Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

True purpose of TechTest from the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation?

Updates: Apr 4, see response by SESF's Rebane here; March 30, minor updates(*) and edits for clarity; also see "Misc Facts about SESF/TechTest", a response by SESF's McDaniel (link).

For reference: my original posts on SESF from June 2006, from shortly after its resurrection; noting its odd origin and classification, and asking about its funding.

What's the real motivation - and funding - behind the TechTest college scholarships offered by the local climate-denial group Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation (site)?

The nonprofit SESF (its 501(c)(3) status restored; here's its blog) is a local outfit interwined with the local pro-property-rights, anti-regulation group CABPRO (blog).
SESF's principals include local retired engineers/ climate contrarians/ bloggers/ The Union columnists Russ Steele (blog) and George Rebane (blog). (Rebane has also recently been given a "commentator" spot on KVMR news (alas, not I*) ).

SESF generously sponsors an annual science-and-engineering TechTest for high school seniors - it's being given this very morning, in fact - and grants the highest scorers a total of up to 15k in college scholarships.

The grueling test (pretty much all physics and engineering) is preceded by two "how to work these problems" workshops by George Rebane, and succeeded by a "Survivor's Breakfast" with SESF principals and, last year, with Tom McClintock staffer Kim Pruett.

Students there today told me that last year's high score was 37%, and that the test was "crazy" - as in, very, very hard. Its difficulty is deliberate, "designed to let the eagles soar", according to Dr. Rebane (link).

The SESF intended further interaction with the students through mentoring (link)(*):
"For the coming term, in addition to TechTest2008, we are also setting up a new tutoring/mentoring program as a teacher resource for their science and math students. SESF has a growing list of volunteers who will be paired with students for augmentation and advanced study assignments. We are currently soliciting more volunteers with technology backgrounds who are willing to work with the county's young people."

The TechTest and scholarships get credulous local coverage.

You might ask why climate deniers are pouring such energy into science and technology education - when they do, after all, part ways so decisively from the existing consensus (infographics here) on climate change.

And you might ask where the money is coming from, for the scholarships or other aspects of the organization. Their IRS (nonprofit) Form 990 is no help, since with less than 25k income, they've never filed one.
The principals have said they are all volunteers, they're not being paid for their efforts.

I asked SESF's Director of Public Relations, financial advisor Mike McDaniel, about the scholarship funding. It's not a secret, he assured me; just local (*) people who cared about science and technology and educating our young people; I asked if I could know their identities, and he said he'd check.

The outcome: of the half dozen or so substantial ($500 or over) donors, McDaniel said he'd gone to pretty much all of them asking if they minded having their names known, and of all these donors, the only ones willing to be identified (*) were himself and Telestream (although, he said, clearly they were giving "for different reasons"). And he did say that two couples who donated were not local.

So, largely unknown donors.

What gets discussed at the breakfast? Russ reports:
"[Discussion of the weather] soon lead to a discussion [of] long term climate change and the impact of sunspots have on our climate. The discussion gave me an opportunity to introduce a those sitting nearby to my Dalton Minimum Returns blog, and the paper I wrote for SESF on Cooler Temps - Dalton Minimum Returns"

(I also seem to recall Russ saying he quizzed the students on what they were being taught about climate science in school, and [he] was disturbed that there was no requirement to present the "other" (read, not the consensus) side; but a quick google isn't bringing it up.)

Add all of this to the unwillingness of Russ to say that he and family aren't receiving direct-or-indirect compensation for his climate efforts, and the unwillingness of CABPRO executive director Martin Light (blog) to say what firm's name is on the 1099 or W-2 form the Executive Director receives, and, well, it's intriguing.

[2012-02-04 update: I've extensively edited the "in a nutshell" text below, removing allegations of intent - replacing "designed to" with "has the effect of", etc.]

So - in a nutshell, TechTest ends up advancing fossil fuel interests, as follows:

The TechTest lets SESF cozy up to the young sci/tech elite, the smartest - but still-impressionable - young people in Nevada County. Its extreme difficulty, like Dr. Rebane's often-difficult prose, doesn't so much "let the eagles soar" (actually, the eagles looked pretty darn cowed) as send a message of intellectual dominance, that someone designing a test that we-the-takers can't succeed at, or writing text that we-the-readers can't easily follow, must be smarter than us and better informed.

And the breakfast capitallizes on the influence that such an impression provides - the breakfasters will feel that if such smart people believe human-caused climate change is bogus, then this view has credence.


(Recommended resource for Tech-Test-takers: SkepticalScience.com, for exposing misinformation )

 "We will be judged by those who come after us, both by what we did do and what we didn't do, in the time given to us."

Friday, March 26, 2010

News to me: Howard Ahmanson is now a Democrat

Feb. 2011 update: read this post as naivete, please.

Yes, that Howard Ahmanson - who put 900k into the anti-gay-marriage Prop. 8, and who, if I understand correctly, more-or-less gave our Tom McClintock his start in politics - became a Democrat over a year ago.
"...I was reading about the budget struggles and threatened purges in the Legislature, and I was getting more and more tired and disgusted of it, and I realized that, had I been a Republican assemblyman, I could have hardly escaped being purged myself. The Republican Party of the State of California seems to have decided to narrow itself down to one article of faith, which may be described as NTESEBREE: No Tax Shall Ever Be Raised Ever Ever.

...[but] the philosophy of "starve the beast" has failed. The beast will feed welfare and pork(*) and starve infrastructure(*). If we want to confront irresponsible spending, we have to confront it directly. We have to confront directly the issue of the role of government and what we want it to do and not do. And when we do want government to do something, we want it to have enough money to be able to do what it does pretty well..."

And he's got a blog.

So, a belated welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Ahmanson.

(and, if I may gently offer the fine PDF of Katharine Hayhoe's presentation to Republicans for Environmental Protection...? Since you have the aura* of a steward, not an S&M-type dominionist.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cost and source of funds for this Sierra College construction project?

Enquiring minds want to know.


In comments, Sierra College Trustee Aaron Klein says it "...looks like the fire training facility...If I'm correct, the source of funds is the Measure G bond measure approved by the voters in November 2004".

And to enable clearer judgment, I've added before-and-after aerial photos, by Google and Keachie.

To me, this has "taxpayer-funded boondoggle" written all over it, but this journalism project's all yours - looking into it might be rewarding for an anti-wasteful-spending-of-taxpayer-monies crusader who wasn't already engaged
in trying to protect human civilization from these fellows.

Do we have any such crusaders in Nevada County?

Climate skeptics or denialists? The distinction

"Skeptics seek answers and scrutinize arguments before accepting the current state of scientific knowledge as fact. Denialists dismiss sound arguments, solid data, and experimental evidence in favour of propositions that have long been shown to be flawed.

The world's pre-eminent scientific journal, Nature, therefore refers to those who cling to long-debunked pseudo-scientific conspiracy theories while dismissing the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed studies by their true label — denialists.

The potentially devastating consequences of denialism are brought into sharp focus by the sad history of South Africa's AIDS policies. Despite having one of the world's highest rates of HIV infections, the government of President Thabo Mbeki went against consensus scientific opinion 10 years ago and declined anti-retroviral drugs, preferring instead to treat AIDS with garlic and beetroot. Politicians even accused a leading South African immunologist of defending Western science and its "racist ideas" for his insistence on scientific treatment methods. According to a recent peer-reviewed Harvard study, this denialism cost the lives of more than 330,000 South Africans.

For that, President Mbeki and his associates are now held in richly deserved contempt around the world.

Precisely the same fate awaits denialists of climate change."
- Stephan Lewandowsky on the Australian Broadcasting Network Drum; quote cribbed from Eli

Also via Eli:
"[Climate change is] the most troubling environmental and political challenge the world has ever faced. Those who deny the biophysical facts of the world would deny the reality of the law of gravity. The product of such denials is systematic progress in destroying this civilization. If one wants a view of where that process leads, take a quick look at Haiti at the moment."

"The Nazis attacked the Jewish physics of Einstein and quantum mechanics, the Soviets rejected Gregor Mendel’s insights in genetics in favor of the fantasies promulgated by a party hack named Lysenko, and the Anglo-Saxon Corporatist Right... has launched an attack on chemistry and atmospheric physics. ...

So enjoy the emotional satisfaction that the consumption of mass quantities of talking points gives you– it increases the likelihood that someday your grandchildren...
- source

Friday, March 19, 2010

Where the rubber meets the road: on lowtech-friendly transportation in Nevada County

See July 2011 update.

There's a (relatively) new blog in town, by Nevada County's Alliance for People-Powered Transportation. Even better is their "SeeClickFix" citizen-powered Hazards Map, where you can report cycling and pedestrian trouble areas.

I added two spots that have kept me from feeling comfortable about bike commuting - they're stretches on Brunswick Road where the "bike lane" (read, gravel-free paved shoulder) is a foot or less, in a 45mph zone. It's a little too exciting, when you're being passed by a semi.

But there was hope:
A Mar. 12 article in The Union reported that brush-clearing along Brunswick was being done to prepare for resurfacing the roadway:
"The project is scheduled to clear brush along the busy road from Idaho-Maryland Road to Highway 174... The Public Works Department then will overlay Brunswick Road from Brunswick Pines to Woodrose Way, [Nevada County roads supervisor Dave] Keck said."
I called Mr. Keck to find out if the resurfacing would extend the shoulder paving to give us poor cyclists - especially us wider ones - a little more room; and while he assured me that their engineers will be looking for ways to improve local road shoulders for cyclists, the bad news is that the Brunswick resurfacing isn't scheduled to occur for another year and a half, in Fall 2011.


Our recent loss of cyclist Jim Rogers underscores the need for safer local cycling routes. Here's hoping that APPT's hazards map and Dave Keck's road engineers can make a real difference.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Probable plagiarism at the CABPRO Report

In my previous post I reported that CABPRO executive director Martin Light had declined to say who "CABPRO Staff" were, that he's giving authorship credit to for posts like today's "Den of Thieves".

Well, we seem to have at least a partial answer: Googling some of the "Den of Thieves" text brings up a Reno fellow's Nov. 2009 blog post titled - surprise - "Den of Thieves", and with the same content. The blogger doesn't take credit for writing it, saying "...this came through my Inbox and I thought it was worth pondering".

So, assuming the blogger did receive it via email, there are two possibilites: first, that CABPRO staff is actually composing and sending out those "pass it on" right wing emails (which is possible, but seems is extremely (*) unlikely) - or that the CABPRO folks consider authorship and attribution information to be, well, cosmetic.
...which would indicate a rather laissez-faire attitude toward accuracy, that readers would do well to keep in mind.

I'm asking, & will report back what I hear about which of these possibilities actually happened.

Why this matters: CABPRO is the caliber of organization whose blog sports a category for "Globull warming" - it seems they're the kind of folks who're happy to disregard the science and put their own children at risk (pdf) - and yours - if it lets them score short-term political points.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Q&A with Martin Light, executive director of CABPRO

I've had some questions about CABPRO, the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, the pro-property-rights, anti-regulation group whose CABPRO Report blog graces the far right column of Nevada County Voices - but the group's office on the ground floor of the Robinson Enterprises building is never, ever open, the five or six times I've tried to drop by, and when I've called and left messages on their answering machine, my calls haven't been returned.

So I called CABPRO Executive Director Martin Light directly, and he was kind enough to speak with me for a couple of minutes. Here are the Qs I asked, and what I learned.*

Q: CABPRO is a for-profit organization?
A: No, it's a 501(c)(4).

Q: Many of the CABPRO Report blog posts (e.g. the most recent one) say they're "by CABPRO Staff"; who writes these articles?
A: That's privileged information.

Q: But others besides you are paid?
A: Yes, but their identities are privileged information.

Q: When you get a W-2 form or 1099 form for your work as CABPRO Executive Director, what is the name of the firm that's printed on the form?
A: That's privileged information.

Q: When is the CABPRO office open?
A: Various hours; it varies.

Q: When I asked the nice fellow at B&C [whose owners are CABPRO members] how I could look at back issues of the CABPRO newsletter, he said I could come down to the office and see them there.
A: They are available; we have those archived. [The last year or so are online; but if the fellow I talked to isn't a CABPRO staffer, said fellow can't say what I can and can't get from the office]


So, now you know as much as I do. If you have questions about CABPRO that you'd like answered, please ask in the (moderated) comments and I'll see if I can find out for you.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

June 8, 2010 Primary Election Candidates

(Converted by hand from the county's PDF, as of Sat. March 13; accuracy not guaranteed. Is this info available in .csv format somewhere?
h/t Pelline. )

June 8, 2010 Primary Election Candidates
(Candidate Name, District or Seat; Filing Status & Date updated)
I'd assume these were all for Nevada County, but two are for Placer County School Superintendent, which is a bit perplexing.

Confidential to candidates: get a blog.
(If you don't explain yourself, you just invite others to do the explaining of you for you...)

Rolf D. Kleinhans; Filing Complete 3/9/2010
Sue Horne; Filing Complete 2/16/2010

Marcia L. Salter; Filing Complete 2/25/2010

Gregory J. Diaz; Filing Complete 3/9/2010
Barry W. Pruett; Filing Complete 3/12/2010

District Attorney;
Clifford H. Newell; Filing Complete 3/3/2010

Keith W. Royal; Filing Complete 2/16/2010

Nevada County Superintendent of Schools:
Holly A. Hermansen; Filing Complete 3/8/2010
Eric Hoefler; Issued 2/17/2010

Placer County Superintendent of Schools:
Gayle Garbolino-Mojica; Filing Complete 2/17/2010
Patrick Ainsworth; Issued 3/11/2010
Patricia E. Brown; Issued 3/11/2010

Superior Court Judge:
Candace S. Heidelberger; Filing Complete 2/23/2010

Nevada County Supervisor:
John C. Spencer, 3; Filing Complete 3/11/2010
Terry Lamphier, 3; Filing Complete 3/9/2010
William "Hank" Weston, 4; Filing Complete 3/11/2010
William "Bill" Steele, 4; Issued 3/11/2010

Treasurer/Tax Collector:
Dai Meagher; Filing Complete 3/10/2010
Richard John Nolle; Issued 2/18/2010
Darlene Woo; Filing Complete 3/9/2010
Tina M. Vernon; Filing Complete 2/18/2010

United States 4th Congressional Dist:
Benjamin A. Emery, 4; Filing Complete 3/11/2010
Clinton Curtis, 4; Filing Complete 3/10/2010

Sam Aanestad, Lieutenant Governor of California; Filing Complete 3/8/2010

California State Assembly, 3rd Dist:
Gary Bryant, 3; Filing Complete 3/12/2010

American Independent Party Central Committee
Jim Ring, 4; Issued 2/25/2010

Democratic Central Committee:
Joan W. Field, 1; Issued 2/18/2010
Ann Emerson, 2; Filing Complete 3/12/2010
Margaret Joehnck, 2; Filing Complete 3/12/2010
Kent W. Clark, 2; Filing Complete 2/16/2010
Jim Firth, 3; Filing Complete 2/18/2010
Frank Way, 3; Filing Complete 3/9/2010
Carol Kuczora, 3; Issued 2/18/2010
Sharon Miller Rose, 3; Issued 2/19/2010
William J. Toensing, 4; Issued 2/23/2010
Susan Pelican, 4; Filing Complete 3/8/2010

Republican Central Committee:
Gregory A. Marks, 1; Filing Complete 3/2/2010
William J. Thomas, 1; Filing Complete 2/25/2010
Deborah E. G. Wilder, 1; Filing Complete 2/25/2010
Nancy L. Brost, 1; Filing Complete 3/11/2010
Terald O. Robinson, 1; Filing Complete 3/11/2010
Richard R. Ulery, 2; Filing Complete 2/18/2010
Kimberly A. Pruett, 2; Filing Complete 2/18/2010
William K. Neuharth, 2; Issued 2/18/2010
Sharon L. Eskelson, 2; Filing Complete 3/2/2010
Mitchell Hanna, 2; Issued 2/19/2010
John R. Vandenberg, 2; Issued 2/18/2010
David R. Higgins, 3; Filing Complete 3/12/2010
John Hood, 4; Filing Complete 2/16/2010
Betty Hood, 4; Filing Complete 3/12/2010
Tony Gilchrease, 4; Filing Complete 2/17/2010
Gloria Gilchrease, 4; Filing Complete 2/17/2010
Melissa K. Walker, 4; Filing Complete 3/3/2010
Carla Ann Embertson, 5; Filing Complete 2/18/2010

Director, Washington County Water Board:
Walt Ahrens; Filing Complete 3/2/2010
Kathleen M. Scott; Filing Complete 3/2/2010
Russell Constable; Issued 2/23/2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Former "suspend climate action" initiative's proponent Ted Costa turns against the effort

Peoples Advocate CEO Ted Costa, a drafter of the Logue-and-McClintock-supported initiative to suspend California's Global Warming Solutions Act, has turned against the initiative and, according to the Sacramento Bee, "is willing to write a ballot argument against it."

He's objecting to the influx of oil money and their failure to report it, according to the LA Times - a situation which, from Costa's words, does sound shady:
"I wanted to do a grass-roots operation and involve a lot of people," Costa said in an interview. "But they believe they can run this thing out of the country club, and to hell with the little people of California. If they have half a million dollars, how come they haven't reported it?"

Under state law, financial disclosure forms must be filed with the California secretary of state within 10 days of collecting $50,000. Although paid signature-gatherers were deployed more than a week ago, financial forms for the initiative committee have yet to be submitted.

Costa says that to launch signature-gathering, the group would have had to spend at least $250,000 so far, adding that "it had already spent $160,000 on research more than 60 days ago."
(emphases added)

(response from the SuspendAB32 folks: it's sour grapes because Costa's group wasn't hired to collect sigs.)

The news of Costa's change of heart does not appear on the Suspend AB 32 website's "Latest news" page - although Costa's name and bio have been removed from the site's "proponents" page (previous version here, for now).

Friday, March 05, 2010

Curious discrepancy in political makeup of Tea Party Patriots

We've got an apple and an orange here; but what explains the difference?

The Union recently ran a friendly profile of (and subsequent Q&A with) local and national Tea Party Patriot leader Mark Meckler. From the profile:
Meckler estimated that about 40 percent of the people who are part of the Tea Party movement are Republicans, with another 40 percent identifying themselves as independent and 20 percent identifying themselves as Democrats.

20 percent identifying themselves as Democrats.

Then the Sam Adams Alliance released a report (pdf, webpage) based on a survey of Tea Party Patriot leaders. From the webpage:
62 percent [of the 49 leaders surveyed] identified as Republicans, 28 percent as Independents, 10 percent as "Tea Party".

Note the omission of a percentage for "Democrats" - which, since the others add up to 100%, must be 0%.

It's an interesting discrepancy.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"I know more math/science than you" specious climate contrarian argument from authority

A local climate contrarian (commenter "ggoodknight" at The Union) has objected to my holding Greg Craven up as someone we can all learn from, saying:
I thought you'd like to know that your favored "risk management" source has one technical degree, Computer Science, whose program at Univ. of Puget Sound doesn't even require calculus, the basis for a true statistics and risk management treatment. My alma mater still requires computer science majors to take the same math, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering and engineering that math, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering majors take for the first two or three semesters.

How about your undergrad experience? How much real major-track math, how much real major-track science? Multivariable calculus? Differential equations? Physical chemistry? Relativistic and quantum physics?

What this fellow doesn't grasp is that

a) We all do risk management, every day; you don't need calculus to know to look both ways before crossing the street, and to argue that you do would be pretty foolish.
b) For a layman to use a "my science/tech" background is more thorough than [fellow layman] X's" argument, when staking out a stance that's at odds with the real experts, doesn't make him more credible than someone who may have a weaker science/tech background but whose views *are* in line with the real experts; and to argue that it does, would be to argue that first-graders should yield to second-graders' pronouncements. (Me, I think the kid would be better off listening to the teacher.)

(And he's evaded my request to provide a peer reviewed references to papers backing his contrarian "it's the sun" argument. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and to argue that the entire body of climate science is clueless is indeed an extraordinary claim - for which I certainly wouldn't give a layman's view much weight.)

Does it matter? Only if you like your children - who will be choosing your nursing home.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Calif SuspendAB32 anti-climate effort isn't looking too healthy

Not only are the would-be SuspendAB32 folks painfully reticent about who's committed the $600k (according to Dan Logue) to their signature gathering effort (*), but their own economic analyst wouldn't stand behind his analysis, according to the Sacramento Business Journal Friday.

The SuspendAB32.org site asserts:
Economists estimate if nothing is done AB 32 will:
* Cost California up to 1.1 million jobs
* Cost the average family $3,857 a year in greatly increased expenses for housing, transportation, food and energy
* Cost $49,691 per small business
* Result in a total loss of output of $182.649 billion
* Devastate budgets of California social services agencies through massive losses in tax revenue

This was the study by Varshney and Tootelian of CSU Sacramento business school, a study which has been roundly criticized, most recently by Jim Sweeney, Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency at Stanford University as "very, very defective", according to this Sacramento Business Journal story - which also reported that Dr. Varshney, Dean of the Business School at CSUS, was unwilling to stand behind his study's findings.

h/t Steven Maviglio

I've emailed Drs. Sweeney and Varshney asking if there's anything they care to add or clarify; will report back.