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.