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Category: General

Out of respect for the good pastor, no lady-folk are allowed to comment on this post

[ 84 ] March 24, 2014 |

The Arizona pastor who infamously told his parishioners to pray for Obama’s death doesn’t want to hear a damn thing out of you ladies, so just you shut up already.

The End of the Asian Forests

[ 23 ] March 24, 2014 |

The burning of Asian forests, particularly but not exclusively in Indonesia, continues unabated. This is usually reported on for the public health aspects of it since the smoke from Sumatra wafts over the rest of southeast Asia. That’s a huge problem, but of course there is also the destruction of the ecosystem. When I traveled in Sumatra in 1997, I saw some of this and it was mostly poor people engaging in slash and burn farming. That’s not the case anymore. Today, it’s big landowners burning land for palm oil and paper plantations. The method of clearing land is horrible because of the environmental cost to people’s lungs, but that’s not what I want to focus on here.

In the 1980s, as environmentalists rallied to save the last ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, workers, who considered themselves environmentally responsible stewards of the land, were angry because of their lost livelihood. Of course, the companies were lying to the workers as they were already moving operations to other forests, but leave that aside for now. One point the two timber workers unions made repeatedly was that the United States was now exporting its forestry to countries with far fewer environmental restrictions on forestry than the U.S. By moving timber production to Brazil or Indonesia, we were dooming other forests while doing nothing about consumption in the United States. And that’s basically a correct analysis of the situation. That doesn’t mean that we should have cut down the last old-growth forests, in fact environmentalists were completely correct on this. But the saving of American forests in no way reduced consumption of forest products. The transformation of tropical forests into plantations for the export market is one result of this.

Exxon Valdez

[ 42 ] March 24, 2014 |

Happy 25th Anniversary to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Those were some good times. What did biologists discover from it? That the oil industry is horrible for wildlife:

Scientists had traditionally believed that oil basically had to cover an animal or embryo to hurt it. But the evidence they saw in Alaska suggested it didn’t take much oil to do a lot of damage. And that damage could manifest in different ways.

For example, oil under rocks and in sediments contaminated clams that sea otters ate. It didn’t kill the otters outright: Wildlife biologist Dan Esler of the U.S. Geological Survey says it shortened otters’ lives and suppressed the population for 20 years.

“The understanding that lingering oil could have chronic effects on wildlife populations was a new and important finding, and one that we did not anticipate at the time that we started the research,” Esler says.

Through years of research, scientists discovered another unexpected effect, this time related to fish eggs. The clue came from pink salmon, which weren’t doing well even years after the spill. To figure out why, Rice’s team exposed pink salmon embryos to tiny amounts of oil.

“We were dosing them with oil that you couldn’t see [and] you couldn’t smell. But we were doing it for a really long time,” Rice says. “And six months later, they had abnormalities.”

Rice says it was one of the many “wows” that came from his years heading up a NOAA team researching the spill’s effects.

But hey, I’m sure everything is back to normal in the Gulf after the BP spill and that we should continue right on drilling like nothing ever happened.

Various Thoughts on MH370

[ 45 ] March 24, 2014 |

March is typically my busiest month, as I always have papers to furiously finish at the last minute for one, often two conferences in the US. This year is no different; I’m in Chicago doing the MPSA for a few nights in a little over a week, and while I don’t have a paper at the WPSA this year, I’m going to crash the meeting anyway, being from Seattle and all. By meeting, I of course mean any of the panels being held in a bar.[*] Nonetheless, I have been paying perhaps too much attention to MH370, and as I’ve been busy to the point where I can barely keep up with LGM, let alone comment threads, I apologise if any of this was discussed in the comments to the two (?) posts about MH370 that appeared here earlier.

I have an irrational fear of flying, which makes the annual 50K+ I clock up every year in the air a bit ironic. I assuage that fear partially by paying close attention to the occasional accident, and over the years I’ve built up a near encyclopedic knowledge of various disasters (the other means of fear mitigation is the airport bar). Since 1999, pprune has been informative in this area, with active airline pilots, ATC controllers, engineers, etc. providing ample evidence that plays into my statistics and probability training. Typically, the professionals active on the site (and previously, rec. travel.air on old Usenet) will point out the path-dependent chain of extremely low probability events required to bring down the aircraft in any given accident. Those flying for a living weren’t concerned, citing the overall low probability of any single event. Of course, one of the few times this approach failed was AF447, when the attitude of the pilots seemed to be “thank god it wasn’t me up there” and I was introduced to the term “coffin corner”.  That dialogue was well in the front of my mind when nine months later I was in an AF A330 over Greenland and we hit some pretty rough turbulence for an hour. It being AF, I had a nice stash of wine and brandy, so I got through it just fine. Typically discussion on pprune is technical and informative, and interesting to the curious and / or geeky.

The pprune thread on MH370 has, I believe, set a record in terms of sheer volume. As it’s gained attention (something over 10 million hits), the signal:noise ratio has predictably declined, but perseverance pays off. While there’s plenty of borderline crackpot theories being aggressively pursued by some, the nature of natural peer reviewing dismisses the unbelievable and impossible out of hand. However, given the nature of this case, there’s still plenty of scenarios with some measurable probability, however small. Attempting to understand what happened hasn’t been helped by the Malaysian government’s inconsistent handling of the matter. On several occasions, facts have been rejected before being accepted several days later, or stated as fact before being rejected later. On the latter, I’m specifically thinking about how the turn left immediately following the cutoff of the transponder was programmed into the flight computer and transmitted to ground via ACARS, which was subsequently withdrawn by Malaysian authorities.

It’s useful to focus on the few facts we do know with reasonable certainty (cribbed from pprune) before moving on to the where, and of ultimate interest, the why.

Official Confirmed

01:07 Last routine engine data transmission
XX:XX ACARS disabled
01:17 Sign off Subang ATC
01:21 Transponder switched off (near IGARI)
01:21 Malasian military PSR picks up MH370 at IGARI
XX:XX MH370 moves towards VAMPI and then towards GIVAL
02:15 MH370 turns towards IGREX and is lost on Malasian military PSR
08:11 Last ACARS handshake signal detected

The latter point is critical — it indicates that the aircraft flew for hours following whatever event occurred along its normal flight path over the Gulf of Thailand / South China Sea.  Furthermore, the consensus on pprune suggests that the continuation of the flight for hours after leaving the general Malaysia / Indonesia area was intentional. Regardless of motivation (fire / sudden decompression / unauthorised incursion into the cockpit / some motivation of the pilot to do something inconsistent with a normal flight or safe landing during a problem on board) the aircraft took a meandering route under the direction of somebody at the controls. To quote a contributor to the forum:

I think that many of us who fly the 777 for a living agree with you. The AP is going to follow a limited number of lateral inputs–LNAV, HDG HOLD, HDG SEL, TRK, or LOC. Plus, for LNAV we know that it is a three-step process of selecting the waypoint, executing it, and then selecting LNAV on the MCP. How many times have we had that drilled into us about “Execute then LNAV?”

At the very least, the initial turn off course and the entering and/or selection of new waypoints reveals very deliberate actions–by whom I will leave open pending further discovery and investigation. I think however, that many posters have overlooked just how deliberate those actions need to be and that they were most likely not the result of a happenstance case of hypoxia or fire brigade duties…

Initially, in the first 48 hours or so after the aircraft went missing, the working assumptions were that there had to be some swift, cataclysmic event that would disable the transponder, ACARS, and prevent the flight crew from so much as communicating. Sudden decompression or fire were favorites.  Lacking any debris field or ELT transmissions within a few days of the disappearance over a patch of ocean known for being shallow and heavily populated by both fishing boats and oil rigs, these hypotheses were in doubt. Malaysia’s confirmation that military primary radar picked up what they believe to be the 777 in question flying to the west introduced further confusion. This led to several now well known theories, including this one, discussed here on LGM. That (or any fire theory) has been through consensus regarded as very low probability on pprune. Palau Langkawi airport has a one-way runway pointed in the wrong direction for the approach, there were airports somewhat closer and more convenient if you’re flying a 777 that is on fire, and of course the knowledge that the aircraft remained in cursory communication via hourly pings to the Inmarsat satellite for six to seven hours later:

(Diversion to Palau Langkawi airport) even though it was closed, a very dark place to land even when the lights are on, and a one direction runway for approaches (the opposite direction he was heading), Penang was closer (and open 24/7) with approaches on both runways, and full firefighting support. Both pilots had flown into and out of both of these airfields many times, and both knew one was closed one was open.

Any fire theory would require a fire strong enough to disable the pilots and the overwhelming majority of electrics on the aircraft (the transponder, ACARS via VHF, communication), but subtle enough to burn itself out while leaving the control surfaces and airframe integrity in tact for a zombie journey until fuel exhaustion. In most (if not all) mid-air fire cases (e.g. SR111, SA295, AC797, ValueJet 592, Asiana991) the pilots have had an opportunity to communicate with ATC before, in most cases, the fire damage resulted in loss of control of the aircraft. A fire scenario for MH370 would have had to immediately disable several redundant communication systems, ultimately overcome the crew (who have and are trained to use their backup oxygen supply) yet leave the 777 in an airworthy state to fly itself. While not an impossible scenario, the probability is quite low. To again quote a pprune contributor:

If you had followed this thread you would have read the factors that make the fire in flight scenario a less than likely option. Fire cannot deselect transponders, nor call up menu options to shut down ACARS systematically, let alone preselect route 2 waypoints on the FMS.

(a) the fire had to burn such it disabled the power to certain electrical components and not other electrical components despite the fact that these electrical components are on the same power circuit.

(b) that this fire was hot and heavy enough to result in the incapacitation of the pilots yet light enough to burn itself out before effecting any of the control surfaces, cabling, etc so the plane could fly for five more hours.

The sudden decompression / hypoxia theory received a lot of attention early on, especially once it was established that the plane continued on in possibly zombie fashion for hours, bringing up memories of Payne Stewart’s (final) Learjet flight and Helios522 in 2005. Again, this is a scenario that is not impossible, but considering what we do know, highly unlikely. In the time period immediately following loss of contact, the aircraft was under pilot control, heading west for roughly an hour, then turns to the south (or north).  Given the aircraft was under control, the pilots would have been using their own oxygen source, but failed to communicate; whatever caused the immediate decompression would have likewise had to disable the several means of communication that we do know ceased functioning.

The theory that the plane flew, controlled, on the tail of one of the many flights in the air corridor heading west across the Malay peninsula has also been questioned. According to contributors to the thread on pprune, military radar can distinguish targets 300 feet apart, even 1960s technology was capable of 600 feet separation. Flying that close, at cruising speed, is difficult in the best of circumstances.  This was at night, while your aircraft is essentially flying dark (no communications, no TCAS as no transponder, etc.). It’s possible, of course, but it would be very challenging, and with 300-600 feet of separation nearly impossible, it would assume that every radar observer consciously or subconsciously rejected two valid blips where there should only be one as a fault.

A more fanciful theory, initially pitched (and still occasionally claimed) is a new take on terrorism. This theory has the flight crew disabled, and the 777 essentially stolen, to be flown off to some hidden runway for future malevolent use. If I’m running a terrorist operation, and I need a new weapon, I’m not going to hijack a 777 on a scheduled route with 230+ pax, just to store it somewhere. Loads of people will be, you know, looking for me and my Boeing as it’s sat on some highly visible 7000 foot runway somewhere (not to mention the initial Oceans-11 level of sophistication operation to get it there). Rather, I’m going to set up some shell freight company and go buy a fleet of beaters hanging out in the Tucson desert — there are still some sweet NW DC-10s there (many of which I probably flew on once). Given the sheer number of people searching for this thing, the resources at their disposal, and the finite (and known) number of runways capable of both landing, and critically for a scheme requiring re-use, successfully allowing the departure of a T7, the chances that it was stolen and landed somewhere are slim. Not zero, but awfully damned slim. Unless, of course, they also built their own new secret runway somewhere as part of this elaborate master plan.

Given the data on pinging to the satellites as part of the ACARS infrastructure, we know the two broad arcs where it was last. Since it had anywhere from 0 to 59 minutes of fuel remaining at the time, there’s a lot of territory expanding out from those arcs. As it a) hasn’t been spotted on the ground, and b) there’s thus far zero reports of it showing up on any other primary radar (between Thailand and Kazakhstan), especially given some of the borders on the northern arc are well observed by air defence radars, my guess is that the probability of it heading north to be quite low. Of course, it’s not in the interests of any of those countries on the northern arc to admit that possibly in the middle of the night their air defence radars were not switched on for budgetary considerations, understaffed as it was late at night heading into the weekend, or inadequately staffed, but my guess is that something would have been released or leaked by now.

The southern arc includes a lot of territory over the Indian Ocean that is both very deep, and relatively free of busy shipping lanes. While it’s *possible* that it landed at some hitherto unknown airfield or ex-WWII grass strip somewhere, it’s highly improbable (and would likely have been observed by now). It’s more likely it’s somewhere in the Indian Ocean, under a hell of a lot of water. Whereas with AF447 there was a really good idea in what patch of ocean it went down in, this one doesn’t have that advantage.

We have precious scant factual evidence of the what, we have a probabilistic guess as to the where, but the why will likely remain unknown. The FDR, if found (it took two years to locate AF447′s), will provide ample evidence of the aircrafts systems, but the CVR only records on a two hour loop, so that’s unlikely to provide much from the cockpit, and will not provide anything from the key time period immediately following the loss of contact. Of course, it’s also possible that the smart fire which disabled most of the communications systems also took out the sensors and / or power to both the FDR and CVR.

I’ll close this out with a quote from a 777 pilot:

I am a 777 pilot and have waded painfully through all these pages.

Just a few points:

To be pedantic the 777 transponder cannot be turned off in flight from the flight deck. ie depowered with digits blank. There is no off switch, however there is a standy position which will stop it radiating. You would have to pull the circuit breaker to totally depower it. In flight on the 777 you never go to standby if you are given a change of squawk.

As to who made the last radio call. If the Captain is handling pilot the copilot would normally make the radio calls. However for various reasons i.e. the copilot out of the flight deck, copilot on the intercom to cabin crew , the Captain may have made the call. So role is not definitive proof.

In the event of a fire you do not climb to snuff out flames.

Can a 777 get to FL450? In true mythbuster spirit we put this to the test in a 777-2 simulator. A 777 with a full load of passengers has a zero fuel weight of between 170 and 180 tonnes, say 175 tonnes. 8 hours of fuel is approximately 52 tonnes. So a takeoff weight of approx 227 tonnes minus a bit of taxi fuel. At that weight the FMS says Max Alt FL409. The plane will climb easily to FL410.

Now it gets interesting. At FL410 There is a very small gap on the airspeed tape between the VMO and the yellow which is minimum manoeuvring speed. If you disconnect the autothrottle and firewall the thrust levers, then wait until the speed is about to trigger the VMO warning and then disconnect the autopilot and raise the nose you can do a zoom climb. Although into the yellow pretty quickly there is still a long way before you get to the red digits on the airspeed which is the point at which the stick shaker activates.. The elevator gets incredibly heavy as it is made artificially heavier as the Boeing 777 really doesn’t want you to do this. With P2 pulling with all his might he still could not raise the nose to anywhere near 10 degrees. Putting the flight controls into direct mode made it easier. We got it to FL 443 at which point the stick shaker activated and P2 gratefully reduced the back pressure. This sim had GE engines. RR are a bit more powerful and if they had used an hour more fuel than our simulation I think it would have been feasible. Interestingly at FL440 the cabin alt was still at 8000 feet as per normal, so it must have used a higher diff than normal but still had not reached the max diff where the relief valve opens.

As regards the possibilities:

I believe the event probably started with the flight deck door opening and either a pilot exiting or someone else entering. I suspect someone with knowledge then deliberately disabled transponder, acars and satcom.

As for the gradual depressurisation theory. I cannot buy that because the normal cabin alt is 8000, if it gently depressurised it might not be noticed but at 10,000 feet cabin alt there is a very loud horn and red “cabin Alt” warning. No pilot should be unconscious by this point, the passenger masks don’t even drop until a cabin altitude of 14000 feet so they would have seen the warning at 10,000 feet and taken action.

The rapid depressurisation theory and the pilots unconscious due to either failing to put masks on or failure of the oxygen system. This might have been a possibility except the transponder stopped radiating. In an emergency descent you do not touch the knob of the transponder switch. I have never put a 777 transponder to sby in flight and it would be totally alien. The transponder selector knob is not part of the emergency descent checklist.

A massive electrical failure or smoke in the flight deck? Possible but extremely unlikely for it to all happen at once with no chance to get even a radio call out. Also flying for 5 more hours. Would it not be better to head for land then circle and get attention?

A great mystery.

[*] Yes, I’m looking forward to next month, not having had the time to so much as have a single alcoholic beverage in over three weeks. Of course, my first leg across the Atlantic is on a 777, an airliner that has perhaps the best safety record in history, with prior to MH370 only three hull losses, one of those being non-operational, and only three lives lost. Of course, the return TATL leg is on a 787, which is made out of plastic and catches on fire for fun.

“The King of Second Chances”

[ 62 ] March 24, 2014 |

This is a chilling account of the women beaten and in one case killed because the son of a celebrity was continually let off the hook, including by at least two judges who winked at serious cases of domestic abuse:

JARED REMY HAD GLIDED THROUGH his first five criminal cases, but prosecutors thought the sixth one would be different.

Compared to what he had been charged with in the past — beating and choking his ex-girlfriend while she held their baby, cracking a friend over the head with a beer bottle in a jealous fit, elbowing and cursing out a police officer — the case that landed in Lowell District Court in January 2001 seemed minor: Threatening to commit a crime.

But for the first time, prosecutors had a victim willing to testify against Remy, son of one of the most beloved figures in New England.

He was 22 and could not keep a job or stay out of trouble. His parents had hired him the same high-priced lawyer who had prevailed over the district court prosecutors in Jared’s prior cases. So far that lawyer was five for five, sparing Remy jail time, a guilty finding, or anything more than temporary probation.

But prosecutor Joshua E. Friedman did not see Jerry Remy’s son as a young man with a record clean of convictions, charged now with a minor offense. He saw him as steroidal and entitled, violent and unrepentant. Tiffany Guyette, his alleged victim, saw him that way, too. She said Remy had been abusing her since she got pregnant by him at 15, four years earlier.

Since then, Guyette said, he had tried to push her from a moving car while she was pregnant, waited for her in the dark with a baseball bat, and repeatedly paged her with the number 187, street slang for murder.

For all that, however, she had not spoken against him in court before, believing his promises that he would change, she said.

Then a counselor told her she needed to stand up to break the cycle of abuse. So when Remy allegedly unleashed another death threat over the phone, Guyette notified police. She resolved to face him in court.

She wrote a letter to the judge, describing her “roller coaster” experience and warning that Remy was growing more brazen. She did not know if he could be redeemed, but held out hope that the right message — his first “guilty” finding, time behind bars, and meaningful counseling — could restore the “sweet and caring Jared” she once knew.

Prosecutor Friedman agreed, wanting a “short, sharp sentence to hopefully teach him some kind of lesson that this was not OK.”

The judge set trial for June. But Guyette never got the chance to testify. When they reconvened, Judge Neil J. Walker accepted a proposal from defense lawyer Peter Bella. Over the prosecutor’s objections, Walker continued and then dismissed the case.

Thirteen years, 14 more cases, and one murder count against Remy later, Guyette’s letter remains on file in Lowell, its last line hauntingly prescient. “If he does not learn to handle his anger,” she warned, “he could ultimately hurt me, my son, someone else, or himself.”

Remy’s extensive history of violence, as most of you know, has allegedly culminated in murder of his partner. Alas, no matter how many people he assaulted, he was never guilty of a an actually serious offense, like “being a black person in possession of the wrong kind of drugs.”

The Laziest Cashier in All the World

[ 36 ] March 24, 2014 |

SEK walks to the checkout line and asks the cashier if she can grab him a bottle of SKYY, because in Louisiana the alcohol is kept in a different, special, somewhat faraway place and must be requested.

CASHIER: The blue one?

SEK: Yes, much appreciated.

CASHIER walks to different, special, somewhat faraway place and returns with a clear bottle of Absolut.

CASHIER: This one?

SEK: No, the blue one.

CASHIER: (looks somewhat faraway) But does this one work for you?

SEK: Not really, it’s $15 more expensive.

CASHIER: (emphatically looks somewhat faraway) So you don’t want it?

SEK: I wanted the –

CASHIER: HEY HONEY, LOOK WHAT I FOUND HERE!

SEK: What?

CASHIER: IT’S A COUPON!

SEK: A coupon?

CASHIER: FOR $15 OFF THE VODKA YOU DON’T WANT!

SEK: I’ll … I’ll take it?

CASHIER: You’re welcome, handsome. Have yourself a good one.

The Answer is Class

[ 132 ] March 23, 2014 |

This Times op-ed on why people born in certain counties dominate Wikipedia entries spends a lot of words to miss the obvious answer. An excerpt:

The first striking fact in the data was the enormous geographic variation in the likelihood of becoming a big success, at least on Wikipedia’s terms. Your chances of achieving notability were highly dependent on where you were born.

Roughly one in 1,209 baby boomers born in California reached Wikipedia. Only one in 4,496 baby boomers born in West Virginia did. Roughly one in 748 baby boomers born in Suffolk County, Mass., which contains Boston, made it to Wikipedia. In some counties, the success rate was 20 times lower.

Why do some parts of the country appear to be so much better at churning out American movers and shakers? I closely examined the top counties. It turns out that nearly all of them fit into one of two categories.

First, and this surprised me, many of these counties consisted largely of a sizable college town. Just about every time I saw a county that I had not heard of near the top of the list, like Washtenaw, Mich., I found out that it was dominated by a classic college town, in this case Ann Arbor, Mich. The counties graced by Madison, Wis.; Athens, Ga.; Columbia, Mo.; Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Gainesville, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; and Ithaca, N.Y., are all in the top 3 percent.

Why is this? Some of it is probably the gene pool: Sons and daughters of professors and graduate students tend to be smart. And, indeed, having more college graduates in an area is a strong predictor of the success of the people born there.

But there is most likely something more going on: early exposure to innovation. One of the fields where college towns are most successful in producing top dogs is music. A kid in a college town will be exposed to unique concerts, unusual radio stations and even record stores. College towns also incubate more than their expected share of notable businesspeople.

Or, it’s because you are born rich or you are born poor and that fact goes a very long ways in determining your future in this nation. Even his discussion of African-Americans and immigrants shows this–his examples are people born into the elites of these groups. It’s remarkable how obvious this is and how he totally misses this in a 21st century America where class-based analysis is unfashionable.

The mention of “genes” is basically playing with eugenics, although I’m sure this is unintentional.

This One Weird Trick Where Republicans Reach Out to the Youths. #FrackMyLife

[ 71 ] March 23, 2014 |

Directions:

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  2. Then watch John Oliver’s even-more-hilarous take on Republican outreach to Millennials.
  3. Shed some unwanted pounds by laughing your butt off.
  4. Thank bspencer for this one weird weight loss trick!

The Foxes

[ 151 ] March 23, 2014 |

I should start this post by saying that I couldn’t care one way or the other about the success of FiveThirtyEight. Nate Silver has done good work on both sports and elections, but that doesn’t mean that he is inherently better at reporting or shaping news than a lot of other people. I certainly don’t wish him bad luck because I want quality analysis to read. But it’s notable how strongly negative the response to the rollout of the new site has been. Krugman has perhaps the most important run-down, if for no other reason than that’s the type of writer to whom Silver is supposed to appeal. First, there was the ridiculous manifesto. Then there was the bizarre idea that one could somehow be objective about data and therefore non-ideological, an absurd claim. But whatever. A lot more problematic is the idea that all subjects are equally reported poorly and thus he needs to save the day by hiring people who can bring data to the problem. Silver has brought known climate skeptic Roger Pielke on board to write about climate. Pielke’s first article basically says that natural disasters aren’t increasing and not to worry about climate change caused disasters in any case because the world’s getting richer so we can clean them up. The final paragraph:

When you next hear someone tell you that worthy and useful efforts to mitigate climate change will lead to fewer natural disasters, remember these numbers and instead focus on what we can control. There is some good news to be found in the ever-mounting toll of disaster losses. As countries become richer, they are better able to deal with disasters — meaning more people are protected and fewer lose their lives. Increased property losses, it turns out, are a price worth paying.

A price worth paying for what precisely? And what are the limits of this price? This is the kind of data-centered reporting we were promised by Silver? Uh…. People who actually know climate data, i.e., the kind of data Silver is supposed to provide, are more than unhappy by Pielke’s article and worried about what FiveThirtyEight is going to bring to climate reporting. Given Silver’s prominence, these sorts of stories could do real damage to the battle to build support to fight climate change. Bad stuff.

Silver probably should understand that there are some fields where ridiculous fact-free bloviating dominates and some where it doesn’t. It exists in politics because of the need to fill 24 hours of cable content and generate website hits. It does in sports because sports don’t really matter that much. It does not in climate science–except from the kind of people Silver himself is hiring. If Silver wants to be serious about climate data, it’s there in a gigantic literature that pretty much all agrees on what’s happening. Allowing sketchy climate skeptics to present “data” to question the actual data is basically him becoming what he says he hates.

In the end, creating a website primarily to massage your own enormous ego may come with problems.

The Senate Picture

[ 71 ] March 23, 2014 |

Is, as you would expect, looking pretty grim.

One upshot: nuts to Brian Schweitzer. You’d have to think that if he was running Democratic chances in Montana would be a lot better than 20%, and substantially increasing the chances of Republican control of the Senate to preserve your no-hope presidential campaign…it’s nice to have a fairly prominent advocate for single-payer and everything, but you’re part of the problem.

“NIMBY-ism, but with microphones”

[ 159 ] March 23, 2014 |

The LA Weekly‘s piece about the decline of Pacifica is a really terrific read. I’ll pick out a few choice bits at random. First, the ratings:

Pacifica has a long and storied history, and still features such leading liberals as Amy Goodman, the widely known host of Democracy Now! (on which journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill are frequent guests), but it has fallen on hard times of late. Listenership, according Reese, is “extraordinarily low.” During an average 15-minute period, just 700 people listen to its Los Angeles station, 90.7 FM KPFK, for at least five minutes, according to Nielsen Audio, which monitors radio ratings.

For L.A.’s other public radio stations, KCRW and KPCC, that number is 8,000 and 20,000, respectively. KPFK draws roughly one one-thousandth of all radio listeners in the Metro Los Angeles area.

Pacifica’s New York station, WBAI, is even worse off, with too few listeners to register on the Arbitron rankings, and is all but bankrupt. Last year, most of the staff was laid off, including the entire news department.

Facebook and twitter followers will have heard me complain incessantly about the local NPR station’s pledge drives, which rather than what might think is the mutually beneficially arrangement of interspersing the pledge drive with listenable content like news updates, consist of nothing but people asking for money for days on end. (Does anyone listen to this for more than 3 minutes at time?) But, at least, we’re spared Alex Jones-caliber conspiracy theories:

A National Public Radio fund drive, such as those heard in Los Angeles on much bigger KCRW and KPCC, is a mix of cloying boosterism, promises of tote bags and begging. A Pacifica fund drive, meanwhile, sounds like a never-ending infomercial for products created by a street-corner lunatic.

Take, for example, a five-DVD set titled “The Great Lies of History,” which includes five documentaries by Italian filmmaker Massimo Mazzucco: The Second Dallas; The New American Century; UFOs and the Military Elite; The True History of Marijuana; and Cancer: The Forbidden Cures. Cancer features Dr. Tullio Simoncini, an Italian doctor who claims to treat cancer, which he says originates with a fungus, with sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda.

“There was a woman [diagnosed with] cancer of the uterus,” Mazzucco recently explained to KPFK producer Christine Blosdale on air. “She tried the Simoncini method. She healed by herself by simply doing douches, washing with sodium bicarbonate. The cancer’s gone, and now she can have babies. Of course, that’s one less patient the cancer industry had to milk from.”

I now feel slightly better about academic meetings:

Board elections cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 — no small price for a network with a $13 million annual budget. The meetings themselves cost about $20,000 each to fly in 20-plus people and put them up for the weekend, and they’re dominated by bickering. Members regularly invoke Robert’s Rules of Order, and can take half an hour simply to approve the minutes of a previous meeting.

And lest you think the only relevant actors in the farce are the ultraleft, former Pajamas Media associate Marc Cooper makes an appearance to compare other factions at Pacifica to both Nazis and the Khmer Rouge and call Amy Goodman an “evil bitch.”

[Via DJA.]

Molly Pitcher

[ 22 ] March 23, 2014 |

Like you ever thought Molly Pitcher wasn’t the Kool-Aid pitcher.

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