2024-04-09

Retread: Lowell Ponte: The Cooling

PXL_20240409_161947442~2
Following Wood, 1909, continued I realise it might be worth putting up some of the other old stuff here; and since it came up, I present a retread of wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/ponte.html (arch). I'm not sure this gets reffed much nowadays; my last seems to be from 2022 whilst dissing Tim Ball. You get the full glory of my original page, lightly cleaned up, complete with <h1> tags. See at the end for bonus entries. I would have written this in... the early 2000s, I'd guess.

Analysis of Lowell Ponte: The Cooling

For many years I have been tantalised by quotes from the semi-mythical book "The Cooling" by Lowell Ponte. Now (thanks to the zShops second-hand booksellers program, a part of Amazon) I got hold of a copy, shipped across the Atlantic in little more than a week, for only $10.

The book is "popular science": as it says (remarkably) in the preface by Reid Bryson: "...There are very few pages that, as a scientist, I could accept without questions of accuracy, of precision, or of balance..." and any claim to utility it may have would have to come from bringing interesting ideas to the general public (of the time).

In this analysis, I'm interested in whether the book accurately reports the state of science as then known and what issues it chooses to focus on. Its also interesting to see what uses other people put it to, now. Its often cited in the "but 20 years ago people were predicting cooling" type pages.

Lets just prove that, shall I?

The cooling has already killed hundreds of thousands of people in poor nations... If it continues, and no strong measures are taken to deal with it, the cooling will cause world famine, world chaos, and probably world war, and this could all come by the year 2000. Lowell Ponte, The Cooling, 1976 (from http://www.princeton.edu/~strasbrg/ruseScare.html).

What global warming proponents don't want people to remember is that just 20 years ago, they were predicting that global COOLING would destroy the world. Lowell Ponte wrote The Cooling on the subject in 1976 (which incidentally, can be found in Hodges Library). The theory then said that particulates reflected sunlight into space, thus preventing heat from reaching the earth. Predictions of a new ice age abounded. Then the earth started warming up. Whoops. (from http://beacon-www.asa.utk.edu/issues/v76/n35/tipton.36v.html).

Book Structure

  1. Foreward (by US Senator Claiborne Pell)
  2. Preface (by Professor Reid A Bryson)
  3. Part I: Forces that change climate (3-76)
    1. Reports of decrease is sunshine / aerosol & dust / ice-albedo feedback
    2. Cooling interrupts predicted warming / "GH" effect & CO2 / CFCs and ozone / Heat pollution / Warming vs Cooling
    3. Some dodgy climatology / Why cooling might be accompanied by warming
    4. Milankovitch-y stuff / Sunspots / Gravity weakening!?! / "Summary"
  4. Part II: The human side of climate (77-176)
  5. Part III: Options in a changing climate (177-246)
  6. Appendices: (247-296)
  7. Back-cover quotes from Pell, and Stephen Schneider. Inside quote from Emilliani.
The "science" of the book in contained within part I, which I've read moderately carefully; I've skimmed parts II and III.

Ponte gets some points for noting (p13) that the "greenhouse effect" is misnamed. But that is the high point of his science.

Evidence for Pontes inability to tell sense from nonsense (or at least to check speculative results) is his assertion (p70) that gravity is weakening in the universe, and that this is proved by the moon moving away from the earth at 4 cm/year.

The first chapter starts off with stuff about decreases in sunshine (from few measurements from industrialised areas; I'd guess that was consistent with aerosols) then notes the Rasool and Schneider 1971 science paper (but only in passing. See main page for more on R+S). Ponte asserts that R+W estimate that man's potential to pollute will increase six- to eightfold in the next fifty years. I think this is wrong: R+S actually say it is still difficult to predict the rate at which global background opacity of the atmosphere will increase with increasing particulate injection by human activities. However, it is projected that man's potential to pollute will increase 6 to 8-fold in the next 50 years.... I think they are reporting other peoples estimates to use as feed for their model, not making their own.

Stephen Schneiders quote

The back cover of the book has this from Stephen Schneider:

The dramatic importance of climate changes to the worlds future has been dangerously underestimated by many, often because we have been lulled by modern technology into thinking we have conquered nature. But this well-written book points out in clear language that the climatic threat could be as awesome as any we might face, and that massive world-wide actions to hedge against that threat deserve immeadiate consideration. At a minimum, public awareness of the possibilities must commence, and Lowell Ponte's provocative work is a good place to start.

I'd say this is a regrettable quote. But its not really the ringing endorsement that it is often presented as.

Reid Bryson's Preface

Bryson's preface is rather odd, because it indirectly contradicts much of what is in the "science" sections of the book. Lets read it, shall we:

The Cooling will be controversial, because among scientists, most of the matters it deals with are hotly debated. There is no agreement on whether the earth is cooling. There is not unanimous agreement on whether is has cooled, or one hemisphere has cooled and the other warmed. One would think that there might be consensus about what data there is - but there is not. There is no agreement on the causes of climatic change, or even why it should not change amongst those who so maintain. There is certainly no agreement about what the climate will do in the next century, though there is a majority opinion that it will change, more or less, one way or the other. Of that majority, a majority believe that the longer trend will be downward. Nevertheless, it is an important question, as this book points out, and it is time for some of the questions to be settled. Lowell Ponte has summarized the data and theories very well, and has reasonably concluded that a rapid change in Earths climate is possible, perhaps even likely, within the next few decades, and that this would have serious consequences for mankind.

OK, lets stop there for a moment and compare this to what Ponte has to say:

Opening words of chapter 1: "Our planets climate has been cooling for the past three decades. Most experts agree on this, for it has been carefully measured by scattered monitoring stations throughout the world. Climate in the southern half of our planet has been warming rapidly, according to the few measurements available. But in the hlaf of our world north of the equator, where most human beings live, the annual mean atmospheric temperature has plunged by 0.7 oC, more than enough to offset the southern warming and to lower the average temperature of the whole planet by 0.5 oC."

Some disparity with Bryson, I hope you can agree. Looking at Pontes words further, note how, despite asserting that there are few southern measurements, he is nonetheless happy to assert that the globe as a whole is cooling. Where he gets the 0.7 oC cooling is a mystery: he cites no source; the graph reproduced in appendix 1 of the book shows a cooling of possibly as much as 0.4 oC. [Somewhat later, p45, the 0.5 global warming is qualified as "according to available measurements".]

This failure to acknowledge uncertainty is not something trivial, to be passed over rapidly. It is crucial. Brysons central point, that people are not really sure whats going on, was a good one to make at the time and thoroughly justified by hindsight.

OK, on with the preface:

"There is surprisingly little argument among those who have actually studied climates over multi-millenial time scales that we will be in an Ice Age 10,000 years from now. There is, however, less agreement about how soon and how rapidly the transition from the present interglacial will take place...".

I quote that to point out that (AFAIK) it was indeed typical of the views of the time (at least amongst those that extrapolated the past into the future); that it is probably not accepted widely now [TS Ledley, 1995, ???]; and to wonder if "among those who have actually studied climates..." is a dig at some other group.

Skipping over, we come to: "...There are very few pages that, as a scientist, I could accept without questions of accuracy, of precision, or of balance... but he then goes on to say that the book is worth reading for its presentation of the arguments. I'm somewhat surprised the publishers let him keep that bit in, its not really very complementary.

Ponte's Misuse of the 1975 NAS report

Ponte says (p4) "Are we at the dawn of a new Ice Age? In 1975 the US National Academy of Sciences issued a report saying that if the present cooling trend continues, there is a "finite" chance an Ice Age could begin "within 100 years". How much chance? The NAS panel...set the odds of this happening at no better than one in 10,000. The number was not random [Oh good, thats a relief - WMC]. As their report noted, Earths climate in the past has tended to change in fairly regular cycles, and if the past patterns continue we should now be entering a 10,000 year period of cooling climate.

The NAS report was shocking...".

The NAS report was not shocking. Anyone reading it would be more likely to describe it as "soporific". See here for some notes I made from that report. But to quote some of it here:

  1. "The climates of the earth have always been changing, and they will doubtless continue to do so in the future. How large these future changes will be, and where and how rapidly they will occur, we do not know" (from the intro; note how how this resembles Brysons initial words)
  2. The recommendations were: Establish National climatic research program; Establish Climatic data analysis program, and new facilities, and studies of impact of climate on man; Develope Climatic index monitoring program; Establish Climatic modelling and applications program, and exploration of possible future climates using coupled GCMs; Adoption and development of International climatic research program; Development of International Palaeoclimatic data network. There was no recommendation for action.

Bibliography

It occupies pages 296-269=27, so there are 28 pages of bibliography.

I thought it would be interesting to look in Ponte's book to see which statements are backed up by which references. Its easy, after all, to stuff a bibliography full of references - but what matters is which statements are backed up by respectable scientifc references, and which are backed up by fluff from the newspapers. But (yet another flaw in Ponte's book), you can't do this, because the bibliography is just a "selected bibliography", *not* a directed source of references for particular statements. So its impossible to tell what statement a given reference is intended to support, or indeed which statements are supported by references, and which are fluff.

Anyway: the bibliography is largely non-scientific. Page 269 (the first page):

Science (ie, as in the prestigous mag): iii
esquire: i
science news: iiii
los angeles times: iiiii
fortune: ii
readers digest: i
n y times: ii
playboy: i
"african genesis": i
"the ends of the earth (asimov)": i
smithsonian: i
unesco courier: ii
time: i
"readings in man, the env and ecology": i
sci am: ii
"lao tzu": i
"western amn and env ethics": i
"harvest of the sea": i
and I've no reason to believe that untypical.

Lazy people have complained that one needs to index the whole bibliography to be sure of the sci/non-sci content. Are you one of these people? Then please do the said indexing and send it to me.

Misc bits: peoples use of LP's misquotes of NAS 76

http://groups.google.com/groups?q=lowell+ponte+cooling&hl=en&safe=off&rnum=3&selm=348aef32.99949219%40news.nucleus.com:

In January 1975 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report entitled Understanding Climatic Change: A Program for Action. There is, it said "a finite possibility that a serious worldwide cooling could befall the earth within the next hundred years...

Misc

http://groups.google.com/groups?q=lowell+ponte+cooling&hl=en&safe=off&rnum=6&selm=3ra7gi%24bnt%40spool.cs.wisc.edu - post by mt.

http://groups.google.com/groups?q=lowell+ponte+cooling&hl=en&safe=off&rnum=7&selm=19960315.172700.862%40almaden.ibm.com - by jbs

Other text

A search of the citation indices reveals that the only other publications by Ponte, L were in Readers Digest, the most recent in 1991. Read something about him here. John McCarthy has a quote that he asserts comes from the book.

Here is some text I was mailed:

For nearly three years, Lowell worked as a futurist in the high tech think tank International Research &
Technology; Inc., as first assistant to Dr. William Van Leave (who later served as chief weapons advisor to
America's SALT I delegation and as chief strategic advisor to presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in
1980). 

Lowell wrote a prophetic 1976 book about global climate change, The Cooling (Prentice-Hall; forward
by U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, preface by Univ. of Wisconsin Climatologist Reaid A Bryson), which was
widely reviewed and went through five printings.
  

Bonus items on retreading


Here's the full foreward, as read by Google Lens:

Foreword

BY SENATOR CLAIBORNE PELL CHAIRMAN, SUBCOMMITTEE ON OCEANS AND INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT

The enormous power and capricious behavior of the Earth's environ- ment have amazed and terrified man throughout the ages. In various ways man has searched for methods to control the vast climatological and geophysical forces which have awed and ravaged him. Primitive sha- mans used incantations and talismans; modern scientists seed clouds and experiment with ways to produce geothermal energy.

Man's attempts to master and manipulate his environment have not always been for peaceful purposes, but it is only in the last several years that we have come to realize the potential horror involved in harnessing natural forces for hostile purposes.

Mr. Ponte's book is a fascinating and important contribution to the growing literature of what has come to be known as environmental modification, or Enmod in the acronymic vocabulary of the arms control bureaucracy. What distinguishes Mr. Ponte's work is his thesis, which is bound to be controversial, that changes in the environment-in this case the natural cooling of our planet's climate since 1945-can constitute a source as well as a means of conflict among nations.

If, indeed, the climatological changes which Mr. Ponte foresees do in fact take place that is if the cooling produces bad weather and wide- spread crop failures-then the world's leaders must come to grips with the real possibility, as Mr. Ponte contends, that food will very soon play a dominant role in world politics and that many of a cooling world's nutritionally disadvantaged nations will seek to develop nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, including environmental modification weapons, in order to increase their bargaining power in the struggle against famine.

Given our own government's recent saber rattling reaction to the prospect of another oil embargo, Mr. Ponte's warning is not as far- fetched as it may seem. Regardless of whether one finds the specific scenarios he develops to be realistic, Mr. Ponte has demonstrated that the provocative issue of environmental politics deserves further informed public debate and governmental attention.

In setting forth options to deal with the cooling phenomenon. Mr. Ponte sees possible salvation through further research and experimenta- tion, which may-if given priority attention by governments-suggest safe ways in which weather or climate can be changed for the benefit of all mankind. He warns, however, that the nations of the world may devote more energy to developing the destructive rather than the con- structive aspects of environmental modification particularly as the realities of the new "cold war" become more manifest. Thus this book is as disquieting as Silent Spring in its analysis of environmental hazards that can affect our future. If Mr. Ponte's worst fears come to pass. The Cooling could prove to be the most important and prophetic popular science book of the 1970s.

Even without such a cataclysmic stimulus, I find it troubling that environmental modification techniques have already been applied to warfare and that developments within the environmental sciences, par- ticularly in the field of weather modification, are rapidly narrowing the gap between fact and fiction. Deeply troubled by the implications of the Defense Department's weather modification activities in Southeast Asia, I urged as early as 1971 that the United States take the initiative in developing an international agreement banning all forms of environ- mental warfare. At the same time, I called for a more active role on the part of the United States in international cooperation for the peaceful uses of environmental modification. In my view, the military use of any environmental modification technique can only lead to the development of vastly more dangerous techniques whose unpredictable consequences may cause widespread and irreparable damage to the global environment.

Mr. Ponte has recounted my efforts in behalf of the development of the draft treaty banning environmental modification as a weapon of war which the United States and the Soviet Union tabled in August 1975 at the Geneva Disarmament Conference. If concluded and universally accepted, such a treaty would ensure a peaceful framework for the vital research into the future applications of environmental modification for which Mr. Ponte so persuasively argues. 

And the Reid Bryson preface:

Preface

BY PROFESSOR REID A. BRYSON CLIMATOLOGIST AND DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON

The Cooling will be controversial, because among scientists most of the matters it deals with are hotly debated. There is no agreement on whether the earth is cooling. There is not unanimous agreement on whether it has cooled, or one hemisphere has cooled and the other warmed. One would think that there might be consensus about what data there is but there is not. There is no agreement on the causes of climatic change, or even why it should not change among those who so maintain. There is certainly no agreement about what the climate will do in the next century, though there is a majority opinion that it will change, more or less, one way or the other. Of that majority, a majority believe that the longer trend will be downward. Nevertheless, it is an important question, as this book points out, and it is time for some of the questions to be settled. Lowell Ponte has summarized the data and theories very well. and has reasonably concluded that a rapid change in Earth's climate is possible, perhaps even likely, within the next few decades, and that this would have serious consequences for mankind.

There is surprisingly little argument among those who have actually studied climates over multi-millennial time scales that we will be in an Ice Age 10,000 years from now. There is, however, less agreement about how soon and how rapidly the transition from the present interglacial will take place. One extreme view envisions a "snow blitz" beginning of the ice-age climate, only a few years long, and a rapid growth of continental glaciers. If this were true, response would be almost impossible. The other extreme is the opinion that climates change gradually and almost imperceptibly over many thousands of years, with plenty of time for adaptation by the ecosystems and man. My own opinion is intermediate that climates change by relatively abrupt small steps; that these small steps are important, for they can be disruptive to stressed ecosystems such as ours is now; and that man can prepare somewhat for their occurrence.

There is also a great deal of argument about the efficacy of various options in preparing for, or dealin divergent ophanging climate. After opteral decades there are still widely divergent opinions on the magnitude severaberate weather modification effects, especially as practiced or not practiced by the military.

rachere is no consensus about whether there is still time to let normal agricultural research develop crops and technologies that will "save the world from hunger." There is almost no question of the quality of the research, but a great deal of question as to whether it will be "too little and too late." Nevertheless, the problem is sufficiently important that all promising leads must be followed, and a number of them are outlined in this book.

Not everyone is enamored by the concept of caring for 10, or 20, or 30 billion people in a highly regulated technological society, even if it were possible. I'm not, and I'm not even slightly convinced that it is possible or desirable. I am convinced that there is very little in the way of human ill, ecosystem degradation, resource shortage, social stress, and interna- tional instability that would not be relieved markedly by having fewer people on earth than there are currently.

But rather than fewer people on Earth, we will have more. With population saturation, any climatic variation becomes important; any option worth considering. This book raises some of the questions, and gives us some of the possible ways that mankind might respond short of eliminating people.

When I first read the manuscript I started to accumulate large numbers of marginal notes. There are very few pages that, as a scientist, I could accept without questions of accuracy, of precision, or of balance. As 1 read on, I threw away my critical notes and started to record the points the author brought up that I had missed in my reading. Lowell Ponte's overall representation of the problem presents a reasonable picture of the hazardous possibilities we would face if Earth's climate changes signifi- cantly. Mr. Ponte has delineated the outline of the tangled jungle which mankind must chart to find a way to the other side. He has put the map of climatic arguments into a reasonable perspective. He has shown that there are potential solutions. I hope that scientists will read it as a thallenge to set their theory and analysis in order. I hope that all will read it as a serious and thoughtful analysis of a real and pressing problem 

2024-03-26

Morality as cooperation

PXL_20240323_101412300~2 Via XitterMoral universals: A machine-reading analysis of 256 societies; which appears to be a project at the LSE.


As they say of their theory (edited), Recent research suggests that the function of morality is to promote cooperation: humans face, and have faced, a range of different nonzero-sum problems of cooperation, and have evolved and invented a range of solutions to them. These cooperative solutions take a variety of forms, including character traits, strategies, dispositions, behaviours, rules, norms, institutions, and technologies. Together, they motivate cooperative behaviour and provide the criteria by which we judge the behaviour, attitudes, and traits of ourselves and others. And it is this collection of cooperative solutions that philosophers and others have called morality. Because there are many types of cooperation, there will be many types of moral values. There are seven distinct types of cooperation: (1) the allocation of resources to kin; (2) coordination to mutual advantage; (3) social exchange; and conflict resolution through contests featuring (4) hawkish displays of dominance and (5) dovish displays of deference; (6) division of disputed resources; and (7) recognition of prior possession. And each of these types of cooperation gives rise to a corresponding type of morality: (1) family values, (2) group loyalty, (3) reciprocity, (4) heroism, (5) deference, (6) fairness, and (7) property rights.

This seems like a useful way of thinking of things; it makes morality a part of, and part conditioned by, what-makes-society-work; and since things need to be Darwinistically defensible, that fits. It also helpfully predicts that we will be less moral to strangers, other cultures, or people we perceive will be unlikely to cooperate with us.

Refs


Kant on Morality - a different and less successful approach: what morality should be, if you're an ever-so-slightly-whackjob-kraut.
* ACX has a post on Covid origins, which ends with general musing: "although the X theory is inherently plausible and didn’t start as pseudoscience, it gradually accreted a community around it with bad epistemic norms. Once X became A Thing - after people became obsessed with getting one over on the experts - they developed dozens of further arguments which ranged from flawed to completely false..." which seems nicely applicable to GW.

2024-03-18

Wood, 1909, continued

PXL_20240309_084345662 Many years ago I transcribed R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse onto my personal website (yes, it really was that long ago; and really it was transcribed even earlier from a free-hosting site). As this seems a good excuse, I'll copy it to the end of this post as a reference.

But the immeadiate reason for this post is DC, who points out Vaughan R. Pratt's Wood's 1909 greenhouse experiment, performed more carefully. I think I am or was uneasily aware that this exists, though I can't recall reading it. We will not simply dismiss him because he is emeritus.

Pratt's first and I think major complaint is that Wood "superimposed a glass plate on the salt window". This is based on Wood's statement that "the sunlight was first passed through a glass plate". As far as I can tell Pratt thinks Wood's glass plate was directly on top; which would indeed be a problem. But I think that Wood put some distance between the two, and I think that isn't a problem1. As to the rest... I find my mind bounces off it. Perhaps I'm getting old; I certainly find that I don't care about these struggles as I used to. Or perhaps Pratt's stuff is badly written. Unlike Wood's, it wasn't AFAIK published.

None of this, of course, has any particular relevance to the atmospheric greenhouse effect which we all care about, apart from the regrettable similarity of name.

Notes


1. I think Pratt's attitude to Wood smacks of "our ancestors were idiots because they knew less than us". This is almost invariably false. I sometimes veer close to this - see my notes on Aristotle's physics for example - but I think I don't fall in.

Refs



R. W. Wood: Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse



The following text is from the Philosophical magazine (more properly the London, Edinborough and Dublin Philosophical Magazine), 1909, vol 17, p319-320. Cambridge UL shelfmark p340.1.c.95, if you're interested.

I found this reference by reading "History of the greenhouse effect", M. D. H. Jones and A. Henderson-Sellers, Progress in physical geography, 14, 1 (1990), 1-18. This, in its turn, I found from Jan Schloerer's FAQ: Climate change: some basics.

I present the full text, although the second-to-last paragraph is (in my opinion) regrettable and wrong. See after the text for why I think its wrong.
XXIV. Note on the Theory of the Greenhouse 
By Professor R. W. Wood (Communicated by the Author) 
THERE appears to be a widespread belief that the comparatively high temperature produced within a closed space covered with glass, and exposed to solar radiation, results from a transformation of wave-length, that is, that the heat waves from the sun, which are able to penetrate the glass, fall upon the walls of the enclosure and raise its temperature: the heat energy is re-emitted by the walls in the form of much longer waves, which are unable to penetrate the glass, the greenhouse acting as a radiation trap.

I have always felt some doubt as to whether this action played any very large part in the elevation of temperature. It appeared much more probable that the part played by the glass was the prevention of the escape of the warm air heated by the ground within the enclosure. If we open the doors of a greenhouse on a cold and windy day, the trapping of radiation appears to lose much of its efficacy. As a matter of fact I am of the opinion that a greenhouse made of a glass transparent to waves of every possible length would show a temperature nearly, if not quite, as high as that observed in a glass house. The transparent screen allows the solar radiation to warm the ground, and the ground in turn warms the air, but only the limited amount within the enclosure. In the "open," the ground is continually brought into contact with cold air by convection currents.

To test the matter I constructed two enclosures of dead black cardboard, one covered with a glass plate, the other with a plate of rock-salt of equal thickness. The bulb of a themometer was inserted in each enclosure and the whole packed in cotton, with the exception of the transparent plates which were exposed. When exposed to sunlight the temperature rose gradually to 65 oC., the enclosure covered with the salt plate keeping a little ahead of the other, owing to the fact that it transmitted the longer waves from the sun, which were stopped by the glass. In order to eliminate this action the sunlight was first passed through a glass plate.

There was now scarcely a difference of one degree between the temperatures of the two enclosures. The maximum temperature reached was about 55 oC. From what we know about the distribution of energy in the spectrum of the radiation emitted by a body at 55 o, it is clear that the rock-salt plate is capable of transmitting practically all of it, while the glass plate stops it entirely. This shows us that the loss of temperature of the ground by radiation is very small in comparison to the loss by convection, in other words that we gain very little from the circumstance that the radiation is trapped.

Is it therefore necessary to pay attention to trapped radiation in deducing the temperature of a planet as affected by its atmosphere? The solar rays penetrate the atmosphere, warm the ground which in turn warms the atmosphere by contact and by convection currents. The heat received is thus stored up in the atmosphere, remaining there on account of the very low radiating power of a gas. It seems to me very doubtful if the atmosphere is warmed to any great extent by absorbing the radiation from the ground, even under the most favourable conditions.

I do not pretent to have gone very deeply into the matter, and publish this note merely to draw attention to the fact that trapped radiation appears to play but a very small part in the actual cases with which we are familiar.

Why is his second to last paragraph wrong?

Firstly, note that unlike the experiments described earlier, this paragraph merely expresses his opinion.

Second, although the troposphere is subject to convection, the stratosphere is not.

Third, in contradiction to his assertion about "the very low radiating power of a gas", the troposphere is largely opaque to infra-red radiation, which is why convection is so important in moving heat up from the surface. Only in the higher (colder) atmosphere where there is less water vapour is the atmosphere simultaneously somewhat, but not totally, transparent to infra-red and thus permits radiation to play a part.

2024-03-15

The burden of thought

FB_IMG_1710242521019 Re-reading - for reasons of my own - my much-lauded review of Crowley's Beasts, I find I will repeat what I said in my review of Heart of Darkness: that the book puts forward, perhaps more as a gentle suggestion befitting the collapsing society it portrays than as a lesson for all times, that people grow weary of the burden of speech, indeed the burden of direction or thought. I don't like that as an idea; perhaps when taken as a warning it is valuable.

This is a more general though often more blurred pattern of SciFi/Fantasy: most characters don't need to think for themselves very much; they are supporting characters in someone else's heroic journey. The opposite - the Hero as entirely responsible for getting the right result and unable to delegate responsibility - is most forcefully put in the seminal Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality; or, if you prefer - and very likely you don't - in La Cummings ramblings about how during the run-up to the Brexit referendum, almost all the politicians nominally leading the effort sloped off to the Shires every weekend, leaving the true hard core to actually get it done.

And this - you knew, I hope, that I'd get somewhere in the end after this lengthy intro - leads me to the Libertarians. Whose chief virtue is Freedom and Independence and so on. Which they - and I - hold to be primary. And they begin almost every discussion with the assertion that what everyone wants is Liberty. Yet while it is true that everyone hates petty restrictions on whatever they happen to want to do at that moment, I think the vast bulk of the population doesn't want Responsibility For Their Own Lives; far from it, they flee from such. Which neatly explains the popularity of such as Trump.

Refs


* Nature: Why the world cannot afford the rich. I was going to write a post on this drivel, but perhaps a drive-by as a ref is all it deserves. Or perhaps Will Kinney's take? While I'm here, Online images amplify gender bias is also bollox, due to it taking "bias" to mean "non equal numbers of male and female" rather than "doesn't reflect reality". Continuing the sequence of fuckwit ideas, we have Public AI as an Alternative to Corporate AI by Bruce "I know security but am strangely clueless in the wider sphere" Schneier.
* On Christmas Day: Spiers and Boden, Carol, on Spotify.

2024-03-05

Orange Man Running

b4s4 Per SCOTUSblog and any number of other sources Supreme Court rules states cannot remove Trump from ballot for insurrection. This looks like the right decision, and they seem to have found a good reason too. Read the full thing if you must.

The backstory: Trump got sued off the ballot in a couple of states, on the grounds of having indulged in insurrection. I don't really buy the insurrection story1, but that doesn't really matter, because the one certainty in this case was that the Supremes were going to avoid ruling on that3.

Instead, they have cunningly begun by interpreting the fourteenth amendment, as "expand[ing] federal power at the expense of state autonomy"; having set that scene, they have the context to argue that section 3 cannot be interpreted as increasing state power, and therefore cannot give the states the power to interfere at a federal level; therefore section 5 confers on Congress, and no-one else, power to enforce those provisions. This allows them to obtain the solution that everyone of sense wanted2 - that Trump should be allowed on the ballot - without really disturbing anything else.

Getting the judgement unanimous was politically desireable4. Unfortunately SKJ couldn't resist having a last somewhat spiteful word - the oathbreaking insurrectionist is, in their own words, not needed. However their ostensible reason for writing, that the matter could be decided this way because deciding the other way would "create a chaotic state-by-state patchwork, at odds with our Nation’s federalism principles" doesn't really make sense5. Those are just generic interpretive words, they aren't actually reading from the constitution, which they have to.

Update


Thinking about this a bit more I'm more inclined to believe the judgement right, in principle, even on originalist grounds. The purpose of the amendment, everyone agrees, was to prevent the South being re-taken-over by insurrectionists post-war. Thus the language was written, and worked, for local - state level - office. But the language doesn't work for federal-level office, because of the patch-work effect. This didn't matter at the time, and so wasn't noticed, or was quietly ignored, or never considered. Now it does come up, and the only way to rescue it - to go back to a single point of truth, rather than many - is to require federal level approval.

Notes


1. Anyone following that link will notice the distinct lack of prescience in my "part B, the twilight of the Trump. Various folks have said that Trump will remain dominating the Repubs; might even run in 2024, and so on. I don't believe it. He has not the patience, or the staying power. He will just fuck off and ghost-write his memoirs, or retreat to playing golf, or some other stupid thing". Oh well.

2. Is this obvious? I think so. Voters know what happened, or they know Trump's character, or they've seen enough sources that they have carefully chosen to feed them the viewpoint they want, and so are as informed, or as ignorant, as voters usually are. There doesn't seem to be a good reason to disenfranchise them. I think it would have been good if the Dems had said this clearly. If you'd like to read someone disagreeing, the Graun has Mark Graber saying "treason" a lot.

3. They were also going to avoid ruling on presidential immunity if they possibly could, and succeeded in that, too.

4. Not all bad takes remember that they succeeded; Manisha Sinha for CNN manages to believe that the conservative majority in the Supreme Court dunnit.

5. And on further thoughts, I suspect that "X cannot be, therefore we decide not-X" isn't valid, judicially. I think that you need positive reasons for deciding not-X. But IANAL and I've only just thought of this, so use with care.

Refs


More Facts, Please - Volokh.

2024-02-13

The parable of the Antheap and the Anteater

escher In Godel Escher Bach there is a story about an Ant Heap. I think it's a conversation between Achilles and the Anteater, but I could be misremembering. Anyway, the Anteater tells Achilles about his friend the Antheap, called - if I recall correctly - Hillary3. And explains that whilst ants are individually stupid, as a hive entity they are collectively worth talking to. And, in response to Achilles being surprised that the Antheap wasn't afraid of him, an anteater, he notes that Hillary would often offer him juicy ants to eat. The death of a few ants was of no consequence to Hillary, who was the heap, not the individual ants.

But alas one day a disaster occurred: a rainstorm washed the heap away, destroying all the order. Not a single ant died, but the Heap aka Hillary was no more.

In GEB the analogy is to processes of conciousness. But I think it works as a loose analogy between individual human beings and cultures1. We might save all the individual people from a given culture - for example, by moving them, or allowing them to move, from a war zone to some place of safety; but in the process so dilute them amongst others that their culture is lost. Or we might kill any number of people, whilst preserving the overall culture2. And so attached to their culture - mistakenly, in my opinion - are some people that they might even prefer the latter option. In our liberal-democratic way we'd like to pick both options, and save all the culture and all the people; but we've not very good when both aren't possible. In theory, I think, we would and should prioritise the individuals, preferring to treat people as individuals rather than members of tribes. But of course, what do I mean "we", White Man?

Notes

1. Spare me the tedious outrage of comparing people to ants. No, I'm not.

2. In fact this option is illusory; culture is not preserved in this circumstance, only tatters of it.

3. Actually, Aunt Hillary. Geddit?

Refs

Torture and Terrorism (2006).

Ban it harder! An unwelcome new trend in British politics - Economist.

The Welfare State as Extended Warranty - Bryan Caplan.

Linda the Bank Teller Versus Freedom - Bryan again.

* The New Hereditarian Man: You Cannot Eliminate Envy by Brian Chau. 

The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire.

2024-02-12

AMOC tipping points of no return

DJI_0112 I remember - vaguely - the good ol' dayes when I used to talk about climate. So let's consider The Conversation's Atlantic Ocean is headed for a tipping point − once melting glaciers shut down the Gulf Stream, we would see extreme climate change within decades, study shows. Not all of it of course, and don't let me fool you into thinking that I've read it. And, as ever, you should prefer RealClimate's take.

Briefly, while this is a time-dependent (~300 year) simulation, the time is not intended to represent any real set of calendar years; instead we start from pre-industrial and increment freshwater, until it "tips" at ~0.6 Sv. The main novelty then is the slow-running time; previous goes at this have tended to dump in the freshwater rather more suddenly, which may have its own effects.

But what's not at all clear from The Conversation, and which only appears rather belatedly in the RC piece, is from the discussion in the paper itself: "In the CESM simulation here, AMOC tipping occurs at relatively large values of the freshwater forcing. This is due to biases in precipitation elsewhere in the models and mainly over the Indian Ocean (37). Hence, we needed to integrate the CESM to rather large values of the freshwater forcing [∼0.6 Sv, about a factor 80 times larger than the present-day melt rate of the Greenland Ice Sheet (55)] to find the AMOC tipping event" to which SR is obliged to reply "in this model, like in most models, you need to add an unrealistic amount of freshwater, because they are in the wrong part of the stability diagram compared to what observational data imply". That doesn't fill me with confidence. What, you wanted more analysis?

Refs

Hothouse tipping elements of no return.

* Nurture: Climatologist Michael Mann wins defamation case: what it means for scientists. But "Jury awards Mann more than US$1 million — raising hopes for scientists who are attacked politically because of their work" is optimistic: the bar, at least in the States, is very high for defamation.

Tipping Is Optional - arch of WUWT post by WE

* Eating Animals and the Virtues of Honesty - Lab-grown meat as a way out of our greatest ethical dilemma - RH

2024-02-11

History is bunk

PXL_20240210_121912854 Or so said Ford. Or somewhat more exactly, "History is more or less bunk. It is tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today. That’s the trouble with the world. We’re living in books and history and tradition. We want to get away from that and take care of today. We’ve done too much looking back. What we want to do and do it quick is to make just history right now". One wouldn't want to push that interpretation too hard; some of my best friends are historians; there is nothing wrong with knowing history. But there is a lot wrong with obsessing over it; gathering round the fire and beating stones together and beating antique grievances into your children's heads.

And so on to Putin, who apparently - I haven't read it - answered "why did you invade Ukraine" with a half hour history essay. The usual silly people have done the usual silly things - fact checking it - which is to miss the point: that simply thinking this way is wrong. It is the sort of thinking that leads to The Troubles; or the wars in the Balkans - take your pick as to exactly which ones - or the Palestinians deciding it would be an excellent idea to kill as many Israelis as they could. This is no great original insight; others have said much the same.

2024-01-30

Move to sustainable food systems could bring $10tn benefits a year, study finds?

PXL_20240129_203143816 Sez the Graun; h/t Timmy. With subhead "Existing production destroys more value than it creates due to medical and environmental costs, researchers say". The Graun, being idiots, don't link to the study in question; it is from new bois on the bloc foodsystemeconomics.org but has familiar PIK-type fingerprints on it. And no the Graun are not making up their subheads, the report contains "The costs of current food systems are far larger than their contribution to global prosperity".

But how is it possible for the food system to destroy more value than it creates, given that without it we would all literally starve to death? I'm assuming they're using "value" in the human context here. No humans - or only a few residual hunter-gather-peasant-ag folk - means that value has gone to zero.

The report doesn't actually say. Indeed, as far as I can tell it doesn't count the benefits, only the costs, so I can't see they have any basis for their claim. They assert $15T in costs, of which $11T are from health; and they further say that "A large share of this burden is born by people living with obesity" so this is all bollocks1, because they've failed to event attempt to back up their claim, and because the solution to obesity is to eat less, not to rebuild the world food system.

Notes

1. Also I hate the phrase "living with obesity" which is pathetic.

Refs

Is the ECS very high? - ATTP on SH. Hint: no.

Where did your genetic ancestors come from?

* You asked me what's my pleasure "A movie or a measure?" I'll have a cup of tea And tell you of my Dreamin'... People stop and stare at me We just walk on by We just keep on dreamin'... Imagine something of your very own Something you can have and hold I'd build a road in gold just to have some Dreamin'

NEVER BRING A STICK TO A KNIFE FIGHT

You Don't Hate Polyamory, You Hate People Who Write Books - ACX. "You live in a world choked with ideas, where anything that rises to your consideration has necessarily won a Darwinian battle among hyper-specialized memetic replicators competing for your attention".

Which side believes in more misinformation? - RH.

2024-01-26

A Muslim faith leader calls for stronger moral leadership in the Middle East?

IMG_20240126_091739_213 Shamelessly and I think unironically posted in the Economist (arch). It is the usual lazy unthinking tripe that such people can spew out by the yard, largely recycled from other people's tripe.

What is actually needed in the Middle East, and arguably lots of other places as well, is for most people to stop caring so much about other people's problems1. I've kinda said this already so I suppose I should expand a little. Our Writer writes We need moral leadership from religious figures on all sides: a determination to condemn not just the violence against “our own”, but also by those who claim to act on our behalf and this isn't true; what instead all these people should do is Fuck Off and remove the beams from their own eyes. The Middle East is notable for dictatorships and corruption (errm, with at least one obvious exception), expecting it to provide moral leadership is absurd.

In particular the idea that <people of religion X> should care deeply about <other people of religion X> is stupid tribalism that the world would be better without. But alas that kind of idea is not one that a "faith leader" is going to put forward. Even phrasing it as "messages which explicitly seek to acknowledge the “other”" is wrong. He is in favour of "diplomacy of the heart" but this is dumb; it is what leads to the "ambassador recalls, trade suspensions" which he condems; what is actually needed is heads, not hearts.

The poster children for this nonsense are the Houthi clowns, who despite being dirt poor and indeed only propped up by aid, nonetheless use their valuable resources to fire missiles into the sea. The West is, tiredly, knocking them back a bit; eventually we will get bored and knock them back further.

Speaking of corruption, South Africa comes to mind, and the recent ICJ case; wherein I find "The Court considers that, with regard to the situation described above, Israel must, in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention, in particular: (a) killing members of the group;...". This is obvious nonesense too; Isreal, as everyone agrees, will inevitably kill some civilians if operations continue; the only way to satisfy this would be to stop, which the court didn't order. If we read the judgement less literally to only mean "act in accordance with the convention" then that's just meaningless, because that obligation already exists.

Aid to Gaza and beyond at risk of collapse due to funding cuts, says UNRWA

Sez the Graun. And you'll find simimilar elsewhere no doubt. What's entirely missing is a thought that they are trying very hard to avoid thinking, and so blinkered are they that they have succeeded. The thought is "hmm, I wonder, just possibly, are there any other nations other than the West, just possibly some geographically close, who might have large amounts of dosh sloshing around that they could give? Nations that have, nominally at least, expressed great concern for the plight of the Palestinians". Another thought that is not being thought: though much of this goes to buy aid, much of it goes to salaries. But the Gazans receiving those salaries don't have a lot of other career options at the moment, so may as well continue working for nowt, or for promises - the Graun expresses concern about schoolteaching, for example.


Notes

1. You may perhaps think that I'm being hypocritical here. Not so! While I'm "happy" to spectate, I don't-if-I'm-honest really care much about these people's problems.

Refs

Hamas attack: US pauses UNRWA funding over claims of staff involvement.

"We could seat her on the block," I told the alcalde. I could not resist adding, "It's more suited to that anyway."

2024-01-17

Priests and cannibals

PXL_20240106_164326486 Priests and cannibals, prehistoric animals / Everybody happy as the dead come home, as Shriekback put it. However once again I am going to disappoint you, because other than some vague flavour that has little to do with the topic of this post.

Which is Why American cities are squalid, a subject on which everyone has an opinion. The piece, while wrong in its conclusions, isn't too bad, given its progressive-type biases (e.g. "A removal of resources for the majority, because of concerns over “misuse” by less than 1% of residents. I’m not saying those concerns aren’t well-founded" but if those concerns are well founded, you shouldn't have reflexively put scare quotes around misuse, you should have been honest enough to simply use the word). So after long revelling in the problems of having the homeless around, he notices that the system has no great trouble enforcing regulations at other times: "My favourite taco place was closed down twice during my short stint in LA, for bureaucratic reasons". And yet he fails to see the answer: the system, the police, are really bad at enforcing the law for people that won't obey, that have nothing to lose. Which in turn is part of the endless need for oversight; the failure to trust people on the spot. Which in turn is part of the awful modern reluctance of people to live with their choices. See-also Ban it harder! An unwelcome new trend in British politics in the Economist.

Refs 

Good, Bad, and Terrible Options - EconLib

The number one driver of 21st century “populism” in the West is...

How I Learned to Love the American Empire

The Reactionary Case for Democracy - worth a read, but the Nietzschean part is speculative and doesn't seem to be necessary for what follows

Why the Technocapital Machine is Stronger than DEI

The Republican Party is Doomed

Populism Makes Worse People

Making a Difference and Serving the Public

* Some Unintuitive Properties Of Polygenic Disorders - ACX

2024-01-03

Sandel: Liberalism and the Limits of Justice

PXL_20240103_204600160~2Welcome to 2024. We start with a light post, on the topic of Michael "Meritocratic" Sandel's early work, indeed his first book, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. The book is misnamed; it should be called "A commentary on Rawl's A Theory of Justice". The introduction claims "This is an essay about liberalism" but this is a lie, too. I have the first edition, from 1982. Sandel got his doctorate from Oxford in 1985, so technically we overlapped. 

I wasn't happy with Rawls (see here and following) finding it a mixture of wrong and incoherent. Sandel doesn't make me any happier, though he does illuminate one key incoherence, for which I'm grateful.

There's some initial discussion about the "Primacy of Justice". What it doesn't discuss, and I was expecting at least a nod in this direction, was whether we can a priori know that some system of justice is going to feature as an organising principle of society. It is hard to see how it couldn't, but that doesn't usually stop people from talking about things. So, we start off assuming that some principles of justice are required, and there's some discussion - which I'll skip - about whether justice is "prior" or not.

Chapter 2 hastens to make the same mistake that Sandel repeats in his Tyranny of Merit. We start by quoting Rawls:
Even if it works to perfection in eliminating the influence of social contingencies, it still permits the distribution of wealth and income to be determined by the natural distribution of abilities and talents. Within the limits allowed by the background arrangements, distributive shares are decided by the outcome of the natural lottery; and this outcome is arbitrary from a moral perspective. There is no more reason to permit the distribution of income and wealth to be settled by the distribution of natural assets than by historical and social fortune (73-4).
But this isn't true. There is such a reason, and Sandel knows it full well, since footnote 1 on p 72 is "I leave aside those versions of meritocracy that would allocate distributive share in sake of creating incentives and attracting the relevant talents alone, without referm the moral worthiness of the recipients". Sandel is embarassed by this and follows up on his promise of leaving this aside; but it does make all his discussion, which is based on "desert" or "worth", worthless. But I guess I know now why he did the same, but less honestly, in TToM: having tried this trick early on and found it worked, why not do the same again?

I'm not pretending to a full review, so I don't have much more to say. I should pull out the one item wherein Sandel clarifies Rawls views, which is helpful, but at the cost of making me think much worse of Rawls (the first two paras are quotes from Rawls, with section numbers; the third is Sandel):
The difference principle represents, in effect, an agreement to regard the distribution of natural talents as a common asset and to share in the benefits of this distribution whatever it turns out to be (101).

The two principles are equivalent, as I have remarked, to an undertaking to regard the distribution of natural abilities as a collective asset so that the more fortunate are to benefit only in ways that help those who have lost out (179).

Rawls believes the notion of common assets as embodied in the difference principle expresses the ideal of mutual respect deontological liberalism seeks to affirm.
As Gimli put it, The words of this wizard stand on their heads. In the language of Rawls help means ruin, and saving means slaying, that is plain. But Rawls needs this, to justify his idea that things-shall-be-distributed. "You" don't own your talents; you only "own" yourself, and in the magic realism world Rawls inhabits (it isn't quite clear if Sandel lives there too, he seems uneasy) your talents are separable from you and can be regarded as common assets. Talking about that as "mutual respect" is Orwellian; these ideas would be disastrous if implemented. Note also that bastard Rawls doesn't put this stuff up front where it should be. Instead, he talks us through the veil-of-ignorance without mentioning it. I reiterate my previous criticism of Rawls: that he endlessly reworks stuff, and never tells you when he is finished.

One more point: chapter 3 wurbles about the fairness of contract. It isn't enough for him that contracts should be freely entered into on both sides, they must also be "fair". This, too, is a terrible idea, though one increasingly popular in practice in our debased society. Sandel of course has no clear definition of "fair" to give, and so in practice this means unpicking voluntary agreements if you feel like it. Which is part of the awful modern reluctance of people to live with their choices; to always want to find a way to back out, if their choices turn out to have been poor.

Refs


the left wins culture war battles because they care more. Conservatives have their families and religion, centrists are mostly apathetic, but, for leftists, winning these battles is their religion (and often their “family”) - i/o.
Unfettered: Fishback 25 Years Later - Bryan Caplan, 1900's labour markets in the USA.

2024-01-01

Year of the Stoat

Caius M2 Per 2022, blogging in general and this blog in particular continue the long slow slide into obsolescence. Following long established convention, I pick the post of each month with the most comments.

* January: Rahmstorf joins the Dork Side (25).

* February: Bad beliefs: Misinformation is factually wrong – but is it ethically wrong, too? (15).

* March: Guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the US? (27).

* April: The alternative to Atlas Shrugged (7).

* May: What’s behind the dangerous new notion that democracy should be left to the well-educated? (9).

* June: Bandit Hoekstra (2). A thin month; there were three two's.

* July: Abuse of non-linear (7).

* August: Walkabout.

* September: A summer away (6).

* October: Gray the sinner (8).

* November: Reporting of yer conflict (26).

* December: Introducing Justapedia? (3).

I'm afraid that despite the lack of encouragement, I'm likely to continue into 2024.

Refs

Are Men Smarter than Women? - Richard Hanania.

* Bill Ackman on Claudine Gay and Harvard and DEI in general. If you prefer to read an alternative viewpoint, there's "Claudine Gay Had to Resign, But She Was Right About the Big Things", which is wrong.

SMASH Handheld - this is getting very close to "smart guns". It needs to add a "pull the trigger and it will fire when on target" mode, plus perhaps a "jiggle" to allow it to get on target even if the human is hopeless.