Archive for 2010 March

“Follow your path, provided it goes up” — Pierre Boulez

Wise words from the great Pierre Boulez, in a lovely profile written by Mark Swed of The Los Angeles Times. How pleasant to hear the witty, thoughtful, bold Boulez speak out, mostly about music, but also about modernity, individuality, aging — on and on. Some folks deserve their fame; he's one.

Let's call this the quote of the day, and highlight it:

I say follow your path — provided it goes up. That's my definition of

Makes me want to get out into the mountains, even though of course Boulez wasn't thinking of that.

Here's the man himself, conducting. He disdains a stick, and expects his musicians to follow the slightest of his gestures.

They do — with the utmost of respect. 


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How was that El Nino for you, SoCal?

Emily Green's Chance of Rain posts on the rainy season we had, and our usual dry six months to come, going to Bill Patzert for the meteorolgical crux.

In response to a question, the famous forecaster from JPL/NASA said:

After the Vernal Equinox (lMarch 20th), the
Northern Hemisphere begins to rapidly warm up. This expands the
North Pacific High and shrinks the North Pacific Low.  As the High expands and strengthens, storms
weaken and go farther to the north of California. Also, winds from the
north (the eastern segment of the High) get stronger and upwelling along
our coast picks up. Cooler water, more marine layer; thus, May gray and
June gloom.  The High is strengthening, northerly winds are becoming
steadier, there is more coastal and inland fog, and no North Pacific
storms … our dry six months.

In other words, the pattern is beginning its usual shift. The rain is on the way out, it's warming rapidly, and our spring/summer/fall is coming.

So: How was that El Nino winter for you, Southern California?

In our little nook of Southern California, Upper Ojai, it was lovely. Rainfall is coming it at about 123% of normal. County wide it appears to be almost exactly what forecaster Terry Schaeffer told me back in January, in a story on forecasting El Nino back in January for the Reporter.

Schaeffer predicted that we would have a normal winter, plus about 15%. And a very enjoyable winter it was, too. Everyone I know has been raving about it…here's how it looked in Upper Ojai last weekend.


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Business “Study” of CA’s Global Warming Law Bunk, Experts Say

When the word "study" is used to describe an analysis prepared by two professors at an accredited university, one expects a certain standard of thought and fairness.

So it's genuinely shocking to discover that a "study" looking at California's ground-breaking global warming law, AB 32, by two professors at Sacramento State is so flawed as to be useless, according to follow-up analyses by the Legislative Analyst's office, and by professors at Stanford and UCLA. 

The study found that the law would cost households in CA nearly $4000 a year. Nonsense, say experts.

According to the LAO, speaking of work by Varshney and another professor, Dennis Tootelian:

"Both of the two studies…have major problems involving both data,
methodology, and analysis. As a result of these shortcomings, we believe
that their principal findings are unreliable."

And professors James Sweeney and Matthew Kahn, although polite, are no less damning in The Los Angeles Times, calling the work of Varshney and Tootelian "highly flawed," "based on poor logic and unsound economic analysis."

Really, they're too polite. Here's an example: 

For cars, they agree that more fuel-efficient cars will save consumers
$360 a year. But in an inexplicable twist of logic, they decide that
because most people will not buy new cars, they count the fuel savings
as a cost increase of $360 per year for every car owned in California. A
saving for some becomes a cost for everyone in the Varshney/Tootelian

Huh? How can a savings that accrues to those who buy new cars become a cost to those who already own older cars?

When pressed, the Sacramento State profs insist that

Rather than question the logic behind AB 32 or cost of regulations
studies or attack their reliability, critics should talk to small
businesses about the current economic challenges confronting

In other words, they feel the pain of small business. Okay, but why does that excuse misleading?

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National Academy of Sciences backs bio opinions in Delta

Over at John Fleck's shop in Albuquerque, the reporter looks at the release of a National Academy of Sciences report on the Delta. The unavoidable news is that the panel concluded that restrictions on pumping to save the endangered Delta Smelt were "scientifically justified," and said so numerous times in the report.

But to no one's surprise, the report's call for "clarification" and doubts about setting aside an 8000-acre area to improve the tiny fish's chance at survival were interpreted in numerous ways by numerous folk.

Just look at the headlines, compiled by Aquafornia:

Two things strike me about the $%750,000 report, which was ordered by Senator Dianne Feinstein, apparently at the bequest of pistachio farmer Stewart Resnick.

First, the scientists complain repeatedly about the inability to make final judgments given the extremely short time frame they had to study the issue (two months).

They have another year to write a full report, which no doubt will be more thoughtful and more detailed, and probably less read.

Second, to their credit, the NAS makes the report easy to access…

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Republicans predict “Armageddon” and “ruin” for nation

Karl Rove, the infamous Republican strategist, all but froths at the mouth this morning on This Week, saying that it's a "gigantic disaster."

Meanwhile John Boehner, the House minority leader, said that it was "Armageddon" and the change to come will "ruin our country," according to Fox News.

Could this be what they're talking about? NASA's prediction that this will be the warmest year ever? (The red line to the left is the global temperature record to date; the yellow is the previous high.)


Uh, no. The GOP is upset because health care reform legislation passed against their wishes.

Oh well, whatever, nevermind…

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Stars over Cathedral Rock (via Yosemite Bob)

Still haven't figured out what I think of Twitter, but Yosemite Bob has a fascinating feed, complete with some nifty pictures…here's one of the stars over Cathedral Rock.


You gotta love it, as they say it Hollywood…

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Dylan and Barack: The Times They Have a-Changed

Not because Dylan performed "The Times They Are a-Changing" at the White House. Because the White House now has a Flickr feed


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The Pope: Another Denier?

Pope Benedict has drawn praise from enviros for his appeals to preserve the planet. Now, in light of a child abuse stain spreading over the church from the Munich Archdiocese, one begins to wonder if the Papacy was speaking so boldly about the environment to cover up other sins.

In the words of Hans Kung, the premier German philosopher and Catholic thinker today, in a piece for the National Catholic Reporter called Ratzinger's Responsibility:

Why does the pope continue to assert that what he calls
"holy" celibacy is a "precious gift", thus ignoring the biblical
teaching that explicitly permits and even encourages marriage for all
office holders in the Church? Celibacy is not "holy"; it is not even
"fortunate"; it is "unfortunate", for it excludes many perfectly good
candidates from the priesthood and forces numerous priests out of their
office, simply because they want to marry. The rule of celibacy is not a
truth of faith, but a church law going back to the 11th Century; it
should have been abolished already in the 16th Century, when it was
trenchantly criticized by the Reformers.

And that's Kung the philosopher. When he gets down to the details of the allegations, it looks even worse for Pope Benedict.

Which raises another question: Why are German philosophers, who from the time of Kant have been notoriously impenetrable to readers, so much more straightforward to read today than American thinkers?

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California condors spread their wings over central coast

Really good front-page news from the Monterey Herald — an egg has been spied in a nest of young California condors living in the Pinnacles Mts., far away from the site of the endangered species into the  environment in Ventura county about two decades ago. 

In other words, the species appears to be re-establishing itself in California, after a near-brush with extinction.

Biologists at Pinnacles National Monument are celebrating the first condor egg laid by a mating pair inside the park boundaries in more than a century.

The egg marks the latest encouraging development in the slow recovery of the endangered flying giants in the regions they historically inhabited. The effort has been hampered by hunters and lead poisoning of the birds.

A female released in 2004 in the park that straddles Monterey and San Benito counties, and a male released the same year 30 miles west at Big Sur, had been observed engaged in courtship behavior earlier this year, park spokesman Carl Brenner said.

"They are now the proud parents of a small egg," Brenner said.

What really makes the story is the picture that goes with it, which is just so cool. Makes one want to be a condor, just to be able to live in a beautiful aerie far far above the madding crowd. 

Almost. Still kinda like being a human, despite my species' flaws. 


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Birds adapt to environmental change…and humans too

A friend points me to a fascinating article about how bird wings are changing as their habitats change. 

(The article can be found on a terrific new conservation/habitat research site, Conservation Maven - I've bookmarked it, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in land/conservation issues.)

In short, the researcher found that in boreal forests, which have been greatly diminished by habitat loss, bird wings would become pointier, to further birds ability to fly, in an era of habitat loss. In temperate areas, where forests are in contrast recovering, he battle deforestation. In temperate areas, where forests are coming back, the researcher Andre Desrochers hypothesized that the birds' wings would become rounder, to help with take-off and landing in leafy areas. 

This was just what he found, in 11 out of 21 species. This tells us that evolution is not over. That's true for us too. In a story in the Wall Street Journal, Melinda Beck looks at recent human evolution, and finds many examples of how we have changed in the last 10,000 years…and the last 100 years.

Not all of the changes have been good. A researcher at Texas Tech has a great phrase for this: 

And some body parts that provided a benefit at some time in human history pose challenges today—a phenomenon Texas Tech University geneticist Lewis I. Held Jr. calls "bislagiatt," an acronym for "but it seemed like a good idea at the time." 

Among the examples Held cites are hanging testicles (useful for keeping sperm cool, but vulnerable to injury), a narrow pelvis (useful for walking, but dangerous for childbirth) and the appendix, which researchers now believe was once useful for fermenting bacteria to help humans digest, and is believed to be of no use now. .

Well, at least researchers now have a theory about that…for more, see the excellent story


Speaking of which, the WSJ now appears to be moving its science reporters to the llifestyle/"news you can use" beat. Well, it's better than pushing them out the door en masse, the usual evolutionary response.  

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