Soon, it will all be over..?

February 23, 2015

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Another day, another climate-science fracas!  This recent article in the NYTimes got me so irritated, I wrote a long letter to one of the authors.  The other author, Justin Gillis is so heavily invested in his role as “Scourge of the Deniers,” that I didn’t bother to include him in my correspondence.  Here’s my bit:

Dear Mr. Schwartz:

I read your recent article about Dr. “Willie” Soon, and I find it problematic on many levels.  It appears to me to be yet another example of the NYTimes’ editorial campaign to support, at any cost, their rather simplistic view of the scientific method and climate dynamics.  I want to focus, however, on one aspect of your article that is a recurrent theme in your paper’s reporting, the appeal to “The Consensus.” Reading this piece, and every other piece the Times publishes on climate change, I have to ask myself, “Do these people know what the consensus states?”
In your piece, you say that the Smithsonian has gone on record with a statement “accepting the scientific consensus on climate change,” and you are kind enough to provide a hyperlink to it.  The relevant bit of text from that document appears to be this:
Rapid and long-lasting climate change is a topic of growing concern as the world looks to the future. Scientists, engineers and planners are seeking to understand the impact of new climate patterns, working to prepare our cities against the perils of rising storms and anticipating threats to our food, water supplies and national security. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that the global climate is warming as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases generated by human activities. A pressing need exists for information that will improve our understanding of climate trends, determine the causes of the changes that are occurring and decrease the risks posed to humans and nature.

This paragraph is quite vague, and falls far short of the central statement of the IPCC in it’s statement for policy makers.  What can we glean from it?

  • Human society is concerned about climate change.  (They are also concerned about the weather… :-) )
  • Scientists (at least some) are worried, and are trying to think ahead.  They want to be ready for “rising storms” and “threats to our food supply”  (It speaks of threats and risks, not certainties.)
  • The earth is warming (or at least, it has warmed) as a result of industrial discharge of CO2.
  • More research is needed on the causes and the risks.
Not a very alarming statement, and one, I must add, with which I concur.  No mention about the actual controversy raging on the topic of climate science, the points of contention to which your colleague, Mr. Gillis may have been referring, in a previous piece on what to call deniers, as “the fine points,” to wit, just to cite a few:
  • Just how much has it warmed in the last sixty years due to CO2.  (The IPCC only says “most of the observed warming is due to human activity.”  Elsewhere, it speaks of multiple activities that are to blame.  Vague, vague…)
  • How much warming is due to deforestation and urbanization?
  • Why has the warming halted/paused/stopped  (whatever you want to call it) for seventeen years?
  • What conclusions must we draw if the warming does not resume, as predicted by the IPCC?
  • How reliable are the computer projections?
  • How is the IPCC “Best Guess” derived from the wide array of model ensemble output?  And why should we not place our confidence in those GCMs that have matched the global surface temperature anomaly for the last seventeen years?  The low-end of the projection range?
It is the nature of a consensus to be non-controversial, so yes, scientists all agree (never mind some right-wing congressmen) that the Earth has warmed, CO2 has caused some of it, humans have increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, and if the IPCC predictions are correct, there will be some serious consequences.  This is not what the debate is about, but your article, your editorial board, and many deeply righteous organizations use the notion of The Consensus to quash any criticism of the ideas spun out beyond this agreed body of fact.
Let me say that I think decarbonizing society is a good idea for a lot of reasons, but doing the right thing for bad reasons, i.e. a belief that disaster is around the corner, leads to very bad policy decisions.  I see this all the time, including in my engineering work on, of all things, infrastructure resilience and climate change.
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It may be that Senator Inhofe is an anti-science, anti-intellectual, but even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day!lol   I’m sure he loves his mother and thinks murder is a bad idea, so there is no shame in agreeing with him now and then.  I shouldn’t have to say this, but such is the rabid politicization of this topic that I must say it:  I voted for Obama, Al Gore, and Clinton.  I don’t watch Fox news (or TV).  I know the Earth is round, and that Hitler murdered six million Jews, and I accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection as the best explanation for the development of life on earth that we have.  There, am I a rational person?

Mr. Soon may be guilty of breaking the rules on disclosure, and if so, he should be treated as any other offender would be. It is certainly no secret, however, that he has been funded by “fossil fuel” corporations.  Although I feel you must sup with such sponsor-devils using a long spoon, can you imagine a researcher with his views getting funding at any university these days?  And like politicians, sadly, professors are all in the fund raising game.

Your article does not deal with the ideas Mr. Soon champions except by innuendo that is rather disturbing.  No critics speak for the record, other than Gavin Schmidt, a warrior for the cause, who does not even say his ideas are wrong, only “almost pointless.”  He then provides a typically vague statement intended to close the argument, saying that  “the sun had probably accounted for no more than 10 percent of recent global warming and that greenhouse gases produced by human activity explained most of it.”  So, of the 90% not caused by the sun, Mr. Schmidt says “most” (there’s that IPCC diction) is caused by greenhouse gases.  (He doesn’t even exclude water vapor!)  To any unbiased observer, this would indicate three things:
  • We don’t have a very certain idea of what has driven the recent warming
  • The attacks on Mr. Soon’s ideas are dogmatic.
  • If Mr. Schmidt is speaking for The Consensus, they have a pretty weak case for alarm regarding CO2 discharge.
Your article includes the usual appeals to authority:  Mr. Soon has no training in “climatology”.  As if the sun is not important for climate!  And must I recall to you that James Hansen was trained as an astrophysicist.  Ms. Susan Oreskes gets in her usual licks to associate anyone who is not hysterical about global warming (or climate change) as a corporate stooge, if not a Holocaust Denier.  
 
I’ve been reading your paper’s articles on climate science for years now, and it’s a sad spectacle of dogmatic orthodoxy they present.  Recall what happened after the Times swallowed the Iraqi WMD lie without a peep.  What excuse will be offered if ten years from now the “pause” is still paused, and GCM modelers are pulling out their hair?  It could happen!  Are you certain it will not?

Serial Murder, and Me

February 23, 2015

Another Odd Couple

I don’t watch TV, an admission that usually meets with startled surprise from people I meet.  “You mean, you don’t have a TV?!”  I do have a TV, or what passes for one these days, i.e., a large flat-screen on which I watch Netflix mostly, generally on DVDs, but sometimes streaming.  I also admit to watching old Hawaii Five-0 shows while I exercise.  But television shows, TV series, no.

I have tried to watch a few series that have a lot of buzz around them:  I made it through three episodes of “Breaking Bad,” tried, Treme, and a few others. I just don’t like the form – it makes me think of The Sims.  Create a world, people it with characters, disturb it, watch what happens…  I prefer to have the sense of watching a story.  Something with a beginning, a middle, and an end, a dramatic arc.  So, I tried True Detective, and I like it!  It’s only eight episodes long (half the length of The Prisoner!)  Maybe the fact that it’s written by a novelist helps.  The whole point to a regular series is just to keep you watching, to keep the show going…for years, if you can.

I rather like Rust Cohle, and his worldview.  I’m down with his philosophy of mind, his dismissal of the fantasy of personhood.  Maybe he’s a David Hume fan too?  For some reason, his cogitations get him down, instead of bringing him joy.  Perhaps he needs to read Fontenelle:

“All this immense space which holds our sun and our planets will be merely a small piece of the universe? As many spaces as there are fixed stars? This confounds me — troubles me — terrifies me.”

“And as for me,” I answered, “this puts me at my ease.”

There are two sex-scenes in the first three episodes (as far as I’ve gotten to-date) that set me thinking.  The first shows Marty getting it on with his hottie from the DA’s office.  She’s naked, he’s not.  The second shows him doing the same with his wife; she’s naked, he’s not.  How come women get naked but not men, I asked my wife?  “Sexism,” she replied.  Not acceptable to show naked men on TV.  (I avoid the word “nude,” which I associate with art history.)  “Not that I want to see those guys with their clothes off, anyway,” she said.  Point taken.  But it emphasizes that it’s a man’s world we are seeing on the screen.

And what is the point of these scenes?  The first was to deepen Marty’s character: it was supposed to be a bit of a shock after hearing him go on about family values so much to anyone within hearing, and there was only a brief hint earlier of his philandering.  The second..?  My wife again:  “It was supposed to show that he was a tortured soul.”  To me, he just seems like a guy with a lot of deeply held and self-serving ideas.  But then, I’m partial to the philosopher of the pair who questions all…  And I guess the fact that his deeply held ideas aren’t helping him so much is part of the drama after all.

Overall, a higher order of television than I’m used to!


Six Degrees of Kiss Me Deadly..?

February 16, 2015

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One of my favorite films, advertised here with a scene that never happened in the story.  That’s Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer questioning Lily Carver, played by Gaby Rodgers.

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Wonder what her Uncle Ed would have to say about the mis en scene.

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Here we have Mike and his secretary, Velda, played by Maxine Cooper.  She’s pretty smart, and does a lot of his leg work.

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He pimps her out to adulterers to get dirt to blackmail his divorce-case clients.  Does pretty well for himself.

Maxine Cooper gave up on acting to raise her children and to agitate in liberal causes.  Somewhere along the way, she became friends with that Hollywood leftie, Howard Fast.

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Howie got into Zen:  Maxine did the photos for his book.

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New Age Prophet

January 4, 2015

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I rouse myself from my leisured sloth to comment on the latest pronouncement by the prophet of doom, Naomi Oreskes.  Today the New York Times, that newspaper “of record,” has seen fit to give her a lot of space to continue her attack on the scientific method:  Playing Dumb on Climate Change.

Ms. Oreskes has a Ph.D., and is a professor at Harvard, so she is instantly given credence as a reliable expert, but her work, on which I have commented extensively, is pretty much at the level of hack polemic as far as I am concerned.  From her sylvan altars – doesn’t she just look the part of the serious, concerned, and not to be trifled with Mother Nature? – she makes some of the most outrageous pronouncements to be heard from the academic realm on the topic of global warming.  Okay…let’s see what she said this time.

Her gripe is that scientists are too conservative about the risks of global warming – they should be ringing alarm bells, as she does, warning us of the horrors to come and pushing for the solutions that she supports.  Note that there is significant scientific controversy about many of the claims that Ms. Oreske makes, e.g. that recent extreme weather events are clear evidence of the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels, and that her argument is, therefore, neatly circular.  It amounts to this:  scientists who are not screaming about the coming End of Days are too conservative, period!

She goes on to discuss a central notion of the scientific method:

We’ve all heard the slogan “correlation is not causation,” but that’s a misleading way to think about the issue. It would be better to say that correlation is not necessarily causation, because we need to rule out the possibility that we are just observing a coincidence.

This is typical of her method.  She doesn’t say that correlations always indicate a clear causal chain, but she doesn’t want to rule it out, either. Who would?  But she wants to make it seem that scientists that won’t jump on the bandwagon of this or that theory simply because they are not more than 95% sure that the correlation is not chance are missing essential risks.  But how do you decide when to jump on, and when not to?  When she thinks you should?  When you’re scared enough to ignore evidence and jump to conclusions?

She’s very worried about Type 2 errors:   being too conservative and missing causes and effects that are really there.  I would ask, too conservative for whom or what?  Here we are moving from the realm of science to that of policy and politics.  It is certainly true that when one creates policy, the scientific standard is too strict – policy makers cannot always wait for better information.  But then, one must make a case for the preponderance of risk warranting action now, rather than later.  Ms. Oreskes won’t do that:  she simply avoids having to make the case by attacking the scientific method.  Circularity again.

The dilemma that this opinion piece presents us with is obliquely indicated by Ms. Oreskes here:

When applied to evaluating environmental hazards, the fear of gullibility can lead us to understate threats.

Clearly, we can make the converse argument that lack of caution can lead to overestimating threats, wasting money, disrupting lives, ordering medical tests with high likelihood of false-positives…all sorts of bad stuff.  She doesn’t consider this.  When we face this obvious fact, we are back at Square One:  Ms. Oreskes, prove your case with facts!  This is exactly the discussion she seeks to short-circuit.  Because she knows she’s right.  She sees.  She is a Prophet.


Two for Minoru…

October 8, 2014

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…Yamasaki, that is.  Something about his buildings..?


Dickens/Correggio Mash-Up

September 27, 2014

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Rounding on the conclusion of Dickens’ Bleak House, and Mr. Bucket, that early literary instance of the deducing detective, puts the finger on the French maid Hortense as the killer of Mr. Tulkinghorn.  She had hoped to shift the blame to Lady Dedlock, whom she despises, but Mr. Bucket is not deceived.  After revealing all in a tense confabulation with Sir Leicester Dedlock, he handcuffs Hortense, and moves to get her out of the house, quiet like.

“Mr. Bucket gets her out, but he accomplishes that feat in a manner so peculiar to himself, enfolding and pervading her like a cloud, and hovering away with her as if he were a homely Jupiter and she the object of his affections.”

Right to left, above:  Correggio’s version; Visconti’s take on it in L’Innocente, and a humorous drawing of the dome of the Cathedral of Parma, painted by Correggio, that I found at a the webpage of an art dealer, accompanied by this text noting Dickens’ opinion of the work:

Indeed, many descriptions of the dome note the wry comments provoked by the imagery of the Assumption over the years, with one of Correggio’s contemporaries comparing it to a “hash of frogs’ legs” and Charles Dickens asserting that the jumble of figures was something “no operative surgeon gone mad could imagine in his wildest delirium.” In this spirit, the artist is apparently demonstrating his sense of humor by introducing into this study a real schoolboy bursting into the dome through one of the round windows, looking up and marveling at the writhing sea of bare legs that Correggio included in the fresco.


L’Innocente

September 21, 2014

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The other day, I watched L’Innocente, Visconti’s film of 1971 based on a story by D’Annunzio.  It was his last film, and certainly not up to the level of Senso.  A narcissistic, decadent, fin de siecle rich guy, Giancarlo Giannini, likes to have affairs, despite being married to a woman who is nearly goddess-like in her voluptuousness, i.e., Laura Antonelli.  (She, by the way, turns in a fine performance here:  not what I expected from the Queen of Italian soft-core sex farces of the 1970s.)

When his wife, oppressed by her desperate situation, takes a lover, he suddenly rediscovers her attractions.  Her lover dies on an African expedition, but she is pregnant with his child.  Her husband, now infatuated with her, demands that she have an abortion, and she refuses, ostensibly on religious grounds (He’s an atheist and freethinker.) but really because she wants the child of her dead lover, whom she mourns secretly.

Possessed by old fashioned jealousy and self-absorption – “I’m a man sick with melancholy, and I enjoy my sickness,” he says – the husband murders the baby.  He thinks that his wife has been seduced into loving him again by his vigorous and slightly kinky erotic ministrations to her, and that she will accept the death of the baby, and move on, with him.  He is wrong – she sees through him and realizes that he killed the baby, and she reveals her measureless hatred of him, confessing that she only pretended to love him again to protect her baby whom she loves as she did his father.

He confesses all to his former mistress, an icy countess (Jennifer O’Neal) and says he is ready to take up with her again. She, despite her relative lack of conventional morals, and her rather cavalier way of dealing with his infanticide, says she’s no longer interested.  She calls him a monster, in a nice way, of course.

Having nothing to live for now – only mere existence stands before him – our existential ‘hero’ shoots himself in the heart while the countess looks on. He wanted her to see how he stands by his principles.  Ho hum…

The costumes are fantastic, and the stifling perfume of the period’s opulence, for this particular class of beings, is, of course – after all, this is Visconti – overpowering in its presentation.  But the story is rather mechanical, and for me, D’Annunzio’s stories are simply a bit ridiculous.

Since I spend so much time looking at old art, I sometimes see things in films…

  

I guess Visconti knew Italian painting as well as I do.  The painting of Jupiter taking on the form of a cloud in order to possess Io (at top, by Correggio) must have been in his mind when he filmed the scene of Giannini carefully and deliberately arousing his wife while making clear his complete (so he thought) dominance of her (below).

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