeded 1940s Swiss glacier melt: scientists
AGU stunner: Aircraft Vapor Trails Responsible for 15-20% of Arctic Warming
Climate Change: Angry Greenhouse Gas Victims Demand Action

Chart source: Spiegel

Previous blog entries on climate change:
Meet... Dr. Rajendra Pachauri - Jan 23rd, 2010
We wuz wrong - Jan 23rd, 2010
Saving the day... - Dec 20th, 2009
Skimmed milk masquerades as cream - Dec 17, 2009

Chart source: Spiegel

Tweets for Today (Jan 24th)

There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes.. #

Dr. Rajendra Who? A very busy man with many hats! # - Must have passed through Springdale, OH today #

Chávez reiteró la expropiación de los almacenes que especulen con los precios #

FR Vows to Prevent IL Strike on LB's Infrastructure "but no more than that" ¤ Sure they're feeling much safer now. Ha! #

RT @themajlisblog: EG confirms participation in conf on YE; Mubarak to offer ideas on good governance, democracy, human rights. ¤ Good one! #

He's baaack! Pee-wee Herman returns to the spotlight in a new show #

RT @jranck Infographic: 100 Years of Consumer Spending ¶ Hmm, pct on healthcare equal to or less than on entertainment #

Army Tests IED-​​Killer Laser #

AF Chief of Staff: United States must lessen its dependence on GPS & develop alternatives... #

Human rights group (HRW) highlights 'serious violations' in Egypt and Libya #

Like vile figs ¶ Heh! #

Taliban make 'undetectable' bombs out of wood As always, their 'sophistication' means 'external' meddling... #

Private navies for a brave new world E.g. Greenpeace #

Gallup: In U.S., Religious Prejudice Stronger Against Muslims #

Kafka at the customs Bulgarian journo's account of half a day in the company of Customs Services agents #

Financial Concentration (12-pg PDF) #

A Financial Precautionary Principle: New Rules for Financial Product Safety (37-pg PDF) #

Glacier scientist: I knew data hadn't been verified #

FR says U.N. must take tough action against IR ¶ How much of this preemptive (i.e. keep away questions re FR nukes)? #

Women of southern Yemen port remember better times ¶ Ah, the good old days when communists were in charge #

Making it all up as we go along: The Huffington Post, the Telegraph, and Indonesian fatwas #

Advantage Lami-Chalabi; Obama-Biden in Real Trouble in Iraq #

Scorned Mistress Posts Billboards Nationwide ¶ Hoo boy! #

Scientologists 'heal' Haiti quake victims using touch #

Une ex-actrice défend ses propos sur la virginité devant la justice indienne ¶ Supreme Court? Freaking ridiculous! #

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