THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 644 October 11 - 17, 2010
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October 11, 2010
I can recall when the Columbus Day Parades were big deals. And I memorized this in fifth grade. Do pupils memorize poetry and recite in class now? I hated it at first, but when I found I was good at it I became more fond of it.
The Discovery of the New World was an epochal event, of course. The flood of new resources created a middle class, overwhelmed the bureaucracy, and allowed freedom to grow in among the interstices of the great spheres of monarchy and aristocracy. The usual course of history is an increase in structure, generally in accord with the Iron Law; but once in a while there is enough shock to the system to allow some resets. This one was crucial to the growth of freedom.
I understand that Columbus brought the conquistadors, and then ended such old cultures as the Aztecs whose theme song was "Open up your heart and let the sunshine in." That story is far more complex than the tales of dare and do that were taught in our grade school history classes; it is also far more complex than the modernized versions of brutal conquest and exploitation that now pass for history. Few seem to wonder why a few hundred Conquistadores could overthrow vast empires whose subjects had submitted to a state devoted to human conquest. Cortez mounted that pyramid and cast down the execution blocks. He was hated by the rulers and the Aztec leaders, but his tiny army was victorious, and that wasn't simply because of the harquebus. But that is another story for another time.
Alas the theme for the day is tyranny.
Today's Wall Street Journal has a number of news and opinion items indicating that if we are approaching the end of history, it is not an end that we will enjoy.
Wilders is on trial and will probably be convicted. The penalty is one or more years in prison. The charge is insulting a group on the basis of race or religion. This is liberalism in action: and the tyrants here are not a king (or queen) but a faceless bureaucracy who are only doing their job. Wilders is certainly guilty:
Of course there are plenty of people in the USA who have said things just as "insulting" to various groups. Blacks feel insulted by Charles Murray's findings in The Bell Curve, and there are those who have said he ought to be jailed for having said them. Demonstrating the truth of the book's conclusions is no defense of course. Insult is in the mind of the insulted. I can imagine scenarios in which this becomes a Federal Law, and thus "The Supreme Law of the Land." It's happening elsewhere in Europe, too. Of course one argument for socialism is that we need to catch up with Europe and get into the third millennium.
Then there is Shutting Up Business: Democrats unleash the IRS and Justice on donors to their political opponents, (link) an editorial in the same issue.
I don't suppose anyone is really surprised. The Democrats face defeat at the polls -- assuming that those who have had enough actually go vote and get out and see that their friends go vote, because this election is about the ground game, and the Democrats have enormous paid resources for their team. Democrat strategists relied on the ground game, but now the polls are showing that will not be enough. Too few jobs, too much spending, too much uncertainty to generate an economic revival. Thus desperation.
And finally on the tyranny theme:
"Shootout at the EPA Corral" (link)
This is being done by executive order, not by laws. It may be, as the Journal says, "time for the courts"; but one wonders if actions like this won't make it time for something more drastic.
And we daily hear of plans to use the Lame Duck session after November to ram through a number of liberal measures which Obama can sign before the new Congress sits in January.
Incidentally, that makes the Delaware Senate race even more critical: since this is a race to replace the Senator appointed to the job after Biden departed to become Vice President, the new Senator will take office immediately after the election is certified, and won't have to wait until January. I don't care if O'Donnell is a witch: I am sure she won't vote to end debate on the slew of bills the liberals have queued up for the days after the election. O'Donnell can stop all that in its tracks. And she only gets the rest of Biden's term...
I put up a mixed bag of mail much of it interesting, such as the geoengineering pointer. and a continuation of the debate on measurements and global warming models over the weekend. As well as some good stuff Saturday. Ought to be enough for the day.
I intend to do an essay about computer trades and black swans, but I am out of time. Tonight I am one of those speaking at a fund raiser for Dana Rohrabacher, an old friend from long ago who is likely to be Chairman of the Science Committee if the House elections go as many hope. Hosting the reception is Elon Musk and it will take place at Space X rocket factory.
The surprise is that there's more visible solar radiation -- the Sun is brighter -- with less solar activity. There seems no explanation. This seems contrary to what we infer from the Maunder Minimum.
I invite comments. My conclusions remain about the same: we don't rally understand what we think we are modeling, and we need more observational data. Lots more. If you assume you already know the cause of something, you don't work as hard to collect the data.
Dame Joan Sutherland, RIP
A great voice. Perhaps she now sings duets with Caruso.
Midnight. Back from the old Northrop Grumman plant in Hawthorne where Space-X is building rocket ships. Spoke at a fund raising dinner for Dana Rohrabacher. The dinner was catered by Wolfgang Puck and his charming wife. Both were there to be thanked. And Elon Musk may be the Delos D. Harriman of real life. Anyway it went well. Report with pictures coming up. Time for bed.
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|This week:||Tuesday, October
Last night's dinner with Elon Musk and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher went well. I was the closing speaker charged with giving some vision to a group of about fifty. The dinner was at the old Norton/Grumman plant in Hawthorne, at banquet tables set up in the employee cafeteria of the rocket factory. The shop appears in the Iron Man movie. I'll have a longer report with photographs later, but for now:
President Obama says now that we need fifty billion dollars to fix the roads.I don't necessarily disagree, but wasn't that supposed to be part of the Stimulus Package with its "shovel-ready" jobs and its contribution to the infrastructure? Investment in improved roads and transportation is a fairly good idea, and if the notion of the "Stimulus" was to get money circulating and employ people in doing something useful, one would think that road improvements would be the first order of business. I have to admit that I am breathless: we spent hundreds of billions on TARP and Stimulus and we didn't fix the roads?
The question nagged at me all during my morning walk. How do I get across the operations difficulties in getting measurements accurate enough that I am justified in drawing conclusions from 4 tenths of a degree changes over decades?
I did a thought experiment. Suppose I found it important to compare the average temperature of Los Angeles County today to what it was five years ago, and to what it will be in five years? (I am prepared to wait five years, of course.)
First I have to decide what the average temperature is: which is to say I need to define the operations I'll use to get that information. I decide that since my observations are likely to be accurate only to about 1 degree, I'll need a lot of them; and then I run into a problem. It's a lot easier to get 100 independent observations of some temperatures than it is of others. I'll put that aside for the moment and look at what data I need for something that might be acceptable as an average. It will have to include city areas; suburbs; a few dairy farms and farm areas. I am only interested in "temperature" as people understand that so I'll stick to air temperatures. Right there I understand I have a problem: when I go outside the house, I feel the air temperature, but I also feel radiation temperature. It's hot in the sun. Guess I'll have to take that temperature in the shade. But it's cold on a clear night. Do I shield my probe from the 4K radiation environment out there? Surely I need to average in night temperatures as well as day temperatures. OK, air temperature at the surface. That's it. We won't worry about globe temperature because we are more interested in changes than in absolutes -- unless of course we want to compare Los Angeles with Orange County of with Houston, Texas, which is growing as Los Angeles shrinks, in which case once again I have a problem.
Now: realistically I don't have the budget to employ a bunch of people to do this. I can enlist the schools. I can get every 6th grader in Los Angeles to go read a thermometer and write down the number he sees to the nearest degree. The average of all the observations in a classroom is the average for that school, and that school is the place where temperatures are measured. Of course they have to be outside and in the shade, and some of the kids will show up and some won't, and some teachers may be enthusiastic and some won't be, but we can hope for the best. That takes care of one set of data. Is that enough? But Los Angeles County has high mountain areas, where the temperature is going to be lower both day and night. Do I ignore those? What about water temperatures? And some of the schools are spread out and some are close together, so giving each the same weight is probably not optimum.
Eventually I will come up with a series of procedures that, when followed, will result in a daily average temperature of Los Angeles. (The local weather girl doesn't go to all that trouble, of course, but she doesn't report 1/10th of a degree temperatures either.)
What the exact meaning of that number will be can be disputed, but at least I know how to generate the number. Some will with some justice argue that the mountain temperatures which I had to automate and can't afford to get independent multiple have no pretense of 1/10 accuracy, and I will argue that I give them less weight than I do my classroom temperatures and after all my instruments are more precise. Now it's true that I can't get to the mountains every day and replenish the melting ice water that serves as the calibration point for my thermocouple, but I do that once a month because I am conscientious, and beside, the mountain temperatures aren't as important. And I don't quite have the money to do precise voltage regulation on the input voltages for my thermocouple device, but again I can detect real power surges. I can conclude that my remote sensors are accurate to a degree and maybe even to half a degree, and I average those in with weights along with my classroom reports and --
And would I then be justified in drawing conclusions from tenth of a degree differences over five years?
Now we come to the world, where again we don't have unlimited funds and mostly have to make do with the data we have.
Is there, somewhere, a discussion like this among climate modelers? The discussion I saw was that they had to get rid of the Medieval Warming but that was one somewhat less than reliable scientist who had his hockey stick to defend.
Meanwhile there is more news about hydrothermal temperature interchange between the Earth's internal temperature and the biosphere. It will be up in mail.
Regarding the Delaware election and the lame duck session:
October 13, 2010
Had dinner with Niven and Mike Flynn last night. It was at an airport hotel, and the drive back took longer than I thought because CalTrans had closed two lanes of the northbound freeway, so I got back late. I got a late start, and I have a dental appointment.
Here is a link to a discussion of a new paper on statistical analysis
of some aspects of the AGW hypothesis. The link points to a Denier site,
of course, but the paper under discussion is by statistical experts.
Precisely who is at war with science is not clear: I would have thought
those trying to pass off shoddy statistical inferences as accepted fact
worth betting billions on are the real guerilla warriors against science.
The "hockey stick" is pretty well discredited. Now the AGW hypothesis rests on about 0.4 degrees temperature rise, in measurements that do not seem accurate to a tenth of a degree. In a sense the discussion is pointless because no one seems to be changing opinions; but there are hundreds of billions of dollars at stake over precisely which inconveniences are true.
October 14, 2010
The miners have been rescued. International cooperation and Chilean national attention have wrought wonders. I have been asked why I do not cover this story. It isn't from lack of enthusiasm, it's just that I have nothing to contribute: that's not the real nature of this place. I can certainly cheer. We can praise the faultless engineering. In other times there would be a Te Deum.
Everyone understands that the Earth is warming, and has been for centuries. We know that in historical times the Earth has been warmer than it is now -- and we know with even more certainty that it was colder in 1776 than it is now. There is ample historical evidence, such as the Hudson River freezing over solid enough for wagons to cross on it.
Around 1900 Arrhenius formed the greenhouse theory of warming. His purpose was to stave off a return of the Ice Age, which he thought likely. He did hand calculations (there being no computers) and came up with several estimates of the effects of doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere. His first estimate was that doubling CO2 would result in about 5-6 degrees of global warming; he later revised that estimate to about 1.6 degrees because of water vapor effects. Note that CO2 levels (which are quite accurately measured [or are they? See here]) have risen from about 310 parts per million to about 380. This is a rise of 70/310 or 22.5806 per cent in 40 years, or in absolute terms, about 1.75 parts per million a year. This isn't insignificant, and the percentage rise per year is itself rising, so prudence would suggest that we take that seriously and study the effects of CO2 increases in some detail.
It's a fairly small rise (it looks more alarming because the ordinate begins as 310 rather than 0) and the explanation of it is complex, but it's a fair inference that much of that CO2 rise is from industrialization: indeed Arrhenius was counting on adding CO2 to the atmosphere to save us from a renewed Ice Age. It's not axiomatic that CO2 increases and global warming are signs of disaster. There are benefits such as longer growing seasons, making the Temperate Zones larger and thus increasing arable acreage, and the like. That doesn't mean that there can't be adverse, even disastrous, consequences to continuing rises in CO2 levels.
We need to allocate money to the CO2 problem: the question is the urgency. Have we a lot of time or not much time? And that depends on a number of theories implied in the climate models, but the most important evidence we will have of a coming disaster needing urgent attention will be observations of what is happening. We know temperatures are rising: the question is, how much? Those who are alarmed by world temperature rises since 1885 call to evidence a temperature rise from -0.2 to +0.4 degrees (with near term projections of another 0.4 degrees or so) since 1880. These numbers are relative to an average which was the temperature in about 1940. I am uncertain why this particular base was chosen, but it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that one needs something like 1/10th degree accuracies to see alarming trends here. Incidentally, I would be prepared to believe the Earth has warmed more than 1 degree since 1885. I am also prepared to believe it has warmed less. I have no idea what the temperature really was in 1880 nor in the Medieval Warm period, nor in the Fimbulwinter of the Little Ice Age. I know it was warmer when the Vikings settled Greenland, and it was colder when the brackish canals in Holland froze over to generate the stories of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates. I know that tree rings, which used to be used as a surrogate for actual measurements, turn out to be entirely unreliable, not even accurate to a single degree, much less to a tenth of a degree.
Accuracy is important. I don't know how to measure the temperature in 1880 -- even in 1940 -- to a tenth of a degree, and I am uncertain that we can do it now. It's more likely that we can do that now, so that when we see a tenth of a degree rise in a few years we would do well to pay attention; but when I ask how we get this 1/10 degree accuracy -- what measures are taken and what weights are given to each measure -- I am referred to enormously complex reports and in essence told to figure it out for myself. I have yet to see a discussion on the level of "We weight sea surface temperature thus, we get those temperatures by these means, we take surface temperatures on land by getting the air temperature in the shade at these locations and others by satellite measures, we calibrate these various measures in this way, and here are the weights we assign to land, to sea, and to air temperature." Most of the reports I am urged to read start with the temperatures already computed; they say precious little about how the raw data are obtained, and what is done to the raw data before it gets into the model, and how it is all calibrated. Calibration: if my thermometer is marked bit differently from yours, or if it's a mercury thermometer with the readings painted on the mount rather than the thermometer itself so that can slip even slightly -- then we need to know something about that before we can compare the temperature you get to the one I get. If we use some kind of base date and take differences rather than absolutes, we may be on sounder ground. And so forth.
I have focused on data collection operations and accuracies because those who believe we ought to be alarmed use tenth of a degree changes as their evidence.
Today's Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece "Why Israel Won't Abandon the Settlers" by Yossi Klein Halevi (link) which is worth your attention. It is an Israeli partisan defense of the settlers.
I had an idle thought this morning. The Republicans cannot possibly repeal Obama Care in the next Congress because they certainly will not have a veto-proof majority; but they can add to every appropriation bill including the most trivial "provided that no money appropriated under this act shall be used for the enforcement" of ObamaCare; and never bring up an authorization or appropriation for enforcing Obama health care. That should in effect shut it down for two years, at which point we will have a national referendum (Presidential Election) on the subject. Just a thought...
I note that Michelle Rhee has resigned as DC Public Schools chancellor. Teachers unions are cheering wildly, thus proving once again that the purpose of the public school system is to pay bad teachers and make sure that teacher performance does not affect teacher pay or job retention. Once that mission is accomplished the public schools are encouraged to do other things, but first the bad teachers must be assured their jobs.
This is pretty hard on kids who can't get out of the system. The question is, why must we all pay for this? Can't we just pay the bad teachers to stay home? The studies indicate that you double the effectiveness of the schools if you dismiss the 10% worst teachers. (Yesterday a teacher told me "But then you'd start in firing the next ten percent, and the next ---") This was in a dentist's office and I wasn't able to reply. The simple answer is to give local school boards the power to hire and fire their own teachers, and make the local districts pay a substantial part of the costs rather than use the state tax collectors and be paid for the presence of warm bodies.
But even with the existing system a 10% purge for ineffectiveness can be scheduled at five year or even ten year intervals, or make it 2% a year coupled with bonuses for the 10% most effective teachers. Those are details easily managed so long as the goal of the system is not to pay bad teachers. As it stands, that is the goal, and little can be done.
I've been asked for recommendations for political donations. I hate to follow the pledge drive with more nags about money, so I have put that over into mail.
October 15, 2010
Election day is closer, but of course a lot of people have voted already. I don't know if the increasing use of absentee ballots is a good idea or not. Making it easy to vote is in theory a fine idea, but it also encourages a lot of people who really haven't thought much about the election issues and know they don't know much to cast ballots because it's no trouble, and after all the googoo position is always a plea for more to vote. There was a time when the US had (mild) property qualifications for voters. The Forty Schilling Freehold, possession of a house, payment of taxes. Poll taxes were fairly common: they were fairly small, about $5 a year when I was a youngster, the theory being that if you didn't care enough to pay the price of a bottle of whiskey you probably ought not vote. There used to be literacy qualifications.
All those qualifications can be and were abused, just as the Motor Voter acts are routinely abused now. We have amended the Constitution to get rid of them. That was I think a mistake; in an attempt to get racial equality in the nation we forgot Thomas Jefferson and the other founders:
I suppose it is a hate crime and thus not subject to the protection of the First Amendment to say that perhaps we have gone too far, and we ought to restore literacy requirements, and even charge a modest poll tax -- say the price of a bottle of whiskey -- for general elections, and perhaps even distinguish between voters and taxpayers as they did when I first moved to the state of Washington in the 1950's. Only taxpayers could vote in elections imposing or raising taxes. Of course that distinction is long gone.
We have public schools whose primary purpose is to pay bad teachers, with appalling dropout rates, turning out voters who not only can't read but have no idea of political issues. Worse, we impose the bad teachers mostly on the students who are below average and thus less likely to figure things out for themselves. "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
Of course even bringing up the subject is a hate crime in the estimation of many. Of course saying that is pretty demeaning to all those who would be disenfranchised by literacy and nominal poll taxes, and presumably wouldn't be able or willing to learn to read or pay the tax.
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
I have been asked for views on the Dharun Ravi affair. I don't know much.
A simple Google search turned up
Of course this was a crime:
Clearly that law wasn't enough to prevent this incident. I am not at all sure there is any means for preventing it. Perhaps, as some of my science fiction colleagues are saying, you can't: we no longer have privacy. Live with it. This is a post privacy world.
I have another concern: there is talk of charging Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei with hate crimes, because, as it turns out, the chap they photographed and rebroadcast, was having sex with another young man. The notion of "hate crimes: is bizarre to begin with. Beating someone up is a crime and deserves punishment. Insulting them may or may not be depending on the context. Adding the category of "hate crime" is censorship at a very basic level. If the First Amendment has any meaning at all, surely it protects one's rights not only to speech, but to contrarian thoughts? If those thoughts lead to crimes, such as attempting to assassinate the President, or threatening voters at the polling place, that's one thing; but so far as I can see, hate crime is very close to Orwell's thoughtcrime, and the very concept, particularly at the federal level, is repugnant to the founding principles of this Republic. Holmes said that freedom of speech is not the right to cry fire in a crowded theater, and that seems common sense: but that is a fairly clear situation. It's not a hate crime, it's a clear and present danger of injury and death. Incitement to riot comes to mind.
Ravi and Wei are charged with invasion of privacy, and various aggregations, and face five years imprisonment, which may or may not be excessive. Any prison time at all would serve as a deterrent to others. But adding "hate crime" to the charge is not appropriate. I am not sure if "hate crime" is ever appropriate. Dragging someone behind a truck is a heinous crime, and the status of the victim as a member of one or another minority doesn't make it worse or better. Heinous is heinous.
The mail is up on this site. I am preparing the October column. Late as usual.
October 16, 2010
I took the day off. Working on the column.
October 17, 2010
.Working on the column, which ought to be up tomorrow evening.
Fair warning, the following will be repeated in the column, since not everyone reads both.
The other night we went to the Los Angeles Opera. The presentation was Il Postino, a relatively new opera by Daniel Catán, an American educated composer born in Mexico and now the music administrator of Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts. The libretto is essentially the script of the 1994 movie, set to lyric music quite unlike the stuff that usually passes for modern opera. More on that in the column. I can recommend Il Postino as an artistic success, but you do need to remember that it takes place in 1948 when Stalin was firmly in control of the Soviet Union. The opera is supposedly about a period of exile of the Chilean communist poet Pablo (Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto) who fled a Chilean arrest warrant in 1948 and spent some time in "exile" in Italy (although not generally in seclusion and certainly not on an island without running water, although he did visit Capri). If you want to know more about Italy in those times, a good source is a series of short vignettes collected into several books by Giovani Gaureschi that begin with "The Little World of Don Camillo"; alas the books are long out of print. Those were the days when Stalin took over Czechoslovakia (Spring 1948) by the murder of Jan Masaryk and the Iron Curtain was descending across Europe (Churchill's Iron Curtain speech was made in 1946).
Il Postino assumes that the Communists were the good guys, and that the Christian Democrats who won the election in Italy were the oppressors. This is not the standard view of history other than in the minds of a number of Western intellectuals. Or perhaps it assumes that Neruda was not really aware of the Gulag and other Stalinist horrors (much like Peppone in Guareschi's Little World, but Neruda wasn't a small town mayor who had never been out of the Po Valley except for a stint as an anti-German partisan in 1944). Having said that, the "Pablo Neruda" of Il Postino is a thoroughly likable, indeed charming, person, and all the reds in the opera are clearly on the right side against oppression; in other words, the plot is fairly standard Popular Front viewpoint. There is no enemy to the Left. Such propaganda is so deep seated among Western intellectuals that many believe it, and others will dismiss any criticism of the view with a shrug and a remark about artistic license. I can sympathize with that. I enjoyed the movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opera, and I was very pleasantly surprised at the non-modern lyrical music, which Roberta terms "rich".
Neruda is sung by Placido Domingo who is still in great voice and has no problem playing a 50 year old reasonably active poet. He's marvelous. Mario the Postman is played by Charles Castronovo, who's popular in Los Angeles: he started in the LA company and learned the craft in minor parts here before breaking out to be one of the leading lyric tenors of modern times. Amanda Squitieri is in great voice and was utterly believable as a small town Catholic girl of 1948 just coming of age, and indeed all of the cast were believable. It's a great story, and well worth seeing.
The opera is worth mentioning in a computer column because there was a great use of high tech in the production. Back in the Dark Ages when I was Managing Director of the Seattle Civic Playhouse, the lighting control board had enorm0us high-resistor dimmers and a myriad of switches, and all the lighting moves had to be done by hand from a very precise lighting script. An opera in a foreign language -- as for Americans most are -- couldn't really be presented with simultaneous translations without distracting everyone watching. Set changes were done mostly by grips under the watchful eye of a stage manager. There certainly were no back screen projections on scrims, and there were no movie screens simulating the TV in a bar or showing back story details. All this and more was a routine part of Il Postino, and it was all done smoothly with a minimum of distraction. One problem with proscenium theater is keeping up the illusion of reality, and whether or not this is desirable; Thornton Wilder wrote extensively about this, and how he didn't believe for a moment when watching most plays. Bertolt Brecht deliberately put stage hands and spotlight operators on stage in full view of the audience to make sure there was no possible illusion of reality. Movies don't have this problem: they can be real, or they can deliberately expose the machinery behind the works, and the director gets to choose which approach to take. Opera and stage play directors often don't have the choice -- but as our computer technology gets better, and more importantly cheaper, live theater including opera is more and more getting that choice.
As I said, the above will be in the column.
And on that score, I have to get back to writing it.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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