Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Read with caution" anti-climate-crank text and links, for safekeeping

I'm about to replace this text, which NCVoices was displaying above the "climate contrarians" column, but I didn't want it to disappear altogether, so here it is:
"...we've managed to create some people who seem to be opposed to the persistence of a viable planet" (link) - and to the health and well-being of the next 50 generations.

You'll find them down below. (And those who don't much care* were in the next column over.)

"We will have to do this because if we don’t, our children will curse our lack of courage and our selfishness. ... 2009 is to climate change what 1939 was to WWII." *

See the NCFocus Layman's 1-minute guide to smart thinking about climate, on smart, quick strategies for becoming informed; or just use the risk-management approach Craven suggests.
And read
The Parallel Universes of Climate Change

(And look here (blogs) or at the Climate Denial Crock of the Week videos (here's the list, with one on Watts) for debunking of new contrarian claims. )

I'm replacing it with this:
This is why we have peer review. Average guys with websites can do a lot of amazing things. One thing they cannot do is reveal statistical manipulation in climate-change studies that require a PhD in a related field to understand. So for the time being, my response to any and all further 'smoking gun' claims begins with:
"Show me the peer-reviewed journal* article demonstrating the error here. Otherwise, you’re a crank and this is not a story."
(from The Economist, Scepticism's limits )

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not the three wise men, but almost as good

Four geese just flew to above my house, proclaiming; then wheeled and flew back to whence they came.

I hope it was good news...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

SPD's Customer Appreciation Day is tomorrow, Xmas eve

Just thought I'd mention it in case you, like I, couldn't remember.

(The eggnog is good. The wings is good. The festive spirit is good...)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Observation on conservatives and climate - suggestions?

From Jonathan Chait (here) at TNR (h/t TB):
A decade ago, nearly all conservatives rejected the connection between carbon emissions and climate change. Though many still do, a growing minority of right-wingers now accepts the mainstream scientific position. However, rather than proceed from that premise to some program of reduced emissions, they have feverishly devised a series of rationales for unlimited carbon use.
... The telling thing here is not that these arguments are provably wrong... It’s that those conservatives who have accepted climate-change science immediately jumped to some other reason to oppose government action.

...virtually no conservative intellectuals seem to settle, even temporarily, on the view that climate change is real and that government regulation is therefore appropriate. They cling to climate-science skepticism like a life preserver, and then, when they can’t hold on any more, they grasp immediately for a different rationale. If government intervention appears to be the answer, they must change the question.

I think we're seeing this locally as well. I'd welcome suggestions as to how you go about working with people who reject out of hand the most - perhaps the only - effective solutions.
(Particularly welcomed: ideas from the "let's work together" commenters in this thread on Pelline's blog, from earlier this month.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stop going green. PLEASE. For your children's sake.

"No more compact fluorescent light bulbs. No more green wedding planning. No more organic toothpicks for holiday hors d'oeuvres. ..."

Instead, two things. Read Mike Tidwell's To really save the planet, stop going green (published Dec. 6 here in the Washington Post). Then, if you get it, send it to your friends.

(The problem with most save-our-climate outreach is that it ignores our built-in single-action bias – so the people who it reaches take an action, typically a personal-carbon-footprint one, and then feel that they’ve pitched in. But if we're going to do one thing, it had better be the the thing that matters – and Tidwell's column makes it clear what that is.)

Get your friends and neighbors on board (if they’re not there yet, give them a subscription to a science magazine this Christmas), then share the column with them.

And you could help encourage its spread by sharing the book What's the Worst That Could Happen?, which exhorts us to:

Be the virus.
(and transmit the column)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter warmth product ideas

Someone should sell these.

1. The new, ultra-fuzzy socks that CVS has been selling - currently all ankle-length, that I've seen - should be available in knee-sock height.

2. A sturdy short smock, waist length at most, with a 9+ inch, stomach-area pocket in front, and another pocket at same height in back - along with two Snuggle Safe microwavable heat pads. Which, when heated, go into the pockets...
(This could be a home business, for someone with a sewing machine; sell at Victorian Xmas to extremely grateful buyers.)

The advantage of the SnuggleSafes, over the drape-around-your-neck microwave gel heat pads, is that the latter invariably seem to end up springing a leak, when you leave them in the nuker too long. And then what do you do with the escaping gel?

Actually, that's a third product idea:
3. A gel-proof "overcoat" sleeve, to re-seal your leaking microwave-gel-pad into, for continued use.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Downtown Nevada City sidewalk report: icy, treacherous, unsanded. Beware.

Next morning update: much better. See comment below.
In the short time I was in town today - including just now - I saw two people who'd fallen. One had a bloody face; one had hit the back of her head. Many downspouts drain directly onto the sidewalks, which - in the snow-thaw-freeze weather we're having now - means the sidewalks sport many rivers of ice. Unsalted, unsanded rivers of ice - the word at City Hall is "the sidewalks are the responsibility of the businesses, so we can't call Maintenance to do it" - and the merchants aren't prepared for this kind of weather, and may not realize it's their responsibility to make the sidewalks safe.

Result: Nevada City's a boomtown for personal injury lawyers today; but if you're not one and you don't want to hire one, get yourself a pair of YakTrax, or go out to dinner somewhere else tonight.

Confidential to homeowners who shoveled plowed snow back into the street yesterday (where it turned to slush, melted, refroze): thank you, it's much more exciting to walk down the hill now.

As for the YakTrax - Mountain Recreation (where I got mine; 491 E. Main, GV) says they have 9 pairs left, but no Mediums.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What Dear Abby and a five-year-old can teach us about climate action

From today's paper:
DEAR ABBY: I am a single mother of a 7-year-old girl. Before we moved to a rural area, my daughter attended a private school where she flourished. However, after three years in public school here, she is struggling academically and her self-esteem has been challenged.

Every day I agonize over whether we ought to move or stay. I have a great job, wonderful friends and the lifestyle is comfortable....

DEAR MUST CHOOSE: What’s more important to you — your job, friends and lifestyle, or your daughter’s future? Once you have answered that question, your choice will be easy.

(The analogy's inexact, since Mom can keep her job, friends and lifestyle, while stopping climate change from hitting her daughter - see Romm's Introduction to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar)

Related, Jim Hansen's "Never-Give-Up Fighting Spirit: Lessons From a Grandchild"(pdf)
5-year-old Connor... said, very brightly and bravely, “I don’t quit, because I have never-give-up fighting spirit.” It seems his karate lessons are paying off.

Some adults need Connor’s help. ...

This Christmas, give gift certificates for Karate school.

On cranks and climate

Does all this matter? Yes, if it's keeping us from moving forward, and if we feel any obligation to the next fifty generations.

There are people who can talk your ear off about climate change, who aren't being paid to espouse their views, and who sound to the uninitiated as though they have a good grasp of the subject.

When their views run counter to the consensus knowledge of an entire, active scientific field, the term for these people is "cranks".

Some insights from people in the trenches, on climate cranks:
"Actually, as I happen to work at the Physical Review journals, a sizable percentage of submissions to a couple of our journals does consist of completely off-the-wall "contributions" to "general relativity or quantum mechanics".
... The difference is not that there are cranks out there on climate but not in other fields. The difference seems to be that the cranks in climate science have somehow achieved a level of support, a cheering section, or perhaps actual material support for their work. In particle physics the Dunning-Krugerites are each off in their own little world with no media attention at all. Not so in climate." (link)

"I work with this [climate] stuff. Every day. 40 (well more like 50-60) hours a week. It took years of study for me (and everyone else) just to get to the level where you can properly understand what it is, exactly, that I do. That's what being an expert at something entails. Now when I get into a dispute with someone, they typically have the same level of expertise. They know more or less everything I do. I know what they're saying, and they usually know what I'm saying.

Now you bring into that situation some layperson with their religious reasons or ideological reasons or crank personality, who wants to dispute the results of my work. So they pore over it, and they simply don't understand it. (And ignorance breeds arrogance more often than humility, as Lincoln said) But they think they do. And then they formulate their criticism. Even if that criticism makes sense (often not), it's typically wrong at the most basic level. And that will practically always be the case - because there's virtually *nothing* in the way of criticism that a beginner would be able to think of that an expert hadn't thought about already.
The fact that these climate-skeptics were prepared to take these e-mails, pore over them for some choice quotes (which didn't even look incriminating to me out of context), blatantly misinterpret them without making any kind of good-faith effort to understand the context or the science behind it, and trumpet it all out as some kind of 'disproval' of global warming (which wouldn't have been the case even if they were right), just goes to show that they're simply not interested in either learning the science, or engaging in a real debate. And it's in itself pseudo-scientific behavior in action..." (link)

How should you deal with a crank, in a field that isn't your specialty? If it's just you and him, you may just want to disengage. But if there's an audience, and the topic is important, you do need to counter your crank - since otherwise he could undermine the audience's understanding. The most constructive way to engage is to narrow down the argument - since these folks often do the Gish Gallop - and impose some form of recordkeeping that'll serve as a heuristic for your audience to judge by. So what I try to do is narrow it down to one crank claim, and offer to bet $1 that, if I take the time to look into it, it will turn out to be false or misleading.

My dollar's pretty safe; if the claim were not false or misleading, it'd be part of mainstream climate science, and it won't need cranks to espouse it. Keep this heuristic in mind.

Another quick heuristic: if someone cites a paper in Energy and Environment, it means they're not clued in; this one journal is notorious for publishing poor quality science.

Also, I hate to say it, but: the laypeople most prone to overestimating their climate science knowledge - in a contrarian direction - seem to be amateurs without college degrees, weathermen, and guys with a background in physics or engineering. (See: Dunning-Kruger effect and Salem hypothesis.)

The rest of us are typically more humble.

Friday, November 27, 2009

McClintock Sept 4 GV meeting, 2

I'm snipping this post -- I was raising its central question based on evidence that'd be too easy to gin up (or misinterpret.)
  I have lingering questions and curiosity about the degree to which the Sept 4 McClintock healthcare town hall meeting was fiction. It's a distraction from what I need to be working on, so if anyone else wants to pick any of this up & run with it, feel free...
[Also see Wednesday's Qs for Tom McClintock post, about what appeared to be a phantom website, a phantom foundation, and a brother that former Calif. controller Steve Westly didn't know he had. (Westly remains unconvinced.)]

Some interesting assertions were made about the Sept. 4 McClintock/TeaParty health care townhall meeting (campaign video here, Keachie photos here) in The Union's letters section last month; I've been trying to fact-check them but have come up short.

On Oct. 14, in Were anti-reformers bused in to skew local public opinion? Donna Carlisi of Nevada City said she had observed the redshirted contingent's performance being stage-managed, and said "It's clear to me that that these folks were bused in...".

(Re the "stage management" allegation, at the end of this (~80 second) YouTube clip you can see what I think she's talking about -

watch the fellow in red, at the lower left, as the clip ends.)

The following week, in Oct 20's Seeing red over claims that town hallers were bused in, Nevada County Tea Party Patriot President Stan Meckler vehemently denied that "these folks" had been bused in: "I know every single person who was in red at that event and they are all Nevada County Tea Party Patriots and local residents, a fact that is easily substantiated with very little effort."
(He did not address the "stage managed" allegation.)

So, where does the truth lie? The Union seemed to be taking the "let's you and he fight" approach and sitting it out, not entirely unwisely.

But I'd like to know.

I'd like to know if Donna Carlisi is a real person; she's not in the phone book, I can't find her in the county records, I haven't found anyone who knows her, and while I contacted The Union and asked them to ask her to get in touch, I never heard from her.

I also want to know whether, as NCTPPP's Stan Meckler alleged, [virtually] every single person who was in red at that event was a Nevada County Tea Party Patriot and local resident, "a fact that is easily substantiated with very little effort". I tried to find out by sending Mr. Meckler a montage of red-shirted-attendee photos and asking him to ID them, but he wasn't willing to do so, understandably citing privacy concerns. But in his letter he had stated that their local provenance "can be easily substantiated with very little effort"; perhaps I was going about it the wrong way? So I asked Mr. Meckler how I could substantiate it with very little effort, and, alas, got a clearly uncooperative reply - it seems that this claim was just rhetoric, not meant literally.

I want to know whether the non-red people who spoke up against the health care legislation (some with some pretty wild storylines) were local residents, or interlopers - which is something Mr. Meckler would likely know, or at least be able to help narrow down. So I asked him if he recognized three such speakers as locals or knew them for non-locals, but he wasn't willing to cooperate even to that extent.

Do you know?

I'm particularly interested in "David Collins", the fellow in the white shirt, who'd railed against Medicare. While speaking he'd identified himself as a "health care worker" who'd worked in San Diego, in Chico and now up here; but when I went up to him afterwards, he refused to repeat his name or to say where he worked or what kind of health work he did. Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital hadn't heard of him, and while there is a Chico surgeon named David Collins, the ages don't match.
I'd had a hunch he was actually Steve Westly's brother David (who McClintock mentions by name in the above video clip), but now that Steve Westly turns out not to have a brother David, that possibility seems rather less likely.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Qs for Tom McClintock, re our GV Sept 4 healthcare townhall meeting

Update: as explained in comments below, McClintock actually meant to say and Dean Westly, not and David Westly. Carry on...
(Pelline wrote a McClintock post yesterday, & in comments there I asked how to contact McClintock to get Qs answered; fellow commenters suggested calling his office, so I did so, but got a machine; and rather than try to verbalize my Qs to the machine, I decided to compose them here instead.)

At the 9/4 GV health care town hall meeting, Congressman McClintock spoke about a health-insurance-comparison website called; he said he'd gone to the site and found that a X-year old man in good health could get individual health insurance for $Y per month. And he said this website was the work of a private nonprofit foundation, among whose officers was David Westly, brother of (Democratic) former California state Controller Steve Westly.

I tried to verify this information, but came up short.

* Did McClintock misspeak when he said it was "", and that he'd visited it? There is a domain - it's registered to the PR firm Fleishman-Hillard - but as far as I can tell, there was never a website at that URL, so it's not clear how Congressman McClintock would have used it.

* What is the name of the private foundation, that's behind the website? When I tried to google up an answer, I didn't find any private foundation that David Westly was an officer of.

* Was David Westly present at our Grass Valley town hall meeting?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Library Journal articles on library mgmt firm LSSI

These two "background" articles are from Oct 2004:

LSSI Search Results on Library Journal
April 2009 - Florida County, Facing Citizen Criticism, Drops LSSI Contract Proposal

See Don Pelton's Sierra Voices coverage of the library outsourcing/privatization issue, including his questioning the rather bizarre only-3-day period for public comment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SacBee story today reporting Citizens Bank among the troubled

Some California banks struggle despite bailout
Locally ["among the eight that either halted or never made a dividend payment to the Treasury"], Nevada City-based Citizens Bancorp of Northern California received $10.4 million in TARP money in 2008.

Since then, it replaced its president in July, "deferred" its $140,000 dividend payment to the Treasury in August and restated its prior financial results in September.

Though Citizens had a $363,000 profit for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, its loss for the first nine months of 2009 is $1.7 million.

Chief executive Gary Gall said Citizens will defer another $140,000 dividend payment to the Treasury this quarter. "Right now it's wise for us to preserve our capital," he said.

Citizens thinks it has now set aside enough money for future loan losses, while working to resolve past-due loans and selling its foreclosed properties, Gall said.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tea Party Patriot internal strife, from TPMMuck

Stumbled on this:
The Tea Party movement is being ripped apart by bitter internal rancor, highlighted by a lawsuit against a former leader, vituperative name-calling, and charges of financial mismanagement and corruption. ... At the root of the dispute is the acrimony between TPP and the Tea Party Express, a newer group formed by a team of GOP consultants. ...

Story here, by Zachary Roth on TPM Muckraker.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

CABPRO touts Varshney and Tootelian "small business" study, again, credulously

Martin Light posted on it here, and last month as well.

My comment, which is awaiting moderation there:
Martin, nowhere in this post do you bother to mention who the study's authors are, or explain why they're competent to do a good analysis.

It turns out that the authors of this report (pdf) are Varshney and Tootelian, the same pair who wrote the "cost of AB32" report which got panned by experts - it was termed "the worst I have seen on the subject" by this UOP professor, and other experts judged likewise.

The UOP prof says -
"I have 3 degrees in Economics and have completed a specialization in environmental economics and natural resource policy, and have published in peer-reviewed journals about global warming issues. Thus, I am qualified to conduct and review studies on the costs of AB32 and similar policies. Varshney and Tootelian's study is the worst I have seen on the subject and seems to reflect little training or experience in the area.... they have degrees in Finance and Marketing, not Economics (yes, there is a big difference and it shows here).... they are doing research outside their field of expertise that is confusing people, and muddying very important policy debates."

Martin, there is such a thing as competence; and if you want to make informed policy decisions, it matters.

Disclosure - *I* didn't take the time to read this study at all, much less read it carefully; I'm saving time - and getting a much better result - by relying on my network of trust here, outsourcing the "judgment" job to people who can do it far more competently than I can. I'd recommend you do likewise, if you are able to assess competence and intellectual honesty in others.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Cons to look out for

I've been hit by both of these in one week - one local, one not.

The nonlocal one: a highway farm stand selling pomegranates that were moldy inside. After buying several - which looked lovely - I asked if the proprietor had a knife handy, to cut one open; she said no and advised that I'd end up with pomegranate juice all over the car. As it transpired, I would have ended up with mold all over it instead.

And, in beautiful downtown Brunswick Basin, in a store that'd been doing a brisk business for hours, I handed over a $20 bill to pay for my small purchase, saying "here's a twenty"; Cashier#1 handed me the change, then did a double-take looking at her drawer, and said "wait, you didn't give me a twenty, there's no twenty here - you must have given me a five" - and took $15 back. I'd seen it as a twenty when I'd taken it from my wallet, so stood there looking dubious. Cashier#2 looked over at the drawer, and assured me Cashier#1 was correct - "no, there really isn't a twenty in there".
I made a (G-rated) expression of unhappiness, at 110% volume, still standing there - and lo, Cashier#1 discovered it had been a twenty after all, that she had placed under the drawer; presumably with all the other twenties.

So... trust, but verify.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A question for Anthony Watts, but no help yet in getting it answered

I'd like to add Chico-based climate inactivist Anthony Watts's academic background to his SourceWatch and Wikipedia pages, but Watts was unwilling to provide this information. So I left a comment over at Russ Steele's blog, noting that his blog displayed Watts's "World Climate Widget" and asking if he could help get this information; but my comment was deemed off topic and deleted, and Russ said in email that he does not know and is not willing to help find out.

So, if anyone knows when and where Anthony Watts got his academic training in climate science and/or meteorology, could you please share this information?

Friday, September 25, 2009

My god, PR people are slippery

I'm just sayin'.

Confidential to you-know-who-you-are: Repent.

Update/clarification: if you don't purvey fossil fuels, this message is not for you.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Quick Qs about last night's Town Hall meeting

Did anyone get a recording (audio or video), esp. of the last 20 minutes or so of the "second seating"?

Do you have questions for Congressman McClintock that you'd like to see addressed?

Do you have information bearing on the assertions made (by McClintock and by the audience) last night?

Please let me know - by email or by comment below. I think we should keep a dialogue going.

(and my videocam filled up before the end, so I didn't record Dr. Newsom's statement or those before and after her, and I'm sorely regretting this)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kawasaki commercial filming continues, in Nevada City

Just so you know.
It's kind of interesting to see, but considerably less so if you want to drive through town without delay, or to park along many stretches of Spring and Broad Streets (and perhaps others)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Enos v. Spencer, on improving local public schools, at Rebane's blog

Current Nevada County Supervisor John Spencer disparages public schools over in the comments at George Rebane's blog.

His constituent, former GV City Councilmember Steve Enos, asks some pointed questions in reply.

As of this writing, we see no response from Mr. Spencer.

Not-so-confidential to Steve Enos: I value your thoughts, but rarely see them. Please, send out alerts via Twitter, so those of us who get our local news through Nevada County Voices will know to go and read.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nevada City Advocate, July 17 issue

Until the Nevada City Advocate's website gets up and running, I'll post the headlines of each issue.

July 17 2009 issue (#3) contents:

* Alpha building purchased; Nevada City men hope to lease space to Calif. Organics
* What a summer night it was (hot summer nights #1 in nc)
* Another way to see our world (Parker and Crabb exhibit at Center for the Arts)
* Sustainability Center off to a fast start
* Businesses are sprouting up downtown
* Briarpatch wants to make social media more social
* The Who tribute band to light up Cooper's
* Dead Ahead, Cheatin' Buzzies to play at Miners Foundry
* Community Calendar
* Early Riser Toastmasters announce award winners
* Saturday Farmers Market update

Nevada City Advocate, July 3 issue

Until the Nevada City Advocate's website gets up and running, I'll post the headlines of each issue.

July 3 2009 issue (#1) contents:
* We're taking the plunge; local couple starts a weekly community newspaper
* Miners Foundry makes history
* Nevada City man purchases historic Powell House
* Crime writer to swap, sign his books at community giveaway
* July 4 looks to be a blast; day starts with a parade in GV and ends with live music and fireworks at fairgrounds
* Nevada City repays loan, overdue parking fees
* Council delays decision on pot dispensary
* Top gun fighter jets coming to county air show
* City wants a second look at county's road-naming requirements
* Let's control our own fates (editorial)
* Newspaper begins to take on a life of its own (publisher's column)
* Los Lobos, Indigo Girls part of a global lineup (California Worldfest July 16-19)
* Community Calendar
* Blues and brews coming to fairgrounds (Sat July 25)
* Bella Nota concert to be held July 18 at The Roth Estate
* Heard on the Street (What do you want to see in your community newspaper?)
* Phillips School of Massage has special touch
* Nevada City to host conference workshops
* 2009 Nevada City Classic photos

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nevada City Advocate, July 10 issue

Until the Nevada City Advocate's website gets up and running, I'll post the headlines of each issue.

July 10 2009 issue (#2) contents:
* Smothers Brothers to bring show here
* City to draft cannabis co-op ordinance - Council swears in new mayor, vice mayor [Reinette Senum and Robert Bergman]
* Rolling Stone writer to be among film festival judges
* Report: City water quality exceeds state standards
* Music in the Mountains new conductor is from Budapest
* Broad St next in line for repaving
* Nevada City man new board member for Center for the Arts
* Wilson triplets bring local flavor to Worldfest
* Food education being served at [Nevada City] Farmers Market
* Americana [festival] brightens July 4th on the Ridge
* Community calendar
* Housing market shows signs of bouncing back (realtor column)
* Compost containers can take various forms (gardening column)
* New mayor should bring her own style to council's top job (editorial)
* A new chapter for Nevada City (business groups, city work to bring harmony to downtown) - Pat Butler's view
* Letter - Weber needs help to keep our water
* Should the City Council allow a medical marijuana dispensary to do business in Nevada City? (Heard on the street)

"A free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in a great society." - Walter Lippmann

Website: Nevada City Advocate
On Twitter: @NCAdvocate
As of this writing, neither is active; but in the paper they say they'll be updating the website every Tuesday. This makes sense - make the news available to all, but late; for timely news you need to get the paper paper (and read the ads)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Layman's 1-minute guide to smart thinking about climate

You don't even have to look at the science to know.
(but if you want to, there are smart vs. not-so-smart ways to do so)
'I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen...We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California. I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going.' ...up to 90% of the Sierra snow-pack could disappear...'
- U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu (*)
(so yes, it matters; see what two with a track record for prescience, climatologist James Hansen (pdf) and Nobel economist Paul Krugman, say about where we're headed if we continue to delay taking action. )

How can you, a nonscientist, get the best climate science understanding for the least effort? Here are a variety of smart approaches, from the speediest approach down to more time consuming ones.

* Quickest: See what reputable groups say. In short, there is a scientific consensus - see this huge list of reputable orgs, including - to my knowledge - all the major scientific societies who've weighed in.
(yes, it's fine to rely on this "consider the source" strategy; we do it all the time. Here's the credibility spectrum.)
(Q: but what about "oh, the scientists are all biased"? Answer: a critical look finds the evidence is against this claim.)

* See the evidence: read The Science of Global Warming - How do we know we're not wrong? (pdf).
(In short - multiple lines of evidence and theory all point the same way; and predictions have been borne out.)

* Understand why there still seems to be controversy among the public:
- Cranking up the back-and-forth noise is an effective PR strategy to delay action on climate: when the noise hides the signal(i.e. the actual information on the threat), the public stays ill-informed and won't pressure for action.
(Climatologist Gavin Schmidt points this out.)
- Watch You CAN Argue with the Facts, exposing fossil fuel industry efforts to manipulate the public.

* Or, if you have time in spades, you can know thine planet's "enemy"*, by checking out some claims from a contrarian climate blog. A smart strategy for doing this: wait about a day, then scan the headlines at my climate-related science blog aggregator Warming 101 for a post debunking it*; typically someone will have done so*.
(I checked out the claims at a local contrarian blog for an entire month, in Sept 2007; it's not worth doing again. I'd started out assuming good faith misunderstandings, and got increasingly frustrated as my corrections had zero effect on the ensuing output of the blogger, a strong-willed local emeritus engineer; unfortunately the tone of my comments reflected this.)
(There's no shortage of contrarian websites you can try this calibration with. These sites commonly tout short-term variation as contraindicating longterm trends - they confuse weather(short term) with climate(long term), and they lump weathermen in with climate scientists. They'll also tout "lists of experts" rich in folks with no climate expertise; e.g. the anti-regulation group The Heartland Institute still lists biochemist/molecular biologist Bruce Ames among these "global warming experts", six months after Ames wrote them pointing out that he had never claimed to have any climate expertise.

* Become an expert yourself; learn the physics of climate from U. Chicago climatologist Ray Pierrehumbert's "Climate from First Principles" ( read it now, or when it's published by Cambridge University Press.)

And please, talk, gently, about the threat posed by climate change, to your less-clued-in friends and neighbors; we're all in this together, we should be on the same side. It matters; and you owe it to the young people you know.
(And if you still don't care, keep in mind that they will care, and they'll be choosing your nursing home.)

"If only it were true that all that was at stake was a debating society trophy." *

my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

Surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?
... *

"My measure is to imagine how this will all read to youngsters in 50
and 100 years, if they look back to assess how well we did by them,
managing what would become their world." *

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Why "argument from authority" is a perfectly good strategy for nonexperts

Excerpts from the excellent Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies by Julian Sanchez.*
In short: If you're a layman - as most of us are, in most areas - it makes sense to adopt the experts' views - as long as they are, in fact, credible experts in the field in question.
We’re accustomed to calling the “argument from authority” a fallacy, but in fact, that’s what the vast majority of us have to go on most of the time. Provided you ensure that authority’s authority actually applies to the field in question, it’s as good a strategy as any.

Obviously, when it comes to an argument between trained scientific specialists, they ought to ignore the consensus and deal directly with the argument on its merits. But most of us are not actually in any position to deal with the arguments on the merits. (The gauging your own competence level well enough to know when to assess arguments and when to assess arguers.)

...[The "baffle-em-with-BS works unfortunately well, since] a peddler of horseshit...need only worry about what sounds plausible. If my opponent is trying to explain what’s true, he may be constrained to introduce concepts that take a while to explain and are hard to follow, trying the patience (and perhaps wounding the ego) of the audience.
[When] the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely” ...we’ll systematically tend to go least outside our own necessarily limited domains of knowledge. Indeed, in such cases, trying to evaluate the arguments on their merits will tend to lead to an erroneous conclusion more often than simply trying to gauge the credibility of the various disputants.

If climate change is actually going to be profoundly harmful, then it’s precisely the sort of problem libertarian principles say the state ought to be trying to solve.
and from a commenter:
"Most fallacies aren’t really fallacies when you reinterpret them as ...reasons to give an idea more credence rather than iron-clad syllogisms. Without the “argument from authority” and the “ad hominem fallacy”, you would either never get lunch or you’d give all your money to Nigerian spammers."


Intuitively, we grasp this.

Related, from The One Minute MBA -
"There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of "argumentum ad hominem". There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of "giving known liars the benefit of the doubt", but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world..."

The climate science consensus - organizations

Pulled from LogicalScience's The Consensus on Global Warming: From Science to Industry & Religion.

U.S. National Academy of Sciences; American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); American Meteorological Society (AMS); National Research Council; Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS); Federal Climate Change Science Program; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); American Geophysical Union; Geological Society of America; American Chemical Society; Federal Climate Change Science Program, 2006 - commissioned by the Bush administration in 2002; Engineers Australia (The Institution of Engineers Australia); American Association of State Climatologists; US Geological Survey (USGS); National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) ; NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS); World Meteorological Organization; Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospherice Sciences; International Council on Science; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); American Astronomical Society; Chinese Academy of Sciences, China; Royal Society, United Kingdom; Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia; Academia Brasiliera de Ciencias, Brazil; Royal Society of Canada, Canada; Academie des Sciences, France; Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher, Germany; Indian National Science Academy, India; Accademia dei Lincei, Italy; Science Council of Japan, Japan; Australian Academy of Sciences; Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts; Brazilian Academy of Sciences; Royal Society of Canada; Caribbean Academy of Sciences; Chinese Academy of Sciences; French Academy of Sciences; German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina; Indian National Science Academy; Indonesian Academy of Sciences; Royal Irish Academy; Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy); Academy of Sciences Malaysia; Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand; Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; Royal Society (UK); Woods Hole Research Center; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); The Australian Meteorological And Oceanographic Society; the American Institute of Physics; The Pentagon; Presidents from 319+ Universities and Colleges; Arnold Schwarzenegger; Tony Blair; former President Clinton; British Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks; John McCain; The Economist; USA Today; BBC; The Australian; and the Christian Science Monitor.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

My "behind climate inactivism" research; status and location

I have spent many moons digging (extremely inefficiently, I'm sorry to say, with much time spent in blind alleys, off in the weeds, cowering under the couch, you name it...) behind a few of the "pellets" of climate disinformation that have been spread to, and spread by, the climate denial-and-delay community.

I've written about them here at Daily Kos and here at TPM Cafe. They're not conclusive, they're not done, and those of you who want hard and fast proof, rather than documentation of investigations-in-progress, will find the browsing elsewhere to be far more rewarding; I'm still working on them.
They're not conclusive, they're not done, and they're not all that great. But we do what we can, if we feel it's a world worth saving, and this is something I have to do.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thoughts on a baby shower and treason

Some very fine people invited me to a baby shower last weekend, for someone who will almost certainly be a very fine baby.

She was showered with adorable outfits, from friends and relatives alike - without a doubt, she's shaping up to be one of the most charmingly dressed young - very young - women in Nevada County.

The assemblage was thinking of her first year; but what about her future as a child, a teenager, an adult? If we choose to continue dithering about global climate destabilization, we choose to seriously endanger her world, and that of her classmates. Please, for her sake, read Krugman's new column Betraying the Planet:
The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees (F) by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there’s growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing — that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
...[W]e’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?
Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

This baby girl deserves better.

(Tom McClintock, she's your constituent)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Twitter tagging ideas for Grass Valley, Nevada City, Nevada County

I would love to be able to pull in tweets (i.e. Twitter entries) from&about our community - after Marsha's intro and playing around with it myself a little, I think Twitter or the like is the way of the future.

But I want a local Twitter "channel" that's ours, that's more focused than the low-value-to-us chatter that characterizes the location-names-based Twitter search (which gives stuff like "New hat, got it in Nevada City")

And there needs to be a way to find what hashtags our community is using
(Explanation, for twitterilliterates: a hashtag is a term that starts with "#", e.g. #gvnc - all tweets that contain it become part of the discussion - if you search Twitter for that hashtag, you can see the conversation, and if you include it in _your_ tweets, you join the conversation.)

..since if you don't know what hashtag is being used, you can't hear what others are saying, which is sad and inefficient.
A real-life example: after the (Lance Armstrong) Nevada City Classic last weekend, C. suggested that racegoers elsewhere on the course, who were out of earshot of the announcer, really would have benefitted from someone Tweeting the announcements. And perhaps someone was - but unless you knew who, or what hashtag(s) they were using, you wouldn't know how to receive the info. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just go to one page to find out what hashtag was being used for an event, or to meet a need?

I'd like to suggest some tags that we could use, that I think would work well for the community. If you have feedback and/or a better/alternative way please, please share it. (Zuri and Marsha, this likely means you.)

#gvnc for info of community interest. There are no Tweets using this hashtag at present, so it'd be all ours (Since "nc" is also the abbrev. for North Carolina, #nctweet (the previously-suggested tag) wouldn't necessarily stay just us...)

#gvnc #tag both, for a tweet that proposes or announces a community-related hashtag that you'll be using?

#gvnc #biz for business-related tweets, so those who just want to see noncommercial entries can do this (by searching for tweets that contain #gvnc but not #biz) and those who want only commercial entries could do that, too.

Also, when & if #gvnc Twitter traffic should increase to the point that we need to segregate further, we could also do:
#gvnc #news
#gvnc #events
#gvnc #lost
#gvnc #found
#gvnc #wanted
#gvnc #forsale
#gvnc #free
#gvnc #realestate
(in place of #biz)
(It wouldn't hurt anything to use these extra tags now, but it's not needed.)

A question for Zuri, Marsha or anyone else who's not a Twitter newbie like me - does it make more sense to do dual-labeling (by which I mean "use two hashtags" - eg #gvnc #biz), or would we just want to have a "gvnc" prefix for all our hashtags (eg #gvncbiz) ?

(The answer, I think, would depend on whether it's possible to do a search for "all tweets containing a hashtag that starts with #gvnc" - but I don't think it's possible, or at least I don't see a way to do this from Twitter Advanced Search - so I'd lean toward "use two tags".)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Citizens Bank officials loan to selves, quietly - how common is this?

I keep seeing crowdsourced journalism opportunities wherever I look.

Today's dead-tree-based The Union has an extremely interesting story from Dave Moller, about our locally-owned bank - "Citizens Bank Officials loaned [to themselves] $11 million" ("...the lending institution's leader would not divulge who received the loans when, or how much they are for"; "the bank landed $10.4 million in federal [TARP] funds"; "“We're a private that information is not public”"; "“It's common for directors and bank officials to get loans. They are typically some of the best borrowers, because they're stakeholders,” [bank president and CEO Judy] Hess said.")

How prevalent is this sort of arrangement in other communities? Are there any regulations against it, and if not, what keeps banks from serving primarily to benefit their owners?
(Doesn't this become the S&L debacle all over again?)

Update: in comments, Jeff P. pointed to this SacBee story on the phenomenon at a different bank -
A Bee investigation of internal shareholder documents and public lending records found that at Community Business Bank, those likely to benefit most from the taxpayer-funded windfall are a small group of insiders and their associates. From its inception 3 1/2 years ago, the bank has steered many of its assets to a handful of directors, as well as their relatives and business partners.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Blogger commenting SW bug?

I find I can't leave comments, on Blogspot blogs using the newfangled commenting format.

While this is irritating in the short run, it does save time in the long run...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Moonshine Ink, soon on NCVoices

I emailed the folks at Truckee's Moonshine Ink asking if they had an RSS feed yet, & was told -
We are this close to launching a new much better home page and general interface. We are adding RSS Feeds...

It's so nice not to be a voice-in-the-wilderness anymore, asking orgs about their site feeds - though some sites still don't have them.

I'd like to add Sac News&Review too, but I don't see a way to get a feed or feeds from them that's of local (to us) interest.

p.s. If you'd like to see more local orgs on NCVoices, please encourage them to get an RSS feed - the easiest way to do so, being to get a blog - and then suggest it, in the Nevada County Voices suggestion box.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

NevCity "parking fines monies" Union story, add'l info

Let's shed a little more light.

The Union ran a story in today's paper - titled Nevada City cash missing again — this time it's parking fines - which also addressed Nevada City's TRAN ("tax and revenue anticipation note"), money loaned to Nevada City from Nevada County's reserve fund -
In light of the poor economy and concerns about the city's stability in the future, supervisors requested the review [of Nevada County Treasurer and Tax Collector Chris Dabis's practice of making TRAN loans to our towns].

“Right now, with the way the economy is, I think everyone is concerned about everything. Things are going to get tough. It's like the beginning of a bad storm,” said District 3 Supervisor John Spencer [- implicitly - and, presumably in the meeting today, explicitly - questioning Dabis's actions].

Not mentioned in the story: Dabis is challenging Spencer for his County Supervisor seat. (from here)

And, regarding the parking fine money (which went into the general fund - "The funds aren't missing, Albaugh said") - I wish I'd had a Flip to capture Barbara Coffman's response when I asked her about this.

I guess I'm buying one.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Very scary climate news from MIT - up 10 deg. F by 2100

This is twice as bad as previously predicted. And even so,

"...this modeling may actually understate the problem, because the model does not fully incorporate other positive feedbacks that can occur, for example, if increased temperatures caused a large-scale melting of permafrost in arctic regions and subsequent release of large quantities of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Including that feedback “is just going to make it worse,” [study coauthor Ronald] Prinn says."

Published in The American Meteorological Society’s (peer-reviewed) Journal of Climate, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change. Read about it in this post on Joe Romm's blog Climate Progress.

Note to readers, and to fellow bloggers - the NCFocus comments section is now a climate-crank-free zone, and will be maintained as such. Those who wish to provide disinformation can do it on their own turf.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Brian's leaving KVMR News

Reliable sources (plural) informed us today that Brian, the keeper of the news at KVMR, gave notice a week or two back.

Another journalism-at-KVMR news flash - a couple days ago I learned we have another big-fish editor here in town, Michael Young from the LA Times foreign desk; he's on the KVMR board. Move over JeffP; it looks like we're going to have to rename a certain street Editors' Row...

Welcome Michael and Karen (belatedly; they moved here a summer or two ago.)
(Michael, if you start a local blog, please put it in the the Suggestion Box for Nevada County Voices.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What happened to Somerville?

Former The Union editor (~2002-2004) Rich Somerville, who left Nevada County for the Eureka Times-Standard in fall 2006, started a blog there in late 2007. All went well for about six months; then in early June 2008, he expounded, unfavorably, on the, ah, "rough-and-tumble", fistfighting political landscape of Nevada County, relative to his new home turf:
...considering the sometimes polarized politics of Humboldt County, decorum reigned.

It was a different story in Nevada County, where I did a stint as an editor a few years back. Once, a last-minute whispering campaign said a candidate had rats in his restaurant. (An inspector had found mouse droppings some years before.) Not only did the candidate lose, but his restaurant soon went out of business.

In a particularly nasty supervisor race, one candidate had nails strewn on his driveway, while another was the subject of postcards titled “Supervisor for Sale?,” accusing her of dispensing governmental favors for campaign donations. Included was an invoice with county letterhead, later proven to be faked.

Once, at a meeting of the county Republican Central Committee, anger bubbled up over an old slight about the lack of an endorsement, leading to a fistfight in the street in front of the meeting hall.

Humboldt County seems polite by comparison — knock on wood!

- Posted by Rich Somerville at 06:39 PM
A week and a half later, he was dead.
Their coroner's office ascribed it to a heart attack, but didn't do an autopsy, or else did an autopsy and then the paperwork misplaced itself...when I asked, the story was a bit hazy.

I'm writing about this only now, almost a year later, because a) I may have been irking the unstable, recently, and b) I didn't stumble across Rich's blog & that post until just a couple days ago. Before that I hadn't pursued it, since I'd just assumed that "heart attack" was a euphemism for suicide.
(Confidential to my recent caller: it's poor form not to say anything, when you phone. Confidential to my readers: I am *not* suicidal, I look both ways when crossing the street, my housemate's nonvolatile, and my ticker's just fine.)

For those of you pointing out that it could have been coincidence: yes, it could have been. But remember Weismann.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Small, surreal world

Stephen Bechtel (Jr.) and I went to the same high school.

And on a related note - I sure wish The Thacher School in Ojai did a better job of instilling environmental consciousness in their graduates. Perhaps they do now, but 40-odd years ago they were dropping the ball.
(caveat: n=2, not much of a sample size)

[Upon reflection, I have removed some remarks that seem inappropriate]

Sunday, May 03, 2009

That pesky gulag

(This post is moot, BTW. Just so you know...)

Back in 2004, the day after George W. Bush was elected to a second term, after I'd done my crying I wandered over to a neighbor-of-sorts who'd I assumed had voted for him, and asked, quietly, only half in jest - "Will you come visit me in the gulag?"

To my surprise he exploded. "You are so full of $%^&!"

At the time the overreaction baffled me. Now I think I understand better; and what's more, I could - conceivably - be headed there after all.

So, y'all, if I do go, I hope you'll feel free to drop by.
(either there or the place with the straightjackets, if I'm merely losing my marbles)

Bring books, please.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The problem with metaphors

The problem with thinking in metaphors, or rather with expressing your thoughts if you think in metaphors, is that if you have more than one thought they're likely modeled using incompatible metaphors which makes for a muddled mess of mixed metaphors when you try to put them into print.

That is all.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Flu news site, interpreted by experts

The public health blog Effect Measure at is the go-to site for pig flu news and interpretation thereof.

Just so you know.

Update - the latest Effect Measure post is on naming the strain; contenders include Aporkalypse and Hamthrax.

Me, I'm sitting this one out, unless it becomes a lot more newsworthy.
(I devoted a lot of blog real estate to bird flu, back in the day, not, at that time, being clear about some of the factors that would preclude it from becoming another severe 1918-style pandemic; am now older and more jaded and have more important things to work on.)

FYI though - I had started a rather cool, intended-to-be-month-long "~90 years ago today" blog history series on the 1918 pandemic (albeit in Oct 2005 not 2008) but life and work got in the way of completing it. If someone wants to spend some pleasant, old-book-smelling afternoons in the historical library on Pine St, to take it through the rest of the month, it's a worthwhile project.
...especially if cranking through microfilm doesn't make you carsick.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What you can't say

I forgot how good this is.

It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different?


Some would ask, why would one want to do this? Why deliberately go poking around among nasty, disreputable ideas? Why look under rocks?

I do it, first of all, for the same reason I did look under rocks as a kid: plain curiosity. And I'm especially curious about anything that's forbidden. Let me see and decide for myself.

Second, I do it because I don't like the idea of being mistaken. ...

Third, I do it because it's good for the brain. To do good work you need a brain that can go anywhere. And you especially need a brain that's in the habit of going where it's not supposed to. ...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Aphorisms on inactivism

...they've been piling up. Google will tell you where they came from.
(and fortunately, many of these are obsolete, in locales more culturally advanced than ours)
Global warming deniers are "like polar bears on shrinking real estate." *
It’s their point of view. Annoyance, not collaboration, is their idea of effective action.
It's a munitions factory for saturation bombing of any debate that might actually be interesting and useful. There’s no interest in acquiring knowledge. It’s all for politics.
Conspiracies happen all the time. But we deny this because of a classic American fallacy, born of our relative unconnectedness to the old world: what I like to call the fallacy of insufficient cynicism.
In this persistent and well-funded campaign of denial [the skeptics] have become interchangeable ornaments on the hood of a high-powered engine of disinformation. Their dissenting opinions are amplified beyond all proportion through the media while the concerns of the dominant majority of the world's scientific establishment are marginalized.
‘How can we expect Americans to know anything beyond what they happen to remember from science class? Journalists certainly don’t tell them.’
It is a belief that can gain consensus and then become a permanent cultural carbuncle.
It seems to me we should be using mole traps, and not mallets, as the whack-a-mole game is nonending.
One partisan can tie up a whole company of the enemy’s troops by sniping from good cover and forcing them to pay attention to him, while maneuvers are going on elsewhere.
I don't think these people who believe that stuff ... I think they're not really getting it from the print either. They're getting it from Fox News and, I've heard, from their ministers, at their churches.
[Elke] Weber’s research seems to help establish that we have a “finite pool of worry,” which means we’re unable to maintain our fear of climate change when a different problem ...comes along. ...And even if we could remain persistently concerned about a warmer world? Weber described what she calls a “single-action bias.” Prompted by a distressing emotional signal, we buy a more efficient furnace or insulate our attic or vote for a green candidate — a single action that effectively diminishes global warming as a motivating factor. And that leaves us where we started.
What too many people refuse to understand is that the global economy's existence depends upon the global environment, not the other way around.
Someone asked [Dr. James Hansen] what the most important thing to do is, what can we personally do to help stabilize climate, to "answer the call to action"--what is the most important lifestyle change?

Hansen's answer was unequivocal. Take part in the political process. Help make our democracy real. Hold our candidates accountable.
Keynes’s genius – a very English one – was to insist we should approach an economic system* not as a morality play but as a technical challenge.
it was that night, a year ago today, that provided the lesson - never let a setback wreck our spirits, and never presume it's as bad as your opponents tell you it is - and gave the opening for a "teaching moment" about the contagion that is panic and the antidote that is hope.
and of course
It's not enough to pull drowning victims out of the river; we need to walk back upstream and find out who's throwing them in.

Update, some more* -
A newspaper's main product is neither news nor information but influence.
...the strong version of the Copernican thesis - where ever you are is, by definition, unimportant.
Reality is that which, when you refuse to believe in it, doesn't go away.
It's clear that the body politic is subject to power disorders. By this I mean events where some person or group suddenly concentrates a lot of power and abuses it. Power disorders frequently come as a surprise, and cause a lot of damage.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When the cavalry's not coming: some rules of thumb for standalone citizen journalists

Do as I say, not as I did.
"..."following the money" might be productive here."

I said that a year ago, before this journey began. And while I didn't end up following the money, I did dig into the story, and it dug its claws into me; and while the digging's not over, the outline's now clear.
(What's the outline, you ask? Patience...)

But oh, the time it took, that it didn't have to take; the mistakes I made... So, in the hope that this might save someone else from tarrying in dumpsters in blind alleys, if they undertake a quest like this one, I offer some rules of thumb.

1. If you're a newbie, try to avoid doing it on your own. If you can possibly find a group to work with, containing someone whose judgment you trust, enlist them. Doing it on your own is fine when it's going well, but really, really sucks when it isn't. And when those around you have zero or negative interest in your quest. or are using "local" epistemology - which they will, in a small town - it's mighty hard to summon up the will and the confidence to boldly go where you need to. Also, someone who knows more than you do will see more than you do, which - if your mind is open to recognizing it - can save you a whole lot of time.

2. Look up once in a while. It's great to focus on the minutiae - that's what alerted me to this story in the first place - but unless you stand back from your digging once in a while to survey the terrain, it might take you a long time to realize that the story's much bigger than just the one piece that caught your attention.

3. History matters; as Paul Graham says, it's all the data that we have so far - and if the history comes in book form, you also get the infrastructure for interpreting the data. Knowing the relevant history will help; you're going to need some structure to understand your story, and you don't want to have to build it yourself from scratch.

So again, look up; find the shoulders of giants, and stand on them - take time away from web and phone and go read books, since they contain pretty much all* the wisdom that we have so far. People and institutions and arrangements don't spring up de novo, they have antecedents; and knowing what's happened and what's been discovered before will cue your brain into recognizing similar themes in your own investigation. I've spent much of the last few weeks reading, and things just leap out at me now that had slipped my notice before.

The books are particularly helpful if you're not getting support elsewhere - like Machiavelli (the human, not the metaphor) you can spend time in the cognitive company of experts -
"When evening this graver dress, I enter the courts of the ancients, and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born. And there I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives of their actions, and they, in their humanity, reply to me. And for the space of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexation, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death; I pass indeed into their world."

We primates don't thrive alone, and the right authors help to ameliorate the cognitive isolation.

4. You will be able to perceive subtleties that are real, but that you'd never be able to convince someone else of*. So open your mind to recognizing this, and thus to sensing when you should just save your breath.

5. Be prepared to consider the unthinkable; sometimes it's been consigned to unthinkability for a reason.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Feedback for our local Economic Resource Council

From KNCO recently -
"[Huntington Labs] owner Ron Hooper decided to leave Silicon Valley for the more attractive country lifestyle of Nevada County. ..."

A large part of the charter of Nevada County's Economic Resource Council is to bring more - and more desirable* - businesses to Nevada County. This weekend we had a great coffeehouse conversation about what induces people to start or relocate their business here, and the consensus - strongly put forth by the group's* two tech business founders - was that the most essential factor is our local quality of life - and that that is what we should be promoting.

"Bring the owners up here, let them see what it's like."

So perhaps the ERC might consider focusing on protecting our local quality of life, rather than paving it over...

p.s. Recommendation #2 was for expanding rural broadband.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Winner, Laggard of the Year Award, 2008 and 2009

How anyone could have been so slow is beyond me.

(Being so slow, however, is not.)

on the bright side, i have learned a lot along the many scenic byways.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Miscellany - quotes and a story

Mostly about journalism.

From Paul Graham's essay on essays -
When it comes to [collecting] surprises...there may be habits of mind that will help the process along. It's good to have a habit of asking questions, especially questions beginning with Why. do you find the fruitful ones?

I find it especially useful to ask why about things that seem wrong.
Above all, make a habit of paying attention to things you're not supposed to, either because they're "inappropriate," or not important, or not what you're supposed to be working on. If you're curious about something, trust your instincts. Follow the threads that attract your attention. If there's something you're really interested in, you'll find they have an uncanny way of leading back to it anyway.

If there's one piece of advice I would give about writing essays, it would be: don't do as you're told. Don't believe what you're supposed to.

From a Nov. 2007 talk in London by the NYT's Bill Keller - -
"The curse of a journalist is that he always has more questions than answers."
This part made me smile -
"My friend Jeff Jarvis, a blogger of long-standing and professor of journalism at the City University of New York - refers to news bloggers as "citizen journalists", which has a sweet, idealistic ring to it."
Something I just learned recently - Bill Keller's father, George M. Keller, was CEO of Chevron, and even had a stint as chairman of the board, of the American Petroleum Institute. It sounds like he led an interesting life...

Returning to journalism -
"The better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be." - David Halberstam
There are two ways of appearing "smart." First, you can write something so complex, obscure, and abstract that no one can refute your bullshit. Second, you can write simply, clearly and directly. If you have something interesting and true to say, then the second method is better. On the other hand, if you are forced to say something boring or false, then pick the first method (and then change your life).*
Investors need to learn to look for the little lies, those minor inconsistencies that can be the first clue to bigger problems.*
"It may be true, as [I.F.]Stone said, that "all governments lie," but democracy cannot function if journalists do too." - Eric Alterman*

Had second thoughts & removed the story link - writing that captures one's zeitgeist* at time T can seem too morbid at time T+5 minutes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On journalism, learning and heritage

From David Halberstam:
(who had a 20+ year FBI file)
I want to leave you today with one bit of advice: never, never, never, let them intimidate you. People are always going to try in all kinds of ways. Sheriffs, generals, presidents of universities, presidents of countries, secretaries of defense. Don’t let them do it. ...
At its best, [journalism] is about being paid to learn. For fifty years, I have been paid to go out and ask questions. What a great privilege to be a free reporter in a free society, to be someone whose job is a search for knowledge. ...

Back when I applied to grad school, for "career plans" I put "teaching and research", but not from any real desire for either. In truth, what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a student.

And in doing journalism - though hasn't paid as well* as grad school - that's what I get to be.

(Though I have to say, the teacher-student interaction is rather different in journalism - imagine your "teachers" saying right & left, "nothing to learn here, you've completely misunderstood the material, you're wasting your time and mine" ...which is why the reading tends to be more fun than the lectures.)

My father was a banker in his working life, a loan officer, back when humans were the deciders on loaning money for a project. And he told me once, that what he loved about the job was the learning - every new proposal that came across his desk was an opportunity to plunge into a new field of study.

And it was all "applied" learning, which does give it a special zing - it's not an abstract "you must learn this because you must learn this", it's "whatever you find out here could be the key".

And tracking down a story is like a series of such opportunites; it's taking a canoe trip, different sites of interest and loci for learning pop up along the way. For someone who's led a politically-ignorant life, there's a lot of remedial study, which can yield some rather cool discoveries. See the Council on Foreign Relations coming up over there on the right? Turns out its founding president was John W. Davis, my great great uncle; I'm named after his mother.

His daughter Julia, my great aunt, was one of the first women reporters to work at the Associated Press. (which it appears Halberstam never worked for, so we can't quite come full circle)

And - if you want to know what else has turned up -


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Compare and contrast: journalism vs. science

Journalism's got a lot in common with scientific research - in both endeavors you're trying to understand and convey the nature of reality. But there are differences too, that you may not grasp if you're coming at it from the "science" end - it's not just that "journalism's peer review is a good deal easier to sneak through."

The good Dr. Heisenberg plays a much larger role in journalism, because your forays into gathering data involve the efforts of, in effect, lab techs who may have a strong desire to skew or otherwise obscure the results. And you won't necessarily know whether they're trying to do so, since you barely know them - with each story, you're working with a different group of techs.

So you need to put a fair amount of effort into controlling for any bias introduced by the techs - which means running the same experiment using different techs, or - if you realize you've left some "wiggle room" in an experiment - rerunning it more rigorously, using the same tech.

(Stripping out the metaphors, what this means is that you'll want to ask multiple people the same question, and you may ask the same person multiple variants of the same question. Which, I have found, makes the lab techs take umbrage...)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama is the Union's new president

Just so you know.
"Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom (and a livable world) and delivered it safely to future generations."

President 'has four years to save Earth'
We are measured by our actions.

Jeff Ackerman is The Union's new editor

Just so you know.