November 2009, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

There Are More Than Two Positions On Climate Change:  Many more.   I've mentioned in the past that there are "lukewarmists", as well as "coldists" and "warmists"; there are people, some quite competent, who have views in between the extremes.  There are also people who don't fit neatly on a simple continuum between warmists and coldists.

For example, Roger A. Pielke, Sr., who has credentials and publications galore.  But Pielke does not agree with NASA's James Hansen and the Climatic Research Unit's Phil Jones, on some aspects of climate change problems.  As a result, he has been vilified by some of their supporters, as you can find out with a simple search on his name.

Here's his own summary of his ideas, written last April.
  • Research has shown that the focus on just carbon dioxide as the dominate human climate forcing is too narrow.  We have found that natural variations are still quite important, and moreover, the human influence is significant, but it involves a diverse range of first-order climate forcings, including, but not limited to the human input of CO2 (e.g. see NRC, 2005 and Kabat et al, 2004).   These other forcings, such as land use change and from atmospheric pollution aerosols, may have a greater effect on our climate than the effects that have been claimed for CO2 (e.g. see);
  • The IPCC and CCSP assessments, as well as the science statements completed by the AGU, AMS and NRC, are completed by a small subset of climate scientists who are often the same individuals.   This oligarchy has prevented science of the climate system to be properly communicated to policymakers (e.g. see, see and see).
  • The acceptance of CO2 as a pollutant by the EPA , yet it is a climate forcing not a traditional atmospheric pollutant, opens up a wide range of other climate forcings which the EPA could similarly regulate (e.g. land use; water vapor).
  • Policymakers should look for win-win policies in order to improve the environment that we live in (e.g. see).  The costs and benefits of the regulation of the emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere need to be evaluated together with all other possible environmental regulations.   The goal should be to seek politically and technologically practical ways to reduce the vulnerability of the environment and society to the entire spectrum of human-caused and natural risks (e.g. see Chapter E in Kabat et al 2004).
(I was too lazy to include his links, but you can find them in the original.)

Let me simplify those four points a bit.  Pielke believes that human-caused global warming is real, but he also believes that we are changing our climate in other ways, and that it is a mistake to focus only on carbon dioxide.  In particular, we should not treat CO2 as an ordinary pollutant.  We should worry about all the ways, natural or man-caused, that our environment might change for the worse, and look for cost effective ways to mitigate those changes.  We are finding that hard to do because a small scientific clique dominates climate science.

A fair reading of what he has written in that summary, and elsewhere, shows that he is not at all a skeptic about man-caused global warming, much less a "denier".

Is he generally right?  I don't know enough to evaluate his claims.  But I am sympathetic, through long experience, to those who resist grand simplifications.  And I am dubious, again through long experience, about those who try to make a case with ad hominem arguments.

There are many others — Bjorn Lomborg comes immediately to mind — who have similar positions that do not fit neatly on some warmist-coldist continuum.  For political reasons, we must pay attention to the fight between the believer and the skeptic teams.  But if we want to understand the scientific problems and policy issues, we should not neglect those who are not members of either team.
- 3:53 PM, 30 November 2009
More of Pielke's ideas in this extended interview.
- 3:39 PM, 2 December 2009   [link]

The New York Times Attacks Obama:  No, really.  And in a sensible editorial, criticizing his failure to get talks going between Israel and the Palestinians.
We were thrilled when President Obama decided to plunge fully into the Middle East peace effort.   He appointed a skilled special envoy, George Mitchell, and demanded that Israel freeze settlements, Palestinians crack down on anti-Israel violence and Arab leaders demonstrate their readiness to reach out to Israel.

Nine months later, the president's promising peace initiative has unraveled.
. . .
Peacemaking takes strategic skill.  But we see no sign that President Obama and Mr. Mitchell were thinking more than one move down the board.  The president went public with his demand for a full freeze on settlements before securing Israel's commitment.  And he and his aides apparently had no plan for what they would do if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said no.

Most important, they allowed the controversy to obscure the real goal: nudging Israel and the Palestinians into peace talks.  (We don't know exactly what happened but we are told that Mr. Obama relied more on the judgment of his political advisers— specifically his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel — than of his Mideast specialists.)
(Emphasis added.)

To find out why the thrill is gone, read the whole thing.  (Incidentally, there is no Bush bashing in the editorial.  I searched, twice, just to be sure.)
- 9:53 AM, 30 November 2009   [link]

A Victory For Constitutional Democracy In Honduras:  Mary Anastasia O'Grady has the story.
Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution.

Yesterday's elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle.

National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls.  Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point.  The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

The fact that the U.S. has said it will recognize their legitimacy shows that this reality eventually made its way to the White House.  If not Hugo Chávez's Waterloo, Honduras's stand at least marks a major setback for the Venezuelan strongman's expansionist agenda.
The opposition of so many Latin American leftists to this election shows how little they care for democracy — unless someone they like can be elected.  In contrast, it is good to see that the White House is — finally — accepting the results of this election.

(The New York Times, and most other "mainstream" news organizations, have had terrible coverage of the events in Honduras.  Here's an extended, and very well-informed, critique of a recent article in the Times, showing how the Times, and many other "mainstream" news organizations, went wrong.)
- 8:58 AM, 30 November 2009   [link]

"7 Stories Barack Obama Doesn't Want Told"  John Harris sees the seven as dangers to Obama.

Presidential politics is about storytelling.  Presented with a vivid storyline, voters naturally tend to fit every new event or piece of information into a picture that is already neatly framed in their minds.
. . .
Here are seven storylines Obama needs to worry about:

He thinks he's playing with Monopoly money

Economists and business leaders from across the ideological spectrum were urging the new president on last winter when he signed onto more than a trillion in stimulus spending and bank and auto bailouts during his first weeks in office.  Many, though far from all, of these same people now agree that these actions helped avert an even worse financial catastrophe.

Along the way, however, it is clear Obama underestimated the political consequences that flow from the perception that he is a profligate spender.  He also misjudged the anger in middle America about bailouts with weak and sporadic public explanations of why he believed they were necessary.
(Just the "perception"?  Harris is trying to help Obama out, but in fact Obama is a profligate spender.)

Harris has six more stories.  I can think of two more, besides his seven, that also threaten Obama politically:

Obama is more interested in endless procedural protections for defendants than in protecting citizens from evil-doers.

The New York trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will, almost certainly, lead some Americans to that conclusion.  According to Gallup, voters disapprove of holding the trial in New York and strongly prefer that KSM be tried by a military court, rather than a civilian court.  Obama has tried to distance himself from the decision, but I don't think voters will buy that, unless he does something dramatic like firing Attorney General Eric Holder.

I think it almost certain that that story will continue to spread, and will damage Obama politically.

Obama has concealed, and is still concealing, many of his far left views.

Voters do not like being lied to.  During the campaign, Obama minimized his long ties to a whole menagerie of people on the far left, and minimized his record of support for leftist positions on many issues.  (Those leftists and those positions may look normal to most in his Hyde Park neighborhood, and even to many "mainstream" journalists, but they don't look normal to most Americans.)  But his appointments show that he has not given those ties, that he is not the moderate that he often posed as during the campaign.

Two Gallup polls show that this is a real danger to Obama (and to the Democratic party).  In June, Gallup found that 46 percent of Americans now describe the Democratic party as "too liberal".  At the beginning of this November, Gallup found that 54 percent of Americans now think that Obama's policies are "mostly liberal".  In both polls, Gallup found that perceptions had shifted to the left.  A year ago, for example, those who thought that Obama's policies were mostly moderate slightly outnumbered those who thought them mostly liberal (45-43 percent).  (Seven percent of Americans still think that Obama's policies are mostly conservative, which should remind us that not all of our fellow citizens are paying attention to politics.)

I haven't seen any polls on whether Obama deceived the American public in last year's campaign, but I would not be surprised if more and more Americans come to that conclusion, helped, perhaps by a a few Republican commercials, contrasting his campaign statements with his appointments, and with his actions this year.

(Last year, I said that I thought that Obama would govern "as close to his leftist ideas and values as he can get away with".  I haven't seen reason to change that conclusion, though I might add some thoughts about the possible effects of his narcissism.

Harris ends his piece with advice to Obama on how to keep those stories from spreading — after giving us reason to think that there is some truth in all of his seven stories.  Is Harris urging the Obama administration to con the public, or, if you prefer, to continue conning the public?)
- 8:18 AM, 30 November 2009
Harris was trying to help the White House, but the White house didn't appreciate his efforts, replying to his analysis with a snarky email attacking Politico.

I don't read Marc Ambinder often.  When I do, it is almost always because he has some leak from the White House that he presents in the most favorable possible way.  I have begun to think of him as more an unofficial spokesman for the White House than an independent journalist.

That doesn't mean his posts aren't useful.  This post, for example, shows us — again — just how thin-skinned some people in the White House are.  Instead of learning from Harris's sensible advice, they attacked the messenger.
- 7:25 AM, 1 December 2009   [link]

Four Police Officers Killed:  In Parkland.

Four police officers were shot and killed in a Sunday morning ambush at a Parkland-area coffee shop, officials said.

Pierce County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ed Troyer called the ambush "a targeted attack."

Officials at the scene said two gunmen burst into the Forza Coffee Co. outlet at 11401 Steele St. South, shot the four uniformed officers as they were working on their laptop computers, then fled the scene.

People in this area will be reminded of the assassination of Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton just a month ago, and some will wonder whether this is a copycat killing.

These preliminary reports often contain errors.  It is not certain, for instance, how many gunmen there were.  The story says two, but the current radio reports from the same news organization say one.

My sympathies to the family and friends of these officers.  And we can only hope that those responsible are caught quickly, and without further loss of life.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For those not from this area, Parkland is about 40 miles south of downtown Seattle.)
- 11:05 AM, 29 November 2009   [link]

CRU Scientists Threw Away Their Raw Data!?!  That's what the good scientists at the Climatic Research Unit have just confessed.
Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.

It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

The UEA's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected.  The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.
Suppose that you were a scientist and you wanted to check the historical temperature results that the CRU scientists have published.  You don't have to know a lot about the scientific method to know that you would start by getting a copy of their raw data.  (And then do your own analysis, almost certainly with your own computer programs.)

Without the raw data, you are stuck.  You can not replicate their work.  Replication is an essential part of science; it is the main way scientists catch other scientists' mistakes.

The CRU scientists say that they threw away the raw data to save space.  That excuse might be plausible for their paper records, but it is hard to believe for their magnetic tapes.  At that time, the most common way to store large amounts of computer data was with 9 track tapes.  A single 9-track tape can hold more than 100 megabytes of data.  I haven't seen a formal description of the raw data, but it is likely that it would fit on a single tape.  And I am certain that the raw data would fit on fewer than ten such tapes.  Even ten tapes would take up less than a foot of a single drawer in an ordinary file cabinet.

(The data is not irretrievably lost.  The CRU scientists got it from many weather stations around the world.  Probably all (or nearly all) of that data can be retrieved from the original sources.  And should be.)

The CRU has an excuse of sorts; they say that they do have the "value-added (quality controlled and homogenised) data".  But other scientists can not check to see if they really added value to that data.  (The CRU scientists are now promising to release the "value-added" data.)

Of all the revelations that have come from the Climatic Research Unit, this discarding of their raw data is the most amazing.  I do not know whether to attribute it to incompetence, to malice, or to both.
- 9:22 AM, 29 November 2009   [link]

No New Minarets In Switzerland:  Swiss voters have spoken.   (According to "initial projections".)
Swiss voters have approved a right-wing-backed proposal to ban construction of new minarets, initial projections showed on Sunday, a surprise result that could damage Switzerland's economic ties with Muslim states.
. . .
A group of politicians from the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), the country's biggest party, and Federal Democratic Union gathered enough signatures to force the vote on the initiative which opposes the "Islamisation of Switzerland."

Its campaign poster showed the Swiss flag covered in missile-like minarets and the portrait of a woman covered with a black chador and veil associated with strict Islam.

"We just want to stop further Islamisation in Switzerland, I mean political Islam.  People may practice their religion, that is no problem," Walter Wobmann, who is president of a committee of initiative backers, told Reuters on Sunday.
If I were a Swiss voter, I would have voted against the ban, but I understand the feelings of those who supported it — and I would support other efforts to resist Islamization.

Even before this initiative, applications to build minarets in Switzerland were "almost always refused".

(This vote shows why European politicians are so reluctant to let voters decide important political questions, even something as fundamental as joining the European Union, or greatly strengthening its powers.  You just never know what voters might do, if given the opportunity.

Switzerland, unlike most (all?) other European countries, allows initiatives, which is why this one was on the ballot.

There's a little more in this BBC article and a picture of the campaign poster here.)
- 7:46 AM, 29 November 2009   [link]

Steve McIntyre Makes a fair offer.
In normal times, Climate Audit has a large audience; right now, its audience is far larger than normal and includes journalists as well as the public.  Given recent events, I made an extra effort to solicit editorial content that would be supportive of IPCC views and asked Jones' long-time associate, Tom Wigley, to write a contribution for Climate Audit:
Wigley turned him down, but McIntyre intends to reach out to other allies of Jones with the same offer.

This is, I think, exactly the right thing to do.  If Phil Jones and his allies are sure of their case, then they should accept the offer.

(As far as I know, McIntyre has still not expressed an opinion on global climate models.  He has been quite critical of some of their statistical analyses, rightly as far as I can tell, but he understands that errors by an analyst do not necessarily disprove the analyst's case.)
- 1:21 PM, 28 November 2009   [link]

Happy Thanksgiving!  (Though Audubon's turkey may not share the sentiment.)

Audubon's turkey

(Yes, I am fond of that painting — and wild turkeys.)
- 9:43 AM, 26 November 2009   [link]

Ever Wonder How Those Climate Models Work?  And what their limitations are?  This article provides — to the best of my knowledge — a reasonably good description of both.

Here's a bit on how they work:
But all these processes must be dramatically simplified for even supercomputers to produce results in a reasonable amount of time.  "You have to limit yourself to the processes you think are most important," says Marco Giorgetta of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg.

Because there's no way to simulate the path of a single CO2 molecule through the atmosphere, model makers create a relatively approximate, chessboard-like image of the Earth.  The squares are hundreds of kilometres wide.  The result is thousands of imaginary quadrants in the atmosphere, each of which represents a single grid point in climate models.  Climate simulations calculate the predicted values for temperature and air movement at each grid point for intervals ranging between five and 20 minutes -- until they arrive at the year 2100.
And a bit on their limitations:
The closer one looks at climate models, the greater the temptation to doubt their usefulness.   Is this not a case of altering parameters until they produce the desired results?  How much real science can be found in the models? How much is merely the result of tuning?

Still, climate experts believe they have the uncertainties in their simulations under control.   "We check, among other things, how sensitive the models are to small changes in the parameterization," says Latif.  In other words, the researchers tinker with the different dimensions to see whether the model still works just as well.  "Too large a change in the simulation results would not be acceptable," Latif emphasizes.

Nevertheless, no serious scientist can guarantee the validity of the results.   Climatologists long ago stopped giving concrete values for the predicted temperature in the year 2100.  Nowadays they talk in terms of probabilities.  For example, under emissions scenario A, it is 80 percent certain that the global average temperature will increase by at least 2 degrees Celsius.
(Emphasis added.)

Earlier in the article, Dambeck says, correctly, that the "real test of how good a model really is comes when you compare it to reality".  In the last decade, the global climate models have not performed well on that test.  That may help explain why some modelers have retreated into their bunkers.
- 8:13 AM, 25 November 2009   [link]

These Boots Aren't Made For Walking:  This Telegraph story isn't important in itself, but it does tell us something about Michelle Obama — and, just possibly, the man she married.
The American first lady could give Carla Bruni, the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and a former supermodel, a run for her money once she receives the flat black boots, which have been specially ordered from Robert Clergerie, the French designer based in Romans, in western France.

Mrs Obama has also ordered a pair of calf-length boots in beige buckskin, according to Mr Clergerie, whose boots sell for hundreds of pounds.
In a severe recession, our first lady has just ordered two expensive pairs of boots — from a French designer.

As many others have noted, Michelle Obama has a tin ear for politics; she says destructive things that the ordinary politician's wife would avoid.  (Mark Steyn has examples.)  Her mistakes are amusing and, possibly, instructive.  Has Barack never tried to coach her?  Would she listen to him if he did?  Or does he not realize they are mistakes?

If it isn't obvious just how bad this purchase is, politically, put yourself in the place of the wife of an American shoemaker — and there are a few left — who has just been laid off.   You would be offended by the cost of the boots, but even more by the unwillingness of the first lady to patronize an American firm.

(If you are wondering what those boots look like, you can find some possible answers here, here, and here.

Whether the boots are appropriate for Michelle Obama is a question I will leave to those who know more about fashion than I do.)
- 7:39 AM, 25 November 2009   [link]