19 August 2014

Interesting to see that yesterday at 85 degrees north (that's 556 kilometers from the North Pole) the temperature reached 11.6 Celsius, or 53 Fahrenheit.  I was thinking about how this would have seemed to Franklin, Peary or any of the historic Arctic explorers, having to worry about their food spoiling as they slogged through the great northern ocean, now dotted with salty melt ponds.  I might have written a little essay about this strange new world we live in, remarking in a restrained tone on the dangers of tampering with an amazingly complex global climate system.

But now Charles Mann (in a Sept. 2014 Atlantic Monthly article which I can't find online) has told us that when "eco-campaigners" write about these things they are debasing the national discourse.  If I understand his argument correctly, I should strive for a middle ground between alarmism and denialism at all times, preferably avoiding all kinds of data, because "for the typical citizen" that's "a muddle, too abstract--too much like 10th-grade homework."

I read your books 1492 and 1493, Mr. Mann, and this Atlantic piece is so far below the quality of those that I have to wonder about your good faith in addressing climate change.  You say it is "as yet mostly invisible," blithely ignoring the sweeping changes in ecosystems such as the Arctic around the globe that anybody residing in these places with eyes, ears, or a sense of smell could notice.  "A tiny practical impact on most people's lives?" There's a whole TV show about that tiny practical impact, called Years of Living Dangerously, in which (for example) Syrian farmers can illuminate for you how their country's economy collapsed after extreme drought and how many of them were driven out of desperation to support ISIS-like rebel groups.

(And by the way, give me a frickin' break about "each side [in the climate debate storing] up bitterness, like batteries taking on charge." Bill McKibben is about as far from a bitter nihilist as you can get.  He has not spent so many years raising awareness about climate change because he hates humanity.  Read his books and you will find much more about constructive adaptations and long-term solutions to climate change than you will ad hominem attacks on coal and oil executives.)

15 August 2014

Mr. Weismann over at Slate seems to have missed a slightly-bleeding-obvious point in his investigation of why the local government of Ferguson, Missouri is so white.  Cities of 21,000 people, as Ferguson is, tend not to pay their council members very much, if anything.  Even Madison, Wisconsin -- a city of over 200,000 people -- pays its alders less than $9,000 a year


14 August 2014

I find the Gilded Age novelist William Dean Howells to be the best corrective to today's jargon-loving cabals of "disruptive innovators."  The following comes from Chapter 13 of The Minister's Charge (1886, set in Boston):

A horse-car came by, and Lemuel stopped it.  He set his bag down on the platform, and stood there near the conductor, without trying to go inside, for the bag was pretty large, and he did not believe the conductor would let him take it in.
The conductor said politely after a while, "See, 'd I get your fare?"
"No," said Lemuel.  He paid, and the conductor went inside and collected the other fares.
When he came back he took advantage of Lemuel's continued presence to have a little chat.  He was a short, plump, stubby-mustached man, and he looked strong and well, but he said, with an introductory sigh, "Well, sir, I get sore all over at this business.  There ain't a bone in me that hain't got an ache in it.  Sometimes I can't tell but what it's the ache got a bone in it, ache seems the biggest."
"Why, what makes it?" asked Lemuel, absently.
"Oh, it's this standin'; it's the hours, and changin' the hours so much.  You hain't got a chance to get used to one set o' hours before they get 'em all shifted round again.  Last week I was on from eight to eight; this week it's from twelve to twelve.  Lord knows what it's going to be next week.  And this is one o' the best lines in town, too."
"I presume they pay you pretty well," said Lemuel, with awakening interest.
"Well, they pay a dollar 'n half a day," said the conductor.
"Why, it's more than forty dollars a month," said Lemuel.
"Well, it is," said the conductor scornfully, "if you work every day in the week.  But I can't stand it more than six days out o' seven, and if you miss a day, or if you miss a trip, they dock you.  No, sir.  It's about the meanest business I ever struck.  If I wa'n't a married man, 'n if I didn't like to be regular about my meals and get 'em at home 'th my wife, I wouldn't stand it a minute.  But that's where it is.  It's regular."

23 June 2014

No, there really isn't "a better way" to break ties in the group stage of the World Cup, Mr. Monkovic.  Certainly not "assembling the teams the next day for a penalty kick shootout" -- guaranteed to increase goalkeeper suicides and impose unnecessary costs on host nations as they stage these exhibitions.

What is so wrong with simply drawing an ostrakon , as a last resort, to determine who must be left behind in the round of 16?  This kind of "dumb luck" was integral to Athenian city-state politics and (careful students of Thucydides are welcome to dispute with me on this) it doesn't seem to have been the fatal flaw in the city's constitution.

19 June 2014

The FTL Castaway, based on GetDaved's "Let's Play FTL Advanced Edition," with apologies to William Cowper


Sidereal sights of sector eight loom'd o'er
Th'appointed planet of our greatest clash...

No allied fleet the storm allay'd,
no light of Mantis beacon shone, 
when with the piercing of our hull's last plate,
We perish'd, each alone.

(But I amidst a darker void of rebel space,
embark'd on tougher quests than he.)

14 June 2014

I'm very enthused to see that Donald Berwick passed the first hurdle in his bid for the governorship of Massachusetts.

Interestingly, well-heeled pharmaceutical executive Joe Avellone will not be going any further.  This is yet another data point in American politics that may be of interest to people who are convinced (some of them just after the Citizens United decision) Big Money runs everything and there is zero chance of a grassroots-funded candidate achieving anything, absent a constitutional amendment or Al Gore getting back together with Tipper or something of the sort.

06 June 2014

According to Mark Twain, first-class lecturers on the lyceum circuit in the Reconstruction era (for example Henry Ward Beecher and Anna Dickinson) "knew their own value and extracted it.  In towns their fee was $200 and $250; in cities $400." [Autobiography of Mark Twain, ed. Charles Neider]

$400 in 1870 is the equivalent of $7,473 today.  Hillary Clinton must think she is about twenty times as good a speaker as schlubs like Anna Dickinson.