Ephemerides

A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 27 May 2002

The Git was ordered by followed the suggestion of She Who Must Be Obeyed and replaced the picture that has adorned the top of these pages the last few months. This is a snippet from a bigger picture taken at his best friend's 60th birthday party. That's SWMBO to the right of The Git. He had just been asked why he was wearing this on his left jacket lapel and was explaining:

A habit obscene and unsavoury
Holds the Bishop of Wessex in slavery.
With maniacal howls
He deflowers young owls
What he keeps in an underground aviary.

But the Prior of Dunstan St Just
Consumed with erotical lust
Raped the Bishop's young owls
Those precious little fowls
And a little green lizard what bust!

-oOo-

From a new reader:

Dear Pompous Git, or do you prefer Jonathan?

I don't get git, but I am amused by your musings!

Please help me out!

Thanks, Derick Colorado Springs

P.S. Caught your note to the Climate Change Debate, found you more enlightened than most, and far more colourful and humourous! (Spelling is in your honour, I once visited England!)

Jonathan, Pompous, or Git -- it doesn't really bother me. One of my readers once called me "Mr Git" and that made me feel a little uncomfortable.

According to The Oxford English Dictionary, a git is "a worthless person". I recall it being defined as "the bastard son of a bastard" in my youth in England's green, unpleasant land, where it was pronounced more like "get".

OED has "humorous" rather than "humourous", but curiously "humourish" rather than "humorish". Several of the compounds of "humor/humour" can take both forms. That's English for you ;-)

I am glad you like my pages -- I enjoy writing them. Thanks for visiting.

-oOo-

Last Wednesday, The Git picked up his copy of Bjørn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist from Fullers Bookstore. He had already read the introductory material here and has so far found very little to quarrel with in the ensuing pages. Lomborg's remarks about the distortion of science (and much else worth thinking about) by journalists are particularly apposite. The Git had been more than taken aback by Scientific American's attack on Lomborg. The Git has frequently remarked that science advances by conjecture and refutation. Ad hominem attacks do not qualify as refutation. When The Git has finished reading The Skeptical Environmentalist, we will have a closer look at some of the ideas espoused in it.

In the meantime, The Git has frequently felt as if he was pissing in the wind here. Of course that is untrue and many of you have written to tell me so. It was with considerable surprise that he found Patrick Moore, co-founder of GreenPeace, had reached many of the same conclusions. Mainly, it's much better for one's peace of mind and feeling of wellbeing to be for things, rather than opposing them. The latter seems to lead to a certain bitterness and resentment. Patrick's essay, Environmentalism for the 21st Century makes much food for thought. Note that there is a link at the bottom of the page called "Printable Version" that takes you to a page where you can read in comfort if like The Git you have trouble reading very small type. For some reason beyond comprehension, the words "Printable Version" are also in very small type and so not much use to the majority of us that have visual acuity problems.

-oOo-

Following on from last week's rant about The Precautionary Principle, I was sent a link to this story from UKLand.

The Department of Health has been forced to rethink its use of disposable surgery equipment in routine tonsil surgery after the instruments were reportedly blamed for the deaths of two patients. The single-use kit was introduced last year as a precaution against the risk of spreading the human form of "mad cow" disease, vCJD.

Thought for the day:

In cities no one is quiet but many are lonely; in the country, people are quiet but few are lonely.

Geoffrey F. Fisher

Current Listening

Miles Davis -- In a Silent Way


Top

Tuesday 28 May 2002

An Icy Blast from the Past

There are ominous signs that the Earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production -- with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas -- parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia -- where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.

The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually. During the same time, the average temperature around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree -- a fraction that in some areas can mean drought and desolation. Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars' worth of damage in 13 U.S. states.

To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world's weather. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. "A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale," warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, "because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century."

A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.

To the layman, the relatively small changes in temperature and sunshine can be highly misleading. Reid Bryson of the University of Wisconsin points out that the Earth's average temperature during the great Ice Ages was only about seven degrees lower than during its warmest eras -- and that the present decline has taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average. Others regard the cooling as a reversion to the "little ice age" conditions that brought bitter winters to much of Europe and northern America between 1600 and 1900 -- years when the Thames used to freeze so solidly that Londoners roasted oxen on the ice and when iceboats sailed the Hudson River almost as far south as New York City.

Just what causes the onset of major and minor ice ages remains a mystery. "Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at least as fragmentary as our data," concedes the National Academy of Sciences report. "Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions."

Meteorologists think that they can forecast the short-term results of the return to the norm of the last century. They begin by noting the slight drop in overall temperature that produces large numbers of pressure centers in the upper atmosphere. These break up the smooth flow of westerly winds over temperate areas. The stagnant air produced in this way causes an increase in extremes of local weather such as droughts, floods, extended dry spells, long freezes, delayed monsoons and even local temperature increases -- all of which have a direct impact on food supplies.

"The world's food-producing system," warns Dr. James D. McQuigg of NOAA's Center for Climatic and Environmental Assessment, "is much more sensitive to the weather variable than it was even five years ago." Furthermore, the growth of world population and creation of new national boundaries make it impossible for starving peoples to migrate from their devastated fields, as they did during past famines.

Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.

Reprinted from Newsweek -- April 28, 1975

Thought for the day:

One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

William J. Durant

Current Listening

Sly and the Family Stone -- There's a Riot Goin' On


Top

Wednesday 29 May 2002

One of the more revealing chapters of Bjørn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist is Chapter 2: Why do we hear so much bad news? For those not already in the know, at least. A good example has just arisen and shows clearly how even a reputable scientific journal can't get the facts straight. First read this. Now the following:

I'm Karin, the one quoted in this article as having discovered the supernova progenitor. I just wanted to let you all know to pay very little attention to the article. The reporter has taken one fact: that this might be a good candidate for a Type Ia supernova, and constructed a big mess out of it. I am very embarassed by this so I just wanted to clear up a few things.

First, I did NOTHING in the discovery process. I was just writing my senior thesis on white dwarfs and happened to study this system. It was discovered in 1993 by two separate groups of scientists (Landsman et al 1993, and Wonnacott et al 1993) They found the mass to be 1.15 solar masses, which is relatively large for a white dwarf star, but not the "just shy" of the Chandrasekhar limit that the reporter says. It is 0.3 times the mass of the sun shy of the limit, and that is a lot of mass. Lots and lots of people have studied this system since then, and many have commented on its possibilities for a supernova. All that I did in this story is to mention the system to a scientist here at Harvard who happens to simulate the evolution of a binary system towards a supernova and then mention in in a public talk about my thesis when a New Scientist reporter happened to be in the audience.

The reporter got very excited and wrote this article, and left out the actual work that is being done on the evolutionary scenarios to sensationalize the possibility of a near earth supernova. Second, what we have found, if anything, is that by the time that the white dwarf star has accreted enough mass from its companion to exceed the Chandrasekhar limit of 1.4 solar masses, it will be at least 10 kiloparsecs from earth, which is well on its way to the other side of the galaxy. The star will not pose any threat at all to earth. This is also hundreds of millions to billions of years in the future.

I think the interesting part of this story is the terrible state of scientific news reporting in some popular journals. We discussed these problems extensively with the reporter and they were completely disregarded in the final version. Be on the lookout for our letter to the editor if you are interested.

If anyone would like to know more about this, I'd be happy to explain what we really think is going on...unless you are a reporter, in which case don't bother...I'm done with them.
Thanks, Karin Sandstrom

-oOo-

I have been using Macromedia Dreamweaver MX for several days now and there's a lot to like. For instance, being able to use the emphasis and strong tags instead of bold and italic. And check the HTML for compliance before uploading the page to the website, rather than after. A very frustrating omission is the lack of a type-as-you-go spellchecker. The traditional dialog box spellchecker is way slower and the dictionary is not my accustomed Macquarie Dictionary with Australian spellings. I am a bad enough typist that I am seriously slowed down by these shortcomings. FrontPage 2000 has a lot of quirks that I have managed to work around, but the workarounds haven't seriously affected the pace of my workflow.

Another frustration is attempting to link to URLs on other websites. Unless I specify a filename, it won't allow me to create a link. Since I do not know whether the file I am linking to is called index.htm, index.html, default.htm, or default.html, I cannot complete the dialog box. I can of course edit the HTML directly, but that's another slowdown.

When choosing a named style in FrontPage, the style is applied to whole paragraphs, just as they are in Pagemaker, or Word. In Dreamweaver, they are applied only to selected text. Another slowdown.

I will definitely be trying FrontPage 2002 before committing to Dreamweaver.

-oOo-

Found in my Inbox:

Jonathan-

I enjoy your insight and humor (or is it humour?). Do you know Gary Sharp?
You would very much enjoy him. You might take a look at his Web site:
http://faculty.csumb.edu/SharpGary/world/

Is a "git" what John Lennon meant when he wrote

I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset
Although I'm so tired I'll have another cigarette
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh
He was such a stupid get

?

George

Thank you for your kind words and the link.

The spelling of humour depends on your particular brand of English. There are several Englishes, depending on where on the planet you speak it. Here in Oz for instance, we have settled on the -ise ending, where in UKLand they use both -ise and -ize, and in USia they use just -ize. As in surprise, summarise etc.

Yes, John Lennon spelt git as get, since that was how he pronounced it.

Thought for the day:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Current Listening

John Cale -- Helen of Troy


Top

Thursday 30 May 2002

Having now read Bjørn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist, it's time to summarise this controversial book. It's a sad indictment of the American and British scientific press and the environmentalists that it is controversial. Be warned if you are contemplating purchasing the book. It's long and it's fairly dry reading. For most, I suspect it's better to read someone else's copy. Compared to Gordon Rattray Taylor's Doomsday Book, or Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, it's boring. It's the human condition that we find bad news, no matter how unlikely, exciting and good news, no matter how likely, boring. Unlike, Taylor and Ehrlich, Lomborg isn't trying to whip us up into a frenzy, so his dry, laid back style is a necessity. Not to mention that he is a statistician.

Let's first summarise what Bjørn Lomborg has to say.

Contrary to the Litany as Lomborg calls it, by the measures that most people are willing to accept, the environment is much better off than it was. The air and water are cleaner, people are healthier, live longer and have more to eat. The third world is making more rapid progress than the first world. Population growth is slowing, the forests are expanding, Things are far from perfect and there are still many areas where we need to continue the good work. Lomborg goes to some lengths to demonstrate how alarmists use the statistics to create a false impression by showing much longer data series. The same data, I might add, we all use.

Bjørn Lomborg himself is a left of centre, bicycle-riding, vegetarian, conservationist -- the sort I usually refer to as a Marxist-lentilist. His sin, according to the conservationists, is that of being optimistic. Instead of being miserable, he's happy! It seems to The Pompous Git that the conservationists are afraid that happy, optimistic people will stop sending them money in response to those fundraising campaigns. Maybe we will start using that money to actually do something for the environment, rather than protest against whatever the current fad is. In the Brent Spar protest, Greenpeace spent over half a million dollars on TV feeds and equipment alone. Note here that neither Lomborg, nor The Pompous Git, for one moment believes that all conservationists fall into this category -- just the shakers and movers -- and they are deadly afraid that their followers will read The Skeptical Environmentalist. Then they would realise that it's within their power to do something other than pay their fees and turn up to protest at demonstrations.

The scientists don't like Bjørn Lomborg because he's only an Associate Professor and Associate Professors in Denmark are not as highly qualified as Associate Professors in the US. Since he isn't a "real scientist", he has no right to criticise scientists. And there are errors in his book! None you can drive a truck through, unlike some I am impolite enough to name. Like the highly qualified Paul Ehrlich for instance. According to the chicken-guts reading in his book, The Population Bomb, "in the 1970s... hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." He prophesied that 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980 and 1989, and by 1999 the U.S. population would have declined to 22.6 million. Ehrlich's augury about England was worse: "If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000."

Lomborg is taken to task for putting everything in monetary and humanist terms. It's certainly true that not everything can be, but it's still a useful, universal yardstick when it comes to resources, including man-hours. He refers to our need for clean plates for hygienic reasons. Cleaning a plate so that it is 99.9999% free of bacteria is a cost that few, if any of us can bear. Most of us are content with 99.99%. We must prioritise our spending between many competing Good Works: hospitals, libraries and schools, as well as forests, biodiversity and pollution reduction.

It seems passing strange to me that those who call for biodiversity are also calling for a monoculture of ideas! Lomborg is as Green as anybody and like The Pompous Git, wants the way forward lit by scientific data. Not by appeals to authority, not by ad hominem attacks, not by what amounts to outright lying in many cases.

The Pompous Git has posted Lomborg's response (in Adobe PDF format) to the the SciAm attack, "Science Defends Itself Against The Skeptical Environmentalist" . Here you will find some SciAm reader responses. Science proceeds by conjecture and refutation. Since Lomborg uses the same data sources we all use, the refutation so far has made the following points:

Does Science have to defend itself against Bjørn Lomborg, or does Science need to defend itself against scientific publications that have come to resemble the Yellow Press?


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Thought for the day:

The real death of America will come when everyone is alike.

James T. Ellison

Current Listening

Robert Calvert -- Lucky Lief and the Longships


Top

Friday 31 May 2002

To my great delight, Stan the plumber came and fixed the problem with the outlet pipe between the wetback on the cookstove and the hot water storage cylinder. Now it slopes slightly upwards, rather than down, it no longer makes loud banging noises when the stove gets hot. That means we can run a really hot oven for making our own pizza! Yum! Of course that entailed cutting a hole in the wall that I now have to patch and paint, but it's a great relief considering we have been waiting since January!

Thought for the day:

believe in the total depravity of inanimate things... the elusiveness of soap, the knottiness of strings, the transitory nature of buttons, the inclination of suspenders to twist and of hooks to forsake their lawful eyes, and cleave only unto the hairs of their hapless owner's head.

Katharine Walker

Current Listening

Steely Dan -- Countdown to Ecstasy


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Saturday 1 June 2002

 

Thought for the day:

 

Current Listening

 


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Sunday 2 June 2002

 

Thought for the day:

 

Current Listening

 


 

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© Jonathan Sturm 2002

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© Jonathan Sturm 2002