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Coffee and bikinis, whiskey and swill

September 19, 2017

Coffee and bikinis! That combination is right up there with chocolate and almond, or seranno and garlic, or Garfunkel and Oates. I cannot believe that Everett, Washington would try to ban it. They deserve to get sued.

NPR looks at how some distilleries that are experimenting with sending their whiskey to sea to age it:

Chemist Tom Collins, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, who has analyzed the flavor profiles of American whiskeys, says higher temperatures like those found in tropical locales, and the swill of the ocean, can both accelerate the whiskey aging process.

Well, I have experienced both swell and swill on a boat at sea. I hope those whiskey makers are more careful than NPR writers in choosing which their whiskey wants.


Consequences of global warming

September 18, 2017

We don’t yet know whether global warming will make hurricanes more frequent or more intense or change their existing patterns. We do know it has caused and will cause the seas to rise. Elevation relative to sea level is a crucial determinant of storm risk to the infrastructure and homes and businesses we build. Ignoring that accelerating rise when building new or rebuilding will be a costly error. Trump, alas, will be that short-sighted, because he lets politics misinform him on science.

The military is trying not to be that shortsighted. It understands, though, that it must now couch its attention to global warming in the emporer’s new language.

One of the myths about the increase in atmospheric CO2 is that it is a good thing, because CO2 is plant food. The biology error there is thinking that simply increasing an organism’s food intake always is a good thing. When you increase CO2 in the atmosphere, plants don’t just grow more. They grow in different fashion. And some important food plants become less nutritious.

Unions and frauds

September 15, 2017

I’m not surprised that the elites of Silicon Valley generally are liberal, nor that the exception to that is they do not support unions. The common view in the high-tech industry is that unions made sense when business was more static, when employees would stay with one firm for decades, and when work roles were more rigidly defined. None of those things are much true in the tech industry, and are less true in most business today than in decades past. So, the thinking goes, different mechanisms are required to provide the balance between business and labor. There are counter-arguments to that view. And those who manage business clearly have their own vested interest. Interestingly, though, the liberal view of the Valley’s elite includes support for other mechanisms of reducing inequality, including mechanisms that would cost them directly in the pocketbook.

It is not the least surprising that Newt Gingrich has his fingers in the private college pie.

Someone was in Ted Cruz’s office in the wee hours of the morning, drinking Cruz’s whiskey and using Cruz’s Twitter account, gave approval to pornographic tweets. I’m surprised Cruz would hire anyone with that much gumption.


September 14, 2017

arrghhhThe photo left — click on it to expand — shows the USS Jimmy Carter, a Seawolf class nuclear fast attack submarine, recently returning to her home port. Note that she is flying the Jolly Rogers. Why would a US Navy sub fly the Jolly Rogers? Well, there might be reasons.

5th Landing had a good race last night, with the able Teri at the helm. The other J/105 racing, Veloce, was just ahead of us at the mark. But then had her chute cut in two by submarine attack. Or, by something deep. Never let your chute go deep.

The worst reason to believe

September 13, 2017

Rod Dreher, writing on some silly statement a group of conservative preachers published about sex and marriage, worries that their parents’ support for Trump displays a hypocrisy so large that it is driving college students away from religion:

A couple of people in college ministry were at the table. They said that it is impossible to overstate how alienating the enthusiastic support their parents gave to Donald Trump was to their students. A number of college students have left the church entirely over it. “How is that possible?” I asked one of the campus ministers. “How do you decide to leave Christianity altogether over who your parents voted for? That makes no sense to me.” He said that in Evangelical circles, it’s common for college students to be skeptical at best of their parents’ theological views. For a lot of them, their parents’ backing of Donald Trump made everything they had been taught as kids about Christianity a lie.

Mark me skeptical that Trump is having much effect here. As in times past, such discussions across generations always turn to the topics of the day. Whether the surface topic is Vietnam or Trump, it sometimes is just the sensitive part of a young person’s more intent questioning of what they were taught in childhood. Those whose sole disagreement is a particular presidential vote are likely to find a home later in their childhood religion. Those with deeper questions will leave. In future graphs of cohorts leaving religion, I doubt we will see any particular dip tied to Trump’s election.

Robert Jones, who directs PRRI, opines that causality runs in the opposite direction. The fact that “the country has crossed the threshold from being a majority white Christian country to a minority white Christian country,” (for figures, see PRRI survey) and that their young are abandoning religion, has driven the older, white Christians to extreme measures:

While there are some lingering pockets of denial, and anger was an all-too-visible feature of Trump’s presidential campaign, thinking about the white evangelical/Trump alliance as an end-of-life bargain is illuminating.

I’m not convinced of that, either. There was plenty of anger and denial and apocalyptic thinking among white, American protestants while their share of the population was increasing. Religious belief naturally leads to factions and sects, some of which are extreme. It rarely looks at its own culture accurately.

The young who leave their parental religion should learn an important truth. The worst reason to believe anything is because it came to you by way of people whose values and practices you share. That easy habit is one that keeps most people from climbing out of their intellectual cradle. College should help people in that endeavor. Some colleges and some courses of study more than others. It can help only the students who are so inclined.

That is why I’m unimpressed that Katherine Hayhoe, one of the authors of the study cited yesterday, is able to reach through to evangelicals on the issue of global warming, by delivering the message from a trusted source and in a well-couched fashion:

Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture presented climate science information through the lens of an evangelical tradition. In addition to presenting scientific evidence, it included an introduction about the difference between faith and science (faith is based on things that are spiritually discerned, whereas science is based on observation). About six minutes of the 33- to 53-minute lectures were devoted to theology-based ethics.

If that is what it takes to convince a religious group of a scientific fact, what value is it? They will not be able to think on what they so learn, so their future action on it is dubious. They will continue to swallow the lies they get from their religious and political networks, on issues from biology and health to economics and history. Believing them for that worst reason: they came from trusted sources. They aren’t even likely to vote for politicians who will pay that one issue heed, because other wedge issues will keep them voting for someone else.

The cause of global warming

September 12, 2017

It does not take complex modeling to point the finger. Direct measurements and basic physics implicate the CO2 we generate as the most likely suspect. 1) We measure its increase year by year. It has increased by half in recent decades, reaching a point not seen in human existence. Click on the graph, left. The Keeling curve — that part of the graph since 1958 — is as hard a fact about the atmosphere as any. 2) We know from the timing, from how much fossil fuel we burn, and from how much concrete we produce that we are responsible for that increase. That fact is separately corroborated by isotopic analysis. 3) We know CO2 is a weak but long-lived greenhouse gas whose increase captures more heat than our atmosphere otherwise would. The greenhouse effect is straightforward physics, measured both in the lab and in situ. 4) We know that extra heat once captured has to go some place. That is the first law of thermodynamics.

Of course, the atmosphere and oceans are complex systems, and all sorts of things affect global temperature. If the globe weren’t warming, we would be scratching our heads and looking for where that extra heat went and what unknown mechanism somehow undid the effect of a significant increase in one greenhouse gas.

Alas, 5) the globe is warming. So the question is quite different from the question yesterday, whether global warming will make hurricanes more frequent or worse. There, we are wondering if a putative cause, which we observe, will lead to a result, which we don’t yet observe. In the current case, we observe both the putative cause, man significantly increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, and the putative consequence, global warming of the atmosphere and seas. Those are connected by some basic, well-tested physics.

More, the other known causes of temperature anomaly — such as changes in solar irradiance or aerosols — in recent decades have had neutral or cooling effect. That is why estimates of how much warming is caused by the additional CO2 typically are more than 100%. It first is making up for the cooling that we otherwise would be experiencing.

One can imagine that there is some mechanism that undoes the effects of CO2 increase, while some second mechanism is causing the warming. It’s not an easy defence: “Yes, my client shot the victim in the head. But he already was dead. The real murderer, yet unknown, had already killed him by means yet unknown.”

Still, the atmosphere and oceans are complex. There have been such alternate explanations proposed and published in the scientific literature over the years. So it is interesting when reviewers go back and look at those. What they find is that those alternate proposals don’t stand up well. (Cite.)

Every year, the evidence grows for the theory with a measured cause, a variety of measured effects, and physics connecting those. That’s without any discussion of energy-flow models.

Or of hurricanes. It’s not Harvey or Irma that should drive someone to be concerned with global warming. It’s climate science and the data it generates that should drive that concern.

Hurricanes and global warming

September 11, 2017

Global warming has made sea surface water warmer than it otherwise would be. Warm sea surface water is the fuel for hurricanes. From those two facts, it is tempting to leap to the notion that global warming has made or will make hurricanes worse in some regard, more frequent or stronger or something. That thought is especially tempting when we watch a hurricane like Harvey pass over water warmer than usual, and intensify so quickly.

But the atmosphere is complex, and as with biology, what might seem like a straightforward consequence (worse hurricanes) of a cause (warmer sea surface temperatures) has subtleties that counter the natural intuition. Maybe it’s not raw sea surface temperature that matters so much as sea surface temperature relative to other areas. Maybe increasing atmospheric sheer will increase and hamper hurricane formation. So, we need data. Do we see an increase in hurricane frequency or intensity? In Pacific storms? In Atlantic storms? (Those geographies are different.) And we have historic data. The problem is that hurricanes are sporadic and we get only a dozen or so a year in each ocean. Well… that’s a problem for detecting a trend. I would rather it was less.

NOAA has a nice page summarizing what we can tell given data to date.

It is premature to conclude that human activities – and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming – have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.

So I cannot go along with many who seem to think that this hurricane season is somehow evidence related to global warming. Perhaps, because a couple of major hurricanes this season are damaging US cities, it will prod some Americans to start thinking about climate. My own suspicion is that the fraction of Americans who pay some attention to science already are aware of global warming, and the fraction of Americans whose views on science are shaped by their own political affiliation or religion are not so easily swayed. Perhaps for some young folks, an interesting hurricane season at the right age will get them interested in the science.