LA Times Stands Up for Reason

Climate Change Is a HoaxI learned from The Young Turks this evening that the Los Angeles Times will no longer be publishing letters from climate change deniers. My already high opinion of that paper just went up even further. Let me explain this from my perspective. My PhD is more or less in global warming. That is what all the physics and chemistry that we did went to understanding. So even though I no longer do the work, I understand it really well. What’s more, when I did work in the field, I was highly skeptical. I tend to be a believer in the Gaia hypothesis and it seemed very strange to me that the earth’s climate system could be so easily disrupted.

But that’s a whole different kind of skeptic than we find today. For one thing, the science wasn’t nearly as nailed down 20 years ago. We were looking for additions to the science, not holes in it. In particular, we were looking for negative feedback loops. Today, even the most serious skeptics are little more than charlatans. Those who even pretend to be doing science cherry pick data to make their cases. In other words, they aren’t doing anything like science. Science does not work this way: get an idea; ignore all data that contradicts idea; idea is right!

The problem is so much worse with lay people. They constantly mention things I’ve never even heard. “Oh, such and such, has proven that ice core temperature records are wrong!” Oh really? And how exactly is that? Well, they never know. It’s just the latest thing they’ve heard on Fox News or hate oriented radio (HOR). So it requires me to go actually look for whatever they are talking about. In the vast majority of cases it is from The Heartland Institute. Now that in itself is interesting. As late as 1994, Heartland was pushing the idea that secondhand smoke had no negative health consequences. Today, they are one of the biggest purveyors of quack climate science. Just like with cigarettes, there will never be any convincing them because they don’t do science. They are in the propaganda profession. Eventually, they will drop global warming denial just like they eventually dropped the cigarette-cancer link denial.

But regardless where the “research” comes from, most of the time it doesn’t even say what I’ve been told. A great example of this is tree ring temperature records. There was a lot of commotion about the fact that two independent records didn’t match where they overlapped. Tree rings are not a great source of temperature records. You don’t get absolute temperatures; you just get relative temperatures. So it isn’t surprising that two different investigators would have an offset between their data. Does this mean the data are useless? Not at all. It just means the two sets have to be reconciled and then they work just fine if you want to look at temperature trends. What scientists studying global warming want to do is look at temperature trends. Regardless, when there is an actual data set it is either (1) an outlier of many different sets that show something else entirely or (2) misinterpreted by the “scientist” (most likely willfully misinterpreted).

So the Los Angeles Times is right to refuse to print letters from these lay people. It isn’t just that they are wrong. None of these people think about this stuff. If a Los Angeles Times reader is writing in, all they will be doing is repeating something they heard Rush Limbaugh say the day before. It has been many years since people on that side of this issue have seriously thought about it. Anyway, if you want to read climate change denial, you can just buy the Washington Post and read George Will.

Afterword

Here is The Young Turks segment:

Truthful Obama Bumper Sticker

$1.81 the Price of Gas When Obama Took Office

Mark Czerniec is a total dick! A year and a half ago he totally ripped off the article I was going to write today, The Price of Gas When Obama Took Office: $1.81. You see, as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge this morning, I saw the bumper sticker above. I hate this kind of thing. It isn’t just conservatives, but clearly it is mostly conservatives. And I hate seeing it from liberals even more than I hate seeing it from conservatives, but luckily, that’s fairly rare. This bumper sticker is conservative, of course, as you can see from the “no Obama” graphic.

What I most hate about this kind of stuff is that it shows such complete ignorance of economics. Oil is a global commodity. So the first thing I did when I got home was look up time series for gas prices in the United States and other countries. And guess what? They were identical! What’s more, if you look at the time series, it’s pretty clear what’s going on. And that brings us to Mark Czerniec who provided this great graph:

Gas Prices Time Series

Back in January of 2012, Czerniec explained the problem as bluntly as one can:

What was happening during that time which might account for such a price drop?

Oh, I remember now! The U.S. economy collapsed in mid-September, resulting in the greatest financial disaster since the Great Depression.

But this gets to what is really depressing about politics in this country. Does anyone really think that Obama has managed the country so badly that gas prices have spiked? The only way that could really be the case is if somehow he managed to lower the value of the dollar. And for 99% of the country that would be a Very Good Thing! But I don’t think anyone really believes this. I think it is just a clever way of saying, “Obama’s a Booger Eater!”

I’m fine with that. If people just don’t like Obama, so be it. But they should admit it and not try to make the case that he has been such a disaster for the country. In the tradition of Fuck America: Vote Republican, I offer the following truthful bumper sticker:

I Don't Like Obama for No Real Reason

Lou Reed Sowed and Reaped for 71 Years

Lou ReedI guess I have to say something about Lou Reed who died today, apparently from complications of a liver transplant earlier this year. I used to be a huge Lou Reed and Velvet Underground fan. Frankly, the Velvet Underground holds up a whole lot better. Whenever I listen to his solo work, there is something wrong. And I’m afraid that something is Reed himself.

I continue to have this experience of going back to solo albums that I have loved. Both Berlin and The Blue Mask are great albums. But I so wish that someone else were singing and (on the latter) playing guitar. Something happened. Compare his performance of “Sweet Jane” on Loaded to that on Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. In 1970, he seemed to care about giving a good performance while being well aware of his weak voice. In 1974, he seemed to relish his great big “Fuck you!” to the audience. In fact, I read one obituary on my phone that seemed to think that Reed was great for that reason—as though Metal Machine Music was the greatest thing he’d ever done. (I love Lester Bangs, but he was wrong about it.)

The truth is that Reed was capable of creating great art. He did it from time to time, which is a hell of lot more than what most of us accomplish. He left us with a number of classic songs: “I’m Waiting for My Man,” “Pale Blue Eyes,” “Rock & Roll,” “Coney Island Baby,” and I could go on quite a while. So there’s no doubt that his death is an important event. It does annoy me, however, to read people talking about him who don’t seem to know (or frankly care) that much about him even while they sing his praises.

If you want to get my thoughts on Lou Reed the man, you can read my birthday post from 2 March, celebrating his 71st and last birthday. For now, I will just say that death is not a bad thing. It is the absence of pain and certainly nothing to regret after having a life that was worth living.

John Cleese and Three Great Painters

John CleeseOn this day in 1744, the great painter Mary Moser was born. She is best known for her floral paintings, but I find her portraits especially compelling. In doing this birthday post, I try to highlight women and other under represented groups. But I have certainly noticed that there have been a lot of great female painters through the ages. Today I have three! Of course, the sexism is clear. There are a lot of relatively mediocre male painters who get listed in Wikipedia that I’m sure wouldn’t even have made a living had they been women. Anyway, Moser is worth checking out.

Our second great female painter, Sigrid Hjerten was born in 1885. Her painting is wonderfully fun and vibrant. Unfortunately, she also suffered from mental problems which ended in her being institutionalized for the last decade or so of her life. And then the “doctors” decided to to make mush of her brain by giving her a lobotomy, which killed her. That may have been the most humane outcome of the surgery.

And finally, we have Lee Krasner who was born in 1908. She was an abstract expressionist. That is not one of my favored art movements, but she is quite good. I actually enjoy a lot of her work which I can’t say for many others, like Franz Kline. She was also married to Jackson Pollock, who I also admire. Still, I feel for Krasner, both because she had to put up with him, but also because she was too often dismissed as “Pollock’s wife.” The truth is she is easily his equal and very likely his better.

Niccolo Paganini was born in 1782. He was perhaps the greatest violinist in all of history. He is certainly the most important one we know of because he revolutionized violin technique. Of course, we have no recordings of him, but here is the great Jascha Heifetz playing his best known composition, which is more fireworks than music, Caprice No. 24 in A minor:

Nixon chief of staff H. R. Haldeman was born in 1926. I don’t know all that much about him. But in my Nixon White House puppet plays, he’s an idiot who is forever bring his horse with him to Oval Office meetings.

Other birthdays: Theodore Roosevelt (1858); Etiquette expert Emily Post (1872); the great poet Dylan Thomas (1914); gay rights activist and author of Who’s Who in Hell, Warren Allen Smith (92); the great poet Sylvia Plath (1932); author Fran Lebowitz (63); the great comedic filmmaker Roberto Benigni (61); idiot blogger Matt Drudge who claims that he is “libertarian except for drugs and abortion,” which is to say “conservative” or simply “fascist” (47); and actor Patrick Fugit (31).

The day, however, belongs (grudgingly) to comedian John Cleese who is 74 today. I’m not that fond of his work with Monty Python, except for what I assume are his keen insights into the workings of revolutionary groups that are so brilliantly rendered in The Life of Brian. Mostly, I love Fawlty Towers, which he did with his then wife Connie Booth. There are only 12 episodes but they are each one of them a gem. I’m also very fond of his film, Fierce Creatures. I believe the reason the film is not properly appreciated is that everyone was expecting another A Fish Called Wanda. Well, it isn’t; it’s actually better. But I could do without the fart jokes. Anyway, here is a funny scene with Basil and Manuel:

Happy birthday John Cleese!