Thursday 17 December 2009

Strato Shield and Geoengineering: hurrah!

There's an episode of "The Simpsons", where invasive lizards are found to be an effective predator of pigeons in Springfield (S10:3, "Bart The Mother").  Principal Skinner and Lisa have the following conversation:

Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?
Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.
Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?
Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!
Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

I thought of this when reading of the concept of spraying aerosol of Sulphur Dioxide into the atmosphere, to reduce Carbon Dioxide induced global warming.  Geoengineering, with the Stratoshield.  Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted?  What happens when we're overrun with Acid rain?
"No problem, we simply release wave after wave of alkalines into the oceans, they'll wipe out the acid rain".  Lisa: but aren't the alkalines even worse?  “Yes, but we’re prepared for that, we’ve lined up some more SO2 to cool down and re-balance the oceans".  Lisa: But what if we get it wrong and it's too cold?  "No, that's the beautiful part, when winter rolls around we simply freeze to death …"  Al Gore has weighed in on the concept: “in a word, it’s nuts”.
But here’s the real beautiful part: it would probably work!  And it would work quickly.  We have a pretty good idea of what happens when we have increases in SO2 into the atmosphere, from the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.  That led to worldwide reductions in temperatures of a few degrees for a few years.  The SO2 precipitated out in 2-3 years, but in such small quantities that it did not add to ocean acidity.
I’d heard about geoengineering some time ago on the radio, but thought at the time that it sounded rather like crazy science, “nuts” as Gore said.  But I took a closer look, thanks to Super Freakonomics.  I think I bagged the book a little prematurely in my earlier post, for it’s worth the price of purchase just to read the chapter on the global warning debate and issues (“Why is Al Gore like Mount Pinatubo?”). 
That chapter covers at the Stratoshield concept (aka "Budyko's Blanket), and some others as well: like the use of ocean spray to help promote localized cloud cover, which can help to cool the globe.  I’d said that SF was thin gruel, but this chapter is a hearty stew.
Who’s promoting the idea?
Intellectual Ventures: set up by Nathan Myhrvold in 1990.  Myhrvold was the technical and strategic guy at Microsoft for many years, described by Bill Gates as “the smartest guy I know”.  He has set up IV to develop ideas and concepts, to register patents and see them commercialised.  Others involved in the project have strong green credentials: Ken Caldeira,  John Latham, et al.   
1.     Quick fix: to put out the fire while we work out fire-control measures.
2.     Simple: can be done with existing technology.
3.     Cheap: would only cost in the tens of millions, vs. the trillions per year that are being       mooted to get the world “carbon free”.
4.     Stop-gap: can be deployed for only as long as needed then can be dismantled within a few months.
5.     Place-specific: can be situated at the poles where the temperatures are rising at four times the rate of the poles.   Can keep the polar regions, especiall the Arctic, at pre-industrial levels of ice cover.
1.     Diversion: In doing so, we risk diverting attention from the need to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.  But as Nathan Myhrvold says, that’s like criticizing the doctor for doing a heart by-pass on a patient that should have exercised more and eaten more sensibly.
2.     Acid rain: the amount of SO2 needed is one one-thousandth (IV) or one two-thousandth (Freakonomics) of the amount that goes into the air every year, from natural and man-made sources (about 50/50).  One of the options in any case, is to pump the SO2 already been released by power stations further into the troposphere by long light plastic chimney tunnels.  
3.     Technical issues: is it practicable?  Well, the smart guys at Intellectual Ventures think so and have written a White Paper to show how.  Testing the concept would be in the millions or tens of millions of dollars, mere fractions of the billions being discussed for global warming amelioration.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

DESK WARC... "Four sides to every story" on global warming

Which are you: DEnier, SKeptic, WArmer or Calamatist?

This is a great summary of the four main views on global warming, from the International Herald Tribune today (in the New York Times, pdf here).

Me, having been buffeted hither and thither by the evidence, I find myself somewhere between the Skeptic and the Warmer.   That is, there’s warming (nearly everyone agrees on that),  it’s faster in recent decades than for thousands of years (most agree on that), there’s evidence of connection with CO2 emissions (most agree on that) and man has contributed to that CO2 emission (most agree on that, though the argument is to what extent that’s had an impact more than the natural sources of CO2 or other drivers of climate exchange, such as solar causes).

The “science is settled” claim is not borne out by the evidence.  There are quite a few scientists of repute in the Skeptic category and even a few in the Denier.  Moreover, the recent “Climategate” release of emails from the University of  East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit casts further doubt on just how disinterested are those working on global warming – though the emails themselves don’t seem to be a terminal wound for the Warmers or Calamatists, at least from those I’ve read, which you can access here.

Climate change mitigating measures are worth doing anyway as they will clean up the world and have a security benefit of weaning us off Middle Eastern oil.  But when those measures involve massive transfers of wealth from rich to poor countries, we should be very wary – in other words, wary of the very “ambitious and binding” commitments that are being sought in Copenhagen.  For such measures risk huge harm today, for little likely impact in future.  Moreover, the moneys would be handled by international bureaucracies, which cannot for one minute be trusted to deploy them effectively.
There are other ways to handle global warming.  I’ll write about that later .

Meantime, Stewart Brand’s article “Four sides to every story

Selected Sources:
Summary of Climategate from The Times
Graphs of the “hockey stick”
Prof Plimer: “Alarmism underpinned by fraud”.
Criticsm of the “hockey stick”.
Australian sceptic s: why an Emissions Trading Scheme is not necessary
Judy Curry: respected warmer, recognises faults with the position.
National Board of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Report.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

When I'm 57 to 85...

Click on the above to enlarge, also see here. [Wayback]
All my mates turning or turned 60 this year, and some over that true milestone, no longer just joking about the "big three-oh" or the "big five-oh", but real live appreciation of one's mortality.  Just came across this rather sobering table on the Herald Tribune's site.

"Difficult to deny global warming"

My mate Peter Sherwood weighs in on the climate debate, in yesterday’s South China Morning Post.  Must say it’s refreshing to see a letter on a subject other than the most parochial, plastic bags levies or schools’ language policies.  And I think Peter’s got the balance about right, in particular that even if there’s dispute about the extent of global warming and who or what’s responsible, there’s benefit in taking the mitigating mesasures anyway.  For a contrast to what the US has done, or we in Australia, there’s the story of Denmark , which took the 1973 oil shock seriously and weaned itself off a full diet of oil, to one that’s now 20% wind and will be non-fossil by 2035 (hey, that's not so far away....).  
That’s good for national security too, as we stop the transfer of massive wealth to the Gulf countries, where even allies are really “allies” -- heavy emphasis on the air quotes --  like Saudi Arabia which uses its unearned wealth to fund madrassas around the world, breeding legions of anti-west anti-democracy anti-women anti-freedom young nutters.  

Where we should be careful in this “it’s good to take mitigating measures anyway” philosophy is in the proposed establishment of massive funds to set money aside for the poorer nations to help them ameliorate greenhouse gases, while they develop their economies.

I’m sorry, but I just have no faith in the good use of such massive funds, since it would be handled by bureaucrats and politicians, who have a terrible record of wasting other people's money.  I'd rather see measures taken in response to market forces, albeit that those market signals can be modified by government intervention, as they were in the case of Denmark’s giving tax breaks to early wind farms.
Peter S’s letter below, from South China Morning Post, 14th December.

Difficult to deny global warming
Regarding global warming, there will always be those who refuse to believe scientific fact. More than half of humanity doesn't believe in evolutionary science either, and probably never will.
The evidence of global warming appears irrefutable, as is shown by 800,000 years of evidence from ice cores and billions of pages of hard science from thousands of scientists over many decades.
The anti-global-warming notion that it's all a hoax and a conspiracy is not surprising: getting two scientists to agree on anything is like herding cats.
Attempting to prove each other's theories wrong is what creates scientific advancement. But even if all of that proof of global warming was the biggest scientific lie in history, I would still support a huge reduction in greenhouse gases. The drivers of greenhouse gases are helping destroy the natural world, with acid rain, polluted soil and air and acidity of the oceans decimating sea life.
Massive deforestation and the destruction of entire ecosystems and wildlife are all a part of the global warming equation. A serious effort to reduce global warming automatically slows The rape and pillage of the natural world upon which we all depend.
Peter Sherwood, Discovery Bay

Dubai Expatriates

Heatstruck economy
Numbers of my mates are now in Dubai, some there for many years, some just going. Given the meltdown of Dubai World, what's life like there for the expat?  

A lady we bumped into in the school reception at at UK boarding school in an undisclosed location, waiting for an interview with the Registrar, was over from Dubai.  Just that day, a couple of weeks ago, the headlines were about Dubai World about to sink into the Arabian sands.   But  she told me that it was all a beat up and things were just fine there.  

Another mate rang me from Dubai to tell me that it was all a ploy of the Sheiks to short the market then wangle the defaults to bring the market down, but that they were not really defaults but "defaults", so after covering their short positions, they'd be back to business as usual, which is throwing absurd amounts of money at absurd project, indoor skiing and all.  

Well, that's my mate's account:  kind of global sheikh-down, you might say, as if they hadn't already got enough from the global transfer of $US 10 trillion of oil money to the Gulf since the seventies.  And indeed it's so proven, as the sheikhs' mates in Abu Dhabi have circled the camels and come to the aid of their profligate cousins.

Claudia Pugh-Thomas writes in today's Herald Tribune:
... if the money really is gone, there will be a significant demographic shift within the expatriates who constitute the majority of the population. We all come here for the money. Some choose to stay for the lifestyle, some for the lack of a better alternative. Many see life in Dubai as a welcome break from civic responsibility; the expat can skim the surface, cream off the good, ignore the bad, live the dream. As long as there’s an economy to speak of. If that fails, you have to leave. No work, no visa, goodbye.
Read it all here. 

Monday 14 December 2009

Kidney transplants and post-Ramadan birth weights

Just been reading “Super Freakonomics”, the sequel, which has been much lambasted for being more pop than economics and truth be told, if the first “Freakonomics” was a bit of porridge then the sequel's been watered down to pretty thin gruel.

But it’s got a couple of interesting points:

Iran: not often one can say nice thing about that benighted place, ruled as it is by a thug-in-chief who has just criticized the US for impeding the return of the “hidden Imam” (don’t ask…) and rounded on critics of his thuggish regime as being un-Islamic.   On the plus side, what one learns from “Super F” is that there’s no waiting list for kidney transplants in Iran, whereas in the US there are some 30,000 who die each year because there are not enough donations.  How do they do it?  By offering cash incentives for people to donate their supernumerary kidney.  That idea has been floated in the US to virtually universal condemnation, but one wonders if it shouldn't be tried again.

Ramadan and birth weights: studies have been done to show that Muslim babies born nine months after the beginning of the Muslim fast of Ramadan have 20% more problems of low birth weight and mental handicaps later in life.  Hmmmm… wonder what Allah was thinking here, given that he, and the Koran he dictated to Muhammad via the Angel Gabriel, are inerrant?  Did he mean them to be scrawny imbeciles?

Profiling:  out of a population of bank customers whose account activities matched known terrorists’ profiles, there are the following probabilities: if you have no Muslim name, your chance of being in the set are one in 300,000.  If you have two Muslim names, the chances are one in 2,000.  I’m not sure that profiling, at least at airports, will work statistically.  But just in terms of where to look for terrorists, it’s like the old saying of -- who was it now? -- when asked why he robbed banks, answered: “because that’s where the money is”.   

Why focus on Muslim names?  Because that’s where the terrorists are.  Unless they want to change their names and then that change would be a marker itself….. oh dear.  The authors also advise would-be suicide bombers to get life insurance, because none of the known ones have had it.  Then, of course, a recent purchase of insurance by a "Muhammad Hussein" would itself be a marker…..

Friday 11 December 2009

Oh dear, it's those Swiss Minarets again...

But they, the MSM, won't let it go, and keep on keeping on, with the International Herald Tribune coming in predictably with a 10 to one ratio of articles critical of the ban on Mosque Minarets in Switzerland, vs those looking at what the ban means.

So, another letter fired off to the editors:

It’s interesting that the editorial you printed from Khaleej Times of Dubai (“The Minaret Ploy”, Dec 10) should quote the Human Rights Council.

Dubai, as a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, does not adhere to the International Convention on Human Rights, but to the 1990 Islamic Human Rights Declaration (the “Cairo Declaration”), which itself restricts religious freedom.

"The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam is clearly an attempt to limit the rights enshrined in the UDHR and the International Covenants. It can in no sense be seen as complementary to the Universal Declaration.”

So say three noted NGOs.

More telling is the editorial’s statement that most Swiss Muslims are from Kosovo and Turkey and “… do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with traditional Muslim societies”…. They are therefore not the “clear and present danger” that the Swiss have painted them. With these two contrasting statements, the editorial writers reveal an implicit acknowledgement that the conduct of the traditional societies are indeed a present danger.

Perhaps it’s time the commentators focused on what the vote really reveals: not ignorant far-right paranoia; but a clear-sighted majority of European’s concern the present danger of Islam is its dogged pursuit of Sharia law for Europe.

Yours, PF, etc...

Terrorist Organisations List

Updated list here .  79% of all currently active organisations and 98% of religiously-based ones are Islamic.
UPDATE (18/6/24): Link Rot again. So I link to an internal post, updated with the screenshot of terrorist organisations above. 

Wednesday 9 December 2009

"Right idea on bubble busting” | My letter to SCMP

They ran my letter on 5 Dec 2009 in the South China Morning Post, as follows (they removed only one word, “basilisk” from in front of “fierce”,  a word I rather liked).

Right idea on bubble busting

Updated on Dec 05, 2009

I agree with Tom Holland ("Bubble muddle ", December 4): keep the government out of bubble busting.

The International Monetary Fund has cast its fierce eye on our equity and property markets and determined they are developing bubble-like tendencies.

It then proposes "remedies". Quite why the IMF should have any credibility after the fiascos of its interventions in South America in the 1980s, and the Asian Financial crisis of the 1990s, is beyond me.

Countries that did best were the ones that did the opposite of the IMF credit-tightening prescriptions in those crises.

In the Hong Kong property market, counter-cyclical attempts at control by the government have been shown time and again to lag behind so badly that they exacerbate downturns and magnify upturns.

Memo to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen: listen to the wise advice of Holland, not that of the pointy-heads at the IMF!

"Invisible minarets” | Mosque Minarets in Switzerland: is it right to ban them?

The Minarets vote just won't go away.  One day there's a pro-ban article (eg Ross Douthat yesterday ) and next day there's anti-ban one, such as Peter Stamm's today .  It's good that it gets publicity, for the more it does, the more the baleful doctrines of Islam get publicity.  And the more publicity there is for the symbolism of the minarets to Islam.
“The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks and the faithful our army.”
---  Ziya Gökalp, a 1912 poem, quoted by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 1997 (Erdoğan was then mayor of a small town; today he is, of course, Turkish Prime Minister and pushing a resurgent Islamist line for Turkey, as well as pushing for the accession of Turkey into the EU, which would, in my view, be a major tragedy for Europe and its values).

There are some counter arguments to my points below. First, is my argument simply tu quoque?  To some extent, yes, but then it does also show up a major hypocrisy, especially in those such as Saudi Arabia and Iran who have criticised the ban, while they allow no freedom of religion at all.  But then again, do we want to be measured by their own low standards?  Of course not, so let's put aside tu quoque and look at the ban on its own, without the prism of hypocrisy, real or imagined.  And as a stand-alone action, in my view the ban is justified, as it does draw highlight concern about Islam and the Islamic program.  This program, the aim of Islam in Europe, indeed the world, is not a secret (hence it is not a "conspiracy"!). 

Openly and repeatedly proponents of Islam have said that they want to Islamify society, to bring in Sharia law to Europe and the world.  Majorities of Muslims in all European countries, ranging from 55-80% say that they want Sharia law to take over from European laws.  That's logical, because that is Islamic doctrine.  Now, if you know anything about Sharia, that would chill your blood.  But that's what's demanded, and that's what's being worked towards by the growing number of Muslims in Europe and that's what the ban say "NO" to.

So, my letter to IHT, number three in three days, and as much to "educate" the editors of said paper as to expect publication, although they occasionaly do publish anti-Islam letters; about one anti in ten pro-islam, by my rough calculation.  But it's still worth writing to the editors, and there are many other bloggers who do too, with the aim of trying to wake up more of the MSM editors and writers to the dangers of Islamic sharia.

Letter to International Herald Tribune, below:

I get it: Iran tolerant; Switzerland intolerant.  So judges Peter Stamm (Invisible minarets, Dec 09).  Stamm visited Iran and was feted with “hospitality and tolerance” at a sheep-slaughtering festival.  Meantime in Switzerland, his compatriots were “alarmingly intolerant” by voting for a ban on minarets.  Right, got it. 
This is an extreme example of moral equivalence.  In Stamm’s view, the following are equivalent (or indeed, the Swiss worse):  In Iran, stonings of women, executions of homosexuals, expropriation of non-Muslims’ property, forced closure of churches, and persecution of Christians.  In Switzerland, a single symbolic ban of a potent Islamic symbol (Turkish president Erdoğan reminded us in 1997: “the minarets are our bayonets”). 
The fact that Mr Stamm met some congenial and hospitable Muslims on his Iran visit is irrelevant to the doctrines of Islam.  It is these doctrines – fearful and baleful that they are --- which explain the clear-sighted Swiss vote.  It may be, as Stamm claims, that the Islam in Switzerland is not like that in other European countries, where we have, as your correspondent Ross Douthat noted on 8 Dec: “… polygamy in Sweden; radical mosques in Britain’s fading industrial cities; riots over affronts to the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark; and religiously inspired murder in the Netherlands. It means terrorism, and the threat of terrorism, from London to Madrid.” 
And that is precisely what his compatriots are voting against.   “Alarmingly intolerant”?  Hardly.  Stunningly sensible, more like.

Postscript: I note that the translation above about the minarets as "bayonets" is a little different to the one I posted below .  Purely a translation thing, I'm guessing, and not relevant to the crux of the issue, that they are seen as a potent symbol.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

"Europe's minaret moment” | On Switzerland’s ban of Minarets

Ross Douhat's piece in today's International Herald Tribune makes some points that not long ago would not have passed muster in the likes of a liberal paper such as the IHT.  Perhaps they're being mugged by reality and maybe they're reading the blogs....  
The article is here .

My comments to the Tribune

Kudos to Ross Douthat for highlighting the folly of Europe’s leadership in ignoring the will of its people, allowing in uncontrolled Muslim immigration and creating “a clash of civilizations inside their own frontiers” (Europe’s minaret moment, Dec 08).  

The small and symbolic push-back by Swiss voters to ban the minaret has found overwhelming support in every poll carried out in Europe [eg, 75% in the UK ]

Will these arrogant European “leaders” learn anything from this clear expression of popular concern about the Islamification of Europe?  If they do, they should join the dots, to ensure there is no entry into Europe of Turkey, without first seeking voters’ views on what would amount to a further massive increase in Islamification, and and its associated Sharia law in Europe.  It’s clear: the people don’t want it. 

"The price of being born Muslim"

An article by Dr Tariq Ahmad, a doctor at a Boston hospital, in the International Herald Tribune, 5 Dec, here.

My letter to IHT....

Tariq Ahmad says “To defeat the threat of radical Islam, I suggest that the answer lies among the people who are the least Muslim.” (The Price of Being Born Muslim, Dec 05).

Just how does he propose this be done, given the lack of any meaningful reform of Islam over the last ten centuries?  Those who are rather “more” Muslim than Dr Ahmad, let alone those who are “most” Muslim (ie, true Muslims), would easily trounce any thoughts Dr Ahmad may have on that score, since Islam is by its own account inerrant.

A first step Dr Ahmad might take is to rid himself of Muslim victimhood.  He talks of people who ask “Why every time a bomb goes off, a Muslim person is behind it?”.  But in the next breath bemoans a society which keeps Muslims, he says, at a safe distance “just in case”.    Can he not connect the dots?  If not, I pity the poor Doctor, for without even this glimmer of self-awareness, his hope to “unite to properly forge a positive and progressive future for Muslims worldwide” is forlorn.

Yours, etc, PF 

Monday 7 December 2009

Our "Grandfatherland"...

“When can we have democracy in Hong Kong, 
as you promised.... wahhh..."

Michael Chugani is a local columnist here in Hong Kong that I have a lot of time for.  Here he introduces the nickname Hongkongers have for Peking (aka "Beijing"):  阿爺.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster.

Hong Kong's ever-changing street language now churns out so many new words and expressions, so fast, that their lifespans have become as fleeting as our blue skies. Some are a bit more durable, such as the tantalising lang mo for pseudo model, which will probably be around for as long as the sexy young things themselves remain a phenomenon.

But one particular term has become a fixture in our political vocabulary.

It is neither tantalising nor sexy. It is ah yeh (阿爺), literally "paternal

Its literal definition has, in recent years, been overshadowed by its
political usage in everyday language. If you hear the word ah yeh,
chances are it's not being used in reference to someone's grandfather.
In the political context, ah yeh means our communist rulers in Beijing.
Everyone I asked said they now habitually use ah yeh instead of
Beijing but none seemed to know for sure if Hongkongers do this to
mock Beijing or out of deference.

It's the same as trying to get a straight answer on why all the fury over
the government's political reform package is directed at Chief Executive
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen rather than Beijing, or ah yeh, if you prefer.
No one can provide a ready answer that makes sense.

I don't know if Beijing likes being called ah yeh, if it cares one way or
another, or if the rulers there even know that's what Hong Kong people
call them.

Certainly, the literal usage of the word carries much respect. In
traditional, especially wealthy, Chinese families, ah yeh is the decision-
maker in all important matters.

And that is precisely why Hongkongers call Beijing ah yeh, at least
according to some of the people I asked. Beijing calls all the important
shots in Hong Kong. And what it decides is final, even though Hong
Kong is supposed to have a high degree of autonomy in its political

When Hongkongers used ah yeh as a substitute, they are in fact
reflecting a clever mix of cynicism and grudging respect towards
Beijing. It expresses a sentiment that differs greatly from si tau poh -
boss lady - which was what Hongkongers used to call the queen during
colonial times. The term carried far fewer political connotations when
applied to the queen.

When Hongkongers call Beijing ah yeh, they are saying they know that
the communist rulers are the new bosses now that the British have
gone. They are saying they know ah yeh has the final say. But they are
also saying that the grandfather in a family belongs to a past
generation. He is old-fashioned, often stubborn, won't listen to other
views, and out of sync with the true desires of those whose decisions
he insists on making.

So if it is accepted that ah yeh wah sih (阿爺  話 是), or "what Beijing says goes",
why are critics not blaming the central government for what they see as
serious shortcomings in the new political reform package?
Beijing, not Tsang, ruled that Hong Kong must wait until at least 2017
for the first stage of universal suffrage. Yet Hong Kong people
consistently give the rulers in Beijing far higher marks than Tsang in
public-approval ratings.

The people know Tsang's orders come from Beijing. It is delusional to
think he can make his masters do things they oppose. Yet his critics
act as if he alone is to blame for denying them the democracy they

Even former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, a vocal critic
of the reform package, has unleashed her wrath solely on Tsang,
studiously avoiding pointing the finger of blame at Beijing.

The reason is simple. Tsang is a much easier target. Attacking Beijing
would be unpatriotic. It is, after all, ah yeh. It has made Chinese
everywhere proud. It has stood up to mighty America, made China a
superpower, sent Chinese astronauts into space and created athletes
who win gold medals.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster.