Sunday, May 01, 2016

The End of the Republic?

If history is a guide, Republics usually fail when an oligarchy seizes control. Oligarchies are not stable though, for a few reasons. One is that the oligarchs start competing with each other. Linked to that is that they disregard the health of state in their competition. The populace also becomes tired of paying the bills for oligarchs. Popular dissatisfaction, combined with oligarchical competition often leads to civil war and ruin.

The American oligarchy is now led by Charles Koch, who controls nearly all of the Republican party apparatus - nearly all of the congressional Republicans suck at the Koch teat and swear fealty to his program. A competitive oligarch, Donald Trump is challenging his rule and seems certain to get the Republican nomination. Of course his actual policy program, to the faint extent that he has one, is little different from the Kochs, but he is a challenge to their power.

The games begin.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Oh Donna Oh

Donna, the sixteen-year old virgin of Hair, became eligible for Medicare and full Social Security benefits this year.


Albedo (fraction of incident light reflected) is one of the largest feedbacks in the climate system. Snow and ice have high albedo, land and water low. Snow in Alaska and western Canada is predicted to be decimated over the next week. That should tend to warm the Beaufort and Chuckchi sea ice, which is already looking a bit fragile. A good chunk of Siberia is also seeing the snow go. So far, Arctic ice looks really vulnerable. Ice extent is already at record lows for the date, and volume is as low as it was in the record melt year of 2012 - but weather still is going to be the arbiter. TBD

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Father of the Man

The revealing last sentences of Dark Money:

As a child, he [Charles Koch] used to tell an unfunny joke. When called upon to split a treat with others, he would say with a wise-guy grin, “I just want my fair share— which is all of it.”

Mayer, Jane (2016-01-19). Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Kindle Locations 7202-7203). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Killing Baby Hitler Revisited

Among John "Jeb" Bush's many stupid boasts was his claim that he would have the necessary lack of scruple to kill Hitler as a cute baby. As it turned out, he couldn't even scratch, much less kill, the not at all cute 69 year-old baby Hitler winning the Republican nomination.

Winter is Coming ...

... (Still) to western Europe and parts of the northern US. Meanwhile, it's toasty back in Winter's home, in the Arctic. This is not a entirely a coincidence. A ridge of high pressure that normally forms over the US and western Europe finds it more convenient to park elsewhere this April.

Dark Money: Book Review

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer is a superbly written and extensively documented book that tells a sickening story. It tells how a tiny group of the super wealthy, not from the 1% but from the top 1/100th of a percent, adopted the tactics of Lenin and Hitler to seize control of much of the American government and poison the minds of Americans against their own country. They combine immense wealth with low tactics like the big lie, character assassination, and intimidation with a long range strategic plan based on control of strategic opinion makers, a vast network of propaganda organizations loosely disguised as think tanks, and aggressive buying of influence in everything to from local legislative races to the oval office. Many of them have skirted the law or flouted it, their vast wealth enabling them to escape with fines and other wrist slaps.

Their aims are radical: dismantling every aspect of the modern progressive state except for protection of their own wealth. Environmental laws, worker safety and protection, public education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, anti-trust laws, income and inheritance taxes, and child labor laws are targets. Their success has been immense. Their representative were invited into the new Republican Speaker of the House's office before he was even sworn in, and they wrote his budget. The result has been a huge transfer of wealth from the ordinary citizens of the United States to them and their fellow members of the super rich. They have literally spent billions to hire a vast army of lawyers, talk show hosts, professors, PR men, politicians, and phony experts, but the rewards they have reaped are probably in the trillion dollar category.

There are perhaps a few dozen individuals who contribute most of the money for this radical action plan, but the Koch brothers, Charles and David, with a joint fortune of nearly 100 billion dollars, are very near the center of all the action. Charles Koch is the intellectual leader and chief architect of their strategy, and a principal funder of most of their actions.

It sickened me to read this book. I could only read a little bit at a time without falling into a depression of rage and despair. If one looks at the history of the republican form of government one sees a discouraging pattern of democratic rule transitioning to oligarchy and dictatorship. The wealthy use their wealth to control the government, and their control of the government to extract more and more of the society's wealth. The US is well on the way.

I have written several other comments on portions of the book and related matters here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Building a Negative Greenhouse: Antarctica

Fernando wanted me to look at this paper: How increasing CO2 leads to an increased negative greenhouse effect in Antarctica from Geophysical Research Letters. I glanced through it, and the argument seemed not crazy, so I decided to see if I could work out a model from first principles to see whether it could plausibly work. Think of it as a three reservoir problem in thermodynamics. Space is a nice cold reservoir, the central Antarctic plateau is also pretty cold (temperature Ta), and sometimes colder than the stratosphere (Ts). There is a greenhouse gas atmosphere lying between the stratosphere and the ground. Suppose the GHG concentration increases. In that case, radiative heat flow from the stratosphere to the surface will decrease. If the opacity increase is the same for downwelling stratospheric radiation and upwelling surface radiation, then the ordinary greenhouse effect will obtain. Suppose, though, that the GHG layer is more transparent to upwelling radiation than downwelling radiation. In that case we can have a reverse greenhouse.

But all the radiation involved is long wave, so how could that work? If the stratosphere emitted in somewhat narrow bands (little pressure broadening) and the GHG layer only absorbed in the CO2 bands (since hardly any H2O at super cold temps), then it might work, since the ice/snow are pretty infrared black and will emit broadband.

Note that this could only work for very special conditions.

It might be nice if somebody would check my work here. Rabett? Stoat?

Genomics FOTD

The average human has a genome that differs from the human reference genome at about 3-4 million sites (out of 3.2 billion).

Asian, European, and (Native) American population groups (out of 26 population groups total; 10 Asian, 5 Eur, 6 NA, 5 African) went through extreme population bottlenecks 15-20,000 years ago where the effective population sizes of each were reduced to less than 1,500 individuals. The simultaneous African bottlenecks was a good deal less severe with effective population sizes > 4,500. Most rebounded with extreme population growth shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hillary vs. Donald

It looks like we have achieved the curse of interesting times. I was kind of hoping for a convention swindle resulting in a three way race between Cruz, Trump and Clinton, but it doesn't look like that could happen.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Scary - At Least For Hillary Fans

NYT headline: Charles Koch Says He Could Possibly Support Hillary Clinton

Charles G. Koch, the billionaire industrialist, suggested in an interview Sunday that he was open to supporting Hillary Clinton for president and said it was possible she would make a better president than her Republican rivals. It was an unexpected sentiment from Mr. Koch, who has for years deployed his vast wealth to champion conservative causes and Republican candidacies, emerging as a major foe of the Democratic Party. ...

Mr. Koch sounded at times baffled and disappointed by the language and ideas of several Republican presidential candidates in an interview with Jonathan Karl of ABC, which aired on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

He called a plan by Donald J. Trump to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country “monstrous” and dismissed Senator Ted Cruz’s proposal to carpet-bomb territory held by the Islamic State as “frightening” hyperbole.

Mr. Koch spoke somewhat fondly of former President Bill Clinton, suggesting he held down government spending and regulation compared with his successor, President George W. Bush. He called Mr. Bush “a fine person, and tried to do the right thing but was misguided.”

That prompted a question about Mrs. Clinton. Below is a transcript of the ensuing exchange:

You can follow the link above, if you care.

Of course it's possible that Koch is just trying to scare Hillary fans. He is a very clever fellow. Or it's possible, that, having himself summoned the demons from the vasty deep of the American subconscious, he has figured out that he really can't control them.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Uh Oh

Regular readers may have noticed that I'm a big admirer of Jane Mayer's book Dark Money, but there is an unfortunate boo-boo here:

But as Dr. James Baker, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in 2005, “There’s a better scientific consensus on this than on any issue I know— except maybe Newton’s second law of [thermo] dynamics.”

Mayer, Jane (2016-01-19). Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Kindle Locations 3944-3946). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I assume the brackets mean that Baker did not actually use the word "thermo" but that Mayer or some unfortunate editor slipped it in. A little knowledge is still a dangerous thing.

Fossil Energy

No economic factor has been more important to the rise of modern civilization than fossil fuel energy, and this fact has concentrated enormous political and economic power in the hands of those who find, own, and control it. The available wealth attracted the bold, the brilliant and, frequently, the slightly crazy, but public spiritedness was not necessarily a major virtue or character trait among them. The enormously wealthy men, corporations, and countries that control this precious resource were not slow to recognize the threat that public concern over global warming posed to their particular fortunes - the money at stake was clearly in the trillions of dollars. From Dark Money, funding climate denial:

The first peer-reviewed academic study on the topic added further detail. Robert Brulle, a Drexel University professor of sociology and environmental science, discovered that between 2003 and 2010 over half a billion dollars was spent on what he described as a massive “campaign to manipulate and mislead the public about the threat posed by climate change.” The study examined the tax records of more than a hundred nonprofit organizations engaged in challenging the prevailing science on global warming. What it found was, in essence, a corporate lobbying campaign disguised as a tax-exempt, philanthropic endeavor. Some 140 conservative foundations funded the campaign, Brulle found. During the seven-year period he studied, these foundations distributed $ 558 million in the form of 5,299 grants to ninety-one different nonprofit organizations.

Mayer, Jane (2016-01-19). Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Kindle Locations 3887-3893). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In retrospect, climate scientists, environmentalists, and most politicians were absurdly naive to think the owners of trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels would meekly accept a very large fraction of their wealth being locked up in the ground just because the safety and health of billions of people was at stake. They have fought back ferociously, with all the powers that their billions can buy. As has often been the case, the Koch brothers were the first to put up big time money for the fight.

Ten Books for a Desert Island

From time to time the NYT asks various literary figures/micro celebrities what ten books that they would take to a desert island. They aren't going to ask me, but I think my library might be big on books on how to survive on a desert island, and, especially, how to get back to blankety-blank civilization. Assuming that were not an option, I would probably pick books that I hadn't read yet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Torch Dancing/Melting

A blast of abnormally warm air is expected to push into the snow covered areas of Eastern Siberia and the Barents, Kara and Laptev Seas early next week. Simultaneously Greenland, Alaska, and the Bering and Chukchi Seas will also get toasted. Even the Beaufort Sea, which is currently full of cracked and broken ice, courtesy of a strong Beaufort Gyre, should get some above zero (C) melt time.

If May is anything like April, a big melt might be in the works. From Climate Reanalyzer.

Harriet Tubman

Looks like a good choice for the new twenty.

Harriet Tubman: Wikipedia

Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1822[1] – March 10, 1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and, during the American Civil War, a Union spy. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends,[2] using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era was an active participant in the struggle for women's suffrage.