Overheard on the Intertubes

A Rich Capitalist, Tea Party Member, and Union Member sit around the table. At the center of the table sits a plate with a dozen cookies.

The Rich Capitalist takes eleven cookies, then whispers to the Tea Party Member, “Watch out for that union guy. He’s got his eye on your cookie.”

Quotes of the Week

Getting backed up on the quote front. So here’s a bunch of stuff to chew on:

Here’s a thought: maybe Madison, Wis., isn’t Cairo after all. Maybe it’s Baghdad — specifically, Baghdad in 2003, when the Bush administration put Iraq under the rule of officials chosen for loyalty and political reliability rather than experience and competence. … Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” … argued … a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society. What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

Paul Krugman

Not all of the bullies are in schoolyards these days – quite a few have graduated to the executive suites of Corporate America. Take Charles and David Koch, two multi-billionaire brothers whose life of privilege and bloated sense of entitlement have turned them into such spoiled brats that they can’t even take a joke. Last December, the Kochs’ oil operations became the object of a spoof by a merry band of tricksters called Youth for Climate Truth. Not only is Koch Industries a notorious polluter and spewer of global warming gasses, but the brothers have recently been exposed as longtime secret funders of various right-wing front groups trying to debunk the very existence of climate change. The young folks made fun of this by issuing a fake news release on what appeared to be Koch Industries letterhead. It said, in essence, that the Kochsters had seen the light on global warming and henceforth would be strong environmental advocates. A pretty harmless joke. The grumpy billionaires, however, not only failed to laugh, but they quickly resorted to bullying. They’ve unleashed a snarling pack of lawyers to demand that the identities of those who produced the parody be given to the Kochs so they can sue them for damages. What damages? The lawsuit says the brothers want reimbursement for “costs associated with spending time and money to respond to inquiries about the fake release.” Good grief – Charles and David are two of the 10 richest people in America, and they’re whining about a ten dollar phone bill! What the Kochs really are trying to do, of course, is to bully their critics – make fun of us, they’re saying, and we’ll bury you in legal bills. By the way, these billionaire bullies have also financed front groups that attack public interest lawyers, Why? Because, say the the Kochs, These lawyers file “frivolous” lawsuits!

Jim Hightower

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of many stands on any issue, by refusing to assign Truth-values to any, by looking down at anyone who holds any opinion that is not their own, the mainstream press fosters the atmosphere of a bipolar world in which enmity rules, and the wagons need to be circled – the atmosphere that is so conducive to formation and defense of echo-chambers and yet so devoid of airing of any alternatives.


A protest was held today that was bigger than anything that the Tea Party has ever done, but you wouldn’t know it if you were watching TV. There is something seriously wrong with a news gathering and reporting apparatus that devotes more live coverage to the protests in Egypt than protests in Wisconsin. Egypt was a big story, but the a fight for the very survival of the middle class should not be ignored.

Jason Easley

“If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.”

Ronald Reagan (p 10)

Not the Problem

Texans standing with Wisconsin. (click images for more detail)

Update: In case you can’t make out the poster, Krugman explains.

The poster points out that Texas, a union hostile (“right to work”) state, has an even bigger (yes, even per capita) budget shortfall than Wisconsin. Texas shows what we are seeing in so many states cannot have anything to do with unions.

This is among the points Krugman makes about Texas. As a new Texan and longtime Wisconsin resident, I cannot disagree with any of it.

"Climategate": Yet More Bupkis

NOAA Press Release Feb 24 2011:

Inspector General’s Review of Stolen Emails Confirms No Evidence of Wrong-Doing by NOAA Climate Scientists

Report is the latest independent analysis to clear climate scientists of allegations of mishandling of climate information

At the request of U.S. Sen. Inhofe, the Department of Commerce Inspector General conducted an independent review of the emails stolen in November 2009 from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and found no evidence of impropriety or reason to doubt NOAA’s handling of its climate data. The Inspector General was asked to look into how NOAA reacted to the leak and to determine if there was evidence of improper manipulation of data, failure to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures, or failure to comply with Information Quality Act and Freedom of Information Act guidelines.

“We welcome the Inspector General’s report, which is the latest independent analysis to clear climate scientists of allegations of mishandling of climate information,” said Mary Glackin, NOAA’s deputy under secretary for operations. “None of the investigations have found any evidence to question the ethics of our scientists or raise doubts about NOAA’s understanding of climate change science.”

The Inspector General’s report states specifically:

· “We found no evidence in the CRU emails that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data comprising the [Global Historical Climatology Network – monthly] GHCN-M dataset.” (Page 11)

· “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA failed to adhere to its peer review procedures prior to its dissemination of information.” (Page 11)

· “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the IQA.” (Page 12)

· “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the Shelby Amendment.” (Page 16)

The report notes a careful review of eight e-mails that it said “warranted further examination to clarify any possible issues involving the scientific integrity of particular NOAA scientists or NOAA’s data,” that was completed and did not reveal reason to doubt the scientific integrity of NOAA scientists or data.

The report questions the way NOAA handled a response to four FOIA requests in 2007. The FOIA requests sought documents related to the review and comments of part of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. NOAA scientists were given legal advice that IPCC work done by scientists were records of the IPCC, not NOAA. The requesters were directed to the IPCC, which subsequently made available the review, comments and responses which are online at: https://www.ipcc-wg1.unibe.ch/publications/wg1-ar4/wg1-ar4.html and http://hcl.harvard.edu/collections/ipcc/index.html.

“The NOAA scientists responded in good faith to the FOIA requests based on their understanding of the request and in accordance with the legal guidance provided in 2007,” Glackin said. “NOAA’s policies, practices, and the integrity and commitment of our scientists have resulted in NOAA’s climate records being the gold-standard that our nation and the world has come to rely on for authoritative information about the climate.”

The findings in the Inspector General’s investigation are similar to the conclusions reached in a number of other independent investigations into climate data stewardship and research that were conducted by the UK House of Commons, Penn State University, the InterAcademy Council, and the National Research Council, after the release of the stolen emails All of the reports exonerated climate scientists from allegations of wrong-doing.

The report also asks NOAA to review two instances in which it transferred funds to CRU. NOAA is conducting a review of funding to the University of East Anglia and as recommended by Mr. Zinser’s letter, will be providing a report to his office. NOAA’s review to date indicates that the funding supported workshops in 2002 and 2003 that helped the governments of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam improve their climate forecasting abilities.

The report further provides information about the review NOAA undertook of the emails, and notes that NOAA did not conduct a review of its data set as a result of the emails because it too determined that the emails did not indicated any impropriety and because its data sets and techniques are already regularly reviewed as part of ongoing quality control measures and are subject to formal peer review.

NOAA’s national and global climate data are available to the public in raw and adjusted form. The algorithms used to adjust the data sets to ensure high quality, useful records, are peer-reviewed and available to the public.

NOAA is committed to quality, scientific excellence and transparency and strives to provide the most authoritative and accurate information about the Earth’s climate, oceanic and atmospheric conditions. In the face of ongoing climate variability and climate change, this information is critical to businesses and people in all industries and communities as they plan for the future. NOAA is working to provide ever-improving regional and industry-specific climate information to meet the growing demand for this information.

The Inspector General report is available online: http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/2011/001688.html

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us online at www.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usnoaagov.


Update: McIntyre’s take on all this:

NOAA scientists were given legal advice that IPCC work done by scientists were records of the IPCC, not NOAA.” was not supported by the report. “The Inspector General said that there was a divergence between Solomon’s evidence and the evidence of the NOAA attorneys, the latter denied giving “legal advice that IPCC work done by scientists were records of the IPCC, not NOAA”, with Susan Solomon unable to provide any documentation of ever receiving such evidence.

So NOAA attorneys don’t recall such advice. Or Solomon misremembers. Or there was a misunderstanding. Some sort of miscommunication about emails about who gets to see which emails about emails about the highly secret hiding a decline that wasn’t a decline that was never hidden. (Upperdate via Sloop in comments: Eventual outcome re: FOIA requests to NOAA: “The requesters were directed to the IPCC, which subsequently made available the review, comments and responses which are online.” Where the heck is the issue here?)

Ho hum. Hardly worth a footnote?

If you think not, you don’t know McIntyre and his acolytes. But you are an amateur who can hardly even make a mountain out of a molehill. They can make the whole Himalayan range out of a gully.

To them, this is clearly part of the Grand Conspiracy to Willfully and With Malice Aforethought Commit Acts of Science. Or something. Anyway, something worthy of Congressional Investigation. Or Worse. (cue Ominous Trumpets)

Update via Dan Olner (promoted from comments): I don’t often look at WUWT these days, but I was just over there looking at their response to the report.

It’s bizarre. Inhofe and Watts appear to be saying that the report left a big, scary sword dangling over CRU: “Inspector General Finds NOAA Climategate Emails Warranted ‘Further Investigation’…” – and Inhofe is going to ‘follow up’ on that.

Except in the (really quite short) report itself, of course, those emails are examined. They’re just saying which ones they’re going to look at.

I’m fascinated by this. Another commenter went out on a limb and suggested the only possible expanation was Inhofe was ‘lying or stupid’. I’m wondering if it must be something different: just a massively invasive reality filter that turns any scrap around to the pre-conceived goal? I can’t make sense of it otherwise.

Train Wreck

Apologies to overseas readers, but it’s going to be hard for Americans to focus on the usual core issues around here for the next while, as the Tea Party Republicans seem determined to further substantially weaken the United States, by making the continuation of the budget contingent on unacceptably extreme and unconditional demands at the federal level, even though they only control one of the three branches. This comes to a head in the next two weeks but it’s very hard to imagine the current configuration in DC avoiding a massive fustercluck and very hard to see what comes after.

Meanwhile the attack on unions at the state level is absolutely unconscionable. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much sympathy for unions in my life as I do right now. Many professionals and academics are feeling that way right now, but that is not enough.

Do you suppose the deep red staters will wake up to who is really causing their misery? I suppose that is wishful thinking. Failing that it is very difficult to see how we avoid a horrible mess in the very near future.

The Press and Climate: An Anti-Testimonial

Press experts continue to shrug off their responsibility for public indifference to climate change and confusion about it. Keith Kloor has an article in that vein, which I hastened to contest. I continue to be baffled as to what exactly he is trying to say. I can’t say this is malicious. Even Fleck talks like this. It’s just part of the journalistic subculture to believe something about journalism that the rest of us can’t even understand. Admittedly, it’s another tiresome merry-go-round of contradictory and mutually uncomprehending positions. If you’ve heard it before there is little new in the thread so far. But I thought one comment (from LCarey) was sufficiently fresh in perspective that it deserved more attention, so I am repeating it here. Emphasis added by me.

As a reasonably well-educated and literate lay person (corporate lawyer specializing in large real estate projects) I feel compelled to observe that I, on a regular basis, depend on the news media for information as to what matters I should be concerned with (economic trends, new technologies, health risks such as seasonal flu outbreaks, new medical treatments, new scientific developments, etc.).

This information heavily influences my opinions, decision-making and voting preferences. In all of these areas, I depend very heavily on reporters to evaluate, summarize and communicate accurate information — and not to simply serve as stenographers for nitwits. Thus, while I can’t look to financial reporters to provide investment advice, I do expect them to be familiar enough with their area of supposed expertise to call out or cull out information (propaganda?) that is obviously false, misleading or incomplete in light of objective evidence.

I am dumbfounded that climate science is somehow seen as some special sort of bizzaro world where what I see as the normal expectation of news consumers (factual vetting, providing context and assessing implications based on discussions with real authorities) is thrown out the window in favor of he-said/she-said. In what universe do we expect particle physicists to be personally responsible for communicating the scientific implications of their research directly to the public, and then blame the physicists if the public doesn’t “get it”? Ditto for genetic researchers, astronomers, biologists, etc.

I came late to the party regarding AGW – until 2008, the issue was on my radar as a “century away” theoretical problem — it seemed like for every “this will be a big problem” article there was a “no problemo” article. I was accordingly floored in 2008 when I had to do due diligence research for a proposed investment in renewable energy to start reading primary materials and discovering that my media derived “understanding” was grossly in error. (And yes, in an effort to evaluate “the other side of the argument”, I did wind up visiting most of the prominent internet skeptic sites and looked at materials from Singer, Lindzen, Spencer, etc. – I concluded they were virtually useless in providing accurate information.)

I conclude that the views expressed by the moderators, Dr. Curry and others as to the lack of responsibility of journalists in this arena is directly contrary to the (apparently misplaced) assumptions and expectations that lay folk such as I bring to the table – that journalists will provide factual vetting, context and implications based on information in their respective field viewed as most authoritative. If this is the case, and if the former view is correct, media are just “filling space” with random noise and are effectively useless (or worse) in helping ordinary people assess risks, make decisions and make sense of the world.

Past Performance Doesn’t Predict Future Results

I actually am not a strong Malthusian, in the sense that I don’t think a collapse is inevitable. I think a crash is avoidable, but only if we get down to the business of actually avoiding it.

Many people make much of the failure of Malthusian predictions in the past. I think that observation is not compelling.

It does seem foolish to predict an exact date for the collapse; we have escaped both Utopia and Oblivion nicely so far. But just like mortality, Malthusianism only has to actually operate once.

The story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf has two lessons, recall. The first is that it is not a good idea to raise a panic at the slightest provocation.

The second is that eventually there is a wolf.

Image: deviantart.net

Maureen Dowd Against the Web

It’s not surprising that a New York Times columnist is hostile to the idea of bidirectional universal publishing. This column makes a very strong case, though. Not to minimize the example that the column focuses on (of a journalist on Twitter being astonishingly coarse about a rape) I am most interested in the way the article wraps up.

Evgeny Morozov, author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” told me Twitter creates a false intimacy and can “bring out the worst in people. You’re straining after eyeballs, not big thoughts. So you go for the shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical.”

Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” says technology amplifies everything, good instincts and base. While technology is amoral, he said, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways.

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” he said. “If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, recalled that when he started his online book review he forbade comments, wary of high-tech sociopaths.

“I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site,” he said. “Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?”

Why indeed?

And who is this advocate for depth and contemplation and empathy over amusing but antisocial snark?

Maureen Dowd. Maureen Dowd. Not shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical she! Nope, the very model of deep soulful contemplation and charity! So take it from Maureen, the internet is full of people lacking in empathy and eager to score a quick nasty chuckle. Stick to the newspaper, where such behaviors are rare. Rare, and apparently highly prized.

Montana to Repeal Global Warming

There’s such a thing as a harmless declaration. In a state like Texas which values its ceremonies, for instance, Rep. Shapiro has issued a declaration

WHEREAS The Senate of the State of Texas is pleased to recognize D. Michael Tanenbaum for his many contributions to the field of dentistry; and

… WHEREAS Dr. Tenenbaum … has practiced dentistry in the West Island since 1975; he is a founding member of the West Island Health Center [sic] in Dollard des Ormeaux and has served on the council of Presidents of the Federation of Dental Societies of Greater Montreal; …

now therefore let it be PROCLAIMED; That the Senate of the State of Texas hereby commend D. Michael Tenenbaum on his many contributions to his community and his profession and extend to him a sincere welcome to our state; and be it further PROCLAIMED, That a copy of this Proclamation be prepared for him as an expression of esteem from the Texas Senate.

Which I suppose constitutes implicit recognition of the West Island by the Republic of Texas, which may serve us West Islanders well should we ever feel a need to secede from Quebec and form a new Jewish state by the banks of the almighty St. Lawrence. But other than that long shot eventuality, pretty harmless.

Sometimes, though, proclamations get further than you expect. One Joe Read, state representative in Montana, quickly gained notoriety for offering the following bill to his legislature:



NEW SECTION. Section 1. Public policy concerning global warming. (1) The legislature finds that to ensure economic development in Montana and the appropriate management of Montana’s natural resources it is necessary to adopt a public policy regarding global warming.

(2) The legislature finds:

(a) global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana;

(b) reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on the environment; and

(c) global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it.

(3) (a) For the purposes of this section, “global warming” relates to an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s surface.

(b) It does not include a one-time, catastrophic release of carbon dioxide.

NEW SECTION. Section 2. Codification instruction. [Section 1] is intended to be codified as an integral part of Title 75, chapter 2, and the provisions of Title 75, chapter 2, apply to [section 1].

NEW SECTION. Section 3. Effective date. [This act] is effective on passage and approval.

To be sure, this is just a proclamation which has no actual substantive importance, not even a nice West Island Dentist to frame it and put in the grand entrance of his brick fortress in Dollard, just below the crystal chandelier and beside the (authentic, he has the papers to prove it!) Georges Braque print. (You know, where it used to be that Chinese thing with the birds? Now he has there a plaque from the Senate of Texas, with a regular Texas Sheriff star and everything.)

Nevertheless, Rep Shapiro gets by with a little gentle mockery from me, while Read is being much more widely critiqued. To be sure, Read is propagating some, well, not entirely true things about climate science that might be damaging to climate scientists as a class. I am not sure whether he is liable for libel under the circumstance.

Certainly it is pretty irresponsible. But I think the confused opinion he is expressing (including some hard-to-parse exception (“(b) It does not include a one-time, catastrophic release of carbon dioxide.”) is his own, honestly held position. I am also certain that he is confused about science. He said in an interview with Brad Johnson:

The science is driven by grant money. It’s all on the side for writing studies that global warming is happening. There’s nothing on the side that says I wish to write a paper that global warming is not an issue. Money has been flowing into the grant purse.

If you follow the money, the science has been pushed toward where the money is coming from. The money is coming from the federal government. I believe global science is an ideal, not a true science.

Brad is to be congratulated for eliciting this quote because it reveals a great deal about what we are up against. People really don’t understand the difference between think tanks and science! They think the job of a scientist is to write position papers. After all, every PhD they’ve ever met spends all their time writing position papers!

Joe Read (and I really hope that’s pronounced “Joe Red”), I am convinced, means well. He is simply acting on the basis of trust in the media and the personal contacts that have informed his opinions. In the end, all of us need to do that to some extent. He is, in fact, being some sort of courageous with this noise; after all if he is wrong (which he is) doesn’t that make him not just irresponsible but negligent?

He is innocent of being a liar, but he is not taking his job seriously enough. If he faces no consequences for this excess, the whole party system is broken, which of course, it is, and the whole society isn’t taking its obligations seriously enough, which, of course, it ain’t. So Joe Read will suffer no more than all the other Joe Sixpacks and Joe Reds. He will probably not suffer any real consequences from his proclamation. His outrageous proclamation, I would say.

After all, isn’t repealing physical phenomena a federal matter?

It’s not as if there were no precedent, though, as Peter Gleick points out. So the least we can do for Joe is to put this into historical context.