Sunday, September 27, 2009

Boomers in the Barbarian Invasions

We just saw the movie "The Barbarian Invasions" (English subtitles), which we got from Zip. A very good movie about a dying man and how he interacts with people, and sums up his life, in his last weeks.

What strikes me the most is that even though this guy and his friends don't really seem to have huge regrets, they admit that they have made one serious mistake after another. The movie comes close to my own formulation that "the boomers are always wrong about everything." (The actor playing the leading role was born in 1950, and I believe his character also gives that year of birth).

Here's the long quote from imdb:

Rémy: We've been everything: separatists, supporters of independantists, sovereignists, sovereignity-associanists...
Pierre: At first, we were existentialists.
Dominique: We read Sartre and Camus.
Claude: Then Fanon, we became anti-colonialists.
Rémy: We read Marcuse and became Marxists.
Pierre: Marxist-Leninists.
Alessandro: Trotskyists.
Diane: Maoists.
Rémy: After Solzhenitsyn we changed, we became structuralists.
Pierre: Situationists.
Dominique: Feminists.
Claude: Deconstructionists.
Pierre: Is there an -ism we haven't worshipped?
Claude: Cretinism.

But "cretinism" comes up in another conversation. Remy says that in the early days of China opening up, a beautiful woman came from China to the university where he taught, and he was delegated to have lunch with her. Hoping, as usual, to take her to bed, he decided to say something nice about recent events in China, and he actually said something like "your Cultural Revolution was really quite positive," or something like that. He says that he could tell from the look on her face that she was wondering if he was working for the CIA, or rather was the stupidest person she had ever met. Immediately, he was sure she was leaning to the latter view. Remy now realizes that nothing could be stupider than praising the Cultural Revolution. "Cretinism doesn'’t sink any lower."

I had a colleague in the U.S. (who was always very kind to me--I don't reward people very well) who was an expert on China, and explained to me briefly one day that the crackdown at Tiananmen Square resulted from a mix-up in communications. Surely it is more likely, whether we defer to experts or not, that the Chinese leadership was basically united in thinking that the protests had to be stopped. If there was some dissent among the leadership, it was limited. So the protests were in fact stopped, and similar crackdowns have continued to this day, whether there seem to be "liberals" rising to the top or not.

From the script on-line, here's how the conversation continues after the link between fatuous left-wing so-called thinking, and cretinism.

Why were we so dumb?
-Are we to infer congenital stupidity?

Not at all.
-Intelligence isn't an individual trait.

It's collective,
national, intermittent.

Oh, a new theory!

Athens, BC
Euripides premieres his Electra

Two rivals attend,
Sophocles and Aristophanes.

And two friends, Socrates and Plato.
Intelligence was there.

Firenze, Palazzo Vecchio,

on facing walls, two painters:
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

An apprentice: Rafaello.
A manager: Niccolo Machiavelli.

Philadelphia, USA, - .

Declaration of Independence
and the Constitution.

Adams, Franklin, Jefferson,
Washington, Hamilton and Madison.

No other country
has been so blessed.

I was born in Chicoutimi,
Canada, in .

It's a miracle you're not dumber.

in everyone was dumb,
in Athens and Chicoutimi.

In Italy you'd have supported
the Red Brigades.

Now it's Berlusconi.
-Philadelphia voted George Bush.

You see, you're not that dumb.

Intelligence has disappeared,
and it can take eons to come back.

From Tacitus to Dante was what,

The Arabs kept intelligence alive.

It may not be their fault, but the boomers have been almost unbelievably stupid.

I guess this refers back to the title. We actually get a glimpse of the 9/11 attacks, with some fool on TV saying this represents a new barbarian invasion. Denys Arcand, the writer and director of the movie ( born in 1941), suggests that the rise of the boomers has itself been a kind of invasion by barbarians.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weather and Climate

If even "climatologists" admit that global weather has more or less stabilized for the past thirty years or so, what then? Ht the Corner.

Also from National Review: some details on the story Anthony Watts has been covering: scientists attempt to get raw data on surface temperature readings, but they are refused. Either they cannot be trusted to be politically correct, or the actual data has disappeared somehow, to be replaced by "homogenized" data--the way intelligence information in Iraq was "homogenized" in 2002. Since this was picked up by Instapundit, it may be becoming at least a bit more mainstream. Stephen McIntyre and Roger Pielke Jr. both figure in this story.

Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic, can be counted on to pooh-pooh the alarmists, and now he says mayn bright people are joining him. Unfortunately, he also says that as a political movement, climate alarmism is growing, not diminishing--despite the evidence.

Climate Change This Week

The Star on Wednesday: residents of the Cateret Islands expect, in the near future, to become "the world's first climate-change refugees." Which I guess means the total of climate change refugees so far, to this date, is still zero. Sea level is not one number all over the world, Pacific and Atlantic are usually different, levels can differ in a local area, etc.

From the Anthony Watts website:

In Australia we have seen recent reports that up to 75 million people may be displaced due to climate change in the Asia Pacific over the next 40 years as reported by the ABC here:

(You may also recall incidentally that the UN itself said in 2005 that there would be 50 million climate refugees by 2010, but that’s by the by.)

I took the liberty of going to the Australia Institute website to look at the paper they are talking about which is the pdf attached to this page:

…[The 75 million figure is on the Oxfam page:

Now the UK’s Daily Telegraph and several other sources are reporting that “More than 75 million people living on Pacific islands will have to relocate by 2050 because of the effects of climate change, Oxfam has warned.”

You will note that no longer does it say “up to”, now it says “more than”.
Of course, displacing more than 75 million people would be quite a trick, as the entire population of the Pacific Islands is not more than 1.6 million people, or maybe 6 million if you include PNG [Papua New Guinea]:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Missile Defence in Europe

On this one, I'm with the Democrats.


Today, the Obama administration announced officially that it will kill a Bush administration initiative to build a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic in order to protect Europe from Iranian missiles. This is a good call. Bush’s idea was hugely expensive, and massively illogical. For one thing, Poland and the Czech Republic aren’t in any sense between Iran and Europe. Nor is Iran actually threatening Europe with any missiles. Which is why nobody in Europe particularly wanted this thing built.

And he follows up: there is some evidence the defence systems weren't even popular in Poland in the Czech Republic.

Beyond the particulars in this case: why do conservatives go crazy about the apparent "appeasement" of Russia, which is still a very lame old bear? Obviously they miss the Cold War for its moral clarity, or they delude themselves that the U.S. is in something like the Cold War.

I even think Atrios has it right:

I think the great failure of the Right since their awesome adventure in Iraq has been to create a new Hitler for us to fear and fight. They tried with Iran, but didn't quite manage. Their hero Bush looked in Putin's soul and declared it pure, so that one won't work. The business side of the coalition won't let them go after China. We need an enemy damnit!

Instead of assessing actual threats, and then deciding what kind of military force is needed, the Americans now tend to enjoy the fact that they have huge, other-worldly military power, left over from the Cold War, and ask themselves: what can we do with it? So-called libertarians or tax-cutters like Glenn Reynolds say they oppose large, wasteful bureaucracies, but never question any waste or indeed spending at the Pentagon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I ran in the local Terry Fox event on Sunday. Just 5K; my time was 24 minutes just about exactly. For the first four k I was running about exactly 5 mins per km, so the last km I did in 4 minutes--quick for me.

I was scheduled to do 16K as part of my training, so I took a little break then did 11K quite slowly. Training is going well. 8 hills yesterday, 7k tonight with a group. My goal race is Goodlife Toronto October 18.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Interpreting the Arctic

To paraphrase Nietzsche (who was referring to the French Revolution): Never has one text been subject to so many interpretations. At its simplest, this means every interpreter has his/her bias, and especially in the case of a large event, with large political significance, it may be impossible to read any account without a bias. At its most extreme, Nietzsche's words are sometimes taken to represent the founding of the "post-modern" idea that there are no facts (a word which itself means "something made"), or there is no reality--there is only a text to be interpreted.

Canada's Arctic seems to have become such a text.

The Toronto Star says the methane beneath the surface in the Arctic may be a huge problem whether or not global warming is taking place; or it may be a manageable problem until global warming kicks in, at which point it becomes a huge problem; or (buried in the article) it may be a manageable problem in any case.

The consequence of all that seeping methane has become one of the big questions in climate science.

But one thing is certain: The fact it hasn't been factored into previous global warming predictions means forecasts even as recent as the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change are too conservative.

Last week, a World Wildlife Fund report called methane the globe's single biggest climate threat.

OK: So things are even worse than even the extreme alarmists have been saying, right?

Not necessarily.

Methane escapes from underground into the atmosphere as the earth around it warms up. Some of that is from recent climate change but some of the deepest warming is in response to events that happened up to 12,000 years ago.

"Is our recent warming affecting it more or less?" asks Dallimore. "That's a very reasonable question to ask."

But if that's still an open question, can we question the credibility of the WWF?

Scientists also don't know how much of the methane is coming from deep deposits and how much is from relatively shallow beds.

"There's a building international awareness that this is a gap in our knowledge that should be addressed," says Dallimore, back from his research season in the far north Mackenzie Delta. "The challenge is to quantify what portion of that large reservoir of methane is presently stable or not."

Some researchers suggest the methane seeps have been releasing gas for centuries, if not millennia, and are creating concern simply because they've been discovered. But others point to signs that methane releases may be increasing.

Whoa Nelly. It might be a large problem, totally unrelated to human activities. It might not be a large problem at all. There might not be a current increase in the problem. It seems that almost nothing is actually known is that methane sometimes bubbles to the surface in the Arctic. So the whole story is dog bites man rather than man bites dog? And we find this out several paragraphs in?

And here's a concluding part to the article which I can now find in the Metro version of the article, but not on the Star's website:

Many suggest that methane could be a climate "tipping point." Seeping methane will add to global warming, which will lead to ever larger and increasingly catastrophic amounts of the gas in the atmosphere.

Weaver says sudden, large releases are very unlikely.

"The catastrophic effect is not there," he says.

But methane is going to be a factor in future climate change.

"We know that it's a positive feedback," says Weaver.

More and more scientists are beginning to study methane deposits, Dallimore says. New tools, such as devices that can measure methane seepage from the air, are sharpening knowledge of what's going on under the countless lakes of the tundra and vast sweeps of Arctic ocean.

"It's all connected and it's building up greenhouse gas concentrations by natural sources," says Dallimore.

"The question is how much?"

Andrew Weaver, "a Canadian researcher and one of the IPCC authors," says "the catastrophic effect is not there." That's certainly not the impression you get from most of the article. And why did the Star not include this quote?

This helps prepare for more from Anthony Watts. First, "Arctic Temperature Reporting Needs a Reality Check." And then, Arctic ice at its lowest this year will not be as low as 2007, and probably not as low as 2008 either.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Car vs. bicycle: Bryant vs. Sheppard

There is a lot of talk in Toronto about a "traffic collision" gone very bad: a car driven by former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant killed a cyclist--a motorcycle courier--named Allan Sheppard. Some witnesses said the cyclist grabbed the driver's door because of a confrontation seconds earlier, and Bryant steered into oncoming traffic, and then deliberately made Sheppard hit a tree, before the ex-cyclist hit a mailbox, fell under the car, and was run over by the rear tires. Bryant has been charged with criminal negligence causing death, and dangerous driving causing death.

Bryant had a PR firm working for him almost as soon as he had a lawyer--yes, really; in fact, he may have retained the PR firm earlier for some reason. Yes, really. Thanks no doubt to the PR firm, a story favourable to Bryant circulated in the media in the day or two following the crash. Sheppard was drunk, and in fact was sitting in a police cruiser an hour before his confrontation with Bryant. At the time of the deadly crash, Bryant didn't have control of the wheel--a fact witnesses may not have been aware of. Sheppard had grabbed the wheel, and it was he at least as much as Bryant who steered the car in a way that turned out to be fatal. Bryant was afraid of being attacked on his own behalf, but also on behalf of his wife who was with him. Shepherd may have hit Bryant's car with a bike lock. Bryant: innocent victim?

I have two questions: how exactly did this all start? And was Bryant by any chance in the habit of being an aggressive and hence dangerous driver?

From one piece in the Star:

He said he had been approached to take on a weekly television gig as a political commentator. "I don't want to do that any more. I really want out of that." He talked about the freedom delivered by stepping out of government. "When you get out there's this liberation. You don't realize what it's going to feel like until you get out. You can say, `you guys have no idea what you're talking about.'" You can "give the bird to a neighbour who's cut you off," something he couldn't do before "because you might want to put a sign in their lawn."

His dreams of freedom are not of reading, taking courses, or spending time with his family, but of engaging in confrontations in which he is argumentative and aggressive.

As for how it all started: no one in the media has been very clear about this. Here's one account:

By 9:45 p.m., Sheppard was cycling west along the stretch of Bloor St. W. often called the Mink Mile. After passing the intersection of Bloor and Bay Sts., Sheppard collided with Bryant's black convertible Saab.
Police would later call the accident that brought the two men together a "minor collision." Sheppard appeared unhurt. He angrily slammed his bag down on the hood of Bryant's car.

Despite the evening chill, the Saab's top was down. Sheppard and Bryant began jawing at each other. Bryant's 42-year-old wife, lawyer Susan Abramovitch, was in the passenger seat. The couple, who met while working as clerks at the Supreme Court of Canada, were celebrating their 12th anniversary.

According to witnesses, Bryant cut the argument short by pulling away. As he headed westbound on Bloor St., Sheppard chased the car on foot. He grabbed hold of the vehicle on the driver's side. It's not clear if he was trying to get into the car, get at the driver or merely prevent him from leaving.

Hmmm. Cyclist collides with car, then uses bag to hit the hood of the car. Doesn't that mean the car was coming up behind the cyclist? So: maybe the car actually hit the bike, rather than the other way around?

I can't find this in the media, but here's a blogger with the Montreal Gazette who has read a bit more than me:

Witnesses say that Bryant in a black convertible began honking at Sheppard. Bryant [obviously Sheppard] probably yelled back. According to one witness Bryant may have hit the back wheel of Sheppard's bike with his car. At this point Sheppard left his bike and approached Bryant on the drivers side of the car. Some sort of yelling match ensued and it appears Sheppard was holding on to the open convertible perhaps to prevent Bryant from leaving the scene. Then Bryant chose to start the car while Bryant [Sheppard] was still holding on. Bryant [Sheppard] was dragged a considerable distance. Sheppard may have, before or while being dragged, attempted to grab the wheel of the Saab. Witnesses then, describe a horrific scene where the Saab crossed the street and ran against trees and a mailbox until Sheppard fell under the rear wheels and sustained injuries that resulted in his death.

If Sheppard on his bike was ahead of Bryant in his car, Bryant may have honked to get him to move to the right, so Bryant could squeeze by in the same lane. This is contrary to the law. The cyclist is entitled to use an entire lane--best practice is for the cyclist to move to the left to reinforce this point. The cyclist may have known the law on this subject better than the former Attorney General.

Obviously a trial will have to decide all the relevant matters here. If, hypothetically, a motorist displayed aggressive actions to a cyclist, including bumping into the bike from the rear, and this was the beginning of the interaction between motorist and cyclist, then the motorist has displayed aggressive and dangerous actions,resulting from deliberate decisions, that led to the death of a human being. By comparison I think it matters less whether Sheppard over-reacted, whether he should have simply taken down the licence plate number, etc. And by the way: even if Sheppard controlled the wheel, or prevented Bryant from doing so, what about the gas and the brake?

Highway Traffic Act (Ontario e-laws), s. 148
Vehicles meeting bicycles
(4) Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (4).
Vehicles or equestrians overtaking others
(5) Every person in charge of a vehicle or on horseback on a highway who is overtaking another vehicle or equestrian shall turn out to the left so far as may be necessary to avoid a collision with the vehicle or equestrian overtaken, and the person overtaken is not required to leave more than one-half of the roadway free. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (5).
Bicycles overtaken
(6) Every person on a bicycle or motor assisted bicycle who is overtaken by a vehicle or equestrian travelling at a greater speed shall turn out to the right and allow the vehicle or equestrian to pass and the vehicle or equestrian overtaking shall turn out to the left so far as may be necessary to avoid a collision. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (6).
Driver unable to turn out is to stop
(7) Where one vehicle is met or overtaken by another, if by reason of the weight of the load on either of the vehicles so meeting or on the vehicle so overtaken the driver finds it impracticable to turn out, he or she shall immediately stop, and, if necessary for the safety of the other vehicle and if required so to do, he or she shall assist the person in charge thereof to pass without damage. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (7).
Passing vehicle going in same direction
(8) No person in charge of a vehicle shall pass or attempt to pass another vehicle going in the same direction on a highway unless the roadway,
(a) in front of and to the left of the vehicle to be passed is safely free from approaching traffic; and
(b) to the left of the vehicle passing or attempting to pass is safely free from overtaking traffic. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (8).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Updates on Climate Change

The Toronto Star runs the expected piece, on the verge of the Copenhagen conference, saying Arctic ice is definitely retreating, this is definitely a sign of global warming, etc. No reference to the fact that in 2007, it may have been more the case that the ice was moved by wind and ocean currents to a warmer place, where it melted, than that it melted in its usual cold place.

I'll just note these sentences:

"Evidence for responses of atmospheric circulation to declining sea ice extent is just beginning to emerge," the report says.

Sea water once covered by ice becomes warmed by the sun, changing ocean currents that begin in the Arctic. Those currents are also affected by meltwater flooding into the oceans, altering its salinity.

Ocean currents - major climate determinants in coastal regions - have yet to show significant climate-change impacts, but scientists are growing more concerned about the possibility.

Then, upping the ante: "Arctic is the warmest it's been in 2,000 years."

The new report is based on a decade-by-decade reconstruction of temperatures over the past 2,000 years developed using information from ancient lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings and other samples. The findings were then compared with complex computer climate model simulations created at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Moving away from the Arctic, there is new evidence that the Indo-Pacific warm pool was as warm in the Medieval Warm Period as it is today. Delia Oppo, a paleo–oceanographer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution says:

“The more interesting and potentially controversial result is that our data indicate surface water temperatures during a part of the Medieval Warm Period that are similar to today’s,” says Oppo. NH temperature reconstructions also suggest that temperatures warmed during this time period between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1250, but they were not as warm as modern temperatures. Oppo emphasizes, “Our results for this time period are really in stark contrast to the Northern Hemisphere reconstructions.”

That is, the new findings contradict the Northern Hemisphere or NH findings, the basis of the Mann "hockey stick" and similar summaries indicating that the twentieth century was the warmest in some time. The Medieval period presumably had little influence from man-made emissions. Oppo and colleagues sound like cautious scientists, and there are caveats here:

Oppo cautions that the reconstruction contains some uncertainties. Information from three different cores was compiled in order to reconstruct a 2,000-year-long record. In addition sediment data have an inherent uncertainty associated with accurately dating samples. The SST variations they have reconstructed are very small, near the limit of the Mg/Ca dating method.

Jonah Goldberg has written a nice piece,showing a bit more caution than I sometimes do.

Meanwhile, the journal Science reports that a study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR, has finally figured out why increased sunspots have a dramatic effect on the weather, increasing temperatures more than the increase in solar energy should explain. Apparently, sunspots heat the stratosphere, which in turn amplifies the warming of the climate.

Scientists have known for centuries that sunspots affect the climate; they just never understood how. Now, allegedly, the mystery has been solved.

Last month, in another study, also released in Science, Oregon State University researchers claimed to settle the debate over what caused and ended the last Ice Age. Increased solar radiation coming from slight changes in the Earth’s rotation, not greenhouse-gas levels, were to blame.

Goldberg doesn't rush to the conclusion that the alarmists are wrong, and the skeptics are right. He simply says there is some reason for skepticism: natural causes, especially originating from the sun, may have more influence than the alarmists admit, and man-made causes may have less.

What does it say that the modeling that guaranteed disastrous increases in global temperatures never predicted the halt in planetary warming since the late 1990s? (MIT’s Richard Lindzen says that “there has been no warming since 1997 and no statistically significant warming since 1995.”) What does it say that the modelers have only just now discovered how sunspots make the Earth warmer?

I don’t know what it tells you, but it tells me that maybe we should study a bit more before we spend billions to “solve” a problem we don’t understand so well.

Of course, the scientists whose work raises questions about alarmism, when they are quoted, still say: this is not solid evidence against global warming/climate change, etc. That often seems like singing the same hymn at the end of every church service.

UPDATE Sept. 4:

Anthony Watts has a pretty thoughtful beginning to a discussion of the new Arctic findings. There is still not much data about the Arctic as a whole, and there is a tendency to be selective as to which data is chosen.

Still, these Arctic findings look like about the best data so far indicating warming precisely in the twentieth century. Maybe not exactly the whole century, or the right parts, but ...

George Will, the Cold War, Analogies, etc

George Will has written that the U.S. should bail on Afghanistan. Today he writes that bailing on Iraq is also a good idea. Will's fellow conservatives are not pleased.

I like Yglesias' post.

Peter Wehner has pointed out that Will praised Jean-Francois Revel for saying the democracies were losing out to communism in the 80s. Now, says Wehner, Will is taking the side of surrender instead of fighting to victory. Yglesias:

But consider Revel. His thesis was that the West had lost its nerve in the face of the totalitarian threat it faced and that Western democracy was on the verge of perishing. Six years later the Berlin Wall came down. Two years after that, the Soviet Union broke up. Why would you cite that guy as prescient? He’s an example, if anything, of the conservative tendency toward bedwetting hysteria in the face of foreign threat along with totally unwarranted lack of confidence in the ability of liberal institutions to prevail over the long term. Democracy didn’t perish in the 1980s, the main ideological alternative to democracy perished. Maybe you couldn’t have known any better in 1983, but how has Wehner not noticed this twenty-five years later?

So: even if you accept the analogy between the Cold War and today's War on Terror, it is worth keeping in mind that the West won the Cold War without much of a fight. I would add: the analogy is very weak. 9/11 did not mean it was 1949 all over again, or 1939, or 1919. For those influenced by Leo Strauss and his friends: even if a democracy has powerful enemies, and indulges in fantasies about peace and universal co-operation, this does not mean it is Weimar Germany all over again.

Communist governments, while making relentless war on their own people, were less of a threat to other countries, even their neighbours, than they might have seemed. Of course those relentless domestic and civil wars took a lot of resources, in economies that were kept in a shambles by policies that were both stupid and malicious. Anti-communists exaggerated the communist threat, and this exaggeration led the way to the CIA's crazier experiments on their own people, Joe McCarthy, and other things. Of course the anti-anti-communists were wrong to keep pretending there was a communist paradise somewhere, and to say there was a moral case that we shouldn't make war because communism was superior. But if they felt safe from actual war, they turned out to be correct. Surely Americans are even safer now.