Archive for 2009 July

Neil Young: Man from the North Country

He’s always straddled the line between loner and consummate hipster…

His greatness, from a Canadian perspective (in Canada's The Walrus):

The romance that Neil holds for American listeners is obvious; he’s
always straddled the line between loner and consummate hipster. His
charm seems accidental, as nothing about him seems to make sense: his
lyrics consist of one-liners pieced together with nonsense, and they
rarely seem as punchy on second thought as they do when he delivers
them; his guitar technique is like that of a kid trying to emulate his
heroes before he’s finished learning how to play. At his most
interesting, Neil is a relative moderate embroiled in a world of
excess, chronicling his friends’ downward spirals with insight but far
from square himself. In short, he’s always been cool, but he’s never
been a fuck-up or a ham.

Some people call this mystique; I call it Canadianness. The
qualities that make Neil so appealing to young Americans are the ties
that bind him to his place of birth. And these qualities look much
better from a distance—shyness and reserve go nicely with a Laurel
Canyon pedigree. He has the bearing of someone who grew up in a tougher
climate, who had some experience with manual labour but plenty of time
to think. It’s worth noting that 2005’s Prairie Wind, on
which he sings of Canadian geese and the Trans-Canada Highway, was
recorded in Nashville: The North has its own cachet, comparable to that
of the South. Neil has a certain northern authenticity, from his
discovery of “Four Strong Winds” on a jukebox in the prairies through
his early days playing folk clubs in Winnipeg and Toronto. If you grew
up in New York City, Neil’s early life might seem awfully interesting.
If you grew up here, there’s a good chance that his adolescence was
similar to your dad’s.


The problem with this analysis is that it makes the mistake most rock writers made, which is to assume that everything is about attitude. (For instance, the line about Young not having learned to play guitar, which is kind of like saying Count Basie didn't know how to play piano, because he didn't play a lot of notes. It's absurd.)

But with that said, it's true that Young is about as reticent as rock stars get, and probably yes, that has something to do with being a Canadian.

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How Would You Like to Be Unemployed Today?

I think I'm in category three. Could be worse, actually. At least I'm "scrappy," according to Rall.


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A Good Practical Immortality (in Yosemite)

Talk of immortality! After a whole day in the woods, we are already immortal. When is the end of such a day?

–John Muir, from his notebooks…and here, via Timknows, a picture of a favorite place I and friends will be visiting soon, Washburn Lake, in the Yosemite backcountry.

All this to announce that I'm taking the next couple of weeks off…although I do have a few posts to come when I'm gone, to keep you folks in Internet-land interested…


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Meet the Vague Scientist

Don't know who Coelacanth Diaries is, or even what a Coelacanth is, but this is hilarious….do take a minute to enlarge this one, it's worth it…via Bioephemera.


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El Nino or El No-Show?

In the discussion of this results from April according to a climate society, it is said that the two are in general agreement….yet to an outside observer, it seems to me that the dynamical models lean much more towards El Nino than the statisical. Am I wrong?

Aye, that is the question, as phrased by the inimitable Bill Patzert, forecaster extraordinaire:

Bill Patzert calls it the “great wet hope.”

“You say ‘El Niño’ and everyone’s eyes light up,” said Patzert, a
climatologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

So when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently
said El Niño conditions were returning, some started dreaming of a
season flush with water that could drag Southern California out of its

But don’t bust out any celebratory umbrellas just yet, Patzert warned.

“In the last decade, we have had a lot of false starts on El Niño
and at this point, it looks like déjà vu all over again,” he said. “The
smart money is on another dry winter.”

Patzert is once again gently but unmistakably declaring his independence from the official forecast, which goes something like this…

NOAA scientists today announced the arrival of El Niño, a climate
phenomenon with a significant influence on global weather, ocean
conditions and marine fisheries. El Niño, the periodic warming of
central and eastern tropical Pacific waters, occurs on average every
two to five years and typically lasts about 12 months.

Sea Surface Temperatures the week of July 2009.

surface temperatures along the equatorial Eastern Pacific, as of July
1, are at least one degree above average — a sign of El Niño.

NOAA expects this El Niño
to continue developing during the next several months, with further
strengthening possible. The event is expected to last through winter

“Advanced climate science allows us to alert
industries, governments and emergency managers about the weather
conditions El Niño may bring so these can be factored into
decision-making and ultimately protect life, property and the economy,”
said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and
atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Patzert has a history of rejecting the consensus and being proven right, so when he says this year El Niño will be "El No-Show," we have good reason to listen.  

But here's what puzzles me about this question. Look at the suite of model forecasts for El Niño this year.

Here's a suite of dynamical models:


Here's a suite of statistical models:


In the discussion of these results from April according to a climate society, it is said that the two are in general agreement….yet to an outside observer, it seems to me that the dynamical models lean much more towards El Nino than the statisical. Am I wrong?

And am I right in thinking that this reflects observation vs. experience?

Should we not place as much weight on past experience as on our measurements of what we think causes this phenomenon?

Or am I missing something obvious?

Just wondering.

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LA Times to SoCal: Climate Change is Here. Deal with It.

Over the past couple of years I have been critical of the paper for its all-or-nothing coverage of global warming (where they will run enormous stories about climate change in, say, the Arctic, but neglect to mention consequences here in California the US when covering other less-sexy environmental stories not specifically about climate change.)

That's the implicit message of the reporting in The Los Angeles Times over the last few months on water issues. Over the past couple of years I have been critical of the paper for its all-or-nothing coverage of global warming (where they will run enormous stories about climate change in, say, the Arctic, but neglect to mention consequences here in California or the US when covering other less-sexy environmental stories not specifically about climate change.)

I am now honor-bound to applaud its apparent shift in attitude, but I'm sincere about my praise.

A couple of examples. First, from a front-page story on the Westlands water district near Fresno:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month asked President Obama to declare
Fresno County a disaster area to boost federal aid. But that's not what
the farmers say they want. At a recent town hall meeting in Fresno,
while some women in the audience knitted, men in baseball caps and
T-shirts shouted down officials from the Interior Department: "We don't
want welfare, we want water."

But climate change is
intensifying competition for this resource and may well force changes
in the way the valley has been farmed for decades.

This area,
once known as part of the great California desert, has always depended
on water from somewhere else. In the early part of the century,
homesteaders dug wells or hauled water from up north, but in 1952 they
banded together to form the Westlands Water District. It later
contracted to buy water from the federal government, which built a
system of canals and reservoirs that captures water in the northern
part of the state and sends it to farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin

Because of its subordinate water rights, the
600,000-acre Westlands Water District is often last on the long list of
groups receiving water from this federal project. In the last two
years, below-average rainfall and a shrinking snowpack have made the
supply even tighter than usual.

Second, from a typically first-rate story by Bettina Boxall about how Chino is recycling local water, and relying much less on importing:

Climate change threatens the Sierra snowpack, while environmental
restrictions — including those Davis fought for — have slashed the
amount of water Los Angeles can suck from the Owens Valley and
neighboring Mono Basin. Drought has cut Colorado River flows, while
rising demand from up-river is ending the surplus deliveries that
helped fill the Colorado River Aqueduct.

Shipments through the 444-mile-long California Aqueduct could be
permanently constricted by the ecological collapse of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, the heart of the state's waterworks.

When the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. studied
potential water sources for the region last year, it concluded that
increasing conservation, capturing storm water and recycling could
yield roughly as much water as the Southland is getting from the delta.

Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions may or may not happen (probably not, I'm sorry to report). Which means that we will adapt, or we will fail to adapt, and pay the price. That's how to cover this issue now.

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Boiled Frogs May Die, but the Metaphor Won’t

A week ago James Fallows declared victory over the boiled frogs metaphor, when the hard-htting Paul Krugman brought up the old saw about frogs who won't jump out of a pot brought slowly to a boil. but didn't fall for it.

But tonight on his web-only sketchbook Tom Toles, who can draw as well as he can think, finds new humor in the old myth…


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Otto Heino, World’s Oldest and Richest Potter, Dies at 94

All the big papers lead this evening with news of the death of the great Walter Cronkite, whom I often saw but never met…well, not as famous, but just as wonderful a man was Otto Heino, one of the many great potters who have come out of Ojai, who died today.

Otto was ninety-four, but we saw him just a month or so ago. Whenever visitors came to our little town, we would take them over to the Pottery, to marvel at Otto's astonishing pottery, and often as not they would meet the potter himself. He would talk about how he learned to glaze at very high temperatures in the aerospace industry; at how the Japanese wanted to buy his formula for the famous yellow glaze, but he wouldn't sell it, not even for a million dollars, partly because he knew he would do better selling individual pots for $20,000 yach. He boasted, frankly, that he was the world's oldest and richest potter, and added that 6000 collectors around the world expected a piece from him every year, Ask him about Beatrice Wood, from whom he bought his studio, and he would mention that he taught her how to glaze — he had a thousand stories, and loved to tell them all. He loved visitors, loved talking, and wouldn't let you go until you heard him out. 

From someone else these brags might sound off-putting, but from Otto they were somehow disarming. Of course he told these stories in his charming little display room, surrounded by his marvelously rich, warm work, with his gardens all around, his modest but charming house, the open doors, his bright blue eyes, his grin — you couldn't help but like the man.

Miss you, Otto.

Last December we bought from Otto an elegant decorative vase, speckled with bits of ash, made (he told us) of applewood recovered from a New England orchard that once belonged to his late brother.

I'll keep this pot of Otto's on the mantle, because it's beautiful and I love it, probably forever.


Otto Heino

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Sarah Palin’s to Run on “Drill Baby Drill” Platform

As predicted in this space a week or so ago, Sarah Palin is running for president on a pro-oil and gas development platform.

In the the next few months and years, assuming she doesn't flip out and self-destruct, she's going to become Ms. Drill Baby Drill.

Inevitably, she will ignore or mock global warming. She has no choice. Her whole career is predicated on business as usual, pollution as usual, fossil fuels now and forever, more and more, and devil take the hindmost. As she (or, more likely, her flack) wrote in the Washington Post today:

Many states have abundant coal, whose technology is continuously making
it into a cleaner energy source. Westerners literally sit on mountains
of oil and gas, and every state can consider the possibility of nuclear

Wow. Forget about the strangely fractured sentence construction. Just notice the pro-coal, pro-oil and gas, pro-nuke stance. She might as well call for more for more global warming right now, instead of simply pretending the problem doesn't exist, as she does by not mentioning it once in the op-ed.

Grist's editor Russ Walker put together an answer to Palin on Grist, but to yours truly, what stands out is not Palin's misleading claims. (What else is new with her?)

What stands out is her self-centered assumption that support for fossil fuel production and consumption will make her popular, as if global warming simply isn't happening.

After all, what could matter more than this?


Update: Think Progress points out that a few months ago, Palin supported cap and trade.

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Denier “Science”: How to Miss the Forest for the Trees

At the ever-entertaining Watts Up With That, well-known global warming skeptic Roger Pielke Sr. links to the following graph:
In a challenge to a NASA/GRL study released last week that shows a sharp decline in Arctic sea ice coverage, Pielke Sr. writes: Since 2008, the anomalies have actually decreased.

No, I'm not kidding! That's his analysis of the graph above. (Check out the link if you don't believe me.)

Is there a better example anywhere of a scientist unable to see baselines shifting?

Or, as they used to say, not able to see the forest
for the trees?

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