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! 

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Monday 26 May 2003

Brian Nye writes:


I was in at Book City in Hobart on Friday and saw the Third Edition of Homely Hints. It had a new cover and is priced at $14.95. Interestingly, it not a shop I have been in before and this was the only book that caught my eye.


Brian Nye

Thanks Brian. I stopped going to Book City several years ago when it changed ownership. The new management stopped stocking computer books "because there's no demand"...


Andrew Duffin writes:


I know you are more inclined than I am to put up with the likes of Veliskovsky and von Daniken (who has recently resurfaced, btw, creating some crazy theme park or other somewhere, I'll find a link for you soon...), but I think in quoting this example:

If continental drift can become accepted by mainstream science, where are we to draw the line?

with (apparent) sympathy, you have missed an important point.

Continental drift became accepted because, when examined, the hard physical evidence supported it very strongly.

If you try to apply the same standards to the paranormal - or the idiot theories of the two numpties* mentioned above - you find that there simply isn't any hard physical evidence. Just assertions and assumptions.

THAT is why Continental Drift is mainstream science, and they are not. Drawing the line is not so hard really.

On a similar note, have you ever read Julian Jayne's book about the Origin of Consciousness? (That's not the whole title, which is too long to type on a Monday morning). It's pretty much absurd, imho, though dressed up in apparently respectable guise - lots of footnotes and references, etc - but you might enjoy it.

Stay well,

Andrew Duffin

* Numpty = Glasgow slang (derogatory) for a person of exuberant and uncontrolled irrationality.

You are entirely correct that the likes of Velikovsky and von Daniken are numpties (what a wonderful word!). I will disagree though that continental drift became accepted "because, when examined, the hard physical evidence supported it very strongly". It became accepted when Oliver and Isacks proposed a mechanism of oceanic plates being subducted underneath continental plates and renamed the theory plate tectonics. While plate tectonics is a very plausible model, Professor Warren Carey's expanding earth model also explains most of the data. Neither theory seems to account for all of the data and on that count, The Git reserves judgement as to which theory most accurately represents what is happening. Sadly, Carey died before The Git had a chance to meet him.

The Git has yet to read Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, though it's high up on the To Be Read list. He has read The Prehistory of Mind by Steven Mithen:

The standard picture of human evolution traces a line of ascent from the ancestral ape to modern man via intermediate hominid forms, so that as skull size increased so did cranial capacity and the size and complexity of the brain. Thus there is a rising straight line graph of intelligence from chimpanzees to ourselves. According to Mithen this picture is too simple. The prehistory of the human mind is not a straight line, but a curving spiral that has twisted at least three times between unified general intelligence, and an intelligence that has been divided into separate, unconnected modules.

Some recent psychological research suggests that intelligence is not necessarily a sort of general purpose searchlight that can switch in all directions. Exceptional ability in music or mathematics does not always translate into ability elsewhere. Young children acquire their native tongue without great effort and can easily become perfectly bilingual. Adults can learn a foreign language only with focused and intelligent effort, and seldom acquire it perfectly. Intelligence may be a series of spotlights focused in different directions. Mithen links psychology with some peculiarities in the fossil record. The rare scattered artefacts left behind by the ancestors of mankind do not appear to show a continuous and steady increase in sophistication with time. It seems that technical skill has gone through a series of fairly sudden leaps upward, followed by long periods of stagnation for many hundreds and thousands of years.

Mithen's hypothesis is that the earliest pre-simian ancestors of man had the compartmentalized focused intelligence of a rat or a cat The upward path of evolution to ape meant the appearance of a more generalized intelligence. Chimpanzees use their skills flexibly. The early hominids represent a further twist to the spiral. They developed specialized modules of technical skill, natural history intelligence (i.e., awareness of physical surroundings) social intelligence, and later on language. Even in Neanderthal man these modules of intelligence were separate. In modern man these separate modules of intelligence are united within a general intelligence. We are aware that we are aware. Language can become abstract, art appears, and stone chipping technology is applied to wood and bone and clay.

It is a fascinating story, but there are difficulties. As Mithen himself makes clear, the psychological theories he quotes are controversial. The fossil record of human origins is a series of question marks linked by dotted lines. Successive ice ages have removed most of the evidence. In detail we just do not know the path of human evolution. Above all the question is whether we think that intelligence evolved by being selected for in a Darwinian struggle for survival, or whether it appeared through some neo-Larmarckian process whereby consciousness sought more of itself. Language seems to be located in Broca's area of the cortex, and if it is damaged or cut out, speech is impaired or totally lost. Consciousness is obviously linked to brain function. But patients who have had Broca's area removed have sometimes learned to speak again. The brain circuits appear to have been re-routed. Consciousness can therefore direct and redirect brain function. A non-reductionist and Lamarckian interpretation of the prehistory of the mind might have been even more challenging.

Despite these caveats this book tells its story well and clearly; it deserves serious attention from all those interested in the prehistory of the human mind.

Review by Max Payne

Thought for the day:

Nevertheless, the consuming hunger of the uncritical mind for what it imagines to be certainty or finality impels it to feast upon shadows in the prevailing famine of substance.

E. T. Bell

Current Listening:

Informal -- Cyanogen



Wednesday 28 May 2003

Jack Gallemore writes:

Another good link is Body in Mind

I hope your wife doesn't hold it against me. <G>

Additionally, my PDR for Herbal Medicines suggest the following for "Arthritis, Unspecified"

Monkshood, Horse Chestnut, Garlic, Barberry, Cayenne, Ash, Fumitory, Ground Ivy, Watercress, Blasckcurrant, Rose Hip, Feverfew, Thuja, Nettle, Bilberry, or Vervain.

For Rheumatoid Arthritis, Speedwell. If you need scientific names or if you need dosage/application, let me know.

My suggestion would be Garlic, Horse Chestnut, Cayenne, and Watercress. Maybe a little bit of Rose Hip for the vitamin C.


Many thanks for the link, Jack. Mrs Git can hardly complain about the fact that the website now pays for itself :-)

We have several excellent herbals and already consume several of your suggestions. Nettles, for instance, make their way into soup several times a week except in winter time. Garlic is in almost everything The Git cooks. Missing from your list is Boswellia that The Git takes with the Chondroitin and Glucosamine that have been so helpful in reducing the inflammation from his osteoarthritis.

While some view ill-health as an absence of patent drugs, The Git views health as the result of appropriate nutrition. He will never buy the argument that an aspirin is better than an apple because the former product is "pure". It's just as likely that the chemicals associated with salicylic acid in the apple, vitamin C for instance, are also enhancing the body's health. Why spend a bunch of money for pills when an apple is so attractively packaged and priced, and tastes so good!

Eolake Stobblehouse recently published this Interview with Matthias Rath, M.D.

As a doctor and scientist I was privileged to contribute to several areas which will allow mankind to build a healthier and hopefully more peaceful world. My discoveries in the area of natural health prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease will allow us to largely eradicate heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, heart failure, irregular heart beat and a variety of other related conditions in this and the future generations of mankind.

Thought for the day:

The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is the best.

Thomas Jefferson

Current Listening:

Mike Oldfield -- Ommadawn



Thursday 29 May 2003

Found in the Inbox:

Subject: health warning

The World Health Organisation today issued a new warning against non-essential travel to the entire Western hemisphere following renewed concerns about the spread of Severe Loss of Perspective Syndrome (SLOPS).

Officials are warning travellers not to visit the UK, the US, almost all of Western Europe, Canada and Australia, following further outbreaks of the disease, which has led to mass panic among the media, thousands of ecstatic children being kept out of school by their credulous and moronic parents, and increased profits for DIY stores as the idiot public rush to bulk-buy face masks and boiler suits.

A WHO spokesman said, "You'd be much better off going to somewhere like Taiwan or China, because all you've got to worry about there is SARS, and let's face it, you're about as likely to die from that as you are to get kicked to death by a gang of zombie nuns."

The SARS virus has now claimed a staggering 500 lives in only six months, which makes it considerably more deadly than, say, malaria, which only kills around 3000 people every single day. Malaria, however, mainly affects only darkies what speak foreign, whereas SARS has made at least one English person feel a bit iffy for a couple of days, and is therefore considered much more serious.

The spread of SLOPS has now reached pandemic proportions, with many high-level politicians seemingly affected by the disease. The rapid spread of SLOPS has been linked to the end of the war in Iraq and the need for Western leaders to give the public something to worry about. Otherwise, they might start asking uncomfortable questions about domestic issues, and that simply would not do. To contain the spread of SLOPS, anyone who appears to be exhibiting symptoms of SLOPS should be dragged into the street by their genitals and shot.


From Still Waiting for Greenhouse:

DTu-r(max) = 1.42 log10(POP)-2.09 

There's nothing so authoritative-looking as a mathematical formula. It proclaims exactness, precision, and appears more credible than mere words, even where the reader might not understand what the formula says.

This particular formula comes from a paper published in the Australian Meteorological Magazine (v.50, 2001, 1-13) titled 'Urban Heat Island Features of Southeast Australian Towns', authored by Torok et al. The formula is the outcome of a study by four researchers into the magnitude of heat island effects in four small towns in south-eastern Australia and states a general rule for estimating urban heat islands in such towns from local data.

The authors acknowledged that Melbourne (3 million+ population) had a maximum urban-rural temperature difference (Tu-r(max)) of 6.8C based on a previous study, and that even Hobart with only 130,000 people had a Tu-r(max) of 5.7C. That effectively damns all large and medium size cities as credible places from which to detect the fractions of a degree changes needed for detection of genuine climate change.

But what of the small towns? Torok et al. tested Hamilton (pop. 9,753), Colac (pop. 9,171), Cobden (pop. 1,477) and Camperdown (pop. 3,315). The results showed differences between town and rural to vary between 1C and 5.4C. The researchers also found a significant difference between measurements taken over concrete and taken over grass, the heat island being moderated if the weather box is located on a grassy expanse.

These small towns have populations which would designate them as 'rural' in the CRU and GISS datasets and yet have significant heat islands which would invalidate their use as places to detect climate change using local temperature data. The data from all these towns would remain uncorrected for heat islands even though the phenomenon is running into urban-rural differences of whole degrees for all of them.

The authors concluded -

"these results imply that climatological stations in large cities should preferably be excluded from studies into long-term climate change, and those in small towns should be located away from the town centres."

It's about time the IPCC and the keepers of the surface data, CRU and GISS, took the urban heat island seriously enough to review all weather records from around the world and make a thorough purge of those records emanating from not only large cities, but also from small towns. Since even small Australian towns are shown to have a significant urbanisation distortion to the data, then the more tightly packed towns of Europe and North America will show even more severe effects.

To promote 'global warming' to the public, the public must be first assured that the data they are presented with is not simply an aggregate of thousands of localised urban warmings. 'Greenfields' stations are few in number, but collectively they would present a more accurate picture of climate trends than do the hopelessly contaminated data from urban areas, even the small ones.

The paper itself was originally submitted to Australian Meteorological Magazine in December 1998 and was not published until March 2001 - a very long time lag between submission and publication, even for that journal. This contrasts with the eager fast-tracking that pro-warming papers receive from the major journals.

Also from John Daly's website, this excellent piece by John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama's State Climatologist. John Christy also recently served as a Lead Author of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing in the atmosphere due primarily to the combustion of fossil fuels. Fortunately (because we produce so much of it) CO2 is not a pollutant. In simple terms, CO2 is the lifeblood of the planet. The vegetation we see around us would disappear if not for atmospheric CO2. This green world largely evolved during a period when the atmospheric CO2 concentration was many times what it is today. Indeed, numerous studies indicate the present biosphere is being invigorated by the human-induced rise of CO2. In and of itself, therefore, the increasing concentration of CO2 does not pose a toxic risk to the planet. In other words, carbon dioxide means life itself. CO2 is not a pollutant.

As an aside, it is clear that other emissions may be called pollutants, e.g. sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and mercury. Controlling these is a completely separate issue from controlling emissions of CO2 and so will not be discussed here.

It is the secondary impact of increasing CO2 that may present challenges to human life in the future. It has been proposed that CO2 increases could cause climate change of a magnitude beyond what naturally occurs in the climate system so that costly adaptation or significant ecological stress might occur. For example, enhanced sea level rise and/or reduced rainfall would be two possible effects likely to be costly to those regions so affected. Data from the past and projections from climate models are employed to provide insight on these concerns.

Full Story


Spam Report

The Git has received an average of 36 spam emails per day over the last 30 days. Spam Assassin has correctly flagged 20 of these per day with 100% accuracy, leaving 16 to be deleted manually.

Thought for the day:

If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.

Lord Byron

Current Listening:

Viv Stanshall -- Teddy Boys Don't Lie



Friday 30 May  2003

A rather wearing day for The Git. He had but three hours sleep and the usual early arrival on campus at 8am. When he finally managed to track down his Geology teacher, he discovered that his prac exam was scheduled to end after he needed to leave in order to catch the bus home. Indignantly, The Git demanded that he be allowed to sit the earlier exam, incidentally allowing him to also attend the Philosophers Society (beer) Barrel. The Git was told to turn up at 1pm and if there was a spare place, he could take the exam then.

The indignity of this, these morons know that The Git lives far away and relies on public transport and that of friends, led to considerable tension. Tension is not A Good Thing when the arthritis is biting. In the event, there were at least ten available places at 1pm and The Git proceeded to fail the exam dismally. It was open book and in his enervated state this morning, he had forgotten to pack his lab manual with all the notes he had made. So it goes...

A further quibble here is that The Git having not attended last week's Prac, needed to chase up two people to ascertain what was happening. The Geology website has continued to display the message: "There is no news for this course" for several weeks. The official mid-year examination timetable is only available from the university website, but this makes no mention of the Geology Prac exam. Go figure...

Now it's Swat Vac during which we have at least a week to prepare for the mid-year examinations -- the exams occupy the two weeks following. The Git is most confident that these will go well since the earlier work, including the Geology theory have resulted in excellent marks. While many are terrified by examinations, The Git has always, until today, quite enjoyed them. There is no need for terror, or good luck for that matter, if one is well-prepared.

Part of the preparation for The Git will be working out timing and dosage of codeine. There are several issues here. The Git is not in constant pain, but attacked at irregular intervals by pain in any of several locations: knee, hip, ankle or back. Initially, the pain is intense and gradually fades of its own accord. Unfortunately, it is very distracting and affects his ability to concentrate on the issue at hand. Codeine, because The Git minimises the amount he takes, removes the pain and hence distraction, but at the expense of memory access speed. The Git surmises that a small enough prophylactic dose before the examination commences might not affect the memory access so severely, but will inhibit the distraction caused by an attack of pain. This might be better than taking pot-luck on remaining pain-free for the two hour duration of the examination. One of the environmental variables that appears to trigger the pain is sitting in one of those execrably designed institutional chairs for more than 30 minutes without taking a stretch break and moving about.


Astronomer Lars Kaml asks: Is Climate Science Pseudo-Science?

The answer is: Yes, to a large extent. There is, however, a dividing line precisely at the present time. Research about the past climate of the world is mostly science. Research about the future climate is almost entirely pseudo science.

My answer to the question in the headline may come as a surprise to most of the readers. Probably you have given another impression through mass media. However, I am able to support my claim with countless example, of which I will give a selection below. The results from this pseudo science is also brought to the public's attention through an UN organisation, giving it much credentials, at least in the eyes of the Europeans, who usually consider the UN a good organisation.


The fourth of Hansson's criteria is unwillingness to test the theory against reality, although it would be possible. A lot of climate data is now available on Internet, for example at Trends Online ( http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/trends/trends.htm ). Of special interest is two data series. The first is estimates of carbon dioxide emissions from different sources (Marland et. al. 2002, Houghton & Hackler 2002). The second is measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations, in air bubbles, which have been trapped in the ice of glaciers (Etheridge et. al. 1998), and in the atmosphere since 1957, at Hawaii and at the South Pole (Keeling & Whorf 2002). It seems that most (all?) climate catastrophists never have encountered any data from the real world. For example, IPCC claims that if no action is taken to reduce the emissions, the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere will double before the year 2100. In reality the concentration is now 370 parts per million (ppm) and has increased, in average, by 1.5 ppm, or 0.4% per year, for the last three decades (see for example IPCC 2001b, p 7). If the increase continues to be linear, 1.5 ppm/year, the increase up to the year 2100 will be about 40%. If the increase instead is exponential, 0.4%/year, the increase up to the year 2100 will be about 80%. As you see, both numbers are below 100%.

Half-life and (exponential) lifetime are well-known terms from radioactivity. The greenhouse gases, which humans emit, are not disappearing from the atmosphere through radioactive decay, but those terms still are useful. In a simple model about how carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, the formulae become very similar to those of radioactive decay. In this simple model, the nature is assumed to have an equilibrium level (=the preindustrial average concentration). If the true value deviates from the equilibrium level, nature tries to return to the equilibrium, which of course can only happen with a certain delay. Nature's uptake of CO2 is directly proportional to the deviation from the equilibrium value. Due to the human emissions, nature today is far away from the equilibrium. Ahlberg (1998, 1999) and Dietze (2000, 2001), from such simple models, have concluded that IPCC overestimates future CO2 amounts. For carbon dioxide, IPCC claims that the lifetime cannot be determined, because so many processes are involved (IPCC 2001c, s 38). The range of values given for those processes are 5-200 years. This is a remarkable claim. Of course it is possible to determine the past lifetime from data on how the carbon dioxide concentration has varied as a reaction to the human emissions. These emissions come from many different sources. The dominating ones are those from exploration and use of fossil fuels. Another direct source is cement production. An indirect, and partly also direct, source is usage of land, for example cutting down forest to grow grain there. Cutting down forest reduces the potential for nature to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If the trees also are burnt, or are left rotting on the ground, they will also become a direct source. For the direct sources, there are estimates on how large they have been every year since 1751. For the indirect sources, there are estimates since 1850. I have put these estimates, together with the CO2 concentration measurments mentioned earlier, into a simple model of the kind mentioned above. I find that the lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 27 year (with an uncertainty of only about 3 years) and that the equilibrium level is 287 ppm (see figure 1). The latter value is in good agreement with the preindustrial values from Law Dome. This lifetime means that 54 years after the extra carbon dioxide was emitted, only 14% of it remains in the atmosphere. Less than 3% remains 100 years after it was emitted. It is completely impossible to explain past CO2 concentrations with a lifetime much in excess of 27 years, if the estimates of emissions are correct.

That a simple model with only two parameters works so well in the time span of 150 years is surprising. It shows that the same process must have been involved all this time trying to eliminate the extra carbon dioxide. Unlike the advanced models, which are used by IPCC, this model cannot tell where the extra CO2 has gone. The advantage is that it at least agrees with reality.

There is also other facts indicating that the atmosphere is reacting fairly quickly to changes. During World War I and the early 1920's, the CO2 emissions were rather constant. During the 1940's, the CO2 concentrations remained almost constant. Shortly after the end of World War II, the emissions started to rise faster than before the war. It was an acceleration lasting only for a very short time, since the emissions seems to have increased linearly with time ever since then. For the CO2 concentration, the shift to a faster yearly increase happened in the early 1960's. Thereafter this concentration has increased almost linearly with time. Both these events indicate that the reaction time of the atmosphere to changes in the emission rate is a few decades.

How about the scenarios used by IPCC, then? Let us, as an example, study the scenario labelled B1 (IPCC 2001a, Appendix II). There the emissions, that is, the sum of direct and indirect sources, continue to increase at more or less today's rate until the 2040's. Thereafter they start to decrease, and in the year 2100 the emissions are lower than today. The predicted concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, however, continues to increase until the scenario ends in 2100. The model behind this scenario evidently has such a long lifetime for the human emissions, that most of them remains in the atmosphere 60 years after they were emitted. This model has either never been tested against reality, or has been tested and is still used although it cannot produce correct results. How could a model explain the future, when it cannot explain the past?

One thing entirely missing in the reports from IPCC is a comparison between the CO2 models and the real increase of carbon dioxide in the past. There is hardly any doubt that the comparison is missing because these models fail miserably and leave too much CO2 in the atmosphere, compared to the real world. However, we have one way of checking the models. IPCC started to publish prophecies in the early 1990's, including model results for the year 2000. By now, you probable will not be surprised to learn that all these models overestimated the CO2 concentration?

Full Story


These many long years ago, Dr Jerry Pournelle wrote a dissertation on the necessity for two axes to properly represent a political position. "The left-right model, although nonsensical by any theoretical analysis, has had very real political consequences." Thanks to Jim Baen, the substance of Jerry's analysis is available here.

Some years ago I set out to replace the old model with one that made more sense. I studied a number of political philosophies and tried to see what underlying concepts separated them from their political enemies. Eventually I came up with two variables. I didn't then and don't now suggest these two are all there is to political theory. I'm certain there are other important ones. But my two have this property: they map every major political philosophy and movement onto one unique place.

The two I chose are "Attitude toward the State," and "Attitude toward planned social progress".

The first is easy to understand: what think you of government? Is it an object of idolatry, a positive good, necessary evil, or unmitigated evil? Obviously that forms a spectrum, with various anarchists at the left end and reactionary monarchists at the right. The American political parties tend to fall toward the middle.


That variable works; but it doesn't pull all the political theories each into a unique place. They overlap. Which means we need another variable.

"Attitude toward planned social progress" can be translated "rationalism"; it is the belief that society has "problems," and these can be "solved"; we can take arms against a sea of troubles.

Once again we can order the major political philosophies.

Full Story


Bo Leuf writes:

Fleeing reality on the Web? No... 

A study of online communities by UK think-tank The Work Foundation has found that the Web is much more localised, more honest and less chaotic than original predictions thought. ... Sites such as upmystreet.com, which allows people to keep in touch online with their own neighbours, are gaining popularity. People simply enter their postcode to find out what is going on in their local area, from community events to how to get hold of a reliable builder. "People might not want to socialise with their neighbours but instead circulate information about crime or recommend a good plumber. It is very local and very real," said Mr Davies. -- BBC Technology

Now that is interesting. The Git wonders if such becomes commonplace, whether tradesmen like his plumber might lift their game somewhat, or go out of business.

Thought for the day:

For the high achievers, studying gave them the pleasing, absorbing challenge of flow 40 percent of the hours they spent at it. But for low achievers, studying produced flow only 16 percent of the time; more often that not, it yielded anxiety, with the demands outreaching their abilities

Daniel Goleman

Current Listening:

Nico -- The End


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