Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How to Bring Down a Room

Always there to tell you 'bout a new disease
A car accident or killer bees
You beg her to spare you, "Debbie, Please!"
But you can't stop Debbie Downer!

You know how it goes. The wedding DJ's just played Earth Wind & Fire whose tight horns command the people off their junk to enjoy the funk. And then, once everyone's revved up and ready for more, he brings on the screeching crash of grinding gears and disappointed expectations by whipping out Lady In Red. That's me, folks, buzzkiller extraordinaire. Because I'm feeling semi-serious today and I think so many offensive and unpopular topics are fascinating. In my brainstorms, the comically trival, political, and profound routinely agree to share a cab.

1) The young scribette of recent scandal has professed to having a photographic memory, and now is accused of potentially cadging text from authors Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Salman Rushdie too. Is it inherently hazardous for a person of such apparently immediate and irreversibly impressionable mental gifts to attempt writing original work in the same vein as what she's been reading? And why would she ever have needed to, as she claims to have done, reread Megan McCafferty's books so many times?

2) Over 60 scientific experts in climate and related fields have signed an open letter to Canada's Prime Minister denying the accuracy of current computer climate modeling and implying that the Kyoto treaty would never have been the result of today's thinking in this acknowledged-to-be "emerging science."

Personally, I'd be happy to see all the money for futile Kyoto poured into extensive study of all kinds of weather phenomena and geography including the effects of human activity. Icebergs, volcanoes, wildfires, floods, tropical storms, tsunamis, and earthquakes are all things it would help to know a lot more about, because today a meteorologist with a multi-million dollar Doppler radar can't guarantee a rainless birthday party three days in advance. Catastrophic predictions decades in advance are true fiction writing. Reviewing the accuracy of these gloom-brokers since 1960 is like watching Nostradamus' interpreted doomsdays keep ticking by uneventfully. I will cycle everywhere, grow my own clothing, and eat soy everything if they're proven to be genuinely world-saving habits, but I won't conform my least behavior or belief to shoddy and histrionic scientific conclusions in service of fund-raising for political agendas. From the open letter:

'Climate change is real' is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural 'noise.' The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to 'stopping climate change' would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

Update: Via Tim Blair, a Telegraph op-ed about the oft-remarked mistake, not of the notion of human-caused climate change which could yet prove true, but the fallacy of consensus on this issue citing several additional sources including a report to the House of Lords and from Germany's GKSS National Research Center. The Lords' report also contained a quote from Professor Reiter, of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, which challenged the appropriateness of the notion of scientific consensus. He said "consensus is the stuff of politics, not science". I say, let's keep asking uncomfortable questions favoring scientific and ethical rigor in evaluating what we find.

3) The DC Examiner quotes John McCain preferring "clean government" to the pesky, nasty, messy individualism of the First Amendment, and therefore calls for Congressional term limits. Here, here. And not just for that reason. As a dear friend remarked, after too long in office, those denizens of The Hill are a lot more like each other than they're like you or me, and the unique interests of career politicians are the ones they grow likeliest to serve.

4) For competing professional baristi, excellence is revealed in performance. If you haven't seen or heard about it before, it's amazing to discover the amount of knowledge, technical savvy, adaptation, and skill required to produce a perfect coffee consistently. For example, Aussie David Makin practiced 10 hours a week for five months in preparation for the championships. If you routinely get coffee from a place where they push a button and stuff shoots out, or worse, they boil it down to bitter mud on a hot plate all day, this is the difference between dinner made by a chef and Chef Boyardee.


April said...

Too many highly respected scientists...hundreds and hundreds of them in the US alone, have published papers that state climate change is happening, rapidly. It's not shoddy science, it's science that pisses off polluters/big business/the administration, which is why the admin's plants at the NSF, NIH and EPA got busted for tampering with some scientific papers that proved..ooops...global warming was happening, and was of human causation.

How many megatons of crap can industry and the rest of the human race dump into the air and water every year..and yet, some still believe it doesn't have any effect on the environment.

tom l said...

totally agree with april on that. america should be more closely following the brazilian model at this point - no more oil, just ethanol for cars. we should also be solarizing everything everywhere, enabling every house to feed into the grid. set aside global warming - from the renewable side of things, it just makes more sense. but that would take some big bold initiatives - we probably could have done it already with a fraction of the money we've wasted on destroying Iraq for no good reason.

with McCain and term limits, i'm always glad to see someone come up with radical ideas to solve problems - but term limits wouldn't solve the problem in this case (corruption). short-timers would be looking for a quick payoff once they're out (e.g. lobbying job). that's happened with other term limit experiences around here.

Henway Twingo said...

Climate change IS happening as cyclic weather has always happened. The cause is what's in doubt as well as future patterns. We were in a "deep-freeze panic" until 1970, when the earth unexpectedly began slightly warming, still cooler than the Middle Ages though. So then, the concern became "global warming". Since 2000, we've seen another slight cooling, so now the catch-all is "climate change". No one can satisfactorily prove a robust theory explaining how human populations are controlling the weather (yet) or even how the magnitude of the planet's many systems interconnect in creating weather and reacting to it. It's unknown now, but could perhaps be known with more careful study.

These 60+ scientists are also highly respected members of a very dynamic field. If you're a professor of Greek mysthology, the really innovative papers are few because we're not getting a lot of new material to study. Conversely, climate is an exploding field as our collection and analysis capabilities keep expanding, which makes stiff-necked absolutism about conclusions even harder for me to understand. These signatories- with others- disagree about the technicalities of climate change. I don't feel comfortable labeling them fools or paid shills for industry or gov't any more than I'd call those passionate about human-caused ecodoomsday shills for Greenpeace. Many of these signatories are very concerned about pollution and the environment, but simply argue that bad conclusions won't lead to good solutions. If the need to be right about a previous conclusion overwhelms consideration of new information, that attitude is the enemy of progress and good science wherever it lurks.

I don't believe in trying to switch to complete ethanol- the corn subsidies are already so inefficient and destructive. Usually when gov't leaps to regulating scientific solutions, it makes things worse, and legislation's notoriously hard to change, politicians being overly proud of their only product. In fact, it's the mandate of ethanol, rather than encouraging other anti-pollutants that's made the refining of oil to gasoline so restrictive and expensive. I'd like to see relaxation of energy regulation to spawn mass competitive development of alternative energy sources of all types and then we can evaluate, choosing the best we find.

But as for climate, I'm interested in seeing better and more useful understanding of the phenomena. While pollution levels in developed countries are dropping radically in some dimensions and rising in others, and forestation is greater in America today than since the founding of the republic, the most-publicized computer climate model is markedly unable to absorb or extrapolate the immense variation and complexity we're experiencing planet-wide. Some polar icebergs are melting, but others are getting thicker, and we don't understand exactly how or why. It's worth applying the best brains and technology we have until we do.