“Climate Strike” – A Sign of Hope or Despair?

I awoke this morning to discover there was no climate. The mystery of why we had no climate today is that Our Betters ™ had called a “climate strike.” The climate, which, low, these past decades has been awaiting orders from the Right People, complied, as any right thinking climate would. That will show ’em! Us, I mean.

79 at the moment. I’m not buying a high of 88, and note that when I rechecked just now, the forecast high was 87.

I kid, of course. Our little piece of Northern California is having one of those envy-of-the-world perfect sunny California days, mid 80s, very light breeze, totally beautiful. So Climate, anthropomorphised or not, is on the job!

I was blissfully unaware that a Climate Strike had been called, until I was in a little business meeting across the street from the City Hall of an adjacent suburb, and saw a small crowd of children and a few adults who could very well have been Professionally Aggrieved Grievance Professionals, but since the uniforms are somewhat inconsistent, I can’t be sure.

Even with an invitation to ditch school, only about 50 kids showed up to be hauranged by a foul-mouthed teenage girl calling for an end to Capitalism and institution of Socialism – because the planet may – may – be getting ever so slightly warmer, and Socialism is the answer to Climate Change because something something reasons.

Several of the signs called for passing motorists to honk in support of climate action. I suppose driving a Hummer (one went by as I watched – this is a medium-tony suburb – couldn’t tell if the driver honked) could conceivably be seen as taking action on climate change, although not it the direction these gullible rubes protestors might desire. The Left’s irony deficiency, not to mention hypocrisy, was on full display. I’d bet, based on the neighborhood, those kids are living well above average material lives, and have their own cell phones and computers and video games, if not their own cars for the oldest ones. Mom probably drove them to the protest. Every one of them lives in a house with a carbon footprint bigger than several third world villages put together. But it’s those *other* people who are the problem!

A foul-mouthed girl, dropping F-bombs and calling B.S. on everybody, stated to applause and cheers that Capitalism is the problem, that money-hungry business people are destroying the planet, and we must overthrow the system and institute Socialism. People cheered, including the children of all ages who it would strain credulity to think could explain the difference between free markets and totalitarian state control. Little Miss Trotsky then unloaded on the mean schools that told students not to ditch class, stating that they – the schools – were tools of Da Man. Out of the mouth of babes!

I wonder where she got this idea?

A massive Global Climate Strike is set for Friday. Above, students march for climate action in New York City on March 15.
Gee, it’s almost as if the whole Climate Change mishegas is just a cover for a bunch of Useful Idiots to promote Socialism….. The caption reads: “A massive Global Climate Strike is set for Friday. Above, students march for climate action in New York City on March 15. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)” “Massive.” Right. A classroom and a half’s worth of schoolchildren and a couple wanna-be hippies from a population of 300,000+ within 10 miles…

I like the clenched fists. Very original.

So, on the one hand, we live in a world where children are indoctrinated and used (and discarded as soon as they are no longer useful, but that part isn’t in the marketing materials) such that what should have been a pretty young lady learning how to behave as an adult is fashioned into a podium-banging mini-Khrushchev cursing like a sailor, railing against a system that has given her the opportunity to comfortably and safely play the fool, and for a system she doesn’t in the slightest understand. On the other, despite vast efforts and the complicity of the press, they got 50 people to show up. That a whole bunch of kids somewhere would rather sleep through Algebra II than be seen with these goofballs gives me hope. Unless they ditched, but then went to smoke weed behind the dumpster or something – which, all things considered, isn’t the worst alternative.

While I have my strong doubts about Trump, I will crawl over broken glass if need be to vote against the manipulative child abusers behind these ridiculous photo ops.

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Basics: How to Run a Nation

Like I know how to run a nation. As usual, more or less thinking out loud, given the insanity that is current politics. Seem there are a few obvious points:

  • To have a nation in the first place, the people in it must recognize some overarching interests they hold in common with everyone else in the nation.

Overarching in the sense that this common interest can be used to settle the inevitable disputes. Or, put the other way around, when there is no recognized interest that can be appealed to that everyone agrees is more important than the dispute to be settled, you don’t have a nation, or soon won’t. The obvious case would be the Civil War: the appeal to national unity itself was not enough, and this appeal was only made when appeals to God and His Justice had failed. Much of the South was willing to risk the judgement of God on slavery, and saw national unity as something already defeated as an overarching interest in the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.

Not for one moment am I denying how messy and full of passion, intrigue and deceit the run up to the Civil War was, but, even given all that, division became inevitable once the appeal to unity, which is an appeal to shared interests, lost its power.

I am here following my understanding of Orestes Brownson. That shared interest, or set of interests, is what is meant by a commonwealth or republic. In a nation that long survives, the Pilgrim’s feet, patriot dreams and alabaster cities count much more than the amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties – the shared history, goals and dreams much more than the shared physical place.

You can run an empire in which group A has nothing in common with group B, and so on, but an empire isn’t a nation. To run an empire, you must first realize that that’s what you’ve got: a collection of peoples, perhaps of nations, who would not be united except by the empire imposed on them. Empires have often, all things considered, been pretty acceptable arrangements for the people in them. But an empire is not a nation, and must be imposed. A nation must be formed by the people in it.

  • Some assumptions and ideas support a nation, while others destroy it. No nation can long exist unless the first dominate or eliminate the second.

Loyalty, patriotism, and a sense that everyone has a duty to obey the law are some ideas that can support a nation. Their opposites – treason, the idea one is a citizen of the world before a citizen of his nation or that citizenship is to be despised, and the rejection of the idea breaking the law is a serious matter with serious consequences – these work for a nation’s destruction.

The Protestant Christianity that was assumed by the American founders and patriots is empirically able to support a nation, at least for a while. The nation itself, at least according to Brownson’s argument, came into being once the colonists recognized that they shared both overarching interests in freedom and self-determination, as well as a contiguous territory, language, and history. They shared a vision of a future as a nation, and a willingness to fight and die for that the nation might continue.

Of course, as many have pointed out, the seeds of destruction were there as well: radical individualism, tissue-thin Enlightenment assumptions about human nature, and slavery. Blank slates call for someone to write on them – the line of volunteers has gotten long. And how can it be said an individual who is nothing but a void to be filled has inalienable rights? Squaring slavery with Protestantism was difficult, to say the least, and should have been far more difficult. These threads, and the battles fought over them, are playing out today.

  • Nations, if the term means anything, have the right and duty to reinforce those ideas and assumptions that are needed for its survival.

A nation shoots its traitors, deports those who express hatred for it, and brings the force of the law down hard on scofflaws. Of course, a nation should not pass laws that are unlikely to be obeyed or it is unwilling or unable to enforce. Machiavelli observed that a wise prince never gives an order unless he knows it will be obeyed, lest he come to be held in contempt by the people. Similarly, when a nation passes Prohibition or refuses to enforce its immigration laws, not just drink and illegal aliens are at issue, bit the very duty to obey *any* law.

bogatyrs
Soviet Nationalism. Um, sure?
  • If taken seriously, Marxist internationalism is an idea a nation has a right and duty to suppress.

No nation can tolerate a movement whose goal is the destruction of the nation. Most attention, it seems to me, is focused on the real-world outcomes of Marxism – totalitarianism, economic collapse, mass murder – but, even apart from the historical record, a nation must criminalize efforts to destroy it. That is the very definition of treason.

Yet this is all but the official position, and is taught in virtually all classrooms, in virtually all universities in America today.

  • There is no formal nation without borders.

It is not just a question of physical borders, although they are indispensable. It is also a question of citizens’ duty to protect the commonwealth. Reject the commonwealth, reject the nation. People can be physically in the nation without supporting the commonwealth of shared history, goals and dreams and the assumptions that underlie and support them. If you look at traditional steps naturalized citizens go through, you see the care given to inculcating these immaterial things as a condition for citizenship. Physical presence was not enough.

Back in the latter half of the 19th and first part of the 20th century, a significant number of bomb-throwing anarchists, mostly Germans, it seems, made it to America. Whether or not they committed any other crimes, the mere fact that they rejected the idea of our nation, or nations in general, made them invaders, not immigrants.

I didn’t watch the debates, as they have never been more than political theater, just a bunch politicians jockeying to unload their soundbites, for my entire adult life. But having read a little about what’s going down, it seems we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Orwellian Euphemisms, pt 2: Critical Thinking

Not too long ago, perhaps when some god stirred in his sleep, the idea that America is usefully divided into front row and back row people seemed to have a brief moment of currency. Haven’t heard much of that noise lately, but then again I haven’t been listening for it. Or maybe the god fell back into deep sleep, who knows? At the time, it struck me as typical classist nonsense, looking for a way to separate the good, virtuous, and therefore justifiably successful from the bad, vicious, and therefore unsuccessful in a way most flattering to the presumed good people. I most likely reacted this way because I always sat in the back, and was always among the smarter and more ‘successful’ kids in my classes, so the distinction, such as it is, rang false.

Related image
Those kids in the front there are obviously more intelligent and ambitious than those in the back, right?

Let’s back up: poking around, this idea seems to trace back to the work of one Chris Arnade. He’s an amatuer journalist/photographer who is a sort of secular saint by virtue of his leaving his job of 20 years as a Wall Street quant in order to hang with and photograph poor people. He was unhappy with the Wall Street culture; they also closed his area due to post Great Recession regulatory burdens, and he got a buyout and retired. (1) Starting around 2012, he began to publish his writings and photos, where he coined or at least popularized the idea of front and back row kids. He just recently published a book (disclosure: I have not read it).

The idea seems to be that the kids who sit in the front row of classrooms are the ambitious leaders who rise above such trivia as race, sex, religion and any brand of localism from nationalism on down, while the kids who sit in the back have no ambitions and are fettered by their failure to rise above race and sex, and cling to their Bibles and their loyalty to place. Kids who are ambitious and smart want to sit up front so that they don’t miss anything and get noticed; kids in the back just want to be left alone, and see no value in school. More or less.

The bastion of the first group is of course the Democratic party; the second group voted for Trump. This is evidently interpreted as a failure by Democrats to understand the less enlightened, and of Trump (diabolically?) capitalizing on that very lack of enlightenment. In other words, the smart, good people failed to understand the stupid, bad people, who then voted for Trump as one of their own – or something. It doesn’t quite make sense. In what sense are people who can’t understand people outside their tribe ‘smart’? In what sense are people who value home and God ‘stupid’? Makes a fellah wonder…

Today, however, I’m not here to criticize this particular flavor of bigotry. Rather, it just happens to illustrate today’s Orwellian euphemism: Critical Thinking. To be fully Orwellian, the euphemism must not only avoid saying what it really means, but must say the opposite of what it means. Thus, critical thinking as used today means mindless conformity, the kind of mindless conformity displayed by the kids who sit in the front rows and kiss teacher hindquarters for a decade and a half.

Just as our last Orwellian euphemism, Academic Freedom, might be expected to result in a wide variety of views being expressed without fear of repercussions, but instead results in a viciously-enforced uniformity of thought, Critical Thinking might be imagined as equipping the critical thinker with the tools to criticize, oh, schooling, say. Or his teacher’s political or social assumptions. Or the conclusions of his social class.

Nope. Critical thinkers don’t ever seem to get around to dredging up, let alone criticizing, their own deeply held assumptions, except when those assumptions – say, loyalty to God, family and village – contradict what their teachers think. Then, in the unlikely event the student were to push back (no chance those front row kids are pushing back – they have future careers and success to think of!) those core beliefs are not so much criticized as laughed off stage. The point of critical thinking, in practice, is to prevent any thoughts critical of the assumptions that underlie the attitudes and goals of the front row kids, while making rejection of those held (maybe – the case has not been made) by the back row kids a requirement for membership in the Kool Kids Klub.

If you were to ask any of Arnade’s current or former peers if they have good critical thinking skills, they would pronounce them excellent. And remain unable to understand those poor back seat kids, except through an analysis such as Arnade’s that runs no real risk of upsetting their own feelings of moral and intellectual superiority.

  1. According to Wikipedia, he’s also a socialist, of the ‘retire young from a mid-6-figure Wall Street job to pursue my hobbies’ style socialists. Wonder what those back row kids would think of that?

Paglia and Ugly Tactics of the Left

I am by no means a huge fan or anything, but over the years I’ve read a number of essays and articles by Camille Paglia, and imagined that, while we’d disagree on most things, and it might get loud, she’s the sort of person I could argue with over a cup of coffee. I might be kidding myself, but she always seemed fairly reasonable within her world of assumptions. If I ever got the chance, I’d take it.

I mention this only because, when I was surfing around looking for information on Gender Theory, I happened across this article in the Atlantic. While perhaps best known as an equal-opportunity gadfly, a feminist who challenges many popular feminist assumptions, a lesbian who doesn’t blame everything bad on men, and, most relevant here, a woman who identifies as a man (sort of) who thinks much of gender theory is weak-minded political nonsense, Paglia is a tenured professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She makes heads explode by saying stuff like this:

The idea that ‘self-esteem’ should be the purpose of education: this is social-welfare propaganda. Development of our intellect and of our abilities has to be the focus … You build identity. Maybe identity comes through conflict. For example, my struggles with gender, my struggles with sexual orientation, my anguish over so many decades produced my work … Sometimes conflict is creative …

If there’s no pressure on you, there’s no pressure to create.

So we have got to stop this idea that we must make life “easy” for people in school … No. Maybe the world is harsh and cruel, and maybe the world of intellect is challenging and confrontational and uncomfortable. Maybe we have to deal with people who hate us, directly, face-to-face. That’s important. You develop your sense of identity by dealing with the things which would obliterate your identity. It does not help you to develop your identity by putting a cushion between yourself and the hateful reality that’s out there.

So of course the kind, most enlightened and morally superior students at her school tried to destroy her: to get her fired and censored. If the school couldn’t legally fire her, they wanted the school to offer alternatives to any class she taught, to ban her from speaking on campus, and to refuse to sell her books.

The usual, in other words. But a very surprising thing happened. The administration, some of the faculty and even the school’s president defended Paglia, and refused to bow to pressure, did not censor her books, and refused to cancel an upcoming lecture she was scheduled to deliver.

As the lecture approached, some people gathered outside to protest. Extra guards vetted those who wanted to attend to keep disruptive people with protest posters out. “My students seemed to feel as though they were crossing something of a picket line just to be attending the event without the intent of shouting Camille down,” one teacher said. Another mentions “…the frustrations of some of the students in attendance, a number of them trans and queer identifying, who under unthinkable pressures from their peer group to conform to the political agenda du jour, showed up that night not to protest but to listen.”

The lecture got stopped after a little while by someone pulling a fire alarm, causing the evacuation not only of the lecture, but nearby classrooms. The people inside were forced out into a largely hostile protest crowd where they could be sworn at by a couple of the most sensitive, open-minded and caring people the world has ever known. So, mission accomplished: while stopping the lecture turned out not to be possible, an atmosphere of social intimidation made it clear what the price of disobeying your betters would be.

Note that this level of overt intimidation is rarely needed. Instead, the school has already filtered out kids who might disagree, unless such kids have been cowed into perpetual silence by years of school training (hint: if they’ve applied for college, they have). Paglia, as an old person with tenure and a history of feather-ruffling, and, most importantly, a woman checking nearly all the boxes – woman, lesbian, feminist, transgender, atheist – could risk speaking up. You think a random kid from the suburbs is going to do anything but comply? ALL the authority figures are going to smile if not outright gush upon any kid who bravely confesses his sexual confusion to the cheering crowds. Expressing the slightest doubt in public will get you crucified; administration support for free speech is irrelevant to the social pressure.

The author of the article asked the kid behind the petition to destroy Paglia for comments. Here’s what zhjee (or whatever) said:

Paglia’s comments have echoed the hateful language that pushes so many transgender people to contemplate suicide, and encourage transphobic people to react to transgender people violently. We have been experiencing an interesting phenomenon where Paglia’s supporters have been signing our petition in order to leave dissenting comments (this is especially odd considering they have a counter petition that they are welcome to sign). Some of these comments are extremely concerning and blatantly transphobic.

Just one example: “You are either born male, female, or deformed (physically or mentally). Trans people are mentally diseased and often violent. If they are not able to accept the reality of their disease and cope with it they must be removed from society by any means necessary. Some might argue that the high suicide rate among those suffering from this severe mental disease is nature correcting itself. Camille Paglia is a transgender person who was able to accept and overcome her mental disease. Be like Camille.”

Like it or not, Paglia’s philosophies empower people like this, who would have transgender people “removed from society by any means necessary” (this is a violent threat). This has a lasting, negative impact on the transgender community at UArts––whether it be through the psychological damage that comes with being told that you are deformed and diseased and deserve to die, or whether it be through people like Paglia’s supporters acting on their violent beliefs. To have her spouting these beliefs in the classroom and elsewhere makes life more difficult––and dangerous––for transgender students.

I personally know at least one person who, due to Paglia’s comments, has experienced suicidal thoughts and has considered leaving the University. The comments that many of us have been receiving online have caused public safety at our school to be told to up their security game, in case our (very queer) student body is targeted by angry supporters of hers. This is what we mean when we say that her views are not merely controversial, but dangerous.

To his deathless credit, the author shoots this down thus:

That argument—a speaker is responsible for harms that are theoretical, indirect, and so diffuse as to encompass actions of strangers who put themselves on the same side of a controversy —is untenable. Suppressing speech because it might indirectly cause danger depending on how people other than the speaker may react is an authoritarian move. And this approach to speech, applied consistently, would of course impede the actions of the anti-Paglia protesters as well.

After all, Paglia identifies as transgender, making her a member of the group at heightened risk of suicide. She was subjected to angry chants from perhaps 200 students, including two cisgender students who shouted curse words at her, not to mention an ongoing effort to take away her livelihood and force her from her longtime community. Social-media protests and the Change.org petition led to vitriol and threats, as in any major culture-war controversy. So treated, many people would suffer more psychological distress than if they saw a YouTube clip, however odious, that didn’t target them personally.

One particularly odious tactic is blaming Paglia for comments made anonymously that claim to be based on what she’s said, but which go much farther than Paglia’s words. In this case, the example given also reads suspiciously like a false flag operation to me, as it has long seemed the demand for the right kind of abuse outstrips the supply. Boils down to a rule: If anyone who speaks positively about somebody I don’t like says something mean, all blame can be assigned to the person I don’t like. (A corollary: and I get to interpret all words in the worst possible light.)

So, on the one hand, this is a story about the administration and faculty members, for the the most part, doing the right thing. Wow! Huzzah! But, on the other, a story about just exactly how it will make no difference unless kids, in the classroom and the common room, are free to disagree. They are not. The only way ‘academic freedom’ in the non-Orwellian sense will ever trickle down to the students is if *faculty* are able to disagree, in public, out loud, and support kids who agree with them. But as discussed in the last post, the culmination of decades of work by critical theorists and their useful idiots has made sure no dissenting voices will ever be heard.

AI, AI, Oh.

Old MacBezos Had a Server Farm…

Free-associating there, a little. Pardon me.

Seems AI is on a lot of people’s minds these days. I, along with many, have my doubts:

My opinion: there are a lot of physical processes well suited to the very fancy automation that today is called AI. Such AI could put most underwriters, investment analysts, and hardware designers out of a job, like telegraph agents and buggy whip makers before them. I also think there’s an awful lot of the ‘we’re almost there!’ noise surrounding AI that has surrounded commercial nuclear fusion for my entire life – it’s always just around the corner, it’s always just a few technical details that need working out.

But it’s still not here. Both commercial nuclear fusion and AI, in the manner I am talking about, may come, and may even come soon. But I’m not holding my breath.

And this is not the sort of strong AI – you know, the Commander Data kind of AI – that gets human rights for robots discussions going. For philosophical reasons, I have my doubts human beings can create intellect (other than in the old fashioned baby-making way), no matter how much emergent properties handwavium is applied. Onward:

Here is the esteemed William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, taking a shot at the “burgeoning digital afterlife industry”. Some geniuses have decided to one-up the standard Las Vegas psychic lounge routine, where by a combination of research (“hot readings”) and clever dialogue (“cold readings”), a performer can give the gullible the impression he is a mind reader, by training computers to do it.

Hot readings are cheating. Cons peek in wallets, purses, and now on the Internet, and note relevant facts, such as addresses, birthdays, and various other bits of personal information. Cold readings are when the con probes the mark, trying many different lines of inquiry—“I see the letter ‘M’”—which rely on the mark providing relevant feedback. “I had a pet duck when I was four named Missy?” “That’s it! Missy misses you from Duck Heaven.” “You can see!”

You might not believe it, but cold reading is shockingly effective. I have used it many times in practicing mentalism (mental magic), all under the guise of “scientific psychological theory.” People want to believe in psychics, and they want to believe in science maybe even more.

Briggs notes that this is a form of the Turing Test, and points to a wonderful 1990 interview of Mortimer Adler by William F. Buckley, wherein they discuss the notions of intellect,. brain, and human thought. Well worth the 10 minutes to watch.

In Machine Learning Disability, esteemed writer and theologian Brian Niemeier recounts, first, a story much like I reference in my tweet pasted in above: how a algorithm trained to do one thing – identify hit songs across many media in near real time – generates an hilarious false positive when an old pirated and memed clip goes viral.

Then it gets all serious. All this Big Data science you’ve been hearing of, and upon which the Google, Facebook and Amazon fortunes are built, is very, very iffy, no better than the Billboard algorithms that generated the false positive. Less obvious are people now using Big Data science to prove all sorts of things. In my gimlet-eyed take, doing research on giant datasets is a great way to bury your assumptions and biases so that they’re very hard to find. This, on top of the errors built in to the sampling, the methodology and algorithms themselves – errors upon errors upon errors.

As Niemeier points out, just having huge amounts of data is no guarantee you are doing good science, in in fact multiplies to opportunity to get it wrong. Briggs points out in his essay how easily people are fooled, and how doggedly they’ll stick to their beliefs even in the face of contrary evidence. You put these things together, and it’s pretty scary out there.

I’m always amazed that people who have worked around computers fall for any of this. Every geek with a shred of self-awareness (not a given by any means) has multiple stories about programs and hardware doing stupid things, how no one could have possibly imagined a user doing X, and so (best case) X crashes the system or (worse case) X propagates and goes unnoticed for years until the error is subtle, ingrained and permanent. Depending on the error, this could be bad. Big Data is a perfect environment for this latter result.

John C. Wright also gets in on the AI kerfuffle, referencing the Briggs post and adding his own inimitable comments.

Finally, Dust, a Youtube channel featuring science fiction short films, recently had an “AI Week” where the shorts were all based on AI themes. One film took a machine learning tool, fed it a bunch of Sci Fi classics and not so classics, and had it write a script, following the procedure used by short film competitions. And then shot the film. The results are always painful, but occasionally painfully funny. The actors should get Oscar nominations in the new Lucas Memorial Best Straight Faces When Saying Really Stupid Dialogue category:

Wet Enough for You? Philip Marlowe Edition

From the L.A. Times: Why L.A. is having such a wet winter after years of drought conditions. (Warning: they’ll let you look at their site for a while, then cut you off like a barkeep when closing time approaches.) Haven’t looked at the article yet, but I’ll fall off my chair if the answer doesn’t contain global warming/climate change.

But I have some ideas of my own. Historical data on seasonal rainfall totals for Los Angeles over the last 140+ year is readily available on the web. I took that data, and did a little light analysis.

Average seasonal rainfall in L.A. is 14.07″. 60% of the time, rainfall is below average; 40% above. Percentage of seasons with:

  • less than 75% of average rain: 32.62
  • between 75% and 125%: 39.01
  • over 75%: 28.37

“Normal” rainfall covers a pretty wide range, one would reasonably suppose. Getting a lot or a little seems somewhat more likely than getting somewhere around average. This fits with my experience growing up in L.A. (18 year sample size, use with caution.)

The last 20 years look like:

Season (July 1-June 30)Total Rainfall, InchesVariance from Avg
2017-20184.79-9.91
2016-201719.004.3
2015-20169.65-5.05
2014-20158.52-6.18
2013-20146.08-8.62
2012-20135.85-8.85
2011-20128.69-6.01
2010-201120.205.5
2009-201016.361.66
2008-20099.08-5.62
2007-200813.53-1.17
2006-20073.21-11.49
2005-200613.19-1.51
2004-200537.2522.55
2003-20049.24-5.46
2002-200316.491.79
2001-20024.42-10.28
2000-200117.943.24
1999-200011.57-3.13
1998-19999.09-5.61

14 years out of 20 (70%) are under average; 6 above. Those 5 years in a row stand out, as does the 9 out of 11 years under from 2005-2006 to 2015-2016. (That 22.55 inches in 2004-2005 also stands out – very wet year by L.A. standards.)

Wow, that does look bad. So does this stretch, with 7 out of 8 under:

1924-19257.38-7.32
1923-19246.67-8.03
1922-19239.59-5.11
1921-192219.664.96
1920-192113.71-0.99
1919-192012.52-2.18
1918-19198.58-6.12
1917-191813.86-0.84

And this one, with 10 out of 11:

1954-195511.94-2.76
1953-195411.99-2.71
1952-19539.46-5.24
1951-195226.2111.51
1950-19518.21-6.49
1949-195010.60-4.1
1948-19497.99-6.71
1947-19487.22-7.48
1946-194712.61-2.09
1945-194612.13-2.57
1944-194511.58-3.12

Or this, with 6 out of 7:

1964-196513.69-1.01
1963-19647.93-6.77
1962-19638.38-6.32
1961-196218.794.09
1960-19614.85-9.85
1959-19608.18-6.52
1958-19595.58-9.12

This last cherry-picked selection is also like the most recent years in that annual rainfall is not just under, but way under. This last sample shows more than 6″ under, in 5 out of 6 years. In the recent sample, 5 out of the last 7 years prior to this year were more than 6″ under, and one over 5″ under.

How often does L.A. get rainfall 6″ or more under average? About 22% of the time. So, hardly unusual, and, given a big enough sample (evidently not very big), you would expect to find the sorts of patterns we see here, even if, as it would be foolish to assume, every year’s rainfall is a completely independent event from the preceding year or years. It would make at least as much sense to think there are big, multi-year, multi-decade, multi-century and so on cycles – cycles that would take much larger samples of seasonal rainfall to detect. And those cycles could very well interact – cycles within cycles.

Problem is, I’ve got 141 years of data, so I can’t say. I suspect nobody can. Given the poorly understood cycles in the oceans and sun, and the effect of the moon on the oceans and atmosphere, which it would be reasonable to assume affect weather and rainfall, we’re far from discovering the causes of the little patterns cherry picking the data might present to us. They only tell us that rainfall seems to fall into patterns, where one dry year is often followed by one or two or even four or five more dry years. And sometimes not.

L.A. also gets stretches such as this:

1943-194419.214.51
1942-194319.174.47
1941-194211.18-3.52
1940-194132.7618.06
1939-194018.964.26
1938-193913.06-1.64
1937-193823.438.73
1936-193722.417.71
1935-193612.07-2.63
1934-193521.666.96

Not only are 7 out of 10 years wetter than average, the 3 years under average are only a little short. This would help explain why it is so often raining in Raymond Chandler stories set in L.A. – this sample of years overlaps most of his masterpieces.

Image result for philip marlowe
It could be raining outside – hard to tell, and I don’t remember. Just work with me here, OK?

The L.A. Times sees something in this data-based Rorschach test; I see nothing much. Let’s see what the article says:

Nothing. The headline writer, editor and writer evidently don’t talk to each other, as the article as published makes no attempt to answer or even address the question implied in the headline. It’s just a glorified weather report cobbled together from interviews from over the last several months. Conclusion: things seem OK, water system wise, for now, but keep some panic on slow simmer, just in case. Something like that.

Oh, well. You win some, you lose some. That *thunk* you hear is me falling out of my chair.

How’s the Weather? 2018/2019 Update

In a recent post here you could almost hear the disappointment in the climate scientists’ words as they recounted the terrible truth: that, despite what the models were saying would happen, snowpack in the mountains of the western U.S. had not declined at all over the last 35 years. This got me thinking about the weather, as weather over time equals climate. So I looked into the history of the Sierra snowpack. Interesting stuff.

From a September 2015 article from the LA Times

This chart accompanies a September 14th, 2015 article in the LA Times: Sierra Nevada snowpack is much worse than thought: a 500-year low.

When California Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a snowless Sierra Nevada meadow on April 1 and ordered unprecedented drought restrictions, it was the first time in 75 years that the area had lacked any sign of spring snow.

Now researchers say this year’s record-low snowpack may be far more historic — and ominous — than previously realized.

A couple of commendable things stand out from this chart, and I would like to commend them: first, it is a very pleasant surprise to see the data sources acknowledged. From 1930 on, people took direct measurements of the snowpack. The way they do it today is two-fold: sticking a long, hollow calibrated pole into the snow until they hit dirt. They can simply read the numbers off the side of the pole to see how deep it is. The snow tends to stick inside the pole, which they can then weigh to see how much water is in the snow. They take these measurements in the same places on the same dates over the years, to get as close to an apples to apples comparison as they can. Very elegant and scientifilicious.

They also have many automated station that measure such things in a fancy automatic way. I assume they did it the first way back in 1930, and added the fancy way over time as the tech become available. Either way, we’re looking at actual snow more or less directly.

Today’s results from the automated system. From the California Data Exchange System.

Prior to 1930, there were no standard way of doing this, and I’d suppose, prior to the early 1800s at the earliest, nobody really thought much about doing it. Instead, modern researchers looked at tree rings to get a ballpark idea.

I have some confidence in their proxy method simply because it passes the eye test: in that first chart, the patterns and extremes in the proxies look pretty much exactly like the patterns and extremes measured more directly over the past 85 years. But that’s just a gut feel, maybe there’s some unconscious forcing going on, some understatement of uncertainty, or some other factors making the pre-1930 estimates less like the post 1930 measurements. But it’s good solid science to own up to the different nature of the numbers. We’re not doing an apples to apples comparison, even if it looks pretty reasonable.

The second thing to commend the Times on: they included this chart, even though it in fact does not support the panic mongering in the headline. It would have been very easy to leave it out, and avoid the admittedly small chance readers might notice that, while the claim that the 2015 snowpack was the lowest in 500 might conceivably be true, having a similar very low snowpack has been a pretty regular occurrence over that same 500 years. Further, they might notice those very low years have been soon followed by some really high years, without exception.

Ominous, we are told. What did happen? 2015-2016 snowpack was around the average, 2016-2017 was near record deep, 2017-2018 also around average. So far, the 2018-2019 season, as the chart from the automatic system shows, is at 128% of season to date average. What the chart doesn’t show: a huge storm is rolling in later this week, forecast to drop 5 to 8 feet of additional snow. This should put us well above the April 1 average, which date is around the usual maximum snowpack date, with 7 more weeks to go. Even without additional snow, this will be a good year. If we get a few more storm between now and April 1, it could be a very good year.

And I will predict, with high confidence, that, over the next 10 years, we’ll have one or two or maybe even 3 years well below average. Because, lacking a cause to change it, that’s been the pattern for centuries.

Just as the climate researchers mentioned in the previous post were disappointed Nature failed to comply with their models, the panic mongering of the Times 3.5 years ago has also proven inaccurate. In both cases, without even looking it up, we know what kind of answer we will be given: this is an inexplicable aberration! It will get hotter and dryer! Eventually! Or it won’t, for reasons, none of which shall entail admitting our models are wrong.

It’s a truism in weather forecasting that simply predicting tomorrow’s weather will be a lot like today’s is a really accurate method. If those researchers from the last post and the Times had simply looked at their own data and predicted future snowpacks would be a lot like past ones, they’d have been pretty accurate, too.

Still waiting for the next mega-storm season, like 1861-1862. I should hope it never happens, as it would wipe out much of California’s water infrastructure and flood out millions of people. But, if it’s going to happen anyway, I’d just as soon get to see it. Or is that too morbid?

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Great Flood of 1862. Via Wikipedia.