Friday, April 23, 2004

The end of the world as we know it

There is more evidence that global warming is real and worse than previously thought. The Earth's temperature is rising nearly 1 degree Farenheit per decade.

That's a pretty alarming rate of change. It means that the average temperature of the Earth could change by as much as ten degres F in a single human lifetime.

To put this in perspective, it is probably not a coincidence that the rise of argiculture and civilization coincided with the end of the last ice age about ten thousand years ago. It's not so much the warming up per se that allowed civilization to arise, but rather the fact that global temperatures remained relatively constant for ten thousand years. It's hard to build a civilization if the city you build today will be underwater (or in the middle of a barrent desert) by the time your grandchildren grow up.

Ice core evidence shows that the last ten thousand years have been unusual in the grand and glorious scheme of things, and that radical global warming and cooling have been the rule rather than the exception. That has led some people to be complacent about mankind's contribution to the recent round of global warming, saying that this is just the Way Things Are. That may be. It may also be that civilization now has a firm enough grip that it will survive the end of the conditions that allowed it to arise in the first place, much like a plant, once established, can survive a drought that might have killed it as a seedling.

But even the hardiest plant cannot survive a drought forever.

Global climate change has the capacity to subject us to stresses that we as a species have not known for five hundred generations, possibly within the lifetime of some people alive today. That is certainly a worst-case scenario, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

One reason to be optimistic: we will probably run out of oil first.

Picture of U.S. dead costs job

So much for freedom of the press.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Techno-idiocy 101

California State Senator Liz Figueroa is seeking to block Google's new Gmail service on the grounds that it invades people's privacy.

I can't summon the words to describe how moronic this response seems to me. For one thing, no one is holding a gun to anyone's head forcing them to sign up with GMail. If anyone doesn't like the terms of service they are free to pass.

But the bigger issue is the technological ignorance (or Machiavellian idiocy) that must underlie this position. Email isn't private. It never has been, and until people start to use encryption (which the government is actively trying to prevent them from doing) it never will be.

Getting upset about GMail on privacy issues is kind of like getting upset at GM for making the Hummer on the grounds that you are shocked, shocked! to learn that SUVs aren't fuel efficient.


Followup 4/16: Paul Boutin says it much better.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Burying the lead

It seems to me that the press is giving President Bush a free pass on the August 6 memo. For example, the LA Times, whose reputation would lead one to believe that it could be relied upon to hold a Republican President to account, leads with "Memo Cited Fears of Attacks in U.S....But the newly declassified presidential briefing from August 2001 is short on specifics."

Well, that's not really true.

The August 6 memo says:

Although Bin Ladin has not succeeded, his attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1997 demonstrates that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveilled our Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993...

FBI information since [1998] indicates patterns of suspicious activities in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings and other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

Condoleeza Rice defends the Administrations lack of action in the face of this information on the fact that there is no indication of when the attacks were to take place. But then in her own testimony before the 9/11 comission she reveals that there were indications that attacks were imminent:

Most often, though, the threat reporting was frustratingly vague. Let me read you some of the actual chatter that was picked up in that spring and summer:

"Unbelievable news coming in weeks," said one.

"Big event -- there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar."

"There will be attacks in the near future."

Troubling, yes. But they don't tell us when; they don't tell us where; they don't tell us who; and they don't tell us how.

Um, Dr. Rice, with all due respect, the chatter and the August 6 memo did in fact tell us when ("in weeks"), where ("New York"), who ("Bin Laden"), and how ("hijackings"). Or were you expecting someone to give you the exact dates and flight numbers?

Now, to be fair, hindsight is 20/20, and I actually think it's a defensible position to look at that information at the time and make a considered decision not to act on it. But they didn't do that. They did what they did because they were willfully ignorant, because they had all their attention focused on Iraq, and because of familial obligations to the Bin Ladens and the House of Saud.

What is astonishing to me is that even in the face of news like that (and this) there will still be somewhere around fifty million Americans ready to vote for George Bush in November.

Where in the world is Battle Creek?

Wherever it is I think they have the right attitude.