Archive for January 2010
If it is so incredibly cold….
…. how can “warming” of any sort be an issue?* The latest snowfall and deepfreeze across the eastern US is a good occasion for mentioning a new paper on James Hansen’s site at Columbia University. The paper is called, conveniently, “If It’s That Warm, How Come It’s So Darned Cold?” and is available in PDF here.
Read the whole thing, but Tweet-scale version of the answer is: Things are getting warmer, just not where most Americans/Europeans would notice this year.
For the world as a whole, 2009 was the second warmest year on record, and the 2000s were the warmest decade. (See NASA/ Goddard Institute for Space Studies report here.) As more and more people have heard, this winter’s we-are-no-longer-amused cold siege in the middle latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia (where most people live) is a result of a rare flip in the Arctic Oscillation. Explanation here. It’s plenty hot elsewhere. NASA chart of the overall global trends.
Hansen’s paper also quotes this comment on a site run by a climate scientist in Seattle:
“I wonder about the people who use cold weather to say that the globe is cooling. It forgets that global warming has a global component and that its a trend, not an everyday thing. I hear people down in the lower 48 say its really cold this winter. That ain’t true so far up here in Alaska. Bethel, Alaska, had a brown Christmas. Here in Anchorage, the temperature today is 31. I can’t say based on the fact Anchorage and Bethel are warm so far this winter that we have global warming. That would be a really dumb argument to think my weather pattern is being experienced even in the rest of the United States, much less globally.”
This knowledge, plus double Under Armour long underwear, should keep me warm as I head out soon.
The Wife heard an interview on Fresh Air about Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the Internet. Fascinating book—I’m about 2-3 chapters into it—and if you use the Internet, you probably should read this. The scale of the fight is amazing, and some very serious mobsters are working it for all they can. Meantime, law enforcement is lagging.
The Wife recently surprised me with this voice recorder: the Olympus 6200pc. I like it a lot: very small, very light, and a cinch to operate. It will hold a lot of talk: 77 hours at high quality, 444 in LP mode.
To organize that, you can record in any of 5 folders (A-E), so that (for example) A = work-related, B = club notes, C = personal project, etc.
Within a folder, the files are numbered consecutively in the order recorded. A folder can hold up to 200 files (which is kind of weird—I would expect that number to be, say, 255). You can pause a recording and resume, and you can at any point put in an index mark (up to 10, numbered consecutively). If you actually press “stop”, then pressing “record” again will start a new file. Each file carries the date and time the recording began.
I find that I’m using folder A for reminders—short notes of around 10-20 seconds in length.
It records in .WAV files and has a USB cable (quite short) to transfer those files to your computer if you want.
Really a terrific little device.
Thanks to TYD for pointing out this interesting report by Brad Stone in the NY Times:
As Venture Beat and other blogs have noticed Friday evening, books from Macmillan, one of the largest publishers in the United States, have vanished from Amazon.com.
The question is why.
I’ve talked to a person in the industry with knowledge of the dispute who says the disappearance is the result of a disagreement between Amazon.com and book publishers that has been brewing for the last year. Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Macmillan is one of the publishers signed on to offer books to Apple, as part of its new iBooks store. Its imprints include Farrar, Straus & Giroux, St. Martins Press and Henry Holt. The publisher’s books can still be purchased from third parties on the Amazon site.
Apple, as we’ve reported before, will allow publishers more leeway to set their own prices for e-books. It’s not clear yet if publishers can withhold books from Amazon while giving them to other parties like Apple. I’ve spoken to two antitrust lawyers who say it could raise legal issues.
Macmillan has not yet returned a request for comment. Amazon refused to comment.
I used the Giovanni Abrate Omega boar brush again today—third use, if I recall correctly—and I got three full passes of lather from it. Out of curiosity, I tried a fourth lathering, but no go at that point. So that is excellent progress.
So I used the Progress razor with a still-newish Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge, a very good blade for me and got a wonderfully smooth shave with not a nick. And Stetson Classic is a fine finish.
Very interesting article in New Scientist, from which this comment:
All of these security issues can be fixed without too much effort, but their existence is symptomatic of a wider issue, says Murdoch: the secrecy culture of banks is resulting in systems being deployed with all-too-obvious weaknesses in them. Companies should be more open to external help, he says, and have independent experts inspect their systems.
Nice article describing homeopathy and its problems.
British political news has been consumed for the last several weeks by a formal inquiry into the illegality and deceit behind Tony Blair’s decision to join the U.S. in invading Iraq. Today, Blair himself is publicly testifying before the investigative commission and is being grilled about numerous false claims he made in the run-up to the war, not only about Iraqi weapons programs (his taxi-cab-derived "45-minutes-to-launch!!" warning) and Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda, but also about secret commitments he made to join the U.S. at a time when he and Bush were still pretending that they were undecided and awaiting the outcome of the U.N. negotiations and the inspection process.
A major focus of the investigation is the illegality of the war. Some of the most embarrassing details that have emerged concern the conclusions by the British Government’s own legal advisers that the invasion of Iraq would be illegal without U.N. approval. The top British legal officer had concluded that the war would be illegal, only to change his mind under substantial pressure shortly before the invasion. Several weeks ago, a formal investigation in the Netherlands — whose government had supported the invasion — produced the first official adjudication of the legality of the war, and found it illegal, with "no basis in international law."
As Digby notes, all of this stands in stark and shameful contrast to the U.S., which pointedly refuses to "look back" or concern itself with whether it waged an illegal (and horribly destructive) war. The British inquiry has been widely criticized for being too passive and deferential and lacking any credible threat of accountability (other than disclosure of facts). Still, one can barely even imagine George Bush and Dick Cheney being hauled before an investigative body and forced, under oath, to testify publicly about what they did as a means of determining the legality or illegality of that war. Doing that would fundamentally conflict with two leading principles in American political life: (1) our highest political leaders must never be accountable for actions they take while in power; and (2) whether something they do is "illegal" — especially the starting of wars — is utterly irrelevant. Instead of formally investigating whether they broke the law, we treat them like elder statesmen who deserve a life of luxury and media reverence. Tony Blair — who had no discernible expertise or experience in banking — himself is showered with riches for a"part-time" job by JP Morgan and by other institutions who benefited substantially from his acts in office.
All of this underscores the fact that — despite how much public debate it has received — we still childishly, and with moral blindness, refuse to come to terms with the true scope of our wrongdoing when it comes to the Iraq War. Several hundred thousand Iraqis — at least — were killed as a result of this war, with another 4 million being turned into refugees. As the Iraqi journalist and professor Ali Fadhil put it in 2008, on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion: "basically, my assessment is we have a whole nation called Iraq, now it’s wiped out." Contrary to self-justifying conventional wisdom, the alleged post-surge improvement in Iraqi civil society has not remotely mitigated the destruction spawned by the invasion. As The Economist detailed in September, 2009, the U.S.-supported Maliki government is relying increasingly on Saddam-era tactics of torture, censorship, lawless sectarian militias, and brutal punishment of dissent: "Human-rights violations are becoming more common. In private many Iraqis, especially educated ones, are asking if their country may go back to being a police state."
The invasion of Iraq was unquestionably one of the greatest crimes of the last several decades. Imagine what future historians will say about it — a nakedly aggressive war launched under the falsest of pretenses, in brazen violation of every relevant precept of law, which destroyed an entire country, killed huge numbers of innocent people, and devastated the entire population. Have we even remotely treated it as what it is? We’re willing to concede it was a "mistake" — a good-natured and completely understandable lapse of judgment — but only the shrill and unhinged among us call it a crime. As always, it’s worth recalling that Robert Jackson, the lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, insisted in his Closing Argument against the Nazi war criminals that "the central crime in this pattern of crimes" was not genocide or mass deportation or concentration camps; rather, "the kingpin which holds them all together, is the plot for aggressive wars." History teaches that aggressive war is the greatest and most dangerous of all crimes — as it enables even worse acts of inhumanity — and illegal, aggressive war is precisely what we did in Iraq, to great devastation.
I’m periodically criticized for …
Paul Krugman looks at Obama’s SOTU and finds warning signs—and a feeling that our government cannot respond to the problems facing our country. Cannot and also not interested in solving problems so much as posing and politicking. Some exceptions, of course.
An article by Peter Hecht in the Sacramento Bee, which begins with this photo:
That woman, hoisting boxes of petitions to the counter, is just begging for back problems. Doesn’t she know to keep her back vertical, squatting to grip the box, and then using her legs to do the lifting? Where is OSHA? (California has an active OSHA department.)
The article itself begins:
California appears headed for a rollicking November ballot fight over whether to legalize and tax marijuana cultivation and use for adults 21 years and older.
Proponents of the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010″ said Thursday that they had submitted to the state nearly 700,000 petition signatures – more than enough, if valid, to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen has until June 24 to certify the measure, which needs 433,000 valid voter signatures to qualify.
But already legalization proponents and opponents are gearing up for a fight. The election battle is expected to feature rival TV commercials that variously extol the tax benefits of a regulated marijuana market or warn of the threat mass legalization poses to communities.
Measure backers promise financial rescue for the state’s cash-strapped schools, police agencies and social service providers, saying legalization could generate more than $1 billion in tax revenue.
“This is an historic first step toward ending cannabis prohibition,” said Richard Lee, president of an Oakland medical marijuana dispensary and Oaksterdam University, a school dedicated to pot.
Lee, whose school specializes in pot law and cultivation, donated more than $1 million for the petition drive to qualify the measure. Proponents said they hope to raise as much as $10 million for the campaign.
The pro-pot coalition has signed on with a prominent San Francisco political consulting firm, SCN Strategies. Proponents also are working with an Internet fundraising firm, Blue State Digital, that helped create the Web network for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
“This isn’t your teenager’s cannabis initiative. … This was carefully crafted to build a winning coalition of supporters,” said Dan Newman, a partner with SCN Strategies. His firm includes veteran Democratic strategist Ace Smith, son of former San Francisco District Attorney Arlo Smith.
The initiative will face dogged opposition from law enforcement, church and anti-drug groups.
“This will be a serious campaign,” said John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Peace Officers Association, a group organizing opposition. “They will raise and spend $10 million to $15 million. We will raise a fraction of that. And we will win …
“The fact is that you can’t make a case for legalization of another mind-altering substance.” …
Continue reading to see more absurd arguments. John Lovell fails to state any reason why cannabis should not be as legal (and regulated and taxed) as the mind-altering substances alcohol and tobacco. And coffee, another mind-altering substance, seems to enjoy broad support.
Lovell also may be ignorant of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nationwide organization of law enforcement officers who see the futility and cost (in money and lives) of continuing an absolutely stupid (and lost) war on drugs.
If the California Peace Officers Association have trouble raising money to keep marijuana illegal, they should reach out to the cartels, which have LOTS of money and a deep interest in keeping marijuana illegal.
An email from the Center for American Progress:
Yesterday in Washington, DC, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) exhorted citizens to "get angry about the fact that they’re being killed and our planet is being injured by what’s happening on a daily basis by the way we provide our power and our fuel." In West Virginia, climate activists are not just getting angry, they’re taking action.
Activists have been blocking the demolition of Coal River Mountain for over a week. The activists, members of the organization Climate Ground Zero, have been living in trees in order to prevent the bulldozers of coal company Massey Energy from reaching the summit. The "tree sitters" have faced 7 days of intimidation by Massey employees, enduring "air horns tied high up in the trees blasting at them 24/7 and flood lights shining on them all night," which have been so intense that the activists worry about "permanent hearing loss."
A 2007 study found that it could "power 70,000 West Virginia Homes and provide permanent jobs and $1.7 million in taxes to the county every year." But instead, Massey CEO Don Blankenship, the "scariest polluter in the United States," intends to blow up the mountain for its coal.
Following hundreds of phone calls from supporters of the non-violent civil disobedience action, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) met yesterday with Climate Ground Zero representatives and "asked the activists to scale down their campaign."
His request came just two days after state lawmakers "introduced — at Manchin’s request — a resolution attacking efforts in Congress and by the Obama administration to tackle the global warming problem."
I just received my Tabula Rasa shaving cream, which had been on back-order at Lee’s Razors. This is the lavender, and it made a fine lather. I used my best brush since I wasn’t sure how it would work. Steve of Kafeneio recommends building the lather in your cupped palm, but after twirling the brush on the shaving cream, I worked up the lather on my beard with no problem. I probably picked up a bit too much shaving cream, but added some water to the brush as I worked up the lather and it seemed to turn out pretty well.
The Futur with a newish Astra Keramik blade did a great job, with amplified sounds of the stubble being reaped by the blade. Then a splash of TOBS St. James, and I end with a perfectly smooth visage and no trace of a nick.
Fallows was a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter. His annotated STOU.
In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama urged the Senate to adopt pay-as-you-go rules (PAYGO), which essentially stipulate that all spending increases will be offset by either cuts elsewhere or tax increases. “When the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s,” Obama said.
Today, the Senate followed through, and considering all of the deficit fearmongering that has been going on in Congress, you’d think that it would have passed by a fairly wide margin. But no. Instead, the rules passed on a party line vote of 60-40.
And the blanket Republican opposition is particularly interesting considering that some Senate Republicans used to support PAYGO, even when it was opposed by their own party. For instance, in 2004, three current Senate Republicans — Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — joined 47 Democrats in adopting PAYGO, against the majority Republicans’ wishes (although the rule was ultimately scuttled when Congress failed to pass a budget). The next year, the same three senators were joined by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) in a failed attempt to implement the rule.
Yet all four of them opposed the rule today. Here’s what they’ve had to say in favor of PAYGO in the past:
VOINOVICH: I just don’t understand how we can continue to go this way.We’re living in a dream world. This deficit continues to grow.
COLLINS: [PAYGO is] much-needed restraint for members of Congress as we wrestle with fiscal decisions.
SNOWE: I believe now is the time for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to commit to pay-as-you-go rules for both revenues and spending.
Just last year, Snowe approved of Obama’s advocating for PAYGO. And in the last few weeks, all of these Republicans have voiced concerns about the deficit and spending. So what changed? And why did all the supposed deficit hawks in the Senate — like Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) — vote against it as well? Could it be that they’re actually deficit peacocks, who “like to preen and call attention to themselves, but are not sincerely interested” in addressing deficits?
In last night’s address, Obama chided Senate Republicans, saying that “just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let’s show the American people that we can do it together.” They’re not off to a good start.
A post by an associate professor of medieval literature (who will probably like the iPad because it can accurately display pages from an illuminated book whereas the Kindle cannot). From Dan Colman’s Open Culture:
Today we have a guest post by William Rankin, director of educational innovation, associate professor of medieval literature, and Apple Distinguished Educator, Abilene Christian University. ACU was the first university in the world to announce a comprehensive one-to-one initiative based on iPhones and iPod touches designed to explore the impact of mobility in education. For the past year, they have been considering the future of the textbook. Rankin, who made a brief appearance on NBC Nightly News last night, does a great job here of putting the new Apple iPad in historical context and suggesting why it may solve the great informational problems of our age.
It may seem strange in the wake of a major tech announcement to turn to the past—570 years in the past and beyond — but to consider the role of eBooks and specifically of Apple’s new iPad, I think such a diversion is necessary. Plus, as regular readers of Open Culture know, technology is at its best not when it sets us off on some isolated yet sparkling digital future, but when it connects us more fully to our humanity — to our history, our interrelatedness, and our culture. I want to take a moment, therefore, to look back before I look forward, considering the similarities between Gutenberg’s revolution and recent developments in eBook technologies and offering some basic criteria we can borrow from history to assess whether these new technologies — including Apple’s iPad — are ready to propel us into information’s third age.
In the world before Gutenberg’s press — the first age — information was transmitted primarily in a one-to-one fashion. If I wanted to learn something from a person, I typically had to go to that person to learn it. This created an information culture that was highly personal and relational, a characteristic evidenced in apprenticeships and in the teacher/student relationships of the early universities. This relational characteristic was true even for textual information. The manual technology behind the production and copying of books and the immense associated costs meant that it was difficult for books to proliferate. To see a book — if I couldn’t afford to have my own copy hand-made, a proposition requiring the expenditure of a lifetime’s worth of wages for the average person — meant that I had to go visit the library that owned it. Even then, I might not be allowed to see it if I didn’t have a privileged relationship with its owners. So while the first age was rich in information (a truth that has nothing to do with my personal bias as a medievalist), its primary challenge involved access.
Gutenberg’s revolution, ushering in the second age, solved that problem. Driven by one of the first machines to enable mass-production, information could proliferate for the first time. Multiple copies of books could be produced quickly and relatively cheaply — Gutenberg’s Bible was available at a cost of only three years’ wages for the average clerk — and this meant that books took on a new role in culture. This was the birth of mass media. Libraries exploded from having tens or perhaps a few hundred books to having thousands. Or tens of thousands. Or millions. And this abundance led to three distinct revolutions in culture. Though the university initially fought its introduction, the printed textbook provided broad access to information that, for the first time, promised the possibility of universal education. Widespread access to bibles and theological texts fueled significant transformations in religion across the Western Hemisphere. And access to information, philosophy, and news led to the dismantling of old political hierarchies and some of the first experiments with democracy (have you ever stopped to notice how many of the American revolutionaries were involved in printing and publishing?).
But the proliferation of information had a dark side as well, creating a new …
Last week, “all five of the [Supreme] Court’s conservatives joined together…to invalidate a sixty-three year-old ban on corporate money in federal elections,” a move that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said “opens the floodgates for the purchases and sale of the law” by big corporations. While progressives were outraged by the court’s judicial activism, many Republican politicians applauded the decision, with RNC Chairman Michael Steele even calling the ruling nothing more than “an affirmation of the constitutional rights provided to Americans under the first amendment.”
The progressive PR firm Murray Hill Inc. has announced that it plans to satirically run for Congress in the Republican primary in Maryland’s 8th congressional district to protest the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision. A press release on its website says that the company wants to “eliminate the middle man” and run for Congress directly, rather than influencing it with corporate dollars:
“Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.”
“The strength of America,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “is in the boardrooms, country clubs and Lear jets of America’s great corporations. We’re saying to Wal-Mart, AIG and Pfizer, if not you, who? If not now, when?” [...]
Campaign Manager William Klein promises an aggressive, historic campaign that “puts people second” or even third. “The business of America is business, as we all know,” Klein says. “But now, it’s the business of democracy too.” Klein plans to use automated robo-calls, “Astroturf” lobbying and computer-generated avatars to get out the vote.
Murray Hill Inc. plans on spending “top dollar” to protect its investment. “It’s our democracy,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “We bought it, we paid for it, and we’re going to keep it.”
Murray Hill Inc. released its first campaign video Monday. A narrator in the video explains, “The way we see it, corporate America has been the driving force behind Congress for years. But now it’s time we got behind the wheel ourselves.” Watch it:
UPDATE Radio host Thom Hartmann interviewed Murray Hill Inc’s spokesman Eric Hansel yesterday on his radio show. Hansel explained to Hartmann that his company chose to run in the Republican primary because the GOP is more sympathetic to corporations. Watch it:
Mr. B from Columbus points out this article by Ben Elowitz in the Washington Post:
Editor’s note: Ever since yesterday’s debut of Apple‘s iPad, the debate has been raging about what it means for Amazon’s Kindle. Will it kill it? Will it not? Is comparing the two like comparing a computer to a typewriter? To add fuel to the fire and, well, because we love top 10 lists, we present this guest post from Ben Elowitz, who comes down very firmly on the Kindle-is-kaput side of the debate. Ben is co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint, a media company with an audience of 10 million monthly unique users; and author of the Digital Quarters blog. Prior to Wetpaint, he co-founded Blue Nile (NILE), the largest online retailer of fine jewelry.
1) The multi-functional capability. Buy a Kindle and you get? a reader. Another dedicated device to carry. Buy an iPad, and you get a whole new companion that can do pretty much anything. Games, movies, browsing, documents, and more?all in one. And zillions of iPhone apps. It?s sooooo much more than a reader, it?s a whole-life device.
2) The screen. Full color, multi-touch screen, gestures, and more. It?s a pleasure to look at it ? and we all can rely on Steve Jobs? aesthetics to know that it?s a pleasure to hold as well.
3) The compatibility. iPad supports ePub out of the box, overcoming publishers? resistance to having to support a proprietary format such as Kindle?s; and creating compatibility with books sold through a leading standard format through any channel. (Something tells me Amazon will be making an announcement about ePub support real soon?)
4) The iBooks store. Apple has captured the magic of shopping. Once again, whereas Amazon does great with the functional needs of buying a book, Apple goes beyond to create an experience.
5) The …
Light blogging. The Wife took me out to breakfast at The Breakfast Club, then to the DMV for my driver’s license exam. Thanks to the LASIK, I no longer have the "corrective lenses" restriction—passed the vision test easily with my left eye. Right eye had to struggle, but apparently that doesn’t matter if I will ensure that any bug in the car flies into my right eye, not the left. (Actually, I do wear corrective lenses while driving anyway, but removing a restriction is good.)
I also missed 3 questions on the written test:
You must notify the DMV within 5 days if you… sell or transfer your vehicle (not "if you have an accident").
Smoking inside a vehicle when a person younger than 18 years of age is present is: illegal at all times (not "unrestricted by law").
When is it legal to use a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving? When making a call for emergency assistance (not "never").
Then we drove up to Santa Cruz to visit our optician and order new glasses for each of us (new prescriptions, old frame in my case starting to fall apart). Bad news: Takumi frames from Japan are no longer made in Japan: they’ve outsourced all manufacturing and the frames are now of poor quality. (In fact, the optician is no longer carrying them.) But I found a new make that looks as though it will work, and The Wife found a very attractive and lightweight frame (from Austria, I believe).
In moving to a new computer, I have to download and reinstall quite a few programs. I am doing this gradually, picking up only those programs I actually use. I think part of the problem with my old computer was that I was a bit too promiscuous is my downloading of software and along the line I picked up a bot. That’s my theory, anyway.
I gradually got quite a few programs through CNET’s download service. That’s a good way to go because you can be reasonably certain that the downloads are virus free and moreover, CNET will email you when a new version of the program becomes available. I’m using those emails to gradually reinstall the programs I want/need.
At the link (which goes to the Windows programs), you will find tabs for Mac, Mobile, and Webware.