Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Economic guesswork

Here are a couple of people with some apparent credentials in the field who think that the IPCC is doing a poor job at making accurate forecasts of the economic consequences of climate change.  (They seem to think it is being too optimistic.)

Common sense suggests they are right.

But while I would not want there to be less research on the topic, I'll repeat my gripe that I find it pretty incredible that anyone thinks that economic forecasting that extends beyond about a 10 to 20 year horizon, and which is trying to take into account large uncertainties in terms of the potential for natural disasters of a scale not seen since industrialisation, has any real hope of being accurate.  

The simple point is - we do not want to have to re-order the world to meet a potential for 2 to 5 degree average global temperature rise (and a global rearrangement of rainfall that would surely also be involved) if we don't really have to.   Such an increase is self evidently going to be extremely disruptive (given that the difference between an ice age and a warm interglacial may be as little as 2.6 degrees), to countries both rich and poor, and the possible compounding effect of the types of natural disaster one upon the other are really impossible to foresee.

Economics should not be allowed to overrule common sense on this issue.  There is plenty of reason to assume some unprecedented disasters in terms of humanitarian, cultural and economic life, so act to limit the potential now. 

Rice issue

I didn't know that rice was a particularly problematic crop for picking up unwanted elements from the soil it's grown in.

Certainly sounds like excellent reason to always avoid Chinese grown rice, then...

Maurice does not have a clue

If ever there was proof needed that successful business men can be conned when it comes to science, Maurice Newman and his amazingly ignorant interview of last night provides it.

Basically, Newman seems to have read Ian Plimer's climate change denialism book and thinks it is the last word on climate science.   And, of course, Tony Abbott gets business advice from this guy.

The story of climate change denialism in the future history books will be about how a large slab of ideologically motivated people were conned for decades by a handful of contrarians, not even all of them being scientists (Monckton, etc).

George Brandis' silly complaint that "mediaeval' tactics are being used against climate change skeptics was equally nonsensical.  

I doubt I have seen a stupider Australian (Federal) government in my lifetime.  

Lead and crime; and somehow, Hitler and poo, too...

A good BBC magazine article looking at the claim that removing environmental lead has caused an international drop in crime over the past several decades.

I wonder if anyone has looked at the lead intake of international criminal Hitler?  Were his long standing illnesses consistent with lead poisoning?  As the article says:  "It causes kidney damage, inhibits body growth, causes abdominal pain, anaemia and can damage the nervous system."   He definitely had digestive problems, and certainly a shot nervous system at least in the last few weeks.

I just Googled "Hitler lead poisoning" and the first couple of pages don't have hits about it.  I doubt it would be true, but I am the first to make the suggestion?

Update:   I have previously blogged here about Hitler's chronic flatulence.  Just Googling now for articles on his health, I see this relatively recent post which is a fun read.  It notes the flatulence:
By the mid-1930s, Hitler was the ruler of Germany… and still farting like a horse.
but also adds this bit of info about the crank Dr Morell's medicine:
Morell served on the board of Hageda, a pharmaceutical company that manufactured a strange mediation called Mutaflor, whose active ingredient was live bacteria cultured from the fecal matter of “a Bulgarian peasant of the most vigorous stock.”

Mutaflor was intended to treat digestive disorders- the theory being that digestive problems were caused when healthy bacteria, which lived in the intestinal tract and were essential to good digestion, were killed off or crowded out by unhealthy bacteria. Ingesting the cultured dung of a vigorous, clean-living Bulgarian peasant, the theory went, would reintroduce beneficial bacteria into an unhealthy digestive tract and restore proper function.
Well, isn't it an odd thing that these days, doctors may well have tried a "fecal transplant" on Hitler using the poo of a healthy Bulgarian peasant, and it might have worked!  In fact, the Mutaflor idea was actually way ahead of its time, with just the delivery method being the problem. 

My conclusion:  we are lucky Hitler lived when he did and did not get a modern treatment that could have enhanced his health.  But on the other hand, would Hitler been the crazy man he was if he didn't have a regular painful gut?

I can see a science fiction movie in this - time travellers who seek to change the course of history via a surreptitiously delivered fecal transplant on Hitler.   (Of course, the highlight being the scene where some top Nazis investigate the noises coming from the bedroom, only to find a few men - our heroes from the future - attempting to insert the tube into the backside of an unconscious Adolf.  Can anyone suggest an appropriate line of dialogue for that scene, after the initial stunned silence?)    

[Update:  regardless of whether anyone has ever considered whether lead was in any of the medicines or diet of Hitler, I think I can be confident that no one in the world has previously had the idea in the last paragraph.  Isn't anyone going to give credit for originality? :) ]

Either from the edge of the universe, or the microwave in the staff common room

Arecibo Observatory Detects Mysterious, Energetic Radio Burst – Phenomena

(I'm not serious about the microwave being the problem, but the way.)

I don't remember reading about these extremely brief bursts of radio waves (apparently) from the far flung corners of the universe before, so it's an interesting read.  I see that one had been caught at Parkes radio telescope, too.  Why didn't they tell me that when I was visiting there at Christmas?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I would not have thought it possible

Teen stowaway survives flight from California to Hawaii in aircraft wheel well

Update:  a BBC article notes that most people who try this die, but there have been more survivors (and some over quite long flights) than I expected.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Having a good run

John Quiggin has a string of particularly good posts at the moment.  One on why he thinks small modular nuclear is going no where fast (you really have to wonder why, given vast experience with small nuclear reactors for ships and submarines);  the end of manufacturing in Australia (wherein he notes what I questioned as soon as I read Gittin's column last week - do we really call food manufacturing "manufacturing"?); and finally, a post against the tribalist Right and its tu quoque argument.

All really good reading, with many intelligent comments following.

Update:   By way of contrast, I wonder what I can learn from comments at that Right wing powerhouse of a blog, Catallaxy, today:

Update 2: More wisdom [sarc] from Catallaxy, this time from regular contributor Steven Kates, the Say's Law obsessive, from RMIT:
No one is uninterested in “the environment” and everyone wants to preserve the planet whatever that might mean. But global warming is so inane and so lacking in evidence that it separates those who have common sense from some kind of herd of conformity.

Butterflies have furry necks and hairy legs

So, I'm playing with the new, still pretty cheap, digital camera my wife brought back.  As I have said before, one of the best things about digital cameras is their ability to easily take macro - not to a professional standard, but to give good enough results for your average backyard photographer.

A butterfly just handily arrived as I was near the daisies:

This is from the version resized and sharpened on my computer.

I'll try uploading the unresized one to blogger and see what happens:

Not sure I can see much difference once Blogger has done its processing...

Anyway, here's a cropped shot from the unresized image (and added as "original size", even if it won't all fit in the column width.  Not bad what you get with 16 megapixels:

Blogworthy stories

*  The BBC notes one of the weirdest national fads ever:  Venezuelan women prepared to have silicone injected into their buttocks to make themselves more, er, attractive.
....the practice continues in spite of the ban. Up to 30% of women between 18 and 50 choose to have these injections, according to the Venezuelan Plastic Surgeons Association.

Men also get injected to boost their pectoral muscles, though the numbers are lower.
  The injections are made using a biopolymer silicone. The fact that this is injected freely into the body makes it more dangerous than implants, where silicone gel is contained within a shell.

The big attraction is that they are much cheaper than implants. An injection can cost as little as 2000 bolivares (£191, $318) and the whole procedure doesn't take more than 20 minutes.

But the risks are incredibly high.

"The silicone can migrate into other areas of the body, because it doesn't have any barriers. The body can also react immunologically against a foreign material, creating many problems," says Daniel Slobodianik, a cosmetic surgeon.

The Atlantic runs yet another story looking at why (American) conservatives won't support climate change policies, and blaming it on "framing".

I'm getting sick of this type of analysis, as it increasingly seems it is an exercise in excusing sheer bloody mindedness in a political wing which is determined to ignore evidence and scientific analysis on a major issue affecting not just them but the entire planet.  I mean, look at this chart from the article:

It is an indisputable fact that the scientific consensus has not changed over the decade of '02 to '12; the American (and Australian) right wing hostility to the issue is a factor of how their political culture has been played for the suckers that (a large part of them) are.    

*  Ross Douthat's initial take on Piketty is kind of interesting, even if not necessarily convincing.  I would have thought that Catholics who follow long standing Catholic social teaching would actually welcome Piketty's cautionary analysis.

*  In an essay from a Christian that probably contains a lot to annoy some atheists  (hello, JS), the ABC's John Dickson makes one point which I think particularly rings true:

Tip #8. Persuasion involves three factors

Aristotle was the first to point out that persuasion occurs through three factors: intellectual (logos), psychological (pathos), and social or ethical (ethos). People rarely change their minds merely on account of objective evidence. They usually need to feel the personal relevance and impact of a claim, and they also must feel that the source of the claim - whether a scientist or a priest - is trustworthy.
Christians frequently admit that their convictions developed under the influence of all three elements. When sceptics, however, insist that their unbelief is based solely on 'evidence', they appear one-dimensional and lacking in self-awareness. They would do better to figure out how to incorporate their evidence within the broader context of its personal relevance and credibility. I think this is why Alain de Botton is a far more persuasive atheist (for thoughtful folk) than Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Kraus. It is also why churches attract more enquirers than the local sceptics club.
Actually, now that I think about it, this analysis is also relevant to the earlier climate change issue, and suggests I shouldn't be so hostile to the "its all in the framing" argument.   I would be if it weren't the case that those promoting the "framing" towards inaction is actually actively promoting disbelief in the objective evidence.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ugliness, and beauty, at Easter

So, on Friday night I was home alone, deciding what to watch, when the well reviewed Clint Eastwood movie "In the Line of Fire" started on free to air TV, and I half watched the opening sequence while trying to find a DVD.

Sure enough, within 10 minutes there's been a pistol clicked at someone's head, a hostage with a plastic bag over his head is roughed up, and Eastwood blasts away a couple of (I assume) bad guys at close range in the room in graphic detail as if it was another day in the office.

I thought it was just typical of this guy's shtick.

And in case you didn't know already:  man, I just hate the guy's oeuvre - ugly, usually revenge themed, graphically violent and violence endorsing* junk, featuring an actor with a range from 0 to 1 if you're using a scale that goes to a hundred.   (And in recent incarnations, usually with lots of swearing too.)    As far as I am concerned, he's been a poisonous amoral stain on cinema, in fierce competition in my mind with Quentin Tarantino as to which modern film maker ranks highest in my contempt.   

Obviously, I did not continue with that film, and found the DVD of the recent science fiction film Looper that I was looking for.   (I bought it as an ex-rental for $2, as I was not completely confident that I would like it, but hey it got a very high rating on Rottentomatoes.)

Well, what a mistake that was.

I didn't mind the surprise element within the first few minutes when you see what "loopers" do - wait at the designated spot for a person being sent back from the future for immediate execution with a futuristic shotgun.  (It's the speed with which it happens that sort of shocks, and this first one is not shown in graphic detail.)

But that was the last indication I had that I might enjoy the film.

The thing that kept coming into my mind was how intensely ugly this film is.   Everything from Joseph Gordon-Levitt's face done up (with no success whatsoever, if you ask me) to look like a young Bruce Willis, the depressing future society portrayed (everyone packs a gun and uses it more or less casually, it seems, and drug addiction seems rampant - now that I think of it, it's probably pretty much how a libertarian led future would look), the entire stupid story set up, to the increasing level of violence as the movie progresses and continual profane dialogue.

Honestly, the whole scenario is pretty stupid and bizarre, and if I could make a guess, just seems to have been contrived to serve one idea pitched at some studio execs - a younger man has to fight the future version of himself. It has elements that I could see serve no real value at all (the bit about the future development of telekinesis in some people, for example.)

Now, I was so appalled by the bleak amorality of the entire exercise (not just the movie story, but the fact the movie was made at all) I could not really be bothered analysing the time travel contrivances for consistency.   But others have (in fact, many reviewers noted that they doubted that it was logically consistent), but one reviewer did a particularly good job at complaining how it was nonsense, even by the loose standards one has to bring to this genre.

I have no idea at all why it got good critical reception, and the fact that so few critics reacted against its bleak and violent nature just shows what a boiled frog in the pot of declining values, so to speak, the collective body of professional cinema critics has become.

So what could redeem the weekend?

Well,  I had another ex rental DVD I had been wanting to watch, and last night I did:  Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.

This is an intensely beautiful work that I cannot recommend highly enough.

Certainly it's not a movie with any normal narrative; it's more an impressionistic contemplation of Christian theodicy that imitates how human memory really is experienced in an extraordinary way.

It's almost hard to fathom how it was made  - there are so many very short sequences you can't imagine it being scripted in any normal sense.  (I should go looking for interview with Malick about this, but I suspect he might have shot a huge number of scenes and the movie was really created in the editing room.)

The overall thrill of the thing is how so many beautiful images are blended together in a very kinetic way.   The camera is virtually never still; it swoops around but gracefully and never to jarring effect.  It enhances the half dreamlike quality of memory that the film captures so perfectly.  And I say that as someone who does not like the overuse of handheld camera in modern cinema, particularly action films.

Now, it is not at all clear what some sequences, particularly near the end, mean.  You are left with the feeling that main characters have reached resolution, but exactly how or why is not at all clear.  But hey, that is in a way one of the films features - I don't think there has ever been a movie more inviting for a re-viewing than this one.

And it is, in its way, a near perfect film for Easter (at least for those of a religious persuasion).

After Tree of Life finished,  I remembered that SBS was showing Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.  I have never seen it - there were too many reviewers complaining of the near pornographic nature of the violence to encourage me to see it.   And indeed, as I turned to the channel, Jesus was on the cross, dying, and the soldier stabs his side with a spear and gets, not just blood and water flowing out as per scripture, but something like a brief fire hydrant effect.

It looked completely ludicrous, and hence I was at least satisfied that a 60 second viewing confirmed I should never bother with the film in its entirety.  (I have never cared for Mel Gibson and his movies either - but he is no where near as far down on my list of Hollywood loathing as Eastwood.)

And finally, my family arrived back from their trip overseas today, safe and sound, and that's a thing of beauty in itself...

* Yes, I am aware of the plot of Gran Torino.  My comment stands.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Important parapsychology news

Back in 2010 I posted about the remarkable parapsychology experiments of Daryl Bem which seemed to establish a small but consistent effect of precognition.   The experiments were very clever, and rather odd in many respects.  (The most successful one involved guessing behind which curtain was an erotic photo!  But I guess testing for precognition is always going to feel weird.)

In 2012, I noted that one attempt at replicating the experiments had failed.  (See, I am very fair.)

Now, Dean Radin reports that there has in fact been many experimenters who have had successful replication.

The full paper pre-print detailing this can be downloaded from here.  Although the statistical analysis talk is hard for a lay person to follow in full detail, the conclusion of successful replication seems very clear.  The paper's background discussion, and its concluding sections about implications for future science research, make it a very interesting read.

I guess one has to wait to see what the skeptics have to say about this (Radin is pessimistic they will ever be convinced), but this appears to me to very significant.

Update:  the original experiments were hotly contested by skeptic types, and early failure to replicate were treated as dismissing it all.  Bem himself spoke about the debunkers here.  

Tobis on the likely El Nino

Michael Tobis has his own take on climate change which I have always found pretty convincing (he has always emphasised "weather weirding" as being an important sign of climate change), and his recent post on the likely El Nino of later this year is an interesting read.

(Another idiosyncratic take on matters by MT is that he doesn't like the "redefining" of global warming to include ocean warming.  That seems a rather odd position to me.)

Anyway, he is betting that  the El Nino will (finally) lead to a globally hotter year than 1998, which will be followed by persistently hotter years as a further "step up" in the process of global warming.  This is pretty much what is needed to finally shut up and (further) marginalise the denialists.  They already are marginalised scientifically; what is needed is their marginalisation politically.

Incidentally, I just stumbled across in my old magazine collection (I am being put under pressure to thrown them out - I am resisting) a January 1986 Discover cover story on global warming.   Apart from the sensationalism on the cover (questioning whether New York would be more or less flooded by the 2030's), a quick peruse of the article itself shows that the scientific view and warnings (and appreciation of uncertainties) has been remarkably consistent since that time.   I have also read much of Stephen Schneider's book "Science as a Contact Sport", which gives a good background as to how science developed its concern about the topic, and one interesting point he makes is that Lindzen from the start was a skeptic about it being a problem.

Perhaps I should scan the Discover article and link it here one day, so people can see how fair it was.

Mining methane

BBC News - Methane hydrate: dirty fuel or energy saviour?

The article looks at the question of whether mining methane hydrates would be a good idea, or not.  One thing it doesn't mention is what sort of benefits could come from the widespread use of methane for fuel cells, rather than burning it.  I would like to know what difference that would make.

Update:  interestingly, via the link in the last paragraph, you can get to a Tim Worstall post about fuel cells, about which he seems to know quite a bit.  His conclusion:
My basic belief about solid oxide fuel cells is that they’re going to be the technology we all end up using. No, I don’t know the precise technology, rare earth, scandium, bismuth, that will win out in the marketplace. But my operating assumption is that wind and/or solar to the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen which is then stored to be run through a solid oxide fuel cell is the basic answer to future energy needs.
Carbon pricing to make that happen faster would help, no?

Give this man another job

Public bathrooms and homophobia: why are men afraid to pee together?

Am I the only person who finds Slate gay editor J Bryan Lowder consistently annoying?

I think it's rubbish to suggest that the majority of (male) paruresis is due to homophobia.  I very much doubt it has anything to do with the perceived sexuality of the unwanted observer for any sufferer. It's just a self feeding loop of "performance" embarrassment, I reckon.  (Years ago here, I noted my own - relatively mild - case being instituted by ridicule by a couple of older students in primary school.)

I'll also repeat my point that I think it is pretty easily relieved for many men by inexpensive bathroom design for simple privacy screens between the individual urinals that are now standard in public toilets.  I still puzzle why architects, or whoever it is comes up bathroom designs for new buildings, do not recognize the benefit of that simple feature.

Local cold can be very misleading

David Appell notes with a map how incredibly unwise it can be to extrapolate what global temperatures must be doing from one locally cold month.

So that's what it takes to get Gerard Henderson animated...

My goodness.  Gerard Henderson on Lateline is livid, shouting and being nonsensical about Barry O'Farrell being a victim of the ICAC process.

What is it with much of the Right in Australia with their acquired inability to deal with the rhetorical use of "truth" and "truthfulness" with care?   First, it was Julia Gillard and their insistence that an (alleged) broken promise was actually a deliberate lie.   (True, Gillard compounded the problem by wrongly conceding that her carbon pricing scheme was actually a broken promise - a tax - but still the Right wing echo chamber latched onto "lie" and never let go despite the lack of evidence.)   

Now it seems that Gerard Henderson has a poor grip on matters of "truth".  The journalist was saying that O'Farrell did not tell the truth, on the not unreasonable grounds that he today resigned when he admitted he must have given wrong evidence under oath to the commission yesterday.  "No", said an extremely agitated Gerard (I'm paraphrasing):  "you have no evidence to make the accusation of his untruthfulness and it's outrageous that you are - it's all explained by his having a poor memory."

Gerard, let's take this carefully:

1.  Giving detailed evidence under oath that something did not occur, and that he surely would have known if it had occurred, and then agreeing the next day that it now looks certain that it did occur, means the first evidence was not true;

2.  It is not a distortion of English to say that the first evidence which was given was "untruthful";

3.  What you and O'Farrell are arguing is that it was not deliberately untruthful;

4.  I believe if I check the transcript tomorrow that the the journalist you were shouting at and virtually telling to shut up was not even insisting that she believed O'Farrell had been deliberately untruthful.   

5.  There are, obviously, possible grounds for people to be inclined to disbelieve O'Farrell.  [Updateeven Andrew Bolt says that.  Are you getting out the whip to attack him?]  Whether or not you think people who think he was dishonest have formed a fair judgement is up to you to dispute, but don't get all high and mighty about how it is impossible for anyone to disbelieve O'Farrell's explanation.   People are disbelieved in court all the time, and it's not treated as some inherent outrage against justice.

6.  Even without believing him to have been deliberately dishonest, his performance raises pretty big questions about his competence and reliability, and it was without doubt a major embarrassment that even you seem to concede left him with little option other than to resign;

7.  As many have said, the allegation had been around for months; O'Farrell had time to check, and if he could find no evidence, he still would have been wise to give evidence of no recollection of the gift and emphasise that if it had been made it did not win any contract for the lobbyist anyway.   Sure, having "no recollection" from a politician does usually come across as weasel words of convenience (as it did with Sinodinos,) but if that's the truth, then it can be wise to use it.  Better than being emphatic about how you would have remembered if it had happened.

As with Andrew Bolt, O'Farrell's problem with the law was one which was self created, but at least he is man enough to take it on the chin and not complain (unlike Gerard, and Bolt regarding his own case.)

Update:  here is the grand low point of Gerard Henderson's political pundit career:

GERARD HENDERSON: Yeah, but that's a very unfair implication. You're suggesting the former premier may have given misleading evidence. There's no evidence to support that. That's your theory based on sitting in the room. He may ...

KATE MCCLYMONT: Gerard, he's resigned. He's resigned.

GERARD HENDERSON: Yes, because he said he forgot. So ...

KATE MCCLYMONT: No, no, he didn't resign because he said he forgot.

GERARD HENDERSON: No. No, no, he said he forgot. You're suggesting that he didn't tell the truth. That's what you're suggesting.

KATE MCCLYMONT: Yes, I am suggesting that.

GERARD HENDERSON: Well that's a very serious allegation to make with no evidence. You have no evidence that he didn't tell the truth. That's an outrageous allegation to make.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Talk about a curriculum in need of review...

Pakistan's Islamic seminaries pair science with the Quran -

An interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor on how the Madrassas in Pakistan hold back the country, by teaching (shall we say) to somewhat less than modern standards:
The students follow a 500-year-old curriculum adopted across South
Asia. The oversized book used in Mr. Haq's class, a collection of ahadith, or
sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad, is centuries old and
written in Arabic. Commentary written in Urdu in present-day India fills
the margins.

“This country was built on Islam, the idea of following God's teachings. Here we are learning how to do that,” says Haq.

 What students learn, and don’t learn, in thousands of such private seminaries is a matter of concern for Pakistan’s government. Under a national security policy unveiled last month, Pakistan aims to bring madrassas under tighter state control, update their curricula to tone down extremist views, and introduce subjects like mathematics and science. The goal is to turn out graduates capable of getting decent jobs who won’t be tempted to join the Taliban or other militant groups.
But even government schools in the country have a little way to go:
... only 39 percent of government schools in Pakistan have electricity.  Three million children never attend a single class, according to an official 2011 survey. Critics say the focus on regulating madrassas ignores the broader failure of Pakistan's leaders to invest in primary
 Also, Tom Brown's School Days has got nothing on this:
Fakhar Kakakhel, a journalist who reports from the tribal areas, says around a hundred madrassas there are known to supply militants with child suicide bombers. Set up to help children memorize Islamic texts, these seminaries operate on a shoestring budget and are not registered with any clerical oversight body.

After a decade of war though, Kakahel says parents are starting to pull children out. “They
say we sent our kids to learn the Quran, not become suicide bombers.”
 What a country...

Blow up

Isn't it funny how an enquiry into corrupt Labor figures is leading to the downfall of well regarded Liberals (Sinodinos, now O'Farrell). 


Ted Cruz Is Beating Rand Paul in the Tea Party Primary - Molly Ball - The Atlantic

According to this article, Ted Cruz seems to be more popular than Rand Paul with the Tea Party.

That's not what's "hopeless":  it's the fact both of these politicians are terrible.

Best not eaten

Student's death in Colorado raises questions on pot and health - Los Angeles Times

I noticed this report last week but forgot about it til today.

Interestingly, it says there is concern about the sudden popularity of eating marijuana:
More attention needs to be focused on edible forms of the drug, which are especially popular with first-time users, health officials say. The treats, candies and elixirs are among the hottest new products since pot became legal, making up 40% of all sales so far. And while edible
products are packaged with warning labels and potency levels, officials worry those cautions may not go far enough.

By law, such products can contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving, but often
consumers don't pay attention to serving sizes. One large brownie can contain up to 10 servings, or 100 milligrams, of THC.

Dr. Paula Riggs, a psychology professor and director of the division of substance dependence at the University of Colorado Denver, says smoking marijuana hits the central nervous system quickly. But edible marijuana has a delayed reaction so people often keep eating, looking for a buzz. "A half-hour later they are on their back," she said.

Least worthy academic suggestion of the year (so far)

From a navel gazing white looking gay aboriginal artist who appears to like making wool penis coverings:
 Perhaps what is needed now is the establishment of a field of Queer-Aboriginal studies where we can create discourse to assert ourselves from our own knowledge position.
[Crikey, I've gone all Andrew Bolt (and Steve Irwin) for a moment.  Slap me quick, someone.]

Amateur spies are downloading it now

Try the Super-Secure USB Drive OS That Edward Snowden Insists on Using

Making things still happening

Death of manufacturing nothing to whine about

Ross Gittons column going into details on how manufacturing has changed in Australia works as a bit of a corrective to overly pessimistic views on its future here.  (Although it does refer to making certain foods as "manufacturing" too, whereas that's a bit out of the mental image I usually have when I hear commentators talking about "manufacturing".  I'm  not sure that I would be happy with my country not being able to make anything out of metal, for example, even if it had world leading cup noodle manufacturing facilities.) 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A surprise in the letterbox

Finland’s graphic gay bondage stamps are amazing.

It's a great pity I don't have the postal address for some Catallaxy commenters, who are amongst the people on the internet most likely to be outraged if they received a letter using these stamps.  (And, truth be told, it is a weird decision from Finland to use these images.)

Stressed Dad makes for depressed offspring

Sperm RNA carries marks of trauma

This seems pretty odd and surprising, but stressing young male mice leads to them having more depressed offspring,  and it appears clear that it through the effect on sperm cells.  (They included a test to make sure it was not just being passed on "socially".)

Solomon Islands, floods and climate change

I've been saying for a few years now (following Australia's extraordinary run of floods in 2011/12) that more frequent, more damaging floods may well be the first really clear adverse consequence of climate change.

I have been curious to see whether the Solomon Islands devastating floods were the result of clearly exceptional rainfall, especially given that one would expect that an island in the South Pacific would be no stranger to some heavy downpours.

It's been hard to find precise figures for the Solomon Islands event, however.   Several websites referred to "record rainfall", without specifying how much of a record it was.  I think I heard someone on Radio National from the Island claim it was (from memory) much worse than anticipated levels for a 1 in a 100 year flood.  (He also said he had not heard anyone there claim it was due to increased illegal logging.)

The Solomon Islands weather bureau seems to be out of action for any such details, which is hardly surprising.

As for actual figures, I have at last tracked down some:
Around 138m of rain fell in 24 hours on 2 April in Honiara, and a further 318mm fell the next day. The Low Pressure System that caused the rainfall remains in the region and further rain is expected over the next 24 hours.
Not being a meteorologist, how big are those numbers?  Well, in a tropical Queensland context, pretty big.  From a November 2013 news report:
Parts of the north Queensland coast have been lashed by record rainfall with thunderstorms causing flash flooding.

Bowen on Queensland's Burdekin coast officially recorded 267 millimetres overnight.

That is more than double the previous 24 hour rain record for the month of 129 millimetres set in 1950.  Jonty Hall from the weather bureau says much of that came in an hour long deluge.

"Drainage really struggles to cope with that sort of rainfall especially over that period of time," he said.

In the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island registered 233 millimetres - also well up on the previous November record of 145 millimetres in 1991
But in absolute terms, 318 mm is just over a third of the record Queensland daily rain record (an extraordinary 907 mm in 1893, apparently.)   

I wonder what the previous daily record in Solomon Islands is, then.   This site indicates that the average monthly rainfall for March and April are about 350 and 220 mm respectively, which does show that one day of 318mm is a lot.   But in fact, Tully, widely regarded as Australia's wettest town, appears to have a March average rainfall of 752mm. 

So, it does seem that parts of Queensland are, on average, about twice as wet as the Solomon Islands, which is not something I would have expected.

Also, interestingly, this chart which is at a .pdf page you can link to from here, shows a long term trend of decreasing annual rainfall for Honiara:

So, this is another of those cases where climate change is not of uniform consequence everywhere, which scientists have known for a while, but which denialists can't seem to get their head around.  They also can't get their head around the concept of how climate change can mean that a local climate can (as apparently in Honiara's case) be both generally getting drier, but also intermittently be suffering worse floods than ever due to the intensity of rain when it does fall.   (Roy Spencer really jumped the shark with this post.)

But I still don't know how exceptional the rainfall in Honiara recently really has been, for daily local records.

Update:  it looks like the heaviest daily rainfall on at least at one part of Solomon Islands is only 380mm.  I guess the recent rains might still represent a record over a certain number of days, though; and also,  I don't know where Auki station is.