29 June 2010

Divining the Climate.

Figure 1. Dr. Kirsten Zickfeld, lead author of "Divinations."
PNAS is at it again. Fresh from its publication of a truly despicable article on the credentials of consensus climatologists vis-à-vis those of their skeptical colleagues, the official organ of The National Academy of Sciences is now offering up Expert judgments about transient climate response to alternative future trajectories of radiative forcing (June 28, 2010. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0908906107) — a production to which we will here refer as "Divinations" — short for "Divining the Climate: A Survey of Oracular Opinion."

The lead author, Kirsten Zickfeld (Figure 1), works for Environment Canada. Don't be fooled by the blond hair and the baby blues. Zickfeld's got smarts. Among other things, she studies mathematical models of "thermohaline circulation" (THC), which is the scientific name (because both temperature and salinity are involved) for currents such as the Gulf Stream that deliver tropical warmth to higher latitudes — see , for example, the The Two Mile Time Machine by Richard Alley for an accessible introduction and here for an update.

Cursory review of Zickfeld's publications yields the following conclusions:
  1. She's a serious scientist with considerable expertise in computers and modeling.

  2. In contrast to "all-but-the-kitchen-sink" simulations, Zickfeld's models are phenomenological — she calls them "reduced form models." They consist of a relatively small number (< 10), of differential equations, something this site views as a plus.

  3. Zickfeld's views her models as subroutines that can be plugged into larger schemes , so-called "integrated assessment models" (IAMs), that estimate the combined consequences of climatological processes and social policies .

  4. She's a true believer. Early on in her doctoral dissertation, we read the following:
    "Consequences of this [increased] rate of warming [since 1860], which is unprecedented at the human time-scale, are being observed in natural systems worldwide: glaciers shrink, sea-ice extent and thickness decrease, plants flower and birds breed earlier, and a number of plant and animal species extend their ranges northwards or upwards (for a review cf. Walther et al. 2003). ... [A]s long as anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are not effectively reduced, climate will continue to change. The most recent IPCC report projects a global mean temperature increase by 1.4–5.8 ±C relative to 1990 at the end of this century (Houghton et al. 2001). ... . [T]hese changes will mainly be felt through local modifications in other climate variables including precipitation, soil moisture, storminess and annual or diurnal temperature ranges. Extreme occurrences in most of these variables, i.e., droughts, floods and storms are likely to increase in magnitude and frequency in a warmer world (Houghton et al. 2001)." [References in the original]
That was in 2003. Since then, Zickfeld has continued to beat the drum. Interestingly, but not surprising given her research interests, her truth criterion is the output of more complicated simulations — general circulation models (GCMs) and the like. To this end, she parameterizes her models (adjusts the constants) to maximize concordance with the more detailed schemes. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. But it is important to note that what she is doing in no way makes independent contact with the real world.

Divinations. As summarized by The Independent,
"The 14 scientists, all experts in ... climate research, were asked about the probability of a tipping point [irreversible change] being reached some time before 2200 if global warming continued on the course of the worst-case scenarios predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Nine ... said that the chances of a tipping point ... were greater than 90 per cent, with only one saying that the chances were less than 50:50. "
Figure 2. Searching on "recovery act" at nsf.gov yields 6350 hits.
And the Joke's On Whom? Climate Depot is having fun with this, characterizing it as a "laugh riot" — the joke being that the due dates of tipping points past have come and gone absent catastrophe. But really, the joke's on us. These days, scientific research costs big bucks. You think it's coincidental, that
  1. A good chunk of stimulus change (Figure 2) went to research projects, and

  2. Scientists overwhelmingly favor the growth of government?
If you do, I've got a deal for you on a bridge.

A Non-representative Sample. The authors of "Divinations" went to considerable lengths (here) to achieve a common focus among interviewees. This is commendable. But like Zickfeld's truth criterion (above), their definition of "experts" is arguably myopic. All fourteen are associated with the IPCC (Table I). Nine were "Lead Authors" of one or more chapters of AR3 or AR4 (Third and Fourth Assessment Reports); the remainder, "authors," save for one, who was a "Reviewer." Additionally, six of the interviewees (Allen, Collins, Flato, Forest, Knutti and Weaver) are slated to participate in AR5 as Coordinating Lead or Lead Authors, and a seventh (Karl), as a Review Editor.

With rare exceptions, IPCC authors subscribe to the Panel's contention that anthropogenic increases (that's us) in atmospheric carbon is the principal driver of climate warming. To suggest that the experts polled by Zickfeld et al. represent anything more than the views of the converted is therefore equivalent to suggesting that the views of Roman Catholics, for example, represent those of all monotheists, or for that matter, of all Christians. Or, as Tom Lehrer put it in his inimitable characterization of existence, "Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it!"

Table I. Experts Interviewed by Zickfeld et al.
NameInstitutionIPCC Role1
Allen, M.University of Oxford, Oxford, UKL2
Collins, M.Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Exeter, UKL
Flato, G.Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, Victoria, BC, CanadaL
Forest, C.Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USAA3
Karl, T.National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, NC, USAL
Knutti, R.National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder,CO, USAL
Rahmstorf, S.Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research,Potsdam, GermanyL
Schlesinger, M.University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, USAL
Schneider, S.H.Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, USAL
Senior, C.Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Exeter, UKA
Stainforth, D.University of Oxford, Oxford, UKA
Stone, P.Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USAR4
Weaver, A.J.University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, CanadaL
Wigley, T. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USAA

1. Contributions to Third and Fourth Assessment Reports - Working Group I (The Physical Science Basis). AR3 authors taken from http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/pdf/TAR-APPENDICES.PDF; AR 4 authors, from List of authors from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis and http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-annexes.pdf.
2. Lead author of one or more chapters. May also have been a co-author of additional chapters.
3. Co-author of one or more chapters.
4. Reviewer.
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28 June 2010

Gather Your Armies II.

Rick Barber's latest "Gather Your Armies" video focuses on slavery. Donate to his campaign here.

Rick Barber has just released another campaign ad video. Gather Your Armies-II focuses on slavery, the contention being that a metastasizing federal government is making slaves of us all. The first third of the video has Barber once again conversing with resurrected American heroes. Of Lincoln, Barber asks, "What do you call it when one man's is forced to work for another?" The reply, soto voce as in GYA-I, is of course the "peculiar institution," as slavery's apologists used to call it, the abolition of which was the cause for which Union soldiers shed buckets of blood. No, Virginia. The Civil War wasn't about economics; it was about "social justice — the real kind. It was about erasing a stain on the American soul.

GYA-II identifies the "armies" of the first video as "armies of voters," some of whom we see being led by Lewis Schaeffer who sings a verse of "The Star Spangled Banner." Schaeffer, a former marine like Barber, has become a celebrity in TEA Party circles. Whatever his performances may lack in virtuosity, they make up for with palpable sincerity.

In this reviewer's opinion, GYA-II lacks the focused punch of its predecessor. This is a pity. Barber's point is spot on: Tyranny is on the march. Even were the present administration's intentions benign, what is being assembled is a machine that will surely turn free men into slaves — if not sooner, then later — most likely, sooner. Those inclined to dismiss this contention should dip into the The Federalist Papers. They should also revisit Huxley and Orwell.

Opinion polls commissioned back in February show the Democrat, Bobby Bright, defeating both Barber and his run-off opponent. But anger against Democrats has since been on the rise. Barber merits conservative support — now and in the general election. Donate if you can.

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26 June 2010

Gather Your Armies.

Rick Barber's "Gather Your Armies" video. You can donate to his campaign here. Please consider doing so.

Rick Barber is an ex-marine, a small businessman, and a candidate for the House of Representatives (AL CD02) . In the June 1 Republican primary, he finished a distant second to Martha Roby, but was nonetheless able to force a runoff election on July 13. Roby had been endorsed by party regulars; Barber by Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs (see also here) and a few others. Roby's supporters claim she's a conservative; Barber's supporters charge RINO.

Roby's most recent posting (June 23) on her website announces the creation of a "Job Creator's Coalition," which to this correspondent's olfactory tissue, does, in fact, suggest the stench of an odd-toed, armored ungulate.

By way of contrast, Barber's positions are unimpeachable:
  • Immigration. While America is certainly a melting pot, our laws require that immigrants sign the guestbook on their way in.

  • The State of Israel. Israel is an island of democracy in the middle east and one of America’s closest allies in the world.

  • The Economy Small businesses create the vast majority of jobs in America. In a free market society like ours, the government should not be the engine of job creation.

  • Tax Reform. I fully support and will co-sponsor the FairTax bill.

  • etc.
Roby outspent Barber 7:1 in the primary, and Batber's website hasn't seen a new post since June 2. So is Barber's campaign out of gas? Perhaps. But even if it is, he's already done the country a service with his "Gather Your Armies" campaign ad (above) that attracted national attention and 330,000+ views on You Tube.. In the video, Barber is talking to a resurrected gathering of Revolutionary heroes: Sam Adams, Ben Franklin and George Washington. Pointing to a copy of the Constitution, he declares, "I took an oath to defend that. ... You gentlemen revolted over a tea tax. A tea tax! Are you with me?" To which, Washington replies soto voce "Gather your armies."

Critics, Repair_Man_Jack , for example, over at Red State, point to the ad as evidence that Barber is deranged — not his exact words, but read the article for yourself.
Perhaps. Whatever the nature of the armies to be gathered, the ad can certainly be viewed as inflammatory.

But there is a larger point. This site believes that Barber has put his finger on something important: Bit by incremental bit, the lobster — that's us — in the pot is being cooked, the temperature of the water having been increased so gradually that he's only just now beginning to realize what's happening.

This nation has come a long, long way since the Founders established a government with limited powers. And the shackles intended to limit those powers have been mostly shattered. If Barber's sense of melodrama can help rouse the lobster from his heat-induced stupor, if it can inspire him to heave his denaturing proteins out of the pot, Barber will have done the country invaluable service.

That's Beck's message, and Beck's no nut job. As the poet wrote:
"For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere."
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25 June 2010


Figure 1. An English garden now (top) and with 2° (middle), and 4° C (bottom) warming. Note the changing the natural landscape in the background.
The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty looks after Britain's historic houses, gardens, natural areas and so forth. Back in March, Mail Online published an article about the Trust's campaign to call attention to climate change. The campaign was based on computer modeling by the Met Office ("we're usually wrong , but we keep crunching the numbers") Hadley Center.

The Mail article quotes Mike Calnan, the Trust's head of gardens and parks.
'We looked at gardens in southern France and southern Portugal and, bearing in mind what we can grow in this country in mild locations, we came up with a list of probably things we could grow in the future.'
Calnan adds the requisite note of caution:
'All of this is unknown and there are a lot of ifs and coulds. We are not saying that this is what the future will look like, but we are asking whether it could look like this. It is a bit of an eye opener.'
Calnan's disclaimer will, of course, be generally ignored, and that, one imagines, is the intent. Still, the paintings (Figure 1) commissioned to support the Trust's fantasy are lovely. In the interest of aesthetics, and by way of illustrating principles of good propaganda, we reproduce them here.

Awful Changes. One is reminded of a passage in Volume I of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology — the book that Darwin took with him on his famous voyage. In 1831, Lyell imagined time without end, an endless cycle in which the earth and the creatures inhabiting it changed, but never really progressed — hence his delight at the discovery of the first Mesozoic mammals. Regarding a future warming of the climate, he wrote as follows:
Figure 2. Paleontology in a future age as imagined by Henry De la Beche in 1830. The famous cartoon lampoons Lyell’s view of geological history. Standing above a human skull (below the rock supporting the lectern) Professor Ichthyosaurus addresses an assemblage of conspecifics. The title and caption read as follows: "Awful Changes. Man Found only in a Fossil State – Reappearance of Ichthyosauri. 'You will at once perceive ... that the skull before us belonged to some of the lower order of animals; the teeth are very insignificant, the power of the jaws trifling, and altogether it seems wonderful how the creature could have procured food.’ " [emphasis added]
"Then might those genera of animals return, of which the memorials are preserved in the ancient rocks of our continents. The huge Iguanodon might reappear in the woods, and the ichthyosaur in the sea, while the pterodactyle [sic] might flit again through umbrageous groves of tree-ferns. Coral reefs might be prolonged beyond the arctic circle, where the whale and the narwal [sic] now abound. Turtles might deposit their eggs in the sand of the sea beach, where now the walrus sleeps, and where the seal is drifted on the ice-flow." [page 67 of the Penguin edition now available electronically]
Lyell was, of course, spectacularly wrong, not in predicting the eventual return of Mesozoic warmth — who can say about that? — but in his denial of biological progress. In the face of accumulating evidence, he eventually abandoned his views but not before a contemporary geologist had produced the cartoon reproduced in Figure 2. Here a future Professor Icthyosaurus addresses a toothy audience on the inadequacies of human jaws and teeth.

Peter Ward. Enter Peter Ward, a paleontologist at the University of Washington. In addition to his technical publications, Ward also writes popular books, one of which, The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps, is discussed over at An Objectivist Individualist. According to the review, which is actually a review of a review — the original having been published in Scientific American — the book focuses on the social and economic chaos consequent to climate warming and rising sea levels.

I haven't read Flooded; nor am I likely to, my previous experience with Ward's popular productions having been disappointing. Since Ward writes well and with authority, let me clarify this criticism with reference to one of his other books, Out of Thin Air, which I have read, and which is sitting on the shelf in front of me as I write.

Tidal and Continuous Flow Respiration. Out of Thin Air focuses on changing concentrations of atmospheric oxygen down through the millenia. One topic treated in considerable detail is the evolution of "continuous flow" respiration in birds and their dinosaur ancestors. Most land vertebrates have what is called "tidal" respiration — air into the lungs on the first breath; out on the second. But in birds, inspired air goes first to a series of air sacs at the back of the animal, then to the lungs and then to another set of air sacs (at the front of the animal) from which it is finally exhaled. The result is that four breaths (as opposed to two) are required to move a volume of air into, through, and finally out of the animal. More importantly, each breath (in or out) delivers fresh air to the lungs. This is more efficient than "in and out." It' s the reason the mountain climber atop Mt. Everest uses an oxygen pack, while the eagle overhead does not.

Ward's thesis is that declining levels of atmospheric oxygen towards the end of the Paleozoic selected for increased respiratory efficiency in the line that led to birds, which contention bears on the "active dinosaur" question. Active dinosaurs, in turn, bear on the contingent nature of evolution — if not for the impact that ended the Cretaceous, would H. sapiens be here to read and argue about blogs? Probably not — see, for example, Steve Gould's essay, "Dinosaur in a Haystack".

What is exasperating about Ward's exposition is the manner in which it is referenced. To be sure, there are citations for each chapter, but assertions in the text are not tied to specific references. That makes it difficult for the interested, dare I say "skeptical," reader to assess the credibility of particular claims.

Science in the Service of Ideology. Back to Flooded. The problem is not, as suggested by the poster at Objectivist, that Ward is "no scientist." As noted above, he is a paleontologist, whose principal interest is mass extinctions — those much argued about events that periodically wipe the biotic plate clean, thereby setting the stage for the next round of evolutionary diversification. Rather, the problem is that, like many contemporary members of his profession, Ward puts science to the service of ideology. In recent years, this proclivity has become increasingly common. The May 7 letter to Science by 255 (mostly non-climatologist) scientists defending their climatologist brethren (go here for discussion and links) is a case in point. Likewise, the despicable article by Andregg et al. on the relative credentials of anthropogenic global warming proponents and skeptics. That the latter, which effectively establishes a "black list" of "non-believers," should have been published by the National Academy of Sciences gives you some idea as to just how far we've traveled down the road of politicizing science. As noted here, an important contributing factor to this development is money in the form of government grants; another, the new priesthood's defense of proprietary knowledge and its claims to secular authority — go here for historical perspective.

Will the climate warm and the ice caps eventually melt? If we wait long enough, the answer is "probably yes." But then the sun will eventually go nova and incinerate the planet, which is to say that "long enough" may be very long time, indeed.
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04 June 2010

National Brotherhood Week.

Lehrer sings "National Brotherhood Week."
Tom Lehrer started out as a mathematics student at Harvard, [1] only to discover that he could have more fun, and make more money, singing satirical songs on the night club circuit. He was (still is, I suppose) a very talented musician whose oeuvres include "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" (composed before tree huggers became a threat to humanity) and "National Brotherhood Week," the third verse of which brings us to today's post. (Listen now.)

Yup. "Everybody hates the Jews." Well, not quite everybody. Conservative Christians regularly speak out for God's People. There's also a fair sized cadre of mostly conservative Jewish columnists who stand up for for their own. And there's the Big Guy upstairs who, rumor has it, is inclined to help those who help themselves.

Yesterday, this correspondent did some "sloggin' through the bloggin'." Oink! [2] Even when the article was reasonable, a goodly fraction of the comments were not. The Jews this; the Jews that. Never has so much harm been done to so many by so few — to coin a not so original phrase. Then there was the "we stand with Israel" site that links to another featuring the anti-Semitic bilge of the intellectual class, tucked out, of course, as humanitarian concern — wonder what those clowns will say when an Iranian nuke goes off in Tel Aviv — "Tisk, tisk," I imagine.

Rounding things out were the effluvia of self-loathing Jews like Daniel Luban, who wrote a "thoughtful" piece on his transition from "liberal Zionist" to just plain "liberal." Thoughtful, my tush. Hey Danny boy! What you think them Islamists have in mind for you? A medal for being so stupid you don't know which side of your bread's buttered? Or maybe you figure it's just them Israeli Jews that's in their cross hairs?

Gentle Reader — when your faithful correspondent sat down to write this piece, he imagined something more erudite — about mankind's innate tribalism; how it's been selected for since before we were human; maybe an uplifting observation about our ability to do the right thing nonetheless. Appologies.
What needs saying is this:
"If the Rachel Corrie sails south, put a torpedo in her belly. If the Turks send a naval escort, sink their bones to Davy Jones. If "Hopey Changey" menaces, ignore him. If go down you must, go down fighting, and if you fight, you mayn't go down after all."


1. Lehrer taught mathematics as graduate student at Harvard and later as an instructor elsewhere. This author's "Lehrer Number" (inside joke) is 2 — I studied analytic geometry with a Prof. whose college classes included at least one in which Lehrer had been a teaching assistant.

2. There are good things out there, of course. I especially recommend Luboš Motl's remarks and Sarah Palin's — God bless her! Him too!
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01 June 2010

Rock 'em. Sock 'em.

"Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. ... That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans." — General George S. Patton, 31 May, 1944 [1].

As Israel attempts to counter the predictable condemnation [2] of what is widely being reported as a bloody fiasco at sea, a disproportionate response in which "peace activists" were unconscionably murdered, her leaders would do well to consider the words quoted above.

Historically, admiration for Israel owed much to the derring-do of its military — Entebbe, Osirak, the Six Days War, crossing the Suez Canal and the encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army. Sadly, that admiration is a thing of the past — sadly, because developments in the U.S. and the Middle East are conjoining to make Israel's strategic position increasingly vulnerable.

Advice from the armchair is easily given, and the armchair being removed from the facts on the ground, often of dubious worth. Still, this site suggests that Israeli tentativeness — the start-stop, advance-withdraw campaigns of recent years — far from placating the nation's foes, has simply emboldened them. With the Obama administration tilting toward her enemies, Israel had better get used to standing alone. As noted previously,
"... the question is not if Obama will stand with Israel, but rather if Israel will stand with the American people who are just now beginning to appreciate the true nature of 'Hope and Change.' Israel can do this by being brave, strong and independent, above all, by surviving. The inspiration afforded thereby will allow the real America to again one day be 'a light unto the nations.' For the present, that task defaults to others."
For starters, Israel's leaders should read Patton's speech in its entirety, which, and with respect to a great general, can be summarized thusly:

"Rock 'em, sock 'em. Don't look back."

The alternative is death by a thousand cuts.


1. Patton's famous speech was delivered to soldiers of the American Third Army as they prepared to embark on the Channel crossing that would end with the D-Day assaults. Searching on "Americans love a winner" yields different versions, apparently because the original is no longer extant — see here.

2. Noteworthy among exceptions to the general howl are Sarah Palin's remarks posted on Facebook.
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