Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wikileaks: Iraq is a deeper blood bath than we knew

Thanks god for Wikileaks. They are exposing the massive, massive, criminal, violent and messy bloodbath that is Iraq. One we paid for in taxes and the Iraqi people paid for in blood. It's is gobsmacking how low, how deep the void of horror this conflict has opened, is: case in which he claimed a British rifleman had shot dead an eight-year-old girl who was playing in the street in Basra.

"For some reason the tank stopped at the end of the street, she's there in her yellow dress, a rifleman pops up and blows her away."

It's not just that: It turns out they did do body counts; and the majority of those dying in the coalitions own figures, are civilians. Given that I'm sure soldiers sometimes lie about who they had killed to cover-up mistakes - this is still a staggering figure..

Leaked Pentagon files obtained by the Guardian contain details of more than 100,000 people killed in Iraq following the US-led invasion, including more than 15,000 deaths that were previously unrecorded.

British ministers have repeatedly refused to concede the existence of any official statistics on Iraqi deaths. US General Tommy Franks claimed in 2002: "We don't do body counts."

The mass of leaked documents provides the first detailed tally by the US military of Iraqi fatalities. Troops on the ground filed secret field reports over six years of the occupation, purporting to tot up every casualty, military and civilian.

The ignoring of torture - and remember that Bliar and Bush took us into Iraq to stop the torture of Saddam - and they turn out to be almost as bad. With us paying the tax bill... and the Iraqi's paying the butchers bill:

This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a "fragmentary order" which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, "only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ".

Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture.

I've run out of outrage words to describe all this....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Climate Change, Extinction: It's not just for Polar Bears anymore

It's for us. Yes I'm alarmist, 'cos I'm alarmed. Calling people alarmist does not make the alarm go away, it just points to the alarm.

That's one of the many things about denialists, they claim that things won't be so bad yet none of them are doing any original research to establish if this is true... They just cherry-pick holes (or try) in other peoples' hard work...

It’s the same tiny bunch of skeptics being quoted by right-wing blogs. None are doing new research that casts the slightest doubt on the scientific consensus that’s been forming for two decades, a set of conclusions that grows more robust with every issue of Science and Nature and each new temperature record.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting the CO2 Cuts to work...not easy...

Getting the cuts in CO2 is going to be hard... This is from an email FWed to me by a friend (I'm hot claiming the credit for it).

This is an interesting carbon calculator, which lets you see the consequences of possible actions to hit the 'scientific minimum' target for reduction of UK emissions of 80% by 2050.

I tried the following scenario:
Reduce domestic power consumption by 50%;
Major shift from road transport to low carbon;
Halving of all road freight;
50 new nuclear power stations;
New desert solar project;
20,000 new onshore wind turbines;
24,000 new offshore wind turbines;
Sequestration of 30 million tonnes of carbon underground.

With all of that, plus a lot of other measures, I could only get a reduction of 57%!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Cuts and the Financial Crisis - What the fuck happened?

So the Tories (sort of) have got into power the the mantra of the coalition government is cuts, cuts, cuts. What is hard about all this is that there are so many factors at play and so many issues that are woven into the issue that it is hard to unpick what is what.

Its also why we're all looking for easy stories that explain it and easy fixes that will solve the our woes. Problem is, that I suspect there are none. The whole thing is a monstrous fuckup that is getting more fucketyuped day by day.

I'm been trying to make sense of it all myself - and in trying to make it touches on other political beliefs that I hold - which also need to be re-examined, that the whole thing becomes a mess in my head. In short, I'm getting nowhere trying to understand the whole and what we should do about it. So this article is an attempt to make sense of it.

So I'm going to start with some of the basics...

What the fuck happened?

Here is my understanding of it: Back in 2006 everything seemed business as usual with the leviathan global economy. However what most of us did not know then was that a series of complex financial products that were being brought and sold for many years, where in fact highly unstable investments. Investments that many mainstream banks had put lots of cash into. Once conditions in the global economy ceased to favour these risky investments (mainly due to a loss of liquidity) then they started to explode in the faces of whoever held them at that point. This in turn triggered a series of other conditions that in turn triggered other mini-crises and so on and so forth until it became a huge financial crisis. Faced with a meltdown of the underlying baking system, most governments responded with bailouts . Pouring billions into the mainstream banks fearful that if they did not the wave of triggering crisis would go on and on.

However this is where the complexities start to mount. Many cited the lack of regulation of the financial markets as the problem. Other claimed too much regulation was the problem. Some claim that without the bailouts, it would be much worse. Others claim that the bailout are perpetuating a rotten system and we should have let the banks fail. I have no idea as to the correct answer. Try to get your head around all the variables that you would need to understand to get a clear answer and the scale of the problem of understanding becomes apparent; regulation, speculation, the shadow banking systems, trade deficits, exchange rates, commodity prices, GDP, interest rates and more - and for each country that was a player in the drama - the US, China, UK, Germany, Greece, Japan and so on... That's just the stuff we know about - what was the impact of the costs of all the wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Colombia, Palestine etc...) ongoing in this? Where is the role of peaking oil supplies in all this? Climate change? Shifts in global power? Technological change? Ecological damage? Human population growth?

Its a quantum mechanics of an equation to try and understand it. Put simply, us humans tend to only be able to follow a few threads of a story. We seek to find a simplified way to understand it all then relegate those bits we can't have the space brain-space for as minor variables in the whole. This is not because the evidence suggests that this is what we should do but because we don't like to think that we are wilfully ignoring something important, so we just find a way to rationalise ignoring it. "The real issue in all this is..." "What most people don't get is..." "The important factors in this crisis are..."

Just because something has not featured in our analysis of events, does not mean it was not significant. Indeed, each of us (me included) carries a set of cognitive filters in our own head (called Selection Bias) that means we tend to pick things as important not based on the evidence set before us, but because of pre-existing prejudices, political views and emotions.

So the bankers are unlikely to fully consider a Marxist view of what happened and why. But an anarchist is unlikely to consider the evidence that if the state had not bailed the banks out, it would be much, much worse now than it is. Capitalists are going to wave the free market around as a solution to all the problems and anarchists will point to mutual aid as the only way out. Given the number of variables and variable-variables, how could any of us know? Who'd be willing to risk finding out?

Here's how I understand it... The UK government debt is about £1000 billion and the state borrows about £160 billion per year. Officially we spent about £850 billion bailing banks and the like out. Unofficially this figure may be higher; possibly over £1000 billion. It is more complex than this - we now own big chunks of banks and we have had some of the money paid back...

Either way, the figures seem to suggest that if we had not have to bail the banks out, we'd not be in the mess we are. So why don't we hear much (if anything) about the financial sector doing anything to help us out of the mess they so clearly contributed towards?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Climate Denialists Never Seem to Use Coherent Arguments

When you debate with climate change deniers, they have these annoying habitats of:

1. Never stating their position in any concrete terms.
2. Adopting contradictory positions and never acknowledging this.

This make is hard to have a real debate with them because point 1 means you're never told what position you are debating against is, and point 2 means they are always a moving target jumping from nonsense point to point as you shoot each argument away.

You'll be hard pressed to find them making a factual assessment they can be held to, as does the IPCC. So the IPCC may say they think there will be a 2 degree rise over a set time and give the statistical probability that this forecast is accurate. Then they'll revise and amend that forecast as new evidence emerges. That's why it's a science.

By contrast the denialist talks of 'alarmism' and 'concern' other woolly terms that don;t really means anything tangible. They are deliberately vague emotional terms that allow them to escape making solid predictions over which they could be held to account. Denialism never seems to propose research methods that would show what is going on in the climate system - it always relies on cherry picking other peoples data and producing critiques of others hard work. There is nothing itself wrong with criticism - its an essential part of science. But after a while you want the people saying "that's wrong" over and over to show you how it's done right. After all, millions of dollars have been (and are) being pumped into denial by vested interests. Should be simple to fund a few bit of original research that says 'the temperate change will be X degrees over Y years...?

So why is this?

They have to have points 1 and 2 in operation else the carefully woven tissue of conspiracy and obfuscation would collapse under the weight of it's own contradictions. How do they do this? By making an emotional and not a scientific argument...

“…I’ve come to view “denial” as reflective of an individual values, rather than an emotional state they pass through. It is a culture war issue, in the same way abortion, stem cells, Sharia law and creationism have become litmus tests for conservative Christians, Muslims etc.

…Creationist reject evolution because it contradicts their literal reading of the bible. Ergo, thus *must* reject the science in order to affirm their tribalism and confirm their membership to the creationist “tribe”. It’s about outward signs of orthodoxy and inwardly managing ones identity.

Free market libertarians, culture warriors and ultra-conservatives see climate change mitigation as deeply threatening to their “choices” within the market and individual “liberty”.

If your committed to small government and limited intervention in the market, then things such as a carbon tax, ETS or regulation are anathema. After all, the “market” will fix this.

Why is also why you find conspiracy theories, crazy analogies in thier postings - indeed anything but rational thought. To understand them you also need to understand the conspiracy mindset and how it works.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Black Hole of Stupid: US Right Goes (Even More) Mental

This is a staggering political position to end up with as a major political party in a democracy:

The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones. ... Just for the record, when the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences last reviewed the data this spring, it concluded: "A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems." Not only William Hague but such other prominent European conservatives as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have embraced that widespread scientific conviction and supported vigorous action.

Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is "no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of."

Wow - serious nuttyness. What is also staggering is the position that so many denialists seem to have which is if they don't know about and/or understand the science of climate change, then it can't be true. As if the laws of nature only operate if we humans can get on consensus on understanding...

It's a black-hole of stupid that is also sucking vast sections of the media (Fox, Telegraph, Dail Fail etc) in with it.

ScepticGate: The climate scandal you won't read about in the Telegraph

So the so-called 'Climate Gate' scandal has come and gone and left more than a few people wondering about why it was even given the media coverage, out of proportion to the non-scandal it appeared to become in print etc.

But there is another scandal brewing about academic standards; however this is one the Denialists are keeping very quiet about - why because it may well be a huge home goal for them.

Our tale starts with a report known as the Wegman Report, after it's author co-author Edward Wegman. This report was commissioned by two republican politicians. One was Joe Barton who gained notoriety when he apologised to BP after the oil spill because Obama (sort of) went after the company. He's also heavily funded by the oil industry.

Anyway, these guys commission Edward Wegman, who is chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, to look into the famous 'Hockey Stick' graph produced by climate scientists including Michael Mann. Wegman does so and when it gets released it has lots of coverage and denialists point to it over and over and say, 'see, we told you (insert whatever odd position the denialist has here: the world is not warming/it's a conspiracy/the sun is doing it/ec)'.

For example it's currently one of the key documents being used by Republican and Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli in his witch-hunt against Michael Mann.

Except that after the reports release, amongst other criticisms of it, Raymond Bradley complained that about a third of it had been lifted from a 1999 textbook he had written. This is called plagiarism and is a serious charge in academia. Bradley complained years ago and the shrouded process only now seems to be moving. This is in contrast to the so-called ClimateGate investigations which were public and started almost straight away:

When a formal research or professional misconduct complaint is received, universities are required to open an inquiry. This is a less formal procedure, usually conducted by administrative personnel with or without academics taking part. it is very confidential. Only when the inquiry finds strong evidence of misconduct is a formal investigation opened. In this regard what Penn State did with respect to charges against Michael Mann was exceedingly irregular. First, they opened an inquiry without a formal complaint (which can be anonymous) on the basis of the uproar fed by friends of Judy (and no one else). Second they published their report, something that can be done but usually is not. Third they started a formal investigation without the inquiry finding grounds for it.

Now Mann agreed to the irregular way it was done - I guess he was confident that there was - and the findings showed - nothing wrong.

So why does this all matter? First off, if the findings go against the Wegman Report, then a whole plank of denailism falls away. It's hard to complain the hockey stick is broken when your main tool for breaking it, is itself broken.

Second, Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli's second attack on Mann is severely blunted if the accusations are upheld (his first was struck down by the courts for being not 'objective.'

Third it (again) shows us why denialists are denialists; they can happily chat about evidence that agrees with their bias but have trouble processing information that not not agree with their pre-conceived notion.

Fourth it is interesting to see the (lack of) media coverage of a growing scandal of denial, in contrast to the rubbish written about ClimateGate.

Download the report on Wegman from DeepClimate if you want to read more...