Monday, August 31, 2015

New Ways to Dream

My wack job friends the climate deniers have found a new problem to worry about: underpopulation.

They are now worrying about "Demographic Winter:"

The problem, it seems, is that nowadays girls just want to have fun, instead of fulfilling their biblically anointed function as brood cows. Or maybe they are worried about those still breeding Asians and Africans crowding out God's people.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Local Habitation and a Name...

H. sapiens, having killed off or at least survived all his close cousins, has occupied almost every ecology on Earth. We sometimes forget that almost none of these would be habitable without technology. Our most basic problem since leaving the African plains has been staying warm. The technological solution was clothing and shelter. Without these our ecological range would shrink by an enormous extent, and without them in the past, we would probably never have expanded much beyond Africa.

Global warming presents a new series of challenges. Some of them are probably irresistible, like the drowning of significant coastal land. Others are problems for which solutions are already known.

In the United States the most significant movement of the past 70 years has been the movement from cold climates into the South. This is primarily due to air conditioning, and especially, refrigerated air. Without them, the area around Phoenix Arizona would be almost unlivable. With them, it's a bustling and rapidly growing city.

Air conditioning, like most of the rest of our technology, consumes energy. Right now, our energy comes predominantly from the combustion of fossil fuels. This circumstance makes air conditioning powered by fossil fuel combustion a counterproductive way to deal with climate change. There are alternatives.

I run refrigerating air conditioning on my house, not only to deal with heat, but because it helps with the allergies and asthma that my wife and I have. This doesn't use much fossil fuel energy though, since I have several solar power units on my roof, and consequently get a check from the power company every few months.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


Our war on drugs has been a huge failure, and the centuries old war on prostitution has been little better. Nonetheless, I am less than enthusiastic about legalization. The anti-drug and anti-prostitution laws were put in place because of the real evils that drugs and prostitution produced, and those evils haven't gone away.

Rachel Moran, who was prostituted at age fifteen in Ireland, pushes back against the current push by Amnesty International and others to legalize sex work in this NYT Op-ed:

I entered the sex trade — as most do — before I was even a woman. At age 14, I was placed in the care of the state after my father committed suicide and because my mother suffered from mental illness.

Within a year, I was on the streets with no home, education or job skills. All I had was my body. At 15, I met a young man who thought it would be a good idea for me to prostitute myself. As “fresh meat,” I was a commodity in high demand.

For seven years, I was bought and sold. On the streets, that could be 10 times in a night. It’s hard to describe the full effect of the psychological coercion, and how deeply it eroded my confidence. By my late teens, I was using cocaine to dull the pain.

I cringe when I hear the words “sex work.” Selling my body wasn’t a livelihood. There was no resemblance to ordinary employment in the ritual degradation of strangers’ using my body to satiate their urges. I was doubly exploited — by those who pimped me and those who bought me.

Ms. Moran cites statistics on nations that have legalized sex work:

In New Zealand, where prostitution was decriminalized in 2003, young women in brothels have told me that men now demand more than ever for less than ever. And because the trade is socially sanctioned, there is no incentive for the government to provide exit strategies for those who want to get out of it. These women are trapped.

She approvingly cites a third approach:

There is an alternative: an approach, which originated in Sweden, that has now been adopted by other countries such as Norway, Iceland and Canada and is sometimes called the “Nordic model.”

The concept is simple: Make selling sex legal but buying it illegal — so that women can get help without being arrested, harassed or worse, and the criminal law is used to deter the buyers, because they fuel the market. There are numerous techniques, including hotel sting operations, placing fake ads to inhibit johns, and mailing court summonses to home addresses, where accused men’s spouses can see them.

I'm not sure that's the right approach, but it is an alternative.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Middle

I'm not one of those centrists so despised by Paul Krugman who thinks that the truth always lies in the middle, even though the Central Limit Theorem suggests that it usually does. I did find it interesting that the short excerpt from Michael L. Bender's Paleoclimate drew attacks from a horde of denialists (mostly not on this site) and at least one "climate alarmist" as the deniers like to style us. One whom I greatly respect, by the way. If an article is despised by both sides it might just mean that the author is an ignorant asshole.

That's not the case with Bender. He is a giant of Paleoclimatology, with a forest of papers and many thousands of citations for directly related work. He has a perspective based on a deep study of past climate change.

It appears to me that those paragraphs drew scorn from the denier crowd because he asserts that human emission of CO2 can have large consequences for our climate. Eli was outraged, I guess, because Bender wasn't alarmed enough at the prospect - didn't believe it would mean the end of the human race and all its works.

I posted Bender because I thought it was just about right. He stated, in a very mild mannered way, that over the next few hundred years there would be hell to pay: drowned cities and coastlines, agricultural basins aridified, and even regions rendered all but uninhabitable. In the context of the geological time, though, it wouldn't be a huge deal, even for humans.

Species are ephemeral, and most last less than a few million years. We are barely into the second quarter of our first million, but we've had a grand run. I strongly suspect that we are near the end of it, but I doubt that climate change, catastrophic as it is likely to be, will be the culprit. Drastic as the effects of warming are likely to be, they are probably small potatoes compared to an ice age, and we, and our ancestors, have made it through several.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Straight Out of Compton

I thought it was going to be about photon-lepton scattering, but it was still pretty good. Of course I had trouble keeping track of all the characters, so it probably helps to have a Rolodex of your West Coast rappers handy for reference. It also seems I might need a bit of Ebonics training to decipher both lyrics and dialog.

The story of NWA, told from the perspective of a couple of key players.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Voyaging on That River in Egypt

I guess I've been bored, because I've been arguing with the climate change denialists again. Most of those I talk to are actually quite well-informed. They know a great deal. The only problem is that much of what they know isn't so. One of the things that always strikes me is their reaction to evidence. Any contrary evidence, even or perhaps especially if it's published in a major journal is dismissed as part of the conspiracy. Argument or evidence fitting their prejudices, on the other hand, is accepted as gold even if it comes from a teen-aged half-wit with a blog (poetic exaggeration, maybe).

Anosognosia - "lack of insight" or "lack of awareness" - is believed to be the single largest reason why individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not take their medications. A result of anatomical damage to the brain, it affects approximately 50% of individuals with schizophrenia and 40% of individuals with bipolar disorder.

Dealing with the denialist reminds me of dealing with individuals with psychosis. There is a remarkable lack of insight into the fragility of their own evidence. Arguments against are first ignored, next met with diversionary tactics ("but what about the really cold day they once had in Edmonton, Alberta. Doesn't that disprove Arctic warming?" - an actual argument used with me, by the way.) If that fails, insults and anger follow.

Our friend Lumo is an interesting case. I notice that lately, he never even makes an attempt to present any evidence or logical argument. Instead he goes straight to obfuscation (Marxist plots), insults and denial, no matter how ridiculous:

Elimination of all CO2 wouldn't make an easily detectable difference for ice ages or any other aspect of climatology or meteorology on Earth.

My meteorologist and engineer friends are able to mount a much more plausible defense. It's only a guess, but mine is that Lumo's inner brain is smart enough not to get caught making any check-able claim (except for the patently ridiculous, as above), because he is afraid that his powerful logical brain might talk him into something that he is afraid to believe. Dumber guys don't have that worry.

The ability to believe improbable stuff is not confined to the certifiably psychotic, of course, or even the certifiably crackpot fringe. Probably everybody does it to some extent, which was Feynman's point about the necessity of the scientist to be diligent about self-criticism. It might be a crucial component of our social instincts which more or less allows us to align our beliefs with the tribe - maybe that's even why psychosis is so common. On the other hand, believing nonsense can also be hazardous to one's prospects for successful reproduction.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Krugman on the Market

Paul Krugman, writing in the NYT, points out that the recent market turbulence triggered by China is part of a pattern of instability.

But why does the world economy keep stumbling?

On the surface, we seem to have had a remarkable run of bad luck. First there was the housing bust, and the banking crisis it triggered. Then, just as the worst seemed to be over, Europe went into debt crisis and double-dip recession. Europe eventually achieved a precarious stability and began growing again — but now we’re seeing big problems in China and other emerging markets, which were previously pillars of strength.

But these aren’t just a series of unrelated accidents. Instead, what we’re seeing is what happens when too much money is chasing too few investment opportunities.

More than a decade ago, Ben Bernanke famously argued that a ballooning U.S. trade deficit was the result, not of domestic factors, but of a “global saving glut”: a huge excess of savings over investment in China and other developing nations, driven in part by policy reactions to the Asian crisis of the 1990s, which was flowing to the United States in search of returns. He worried a bit about the fact that the inflow of capital was being channeled, not into business investment, but into housing; obviously he should have worried much more. (Some of us did.) But his suggestion that the U.S. housing boom was in part caused by weakness in foreign economies still looks valid.

Too much of the world's wealth is owned by those who don't want to spend it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Michael Bender on Anthropogenic Global Warming

How should we view the prospect of anthropogenic climate change? From the perspective of paleoclimate, it might not be particularly troubling, or even seem unwelcome. The present world is good enough for human habitation. However, it would improve if Greenland and Antarctica were unglaciated and habitable, and if there was more rainfall in areas that are currently deserts. For humans, in other words, the world might be more habitable if conditions resembled the high CO2 equable climates of the Cretaceous, Paleocene, and Eocene.

The problem of anthropogenic global change, then, is not necessarily that we are heading for a less habitable planet. The problem is that both natural ecosystems and civilizations are aligned to the historic pattern of climate and water resources. Global warming will destroy this alignment is some regions. The most obvious example is sea level rise, which will render regions uninhabitable that are now occupied by tens or hundreds of millions of people. Shifting temperatures and rainfall belts will open some northern areas to agriculture while making agriculture impossible in some currently farmed regions. The disappearance of mountain glaciers will make water unavailable for agriculture in the seasons it is needed, and will supply water at other times when it may not be used efficiently.

Bender, Michael L. (2013-08-25). Paleoclimate (Princeton Primers in Climate) (Page 291). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lower Ice Age CO2: Surprisingly Intricate

During the Pleistocene Ice Ages, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere dropped by about 100 ppm relative to pre-industrial values. This drop intensified and perhaps prolonged them due to the decreased greenhouse effect (about 2 C of the 6 C cooling associated with the ice ages).

Increased solubility of CO2 in the Ocean due to cooling is a large and obvious effect, but it is roughly balanced by two opposite effects: decreased solubility due to increase salinity and the destruction of biologically incorporated carbon by glaciers and increased aridity of the continents.

Three other effects seem to play the crucial role. First, the biological pump that rains carbonate shells on the sea floor appears to have been more effective during ice ages, due multiple effect, possibly including transport of more iron laden dust into the Southern Ocean. Second, the rate of ocean overturning seems to have slowed, allowing CO2 to spend more time in the depths, and finally, the oceans appear to have been more acidic (less basic) during the ice age, decreasing the rate of dissolution of CaCO3 in the deep ocean.

Source: Bender, Michael L. (2013-08-25). Paleoclimate (Princeton Primers in Climate) (Page 193). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Summary (for Lumo): It's complicated.

Friday, August 14, 2015

From A (Perhaps Imaginary) T-Shirt

80% of my brain is song lyrics. Most of the other 27% is celebrity gossip.

Doesn't leave much room for math.

Blame Canada: Quasi-Annual Crapjet Tirade.

Every year or so I travel to Montana, a journey that requires me to travel on several of the hated Canadian Regional Aeiro Planoes, or CRAP jets. These only slightly expanded cigar tubes with wings help put the travail back in travel, at least for non midgets. Frequently the stewardess greets me as I enter the door, invariably causing me to look up and hit my head on the sill. Hunching down, I crawl/stumble to my seat and, after managing to cram my minature (I seem to recall that it holds my toothbrush and a spare pair of socks) carry-on into the hobbit scale overhead bin, attempt to cram my troll-sized body into one of those seats originally designed for kindergarten use.

The US/Canada border is often called the World's longest undefended border. Clearly this presents a nearly ideal situation for invasion and colonization.

We could seize their assets (comedians, the health care system, the Perimeter Institute and all the provinces except Quebec) and probably make a profit on the deal. Even after razing whatever infernal manufactuary the despicably tiny cigar tubes are assembled at.