Climate post

Lots of good takes.  Some of my favorites.

1) First, and most importantly, this is not actually about Trump.  This is about where the obscenely anti-science Republican Part is today.  President Rubio makes this call.  So does President Cruz.  Probably even President Kasich or President Jeb Bush.  This is just, sadly, where the party is.  Andrew Prokop:

The reality is that this isn’t just a story about Trump — it’s a story about the Republican Party and the conservative movement, which has adopted a rock-solid, widespread consensus in opposition to any serious action aimed at the US reducing carbon emissions. This has become a bedrock belief of the modern GOP.

While we can’t know if any other Republican president elected in 2016 would have for sure withdrawn from the Paris agreement, many institutional actors within the GOP and the conservative movement — from members of Congress (including the Senate majority leader) to think tanks to activist groups to media outlets to conservative donors (including many with fossil fuel wealth) — strongly support this move and have in fact been urging Trump to make it.

Furthermore, even leading Republicans who might have supported sticking to the Paris deal — it is, after all, nonbinding — would have likely supported an agenda of weakening environmental regulations and taken little if any action aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

The party simply does not believe climate change is a serious problem.

2) Bill McKibben lets loose:

It’s a stupid and reckless decision — our nation’s dumbest act since launching the war in Iraq. But it’s not stupid and reckless in the normal way. Instead, it amounts to a thorough repudiation of two of the civilizing forces on our planet: diplomacy and science. It undercuts our civilization’s chances of surviving global warming, but it also undercuts our civilization itself, since that civilization rests in large measure on those two forces…

Those changes, and similar ones agreed to by other nations, would not have ended global warming. They were too small. But the hope of Paris was that the treaty would send such a strong signal to the world’s governments, and its capital markets, that the targets would become a floor and not a ceiling; that shaken into action by the accord, we would start moving much faster toward renewable energy, maybe even fast enough to begin catching up with the physics of global warming. There are signs that this has been happening: The plummeting price of solar energy just this spring persuaded India to forgo a huge planned expansion of coal plants in favor of more solar panel arrays to catch the sun. China is shutting coal mines as fast as it can build wind turbines.

And that’s precisely the moment President Trump chose to make his move, a bid to undercut our best hope for a workable future in a bizarre attempt to restore the past.

3) Chait on how Trump’s relentless zero-sum worldview made this inevitable:

Trump was never going to support the Paris climate agreement because a collective-action problem is one of the concepts he is unable to grasp. Paris is built around ameliorating a problem affecting the entire world. Trump only understands zero-sum logic. His speech announcing his decision to exit the agreement fell back on the nationalistic rhetoric of denouncing foreign plunder.

The deal is “a massive redistribution of wealth from the U.S. to other countries,” he insisted. China “can do whatever they want for 13 years,” he insisted. The agreement “doesn’t eliminate coal jobs, it ships them out of the country,” to developing countries, which will get an “economic edge” over America…

China is canceling plans to build new coal plants, and its coal use has already begun to decline. Trump’s assertion that Paris does not impose any commitments upon China until 2030 is likewise false; the country has pledged a massive buildup of zero-emission energy and is following through. India is doing the same thing, and its coal industry is in free fall, in part because running existing coal plants there costs more money than building new solar ones. Meanwhile, coal plants have shut down in the United States not because of the Paris agreement but because other energy sources, especially but not exclusively natural gas, cost less to produce.

To call Trump’s speech a pack of lies is to grant him the probably undeserved compliment of assuming he knows better. The entire case was false — the facts, the logic, the understanding of what the agreement he opposes is even attempting to do.

4) Paul Waldman on Trump’s speech and how it sums up his presidency (and likewise shows his zero-sum worldview):

Trump sounded displeased that the agreement does not somehow play to the advantage of the United States in our competition with other countries; he even claimed that the real reason other countries entered into it was that they thought it would hobble the U.S. economy. But the agreement isn’t about gaining advantage, it’s about saving the planet. For everyone. Furthermore, the emissions targets in the agreement are voluntary. There’s no punishment if we don’t meet ours. So why drop out? Well, it would be a stick in Barack Obama’s eye, so there’s that. And of course, Trump’s obsession with who’s laughing at us (and him) came out: “We don’t want other countries laughing at us anymore.”

So in sum, Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris Agreement: 1) was presented as though it were a crappy reality show, 2) is based on bogus rationales, distortions, and outright lies, 3) supposedly will help Trump’s base get jobs, but will in fact harm their ability to do so, 4) harms America’s leadership in the world, 5) involved a paranoid rant about how everyone in the world is out to get us, and 6) was motivated in large part by the mindless impulse to do the opposite of whatever Obama did.

If that’s not the Trump presidency in a nutshell, what is? [emphasis mine]

5) John Cassidy raises similar points:

Trump didn’t mention these things, either. Instead, the Paris accord was described as the work of scheming foreigners, particularly the Europeans, and their domestic agents, the traitorous globalists. The agreement “handicaps the United States economy in order to win praise from the very foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense,” Trump said. “The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and, in many cases, lax contributions to our critical military alliance. You see what’s happening. It’s pretty obvious to those that want to keep an open mind.”

This was Trumpism in its full glory—the world as a conspiracy against its sole superpower, a country that accounts for a quarter of global G.D.P. and about forty per cent of global personal wealth. “At what point does America get demeaned?” Trump demanded, his voice rising. “At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”

Like I started with, very sadly, it’s hard no to imagine any Republican president doing this.  That said, the whole thing is quite revealing of Trump’s super-pathological worldview.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Very good Yglesias post on Trump the bullshitter:

Donald Trump says a lot of things that aren’t true, often shamelessly so, and it’s tempting to call him a liar.

But that’s not quite right. As the Princeton University philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt put it in a famous essay, to lie presumes a kind of awareness of and interest in the truth — and the goal is to convince the audience that the false thing you are saying is in fact true. Trump, more often than not, isn’t interested in convincing anyone of anything. He’s a bullshitter who simply doesn’t care…

He’s a man who doesn’t care much about the truth. He’s a man who cares deeply about loyalty. The two qualities merge in the way he wields bullshit. His flagrant lies serve as a loyalty test.

2) Nice blog post on Confirmation bias I came across.  I’m sure it will confirm what you know about confirmation bias ;-).

3) Nice NYT Op-Ed from libertarian Will Wilkinson on the welfare state:

Fortunately, defending a more freewheeling economy implies no hostility to the welfare state. On the contrary, a generous and effective safety net can be embraced as a tool to promote and sustain a culture of freedom, innovation and risk taking. Politically, repairing and improving the slipshod infrastructure of the safety net would liberate Republicans from the bad faith of attacking the welfare state in one breath, halfheartedly promising not to cut entitlements in the next and then breaking that promise once in power.

More important, grasping that government spending is compatible with high levels of freedom and economic vitality would give Republicans space actually to govern. The belief that it is necessary always and forever to reduce spending leads to the embarrassing spectacle of obstruction and paralysis unfolding on Capitol Hill.

A Republican Party that aimed instead to free markets and improve the effectiveness and composition of spending could govern, govern well and win elections doing it.

4) The misguided crackdown on fraud by the Army.  Pretty clearly a case of prosecutors who just can’t accept that there’s really a bunch of small fish when they thought they were going to reel in some giant ones.

5) This Economist/1843 piece on why the Mona Lisa is so popular (and what artworks in general, become popular) was terrific.  Not surprisingly, it has almost nothing to do with the quality of the art:

When Watts looked into the history of “the greatest painting of all time”, he discovered that, for most of its life, the “Mona Lisa” languished in relative obscurity. In the 1850s, Leonardo da Vinci was considered no match for giants of Renaissance art like Titian and Raphael, whose works were worth almost ten times as much as the “Mona Lisa”. It was only in the 20th century that Leonardo’s portrait of his patron’s wife rocketed to the number-one spot. What propelled it there wasn’t a scholarly re-evaluation, but a burglary.

In 1911 a maintenance worker at the Louvre walked out of the museum with the “Mona Lisa” hidden under his smock. Parisians were aghast at the theft of a painting to which, until then, they had paid little attention. When the museum reopened, people queued to see the gap where the “Mona Lisa” had once hung in a way they had never done for the painting itself. The police were stumped. At one point, a terrified Pablo Picasso was called in for questioning. But the “Mona Lisa” wasn’t recovered until two years later when the thief, an Italian carpenter called Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught trying to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The French public was electrified. The Italians hailed Peruggia as a patriot who wanted to return the painting home. Newspapers around the world repro­duced it, making it the first work of art to achieve global fame. From then on, the “Mona Lisa” came to represent Western culture itself.

6) Really compelling story of a former NC State assistant football coach (now deceased) and his struggles with CTE.

7) Very cool interactive graphic on the popularity of various Netflix shows.

8) Oh, man, this Post feature on “butterfly babies” who have a super-rare genetic skin disease was so fascinating and disturbing.  Read it.

9) Definitely agree with this Wired piece to not use social media about terrorist attacks.  That’s exactly what they want.  In short, I know it’s hard, but we should all pay less attention to terrorist attacks.

10) How to make a rocket with a 2-liter bottle.  Somebody get me some liquid butane!

11) Even the Trump administration doesn’t seem to care about its travel ban any more:

It’s a feedback loop: The media talks about what Trump is thinking about, and Trump thinks about what the media is talking about, and the two quickly converge on a single obsession. In the administration’s first months, the cycle was disrupted frequently enough by outside events — like the first rulings against the travel ban — that it wasn’t as immediately apparent to the naked eye.

But with the Comey/Russia scandal, the story of the Trump administration itself has become far more important than anything the administration can do or that can be done to it.

For all of Donald Trump’s griping about his communications staff, Trump himself appears to be fundamentally unable to direct even his own attention to the things his administration actually wants to do for America, much less the attention of anyone else. His obsession with the way his presidency is covered has deprived him of any chance to change it.

12) Really good National Review (!!) piece on the important implications of the decline of American retail:

And shops and jobs go together: One in ten employed Americans works in retail. Retail salesman is the single most common job in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while much has been made of the decline in old-line industrial jobs that carry a certain nostalgic charge, there are 17 times as many retail jobs as jobs in automobile manufacturing, 100 times as many retail jobs as steel jobs, and 210 times as many Americans working in retail as in coal mining — not just miners, but all coal-mining jobs, from CEO on down. Shop jobs mostly are not especially high-paying (though they sometimes are), and they tend to be held by workers who for various reasons — sometimes lack of skill and education, but also things such as the need for flexible scheduling or physical limitations — often do not have a great many desirable options. People sometimes scoff: “Yeah, creative destruction is great — we’ll just tell all those unemployed steelworkers to become software designers!” But the fact is that steel mills and mines and factories employ a great many highly educated and highly skilled people, from engineers to machinists, and they are a lot more likely to be able to find good new jobs than is the 48-year-old mother of three who works four days a week at the local Sears. That job may not provide enough to support a family of five, but it may very well pay enough to take care of the mortgage and the electricity bill — for two-income families, those modestly paid retail jobs aren’t about pin money.

13) Clearly, schools need to do a better job making sure inappropriate quotes don’t get into the yearbook.  That said, please stop over-reacting like it’s a scourge on the whole school.  And I will admit to laughing out loud upon reading this particularly inappropriate quote:

On Thursday, Dana King, principal of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, apologized for publishing a yearbook quote from a male senior who said “I like my women how I like my milk: white, rich and 2% fat.”

14) Obviously I could not resist this story about trying to hunt down forgotten apple cultivars.

Now, some old varieties have become available again, through small specialty nurseries like the co-op that Mr. Bunker helped start in Maine and through university agricultural programs. Commercial growers, however, said old apples had faded for a reason and were probably not coming back.

“They’re hard to grow,” said Mac Riggan, the director of marketing at Chelan Fresh, which has 26,000 acres of fruit trees, mostly apples, in central Washington.

Old varieties, Mr. Riggan said, either bruise easily, don’t store well or don’t produce enough apples per tree. And economic pressure is relentless. “Land costs money,” he said.

I’m sure there’s some great ones.  But, honestly, it’s hard to beat a good Braeburn and you can get those anywhere.

15) Aaron Carroll on science’s reproducibility problem:

 true success will require a change in the culture of science. As long as the academic environment has incentives for scientists to work in silos and hoard their data, transparency will be impossible. As long as the public demands a constant stream of significant results, researchers will consciously or subconsciously push their experiments to achieve those findings, valid or not. As long as the media hypes new findings instead of approaching them with the proper skepticism, placing them in context with what has come before, everyone will be nudged toward results that are not reproducible.

For years, financial conflicts of interest have been properly identified as biasing research in improper ways. Other conflicts of interest exist, though, and they are just as powerful — if not more so — in influencing the work of scientists across the country and around the globe. We are making progress in making science better, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

16) I don’t follow British politics all that closely, thus I learned a lot in a short piece via the Economist’s endorsement of the Liberal-Democrats for the upcoming UK election.

17) Revisiting the giant flop that was E.T. the video game.


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