Dec 27, 2009

Hemingway's Tom and Jerry Moments [LINK]

From a list, compiled by Paul Johnson for his book Intellectuals, of injuries sustained throughout the life of Ernest Hemingway:

As a child he fell with a stick in his mouth and gouged his tonsils; caught a fishhook in his back; sustained injuries at football and boxing. The year 1918 saw him blown up in the war and smash his fist through a glass showcase. Two years later, he cut his feet walking on broken glass and started internal bleeding by falling on a boat-cleat. He burned himself badly smashing up a water-heater (1922), tore a foot ligament (1925) and had the pupil of his good eye cut by his son (1927). In spring 1928 came the first of his major drinking accidents when, returning home, he mistook the skylight cord for the lavatory chain and pulled the whole heavy glass structure down on his head, sustaining concussion and needing nine stitches. He tore his groin muscle (1929), damaged an index finger with a punch bag, was hurt by a bolting horse and broke his arm in a car smash (1930), shot himself in the leg while drunk and trying to gaff a shark (1935), broke his big toe kicking a locked gate, smashed his foot through a mirror and damaged the pupil of his bad eye (1938) and got two more concussions in 1944, by driving his car into a water tank in the blackout and jumping off a motorcycle into a ditch. In 1945, he insisted on taking over from the driver to take Mary to Chicago airport, skidded and hit a bank of earth, breaking three ribs and a knee and denting his forehead (Mary went through the windscreen). In 1949 he was badly clawed playing with a lion. In 1950 he fell on his boat, gashing his head and leg, severing an artery and concussing himself for the fifth time. In 1953 he sprained his shoulder falling out of his car, and that winter there was a series of accidents in Africa: bad burns while drunkenly trying to put out a brush fire, and two plane accidents, which produced yet another concussion, a fractured skull, two cracked spinal discs, internal injuries, a ruptured liver, spleen and kidneys, burns, a dislocated shoulder and arm, and paralysed sphincter muscles. The accidents, which usually followed drinking, continued almost to his death: torn ligaments, sprained ankle climbing a fence (1958), another car crash (1959).

Dec 18, 2009

Not Exactly on Message [LINK]

This image came from the "americagov" Flickr stream, an account run by the U.S. government: Here is the caption text:

"Brad Pitt is Saving Planet Earth in Copenhagen"... a fun experimental project that will feature 12 non-Brads dressing up like the megastar to promote climate change action.
Could anything better get across the point: not what it pretends to be?

Dec 17, 2009

The Gandhi Nobody Knows [LINK]

After the adulatory film Gandhi was released in 1983, the film critic Richard Grenier wrote one of the all-time best take-downs, which is available here in the Commentary archives. In a nutshell, here's what you didn't know about the guy:

  • Gandhi was overall obstinate, intolerant, and tyrannical. Many of his contemporaries believe his erratic behavior actually delayed Indian independence.

  • Gandhi was greatly concerned about the rights of Indians in South Africa, but not at all about South African blacks.

  • Gandhi's concern for low-caste Hindus was minimal. Like many Hindus, Gandhi believed one's caste was indelible in this life, and that karma affected status only following reincarnation. (His first "fast unto death" was in response to a British proposal to increase the status of "Untouchables.")

  • Gandhi was unconcerned with indigenous movements outside of India, and was opposed, for example, to a similar rise in Arab nationalism amid the decline of the Ottomon Empire.

  • Gandhi advised Jews and Czechs to commit mass suicide in the face of the Nazis, and exhorted the British to surrender, all based on the mistaken notion that Hitler was "not a bad man," and could be persuaded via nonviolence. Gandhi sent a correspondingly naive letter to Hitler himself.

  • Oddly, when World War II started, Gandhi contradicted himself by endorsing Poland's military resistance, referring to it as "almost nonviolent."

  • Undermining British efforts considerably, Gandhi made preparations to allow incursion of the Japanese army into India via Burma, after which he intended to "make them feel unwanted."

  • While Gandhi championed nonviolence to throw off English control, he often abandoned the ideal during the bloody partition of 1947, during which roughly 1 million people were killed in religious violence.

  • The great Indian poet Tagore regarded Gandhi's direct confrontations with the British as so reckless and fanatical that any claims to being "nonviolent" were disingenuous. While Gandhi's core followers used nonviolent tactics, the multitudes of hangers-on that vastly outnumbered them were not so controlled.

  • Gandhi was greatly concerned with the bowel movements of those around him, and constantly gave and received enemas. A large portion of his writings concern excretia.

  • Gandhi was ignorant on matters of nutrition, subjecting himself and others around him to dangerously unhealthy diets, primarily as a function of his obsession with bowel movements.

  • Gandhi was fanatically opposed to all but the most minimal sexual activity necessary to procreate. Like many Hindus, he believed semen to be a precious bodily fluid stored within his skull, and that any emission diminished him. When he had a nocturnal emission, "he almost had a nervous breakdown."

  • Gandhi slept naked with teenage girls, ostensibly to test his vow of chastity.

  • Gandhi was greatly opposed to all modern technology above the level of spinning wheel, effectively enshrining poverty as an ideal. But oddly for such a luddite, he hand-picked Nehru as India's first Prime Minister, a Fabian Socialist committed to rapid industrialization.

  • Gandhi allowed his wife to die of pneumonia rather than be treated with an "alien" penicillin shot, but had no similar qualms being treated soon afterwards with quinine once he contracting malaria. He also had no problem having his appendix removed by British doctors.

  • To top it off, Gandhi treated his sons monstrously.
For what it's worth, Jason DeParle published a critical response to Grenier in the 9/83 issue of The Washington Monthly.

Dec 16, 2009

Mainstreamers at ABC News [LINK]

Note the word "teabaggers," which has an offensive slang usage, instead of "tea party activists."

Dec 7, 2009

Climategate on Front Page of Washington Post [LINK]

It's nice to see the climategate controversy reported prominently, in what is overall a very good article, at least considering the expanse of the scandal. Still, this sentence made me howl:

Phil Jones, the unit's director, wrote a colleague that he would "hide" a problem with data from Siberian tree rings with more accurate local air temperature measurements.
Jones didn't say that he hid data that was a problem simply because it was inaccurate; he said that he employed a "trick" suggested by Michael Mann specifically to "hide the decline." It's a well-known "divergence" problem: relatively recent tree-ring data over the past 50 years or so suggest declining temperatures, while presumably more accurate thermometer data indicate a warming trend. The problem is that Jones used tree rings before 1960 and thermometers afterwards, resulting in a dubious hockey-stick rise, one that conveniently matches other dubious hockey sticks Mann produced. If what you're measuring is the historical size of fruit, I expect you'd get much the same result if you started by measuring apples and ended up with oranges. This need to mix dissimilar data sets also raises the obvious question: if the tree-ring data offers such an inaccurate representation of recent climate, why would it offer a reliable proxy for past climate trends? If there's an honest answer, I'd like to hear it.

Also, this sentence:

These are the facts: After an increase in 1998, the world has been historically warm, but its average temperatures have not climbed steadily. Does that mean climate change has stopped?
it would be far more accurate to say that following an increase leading up to 1998 ... average temperatures have "flattened." Also, it begs the question: temperatures are "historically warm" compared to what? Perhaps we're in a warm period compared to the recent Little Ice Age, but not the Medieval Warm Period that immediately preceded it. And, of course, under no circumstances does climate change "stop." (We should "stop" using the meaningless term "climate change.")

Dec 5, 2009

Sustainable Sex [LINK]

Der Spiegel reports that the mayor of Copenhagen is trying to prevent climate summit attendees not to solicit the the city's prostitutes, by sending attendees post cards that read: "Be sustainable - don't buy sex." Whatever else you can say about prostitution, it's not obvious what it has to do with "sustainability." Isn't it said to be the world's oldest profession? That strikes me as pretty sustainable. Perhaps solicitation might be said to be unsustainable because it costs so much. Alternately, men simply do not have the physical stamina for their sexual escapades to be sustainable.

Dec 2, 2009

Climate change as a moral issue [LINK]

MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen, has a fascinating op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, outlining his skepticism of the theory of CO2-forced global warming. What struck me was this statement, which especially in light of the ongoing "climategate" scandal, suggests that Al Gore's formulation that climate change is primarily a "moral" issue, comes at great cost to scientific progress:

The notion that complex climate "catastrophes" are simply a matter of the response of a single number, GATA [globally averaged temperature anomaly], to a single forcing, CO2 (or solar forcing for that matter), represents a gigantic step backward in the science of climate.... Our perceptions of nature are similarly dragged back centuries so that the normal occasional occurrences of open water in summer over the North Pole, droughts, floods, hurricanes, sea-level variations, etc. are all taken as omens, portending doom due to our sinful ways....

Dec 1, 2009

A question about dendroclimatology [LINK]

If the CRU ignored tree-ring data from after 1960 because they suggested cooling, thus diverging from presumably more accurate thermometer data that showed warming over the same period, on what basis can tree-ring data be considered accurate when estimating temperatures from long before the standardization of thermometer readings?