Friday, December 18, 2009

From the Humanist - Uncertainty in Science: It’s a Feature, Not a Bug

Here's a great article from The Humanist - a magazine of critical inquiry and social concern about why climate change deniers have such an easy time doing their dirty work. As I've noted time and again (and again, and again), those who seek to deny the existence of, and impacts from Anthropogenic Global Warming are not actually debating from a scientific perspective. They're doing it from an emotional and political perspective, which is why we have such a hard time as scientists defeating them.

H/T to Mike for the Humanist link
Posted using ShareThis

IN the comments section, jg notes:

As seen in spectator sports, there are a lot of people who want to be on a winning side and pick accordingly. For them, choosing the other side it too scary.

He, or rather he, interpreting his wife, is spot on. That so many in the scientific community fail to see this fundamental truth is why they deal with deniers so poorly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The REAL danger of Sexting - and it's not naked pictures

You need to read this, especially if you have teen age daughters, as I do.

Why are they doing that, those good girls? Why are they killing themselves? Parents, teachers, administrators, pastors, bullies, slut-shamers, fools, woman-haters, hypocrites, tell me why YOU think they are killing themselves. Do you know? Do you know why Hope Witsell hanged herself? Do you know why she thought she had no future?

It wasn’t because she made a momentary, impulsive expression of her barely-adolescent sexuality (or gave in to peer pressure from boys who felt that her body was public domain; if the latter, that is just another horrible thing to add to this horrible thing, but either way it was not because she took a picture of her boobs). It wasn’t because of a media-manufactured techno-trend. It wasn’t the internet. It was not that, as this putrid “news” article disgustingly asserts, “The downward spiral of Hope’s life was unstoppable.”

If everyone I know who had a picture of their boobs on the internet before their 18th birthday killed themselves, I’d have a lot of dead friends. I wouldn’t be around to remember them, though, since I’d be dead too.

It wasn’t SEXTING.

It was you, adults, all the adults in her life. The high school assholes too, but they’re in high school. You’re adults. She was thirteen years old and she was driven to her grave for nothing and there was nothing inevitable about this. And you should understand that.

You should go to her grave as a penitent every day of your lives, all of you, like Leontes and Claudio, and make of yourselves a lesson for others. This is the real world, so you won’t get the kind of results that Leontes and Claudio did. She’s never coming back.

You should just do it because it’s the right thing to do. Because it is, honestly, the least you can do. Because she wasn’t killed by this year’s sexy scary cyber-youth-trend. You could have saved her if you hadn’t ALL been so busy reinforcing values that are killing our daughters.

Stop killing our daughters. Stop killing our daughters. Stop killing our daughters. Stop killing our daughters. Stop killing our daughters.


H/T Stephanie Z at Almost Diamonds.

The bailouts and healthcare reform - one quote says it all

While ruminating on what the loss of the public option means to so-called "healthcare reform," and trying to draw useful links and lessons to the payback of TARP funds (apparently hastened by huge additional tax breaks); I read this in a comment at The Intersection. Marion's comment was in a post about the death of science journalism, but it rings true for so many things these days:

Markets don’t give you what you want OR need – they trade whatever you can scrape up by way of labor or money for what, crudely expressed, the owners of resources and physical plant and the providers of finance and credit want to offer, and you then try to cobble together what you want and need from the menu you’re given.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The latest Refutation of Climate Crisis Deniers - Finally the WaPo gets it right.

On 9 December, the Washington Post published yet another in a string of climate crisis denying editorials, this one by Sarah Palin. It follows on the heels of the many lies and half-truths cooked up by George Will to try and derail sensible policy changes to confront a slow rolling, but all too real set of changes in the Earth's climate system.

Well today, a mere 24 hours later, and without any serious campaign by scientists, the media, or grade school kids, the WaPo publishes the rebuttal. Alan Lesher, who is the publisher for the prestigious journal Science, writes this:

Climate-change science is clear: The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide -- derived mostly from the human activities of fossil-fuel burning and deforestation -- stands at 389 parts per million (ppm). We know from studying ancient Antarctic ice cores that this concentration is higher than it has been for at least the past 650,000 years. Exhaustive measurements tell us that atmospheric carbon dioxide is rising by 2 ppm every year and that the global temperature has increased by about 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. Multiple lines of other evidence, including reliable thermometer readings since the 1880s, reveal a clear warming trend. The broader impacts of climate change range from rapidly melting glaciers and rising sea levels to shifts in species ranges.

Pretty clear stuff. I'm sure some deniers will try to spin this, but it is tough to do when you add in this:

None of these tactics changes the clear consensus of a vast majority of scientists, who agree that the Earth is warming as greenhouse gas levels rise. The public and policymakers should not be confused by a few private e-mails that are being selectively publicized and, in any case, remain irrelevant to the broad body of diverse evidence on climate change. Selected language in the messages has been interpreted by some to suggest unethical actions such as data manipulation or suppression. To be sure, investigations are appropriate whenever questions are raised regarding the transparency and rigor of the scientific process or the integrity of individual scientists. We applaud that the responsible authorities are conducting those investigations. But it is wrong to suggest that apparently stolen emails, deployed on the eve of the Copenhagen climate summit, somehow refute a century of evidence based on thousands of studies.

Already I can hear the groans - release the data. Scientists already did. Don't be fooled - this is just a conspiracy to take away your rights - as if that hasn't been done under other rubrics already (such as security from terrorists). The bottom line is that, while the nature of the impacts and their duration is still a subject ripe for study - the fact that impacts are already occurring is not open for debate. No should we waste time laying blame, or looking the other way. The time is now for the U.S. to summon her collective national will and tackle this problem head on. We need more innovation in green energy, not less. We need to hold the patents on Carbon Capture technology, not the Chinese. We need to lead, not just spout platitudes. Otherwise, our children and grandchildren will richly deserve the chance to heap scorn on us for our lazy, self-centered response to clear and present danger.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Making Detainee Policy Behind our Backs - How the Senate burried a controversial directive to the President on Guantanimo Bay

Most of you probably don't read press releases from the Senate Appropriations Committee. I do, and this one, on the Fiscal Year 2010 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriation is a humdinger.

Why? Well on the last page, the Senate and House Conferees have added language as a rider to the bill that restrains the President in how he can close the prison at Guantanimo Bay:

Guantanamo Detainees: Language is included that 1) Prohibits current detainees from being released into the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, D.C., or any U.S. territory; 2) Prohibits current detainees from being transferred to the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, D.C., or any U.S. territory, except to be prosecuted and only 45 days after Congress receives a plan detailing: risks involved and a plan for mitigating such risk; cost of the transfer; legal rationale and court demands; and a copy of the notification provided to the Governor of the receiving State 14 days before a transfer with a certification by the Attorney General that the individual poses little or no security risk; 3) Current detainees cannot be transferred or released to another country (including freely associated states) unless the President submits to Congress 15 days prior to such transfer: the name of the individual and the country the individual will be transferred to; an assessment of risks posed and actions taken to mitigate such risks; and the terms of the transfer agreement with the other country, including any financial assistance; 4) Requires the President to submit a report to Congress describing the disposition of each current detainee before the facility can be closed.

So, in essence, the House and Senate, while deciding how to fund some fairly important agencies in the federal government have also decided to drag out a process that is already too long in the making, and which represents a real threat to the U.S. because Guantanimo is known to be used as a terrorist recruiting tool. And all done as a rider on an Appropriations Bill which doesn't even fund Guantanimo activities.

Is this common? yes, Congress authorizes in appropriations bills all the time, and vice versa. Is it good policy? No, because by adding this direction as a rider to an appropriations bill, the Conferees have made sure it sees little debate, evades most media scrutiny, and will likely be signed by the President, no matter how much it hamstrings him.

Change We Can Believe In? I think not.

President Obama signed this Appropriations Bill into law on 17 December 2009, so these restrictions are now binding on the Executive Branch. One has to wonder if this language has anything to do with today's announcement that 6 Yemini detainees are being repatriated from Guantanimo.

Blogs to read daily - my top 6 sources of information

The lovely red-headed wife once asked me how I manage to keep up with all the blogs, and my own blogging, without getting sucked into wasted hours on a daily basis. She has, as she freely admits, a highly addictive personality, and so she resists blogs primarily to keep this from happening to her.

My answer is really quite simple – while there are about two dozen blogs I monitor regularly, I only read six blogs daily. See, my ritual is to listen to NPR’s Morning Edition on the Metro in to work each morning, scan the on-line Washington Post while reading my morning email and having the first cup of coffee, and then take 20 minutes or so to read these authors:

Glenn Greenwald

Mike at the Big Stick

Ames at Submitted to a Candid World (where I often run into Mike as well)

Simon and James at the Baseline Scenario

Sheril and Chris at The Intersection

And secularist 10 at 100 Treatises

Granted, some of them update their blogs several times a day, but I find a good morning read is about all I need from the six sources (and the WaPo and NPR) to get a pretty good handle on the issues of the day. I may not always agree with them – I think there are days Mike would rather throttle me then dialogue with me – but all are immanently accessible, and all will provide you a great insight that can help you sort the B.S. flying around in the blog-o-sphere.

Now, of the others I read less frequently,

Stephanie Z at Almost Diamonds

Is ALWAYS worth my time as well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Climategate & the CRU Hack - Where's the data?

Turns out (much to the consternation of climate crisis deniers) that the data is here. Hard to say anyone is hiding anything when its all out in the open.

And while we are at it, the folks at RealClimate provide us a vivid example of how bad science is fueling the deniers side of the argument. I'd like to know if all of those roaming the internet, calling for "honest" study are going to call these guys out as well - thouhg i suspect I know the answer.


Check out this post by my colleague jg - his whole series looks like great reading, and it illustrates how most deniers are just a few short steps removed from reality simply because they won't read two magazines.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Afghanistan policy debate - time to come home

From the shadows of history, the inestimable Bill Moyers brings the ghost of LBJ - and the real lesson of Vietnam - to the forefront of America's debate on Afgahnistan. Moyers - aside from being an excellent journalist - was at LBJ's side for much of this, so he has the moral authority from which to speak on this issue. Sadly, as the equally compelling Glenn Greenwald often points out, the Washington establishment still isn't really learning these lessons.

Read Moyer's closing paragraphs below, and then ask yourselves this question - what do we really gain by staying in Afghanistan?

Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we're fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone. Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us.

Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent. And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he's got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.

The Climate Crisis in Pictures - bury your Propaganda!

If you are an oil company tyring to fight claims that you are contributing to the global climate crisis, make sure your propaganda from the 1960's is well hidden. Otherwise, please go sit quietly in the corner and take a time out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Katrina Chronicles - Laying Blame

There are three things you should be hearing about in the wakes of a federal judge’s ruling that much of the devastation of Katrina is the fault of the Army Corps of Engineers. First, you should know that the Corps, for all its earth moving might, is not generally well funded for maintenance of its projects after they are completed. That’s why in almost all cases the projects are turned over to local boards, state commissions, and county public works enterprises. It’s also why a series of dam problems in the Pacific NW had to get to emergency status before they were dealt with. Even the facilities the Corps runs itself – like locks on the Mississippi River – have to steal money from projects elsewhere in the Corps to stay in good working order.

Second, you should be hearing, as we did right after Katrina, about how much (or how little) Congress involved itself in the decisions of the Corps around New Orleans. You see, the Corps budget is the most Congressionally – messed with of any federal executive agency. More useless projects get built nationally because Congress wants to send a few million dollars to members’ districts, then because the Corps is convinced that the specific project is a good idea. Sadly, both the Press and the Courts take a routine pass at this one.

Third, you should be hearing about how marsh restoration (including the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet - MRGO; the subject of the court decision) is vital to protecting New Orleans from this point on. In a state that looses 25 to 45 square miles a year of coast (mostly to a combination of erosion, loss of Mississippi River sediment, and subsidence), no coastal levee system can provide sustained protection that can match a healthy and vibrant salt marsh. Coastal engineers have known this for decades, but we still prefer to build sea walls, levees, groins and jetties instead of planting marsh grass and filling abandoned oil field pipe canals.

You should be hearing about all these things, but I guarantee you won’t. That’s because it’s easy for the media, the plaintiffs, and the courts to fix their sights on the big, bad Corps. The problem is, by ignoring all these other forces, we as a society also get to ignore our responsibility to the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. And that should shame us all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Climate Crisis getting more dire - the MSM finally starts to get it.

From Joe Romm comes word that Time Magazine has finally recognnized that the global climate crisis isn't getting better. Go read his short piece, and then the Time piece. Then go write your Congressman.

Instead, in Copenhagen, diplomats will aim to reach a less aggressive — and much less specific — "politically binding" agreement, with the hope that hard numbers and legal obligations to reduce climate change would be added soon, in a two-step approach. "There was an assessment by the leaders that it was unrealistic to expect a full internationally legally binding agreement to be negotiated between now and when Copenhagen starts in 22 days," said Mike Froman, Obama's deputy national security adviser.

The news comes as little surprise to climate change experts, who have watched as the ultimate goal of the Copenhagen summit has been steadily scaled back to meet political realities. A year ago, the expectation was for diplomats in Copenhagen to negotiate — and sign — a true global successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Today, the best the world can hope for are more words about the importance of fighting climate change.

The reason is simple: the deadlock between developed nations and developing ones. Developing nations refuse most responsibility for climate change, arguing that warming is primarily the fault of rich industrialized countries, and want the developed world to take on strict short-term emissions reduction targets. Developed nations, led by the U.S., argue that fast-growing developing nations like China and India will emit the vast majority of future carbon emissions, and that any deal that exempts them from action — as the Kyoto Protocol did — is a farce. Despite months of negotiations in Barcelona, Bangkok and other world cities, that gap remains vast.

Currently reading (And nearly finished)

I'll probably post a review this weekend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Katelin Doctor - RIP and God Bless

UPDATE (3/3/2010): my duaghter brought it to my attention that I did not have all my facts straight, and that meant she felt even more sad, as well as upset that I didn't have it right. I am more then happy to correct the facts, since they are important.

Last Tuesday, the communities of Silver Creek and Angola, New York lost a bright and shining light - and a future leader. Katelin Doctor, a sixth gradeer at Silver Creek Middle School, died unexpectedly after a short illness. You can read the obit here.

I bring this to you attention because Katie D was my 11 year old daughter's best friend. They have been inseperable for most of the last two and a half years, and for the longest time she was part of a really close group of 6 friends. I don't remember a school story that my daughter told in that time that didn't include Katie. Katie D hosted my daughter at her first sleep over.

As you might imagine, this has hit my little Sweet Pea pretty hard. She was at the funeral this AM, and I can't even begin to imagine what she must have felt. I wanted to throw my arms around her and make it all right, but I can't. No father can. And no little girls should ever have to face this.

So to Katie - you may be gone from this earth, but you will live on in our hearts and minds for the rest of our lifetime. Thanks for being so close to Sweet Pea. Thanks for welcoming her into your life, sharing her secrets, making her laugh, and being a part of her life. She misses you, and therefore I miss you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Too Big To Fail meets Too Much Common Sense

Over at the Baseline Scenario, they have published the text of a bill by Senator Sanders of Vermont to break up the "Too Big to Fail" financial institutions. It's well worth the time to link over and read - short, sweet, and to the point. Wish all federal legistation were thus. Once you read it, use the imbedded link to go to Senator Sanders' website and sign his petition. Then email your Senators and tell them to support the bill.

This AM I sent the follow email to each mof my Senators, and my Congressman. Fell free to crib the text for your own use, changing the names as appropriate:

Senator ________,

As you may be aware, Senator Sanders of Vermont has introduced a bill that would direct Treasury to break up the "too big to fail" banks and financial institutions that continue to imperil our financial sector. The Bill reads:

To address the concept of ‘‘Too Big To Fail’’ with respect to certain financial entities.
1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of representa-
2 tives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

4 This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Too Big to Fail, Too
5 Big to Exist Act’’.6
8 Notwithstanding any other provision of law, not later
9 than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the
10 Secretary of the Treasury shall submit to Congress a list

1 of all commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds,
2 and insurance companies that the Secretary believes are
3 too big to fail (in this Act referred to as the ‘‘Too Big
4 to Fail List’’).
6 Notwithstanding any other provision of law, begin-
7 ning 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the
8 Secretary of the Treasury shall break up entities included
9 on the Too Big To Fail List, so that their failure would
10 no longer cause a catastrophic effect on the United States
11 or global economy without a taxpayer bailout.
13 For purposes of this Act, the term ‘‘Too Big to Fail’’
14 means any entity that has grown so large that its failure
15 would have a catastrophic effect on the stability of either
16 the financial system or the United States economy without
17 substantial Government assistance.

Introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. That’s the entire bill.

I urge you, in the strongest terms, to support this bill. No company, no private interest, has the right to grow so big as hold our economy hostage. No company has the right to take private risks with its money, and expect public bailouts when those risks fail. You have the obligation, as a U.S. Senator, to help us, your constituents, combat those companies. Please co-sponsor this bill, and work with your Senate and House Colleagues to make this important change in our national financial system.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday's Question - What Recovery are you talking about?

Yesterday my federal colleagues released the monthly unemployment numbers for October 2009. Officially, the Nation now has 10.2% of its workforce unemployed. That means that 15.7 million people are now unable to work, whether they want to or not because there are no jobs for them to work at.

Yet, the economists and talking heads tell us, we should be HAPPY! Why? Because the rate at which we lost jobs in October was less the September! We shed jobs more slowly. Surely you know that this is a sign of recovery!

Um yeah, not so much. Americans are funny people - once they have lost a job, they don't see economic recovery until they have that job back. Period. So no, we're not rejoicing since the total - that 10.2% - is still climbing.

So, if you are in economics, or business, please consider this. The rate of loss means nothing outside of certain academic circles. The totals matter. And the more people loose jobs, the longer the recession will go on, no matter what the Stock Market does.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Words of Wisdom from a dead guy - George Carlin

I frankly don't give a f&%$ how it all tunrs out in this country - or anywhere else for that matter. I htink the human game was up a long time ago (When the high priests and traders took over), and now we're just playing out the string. And that is, of course, precisely what I find so amusing: the slow circling of the drain by a once promising species, and the sappy, ever-more-desparate belief in this country that there is actually some sort of "American Dream" which has been merely misplaced.

Have a great Friday - and ask yourself this: How did Mr. Carlin see the world that he got this so right?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

GLUT turns 40!

Breaking down the semi-anonymous nature of this blog just a tad, I want to publicly acknowledge a birthday in my community - The Glut Co-Op is turning 40! As the WaPo story notes, this is an eclectic place - and i love shopping there. We get much higher quality produce and dry bulk goods then at the supermarket, and the prices is great. They also have a bulk spice wall that has to be seen to be believed. And then there's the cheese cooler . . .

My point is that we're fortunate to have such a great food source right down the street. Here's hoping they have another 40 years, and that many more communities get to experience this sort of shopping one day soon.

The Great White (Pacific) Shark - Savage of the . . . buffet line?

Today’s Washington Post on-line edition contains one article worth reading – Juliet Eilperin piece on Pacific (Great) white sharks. Eilperin’s article is a summation of the longer scientific piece published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B(iological Science) that looks at a decade of acoustic tagging and tracking of Pacific White sharks. And for us marine science types, it’s really cool.

First, though, a word about names – white sharks are technically named for the basin in which they occur, not a “Great.” In fact, all white sharks world-wide share the same scientific name (Carcharodon carcharias), and then scientists generally add the basin to the name. Thus the article refers to Pacific white sharks, to denote those members of this species found in the Pacific Ocean.

Second, the researchers who published the Royal Society article have made a major break through in the understanding of white shark behavior. It seems, again based on a decade’s worth of tagging, tracking, and genetic analysis, that white sharks spend the majority of each year cruising the west coast of the continental U.S. From a biological perspective, its easy to understand why – that coast is a veritable predator’s buffet of fatty seals and sea lions (and salmon) which can help feed a hunger shark well for a long time.

It also seems that the sharks swim en masse out to Hawaii every year, both for mating purposes (!) and for additional feeding. That later part actually comports with several scientific studies on endangered Hawaiian monk seals – who face a threat from general shark predation on pups that may be limiting recovery of the seal population.

Now, the most fascinating part of the use of these locations is that individual sharks have tremendous site fidelity – meaning they come back to the same places year in and year out. Salmon exhibit similar behavior in returning to their birth streams to spawn, and all species of sea turtles exhibit site fidelity when choosing beaches on which to lay their eggs. So in the marine animal world, this isn’t new.

What these finding do suggest, however, is that white sharks probably learn what the ecology of their “territory” is, and that when humans alter that ecology we run the risk of increasing our interactions with white sharks (including infamous shark bite episodes). The research also suggests that white shark presence and site fidelity might just be good indicators of ecosystem health, because one can assume that an adult white shark will alter its migratory and feeding behavior if food sources change.

The bottom line, then, is that white sharks are for more fascinating then even shark biologists previously thought. They like having a ready “buffet” to cruise just as much as we humans do, and we might be able to harness them (or at least their presence) to help define and understand large swaths of our coastal ecology.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Geoengineering - an idea whose time has NOT come.

Over at ClimateWire yesterday (subscription required), there was a story about the “new” controversy that’s brewing in climate crisis response. It seems there’s now open debate in the climate science community about whether geoengineering – active manipulation by humans of the Earth’s many systems – should be on the table as part of our climate crisis toolkit.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Some geoengineering schemes to fight climate change would probably succeed in cooling the planet, scientists said here Friday -- but whether we should ever deploy them is still an open question.

Researchers who gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology outlined a stark list of potential side effects of different climate engineering approaches, including further depleting the ozone layer, inducing drought and turning the blue sky white.

At the same time, many experts said geoengineering could be a planetary "Plan B," an option to exercise if cutting greenhouse gas emissions can't stave off dangerous climate change. "Even if we cut emissions, we have a lot of carbon dioxide already in the air," said David Keith of the University of Calgary. "We don't know exactly how bad the climate response will be, and we have to think clearly about how we manage the risk posed by CO2 already in the air."

Here’s where the scientists begin to loose the framing battle. By explicitly acknowledging the uncertainty around whether emissions reductions alone will have an effect on the warming trend that is occurring, Dr. Keith (following good scientific practice though he is) has opened the door to denialists. “Wait,” they will now scream “if all this carbon is still going to be left in the air, and you’re right (snicker) about carbon causing global warming, won’t the remainder still do that? If it will, why cut emissions (i.e. change our lifestyle) – it won’t do any good.”

The following three paragraphs don’t make it any better in the framing war:

An ongoing MIT research project into the risks posed by different levels of greenhouse gas emissions suggests that even steep cuts won't guarantee the world will stay under the 2-degree-Celsius climate guardrail espoused by many political leaders.

Stabilizing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the equivalent of 550 parts per million of CO2 -- a goal that's "not easy," according to MIT Energy Initiative director Ron Prinn -- would give the world just a 25 percent chance of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees between 1990 and 2090.

"Even with a very tough and expensive target, we are still at risk," Prinn said. "Hence, I think it's legitimate to begin thinking about geoengineering as something that should be on the table."

Much of the rest of the article from that point talks about the two main types of geoengineering being debated – those approaches that eat more carbon (like ocean fertilization), and those that reflect more sunlight back into space (like painting roofs white, or seeding the atmosphere with sulfates). Sure, it would be nice to have tools like this IF emissions reductions fail, but . .

'Precious little' science has been done

"The thing that's always frustrated me," said Philip Boyd, a professor of ocean biochemistry at the University of Otago in New Zealand, is that geoengineering "has great press coverage. It has that science fiction component that makes good copy. But there's been precious little or no science done."

David Keith, the University of Calgary scientist, agreed. "The actual number of real, serious science done on this topic is pitifully small," he said.

And that’s a huge part of the problem where both the efficacy of the techniques are concerned, and for how science frames this issue in talking to the general public. Because geoengineering as a word appeals to humans apparently innate desire to control nature, these approaches seem to get disproportionate media coverage. Far easier, so the story goes, to “geoengineer” our way out of the crisis, then to change our habits that lead to the crisis in the first place. That’s been the stuff of climate crisis denial for years now, and will continue to be so as long as scientists refuse to make “normative” statements about the impacts of all these decisions.

Yet, there is hope for my fellow science travelers :

Boyd said he's about to publish a study that predicts many geoengineering proposals would increase the potential for conflict, in part because documenting their effectiveness and assigning blame if things go wrong would be difficult tasks. He and others also noted that some climate engineering options, like delivering sulfate particles to the stratosphere, appear cheap enough that a large corporation or an individual country could deploy them without any international input. "The fact that it's cheap automatically means the policy challenge is control," said Keith, the University of Calgary professor. "The challenge is to control early actors."

But in the end, if more conventional efforts to blunt climate change don't succeed, whether to proceed with geoengineering may become an easier question to answer. "The most dangerous approach," said Keith, "is to assume geoengineering will work if we need it to -- without doing the research to prove it."

Dr. Keith is, of course, correct from a scientific standpoint. And, he and his colleagues do a better job then most of highlighting explicitly the threats from geoengineering as an approach to dealing with this self-inflicted wound. Yet they don’t go far enough, in my view. They avoid discussions of how, in essence, the climate crisis is the result of generations of unintentional, undirected geoengineering. They miss (perhaps because they are unaware) the fact that climate crisis induced ecological effects are already upon us. And they couch it all in the emotion-less, cautionary language of science. And by doing so, they give deniers one more chance to drive a wedge between the good that science can bring to this issue, and the reality that we’re all living today – namely that Americans want more then anything for this slow bleed out to be someone else’s’ fault.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaBloPoMo 2009

That's Right, you heard it here - I'm participating! The question is - Are you?

Hard Work and Just Rewards: The baseline Scenario's take.

The first is that you shouldn’t look down on other people (1) because their
parents weren’t as rich as yours, or (2) because they aren’t as smart as you, or
even (3) because they don’t work as hard as you. I think most people agree with
(1); I think you should agree with (2) and (3), too.

The second is that the moral argument should be on the side of
redistribution. I am willing to listen to utilitarian arguments against
redistribution (e.g., high marginal tax rates reduce the incentive to work, blah
blah blah blah blah); I may not agree with them, but they are a plausible
position. However, I have little patience for the idea that rich people deserve
what they have because they worked for it. It’s just a question of how far back
you are willing to acknowledge that chance enters the equation. If you are
willing to acknowledge that chance determines who you are to begin with, then it
becomes obvious (to me at least) that public policy cannot simply seek to level
the playing field, because that will just endorse a system that produces good
outcomes for the lucky (the smart and hard-working) and bad outcomes for the
unlucky. Instead, fairness dictates that policy should attempt to improve
outcomes for the unlucky, even if that requires hurting outcomes for the lucky.
But given that society is controlled by the lucky, I’m not holding my

By James Kwak

Now, This is economic justice I can get behind. Go here to read the rest.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What’s so wrong with Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize?

On October 9th, 2009, the Norwegian-led Nobel Peace Prize selection committee picked U.S. President Barack Obama to receive its highest honor. They awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize, from a field of 205 nominees. According to the Washington Post’s online edition, the Committee chose Mr. Obama because “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.”

Judging by the reaction in the press and punditry, the sense is that Mr. Obama’s selection was, at best, premature, and at worst some kind of insult to both Nobel Laureates and the three former U.S. President’s who have won the prize. After all, President Carter had to wait 22 years after he left office to be rewarded for his significant achievements in Mid East peace.

We all want to be rewarded for hard work, and like it or not the jury is still out as to how much Mr. Obama will accomplish. Given that he has occupied the White House for a less then 300 days, this selection does appear hasty (to say the least).

Still, Mr. Obama has done a few things that break from precedent. He has embraced Muslims on the world stage in a way that no American President in recent memory has – Mr. Carter being the notable exception. Mr. Obama has also rolled back many of the worst policies from the 2008 Bush Administration, while flatly refusing the take up any of the policies of the 2002-2003 Bush Administration (like torture). And in Afghanistan, he is taking the time to hear as many views as he can – which in itself represents a significant break with “business as usual” in Washington.

Beginning now, press accounts of Mr. Obama’s future success (I hope there will be many) will start with “President and Nobel Laureate Barack Obama . . .” and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Certainly, the Nobel Committee has laid down an accolade, but they’ve also laid down a gauntlet. Let’s hope that this carrot will lead Mr. Obama to fulfillment of all of his promises to America, not just the politically expedient ones.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Science you can use - Scientia Pro Publica #14

For all of you interested in science (and how can you not be?), Scientia Pro Publica is now up. This 14th edition of the wide ranging blog carnival on everything science goes from Climate Change to Astrophysics. I am honored to have been included in the Science and Society Section.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Healthcare Reform - The People Speak, but no one is listening

While I don’t like to get too steeped in analyzing polling data, these recent questions from CBS News on the healthcare debate fascinate me. I'm especially drawn to this one:

"Which of the following three statements comes closest to expressing your overall view of the health care system in the United States? (1) On the whole, the health care system works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better. OR, (2) There are some good things in our health care system, but fundamental changes are needed. OR, (3) Our health care system has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it."

While the chart shows the most recent data closest to the Y or vertical axis, as opposed to farther away, its clear that for nearly all of 2009, 48 or more percent of Americans want Fundamental Change in our system, and over 50% have wanted it since the end of August, when the debate began to heat up again. So for the Senate to say that there is no groundswell of support for a fundamental overhaul of the nations healthcare system is to IGNORE the will of the majority of Americans. When you add in those who think the healthcare system needs Complete Rebuilding, you get:

Now call me nuts, but to get to those numbers you need Republicans, Democrats and Independents. And if consistently more then 70% of your citizens say you need to make either Fundamental Changes or Completely Rebuild, and you don’t, then what kind of leader are you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The failures of Democratic "Leadership" In America

George Carlin was, like all truly genius comics, an astute observer of humanity. He was particularly good at observing Americans, and the fact that we will never again see a live performance of “The Five Things You Can’t Say on TV” is sad (though we can now say most of those things).

Carlin’s irreverent take on our society came to my mind as I was standing in the Buffalo airport last night, waiting to board a flight to Baltimore after dropping off my older daughters with their mother. There, on CNN, were yet another set of talking heads, rambling on about how the latest polling shows that Democrats are sagging in terms of respect for their “leadership.” While I couldn’t actually hear the words over our boarding announcement, I think they were discussing this poll, which shows that between 53% and 54% of Americans disapprove of how Democrats are "leading" in Congress.

Now I’m sure the very bright talking heads on CNN had good things to say about why, nine months into the Obama Presidency, Democrats are “falling” so fast. And I’m sure, sometime today, we’ll see something that will make them look . . . less bad . . . for a few minutes. The reality, however, for the Progressives and Liberals who banded together to create this ruling coalition, is that we’re back to losing the war, and losing it very quickly.

See, the Democrats have run squarely AWAY from the best traditions of true liberal politics, and into the sickening embrace of the oligarchs who currently fund today's political activities. Democratic national leaders (and their sycophantic talking head media “spokespeople”) have left behind the true caring for the less fortunate that motivated Johnson’s Great Society. Democratic “leaders” have run away from the prophetic wisdom of Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement, embracing instead what Professor Cornell West rightly dubs an imperial nihilism that seeks dominion and money over true Democracy and real freedom (both personal and economic as well as democratic). In short, Democrats have abandoned the long list of their accomplishments – all of which came from the best liberal traditions and all of which stood once in stark contrast to the conservative ideals supposedly championed by Republicans (but from whihc they are also running in search of mammon).

And so the poll numbers show it. Americans may well be dissatisfied with how the healthcare debate is going, and with the fact that we as a nation tortured people under the color of our national “security,” but I would argue that the dissatisfaction runs deeper. As a nation, we’ve bought into the dream that our Democracy will be, and once was, a debate between two opposing sides where policy flowed from the side that made the best, most realistic, case – but also tugged at our souls.

Professor West, in his seminal work Democracy Matters calls us to attend to this malaise, which he posits derives from the twin challenges of that imperial nihilism, and the distractions that are heaped on us to ensure that we, the People, do not notice how badly we’re being screwed by our own politicians. Republican "Culture Wars" that purport to take on abortion, gay marriage, and pre-marital sex are fine examples. After all, in the six years Republicans ruled both the White House and Congress from 2001 through 2007, not one Bill was passed overturning Roe vs. Wade, in spite of dozens of speeches to the Base about its supposed evils.

West notes that this psychic division is most pronounced in our youth, where the real roots of rap and hip-hop (protests of the still oppressive African American condition) are all but lost in the marketing that emphasizes gangstas rolling around in flashy cars with nearly nude women (with no references to overcoming adversity thorugh hard work in the face of real oppression). West believes that the solution to this is Socratic questioning of everyone and everything, and he’s partially right.

We do need to question more, both the assumptions that we make daily, and the drivel that is heaped upon us that passes for journalism. Glenn Greenwald does an inestimable job of this; Tavis Smiley and Bill Moyers are also strong voices crying out against the oligarchs of our day.

But we must do more, and we can do better. Democrats have always failed in their knee-jerk “I don’t want to be the unpopular kid” attempts to become Republicans. We can’t do it, nor should we waste our energy trying. If the current healthcare “reform” debate has shown us anything, it’s that we’ll never win by trying to co-opt the other side.

So let’s stop. Let’s take the Socratic questioning, and ask sternly what America has to gain from Republican efforts to stall real reform. Then let’s embrace our prophetic vision, and reclaim the Left side of the aisle as the place where America’s best moments and most enduring ideals are housed.

Or, let’s just keep our heads down and our voices quiet. Then George Carlin will have been all too right about us:

America has no now. We’re reluctant to acknowledge the present. It’s too embarrassing.

Instead, we reach into the past. Our culture is composed of sequels, reruns, remakes, revivals, reissues, re-releases, re-creations, re-enactments, adaptations, anniversaries, memorabilia, oldies radio, and nostalgia record collections. World War II has been refought on television so many times, the Germans and the Japanese are now drawing residuals.

Of course, being essentially full of S%&$, we sometimes feel the need to dress up this past pre-occupation, as with pathetic references to reruns as “encore presentations.”

We owe it to ourselves, clearly and simply, to see that Carlin’s word do not become the epitaph by which our nation is remembered.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Healthcare Reform & Bobby Jindal - Cracks in the Republican Armor

There are two very different views of the Republican Party running loose on America’s streets at the moment. I bring them to your attention because I think they illustrate – aptly – why so many ordinary citizens are so far withdrawn from the modern political sphere.

The first stream – call it Liberal Frustration – is best exemplified by Paul Krugman’s October 4 column for the New York Times. In it, commenting on supposed Weekly Standard responses to the loss of the 2016 Olympic bid, Krugman Writes:

“Cheers erupted” at the headquarters of the conservative Weekly Standard, according to a blog post by a member of the magazine’s staff, with the headline “Obama loses! Obama loses!” Rush Limbaugh declared himself “gleeful.” “World Rejects Obama,” gloated the Drudge Report. And so on.

So what did we learn from this moment? For one thing, we learned that the modern conservative movement, which dominates the modern Republican Party, has the emotional maturity of a bratty 13-year-old.

But more important, the episode illustrated an essential truth about the state of American politics: at this point, the guiding principle of one of our nation’s two great political parties is spite pure and simple. If Republicans think something might be good for the President, they’re against it — whether or not it’s good for America.

Not content with pointing this out, Krugman seeks to deal w final blow to his opponents:

The key point is that ever since the Reagan years, the Republican Party has been dominated by radicals — ideologues and/or apparatchiks who, at a fundamental level, do not accept anyone else’s right to govern.

Anyone surprised by the venomous, over-the-top opposition to Mr. Obama must have forgotten the Clinton years. Remember when Rush Limbaugh suggested that Hillary Clinton was a party to murder? When Newt Gingrich shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those Medicare cuts? And let’s not even talk about the impeachment saga.

The only difference now is that the G.O.P. is in a weaker position, having lost control not just of Congress but, to a large extent, of the terms of debate. The public no longer buys conservative ideology the way it used to; the old attacks on Big Government and paeans to the magic of the marketplace have lost their resonance. Yet conservatives retain their belief that they, and only they, should govern.

The result has been a cynical, ends-justify-the-means approach. Hastening the day when the rightful governing party returns to power is all that matters, so the G.O.P. will seize any club at hand with which to beat the current administration.

It’s an ugly picture. But it’s the truth. And it’s a truth anyone trying to find solutions to America’s real problems has to understand.

Sobering words – and they explain a lot about why Democrats attempts (feeble as they may be) to elicit bipartisanship in the Senate over healthcare reform have failed miserably. And rightly so.

Now, contrast that with the Op-Ed piece written by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in today’s Washington Post. This might be an example of Conservative Frustration - but we've seen so little of that its hard to tell. Jindal, a former health policy wonk, might be expected to contribute something new and fresh to the debate – especially since his party has contributed so little.

And he does – but in a very strange, almost liberal way. Writing about where we stand on healthcare reform, the Governor says:

A majority of so-called Republican strategists believe that health care is a Democratic issue. They are wrong; health care is an American issue, and the Republican Party has an opportunity to demonstrate that conservative principles work when applied to real-world problems.

Right off the bat, one has to wonder how he got into a party that has to be reminded – by one of its own supposed rising starts – of what its core principles are. I know the answer to that one: Jindal decided at some point (after I knew him in middle school) that he wanted to be a politician. And since Louisiana’s Democrats are still controlled by families named Long, Landreau, Edwards, and Morial, Bobby had to move to the Republican side of the ticket. One also has to wonder why supposedly free market loving Republicans want to continue to stand in the way of small business growth by keeping in place the current health insurance scheme, which is a failed market at best.

Taking off from there, the Governor then intones:

To be clear, the Republicans in Congress who have led the opposition to the Obama-Pelosi vision of health-care reform have done the right thing for our country. If they had rolled over, the results could have been devastating for our health-care system and our nation's budget.

But Republicans must shift gears. Conservatives should seize the mantle of reform and lead. Conservatives either genuinely believe that conservative principles will work to solve real-world problems such as health care or they don't.

I believe they will.

Again, note the reform call from within. Few other Republicans are standing on the national stage saying these things. And it remains to be seen if anyone will listen. But if the Republican Party is pinning its Presidential hopes on Jindal for 2012 or 2016, then perhaps the party needs to think long and hard about what he has to say.

Of course, like a good Republican (at least these days), Bobby then disappoints greatly with his list of the Top 10 Things Republicans need to back to create meaningful reform:

-- Voluntary purchasing pools: Give individuals and small businesses the opportunities that large businesses and the government have to seek lower insurance costs.
-- Portability: As people change jobs or move across state lines, they change insurance plans. By allowing consumers to "own" their policies, insurers would have incentive to make more investments in prevention and in managing chronic conditions.
-- Lawsuit reform: It makes no sense to ignore one of the biggest cost drivers in the system -- the cost of defensive medicine, largely driven by lawsuits. Worse, many doctors have stopped performing high-risk procedures for fear of liability.
-- Require coverage of preexisting conditions: Insurance should not be least accessible when it is needed most. Companies should be incentivized to focus on delivering high-quality effective care, not to avoid covering the sick.
-- Transparency and payment reform: Consumers have more information when choosing a car or restaurant than when selecting a health-care provider. Provider quality and cost should be plainly available to consumers, and payment systems should be based on outcomes, not volume. Today's system results in wide variations in treatment instead of the consistent application of best practices. We must reward
efficiency and quality.
-- Electronic medical records: The current system of paper records threatens patient privacy and leads to bad outcomes and higher costs.
-- Tax-free health savings accounts: HSAs have helped reduce costs for employers and consumers. Some businesses have seen their costs decrease by double-digit percentages. But current regulations discourage individuals and small businesses from utilizing HSAs.
-- Reward healthy lifestyle choices: Providing premium rebates and other incentives to people who make healthy choices or participate in management of their chronic diseases has been shown to reduce costs and improve health.
-- Cover young adults: A large portion of the uninsured are people who cannot afford coverage after they have "aged out" of their parents' policies. Permitting young people to stay on their parents' plans longer would reduce the number of uninsured and keep healthy people in insurance risk pools -- helping to lower premiums for everyone.
-- Refundable tax credits (for the uninsured and those who would benefit from greater flexibility of coverage): Redirecting some of the billions already spent on the uninsured will help make non-emergency care outside the emergency room affordable for millions and will provide choices of coverage through the private market rather than forcing people into a government-run system. We should trust American families to make choices for themselves while we ensure they have access to quality, affordable health care.

It all sounds great, doesn’t it? The problem for Jindal and the Republicans is that there is nothing new in here. Each of those ideas is already on the table in most, if not all, of the legislation in the Senate. I think all of those are in the legislation passed by the House. And most of it came from Democrats. So if the best that Republicans can do is to pick up Democratic ideas and champion them, then Mr. Krugman may be right, but for the wrong reason.

Republicans are engaged in the politics of spite, but only because they don’t actually have anything new to offer. Since that would show them to be the intellectually bankrupt Party – and drastically cut the chances of their return to power – they lash out. And America suffers for it.

If Republicans are to lead – and I think Jindal is right to call on his Party to do so – they need to LEAD, which means developing and championing the best ideas for America - regardless of the source of the idea, and with full attribution for the idea. To do less, frankly, is to demean the actions and successes of their predecessors, and that is as much a travesty as the state of current healthcare in this country.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Science of Evolution - Still Trumped by Emotional Appeals

One thing about the scientific enterprise that seems to bother many “ordinary” people is the lack of definite conclusions that science draws. We scientists go running around, so it seems, proclaiming that “This discovery answers That question . . . “ Only to have the NEXT discovery answer THAT question, or blow That Question right out of the water. This one of the primary tools of Creationists – deny evolution as the explanation of life because the scientific take on evolution keeps . . . well . . . evolving. The Bible, on the other hand, has a consistent description of how the world was made, so it must be right.

So, then, what is a non-scientific society to do with Ardi? This newly described “human” skeleton is being interpreted as a protohuman of some kind – and evidence that chimpanzee behavior and evolution is not actually a good stand-in for human evolution (Ardi's describers conclude that modern chimpanzees may have co-evolved with Ardi, but not from Ardi). Rather, it seems that Ardi may have been the first ape ancestor to go try bipedalism for reasons of transferring food from males to females to create a monogamous or mostly monogamous relationship. In other words, Ardi’s male counterparts started walking upright to make sure they could get, and keep, the girl.

This wouldn’t be a huge thing – anthropologists have been speculating for years as to what drove the apes out of the trees and into upright positions. The change comes, however, in that Ardi points to this trait appearing a full 1 Million years before Lucy, who was described previously as the hominid ancestor who shows this trait. Lucy and Ardi, then, may well be close cousins in the human evolutionary tree – but it remains to be seen how their relationship is worked out and how that changes the description of the evolution of humans.

For Creationists, however, Ardi represents yet another turn in the evolutionary story – and thus another reason evolution is wrong. Because Ardi predates Lucy, they will no doubt argue, we have to reject everything that we supposedly learned about humans from Lucy. This means, to Creationists, that science isn’t delivering ANSWERS about how humans came to be but questions and contradictions (never mind that good scientists never claim to have definitive answers). Thus, the Creationist crowd will crow, we must reject science.

How will science respond? Will we rise to the occasion by pointing out how such deterministic thinking is, inherently flawed? Wills scientists describe the joy of discovering an expanded narrative to our ancestral tree, thus blunting Creationists emotional appeals for certainty with our own emotional appeals to the wonder of discovery? Or will we retreat to our probabilities, our R2 values and our caveats? If we do the latter, we will lose the debate just as surely as when we debate climate deniers with facts and figures, instead of blunting their underlying emotional appeals. And I think if we lose this debate, we do Ardi little justice.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

HEalthcare reform - the battle joined!

As you can guess, I've been following the healthcare "reform" debate closely. It still floors me that Democrats, with 60 seats in the Senate, a veto-proof majority in the House, and a willing President, are willing to let the insurance industry dictate what reform comes out of Washington, just as they used to dictate to Republicans. Democrats are supposed to be better then that.

So today I added my voice to a petition at FireDogLake. This isn't just a healthcare petition, mind you, it's a petition to get Senate Majority Leader Reid to name those conservative "Democrats" (or DINO's as I think they really are) who are threatening to fillabuster with Republicans over any bill that includes a public option. In signing the petition, I wrote this:

Senator Reid,
You lead Democrats in the Senate. Our Party has control of the Hill and the White House. Speaker Pelosi has already said the House bill on healthcare reform will contain a public option. So why let our fellow Democrats derail an effort that has been a central plank of our party for over 20 years? So we can all play nice with the
Republicans? How's that working out for you so far?

Look, we get that you are worried about "a handful of Democrats owned by the insurance industry." So what. Either make public their names so we can give them a good public shaming, or let them filabuster. In the end, they'll look foolish either way, and we will eventually find out.

The American People are tired of all this dithering. Do your jobs - represent us, not insurance companies. If you can't, then have the decency to step aside for someone who can. Just make sure to pass a public option before you go.

There is just no good reason, other then slavery to campaign donations, why Democrats should oppose a public option. It just shows us to be the spineless wimps that Republicans have always accused us of being. If you feel the same way, go to FDL and sign the petition. The Senate, afterall, still works for us!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Criticism Matters - Especially when its your one party!

Over at Submitted to a Candid World, my good friend (!) Ames has some criticism of the Left - from the Left. Its not something we do as much, or as openly as we should on our side of the aisle, but its worth a read. Afterall, how can anyone claim any moral high ground if we're all acting like jerks?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Climate Denial Redux - how other countries see the issue

Over at The Intersection, Chris is making interesting points about the much lower instance of climate denial in Aultralia and Canada. Unfortunately, his thread is starting to get hijacked by those who want to turn this into "more evidence" of the need for the U.S. to reject religion. I piped up, and it will be interesting to see how the debate unfolds.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tell Obama: We're counting on YOU!

As many of you politically savy readers know, President Obama will give a major speech next week laying out what he thinks needs to be in the health care bill. This is a critical crossroads. The president needs to hear that Americans are counting on him to stand up to the status quo and fight for real reform with a strong public health insurance option.I just signed a petition telling President Obama I'm counting on him to fight hard for a bold health care reform bill. TO that end, I've signed's petition, and trying to lend my voice here to this debate.

Can you join me at the link below?

H/T to Stephanie Z (posted at Quiche Moraine not Almost Diamonds).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What loosing the Aral Sea tells me about Climate Change

There are LOTS of folks running around these days denying that humans can impact Earth’s climate. Some of them are corporate shills – oil company publicists and George Will leap to mind. Others are just not scientifically literate – which is not surprising given how undereducated we all really are.

Yet good science marches on, and continues to document the ways in which we are intent on destroying our world. We divert whole rivers (for instance) to grow crops in places that we shouldn’t. Doing so impacts water quality and availability, as well as driving sweeping regional climate changes.

“Humans have been doing that for millennia” the deniers will respond “so why worry?” Well, as these images from NASA shows us, the Aral Sea – if you hit play you get a run through of the dry-up from the last decade – is now all but gone. Dried up by diversion for irrigation. By humans. In 50 years. I'm 38, so this has happened basically in my life-time. This means that a once robust in-land sea, which supported trade, fisheries, and provided for things like views, and a place to stop and set a spell, is now gone. Even if the water were all put back tomorrow (and it won’t be), there is little hope the sea could be rebuilt.

So the next time you hear someone on Fox News, or in the Washington Post, deny that climate change is the result of human action, stop and ask yourself this – if humans can deliberately dry up a sea to grow crops, why can’t we destroy the earth’s climate? The science says we can, and are. I just hope we stop before more of the Earth looks like this, or it will be way too late.

H/T Chris Rowan @ Highly Allochthonous

A REAL proposal to fix healthcare

If you want to know how to fix the healthcare system - in a way that both Democrats and Republicans SHOULD support - read Stats Guy's latest guest post at the Base Line Scenario. Seriously, GO READ IT. Then come back here and tell me why he's wrong. I dare you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Defending Torture - Richard Cohen, Volume Two

Richard Cohen is at it again – trying to defend torture while running around claiming its indefensible. At least he’s being consistent. I’m not the only one who sees his doublespeak – and calls him out for what he’s saying. Early in the Article he writes:

This business of what constitutes torture is a complicated matter. It is further complicated by questions about its efficacy: Does it sometimes work? Does it never work? Is it always immoral? What about torture that saves lives? What if it saves many lives? What if one of those lives is your child's?

It’s a nice fiction, but it doesn’t wash. Despite the increasingly desperate claims of the most recent former Vice President, there is not yet one single shred of evidence that any of the information about America’s torture regime has saved a single life. Leaving that issue aside, how can a country that adopted the U.N. Convention on Torture as its highest law (as I detail here) even be thinking about discussing the morality of torture? We’ve long ago declared it illegal, so the morality play part of all this is really moot.

Cohen further writes:

No one can possibly believe that America is now safer because of the new restrictions on enhanced interrogation and the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor. The captured terrorist of my fertile imagination, assuming he had access to an Internet cafe, knows about the special prosecutor. He knows his interrogator is under scrutiny. What person under those circumstances is going to spill his beans?

Having lived overseas as a kid, I can’t believe that anyone would think that torture of foreigners would make us safer. The Muslim world, in particular, already has along list of perceived and real grievances against the U.S. – why give them one more? For that matter, if we do torture, have we not already begun to dismantle the free-state that is so abhorrent to al Quaeda in the first place?

After wrestling for a paragraph with his supposedly simultaneous desires for absolute security and abhorrence of torture, Cohen closes with this:

The questions of what constitutes torture and what to do with those who, maybe innocently, applied what we now define as torture have to be removed from the political sphere. They cannot be the subject of an ideological tug of war, both sides taking extreme and illogical positions -- torture never works, torture
always works, torture is always immoral, torture is moral if it saves lives. Torture always is ugly. So, though, is the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood.

As with so much else in the torture apologists’ playbook, Cohen overlooks the facts. The United States, by ratifying the U.N. convention on Torture has had a definition of action which constitutes torture since 1994. Hardly “what we now define as torture.” And, given that all the other apologists are indeed sucking both the victims of torture and the torturers into the ideological battle for our nation’s soul, Cohen’s professed concern for the whole thing is far too little, far too late. If he wants to ask a serious question, here’s one – what does the U.S. have to gain by being a nation that tortures anyone in clear contravention of our highest law and Constitution?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Democratic Party's Next Challenge

Glenn is right about one thing - if we don't support primary challeneges, we're all saying we are ok with things the way they are. I'm not ok, are you?

Republican Positions on Healthcare Reform - the straight face test FAILED

Today we finally got some clarity on the Republican Party’s official position on healthcare reform. That clarity came from Party Chair Michael Steele, in a morning drive time radio interview. The interview, on today’s Morning Edition on NPR was full of all sorts of contradictory double speak by Mr. Steele, and a lot of defense when Inskeep tried to call him on it. I hope NPR posts a transcript today, so that I can update this with quotes and highlights. The transcript is now HERE

In a nut shell, Mr. Steele proposed in a recent Washington Post Opinion piece, that we preserve Medicare as it currently exists, not impose any cost controls, but refrain from creating further government run healthcare. Mr. Steele’s point today, which is more nuanced then his written word, is that Medicare exists, it has been here for 40 years, so we shouldn’t mess with it. Republicans, he said, still oppose government run healthcare, though he failed miserably to explain how Republicans reconcile to two diametrically opposing views. Mr. Steele was consistent in his interview, however, that current healthcare delivery, including the “bureaucratic” decisions of private insurers relating to treatment availability, is just fine with him. Even the Post’s Steven Pearlstein – he of capitalism is generally the preferred answer – said this is bunk.

This isn’t the first times Steele has said flat out that government can’t do anything right – like create jobs – even while the market in which he places his faith fails so miserably to do what America needs. Mr. Steele has bought the Social Darwinist construct lock, stock and barrel. And as the spokesperson for the Republican Party, he gave us two important messages today.

First, if you are a baby boomer, you needn’t worry – the Republicans are going to take care of you by allowing Medicare to continue, and allowing it to swallow an ever large portion of our tax dollar. And if you are everyone else, Republicans will throw you into the market, despite a classic market failure, because government has NO BUSINESS delivering healthcare (except when t already does).

Even more telling, however, is that Mr. Inskeep tried harder then most journalists to dig into these contradictions. Already, the NPR commentors are dissing him for having the audacity to question Steele’s assertions. I sent an email to the show through their comment section letting him know I appreciated it.

I want to award a thousand bonus points to Mr. Inskeep for his interview today with Michael Steele. Mr. Inskeep did not, as too many in the MSM do these days, let Mr. Steele's contradictory assertions go unchallenged, and Mr. Inskeep managed to keep his cool (I can imagine him turning of the mike to laugh) even when it became exceedingly clear that Mr. Steele was speaking from both sides of his mouth.

FYI, I'll be blogging this later today at http:/

Keep it up!

Frankly, I think that if more journalists did this, we’d all be better off.

Contrast that with an email exchange I had with the Washington Post Ombudsman, Andrew Alexander over the same Op-ed:

There are rare instances when Post ombudsmen have addressed issues on the editorial page. But that has not often occurred. Indeed, a few months ago at the annual meeting of the international Organization of News Ombudsmen (incredibly, there is such a thing), none of those attending said they venture into editorial page matters. One reason is that you inevitably get bogged down in unresolvable debates over the validity of opinions. That said, I know that my predecessor wrote once about a lack of gender diversity on the editorial page. And there are a few similar issues that I may tackle. But they're pretty low on my priority list. Thanks again for writing.

Best wishes, Andy Alexander

Washington Post Ombudsman

Philip H 08/26/2009 03:38 PM


Subject RE: Michael Steele's op-ed on healthcare reform

Mr. Alexander,

Thanks for your prompt response. Given Mr. Hiatt's track record in the aforementioned George Will incidents, I am not at all confident that he would be open to my concerns. I understand your primary mission is to the newsroom, but if the Washington Post is going to have only one Ombudsman, that person may need to wade into the water of Op-Ed from time to time. Turning a blind eye to the Editorial Page (and thus to something that has enormous influence on how the paper as a whole is perceived) may not be in the Post's long-term circulation interests.


Philip L. H


CC: ombudsman@washpost.comSubject:

Re: Michael Steele's op-ed on healthcare reformDate: Wed, 26 Aug 2009 15:26:14 -0400

Thanks for writing. As the news ombudsman, I focus on the news pages. You may wish to redirect your e-mail to Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt (

Best wishes, Andy AlexanderWashington Post Ombudsman

Philip H 08/26/2009 12:44 PM

To cc

Michael Steele's op-ed on healthcare reform

Mr. Alexander,

As one of the legions of the Post's on-line readers (who also buys the Early Sunday Edition nearly every week at the news stand rate), I am aghast that your Editorial Pages would print the recent editorial by Michael Steele on the Republican's take on healthcare reform. Just as is the case with Mr. George Will's many columns on global climate change, Mr. Steele's piece is riddled with factual inaccuracies; it is in essence a bag of lies meant to derail meaningful reform. The Post holds itself out as a standard barer in print journalism, but the decisions to print these pieces, even as Op-Eds, reeks of sycophantic solicitousness of certain well moneyed, business oriented groups, most of whom have absolutely no interest in what is really the best thing for all Americans.The Post needs to do better in handling these. And your column and blog alone, while good at pointing out the factual errors, doesn't cut it. I'd really hate to have to switch to the New York Times to get my DC area news, but if this shoddy, blatantly partisan hacking that passes for journalism continues, I fear I will be left with no choice.


Philip L. H

Unlike Mr. Inskeep, and NPR, Mr. Alexander ducked any responsibility, essentially conceding that anyone can print any unfounded lie on the Editorial pages and he won’t go after it. I suspect he’s still feeling burned from the George Will affair earlier this year. And while I do feel a modest bit of sorrow for Mr. Alexander – he does have to work there, after all, the whole reason that Mr. Steele believe he can go on NPR and not be challenged on his statements is that people like MR. Alexander will not work on our behalf to keep him honest in other media venues.

Thus the healthcare “debate” rages on with little of substance for Americans to consider. Maybe it is better that Senator Kennedy is now gone, so he doesn’t have to watch this ugly, un-American episode in our history play out.

Over at Almost Diamonds, Stephanie talks about what "Pre-existing conditions" really mean in the health insurance "market." What I find so interesting about her comments, especially in light of Mr. Steele's position on behalf of the Republican Party, is that she illustrates the significant economic impacts that the current health insurance structure has on the U.S. If, as the Republicans postulate over and over, the U.S. is at its best when small business are opened, then removing barriers to that entrepeneurship SHOULD be important to Republicans. Stephanie's position illustrates how the Republican adherence to totally free markets stiffles that small business creation, by perpetuating a significant barrier - namely the exorbitnat cost of health insurance for small business owners. That Republicans are willing to do this -in the name of regional and national insurance companies that are, essentially, monopolies, should tell you something about how Free Market oriented they really are.


Here's who isn't served by the current market oriented approach. She has my daughter's eyes. And were my daughters not automatically covered by my plan, the older two would likely not have insurance, as they both have asthma and the middle one has a heart condition as well. Thanks to Stephanie for making the video for me to crib.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Now the Oil Companies intend to manufacture climate legislation opposition

Oh the irony . . . . I wish they were just always honest about this sort of thing. H/T Joe Romm at Climate Progress.

And what really guals me is the $$ spent on this sort of thing could easily be spent on engineering our energy future. Its homeostasis run amok!

Healthcare reform in America - an idea well intentioned is now sunk!

So over at Ames's place, I weighed in on the health care reform "debate" currently going on in our nation. I wasn't planning to write a full blog post over there, but it just sort of started to flow. I can't say if there will be more later - I have a lot in the queue that I want to write about, and decreasing time to write this month, but this is worth looking at.

It seems that Megan McCardle still misunerestimates liberals, and our position on this issue. Yet another thing on my To-Post list.

It now seems that one former industry insider is confirming some of the worst suspicions of liberals about where, and how, opposition is mounting.

Now it seems that Democrats are FINALLY considering the go it alone approach. The President had the political capitol to do that at the beginning of this debate, but he still faces a party discipline battle with the Blue Dogs. I have to wonder if he has enough moral suasion on his side now to get them in line.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Almost Diamonds posts a gem - what the shouting at townhalls is all about.

One of the handicaps of not being a professional writer is that I often stumble in trying to make a point. Stephanie Z of Almost Diamonds, however, doesn't. She posted this about the health care "debate" currently going on in our country,, and the behavior of so called conservatives:

It's easy to tell yourself you're not like them, that you merely disagree
with the changes that are happening. After all, you're not insane, just

Will that matter when the next person dies over this? Representative David
Scott has had a swastika painted on his office sign. Another representative was hung in effigy. Representative Brad Miller received a death threat. Senator Arlen Specter invited people to tell him what they thought about health care reform--held back the police who were concerned about violence and disruption--and still people screamed
in his face
and called him a tyrant. A man showed up to protest the president's town hall meeting today wearing a gun and carrying a sign that said, "It is time to water the tree of liberty" (referencing Jefferson's "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.").

Those are just some of the politicians who are on the receiving end of violent anger. Fights are breaking out outside these meetings on health care. My husband was accused earlier this week, by someone who should know better, of planning to turn an old friend in for an "incorrect" political position. I can't buy ammunition right now to go target shooting because it's all sold out and has been for months. This whole thing is teetering on the edge. Someone else is going to die soon. Maybe lots of someone elses.

It will be your fault.

She is right - there is a definite fault line being drawn by conservatives in this battle. Tactics deployed against President Bush - which were necessary at the time to fight an emerging tyranny - are now somehow to be accepted because we're dealing with a domestic issue. the Republican Party, having so long sold its soul to both the ultra conservative Christians, and the corporatist oligarchs, now finds itself reaping what it sowed. If this is the best the party can do on a critical national economic issue (and health care IS an economic issue), then they have lost their place to speak to America morally.

Unlike Stephanie, and some of her commenters, I don't think we liberals should stop. We made as much, if not more, noise then this in the last Administration. We can do it again. can drown out these voices. If we don't. they will pull the Nation I love dearly even further back to the days of the robber barons and white supremacist tyrants. We need to stop them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the continuing saga of the mouse that roared - TARP is NOT funding toxic asset reductions

Wasn't TARP created to deal with this?

Curently Reading . . . .

With apologies to amazon for borrowing the image

Positive and Normative Statements - Finally, we focus on the challenge in scientific communication.

Mike the Mad Biologist makes a very salient point about the use of language. In his further musings on Unscientific America, he notes that (if I get this right) he's willing to make positive statements about things like diabetic conditions, or climate change, or any other host of topics which are within his professional purview as a scientist. In short, he is perfectly willing to talk about and defend what is.

Where he feels shaky, semantically speaking, is in making normative statements - those statements as to what should be. And his conclusion is, to the extent that he makes normative statements, he should make them from his perspective as a human, and not place the mantle of scientist on his shoulders when he does.

Here's my problem with this - policy makers can more easily dismiss a scientist making positive statements then they can a scientist making normative statements. We've had this problem in ocean commercial fisheries management for decades, and its one reason that Atlantic tunas may well be fished to extinction in my life time. See, fisheries scientists, like most scientists, are trained in the precise reporting of their findings as positive statements. And, given a range of policy options, they can make positive statements (based on statistical analyses) about the probability of an outcome.

All of which is fine - but policy makers, natural resource managers, and politicians don't want probability. They want certainty, and so when faced with a scientists making probability-based positive statements (which are generally anything but certain) and an industry lobbyist making normative statements (which sound really certain even if they have no facts behind them), the normative statement is chosen. We're seeing this play out now in the health care debate.

What Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshecnbaum are trying to do then, is shake the scientific community out of its positive narrative, and start getting us to launch into some normative narrative. They posit, as I have read UA that if scientists don't make this move, we'll get left in the proverbial dust at precisely the moment our expertise is most needed by our society and economy. Seems to me its a fair request, and one scientists should jump to fulfill.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Investigating Torture - and How the Obama Administration is hiding from the truth.

Long-tme readers should know by now that I am no fan of the Bush Administration's torture policies. What started as thinly veiled contempt ahs now run to full-blown disgust.

The problem is, as Digby so elequently notes for the vacationing Glenn Greenwald, the Obama Administration is about to destroy our newly re-energized intelligence services to protect this disgusting chapter in our history. I keep expecting the Spanish Inquistition to rear its ugly head - and not the Monty Python version either.

The Racist Roots of the Birther cause - why a Black President gets under so many people's skin

Over at Submitted to a Candid World, one of my favorite bloggers is taking on the racist roots of the "Legal Birther movement." The expose is well written, and I commend it to you. Like it or not, and many liberals do not, we are NOT in apost-racial era in American history or politics. Many in this country are discriminated against daily, be it on the basis of race, economic status, or religion (including atheists). We have, I htink, burried our collective heads in the sand on the issue of discrimination, and we need to unbury them in a hurry.

Defending Civil Rights - My Latest Letter to the Washington Post

Today I sent the following Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post about the Post's complete lack of coverage of the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers bus ad controversy. I've been fortunate to have two Letters to the Editor published previously, so I'm hoping this one makes the cut. I'll post any reply I get from them, as well as a link should they publish it. Meanwhile, here's what I wrote:

To the Editor, Washington Post:

Over the past two weeks, there has been a civil rights battle brewing in Iowa, and Post readers have been denied coverage of this important news. The Des Moines Area Rapid Transit authority first posted, then removed, then reposted ads on the sides of buses that read “Don’t Believe in God, You’re Not Alone.” The ads were sponsored by the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers, and complaints came from right wing Christians religious groups. Iowa’s governor professed to be “personally disturbed” by the ads.

Yet an exhaustive search of the Post’s online archive I conducted today reveals not a word about this incident. Atheists, like all Americans, enjoy the freedom of (and from) religion and the freedom of speech as explicitly protected in our Constitution. Their ads should be just as welcome on the side of a bus as an ad for the Crystal Cathedral, or for the latest Ferragamo shoe. The Washington Post should also be covering discrimination against atheists, wherever it occurs, just as you routinely cover other kinds of racial and religious discrimination. Shame on you for not doing so.

Philip L. H