Archive for August 2019

Why I (Mostly) Don't Blog About Climate Anymore

Recently the journal Nature published a "study" arguing that climate contrarians got too much media attention and that, essentially, the media needs to stop quoting them.  A part of the study included a list of climate skeptics and their media influence scores.

It was a little off-putting to be left off this black list, though I feel certain that 10 years ago in my active period I could have easily made the cut.  Nevertheless, it is clear that I have fallen by the wayside.

And that is by choice.  I simply do not have the ability in this blogging hobby to play decades-long games of wack-a-mole with the same arguments over and over.  In a different sphere, I see folks like Mark Perry and Don Boudreaux take on the same anti-trade arguments for years.  I respect them for it and appreciate the effort, but I don't know how they do it.

From my observation, the world of climate remains the same old sh*t.  No one has come up with a better approach for estimating the all-important value of the temperature sensitivity to CO2 concentration.  Alarmists are still assuming massive amounts of positive feedback in the climate system but have done nothing new to prove this is really true.  Trends are still extrapolated from individual weather events, and trends are often claimed in the media without actually showing any trend data.

And the whole thing has become tribal as hell.  The other day I tried to engage Kevin Drum on twitter about a chart he used that I thought was bad.  I was trying to make the point that there is no scientific reason to believe that worldwide increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration would have 3x their average effect in a 25 mile radius around Phoenix (as the chart seems to show) and that the more logical explanation is that the chart is based on at least somewhat corrupted data.  I said nothing like "and thus global warming is all a scam."  In fact, the only conclusion I drew was a very modest one everyone interested in global warming should be able to agree with, that it has been a mistake not to have invested in a better surface temperature network given how important the issue is to us.

But even that was too much -- you could tell Drum was automatically treating me as a denier and anti-science.  Take this exchange for example


Kevin Drum is one of my favorite people to read because he is one of the few folks in Left or Right who will occasionally question his own tribe.  This is not Kevin Drum thinking, this is Kevin Drum giving the tribal answer because anyone poking even modestly at the edges of climate orthodoxy has put his fur up.

So I move on to other things.  To be honest, this may just be a personality trait of mine related to ADD/limited focus.  I find myself bored with the whole Tesla critic community as well, seeing the SOS ever day.

Postscript:  For those who do not follow me much, here is my current position on global warming

  • Man-made global warming is real but likely exaggerated, in particular from unrealistic assumptions about massive amounts of positive feedback in the otherwise long-term-stable climate system.  The chance of large (>2C) warming is remote but non-zero
  • Most of the claimed relationship of extreme weather events to manmade CO2 are a crock.  Time and again the media and activists claim trends (e.g. in hurricanes, droughts, and tornadoes) that simply are not there when you actually look at trend data.  Where we do see trends, such in sea level rise, those trends have often been going on since the mid 1800's, making it difficult to attribute them entirely to man-made CO2 produced mostly after 1950.
  • It is possible to create a low cost climate insurance plan that might actually be a net economic improvement over the current regulatory environment, even before considering environmental benefits.  That plan is here.  Speaking of tribalism, it does not run one way.  This plan essentially got me shunned in much of the skeptic community.

Postscript #2:  The skeptic list from Nature has some odd names.  Don Boudreaux and Ron Bailey stuck out to me.   Boudreaux to my knowledge is not engaged in the climate debate at all and I know Bailey is an AGW believer.  Both, however, are anti-authoritarian and pro-market, and in the era of the Green Great Leap Forward, or whatever it is called, I suppose that is enough to put one athwart the climate change alarmists.

Can We Never Learn From The Our Failures With Cuba?

Apparently the American embargo and blockade of Cuba have worked so well that Trump wants to try the same thing with Venezuela

Axios is calling it President Trump's Venezuela naval blockade "obsession" based on accounts of unnamed administration officials: "President Trump has suggested to national security officials that the U.S. should station Navy ships along the Venezuelan coastline to prevent goods from coming in and out of the country, according to 5 current and former officials who have either directly heard the president discuss the idea or have been briefed on Trump's private comments," according to a new report.

He's said to have repeatedly raised the idea in private as a way to finally deliver regime change in Caracas, after prior attempts - including a short-lived push for military coup - failed earlier this year. Supposedly, the plan would be to station US Navy ships along the coast such that all vessels would be blocked from entering or exiting the South American country.

I am trying to think of an example of an authoritarian regime brought down by a blockade or embargo, and I am struggling to do so.  We have embargoed the Cubans for 60 years and the communists still sit there merrily running that county.  We have embargoed Iran off and on for 40 years and yet essentially the same regime is in power.  And don't even get me started on the 1940 embargo of Japan**.  The closest I can come is the fall of apartheid South Africa, though that was never a full embargo -- it was more of an international public shaming that worked in part for the reason that the people of South African remained engaged with the world in trade and other matters.  Also I think giving too much credit to international players for the changes in South Africa is to reduce the agency, persistence, and bravery of the internal opposition.

I will say that an attempted blockade of Venezuela will definitely have three entirely predictable outcomes

  1. It will hurt the citizens who we are trying to help
  2. It will give Marxist apologists an excuse for Venezuela's economic disaster (ie "it wasn't socialism, it was the evil American blockade)
  3. It will lead to unnecessary confrontations with other countries.  What happens the first time the US Navy puts a shot across the bow of a French or Russian or Chinese merchant ship?

I have a strong bias towards engagement as a palliative for authoritarian regimes.  Let their folks interact with the quasi-free West long enough and pressure will come for change.  You know who agrees with me?  The leaders of North Korea, which is why they would rather live in the Middle Ages than allow their folks any interaction with the West.

** Postscript:  Readers might respond that the wartime embargo of Japan was extremely effective.  Eventually the US Navy was able to strangle the Japanese economy.  This indeed was effective at reducing the Japanese warmaking ability, at the cost of abject misery for much of the Japanese people.  But note that it never even came close to forcing a regime change.  Only the American atomic bombs combined with the Russian declaration of war eventually (barely) led to Japanese surrender.

Who Could Have Possibly Predicted This? Solar Roads a Failure

I seem to have established a couple of tiny blogging niches for myself, as there are two things with an absolute certainty that readers will email me -- solar road stories and pictures of steam plumes used to illustrate pollution articles.

So as not to disappoint my loyal readership in these two niches, Popular Mechanics as the story of a 5 million euro solar road in France.  And, surprise, it turns out that putting solar panels flat on the ground in a cloudy region and then driving over them does not work very well.

The noise and poor upkeep aren't the only problems facing the Wattway. Through shoddy engineering, the Wattway isn't even generating the electricity it promised to deliver. In 2016, the builders promised it would power 5,000 households.

There proved to be several problems with this goal. The first was that Normandy is not historically known as a sunny area. At the time, the region's capital city of Caen only got 44 days of strong sunshine a year, and not much has changed since. Storms have wrecked havoc with the systems, blowing circuits. But even if the weather was in order, it appears the panels weren't built to capture them efficiently.

“If they really want this to work, they should first stop cars driving on it,” Marc Jedliczka, vice president of the Network for Energetic Transition (CLER), which promotes renewable energy, told the Eurasia Times.

By the way, I called this particular project out as madness when it opened, so all of this was certainly foreseeable.  Just so we don't let those responsible slink away from their bad judgement, this was from an article when the road was first opened

A 1km (0.6-mile) route in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche covered with 2,800 sq m of electricity-generating panels, was inaugurated on Thursday by the ecology minister, Ségolène Royal.

Royal has said she would like to see solar panels installed on one in every 1,000km of French highway

More of my solar road articles are here.

Democrats Pounce

Republicans, not completely without justification, frequently argue that papers like the New York Times and Washington Post often frame mis-steps by Democrats in terms of the Republican response.  So instead of "Biden makes racist gaffe" the headline might read "Republicans pounce on Biden over his latest statements."  I will confess that I don't really notice this so much but Conservatives in my feed are often posting examples.

For balance, I thought it would be useful to demonstrate that Conservatives are perfectly willing to do the exact same thing.  Take this story by Rick Moran.  The headline is "Trump Has Democrats Acting Like Pavlov's Dogs."  After a couple of grafs describing Pavlov's famous work, he writes:

Donald Trump gets Democrats hysterical with just about anything he tweets. It's a classic Pavlovian response and Trump plays his opponents like a well-tuned fiddle. He doesn't even have to say anything necessarily controversial. Whatever he tweets, his opponents see 1) racism, 2) fascism, 3) white supremacy, or 4) his enabling one or more of the previous. Trump tweets, Dems salivate. It's classic.  He knows exactly which buttons to push, which subjects are liable to turn liberals into sputtering, spitting, stammering piles of gelatinous goo.

It's not until like the 13th paragraph that we find out what the article is actually about, which is this:

Trump shared a tweet and video from  conservative comedian Terrence Williams that claimed without evidence that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- Trump's 2016 presidential election rival -- were responsible for Epstein's death. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and Attorney General Bill Barr said Epstein died in an "apparent suicide" while in federal custody.

I consider myself to be one of the last people in America who can evaluate Trump's actions on a case-by-case basis without resorting to a default tribal position.  And I will say that this is ...  pretty f*cking egregious.  On a number of dimensions.  First and and foremost, the DOJ has already announced an investigation into this matter, so Trump is effectively commenting on an active Federal investigation in its very early stage.  I encourage you to check Mr. Google and search for times where Conservatives criticized Obama for commenting on an active investigation.  I remember a number of such occasions, e.g. here.

Second, not only is he commenting on an active investigation, he is suggesting a suspect.  Yes, I know the comic is having fun with the Clintons-knocking-off-their-opponents meme.  That is fine for a comic, but it is unacceptable for the person at the top of the federal law enforcement establishment.  This is how people like Richard Jewell had their lives ruined.  The fact that the suspected targets here are a former US President and Mr. Trump's opponent in the last election just make this all the worse.

This behavior of Trump is indefensible, which I suppose is why Mr. Moran chose to play the "Democrats pounce" card.

Sometimes I Wonder If People Just Need to Have An Enemy

I find this depressing:

We seem to NEED an enemy.  We hop from one enemy to another -- Soviet Union to Iraq to Al Qaeda to Russia to Iran and now to China (with a certain minority always having Israel as their enemy).   I find this depressing.  As I told a reader in a private email the other day, for whatever cynicism I project here, I am actually a sloppy optimist, a pacifist, and a conflict avoider.  Maybe that is part of the appeal of Canada or New Zealand in surveys -- I mean, its hard to imagine them having enemies.

We had a Chinese exchange student back when my kids were in high school who frequently visits us here in the US.  The first day we saw here in America she looked exactly like Honey in the Doonesbury comics -- Mao jacket and hair and glasses and all.  After four years of college at Michigan, she is as American as my kids.  She and her friends want so much to be like us in so many ways, without rejecting her Chinese cultural heritage.

This country has so much positive soft power -- everyone around the world wants to be here and partake of our culture.  I don't think either Republicans or Democrats really understand the real reasons behind this pull.  Republicans seem to believe folks are lining up at the border for welfare checks while I don't know what Democrats believe any more, as their Presidential candidates all reject many of the great things about this country I would have thought attracted people.  Maybe that is why politicians of both parties so consistently piss away this potential goodwill.

I am not naive about China -- they are an authoritarian state desperately in need of reform.  I just don't think going into cold war tension mode with them is going to help.  I tend to believe in the power of engagement by ordinary people with the rest of the world to drive change, which we should have been trying years ago in Cuba.  Isolating authoritarian regimes is really just doing their work for them.

This Isn't A Map of Global Warming, It's A Map of Corrupted Temperature Stations

Kevin Drum published this map on his blog, which he says was originally from the Washington Post.  He does not include a link so I can't give any more background on the chart.  For example, I have no idea which surface temperature data set it is based on.

The fact that smart guy like Kevin Drum can publish this uncritically just demonstrates how little even vociferous global warming advocates actually understand about the issue.  Because all this chart does is reinforce a skeptic argument that the global surface temperature data set is corrupted and can exaggerate warming trend data.

Let's start with this:  I have read much of the IPCC reports and have skimmed the rest, and I can say with certainty that these reports contain no theory about how increasing the concentration of atmospheric CO2 from 0.03% to 0.04% causes warming of 2C or more focused in hotspots as small as a 50 mile radius.  There is absolutely no theory, and I would argue no way, that a general global warming trend of 1-1.5C per century is causing warming 2-3 times that rate narrowly over San Jose, California or Phoenix, AZ.

The fact that many of these hotspots are focused over urban areas is a good indicator that this temperature data set is corrupted with urban heat island biases.  This is a different kind of man-made effect but one which is local and is not the result of a global warming trend, and thus should not be in a database aimed at measuring this global warming trend.

Something like 10 years ago I saw a similar chart online based on USHCN measurement stations.  At that time, the chart showed a hotspot over Tucson

At the time, Anthony Watt was running his Surface Stations project to document the conditions of all the USHCN temperature stations (the crosses on the map) that formed the basis of the US global warming / temperature trend numbers.  So I drove down to Tucson to see the temperature station in the middle of that hotspot.  What I found was that the temperature station that 100 years ago was in a rural open field was now measuring the temperature of an asphalt parking lot in the middle of a large city:

As an aside, this was a fun project as I still see this picture reproduced in random places from time to time.  After this picture got some publicity, the government shut this station down and moved it to a better location.

But the point is that the hotspot on the temperature change map was both real and fake.  Real in the sense that Tucson was definitely hotter due to the change in land use, as are most all cities (just watch the weather in a city and they will often say that it will be a low of 45 in the city, and 40 in the outlying areas).  My son and I measured the urban heat island in Phoenix for a high school science project.  We found it to be as high as a 6-8F difference between city and the surrounding countryside at certain times of day.

But the hotspot was fake because this had nothing to do with global warming from CO2, and thus including this hotspot in the temperature data was exaggerating the global warming trend.  This is especially true since there are only a few data points, so this reading for Phoenix was averaged into the reading all over the Southwest and tended to raise the official temperatures for much of Arizona, not just in Tucson.  Where temperature stations are sparse, such as in northeast Montana, a single bad surface temperature station can corrupt the data for a large area.  This effect is even further exaggerated in places like Africa, where temperature stations can be hundreds of kilometers apart.

This is one reason satellite temperature measurement makes so much sense, as it is not subject to these sorts of biases (though it has other issues, including sensor drift and the fact that satellites can shift orbits and eventually die).  Whenever you see high temperature records today, they are usually set in the city at the airport, a big paved facility in the center of an urban area that 50 years ago was probably an open field.  There is a good chance the record has more to do with urbanization around the temperature measurement station than with global warming.

I believe the scientific community at NOAA and GISS have been almost criminally negligent with the surface temperature network over the last 30 years.  In the late 80's, when we became concerned with global warming, experts knew all to well about vast problems in how we measure surface temperatures.  We have invested tens of billions of dollars to fight global warming, but practically zero to measure it better.  We should have invested in a better, more reliable, less biased (in the scientific not political sense of that word) measurement system.  The amount of money we wasted in Solyndra would have paid for the upgrades, but we still have done nothing.  As a result, much of the warming signal is actually manual corrections to the raw data, undermining the signal to noise ratio of this critical metric and calling into question the bias (in the political not scientific sense) of these manual corrections (eg here and here).  For example, it turns out the past continues to cool.

Postscript Bonus:

The Danish Meteorological Institute, which has a key role in monitoring Greenland’s climate, last week reported a shocking August temperature of between 2.7C and 4.7C at the Summit weather station, which is located 3,202m above sea level at the the centre of the Greenland ice sheet, generating a spate of global headlines.

But on Wednesday it posted a tweet saying that a closer look had shown that monitoring equipment had been giving erroneous results.

“Was there record-level warmth on the inland ice on Friday?” it said. “No! A quality check has confirmed out suspicion that the measurement was too high.”

 

This Is Why I Resist Pleas for More Spending on Government Schools

I am perfectly willing to believe that some school districts somewhere have spending too low to ever provide the education we expect in 2019.  But after sending my kids to a private school that did a fabulous job with kids and whose tuition was lower per student than the spending in most public schools, I have become suspicious of pleas for more and more money.  It seems that lack of money is ALWAYS the claimed problem at public schools.

In fact, I am increasingly convinced the problem is not lack of money but how the money is spent.  As the percentage of staff in most public schools who are administrators rather than teachers climbs over 50%, many public schools are doing exactly what every other government bureaucracy does -- starve spending for actual public services in favor of feeding a growing, increasingly well-paid administrative staff.

Here is this week's example.  Via Zero Hedge:

The Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) has set up a donation page on their website to raise money and supply classrooms with fans this school year because of 60 Baltimore City School (BCS) buildings don't have air conditioning.

"It's no secret that Baltimore's students have had to weather the spectrum of extreme temperatures in their classrooms. We've all seen the photos of kindergarteners sitting in their coats and mittens at their morning circle. The reverse is true when school is back in session at the end of summer, when schools' internal temperatures have been measured at over 100 degrees. The Baltimore Teachers Union knows that educators' working conditions are students' learning conditions," BTU said on the donation page under the title "Donate to the BTU Fan Drive."

You see this all the time -- teachers begging the public for donations to help them through shortages of basic school supplies.  The blame is always put on public funding -- obviously Baltimore public schools are starved for cash and forced to beg for simple infrastructure items like fans.  But wait:

Of the 100 largest school systems based on enrollment in the United States, the five school systems with the highest spending per pupil in 2017 were New York City School District in New York ($25,199), Boston City Schools in Massachusetts ($22,292), Baltimore City Schools in Maryland ($16,184), Montgomery County School District in Maryland ($16,109), and Howard County School District in Maryland ($15,921). Maryland had one additional school system in the top 10, making it four of the top 10 school systems in the United States.

In the public recreation field, I call this borrowing from the infrastructure.  Infrastructure maintenance and spending is starved in favor of richer deals for growing administrative staffs.  That is why most major parks agencies have billions of dollars in deferred maintenance.  Transit agencies apparently do the same thing.

 

My Preliminary List of Things That Irritate Me The Most About Modern Discourse

In no particular order, and sure to grow as I ponder it more:

  1. Tribal rather than thinking responses to any argument
  2. Using the wackiest person that can be found as representative of an entire group
  3. Judging the individual by the group to which they belong ("racism" and "sexism" used to be examples of this but apparently these words are defined very differently in practice today)
  4. Bad headlining (can include social media summaries) that obscures complicated situations with definitive black and white judgments.  When was the last time you clicked through from a social media headline to the underlying article and ever found it to actually say what the headline claimed?
  5. Using tortured logic (or even no logic at all) to claim the worst possible interpretation of a person's arguments
  6. Attacking a speaker's hypothesized motives, rather than their actual arguments
  7. Using ad hominem attacks rather than rational responses to arguments  (the prior #6 is really a subset of this, but the claimed ability magically be able to read opponent's minds is so prevalent that I wanted to break them apart).
  8. Post-modern "fake but accurate" facts. "It does not matter if fact X is wrong because it fits in so well with narrative Y we have created."  e.g. "this story about AOC turns out not to be true but it pretty accurately illustrates how uninformed she is."
  9. Stretching definitions of words to try to tar lesser crimes with the opprobrium meant for greater crimes (modern examples include "sexual assault" and "racism."
  10. Only learning about the arguments of person X from people opposed to person X (a sure path to failing the ideological Turing test).  Examples:  Relying on Rush Limbaugh as one's only source for knowing what Hillary Clinton's political positions are.  Never reading climate skeptics directly but only learning about what they supposedly say from those opposed to climate skeptics.
  11. Failure to be skeptical about any story or argument that support's one's own position or "side."  (I know I struggle with this in my personal reading."

Trump's Trade War Strategy Seems Doomed to Fail

Folks know I completely disagree with the whole premise of Trump's trade actions with China.  Tariffs on foreign goods hurt this country and its consumers even if the other country does not reciprocate with lower tariffs.

But let's put this all aside and think strategy.  A trade war is about creating enough pain for the other side's leadership that they agree to give in to your demands.  So the game is about American leadership outlasting Chinese leadership in dealing with unhappiness of its citizens due to the trade restrictions.  Put in this light, doesn't it seem like the strategy is doomed?  When would you ever expect the leadership of a democracy to be able to outlast an authoritarian government in terms of living with unhappiness from its citizens?

My New Award Winner for Worst Customer Service -- AT&T's ACC Business

ACC Business is apparently a subsidiary of AT&T that provides high speed dedicated data lines (think T1 lines if they still call it that).

Long rambling customer service nightmares are hard to describe in a coherent or engaging manner, so I will mostly avoid it.  The episode began innocently, 6 months ago, with an ACC Business salesman calling us asking if we would like to take advantage of lower pricing.  We said yes, signed off, and that should have been that.  Unfortunately the sales person filed the papers incorrectly internally as a new service, setting us off on a kafka-esque adventure were two accounts were created for the same service and it seemed to be impossible, given ACC's internal systems, to merge the accounts without terminating the physical service in the field.  Every month ACC Business merrily billed us twice for the same service, and threatened immediate extinction if we refused to pay one or the other bill.

After spending over a dozen hours of my personal time on the phone with this company I discovered the ACC Business unwritten customer service rules:

  1. No matter how many people told you that the person you are contacting is (finally) the right person, the person you are talking to is NEVER responsible for whatever it will take in their internal systems to fix the mess
  2. Any past mistakes made by ACC (e.g. their creating a second account by accident) are actually the customer's mistakes, somehow
  3. No matter how much time you spend on the phone with them, all past conversations are forgotten and inaccessible to the person you are talking to and thus require you to start from scratch trying to describe the issue and history to yet another new person.

I turns out there is a whole cottage industry of paid consultants whose entire job is to try to act as an intermediary between customers and ACC Business to fix these kinds of (apparently) frequent SNAFU's.  The very existence of such people should tell you all you need to know.  Such a consultant fixed my problem 2 months ago, I thought.

Until I got a note this morning from their disconnect department, saying in part:

If the information is not received within 2 business days, your request will be cancelled. At that time, you will be required to start the process over by contacting our Customer Care Department.

If you need assistance completing the required information or have any questions, please contact our Customer Care Department at 888-286-2686

Of course, per standard ACC Business procedure, the people at that phone number provided me in the email knew nothing about the email, and disavowed any involvement whatsoever with the disconnect department.  This is roughly equivalent to American Airlines telling you that you need to contact them about your upcoming reservation and then giving you a contact number in the catering department.   ACC Business customer "service" could not give me a direct number for the disconnect team or any way to contact them about this email.  So I called my consultant again and prepared to write them another check.

If there is any other way, any way imaginable, to achieve your goals without involving ACC Business I would highly recommend that alternative.

Postscript:  ACC Business has to be bad to displace my previous awful customer service award winners, which were several dying Yellow Page companies that went to quasi-fraudulent ends to try to avoid stopping my ad and ceasing to bill me.  Seriously, your customer service really has to be bad when your otherwise legal business model has worse customer service than a company resorting to fraud.