Full moon is tonight but it was very nearly full last night as I was watering the bits of the garden that need a little help. As I did so the moon rose over the hill to bathe the garden and olive trees in silvery moonlight.
As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.
My father came down to visit on his way to a conference near Turin. He spent some of Monday sitting outside in the shade by the olive trees and reading Ursula Le Guin's "The Dispossessed" that he took from my bookshelves. As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.
If you go to Pajamas Media (or Instapundit or Powerline or the right bit of CNN) you'll see that there are some enormous (as in tens of thousands or participants) protesting Obamacare and other related issues in Washington DC today with many more apparently in protests elsewhere.
The numbers being mentioned some places (1million plus) seem to be exaggerated but there is no doubt that we're seeing more than 100,000 people in DC. But if you look at screencaps of the CNN/US webpage or the Yahoo Reuters headline list there's not a single story about it. Nor is there, at this monent (19:15 GMT), any coverage at the BBC although there is mention at AP. On the other hand there is this amusing set of "Top News Photos on the bottom of the Yahoo Reuters page:
Surely if the photos are news worthy someone ought to write about what is happening?
The MSM in the US (except for Fox News that is) has been having a bad summer. It has been repeatedly scooped by less traditional sources of news and indeed seen to be not so much lagging as hiding critical stories. If this continues, and I suspect it will, the MSM are simply going to end up losing their audience and then their advertisers and then their jobs. I've thought this might happen before but the events of the last few months make me think it could happen rather more swiftly than I, or most people, would have expected.
I have no doubt that one reason for the MSM being caught flat-footed so often is their general "liberal" bias, but I'm fairly sure that the other reason is that their competition has essentially got inside their OODA loop. The OODA loop comes from the military and it refers to the reaction process (see link for much more detail) that any (military) force follows when faced with new events/circumstances. Essentially it takes time to process the new information, come up with a response and then implement the response. Forces with long OODA loop times usually end up at the mercy of forces that can respond quicker because the faster force is able to cause new events while the slow one is still responding to the ealier ones and the act on the responses it sees. Examples of this in military terms include the US invasion of Iraq, in particular the "thnder run" through Baghdad.
It seems to me that this is what we are seeing here. Just as the MSM gets its story "straight" on Tea-parties they go and change into health-care criticism and town-hall protests. Then folks start looking at presidential appointees, then the protesters go and have an enorous rally in Washington and others start digging up dirt on ACORN. Each time the focus changes the MSM have to react and report and each time they are left further behind. And each time they are left further behind their credibility drops.
I think the problem the MSM have is two-fold. Firstly they are institutionally accustomed to the multi-day breaking story. This held true, for the most part, up until about 2006. Some blogger would break a story about Trent Lott or Dan Rather, then there'd be a few days or weeks while the story circulated the blogosphere and the cable networks and then many days later it would be major news. If the MSM missed the first couple of days it was no big deal. Now it is true that on areas where they are concentrating (e.g. presidential campaigns) they can react faster but for stories that don't come from places they expect they take a while to notice - this is almost a classic symptom of the OODA loop problem. Secondly there is an institutional blindspot regarding politics and genuine grassroots activism. The MSM don't expect it and can't adjust to the idea that these days anyone can be a reporter if they want and that anyone can organize a protest using blogs, twitter, email, SMSes etc. without any need for MSM publicity.
Combined this leads the MSM to be continually thrown off balance by the recent anti-Obama efforts. The various exposés and protests are coming from a place the MSM doesn't expect to find such stories and they are coming fast and faster because new technology means that almost anyone can do it. The ACORN sting series apparently cost about $3000 to produce. I don't know how much 60 minutes or other investigative journalism shows pay per episode but one suspects it's considerably more. The problem here is that there is almost certainly a huge amount of other low hanging fruit awaiting plucking so once the MSM has adjusted to ACORN being attacked instead of attacking it will find that attention has moved to some other taget - college professors perhaps? - and then it will go back to Obama appointees or Congressional representatives or...
Right now there are at least 4 different scandals fighting for attention. There's Acorn, there's Rep Charlie Rangel and his failure to declare various sources of income, there's Murtha and his lobbying/pork and there are the past histories of other Obama appontees. There are also at least two separate, but related, protest movements one on health care and one on the TARP and other bailout money. We'll see what happens but I suspect we're going to see the MSM playing catch up for months, and that could well be fatal because they'll lose even more market share in the process.
Yesterday dawned all misty, but sunny, after a couple of days of intermittent but heavy rain. The olive trees glistened from the refractions of sunlight hitting the drops of water on the leaves and olives. As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.
Dave Freer is one of my favourite authors - hence my pushing of Save the Dragons. He writes books that are fun to read and yet possess layers of plot, character and thought-provoking stuff to make you come back and reread. I have in fact read his latest, Dragon's Ring, at least twice since I bought the eARC a few months back. and it will probably get read again shortly. Hence anypne expecting a negative review of this book is going to be disappointed if they ask me.
However in this review, rather than simply rave about how good the book is, I'm going to compare it with Lois M Bujold's Sharing Knife series (which I have also reviewed in thepast). I I'm inspired by this partly because of a post written a few weeks back on the Mad Genius Club blog discussing females in Speculative Fiction. In the comments to that post someone mentioned that Fawn from the Sharing Knife (TSK) series was interesting because she's not a typical genre heroine.
What is interesting about Fawn is that she's sort of the junior partner to her lover/husband. We, the readers, know that she helps him a lot and that Dag, the husband, loves her as much for her sparkling mind and indominatable spirit as anything else - yes she has curves in all the right places but then so do most young women. However the world at large undoubtedly sees Dag as the hero and her as the add-on because Dag has groundsense (i.e. can do magic) and Fawn can't. Dag is also much older and your classic tacitrun scarred verteran. One of the things that Fawn does well is make Dag approachable and less fearsome to people but this facilitator role is not going to be perceived as important as Dag's activities. This is not especially surprising, we always diss these facilitator folks - think of how interpreters. PR agents etc. are seen and it makes sense.
The fascinating thing about Dave Freer's Dragon's Ring is that Meb - the heroine - is everything that Fawn is but yet more in that she really becomes an equal part of her partnership with Fi(o)nn in a way that every one will realize. There are numerous parallels between Dag/Fawn and Fionn/Meb that make comparing the two very interesting.
Both Fawn and Meb start off as young, naive, innocent village girls who are forced through circumstances to grow up extremely fast and cope with a world rather larger than they or their village parents ever really understood. Both are relatively uneducated but both have the spark of intelligence and a decent moral sense. If this were a D&D world both would fall in the "Lawful, good" part of the spectrum and both would have minimal scores on things like experience, yet both have great hidden strengths. Their attraction to their partners is that unrealized potential and the desire of their partners to awaken that potential and guide it.
On the other hand Dag and Fionn are neither young nor innocent. They are also both outsiders to their societies and have great powers. The difference is that Dag is respected his known powers but is generally seen as rather dour. Fionn on the other hand, despite having probably more powers, is not respected for them but is known for a certain low humour. Even people who know he is powerful discount his constant statements that he intends to destoy the world and think he's just pulling their legs whereas he is deadly serious. Dag by contrast is recognized as a past hero and his statements about changing the world are taken at face value (and people tell him to stop being such an idiot).
The relationship between the two couples starts off very much the same. Dag and Fionn both rescue their girls and feel compelled to continue to protect the naive yet talented girl they've just saved. Romance doesn't raise its head quite so quickly in Dragon's Ring - Meb tries to pretend to be a boy whereas Fawn is clearly a fertile female - but other than that the two heroes act in similar ways to nurture their girls and give them the education they need.
The societies depicted in both books are not dissimilar - they are essentially the same pre-feminist society that humans have lived in for most of the last couple of millennia if not longer. A woman's place is, for the most part, to be subservient to her husband/father and there is plenty of discrimmination against women to ensure that they stay in their place. Meb pretends to be a boy because girls can't be apprentices and in both worlds unattached girls have little ability to protest the advances of unwanted suitors or rapists. Boys are allowed to sleep around but girls that do the same thing are sluts or harlots.
Another similarity is that both cultures are on the cusp of drastic change and there are of course many in these cultures who are resisting this change by any means possible. On the other hand both Fionn and Dag are "agents of change" to borrow from another SF series. They see the drastic change as a requirement and view their partnership with Meb and Fawn respectively as a key part of that change. Not only is their relationship key to the change, letting go of the girl would mean a victory for the forces of conservatism.
Yet while there are numerous similarities there is one big big difference. Meb has the potential to be as strong a mage as Fionn while Fawn is genetically limited to her total lack of ground-sense. Fawn learns how to find workarounds to her limits but she can never breach the limit. Meb on the other hand is a danger because she has the power but has never been taught to properly control and channel it. This is the key difference and makes Meb, in my opinion, a rather more suitable feminist heroine. Meb goes from pretending to be a powerless boy to accepting and utilizing her inborn talents whereas Fawn, although she matures, can never really challenge or compete with Dag in his core magical competency. Fawn is limited to "soft" power if you like but Meb can challenge on rather more levels. Of course that doesn't mean fighting it out with muscles - small women don't beat large men that way - but in the end Meb uses her in-built talents to do things that Fionn could have done but doesn't.
Fawn on the hand is left living happily ever after with a baby. If ever you wanted to illustrate the modern maternal dillemma of family vs career then despite their similarities in background that would be the difference between the two endings. Not that I think Fawn is unhappy with her choice whereas (and I'm in danger of getting more spoilerific than I want) Meb is certainly desperately unhappy with her choice - its just that the other options are worse.
One thing is for sure though, both authors are great. But if you've read TSK I think you'll get an extra kick out of Dragon's Ring by comparing the two.
Knock on wood we seem to have a decent crop of the olives this year. So long as they stay on the tree for another 6-8 weeks or so we can harvest them and make oil. As always click on the image to see it enlarged and don't forget to visit of the olive tree blogging archives for further reminders of how nice olive trees are.
Now all of this is discussion is clearly intended to influence the politicians who are going to show for the UN meeting in Copenhagen and all of it makes the assumption that the earth is heating up rapidly, indeed exponentially rapidly, which is interesting when you look at the data upon which this panic is built.
One of the major drivers of the thesis that Human derived CO2 is causing unsustainable climate change has been the notorious "hockey stick" graph popularized by various UN reports, Al Gore and so on and which originated in Mann, M.E., Bradley, R.S. and Hughes, M.K., 1998. “Global-Scale Temperature Patterns and Climate Forcing Over the Past Six Centuries”, Nature, 392, 779-787 (aka MBH98) and related papers such as the sequel Mann, M.E., Bradley, R.S. and Hughes, M.K., “Northern Hemisphere Temperatures During the Past Millennium: Inferences, Uncertainties, and Limitations”, Geophysical Research Letters, 26, 759-762, 1999 (aka MBH99). These papers, and many other papers by various climate scientists, were based in full or in part on temperature reconstructions derived from analysis using tree-rings widths as a proxy for temperature. The basic theory (and I simplify drastically here) being that trees grow faster in hotter years than in cooler ones and thus that wider rings mean warmer years etc.
How to Create Tree Ring Chronologies The challenge for creating really long tree-ring records is that there are very few 500+ let alone 1000 year old trees so researchers like to find places where there are lots of fossil or near-fossil dead trees together with a few live ones. Then they sample the trees (live and dead) to get the rings and do some cunning analysis to map the various sequences together. They may (not sure) also use radiocarbon or similar dating techniques to help sort out approximate ages.
At the end of this you have a proxy for an annual average (summer) temperature over a few centuries based on stitching together the data of numerous trees which were only alive for a portion of the time. You may have perhaps 500 total trees in your sample but at any one date the ones that were alive may vary between a high of say 60 and as low as perhaps 10. Clearly the more trees you have for a particular time period the less likely you are to be misled by one or two trees being outliers who then skew the series one way or the other. What do I mean? well say a storm comes through and knocks down a couple of big trees south of the one you are sampling then for the few years after that storm that tree is going to receive more sunlight and rain than it did before when it had other trees around it. Hence during those years it is likely to have thicker rings than it did before even if the actual temperatures were the same. Although storms are likely to affect the entire region there is a good chance that other trees that are alive at that time will not be as affected by the storm and thus they will not experience such a spurt. If you only have half a dozen trees then the outlier with the growth spurt is going to be far more influential than it would be in a group of 50.
Another challenge is that of course one won't always find enough sample trees in the same place. Clearly the ideal is that we find hundreds of trees of various ages submerged in a lake or bog with another hundred alive and next to it. In practice one has to merge together trees found in fairly close proximity where "proximity" may mean a few tens of kilometers apart. In particular for fossil trees that have been washed down rivers to end up in lakes/bogs it can be hard to be completely sure of the original location and thus ensure that the trees used have experienced the same climate, but with care it is possible to ensure that the trees grew up close enough for the analysis to make sense.
The Polar Ural Controversy It turns out that some tree ring chronologies that have been quite popular and influential in the hockey stick papers and in other ones are a sequence that originate in the frosty northern wastes of Siberia.
The first version of a chronology using records from this area - published in 1995 by Briffa, Schweingruber & co in "Nature" reported that 1032 was the coldest year of the millennium - right in the middle of the Medieval Warm Period. But the reconstruction depended on 3 short tree ring cores from the Polar Urals whose dating was very problematic.
In Briffa 2000 a second series called "Yamal" was used that seemed to be less questionable (i.e. had more than 3 trees). It used data from just one place (Yamal) as opposed to being spread out so it which implied it would be better and amazingly it showed both a distinct hockey stick in the 20th century and a lack of a medieval warming period. Hence it was reused in many other papers by lots of climatologists who liked the idea of hockey sticks. However an updated analysis by Esper in 2002 of the original 1995 paper using data from a lot more sites in the Polar Urals failed to show anything like the same effect.
Unfortunately since Briffa failed until very recently to actually make his raw data available it was impossible for a third party to reproduce his result or figure out whether it was "robust" to use a word much beloved by climate scientists. Fortunately he has now done so and Steve M has been on it like a bloodhound on a raw steak. It should be noted that as well as Briffa and Esper, another analysis of tree rings in much the same place exists. This (Hantemirov and Shiyatov) uses a different method of age standardization and produces a more Esper like graph although it appears to use much the same raw data as Briffa's.
How many cores? As noted in the "How to" section, the question boils down to choosing which samples to include and which to skip. The H&S study uses a relatively small number of large (and hence long-lived) trees so that although the chronologies are made up of between 10 and 20 trees mostly (less than 10 for 1500 years and older) there is some sort of consistency - although the low number does lead one to question things.
For the Briffa Yamal series, the number varies more widely in more modern times (the count seems almost identical in the pre 700AD area) with up to 40 around 1750 and a significant drop off to 12 in the 20th century. Given that the 20th century is where we see the dramatic uptick one might wonder whether there is a little cherry picking going on here. This seems particularly striking when the Esper chronology has over 50 cores throughout the 20th century.
The Taymir Divergence Diversion Another dataset that has been widely used from the same Briffa 2000 paper is the Taymir set. Unlike the Yamal chronology Taymir shows signficiant cooling in the latter half of the 20th century. This is called a divergence problem, but despite the post 1950 problems it too has been widely used in other multi-proxy temperature calculations. However while Yamal has not been updated (by Briffa) since 2000, in 2008 when he republished Yamal he produced a new improved "Taymir" called Avam-Taymir. This new set, Steve discovered, combined samples at Taymir with ones from Avam some 200 miles distant and from another site Balschaya Kamenka 60 miles (100km) from Avam sort of on the way to Taymir (see triangle in the accompanying google map) Notably the combined series ignored two or three sites closer to Taymir sampled by Briffa's erstwhile collaborater Schweingruber even though it was he who obtained the Balschaya Kamenka samples. Fortunately for the hockeystickophiles the new combined Avam Taymir set both removes the awkward late 20th century divergence problem and the medieval warm period. Given this feliciticious result it seems mean to point out that there are other Schweingruber sites far closer to Taymir and that Avam, at least as depicted in Google Maps, appears to have a very different terrain to the other two (it's in a valley whereas the other two are on flatter tundra, implying that it might well have a different climate).
Back to Yamal The Yamal archive has 12 cores for the 20th century period, which as noted above, is not terribly many given that in earlier times we see 40. However fortune smiles upon the investigator who wishes to update Yamal because Schweingruber also sampled an area slap bang in the middle of the Yamal area as defined by H&S (the pink square and point in the accompanying google map). This sample is of 34 live trees and would therefore significantly improve the coverage of the 20th century. Steve therefore decided to see what would happen if he a) replaced the 12 previous Yamal 20th century cores with the 34 or b) simply added them. The resuts of his experiments can be seen below;
The black line is case a) above, the green line case b).
Summary and Implications What this boils down to is to show that obtaining exciting hockey stick graphs appears to depend on the tree ring samples used. There may be reasons why researchers might use one set of samples over another but without some clear justification a skeptic who looks at the results will tend to suspect that the motivation for choosing which sets to include in a chronology is based on whether it indicates a warming pattern or not. This slepticism is increased by the fact that the raw data used to produce these graphs is only released to the general community after a lot of effort as it implies that the authors have something to hide.
Furthermore (note this is my view not Steve M's) given that the world is being pressured to introduce all manner of CO2 reduction schemes which are likely to severely impact the global economy, the secretiveness could well lead the world's leaders to make decisions that are needlessly harmful. When it comes to other areas of the global economy - pharmaceutical trials or the spread of epidemics for example or the disclosures required for financial instruments and company flotations - it is expected that the raw data will be provided so that others can attempt to verify the claims made. In the pharmaceutical world this often leads to dramatic changes of advice (recall the post menopausal hormone replacement therapy brouhaha) as further analysis indicates that the original science was wrong. If global warming is not a scam then the scientists who make the predictions ought to welcome others trying to replicate and then improve their analyses.
Contrariwise, if it should turn out that the 4°c folks are right then by not
The real question I have regarding Polanski's arrest in Zurich is why did it take the Swiss authorities so long to arrest the scumbag? There is one answer here (via Patterico):
U.S. authorities said Sunday they’ve tried to capture director Roman Polanski on his previous trips to Switzerland, but it wasn’t until recently that they were able to lay the groundwork days ahead in order to facilitate his arrest by Swiss police. . . . “There have been other times through the years when we have learned of his potential travel, but either those efforts fell through or he didn’t make the trip,” William Sorukas, chief of the U.S. Marshals Service’s domestic branch, said Sunday.
This time round, U.S. authorities learned of the director’s trip days in advance and were able to get the operation going.
That's a plausible excuse - after all the award was well publicised on teh Intertubes - but I still think I'm missing something. Polanski has a house in Gstaad (Wikipedia mentions it and it's being suggested the dirty old man might be allowed out on bail to stay there) and went skiing there frequently for long periods. Surely all the US authorities needed to do was get on the horn to Switzerland on say January 3rd and ask their colleagues Gstaad to wander down to the Polanski chalet a few times a week and when someone appears to be home knock on the door with an arrest warrant. Indeed given that, until recently, you had to show a passport when travelling from France to Switzerland, surely it would have been even easier for the Swiss border police to flag the name Polanski and stop him the next time he entered the country? Perhaps there are legal reasons relating to deportation paperwork that mean that this is not possible but it seems a bit odd.
I do have one possible reason, Swiss localism. It is possible that Polanksi used to either fly direct to Gstaad or drove, thereby avoiding the main entry points of Geneva and Zurich airports - when I've driven in/out of Switzerland we quite often just waved our passports and they never looked at them. Also it is worth pointing out that the different cantons in Switzerland have considerable independence so it is quite possible that the Zurich authorities were willing to get him but their colleagues in Berne (Gstaad's Canton) and Geneva - the way I'd get to Gstaad by car from Paris would enter/leave Switzerland at Geneva - were not.
Mind you I do wonder at the special pleading going on here. From the MSNBC article linked above:
Authorities in Los Angeles consider Polanski a “convicted felon and fugitive.” The director had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. He was sent to prison for 42 days but then the judge tried to renege on the plea bargain. On the day of his sentencing in 1978, aware the judge would sentence him to more prison time, Polanski fled to France.
What this section fails to point out is that Polanski plea bargained a guilty plea to "unlawful sexual intercourse" rather than go to trial for rape and sodomy. 42 days in prison for anally raping (read testimony) a 13 year old girl (and he KNEW her age) is a joke and one suspects that either the judge realized he'd be in deep doodoo if he left it at that or he never had any intention of leaving at that but Polanski (and his lawyers) misinterpreted something. Either way my understanding is that pleading guilty to a lesser charge is merely something between the perp and the prosecutors. The judge then has freedom sentence based on the sentencing guidelines for the lesser charge and one suspects that "unlawful sexual intercourse" has a maximum sentence of a few years. The good news is that fighting his extradition probably means he'll be spending quite a few months in a Swiss prison, while I'm sure it's more pleasant than a US one it certainly won't be a pleasure camp. Something tells me that no matter what he tries, he won't be granted bail since he has a history (see quote) of jumping bail.
Via this LJ post I came to a blog called First Thoughts which seems to be jolly sound and which has a rather depressing table from a relatively recent UN report:
I suppose we British have to take the blame for the inaction of the first 20 years or so - OK so we got distracted by a war but really! - however the last half century has seen us hand the baton over to the UN, the NGOs and the rest of the "International Aid" organization.
The results of their "transformational" campaigns have, generally speaking been non-existant as the table above illustrates. The table, and much of the work comes fom a paper (PDF) by William Easterly which points out just how stupid the developed world's Africa strategies have been. I'll quote the abstract and suggest that people find some time to read the entire 120 page thing:
In the new millennium, the Western aid effort towards Africa has surged due to writings by well-known economists, a celebrity mass advocacy campaign, and decisions by Western leaders to make Africa a major foreign policy priority. This survey contrasts the predominant "transformational" approach (West saves Africa) to occasional swings to a "marginal" approach (West takes one small step at a time to help individual Africans). Evaluation of "one step at a time" initiatives is generally easier than that of transformational ones either through controlled experiments (although these have been much oversold) or simple case studies where it is easier to attribute outcomes to actions. We see two themes emerge from the literature survey: (1) escalation. As each successive Western transformational effort has yielded disappointing results, the response has been to try an even more ambitious effort. (2) the cycle of ideas. Rather than a progressive testing and discarding of failed ideas, we see a cycle in aid ideas in many areas in Africa, with ideas going out of fashion only to come back again later after some lapse long enough to forget the previous disappointing experience. Both escalation and cyclicality of ideas are symptomatic of the lack of learning that seems to be characteristic of the "transformational" approach. In contrast, the "marginal" approach has had some successes in improving the well-being of individual Africans, such as the dramatic fall in mortality.
Mind you its not all grim - child mortality has fallen significantly, for example, although it remains higher than elsewhere - but he shows that Africa as a whole seems to take one step back for every step forward. It's depressing reading.
It occurs to me that this is yet another moment where feminists should realize that many of their "progressive" allies are actually just as bad as the right-wing chauvinists they regularly protest. There is a significant chunk, a large majority I'd guess, of the right who really do believe that the rule of law should apply equaly to all, whether hobo or millionaire director, and that crimes like rape and especially pedophile rape should be punished severely. On the other hand there seems to be a big chunk of the left who think that if your political heart is in the right place then you can get away with rape, womanslaughter (E Kennedy), and of course marital infidelity (J Edwards, W Clinton).
I'm going to finish with one minor detail - I forget where I read it but I saw it mentioned somewhere that it seems quite likely Polanski brought this arrest on himself. Apparently the US authorities had more or less given up trying to get him extradited when he got some lawyers in the US to push for the case to be officially dismissed. That seems to have caused various parts of US officialdom to wake up and read what he was on the lam for. And hence a renewed push to catch and extradite the scumbag.