Not a Real Science! Headline

But I wish it were:

Qatar Climate Summit Menu to Feature Polar Bear, Sea Turtle

Doha, Qatar: Organizers for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in this Persian Gulf city have announced that the menu for the 17,000 plus attendees will prominently feature polar bear and sea turtle, two species threatened by rising global temperatures.

“We believe we should do everything in our power to make this event as memorable as possible to our guests,” Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiya, former Qatari energy minister and president of the Conference of Parties told a news agency on Monday. “Polar bear and sea turtle can be prepared in any number of delicious ways the conference attendees will not soon forget.”

Hamad al-Attiya answered critics who wondered if it doesn’t send a mixed message for a UN conference to eat endangered species that they are supposedly working to save: “Oh, come now. It’s only a few hundred bears and turtles, hardly a material difference to their overall populations. Besides, all these dedicated advocates have traveled from great distances at great expense to come to Qatar when they could have just used WebEx, frankly. After burning all that jet fuel, we’re going to bicker about a few bears and turtles? These people are trying to save the world! They deserve a little something special, and we will provide it.”

In related news, Qatar’s petroleum-powered water desalinization plants, which provide 99% of the fresh water in Doha, will be working around the clock at max capacity to ensure full swimming pools in this desert country, and that the conference attendees can take all the hot showers they want.

Ishmael Alighieri

Global Warming News: Putting on My Marketing Guy Hat…

I ponder the message contained in the first sentence of a Science! article from the LA Times titled “Climate talks buffeted by the force of Superstorm Sandy“:

More than 17,000 people have converged on the Qatari capital for the latest U.N. climate talks

I imagine myself offering the following professional advise:

“Fellah, fellas, please. This global warming stuff – good product, excellent sales upside, and despite the beating we’ve taken over the last decade or so, we still have major mind share and positives. Hell, we should, what with the push my department has made.

“But enough about me – can we talk about these huge meetings in exotic places where nobody lives? Look, I like a good boondoggle as much as the next guy – hey, I work in marketing – but could we show an eensy teensy bit of awareness of the message we’re sending here? Do I have to spell it out? OK:

“See, what we’re looking for here are vast draconian powers to command the economic activity of the entire world, backed by a well-funded global apparatus to enforce our rules, which will lower the standard of living of many people – not that we’re saying that in the brochures, but that’s what ‘taking effective steps to combat global climate change’ means in reality. This, to put it bluntly, is a tough sell, even in the current environment. So we downplay this aspect. To sum up: Huge storms & starving polar bears = good message; vast bureaucracies and unemployment lines = not so good message.

Now, a few people have, despite our best efforts, noticed this – there’s always gotta be naysayers no matter how good the pitch. Even though we’ve got the celebrity endorsements and have bought way more air time, these jokers do have a good message that might just get through to people.

“Speaking professionally, we’ve benefited greatly from our competitors focusing on facts – like you can sell something that takes pages of 10-point type to explain! – and on the uncertainty inherent in any studies or models of something as complex as climate. I’m not seeing the sexy, here – people won’t read much past the first couple words, so those words better be ‘hope’ and ‘change’. But despite their failure to employ any high-end marketing talent (*ahem*) we can’t seem to loose them.

“So – follow me here – we have to work together not to give our opponents a stick to beat us with. We’ve successfully painted our competitors as loonies and stooges. We’ve managed to whistle past a decade and a half during which weather was distressingly normal and temperatures didn’t rise. Then we get Sandy like a freaking gift from Heaven – and you guys gotta follow that up with FLEETS OF AIRCRAFT FLYING 17,000 PEOPLE FROM AROUND THE WORLD TO QATAR!?! FOR A &%$#@ MEETING!?!

“Sorry. Anyway, you get the point here? No? We’re trying to keep a lid on this whole ‘power grab by a bunch of bureaucrats’ message our competitors occasionally put out, see, because that just might be a winner for them, and then you guys immediately do something that’s EXACTLY WHAT A BUNCH OF OUT OF TOUCH BUREAUCRATS would do. Not to mention BURNING A BAZILLION GALLONS OF FOSSIL FUEL to do it.

“Again, I apologize. But you guys heard of email? Skype? WebEx? The freaking *telephone*? Until we get this thing sold and funded, can you PLEASE just NOT have gigantic meetings in exotic locations you have to burn unimaginable quantities of fossil fuel to get to? People just might get the idea that all this belt-tightening and lifestyle downgrading we’re trying to sell only applies to little people,  not to you.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to do something about people posting videos of the 1938 Long Island Express – now, THAT was a hurricane!”

Lying with Rhetoric

Here’s a post-election quote from a Rachel Maddow, a woman I know not from Eve, but with whom  I seem to agree on at least one point: Romney was an appalling and pathetic candidate for President. However, the truth that underlies our agreement does not forgive the very subtle, almost brilliant, lying contained in the following post election quote. Only someone who is both an accomplished rhetorician and a craven partisan liar could have constructed this statement:

Ohio really did go to President Obama last night. And he really did win. And he really was born in Hawaii. And he really is legitimately President of the United States. Again. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make up a fake unemployment rate last month. And the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy. And the polls were not skewed to oversample Democrats. And Nate Silver was not making up fake projections about the election to make conservatives feel bad. Nate Silver was doing math. And climate change is real. And rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes. And evolution is a thing! And Benghazi was an attack ON us, it was not a scandal BY us. And nobody is taking away anyone’s guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually. And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. And the moon landing was real. And FEMA is not building concentration camps. And UN election observers are not taking over Texas. And moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry in this country are not the same thing as Communism.

The particular rhetorical trick here is to create a list of things that, by the very nature of being in the same list, are asserted  to be alike, to all go together. This construction attempts to assign to each item in the list whatever characteristics are most exhibited by most, and especially the first, items in the list – in this case, imagine a big circle containing all these items labeled TRVTH.

The beliefs dismissed by the  earliest items, and most items, are things that might be best classified as along a Wishful Thinking/Delusional axis. The rhetorical trick is to stick in a few things that reasonable people could actually consider, preferably using words designed to portray that consideration as delusional – thereby saving much time that might otherwise be spent in contemplation of one’s own positions or – heaven forbid – reasonable assessment of opposed positions. In other words, for example, the rhetorical trick is to paint any questions about what happened in Benghazi as being the equivalent of doubting the moon landing. This is designed precisely to end discussion (within the tribe) about what actually happened by presumptively dismissing any questioner as a quack.

This is not playing nice. This is not playing fair. This is, in fact, simply a relatively sophisticated way lying. And Maddow is easily smart enough to know it.

For, of course, in the real world, each pare of assertions from the list cannot be represented truthfully in one circle – each would have its own Venn diagrams. Some could represent beliefs of voters – how much, for example, do Birthers overlap with people who observe that the deficit is still growing out of control? Some might focus on merely Romney voters – how many Romney voters believe Obama’s a Kenyan? And so on – how many people who question the moon landing also dispute that Obama’s craven pandering to Wall Street can  be reasonably described as ‘moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry’?

Imagined as a messy set of Venn diagrams, rather than a tidy list, makes it clear that any unity between these ideas is merely in Ms. Maddow’s head. Other than the big lie of putting all these things in one list, there’s the other trick of simply describing issues in a shorthand meant to trigger a Pavlovian agreement in the target audience without running the risk of triggering any actual thought:

“Evolution is a thing” – sure is!

“Global warming is real” – yep, at least since the last ice age. It’s the ’caused by man and requiring immediate massive government intervention’ part that’s mostly in dispute.

“And taxes have not gone up.” – yep, as measured in immediate dollars taken from paychecks terms. However, measured in assumed liability terms – deficits are just borrowing based on the government’s ability to tax us –  they have skyrocketed and merely been deferred to our grand kids.  Or, more accurately, deferred until we face the music and default.

“And the deficit is dropping, actually” – um, no. The *annual* deficit is smaller, but the *total* deficit is still growing unimaginably, and shows every sign of continuing to grow until we finally max our credit and go into a Wiemar-style financial melt-down. But kudos for finding comfort in us *only* going another trillion or so in debt over the next year or two, rather than 2 or 3 trillion like before.

I gather Ms. Maddow is a star of the left. I get the same reaction to her (based on this small sample) as I got to both presidential candidates: this is the best we can do? We are so doomed.

Grad degrees and Voting Blue

Just to keep everything on this particular topic together here, here’s part of a comment I made over on the inestimable Mike Flynn‘s blog. Go there and read his thoughts, as he knows math, stat and stuff, while I merely dabble:

Dug a little deeper – according to the CNN exit polls (buyer beware: self reporting caveats apply), the pattern for 2012 was that HS drop outs voted markedly blue, with a steadily increasing propensity for voting red as educational level increased, until people with college degrees voted Romney 51% to 47%.

BUT, most interesting, people with graduate degrees – 18% of voters (doesn’t that seem kind of high? Are there really that many graduate degree holders out there? How does anything get done?) tended to vote strongly for Obama.

So increasing education seems to correspond to greater likelihood of voting red until grad school. But here’s the kicker: my unscientific survey of the fields graduate degrees are awarded in show a full 60% of people getting graduate degrees are doing so to advance in public sector careers – education accounts for over 25% of graduate degrees, with Public Admin, various law enforcement and social service degrees making up the rest. (Business & engineering I assumed to be private sector leaning, while health and sociology neutral to public? – the data’s probably out there, maybe I’ll look it us sometime.) So, it’s a little surprising that grad degree holders don’t lean even farther left than they do.

Maybe I should track this issue all the way down as an illustration of my You Can Figure This Stuff Out for Yourself campaign? Sort of like Gusteau’s ‘anyone can cook’. Hey, maybe doing just a little research and subjecting it the the review of intelligent readers is like what Chesterton said about love letters and blowing your nose – no matter how bad you are at it, you still have to do it yourself.

Think of the salubrious effects on public discourse if everyone, rather than simply swallowing tribal pieties whole and unchewed, actually tried to look stuff up from recognized and acknowledged sources, and then ran their thoughts past people who also did a little research on their own? Why,

– arguments would slow way down. Way, way down. You can yell a lot more talking points at each other per minute than you can talk about real issues and actual sources with friends and respected acquaintances;

– there’s a slight chance that some factual issues might get settled, such as there’s no way pharmaceutical company profits will cover the cost of health coverage for 30 million additional people, or that increasing the cost of doing business doesn’t tend to drive people out of that business, or that the deficit is still growing alarmingly with no end in sight (note: the contrary to these statements are all claims I’ve heard or read from presumably intelligent people);

– we might get to know each other as human beings, maybe stop hating and caricaturing each other, thereby putting millions of straw men out of work.

Gotta dream big!


Samwise Gamgee: The Model of an Educated Man

Not kidding. Here’s what we know of Sam’s education:

– knows all the stories and songs of the Shire;

– knows how to cook;

– knows how to carefully work his way through difficult tactical and moral decisions.

The results of Sam’s education:

– not easily led astray. From all those stories and songs, Sam knows what heroes and heroines do. He knows what is honorable and dishonorable. He measures his own actions by those standards.

– Further, he knows how villains lie and mislead and justify their actions to themselves, and how people fail to do the right thing sometimes out of weakness and fear.

– Life isn’t fair. You find yourself in a story not of your choosing. You just have to play your part as well as you can.

– How to be gracious. Sam is deceptively sophisticated – he is humble, but always knows the proper thing to do, whether it’s playing his own minor role at a court or cooking up a brace of conies.

Now, with this education, Sam would make an excellent subject for a good king – or a excellent citizen in a democracy. And he would see that neither of these things – being subject or being a citizen – mean diddly if you are not a loyal friend, faithful son, and solid neighbor.

Compare and contrast: the modern product of what we call education knows none of the stories and songs of his own culture. (Always thought the concept of multiculturalism was amusing – Where do you get the skills and sympathy to absorb a second culture if you have failed to absorb your own?) They judge without any context, especially without a moral context within which any judgement might be considered ‘good’. Thus the characteristic poor judgement of your typical academic and academic sycophant.

The modern graduate knows nothing of how to think his way through difficult moral questions, even ones putatively ‘scholarly’ – like how to assess source materials and the credibility of speakers. Examples abound. Reading about Hypatia, there are those who cite contemporary source documents describing what happened and evidencing an actual understanding of the contemporary society, and there is Gibbon’s unsourced account. It’s flabbergasting that anyone claiming to be educated could side with Gibbons. To put it bluntly: it is irresponsible and dishonest for an educated person to hold Gibbon’s position.

And Hypatia’s story is a trivial example, with clear sources a simple review of which gives the lie to Gibbon’s account. What about slightly more complex situations? Sam would have no trouble assessing Islam – he’d know all the stories and songs about the conquest of North Africa and Spain, the battle of Tours, the sieges of Constantinople and Vienna, the battle of Laponto, and the Crusades. Even though a more sublime scholar than Sam would be able to point out inconsistencies and out and out falsehoods in some of the stories (Roland was picked off by Basque highwaymen, for example) that same scholar would confirm the grand sweep of what Sam knew from songs: that Islam had ridden out from the Arabian peninsula in the 7th century and conquered half of the land area of Christendom within a hundred years, slaughtering and enslaving thousands upon thousands of Christians in the process, and that Christendom’s efforts to recapture these lost lands had largely met with defeat.

And so on. Sam wouldn’t fall for Marx or Freud. Sam wouldn’t vote for people advocating intrinsic evil. Sam would invite anyone civil enough to behave themselves over for dinner.

Sam Gamgee: Education for the Modern Man.


Music at Mass Review: Sunday, November 18th 2012

With the family in SoCal, attended Mass at a nice little church right on the beach. Before we get to the music, must mention that the Crescat’s head would explode if she ever attended mass at a SoCal beach community Catholic church – while, it being November and all, I didn’t see anyone showing a little navel for the Lord this time, did catch plenty of bare backs, leggings and short outfits, and a few of the ubiquitous dudes in jams, t-shirts flip flops. I’m a local – these are my people. I’m of the ‘hey, at least they are at Mass’ crowd – instead, I whine about the music, which means I’m not of the ‘hey, at least they’re fidgeting while the wanna-be rock band in the sanctuary plays ditties that aspires to sound like what Joni Mitchell might write if she were 1/10th as talented and a lapsed member of the Church of Christ’ crowd. Or something.

On the plus side: the choir performed in the choir loft – one can only imagine the paperwork required to get the special papal dispensation from the iron-fisted LAW of the Spirit of Vatican II recorded nowhere that REQUIRES poor musicians to perform bad music no one can or is willing to sing from right there in the sanctuary, where our BFF Jesus intended. But they did it! Huzzah! Also, the piano player had a very good gospel touch, and the singers could actually sing. And, really, the music wasn’t as bad as all that – I was just on a good roll, there, and kinda vented.

People at the church were very nice. The homily was good, and the Sacrament efficacious as always.

Now for the ditties: we started with vague, infantile lyrics wedded to a preschool-level tune: the execrable Song of the Body of Christ. Well, then, now that we’ve got *that* song, why sing anything else? I mean, what else is there?  Or maybe he didn’t mean *the* song of the Body of Christ – perhaps he really just meant *a* song, allowing for some other ditties to be sung? Because who could be that hubris-drenched and unconscious? Continue reading “Music at Mass Review: Sunday, November 18th 2012”

Science! Headlines

Let’s get back to the fun stuff! We’ll keep it light…

Astronomers Discover Little Rogue Planet Floating Aimlessly in Space

It just about brings a tear to me one good eye. Until I start thinking about all those other planets, purposely marching through space, evidently following orders…

Ecuador drops poison on Galápagos Islands in attempt to eradicate rats

Half expected to read how billions of rats were being flown in, to make sure they got ’em all.

Tiny insect’s ears, located on its hind legs, work just like ours 

What? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. Hold on a minute – let me take off my pants and hold my leg up to your mouth.