Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Climategate Was a Hoax

My hometown paper the other morning published an op-ed from Victor Davis Hanson crowing about how climate change was now a dead issue.  Hanson is supposed to be this well-respected academic (Fresno State classics scholar, Hoover Institution, etc.) but this was amateur hour.  Naturally he dredged up the canard about the earth cooling over the past ten years, which I ranted about previously.  We also got complaints about how Al Gore has a big house. (Note to skeptics: no one cares about Al Gore. He's not the king of climate change.)

I wouldn't've commented on it except that Prof. Hanson also felt no qualms about continuing to slander honest scientists.  Referencing Climategate, he claims that climate scientists were "manipulating scientific evidence" -- fighting words, basically, in the scientific community.  But he makes no mention of the six (6!) independent investigations that cleared the scientists of any scientific misconduct. (Check out this extremely informative page from UCS which explains exactly what Climategate was all about and what the investigations found.)

Sometimes it seems like these fact-free memes will just continue to circle the globe for decades and we'll be reading the same thing in 2037.  But this op-ed came out shortly after the Berkeley group's highly publicized re-analysis of the surface temperature records, one of the key pieces of evidence for global warming that had been under question thanks to the Climategate emails.  For added drama the group's leader, Richard Muller, had been a pretty vocal skeptic of some parts of climate science.  But clearly he let the data speak for themselves and reported a finding almost exactly identical to the previous 3 data reconstructions (NASA, NOAA, HadCRU).

It was a pretty big black eye for climate skeptics and anyone who really thinks that scientists were "manipulating" the data.  Bad luck for Prof. Hanson, I guess, although I doubt he cares.  The money quote from Dr. Muller: "the biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK."  And the money graph (via the BBC), comparing the new results with the older three:

The four curves are remarkably similar and they all go up.  Maybe this will mark a turning point regarding the media's coverage of Climategate -- a talkingpoint of equal and opposite weight, as it were.  We can only hope.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fashionable Cynicism Never Won Us A Public Option

These Occupy Wall Street protests are cool, and they tie into a couple of interesting posts from Yglesias and TNC making the point that it is far more effective to organize for change rather than sit back and gripe about Obama.  This is, I think, the main fact of our current political moment.

Prior to the 2008 election there was a ton of energy on the left, first in the anti-war movement and then channeled into Obama's election campaign.  My perception is that after the election that energy largely dissipated when it really needed to keep surging forward.  Some of that was simple exhaustion and a false belief that the battle had been won and that Obama could wave his magic Congress wand and pass his agenda.  Partly it is psychologically easier to be fiercely unified against something than to be for something, particularly if that something (stimulus, health care bill, cap-and-trade, etc.) is the product of political compromises and not 100% to your liking.  Human nature, I guess. 

As an example, I think the Occupy Wall Street protests have been awesome and inspiring, but if they had taken place in early 2009 during the bailouts and (especially) during the Congressional debate over the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, I think we would have ended up both with better policies and a more accurate media narrative that put the blame for the Great Recession on the true culprits rather than the bizarre claims we now get about how the school teachers and cops are are to blame for high deficits (or whatever story it is this week).  Same thing with the health-care bill.

I write this not to absolve Obama or the Dems from the mistakes they did make.  Right this second I'm pretty peeved about Obama's recent cave on ozone regulations (bad policy, bad politics) and the fact that he may have just offed a U.S. citizen without any due process (a scary scary precedent).  Still.  The media loves to build narratives around the personage of the President, but in a democracy the buck ultimately stops with the people.  We need to work to move public opinion in a progressive direction.  The politicians will follow.

The energy just wasn't there in early 2009, and things were moving so fast that it was hard to get a bead on where to best apply popular pressure.  But still, this is what we're supposed to be good at, and the sad fact is that post-2008 the left has simply been out-organized by the tea party -- a bunch of people who as a matter of principle don't really believe in collective action!  Embarrassing!

Yglesias gives a couple recommendations of things to do apart from complaining about Obama on the internet.  I would say it mainly comes down to grassroots organizing in a way that opens up space to Obama's left, and it is nice to see that some of the old energy is starting to return.  I hope it continues.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Maya Rowan Torgerson Donaghy -- welcome to the planet!  Born 1:40am on 9/12/2011, 3600 grams, 51 cm. More here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Work Is

I see that Fresno's Phillip Levine was just named Poet Laureate. He's always been one of my favorites because his poems are really short stories about interesting people in difficult situations.  He seems like the right poet for a time of 9 percent unemployment, although not one to help us forget our economic troubles.  Andrew Sullivan excerpts one of his best poems -- "What Work Is":
We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tech Rant

I tend to use my email inbox a lot differently than most people I know.  Looking over the shoulders of friends and family and coworkers I see a lot of people with 2000, 3000, 10000 messages in their inbox.  Frankly this gives me the howling fantods.  If I have more than 20 messages in my inbox I start to feel stressed and if the list goes beyond the first page: no good.  No good at all.

My general operating procedure is to read, and then delete or archive most of which comes through my inbox.  What remains sitting there are only important messages that I need to respond to or do something about: a to-do list of sorts.

I am aware that this marks me as more than a little OCD ... but let's leave that aside for the moment!  I was looking for a way to send daily or periodic reminders to my email account as a way of automatically adding things to my de facto to-do list.  I was mostly looking for a daily or weekly reminder to do push-ups, practice Spanish, go for a run, etc.  Seems like a simple problem, right?  Almost simple enough that I might think of coding it myself if I had a server to play with.  Sadly no. 

[On the theory that no topic is too small for a blog post, consider this a mini tech-review for anyone else who has this same sort of problem.  For others who are looking for something a little more entertaining, I recommend this. Or this. Or this.]

  • My first idea was that it would be nice to get reminders in my RSS feed.  And it turns out that such a service exists: ReminderFeed.  Unfortunately, the site seems to have been coded back in 2005 and mostly abandoned since then.  Every time I tried to fill out their form to create a feed I got an error message saying I had entered the start date in the wrong format.  Which I hadn't.  After futzing with it a bit, I gave up and figured it might be a browser problem (it didn't work in Safari or FF4/5).  Nice idea, but FAIL.
  • Second try was an email reminder service called RememberTheMilk.  It seemed like basically the right idea.  You can set up periodically recurring tasks that send reminders to you via email.  The deal-breaker was that each time you "completed" as task you had to log-in to their website to "check it off" your to-do list there.  Otherwise it didn't send you the next reminder.  Sorry. No. Way too much work.  I just want the vanilla reminder, thanks.  FAIL.
  • Third, a service called MyEmailReminders.  This one was nice.  A clean intuitive interface with lots of clearly described options.  No unnecessary bells-and-whistles.  The only problem was it didn't work.  Or rather, it delivered my daily reminders about half the time.  The rest of the time: nothing.  It was kind of amusing guessing if the daily reminder would come.  Amusing, but not useful: FAIL.
  • Fourth time's a charm, I guess.  The free service that seems to work is MyMemorizer.  Very similar to #3, with a clean interface and nothing too complicated.  And, you know, it works too.  So that's nice.  SUCCEED!
I should also mention that Google Calendar will do this for you, but I kind of wanted something separate so as to not clutter up my calendar too much.  I guess the moral of the story is that you get what you pay for.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Comparative R.E.M. Studies

Apropos of my last post complaining that there's no good music these days and that those durn kids better get off my lawn, Marty helpfully suggested that perhaps I might find agreeable the new Decemberists album, The King Is Dead.  And she's totally right (thanks Marty!), it's a really great bunch of songs.  Not quite as quirky or showy as some of their earlier stuff, but catchy and well-written and emotionally direct.  For example, here's the first single

So here's the thing: I thought the jangly guitar sounded really familiar, and after a few listens I realized that the song is almost totally identical to R.E.M.'s "The One I Love" -- both the guitar and the vocal melody.  Compare and contrast...
Turns out that the guy playing the jangly guitar part is Peter Buck, so I guess he's allowed to swipe some of his earlier riffs.  And if they keep turning out songs this good I'm certainly not going to complain about it.  There's a couple other R.E.M.-y tracks on the album, but a lot of it is roots-ier and more down homey like this one, "Rox in the Box."  They also have Gillian Welch and David Rawlings backing them up on some songs too.  Awesome!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mixtape 2010

Once Quinn was born my music listening habits changed overnight. There's that first year of parenthood which is just a blur of diapers and sleep-deprivation. You can't really blast stuff out of the speakers because the baby's sleeping. And then there's dishes and laundry and trying to figure out the shape of your new life. Honestly, who has time to sit down and listen (really listen) to a CD anyway -- much less obsess over the lyrics and let the songs sink in they way they did when you were 14 and taping songs off the radio because you had all the time in the world, but no money.

After that first year life relaxed again, but I kind of just... got out of the habit? We'd listen to kids CDs rather than the new new thing, and then Quinn went through a phase where she didn't want anyone else to play music. For a while I listened to music while commuting on the train, but since we've been down in Nicaragua I've barely touched my iPod.

And at the same time, the horizons of available music have become nearly infinite. I've started following a few mp3 blogs like fluxblog or club fonograma (a quite-excellent english-language blog that covers latin american pop music), but it all flows by so fast I feel like I'm only hearing a small fraction of the stuff I might like and really, truly absorbing even less than that.

I hope it's not just a symptom of becoming an old fuddy-duddy. I'd really like to get to know some new music that clicks the way it did back when. So if anyone has any really good recommendations, please let me know. Anyway, to celebrate the shards of good music that have been whizzing by me over the last year, here's a mixtape.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Favorite Movies 2010

Annnnd, here are some of the movies that I saw over the past year that I liked.
  1. Fitzcarraldo (dir. Werner Herzog) -- A gorgeous, mesmerizing, problematic and deeply weird story about an opera-fanatic with a bizarre scheme to move a steamship over a mountain. If that sentence doesn't make any sense, well, I guess you have to see it.

  2. Z (dir. Costa-Gavras) -- A tense, old-school political thriller from the '60s about the overthrow of a dictatorship in Greece, now with newly added relevance due to the wave of revolutions in the Middle East.

  3. Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan) -- Loved it, but need to see this one again...
  4. Moon (dir. Duncan Jones)
  5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson)
  6. Avatar (dir. James Cameron)
  7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (dir. Edgar Wright) -- Fun and cute.
  8. Rachel Getting Married (dir. Jonathan Demme)
  9. The Devil's Backbone (dir. Guillermo del Toro)
  10. The Kids Are Alright (dir. Lisa Cholodenko)
Other: In Bruges, Sherlock Holmes, A Serious Man, Inglorious Basterds, True Grit, Tropic Thunder, Broken Embraces

Monday, January 24, 2011

Favorite Books 2010

Here are some of my favorite books from last year -- click to read my reviews on goodreads!
  1. Hands down the best book I read this year was Stephen Kinzer's journalistic history of Nicaragua -- Blood of Brothers. Obviously not everyone is going to nerd out on this topic the way I did, but it really is a terrific book and I definitely recommend it to anyone even vaguely interested in Latin America or Cold War history. It's also a story more Americans should know and understand since Nicaragua is Case File #1 in American Interventionism Gone Bad.

  2. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  3. The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
  4. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
  5. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
  6. Manhood for Amateurs, by Michael Chabon
  7. Little, Big, by Michael John Crowley
  8. Kraken, by China Miéville
  9. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace
  10. Halting State, by Charles Stross