Sunday, January 28, 2007

Something fishy in the Reids

LibertyCat: Is Dr Reid still surviving?
Femme-de-Resistance: It says here that 'Judge has thrown him a lifeline'... [Reads] He's still there but floundering
LibertyCat: Ah, he has been 'slapped with a wet fish' [NB: the idea of fish-slapping appears to have originated with Monty Python]
Femme-de-Resistance: More he's being slapped with a variety of fish already with more fish to come... so he's reeling really
LibertyCat: Wouldn't that suggest he'd caught a fish rather than being slapped with one?
Femme-de-Resistance: Hmmm, that last pun was actually unintentional...


Monday, January 08, 2007

South Africa to get its own George W. Bush?

This story about a candidate for the South African presidency somehow reminds me of something.

I don't know why. Could it be the fact that a political movement that was once a standard-bearer in the struggle for racial equality has been reduced to tawdry influence-peddling? Nah.

Let's start with how Tokyo Sexwale (what an unfortunate name!) made his money. In the diamond mining industry. Given his background as first a political activist and then as a provincial governor, I doubt that his diamond mines were successful because of his prospecting skills and geological savvy. What he was able to provide was government goodwill in an industry that is almost completely dependent on it. Now he wants to use the money to buy his way back into politics.

Ah, now I see it. George Bush also made his money in the natural resource industry. He was involved with a series of oil companies, showed no talent at actually finding oil but somehow managed to make money. Then he bought the US Presidency.

Minerals (including oil) come out of the ground with relatively little effort on the part of the mining industry. The difficult part of this business is getting access to the ground with the minerals under it. In a few well-run countries like Norway this just means paying very high taxes. In most of the world, this means that the natural resources industry ends up giving money to well-connected people in non-transparent ways.

In America this is called "paying $2.2 million for Spectrum 7 even though it has only dry wells." In South Africa it is called "Black Economic Empowerment". On Forceful and Moderate it is called "graft".


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Quote of the day

This article means I can no longer finish the authors book. I was given it for xmas and I'm over halfway through it but knowing the author is a fool has ruined it.

From a Grauniad comments thread, discussing this article.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Up and down they go, where they stop, we can estimate with various levels of confidence...

I have been meaning to respond to David Duff and his 'hot air' for several months now, not least because of his remark that temperature records go 'up and down like a whore's drawers' [has to be quote of some day or other...].

But I was finally prompted to respond after I belatedly saw 'An Inconvenient Truth' (0r 'What Al Gore Did Next'). In the UK, the idea that human-induced climate change is happening is sufficiently uncontroversial that you forget that there are a whole heap of people over the pond for whom it isn't quite as clear-cut.

So let me lay it out straight. There is consensus within the mainstream of environmental scientists that climate change is happening. In addition, the balance of evidence is that climate warming over the last 50 years is primarily attributable to human activity.

Why do I think this? Well, I've read parts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Third Assessment Report, published in 2001. A new IPCC report is due out early this year. The IPCC report is a consensus document laying out the current state of knowledge as agreed by academics working on climate monitoring and modelling, and related scientific questions. Since it is the 'agreed' current state of understanding, it is doubly conservative in its claims. Conservative because scientists try to draw conclusions only where they are supported by the available evidence rather than going off into unsubstantiated speculation. Doubly conservative because all these scientists have to agree.

The 2001 IPCC report states that:

There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. Detection and attribution studies consistently find evidence for an anthropogenic signal in the climate record of the last 35 to 50 years.

Sceptics talking about cause-effect relationship between CO2 and temperature are getting confused about what is in contention

The important points are illustrated (sort of) in this diagram. This diagram shows a record of temperatures, atmospheric CO2 and methane concentrations for 400,000 years BP derived from an Antarctic ice core. Similar records can be obtained a variety of sources including trees.

CO2 and temperature broadly rise and fall together over the last 400,000 years BP. It is entirely correct to query a cause-effect relationship here. But there is a well known and entirely uncontroversial mechanism by which greenhouse gas concentrations change the Earth's temperature.

There is debate over the mechanisms through which greenhouse gas concentrations and temperatures interact together, specifically within the context of PREVIOUS INTERGLACIAL AND GLACIAL CYCLES. The trigger of previous glacial/interglacial cycles is the Milankovitch cycles but it is not known precisely how orbital oscillations translate themselves into glacial/interglacials through the Earth system. This is why understanding the relationship between the observed greenhouse gas and temperature rises is interesting for Quaternary scientists. It is, however, irrelevant to contemporary climate where we know that we are emitting greenhouse gases.

'Snowball Earth' is also irrelevant. Changes to the Earth's climate over time periods greater than 400,000 years are triggered by factors acting over geological timescales such as the breakup of continents and related changes in ocean circulation, etc.. These things are, again, not relevant to the contemporary climate change debate.

Given we are confident of the mechanism by which greenhouse gases lead to the retention of long-wave radiation in the Earth's atmosphere:

Sceptics talking about natural variability are also getting confused

The previous diagram shows that over the last 400,000 years, CO2 concentrations have rarely gone above 300 ppmv and certainly not above 325 ppmv. Current CO2 concentrations are 380 ppmv. This runs off the scale of the Antarctica ice core record shown in the IPCC report...

... Food for thought, me thinks. And it really is, well, that easy. It doesn't seem that easy because it requires a grasp of the science. And it's for this reason that Mr 'Dubya' Bush and co have managed to bamboozle and pull the wool over people's eyes.

Labels: ,

Monday, January 01, 2007

Quote of the day

From advice by a French doctor to his colleague on how to deal with English patients:

I would never hesitate to tell a French woman to take off her clothes on her first appointment ... but you have to be very careful about that sort of thing with English women.

Labels: ,

Against Presidents

Blogger ate my serious attempt at this post, so here goes a quick replacement.

Basically, a directly elected head of government is a bad idea.

The US experience makes it far from obvious that separating President and Congress actually reduces the power of the President. With Republican control of both houses of Congress and the White House, George W. Bush and Tom Delay ran the most overmighty government in the free world. The reason why this didn't happen in the past is not because of the great virtues of the US system - it is because for most of the twentieth century there were effectively three parties in Congress (Northern Democrats, Dixiecrats and Republicans) none of whom came close to a majority.

As Gavin Whenman points out at the end of his post, the real problem is strong political parties. When British political parties were weak (because most MP's funded their own campaigns and relied heavily on a personal vote) in the nineteenth century, Prime Ministers were not overmighty. And the problem with drastically weakening political parties is that non-Party legislators (or legislators who do not depend on national parties to secure re-election) are more likely to get re-elected by pork-barreling than they are by supporting good government.

The only way the US electorate can get a limited Presidency is by voting for divided government. This has a number of disadvantages, notably that it becomes increasingly difficult to hold either party accountable for anything. This points to an obvious way forward for a Liberal Democrat government in the UK. I don't like sounding like a stuck record, but the solution is electoral reform. Under STV, the electorate can get divided government by the simple expedient of not giving the same party more than 50% of the votes.

A Presidential system has another major disadvantage. If the President is a miserable failure and losing a war, it is very difficult to get rid of him. If a British prime minister is losing a war, then he will be out of office faster than you can say Neville Chamberlain.