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No I'm not apologizing again ...

I just want you to know that some time this week I rolled past 600,000 words of Merchant Princes saga, and I can feel every damn one of them weighing down on my back.

40,000 words to go then I can give it a rest for a while and maybe do some blogging or whatever it is that sane people do with their lives when they're not working their way up to the climax of a 1600-page saga.

In other news: I want you to try to remember that Barack Obama is not the messiah. He's just a very skilled, very intelligent politician. If you expect him to walk on water, feed the masses, and raise the dead you will almost certainly be disappointed. Remember that: almost certainly.

220 Comments

1:

Based on my level of expectations, Obama can do nothing but impress. No, I'm not a Republican, I'm just a very, very cynical American. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a single politician that I have been a constituent of that I wouldn't classify as an abysmal failure.

Then again... I'm staunchly opposed to representative government anyway. I'm probably a bad judge.

2:

Look, if he's just competent, that's going to seem like a miracle after the last eight years.

3:

Representative government is the worst form we've got ... except for all the others.

4:

Wow, you mean he might raise the dead? Are we talking zombie apocalypse raising, or Pushing Daisies raising, or what? Where do you find out about this stuff? I haven't seen anything about this in the popular press. Is this some kind of coverup? :')

Congrats on the 600k words!

5:

@Charlie Stross: We've hardly exhausted the space of all possible governments. Any society that isn't actively mining the space of all possible governments seeking the best isn't a society worth supporting.

6:

> Representative government is the worst form we've got ... except for all the others.

That quote is just plain wrong. The correct one (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Winston_Churchill) is:

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.


Unlike the way you have put it, I would like to see us keep trying.

7:

After the last 80 years (feels like that long anyway) I'd give anything to feel merely disappointed in a world leader over some issue. It's the almost constant blood pressure boiling outrage, and mounting fear for humanity's survival, I'm hoping to put behind me for a while.

8:

You mean he's not going to undo the worst effects of the past eight years in his first week in office??!?

I'm crushed!

9:

No he is not the messiah he is just a very naughty boy.

Oh no that was the last democrat

10:

@Bryan Teeman: No, the last Democrat was naughty. Bow-chicka-wow-wow naughty. Punished by the sexy principal naughty. Obama is, at best, just regular naughty.

11:

It is the 'almost' part of your statement that intrigues me the most.

12:

Obama's already done enough to prove to me he doesn't walk on water. Now if he can breathe water, he'll do very well, but just treading water may be enough to get some of the muck out of the stables.

Let's face it, about 30% of his job is going to be cleaning out the Bush legacy, both people and policies. Another 30% is going to be undoing the damage to relations between the Federal Government and just about everybody else on Earth, including all the US state and local governments. And the rest is putting the US economy to rights, instilling a climate of respect for the rule of law, and rebuilding our military into a true "Defense Department" and not a "Department of Agression". Oh, and the other 30% of creating a real security establishment instead of a security theater company.

As Obama is a mortal and not a superhero, I don't expect him to do all that. Take off another fraction he can't do for not being far enough away from the "center" in the correct direction to be willing to use some of the solutions that are necessary to really solve some of our problems.

13:

Agreeing with Scott @2. Nearly anything will be an improvement.

Ted @4 reminds me that someone (not near my books so can't look up who) once said that with Nanotech the first thing you get is resurrection of the dead.
Not holding my breath for that, sounds like a bad idea anyhow.

14:

@12
He isn't the messiah, but he did show up in the latest Amazing Spiderman, so he might be a superhero.

I've been disappointed quite a bit with his choice of Rick Warren as invocation speaker, less than sufficient stimulus package, transportation secretary and insufficient zeal to prosecute the crimes of the past 8 years. I also think he has far too much Tony Blair in him, with regard to his tendency to get by on eloquence.

That said, most of his moves during the transition have been good, his nominated cabinet is impressive and reasonably good. But the crucial thing is that he is a very smart and very ambitious man who has already made remarkable history. He knows that he has a chance to end up there with JFK and FDR if he can pull off a successful turnaround for the US. As a result I think he will do well as a result of ego and ambition.

The other factor that gives me hope is the spectacular level of guts and cajoles he has on display. First off, he's willing to take the helm at one of the worst moments in our recent history. Second, he's going to be the literal target of every racist psychopath in the country, and it will be a minor miracle if he survives his term(s) of office. I suspect that level of chutzpah is going to be needed soon.

15:

I remember a study done about competence. They gave tests to (I'm thinking) college students who were both competent and less than competent.

The researchers then asked the students how they thought they did on the tests. Most of the competent students were somewhat hesitant at first. The incompetent students were certain that they had done well.

Then they had the students grade each other's* tests. At the halfway mark, they asked the students again how they thought they did. The competent students said that they realized that they had done fairly well, better than they thought initially.

The incompetent students, even faced with the correct answers to questions they had tanked still thought they were doing well.

In other words, these kids were too incompetent to realize they were incompetent.

Bush and Cheney, both too incompetent to know they're incompetent.

I have high hopes of Obama, but I don't expect perfection. In many ways, he's fairly moderate and moderates irritate both sides of the political spectrum.


*Grammatically incorrect, but I'm too tired to figure out why.

16:

OK, the guy's a politician, but at least the country will have someone who taught the Constitution as opposed to wiping his arse with it.

Besides, anything would be an improvement over a malAdministration more corrupt than Warren Harding's, less concerned with the rule of law than Nixon's, and more inept than James Buchanan's. Mere half-assed competence already would be a jump from the ridiculous to the sublime.

17:

I haven't yet dipped my toes into the Merchant Princes stuff, but I just finished Saturn's Children and Atrocity Archives this week, and man you clearly have an inappropriate amount of fun writing these things. I hope to get my hands on Jennifer Morgue this weekend... To conclude this book report, I loved Glasshouse and found Accelerando somewhat boring (but the lobsters are cool!).

Re: Obama. Of course he's a f*ing politician. We actually need f*ing politicians (for mulch if not leadership). He has proven to be a pretty f*ing good politician: who would have thought that a liberal, first-term, northern, internationalist, unapologetically intellectual senator could be elected, least of all a black nerdy guy with a name like Barack F*ing Hussein Obama.

No, he doesn't walk on water. But he has earned my respect and support. A lot of bloggers and wannabes are going to screech how they feel betrayed starting, well, two months ago, but Obama's team seems to be playing a long game - I have patience. And I don't buy into anybody's cult of personality: my choice of campaign shirts said "yes we can", not "Obama".

18:

@t3knomanser, we've probably used more forms of government than you realize -- though most on a small scale. In the US: Fourieran phalanxes, direct theocracy, various other forms of intentional communities, various theocratic bureaucracies.

And the Italian city-states tried out umpteen ways of choosing leaders and legislators.

19:

@16 Anyone who makes the trains run on time, eh?

20:

The type of more-or-less representative, more-or-less democratically elected government found (among other places) in the UK/US tradition of the past few hundred years includes a very important combination of features: built-in error-correction mechanisms, in a basic structure that is designed to permit those correction mechanisms to operate, in a manner that causes minimal long-term damage to that basic structure.

Most of the alternative systems tend to have fewer (and generally less well-designed) error-correction mechanisms, and/or structural features that make it difficult to effectively implement major corrections. This vulnerability may not be obvious when the system is being administered competently, but a government's inability to quickly fix major problems without undermining the system's basic rationale can be lethal to public acceptance of that government's legitimacy.

21:

@ 20:
That's what the problem is in the UK right now.
Representative government is failing.

We have a growing quangocracy, government by executive order (think thiefrow...) EU directives that we have abstained from influencing, but implement with ruthless "efficiency" on little people who get in the way, police forces that are gettting further and further from accountability, and the usual list of parliamentary acts (look back in old postings) that enable a complete Stasi/Gestapo police state, that is, at present, only being erratically used.

NOT a pleasant prospect.

22:

This is as appropriate a place as any recently to ask:

Charlie,

I've just finished the first 3 Merchant Prince books (and I'd like to thank you and/or your publisher for giving them to a blog to use as a prize which I won) and enjoyed them much more than I thought I would. But I'm wondering about 1 of those 600k words.

In "The Clan Corporate", one of the characters refers to a carbonated soft drink as "pop". As a proud Cheesehead, I was, naturally, thrilled to see this in print. But I'm curious about the choice. Was it yours or a suggestion by Tor or someone? Most east coasters would use "soda" and more than a few Bostonites would say "tonic". (Weirdos.) See Pop vs. Soda. It just jumped out at me and now I want to know!

As for why I enjoyed it more than I though I would, I'm embarrassed to say I judged a book by its cover. The title was promising and inviting (to the likes of me anyway). But there was that legend "A Fantasy Novel" which put me off a little bit. Most fantasy novels aren't my thing. But some are. But the cover illustration was a shield with a giant gemstone in it! Ugh. Visions of elves and wizards and breechcloths.

Well. I couldn't have been more wrong but I'd only seen low-res web images of the cover. And I'd never read the synoposis blurb on the back. Now, more than anything, the books remind me of the introduction to an anthologised version of Bob Shaw's classic "The Light of Other Days" where the writer (I forget who) noted the use of one impossible thing with everything else flowing from that premise. They're very well done.

Thanks,

Jonathan

23:

What do you mean he's not the messiah? He's not even inaugurated yet, and already people have stopped dying in plane crashes.


I'm here all week, try the veal. And seriously. . . BHO is a creature of the system; but as such creatures go, he looks (so far) like he won't be the worst of them. One thing to remember though; extraordinary rendition may have been highly practised under Bush/Cheney, but it actually started as a practise under Clinton/Gore.

24:

JDC @ 22

Pop is a British thing too - Charlie is Scottish

25:

Phillip@22: But the local word for pop in Edinburgh is juice.

26:

throwmearope@15: I don't see anything ungrammatical about it. If it turned up in a book or paper I was editing (which is what I do for a living) I wouldn't even hesitate over it. That's practically the paradigmatic usage of "each other" in English.

27:

@22, 24: Regarding the pop / soda controversy: there is a map that appeared on the Strange Maps site that outlines the distribution of generic names for soft drinks in the US.

An interesting site and worth a look.

28:

DJP@24 & Feòrag@25,

Interesting (though I think Charlie isn't Scottish by birth; no idea how the term "Scottish" shakes out culturally for these purposes. Does Charlie call himself Scottish?). I live in the UK now. It's only been a few years (Cumbria then London now NE Cheshire) and I most often hear "fizzy drink". I've never heard "pop". Though that could be because I most often hear it from my nephews in Reading.

Jonathan

29:

Phillip @24

Leeds is not in Scotland.

30:

"Prove to me that you're no fool ---- walk across my swimming pool!" JCSS, Andrew Lloyd Webber

31:

Agreed, Obama ain't the messiah.

He is, however, someone who:

-doesn't seem to have massive personal insecurities
-doesn't seem to have an anger management problem
-seems to have interest in hearing opposing/all ideas
-seems to care about the constitution
-is far more likely to be a truly great president than anyone we've had for a long, long time.

Can you blame us for getting excited about that?

32:

I had the interesting experience towards the end of the presidential election cycle (snort; read that as five months before election day) of moving from Boston, MA to Nashville, TN. Admittedly, I'm in a university setting in both places, but the difference in collective excitement is interesting... there are people here who honestly believe that Bush did a good job (whereas, the same opinion in Boston would be viewed as absolute heresy).

I will gladly take Obama over the horde of spectacularly dangerous fools who have controlled my country for the last eight years. I don't expect him to fix everything - I do expect that he'll actually show cognitive abilities.

33:

FEorag #25- which locality are you talking about? I'm a middle class edinburgher and we used fizzy drink or coke or irn-bru. Pop was hear I am sure, but not if you were trying to sound more than 4 years old.

34:

1: And here I thought they only raised the dead long enough to get Democrats elected in tight races.
2: I just wish people would stop calling the government of the United States a Democracy. (Democracy in it's purest form is after all mob rule...) The United States of America, is in principle and to be technically correct, a representative Republic.
3: What do we really know about Obama? The American press, being comprised primarily of Democrats, gave Obama quite the pass, but then again, they did the same thing with Clinton.
4: IMHO, Michelle Obama does look a bit like a horse.

35:

Thorne, your #3 - say what??? They were badmouthing him right up until the election, and some were worshipping McCain and wossname.
your #4 - I don't know what kind of horses you've seen, but none of the ones I've met look anything like Michelle Obama, or vice versa.

36:

Thorne appears to be trolling, on behalf of a specific political agenda.

To reply:

Point 1: put up or shut up. That assertion demands supporting evidence, or an apology.

Point 2: true, but it's a noteworthy right wing talking point, and thus a diagnostic of political bias when dropped into conversation with no prior lead-in.

Point 3: we know lots about Obama -- he's been covered in excruciating detail. Also: sub-clause "The American press, being composed primarily of Democrats" -- that's also suggestive of political bias.

Point 4 is just plain rude -- Michelle Obama isn't running for office and her appearance is neither here nor there.

Summary: Thorne appears to be a troll. And will now either leave forthwith for some time out, or apologize for pissing in the drinking fountain.

37:

charlie@ "If you expect him to walk on water, feed the masses, and raise the dead you will almost certainly be disappointed. Remember that: almost certainly. "

Hmmm. A number of threads back you were worrying about writing near term SF where the story's history is obsoleted by events. Are you preparing for just such an event... :)

I'm reading your Merchant Princes words faster than you can write them, so I expect to catch up pretty soon.

38:

About the qualifications for being president:

Walks on water -- over qualified.

Swims in water -- optimal level of qualification

Swims in water in an emergency -- still OK

Drinks water in an emergency -- suboptimal.

Passes water in an emergency -- not qualified.

-- Journal of Irreproducible results.

39:

In American politics, it's been my observation that both sides get bent out of shape after every presidential election. Some damn and blast, and others shriek hosannas, but most of the people getting all worked up tend to forget the one sad truth of government: Once you're elected into office, your level of power and influence always -ALWAYS- gets cut in half. Because that's when you have to start dealing with budgets and procedures.

In this upcoming year, President Elect Barack Obama will NOT ACCOMPLISH SOME THINGS HE SAID HE WOULD. (Horrors of horrors.) Which means that some Obama supporters will become absolutely heartbroken and be inconsolable and some Obama detractors will take this as absolute truth that he's a failure as a president. Meanwhile, a good number of people who actually work in the unglamorous world of day-to-day government will say "Of course he didn't get that done, heck my program's been running for two years and our office is still in the wrong building and we only got our stationary last March."

40:

@5 the problem is that, to continue the 'search space' analogy, there are an awful lot of alternative possible ways of running government which get stuck in recurrent loops of awfulness, and a society which is actively exploring the space of possible governments is far more likely to end up in such a state than one which accepts the 'local maxima' that is representative democracy.

Me, as a Brit, I'd do something about first past the post, but I'd say the risks outweigh the benefits in tampering with representative democracy any further than that(but then I regularly have heated arguments with my flatmate about the merits, or otherwise, of direct democracy).

41:

Myself.. I think representative gov't is quite good, problem is, that not everyone deserves to have a vote.

If every voter had to pass some kind of literacy test before voting, the political scene would massively improve. All the TV-stupefied, functionally illiterate morons would no longer have a vote. Demagogues would be less likely to be elected, political campaings less idiotic and so on.

They were on the right track in the 19th century, when they did not allow the poor to vote. Those are the group most vulnerable to populism.
As I said, functionally illiterate people and those on welfare(retirees on state pensions included) ought to be disenfranchised(you can't bribe people who are not on welfare with promising them more handouts(which is exactly what's happening in many EU countries), after all.. )

42:

Patrick: fixing first past the post is essential. We've got better electoral models and they've been well-tested over decades in other prosperous democracies.

I'd also like to see a requirement for candidates to have spent at least three years engaged in an occupation other than education (studying or teaching), law, or politics before running for parliament (or its equivalent). That wouldn't weed out the time-serving apparatchiks but it'd hopefully ensure that they have at least some experience of the real world outside of politics or the ivory tower.

Schmidt: Literacy tests ... whosoever sets them becomes an electoral gatekeeper. What you're advocating isn't merely elitist nonsense, it's a highly dangerous system that is extremely prone to corruption.

43:

Some people do think he is the Messiah for sure as they turn a blind on on all the bad that surrounds him.

44:

Schmidt @42 you can't bribe people who are not on welfare with promising them more handouts

Why you're right! You know what - someone should run on a platform of cutting welfare which will cut my taxes. I'd vote for... wait a minute...

...a requirement for candidates to have spent at least three years engaged in an occupation other than education (studying or teaching), law, or politics before running for parliament (or its equivalent).

Someone who has had some success in all three fields might work out okay. Meanwhile, changing the subject to Obama, if he did walk on water, feed the masses and raise the dead, I would be very concerned indeed. Concerned enough to actually read some of the theology books I picked up a few years ago during a fit of interest in the subject.

45:

Would you please get back to work and quit whining.

:-)

46:

monopole: The tradition of an incompetent transportation secretary extends back at least to GWB's first term; you'll recall that he gave us Norman Mineta.

47:

[quote]
What you're advocating isn't merely elitist nonsense, it's a highly dangerous system that is extremely prone to corruption.
[/quote]
Why? Imho, it's quite possible to design a system where the people grading them wouldn't know whose test they are grading.

What room for corruption would there be? People taking the test on behalf of others ? Wouldn't work where I live, because very few people(mainly organized crime) have fake ID cards.

[quote]
whosoever sets them becomes an electoral gatekeeper
[/quote]
So? Perhaps if the people drafting the tests were selected randomly from a sample of educated citizens and drafted the tests accordingly to unchanging set of rules, they wouldn't be gatekeepers for very long, less room for corruption there, and parties wouldn't be able to influence the tests.

[quote]
it's a highly dangerous system that is extremely prone to corruption.
[/quote]
Our current system is exactly that. The power rests in the hands of the people who own the mass media. The politicians receive positive coverage in exchange for promising to look after the interests of those who own the media companies and those who contributed to their campaigns. Those who promise to combat institutionalized corruption or somehow champion the public good to the detriment of the Syndicate good, (people like Ron Paul), they just won't get any contributions, and lot less media coverage.

Best example of that was when Daily Mirror printed a photo of Greg Palast with "Liar!" across it..

So, to paraphrase Catch-22, you better pray that what is good for the Syndicate is good for you, since that's exactly what you'll get..


Anyway, it's a rather complex system that would be hard to implement properly and wouldn't address the weak spot of all current systems..

------------------------

Which is, that those who want to be in power are precisely the people who ought not have it. Until that is resolved, there won't be a system working properly.

Maybe selecting MP candidates for elections randomly from educated/accomplished people, then weeding out the sociopaths.
I bet that the quality of the material would be better than it is now..

48:

Slight edit: didn't want to say that LaHood's incompetent (at least not before giving him a chance to repeat Mineta's mistakes), just would be shocking to have a good transportation secretary, and being from Illinois doesn't look good (e.g. ethanol). One does hope that he'll be better than Christine Whitman would have been in that job, but I'm not holding my breath.

49:

Before it gets worse I did vote for Clinton. But it was a matter of issues, not the individual.
However, a small bit of criticism, and the "true believers" come out of the woodwork...Pitchforks and flaming torches at the ready. The "true believers" exist on both sides, and for a long time I preferred the Republican point of view until they became drunken sailors with access to unlimited funding. So my apologies to those who feel I have somehow slighted them. I hope for the sake of the U.S., that Obama does have a few days in which he walks on water. It's sorely needed.

@41: Schmidt makes a very good point - that not everyone deserves to have a vote. Strictly looking at the United States, eight of the seventeen amendments adopted since the ratification of the Bill of Rights have involved voting rights. Numerous Supreme Court decisions as well as federal legislation (most notably the Voting Rights Act) have attempted to break down barriers to voting.
In every case it has been the goal to expand voting rights and not restrict them. Does this make for a better informed electorate?

50:

My son will be, on Tuesday, at a party with his fellow Obama volunteers. One vote can make a difference, and one volunteer can.

I've now completed 29,100 new words of the novel manuscript Axiomatic Magic, including 4,300 words yesterday.

I know that this is Charlie's soapbox, not mine, so what I think I'm doing is saying that his word-count professionalism keeps inspiring me to do that hard one word after another.

Here's a nugget showing how Science and Magic are, to use Ted Nelson's term, intertwingled:

So I took her to the Dabney Gardens, a well-known trysting place on campus, to the tinkling of the tile fountain in Mayan motif (designed by original architect Bertram Goodhue), beneath the Olive trees and climbing roses, and there beside the antique bronze statue of a water buffalo with a bronze lotus wreath about its neck bearing a tranquil bronze straw-hatted Tenjin, her honeyed hair draped down my shoulder, her hand in mine, for six unbroken hours we spoke together of using Quantitative Alchemy heroically to find cures for cancer, tennis-elbow, Dutch elm disease, and the distortion of chocolate bars left in one’s pocket during the summer.

Classes began the next morning. My first sight of the Quantitative Alchemy lab, in the basement of Gates Alchemistry Laboratory where Thaumaturge professor Linus Pauling, Jr., once taught (now Parsons-Gates Hall of Administration), filled me with trepidation. Long lab tables appalled me, covered as they were with a profusion of Apprentice's Alembics, Journeyman's Calcinators, Rhodomagnetic Retorts, Molecular Mortars and Pestles, Indian Extraction Apparatus similar to the Greek kerotaki, Digital Descension apparatus, Double-helical Distillation glassware, Florence Flagons, Erlenmeyer Flasks, Francis Bacon Beakers, and Dr. Arnold Orville Beckman pH meters. While Beckman was an assistant professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Thaumaturgy, he’d been asked to devise a quick and accurate method for measuring the acidity of lemon juice for the California Fruit Growers Exchange and Sunkist. Beckman's invention helped him to launch the Beckman Instruments Company, become a billionaire, and live to be 101 years old. I was terrified by the bubbling apparatuses and flickering Bunsen burners and foreboding fume hoods.

It was all so grim and scientific. I am so ungrim and unscientific.I would have bolted out the door, up the steps, and out of Gates immediately, were it not for the comforting sight of Helen, I mean Marie, somehow chic and sexy in a black rubber lab apron.

After the class was assembled, two men in white wizard-robes entered. One was tall and crochety-looking, with eyebrows the size of raccoons. The other was short and crochety-looking. The tall one stepped to the lectern at the front of the classroom, while the short one stood by the back of the classroom, cutting off my escape route.

“This class is called Fundamentals of Quantitative Alchemy,” said the tall one. “My name is Thaumaturge-Professor Jürg Waser. With an umlaut, if you please. That,” he nodded to the short one, “Is Sam Obispo. I do the lecturing. Dr. Obispo supervises the lab work. We shall be using the textbook Alchem 1, by Jürg Waser, Kenneth N. Trueblood, and Charles M. Knobler. It is available in the CalThaum bookstore. You shall need it today, to do the homework due tomorrow morning.”

I wondered if I climbed up a fume hood, whether it would lead me through a series of ducts to an escape on the lawn outside Gates, adjacent to Millikan Pond, where I could hide under the bridge.

“You are all Sophomores,” said Jürg Waser. “That means that you may be unfamiliar with the term pipe course.’ A pipe course is one where the students may effortlessly flow along, and pass without doing much work. Fundamentals of Quantitative Alchemy is not a pipe course. You have never worked so hard in your short lives as you will work in this course. If any of you are looking for something easy, you might as well leave right now.”

I gazed longingly at the door, behind me and blocked by Obispo. “How come Leander and Lord Byron swam the Hellespont?” The answer is that first, the task is difficult, as no course at the California Institute of Thaumaturgy is easy, and this looked more anti-easy with each passing nanosecond.

But Leander crossed without drowning in order to tryst with his beloved, the priestess Hero. Lord Byron swam without drowning, and with a club-foot to boot, for whomever (maybe two twin sisters at once for all I knew).

I looked at Helen Macpherson Lowe and was thrown out of despair by those great honey-colored ramparts at her ear, and her twin peaks, their pert nipples straining at her embroidered vest, so that the catenary ropes of beads hung like vines dangling off a cliff.

“This course,” said Jürg Waser, is dedicated to the ludicrous proposition that you can be taught the fundamentals of the general Hortulanus tetra-humor laws of Alchemy (principles of alchemical thermodynamics, Arnold of Villanova kinetics, Michael Scot solution theory, theory of alchemical Bartholomaeus Anglicus bond, structure of molecules), John Dee’s alchemy of elements (structure and Petrus Bonus properties and Paracelsus properties of simple substances and mains of Geoffery Chaucer compounds, relationships of Pico della Mirandola properties changes on the base of Nicolas Flamel’s Periodic Law), John Dastin reactions, Thomas Aquinas Auger Electron Spectroscopy, Secondary Ion and Albertus Magnus Mass Spectrometry, Ramon Lull-Laser Mass Spectrometry, and the Trithemius of Sponheim methods of quality analysis.”

“And all of this,” thundered Jürg Waser, “in one semester. The probability of any of you passing this course is infinitesimal; the odds against you staggering to contemplate, if you had time for contemplation. Which you do not. Get out your parchment notebooks and reference scrolls.”

What had I gotten myself into? I think that I was moaning aloud, as several of the students were looking at me with contempt. I could visualize myself at my father’s newspaper, wearing the goofy newsprint hat, my hands stained black with ink, my heart black with dismay forever.

And then I looked over at Helen Macpherson Lowe, with her quill pen poised over her parchment, her perfect face flushed, her smoky green eyes shining, the nostrils flaring ever so slightly on her lovely long symmetrical nose, the tip of her pretty in pink tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth in concentration, and my calcium- and strontium-laced bones turned to water. I couldn’t leave her. Not possible. Heaving a mighty sigh, I unrolled my reference scroll, perched my quill above the parchment, and started trying to take notes.

51:

Now I have this vision of Terry Jones in a dress standing in the Rose Garden saying "There's no Messiah in here. There's a mess, all right, but no Messiah. Now, go away!"

52:

Thorne #49- I don't see a connection between expanding voting rights and having a well informed electorate. However explaining much more might violate the "my soapbox" clause in the moderation policy. Certainly if you restrict the voting enough, you can guarantee a well informed electorate. We usually call that an oligarchy or aristocracy.

53:

Charlie @ 42: Literacy tests were a major component of the mechanisms used in the US Deep South during the 20th Century to prevent black people from voting. There's a classic joke that ends with a black man being asked to read a headline from a Russian newspaper and replying, "It says that this N***** isn't getting to vote in this election!" Property tests, as for instance poll taxes, were a similar mechanism used in the 19th Century primarily against poor whites, since the blacks were still slaves for a good part of that century. The danger of these tests is not merely theoretical; we have a lot of history to show for it.

Incidentally, Schmidt, I've been putting money into the Social Security system for more than 40 years now, quite a lot of it, in fact, and I'm curious why my getting some of that money back after I retire should entail losing my right to vote.

54:

Bruce @53: yes, I was aware of that -- and also of the voter suppression effects of Thatcher's poll tax in the late 1980s over here. I was trying not to accuse Schmidt of racism to his face without a little bit more evidence; it might merely be ignorance of history.

55:

Bruce Cohen @ 53: Same history lesson that immediately came to mind, when the subject was introduced.

There were actually several distinct (but related) means used to make these literacy tests a "gatekeeper" mechanism to exclude potential voters who were undesired-by-the-authorities:
* differential testing: using much more difficult tests for members of the group intended to be excluded, than for members of the group currently in power;
* subjective grading: heavily biased for or against identifiable members of the appropriate groups; and
* exemption mechanisms: most notoriously, the "grandfather clause", under which -- if your grandfather had been a locally registered voter -- you were exempt from taking (much less passing) a qualifying test.

For a voter qualification system to avoid these known classes of weakness, the selection criteria should be:
* few in number (ideally, only one);
* simple (easy for both participants and observers to understand, and to monitor for possible corruption);
* objective (in a manner that makes subjective grading difficult or impossible, and easy to identify when attempted); and
* transparent.

When John W. Campbell Jr. did a similar analysis a few decades ago, discussing possible means of identifying (and qualifying) voters based on individual competence, he identified only one logical, practical test: is the individual successful in life, as measured by his/her income?

The potential disadvantages of this approach should be apparent. The alternatives I've seen proposed since then have seemed even less viable.

56:

@54:

No need to assume any racist background whatever. The Chinese had a test system for their civil servants as well, and they too abused it by setting the requirements very high and making sure that you could only learn it if you had plenty of money in the first place to pay for your "education" (that was out of date for centuries and hardly applicable after the first few decades). It's a rather old idea.

What worries me most about this, is that it perpetuates the old dogmas even long after the original dogmatists have died - and death is a condition that doesn't make it especially convenient to change ones mind.

57:

You should just go back to the system the UK had for centuries. You were only eligible to vote if you owned property worth above a certain amount. This meant that you had, in Scotland, an electorate measuring about 3,800 in 1830. This meant is was a fairly homogenous grouping who would be able to knoweldgably discuss the pressing issues of the day.
(There were something like 2.3 million people in Scotland at that time, with some pressing issues to do with working conditions, the law system, education and corrption. Oddly enough, they didn't get the vote)
So for modern USA, I suggest about half a million voters, but I don't know the property statistics to allow me to calculate what the cutoff should be.

58:

I think it is vitally important that everyone no matter how supposedly ignorant they are should have the right to vote for two good reasons.

i) There is the arrogant assumption that the world would be run better if just people like me ran it, people who take the time to glance over the news once a day so they know the issues, but who really knows the issues. Governance of a modern country is an incredibly complicated undertaking. Every piece of legislation has an enormous number of ramifications, and even most of the representatives voting on it have only a vague outline of what it all means. Nobody, except for a very limited number of experts, who have studied the issue for years, "know" the issue at hand.

ii) The act of voting binds people to a society. Once you vote, even if your party doesn't get into power, you have made a decision about the future of your country. You have taken some form of responsibility for it. Also voting is a statistical aggregation process, the average of people's thoughts. Eliminating any group from voting will eliminate their opportunity to express their concerns.
Voting does tend to balance out the more muddled thinking. I was a polling clerk in my younger days in Australia and I remember the first little old lady who came through the door confided in us: "I'm not voting for that Bob Hawk. He's too much of a lady's man. He can't be trusted." The second little old lady who came through the door promptly confided in us: "I'm voting for Bob Hawk. I rather like him. He's a bit of a lady's man," she said, nudging me in the ribs.

For those of you bemoaning the defects of the parliamentary system just be glad you haven't got California's. We have a requirement that 60% of both houses must pass the budget as well as the governor, which in effect means both parties must sign off on it, so nobody can be held responsible for it. Then, on top of that, Californian's decided they hated having long-serving political apparatchiks and insisted on term limits, so now we have both houses filled with political newbies, who are still learning the ropes and have no interest beyond the time they will be termed out.

We now have a massive deficit. The Democrats want to raise taxes. The Republicans want to cut spending. Both have to sign off on the budget and nobody is prepared to compromise or has the political skills to forge a compromise.

From my experience of living in several different democracies I would say the following approach is best for democratic governance. One group (so they can monitor each other) should have both the power and the responsibility. Those with the power should most clearly have the finger of responsibility pointing at them.

They should be allowed to implement their platform (within the bounds of constitutional protection for certain basic rights). And if the electorate doesn't like the result, they can vote them out. In general, leave the details to the politicians. They have a strong incentive to figure things out so they can stay in office.

Most of you will have, in the course of your work, come across the newbie who thinks he/she knows how everything should be done before they take the time to understand how an organization works, and they go around telling everybody such. We'll that's the position of you the voter who thinks they know the issues.

Incidentally, the most insightful political tract I have come across was the BBC series "Yes, Minister."

59:

Charlie @ 54: Oh, I'm not making any assumptions about Schmidt's views, racist or otherwise, simply pointing out some historical examples that demonstrate we should not use poll tests of any sort whose nature and use are controlled by those who've passed them.

It seems to be human nature to try to game any system for advantage; the US Constitution specifically set up a metasystem that was immune to gaming at the base level. But that just meant that successful attacks had to game the metasystem (stuff the Supreme Court, control specific Congressional Committees, control all three branches of government, suborn the Department of Justice so it couldn't prosecute the criminal forms of gaming, etc.). I don't believe any system or metasystem of government is proof against attack from within; the war between the gamers and the system is a Red Queen's Race.

60:

Science fiction fans are interesting people.

Charlie, I'm not sure what to make of the fact that you've had a whole lot of people discussing suffrage laws, and only one of them has mentioned that governments the world over have a hard time governing if they don't have the consent of the governed.

And even the guy who did mention it (Guthrie@57, I think) required a lot of sensitivity to irony, or at least sarcasm, and I'm still not sure what he meant.

Truth is, gentlefolk, universal suffrage has already blown out proletarian dictatorship, heriditary aristocracy, corporatist representation, and (in most cases) dudes with guns and cool uniforms has a way to compel acceptance of state authority in places where state agents with guns are not directly present.

Which fact gives places run under universal suffrage a bit of a leg up in the good-governance race.

And the rise of universal suffrage as a legitimizing mechanism does, I think, change politics pretty much more than anything else.

That is in addition to the true arguments made by Dave@58, before he got all bogged down in the nitpickiness of Californian politcs. (Which are rather insane, of course, but such details detract from larger points.)

61:

I agree with Noel. Whatever system you use, there has to be a feeling of buy-in and participation by the populace or you're going to have trouble. Gone are the days of subjects, we're in an era of citizens invested in the state.

If people think they aren't being fairly counted (regardless of whether they deserve to be) then they will reject the government with all that entails.

This being the case, there are two approaches to take as I see it. One is to educated the citizenry so that they can make informed choices to the best of their ability. The second is to limit the power of governments in order to minimize the damage done by the ignorant masses.

Given the general apathy and willful ignorance of humanity, I prefer the latter to the former. :)

62:

Charlie @ 36:
Regarding point 3, US journalists do tend to lean center-left, thought less so in recent years.
There's a survey done every 10 years, that gives a good picture:
http://www.journalism.org/node/2304
This tends to run counter to the general population.

However, I don't think this proves bias. Looking at a list of who's contributed to Democrats vs. Republicans, the contributors seem to work for organizations with a reputation independent of the affiliation of the journalist in question:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19113455/#Trudeau_top

If anything, I think it's indicative of the ineffectiveness of the media on American political opinion. A good American doesn't allow his affiliation to be swayed by political discourse or investigation! :)

63:
If people think they aren't being fairly counted (regardless of whether they deserve to be) then they will reject the government with all that entails.
So why has the government of Mugabe not been rejected by Zimbabwe? Or are we only talking about hip, rich places like the US and the UK?

And why are education and control of government power mutually exclusive?

64:

Until 1934 Australia used a literacy test as a means of regulating immigration. Some immigrants (pretty much at the discretion of immigration officials) had to pass a fifty word dictation test "in a European language". It sounds like an easy test, but the trick lies in the fact that the immigrant didn't get to choose the language of the test. You had one chap, a German national, fluent in German, French, and English, who was given a test in Greek (which he failed). The system (which was widely known to be a sham) finally lost its credibility when the communist author Egon Kisch was given a test by an immigration official who, fortuitously, had been raised in the Scottish Highlands.

Now, Egon Kisch had been raised a "what nation are we part of today?" Czech. He knew Czech, German, and English, and probably at least a smattering of other languages. By sheer coincidence this high-profile undesirable immigrant was to be tested by a man who was probably the only Australian immigration official who knew Scots Gaelic. Egon and the offical started the test, but Egon gave it up. I don't blame him: in my experience Gaelic is written in italicised letters, which is always a bad sign.

The case went to Australia's most senior court (although at the time an appeal would still lie to the Privy Council in the UK). The Full bench of the High Court decided that Scottish Gaelic was not "a European language" for the purposes of the Immigration Act, with one judge kindly explaining that "[Scottish Gaelic] is spoken by a people who appear to lead somewhat special lives, and do not move about and mix in the general life of the whole community in Great Britain."

While waiting for his trial to come on the author Kisch had been traveling around the country promoting his views - he was a Stalinist, as it happens, and if he knew then what we know now ... well, it would rather sour the victory that I think his case represents. But if we give him the benefit of the doubt then we can say that he and his supporters helped eliminate a good deal of official hypocrisy about immigration law, and this eventually led to a much more open country.

65:

Bruce @ 62 ...
This "Resting on the consent of the governed" has an obvious flaw, which you have very carefully NOT MENTIONED.

Mugabe's goons have all thge guns, so far, no one else is prpared to take those guns away from them.
As happened to the cool-uniformed guys with guns in Europe 1933-45 ....
Mugabe shows all the characteristics of a charismatic tyrant (like Adolf & Joe) - everyone is against him, until he walks into the room - then it all dissolves AGAIN.
( For a full description of this phenomenon, try reading the late Alan Bullock's: "Stalin & Hitler, Parallel Lives" - really scary stuff. )

Mugabe must either die, or be overthrown by outside forces, before the suffring peoples of Zimbabwe can start to rebuild.
Ditto the people of Gaza and Hamas, come to that, and the sufferers in N. Korea and Burma - and one can easliy extend that list, more's the pity.

66:

@#60 "proletarian dictatorship" Interestingly, if you look at what Charlie Marx said about the Paris commune, for him "The dictatorship fo the proletariat" was exactly universal suffrage, and then the working class using force of numbers to dictate to capital (hence why republicans are keen to state the US is a republic, not a democracy).

@#64 - note, though, Mugabe lost control of Parliament, and came second (possibly) in the first round of Parliamentary elections - democracy is working over there, give it time. It's proving to be a good example, he will go. note that he couldn't institute Syrian style elections, or abolish elections altiogether, his rigging has been of limited value.

67:

Bruce @62: the Mugabe government narrowly lost the last election. They're holding on to power with both hands (not to mention the guns, clubs, and death squads), but the hyperinflation and collapse of basic services isn't helping. I think it's probably just a matter of time.

68:

Don't forget either that Mugabe has spent much of the past 29 years trying to make Zimbabwe into a de facto or de jure one-party state.

Mass killings in Matabeleland in the early 80s were key to this strategy (and while were on the subject, let's remind ourselves that Maggie Thatcher said in Westminster that she would continue to support the ZANU-PF leader). These led to the forced union of ZANU with Nkomo's ZAPU.

In spite of this, the trade unions backed the rise of the MDC in the 1990s. Against the background of the MDC challenge, drought and worsening economic conditions (at least partly the result of IMF structural adjustment plans) Mugabe turned to the demagogic land seizures policy.

The key to understanding Mugabe's exploitation of the land problem is that he was only able to exploit the land problem because it was a genuine, real problem that needed some sort of solution. As we all know, Mugabe's vaunted 'solution' was no solution at all, and has contributed to making Zimbabwe what it is today.

The tragedy is that there had already been successful pilot schemes for legal, peaceful land reform that could have been a model for restoring land rights lost by the indigenous majority in the late 19th century. IMO, this road could have been chosen by a fully democratic Zimbabwe.

69:

The most important thing to remember about Mr. Obama is that he is just another rich pale-skinned right-wing cultist.

70:

DC @68: care to substantiate that? (My first instinct was to delete your post as an obvious troll, but on second thoughts it might have amusement potential ...)

71:

Congratulations President Obama.

I admire McCain, especially the McCain of 2000, a man who should have won the GOP nomination and should have been our president these past 8 years. I voted for McCain, despite his almost certain defeat. It would be pretty craven on my part if I changed my vote simply to vote for the winner.

But the more I see and listen to Obama, the more impressed I am. Certainly he has had more than his fair share of criticism during the campaign.

Does Obama lack experience? Nobody can have enough experience, but he has more national experience than Lincoln did (only one term as an Illinois congressman and the Lincoln-Douglass debates).

Does he come from corrupt Chicago politics? True, but Harry Truman came from the corrupt Pendergast machine of Kansas City.

Is he just a great orator? Perhaps, but half the the battle of being a political leader is command of oratory.

Is he a career politian without national security, foreign affairs or military experience? True, but neither did FDR or Lincoln.

Electing a Black Man to the White House is right thing to do on so many levels (and I'm old enough to remember when it was shocking to have a Black family move into our neighborhood back in the 60s). Naturally, as a conservative Republican I wish that Black Man had been Gen./SoS Colin Powell. But alas, that was not to be.

There is nothing that prepares a person for the job of President, it's all OJT after the innauguration. Obama will screw up and fumble in his first two years, they all do. But either you have the character, brains, temperment and fortidude for the job or you don't. And I believe that Obama has the potential to be a great president — whose policies and politics I will almost always disagree with. In fact, if his cabinet choices are any indication he will govern as an intelligent moderate and pragmatist instead of a left wing idealogue.

Which is why the left wing ideologue portion of the blogoshpere is already howling "Betrayal!!!" and gnashing their teeth.

Maybe he is just an empty suit, long on charisma and short on character (like JFK). But I won't be losing any sleep.

The Republic is in good hands.

72:

Obama will have to pull out all the stops to impress me. He's nothing but a standard politician from one of the big two parties in the States which puts him just a little above pond scum as far as I'm concerned. Don't think you'll see anything amazing, all your going to get is an America slightly less shit than it has been for the past eight years. Let's face it, if one of my balls had been elected it would do what seemed like a great job compared to Bush but that testicle would by no means be a genuinely good president...

73:

G. Tingey @ 64:

Mugabe must either die, or be overthrown by outside forces

That was my point: the consent of the governed often doesn't have the power to unseat a government, requiring outside force. The Godwinian example shows that outside force was necessary because the governed (the voting citizens of the German Reich) were, in large part, satisfied with the government.

74:

#72 and #64:

Your Mugabe and Hitler examples raise an important question:

What exactly should America in particular, and free democratic societies in general, do about the Bad Guys in the world (including the Burmese junta, the Iranian theocracy, and all other tinpot dictatorships around the globe)?

We've tried the Bush method (i.e. invade a country on a pretext with the aim of overthrowing a despotic regime in the hopes that the ends - the establishment of a parliamentary democracy when none existed before - justify the means). That didn't prove to be very popular (though it may actually succeeed in the long run).

Do we do nothing, treating national soverignty as sacred (no matter how badly the sovereigns are abusing their people)?

Do we issue diplomatic condemnations from the UN (that and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee - dictators really don't care about world opinion).

Issue economic sanctions (same lack of results - dictators really don't care about the well being of their people)?

Wage and endless series of wars in the hopes that we can replace each toppled dictator with a stable democracy (and exhaust our blood and treasure in the process)?

What should we do?

75:

doowop: the flip side of your question is to ask "how would we like to be done by?"

For example, suppose the Galactic Empire™ shows up in orbit tomorrow with their hundred kilometre long battleships. They point out that because of our collective failure to grasp a couple of simple axiomatic principles of governance (obvious to everybody else in the galaxy) we're fucked-up beyond all belief (evidence: Robert Mugabe, George W. Bush, the price of bananas). They know what's best for us, and worse, they've got evidence to prove it and firepower to enforce it should they so choose.

How would you have them deal with us?

(Hint: your question in #73 rests on certain assumptions which are highly questionable -- namely, that "America in particular and free democratic societies in general" can or should sit in judgement over countries that don't comply with their cultural, political, and social norms.)

76:

Charlie @ 74.

Hasn't Ian Banks already dealt with this as an Out-of-Context Problem? ( In "Excession" )

77:

Are you suggesting that their are no objective values for judging a society? That all cultures are relative?

If so, all I can do is give Lincoln's response to a similar stance:

"If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong".

Granted no society is perfect, but it would be illogical to forgoe judging any society on that basis. Perfection is a false standard.

I would submit that their are objective wrongs that make any culture that practices them less worthy of respect (slavery, tyranny, oppression of ethnic and religious minorities, opression of women). For example, I believe that I can claim with some confidence that any culture that practices female genital mutilation is an inferior culture unworthy of respect and undeserving of surivival. Ditto for military dictatorships, countries that execute gays, countries where women are degraded and lack basic freedom of choice, etc.

So yes, I am claiming that Western Liberal Democracy is a culture objectively superior to all others.

78:

The United States of America is a Republic, not a Democracy. If it were a Democracy, its corruption levels would be lower, and the Senate would be better at stopping aggressive wars. (Its words are also backed by NUCLEAR WEAPONS!)

79:

Doowop- But why is slavery and FGM and opression of minorities objectively wrong?

80:

Because they and other objective evils violate Jeremy Betham's maxim of "the greatest good for the greatest number". This can be used as an objective standard of near mathematical objectivity.

Slavery is by definition the oppressive rule of the many by the few (there are by definition always more slaves than slaveowners). The slaves are denied the "good" of human dignity, equality, freedom and economic well being. Ending slavery extends the "good" to a far greater number.

FGM by definition has the potential to torture and oppress half the people of the society that practices it. Ending FGM extends the good to a far greater number.

Oppressing minorities denies the "good" enjoyed by the majority of a culture. Ending such persecution also extends the "good" to a greater number.

To believe otherwise is to believe that there are no objective standards whatsover. The lack of objective standards is (according to my Oxford English dictionairy) the very definition of nihilism. It results in having to believe that there was nothing inherently wrong or evil about Nazi Germany (Goodwin forgive me!), the antebellum American South, the public execution of gays in Iran, etc.

81:

Interior and Exterior behaviour for a 'group' is different. Exterior behaviour (or between groups) is often consider imoral if practiced within the group. Conversially inherior moral behaviour would be considered counter productive if practiced outside the group. This is an important evolutionary adaption.
Our problem is deciding the size and make up of the 'group' Big enough to be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, or those overfirendly aliens. Or small enough for I'm-all-right-Jack.
The size of the group we choose helps us decided on our acceptable moral/imoral behaviours.

82:

"The size of the group we choose helps us decided on our acceptable moral/imoral behaviours."

True, but it doesn't define objective/universal moral/immoral behavior, which would be applicable to all. Claiming that the group defines what is right or wrong is to find the oppression of those outside the group to be acceptable.

83:

Are you suggesting that their are no objective values for judging a society? That all cultures are relative?

doowop: no. What I'm suggesting is that you've picked your culture as the yardstick by which to judge all other ... and your culture is by no means the best on the planet today, much less the best that we can conceive of.

Assuming you're a US resident you live in a nation that jails ten times as high a proportion of its citizens as any other developed nation, can't provide universal health care, sends people to prison for smoking a joint, and any number of other things that are oppressive, onerous, or unpleasant. There are many worse things I could say about the USA, but I won't, because there's no need; the point is, you don't live in a utopia, a shining city on a hill that provides an example to the rest of the world. The last eight years, if nothing before then, has proven this conclusively. And so it behooves you to stop judging people negatively for being unlike you, lest you yourself are judged.

... Having said which, there are places which are far worse; and there are some behaviours we can agree on as being universally bad: and maybe we want to act on those matters. But it's necessary to be very cautious, and first be sure that we're not mistaking our own cultural fetishes for the laws of nature.

84:

Hang on a minute, does anyone else out there think that

"Jeremy Betham's maxim of "the greatest good for the greatest number". This can be used as an objective standard of near mathematical objectivity."

ia in anyway correct.

Maggie- I'm sending you a letter.

85:

"and your culture is by no means the best on the planet"

Never said it was. When I said "America in particular" I was refering to the fact that only America (unlike the EU) has the actual power to affect change in other cultures.

"today, much less the best that we can conceive of."

Never said otherwise. Mind you, there is a great deal to admire in Europe. The fact that European fighting is now done politically instead of militarily is a an unheard of historical achievement. European infrastructure is in most ways superior, wealth distribution (though not wealth creation) is also superior, quality of life issues (health care, the environment, etc.) are also further advanced. The subtle application of European soft power can be more effective than the blunt application of American hard power.

Yet I would argue that none of this would be achievable if the Europeans could not have relied on America to carry the burden of defense. As such, the EU is something of an artifical construct, a world isolated unto itself geopolitically. Certainly Europeans could never have afforded their lavish social safety net if they also had to pay for their own defense. A militarily self reliant Europe with the same global burdens as the US could not help but resemble America.

Surely there is no need for this state of affairs to continue now that the Cold War is history and Europe does not face any existential threats. Yet for some reason, America continues to maintain the heavily armored 7th Army in central Germany. Are we afraid that Lithuania is about to invade? (Putin's Russia is a demographically sick and dying Potemkin village with more bark than bite.) I can see the need perhaps for air and naval bases, but why do we have to maintain uber-expensive land forces on European soil?

Yet, historically there is always a need for some great power to ensure the freedom of the seas, and more recently freedom of the air and near earth orbit, in order for global trade to function. For good or bad, that burden has fallen on the US.

Perhaps it is time the Europeans lent us a hand?

86:

I can see the need perhaps for air and naval bases, but why do we have to maintain uber-expensive land forces on European soil?

Far as I can see, because a hell of a lot of people have built careers on them.

Seriously, military and diplomatic traditions expand to fill the time and suck up the funds available to them. (Why is the US Navy run by fighter pilots? Because you have to be one to get a carrier command, and you have to have a carrier command to get a battle group and become an admiral, and ...) The UK finally swallowed this bitter lesson circa 1956 and the subsequent withdrawl from East of Suez completed it; the USA still has enough disposable income to afford the totems of military supremacy.

Personally, I think it's high time the EU did lend a hand on the global policing beat. But I suspect the long-term results of nudging the EU towards military and foreign policy coherency might scare the crap out of a lot of people on Capitol hill when they start to notice them.

(Little known factoid: the USA spends 50% of the entire military budget of the planet. The EU spends around 30%. Which means the rest of the world combined are out-gunned on military spending by the EU by a margin of 50% ... if the money was spent effectively with a single defense establishment -- rather than 25 different ones -- then yes, the EU could indeed be a planetary hegemonic superpower.)

87:

Bruce Cohen @53 What makes Schmidt's proposal even more problematic is that he bemoans the lack of smart, informed voters. One might consider that retirees have a wealth of experience and time to look into issues, gving them the potential to be superior voters; in addition they tend to have greater wealth and property than younger cohorts.

88:

"USA spends 50% of the entire military budget of the planet. The EU spends around 30%"

With a population of almost 500 million, compared to an American population of 300 million, the Europeans proportionally under spend Americans on defense by a per capita ratio of 0.6 to 1.67 (about 1/3). And with a total EU GDP of $16.830 trillion vs. $14.334 trillion for America, it is high time the Europeans shouldered some of the burden.

However, that would require a true federalization of the EU with a single defense budget and each member state having no more independence than Oklahoma or New Jersey. History, language and ethnicity probably make this goal utopian.

Yet I for one would be happy to at least disband or bring home 7th army. Once we leave Iraq in another year, our only land commitment would be to Afghanistan and the Korean DMZ. Since nobody since Alexander the Great has conquered Afghanistan, the best we can do is establish a normal state of affairs where the various Afghan tribes indulge in their favorite past time - killing each other - but without one group gaining power like the Taliban did. The biggest threat from NoKo isn't nukes, its the complete collapse of the nation and millions of starving refugees flooding SoKo and Manchuria - and that's probably only a matter of time.

89:

Getting back to my original question, what should we do about the world's Bad Guys?

90:

doowop: In the first place, I personally don't believe that Bentham's "Greatest Good" measure is a universal truth, good for analyzing all problems[1]. And I know a lot of people who will agree with that statement, though they might not agree with me on what else can be used in its place.

Second, while the US may have the power[2] to force change on anyone else, that power is useless unless we can persuade people outside the US that this is necessary and desirable. Otherwise we're just another international bully, using the threat of nuclear war as the ultimate persuasion. Unless you think we can fight a conventional war against the majority of the rest of the human race, and simultaneously prevent anyone, including ourselves, from escalating to nukes? And if the Iraq War has proved anything at all, it's that US military force is powerful and effective, but that as a police force, it basically sucks.

[1] Read Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" before you try to argue that arithmetic trumps ethics.
[2] Also arguable; yes we can destroy any other country on earth, or force it to accede to our will in the short term, but that won't necessarily change the behaviors we set out to change in the long run. "Regime change" is not a way to change societies, it's a way to change governments.

91:

doowop @ 88:

what should we do about the world's Bad Guys?
First tell me who "we" is.

92:

The free people of the West, of course.

You know, elves, hobbits, dwarves, ents and men.

93:

"Far as I can see, because a hell of a lot of people have built careers on them."

Another reason: a lot of German politicans need those land bases to provide jobs for their constituents.

94:

Off topic, I'm staying away from politics.

Charlie @85 Why is the US Navy run by fighter pilots? Because you have to be one to get a carrier command, and you have to have a carrier command to get a battle group and become an admiral, and ...

Wasn't always the case. One example is Grace Hopper, though she was a special case. My mother attended a lecture of her's in the early 80s, one part I remember hearing about was Adm. Hopper holding up about a foot of copper wire and saying "This is a nanosecond." That's always stuck with me.

95:

whatever it is that sane people do with their lives when they're not working their way up to the climax of a 1600-page saga.

There you go - your assumptions contradict each other.

96:

doowop @87 Once we leave Iraq in another year, our only land commitment would be to Afghanistan and the Korean DMZ.

You missed the military being put in our own country, to manage us.

97:

When John W. Campbell Jr. did a similar analysis a few decades ago, discussing possible means of identifying (and qualifying) voters based on individual competence, he identified only one logical, practical test: is the individual successful in life, as measured by his/her income?

Why don't we base it on their ability to repair a car, or build a house, or walk out of a desert if dropped in the middle of it without equipment?

Your test for "successful in life" is based on a privileged set of criteria. I put it to you that many highly salaried people - lawyers, real estate tycoons, stockbrokers - contribute far less to actual human weal than do teachers, sewage workers, stay-at-home mothers.

With a population of almost 500 million, compared to an American population of 300 million, the Europeans proportionally under spend Americans on defense by a per capita ratio of 0.6 to 1.67 (about 1/3). And with a total EU GDP of $16.830 trillion vs. $14.334 trillion for America, it is high time the Europeans shouldered some of the burden.

Americans spend very little on defense.

They spend an awful lot on offensive capabilities which they hide by calling them "defense".

98:

Marilee - you realize that most military units are stationed in the continental US and always have been?

Tony - the best defense is a good offence.

99:

Tony @ 96: Americans spend very little on defense.They spend an awful lot on offensive capabilities which they hide by calling them "defense".

We just prefer to defend ourselves on other people's soil. Really, given the devastation and destruction of war, can there be a more sensible approach to defense? :)

100:

Charlie @ 85,
I've been saying for a long time that the EU needs to consolidate it's defense spending and cut duplication. The EU is currently in the same position that the Confederate States were in the 1860s, and they sort of proved how ineffective a decentralized military structure is. (Each state armed and supplied it's own men. The CSA Army was under 15,000 men though its officers theoretically outranked the militia officers. The Union organized it's units by state but the control and supply was centralized.)

101:

I've heard people remark in recent days (and in my circle, few voted or Obama), that we are approaching a cult of personality, with the news anchors complicit. It is one thing to be popular -- and popularity no doubt helps, especially in tough times. But religious fervor is no more healthy here than it is in any other endeavor.

102:

We just prefer to defend ourselves on other people's soil.

In the same sense that the Sept. 11th attacks were a protest against occupation?

103:

Tony @ 101:
Yes -- note how much more effective they were than attacks against US assets or citizens overseas. Fortunately, those responsible lacked the ability to follow through.

104:

Still a few hours to go. The specific second point that Mr. Stross raised is addressed in:


How history outfoxed fiction
The last eight years were sobering, as real-life plot lines outpaced fictional plot lines. Now, there is reason for (cautious) optimism.
By Jane Smiley
January 18, 2009

... "The last eight years have blasted that idea right out of my head.... all novels are political because all novels have some sort of theory about how society works. The theory grows out of a novelist's temperament, but it has to be worked out and have a logic in order to produce a good novel... The novels I have found revelatory in the last eight years are Zola's 'The Kill' (and the rest of the Rougon-Macquart series, which is about the French Second Empire, an age of excess that prefigures ours) and Boccaccio's 'Decameron,' which is about living through the Black Death. Now that Barack Obama is about to be inaugurated, can I go back to 'Pride and Prejudice'?"

As to his first point, on words/day, and how I contend that he inspires me, I spent enough hours today for a planned 5,000 words, yet I only completed 3,000. My excuse is that the next sterp beyond "Fantasy with Rivets" is harder than I thought. Example [again I acknowledge the infinite utility of Wikipedia]:

The first lab experiment, after Sam Obispo explained the procedure, was very simple. The decahydrate of sodium sulfate, Na2SO4•10H2O has been known as Glauber's salt, after the Dutch/German alchemist-apothecary Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604–1670), who discovered it 1625 in Austrian spring water. He named it sal mirabilis (miraculous salt) for two reasons. The lesser reason being its medicinal properties (the crystals were used as a general purpose laxative, until more sophisticated alternatives came about in the 1900s), and the greater reason being the magical variations of its thermal properties. I glanced at Marie, next to me behind the lab bench. I could not imagine her taking a laxative. I could not imagine her excreting. She was an angel, and angels do not have embarrassing, noisy, or smelly digestive processes. Insider her panties and between her legs were no mundane plumbing fixtures, but hedonic anatomy of unimaginable delights, when our time at last would come.

The related solid is the heptahydrate, which transforms to mirabilite when cooled. The manifold miracles of mirabilite were not germane to our assignments, said Jürg Waser, raising one raccoon-shaped eyebrow. On the other hand, with an annual production of 6 million tons, Glauber's salt is one of the world's major commodity chemicals, and one of the most damaging salts in structure conservation: when it grows in the pores of stones it can achieve high levels of pressure, causing structures to crack.

All we had to do was put a carefully and precisely weighed spoonful of Glauber's salt in a double-pipe scraped surface crystallizer. Also called a votator, this type of crystallizer is used in crystallizing ice cream and plasticizing margarine. Cooling water passes in the annular space. An internal agitator is fitted with spring-loaded scrapers that wipe the wall and provide good heat-transfer coefficients.

We would transform the Glauber's salt back and forth into mirabilite and water, measuring the heat flux with calibrated thermistors, and the magical mirability with a micromirabiloscope. "See that the mirability does not exceed 5 millimirs," cautioned Obispo. Sam Obispo additionally told us to take careful notes in our Laboratory Scrolls, because we would do this all in a more sophisticated way later in the semester, using a Continuous Oscillatory Baffled Crystallizer, i.e. a tubular baffled crystallizer that offers plug flow under laminar flow conditions (low flow rates) with superior heat transfer coefficient, allowing controlled cooling profiles, e.g. linear, parabolic, discontinued, step-wise or any type, to be achieved. This gives much better control over crystal size, morphology and consistent crystal products. The only thing baffled in the lab that day was my brain.

I must confess that I enjoyed my first experiment, but my enjoyment was trivial compared to Marie's.

"Look, look, look," she cried, as the votator votated, the scraper scraped, and crystals like miniature flowers appeared and disappeared in prismatic colors.

This slightly distracted me, because of the combination of her sultry soprano and my trying to understand the micromirabiloscope readings in terms of spell-structuring anti-entropy. Glauber's salt is unusual among hydrated salts in having a measurable residual entropy (entropy at absolute zero) of 6.32 J•K-1•mol-1. This is ascribed to its ability to distribute water much more rapidly compared to most hydrates. This relates to why, starting in 1953, sodium sulfate was proposed for heat storage in passive solar heating systems. This takes advantage of its unusual solubility properties, and the high heat of crystallization (78.2 kJ/mol).

"Look at those flower thingies! Look at those thermistors smoking! Look at those colors changing faster, faster, faster..."

Her observation was interrupted by her votator violently exploding, sending a shower of colored water, pyrex shrapnel, and paisley smoke to the ceiling ten feet above, and raining down into my hair, under my collar, and slithering down inside my Fijian silk shirt.

Sam Obispo materialized behind Marie, an expression of undeniable discomfort on his face. "Little girl," he said. "Perhaps you ought to transfer to Home Economics. You can't do too much damage with fudge."

105:

@93: "Adm. Hopper holding up about a foot of copper wire and saying "This is a nanosecond."

And every hardware engineer that doesn't know this should be flogged...(if you want details, I can expand on this)

In other news: I want you to try to remember that Barack Obama is not the messiah.

Unless of course you've been watching American television in the 24 hours leading up to the inauguration.

106:

@102: Yes, generally speaking, it's all about follow through when it comes to war. Personally I feel the only war that was ever won was Rome vs. Carthage...and that took three Punic Wars to finally finish the job.

107:

Thorne @ 104: Personally I feel the only war that was ever won was Rome vs. Carthage...

So, Timur's "object lessons" (in the form of pyramids of human heads) weren't stacked high enough to be effective?

108:

@ 104
The 80 years war, 1568-1648?
The war (often by other means) 1685-1815, started by the expulsion of the Huguenots, and handing the planet to the English-speakers?
1939-45? Yes, I know, there are some VERY unpleasant Nazi-clones running around, calling themselves holy warriors for the Caliphate (or some such crap) but, really?
@ 105 - and where is Timur's empire? It collapsed, in internecine family feuds as soon as he died, as did the Moghul in India, after it took to religious extremism ...

109:

some VERY unpleasant Nazi-clones running around, calling themselves holy warriors for the Caliphate

Tenuous old metaphor, islamofascism, if that's what you're peddling there. OK, they're both authoritarian and given to dreams of universal conquest, but fascism was a *modernising* movement, apart from the not-very-world-threatening Spanish variety. Snitchens is greatly to blame, of course.

110:

JvP @104: you are becoming tiresome.

G. Tingey et al: I am very tempted to add "islamofascism" and "eurabia" to the list of automatic moderation keywords that will cause posts to go in the sin bin. Because? Counterfactual racist gibberish deserves no better.

111:

doowop: When I said "America in particular" I was refering to the fact that only America (unlike the EU) has the actual power to affect change in other cultures.

Huge, huge, unbacked assertion. The EU has immense power to effect change in other cultures, not least by the promise of eventual membership.

I am also fascinated by your assertion that, because the US spends far more than the EU on its military, the EU must be spending too little. You don't seem to consider the alternative. (You're also, of course, wrong to say that the only way to raise EU military spending to US levels is for the EU to unify. EU military spending in 1982 was way higher than US spending now, proportionally. BECAUSE THERE WAS A THREAT.)

112:

103: almost unreadable. Take it away.

113:

Consent of the governed?

I live in what is technically a parliamentarian democracy, but I sincerely doubt that either me or my friends consent to be goverened by a bunch of thieves.

I do not know how is it in other countries, but in mine, the government and the political scene are part of a continuum of criminals(~ people who are morally reprehensible- politcritters rarely commit illegal things, since they write the law, and laws where I live come with a multitude of loopholes so they can be exploited for profit by the lawmaker's cronies).

The only difference between the leftist demagogues and nationalist assholes now in power and the former centrist-right coalition is, that the latter were more considerate thieves, and when they stole from the state, they attempted to do it with style and not overtly. That, and they were apparently bit better at governing, but thieves nonetheless.

Mencken was right when he said that democracy is a form of gov't where the common people get, good and hard what they deserve. The cretins(sure, their IQs may hover around 100, but just look who got elected..) who comprise the majority of my countrymen certainly deserve our gov't, deserve the endemic corruption and so on.
I don't, but I get the assholes nevertheless, just because there are a around two million dumbasses who swallow every lie and ask for seconds.

The second most popular politician in my country is a foul-mouthed redneck with penchant for inflaming nationalist passions, public drunkedness & urination, preferably from balconies. His declared income would not suffice to pay insurance on the luxury cars he owns..

If one's tastes run to schadenfreude, it's easy being a fan of universal franchise.

[quote]
Incidentally, Schmidt, I've been putting money into the Social Security system for more than 40 years now, quite a lot of it, in fact, and I'm curious why my getting some of that money back after I retire should entail losing my right to vote.
[/quote]
Social security and similar schemes all origined in the so called Second Reich under Bismarck. And it's in essence a Ponzi scheme, since the money you put in is not being stored for you, but used to pay people currently retired. If all goes well, you too are going to be paid from contributions of those who work when you retire... assuming, there will be enough of them and so on..

BTW, isn't the current modus operandi in the US to take any surplus money from the Social Security, spend it, and put in a US gov't IOU? Those are starting to look pretty dodgy.. I mean, some people are talking about a default..

As long as population and economy are expanding, it works ok, but it gets interesting if population is stagnant. Then you get two people of working age for one retiree(and not six or ten to one, as in Bismarck's time) and you either impoverish the retirees, or impose seriously heavy taxes on those who work.

Guthrie:
Do you seriously think that anything would change in the US if only the top half-million were eligible voters? It is an established fact that majority of people in the US are to the left of both 'parties'.. (in reality, there is only one party, that is Party of the rich, which masquerades as two, so the illusion of choice can be preserved).

[quote]
Charlie @ 54: Oh, I'm not making any assumptions about Schmidt's views, racist or otherwise, simply pointing out some historical examples that demonstrate we should not use poll tests of any sort whose nature and use are controlled by those who've passed them.
[/quote]
Oh, I am not a racist, I am just acutely aware of the shortcomings we all share (namely, not enough brains and a general surfeit of credulity).

Really, when one considers the way we are governing the planet, the best course of action would be if the Galactic Empire turned up, and sorted it all out. I'm sure they would have ways of making civil servants and politicians incapable of corruption..
With that in place, almost any system would work nicely.

///////////

BTW.. what about long-term issues? There is an idea going around, that democratic countries are badly managed since the parties are in power for a short time usually, so the accent is on short term improvements, even if it'll cause problems in the long term. Hence the inability of France to curb excessive welfare and so on, Germans to adopt a sane energy policy(by definition, the only sane policy is the immediate construction of a number of new nuclear power plants..)

Besides, democracies have a very hard time doing things that are unpopular but right. For example, can you imagine the USA taxing gasoline to increase fuel efficiency thus reducing dependency on oil imports? Sure.. and the pigs'll amuse us with their graceful aerobatics when that happens..

114:

I am very tempted to add "islamofascism" and "eurabia" to the list of automatic moderation keywords that will cause posts to go in the sin bin.

And lose my post attacking the notion while keeping his.

Super.

almost unreadable. Take it away.

And get your own blog, ffs.

115:

Adrian -- you'll note I said "tempted". I'm keeping that option in reserve, against a rainy day.

JvP is a perennial nuisance around these parts -- I suspect he's going into his manic phase right now. Here's a hint, Jonathan: take a couple of days out and don't resume posting until you've got something to say that's a direct response rather than a non sequiteur, OK? Otherwise I'll have to ban you again.

Schmidt @112: Okay, I'll give you a conditional pass for cynicism. Yes, democracy has major problems. That's why in this country we have a (theoretically) non-political civil service to maintain continuity of overall administrative policy, and cross-party committees to scrutinize issues. Unfortunately the non-political nature of the civil service began to break down under the 1979-97 conservative government (due to its lengthy incumbency only civil servants who were compatible with the government tended to be promoted) and we're seeing the same again, from the other party. (Not, you'll note, the other side; Labour jettisoned their left-wing roots very effectively during the 1990s. What we've got is two conservative parties, with subtly different constituencies: one espouses a top-down authoritarian approach, and the other a bottom-up authoritarian approach. Which is great, if you happen to want a choice of lowest-common-denominator authoritarian shit-heads, but not so good if you want some real choice.)

116:

All utilitarian principles I have seen rest on the ground that a comparison of "Good" is commutative (that is, for three actions A, B and C we can with certainty say that if goodness(A)&;t;goodness(B) and goodness(B)<goodness(C)). Since most, if not all, philosophers of a bent to codify ethics aren't mathematicians, this is very (VERY) seldom stated as an axiom (the closest I have seen is Richard M. Hare, who in an aside mentioned that one of his mathematician friends said something about partial and strict orders).

However, since non-commutative behaviour is MUCH more common than uncommon, I prefer to believe that goodness-of-acts is non-commutative until I have heard a convincing argument against it (note, one of the problems with "fair voting systems" is directly a result of non-commutativity).

117:

Adrian -- you'll note I said "tempted". I'm keeping that option in reserve, against a rainy day.

S'OK, I'm just in a bad mood 'cos I have savings in sterling.

118:

Counter intuitive though it may be, shorter electoral terms may in fact improve long term planning. For one thing, a dominant party would be able to secure re-election repeatedly, while the penalty for kicking them out would be short lived. Hence old style chartist annual parliaments or the Pennsylvania 1776 constitution remain pretty good ideas.

119:

Ingvar @115: sorry, you need to use HTML entities for greater-than and less-than in your posting, and my attempt to backfill them failed. (< is &lt; and > is &gt;)

120:

Takes nerve in both hands, and hopes this doesn't get deleted / banned ...
Charlie, @ 104 & 114.
As I have failed to get across to the thickheads at the "Grauniad". Islam is NOT a race, OR a racial grouping.
Being an atheist, who is getting EVEN MORE disillusioned and thoroughly pissed-off with all religions, almost by the day, accusations of such are blatantly untrue, though
I agree Hitchens didn't help.

But, consider the evidence:
"our new (old) way is pure, true and clean, and the corrupt and decadent West must inevitably bow to our new world order" - check.
Women: Kinder, Kirche, Küche / "Women are inferior to men, and subject to their orders" - check.
Lebensraum / Caliphate & all once-islamic lands returned to the Ummah - check.
Kill all the Jews - check.
Then there's the historical links, via the muslim brotherhoods, and This bastard with the unpleasant guys in black outfits, to present-day political islamism.

Anyway, quoting your good self: " ... the struggle against the Dar-al-Harb would wait until the ceremony of unbinding the roots of Yggdrasil"

Ahem.

121:

I'm going to have to agree with G.

Islam is not a race. It's a religion and culture derived from that religion.

It is perfectly legitimate to critcise cultures for what they do and how they behave. If that were not the case, any criticsim of Christianity (even the fundamentalist variety) would have to be considerd to be "racist" as well.

And many aspects of Islamic culture are repugnant to those of us who cherish Western cultural values. A short list would include: the non-separation of church and state, the oppression of women, public executions of gays, persecution of religious minorities like the Bahai, and suicidal mass murder performed in the hopes of an after life paradise.

122:

Would one of you guys be good enough to explain to me what a "race" is, in terms of modern genetics (anything post-1945 will do)?

Here's a hint: you're mistaking a cultural phenomenon for a genetic one. That's a mistake.

123:

I'm not sure I understand your question.

I beleive we are actually doing the exact opposite of mistaking a cultural phenomenon for a genetic one. In showing that islam is NOT a race, but a culture, I believe we can remove the taint of racism from any criticisms of that culture.

124:

Charlie @ 121,

You're right, "race" is a completely social construct. It's a group of people with broadly similar phenotypes who have a similar geographic ancestral origin. Contrast to "ethnicity" which is a cultural quasi-racial grouping.

Genetically there's no real basis, apart from a few medical conditions that are more or less prevalent in groups who share the same geo-historical background...

125:

Hi Charlie I'm a big fan. When is the fourth Merchants book going to hit the shelves?

126:

I'm sorry Andrew, but if race is a purely social construct than the local Elk Lodge can be considered to be a "race".

Which also brings us back to my previous point. If criticism of Islam is therfore "racism" then so is criticism of any cutlure or religion, including Christianity and its fundamentalist varieties.

Don't like the Pope's stand on birth control and AIDS, then you must be a racist.

Don't like Mormon opposition to Propositon 8, then you must be a racist.

Don't like the Islamic treatment of women, then you must be a racist.

To disolve race into culture is one of the sillier post-modern concepts.

127:

Schmidt, if you're going to quote my question, I would appreciate it if you would then answer it, rather than go into a rant about how awful Social Security is. If you can't do better than that, I won't bother talking to you. "Talking" is supposed to be a dialog, not a monolog.

128:

doowop @ 125: ...if race is a purely social construct than the local Elk Lodge can be considered to be a "race".

Sure, they could be if that's what society thinks. Once upon a time the Irish were considered a distinct race. In some places Jews are considered a distinct race. There are numerous court cases in the 19th century US defining race -- that's why someone with 85% European ancestry could be black. Or why courts ruled that (India) Indians were Aryan but not White. Or why in South Africa some people from East Asia were White, and others were Colored. I could go on.

If you want to look at genetics, you'll find that there there's more variation within the "races" than between them. Sub-saharan Africans in particular are more different from each other than they are from Europeans or Asians.

129:

This latest definition snit, reminds us all to be careful in thinking, what a term implies as well as means on a superfitial level. Being nasty to a group of people however defined, for what ever percieved reason, is not moral behaviour. Surely you're missing the point here by arguing how you define your objectified group of people. And in any case doowop@ 125's groups are not equal, one's an individual in any case.

Guthrie- three letter's down deserves a reply, which is in progress

130:

My problem with the idea of islamofascism isn't that it's racist, but that it's a transparent attempt to mobilise people's emotions about the Nazis (who controlled the most technologically advanced country in Europe, and were a genuine threat to the rest of Western civilisation) and direct them against Islamists (who aren't, even if reducing our dependence on oil would be no bad thing).

Godwin's Law on a stick.

131:

Andrew, you've just made the concept of race meaningless. Unfortunately you concurrently make the concept of racism meaningless as well.

By your standards (Goodwin alert) it was acceptable for the Nazi's to define themselves as the Aryan race, and to consider Jews to be a race as well - with the resultnat consequences. Sorry, but I have to reject such "reasoning" as forcefully as possible.

Muslims cannnot be a race anymore than Catholics can. Criticism of Islamic law and culture are not more racist than criticism of Catholic theology and belief.

132:

Social security and similar schemes all origined in the so called Second Reich under Bismarck.

And your point? Your objection to Bismarck is...?

Or is the point actually that it's a Scary German Word like Hitler?

133:

129
Factually wrong.
Nazi-controlled Germany was NOT, by any measure, the most technologically advanced country in Europe - if they had been, we'd have lost.
Besides, far too many of their native scientists etc had left (whether jewish or otherwise).
Something LIKE "race" exists, but as realised, definitions are tricky.

I suspect that 127 isn't entirely correct either.
The authority (at the popular-but-educated) science level on "race" is Andrew Oppenheimer, who has looked in detail at mitochondrial descent, and human genetics.
There, we find that Andrew's comment about sub-Saharan Africa is correct - but they are different "races" (which shows that our wonderful guvmint's ethnic monitoring formare crap, incidentally ... )
But, consider Northern and central India, and most of Pakistan. There, the people are aryan ( oops, Indo-European) with brownish skins - yet they are deeply divided on RELIGION between (mostly) hindu and islam.
Coming West from there, you pass through Persia (iran) whose people are another racial group, then the Middle east, mostly populated by Arabs, both groups being mostly muslim. Yet going East, the peoples of Malaysia and Indonesia are very racially mixed (because they came from different places when the sea-levels rose at the end of the Ice Age) and equally mixed religiously.

Which brings us back to 129.
Wrong again, it ISN'T Godwin's Law on a stick.
There really are people who believe all the political islam bit, and who will do anything to bring about its victory - except they don't seem to be nearly as competent as even the NAzis were - yet.
For which, I suppose we should be thankful.

Because they are, by our, Western standards at least, deeply unpleasant, vicious brutal thugs, who glory in their behaviour.
The difference between them, and even the thoroughly unpleasant christian thugs in charge (until a few minutes ago) of the USA, is that there still is a vocal opposition to the latter, with some real political clout, and there is an ongoing debate about how we should behave.
There, any opposition is treated the way the Taliban treat women ......

134:

Honestly, a lot of the adoration being aimed at obama is people finding an outlet to the end of the bush years. It doesn't matter if the guy driving the truck isn't Mario Andredi (I probably spelled that wrong). The point is, someone is driving the truck again!

135:

Supporting my above comment. Imagine if Obama had been in the race just after 8 years of the Clinton administration. He would still have done well because he is genuinely intelligent, and an amazing (compared to recent, American politicians) orator, but his victory wouldn't have been gauranteed, and we probably wouldn't get the fawning we're getting right now. At least, that's my theory.

136:

G. Tingey @ 132:

There, any opposition is treated the way the Taliban treat women ......
If that statement is intended to apply to the entire Moslem world, then it's false. For one counter-example, consider Turkey, which is not as open a society as I, personally, would prefer, but which at least has some rule of law which is not Sharia.

137:

Moderation alert:

Okay, I am now officially fed up and bored with the discussion of race, militant islam, etcetera.

Further comments on these topics on this thread will be deleted without notice. (Only exception: discussion of Barack Obama in social context.)

138:

Speaking of Obama, did anyone get to watch his speech? I ended up catching it on BBC's site, since all of the US sites were clogged.

He's an excellent public speaker, that change alone will be a refreshing experience after Bush. :)

139:

I got to read his speech. Them's innerestin wurds. If they're translated into deeds, so much the better.

I'm tempted to do a LOLPresident caption pic: "I R SERIUS PREZNIT".

140:

Indeed, good words, now we'll just have to see how he delivers. The speech is definitely worth watching though, at least a snippet of it. Though I'm sure we'll all get plenty of chances to see him in front of a camera over the next several years. :)

Up here in New England, people are very excited. We had a couple hundred people show up to watch the speech projected in our library's lecture hall. Lots of clapping and cheering.

141:

I bet alot of people were thinking "lolPrez" thoughts. I very badly wanted to make a screen cap of roberts with the caption "I AM ON YOUR HILL! I AM INAUGURATIN YOUR MANZ!"

142:

An exchange I had with a freind:

(2:58:01 PM) Me: So Obama has been president for almost 2 and 1/2 hours...
(2:58:21 PM) Him: The escaton has not been emminitized
(2:58:28 PM) Me: just checking...

143:

doowop @97, yes, I grew up in the Navy and spent most of my career working for defense contractors. But perhaps you missed that the first US Army battalion has been stationed in the US to work. They'll be handling "crowd control" and "terrorism."

Adrian @113, JVP has his own blog, but nobody reads it. He's been banned from Making Light.

Andrew G, I have it on tape and plan to start watching in a few minutes. The local TV station estimates 2 million people on the mall and connected bits of grass. I saw the very end of the parade -- the NASA float, which was a one-man buggy.

144:

I just watched him and Michelle at the Neighborhood Ball, and I have to say it: the man simply cannot dance.

Are you sure we elected a black guy? ;-)

145:

Did anyone else see Cheney doing his best Herr Flick impression at his going away party? Shifting boxes my ****, that was one last 'cocking a snook' at the whole world.

"Yes I was a power mad evil guy, and I was doing my thing for 8 years and you never caught on"

146:

@138: (Only exception: discussion of Barack Obama in social context.)

Light side:

"I R SERIUS PREZNIT"

Only Ronald Reagan had that true teflon coating. A media-applied coating will rapidly fade and lose it's luster over time.
We all know he can talk the talk (Our Senators have a lengthy history of bloviating at the drop of a hat.)
Now can he walk the walk? I have long preferred Parliamentary bloviating because you Brits do it so much better!

Now, something a bit more serious as it applies to American society (from AP news story):

Pelosi and Obama appear to be on the same page when it comes to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. Obama announced last week that he would convene a "fiscal responsibility summit" in February to focus on long-term problems with the economy and the skyrocketing costs of benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
"I support what he wants to do, to have a summit of that kind," Pelosi said Sunday. "We will have our own initiatives in the Congress to work with him on that."
Pelosi said everything should be on the table, including benefit cuts. "The only thing we didn't want to put on the table is eliminating Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," she said.

Benefit cuts? Benefits cuts? For those suffering from short attention span syndrome, please recall how the Democrats fought tooth and nail over any attempt made by the ex-President Bush to tackle any of the above issues.
Observation: Cut benefits and you can be sure the AARP will take the Democrats out after one term in office.

147:

myself @ #115, charlie @ #118:

First, I must've been more tired or stressed than I thought. The term I was grasping after was "transitive" (transitivity is what allows you to extend from partial to total orders).

So, what isn't entirely obvious is that for three different acts A, B and C: good(A)<good(B) and good(B)<good(C) also gives good(A)<good(C).

At the moment, I don't have an obvious example (if we allow probabilistic ulititarian measurements I have one, though).

148:

Adrian@116 - I'm just in a bad mood 'cos I have savings in sterling

I have wages in Sterling and a mortgage in Euros. Life is real nasty at the moment but it could be worse, I could be an expat with a pension in Sterling!

149:

So I'm re-Reading them from page 1.
and looking forward to the next one printed

150:

Going back to the most important issue raised in this thread - I'm with Feorag (@25) on juice being the correct Edinburgh term for pop. Irvine Welsh even created a character called Juice Terry.

151:

Charlie @ 109:
"JvP @104: you are becoming tiresome.

G. Tingey et al: I am very tempted to add "islamofascism" and "eurabia" to the list of automatic moderation keywords that will cause posts to go in the sin bin. Because? Counterfactual racist gibberish deserves no better."

Please do. Also, if it's trivial, a clock on multiple posts in a short time. I've rarely seen a thread where a person who supplies every other or every third comment is contributing something. (or rather, 'something good').

152:

Ingvar @ 145: IIRC the classic political example is the potential difference in outcome between "winner takes all", and "top two go to runoff" in an election, especially the effect of "spoiler" candidates in "winner takes all".

153:

Yesterday morning a commentator on NPR made the comment that Obama will be the first real president of the 21st century. I first thought he meant it in the sense that the '60s' were 1964-1972(+/-). After his speech I think I agree more with that statement. Perhaps the typical fin de siècle tumult is coming to an end?

Obama's speech shows that he actually gets the importance of science, technology, and the environment, unlike the previous admin. The incoming administration is a different generation than Bush's. At least two generations separate Bush's cabinet from Obama's, so how could there not be a newer way of thinking.

Let's hope it's a better way.

154:

"With a population of almost 500 million, compared to an American population of 300 million, the Europeans proportionally under spend Americans on defense by a per capita ratio of 0.6 to 1.67 (about 1/3). And with a total EU GDP of $16.830 trillion vs. $14.334 trillion for America, it is high time the Europeans shouldered some of the burden."

It's already been said, but it strikes me (even as someone whose job sucks on the teat of the military-industrial complex) that it would be far better for the US to come down to current European per capita numbers for spending than vice versa. The money saved could be redirected in any number of ways, from reducing the deficit to funding the stimulus package to ameliorating future demographic problems with benefit programs for the foreseeable future. Whether the Europeans would get more bang for their euro by consolidating into a pan-European force is an entirely different question.

Ian@143: "Yes I was a power mad evil guy, and I was doing my thing for 8 years and you never caught on"

I for one believe him that he hurt his back moving boxes around - boxes of VP records to be shredded, most likely. By the time the request under the PRA gets to a district court, it'll be too late and everything will be shredded. If he was truly consciously doing the Blofeld thing, he needed a white Persian sitting on his lap, after all.

155:

Ingvar@145 and Bruce Cohen@150:
Another classic example of nontransitivity is taste preferences: I might prefer apples over bananas, and bananas over coconut, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I prefer apples over coconut.

The same can obviously apply to politicians. (But for the life of me I can't think of a good example right now.)

156:

I was especially interested to hear Obama’s emphasis on renewable green energy (not only does it save the planet, it also means big bucks for environmental engineers like me). IIRC a “green new deal” was a major part of his campaign and it looks like he intends to follow through with it as part of the overall stimulus package.

Coincidently, an engineer has actually crunched the numbers to determine exactly what it would be required to convert the Earth’s energy production over to non-CO2 green energy sources.= (see http://blog.longnow.org/2009/01/19/saul-griffith-climate-change-recalculated/):

The world currently runs on about 16 terawatts (trillion watts) of energy, most of it burning fossil fuels. To level off at 450 ppm of carbon dioxide, we will have to reduce the fossil fuel burning to 3 terawatts and produce all the rest with renewable energy, and we have to do it in 25 years or it’s too late. Currently about half a terrawatt comes from clean hydropower and one terrawatt from clean nuclear. That leaves 11.5 terawatts to generate from new clean sources….

“Two terawatts of photovoltaic would require installing 100 square meters of 15-percent-efficient solar cells every second, second after second, for the next 25 years. (That’s about 1,200 square miles of solar cells a year, times 25 equals 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic cells.)

Two terawatts of solar thermal? If it’s 30 percent efficient all told, we’ll need 50 square meters of highly reflective mirrors every second. (Some 600 square miles a year, times 25.)

Half a terawatt of biofuels? Something like one Olympic swimming pools of genetically engineered algae, installed every second. (About 15,250 square miles a year, times 25.)

Two terawatts of wind? That’s a 300-foot-diameter wind turbine every 5 minutes. (Install 105,000 turbines a year in good wind locations, times 25.)

Two terawatts of geothermal? Build 3 100-megawatt steam turbines every day-1,095 a year, times 25.

Three terawatts of new nuclear? That’s a 3-reactor, 3-gigawatt plant every week-52 a year, times 25.”

In other words, the land area dedicated to renewable energy (”Renewistan”) would occupy a space about the size of Australia to keep the carbon dioxide level at 450 ppm. To get to Hanson’s goal of 350 ppm of carbon dioxide, fossil fuel burning would have to be cut to ZERO, which means another 3 terawatts would have to come from renewables, expanding the size of Renewistan further by 26 percent.

I can’t wait to get started. This isn’t the Manhattan Project; this is the whole of friggin’ WW2! Personally I would replace photovoltaics with solar thermal. ST is more efficient and with Stirling engines can directly produce AC, unlike PV which produces DC (which has to be further converted to AC so it can run your household appliances at a significant loss of overall efficiency). And PV cells have a toxic disposal problem at the end of their lifetime.

Honestly, I’m something of a global warming, er… I mean “climate change”, skeptic. Mother Nature is perfectly capable of changing the climate all by herself and the Earth has gone through many temperature cycles such as the Medieval Warming period when the Vikings grew wheat in Greenland and Britain had a wine industry with vineyards as far north as Scotland. This was followed by the Little Ice Age which lasted until the mid 19th century. In fact we are about 2,000 years over due for another real Ice Age. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we manage to reduce greenhouse gases only to find that they were the only thing keeping another naturally occurring ice age at bay?

Really, really ironic.

My skepticism of course won’t prevent me from landing projects and taking money to perform the engineering necessary to save the world.

157:

Most of Australia is empty. I think fact-checking is one of the things that distinguishes a sceptic from a troll, though.

158:

Barry @149, there's already a clock on a second post made too close. My posts frequently get it, even though they're on two different threads.

159:

@143 Being a Yank,I thought Dr. Strangelove!

160:

I meant @145 :) I went to google Herr Flick!

161:

Oh, come on. Everybody knows that Australia is mythical, like Middle Earth.

162:

doowop @157

Some references on Greenland wheat, and especially vinyards in Scotland would be apprecialted.

As for the world being overdue for another Ice Age, current scientific thinking is that the current warm climate may last another 50,000 years. The reason is a minimum in the eccentricity of Earth's orbit around the Sun. (A. Berger and M. F. Loutre, Science, 23 August 2002: Vol. 297. no. 5585

163:

156 - Green issues.

The Woodland Trust claim that planting trees, in areas that are unsuitable for intensive agriculture, and replacing de-afforested areas could easily offset the greenhouse effect caused by human actions, and ceratinly negate all those effects from transportation-fuel burning (aircraft) ....

There's also Jared Diamond's new book suggesting that aggressive deforestation, amongst other geographical/local ecology/resource-dependant unsustainable practices are critical as to the prosperity and even survival of societies and cultures.

For instance, he draws a stark contast between the two halves of the island of Hispaniola - the impoverished, tree-stripped Haiti in the West, and the (comparitively) prosperous Dominican Republic in the East - even with the long history of military Juntas ruling the latter, until recently ....

164:

Apropos climate change: my take on it is quite simple.

It doesn't matter whether the house is on fire because you fell asleep with a lit cigarette in bed, or because of a natural event such as a lightning strike -- if your house is in fire you need to do something about it.

I don't care whether global warming is primarily anthropogenic or natural in origin. 80% of our species live within 200 miles of a coastline; melting ice caps and rising sea levels will have an impact. We're dependent on food crops that are highly temperature sensitive. And a whole load of other species -- valuable in their own right -- are liable to become extinct if their habitat is subjected to excessive heat stress.

So we need to do something about it, and the clear rise in atmospheric CO2 is one place to start, because only the most barking denialist moonbats are denying that it has any effect at all.

(Other things to do: replace our current cement manufacturing process with low-CO2 emission cements. Replace cattle/sheep farming with kangaroos, or figure out how to use kangaroo-derived non-methanogenic gut bacteria in our accustomed food species. Some real research into oceanic iron seeding. Pilot projects on the effect of large-area albedo change on both urban areas and icea caps. None of these involve rolling out hectares of solar panels per second for 25 years or building a nuclear reactor a week, and all of them have a significant impact on atmospheric heat retention.)

165:

Charlie @ 163 - please see my presently held-in-limbo comments on this, re. tree-planting etc ...

I agree, we need to do something about it, but there is STILL an apparent conspiracy to deny ANY GW at all.
Try googling for "Christopher Booker" and try to read his appalling rubbish, and the rightwing cranks who go on and on about it being a tax-raising scam.
Well, it is, but that's irrelevant to the real problem.

166:

My take on global warming is that the chances of these worst case scenarios actually happening is about as low as my house catching on fire. However, I am glad my town has a fire department and of course I have taken fire insurance out on my home. For the same reason I think its only prudent to wean us off fossil fuel and have contingency plans in place for carbon sequestration.

The Renewistan example (I hope that word become part of the global climate change and green energy discussions because it is such a useful term) illustrates the scope of the effort required to "go green". Too many green energy advocates lack even basic engineering and math skills, having only some sort of quasi-religious faith in green energy without the slightest idea as to what a carbon neutral economy entails. Covering that much of the Earth's surface with collectors, reflectors and propellors will in itself have serious environmental consequences. And even an empty Australia has biomes and species that would be disrupted or destroyed by all this construction.

Still I would be ecstatic if we managed to get 20% of our energy from renewables before mid-century. That is both a worthy and achievable goal.

In the meantime, coal is king, and will be so for the forseeable future. It is cheap, simple, efficient, highly concentrated (a coal plant which covers only a few acres, including the employee parking lot, would have to be replaced by a wind farm covering dozens of square miles) - and its dirty as hell. There is no such thing as "clean coal", that is a lie. There can be "cleaner" coal (such as fluidized bed combustion that removes significant NOX and SOX emissions) but CO2 emission are inevitable. Not to mention the environmental damage caused by surface mining and mountain top removal.

So that leaves us with sequestration. While seeding the oceans with iron sulfite to generate plankton blooms that will hopefully suck enough carbon out of the air and deposit it on the ocean floor when they die is a interesting idea, it is fraught with unintended consequences. The idea of altering that much of the Earth's climate in such a short period of time leaves me very uneasy. Besides, there is a simple, low-tech method of sequestering large amounts of carbon.

Plant trees.

Nothing that can be designed, built, installed or invented by man can have the same positive impact on the environment than the growth of a tree. Lots and lots of trees consume and lock up for generations lots and lots of carbon. Which is why deforesting the Amazon probably has a greater impact on global warming than belching smoke stacks. Normally excess carbon would be removed by the simple environmental feedback mechanism of increased plant growth, but that may not be the case as a result of deforestation. Here in North America we have ample opportunity for reforestation as small farms continue to be abandoned. Providing tax incentives for every homeowner to plant and nurture trees in their own back yard makes perfect sense to me.

Proposals are made by fools like me....

167:

Follw ups.

A good post for us being overdue for another ice age can be found here (with useful links): http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/001838.html#001838

Both should have continued declining through the present day, leading to lower temperatures, and a new ice age should have begun 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, Dr. Ruddiman said. Instead, levels of carbon dioxide reversed 8,000 years ago and starting rising again. The decline in methane levels reversed 5,000 years ago, coinciding with the advent of irrigation rice farming.

So the ice age was probably prevented by early farmers, not modern industrialists. Remember that when some quasi-religious tree hugging type spouts off on how wonderful it is to live simply and close to nature since we would not have an impact on Mother Earth (that and the fact that if we tried to live "naturally" today we would condemn billions of people to starvation).

Vikings growing wheat in Greenland:

For the first century or so of their Greenland colonization, the Vikings and their descendants enjoyed a reasonably prosperous and pleasant life there. Greenland's climate c. 1000 A.D. was in an extraordinarily warm phase, and the name Eric chose for his new land may not have been quite the real-estate promoter's con-job as has been assumed. Even 350 years later, after a general global cooling had altered Greenland's climate for the worse, Ivar Bardson wrote that " On the mountains and lower down grow the best of fruits, as big as apples and good to eat. There also grows the best wheat that exists." Life in Greenland was hardly the rough outpost existence we might expect.... see http://www.holloworbs.com/Greenland_vikings.htm

Vinyards in Scotland:

The earliest documentation that is better than anecdotal is from the Domesday Book (1087) - an early census that the new Norman king commissioned to assess his new English dominions, including the size of farms, population etc. Being relatively 'frenchified', the Normans (who had originally come from Viking stock) were quite keen on wine drinking (rather than mead or ale) and so made special note of existing vineyards and where the many new vines were being planted. Sources differ a little on how many vineyards are included in the book: Selley quotes Unwin (J. Wine Research, 1990 (subscription)) who records 46 vineyards across Southern England (42 unambiguous sites, 4 less direct), but other claims (unsourced) range up to 52. Lamb's 1977 book has a few more from other various sources and anecdotally there are more still, and so clearly this is a minimum number. Of the Domesday vineyards, all appear to lie below a line from Ely (Cambridgeshire) to Gloucestershire. Since the Book covers all of England up to the river Tees (north of Yorkshire), there is therefore reason to think that there weren't many vineyards north of that line. Lamb reports two vineyards to the north (Lincoln and Leeds, Yorkshire) at some point between 1000 and 1300 AD, and Selley even reports a Scottish vineyard operating in the 12th Century.

see http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/07/medieval-warmth-and-english-wine/ (who is actully skeptical of this evidence and its implications)

168:

156: a highly informative post, but here's one point for you: in the last 25 years, world energy demand has risen by about 50%. In other words, in more or less a "business as usual" environment, we managed to build and install very roughly 5 TW of new capacity. The actual amount built is far higher, of course, because we've also had to replace a lot of capacity that reached the end of its lifespan. Almost all the land vehicles in the world, for a start. Not to mention, what, half the electricity generation? How long does your average power station last without either a replacement or a fairly complete overhaul?

So - and to call these back-of-the-envelope figures is an insult to envelopaceous mathematicians everywhere - building about 10 TW of generating capacity in 25 years is business as usual. Your figures for steam turbines per year, for example, ignore the fact that we are already building far more turbines than that a year - for use in fossil fuel stations.

The real questions are things like: is it going to be prohibitively more difficult or expensive to build a GW of clean generator than it is to build a GW of dirty generator? And, relatedly, how scalable is clean generation - are we going to run out of desert to put the solar stations in or windy areas to put the turbines in?

But the idea that building 11.5 TW of generation in 25 years is some sort of impossible engineering challenge per se is nonsense. We can do it. We have done it, more or less.

169:

156 is informative but also highly misleading. Its numbers are stated in such a way as to make the task seem much more difficult than it really is. The world is a really enormous place, much larger than most people can really grasp, and so stating absolute numbers for the planet can make anything sound impossible.

For example, let's say that something needed two automobile to be produced every second continuously, without end, forever. That's a lot of cars, right? Well guess what, the world automobile industry was doing exactly that in 2007.

Or let's say that some project would need to construct one new house every minute in the US. Again, well exceeded by what's actually being done.

So phrases like "one new plant each week" are scary but they're also misleading. What percentage of the total manufacturing and construction capacity of the global economy would have to be put into nuclear plant construction in order to meet that goal? 100%? 10%? 1%? I don't know the answer myself but I would bet that it's closer to 1% than the others. Saying "the world would need to dedicate 1% of its total manufacturing and construction capacity to nuclear plant construction in order to meet these goals" is much less scary and much more informative than "one plant a week for 25 years".

170:

Doowop #167- we have operating Vineyards selling wine as far north as York, and I am pretty sure ones will open even further north if anyone can be bothered. But medieval vineyards are irrelevant to the reality and causes of global warming, ie its mostly our fault, and it is warmer now on a global scale than at any time in the past 1600, and its going to get hotter unless something odd happens, like the sun shutting down or a major comet impact.
I don't see that the Vikings grew wheat in Greenland either. People keep harping on about the climate in Greenland, when in fact they had the smallest cow skeletons in Europe, due to the lack of decent food for them, and the fact that the majority of them never saw wheat, a piece of bread, or beer, because barley and wheat just wouldn't grow well or at all at these latitudes. (See Jared Diamonds "Collapse" for more information on just how poor the Greenlanders were.)
Indeed, it seems that modern farming allows Greenland to raise and slaughter 20,000 lambs each year, and grow fields of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Add that to the long term temperature records showing that it was at least as warm in the 90's as it might have been at the height of the MWP, and suddenly it seems to have little relevance to the issues today. Lacking paleobotanical evidence for wheat and other foods, we can safely say that claims about wheat and fruits made at that time were propaganda. Anyone who spends much time reading medieval manuscripts will note that they had a rather loose relationship to the truth.


Also, I do not trust Selleys alleged mention of a vineyard in Scotland. If anyone has any information on his reference for it, I can go and check back, having spent many hours in the National library looking through 12th and 13th century records. Of course even in the 16th century, ie when it was supposed to be nice and chilly, Scotland was growing apricots in sheltered gardens with nice south facing brick walls, so they could perhaps have grown grapes.

And we are not due another ice age for thousands of years, and this fact has nothing to do with our actions. Ruddimans hypothesis is also not actually agreed upon by that many people, who point out that known mechanisms are quite capable of explaining the situation. Indeed, I see Yea-Mon up thread has pointed out a paper on this topic already.

Charlie- sea level rise is an intersting long term problem, which will become more apparent in 80 or 90 years. However what will strike soonest is things like the observed decrease in snow pack which provides the summer melt for irrigation and other water use, in both Northern India and the American Midwest. Water wars are a distinct possiblity sooner than flooding. Not to mention mass extinctions due to many species being unable to move fast enough to stay within their usual temperature zones.
Oh, and we've fished 1/3 or fisheries to collapse. Vat grown meat is going to be required pretty soon if you want to eat fish like stuff.

171:

168 and 169:

Never said it was impossible, only that the effort will be huge. Basically, to create a green energy system for the world will require construction on a heretofore unimagined scale. Collectors and windmills aren't installed by magic. They are constructed like any other commercial development using heavy equipment and lots of folks wearing hard hards - a commercial development the size of a continent. The act of building all these facilities will in itself create serious ecological damage. A lot of wilderness areas are going to be destroyed.

Also not usually mentioned in the debate over green energy is the cost of all that land. Whether purchased or leased, the capital cost of even marginal land will add significantly to the true costs of green energy. By comparison, coal plants have a tiny physical footprint.

The trouble with sunlight, and all the energy derived from sunlight, is that it is diffused. Before it can be harnessed in a useful fashion, it has to be concentrated.

And transported over long distances since the best places for collectors and windmills are remote locations a significant distance away from their potential customers. For example, the Great Plains have significant wind power potential but voltage losses are going to be sginificant if you try to use it to light Chicago. A "smart grid" will go a long way to mitigate (but will never completely solve) this problem.

Furthermore, solar power is available when it is produced, not when it is needed. Energy storage for nightime power use and when the wind isn't blowing will further add to cost while decreasing overall system efficiency.

You can't avoid these problems without violating the laws of physics.

Prediction: despite the best efforts of the new administration and additional technical breakthroughs, renewables will not make up more than 10% of the energy mix, even by mid century. Coal will still be our primary source of energy. And if GW turns out to be a real problem, we'll focus on a technical solution based on carbon sequestration.

172:

158:
"Barry @149, there's already a clock on a second post made too close. My posts frequently get it, even though they're on two different threads."

Posted by: Marilee J. Layman

I'm thinking of a more leisurely one, which would catch people who provide every other comment in a thread (here, Mr. doowop).

173:

I'm going to use Charlie's comment @164 about replacing our current cement manufacturing process with low-CO2 emission cements to segue onto a question that has puzzled me for many years.
In the late 70's scientists at ICI of Britain examined shellfish shells to determine why they were so much stronger than concrete, which is basically the same stuff. The found a way to replicate the process by adding additives to cement, producing a wetted paste that when set had the properties of Aluminum (it was a little more brittle, but its density and other bulk properties were similar). (ICI demonstrated its properties by squeezing the paste into a set of spiral shaped cardboard tubes to produce car springs.) One of the advantages stated was that this substance (I call it geoplastic. They had some hideous acronym for it.) was that it could be used to replace steel at one quarter of the CO2 emissions.

Here was a substance that could replace steel in a lot of instances, could be molded into shape with your fingers if need be, and would be about as cheap as concrete. I expected it to revolutionize construction, but it sunk out of sight and I never heard anything further about it. Does anyone know what happened ?

174:

doowop, my answer to your 97 is at 143, now that Charlie freed it from the spam filter.

175:

Never said it was impossible, only that the effort will be huge. Basically, to create a green energy system for the world will require construction on a heretofore unimagined scale.

NO IT WON'T, as both Mr Ash and I have already pointed out to you perfectly clearly. It will require construction OF CLEAN GENERATORS on a heretofore unimagined scale, but, duh, we already knew that, and this is like Apple saying "we can't launch the iMac, because it will require construction of iMacs on a heretofore unimagined scale".

Whatever policies are followed - whether we decide to go green right now, or ignore the whole climate change issue altogether - we are going to be building at least 10 TW of generators in the next 25 years. That's not even open for debate. We did the same in the last 25 years. It's perfectly feasible and won't require any sort of mass mobilisation of labour. The question is: what sort of generators are going to be built?

You make some good points later on about the specific problems of green energy - but none of them are the huge obstacles you think they are.

Also not usually mentioned in the debate over green energy is the cost of all that land. Whether purchased or leased, the capital cost of even marginal land will add significantly to the true costs of green energy. By comparison, coal plants have a tiny physical footprint.

Not as tiny as you might think, once you add in the physical footprint of the open-cast coal mines that they need to supply them. And solar isn't that inefficient - 400W per square metre is pretty good. So a square kilometre will give you 400 MW.

And transported over long distances since the best places for collectors and windmills are remote locations a significant distance away from their potential customers. For example, the Great Plains have significant wind power potential but voltage losses are going to be significant if you try to use it to light Chicago. A "smart grid" will go a long way to mitigate (but will never completely solve) this problem

Well, true. But you tend not to put your coal-fired stations downtown either; still less your nuclear stations. HVDC lines and a smart grid are good things to build whatever generation solution you choose. Don't forget, we're going to be rebuilding much of the electricity infrastructure over the next 25 years anyway, just because it'll be wearing out.

Furthermore, solar power is available when it is produced, not when it is needed. Energy storage for nightime power use and when the wind isn't blowing will further add to cost while decreasing overall system efficiency.

The same is true of any other generation method except NG - you can't turn a nuclear plant or a coal station on and off very easily. And some renewables are constant or nearly so- high-altitude kite generators and wave power, for example.

Prediction: despite the best efforts of the new administration and additional technical breakthroughs, renewables will not make up more than 10% of the energy mix, even by mid century

Renewables already provide 18% of global energy supply. But I assume you're talking about the US. Before you read on, take a moment to ask yourself: how much of the US energy mix is now renewables, do you think?

OK, now look at the DOE site and discover the answer - it's 9%. The US is ALREADY using 9% renewable energy. (If you limit it to electricity, cutting out things like vehicle fuel and heating oil, it's 17%).

doowop, I'm beginning to think you don't know what you're talking about.

176:

Please calm yourself Ajay (you react the same way a religious believer does when his faith is challenged - which kind of illustrates an earlier point of mine) and see:

http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energy_in_brief/renewable_energy.cfm

Americans used renewable energy sources—water (hydroelectric), geothermal, wind, sun (solar), and biomass—to meet about 7% of our total energy needs in 2007.

However:

Electricity producers consumed 51% of total U.S. renewable energy in 2007 for producing electricity. Most of the remaining 49% of renewable energy was biomass consumed for industrial applications (principally paper-making) by plants producing only heat and steam. Biomass is also used for transportation fuels (ethanol) and to provide residential and commercial space heating.

So if we focus on true solar and wind energy (and take out traditional hydroelectric, boondoggle ethanol production, wood buring stoves, the use of waste wood chip fired energy by paper mills in their pulping process, and geothermal) you'll find that solar and wind energy accounts for only 6% of that 7%, or about 0.42% of the total.

We have a long way to go before wind, solar thermal and photovoltaics meet 10% of our energy needs.

As for the other "renewables", we really can't expand hydoelectric significantly since all the really good locations already have dams on them. Until drilling technology allows us to create "core taps" geothermal will be limited to a few locations. Expanding traditional biomass production will require either deforestation on a large scale to provide the wood and wood chips for burning or drvie up food prices as we use more corn for our idiotic ethanol program (which actually uses more energy than it produces).

Sorry but your numbers don't add up. If it can't be quantitifed it isn't science and it isn't engineering.

What you have is faith.

177:

In regards to the scaling problems inherent in any proposal to rely on "green" energy may I suggest the following websites. They provide a superb summary (back by hard science, math, economics and engineering - not wishful thinking) as to why it will be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to utilize significant amounts of renewable energy:

http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/09/Morepracticalproblems.shtml

and

http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/09/Obscureenergysources.shtml

and

http://denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/07/Carbonemissions.shtml

I don't like being the guy who pisses in the punch bowl, but the numbers just don't add up. My plan would be to utilize renewables wherever practical (which sadly isn't very often), greatly expand nuclear energy (especially inherently safe pebble bed reactors) and utilize off-peak kWh to electrolysize hydrogen for fuel cells (see http://www.physorg.com/news8956.html, and note how cheap nuclear and coal are), continue to use coal and plan for some means of carbon sequestration should AGW actually turn out to be a problem.

178:

So if we focus on true solar and wind energy (and take out traditional hydroelectric, boondoggle ethanol production, wood burning stoves, the use of waste wood chip fired energy by paper mills in their pulping process, and geothermal) you'll find that solar and wind energy accounts for only 6% of that 7%, or about 0.42% of the total.

Hmm. But apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order, what have the Romans done for us?

I should add that the DOE's base case assumes it will be perfectly possible to double renewable use in 25 years.

may I suggest the following websites. They provide a superb summary (back by hard science, math, economics and engineering - not wishful thinking)

Oh, not Stephen den B/ste. I refuse to believe that I spent fifteen minutes putting together a response to someone who thinks Stephen den B/ste is a voice of calm reason and expert knowledge. You couldn't find anything written by someone in the last five years, or someone who actually has any experience at all in the sector, to back you up? He's an anime-obsessed mobile phone engineer who thought the French would send troops to help Saddam Hussein fight off the US, for heaven's sake.

179:

Even if "dwoop"s predictions/numbers ARE correct - which is debateable, there ARE other technologies coming, slowly at present, on-stream.

"Solar" suffers from low efficiency of conversion, but there are several processes, operating presently as lab-scale trials that aim to remedy this.
Efficiencies of 15-30% conversion, at a low mass-production cost would change the game entirely.
Storage would probably be "pumped", using hydro-power and pairs of lakes, though capacitor-efficiences and sizes are growing, slowly, all the time.
Then there is mass, small-scale hydro-power, which is (it seems to me) being deliberately ignored here in Britain.
We have thousands of small, old water-mills.
If ALL of them were restored, to drive small, standardised-sizes of modern turbines, and coupled to the grid [ Remember, no need these days, for complicated phase-controls and switchboards, it can all be done with a few pieces of suitably engineered silicon, nad pre-programmed modules ] we could probably produce something like 20 % of our needs from that alone.

Why is this not happening?
Answer - vested interests, the cosying up of the UK guvmint to the BIG generators, and deliberate tax disincentives to small, independent generators.
THIS has got to change ....

Otherwise, in the short term (next 50 years) we will have to rely on modern nuclear stations, and by then, we really SHOULD have fusion-power, since the laser-pellet method really is showing some promise, rather than the previously ("always 20 years in the future") followed magnetic-bottle methods. Which appear to have been a dead end, since confinement stability is a REAL problem, once you get sensible power levels.

180:

179: All good points. Pumped storage, incidentally, is surprisingly efficient. At a well-designed site you get back 85% of the energy you put in, though it does depend on the right geography - easy to do it in Scotland; not so much in Nebraska. You don't always need mountains, though - tidal lagoon power generation can work as a storage method as well. (Which, I'm afraid, means Nebraska is still out of luck...)

Not sure about your estimates for small-scale hydro power - 20% of the UK electricity demand is 10 GW, and I wouldn't have thought you could get more than maybe 100 kW from a water mill, so you'd need 100,000 mills. But I'm open to correction on this. And even if you couldn't get 20%, you'd get something; even a few megawatts of clean, continuous small-scale power would be nice. Just because small mills wouldn't do it all doesn't mean they wouldn't help.

And don't forget efficiency and conservation - the biggest and easiest potential power source to tap. A HVDC grid is expensive to install, but it will cut your transmission losses in half - in the UK, switching to HVDC would mean getting another 400 MW to the users, or the output of a medium-sizd power station.

181:

Hmm. But apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order, what have the Romans done for us?

I'm not quite sure what this comment has to do with the fact that solar and wind acount for only about 0.5% of our energy production.

should add that the DOE's base case assumes it will be perfectly possible to double renewable use in 25 years.

Excellent. Wind and solar energy should meet about 1% of our energy needs in a quarter century. I'm afraid we still have a way to go to reach 10%.

Oh, not Stephen den B/ste

I'm afraid I don't know or care about his politcs or hobbies. Ad hominems not withstanding, his numbers add up and his analyses are solid.

Although I would like to see you actually address his arguments and refute his technical claims. If you can.


182:

doowop @167

I'm going to split my reply to make things more manageable.

Ruddman's idea is interesting, however as the basic conditions for an ice age, orbital eccentricity, are unlikely to be met for many tens of thousands of year I think his basic thrust is not supported by the evidence.

As for the futurepundit.com post being 'good', I can't agree. It finishes with a pretty basic logical falacy:

Those who oppose all human intervention in climate trends will eventually be faced with computer climate models that will be able to show with fairly high probability what the world climate would be like right now or 50 years from now had humans not developed agriculture or any other technology. If the gap between what is and what would have been turns out to be really large the opponents of human-caused climate change are then going to have to explain why we shouldn't engineer the climate to be more like it would have been if we had never developed agriculture. Ice age anyone? If not, why not?

183:

It's too bad that doowop still doesn't want to give us any useful numbers, and would rather make allusions to the religious ferver of his opponents instead.

Saying (or in this case, implying) that solar energy production would need to be expanded by a factor of 24 in order to meet such-and-such a goal is completely meaningless. After all, the French expanded their nuclear production by INFINITY percent in the past few decades and now powers 3/4ths of that country.

Manufacturing and construction capacity is largely (although I will admit not completely) fungible. Therefore it is meaningless to say that doing X will require an expansion of a factor of Y in the manufacturing of Z, and Y is enormous thus the task is nearly impossible. (It is actually worse than meaningless, because it imparts incorrect, negative information.) More accurate would be to say that doing X will require an expansion of a factor of Y in the manufacturing of everything related to Z, and if it's something of national importance than the best would be to say that doing X will require an expansion of a factor of Y in the manufacturing of everything.

Give us these numbers in terms of their proportion of our overall electrical construction capacity or of our overall construction capacity in general, then maybe we can get an idea of the true difficulty that faces us.

184:

The "Romans" quote was pointing out that you said, effectively, "If you ignore all the largest types of renewable energy, renewable energy is really small". While true, this is... unhelpful.

Doubling renewable use (not just solar and wind) means that it will meet 13.5% of demand by 2030, and that's assuming roughly 40% growth in demand. The base case is here:
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/pdf/appa.pdf

"Although I would like to see you actually address his arguments and refute his technical claims. If you can."

I don't have time to read through the interminable writings of an utterly unqualified amateur who thought that there was a real prospect in 2003 of a nuclear war with France. And if that makes me a bad person, so be it, but I've got to start filtering out the insanity somehow. Find someone to back up your views who can be taken seriously. If you can.

185:

Mr. Ash, I believe that I have provided considerable useful numbers, either directly or via links. What numbers were you looking for exactly?

Also please note that expanding nuclear capacity =! expanding renewable capcity for the simple reason that a nuclear power plant has a much greater power production density (energy produced per unit area of its physical foot print). My point remains that factoring in the associated land costs will make green energy far more expensive than its proponents claim.

186:

Re solar- we have more than enough knowledge about it already. Spain has opened solar plants, and will open more I am sure:
http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/oct08/6851

G TIngey- I have not come across any study showing how much energy could be produced by small scale hydropower on old sites. I do however doubt that it could produce 20% of daily electricity, as Ajay says. I found this guardian article:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/nov/16/watermills-electricity-climatechange
which says:
"Government figures suggest that if the resource is fully tapped, small-scale hydropower from the old mills and weirs could provide up to 10,000GWh per year - 3% of the UK's electricity needs"

Allegedly 20,000 sites, that almost sounds possible. But then if you multiply things up, say 20,000 sites with an average of say 30kw each, would still make them equivalent to a 600 megawatt power station. Worth having, but not the answer some people think they are.
The easy money, as has to be repeated given the lack of action on it, is in conservation.

I glanced at the debeste stuff, it seemed full of assumptions without any actual evidence behind said assumptions. On the first url he dismisses wind without even giving any figures, moans about it killing birds (As if planes, wetland loss, hunters, disease and cars don't already do it), and writes off Irelands wind energy program by saying its merely a an eighth of the power from some crummy damn in America. Well, duhhh, different country, different geography and population etc.

CHarlie- it might be worth having a future energy thread, if you feel that would be of use/ interest to yourself.

187:

"If you ignore all the largest types of renewable energy, renewable energy is really small"

I believe our misunderstanding result from myuse fo the term "renwable" when I should have been more specific and used the term "solar derived renewables". The context of this discussion, beginning with my initial post on Renewistan has focused explusively on these kinds of renewables (not hydroelectric or biomass). These can not be effectively increased for reasons previously sited. The greatest extent of Renewistan will be covered with solar thermal collectors, photovoltaic arrays, wind farms and algaeic biofuel ponds (though there is mention of other non carbon energy sources such as geothermal and nuclear). And these numbers remain valid.

I went thoroughly throughte 41 page pdf that you linked to and was unable to find a specific number definitievly stating that renewables should account for 13.5% of our energy needs by 2030. Could you please point out which table or footnote has this number?

I don't have time to read through the interminable writings

Oh just one or two claims would be sufficent. Besides, I did you the courtesy of combing theough 41 pages of tables. Perhaps you could extend the same courtesy?

And if that makes me a bad person, so be it

Actually your reliance on ad hominems merely makes you a bad arguer.

188:

Doowop, I have no idea how I could possibly be clearer than, "Give us these numbers in terms of their proportion of our overall electrical construction capacity or of our overall construction capacity in general".

If that doesn't tell you what I'm interested in then please elaborate and I will try to clarify.

189:

doowop @167

Second part:

As for the claim of wheat in Greenland from the 'hollow earth' site link you posted. There's no archaeological evidence of such.

This is what Ben Orlove has to say:

The nature of the farm economy of the settlements on Greenland is well established. Since cultivation of crops was impossible, the settlers relied on livestock, cattle, sheep and goats.

From: Human adaptation to climate change: a review of three historical cases and some general perspectives, Environmental Science & Policy 8 (2005)

Niels Lynnerup and Søren Nørby:

A changing ecology thus seems to have pushed the Greenland Norse out of Greenland, because their sedentary way of life, relying on animal husbandry, and probably with a strong cultural sense of identity focused on farmsteads and domestication, became unsustainable.

From: The Greenland Norse: bones, graves, computers, and DNA, Polar Record (2004), 40:2:107-111 Cambridge University Press

190:

The land cost issue is a good one, but not prohibitive - there's less than an order-of-magnitude difference in land need between nuclear and solar.

Let's go back to the envelope. Two square kilometres of nuclear reactor will get you 600 MW. Two square kilometres of solar generator would get you around 120 MW. (60W/m2 as an average, over the entire year - so including clouds, night etc - seems good to me with current solar technology.)

A nuclear station of that size will cost about $5 billion to build. (picking Torness which cost £1.7 billion in 1987 pounds, as a random example in deference to our host, and doing a bit of rough approximation on exchange and inflation rates).

A solar power station costs roughly $5 million per megawatt - so to match your nuclear power station, you'll need $3 billion worth of solar power station and ten square kilometres of desert to put it on. Do you think one could buy ten square kilometres of unoccupied desert land for $2 billion? Somehow, I would expect so. Ten square kilometres of prime Iowa farmland will only cost you $7 million at this year's (record) prices of $2,900 an acre. Land's cheap. Useless remote land's cheaper.

Green energy takes up a little more room than your nuclear alternative, it's true, but not a vast amount more; and it's quite a bit cheaper.

I was surprised myself by the cost - if you think I've gone wrong, please point it out - but the land use I'm fairly confident on.

191:

Guthrie at 170

we have operating Vineyards selling wine as far north as York

Yes, but you did not have them during the Little Ice Age which ended in the 19th century. The point being that the world's temperature during the Medieval Warming Period prior to the LIA is as high as it is now.

And there were no industrial emissions during the MWP that could have caused such a temperture increase. That leaves us with naturally occuring temperature cycles stemming from natural causes.

Such naturally occuring cycles may be continuing. And given the significant unknowns, we must proceed cautiously when addressing the issue of global warming, lest we screw up what we were trying to fix (which may not need fixing in the first place).

192:

I went thoroughly throughte 41 page pdf that you linked to and was unable to find a specific number definitievly stating that renewables should account for 13.5% of our energy needs by 2030.

Page 1 has a table with expected energy production under the base case. Renewables in 2030 total 13.4 quad Btus out of 93.58, which actually comes to 14.3%.

193:

ajay @189: picking Torness as a guide to the price of nuclear reactors is like picking Concorde as a guide to the price of civil airliners. Seriously. I figure you probably want to cut your estimate by between 15% and 40%; PWRs, even the new-build third generation ones, are a lot better understood than the AGR technology of which Torness was effectively a working prototype.

(Another point: Torness is actually two 600MW AGR reactors side-by-side. When it's full up, it's putting out 1.2Gw.)

194:

Interesting thread. Doowop@177, whassisface blows his credibility when he claims that liability insurance is what drives up the cost of nuclear reactors.

Charlie, how much do you know about the nuclear industry, and where did you learn it from?

195:

Renewables in 2030 total 13.4 quad Btus out of 93.58, which actually comes to 14.3%.

Actully, if you read the footnotes, only "Other Renewable Energy" counts towards the area required for Renewistan:

"3Includes grid-connected electricity from landfill gas; municipal solid waste; wind; photovoltaic and solar thermal sources; and non-electric energy from renewable sources, such as active and passive solar systems."

And acording to DOE projections will constitute only 2.15 QBTUs out of a total of 93.58 (about 2.3%) by 2030.

Still a long way to 10%.

196:

192: ouch. I knew there must have been a flaw somewhere. My mistake.

This article

http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?storyCode=2047917

has a lot of different cost estimates, which boil down to "oh, I dunno, anything between $4 million and $6 million per megawatt" - the more recent estimates tend to be higher.

So you're looking at the cost issue being more or less a wash between nuclear and solar. Solar's $5 million per MW, remember.

But, more importantly, the cost of land is minimal compared to the cost of the power station on top of it. If you include cost of land (prime Iowa farmland at a record high price!) solar goes up from $5,000,000 per megawatt to $5,011,200 per megawatt.

I think doowop's got his teeth into a red herring on the "land costs" issue.

As for "availability of land" - with the 60 W/m2 efficiency I've given, one terawatt translates to roughly 1600 square km of solar station. That's a lot if you put it all in one place (which you wouldn't), it's true - a square 25 miles on a side. But compared to the total size of the US, it's tiny.

197:

Doowop @ 190:

I'm unfamiliar with vineyards in York & Scotland, but I am familiar with glaciers in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

In the mid 19th century (ranging from the 1840s-1860s, depending on which glacier you study), the glaciers in the Canadian Rocky Mountains were as far forward as they have been in the past 11,000 years. As of early this decade (when I left academia), they were farther back than they have been in the past 2500 years.

What makes this interesting is that in the time since the end of the last ice age, the glaciers in the Rockies have been doing an 'advance - retreat - advance - retreat' dance, with each advance getting a bit farther forward than the previous advance, and each retreat going not as far back as the previous retreat.

To have the glaciers retreat so far and so quickly is seriously messed-up in the context of local climate in its natural fluctuations. This could be a localized phenomenon, but when you combine it with many other studies from all around the world, you come to a few conclusions:

1) The earth's climate does change naturally over time
2) The climatic fluctuations that we are seeing now are highly unusual in a natural context
3) Human activity, caused in part through emissions of gases including but not limited to CO2 & methane, is responsible for much of the unusual stuff we are seeing now.

198:

194: Oh, stuff Renewistan. For two reasons:

a) I can't read the original post anyway - it's 404'd - so I've no way of seeing his reasoning.

b) solar alone at 60W/m2 gives you your ten terawatts in ten of those 25-mile squares I mentioned in 195, which is a lot smaller than the total area of Australia (7 million sq km) and makes me think that your Renewistan post was inflating the land area required beyond necessity by including more land-hungry methods than solar, or had just got its maths a bit wrong. Without seeing the post I don't know which, but it's more than an order of magnitude out.

Just to sum up, you presented three arguments against a large-scale shift to renewables, right?

1) It would require a prohibitively vast area of land, much bigger than Australia. See above: this does not seem right.

2) The cost of this land would add significantly to the cost of renewable energy. As I noted in 195, this certainly isn't the case - the land cost per megawatt is minimal compared to the cost of the structure itself.

3) It would require an impossibly massive increase in the manufacturing of renewable generation equipment. See 168, 169, 175, 183 for various people's more or less temperate replies to this. Nub: comparing it to current renewables installed is misleading; comparing it to the total available manufacturing base is better.

I hope I haven't misrepresented your side of this issue or left anything out.

199:

Just click the January 2009 archive ajay, it's all there.

No need to thank me.

200:

J at 197:

While I appreciate your concern and don't doubt the veracity of your data, an apples to apples comparison similar to the MWP "vinyards in Scotland" would require Rocky Mountain glacial surveys from the same MWP.

Needless to say such data is lacking and cannot provide the necessary context.

201:

199: so your three arguments were, respectively, wrong, wrong and highly misleading, and that's all you've got? Fair enough then.

202:

Noel @194: apart from the training in radiopharmaceuticals, and the regular bull sessions with the friends who respectively used to work in engineering at AWRE Aldermaston and the Torness AGR complex ...? Okay, I confess: what I know about how the nuclear industry works (as opposed to how bits of the physics it relies on fit together) can be written on the back of a napkin. Especially the bits where the glaciers of large state-owned corporations butt up against the volcanic plugs of national nuclear energy (and weapons) policy.

203:

THe point, doowop #191, is that you keep making errors, some small, some large.
For example, in your reply, you said
Guthrie at 170

"Yes, but you did not have them during the Little Ice Age which ended in the 19th century. The point being that the world's temperature during the Medieval Warming Period prior to the LIA is as high as it is now."

Firstly, there is no evidence that the MWA was global in extent. try and find some. You won't. All the proxy reconstructions, especially on a global scale, don't show it. The only proxies which do are all based around the North Atlantic. The likely culprit I have read about is ocean circulation. Even more interestingly, studying the reconstructions in chapter 6 of the fourth IPCC report shows that the warmest parts of the MWP were as warm as the 2nd half of the 20th century. We are already, in the last 20 years, in the northern hemisphere, much, noticeably warmer than any evidence anyone has been able to find for the MWP being warm. Havering on about ice in Greenland does not give you the hard comparisons that proxies do, and ignores the necessary time lag between the achievement of a local temperature and the melting of ice and changes in the plant life.
Here's a quote from page 469 of the aforementioned IPCC report:
"A number of studies that have attempted to produce very large spatial-scale reconstructions have come to the same conclusion:
that medieval warmth was heterogeneous in terms of its precise timing and regional expression (Crowley and Lowery, 2000; Folland
et al., 2001; Esper et al., 2002; Bradley et al., 2003a; Jones and Mann, 2004; D’Arrigo et al., 2006).
The uncertainty associated with present palaeoclimate estimates of NH mean temperatures is significant, especially for the period
prior to 1600 when data are scarce (Mann et al., 1999; Briffa and Osborn, 2002; Cook et al., 2004a). However, Figure 6.10 shows that the
warmest period prior to the 20th century very likely occurred between 950 and 1100, but temperatures were probably between 0.1°C
and 0.2°C below the 1961 to 1990 mean and significantly below the level shown by instrumental data after 1980."

As for your next point, it is irrelevant. Please go and read the IPCC reports and some of the good blogs out there. Nobody is saying that we came out the LIA by human emissions, or that humans caused the MWP. These were indeed natural cycle events as far as I have read, due mainly to solar changes.

However, think about Ruddimans hypothesis, given that human population across the planet in the medieval period was perhaps on the order of 450 million, burning wood and coal, farming etc etc. Yet in 3,000 BC it was perhaps a tenth or less. So how come our ancestors noticeably affected the climate then but not later on?

As for naturally occuring cycles that may be continuing, climatologists know that. Only uneducated people on the internet think that they don't. El Nino/ La Nina is the most famous example. But the science is sound- we are responsible for most of the warming in the last 50 years or so. The warming in the 50 or so years before that was a mix of solar increase and human CO2. Now, if you can come up with some factors which negate the known and well established physics behind the "greenhouse" effect of CO2, halocarbons, methane etc, then please say so. Basically, it needs fixed. As well as our ecological damage caused by excessive resource ues (see global fisheries for example).

I think it likely that SF stories set in the near future could include the consumption of odd fish species:
http://simondonner.blogspot.com/2008/11/farming-oceans.html
With a graphic showing that all but 29% of the worlds fisheries are overexploited or crashed.

204:

there is no evidence that the MWA was global in extent. try and find some.

How about Huang's global borehole study (6,000 measured locations world wide)?

So how come our ancestors noticeably affected the climate then but not later on?

Never said they didn't. I only said there was no modern industry as the cause in either case.

205:

Well, Huangs single paper on boreholes that long ago seems not to be used by anyone since. Stoat has the details, but basically, you are falling into the usual fallacy of believing the one paper you want to believe, and not the thousands of others which point in the opposite direction:
http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2007/03/more_boring.php

As for climate being affected by humans in history, my point was that on the face of it, there were many more humans doing more things in the medieval period. Interestingly enough, now that I have read up on the (still well contested) ruddiman hypothesis, it seems that he thought that human activity affects climate all the way through the last 8,000 years, with the latest effects being plagues killing off enough humans to reduce Co2 levels. However, this does not in any way invalidate the effects of modern Co2 (and other gas) emissions.
MOreover, your actual comment was:

"And there were no industrial emissions during the MWP that could have caused such a temperture increase. That leaves us with naturally occuring temperature cycles stemming from natural causes."

I.e. you have cherry picked the Ruddiman hypothesis, and ignored its larger implications.
See here for an abstract:
http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007.../2006RG000207.shtml

206:

Doowop@177, whassisface blows his credibility when he claims that liability insurance is what drives up the cost of nuclear reactors.

Why is everyone arguing seriously with a man who thinks that scientific evidence consists of an otherwise unsupported page on a website which promulgates the belief in a hollow earth with civilizations inside?

doowop, you may be a perfectly capable engineer (or not) but that choice of proposed evidence for wheat farming in Greenland seriously calls into question your ability to evaluate information sources. I might just as well start citing evidence that the earth's climate is controlled by the Great Old Ones and that the Ice Age cycle was originally induced to make the cyclopean cities in the mountains of Antarctica uninhabitable for shoggoths.

207:

Clifton @206: *taking notes for a future Laundry novel*

208:

Charlie, speaking of the Mythos and Antarctica, did you ever read Matt Skala's 'Sing-song of Unknown Kadath'? It's a Just-So Cthulhu story, made of equal parts Kipling, Lovecraft, and sheer genius.

209:

Why is everyone arguing seriously with a man who thinks that scientific evidence consists of an otherwise unsupported page on a website which promulgates the belief in a hollow earth with civilizations inside?

Perhaps because who is doing the quoting is irrelevant to the truth (or falsehood) of the quote itself and its source, in this case Harris' book. This is just another example of an ad hominem. You may as well claim that if this silly website quoted the Gettysburg Address it would somehow refute the existence of Lincoln. Sorry, but that is sloppy thinking on your part.

Well, Huangs single paper on boreholes that long ago seems not to be used by anyone since. Stoat has the details, but basically, you are falling into the usual fallacy of believing the one paper you want to believe, and not the thousands of others which point in the opposite direction

First, science =! consensus. Second, Huang's paper has survived peer revieew and remains standing. Third, the thousands of other papers don't refute Huang so much as they lack the extent of his study. What would be needeed is another that world wide borehole (or similar) study that came to different conclusion are directly refute Huang's findings.

Huang's not alone. There is considerable evidence (at least as good as any other temperature proxy) that the MWP was world wide, from tree rings in South Africa and South America, to fosselized pollen in South America, to stalgmite build ups in Chinese caves to ice cores taken from Greenland and Antartcia, to Viking colonies in Greenland to the recorded increase in the population of imperial China. Physical evidence and recorded historical events all point to the fact that about 1,000 years ago the world was as warm or warmer than it is now

Furthermore, we do have documented evidence in the form of tempreatrue readings and climate records that the Little Ice Age that followed the MWP was world wide. Now you are claiming that the MWP was a purely localized phenomenon confined to northwest Europe, which somehow was followed by a world wide LIA. I find that to be inconsistent.

210:

I think doowop's got his teeth into a red herring on the "land costs" issue.

Yes, somehow I got it into my head that having to acquire/lease the land equivalent of Australia might somehow add to the cost of green energy.

What was I thinking?

Speaking of math, you do understand now that solar and wind currently account for less thatn 0.5% of our energy production and by 2030 will still be no more than about 2%, even under the most optomistic projections?

211:

This discussion has been very intersting but apperently its all moot. According to James Lovelock (Gaia hypothesis, saved the ozone layer by getting CFCs banned, nuclear power advocate, etc.) we are all doomed.

DOOMED!

I think it's wrong to assume we'll survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesised it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It's happening again.

Unless we make wide use of biochar:

There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste - which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering - into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast....Yes. The biosphere pumps out 550 gigatonnes of carbon yearly; we put in only 30 gigatonnes. Ninety-nine per cent of the carbon that is fixed by plants is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by consumers like bacteria, nematodes and worms. What we can do is cheat those consumers by getting farmers to burn their crop waste at very low oxygen levels to turn it into charcoal, which the farmer then ploughs into the field. A little CO2 is released but the bulk of it gets converted to carbon. You get a few per cent of biofuel as a by-product of the combustion process, which the farmer can sell. This scheme would need no subsidy: the farmer would make a profit. This is the one thing we can do that will make a difference, but I bet they won't do it.

see http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126921.500-one-last-chance-to-save-mankind.html?full=true

As someone in the waste/hazardous waste management field I am very intersted int eh use of biochar (originally developed by Amazonian tribes IIRC) to manage waste instead of landfilling it.


212:

@134 -- Yes, this. Obama is not the Messiah -- and nobody -- NObody -- outside the media (who are trying to make money by making life in general look like an LoTR film with a beginning, middle, and shiny-end-with-cute-CGI-logo at all times) believe he is. (Even media types don't believe it at home.)

The dream is NOT bloody fulfilled, we're just at a nice stop along the way, Martin Luther King's legacy is NOT at it's final end, we are NOT at the end of all our problems (Obama has even said this, repeatedly), we are NOT making a huge magical leftward leap, and huge numbers of us would have voted for a set of attractive dishes as long as it wasn't more Bush. Further, a huge contingent of people out there are very vocal about believing that he is not president -- is not American -- is the actual Antichrist. I'm far more worried about THEM.

213:

@ 212.
Noted.
There was someone, and I think it was in the Gruaniad's falsley-named "Comment is free" section, who said something like:
Beware of more terrorist attacks on America - by Americans - like McVeigh and other christian lunatics.

214:

Doowpo #209- Yes yes, consensus is so useless in science that nobody can agree on the number of atoms in a mole, or that quantum mechanics is a fairly accurate description of what is going on at the atomic level, and of course, cold fusion did really happen in that lab...

Your continued lack of wider knowledge about the world is astounding. You do know that papers that are downright wrong often get published, and often either retracted later or else quietly ignored. Huangs paper looks like the latter sort. Why else would he not even refer to it himself later on? You did read the url to Stoat that I gave, where people dig about and come to the conclusion that HUang was wrong for several, given reasons?

Quote (from stoat):
"The graph has never been explicitly disowned, but the authors of it have published plenty more since then, all only going back 500 years (and AFAIK no-one else before or since has tried to use boreholes back that far), and showing a different timing of the cold bit."

Now, the interesting thing is that Huang et al published a new paper:
http://www.geo.lsa.umich.edu/~shaopeng/2008GL034187.pdf
In which they explicitly back the IPCC and its view of the climate change in the last few millenia, not to mention that the MWP was not as warm as it was in the last 20th century...

Tell you what, why don't you go and read it, as well as the IPCC report, then come back and discuss exactly what the MWP was, and what its relevance to today is.
I have already dealt with the Greenland colony, as have others, and I am afraid that making claims with no evidence just makes you look silly. Is English your native language? Are you only 16?

If you could read well, you would see that I said the MWP was based around the North Atlantic, which is not the same as northwest Europe. Do you have any evidence for the LIA and "MWP" having the same cause? DO you even know which period the MWP was in? Have a read of the wikipedia article, it should be straightforwards enough:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_Warm_Period

The earth was warmer in some areas than others all the way through the "MWP", and such sites changed over time.


Lest we bore our host, I would just like to bring this back to the beggining:
"Honestly, I’m something of a global warming, er… I mean “climate change”, skeptic. Mother Nature is perfectly capable of changing the climate all by herself and the Earth has gone through many temperature cycles such as the Medieval Warming period when the Vikings grew wheat in Greenland and Britain had a wine industry with vineyards as far north as Scotland. This was followed by the Little Ice Age which lasted until the mid 19th century."

You have provided no evidence as to why we should disregard human production of CO2 as causing the current warming, especially the last 30 years; you have provided no evidence of wheat growth in Greenland, the reference to wine in Scotland is third or fourth hand, and anyway such comments are ultimately irrelevant because they do not provide any more objective form of comparison between now and then; and we know we came out the little ice age due to increases in solar insolation, which increases only explain about 40% of the last 120 or so years of increased temperature, and certainly not the last 30 years.
This is all well established science, as you would know if you read the reports.

215:

somehow I got it into my head that having to acquire/lease the land equivalent of Australia might somehow add to the cost of green energy.
What was I thinking?

Well, you were basing your thoughts on erroneous data - you wouldn't need anything like the land area of Australia. See 198.

206/207: and who knows what secrets may be revealed by the melting of the icecaps on the high and forbidden areas of the world? What hideous and unearthly forms may be even now defrosting?

Why were the Nazis so obsessed with the Welteislehre? What was Heinrich Harrer really after in Tibet? Why did Hitler keep describing Norway as "the zone of destiny in this war", and why was the elite 1 SAS Bn (which included several distinguished Scottish mountaineers) deployed there in June 1945? Ostensibly they were there to oversee the surrender of German troops - but this is the sort of job that could have been handled by any line infantry unit.

OC 1 SAS Bn, Col Blair "Paddy" Mayne was subsequently killed, apparently in a car crash, in his native Ulster. Bystanders were apparently terrified to approach the wreck - Mayne had a reputation for violence and quick temper - and heard "furious howling" coming from it.

216:

@213 -- A valid worry.

(Sorry about my HMTL fail up there -- meant to close those italics after "dishes"...)

217:

Oh for an edit feature... "HTML"!! (And "its," for that matter.)

218:

ajay, you know the entry for the hollow earth is in Norway. They were clearly looking for alien assistance.

219:

Mac @ 212: I'm on record about not being pleased with a lot of Obama's positions on issues where we need to become more progressive and he won't. But I'll also say that he is so much better than "not Bush", which is all we really could expect to get.

220:

@19: If I had a time machine, I might be tempted to see how well Mussolini really did make the trains run on time.

@Charlie: I just joined your facebook fan club and am passing on a heartfelt request from a fan for you to seek out opportunities to publish more of your novels in Spanish.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 16, 2009 9:31 PM.

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