Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunshine Cleaning

Just saw Sunshine Cleaning. Pretty good--a chick flick with a few twists, a good indie feel throughout, Alan Arkin (again) as an eccentric old man.

You have to laugh at Hollywood. Amy Adams, maybe, without makeup, the girl next door, grew up fairly poor, but with her looks etc. became high-school cheerleader, has somewhat kept living off that glory. It's not exactly realistic, but OK. But Emily Blunt as her younger sister who keeps screwing up, and can't even keep a job slinging burgers? She's an extremely exotic and beautiful woman. No heterosexual male would leave her slinging burgers for long--she could wait tables or hostess at a nice restaurant, or sell real estate or model or something--make serious money, even right out of high school.

Christmas Deaths

There's often something a bit weird about deaths that happen right at Christmas, just before, or just after.

In Newmarket, Ontario, where I live, a lady was driving out of the parking lot at the hospital. To validate her parking ticket, she opened her car door, with the car still in Drive. Somehow her foot came off the brake. She was found with her head trapped between the door and the car, and she has since died. The way things work, the hospital will no doubt have to change their procedures somehow "to make sure this doesn't happen again." Something so unbelievably stupid and unlikely?

In Ottawa, the 24-year-old son of Brian Tobin, former Premier of Newfoundland, killed his life-long friend, also 24, by running over him in a parking garage. Charged with impaired driving causing death, dangerous causing death, and driving over the limit causing death. At first I thought they must have been playing some stupid game: we'll take turns lying down on the concrete while the other one drives, and see if you can steer around while getting fairly close. Instead it seems that the victim fell out of the pick-up--either out of the cab, or even more clever, out of the box. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Kind of a Newfie joke. Neighbours say this parking garage was a hangout for drinking and drugging. Congratulations, you've really made something of your lives.

UPDATE Dec. 27: On the Tobin case, one of Canada's best criminal lawyers is now clearly in charge of spinning to the media. My favourite:

The young men spent the evening of Dec. 23 in bars near Ottawa’s trendy ByWard Market neighbourhood. Early the next morning, just before 3 a.m., the two men and at least one other person returned to their rented pickup truck in a nearby parkade. They planned to have a drink of whisky at the truck before taking a cab home, two sources told CTV and The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Zolpis got out of the vehicle, though it’s unclear why. Soon after, Mr. Tobin backed the truck up to park it, sources said. He got out to find Mr. Zolpis trapped underneath. Four days after writing his last exam, the 24-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.

This sounds a lot better than: they were driving in circles just for a laugh--it's not clear why; or they were using each other as human pylons, it's not clear why. The lawyer even covers the earlier coverage: "His lawyer hopes the attention the case is expected to receive won’t derail justice for Mr. Tobin. For instance, he said, it was widely and incorrectly reported his client was stunt driving – driving the truck in circles – on the top level of the parkade when Mr. Zolpis died."

It all reminds me of the Michael Bryant episode. Lots of people sympathized with Bryant. Granted he killed a cyclist while driving his car aggressively, but there had been considerable provocation, and in a convertible with the roof down, Bryant may have felt that both he and his wife were in danger. It certainly would have been interesting to hear details at trial, but it became pretty clear the establishment didn't want a trial.

On Christmas morning, we found a dead mouse in one of our traps--actually kind of caught by two traps close together. For all we know, he had been taught about Santa and all that. The big day arrives, and no Santa--just a big machine crushing him. I'm a big believer in peanut butter as bait, and in keeping two traps close together. The design we have is very much like this.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Boomer Science, Er, Peer-Reviewed

Generally speaking, it turns out, peer-reviewed literature on medical science is substantially bullshit--distorted, cherry-picked data, taken out of context, unlikely correlations built up without solid evidence.

This is what happens when the boomers are in charge.

So it's not true that peer-reviewed science tends to be solid, therefore we should give the climate warmists the benefit of any doubt. Rather, especially with the boomers in charge, it should all be regarded with skepticism.

h/t Judith Curry, who also points to a NYT article.

Meanwhile, Bishop Hill takes us back to the "nuclear scientists" advising Eisenhower in the 50s--people with the best credentials, who were wrong, wrong, wrong.

Madoff winners and losers

Somehow a very American story. Madoff's massive fraud actually enriched some investors--basically, if you invested fairly early, you probably got some pay-offs to maintain the myth that Madoff's funds would be profitable for everyone.

Now the lawsuits are flying. Madoff and his family don't have all that much (although I think they will all be sued, and that may be one reason one of Madoff's sons committed suicide).

So in the search for assets to compensate victims, lawyers have focussed on those investors who actually profited. The argument is: it was all a fraud, whether successful investors knew it or not, so any assets/profits should be divided equally among victims. The counter-argument: how can innocent people be treated as if they are guilty?

Monday, December 6, 2010


On the list of things I have wondered about: does advertising work at all, or in general? Is internet advertising really less effective than advertising in glossy magazines or newspapers (which continue to charge more for ads), or does the internet simply make it easier to realize how ineffective all advertising really is?

h/t Matt Yglesias.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Methane Reserves

1. Maybe a dash for gas would be good--better than the pursuit of windmills and solar panels.

2. Methane under the ocean: the Japanese are determined to figure out how to harvest it. The potential? "immense, possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels."

Seasonal Toys

For those shopping for toys in the near future, the New Yorker has an article discussing the following products:

Lego Tantive IV Star Wars Set; Buckyballs; Tetraxis magnetic geometry puzzle; Snap Circuits; Primary Science Set; the Diet Coke and Mentos Kit; the Mammoth Excavation kit; Nerf N-Strike Stampede ECS Blaster; Anker blocks; Harold the Smoking Penguin; Paper Jamz Guitars; Sun, Moon, Stars Drums; the Infant’s Sleep Sound Lamb; American Girl dolls; Barbie Foosball Table; Sophie, the teething giraffe; Call of Duty: Black Ops video game; the Forbidden Island board game; Squinkies; and Beyblade

Most of these names mean nothing to me. Diet Coke and Mentos has some obvious appeal, but I'm sure it would only amuse me for two or three hours, at most.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sajid Mir and the terrorist attack on Mumbai

Nice article in the Washington Post.

Beyond or behind al Qaeda, to some extent bigger, better funded, better organized, with better backing by an actual government and military (Pakistan's) we find Lashkar-i-Taiba. This group is so closely interlinked with Pakistan's Inter-services Intelligence Directorate (ISS) that it may be difficult to see any daylight between them.

The U.S. under-estimated the threat posed by this group before the Mumbai attack, and may still do so. The U.S., of course, is counting on Pakistan to help in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. What if Lashkar has been a bigger problem all along?

Could it be that Bush as sheriff absolutely always got the wrong guy?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Elite Athletes on Drugs?

Runner's World has an article that is somewhat troubling even at its simplest: one-time elite marathoner Eddy Hellebuyck has admitted that he enhanced his performance toward the end of his career by taking erythropoietin (EPO). His career ended when he tested positive for this substance, but he had always denied taking it until now.

More troubling:

Hellebuyck's wife Shawn: "I think it's important to point out that he is hardly the only American runner of his caliber to use drugs. [Eddy] got caught because he wasn't part of a well-organized, well-financed, medically supervised system. He was just an individual athlete who decided to dabble and paid the price. The fact is, EPO really works when it's used in combination with HGH [human growth hormone] and other drugs over a closely monitored three-month training cycle, and that takes money. The athletes who have the money and power are the ones who are getting away with murder on this stuff. That's who you should be writing a story about."

The writer says: "Shawn may be right. But until at least one other distance runner steps forward to break the code of silence, we can never know for sure."

So the big teams of runners with corporate sponsors may well be using in a more sophisticated way.

There is a side-bar story which I can't find on line: "The Drug War." For U.S. athletes, "Doping-control officials will visit athletes and collect blood or urine samples, often at athletes' homes or training camps. By comparison, in such running-dominant countries as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Russia, testing is less rigorous and authoritative."

So the elite athletes may be growing up in a world where using drugs is taken for granted. We have seen the mighty fall after years of denials; there are probably more such cases to come.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The U.S. election

The list of bloggers whom I make it a point to read is shrinking. One who is still very much on the list is Matt Yglesias. I still disagree with him on climate change, and there are no doubt other issues on which he and I would vote differently, but he has a very sensible approach to politics.

Yglesias as a progressive Democrat looks on the bright side as the Republicans make gains, especially in the House of Representatives and state legislatures. He isn't really gloating or anything, but he says (agreeing with Ross Douthat) the Democrats in two years actually pushed through some Democratic legislation which will presumably last; Republicans have not done anything similar for a long time. Arguably Dems act like they want to do the job, not just have the job. The Reps are left with "a little less of the welfare state, with selective cuts that don't hurt people like us (farm subsidies are safe) and anyone who wants more welfare state rather than less is an evil socialist."

I think a lot depends on Obamacare. It is planned so that the benefits don't really impact a lot of people for a while yet. The Dems have to hope that there are some significant benefits by the 2012 campaign season, so it isn't just a "huge spending bill" or "cutting Medicare for seniors." Ironically, or not, Reps will probably try to split off the "cost-control" provisions, on the ground that they involve death panels, they will hurt seniors on Medicare, etc. Health care a sacred trust for me, not for thee. Spending to be cut, or, not. Medicare a sacred trust, Obamacare (somehow) evil.

Obamacare is defensible in something like its present form. Some kind of libertarian approach is no doubt defensible--leaving seniors and others to deal with the insurance companies. Good luck. What is surely indefensible is the status quo before Obamacare. If the Republicans think they have a golden platform based on going back to that, they are kidding themselves.

Is there any program the Reps actually have the guts to cut? Do they have the guts to force the gov't to a stop as Gingrich did? What did Reps actually campaign on other than not-Obama?

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Good Week for Skeptics

... or the climatically heterodox.

1. Judith Curry is having a tremendous impact, suggesting as a former warming insider that the IPCC process is fundamentally flawed. (h/t for all of this to WUWT) I joked at work that she may be the Galileo of climate science. She is written up in the magazine of the university where she teaches (where she apparently still has a lot of support):

Instead of simply trying to curb greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale, Curry advocates making humanity less vulnerable to extreme events such as hurricanes and focusing on regional issues. In Atlanta, for example, global warming is less of a concern than water. Droughts and floods create significant problems for the rapidly growing population.

The question then naturally arises. What is Judith Curry sure about?
She pauses before giving an answer in three parts.
“Climate always changes,” she says.
“Carbon dioxide, all other things being equal, will contribute to a warmer planet.”
And lastly, “Whether in the coming century greenhouse gas will dominate natural variability remains to be seen.”

Of course, she still tends to say there was a time when the skeptics appeared to be either lunatics or shills in the pay of big oil--then along came Steve McIntyre. This is a bit self-serving for someone who has really only become skeptical recently. The writer of the article assumes the CRU people and Michael Mann are honest, etc.

Curry is blogging away like mad (or perhaps I should say: with great determination):

The “discernible” [human influence on global climate] [in AR 2] and the hockey stick [AR 3] should never have made it into the summary for policy makers. Do we blame Mann and Santer for this? Heck no (well they were complicit, but not to blame). These were decisions made by people that were higher up and with pressure from policy makers. At the time of publication of the TAR in 2001, Mann was 3 years post Ph.D. Santer is a few years younger than I am, which was pretty young (early 4o’s) in the early 1990′s when the SAR was being prepared. Whatever their scientific talents or contributions, they were put into a highly political situation that required a lot of judgment and experience to navigate these things.

In spite of being “burned” as part of the IPCC process, both Mann and Santer remained very loyal to the IPCC and defensive of it, and have been rewarded professionally. I argue that they have also been victimized by the IPCC (they can hardly enjoy the threats, etc.) Some prominent climate scientists left the field because it was too political, notably Starley Thompson.

So, do we spend time beating up or defending scientists like Mann and Santer, or do we try to understand the nature of the system that both victimize and rewarded scientists like Mann and Santer? I for one am trying to get at the issues with the system and to understand how this all went so wrong.

2. Steven Mosher (a "lukewarmer") finally addresses the issue that Anthony Watts is famous for highlighting: the credibility of weather stations for reliable reports of "global temperature."

In the debate over the accuracy of the global temperature nothing is more evident than errors in the location data for stations in the GHCN inventory. That inventory is the primary source for all the temperature series.

One question is “do these mistakes make a difference?” If one believes as I do that the record is largely correct, then it’s obvious that these mistakes cannot make a huge difference. If one believes, as some do, that the record is flawed, then it’s obvious that these mistakes could be part of the problem. Up until know that is where these two sides of the debate stand.

Throughout this process I think we can say two things that are unassailable:

1. the mistakes are real. 2. we simply don’t know if they make a difference. Some believe they cannot (but they haven’t demonstrated that) and some believe they will (but they haven’t demonstrated that). The demonstration of either position requires real work. Up to now no one has done this work.

So the science is ... unsettled.

3. McIntyre is also banging away. Trevor Davies, University of East Anglia pro-vice chancellor with responsibiltiy for research and enterprise, testified at the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, in the UK. After a lot of diligent digging, mainly by McIntyre, it has turned out (see also here) that the list of papers studied by the Oxburgh group (The Scientific Assessment Panel) was actually selected by ... Davies, a senior official at the university that was ostensibly being investigated. Davies denied the statement that "A lot of the papers that the controversy was about – the multiproxy papers – were not included." It turns out what he meant by that was that there was no reason to go beyond the papers that were mentioned by McIntyre in his formal submission to the Commons committee. This is partly a way of keeping up the pretense that smart warming folk don't read skeptic blogs--who would read those lunatics?--combined with a grudging admission that there is a need to read this one document of McIntyre's. But: the only opportunity skeptics would ever have in the UAE's minds, to list dubious papers, was in that one submission of McIntyre's? Amazing.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Closer to that Nixon Book I Want

Finally I own a book of updated Nixon transcripts.

Unfortunately, Kutler is obsessed with Watergate, and more generally with Nixon as "crazy and evil"; I'm more interested in Nixon as "crazy and funny."

Still, there are some highlights in Kutler.

Nixon is convinced that the public won't care about the Watergate break-in: June 21, 1972, p. 54:

"My view is, and I still hold with this view, that in terms of the reaction of people, the reaction is going to be primarily Washington and not the country, because I think the country doesn't give much of a shit about it other than the ones we've already bugged." [Translation: OK, I grant you, there's a few people who are going to be pretty pissed off]

It became more and more clear to staff around Nixon that the "plumbers" had been hired to do dirty tricks on Nixon's behalf, and that enormous pressure had been put on them to think of new dirty tricks without necessarily informing the White House. There is endless discussion as to whether anyone in the White House actually knew in advance about the break-in, or took part in planning it. Of course the big mystery is the extent to which Nixon personally ordered specific dirty tricks. There are lots of conversations in which he fantasizes freely about committing crimes against his political enemies--apparently many of these conversations came to nothing.

June 23, p. 68: Nixon is explaining why the CIA should be asked to meet with the FBI and call off any investigation of the break-in. Nixon doesn't want to say there is White House involvement to be covered up, and he thinks it will be better to allude to some kind of secret CIA operation involving Howard Hunt.

"Of course, this ... Hunt, ... that will uncover a lot of, a lot of--you open that scab there's a hell of a lot of things in it that we just feel that this would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves. What the hell, did Mitchell know about this thing to any much of a degree?"

Haldeman: "I think so. I don't think he knew the details, but I think he knew."

Nixon: "He didn't know how it was going to be handled though, with Dahlberg and the Texans and so forth? Well, who was the asshole that did? Is it Liddy? Is that the fellow? He must be a little nuts."

Haldeman: "He is."

June 30, p. 84: Mitchell has taken the fall, emphasizing that he wants to spend more time with his wife and family; Nixon has ensured that more details are leaked about Martha Mitchell's illness, to reinforce the official story. Mitchell's replacement, Clark MacGregor, gets his first initiation in the Oval Office into what may or may not be going on. It's fun to imagine being in MacGregor's shoes.

Nixon: "Well, you're going to have this sort of thing [i.e. investigations] more, I guess. People do stupid things. I mean, that long agonizing thing of ITT. We survived. It was very stupid."

Haldeman: "We did some stupid things ...." [This is once when you can say "yes, sir" the boss, or "absolutely, Lord Copper," and it comes out kind of funny]

MacGregor: "Well, there are things--there are a thousand supid things like that that don't get uncovered, that we do and that they do. It's when they get uncovered that they look so stupid."

On behalf of everyone who works in a large organization, Clark, I think you for your candour. Also: what a fun conversation that must of been for your first day on the job.

More on the New Governor General

So Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, sets up a private institute called the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). He then makes a donation of $33 million to this Centre, and to two neighbouring universities, Laurier and Waterloo, to set up a new Balsillie School of International Affairs. Dr. Ramesh Thakur is hired as founding Director of the School, to much acclaim and fanfare. Balsillie included language in the agreement over the $33 million to the effect that he could withdraw support from specific projects during a ten-year launch period, and could withdraw support altogether after ten years.

As if to make sure they were keeping him happy, the two universities wanted to include CIGI in fairly routine decisions such as course content, and perhaps hiring decisions--usually the domain of the academics, not the funding agencies. Thakur said no, he was fired, and a new report says he was shafted. Of course there is some counter-spin to the effect that he didn't work out, etc.

It would be sad to be forced to conclude that our new Governor General, David Johnston, former President of Waterloo, is not only a political hack who helped Harper bury some turds from the Mulroney years, but a corrupt weasel and whore.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A nice Billie Holiday number

I heard this on Jazz FM and really liked it: the lyrics have bite, a nice tune, and Billie makes it swing. "A Fine Romance".

So then I went looking for the authors: Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern. This website dedicated to Fields doesn't even mention the Holiday version of the song.

There are different versions of the lyrics: this set has more than Billie sings in the version linked above, but I believe it has all that she sings, including the Isle de France.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Governor General? Really?

Young people in Canada used to be taught that the Governor General was a mere figurehead who did nothing. Recently we learned that Michelle Jean might have denied Stephen Harper the prorogation of Parliament that he was seeking, and thus given a "losing" party leader a chance at being Prime Minister. Now the (new) GG is directly involved in stripping a convicted serial killer of his military commission.

People might start to think the GG has the potential to be an absolute monarch of Canada or something.

Retirement age in France

A few years ago, in a currency crisis, the French government restricted the ability of its citizens to spend their currency on vacations abroad. Rioters took to the streets. I'm not bilingual, but I believe you could paraphrase their thinking as "liberté, egalité, vacances."

Now they are rioting to maintain the retirement age at 60--Sarkozy wants to raise it to 62.

"Liberté, egalité, La retraite à 60 ans "

UPDATE: Retiremen at 62 is now the law in France, subject to court challenges.

Living in Alberta

Ian Tyson, one-time Toronto-based folk singer, long time cowboy, has written his memoirs and at the age of 77, is getting some media again. He has tried to maintain a ranch in the foothills of Alberta for many years, in the face of economic struggles, a big divorce settlement, kids who either don't want to live with him or don't want to take over the ranch, etc.

In the Star today: "It's the endless goddamn winter that gets me down. That's a young man's deal."

World War II again

Every so often I go back into the war in my reading. The war always ends the same way, but I seem to learn something. For earlier reports see here and here.

I borrowed one volume of General Brooke's diaries. My late father owned this work. Brooke became the most senior British general during the war--equivalent to Marshall for the U.S. As with Marshall, he didn't enjoy the public profile of battlefield generals once fighting was underway, and he was probably unfairly neglected, especially in comparison to Montgomery, after the war.

Brooke met for hours every day with Churchill as well as his fellow generals. Churchill drove everyone crazy with endless talk, meetings, and work. Even after a major agreement of all parties on strategy, he would bring up 100 different ideas a day: what about Malaysia? What about Malta? Vienna? Singapore? Often these would make little or no strategic sense, but he would force the generals to go through pro's and con's. Arguably this was a good way to keep on testing "the consensus"--to make sure everyone had good reasons for doing what they were doing. But the flow of different and contradictory ideas raised questions about Churchill's judgment, age, and health both physical and mental. Unlike Hitler or Stalin, he never over-rode his generals; he simply forced them, through long meetings and exchanges of notes, to defend their positions. The American generals had no taste for this at all, and they thought a lot of Churchill's weird excursions were attempts to restore the old British empire. This may well have been in Churchill's mind, but he may also have been quicker than Roosevelt to realize that there was a case for stopping the Soviet Union from spreading too far too fast.

Before even finishing Brooke, I've switched to Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe. Wilmot does a nice job of relating different fronts in the war to each other. Hitler was obviously hoping Britain would capitulate after Dunkirk. He was surprised, and he remained surprised, that this didn't happen. The British public turned, almost overnight, from supporting Chamberlain's Munich deal and achieving "peace," to wanting to fight with Churchill to the end. Churchill's cabinet agreed, probably with some reluctance, that the public simply wouldn't let them surrender, almost no matter what. So the Battle of Britain, even if it was somewhat inconclusive, was enough to convince Hitler that Britain wouldn't surrender immediately. The blitz led to basically the same result. To go further, the Germans would have had to invade across the Channel, which they had given no real thought to, and they utterly lacked the equipment, air and naval support to do. That is the main reason Hitler, who had said repeatedly he did not want to fight on two fronts, invaded the Soviet Union. He was convinced he had the army to achieve success in the East, and then he would be free to invade Britain. Later, when everyone knew D-Day was coming soon, Hitler supposedly thought now at last he would be able to destroy Britain and weaken the U.S., and then he would be free to finish the job in the East where he had begun to lose ground. North Africa and Italy, of course, became a third front, which did significant damage to the Germans partly because Hitler refused to withdraw, even tactically, anywhere. The British generals predicted Hitler would send a lot of troops into Italy; the Americans doubted it; the Brits turned out to be correct about this.

It's kind of chilling to read about 1940. The U.S. is not in the war, and Germany has not yet invaded the Soviet Union. Hitler is trying to maintain American neutrality by ordering German U-boats not to attack American shipping. He tries to persuade Japan to attack British colonies in preference to the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union in preference to the U.S. He is negotiating with the Vichy government of France, and with Franco of Spain, to secure the Med for himself as much as possible. He tries to persuade Stalin that he can conquer to the south, into British possessions, rather than west into territory that Germany wants.

One big problem is that Hitler would love to be able to say "Britain has been defeated"; but he can't. November 13th: Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov meeting with German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop in Berlin: "If England is in fact defeated and powerless, why have we been conducting this discussion in your air-raid shelter?"

Hitler's rashness and impetuosity--his conviction that will power would prevail--helped to bring about Germany's spectacular early victories. Among other things, these victories subdued rebellious generals, and offered enormous gratification to the German people. But the other side of Hitler's "winning" qualities were his refusal ever to admit defeat, and his tendency to under-estimate his opponents. He made serious mistakes, and they contributed directly to the German defeat.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


You're an organization called 10:10 in the UK. The idea is that we should reduce our carbon emissions by 10%, beginning in 2010. October 10 (of 2010, even more serendipitous) is a particularly significant date: you are asking people to make a real effort to reduce carbon emissions.

Less than a month before the big day, you release some ads called "No Pressure." The idea is that anyone who disagrees with the organization, even to the extent of questioning whether it is a good idea to reduce carbon emissions, will be killed. Some killings are portrayed in vivid detail--heads exploding, blood flying, etc., many of the victims children. I guess they were thinking this was so obviously extreme, so over the top, it would be seen as funny--like Swift's "Modest Proposal" or something. They got a pretty famous film director, Richard Curtis, to make the ads for them.

There has been a nasty backlash to the ads, and the ads have been pulled as much as possible from the Internet. Of course, some nasty people make sure the videos are posted faster than they can be pulled--four new sites for every one taken down, kind of thing. And there are parodies: a teacher advises a class to try out a few Moslem practices. If they're not willing: boom. A Hitler downfall parody: Hitler saying: how could anyone not find this funny? So staff at 10:10 are trying to get parodies taken off the web as well--again, hopeless.

Thursday night, October 7, the 10:10 website listed almost 95,000 "people on board." Friday morning it was down to 73,000. That's right: in the final countdown to the big day, their own website shows them losing about 25% of their popular support. This morning I notice they are over 100,000 "in 152 countries."

Of course, one reason they are losing "people on board" is that they have had to purge names that are not really helpful: dead people, and people who are well-known skeptics of global warming. Apparently they made the mistake of having so little security on their "people on board" feature, that anyone could appear: Karl Marx, Socrates, Gautama Buddha, you name it.

The staff seem on the young side, but it looks like they have no real feel for the internet, or how things can go viral, or public opinion, at all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lord Strathcona

Just finished a first-rate biography by Donna McDonald: Lord Strathcona: A Biography of Donald Alexander Smith. A number of places and things in Canada are named after this guy (1820-1914): he is in the middle of a famous photo called "The Last Spike," commemorating the completion of the CPR in November 1885, shortly after the end of the second Riel rebellion (he was a major investor in the CPR); he was a personal emissary from the government of Canada who negotiated with Louis Riel during the first rebellion in 1869-70; as he made the transition from Hudson's Bay Company employee to general investor and businessman, he contributed to the encouragement of the settlement of the Canadian west (and made much of his money from American railroads). He was a member of the Manitoba legislature for a number of years, even though his interests often caused him to be substantially east of there; a member of Parliament in Ottawa; Canadian High Commissioner in London toward the end of his life.

I still can't tell whether he was very deep or very shallow. A hard worker, he was known for his kindness when poor and for his philanthropy once he was rich. He remained faithful to the the Presbyterian religion he grew up with, but insisted that people of different faiths were all approaching the same God. His wife was Métis, and he was always trusted by the Métis of Western Canada, and by Father Lacombe who ministered to them; he and Lacombe could well remember the days when the original "first nations" were fading from the scene, and the Métis enjoyed a golden age as buffalo hunters.

Some funny moments. He and Sir John A. Macdonald, along with Macdonald's loyal ally, George Cartier, hit it off initially, but then eventually had a falling out over the Pacific Scandal. John A. was accused of offering American railroad interests (led by yet another Scot, Sir Hugh Allan) the opportunity to build the CPR provided they first supplied him with money for his campaign. Some actual documents emerged that seemed to confirm this accusation. John A. had some success in defending himself, but at crucial moments he retreated from the scene, and probably spent a lot of time drunk. One problem was that he couldn't actually remember signing all the letters that had been produced--he had been drunk when he signed--and he was convinced that there were probably more damning letters somewhere that he had totally forgotten. At one point McDonald's government could win a confidence vote if Strathcona, still Donald Smith at the time, cast the deciding vote in favour. In a private meeting, John A. piled on the charm, but then apparently turned abusive. Smith was already inclined to vote against the government because a leader should not only be upright, but appear so. He voted non-confidence.
... The problem, as he saw it, was not that Macdonald had accepted Allan's contribution to his party's electoral expenses. It was that Allan had believed the money was not a donation but a bribe; he believed he was purchasing the railway contract and Macdonald disregarded this fact, either because it was convenient for him to do so or because he was too drunk to recognize how others would interpret the transaction. This, in Donald's view, was a grave error. It was not enough for a prime minister, especially of such a new nation, to be honourable: he had to be seen to be honourable. (p. 220)

There was a severe falling out between them for years, but eventually they became staunch allies again. Much later, one of Strathcona's charitable causes was the support of John A.'s widow.

Another highlight: Strathcona was constantly urging Europeans to settle in the Canadian west. In some countries this activity was actually illegal. 1898:
"The arrogance of the Canadian, Lord Strathcona," fulminated the Hamburger Nachrichten, "and the utter disrespect shown by him for the laws of the Empire in publicly conducting his emigration propaganda on German soil and in the very teeth of the authorities, demand that vigorous representations should be made at once to the British Government which is, we presume, still responsible for this Colony. While apart from the weakening of the Fatherland which the success of such propaganda entails, the attempt to lure our fellow-countrymen to this desolate, sub-arctic region is, upon human grounds alone, to be denounced as criminal. (421)

In 1900, Strathcona personally raised and funded some troops for the Boer War. They were unofficially known as "rough riders," and I was hoping that this was the real source for the names of a couple of Canadian football teams from my childhood. It turns out they were probably both named after Teddy Roosevelt's Roughriders, formed in 1898.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Conservatives--Sane and Not So Sane

Heather MacDonald attacks Dinesh D'Souza and the conservatives who have taken up his argument that some of Obama's views and policies are the “dreams of a Luo tribesman”--Obama's father, with whom he has almost never had any contact, and whose speeches and writings, as far as anyone knows, have never influenced Obama. What has influenced Obama, of course, is contemporary liberalism, as developed in the Ivy League, Washington, DC, among some of the elite in Chicago, etc. In the context of that liberalism, there is no hint of anything radical, alien, mysterious, monstrous or uniquely threatening in any of Obama's writings or speeches. Many of Obama's most controversial moves, as MacDonald waggishly points out, are a continuation of those of that exotic un-American lunatic, George W. Bush. Obamacare is about as un-American as Harry Truman, who tried to implement something similar in the 1940s.

So what is wrong with a lot of conservatives? They obviously think they can succeed in elections almost entirely by smearing their opponents as vaguely but dangerously "on the wrong side"--defenders of immorality, un-American, deriving their views from such an irrational or unpredictable source that they are best treated as aliens or monsters. As MacDonald says, conservatives seem to be admitting that they have no actual case against Democratic policies, or none that will win elections--just as was the case in the Clinton years, the personal attack is really all they've got; maybe it will work, maybe it won't.

The new plan of Congressional Republicans--the "Pledge to America"--commits to no reduction in spending on Medicare or Social Security--along, of course, with defence. If both Medicare and Social Security are sacred trusts, then how can Obamacare or stimulus spending be un-American, a march to a Scandinavian welfare state, a socialist attack on private enterprise and the family, or outright evil?

h/t for all of this to Matt Yglesias.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Running: Scotiabank Result

Half Marathon: Gun time 1:56:05.9 for a 5.31 pace per km; Chip time 1:51:15.5 for a 5.25 (5:15) pace. A bit slower than the Goodlife Half last fall, so not a PB.

In the top half for males, and for males in my age group. Not a negative split: less than 5.3 pace for the first 10K,then a bit over 5.3 for the last stretch, 10K to 21K. When I finally got up to speed in the first half, I must have been really moving for a while.

There was a huge crowd--22,000 were announced, and I was well back in the blue corral, so it took some time (apparently almost 5 minutes--it seemed longer) to cross the start line. For those who don't know, the Gun time is from the starting gun to when you finish; the chip time is the time you actually take from the start line, as recorded by a timing chip. For the first half or so I found myself passing people, stepping outside the lines to find room, even climbing on a wall. Not very efficient.

A beautiful day, with just a slight cool breeze and sun. Apparently a lot of marathoners qualified for Boston, and many runners probably had a PB.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Quaker Lady

Yesterday as part of "Doors Open," I looked around the Quaker Meeting House here in Newmarket--in continuous use since about 1805. A nice, soothing wooden building, classic Quaker carpentry, simple and unadorned with big planks.

The lady showing us around was interesting. I mentioned that I had toured the Sharon Temple, a few miles from here, founded by a group that had split off from the Newmarket Quakers. She said that group had probably followed a charismatic leader (David Willson) rather than following "the inner light," and that was why they had not lasted long after the leader's death. Probably true.

I had been struck by one detail: the Willson group had wanted music in a church service--something that the Quakers do not have. This lady said there is nothing stopping someone who is responding to the inner light from singing, any more than from speaking out, but it is considered wrong to plan something, bring instruments or music, etc. The Willson group, perhaps still imbued with Quaker thinking, tried to reach the point where no piece of music was played more than once--hence retaining the spontaneity and freshness, in the hope that music doesn't become routine, stale, forgettable, something one can day-dream through. I think Willson himself composed a lot of the music they used--a formidable job, producing new music every week, in some ways comparable to J.S. Bach.

The tour lady said she had once been an evangelical Christian, and she was a singer in those days, so she has certainly experienced services with a lot of music. But she said: the point of those services is to win converts, or cause someone to turn to Jesus. That is different from encouraging people to respond to their own inner light. I asked how often anyone sings at Quaker meeting, and she said not often. She said some people definitely miss it, and ask if music can at least be planned on occasion. Her answer: meeting is only one hour out of the week; you have the entire rest of the week for devotional music, if you wish to experience that.

Then without any prompting from me, she said: we don't believe in having one minister leading a service. Some people say we have eliminated the clergy, but we believe everyone is a minister. Perhaps it is lay people we have eliminated.

Incidentally, they seem to have resigned themselves to being called Quakers--although they probably don't like it.

Update on Running Times

A very fast 5K for me today in the Terry Fox run: 22:09, under 4.5 mins per km (here showing a decimal, otherwise showing seconds). They have km markers up, and I was running my stop watch. I think I did 5:10, 4:13, 4:54, 4:26, and 3:26, or something close to those numbers. Definitely a negative split (second half faster than the first). My fifth time running it, and the first time was probably about 28 minutes. Last year 24 minutes.

I've never raised money for the Terry Fox, but I gave them $40.

So: an update on my PBs:

5K: 22:09 (Terry Fox 10)
10K: 55:19 (Oasis Zoo 08)
10m: 1:22:20 (Acura Toronto 09)
Half: 1:49:37 (Goodlife Toronto 09)
Marathon: 4:00:05 (Waterloo 10)

Of course there are people who think the emphasis on PBs is silly--some cities have a group called Harriers or something who will ostracize you for using the expressions BQ (Boston Qualifier) or PB (Personal Best). Nevertheless, there is now a stronger case for me to do a 10K this fall, and improve on 55 minutes. I should be able to do 50 minutes or even 45.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Privacy and the Internet

A topic this is on many people's minds.

In the Spectator, Rory Sutherland reminds us how easy it is to say something foolish on line that will have a huge impact on our lives, and also how easy it may be for others to violate our privacy.

Sutherland refers to the "Twitter Suicide" of Stuart MacLennan, who was briefly a Labour candidate in Britain, but he doesn't include a link; here it is.

And then there's the slightly creepy article by Jose Antonio Vargas in the New Yorker, based on interviews with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Of course all such pieces carry the tone of a boomer fussing and saying "oh those young people and their internet," but Zuckerberg does seem an odd duck. His views on privacy are troubling given the company he runs.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Intervals Again

Probably only of interest to runners ...

Last spring I trained for a marathon, so I did several workouts of intervals, once a week beginning with 2 x 1600 m (2 sets of 4 laps, 400 m per lap, with a good break between sets), and building up to 5 x 1600. I didn' keep detailed notes on all the runs, but it seems that when I did 2 sets, the second set was 1:45, 2:00, 1:55 and 1:50; average 1:52. The following week, 3 sets, averaging 1:45, 1:47, 1:48.

Yesterday I did 3 sets, averaging 1:48, 1:46 and 1:50. The first two sets were faster than either of the 2 sets last week. So I'm doing OK, if a bit slower than in the spring. I'm pleased that the second set was faster than the first.

On intervals in the spring, see here and here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Applebaum on Iraq

Great piece by Anne Applebaum in Slate.

Even if Iraq has turned out better than some expected, and even if it becomes a beacon of democracy in the Arab world, a very high price has been paid. Above all (she says), there has been little thought to the strategic harm that has been done to U.S. interests partly by the intense focus on this one country. It is hard to name an unstable country or hot spot that is not more of a threat to the U.S. today than when Bush invaded Iraq. At the top of the list, one might put Iran.

Religions and the Sanctity of Life

Neil Reynolds in the Globe reviews a book by David Brog which apparently argues that "the sanctity of human life" is more consistently believed in and defended in the world of "Judeo-Christian" beliefs than in other world views or religions; and of course such a belief is always extremely fragile even in that world--more or less Western civilization.

I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as a Judeo-Christian (maybe St. Paul, but surely not Jesus of Nazareth). On the other hand, there may be a meaningful proposition here: the Biblical religions, including Islam, clarify and/or elevate the sanctity of human life more than other religions. In other religions individuals can easily be sacrificed for a greater good--indeed it would be a sin not to make such a sacrifice. In the Biblical religions, there is at least an effort to specify the extreme circumstances in which such a sacrifice is justified. Liberal intellectuals are in the habit of mentioning the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the religious wars that are indistinguishable from the Reformation, as proof that Christianity may be as bloody as any belief system. If it holds off on routine slaughter, it could be argued, then, like a passive-aggressive person, once it gets going, it goes for wholesale slaughter. Of course the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, and the deaths of civilians since World War II, could make previous religious wars look, almost literally, like a Sunday School picnic. Are these recent developments a complete departure from Christianity, or a development of it? Are they, as George Grant might have asked, thinkable without it?

At any rate, Islam has probably been about as pro-life as Judaism and Christianity. By not saying so, Brog and Reynolds may be feeding the notion that Moslems are the barbarians who must be fought in the name of civilization, etc.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Extreme weather and climate again

Losses caused by extreme weather events have been increasing, but a new study says this is not because of man-made warming. h/t Instapundit.

In a way this is old news. (Linked here). Of course, claims that extreme weather events themselves--not jut the damage caused by them, which could follow from more population and construction in vulnerable areas--have increased has been very important to Al Gore, the IPCC and others.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Alarmists Fight Back on the Gulf

According to peer-reviewed work (O My God! Peer Review!), there is so a big plume of oil in the Gulf: far below the surface, colourless and odourless. The peer-reviewed folks say it will be around for months, so two different commentators have no hesitation in saying it will be years.

Repeated suggestions that the U.S. government has been "wrong" in its reassurances, but quietly it seems to emerge that the coastline, including many fish and the jobs of many people, have indeed been saved. That's what governments are supposed to do.

Still no mention of the fact that there is oil at the bottom of the Gulf all the time, and some of the wildlife would die without it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Media on Climate

Yes, as usual: USA today: extreme weather events--I don't know about you, but I'm scared! scared!--global warming blah blah blah. h/t Watts Up.

One word stands out, and it is in this sentence, quoting Chris Fenimore, a physical scientist at the National Climatic Data Center: "However, Fenimore notes that the frequency at which these extreme weather events are occurring — such as extreme heat or cold — are on the increase."

The rather odd word? Cold. It's almost as if scientists realize that there are places in the world that are experiencing extreme cold, to somewhat counter-balance the areas experiencing extreme heat.

Latin America (human deaths).
New Zealand.
Bolivia (6 million fish killed by cold).

Bolivian fish killed by chemicals, i.e. nasty old human beings/capitalism? Er, no. (h/t Bishop Hill)

Extreme cold in Mongolia in February.
At about the same time, both extreme cold and heavy snow across Europe.

There were plenty of blizzards in the U.S. as well, so scientists had to rush to explain that individual weather events, even over a considerable area, do not determine whether the globe is warming or not. Thanks for clearing that up.

Peer Review Episode # ... whatever ...

Dr. Marc Hauser, Harvard professor: about as big a gun as you could come across when it comes to what we can learn about morality and ourselves from the study of other primates.

One problem: no one reviews his peer-reviewed work until months or years after publication (remember Phil Jones saying no one had actually asked him to show his work until Steve McIntyre did?), and some of his most famous work may be ... absolute bullshit.

The Gulf Oil Spill Again

Sometimes the environmentalism of the boomers is not just harmless fun: it costs jobs.

Some of the fears about the oil spill were jacked up by scientists, working for apparently reputable agencies, smelling the possibility of huge government grants for further study of a crisis. Sounds familiar.

Friday, August 13, 2010

David Lloyd George

I'm reading a kind of mini-biography of David Lloyd George, British PM during and a bit after WW I. (A.J. Sylvester, Life With Lloyd George: The Diary of A.J. Sylvester, edited by Colin Cross).

To some extent I'm named after the guy. (I'm definitely not named after the broadcaster).

Highlights: L.G., as he was called, was convinced that the generals lied to him during the war, and he got more evidence that this was true after he left office.

"Here is a thing that most people would laugh at, when I say politicians do not lie, as a rule. I dare say one reason is that once they are caught they are done. Therefore a politician is much more careful. I have never known a prominent politician who tells an absolute lie. That is a curious thing to say, and I know every soldier would laugh when I say it, but it is true. … These fellows (he meant the soldiers) absolutely lied to me." I fear something similar may be true about the police these days.

What surprises me the most is how little there was to L.G. in his last ten years or so. In the 1915-1920 sort of period, it seems that he was not only a few years older than Churchill (L.G. born 1863, Churchill 1874), he was a person to whom Churchill looked up in virtually all ways when it came to politics. For a brief period they were in the same (Liberal) party, but they were known for their disagreements as much as their agreements. Yet they remained fast friends. As World War II approached, Churchill kept hoping L.G. would see things his way, and join him in Cabinet or in some senior advisory capacity. For a while L.G. was not welcome to anyone but Churchill because he was convinced Britain would lose unless there were an alliance with Russia, and there was no serious move to make such an alliance. Later L.G. might have "come in," but he was convinced that Hitler would win, and there would be a need for a new government to confirm that Churchill had failed, and make some kind of (separate) piece with Germany. He wanted to be the Prime Minister that was called on. In a way his defeatism is understandable, but he was so at odds with Churchill, and with many ordinary people who suddenly agreed that it made sense to fight, and even to prepare to go on offence rather than defence.

Churchill and L.G. accused each other of being megalomaniacs. L.G. reads Churchill's volumes on World War I as they come out, and when he reads the claim that L.G. went to then-P.M. Asquith and threatened to resign from Cabinet unless Bonar Law and the Tories were included, he says to long-serving Sylvester that he "did no such thing." On the other hand, L.G. says he will not include in his own book the story that when the "Dardenelles" operation was being planned (better known as Gallipoli), with Churchill very much in the driver's seat, Churchill said "I shall be the biggest man in Europe if this comes off." Of course it ended as a fiasco. L.G. refers to Churchill as stubborn, and in 1936 he says: "[Churchill] had no judgment: he had a brilliant mind and his obsession today was Germany. He was a brilliant writer." L.G. claimed that Churchill had one remarked: "Success in politics depends upon whether you can control your conscience."

Like a lot of people, L.G. became almost unbelievably fawning toward Hitler in the 30s, and this continued into the war. Yet L.G. was supposed to be distinctly on the left: he fought for social programs, and against military spending, in the years leading up to World War I, he mentions that he became a feminist or something of the kind after seeing A Doll's House, and he is proud to express progressive views--in favour of divorce, for example. Of course, in his treatment of people close to him he was vain and often abusive. Altogether he seems to have shrunk into something insignificant by 1939. Of course the elderly become fearful, but Churchill obviously thrived in his mind and soul, if not his body, during World War II.

There is also the money issue: L.G. collected a huge fund, supposedly to fight political campaigns in which he was somewhat on his own, opposed to the older or established Liberal party. Yet he ended up using the fund for strictly personal purposes. He seems to have thought he was always working-class Welsh, so it was always him vs. the banks and the establishment, yet he had not problem accepting favours from capitalists, and even doing their bidding, when it suited him.

This book goes into great detail on L.G.'s two households: wife and legitimate children in Wales, but with the understanding that they can show up in the country house in England at any time; mistress and illegitimate child at the latter house, with the understanding that they may have to cheese it at any time. Eventually L.G. marries mistress after wife dies, and mistress even becomes Countess Lloyd-George. L.G. was known back in Wales as a staunch "non-conformist"--a Protestant but not an Anglican--and he even went to church occasionally. But it is extremely unlikely that he was a believer. Sylvester calls him a pagan. (He was supposed to be a tea-totaller, and was not, which I think is a bit like Diefenbaker in Canada, and possibly Lincoln in the U.S.). One story not in the book, since it belongs in younger days, is that after sleeping with her for a while, L.G. proposed to Frances that she get a better-paying job in the office, and move in with him as officially as possible given the ongoing marriage. Frances agrees, but only if L.G. is prepared to speak to her strict parents. L.G. does so, and gets exactly what he wants.

As I recall, when Churchill was made Chancellor of the Exchequer by Tory P.M. Baldwin in 1924, he cried and said this was more than Lloyd George had ever done for him. Yet their friendship seems to have been genuine. Churchill toasted L.G. on the latter's 73rd birthday in 1936: "There have been many vicissitudes in public life during that period [since they became friends], and all the time I have thanked God that he has been born to work for our country, for the masses of those poor people in times of peace, and for our strength and security in the great days of the war." L.G. responded that it was a pleasure to have at the gathering "my oldest political friend. It is a friendship which has not depended in the least upon agreement, even on fundamentals." This reminds me of another story: when F.E. Smith, a somewhat insubstantial but eloquent character who became Lord Birkenhead, died in 1930, Churchill had dinner with a few friends, cried and said "he was my dearest friend."

My father's name was George. My older brother has always been called David or Dave. I am Lloyd, so for a while the family other than my mother was "David Lloyd George," as one uncle called us. My younger brother breaks the patter with his names. My father like his father before him was a life-long Liberal, but also a huge admirer of Churchill.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Peer Review and Pharmaceuticals

An interesting post on Laika's MedLibLog via Grand Rounds (Life in the Fast Lane).

A company called Elsevier, which publishes the Lancet among other journals, has been found, through a subsidiary, to do contract work for Merck--basically cutting and pasting reports that seem to be based on peer-reviewed literature, in favour of Merck pharmaceuticals. Their "journal," The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, contained articles most of which "presented data favorable to the Merck products Fosamax (for osteoporosis) and Vioxx." Vioxx was ultimately withdrawn from the market because of the proven danger it presented to patients.

This is only one example of Medical Education and Communication Companies (MECCs), doing lucrative contract work that is hardly more than shilling for the pharmaceuticals, but with a bit more scientific patina than ordinary advertising. Of course the companies in question think they keep this marketing work quite separate from legitimate medical research publishing, but is the Lancet as squeaky-clean as it used to be?

Richard North and the Battle of Britain

When North started this series of posts, I wasn't sure where it would go, or whether it would be of great interest to me. Basically, for each date this summer (beginning I forget when), he is saying something about what was happening in the Battle of Britain on the same date in 1940.

He has said two things that I find very interesting. First: there has been some debate about 1)whether Britain shot down German planes that were clearly marked as rescue planes for flight crews that went down over water; 2) whether these attacks were justified by the alleged fact that the dastardly Germans sometimes used rescue planes in their attacks; 3) whether German rescue planes would rescue British and Allied crews as well as German crews, indiscriminately; and 4) whether Britain made any attempt to provide rescue planes for her own crews, much less anyone else's. The answers, which North makes clear he regrets, are yes, no, yes and no. He gives this an interesting libertarian twist by saying governments will lie to you if they think they can get away with it.

Then a slightly larger question: Was Churchill correct that "the few"--fighter pilots--basically won this battle? Churchill's own remarks, considered more fully, point to the importance of bombers attacking German sites; and a little-known fact of the battle is the extent to which anti-aircraft crews made a difference. Although this was not known immediately, they apparently confirmed over 200 "kills" of aircraft; and their effects went beyond that. Going to contributions that are even less likely to be recognized or glorified, the crews of small boats called colliers kept hauling coal to England in the face of extreme danger, and indeed increasing casualties.

Then perhaps the biggest question: did Germany have a realistic chance of invading Britain? North says no.

However perilous the situation for Fighter Command might have been, the outcome of the Battle of Britain was never seriously in doubt. The Germans' objective – the invasion of Britain – was one which could never have succeeded. Apart from anything else, they simply did not have the physical resources to transport and sustain an invasion force. We, on the other hand, at the height of the battle, still had sufficient resource to send a squadron of Hurricanes to Malta.

I have tended to assume that Hitler let the Brits off the hook twice--first at Dunkirk, than by breaking off the Battle of Britain. I must admit I haven't thought much about the fact that Germany would have had to launch an amphibious attack on Britain, as the Western Allies eventually did beginning on D-Day, and probably no country including Germany had the means to do that in 1940. I have speculated that Hitler was surprised there was so much resistance to his campaigns in Britain--when there had been little evidence of such resistance only a few months earlier, and the French, led by their generals from World War I, had given up quite easily. Hitler may have surveyed certain actions of the British Empire and decided that these folks were natural Nazis. The rule of India is obviously part of this, but if anything the use of genocidal wars in Ireland to relieve political pressure in London is an even better example.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Running Update

My next goal race is the Scotiabank Half in Toronto, Sept. 26. The week before that I'll do the Terry Fox 5K. Oct. 31 is the inaugural Tom Taylor 10-mile locally, and the week after that is the Angus Glen Half. Maybe I'd be pushing it to do that last one.

Starting in January, I hope to do five runs a week to train for the Goodlife Toronto Marathon on its new date in May.

Training is going well. I'm only running three times a week for now--going 20k or more on Sunday to keep up my weekly distance. My sore left heel stays with me like an old friend. Swimming twice a week seems to help, along with some stretches.

I've glanced at a Running Room forum. I may or may not join one, but one idea I like is listing PB's.

5K: 23:59 (Terry Fox 09)
10K: 55:19 (Oasis Zoo 08)
10m: 1:22:20 (Acura Toronto 09)
Half: 1:49:37 (Goodlife Toronto 09)
Marathon: 4:00:05 (Waterloo 10)

Monday, August 2, 2010

The hockey stick is dead

It's now just a matter of performing the last rites. Steve McIntyre is vindicated in that more and more people who are not known as sceptics are discovering what complete bullshit Mann's work was from the beginning. (See also here). McIntyre has always said that there were simple statistical checks that should have been performed and either were not performed, or were performed and then the results were not published because they didn't support the hockey stick. In either case there are literally thousands of people who should have been calling bullshit from the beginning instead of saying "it's climate science, Mann must know what he is doing," "it's peer reviewed," "it's political, I'll get smeared as a creationist," or whatever.

There are reliable methods that show no significant temperature increase for a thousand years before the 20th century, then an abrupt increase? Bullshit.

Proxy methods that have been specifically discredited should be used anyway, even though the results don't matter? Bullshit.

That several independent lines of research, not dependent on faulty proxies, confirm the hockey stick? Bullshit.

That there is precise and reliable data available from proxies, comparable to actual temperature data, available from before 1850? Bullshit.

That there is good reason to believe the 20th century was unusually and dangerously warm? Bullshit. Insofar as pre-20th century records mean anything, there was probably a medieval warming period--comparable to the 20th century, the warming not man-made, and not regarded at the time as a crisis or catastrophe.

That there is a clear correlation between dramatic and/or dangerous temperature increases, other weather occurrences, and man-made CO2? Probably bullshit. With no correlation, no basis to speculate on cause and effect.

Mann and others may have started with a zeal to publish, enthusiasm at what seemed an exciting discovery, rushing their work, and maybe some incompetence. But as time as gone on, and he and his acolytes have become more stubborn in defending the indefensible, there has been more and more dishonesty.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Obama, electric cars, etc.

Lots of goodies here, from Slate. Obama is giving money to rich people to buy electric cars which are really just expensive toys. These toys will make little or no difference to the production of CO2, and they are an environmental nightmare in their own way. There is already a surplus of batteries for these things, so soon the workers who make them will be laid off--Obama the job-killer. There would be a much bigger and more positive impact on the environment and the economy to impose a tax on gas itself or on gas-guzzlers--but no politician has the guts to do it.

Bizarrely, Obama does an event about the new economy, new kinds of vehicles, etc., and the centerpiece of the event is the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. (h/t the Corner) This seems partly to be almost unbelievably poor staff work--questions once again about "smart" and "competent." When I worked for a minister I thought it was a great idea to draft letters congratulating companies for almost any success in the high-tech field: growth in sales, a successful IPO, an announcement of new technology, or anything. The Minister signed for a while, but eventually he passed back a note which said something like: what if these companies soon fail or get into some kind of trouble? Where will we be then? Always good to be thinking ahead--which I should have been doing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Update on the Gulf Oil Spill

So far, little evidence of damage caused by the Gulf oil spill. The marshes have always been vulnerable, and in fact have been disappearing by the thousands of acres per year for many years, but the spill is not likely to make much difference.

My favourite line: "LSU coastal scientist Eugene Turner has dedicated much of his career to documenting how the oil industry has ravaged Louisiana's coast with canals and pipelines, but he says the BP spill will be a comparative blip; he predicts that the oil will destroy fewer marshes than the airboats deployed to clean up the oil."

This doesn't even mention the fact that there are constant oil seeps at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and some of the wildlife there would die without oil.

Where's the Money?

Is there more money in warning about global warming, or in being a skeptic about it? This is an easy one--there is far more money in being a "warmist."

I think this helps explain why it seems on first and even second glance that the warmists are real experts with Ph.Ds, whereas the skeptics are amateurs. The real experts know which side their bread is buttered on--and they often give support to "green" projects that are environmentally dubious, and profitable mainly because of government subsidies.

h/t Bishop Hill.

Continuing the Debate

I thought about responding to this piece in the Toronto Star, but then I decided against it. Honestly, anyone who simply repeats the warming orthodoxy now is starting to sound delusional.

Here is my response:

These authors do a serious disservice to their readers by attempting to sweep all meaningful questions about climate science under the rug.

Have the authors of the “Climategate” e-mails been exonerated? In a technical sense, yes, but the “studies” involved have been almost unbelievably cursory, not to say careless. There is obviously a great deal of money at stake for governments and universities—and there are reputations and careers at stake for scientists. It is fair to say that the establishment is doing its best to close ranks.

A large part of the e-mails has to do with the use of proxy data to estimate temperature and climate before the era of widespread use of thermometers—in other words, before about 1880. The famous “hockey stick” graph purports to show with great clarity and precision that there was little temperature increase for thousands of years before the 20th century, then a dramatic and steady increase in that century, and then an even more dramatic projected increase is shown. To say the least, many questions have been raised about the methodology behind that graph. Remarkably, its famous authors have made it a policy to refuse to share their work as much as possible. What finally made their efforts more visible was that they were trying to avoid complying with Freedom of Information legislation. The e-mails confirm these efforts; the reports that seem to exonerate the scientists do not come to grips with the issues.

The authors refer to some statements in the latest IPCC report that have already turned out to be mistaken, or may do so soon. Hilariously, most of the examples they give are statements that (they claim) understate the warming threat that is facing us. Setting aside the statement about the exact year that the Himalayas are likely to be ice-free (wrong), is it true in general that the world’s glaciers are all retreating, and in a way that correlates well to the increase in man-made CO2? No. Is it true that both poles are rapidly losing ice? No. Is there solid evidence that sea level is rising at rates beyond what one would expect from a gradual retreat from an ice age? No. Is there solid evidence that the Amazon is so sensitive to drought that 40% of the trees there could be killed by even a moderate decline in precipitation? No; apparently that statement made it into the IPCC report with no backing from the peer-reviewed literature at all. If some of the warming scenarios come true, are humans in general likely to have less access to potable water, or more? There was a peer-reviewed source that said humans with more access would outnumber those with less, but the IPCC chose to report only on those who were predicted to have less. Has there been an increase in either the frequency or severity of extreme weather events? Probably not: the IPCC chose to refer to a second-last draft of a paper saying that 20% of the increased costs of such events result from global warming, rather than the final draft which stated that no effect of global warming can be discerned.

Part of what is refreshing in the “Climategate” e-mails is that the scientists, e-mailing among friends, admit that they know very little about temperature before about one hundred years ago, they do not understand all the significant forces that are at work in shaping climate, and they don’t know whether there was a medieval warming period (at least roughly as warm as the twentieth century—and presumably not because of man-made factors) or not. I for one thought until recently that at least the twentieth century temperature record must be pretty solid, but it turns out there are significant questions even about that. We have been told that it is not a temperature increase of, say, 2 degrees Celsius per century that should concern us, but one of, say, 6 or 7 degrees. There seems to be no solid evidence of any such increase, and in fact the official warming trend seems to have levelled off (barring “warmest ever” records of a few tenths or hundredths of a degree warmer than the previous record), since 1998.

If every specific component of the official theory is at least somewhat questionable or uncertain, then I believe it is logically impossible to say with certainty that the temperature is going up in a way that sane people would worry about, and the increase is man-made. Distinguished researchers should at least acknowledge these issues in their attempts to enlighten the public.

By the way, I am not paid by big oil, and I don’t think I am in any way similar to the tobacco companies fighting off anti-smoking legislation. In any case, big oil and the banks are finding a way to make money from government “green” grants, carbon credits trading, etc.

Kerry Emanuel continues (h/t Bishop Hill) in the same vein as the Star piece-sweeping issues and questions under the rug, suggesting that only skeptics have questionable motives and agendas. He says the warmists such as himself say there is a range of possible outcomes, ranging from innocuous to catastrophic. The so-called skeptics are the narrow-minded ones, suggesting that the only possible outcome is innocuous.

I don't think the IPCC authors are known for saying: maybe the outcome will be innocuous. Distortions, gaps, silences and mistakes are all on the warming side, never on the side of "calm down, this is normal." The ranks of skeptics certainly include people who believe that temperature increase is a problem, and that man-made CO2 contributes to it. I personally think very real events such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Haitian earthquake, the killing frost in Mongolia last winter, and various volcanoes, are much more of a threat than climate change, man-made or not. The climate, of course, does change constantly, and may do so in a surprising way in the next 50 to 100 years. But it doesn't seem likely.

By the way, Antarctic ice is not shrinking. That's why it's not in the news.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


First example: the way Shirley Sherrod was fired. (Yes, Breitbart was wrong to rush the edited video onto the net, and many were wrong to charge Sherrod with racism based on the edited video; I won't get into the question whether whites, as the putative winners, are ever allowed to accuse non-whites, the putative losers, of racism).

But: weren't the Obamacrats supposed to be smart and competent? Via Instapundit.

Second example: the RCMP in Western Canada not only can't find a missing couple; they don't put together the "missing vehicle"--that the RCMP had actually found--with the still missing couple. Via Colby Cosh.

Smart Canadians

More and more I find my heroes are Canadian. Here's Margaret McMillan questioning the whole notion of a world-wide Moslem threat.

While I'm at it: Rick Salutin: Americans are basically comfortable with a huge national-security apparatus, which includes more and more fascist tricks pulled on innocent people. Canadians are not as comfortable with it; we have not reacted in nearly the same way to 9/11.

I differ with Salutin on his suggestion that the majority of Americans are afraid of African-Americans, and want lots of gung ho cops around just in case. Of course the people that Americans seem willing to "leave behind" are disproportionately African-American (although there are some proud Appalachian whites among them as well); so the great debate (including the whole Sherrod episode) has to do with whether there is really racism at work or not.

Friday, July 23, 2010


I've discovered a pretty good living novelist: Hilary Mantel, possibly Irish originally, now living in England.

I haven't found her latest which may be her greatest, but the one I'm reading (Beyond Black) is about a lady who has some degree of real, non-faked communication with dead people. She can't talk to whomever she wants--it's more true that they bug her whenever they feel like it. Most of them are not very nice, but she conceals that from her customers, who typically pay for some kind of reassuring message. As she says, they weren't nice when they were alive, why would they be nicer once they're dead?

Anyway, I had just come to a piece about dogs when our Westie died.

p. 18: "Now Allison fished around in the front rows for somebody who'd lost a pet and found a woman whose terrier, on an impulse three weeks ago, had dashed out of the front door into the traffic. 'Don't you listen,' she told the woman, 'to people who tell you animals have no souls. They go on in spirit, same as we do.' Animals distressed her; not cats but just dogs: their ownerless whimper as they padded through the afterlife on the trail of their masters."
"Let her think it, that dog and master are together now; let her take comfort, since comfort's what she's paid for. Let her assume that Tiddles and his boss are together in the Beyond. Reunion is seldom so simple; and really it's better for dogs--if people could just grasp it--not to have an owner waiting for them, airside. Without a person to search for, they join up in happy packs, and within a year or two you never hear from them individually: there's just a joyful corporate barking, instead of that lost whine, the sore pads, the disconsolate drooping head of the dog following a fading scent."

The action of the novel includes the time of Princess Diana or Lady Diana's death, and there is some hilarious nasty stuff: she was thick, had bad taste in men, did badly in school except for the cup she won for being kind to her guinea pig. A few days after her death she appears to Allison, and she's already forgotten the names of her sons.

My source for books and authors is now the Spectator in London. Thanks to them I'm reading some Beryl Bainbridge. The Bottle Factory Outing: Brenda has a middle-class English upbringing, such that she can never say what she actually thinks or feels. The only time one can say "No" is when one doesn't mean it. You are hungry, but it is polite to say "No thank you" when offered food. Conversely, you must say "yes" if it is offered after you are full. Patrick the Irishman is attracted to you, but starts to realize she could never live with her hypocrisy or dishonesty, and fact concludes that despite her sexual reserve, she has engaged in some heavy petting, or something, with a man she works with. He might have guessed that in this case, once again, she simply couldn't find a polite way to say "No." Oh, and they have to plot together to dispose of a dead body, but even this doesn't bring them together.

Now I'm on to An Awfully Big Adventure: a teenage girl gets into the theatre in Liverpool--mostly behind the scenes, but with a chance at small parts. This may be modelled on Bainbridge herself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Dishonesty of Mainstream Climate Science

As Steve McIntyre regularly reminds us, it is unlikely that any of the famous climate scientists will be proven to have committed outright fraud: making deliberately false statements in order to acquire a benefit such as a grant; saying one state of affairs is true--regarding temperature or whatever--while knowing that a different, equally specific state of affairs is actually true. It is unlikely that they have published things they know to be false, while suppressing things they know to be contradictory and true. They are not hiding proof of global cooling, or even of a global steady state in regard to climate--there has probably never been such a thing.

What they have certainly done is give a misleading impression as to how much certainty is possible in their young science. Their very precise numbers and graphs are misleading, not primarily in comparison to a better set of numbers (although in some cases there probably are some), but in comparison to the genuine uncertainty that remains necessary in any statement of findings.

I keep going back to the e-mails in which leading climate scientists, in communications that they believed would never be public, admit this to each other. See here and here. It has been said on good authority that during the Oxburgh inquiry, Phil Jones said that it was probably impossible to do the 1000-year temperature reconstructions with any accuracy. See the Phil Jones interview in February.

UPDATE: See also John Christy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Peer-reviewed art

Is there a group of experts somewhere who can tell for sure, possibly with new computers, cameras or forensic tools, whether a painting is by a Great Master or other famous painter or not? One might think so, and yet ....

The New Yorker has a great piece by David Grann. One expert has made his name by detecting the finger prints of an artist on a disputed painting, then matching these prints with known finger prints to prove authenticity. The article portrays him very sympathetically for the first half or so--finally, someone willing and able to bring science to a field that has been far too subjective, with people defending their potential dollars rather than the truth. But then the tide of the article turns: the finger print expert may be a con artist.

The massive question emerges: has any real progress been made from the notion that there are some people who can just tell whether a painting is by a particular artist or not?

In the nineteen-thirties, the notorious Dutch forger Han van Meegeren, who produced at least nine fake Vermeers, used a canvas from the seventeenth century that still had its original stretcher. (Like many forgers, Van Meegeren insisted that he was “driven by the psychological effect of disappointment in not being acknowledged by my fellow artists and critics.”)

The reputations of scholars have been ruined after their eye was shown to be fallible. Dr. Abraham Bredius, who in the thirties was considered the greatest authority on the Dutch Old Masters, is now remembered best for having branded a van Meegeren forgery a Vermeer masterpiece.

The public’s distrust of the cloistered art world helps to explain why a forger, or a swindler, is so often perceived as a romantic avenger, his deceptions exposing the deeper fraudulence of the establishment. When Han van Meegeren was tried for his Vermeer forgeries, in 1947, his lawyer insisted, “The art world is reeling, and experts are beginning to doubt the very basis of artistic attribution. This was precisely what the defendant was trying to achieve.” In fact, most art swindlers have no grand intellectual design; rather, they are, as Thomas Hoving once put it, “money-grubbing confidence men, delighted to cobble up something that will get by in the rush for big profits.”

When a forgery is exposed, people in the art world generally have the same reaction: how could anyone have ever been fooled by something so obviously phony, so artless? Few connoisseurs still think that Han van Meegeren’s paintings look at all like Vermeers, or even have any artistic value. Forgers usually succeed not because they are so talented but, rather, because they provide, at a moment in time, exactly what others desperately want to see. Conjurers as much as copyists, they fulfill a wish or a fantasy. And so the inconsistencies—crooked signatures, uncharacteristic brushstrokes—are ignored or explained away.

A who's who of experts can get caught up in a fad, and only a few years later, wonder how anyone could have been so stupid. The con artists hits on a way to tell people what they want to believe. Morally, it may hardly seem to be dishonest when a few words are taken as gospel by gullible fools. Perhaps the con artist is even clever or honest enough to say: There is a lot of uncertainty; my words should not be taken as gospel.

Food for thought.

Boomers as Psycho Coaches

Remember how we were told that once the boomers were in charge, there would be far fewer instances of the arbitrary abuse of authority--especially over children, who after all are presumed to be innocent and creative, capable of producing works comparable to those of Michelangelo if only they are left alone?

Why is it, then, that with the boomers more or less in charge, many children are subjected to the tyranny of screaming, apparently psychotic coaches during organized, regimented sports, constantly supervised by adults?

I suppose it's possible that the boomers are always wrong about everything.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Standard Practice in Academia?

The Penn State investigating committee looking into allegations against Dr. Michael E. Mann (not the Miami Vice guy) concludes: "Michael Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research, or other scholarly activities." h/t WUWT.

Fred Pearce, a long-time environment reporter who believes in the warming theory, says:

The evidence of scientists cutting corners, playing down uncertainties in their calculations and then covering their tracks by being secretive with data and suppressing dissent suggests a systemic problem of scientific sloppiness, collusion and endemic conflicts of interest, but not of outright fraud. (p. 241)

h/t Climate Audit.

Remarkably, these two statements may not be contradictory. Some degree of hiding or suppressing evidence, greatly over-stating the credibility of headline-making statements, distortion, selective reading etc. may be accepted in academia as the means that are necessary to climb the greasy pole. You say you are bringing certainty to a field that has been full of uncertainty. Even better, you are questioning if not overturning the certainties of the past. As long as there is a kind of plausibility to your work (see McArdle: "not obviously false"), you are golden.

Even if someone cares to (and the big wigs at Penn State certainly don't), it is difficult to prove outright fraud. Mann knew for sure that a statement he made was false? That some other, contrary statement was true? Did he know that uncertainty was still the truth when it came to climate science, and all the interesting theories were hardly more than speculation? It is more likely, at least much of the time, that he honestly thought his bullshit was no worse than most, and better than some. Once their models seemed to work for some historical eras, the climate scientists kidded themselves that they would work for all. Once they had comitted themselves to this view, and received huge funding and attention for it, reputations and careers depended on continuing to defend it.

Steve McIntyre has said repeatedly that this has been a sobering lesson to him. In mining engineering, you either have the evidence or you don't. You either demonstrate it or you don't.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Peer Review is No Panacea

Thanks, Megan McArdle (and congratulations on your recent marriage).

This is not to say that the peer review system is worthless. But it's limited. Peer review doesn't prove that a paper is right; it doesn't even prove that the paper is any good (and it may serve as a gatekeeper that shuts out good, correct papers that don't sit well with the field's current establishment for one reason or another). All it proves is that the paper has passed the most basic hurdles required to get published--that it be potentially interesting, and not obviously false. This may commend it to our attention--but not to our instant belief.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Peer" "Reviewed" "Science"

The controversy about the CRU e-mails, the terrily misleading IPCC Report AR-4, etc., has at least had the benefit of flushing out some climate scientists, and causing them to make direct statements that can be checked.

One of them, Dr. Simon Lewis, has succeeded in getting a correction/retraction from the Sunday Times for the way "Amazongate" was covered, and especially the way he was quoted. He was probably entitled to get his own remarks corrected, and the Times was right to make the correction. Unfortunately, the Times also said:

The article "UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim" (News, Jan 31) stated that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had included an "unsubstantiated claim" that up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall.
... In fact, the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

Richard North comments: "the paper has chosen to go far beyond [what was] needed, and conceded that "the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." This simply is not true."

The IPCC AR4 Report says: "up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation", and the only support given for this statement is a non-peer-reviewed paper published by the WWF.

Lewis is obviously gloating--he's received a lot of favourable media as one of those noble scientists, oppressed by nasty skeptics. So then he goes too far. While admitting that the Times reporter actually read the proposed text for publication over the phone, and got Lewis's approval, Lewis says the final text was significantly different from what was read to him. This is not true.

Then there is Daniel Nepstad. The WWF source was not peer-reviewed, but it in turn cited at least one source that was indeed peer-reviewed--but that source does not support the 40% figure. This is actually kind of hilarious. Dr. Nepstad has done work showing that if a forest suffers significant drought (not just a "slight reduction in precipitation"), followed by massive fires, the forest can be greatly reduced. Not by drought per se, and not by a slight reduction in precipitation. Nepstad now steps forward to defend Lewis and the whole IPCC regime, saying there is a peer-reviewed source somewhere that actually supports the 40% figure as written. No one can find any such source, even when he tries to put the pea under a thimble by naming a source that is now available only in Portuguese. (See also Bishop Hill). So now he says:

"North's comment reveals an important misinterpretation of the IPCC statement. He seems to be saying that IPCC is referring to droughts similar to those that have already taken place in the Amazon region. This is not true. The IPCC statement refers to reductions in precipitation BEYOND the historical pattern."

So it is not, as one might think, that any old "slight decrease in precipitation" can cause a massive die-off of the extremely tough and resilient Amazon rain forest; rather, if there is a long period of drought such as the one culminating in the year 2005, then even a small addition to this drought might (based on no historical experience or evidence) cause a massive die-off.

Dr. Nepstad is being dishonest in several different ways. This is the best they can do?

And it is of some importance to note: the original Times story was accurate: the only citation used by the IPCC was to a non-peer-reviewed source, and to this day no one has come up with a peer-reviewed source that supports the IPCC statement. This bears on one of the most high-profile aspects of the climate debate "the Amazon rain forest, lungs of the world, etc.," and is contrary to repeated claims that the IPCC refers only to peer-reviewed publications.

UPDATE July 4: Remarkably, Richard North has actually found the "published" source of the statement that "Probably 30 to 40% of the forests of the Brazilian Amazon are sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall." A variation of this statement--naturally, mentioning only the 40% figure--made it into IPCC AR 4, which is supposedly based entirely on peer-reviewed scientific literature. The source in this case? A web page, taken down some years ago, by an advocacy organization.

No one can really blame an advocacy group for pulling something like that out of their asses. Their only real job is to advocate for a narrow point of view, answering to (probably) a board of directors, financial donors, to a much lesser extent the public. Even the WWF picking up on it is understandable--although the WWF keeps claiming they do much higher quality work than this--or will begin to do so someday soon. For the IPCC to simply report the bullshit, with no real checking, and absolutely no trace of a peer-reviewed scientific source for the statement, is a disgrace. Nepstad kept blathering that there was such a source, but he couldn't produce it. He probably couldn't remember or figure out where the website was. North, an "amateur," a "skeptic," has figured it all out.