Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The art of denialist bullshit

Denialist comments rarely merit anything but to be ignored, but Robert Parker's brief comments are such a perfect example of the art of bullshit that I'll make an exception.

Here are Robert Parker's comments in full:

"Except the tide only comes in during a warm PDO, and goes out slowly in a cold PDO. We'll see for certain what happens in the next 15 years or so."

His two sentences illustrate perfectly the art of propaganda. For its nefarious purposes, it's as beautiful as haiku. Let's look closely at what he says and how he says it.

1. He makes no mention of the original indicators of climate change, nor does he actually dispute the fact that the bulk of the additional energy caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases end up in the ocean. Actually dealing with the graphs in the original post would cause him a great deal of trouble.
2. He makes sure that the the comments are maximally confusing.  The first sentence (fragment) certainly qualifies: "except the tide only comes in during a warm PDO, and goes out slowly in a cold PDO."

This is obfuscation raised to an absolute art form. On first reading one might assume it is meant to cast doubt on something, but exactly what is open to question.

This strategy is an essential part of the denialist playbook, and it deserves to be called out as such. Denialists want, first of all, to sow confusion and doubt. So here we have a sentence fragment, asserting nothing in particular, filled with a "sciency" term which will, in all likelihood elicit a "huh?" response from the reader. This is not badwriting! The "huh?" is the whole point.

Notice, please, that this sentence gives no reason why the PDO should affect the graphs presented, nor does it provide any reason why one should believe that climate scientists have misunderstood the effect of the PDO on changing climate (or weather, or anything).

This response could almost be generated by a computer program: ignore the topic at hand, take a few "sciency" terms, combine them in almost random order, making sure that the meaning is unclear, and sit back and congratulate oneself on confusing the issue.

3. But the second sentence gives the game away:

"We'll see for certain what happens in the next 15 years or so."

This is a barefaced call for inaction. Whatever could the motive be? The obvious answer: the coal and gas industries do not want to be regulated. Not now, not in 15 years (or so!!), not in 50 years. Not ever!
In short, Parker's response is irresponsible bullshit, whose evident reason for being is to sow doubt among the truly ignorant and to provide cover for the CO2 lobby.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Lawrence Lessig's plan to reform U.S. Politics

Two must-see videos about the present corrupt state of American politics and what can be done about it.

Lawrence Lessig's Google talk: Republic lost.

Lawrence Lessig's Ted Talk.

The solution: small-dollar campaigns, brought into being by

Repost: why I am finding it hard to program just now

Consider what's happening today:
  • one-dollar-one-vote democracy [0]
  • "neutered, impotent and obsolete" U.S. corporate media [1]
  • out-of-control military [2] and surveillance [3] establishments
  • worldwide inaction on CO2 emissions [4]
  • ongoing human-caused mass extinctions rivaling the previous "big 5" mass extinctions [5]
  • all enabled by 24/7 corporate-funded right-wing propaganda [6] and  [7].
Two novels emphasize the need for courage in the present circumstances:  A Tale for the Time Being [8] and The Winter of the World [9].  I recommend either or both for those who think the issues listed above are no concern of ordinary people.


P.S. If there is one area where I might still make a difference in the computing world, it might be high-speed analysis of types for Python. Lest you think this is a minor business, it is a fact that any useful analysis of computer programs (for example, any kind of refactoring) requires robust knowledge of types.




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jay Forrester: summary of his life

Jay Forrester did far more than create the famous "limits to growth" computer model:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Speak the truth, but not to punish

"Speak the truth, but not to punish"   I first read these words two days ago here. They were said by Jim Hoggan, quoting the Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh.

These words have been a liberation.  After meditating about them, I saw that climate denial is a disease of thought, speech and society.  Being angry or upset about denialism is like being angry about any other disease.  It's useless and counter productive.

This anger that I harbored caused me huge suffering.  I think that suffering is largely gone now.

I can now contemplate the Limits to Growth, and climate change with much less horror than before.  As my brother says, releasing the attachment to living even one more minute is the end of suffering.

And I now have a new voice.  Cheerful, happy, much less judgmental even when confronting the end of all we love, and even confronting anti-social behavior.  It's a new me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Did global climate change cause the California drought? Just because the answer is not “yes” does NOT mean the answer is “no.”

People have been asking, and failing to answer intelligently, the somewhat spurious question: "Is the California drought caused by climate change?"

Here is an excellent discussion of that question:

The key "sound bite":  Just because the answer is not “yes” does NOT mean the answer is “no.”

This may come as a shock to the deniers :-)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tools to limit pollution of the blogosphere

I read various climate blogs with interest.  All suffer from what I call the "turds in the punchbowl" phenomenon: individuals who consistently make reading blogs unpleasant.

There are several kinds of turds:

1.  Obvious climate deniers.  They are pretty easy to spot:  bogus "questions" about the latest post, or outright assertions such as "climate change is a hoax".  They like to quote scholarly journals like the Wall Street Journal or What's Up With That ;-) Their experts are often dentists and such.

2. Trolls.  These are perhaps less common, but the effect is to inflame the discussion in various ways.

3. The confusers.  This is a tactic I've only recently become aware of.  You could call it a more subtle form of trolling.  It consists of making confusing statements that muddy the waters and make reading a blog more difficult.  Non-sequitors and unclear references are the stock in trade of such folk.

Responding to turds is fruitless.  Indeed, it plays right into their hands.  It's a waste of time, it's upsetting and and it generally reduces the signal-to-noise ratio of the entire blog.

If it's no use trying to deal with turds, then what is to be done?  I've thought about this for a long time.  At last a simple answer has appeared: all controversial blogs really ought to implement effective per-user blocks on other users.  For example, suppose I find the posts of Bozo Bob to be unhelpful, offensive, upsetting or just a waste of time.  I want to be able to ban Bob so that I *never* see Bob's posts or replies by Bob to other posts.

For the blogs that I like to read, this would be a very effective strategy.  There typically are just a few (or a few dozen) turds floating in the discussion.  Banning those turds would not take much time, and would make it much simpler and more enjoyable to find truly worthwhile comments.

Let us be clear.  The turds won't like this proposal.  They will call it censorship and rail about closed minded individuals.  They will be as unpleasant as possible.  That is only to be expected.  The point is to make it impossible ever to be upset by them again.


P.S.  This idea was inspired by the facilities of Accuweather climate blog:  Apparently, it was designed to do exactly what I would like.  Alas, for unknown reasons it does not work for me.  The blocks do not stick.