Saturday, March 24, 2007


A Diary by John McCaughey
Blather [magazine] is here. As we advance to make our bow, you will look in vain for signs of servility or for any evidence of a slavish desire to please. We are an arrogant and depraved body of men. Blather doesn't care. A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?

---Flann O'Brien, Dublin, 1934
None of us can really be sure that we exist. My whole life, as this Diary shows, is a lie. All the characters in it are invented, none bears any resemblance to anyone living or dead. People who claim to find themselves here must know that the only real existence we can any of us claim is in the imagination of God.

---Auberon Waugh, Diaries 1972-1985

Organic Hot Sox

Has not this "organic" craze gone too far? It was all started by the Greenies and by Prince Charles (Old Bat Ears, as we called him at school, where he was not a very bright boy in the classroom).

Anyway, going out to buy 365 pairs of dress socks recently at Macy's (it would never do to wear the same pair twice) we find, when they are delivered, that they bear the label: "Hot Sox: Organic Cotton. Fiber from pesticide-free crops, preserving a pure environment. Made in Turkey. Natural."

Really! One would have thought that Turkish farmers had better things to do than to make socks. One can grow poppies there and make perfectly good opium, Blather is told. Far more helpful to the environment. And poppy fields make a pretty, elegiac display.

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row..."

Magnificent Madness

A most amusing new book* by California-born Gerard DeGroot, now professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

DeGroot became interested in the Apollo program which put 12 American astronauts on the moon between 1969 and 1972.

The professor's latter-day research, he says, revealed "a gang of cynics, manipulators, demagogues, tyrants and even a few criminals. I discovered scheming politicians who amassed enormous power by playing on the public fascination for space and fear of what the Russians might do there....The moon mission was sold as a race the Americans could not afford to lose---a struggle for survival."

DeGroot concludes that Apollo was a $35 billion ego trip---an outrageous waste of money that could far better have been spent on solving terrestial problems and, in essence, achieved nothing for mankind (except, perhaps, for the invention of teflon which is useful in frying pans to stop the egg white from sticking).

The professor has a keen sense of humour and the ridiculous---pointing to NASA's extravagances such as can be illustrated by its penchant for finding the most expensive technological solution to a simple problem. It spent, for example, many millions developing a pen that would write in zero gravity (you can buy one at Staples for les than a dollar today). But the cannier Russians had a more economical solution. Pencils.

It all reminds us of a marginally less expensive (but equally silly) government venture at the time: the nuclear-powered bomber aircraft that could stay aloft for months at a time. Unfortunately, the radiation would have turned the crew glowing-blue long before then but in their greed for funding the advocates brushed that point aside. Our colleague Ken Maize's forthcoming book on the subject is eagerly awaited. One so needs a good laugh nowadays at how inventively they spend our money.

*Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest by Gerard DeGroot, New York University Press/Jonathan Cape, 300 pages.

You Name It....

Every year the Frankfurt Book Fair is made merry by a competition to find the oddest book title of the year. Previous winners include:

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice;
Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers;
How to Shit in the Woods, an Environmentally-Sound Approach to a Lost Art;
People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It.

Short-listed entries for this year include:

How Green Were the Nazis?;
The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: a Guide to Field Identification;
Tatooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan.

It would be amusing to think that the Frankfurt Book Fair flacks make these up over their evening cocktails. But can one be quite certain that it's not all true?

Believe or Die

It's turning a bit ugly. Scientists skeptical of mankind's impact on global warming are accustomed to being shunned by global warming zealots but now the deal has escalated.

Timothy Ball, a former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg in Canada and a global warming skeptic, reports having received five anonymous death threats by e-mail. One threat told him that he would not live long enough to see further global warming.

Ball doesn't mind being called a skeptic because he thinks that all scientists should be skeptical. But he dislikes being called a "denier" with its connotations of the Holocaust. The death threats he attributes to his more extreme pro-global warming colleagues' fear of losing their lucrative government funding.

No doubt Ball goes out to the local restaurant for dinner as usual. But we surely hope that he is packing heat.


"The anger index is way up in America meanwhile, fueled by road rage, workplace stress, family spats and ideological differences. Assorted surveys reveal we consistently rail against gas prices, the press, the judiciary, the health system, computers, weight loss, consumer culture and failed romance. We seethe over Hollywood, co-workers and the threat of terrorism. Some 16 million of us have 'explosive rage disorder', according to the National Institute of Mental Health."

-----The Washington Times

"The greatest compensation of old age is its freedom of spirit. I suppose that is accompanied by a certain indifference to many of the things that men in their prime think important. Another compensation is that it liberates you from envy, hatred and malice. I do not believe that I envy anyone. I have made the most I could of such gifts as nature provided me with; I do not envy the greater gifts of others; I have had a great deal of success; I do not envy the success of others. I am quite willing to vacate the little niche I have occupied so long and let another step into it. I no longer mind what people think of me. They can take me or leave me. I am mildly pleased when they appear to like me and undisturbed if I know they don't. I have long known that there is something in me that antagonises certain persons; I think it is very natural, no one can like everyone; and their ill will interests rather than discomposes me. I am only curious to know what it is in me that is antipathetic to them...."

-----W. Somerset Maugham "A Writer's Notebook" (1944). Maugham had just celebrated his 70th birthday.

"English and all the other modern European languages have many words that come from Latin and from Greek via Latin. They have entered the language at different times and via different routes. You might think that most of these words would have come in a long time ago when more people spoke Latin, but in fact the opposite is true. In the last hundred years or so we have taken in more words from this source than ever before. If anything, the rate seems to be increasing rather than decreasing."

A Natural History of Latin by Tore Janson

"Quidquid Latine dictum sit, altum videtur"

Anything said in Latin sounds profound {The whole point of this column}.

Ipsa scientia potestas est.

Knowledge itself is power.
"Si hoc legere scis nimium, eruditionis habes"

If you can read this, you're over-educated. {Rather a good bumper sticker here}.

----from Blather's "Bluffer's Guide to Latin"


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Markey select-a-climate committee pork lineup

Now that the lineup for the House Select-your-climate Committee is out, it is fun to see whose pork is on board. The Office of Speaker Pelosi was happy to spell it out for us. We are not making this up -- all quotes are straight from Pelosiville. (Likely recipients are Pest Best Guess in parentheses.)

Chairman Markey is "honorary Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Alliance to Save Energy" (energy efficient consumer & building product makers).

Earl Blumenauer is "a vocal advocate for mass transit" (big ticket mass transit constructors and equipment makers, plus the cities that feed them).

Jay Inslee is "a prominent advocate for the New Apollo Project" (the whole breathtaking barrel -- 3 million taxpayer funded jobs worth). Inslee's New Apollo bill may be a model for the Committee's output.

John Larson is the "founder and co-chair of the House Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition" (fuel cell makers
and hydrogen infrastructure manufacturers).

Hilda Solis did "pioneering work on environmental justice issues in California" (California).

Stephenie Herseth is "co-chair of the Rural Working Group which produced Energizing America: Farmers Fueling Our Nation's Energy Independence" (corn growers, ironically at the expense of pork producers).

Emanuel Cleaver is the ex-Mayor of Kansas City MO (dark horse, we are guessing cities).

John Hall was "on the Board of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater… In the 1970s, Mr. Hall co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy MUSE" (environmental entertainment?).

Jerry McNerney "was a wind engineer and a renewable energy expert" (we are guessing wind).

No science here, just pork. Mega-billions worth of expensive efficiency and renewables.

The Washington Pest

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Water hits climate fan

According to the AP, the forthcoming IPCC climate assessment report makes the following dire prediction:

"Hundreds of millions of Africans and tens of millions of Latin Americans who now have water will be short of it in less than 20 years."

This outlandish prediction constitutes an international relief emergency. Water supply projects on this unprecedented scale take at least a decade to plan, fund and build. Water supply infrastructure is very expensive, so we are talking a crash program to spend tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. (Figure $100 to $1000 per person or more.)

The IPCC has finally overhyped in the short term. No doubt because far out catastrophes were not selling enough political tickets.

Now comes the multi-billion dollar question. Does the international community want to divert this much money to supply water to people who already have it? On the shaky basis of computer models? Away from real problems?

Regional precipitation predictions are notoriously bad in climate models. We have seen cases where one model calls for a dramatic decrease (desert) and the next model calls for an even bigger increase (swamp). The international community is unlikely to pay untold billions on just in case both ways projects.

Maybe now they will finally take a serious look at the (un)reliability of the climate models. One can only hope.

Let the fun begin.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

EU moves goal post, declares Victory

A funny French news agency puts it this way:

"The accord's overarching achievement is to commit the 27-country EU to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels."

Achievement? The EU is doing this because they cannot meet the 2008-12 Kyoto targets. Like the proverbial fanatic redoubling his (or her) efforts, they are substituting a greater goal further away. The new goal is even more impossible but comfortably misty distant, for now. Political physics at work. See, we are gaining ground, see?

We expect the Democrats to propose 2020 goals as well; it is such a cool number. The only better number is 7-11 and that is taken.

This nonsense trend of setting lavish goals in the far distant future started with the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. We have just hit their impossible 25 year goals, like clean air in Los Angeles, the perpetual inversion by the sea. Dream on.

The Canadian Conservatives just tried this trick but overshot their wad, as 2050 proved laughable. But then the Canadians thrive on laughing at their government, instead of getting angry. Something US folks should try once. Maybe in 2020?

Saturday, March 3, 2007


A Diary by John McCaughey

Blather [magazine] is here. As we advance to make our bow, you will look in vain for signs of servility or for any evidence of a slavish desire to please. We are an arrogant and depraved body of men. Blather doesn't care. A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?

---Flann O'Brien, Dublin, 1934

None of us can really be sure that we exist. My whole life, as this Diary shows, is a lie. All the characters in it are invented, none bears any resemblance to anyone living or dead. People who claim to find themselves here must know that the only real existence we can any of us claim is in the imagination of God.

---Auberon Waugh, Diaries 1972-1985

Beer Alert!!!

As if all this ethanol and biofuels fever was not bad enough in what we taxpayers are giving away to Archer Daniels Midland in subsidies, someone pointed out over dinner the other evening a more present and immediate danger: the one to us beer drinkers of the world.

Apparently, strong biofuel demand for feedstocks such as corn, soyabeans and rapeseed is encouraging farmers to plant these crops rather than the traditional grains like barley.

The result? A structural change in agriculture in Europe and the United States that will bring about a permanent upswing in the price of beer, where barley and hops account for nearly 10 percent the cost of production. Barley feed futures are already up by 85 percent a tonne in the last ten months.

The unfortunate Mexicans, who exist largely on tortillas, are already halfway starving. Soon they won't even be able to afford a beer neither, never mind the slice of lemon on the neck of the bottle.

Al Gore and Dubya Bush will have much to answer for when they meet their Maker.

How the Irish Invented Technology

After having dug to a depth of 1,000 feet last year, Scottish scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 1,000 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 1,000 years ago.

Not to be outdone by the Scots, English scientists dug to a depth of 2,000 feet and found traces of fiber-optic cable. They concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech digital communications network a thousand years earlier than the Scots.

One week later, Irish newspapers reported that after digging as deep as 5,000 feet in a Mayo bog, Irish scientists had found absolutely nothing.

They therefore concluded that 5,000 years ago the Irish were already using wireless technology.

Politics as Usual

From New York State, of course, emerges the first-ever entirely bipartisan bumper sticker:


Democrats put it on the rear bumper. Republicans on the front bumper...


Obese bore Al Gore, who is always lecturing us about our 'carbon footprint', turns out to be rather a humbug (indeed, a hypocrite) himself on the topic.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a free market think tank in Nashville where Gore maintains a large suburban home, has discovered that the home and swimming pool devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours last year at a cost of $30,000. That lavish total is more than 20 times the national residential average consumption.

Gore has been powerless to dispute the numbers as they were taken from public records. The best riposte he could come up with to reporters was the ineffably feeble one that he and his wife Tipper "work out of our home."

And this is the guy who scolds and hectors us on energy use? Let him eat cake.

Enough Brains to Fill an Eggcup?

Still on climate change (it really is the flavor du jour), NASA scientist James Hansen (he who set the whole global warming canard quacking many years ago, if Blather's memory serves) now tells the National Press Club in Washington D.C. that all existing coal plants without CO2 scrubbing should be closed: the loss of electric power to be made up by energy efficiency measures.

This truly is asinine, as Hansen must realise if he has enough brains to fill an eggcup.

Coal produces about half of the electricity consumed in America and about 160 new coal plants are in the pipeline to meet inevitably-growing demand in the next decade. Shutting down a large number of coal plants would likely bring the U.S. economy to its knees.

Luckily for NASA, Hansen said he was speaking as a private citizen which presumably encouraged him to hyperbole.


"Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, there is no reason either in football or in poetry why the two should not meet in a man's life if he has the weight and cares about the words."

---Archibald Macleish

{Blather thought that he had a reasonable understanding of the English language but what the #!**#%!%@hell does this gibberish mean? Try again, Archibald.}

"Bureaucratic time, which is slower than geologic time but more expensive than time spent with Madame Claude's girls in Paris."

---P.J. O'Rourke

"If you're going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't."

----Admiral Hyman Rickover

"Sustainability is like God, a good thing but, like God, something that is beyond comprehension."

----------Bob Hirsch


"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years....."

Alexander Tyler, a history professor at the University of Edinburgh, was speaking (circa 1787) about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier. But today his words leave one wondering: how long do we have?


"The Puritans nobly fled from a land of despotism [England] to a land of freedom [America] where they could not only enjoy their own religion, but prevent everybody else from enjoying his..."

------American humorist Charles Browne in 1866.

"We have been subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters, as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us. They claim ocean levels are about to rise spectacularly, that there could be an occasional tsunami as high as an eight-story building, the Amazon Basin could be destroyed as the ice cap in the Arctic melts.

"An overseas magazine called for Nuremberg-style trials for global warming skeptics while an American television correspondent compared skeptics to 'Holocaust Deniers'. What we are seeing from the doomsdayers is an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition."

------George Cardinal Pell, archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Sydney {Who said that all Cardinals have bird brains?}


"Iniquia numquam regnan perpetui manent"

Unjust rules never endure forever {an optimistic---indeed somewhat questionable--aphorism from the Ancient Romans}.

"Insanus omnis furere credit ceteros"---Syrus

Every madman thinks that everyone else is mad {or a Guide to Daily Life on Capitol Hill}.


A thing much desired or needed {a phrase much employed in Singles Bars of a Friday evening, although 'Go Ugly Early' is the policy followed by the more cynical}.

"Inter spem et metum"

Between hope and fear {the congenital condition of Washington politicians around election time}.

"Homo doctus in se semper divitias habet"

A learned man always has wealth within himself.

----from Blather's "Bluffer's Guide to Latin"


Friday, March 2, 2007

Poor Exxon (who do you trust?)

Exxon took a lot of heat for funding studies in climate skepticism and finally retired under pressure.

For scale, Exxon funded about $2 million/yr. Greenpeace Germany alone does about $40 million/yr and Greenpeace International about $35 million, so all told Greenpeace does around $100 million globally, though it is not all climate stuff. However, GP does very little in the US, where folks like NRDC, ED, WWF, UCS, etc., do many millions.

But the big US money is the federal USGCRP which spends about $1.7 billion/yr, mostly to support AGW. Most of the vocal AGW advocates feed at the federal trough. The center is NCAR, funded by NSF.

Most of the AGW leaders are modelers. A fascinating aspect of what is going on is the rise of modeling across the sciences. Some leaders call modeling the new "third pillar" of science, along with observation and theory. In reality modeling is just solving equations provided by theory, something we have always done.

The underlying issue is how much to believe models? Science as a whole is grappling with this issue, not just climate science.