The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Ouch

Top Palin aide Meghan Stapleton quit today, with this statement:

"While I had hoped to work together on so many more projects, time with my precious 2-year-old has been further minimized with the whirlwind commitments of all things Palin,” she told the SarahPAC staff. “I have done my best to scale back, but [my two-year-old daughter] Isabella is now resorting to hiding my BlackBerry, and she shouldn't grow up begging for a mother to start acting like a mother.”

With friends like these...who needs to carry her kid around like a prop?

How stimulating

What if the stimulus package signed into law a year ago today had actually worked?

Let’s say this bill had started spending money within a matter of weeks and had rapidly helped the economy. Let’s also imagine it was large enough to have had a huge impact on jobs — employing something like two million people who would otherwise be unemployed right now.

If that had happened, what would the economy look like today?

Well, it would look almost exactly as it does now. Because those nice descriptions of the stimulus that I just gave aren’t hypothetical. They are descriptions of the actual bill.

In other words, Keynes got it right. And so did Obama.

Piling on

Two more items about anthropogenic climate change. First, from NPR this morning

Most don't see a contradiction between a warming world and lots of snow. That includes Kevin Trenberth, a prominent climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

"The fact that the oceans are warmer now than they were, say, 30 years ago means there's about on average 4 percent more water vapor lurking around over the oceans than there was, say, in the 1970s," he says.

Warmer water means more water vapor rises up into the air, and what goes up must come down.

"So one of the consequences of a warming ocean near a coastline like the East Coast and Washington, D.C., for instance, is that you can get dumped on with more snow partly as a consequence of global warming," he says.

More esoterically, Alex Knapp challenges the Drudge Report's misinterpretations of the "Climategate" data:

The scientist in question is Professor Phil Jones, who is the head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Suffice to say, this has made quite a hubbub around the blogosphere. The article is based on an interview that Jones gave to the BBC. Of course, delving into the article itself, it’s clear that Professor Jones did not say that there is no global warming since 1995. He says that there is no ’statistically significant’ global warming since 1995. Which still sounds bad.

Unless, of course, you actually read the interview.

Commentary about the right

I received three items from the Internets today bringing various threads about the right into perspective. First, a note about Joe the Plumber's frustration with the McCain campaign:

"I don't owe him sh*t," Wurzelbacher said. "He really screwed my life up, is how I look at it."

"McCain was trying to use me," he said. "I happened to be the face of middle Americans. It was a ploy."

Readers will note that one of my long-time criticisms of the right is their pandering to people who want to avoid responsibility. Joe Wurzelbacher, being employed to further that end, and presumably being a conscious adult, has decided not to take responsibility for his part in the campaign. Is this irony, is it a nuanced political gambit, or is it just sad?

On the same theme, David McCandless published a great visualization of the arguments for and against anthropogenic climate change. I still can't grasp why people deny the evidence, but then again, I don't understand how people believe the Earth was created 6,000 years ago or how people believe that telling teenagers not to have sex reduces teen pregnancy. Since these groups are nearly orthogonal perhaps the common thread is a refusal to accept evidence regardless of the source, kind of like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

There's a serious difference between challenging evidence and refusing to accept evidence. Scientists challenge evidence all the time, though possibly not as much as they should. Still, when you have a pile of evidence in support of a hypothesis (e.g., differentiation of species by natural selection), and no evidence supporting any other explanation, at some point a rational person will accept the hypothesis as fact.

Now, the error bars around the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change are broader than climatologists want; to wit, the consensus is that scientists are 90-95% confident that the facts support the hypothesis. For the hypothesis to win promotion to "theory" (a scientific term of art that translates to "universally acknowledged fact" in plain English), there needs to be a consensus on 95-98% confidence. Note also that this means statistical confidence, another term of art that sounds like it means something a lot less important than it really means. A 90% confidence interval doesn't mean people cause 90% of climate change, or that climate change is 90% probable. It means, more or less, that scientists are 90% confident that the activities of humans are the explanation for the planet as a whole warming up 3 to 9°C over the next 200 years. No one is suggesting people are the only cause, and no one is suggesting that a 3° change in the planet's average temperature will cause snow to stop falling on Alaska.

In other words, the rules for calling something a "scientific fact" (i.e., "theory") are very, very strict, so the massive pile of data in support of global warming—and the rapidly diminishing data set supporting alternative explanations and predictions—doesn't yet cut it.

This isn't a squishy guess about the effects of some untested political idea, this is hard science. So while I accept, to some extent, tinkering with government policies based on guesses and ideology (for example, I believe in socializing infrastructure and health-care costs, while other people believe in private roads and for-profit hospitals), I have a very hard time understanding political opposition to the idea that people are changing the planet's climate. We may disagree on what to do about it, but how can people rationally disagree that it's happening? Even the policy argument in favor of doing something to reduce climate-changing pollution seems unassailable: if the science is wrong and we reduce emissions, wow, we've spent a couple percent of GDP on making the air cleaner. But if the science is right, and we fail to reduce emissions, tens of millions will die. You want beachfront property in Florida? A century from now you can buy it in Orlando. Hungry? Let's hope that rain still falls on places with adequate soil—without washing it away in massive floods.

So what's the objection? Why do people argue so vehemently against the facts?

I think the Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts is right about the choice facing us in this country, of which climate change denial is only one small part:

So no, this is not a clash of ideologies, but a clash between intelligence and its opposite. And I am tired of being asked to pretend stupid is a virtue. That's why I'd welcome the moment of truth [Sarah Palin's] campaign would bring. It would force us to decide once and for all whether we are permanently committed to the path of ignorance, of birthers, truthers and tea party incoherence you represent, or whether we will at last turn back from the cliff toward which we race.

If the latter, wonderful, God bless America. If the former, well, some of us can finally quit hoping the nation will return to its senses and plan accordingly. Either way, we need to know, and [her] candidacy would tell us. If you love this country, Mrs. Palin, you can do it no greater service.

We shall see. We shall see.

Why the euro isn't the dollar

Paul Krugman has a good explanation today why the problems of Spain and Greece come from the ways Europe and the U.S. are different:

[T]here’s not much that Spain’s government can do to make things better. The nation’s core economic problem is that costs and prices have gotten out of line with those in the rest of Europe. If Spain still had its old currency, the peseta, it could remedy that problem quickly through devaluation — by, say, reducing the value of a peseta by 20 percent against other European currencies. But Spain no longer has its own money, which means that it can regain competitiveness only through a slow, grinding process of deflation.

Now, if Spain were an American state rather than a European country, things wouldn’t be so bad. For one thing, costs and prices wouldn’t have gotten so far out of line: Florida, which among other things was freely able to attract workers from other states and keep labor costs down, never experienced anything like Spain’s relative inflation. For another, Spain would be receiving a lot of automatic support in the crisis: Florida’s housing boom has gone bust, but Washington keeps sending the Social Security and Medicare checks.

And then there was Hawaii

Forty nine states have snow on the ground right now thanks to a rash of snowstorms caused, in part, by human-induced climate change (.pdf, 1.8 MB). First, the situation on the ground:

The extraordinary rash of snowstorms which have swept the U.S. in recent weeks, many generating record snowfall, have produced one of the country's most expansive snow packs in recent memory. National Weather Service researchers charged with monitoring the country's snow cover and its water content estimated Friday that more than 67% of the Lower 48 sat beneath a veil of snow. Hawaii, despite the presence of mountains which can and often do become snow-covered in winter, is the only state not to report at least some snow on the ground. The snow has been so widespread in recent weeks, even perennially snow-free Florida has failed to escape. De Funiak Springs, in the state's panhandle near the Georgia border, reported a 1" snow accumulation late Friday afternoon at the same time a thundery squall line in warmer air to the south was diving southward the length of the Florida peninsula unleashing driving rains and 70 mph gusts.

And the prediction the National Climatic Data Center summarized on their Climate Change FAQ page:

In some areas where overall precipitation has increased (ie. the mid-high northern latitudes), there is evidence of increases in the heavy and extreme precipitation events. Even in areas such as eastern Asia, it has been found that extreme precipitation events have increased despite total precipitation remaining constant or even decreasing somewhat. This is related to a decrease in the frequency of precipitation in this region.

Now, I'm not a physicist, but I do understand that putting the same amount of energy into a system while cutting off the avenues for the energy to dissipate means more energy remains in the system, like having a slow drain in a bathtub. All the evidence might support a different conclusion, of course, which is why scientists are looking for more evidence. Maybe climatologists are wrong. Maybe we're not experiencing an unprecedented shift in worldwide climate, and maybe we didn't cause it. At the moment, though, that's wishful thinking.

I'm not the target customer

From reader MB, a business venture he wishes he'd thought of:

Many people in the U.S.—perhaps 20 million to 40 million—believe there will be a Second Coming in their lifetimes, followed by the Rapture . In this event, they say, the righteous will be spirited away to a better place while the godless remain on Earth. But what will become of all the pets?

Bart Centre, 61, a retired retail executive in New Hampshire, says many people are troubled by this question, and he wants to help. He started a service called Eternal Earth-Bound Pets that promises to rescue and care for animals left behind by the saved.

... Todd Strandberg, who founded a biblical prophecy Web site called raptureready.com that draws 250,000 unique visitors a month, agrees that Fido and Mittens are doomed. "Pets don't have souls, so they'll remain on Earth. I don't see how they can be taken with you," he says. "A lot of persons are concerned about their pets, but I don't know if they should necessarily trust atheists to take care of them."

Forutunately for Parker, I'll still be around. But if anyone out there wants to give me $50 per year per pet, I'll happily take care of their animals should the people ascend bodily into heaven.