Archive for 2010 July

Why would you want to leave coastal California?

That's what Monarch butterflies in SoCal are thinking. Makes one wonder how hard-wired some of these so-called "instincts" really are.

Here's a picture of garden designer David Snow petting a Monarch caterpillar.


A fun story for me to cover…off again now to the Sierras, this time to the Thousand-Island Lake area. Back a week from tomorrow. Have left some posts for you to chew on.

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La Nina expected back this year

As is often the case, after El Nino. But this McClatchey/Fresno Bee piece is an unusually good one, complete with a charticle designed for web postings.

La Niña tends to influence wetter winters around the Canadian border,
but drier conditions along the Mexican border. So Southern California
— Los Angeles and San Diego — consistently get less-than-average
rainfall when La Niña occurs. The Pacific Northwest tends to get more

The midpoint between wet and dry with La Niña is about
Interstate 80 in California, said research meteorologist Kelly Redmond
of the Desert Research Institute in Reno.

Thanks Bee!

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Ignoring a mortal threat: Appeasing climate change

A couple of weeks ago Tom Toles, in his witty but sharp way, brought up a powerful argument in the climate opinion wars. To ignore climate change, a mortal threat to our way of life, he said is comparable to appeasing Hitler in the late 1930's. Toles wrote

let me be the first to haul out the heavy artillery of WWII analogies on this issue and call the climate legislation obstructionists the Neville Chamberlains of the planet.

This got me thinking, of course, of George Orwell, who despised the
Fascists and the Neville Chamberlains who who would appease them as much as any writer, on the left or on the right. I looked
in his diary (which has been unspooling one day at a time, on the web)
to see if he had some thoughts.

On March 7, 1940, Orwell wrote:

Everywhere a feeling of something near despair among thinking people
because of the failure of the government to act and the continuance of
dead minds and pro-Fascists in positions of command. Growing recognition
that the only thing that would certainly right the situation is an
unsuccessful invasion; and coupled with this a growing fear that Hitler
won’t after all attempt the invasion but will go for Africa and the Near

"…near despair among thinking people because of the failure to act and the continuance of dead minds and pro-Fascists in positions of command."


We certainly are seeing "near-despair among thinking people about the failure of the government to act." No shortage of "dead minds" amongst deniers. What would Orwell say about our government today?

Probably pretty much what Toles is saying…but in harder words.


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Chart of the Week: The fall of Night

Has any director in the history of the movies fallen so far, so fast?

Via Marginal Revolution. If any discussion is necessary, the comments are excellent. M. Night Shyamalan must rue the day that sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic began quantifying their reviews. 

Though that process is not beyond criticism. Rotten Tomatoes continues to rate Inception highly; Metacritic, not so much. I prefer Metacritic's more discriminating database, but the crowd continues to flock to Rotten Tomatoes, it seems…

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Tracking 2010: in the race for the hottest year ever

The famous columnist George Will drives even his fellow editorial writers a little nuts with his condescending dismissal of global warming. As the LA Times wrote in an editorial yesterday:

You probably won't hear it from columnist George F. Will, Fox News
commentators or the plethora of conservative blogs that have claimed
global warming essentially stopped in 1998, but recent figures released
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
show that global land and ocean surface temperatures in June were the
highest since record-keeping began in 1880. What's more, the first half
of 2010 was the hottest such period ever recorded, and Arctic sea ice
melted at a record-setting pace in June.

How does Will do it? How does he dismiss over a century's worth of evidence? Simple. He focuses on global temperatures since l998. a big ENSO year. As he wrote in a column last November:

There is much debate about the reasons for, and the importance of, the
fact that global warming has not increased for that long [since l998].

At other times he's said there is no "statistically significant" warming since l998.

To be fair to Will, it's true that on this short time scale, warming is not increasing as rapidly as in the past century. But that doesn't reassure climate scientists who look at the trend. As NOAA wrote recently, reporting on June:

Each of the 10 warmest average global temperatures recorded since 1880
have occurred in the last fifteen years. The warmest year-to-date on
record, through June, was 1998, and 2010 is warmer so far (note:
although 1998 was the warmest year through June, a late-year warm surge
in 2005 made that year the warmest total year). Analysis by the
National Climatic Data Center reveals that June of 2010 was the warmest
global average for that month on record, and is also the warmest
year-to-date from January to June. This graph plots the year-to-date average global land and ocean temperature.

This just-mentioned graph, which I haven't seen before, helpfully puts Will's contention in a 21st-century context. Yes, l998 was a hot, hot year, although 2010 has a good chance of going down as the hottest ever, just as James Hansen predicted. But who in their right mind would look at this graph and wave off climate change? 

(Click to enlarge.) 

And if 2010 does turn out to be the hottest year ever, how will George Will continue to mislead? 

Irritated editorialists want to know.

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Obama accepts inaction on climate as bill dies in Senate

Tim Dickinson blames Obama for what became official today: the comprehensive energy/climate bill is dead. David Roberts blames Republicans and centrist Democrats, and sees no silver lining. 

Yet at the same time, as numerous publications have pointed out, the coal industry has lost its mojo, in part because of campaigns such as the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal efforts, which have halted plans to construct over 125 coal plants in this country, and because the EPA has been empowered to take on climate pollution, which troubles investors. Stopping new coal plants is crucial to climate protection, no doubt. We might have reason for hope, if only we could act now — but seemingly, we as a nation can't.

It's worth looking back at the speech Obama gave a little over a month ago, after the BP disaster became plain, urging action on the comprehensive energy/climate bill. He said:

The one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will
not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too
difficult to meet.

Barack, I don't believe you any more. Sorry.

[image from the Rolling Stone article by Dickinson]


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Scientist challenges denier: denier threatens suit

In a column this past week, George Monbiot pointed to a meticulously detailed take-down of the English Vicount Monckton's scattered attack on climate change science by an American professor specializing in heat transfer named John Abraham. Abraham went through a presentation by Monckton and surgically took it apart, point by point.

It's a devastatingly convincing talk. Abraham not only points out fundamental flaws in Monckton's attack (failing to cite references, that sort of thing) but he has the temerity to contact scientists that Monckton does reference, and ask them if they agree with his point.

For instance, Monckton cites a paper that he claims shows that as temperatures rise, polar bears will thrive; when Abraham contacts the scientists, they say no, it's just the opposite, rising temperature means less Arctic ice, which threatens the polar bears way of life.

This tactic outrages Monckton. On the popular denier site Watts Up With That? he writes:

At several points in the new version [of the talk], Abraham rashly persists in
misrepresenting me to third-party scientists, getting hostile
quotations from them in response to what I had not said, and using them
against me.

"Hostile quotations" — that is, they thought Monckton was wrong! For this Monckton darkly threatens a libel suit. He goes on to ask the denier community to write Abraham's employer, the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, to request that they take the criticism off the Internet, and discipline Abraham. 

Obviously, as Monbiot says, Monckton can dish it out, but he can't take it. But what makes Abraham's analysis so utterly convincing is not the science he cites, nor even the flaws in Monckton's reasoning (if you can call it that). It's the fact that Monckton doesn't even agree with himself. Monckton cites charts, for instance, on recent temperatures, so crudely manipulated, they don't even match.


A New Zealand site called Hot Topic has responded by asking people to send messages of support to the administration of the University of St. Thomas. They've logged nearly a thousand so far. Care to add yours

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A heated rant against deniers: Tom Toles

The great Tom Toles, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, said to be the 48th most-powerful man in D.C. by one survey, has a nifty new website, complete with rants. Last Friday the heat got under his collar, and he turned on climate change deniers, who love warm winters, and see warm temps at that time as a good thing, even if is climate change related, but somehow forget the whole subject when it turns extra hot in the summer.

Like this month (temp map courtesy of Weather Underground):

Regional Map : Weather Underground_1279485717088
Toles writes:

How long could I go before twisting this hot summer weather into some
screed about climate change? Apparently only this long. Deniers never
tire of this game: when it's cold in the winter, that's "evidence" about
climate trends, and when it's warm in the winter, they say "If this is
climate change, I'll take it!". So why should I be any different? But
there IS a difference. For deniers it's all a big game of scoring cheap

For everyone else, the climate debate has been for decades now about
the degree of conclusiveness of the evidence, measured against the
practicalities of reducing carbon output. Now, the evidence is
massively supportive (the scientists' e-mail "conspiracy" has been
debunked, please be aware). But because the pro-carbon people are still
unprepared to reduce carbon in ANY meaningful way, they are cornered
into a position where they have to argue that there is NO compelling
evidence. And so that is the position they take.

So let me be the first to haul out the heavy artillery of WWII
analogies on this issue and call the climate legislation obstructionists
the Neville Chamberlains of the planet. We have SUV's in our time. If
there is a current issue on which people are absolutely discrediting
themselves, in a way that current science and future calamities will
hold them accountable for, this is it. "If this is responsibility, I'll
take it!" Well, you've got it.

The question some have asked is: Could there be lawsuits against oil companies to remedy that ducked responsibility? And could this be the reason that oilcos have cut funding to outright deniers?

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Quote of the week: California earthquake edition

From an eminent seismologist at UCLA, on why we should pay attention to earthquake studies, even if they can't predict the exact time of a powerful earthquake likely to hit California in coming years:

"Suppose you are the minister of the defense, and you are told the enemy
is mobilizing its forces and will attack us within a year. And you tell them, 'No, I don't want to know. Tell me exactly within
seconds, and then I will pay attention.' That would be suicide."

That's from Vladimir Keilis-Borok, age eighty-eight, and still at work in the lab. And it comes at the end of a superbly clear and memorable story on the idea of the Mogi Donut, on the front page of today's LA Times, called There's a Hole in this Earthquake Theory.

Californians, you should read the whole thing.

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“I misquoted the Bible on national television”: Coleman Barks

Some of the best of our literary reviews have had the most trouble putting up a website. Perhaps the nature of literature — a desire to create something out of nothing that can last — is opposed to the nature of the web.

The Internet never forgets — for better or worse. Human memory works differently; remembering is connected to emotion, which is connected to making sense. The prizing of the great is one path, heading upwards; the valuing of everything is a maze of freeways.

But the good news is that both The Threepenny Review, previously mentioned here, and The George Review, have now established workable sites that allow readers to link to good work, without in any way changing the experience of those brave souls who actually read the journals.

Here's an example from the summer issue of The Georgia Review. Coleman Barks, the man who more than any other single individual brought Rumi to our shores (encouraged by Robert Bly, by the way) has a funny, wise, and altogether delightful poem in this issue.

Here it is, called My Segment on The News Hour.

I misquoted the Bible on national television.
A preacher caught me, e-mailed, Not Luke 17:12, Luke 17:21.

The one and two got transposed in my apparatus.
I go back to have a look.

It is truly something, what Jesus says in
answering the Pharisees,
about when the kingdom of God is coming.
He says it is not like that.
It will not come with observation.
You will not say, Lo, here or Lo, there.

Because it is not something
that is arriving in time or space,
not anything to be observed.

For behold, the kingdom of God is within

But that is just half the story.
The Gospel of Thomas has what I take to be the full text.

The kingdom of God is within you
and all around you.
                                         Thomas, Saying #3

Split a piece of wood. I am there.
Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.
              Saying #77

The holiest thing then, the kingdom, is inside—
the observing consciousness, the deep core of being—
and outside, in the brown thrasher, the little girl
over the squares of the sidewalk, the universe that,
so far as we know, is unlimited.

It would be best here to start singing, and
Mary Oliver saw me give a reading once.
She asked afterward what was that
you were doing with your feet? I like that.
A little buckdancing I fall into.

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