• Barack Obama Has Been Mysteriously Apathetic About Nominating Judges


    Jonathan Bernstein points me to Jeffrey Toobin, who writes that although Republican obstruction of President Obama’s judicial appointments has been unprecedented, it’s also true that Obama hasn’t nominated many judges in the first place. “The Senate cannot confirm judges who were never nominated in the first place,” he points out. And there’s more:

    The President’s lethargy on the matter of judicial nominations is inexplicable. So is his silence on the subject. George W. Bush complained loudly when he felt Democrats in the Senate had delayed or obstructed his judicial nominees. Obama has said little. Indeed, Bush had a public judicial philosophy as President, frequently calling on judges to “strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench.” As a former president of the Harvard Law Review and long-time lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, Obama has a great deal of familiarity with legal issues but hardly ever talks about them. His legal philosophy, if he has one, is unknown.

    I find many of the liberal complaints about Obama unconvincing, mainly because I viewed him from the very start as a rather cautious, mainstream Democrat. I didn’t expect the second coming of FDR. But there are some areas where I’ve nonetheless found Obama inexplicably disappointing. Housing policy, for example. National security and civil liberties policy. And judicial nominations.

    In fact, that last one is the most inexplicable of all. The first two at least have the excuse of considerable political opposition. But judicial nominations don’t. Republicans can be blamed for obstructing, but Obama is solely to blame for not mustering the energy to vet and nominate candidates for every open seat — or being willing to fight for them in the court of public opinion. At a bare minimum, if his legal team had done this in the first half of 2009, he would have had plenty of candidates to muscle through during the few months he commanded a filibuster-proof majority.

    So why didn’t he? It’s a helluva mystery.

  • Does Algebra Help You Think Better?


    A couple of days ago Andrew Hacker wrote a New York Times op-ed asking “Is Algebra Necessary?” It was prompted by the growing trend to require a passing grade in algebra as a condition for graduating from high school, and Hacker argues that this trend is doing a lot of damage, helping to make dropouts out of kids who are perfectly adequate in every way except their ability to manipulate abstract symbols. Eugene Volokh, however, suggests that Hacker is wrong:

    Though I’m not certain of this, I suspect that algebraic problem-solving teaches useful mental habits that both open up possible future careers and also help train people’s general problem-solving abilities.

    I’m not picking on Eugene here. I just had his post handy as an example of an argument that I’ve seen frequently in response to Hacker’s piece. So I’m curious: is there any evidence at all that knowledge of algebra (not arithmetic, algebra) teaches useful mental habits or improves people’s general problem-solving abilities? Obviously algebra is useful if you plan to learn more math in order to pursue a science or engineering career. But for your garden variety high-school grad, does knowledge of algebra truly instill an ability to reason better? I have to say that my personal experience is that it doesn’t: people with a strong math background don’t seem to reason any better than anyone else. I suspect that those of us who are good at algebra tend to vastly overestimate its impact on our mental habits.

    Just to be absolutely clear here: General numeracy is useful, and it’s especially useful for understanding numerical problems. (Duh.) That’s not what I’m asking about. What I’m asking is whether mere knowledge of algebra produces better mental habits in other areas of life. It might! But is there any actual evidence to back this up?

  • I Have a Solution That Will Allow Florida to Ban Doctors From Asking About Guns


    Via Ed Kilgore, I see that Florida recently passed a law making it illegal for doctors to ask their patients about gun ownership. A federal judge blocked the law a few weeks ago because — duh — it’s an obvious violation of the First Amendment. If this case ever makes it to the Supreme Court, I have no doubt that it will be overturned 9-0. It’s a no-brainer no matter how gun-friendly a judge you are.

    But I have a solution! I’m pretty sure that Florida can issue guidelines to its own employees, and those guidelines could include rules about whether its employees are allowed to ask about gun ownership. So Florida’s law would probably pass constitutional muster if their doctors all worked for the state.

    Do you see where I’m going with this? If Florida were to implement true, NHS-style socialized healthcare, they could tell their doctors to zip it on the gun questions. And surely the NRA would support this, since any and all gun rights laws, symbolic or otherwise, are always more important than any other law.

    Too bad Obama and the Democratic Party didn’t sniff this out earlier. If they had just included a provision in Obamacare that restricted any doctor receiving federal money from asking about gun ownership, they could have had a way stronger bill and passed it 100-0. Maybe next time.

  • Working Class Men’s Wages Have Plummeted Over the Past 40 Years


    Dylan Matthews says a bit more today about something I mentioned briefly a couple of weeks ago: among men, wages haven’t just stagnated over the past few decades. They’ve plummeted:

    As you can see on the black line in the above graph, median earnings for men in 2009 were lower than they were in the early 1970s. And it gets worse. The decline shown above is actually too mild, because it doesn’t take into account the massive exodus from the workforce of men since that period. Between 1960 and 2009, the share of men working fulltime fell from 83 percent to 66 percent, and the share not making formal wages tripled from 6 percent to 18 percent. When you take all men, not just those working fulltime, into account, the slight decline in the above graph becomes a plummet of 28 percent in median real wages from 1969 to 2009.

    ….High school dropouts’ earnings have fallen 66 percent since 1969, and people with some college – the median level of education in the US – have seen earnings fall by a third. Reasonable people can disagree about what caused this massive decline and what should be done to fix it. But it’s a major crisis….

    This decline in both male employment and male wages has been going on for 40 years now, and as Dylan mentions, it’s far worse at the bottom of the ladder than at the top. Male high school grads working full time earn 25% less than they used to, and if you account for those not working or working only part time, aggregate wages are down by nearly half.

    Half! And that’s for high school grads, not dropouts. (And the picture changes only modestly if you add health benefits to the wage picture.) These are men who basically played by the rules, got their diploma, and then went into the workforce. Or tried to, anyway. But they’re finding it far harder to find steady, full-time work than their fathers did, and when they do they earn dramatically less than their fathers did. So I’ll repeat what I said the last time I wrote about this: if you want to understand why marriage has declined among the working and lower middle classes, you have to understand what’s happened to male wages. It’s not the whole answer, but there’s simply no way that it’s not a big factor.

  • A Lesson From the Senate in How Not to Stop Leaks


    California senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill that would ban background briefings by analysts who work for intelligence agencies:

    Under the Senate bill, only the director, deputy director and designated public affairs officials of intelligence agencies would be allowed “to provide background or off-the-record information regarding intelligence activities to the media.”

    The term “background” typically means that a source can be identified broadly by his or her government position but not by name. The bill would not prevent analysts from speaking on the record, but they are rarely allowed to be identified because of security concerns.

    The provision is part of a series of anti-leak measures included in an authorization bill approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. The crackdown is fueled by frustration over recent articles that disclosed details of U.S. counterterrorism operations and cyber-penetrations of Iran.

    Feinstein acknowledged that she knew of no evidence tying those leaks or others to background sessions, which generally deal broadly with analysts’ interpretations of developments overseas and avoid discussions of the operations of the CIA or other spy services.

    This is, as Reuters foreign correspondent Missy Ryan tweeted, “ominous.” And it’s ominous for a variety of reasons. First, nobody gets leaks from background briefings. Second, it’s a dumb overreaction to a problem that’s been around forever. Third, it will likely do nothing to slow down national security leaks. And fourth, it suggests that Feinstein and others are perfectly happy to ignore the real problem in favor of vapid showboating.

    In other words, it’s the United States Senate at work. It’s good to see that some traditions never die.

  • Mitt Romney’s Palestinian Pander


    As we all know, Mitt Romney said this yesterday:

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy has outpaced that of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.”

    ….Romney said he had studied a book called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” searching for a reason why two neighboring places could have such disparate prosperity.

    “Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from the book, by David Landes. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

    Can I just point out the obvious here? This wasn’t a gaffe. This was a deliberate pander to the conservative base in the U.S., which pretty strongly believes that Palestinian culture is indeed corrupt, indolent, and sullen. Romney knows this perfectly well. He was demonstrating once again, in a very concrete way, that he’s no RINO. He really, truly feels tea-party style conservatism in his bones. It wasn’t just an offhand mistake.

  • Can We All Please Stop Whining About the Olympics Being Tape Delayed? Thank You.


    Apologies in advance for the rant, but I just have to ask: am I the only one who’s well and truly sick of the endless whinging about the fact that NBC is tape delaying their Olympics coverage so that it mostly appears in prime time? Seriously, folks: this is how the Olympics have been televised for — what? 20 years or so now? It’s time to get over it. This particular complaint isn’t cutting edge or original or even very interesting anymore.

    Besides, we all know why this is done: because NBC pays a ton of money for television rights, and the only way to make back their investment is by getting people to watch during prime time. That’s life. We also know that the vast majority of people couldn’t watch any of the events live anyway. They’re at work, and since the games last two weeks, it’s not like they can just take a day off if they’re Olympics junkies. Most people prefer that the games be tape delayed so they can actually see them.

    In fact, here’s my guess: most of the griping comes from self-absorbed journalists, with the balance coming from people who are either students or else lucky enough to have jobs that allow them to watch TV whenever they want — and haven’t quite figured out that this doesn’t describe everyone in the country. I say: get over yourselves. Try an 8-to-5 factory job that gets you home at 6 and done with dinner by 7. Then tell me if you still think it’s ridiculous that the Olympics are tape delayed.

    UPDATE: If you want to whine about the editing or the commentary or NBC’s promo mistakes, feel free. I won’t get in your way. But I’ve seen a lot of whining about the mere fact of tape delay, and I think it’s time to get over that.

    In comments and Twitter, the most common response to my whining about the whining has been: why not both? Why not stream/televise live and do a prime time show? Answer: I don’t know. But when questions like this come up, my usual starting point is that the people involved probably aren’t idiots. They might be wrong, of course. Anyone can be wrong. But they’re not idiots, and they know their business. They also know all about social media and smartphones and the fact that many of you know all the results in real time. So there’s probably a reason NBC doesn’t do both. Most likely it’s because it would be a money loser, but there might be other reasons too. In any case, I’ll bet there’s a pretty sensible reason. It’s not just sheer ignorant cussedness.

    UPDATE 2: OK, hold on a second. I didn’t realize that NBC is live streaming every event. But they are. So now I really want to know what all the whining is about.

  • If You Want to Reform Social Security, Your Target Should be Republicans


    Bill Keller wants Democrats to stop “recoiling” from entitlement reform and instead start endorsing some common sense ways of bringing Social Security into balance. He specifically mentions three proposals:

    They include (1) gradually raising the retirement age to compensate for the fact that we now live, on average, 14 years longer than when F.D.R. signed Social Security into law. They include (2) obliging those of us who can really afford it to pay a larger share. They also include (3) technical fixes like aligning the automatic cost-of-living formula with reality.

    If Bill Keller wants to reduce Social Security payouts, fine. But let’s at least get our facts straight:

    1. For the purposes of Social Security, it doesn’t matter how much overall life expectancy has changed since 1940. What matters is how much life expectancy has increased for those who turn 65. Answer: for men, it’s gone up from 12.7 years to 17 years. That’s an increase of 4.3 years. However, the retirement age has also gone up, from 65 to 67. That’s an increase of two years. The truth is that retirement age has very nearly kept up with the increase in life expectancy since FDR’s time.
    2. I’m not sure what this one means. If Keller means raising the cap on Social Security taxes, that would probably help. The share of earnings covered by Social Security used to be about 90%. Today it’s fallen to 83%. If this were raised back to its old level, it would solve somewhere between a sixth and a third of Social Security’s shortfall, depending on how and when it was phased in. However, Republicans are opposed to this since it would raise tax rates on the well-off.
    3. This is no mere “technical” fix. If you reduce Social Security’s inflation calculation, then you’re reducing Social Security payouts. It’s exactly the same as just cutting benefits. Matt Yglesias explains this well here. It’s also worth noting that if we truly think that “chained CPI” is a better measure of inflation than the one we use currently, then we should use chained CPI for all our inflation calculations. However, conservatives are opposed to this because it would it would affect the way tax brackets are calculated, which would effectively raise taxes on the rich. It’s Republicans who are the problem here, not Democrats.

    I don’t want to pretend that Democrats are saints when it comes to entitlements. Generally speaking, though, there are a lot of Democrats who are open to the idea of a balanced set of Social Security reforms that cut benefits modestly and raise revenues. It’s Republicans who are dead set against this: they want privatization or nothing. And they especially don’t want anything that raises taxes on the rich. But without any hope of compromise, Democrats have little incentive to support unpopular entitlement changes on their own. They did this with Obamacare’s Medicare reforms and got buried in Republican attack ads in 2010.

    There’s simply no real equivalency here. Sure, maybe Democrats should be a little more courageous about this stuff. But the real problem is Republicans. They just flatly reject compromise and promise to relentlessly attack Democrats if they do anything on their own. If you really want entitlement reform, it’s not Democrats that should be your target. It’s the GOP.

  • Real Obama vs. Fantasy Obama


    I’ve long had my issues with Drew Westen, and they’re on striking display in an op-ed he wrote a few days ago for the Washington Post. He says Barack Obama made “three crucial errors” after he took office:

    Obama’s first mistake was inviting the Republicans to the table. The GOP had just decimated the economy and had been repudiated by voters to such an extent that few Americans wanted to admit that they were registered Republicans. Yet Obama, with his penchant for unilateral bipartisanship, refused to speak ill of what they had done.

    ….The second mistake was squandering the goodwill that Americans felt toward the new president and their anxiety about an economy hemorrhaging three-quarters of a million jobs a month….Instead of designing a stimulus that reflected the thinking of the country’s best economic minds, he cut their recommended numbers by a third and turned another third into inert tax cuts designed to appease Republican legislators.

    ….The third way the administration created opportunities for Republican obstructionism will someday become a business-school case study: It let a popular idea — a family doctor for every family — be recast as a losing ideological battle between intrusive government and freedom. In the 2008 election, the American people were convinced that families should never have to choose between putting food on the table and taking the kids to the doctor. They were adamant that neither they nor their aging parents should have to choose between their medicine and their mortgage.

    This kind of thing is intensely frustrating. I actually agree with Westen’s broad point that Obama should have been more aggressive than he was. And yet, these three “errors” are so ahistorical that they make me crazy. First: Obama had to invite Republicans to the table. When he took office Democrats didn’t have a filibuster-proof majority. Second: Obama couldn’t get a bigger stimulus. The evidence on this score is voluminous. Whether he wanted a bigger stimulus is an open question, but it’s also moot. He just didn’t have the votes. Third: universal healthcare wasn’t an especially popular idea and the American public was far from adamant that they wanted it. Oh, it polls decently in the abstract, getting roughly 60% support over the past decade, but that’s nothing special. It’s the worst kind of poll literalism to think this represents a genuine, intensely-held groundswell of support for national healthcare. In reality, it’s a tenuous majority.

    I really don’t understand why people like Westen can’t make their critiques of Obama’s leadership in a way that takes into account obvious political realities. Not that it would be an easy critique. If you look at past presidents who made big changes, they were mostly surfing on waves that were already cresting: FDR and the New Deal, LBJ and civil rights, Reagan and taxes. Obama just didn’t have that kind of wave to ride. It’s an open question why he didn’t have that — one that I tried to tackle here — but one way or another, he didn’t. And while I think Obama has done a poor job as leader of his party, I say that tentatively. The fact is that modern presidents simply don’t have the party leverage that some past presidents have had, and Obama in particular simply didn’t have a big enough majority to get his way.

    As it happens, I think Obama could have done better, and in particular he should have continued pushing for more stimulus in 2009 and 2010 in the form of jobs bills, housing legislation, and less pivoting to the deficit. Still, life in the White House is pretty difficult when you have to constantly concern yourself with getting a couple of Republican votes, or, at best, the 60th most liberal Democrat — especially when the 60th most liberal Democrat is a self-righteous showboat like Joe Lieberman or a Nebraska pol like Ben Nelson. Obama probably had leverage he could have used better, but if that’s your criticism, then you need to explain exactly what he did wrong dealing with Congress, not whether he gave precisely the right kind of speeches.

  • Mitt Romney Praises Socialized Health Care, As Long As It’s Not American


    Over the weekend, as I was watching Mitt Romney extol the virtues of Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit, I tweeted sarcastically, “Wikipedia tells me that top marginal Israeli tax rate is 48% on income over $125,000. I wonder if Romney knows that?” Apparently not. Here’s Romney at a fundraiser in Jerusalem on Monday:

    Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the G.D.P. in Israel? Eight percent. You spend eight percent of G.D.P. on health care. You’re a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our G.D.P. on health care, 10 percentage points more…We have to find ways—not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to fund and manage our health care costs.

    It kind of makes you wonder if Romney actually knows anything about Israel aside from the fact that they fight Arabs and Persians now and again. I mean, he does know that Israel has historically been a socialist state, right? And they have universal health care. ThinkProgress tweaks Romney by suggesting that he was praising a system that includes an individual mandate, but really, they’re giving him too much credit. Yeah, there’s a mandate, but it’s a mandate to choose which of four free systems you want to sign up with. What Israel has isn’t really a mandate in the same way Obamacare has a mandate, it’s the full-blown lefty dream of free, universal healthcare funded through the tax system. Properly speaking, Romney ought to be appalled with their health care system.

    And wouldn’t that have been great? After visiting London and questioning whether they’d manage to pull off their Olympics, maybe he should have gone to Israel and chastised them for their socialist health care system. I’m not sure what that would leave for Poland, but I’m sure something will present itself. Maybe he could attend a concert and then muse afterward about how he’s always thought Chopin was overrated.

    POSTSCRIPT: By the way, speaking of Israel and health care, I heard an interesting story a few weeks ago. It turns out that among end-of-life patients in hospitals, CPR is essentially useless. In America, we don’t care. When a patient goes into cardiac arrest, we call a code and rush to their bedside anyway. In Israel, they don’t. They deliberately respond slowly, essentially letting the patient die if he or she is near death anyway. In other words, in Israel they really do have death panels.

    I wonder if Romney knows that? Probably not. Also: I’d love to hear either confirmation or otherwise about this policy. Is this really common practice in Israeli hospitals? Or did I hear some kind of garbled old wives’ tale?

  • Berkeley Earth Project Says Carbon Dioxide is Cause of Global Warming


    I promised to link to Richard Muller’s latest climate change paper from the Berkeley BEST group when it was posted on Monday, and it’s now Monday. So here it is. Previous BEST papers have confirmed dramatic global warming over the past century, and the new paper is mostly an attempt to figure out what caused the warming. The answer, unsurprisngly to most of us, is human activity:

    Many of the changes in land-surface temperature follow a simple linear combination of volcanic forcing (based on estimates of stratospheric sulfate injection) and an anthropogenic term represented here by the logarithm of the CO2  concentration….When we included solar forcing we found that the solar variability record assumed by the IPCC did not contribute significantly to the fit of historic temperature.

    ….After accounting for volcanic and anthropogenic effects, the residual variability in land-surface temperature is observed to closely mirror and for slower changes slightly lead variations in the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation Index. This is consistent with both the land and North Atlantic responding [to] the same unknown process….Though non-trivial, this number is small compared to the anthropogenic changes that appear to have occurred during the last century.

    In English, this means that (a) volcanoes cause short-term spikes in the climate record, (b) changes in solar activity have virtually no effect, and (c) periodic oscillation in North Atlantic sea temperatures accounts for some of the variability we see in the temperature record. However, the primary cause of warming since 1800 is anthropogenic. That is to say: humans did it. Carbon dioxide has produced virtually all of the warming that we see around us today, at the rate of about 3.1 degrees C for every doubling of atmospheric CO2. The chart below shows the close match between CO2 levels, volcanic activity, and surface temperature.

    This is pretty much the same result produced by the IPCC and the consensus of every climate scientist working today. The skeptics dived into the data, crunched it in an entirely different way, and came up with the same result: Global warming is real and human activity causes it.

  • Has Aid to Afghanistan Been Wasted?


    Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports on the latest from Afghanistan:

    A U.S. initiative to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on construction projects in Afghanistan, originally pitched as a vital tool in the military campaign against the Taliban, is running so far behind schedule that it will not yield benefits until most U.S. combat forces have departed the country, according to a government inspection report to be released Monday.

    The report, by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, also concludes that the Afghan government will not have the money or skill to maintain many of the projects, creating an “expectations gap” among the population that could harm overall stabilization efforts.

    ….The latest report adds new weight to the argument — voiced by independent development specialists and even a few government officials — that the United States attempted to build too much in a country with limited means to assume responsibility for those projects.

    I’m genuinely puzzled here. I thought this was a lesson we had learned by the 70s. Giant infrastructure projects that can’t be maintained by the local workforce are not only useless, they’re counterproductive. Aid needs to be provided on a scale that’s sustainable locally. How is it that we seem to have forgotten this?

  • Scalia Take 2: The American Public is Pretty Smart After All — Unless We’re Talking About Supreme Court Hearings


    A few days ago I scolded Antonin Scalia for his belief that Supreme Court hearings shouldn’t be televised because the media would just play short snippets of the proceedings and Americans couldn’t be trusted to figure out what was really going on. Here’s Scalia:

    If I really thought it would educate the American people, I would be all for it. If the American people sat down and watched our proceedings gavel to gavel […] they would be educated. But they wouldn’t see all of that. [C-SPAN] would carry it all, to be sure, but what most of the American people would see would be 30-second, 15-second takeouts from our argument, and those takeouts would not be characteristic of what we do. They would be uncharacteristic.

    At the end of the post I wondered aloud whether Scalia was equally pessimistic about the public’s ability to discern the truth in any other context. As it turns out, I didn’t have to wonder for long. Reader JB sent me a clip from a different part of the same interview that answers this exact question. In this clip, Brian Lamb asks Scalia about campaign finance:

    As a person, do you worry at all that there’s too much money in politics?

    No, I really don’t….

    But what about — people are worried that corporations now can buy….

    If you believe that, we ought to go back to monarchy. That the people are such sheep, that they just swallow whatever they see on television or read in the newspapers? No. The premise of democracy is that people are intelligent and can discern the true from the false.

    Italics mine. So that’s that. When it comes to judging the policies of the legislative and executive branches, the public should be assumed intelligent enough to see through all the clamor and commotion and figure out what’s going on. No paternalism here! But when it comes to the judicial branch, we should assume no such thing. Instead, we should carefully decide exactly what kind of access to give the public, lest the media and special interests appeal unfairly to their collective passions and leave the wrong impression of what the court is doing.

    Personally, I’d say the case for a modest amount of paternalism is quite a bit stronger in the campaign finance arena than it is in the Supreme Court hearing arena, which is naturally insulated already from political and special interest influence. But apparently Scalia doesn’t see it that way.

    POSTSCRIPT: As long as I’m on the subject, I was surprised at how much pushback I got against the idea of televising Supreme Court hearings in the original Scalia thread. I know that we’re in the middle of a presidential campaign, and in particular we’re in the middle of a campaign in which Mitt Romney is rather spectacularly using 15-second TV clips to misrepresent his opponent. So it’s natural to be disturbed about the misuse of televised snippets at the moment.

    But as I said in comments, limiting exposure to public proceedings just because you don’t like what the media will do with it is a very, very bad precedent. Transparency and access should be core liberal values even if we don’t always like the results. It’s one thing to restrict access because you think judges and lawyers will play to the cameras if they’re on TV. That has some merit, even if, in the end, I don’t find it compelling. But limiting access because you don’t trust the media or the public with the information? Count me out.

  • Global Warming: “Humans Are Almost Entirely the Cause”


    Climate skeptic Richard Muller, who started up the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature in 2010 in order to get at the real truth of climate change, last year published preliminary results showing that the climate establishment was right after all. Global temperatures really have been going up dramatically over the past century. Today he says more:

    I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

    ….The historic temperature pattern we observed has abrupt dips that match the emissions of known explosive volcanic eruptions; the particulates from such events reflect sunlight, make for beautiful sunsets and cool the earth’s surface for a few years. There are small, rapid variations attributable to El Niño and other ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream; because of such oscillations, the “flattening” of the recent temperature rise that some people claim is not, in our view, statistically significant. What has caused the gradual but systematic rise of two and a half degrees? We tried fitting the shape to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials), to solar activity and even to rising functions like world population. By far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.

    ….The careful analysis by our team is laid out in five scientific papers now online at BerkeleyEarth.org. That site also shows our chart of temperature from 1753 to the present, with its clear fingerprint of volcanoes and carbon dioxide, but containing no component that matches solar activity. Four of our papers have undergone extensive scrutiny by the scientific community, and the newest, a paper with the analysis of the human component, is now posted, along with the data and computer programs used.

    Actually, Muller’s new paper doesn’t appear to be online yet. It’s going up tomorrow. When it does, I’ll take a look at it and post their charts for you.

    However, as near as I can tell, climate skeptics, including those who said they’d trust Muller’s results no matter what they showed, haven’t budged an inch since he published his initial papers last year. I doubt his new paper will change their minds either. That’s no surprise, since this has long since ceased being a scientific controversy. Climate skeptics are skeptics because they don’t like the idea of global warming, not because there’s truly any evidence that it doesn’t exist. It’s politically inconvenient, economically inconvenient, and personally inconvenient, so they don’t want to hear about it.

    I wish I knew what more we could do about this. It’s pretty plainly the biggest problem facing the human race at the moment. By comparison, everything else is about like arguing over whether the deck chairs on the Titanic will help keep people afloat when the ship sinks: obviously they won’t, but the debate acts as a nice distraction. But if people don’t want to believe for reasons of personal/political/economic self-interest, how do you convince them? What kind of self-interest can we fight back with? Because at this point, it’s pretty obvious that neither science nor the future of our grandchildren is enough.

  • Romneyshambles Continues in Israel


    This has got to be a joke. After the Romneyshambles debacle of his trip to Britain, surely Mitt could at least visit Israel without sticking his foot in his mouth? Apparently not:

    An adviser’s vague remark to reporters here left the press scrambling for nearly three hours this morning to determine whether Romney had promised to commit American forces or other support to a hypothetical Israel strike on Iran….Romney foreign policy advisor Dan Senor briefed the press on Sunday morning, saying, “if Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision.”

    The headline that hit news outlets across the globe by the Associated Press was: “Adviser: Romney would back strike against Iran,” implying, perhaps, that the U.S. could contribute forces to such a strike. Reuters ran with: “Romney backs Israel if needs to strike Iran: aide says.” Bloomberg’s headline: “Romney Says He’d Back Unilateral Israeli Strike on Iran.”

    ….The Romney campaign, meanwhile, went dark, with much of his top staff asleep in Boston or in meetings with Israeli leaders, as an international firestorm built over how Senor’s comments were being interpreted.

    About three hours later, however, aides distributed a comment by Senor clarifying his remarks.

    How could the Romney campaign possibly be this underprepared for its first big international outing? Dan Senor has been involved with foreign policy for two decades, and the Romney campaign is jam-packed with people who know the contours of Middle East policy inside out and know exactly which words you can use and which ones you can’t. What’s going on?

  • R.I.P. Inkblot


    I hate to write this post, but all of you have been part of Inkblot’s life for so long that I can hardly not do it. One of our neighbors saw the flyers we posted around the neighborhood and called a few minutes ago to tell us that she had seen the body of a cat nearby. We went out to look, and it was Inkblot. There wasn’t much question about the ID.

    From the evidence, it looks like he got killed by a coyote. And he hadn’t wandered very far after all. The remains were only a couple hundred feet from our house.

    This is sad, sad news. But I want to thank everyone who sent kind thoughts our way, either via comments or email. He will be remembered.

  • YouTube Technical Bleg


    Here’s a puzzler: my browser no longer plays YouTube videos. On Thursday they suddenly stopped working on both Firefox and Opera. IE still worked, though. Today, Firefox started working again, but Opera still doesn’t. I just get a big black rectangle with no controls.

    Anyone know what this could be? Ad blocking doesn’t seem to be the problem. My laptop still works fine using the same browser version I have on the desktop. I rebooted, of course. I don’t recall installing or updating anything on Thursday. Other video sites still work fine. Only YouTube doesn’t work.

    And here’s something else weird. When I embed YouTube videos in the blog, the normal embed codes don’t work. I just get the black rectangle. But the old YouTube embed code displays fine:

    • Doesn’t work: <iframe width=”375″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/watch/xxx”>
    • Doesn’t work: <iframe width=”375″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/xxx”> 
    • Works!          <iframe width=”375″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/xxx”>

    I’ve racked my brain and I can’t think of what else to try. What did I do to anger the YouTube gods?

  • An Olympic Tribute to the NHS? Really?


    I’m a lifelong liberal. I think it would be great if the United States adopted some kind of genuine national healthcare program. It’s probably my single biggest domestic policy obsession, and I assume many of my readers feel the same way.

    Even so, I’ve got to ask: am I the only one who was a bit gobsmacked at the lengthy tribute to the NHS during the opening ceremonies at the Olympics last night? The NHS? Seriously?

    Also: I heard a lot of complaining on Twitter about the NBC commentary during the first hour or so of the show. But I have to tell you, if it weren’t for that commentary I wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on. That was Glastonbury Tor? Really? And when the tree rose out of the ground and all those grimy folks came marching out, would I have figured out that this marked the transition from agrarian England to the Industrial Age? No siree. (As for the dancing plutocrats, I’m at a loss for words.) Nor would I have figured out that the Frankie and June segment was supposed to represent yet another transition, this time into the digital age. (And was it really supposed to also represent a transition from nightmares of one kind to a “parent’s nightmare” of a different kind? Was that actually Danny Boyle’s intent, or did the NBC guys just make that up?)

    I dunno. I wasn’t a fan of the Beijing opening ceremonies, which frankly struck me as a message that the synchronized hordes of the Middle Kingdom would destroy the decadent West before long. So I was happy to see the decadent West strike back with something a bit more chaotic and free form. The opening lines from Shakespeare were a nice, understated rebuttal to Beijing. But I’d still opt for a show that you could mostly understand without it being explained in real time.

  • Bibi Tosses Mitt Under the Bus


    From a profile of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the current issue of Vanity Fair:

    “Israel’s current prime minister is not just a friend, he’s an old friend,” Mitt Romney, with whom Netanyahu worked at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s, told AIPAC in March. (Romney, Netanyahu suggests, may have overstated the tie. “I remember him for sure, but I don’t think we had any particular connections,” he tells me. “I knew him and he knew me, I suppose.”)

    Netanyahu’s encounters with President Obama have been marked by slights, misunderstandings, mutual suspicion, and downright distaste. One Obama aide says they keep hearing Netanyahu has evolved but have yet to see any signs of it. At home, Netanyahu scores points with his every slight of Obama, to whom the Israelis have never warmed. But Netanyahu insists his relationship with Obama is friendlier than it has been portrayed. They are, he tells me, “two people who appreciate the savviness and strength of the other.”

    What’s interesting here isn’t that Romney appears to have exaggerated his relationship with Netanyahu. That’s a political misdemeanor. What’s interesting is that Netanyahu seems to be thoroughly uninterested in backing up Romney even a little bit. Mitt Romney? Yeah, I guess I’d recognize him if we passed on the street. He’s the one with the good hair, right?

    At the same time, he insists that his relationship with Obama is better than we think. This is probably just normal politics — why diss the American president in public, after all? — but it’s still an interesting juxtaposition. The interview took place in March, when Romney hadn’t quite locked up the Republican nomination, but even then he was the pretty obvious frontrunner. And Netanyahu is too savvy a politician to say this kind of thing by accident, even given the famous Israeli reputation for bluntness. So why throw him under the bus like that? Is it because Netanyahu has decided Romney has no chance of winning, so there’s no point in sucking up to him? Or what?

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 27 July 2012


    I’m afraid I have heartbreaking news today. On Tuesday night I left the back door open and apparently Inkblot slipped out during the night. He never returned.

    We’ve scoured the neighborhood, put up flyers, and checked with the local shelter, but there’s no sign of him. It’s inexplicable. It’s not the first time I’ve failed to close all the doors at night, and never in his life has he ever strayed more than a couple hundred feet from home. I don’t know what happened this time. I just can’t figure it out.

    I kept hoping he’d come trotting through the door any moment, sporting his usual quizzical expression, wondering what I was so worried about and asking when dinner was going to be served. Then he’d go back to stealing my chair out from under me and demanding to be held upside-down so he could suck on my armpit. I kept hoping I wouldn’t have to write this post. But he hasn’t come back, and if he were anywhere nearby he’d have returned long ago. We haven’t given up hope entirely, but at this point I’m afraid we’ve lost him for good. As you can imagine, it’s been a very sad week around here. He was the best of cats.  

    I have two pictures today. The top one is the first picture I took of Inkblot after we brought him home from the shelter on July 10, 1999. He was about two months old at the time. The second one is from Sunday. It’s the last picture I ever took of him. He was 13.