Monday, December 31, 2007

New weblog template for the New Year

The old one was decrepit, motheaten and shopworn, to put it mildly. Things that once seemed of great import no longer do - I've been bitching about the cuisine in the dining car while the train's headed off a cliff.

Help me to keep my focus on the big stuff, people.
(confidential to my trolls: yes, even you, but please do it face to face.)

Update: RealClimate overview of The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gore speech at Nobel ceremony

Transcript and video of Gore’s speech. I beg you - if you're from Planet Earth - watch the video.

The man has a brain, folks, and he's not afraid to use it, to lead the fight to save our home.

From the speech -
We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency - a threat to the survival of our civilization...
...many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: "They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."
The catastrophe now threatening us is unprecedented - and we often confuse the unprecedented with the improbable.
We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action.
It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.

But jeez, at the end, what a maroon of an anchorman...
Tuesday update: they've got a different video up now, sans anchorman. Which is a pity - the anchorman's cameo bit at the end spoke volumes about why we're in the mess we're in.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Read this: Scott Ritter lays out U.S.:Iran intentions

Very late updates:
1) much less likely now. ("Iran has no nuke program, U.S. intel says"; publ. Dec 4)
2) Seymour Hersh on Iran NIE, also Dec.4

Bush/Cheney are planning another "elective" war, on Iran, around April 2008. You can do your part: keep shopping.

This Scott Ritter interview is very, very good. Read it.
Ritter points out who's ultimately responsible:
[V]ery few Americans actually function as citizens anymore. What I mean by that are people who invest themselves in this country, people who care, who give a damn. Americans are primarily consumers today, and so long as they continue to wrap themselves in the cocoon of comfort, and the system keeps them walking down a road to the perceived path of prosperity, they don't want to rock the boat. If it doesn't have a direct impact on their day-to-day existence, they simply don't care.

There's a minority of people who do, but the majority of Americans don't. And if the people don't care — and remember, the people are the constituents — if the constituents don't care, then those they elect to higher office won't feel the pressure to change.
And we will get war.
Here's a man who speaks of World War III and the apocalypse and he has his hand on the button and he talks to God. I don't know, if it's a show, its a dangerous show, if its real, we should all be scared to death.

Margaret Atwood's When you open the door of war... from March 2003.
When a door swings open, you never know what will come through it. ...[T]he fortunes of war, being notoriously unpredictable, are ruled by the Goddess of Chance.
A. Hitler: (via)
To initiate a war is always like opening a large door into a dark room. You have no idea what is lurking there.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bumper sticker

Update - from the looks of Cafe Press, this thought has occurred to others.

Let me know if you want one, or some, or feel free to use the image and make some of your own.

(Click to enlarge; for some reason Blogger seems to shrink it, here on the page)

[God forgive America]

Friday, November 16, 2007

If you missed Van Jones in Grass Valley last night...

...I'm sorry. You should have been there. It was wonderful, enthralling, freeing, inspiring.

He gave a similar talk last Friday, in Seattle; here's an excellent writeup. And for those who did get to see him last night, here's a video of his "Clean Energy Jobs Bill" press conference moment with Nancy "if Bush and Cheney choke on a pretzel, she's President" Pelosi.
(Thanks J.!)

Fortunately, Yuba Gals was (were?) filming his talk last night, so those who didn't see him will be able to.
Next time, let's bring him to the Center for The Arts.

And the woman asking Jones the question about how he retooled his organization? That was Shawn, blogger at Project Simplify.

Thanks to the Woolman School for giving us the opportunity to hear him.

Martin Luther King didn't get famous for a speech saying "I have a complaint"...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blog status: Pining for the fjords

NCFocus isn't dead, it's just been down toward the bottom of the priority list of late. And you shouldn't be visiting it directly anyway, instead you should bookmark Nevada County Voices, from whence you'll be able to see at a glance if anything new has been posted to this or (almost) any other local blog that I'm aware of - along with news from The Union and KNCO and Yubanet, movie schedules, weather etc.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sacramento Bee Suggestion Box

The Bee doesn't appear to have an online suggestion box, but the nice thing about blogs is, you can make one of your own...

For subscriptions -
  • Provide a "Monday through Friday" option, like the NY Times does, to make workplace subscriptions more attractive - I don't want to have to pay for and dispose of a small mountain of unwanted paper every week.

    (I probably don't know what I'm talking about, but isn't increasing readership the name of the game? so shouldn't promoting/enabling workplace-friendly subscription options yield a particularly high return on investment?)

  • Fix the Subscribe page so its personality (and treatment of visitors) isn't 180degrees off from the Bee's - make it so that it actually tells readers what they want and need to know. It hurts your brand, folks, when I want to - but can't - find out how much a subscription's actually going to cost.
    (the page gives the promo rate, but not the normal rate you'll end up paying, and not the rate for - or definition of - "outlying areas".)

    See the NY Times Subscribe page, for how it could be done.

And a thought for new editor Melanie Sill -
By overseeing both the news and the editorial pages (though not the editorials themselves) you have an unparalleled opportunity to make the paper into a source of good information, no?
It would be very, very cool if you could expose and/or evict the Op-Ed shills, by doing something along the lines of what Cline suggested.

And please, think about what a drought/flood/heat hellhole Sacramento will become, if global warming isn't stopped, and cover this slow-motion train wreck accordingly.

(Mark Lynas - On climate change, neutrality is cowardice)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Elsewhere: science, global warming,and Gore

Excellent: stages of scientific progress

Short video in which our favorite science teacher takes an updated look at global warming (a.k.a. global climate destabilization) in terms of risk analysis:

And please watch this (considerably longer) Jan 2006 Gore speech to the American Constitution Society.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gore, Doerr and activism

You heard it here last: Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize. Today's NY Times editorial -
[I]t shouldn’t have to be left to a private citizen - even one so well known as Mr. Gore - or a panel of scientists to raise that [climate crisis] alarm, or prove what is now clearly an undeniable link, or champion solutions to a problem that endangers the entire planet.

That should be, and must be the job of governments. And governments - above all the Bush administration - have failed miserably.
We cannot afford to squander any more time.
Video of Gore's press appearance, after winning the Nobel Prize -

He's not ruling it out.
Run, Al, Run!

I have maintained previously that I'm not an activist, but for some causes that's a luxury we can't afford - "Don't expect to live in a democracy if you're not prepared to be an active citizen.*" So for the most important concerns - our climate, and our freedoms - activism it's gonna be. I'll be out collecting signatures for the Draft Gore movement.

"Entrepreneurs do more than anyone thinks possible with less than anyone thinks possible."
See this video of Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr's TED talk, Seeking salvation and profit in greentech - it's powerful, and offers a different perspective from what we typically see in Nevada County. Doerr cares about his daughter's future, and has the financial tools to play a significant role in shaping it, and exhorts us to join him in doing so. Excerpts -
There is a time when panic is the appropriate response, and we've reached that time. We can not afford to underestimate this problem.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it; the second best way is to finance it.
...[his co. is] investing $200 million in a wide range of technologies for disruptive innovation in green technologies...
geothermal could supply us for a thousand years; yet the fed budget calls for only $20 million R&D in geothermal
We need to reduce CO2 emissions by 1/2, as fast as possible
[A representative from China pointed out:] "Americans use 7 times the CO2 per capita as Chinese. Why should China sacrifice our growth so that the West can continue to be profligate and stupid?" does anyone here have an answer for him?

Energy is a 6 trillion dollar business worldwide, it is the mother of all markets. Do you remember the Internet? Green technologies, going green is bigger than the Internet - it could be the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century.

[and if we don't do it...]
Several persons - your correspondent among them - were not dry-eyed at the end.

In Gore's U.N. speech he made the point that decades from now our children will be asking us one of two things:
What were you thinking - why didn't you act?
How did you find the moral courage to rise and solve this crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?

Let's get moving. Our house is burning.

Sun. update - since the demagogues' smear-o-rama can't abide leaders, the smears on Gore have returned - read about them here.
Also - see what Gore did during Katrina; and, if you'd like, compare and contrast...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Local climate denialist Russ Steele edits, censors, deletes comments?

Does he? The evidence points that way.

One comment I submitted Sept 30, in which I asked commenter "Anthony" (who appears to be "Surface Stations" Anthony Watts) for a disclosure statement, initially survived moderation but later was deleted. Russ said this deletion occurred inadvertently as he was editing my comment to remove Anthony's last name (which raises another question*...which also didn't survive moderation), but curiously, my resubmitted comment - in which I'd helpfully removed Anthony's last name - did not appear either.

Others appear to have been deep-sixed as well, including this response to Russ's post "Yes, the sun really is creating global warming" extolling a paper by Svensmark and Friis-Christensen. My comment (which quotes from Russ's post):

> [Russ Steele said:] "Physicist Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen, Danish National Space Center, defending their position in a peer reviewed study. There most recent study: Reply to Lockwood and Fröhlich (PDF)"...

The climatologists' blog today covers this paper, concluding that "...all the evidence goes against the notion that GCR[galactic cosmic rays] are the cause of the present global warming"


> "A paper by Ken Gregory, Friends of Science Society, Calgary, Alberta, Canada..."

Sourcewatch on the (oil industry backed) Friends of Science Society. Ought to be renamed - with friends like that...

> "Another look at the Lockwood/Frochlich paper by SPPI Staff here, who conclude:..."

Sourcewatch on the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) ("the content of the website draws heavily on papers written by Christopher Monckton. However, the SPPI website also lists a number of other prominent climate change skeptics...." [including D'Aleo])

Very entertaining and revealing recent email correspondence between Monckton and George Monbiot, Did Lord Monckton fabricate a claim on his Wikipedia page?

Credibility matters, except to the gullible.

Russ, please, wake up. Your children's house is burning.

And here's my saw-the-light-of-day-but-submerged-again comment responding to "Anthony" (presumably Anthony Watts) in these comments:
re weatherman Anthony Watts's
> "your lack of understanding of the scientific method is clear now"

Anthony, please review Science vs. Faith, and consider which investigative algorithm you employ.

Anthony, I'd really like to know - what's your position now on the recent (last 40 years) global warming - do you still think that it's caused by the sun, and if so, by what mechanism or correlation - solar rays? sunspot cycles? something else?
(and do you have peer-reviewed evidence for this belief, or is it faith-based?)

And Anthony, have you ever received compensation, whether monetary or nonmonetary, whether directly or indirectly, in exchange for engaging in PR(Public Relations) activities?

More to come, when I have time.

And, dear reader, if you have time, I spent considerable time over at Russ's denialist blog in September, investigating each claim he made and, typically, only needing a minute of Googling to find it was bogus. Please feel free to drop by there and browse through that month of posts and comments. Somewhat naively, I had thought that I might be able to get through to him...but I can't.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Russ Steele sits on uncomfortable comment

On Saturday I commented on this post by Russ Steele; he'd posted graphs purporting to demonstrate that there's no warming trend. Two days later my comment has still not shown up; it turns out Russ a) wants to think about how to answer it and b) is real busy, although not too busy to publish multiple posts on other matters in the meantime.

His reluctance is understandable; here, roughly, is the comment:

In case anyone wants to know what it is that Russ is showing graphs of here
(Russ, if you're trying to educate your readers rather than snow them, explaining what's being measured will help)

The upper, original graph - with the red dots marking El Nino events - is of Spencer and Christy's ("UAH") dataset for Middle Troposphere("MT") atmospheric temperature over time. (Of 3 research groups using different analyses to measure the middle troposphere, the trend S&C get is the smallest, although still showing warming over time.)

What you should know about this graph of the UAH data:
1. The presentation is misleading - it's designed to emphasize "noise" rather than "signal". It obscures the upward trend in temperature by stretching out the X (time) axis relative to the Y (temp.) axis, and by failing to provide a best-fit (regression?) line to show the trend, which is a warming trend.
2. The dataset itself has a bias. The UAH Middle Troposphere measurements (and trend) are 'contaminated' by contributions from the stratosphere, which is (known and expected to be; ozone depletion plays a role) cooling. Thus the MT actual warming trend is likely steeper than this dataset shows.
(from here: "The University of Washington (UW) versions of the UAH and RSS analyses attempt to remove the stratospheric influence from the mid-troposphere measurements, and as a result the UW versions tend to have a larger warming trend than either the UAH or RSS versions.")

Next graphs:

The four lower graphs are of:
TLT = Temperature of Lower Troposphere (closer to ground)
TMT = Temperature of Middle Troposphere (higher up)
TTS = Temperature of Troposphere / Stratosphere (still higher up)
TLS = Temperature of Lower Stratosphere (still higher up)

Note that the trend for the TLT and the TMT is upward (showing warming), despite Russ's creativity with the red pen on the TLT (temperature of lower troposphere) chart. I think that's against the rules, Russ; it's certainly unusual, and inconsistent with how the other data in same graph are treated.

As mentioned above, the stratosphere (layer furthest from the earth) is cooling, and not germane to global warming, so the TTS and TLS graphs don't tell us anything relevant.

In his use of the first (red-dots") chart, Russ
a) doesn't tell you what his graph is of;
b) fails to mention in text or show on the graph that in fact the data do show a warming trend;
c) has cherry picked the mid-troposphere data (choosing to show mid-troposphere rather than the more accurate (and more warming) lower troposphere data, and further, choosing to show the UAH data, not the RSS or the UW versions which show stronger warming)

Russ, it looks like you're trying to pull the wool over your readers' eyes.

(The upper, "red dots" graph is also addressed here at Skeptical Science.)

Readers, please, wake up - our house is burning.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Newt Gingrich shows conservatives can be pro-science

Update: The Pope and (via WorldChanging) British conservatives are in the reality-based global warming camp as well.

The time I've spent lately debunking Russ Steele's "We had nothing to do with it and anyway it's no big deal" global warming denial-and-minimization posts (and the comments from Mike M. and George Rebane, who share Russ's views) has made me a bit prejudiced about The Conservative Mind; seems to me you'd have to be from the planet Zortar to dismiss the peer-reviewed science, the climatologists' explanations, and the position statements of the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, our National Academy of Sciences and the various science academies of the UK, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada, Brazil, China and India - and get your global warming views from PR flacks instead.

But at least one conservative seems to be more local - from a news story on Newt Gingrich:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich challenged fellow conservatives Tuesday to stop resisting scientific evidence of global warming and to propose solutions that rely on free-market incentives as an alternative to government regulation.

During a nearly two-hour debate with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Gingrich called for a "green conservatism" characterized by a willingness "to stand up and say, 'All right, here's the right way to solve these as seen by our value system.' "

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Global warming - resource sites, Steele and Lomborg

Update: 19 graphs showing the evidence for global warming; they're from Open Mind, a science blog that's new to me, and looks to be really, really good.

One thing I can do locally to fight global warming is to counter the misinformation being dispensed by deniers and doubters in our neck of the blogospheric woods. So I've started doing just that; if you'd like to watch or assist, please drop by Russ Steele's NC Media Watch.

Confidential to Russ: a while back I'd asked you not to comment extensively about global warming in my comments here on NCFocus; this was because I didn't want to get sucked into tracking down and debunking the claims you passed on here. Now, with the accumulated evidence that the problem's worsening much faster than anticipated, I think debunking the denialism is essential. So, I'd like to retract my earlier restriction - you're more than welcome to come over and discuss global warming in the comments here any time now.

(FYI to others - the most valuable online 'debunking' resources have been DeSmogBlog and the climatologists' weblog RealClimate, and Open Mind. Many thanks to these sites' proprietors/contributors.)

Bjorn Lomborg has a new "no need to get alarmed" book out, and I'm told he sounds great on TV, but please do not be taken in. Over at DeSmogBlog, science journalist Chris Mooney evaluates Lomborg's reasoning and finds it deficient:
Lomborg's argument isn't that global warming is a hoax--thank goodness, we're mostly past that. Instead, he merely argues that climate change is not as big a deal as some think (e.g., Al Gore)--and further, that it doesn't make good economic sense to take dramatic steps to address the problem by imposing mandatory emissions caps.
What I found [when looking at Lomborg's treament of hurricanes] is pretty consistent with what critics say about his treatment of other matters. Lomborg seems to ignore worst-case scenarios and precautionary thinking....

From the Salon review of Lomborg's book:
The glaring error in "Cool It," and the one that disqualifies the book from making a serious contribution, is that Lomborg ignores the main concern driving the debate. Incredibly, he never mentions even the possibility that the world might heat up more than 4.7 degrees. Although he claims IPCC science as gospel, in fact the scientific body gives no single "standard" estimate as its official forecast for this century's warming....

The global warming "alarmism" that Lomborg finds so distasteful is motivated by a serious, science-driven concern that hidden within our global climate system are powerful positive feedback loops. So that as we inch up from 3 to 4 and then 4 to 5 degrees of warming, we may very well cross some temperature threshold that would trigger a couple of degrees of further warming, causing a catastrophic upward spiral in global temperatures.
But give Lomborg his whole argument. Suppose, as he believes, that Kyoto-level controls will cost a cumulative $5 trillion over the next 100 years. That is about two years' worth of increase in global output. Suppose also that we ignore Lomborg's advice and in the next few years freeze global warming pollution in the rich countries. That would mean that a century hence, our descendants, living in a much richer world, would have to wait an additional two years -- until 2109 -- until a growing global economy left them as rich as they otherwise would have been in 2107.

Will they thank us? Stabilizing emissions now will open the door for deeper reductions should our kids need to make them, and send powerful signals to the marketplace about future demand for the low-carbon, low-cost technologies that will be critical to stabilize the climate by the end of the century.

The Guardian last Saturday: State inaction on climate is a grave dereliction of duty ("Government exists to achieve tasks individuals cannot tackle alone. On the environmental crisis, it has badly failed")

Sunday's SF Chronicle editorial, The Issue Of Our Time:
The world effectively lost eight years in the effort to apply a brake to climate change while the Bush administration slowly evolved from denial to foot dragging in response to a strong scientific consensus that human activity - namely, the consumption of fossil fuels - was putting life on Earth on a collision course with disaster.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Global warming - we have ten years at most, to turn it around

We are like small children, distracted by baubles, with our parents too drunk to notice that our house is burning.*

Or too sociopathic to care.

Rolling Stone on The Secret Campaign of President Bush's Administration To Deny Global Warming (June 2007)

U.S. scales back climate science via satellites ("'Overall climate program in serious jeopardy,' NOAA and NASA experts say'") (June 2007)

The Threat to the Planet, by NASA's James Hansen, saying we have at most ten years to turn this around. "Not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions."
Published a year ago.

Interview with Hansen: (Apr 2007)
The average temperature is now 0.8 degrees Celsius higher than in the last century, with three-quarters of the increase happening in the last 30 years
There's another half degree Celsius in the pipeline due to gases already in the atmosphere, and there's at least one more half degree to come due to power plants which we're not going to stop immediately. Even if we decide now we've got to slow down as fast as is practical, there's still going to be enough emissions to take us to the warmest level [1.8 degrees Celsius] that the planet has seen in a million years...close to and possibly beyond what I would say is a dangerous level.

If we want to keep the planet looking close to what it looks like now, then we had better not accept an increase by more than one degree Celsius. Because if temperature goes up another two or three degrees Celsius, it will be the temperature of the middle Pliocene about 3 million years ago. That was a very different planet. There was no sea ice in the Arctic in the warm seasons, and the sea level was about 25 meters higher. We will be headed towards this situation if we continue with business-as-usual.

The polar bears.

Our house is burning.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Guess what? The Iraq war is going swimmingly.

Two articles on Iraq that you must read, whatever your politics; free cup of coffee may await.

If you can read these and still continue to support this government and its war in Iraq, please let me know and I'll
a) report your name here (it should be made public)
and b) buy you a cup of coffee; it'll be more than worth the cost see just who you are.*

If you don't read anything else this month, read these 2 pieces.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Food for thought

Newspapers often bullied their way to centrality in a community. They were a kind of Mafia, a kind of protection racket--you don't play nice with me, you don't advertise with me, I mess with you. *

"The press [should be] a watchdog. Not an attack dog. Not a lapdog. A watchdog. Now, a watchdog can't be right all the time. He doesn't bark only when he sees or smells something that's dangerous. A good watchdog barks at things that are suspicious."
-- Dan Rather*

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More reading on global warming

NASA's Global Warming Questions and Answers

The recent Newsweek article on Global Warming Deniers

Grist compendium of presidential candidates' positions on climate change - on recognizing it, and on addressing it

RealClimate's 1934 and all that, giving the story behind NASA's recent adjustment of North American surface temperatures; on same topic, see Conservatives vs NASA on Global Warming ("This diary follows a rumor's spread through the conservative blogosphere....")
Also, from the 8/26 NY Times, Quarter-Degree Fix Fuels Climate Fight

Selling Ecocide, Monbiot on hypocrisy in the press ("The editorials urge us to cut our emissions. The adverts urge us to raise them.")

*From the trenches, "they're alarmist because it brings them funding" doesn't ring true:
It seems to me that scientists downplaying the dangers of climate change fare better when it comes to getting funding. Drawing attention to the dangers of global warming may or may not have helped increase funding for the relevant scientific areas, but it surely did not help individuals like Mercer who stuck their heads out.*

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's now

and unfortunately the forwarding for is progressing s - l - o - w - l - y so for now that URL won't work. So -

Monday, August 13, 2007

List of deficient or obsolete major bridges in Nevada County

Just a table, not very informative as-is; will provide more info if I run across it. How many (what %) of our bridges are major? Deficient/obsolete minor bridges won't appear on this list.

(Related: County to ID bridge repairs ("Official says local structures generally 'safe'"), Aug 3 in The Union.)

Status: presumably D=deficient,O=obsolete.

MSNBC provided the following information:
Bridges that carry at least 10,000 vehicles a day and have been rated as either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete by inspectors:

(please scroll down; lots of whitespace between here and the table, for some reason)


(I'd originally published this yesterday as a Nevada County Voices piece, but felt it didn't merit the space and attention, so have moved it to my personal blog.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

NCVoice is down; it's temporary

It will return as Nevada County Voices (since it certainly doesn't speak with a single voice...)

The Psychology of Cleaning (and the importance of framing)

The reason people hate to clean house is that they're looking at the job wrong.

Those of you who know me in real life will find it hard to believe that you could learn anything about cleaning (beyond cautionary tales) from this space, but bear with me.

With the advent of Nevada County Voice(s) I've been reading Shawn's streamlining/organizing/efficiency blog Project Simplify regularly. So when on top of her indoctrinations I read in Paul Graham's excellent essay on Stuff his belaboring of the obvious (to everyone but me) fact that:
One reason [a cluttered room saps one's spirits], obviously, is that there's less room for people in a room full of stuff... triggered an insight - namely, that I've been looking at household entropy reduction the wrong way.

Cleaning is not serving and caring for your home. When you clean, you are not your house's servant.

Cleaning is defiantly reclaiming space that the vile (but spineless! so easily beaten back!) god Entropy thought it could slyly claim via adverse possession, while you were otherwise occupied.

It seems to be working, so far...
(and Shawn, if you already made this point and it's only now springing back out from my subconscious...thank you!)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A failure to communicate: Scientists, journalists, reality

A very nice explanation of why journalists - and scientists - have failed for so long to inform the public about global warming*, in Pants On Fire, part 1 over at Little Blog in the Big Woods - it's the very forseeable, and very unfortunate, outcome of their different cultural strictures and conventions, regarding communicating about reality:
...we [in our society] rely on scientific opinion, as reported; by reporters.
...[It is remarkably common] for humans to speak to each other, hold what passes for a conversation, and leave the conversation reasonably satisfied; but with no information having changed hands.
Scientists, journalists, "policy makers", and the general public, are doing this now, big time...[They] do not, in fact, speak the same languages; and they do not know it. We need interpreters, and have none...
[Consequence, re global warming:]
...The real equation, in 1988, was that 85% of the scientists who studied the problem were 85% sure we were heading for horrifyingly serious problems, and the majority of their opposition were known fools.
...[But] what [journalists] reported was: no one is sure, and Dr. Billy, a colorful contrarian, says "BULL!".

Not unrelated: xarker on Science and Media, and their practioners' respective failures to communicate and to adapt.
...a New Yorker cartoon of two aging scientists in a quiet, darkened lab office. One says to the other, "Well, at least we never stooped to popularizing science." There's a lot of dark humor implied in that subject, and it's not related solely to scientists.

And (Wed update) The Truth About Denial - Newsweek on the deniers' funding machine

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Some Best Yet chili in botulism recall

Some Best Yet (SPD's house brand) chili and corned beef are among the cans being recalled for possible botulism contamination.
Please check any cans you may have against the UPC codes in Environmental Health's press release.

Website problems at The Union

Update, 3+ weeks later: never did get a reply from The Union editor Jeff Pelline or IT Director Tom Harbert, to my email about these 3 problems - RSS feeds, commenting, and a 3rd issue that I tried to resolve via email (potential security issue; still present as of Aug 5).

First, The Union's RSS feeds are incomplete; contrary to their statement (here) that "You will receive new stories [on our RSS feed] when our web site is updated", web updates - e.g. these right now:
11:39 a.m. PT - Tree branch caused Monday power outage
10:44 a.m. PT - Families still in need of school supplies
9:35 a.m. PT - Two taken to hospital after bridge collapses on truck near Oroville
8:50 a.m. PT - Air Force reservist announces GOP challenge to Rep. Doolittle
8:15 a.m. PT - Republicans seek to revive tax relief as part of budget talks

do not appear on their News feed* - items in their RSS feeds appear all to have been updated this morning at 1am.

Second, I've been told (by a reader) that commenting was silently and sporadically broken on at least some stories recently, and that rather than post a warning on the paper's website, a newspaper representative encouraged one reader to inform others of this failure behind the scenes via email(see below). (Maybe it still is broken; unfortunately since I can't remember my password or the name of my favorite teacher I can't comment. At The Union password resetting is taken very, very seriously.)

(and, though it's unlikely, maybe they did post a "your comments may silently go into a black hole" warning at some pt; if so I'm unaware of it)

I'll email the paper's webmaster and editor and update this with their responses.
Aug 5 update: re my "a newspaper representative encouraged one reader to inform others of this failure behind the scenes via email" above, I don't think I paraphrased the 'encouragement' very well; here's the relevant part from the rep's email:
"The best workaround I can see for now is for you to forward your comments via email and I will post them on your behalf. Your help in communicating this to any others is much appreciated. Kindly ask they be sent to

I expect to also be able to add a note to this effect under the "Post Your Comment" tab on the website."
I'm still curious as to whether such a note was provided, since historically this newspaper's pattern has been not to alert readers to deficiencies like this (search ncfocus for 'archive search', for 1 example).

Second bird with West Nile virus found in Nevada County

A Western Tanager from Murchie Mine Rd was reported last week to be Nevada County's second known avian West Nile case for 2007; the first bird, a Black-headed Grosbeak, was reported earlier this month from the same area (Red Dog Rd, above Nevada City).

The virus may be much more prevalent by now, since the West Nile test results typically don't come back until about 3 weeks after the animal is collected.
(The Tanager was collected July 12, and the Grosbeak June 25.)

(Sources: Peggy Zariello of Nevada County Environmental Health, this page on West Nile virus activity by county in CA, this county webpage)


(A melting-ice-sheets comment I'd posted at Brad DeLong's blog last year; I keep going back to it.)

How do you set them?
Which issues do you let slide, in order to work on the really important stuff?
And what if the really important stuff isn't workable?
  • Global warming
  • Peak oil
  • Vote fraud software
  • Slouching toward theocracy
  • Consistent corruption at top levels of govt
  • Corruption at newspapers; the payola punditocracy
  • Conserving nature
  • Equal rights
  • Bird flu/personal preparedness/public health
  • Improving the lot of those less fortunate
  • Social security
  • Terrorism (incl. nukes and bioterrorism)
  • Reaching talk-radio listeners who're plugging their ears eyes closed saying la-la-la-la-la
  • Acquiring leaders who demonstrate genuine leadership
  • Exposing "leaders" who don't

no answers here; just curious about what one should do, when the whole edifice is breaking apart.

for a noncontroversial example - if the carrying capacity, post-peak, is 1.5 billion less than now, where should "research to extend lifespan" fit into the priority scheme?

A good discussion; this reply in particular made sense to me:
Paul Ehrlich, who['s] been thinking about this stuff longer than many of us have been alive, has very much switched to the answer that the problems that have to be solved are changing the US political leadership and culture...
His conclusion, after trying to solve these problems for at least 40 yrs is that without putting the political/cultural management in place, nothing will happen, and that with proper political/cultural management in place the science and engineering can happen pretty fast.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Study finds flaws in Nevada County's electronic voting system

"Review Finds Potential Flaws in Voting Systems", a UC Davis press release reports:
Flaws that leave electronic voting machines vulnerable to security attacks were discovered by University of California researchers as part of an unprecedented "Top-to-Bottom Review" of the systems commissioned by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
...teams were able to compromise the physical and software security of all three systems tested...made by Diebold Elections Systems, Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic, respectively.
"The problem with the systems should have been detected early in their development," said Bishop. "There are ways to develop and implement systems that resist compromise much better than the systems we examined. Many of these safeguards are taught in undergraduate and graduate computer security courses, but it was clear they were not used effectively in the electronic voting systems we evaluated."

...testers were [also] able to bypass the machines' tamper-resistant seals and locks, physically gaining access to the memory cards that store the votes. Such a vulnerability could potentially be exploited on Election Day, the researchers said.

"In many cases, this could be done in less than a minute, and in a way that would not necessarily be noticed by poll workers, particularly if there are privacy shields and curtains blocking their view of the voter," said Bishop.
knowledge of a voting system's source code, while helpful, is not critical to breaking down its security barriers...

From the LA Times article on same study:
Testers "were able to bypass both physical and software security in every system they tested," Bowen said.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Environmental awareness

*Very scary.

* Text - Monbiot's A Sudden Change of State and climatologist James Hansen's Huge sea level rises are coming - unless we act now in New Scientist. The sea level rise if we continue to conduct business as usual may be closer to 75 feet than 2 feet.
Monbiot in general.
His book Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning; it's on its way.

Want to see what the coastline will look like, when it's 25m higher? So do I, but's max "sea level rise" setting is only 14 meters. Which puts Sacramento largely under water already.

* Video - The final third of this BBC program on global dimming, laying out the implications for global warming

And some personally disturbing information on meat:
Producing 1kg of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home.*
[I]t’s actually better [for a typical American] to be a vegetarian that drives a Chevy Tahoe, than to be a meat eater that bikes or walks everywhere. *

I suspect this will be a golden opportunity for purveyors of grass-fed beef that's locally raised, slaughtered and sold.

and finally, not news but a good resource:
New Scientist's Climate change: A guide for the perplexed ("our round-up of the 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions."). For those short on time (or who've been watching Fox Entertainment), the take-home message is this:
...a firm and ever-growing body of evidence points to a clear picture: the world is warming, this warming is due to human activity increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and if emissions continue unabated the warming will too, with increasingly serious consequences.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Travel tip - Get airline flight status

"Simply send a text message or e-mail to with the airline code and flight number and you receive back the status of the flight. It’s a great help when you are picking someone up at the airport . . ."
- Bob Fyfe

"(They say it works with all U.S. carriers except Jet Blue and Southwest ('coming soon') and major overseas carriers.)
I just sent ezflt an email with AA 1197 in the subject line - nothing more - and moments later got back:

From: ATL
Sch: Jul 24 8:10am
Act: Jul 24 8:07am
Gt: T9

Sch: Jul 24 9:20am
Act: Jul 24 9:16am
Gt: C27/C
Bag Clm: C26

As you know, American = AA, Delta = DL, Continental = CO, United = UA, Northwest = NW, and so on."
- Andrew Tobias

Of course, pretty soon this may be moot.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Crowdsourced journalism at NCFocus

An account of the local crowdsourced/collaborative journalism projects I've tried to get started. Wanted to publish it now, since our Assignment Zero "crowdsourcing" interviews are slated to appear - or start to appear - at Wired this week, and since my A.Z. profile says I've been a "(rarely successful) instigator" of crowdsourced journalism projects but goes into no detail whatsoever.

Here are the crowdsourced journalism projects I've tried to instigate:

1. Last summer's project encouraging county leaders to see An Inconvenient Truth - a project perhaps best described in this post -
went strong on the "offering tickets and encouragement" phase (we offered a lot of tickets, and a lot of encouragement, and got a lot of people to take tickets and at least some to see it) but then fell short in the "collecting followup evaluations" phase; after my most active co-instigator moved away, I was pretty much on my own, and IMO you really do need a partner for a project like this - or for any project.

2. Its subsequent retrenchment and reformulation as an "ask your county supervisor if he/she has seen the film" project; I count this as a success in that we all did ask our respective Supes, and did report the outcome, and the project writeup did shed light on the views of our Supervisors.

3. Not crowdsourcing per se, but an attempt to do local collaborative journalism, by enlisting other news media outlets in a joint effort to look into Nevada City's then-poor drinking water (described in last January's post Citizen Journalism on NCFocus) was unsuccessful (two didn't respond; the third did respond, and did meet with city officials, but I wasn't invited and nothing was published about the result)

4. A more recent attempt from a few months ago, to mobilize a group to look into a local issue and to get editorial support from a newspaper to work with us, didn't get off the ground. We never got an answer from the paper, and the "mobilization moment" passed.
(This was mostly my fault; I didn't give this the sustained push it would have needed, to make it happen.)

So - by a "got the data, and the result got published" metric, there's been one success out of 4 attempts.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Another bike update: basket report

The bike now has rear baskets, on loan from a friend who'd bought them at Tour of Nevada City for around $30-40. They were easy to put on, they fold up when not in use, and each basket holds a full sized grocery bag; it makes the return from shopping much more convenient.

But if you're contemplating getting a bike, and contemplating putting rear baskets on it, you'd likely be better off getting a bike with a step-through frame. Otherwise you - and anyone you loan the bike to - must remember not to dismount by swinging a leg over the baskets, when they're loaded with stuff.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

Visitor's-eye view of Grass Valley/Nevada City

Mark Hamilton's not the only blogging luminary to have paid Nevada County a visit recently; last month Michael D. Yates (blogger and author of Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist's Travelogue, "the travel book the chamber of commerce doesn't want you to have") came through town as well. Yates has a keen eye for towns, and a mouth to match, and near the end of this post he tells us like he sees us:
Both towns play up their mining heritage, especially the smaller Nevada City, which has lots of shops in historic or at least historic-looking buildings. We've seen a good many towns like this, some more well-kept than others, and there is always a a kind of ersatz feeling to them. They don't seem like real towns anymore. The housing boom of the last few years has brought many retirees and urban refugees (unhappy with urban-suburban crowding and given the overwhelmingly white population, perhaps with the growth of urban minority populations) to this region, driving up housing prices and disturbing the laid back milieu established by the artists and now aging hippies who settled here in the decades after the mines played out. ...[M]ore than seventy houses were listed for rent in the local paper, a very high number for two small towns and a sure sign that the housing downturn is serious, at least here.

Ersatz? he's got a point. The same day a reader sent me this, in the coffeehouse we'd been comparing-and-contrasting Grass Valley and Nevada City, and one of us had said that GV's nicer because it is like a real town. I can count the number of downtown Nevada City stores I visit on a finger* of one hand.

Solutions? we don't got no steenkin' solutions. All will be in flux soon enough regardless - read Kunstler's latest on Peak Suburbia.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Announcement: A Voice is Born

There's a new infant in town, it's got multiple-personality disorder, and one of the personalities may well be yours.

This caterwauling creature is the Nevada County Voice, and its motto du jour is "collecting county content since 2007".

I hope you will pay it a visit, then suggest - and prioritize - improvements, over in the comments on its companion weblog.

and yes, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Electric bicycle update - 10 weeks later

An update on the UrbanMover Sprite electric-assist bicycle that arrived back in April - the owner's still happy, but the bike does have some drawbacks that weren't initially apparent.

One: I ride the bicycle now with three tires - a spare has materialized in my equatorial region, and is enlarging at an alarming rate. On short trips you really don't get exercise, although you can compensate by riding the bike with the power turned off where possible.
(if you buy one, try to get yours with the "torque sensor" option, that'll let you do more of the work on flat terrain)

Two: the bracket that holds the top of the battery to the seat post is plastic and underengineered, such that if the bike falls down, even from a standstill, the battery's momentum&weight will stress the bracket and - if this happens repeatedly - might cause it to fail. UrbanMovers, please re-engineer this part! (if you haven't already done so)

On the bright side, the service has been fantastic - I contacted the U.S. distributor requesting a replacement bracket, and he mailed it without delay and at no charge.
(well, one of the bright sides - riding it to do your shopping's pretty bright too.)

Question: how to give it a front basket or panniers - or attach a trailer? with just the back rack, carrying cargo can be stressful.
Answer: it was easy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Better blogging elsewhere

If you want to read some fine writing, go to Japan via Robert Brady's Pure Land Mountain - and read the recent posts on his simian landlady and the ant migration, and also, well, just about everything else.

oh to be able to write like that...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A bolus of quotes

Why do we, scientists or nonscientists, hotshots or regular Joes, tend to see the pennies instead of the dollars? Why do we keep focusing on the minutiae, not the possible significant large events, in spite of the obvious evidence of their huge influence? And, if you follow my argument, why does reading the newspaper actually decrease your knowledge of the world?
[the News that oozes issue]

Laura Rozen:
The phenomenon of local papers like the KC Star avoiding publishing well reported material that local political constituencies would perhaps find inconvenient is an enormous disservice to the cities they cover. *

Philip Meyer:
We are trying to push journalism toward science. Almost everybody else, it seems on most days, is trying to push it toward art....

One response to information overload has been the elevation of spin. When attention-getting is more important than discovering and imparting the truth, the marketplace rewards those who are skilled at creating appearances. Our goal needs to be to find a way to help the marketplace reward the truth-tellers....*

the predominant criticism of our media is not based on a desire that [reporters] act more like partisans than journalists. It is based on the fact that they do not act like journalists at all.*

As for columnists -
Interestingly, almost *none* of these noted pundits ever call us to ask questions about our operations, or the deal, or our perspective. They just opine. *

If there is a point to mainstream journalism at all--rather than dueling press releases--it is that reporters get to ask questions. *

having access to a blog as a platform is useful, but for almost everyone using that platform to respond to a reporter’s story is about as effective as talking to yourself in an empty room.*

...every time a smart [blogger] invests a paragraph in pointing at [particular person's] stupidity, or makes a detailed analysis of the corruption of the big-money US media, while one of the smart person's friends is doing the same on her/his blog, good ideas and important facts are being crowded out.*

Obviously, the blogosphere gets a lot of its strength from its decentralized structure, but it seems to me that productive debate is a lot like life. If you pack a lot of enzymes and DNA and other molecules in a tight package, you get life. Disperse them, and you get a few random reactions. Pack comments about a particular paper in one place, and a real debate can emerge. Disperse them across the blogosphere, and you encourage cheap shots and irrelevant tangents, while good observations go unappreciated. *

There are two kinds of debaters: those who think debate is a method for testing the validity of propositions, and those who think it's about who wins. That second sort isn't worth anyone's time or trouble. *

when someone shows himself unable to understand or accept overwhelming evidence for a theory that is conceptually rather elegant and simple, it does indeed throw his intelligence and judgment into question. *

And, returning to Taleb:
certain professionals, while believing they are experts, are in fact not. Based on their empirical record, they do not know more about their subject matter than the general population, but they are much better at narrating -- or, worse, at smoking you with complicated mathematical models. They are also more likely to wear a tie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You can't judge a paper by its website

...or at least you can't judge with confidence, since the picture you'll form from the online site - bereft of columns, AP stories, the headlines applied to said stories and their placement - may be misleading.
(note: I realize* that the online paper likely *can't* show this info; but its absence can - and today, does - result in an online paper that's a lot more reasonable than its wood-pulp counterpart.)

Today, The Union illustrates this issue:
  • On the front page - and on the website - you'll find an IMO excellent article by Dave Moller, taking our county Board of Supervisors to task for refusing to say who had applied for the county Clerk-Recorder position (vacated by the no longer moonlighting Kathleen Smith), or who screened the six applicants such that only Gregory Diaz emerged to be interviewed by the BOS, or how the screening process went.

    Halo of the day to reporter Dave Moller.

  • But inside the paper, global warming denialism still reigns: you'll find yet another reactionary column by Pittsburgh PA former sports writer (and current denialist) Bill Steigerwald.
    (If you're reading the paper online you won't see this - the column's not visible on the paper's website, and googling steigerwald brings up nothing.)

So - today, the wood pulp Union informs with good reporting on the one hand, and disinforms with a beyond-questionable column on the other. But the online Union only shows the good reporting. Is this another reason to just get the paper online?

again though - Dave Moller done good.


I've sent an email to the paper's Readership Editor asking by what criteria they find it appropriate to run columns like Steigerwald's, and will report back the answer.
(or the stonewall, if past performance is any guarantee of future results)
(July 5 update: it was.)

For anyone who's curious: the global warming denialist Bill Steigerwald is not related to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center press officer Bill Steigerwald. (I'd asked both; only NASA Bill responded, saying no, they're very different people.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ask Dr. Science: a look at the data of global warming denialism

Question: What happens when you look into the data being wielded as evidence against global warming?

Answer: You find discrepancies - between how the information was represented and what's actually there, between what it purports to show and what it actually shows, and between the argument being made from it and the original researchers' actual views.

Russ Steele is Nevada County's premier right wing blogger; a retired engineer, for over a decade he has maintained that global warming is not occurring, or is occurring but isn't due to human influence.

Back in April Russ and I had a global warming dust-up, in which he challenged me to look at data assembled by an organization called "The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change", at a website called "CO2Science" [SourceWatch link] - Russ said they had cited 77 [peer reviewed] papers to show that there was a global Medieval Warm Period* (the IPPC said it wasn't global) whose temperature surpassed temperatures today, which would suggest that today's temperatures aren't out of the ordinary:
"Here is a map tracing the location of 77+ papers attesting to a MWP. ...There are 16 Level 1 [most sophisticated] papers...19 Level 2... 42 Level 3... Click on each of the locations and it takes you to the scientific paper, which you can read and decide for your self."

And on this occasion, I did look into it - and at last have the time to write up what I found.

Of the 77 papers, I looked for info on all of the project's "Level 1" papers.

Russ had said
"...attesting to a MWP..."
Well, not exactly - the "Medieval Warm Periods" they attest to weren't all at the same time - some of the periods don't even overlap - if it's a global period, surely the "period" should be, well, global? Some of the MWP "eras" mentioned are 450-900AD, 950-1200AD, 740-880AD, 800-1100AD, 600-1000AD, 1050-1400AD.
Does CO2Science make note of this variability anywhere? It's pretty fundamental.

Russ had said
"... Click on each of the locations and it takes you to the scientific paper, which you can read and decide for your self."

It turns out that CO2"science" doesn't link to the paper, or even provide its abstract; instead they provide a "Description" of the paper, that they write up themselves.

If you can find your way to the paper's true Abstract ( will help), in many cases you'll see why CO2"science" wouldn't want to print it, since it wouldn't support their "what global warming?" cause - e.g. for the Chesapeake study they cite, the paper's actual Abstract says,
"...temperature extremes in Chesapeake Bay associated with [North Atlantic current Oscillation] climate variability exceeded those of the prior 2000 years, including the interval 450-1000 AD, by 2-3 degrees C, suggesting anomalous recent behavior of the climate system."

Likewise, a little googling turns up an author of the Greenland studies they're citing, being quoted saying something they wouldn't appreciate, in USA Today:
"'ice cores changed our image of climate,' Johnsen says. 'Before we had thought that climate needed 10,000 years to change. We found it could change in 10 to 20 years; it could switch from very cold to very warm. This shook everyone.'"

I also emailed North American authors of three of the "Level I" studies, to ask their views on whether CO2"science" was citing their work to make a point they agreed with.

One did not reply.

A second - fortunately for CO2"science" - was not able to speak on the record.

The third was Dr. Brian Luckman, Professor of Geography at the University of Western Ontario and first author of Summer temperatures in the Canadian Rockies during the last millennium: a revised record (discussed here on CO2"Science")

He was not impressed:
"these results [in CO2"science"] are ... written in such a way as to imply a long sustained warmth which is not borne out... [Our] paper does not state that temperatures were higher in the past ( millennium?) than they are today.... Until we have many more well replicated temperature reconstructions that cover the period from ca 700-1200 AD, the whole concept of a "Medieval Warm Period" is open to question.

The email exchange is posted here on NCDocuments.

I'm fairly sure that, of the scientists who authored the 77+ papers that CO2"science" is citing, the number who accord that website any credibility will be vanishingly small.*

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Union's Commitment to Readers - does one exist?

Wed June 20 update:
At the end of this post I'd said "I'm hoping the inconsistency between word and deed... will turn out to be temporary", and that's how it has turned out: comments from previous years - at least, the formerly missing comments (including mine) to this column - appear to have been restored. Yes, it took a while, but many thanks to those who fixed the problem.
Moral: Sunlight is effective.

Original post follows.


Just what - and how sincere - is The Union's commitment to its readers? So far, the paper's actions have belied its announcements, and requests for clarification have not been answered.

Earlier this year, The Union unveiled a major website redesign, describing the new site as "an online community news site that allows social networking between Members." The Union's editor said the site is "...meant to showcase our readers' blogs, editorials, comments, poems, photos and other original editorial material - not just ours."

There's a problem: the redesign appears to have deleted prior* reader comments on articles and columns; for example, this column used to have 20 or 30 comments, including one I had linked to in an NCFocus post from last year.

I reported the absence of comments to The Union's Online Project Manager*, who corroborated the problem and reported it to the techs at parent company Swift Newspapers. Two weeks later*, he had not heard back from them.

To me this inaction does not indicate concern for "showcasing" readers' material. And if the earlier comments have really gone missing permanently, it wouldn't be the first time that The Union has engaged in wholesale deletion - without notice, and without explanation - of reader-contributed content.

Rather than engage in shoot-from-the-hip blogger denigration of the paper's commitment to its readers and their content, I emailed The Union's Readership Editor to check whether The Union does have any "commitment to readers" regarding permanence of their online content, and if so, what it is.

No answer.*

I emailed* her a second time, asking for confirmation that she'd received the email.

No answer.

It's pretty clear that my email to the Readership Editor had been received; the Union's Online Project Manager alluded to it by saying, "As far any written commitment to retaining comments on our site... Please see our terms of use - #7 will be the most related to your question."

But #7 is not related*; it only concerns offensive and abusive comments: " may delete any Content that in the sole judgment of violates this Agreement or which may be offensive, illegal or violate the rights, harm, or threaten the safety of any person...."

So unless The Union considers all reader comments to be offensive and abusive ipso facto, it appears that our local newspaper:
  1. trumpets its appreciation for reader comments with one hand while quietly "disappearing" older ones en masse with the other

  2. is not willing to address the discrepancy.
I'm hoping the inconsistency between word and deed - and the lack of response to emails - will turn out to be temporary.

Also - is it typical, for a newspaper's Readership Editor to be unable to speak on the record about the paper?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


edited*, to make clear that this isn't the fault of the "new regime".

It turns out that, while I had my brain to the grindstone over on the Assignment Zero crowdsourcing homestretch*, working on a piece extolling the rich harvest of low-hanging local fruit that's likely overripe for the picking by citizen journalist watchdogs, the Nevada County Grand Jury was releasing a report (PDF on county website, HTML on NCDocuments) slamming Nevada City's government for decades of mismanagement far above and beyond the norm - " unusual and so extreme in dollars, personnel, customer service, and efficiency, that it is difficult to quantify."

So, yeah. What I said.

It stems from lack of oversight; and it manifests in lack of oversight.

But the drinking water is great. Thank you Chris.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Reasoning by induction: journobloggers are real...

...and not just constructs of pixels and electrons.

or at least Mark Hamilton is.

Damn it's nice to talk* to someone who shares your interests.

I did talk his ear off though. So if you see a one-eared Canadian wandering around Nevada City tomorrow morning, be sure and say hello.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Note to self: website content is a variable, not a constant

This is just an "I hate finding out that what I've apologized for publicly probably wasn't in fact my fault" post.
Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly. ( * )
- Roger Ebert

The same holds for reporting what's present and what's missing on someone else's website. Here are a couple of recent instances involving The Union:

A March a commenter took The Union to task for not covering a large peace march in Grass Valley; yesterday she told me that photos of the peace march are now up on the paper's website. She doesn't think they were there before.

A little over a week ago I noted that old comments on pre-2007 stories at The Union's website were no longer visible; a couple days later they were visible, so I issued a retraction (not just on NCFocus, also offsite here) assuming I'd screwed up somehow; then a few days ago I revisited the page and comments were missing again.
(the Union's webmaster reports that he is looking into it)
So either I was mistaken in thinking the problem had gone away, or else the comments really did make a cameo appearance before going offstage again.

In any case, the moral for bloggers is this: any time you report that X is missing or Y is present on a website, note the date in your writing, and take a screenshot, lest later on you (and others) be faced with wondering whether to trust your lying eyes.

and for altruistic webmasters, a request: where feasible, if you make a change, say that you've done so, rather than inflict this uncertainty upon your readers.

note: it is still possible that both I and the commenter misperceived or misremembered; IMO not probable, but possible.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Annoyingly ahead of our time

The fine (particularly recently) Conover on Media once characterized your correspondent as "annoyingly ahead of her time" - and it is extremely apt, at least when "out to lunch" isn't more so.

And I just realized another way that it fits -
I've been reading Jay Rosen's Assignment Zero interview with Christopher Anderson of NYC Indymedia, and they're discussing what motivates citizen journalists; and reading between the spoken lines, it's pretty clear that Anderson thinks it has to be political passion, and is a bit dubious about the prognosis for (Assignment Zero parent)'s brand of citizen journalism:
Are there enough people in the world who care about journalism (not political journalism, or journalism motivated by politics) to create something more ... god, I hate the word "objective," but something less ... partisan? Just because they care about good journalism?

and put that way, it does shall we say the beaten track...

...and also oddly reminiscent of a certain Assignment Zero contributor's profile:
Joined because: I want to help make crowdsourced journalism work. The reason - I want to see better journalism, and part of better journalism is more diverse journalism - one form may illuminate the blind spots of another. And the blind spots of our current journalism badly need sunlight.

Why would anyone care about "journalism" enough to go out and do it themselves, when they could just pick up their city's paper and read the news they needed to know?


But what if it's 10 years down the road, and your city no longer has a paper covering the news, or watchdogging local government? How much do you value journalism then? How will you get it?

I suspect I'm only ahead of the beaten track.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Disturbing moments in horticulture

If your tomato plant seems to be....shrinking...and growing sparser by the day, it might not be your imagination, and it might not be due to poor plant health.

But who ever heard of squirrels eating tomato leaves?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Crowdsourcing, County Supervisors and An Inconvenient Truth

Great news from Nevada County - global warming's not a problem; or even if it is, we should ignore it; and transparency is overrated. These are the messages I read as being sent by 4 of Nevada County's 5 supervisors to their constituents.

Regular readers may recall that in early April NCFocus did an interim report on a small crowdsourcing project here in Nevada County; one person in each district* had emailed their County Supervisor to ask whether and when he or she had seen the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and whether they were willing to have this information be public.

This project emerged from your correspondent's experience at the March 27 Board of Supervisors' meeting; during the public comment period I had asked whether the Supervisors had seen the film - by then it had been out on video for four months, after having shown in town for two months last summer - but chairman John Spencer jumped in to inform me that I was not permitted to ask questions during this period, I could only comment. His implication was that the general public had no right to know this information, that it was between a supervisor and that supervisor's constituents, if the supervisor chose to tell them.

I interpreted his unwillingness as stemming from a desire to avoid publicly answering an inconvenient question; subsequent events have not altered this impression.

The four of us contacted our supervisors to ask. The results:
  • District I Supervisor Nate Beason answered my email after a week had passed; he did not recognize the legitimacy of the questions, and was only willing to say that he had seen the film, not when.
    (My reason for asking "when" was to find out whether he had seen it before or after the supervisors' meeting at which I was prevented from asking about it.)

    (Mr. Beason did subsequently speak* at Nevada County's StepItUp 2007 event on global warming, but - as with his speech* at the Town Hall Conference on peak oil in 2005 - did not take questions from the audience or remain in the room.*)

  • District II Supervisor Sue Horne did not respond to an email asking whether her views had changed. Last summer she'd had this to say to her constituent:
    I do not believe that global warming is the impending crisis that Mr. Gore and others would like all Americans to feel personally responsible for. I will tell you quite honestly, Mr. Gore has little credibility in my view, and I have no interest in viewing a film he is associated with.

    I have attended a rural counties conference in which this subject was addressed by experts in the field. The consensus was, yes, there is global warming. It is probably cyclical in nature, and it is debatable as to what degree the earth is warming. Also, equally debatable is whether a change in human behavior to reduce ozone levels would have any sustaining altering affect on the planet's warming taking into consideration the natural atmospheric occurrences of our planet. I do believe in being good stewards of this beautiful planet we have been blessed with utilizing common sense and responsible actions.

  • District III Supervisor John Spencer did respond to his constituent and answer the questions, but was not willing to have his answers be public.

  • District IV Supervisor Hank Weston saw the film last summer, during the two month stretch when it was playing in local movie theaters, and found it informative and worthwhile.

  • District V Supervisor Ted Owens was asked by Truckee-based freelance writer Ronnie Colby for his views on An Inconvenient Truth; Colby did not receive a reply from Mr. Owens.

That, in a nutshell, is Nevada County's government.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thoughts on burying the lede

Why can't these smart, talented speakers make their ideas stick? The first villain is the natural tendency to bury the lead - to get lost in a sea of information. ... *

So why do reporters feel the "natural temptation to bury the lede*"?

Assertion: it's because we're social animals and maybe we're a little bit insecure, so when we reach a conclusion, and we want to show it to our readers, we don't want to coerce them, and we want company, especially company in which we're the expert, so we try to lead readers to our conclusion along the same path we took to get there, figuring that with someone to lead them, they'll have an easy time of it - it'll be like a field trip, they'll admire the flowers we point to along the way and the lovely path we've made for them, and then will be awestruck upon sighting the hike's destination. And it's that much more fun for us to keep them in suspense along the way.*

But instead the readers get tired and cranky when we're only partway there, because they don't see the point.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Special Doolittle edition

Sac News and Review - Will Doolittle do time?
Some history I didn't know:
...The week of the [1994] election, voters received a letter with an endorsement of Doolittle by James Roosevelt, a founder of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and a son of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had signed the original Social Security Act into law in 1933. The mailer was significant because Doolittle had received extremely low ratings for his congressional record from all the major senior-citizen groups. Even more significant was the fact that, by then, Roosevelt had been dead for two years.

Mr Doolittle is not happy with the search of his Virginia home; his Auburn Journal op-ed on this subject

The Dump Doolittle blog