Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arcitic Ice: Thanks to the Met in the UK

I'm pretty sure this means:

Proposition A may be true: there is a warming trend such that Arctic ice is on a steady decline.
On the other hand, Proposition Not A may be true: there is no such trend.

The odds are about 50/50.

Let's panic.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I've finished reading a life of A.J.B. Balfour by R.J.Q. Adams (I know: three initials).

Somehow this book almost makes the great crises of British politics from the 1880s to the 1920s seem boring. This may be the effect of seeing things through Balfour's eyes. He wasn't as indolent as many people always thought, and he showed a surprising toughness when he had to. His reputation at the highest levels of British politics always somehow surpassed his actual accomplishments. He was promoted by his uncle Robert Cecil, the Marquess of Salisbury (from which we get the typically English irreverent observation on those who are lucky, "Bob's your uncle." Once in Cabinet, he seemed the natural choice for leader of his party. His brief tenure as Prime Minister was more or less a disaster, he was out of office in 1906, and he was not trusted by the ultra-Tories. When Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister, started seeking Tories who might join a wartime Cabinet, Balfour for a while was the only one. As Lloyd George manouvred to take over from Asquith, Balfour became one of the indispensable "Coalition" ministers. Churchill comments in Great Contemporaries that Balfour shifted from Asquith, who had supported him, to Lloyd George who had criticized him, without batting an eye. Adams' defence is that Balfour sincerely believed Asquith could not win the war, whereas Lloyd George could.

Post-War, the Tories had a chance at power, and Balfour eventually re-insinuated himself with his own party. Adams does not unduly flatter his subject, or sugar-coat events, but it is questionable whether he conveys the true extent to which Balfour was successful despite his failures--perhaps the most successful twit, or Bertie Wooster type, ever. Part of his secret seems to have been that he knew to whom he had to show loyalty--this was often his most powerful subordinates.

Perhaps the biggest fiasco is the Balfour Declaration, promising a Jewish homeland in what was then Palestine, in 1917, with the war still on and Lloyd George as Prime Minister. Balfour always claimed that he thought this could be worked out with the local Arabs, then in a majoriy, in a peaceful way, and he certainly seemed surprised at the extent of Arab outrage. The only member of Cabinet to vote against the Declaration was also the only Jew--Edwin Montagu. He feared that the Declaration would be bad for the Jews. There was plenty of anti-Semitism (the problem Balfour claimed to be addressing), and anti-Semites could embrace the Declaration as a statement that the Jews should all go to Palestine--Europeans no longer had to put up with them. This was about twenty-five years before the Holocaust, which makes it a lot less funny.

Adams gets a bit into Balfour's bachelor status, and sexuality. There is a possibility of some kinky stuff with a long-time married lady friend, but it seems possible this was a series of excursions for a man who was as gay as Liberace since at least his time at Eton.

All of this makes me want once again to read more about Lord Salisbury, the twit's uncle. I've sent a way for the 1921 biography by Salisbury's daughter, Lady Gwendolen (sic) Cecil.


Well: what to do over the winter, thinking of possible events in the Spring?

My long-suffering wife has put up with my training for a half-marathon. That went very well, but do I go for a marathon in April? The training gets long, tedious, and sometimes sore. I get very little done in my free time other than running, and then some weekend chores to prepare for a work week. Do I want to scale back on running in order to get some writing done?

Meanwhile, we've been going to classes to prepare for being foster parents. I don't know if we'll actually do it or not. I'm the more skeptical of the two of us, but even Laura agrees there is a lot to think about when the instructors describe how difficult the kids can be. At one time we had two small children, one of them medically fragile. Do we start the sleepless nights, etc., all over again? Laura says she will do the lion's share of the work as I commute to my job, but obviously I will have to pitch in. Does this make it actually impossible to train for a marathon? Or does writing get pushed even further down the list?

Laura has been baby-sitting, but she needs more to occupy her time.

I've been working a few hours a week at the running store--both to socialize with runners, to keep on learning, and to get a discount on running gear. That part-time job will probably be the first thing to go.

On writing: I finally got back to a long-standing piece on Aristotle's Ethics this weekend. It feels good. I feel a kind of patriotic duty to write something on Pierre Trudeau, and that requires getting through the biography by English which I have made it part way through. I have a piece on gassing the boomers which I may not be able to do anything with.

Having not run for a week, today I joined a group (most of them in a 10K clinic) running about 8K. It felt good. A couple of 6ks during the week, a visit to the sports therapist, and I should have more sense of whether it is realistic, in a narrow sense, to train for a marathon starting in mid-December.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More problems for the IPCC Model

A new analysis of Global satellite data to find temperature trends for the period January 1979 through June 2009. (h/t good old Anthony Watts)

In this thirty year period, there was cooling at the beginning and at the end, and a warming period in the middle. Projections indicate that either cooling, or "flat" temperature readings,is likely for another 15 or more years.

Analysis of the satellite data shows a statistically significant cooling trend for the past 12 to 13 years, with it not being possible to reject a flat trend (0 slope) for between 16 and 23 years. This is a length of time at which disagreement with climate models can no longer be attributed to simple LTP.

I take this mean: they have confidence in the cooling numbers for the past 12 to 13 years, and they have relatively high confidence that there will be no warming (either cooling or flat) for another 16 to 23 years. Their confidence extends over a period of time significant enough that they can compare their findings to "climate models," knowing that disagreements are too great to ascribe them to LTP or Long-Term Persistence of anomalies or deviations from a trend.

Which models do they compare to?

On the other hand, studies cited herein have documented a 50–70 year cycle of climate oscillations overlaid on a simple linear warming trend since the mid-1800s and have used this model to forecast cooling beginning between 2001 and 2010, a prediction that seems to be upheld by the satellite and ocean heat content data. Other studies made this same prediction of transition to cooling based on solar activity indices or from ocean circulation regime changes.

There are some models that their findings support--the models that have predicted the present cooling period.

In contrast, the climate models [such as the IPCC model] predict the recent flat to cooling trend only as a rare stochastic event. The linear warming trend in these models [the ones mentioned before] that is obtained by subtracting the 60–70 yr cycle, while unexplained at present, is clearly inconsistent with climate model predictions because it begins too soon (before greenhouse gases were elevated) and does not accelerate as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate. This model and the empirical evidence for recent cooling thus provide a challenge to
climate model accuracy.

These authors confine the phrase "climate model" to the type of model one finds in the IPCC reports, or the Gore/Hansen approach. Somewhat confusingly, they also refer to other "models" relevant to climate, that point to very different findings. Their new analysis of satellite findings supports the latter models, not the IPCC-type model. There is a cycle of cooling-warming-cooling; it doesn't match the steady increase in anthropogenic CO2; it probably does match both "solar activity" and "ocean circulation regime changes."

Also from Anthony: a new hunt for past hurricanes that may have been missed in weather reports. (Let's find some more hurricanes to support our theory).

"Before satellite observations began in the 1960s, weather monitoring was spotty." Hardy har har.

Another Run

Goodlife Toronto Half Marathon on Sunday: a shade under 1:50, which is fast for me. It works out to a bit over 5 minute (per km) pace. The first km seemed to take me about 7 minutes--a big crowd, lots of people to pass, zig-zagging. Then I gradually settled into a 5 minute pace, which was consistent from roughly 5 km to 16 km; then just cross the finish line somehow.

Next step is to see about training for a marathon over the winter. If I'm ever going to qualify for Boston in 2011 (just after my 55th birthday, when I cross into the next age group and gain 15 minutes to qualify), 2010 is the time. If I try and fail in the Spring, I can still try in the Fall.

Just looking around for photos of the event (none on the homepage yet), I found this young lady (Angela Dawn), with lots of photos. She ran the half at Scotiabank Waterfront in Toronto three weeks ago, did very little running between, then another half on Sunday--quite fast for her, despite having a painful stitch almost the whole way.

Every runner has a story.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mansfield Park

I've avoided this novel for years, thinking it is probably the worst of Austen's works--too long, unshapely, with a mediocre heroine.

Reading it again, I am of course favourably impressed. Austen set herself a difficult challenge in making Fanny her heroine--Fanny who, even in her late teens, is too easily embarrassed and rendered speechless, too easily intimidated, too easily reduced to blushes which are themselves ambiguous and sometimes lead to further confusion. Why doesn't she speak for herself more, as other Austen heroines do? Why is she such a wet blanket? No wonder the people around her (in general) don't think highly of her; as an American might say, you can't expect other people to sell you if you don't sell yourself.

In the other novels it is mainly the heroine who makes a great mistake, nearly misses her chance at a successful and happy marriage, and then repents her mistake and arrives at a happy ending. There is a gain in self-knowledge. In Mansfield Park, I'm beginning to think Fanny is the other character who never makes a mistake. Even when her blushing silences cause awkwardness and confusion, it is not clear this is her fault in the way that actively bad words and deeds would be. Edmund, her cousin who begins as more of a brother, is the one who has to learn.

Then there is Austen. Maybe she thought Fanny was one kind of female that Jane herself might have been--if she hadn't been so intelligent, and if she hadn't had at least a little of the sauciness of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. Austen the tough-minded writer lets us see Fanny's and her own judgment of Fanny's parents:

On her father, her confidence had not been sanguine, but he was more negligent of his family, his habits were worse, and his manners coarser, than she had been prepared for. He did not want abilities; but he had no curiosity, and no information beyond his profession; he read only the newspaper and the navy-list; he talked only of the dock-yard, the harbour, Spithead, and the Motherbank; he swore and he drank,he was dirty and gross.


She might scruple [unlike Austen] to make use of the words, but she must and did feel that her mother was a partial, ill-judging parent, a dawdle, a slattern, who neither taught nor restrained her children, whose house was the scene of mismanagement and discomfort from beginning to end, and who had no talent, no conversation, no affection toward herself ....

UPDATE: I think Austen comes close to suggesting here that, almost in terms that Hobbes and Hegel would recognize, slaves see more clearly than masters. Masters are too busy enjoying being masters, their vision clouded by pride and self-indulgence; only those who have been continually frustrated have enough "outsider's" perspective, just on the outside looking in, to see both others and themselves more clearly. Obviously there is more to say: Fanny is not exactly a slave--she is a second-class family member living among the gentry, not really required to do much menial work or exert herself. A true slave might have no opportunity to think at all. Frustration and suffering perhaps best those who feel most. But Austen seems to suggest some moral truths are more available to those who suffer. Edmund remains a bit deluded about Mary, no matter what she says or does.

Almost in the last lines of the novel, Sir Thomas seems to reflect that of all the people in his little world, those who suffered early or, as in his older son's case, to a significant degree, turned out best. the general well-doing and success of the ... members of the family, all assisting to advance each other, and doing credit to his countenance and aid, Sir Thomas saw repeated, and for ever repeated reason to rejoice in what he had done for them all, and acknowledge the advantages of early hardship and discipline, and the consciousness of being born to struggle and endure.

Those who are most indulged in their youth turn out worst: Maria, out of all Sir Thomas's children, Mary and Henry Crawford, young Tom Bertram before his brush with death. They are the leaders of the famous play, which perhaps really was immoral, and in any case really did lead to disastrous consequences, just as a certain kind of moralist might wish. Preparing the play allowed them all to exercise their whims, and vent their complaints (mainly to Fanny, who knew all and saw all) at any frustration in doing so. Edmund held out for a while, but then joined in, to the triumph of the others. After all, wasn't he a son of Sir Thomas?

Of course the idea that the theatre encourages immorality is quite old-fashioned--there has been so much water under the bridge in recent decades. Strangers uttering the words of love, with as much conviction as possible, might break the hearts (and vows, including marriages) of others, and might suffer themselves. Isn't that what hooking up is all about?

Austen wrote in what now seems the early stages of the Napoleonic Wars. The navy was a force to reckon with, even in the country houses on which she focuses. Admirals and captains were making fortunes, and rising in society in a way that was still largely controlled by the gentry. Who was going to win the world, rule India, and so on? The spoiled children of the gentry, or someone else? Austen was making herself, almost prospectively, the poet of the new Victorian middle-class, prosperous, hopeful about the future, and highly moralistic about sexuality and the family--partly because they want sex to remain very romantic, and true to the feelings of good people.

Fanny's rude father, a one-time lieutenant of marines, in some ways hopeless, reads about the adultery involving Maria in the newspaper--surely a middle-class invention--and condemns such wrong-doing. Fanny and Austen both clearly think he is right--even living as he does, he can properly condemn the immorality of the gentry, and treat them as if they otherwise don't count for much--their day is passing.

FINAL UPDATE: Once her younger sister Susan comes along, Fanny is enough justice to admit that Susan has the potential to be a better all-round person than Fanny herself. When we first meet Susan she is "back home" in Portsmouth, with Fanny's rough and rude family, and Susan is getting a reputation for being a bossy scold. Fanny sees that Susan is often right on the merits of an issue, but she doesn't seem to realize that in many cases, speaking out will not improve the situation, and in fact will make things harder for herself. Susan has great potential:

Susan saw that much was wrong at home, and wanted to set it right ... Fanny soon became more disposed to admire the natural light of the mind which could so early distinguish justly, than to censure severely the faults of conduct to which it led. Susan was only acting on the same truths, and pursuing the same system, which her own judgment acknowledged, but which her more supine and yielding temper would have shrunk from asserting. Susan tried to be useful, where she could only have gone away and cried; and that Susan was useful [at age 14] she could perceive ....

Later Susan takes over Fanny's former role as house comforter in Mansfield Park, and probably does a better job of it:

Her more fearless disposition and happier nerves made everything easy to her there. With quickness in understanding the tempers of those she had to deal with, and no natural timidity to restrain any consequent wishes, she was soon welcome and useful to all; and after Fanny's removal [she became], perhaps, the most beloved of the two.

Even Fanny seems to admit that she is a bit too much of a cry-baby to do as much good as she should. So why did Austen make her this way? I thing harsh truths are literally forced upon Fanny by her timidity. Even decent people learn they can get away with things with her--being late for appointments, leaving her in an uncomfortable spot, simply refusing to consult her as to what she wants. She sees how nasty they all are--eventually she tries to tell Edmund, but he doesn't really believe her. The same people are so nice to him. One might think Fanny would escape into a fantasy world where she is queen, but this never happens. She is as free from delusion about herself as she is about everyone else; perhaps Susan, as a more successful person, is also at least a bit more deluded about what the world is actually like?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yglesias and Science

Matt Yglesias has lots of interesting things to say. I think he's pretty good on urban planning/density/planning/socio-economic factors, and as a lefty critic of Bush/defender of Obama he's reasonably fair and intelligent. I disagree with him about global warming, and I'm always surprised that his usual skepticism deserts him on that issue.

Now he comments on science.

Carnap did a lot of good work during his career, but as I tweeted it’s disappointing to see TMBG embracing his discredited view that “science is a system of statements based on direct experience and controlled by experimental verification.” That’s just not the case. It’s not how science works in practice and it doesn’t work in principle, either. Facts and theories are interdependent.

Nothing is ever observed that admits of a definitive, theory-independent observation nor does anything ever happen that can verify or falsify a single proposition in isolation. Obviously, observation and experimentation are integral to the work of scientists, but it’s a lot murkier and more complicated than that.

I think it’s unfortunate that people trying to enhance the social prestige of science and scientists (which is basically what the TMBG song is about) have this tendency to want to fall back on this kind of naive realism and positivism as their means for doing so. To understand why science is so impressive what I think you really need to do is not talk about how it’s “real” (whatever that means) but put it as a social practice alongside other social practices aimed at explaining the world. You’ll see that science is impressively progressive—when old theories get overturned by newer ones, our capabilities as a society and as a species are enhanced in really noteworthy ways. There’s no better set of ideas or practices out there.

I don't think I can respond fully right now, but at minimum Yglesias is a dogmatic modern: science is either technology, which either works and transforms the world, or it is nothing. Practical effects are everything, the only real test of truth or reality. When he says a theory is not disproved by an individual fact, since facts do not somehow have some objective or independent meaning, he seems to anticipate that he will keep on believing in global warming no matter what the evidence, as long as the belief in it causes changes in government policies and individual behaviours all over the world. I'm about half joking.

Still keeping it brief for now, I'm reminded of Kojeve on history--probably reading Hegel, more or less:

... if one does not accept this [possibly Platonic] theistic conception of Truth (and of Being), if one accepts the radical Hegelian atheism according to which Being itself is essentially temporal (Being=Becoming) and creates itself insofar as it is discursively revealed in the course of history (or insofar as it is history: revealed Being=Truth=Man=History), and if one does not want to sink into skeptical relativism which ruins the very idea of Truth and thus ruins the question for it or philosophy, ... it is necessary ... like Socrates ... [to] frequent the "citizens of the City". If Being creates itself ("becomes") in the course of history, it is not by isolating oneself from history that one can reveal it .... if the "solution" to a problem has in fact been historically or socially "valid" for the whole duration of time up to the present, one has the right, until (historical) proof to the contrary, to consider it philosophically "valid," in spite of the philosophers' continuance of the "discussion." .... Speaking generally, it is history itself which attends to "judging" (by "results" or "success") the acts which statemen or tyrants perform (consciously or not) in terms of the ideas of philosophers, adapted for practice by intellectuals.
(See Response to Strauss, "On Tyranny"--only history can jugde whether tyranny is right or wrong/necessary or not).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The End of Another Hockey Stick?

This seems a rather momentous development-captured on Anthony Watts' site, but originating with Steve McIntyre.

Generally speaking, statements about global temperature that refer to times before about 1900 are somewhat speculative--there are very few actual temperature readings, or long-term readings at one location. So: proxies are used, such as tree rings and other kinds of plant growth.

Tree ring data is at the core of a famous graphic called the "hockey stick"--level cooler temps until the 20th century, then a fairly steep and consistent slope upward in temps in the 20th century itself. This is supposed to show that 1) the 20th century was unusually warm, 2) there was a warming trend during the century, and 3) there was no century of comparable warmth in the last 2000 years (if there was, it probably had natural causes, raising the possibility that any warming today has natural causes). Unless all three propositions are true, it is unlikely that there is any "anthropogenic global warming" to speak of.

Steve McIntyre had earlier demolished a hockey stock based on California trees. Now, after repeatedly trying to get the underlying data, he has apparently done the same thing in the case of some Siberian trees. (Lots of follow-up discussion).

The data set turns out to include a very small number of trees--admittedly a selection of what was available. But how exactly was the selection made--randomly, or what? Researchers have asked repeatedly for complete data sets (which are supposed to be freely available when work is published in refereed journals), often without success. Finally a fairly clear picture is emerging. The small data set was indeed chosen from a much larger possible set--which would not have supported any of the three propositions above. Of course it's possible that some legitimate principle of selection was at work, but then why the secrecy? Why the moves to find "agreeable" data from distant locations, instead of providing the fullest possible picture of nearby locations?