Monthly Archives: February 2015

If you keep sending me poorly-argued emails, I’m going to keep being grumpy

I’m not a grumpy guy. I’m really not. There are, however, things which make me grumpy. You want to know what makes me grumpy? I’ll tell you what makes me grumpy.

Reading something dumb does not make me grumpy. I write dumb things all the time. Ok, it actually makes me a little grumpy when I write dumb things, but I’m pretty forgiving of the transgressions of others in this regard. However, when I read something that’s presented as authoritative and smart and it’s dumb, then I get a little grumpy. When people keep sending me this same dumb story over and over? I get grumpy.

This brings me to a letter from 2009 by a physicist named Howard Hayden. He wrote to the EPA with a “simple one-letter proof” that the science regarding CO2 and the climate was not “settled.” It is, perhaps, the wordiest one-letter proof in the history of one-letter proofs, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that his proof is dumb.

The problem with a one-letter proof is that it is very simple to state, but it takes a lot more effort to rebut. But hey, I’m not doing anything else, so let’s have a go. Here’s the “proof”:

The letter is s, the one that changes model into models. If the science were settled, there would be precisely one model, and it would be in agreement with measurements.

That sounds compelling. Why would there be multiple, very-close-but-not-exact models if we knew everything there is to know about how CO2 affects the climate, right?

Um, no. That’s not right at all. That’s so wrong that I feel like I have to choose between “he wrote something really dumb” and “he’s being dishonest” and I don’t like either of those options.

How can I know he’s wrong? Well, that takes more than a single letter. I’m not an expert on climatology, but I do know something about baseball. So let’s talk about baseball (and models). I am going to tell you that, in baseball, walks are more valuable than stolen bases and that this particular issue is settled.

How do I know this is settled? Neither of them necessarily lead directly to scoring a run, so you can’t do a direct qualitative comparison that way. Instead, you have to do a lot of analysis and build, yes, statistical models. Everyone who’s studied the issue has come to the same conclusion: walks are better than stolen bases. Literally every model arrives at the same conclusion.

Now, none of those models are perfect. None of them can predict, with 100% accuracy, the outcome of any game or season. In fact, sometimes, a stolen base can be more valuable than a walk. Baseball’s complicated. There are exceptions, there are things that we can’t model perfectly about it. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t derive conclusions from the data. Walks are more valuable than stolen bases. We know enough that we regard this issue as settled. The fact that there is no perfect model does not keep us from reaching this conclusion.

It turns out that the climate is waaaaay more complicated than baseball. There are a lot more factors and that data can’t be measured as precisely. There are, however, many very clever climatologists looking at the data and creating models based on it. They have almost all arrived at the same conclusion. The fact that they have approached it from different angles, using different data sets, and different methods, and still arrived at the same conclusion does not weaken the conclusion as Hayden would have you believe. The fact that, no matter how you approach the question, you get the same answer tends to stengthen the conclusion that CO2 in the atmosphere, from man-made sources, is causing the Earth to grow warmer at an alarming rate.

All of this just to discuss a one-letter proof. And really, all I’m giving you is the summary level stuff.  The real data behind it, even on just the baseball stuff, would fill reams of digital paper. This doesn’t “prove” that global warming is real; all I’m doing is making the point that Hayden’s argument against it is bunk.

The rest of the letter is just as bad. He conflates single data points with vectors. He claims that climate change models make schoolboy errors of assumption when they very clearly don’t (at least he’s not trotting out the canard about climatologists not knowing about clouds). He points out that the Earth’s climate has always been changing and acts as if this proves that we are incapable of impacting this change. He acts as though temperature readings at one point somehow apply to entire ice caps.

It’s really bad. It’s one of the worst things I’ve read in a long time. But, like I said, it merely being dumb isn’t enough to make me grumpy. The fact that Howard Hayden speaks with the authority of a lecturer and he still says dumb things makes me a little grumpy. The fact that people keep sending this to me as though it were revelatory? Now that, my friends, make Uncle Pancakes very grumpy indeed.

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Et tu, Chrome?

At the risk of re-beating a dead horse, Chrome has stopped being the browser-of-choice for quite a few people. This Gizmodo post gets to the core of the issue right in the first paragraph:

Remember when we all switched from Firefox to Chrome? Chrome was stripped down, simple but fast as hell. It was like browsing the web on a whole new computer. These days Chrome is bloated, slow, and constantly crashing on me. I’ve finally reached the breaking point.

Personally, I haven’t seen Chrome crash any more than other browser, but the bloat and lack of speed? Yup. Chrome fills up my Task Manager like it owns the place. I tend to keep a dozen or so tabs open at once and this precludes me doing much of anything else on a more-than-competent gaming rig when I’m browsing. Several gigs of RAM. For a browser. The reason is that Chrome isn’t really a browser anymore, is it? It’s an operating system running on top of another operating system. It’s closer to a virtual machine than a traditional web browser. That makes sense for a Chromebook, I guess. But, for a machine already running a full-bore OS? I’ve been using Firefox ever since my issues with Google and especially Google+ and I’ve never regretted it. I wouldn’t say that Google has lost site of their mission. It’s more like their mission no longer matches my needs.

UPDATE: This Ars Technica review of the Dell XPS 13 makes the same point without really meaning to:

The Bad

  • The year is 2015. 8GB of RAM should be the baseline, with 16GB as an option. 4GB is barely enough to run Chrome.

“4GB is barely enough to run Chrome.”  Yeah. That.

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Presidents Since Nixon Ranked In Order Of Impeachability

Uncle Pancakes is in a Foul Mood. Keep that in mind as you read this list. I suppose the fact that I’d spend a few hours working on a list of Presidents in order of impeachment-worthiness ought to have been a clue, huh? Anyway, this isn’t a discussion of who was good or who wasn’t. I’m only interested in “who did things which ought to have resulted in their removal from office.” With that out of the way…

5-7 (tie): Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush

Why they’re impeachable: I can’t think of any particular action by any of these presidents which would warrant impeachment. I’m not saying that any of them were or were not great leaders; I just don’t think they didn’t do anything to deserve removal from office.

4. Bill Clinton

Why he’s impeachable: Lied about sex with an intern in a civil suit.

The case against Clinton relies on your belief that any lie under oath, no matter how immaterial to your presidency, is enough to remove a President from office. Did he perjure himself? Maybe. Perjury requires not just an untruth but it has to be an untruth about fact, not an interpretation. I personally think he probably did perjure himself, but I have trouble really caring about it. It was a stunt designed to embarrass or entrap the President and it had very little to do with his function as President.

3. Ronald Reagan

Why he’s impeachable: Lied about trading arms for hostages; illegally supported drug lords in an attempt to overthrow a leftist government.

When talking about Reagan, it’s really difficult to explain his charisma to people who don’t remember the eighties. How else can you explain the following quote:

“A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not.”

So, yeah, he lied, he got caught, and he still claims that he doesn’t really believe he lied. Only Reagan could get away with that. You kind of have to have been there. If Clinton, who was not without charisma himself, had tried that, he’d have been out of office in a heartbeat. That’s not even counting the fact that Reagan’s administration illegally funded the “contras” after Congress passed a law forbidding him from doing so. Sure, Reagan’s lies weren’t “under oath”, but given that he broke the law in some very serious ways I am confident in rating Reagan as more “impeachable” than Clinton.

2. Barack Obama

Why he’s impeachable: Illegal spying on citizens, illegal assassination programs, non-prosecution (and possible continuation of) torture

I’ll start this one by saying that, when the dust settles, Obama could well be number 1 on the list. We don’t know the full scope of what sort of shenanigans have taken place on his watch. The list of things we don’t know enough about is long, but what we do know is troubling. The drone assassination program is a huge problem. The constant litany of lies about the scope of the domestic spying program is a huge problem. The failure to aggressively prosecute anyone and everyone involved in torture is absolutely in violation of the law and there would be no real defense against it. If it turns out that the torture program was expanded under Obama, or if he gets the U.S. into another idiot war? He could yet wind up at the top.

1. George W. Bush

Why he’s impeachable: Manufacturing evidence to drive the country to war, torture, illegal detentions

Of course, Obama’s got some work to do to take over the top spot. It’s one thing not to prosecute torturers; it’s another thing to enable them. One of the common misconceptions about the John Yoo documents is that he was asked to determine if the “enhanced interrogation” techniques were legal and he determined that they were. That’s not it at all: He wasn’t asked to answer a question, he was asked to validate a conclusion which had already been reached.

Look at this way: If I were asked to, I could concoct some way to argue that any baseball player was “great.” I could argue that, say, Steve Christmas was a great player. He hit .364 with a .727 slugging percentage one year, as a catcher! Of course, we all know that Steve Christmas wasn’t a great player, but that’s the point. What Yoo did was not answer the question “Who are the great baseball players”, he was told “Give me a document proving that Steve Christmas was a great player.”

President Bush said that his greatest regret was that Iraq didn’t have any of the weapons he’d claimed they had. The WMD were the strongest of the rationalizations for invading Iraq, and even President Bush admits that they were wrong.

Then, you have to throw in “jailing people indefinitely without charge even after your own people have said that they didn’t do anything” which strikes me as a criminal violation of rights and due process, etc., but I could be wrong. Regardless, I think the most ironclad case for impeachment has to go to George W. Bush…for now, at least.

Now, the real question is: How many of these gents do I really believe are impeachable. I’d say #4-#7 are “definitely not”, #3 (Reagan) is a “maybe”, and #1 and #2 are “definitely.”

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Texas teaches the U.S. Congress a lesson in Asshattery

Oh sure, inviting Netanyahu to speak at a joint session of congress is a pretty big raised middle finger, but that amateur hour compared to how Texas treats the fifth-largest faith in the Lone Star State*.

January 29, a week ago Thursday, was Texas Muslim Capitol Day in Austin. As you might imagine, some Texans did not react with the sort of Southern hospitality you see in films:

“Today is Texas Muslim Capital Day in Austin. The House is in recess until Monday. Most Members including myself are back in District. I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws. We will see how long they stay in my office.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) on her Facebook page

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Texas capital is besieged by Christian protestors mocking, intimidating, and frightening the Texas Muslim community. You might even say “terrorizing.” I know I would.

As much fun as it would go after the protestors, I’d rather go after Representative White’s statement. I’m sure that it is totally legal for a government official to require oaths of allegiance from people based on their religion in order to visit that official’s office. Maybe she should do that with any group. Individuals should be required to denounce any wrongdoing of other individuals of the same group before they enter Rep. White’s office.

If that were the whole story, I’d have probably just let the whole thing pass. This is Texas, though, so of course there’s more. Newly-elected governor Greg Abbot decided to honor “American Sniper” Chris Kyle with his own day just two business days later on 2 February. If you only saw the film, you might think that Kyle was a morally conflicted individual who was not only an outstanding soldier, but also a man who was deeply troubled by the nature of his work.

Yeah, no. That’s not Chris Kyle. Let’s let Chris Kyle tell us a little about Chris Kyle in his autobiography:

 “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”

“I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying fuck about them.”

So, let’s review: Texas had a day for Muslims at the state capitol and then went out of its way to make them feel unwelcome. On it’s own, that’s a pretty impressive act of pettiness. Then, two days later, the state announced that it would honor a man who wanted to kill every Muslim with his own day. Congress only wishes it could be that childish.

* In the interest of accuracy, I should mention that the largest group is not the Catholics but the “unclaimed”, whatever that means.

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