Quotulatiousness

February 9, 2017

The Year of Battles Comes To An End I THE GREAT WAR WW1 Summary Part 8

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 8 Feb 2017

With the end of the Battle of Verdun, the year 1916 ends. A battle that was described as “World War 1 in a microcosm” and has been remembered in infamy ever since. Late 1916 also brings political shake-ups, an end to the Romanian campaign and new action in the Middle East. And still no end in sight.

January 2, 2017

“Honest scientific discourse and debate is often rendered impossible in the face of the ‘new catastrophism'”

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Media, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

It’s not your imagination — we really do seem to be careening from one ecological disaster to another, all caused by thoughtless human action … well, that’s what the activists are constantly saying:

What is patently obvious from reviewing Canada’s ancient history is that scientists still do not have an adequate understanding of Earth’s complex systems on which to base sound economic and environmental policy. From the upper reaches of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans onwards to the deep interior of the planet our knowledge of complex earth systems is still rather rudimentary. Huge areas of our planet are inaccessible and are little known scientifically. There is still also much to learn from reading the rock record of how our planet functioned in the past.

In so many areas, we simply don’t know enough of how our planet functions.

And yet……

Scarcely a day goes past without some group declaring the next global environmental crisis; we seemingly stagger from one widely proclaimed crisis to another each one (so we are told) with the potential to severely curtail or extinguish civilization as we know it. It’s an all too familiar story often told by scientists who cross over into advocacy and often with the scarcely-hidden sub-text that they are the only ones with the messianic foresight to see the problem and create a solution. Much of our science is what we would call ‘crisis-driven’ where funding, politics and the media are all intertwined and inseparable generating a corrupting and highly corrosive influence on the scientific method and its students. If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t lead is the new yardstick with which to measure the overall significance of research.

Charles Darwin ushered in a new era of thinking where change was expected and necessary. Our species as are all others, is the product of ongoing environmental change and adaption to varying conditions; the constancy of change. In the last 15 years or so however, we have seemingly reverted to a pre-Darwinian mode of a fixed ‘immutable Earth’ where any change beyond some sort of ‘norm’ is seen in some quarters as unnatural, threatening and due to our activities, usually with the proviso of needing ‘to act now to save the planet.’ Honest scientific discourse and debate is often rendered impossible in the face of the ‘new catastrophism.’

Trained as geologists in the knowledge of Earth’s immensely long and complex history we appreciate that environmental change is normal. For example, rivers and coastlines are not static. Those coasts, in particular, that consist of sandy strand-plains and barrier-lagoon systems are continually evolving as sand is moved by the waves and tides. Cyclonic storms (hurricanes), a normal component of the weather in many parts of the world, are particularly likely to cause severe erosion. When recent events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy cause catastrophic damage, and spring storms cause massive flooding in Calgary or down the Mississippi valley, and droughts and wildfires affect large areas of the American SW these events are blamed on a supposed increase in the severity of extreme weather events brought about by climate change. In fact, they just reflect the working of statistical probability and long term climate cyclicity. Such events have happened in the past as part of ongoing changes in climate but affected fewer people. That the costs of weather and climate-related damage today are far greater is not because of an increased frequency of severe weather but the result of humans insisting on congregating and living in places that, while attractive, such as floodplains, mountain sides and beautiful coastlines, are especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Promises of a more ‘stable future’ if we can only prevent climate change are hopelessly misguided and raise unnatural expectations by being willfully ignorant of the natural workings of the planet. Climate change is the major issue for which more geological input dealing with the history of past climates would contribute to a deeper understanding of the nature of change and what we might expect in the future. The past climate record suggests in fact that for much of the Earth’s surface future cooling is the norm. Without natural climate change Canada would be buried under ice 3 km thick; that is it normal state for most of the last 2.5 million years with 100,000 years-long ice ages alternating with brief, short-lived interglacials such as the present which is close to its end.

H/T to Kate at SDA for the link.

December 27, 2016

QotD: The economics of price gouging

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Soaring prices after a natural disaster or during extreme weather are simply, economists would say, the market’s response to changing supply and demand, as disruptions make it harder to get some things just as demand spikes (for instance, for generators, gasoline, bottled water, first aid supplies). The price increase helps cut down on marginal uses (taking a bath with your bottled water), while drawing new supply in from unaffected regions, because people there now have a strong incentive to load up supplies and go sell them in the affected area — quickly. The market is working. But the optics are terrible. Humans intuitively see price gougers as bad agents, exploiting the suffering of others. So even in the absence of price-gouging laws, businesses try to avoid raising prices under extreme conditions. Whatever they could gain in immediate revenue, they would lose more in future sales as disgusted customers walk away.

Megan McArdle, “The Price Is Right, or Uber Will Raise It”, Bloomberg View, 2015-05-19.

February 20, 2016

QotD: The “joys” of winter

Filed under: Environment, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

The cold has returned — cruel, aching, deep-space cold. Not as bad as last year’s 20 below / 37 below with wind chill, but after you’re below zero it’s just numbers. There’s the cold you shrug off, the cold you note with brief displeasure, and the cold that still chews your toes ten minutes after you’re inside the Target store. Scout the Dog came in from a session outside disinterring bones and put his nose in his pillow and rubbed it around to get it warm. The boiler in the basement labors like a steamship stoker. There are no birds. There is no sun. When you slam your car door you almost expect the vehicle to shatter.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2015-01-05.

August 31, 2015

Ten years later – how the media covered Katrina

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

W. Joseph Campbell describes the media’s role in contributing to — and sometimes inventing — the persistent myths of what happened in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina made land-fall:

I call it the “myth of superlative reporting,” the notion that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught 10 years ago, journalists bravely held powerful officials accountable for their inept responses to a storm blamed for the deaths of 1,800 people.

Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchorman, gave voice to the “myth of superlative reporting,” describing Katrina coverage as “one of the quintessential great moments in television news,” ranking “right there with the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate coverage, you name it.”

A quintessential great moment is was not.

The reporting of Katrina, as I wrote in my 2010 media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, “was in important respects flawed and exaggerated. On crucial details, journalists erred badly, and got it wrong” in describing horrors the storm supposedly unleashed across New Orleans after making landfall east of the city on August 29, 2005.

Journalists reported snipers firing at medical personnel, I noted. They reported shots were fired at helicopters, halting evacuations from the Convention Center in New Orleans. They told of bodies being stacked like cordwood inside the Convention Center.

News reports also spoke of roving gangs that terrorized occupants of the Louisiana Superdome, where many people had taken shelter. The reports said children were victims of sexual assault, that one seven-year-old was raped and her throat was slit. They reported that sharks were plying the flooded streets of New Orleans.

None of those reports, as it turned out, was verified or substantiated.

“If anyone rioted,” said a bipartisan congressional report about Katrina, “it was the media.

“Many stories of rape, murder, and general lawlessness were at best unsubstantiated, at worst simply false.”

Erroneous and over-the-top reporting, I wrote in Getting It Wrong, “had the cumulative the effect of painting for America and the rest of the world a scene of surreal violence and terror, something straight out of Mad Max or Lord of the Flies.”

Here’s what I wrote ten years ago, based on the media reports coming out of Louisiana:

(more…)

August 28, 2015

QotD: The unusually lucky 20th century, meteorologically speaking

Filed under: Environment, History, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… I read a lot of history and thus know a fair bit about how weather impact has been perceived by humans over time. It is a fact that the 20th century was an abnormally lucky hundred years, meteorologically speaking. The facts I managed to jam into tweets included (a) the superstorm that flooded 300 square miles of the Central Valley in California in the 1860s, (b) rainfall levels we’d consider drought conditions were normal in the U.S. Midwest before about 1905, and (c) storms of a violence we’d find hard to believe were commonly reported in the 1800s. I had specifically in mind something I learned from the book Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, which relays eyewitness accounts of thunderstorms so intense that travelers had to steeple their hands over their noses in order to breathe air instead of water; but a sense that storms of really theatrical violence were once common comes through in many other histories.

We had a quiet century geophysically as well — no earthquakes even nearly as bad as the New Madrid event of 1812, which broke windows as far north as Montreal. And no solar storms to compare with the Carrington Event of 1859, which seriously damaged the then-nascent telegraph infrastructure and if it recurred today would knock out power and telecomms so badly that we’d be years recovering and casualties would number in the hundreds of thousands, possibly the millions.

(I’m concentrating on 19th-century reports because those tended to be well-documented, but earlier records tell us it was the 20th century calm that was unusual, not the 19th-century violence.)

The awkward truth is that there are very large forces in play in the biosphere, and when they wander out of the ranges we’re adapted to, we suffer and die a lot and there really isn’t a great deal we can do about it; we don’t operate at the required energy scales. For that matter, I can think of several astronomical catastrophes that could be lurking just outside our light-cone only to wipe out all multicellular life on Earth next week. Reality is like that.

Eric S. Raymond, “Heavy weather and bad juju”, Armed and Dangerous, 2011-02-03.

March 19, 2015

The latest snowstorm in the Maritimes may have been the proverbial straw

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:52

If the reports from Nova Scotia are typical, the new ice age may have already started in the Maritime provinces:

February 16, 2015

Ontario Southland Railway plow chase

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 12 Feb 2015

On February 3, Ontario Southland operated their first plow of the season from Salford south to Tillsonburg, then west to St. Thomas. This was also the first time a pair of F units have been used in plow duty on the railroad.

H/T to Laura Spring for the link.

February 8, 2015

An ordinary February day on the railway in New Brunswick

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

EPIC CATCH!!! Dashing Thru the Snow – CN Train 406 West at Salisbury, NB (Feb 3, 2015)

I’m not even sure how many locomotives this train had …

Railfanning Post Blizzard of 2015 Storm #3.

Canadian National Railway locomotive 2304 (ES44DC) plows through huge snow drifts and gives me a big ass snow shower as it leads the daily CN manifest train 406 West (Moncton, NB to Saint John, NB) at Salisbury, New Brunswick.

I’m not sure how the train crew can even see with all that snow on the locomotive’s nose!

Southern New Brunswick was hit with three major blizzards in less than a week, and there is more snow in the forecast.

Filmed at 3:05pm, Tuesday February 3, 2015 at mile 11 of the CN Sussex Subdivision.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

February 5, 2015

QotD: “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Can we shut up about weather for a while, especially weather that is totally in keeping with the seasons in which it’s taking place? It’s only 2015, but it seems like we get storms of the century about every three to six months. Our parents famously walked three miles (uphill both ways, mind you) in sub-zero and scorching temperatures in shoes made of detergent-box cardboard while also mining coal and smoking unfiltered cigarettes by the carton. And here we are, snug in our all-wheel-drive vehicles and Gore-Tex weather wear, demanding work and school be canceled on a 40% likelihood of snow flurries.

Summer has heat waves, winter has snowstorms, get over it. Ever since The Weather Channel first went live in 1982, Americans have been in love with “weather porn,” those swirling animated displays of pixels that change from green to yellow to orange to red to blue while moving rightward across your TV, computer, or smartphone screens. We stand transfixed like 12-year-old boys looking at a centerfold for the first time as reporters dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman stand in the rain and tell us… it’s raining. Or, worse yet, that it’s not raining, snowing, sleeting, or hailing.

Part of the weather hype is driven by hysteria over global warming, which means that weather — once delivered by genial weirdos like Willard Scott and David Letterman — is as big a deal as the latest American misadventure in the Middle East (for the record, I believe that climate change is taking place, that human activity is part of the cause, and that the best way to deal with it is to remediate its effects rather than simply pull the plug on human progress).

As one Twitter wag put it in response to the non-blizzard of the moment, “Remember: no snow = global warming, lots of snow = global warming, less snow than you thought = global warming.” The important thing being, of course, that we always feel bad about ourselves no matter what’s happening.

Nick Gillespie, “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”, Time, 2015-01-27.

October 15, 2014

60 years after Hurricane Hazel

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:08

John Stall marks the 60th anniversary of the devastation caused by Hurricane Hazel in Toronto:

On Oct. 15, 1954, the hurricane made landfall near Myrtle Beach, S.C. and ravaged islands in the Caribbean and Bahamas.

The effects of the hurricane pounded Toronto with winds topping 110 km/h, washing out bridges and homes.

Around 285 millimetres of rain fell in 48 hours, causing the Humber River to breach its banks, leading to destruction in the Toronto area. Bodies were also carried away as far away as Rochester, N.Y.

In Toronto, more than 30 people died on Raymore Drive — a street that runs parallel to the Humber River, just south of Lawrence Avenue, alone.

The storm claimed the lives of 81 people in southern Ontario and left thousands homeless.

Published on 7 Nov 2012

In October 1954 disaster struck the Humber Valley in Toronto when Hurricane Hazel came inland 960 km from the Carolina coast. Archival film footage and old photos reveal the tragedy unfolding as 10 metres of water came down the valley trapping people in their homes and cars and sweeping them down river. Emergency services were called in to help and volunteers perished as they were struck by a wall of water. Eighty-one people died, 4,000 families were left homeless and flooding rivers took out 20 bridges. Hazel changed the landscape forever leading to dams and water conservation, park and ravine management, and laws banning home building on flood plains.

June 22, 2014

“Draw Play” Dave on how Minnesota got the Super Bowl in 2018

Filed under: Business, Football, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

I probably don’t need to say that the Super Bowl is a big ticket item … that much must be clear even to people who don’t have any conscious awareness of the NFL. Part of the push for a new football stadium in Minnesota was the hope that the new stadium would allow Minneapolis/St. Paul to bid on (and hope to win) the competition to host the Super Bowl in the newly completed stadium. The NFL being what it is, this meant a lot of “sweeteners” had to be offered to entice the league up to the deep freeze of Minnesota in the middle of winter. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Minnesota in winter, so maybe I’m just being swayed by pro-winter propaganda, but I believe it gets a tad cooler in the land of the ten thousand frozen lakes than it does in, say, Miami.)

“Draw Play” Dave Rappoccio admits he’s a bit late to this story, but I rather liked it anyway:

Click to see the full cartoon

Click to see the full cartoon

Again, older news that I never got to, but deserved a joke.

Has anyone actually looked up the requirements for cities to host the Super Bowl? The NFL is shameless in how is screws cities over and I can’t believe cities sign up for it.

June 11, 2014

Winter damage to vineyards in Niagara and on the Bench

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:20

The first — and probably not the last — definite sign of how bad this winter was for the wineries comes from today’s newsletter from Featherstone, where Louise Engel says they’ve suffered severe damage to some of the vines:

Every season is an adventure in weather here in Niagara. Every year since we bought the vineyard fifteen years ago, Dave and I have looked at each other at some point during the grape growing season, sighed deeply, and said:

“Hmm … well, never seen that before.”

This past year we added ‘polar vortex’ to our table talk. However, we were optimistic that the vines would come through relatively unscathed from the punishing winter temperatures. Our optimism was misplaced. Both the Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc vines have been badly damaged and will need extensive re-planting.

The Gewürztraminer has been virtually wiped out. We are considering replanting that entire field with a hardier variety, like Riesling. The Riesling field that was planted in 1998 is sixteen, going on seventeen, and still thrives. So it may be so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye Gewürztraminer.

Does this mean that prices will increase? No, it doesn’t. But if you are a fan of our Gewürztraminer, I suggest you climb ev’ry mountain to get here before it’s all gone. Forever.

If you’re not familiar with the Niagara Escarpment sub-appellations, Featherstone is in the Twenty Mile Bench: most of my favourite wineries are in this sub-appellation.

May 21, 2014

QotD: February in Minneapolis

Filed under: Football, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

It’s not surprising that the Wilfs, the Vikings and downtown Minneapolis business leaders want the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Their pockets will be lined, and with more than fur.

The question is why the average Minnesotan would want the Super Bowl here in February.

We don’t invite friends and relatives to Minnesota in February. Why would we invite the world?

Especially the portion of the world that wields laptops and cameras?

You remember February, unless your therapist has helped you block it out. February is when we suffer from cabin fever and cold sores, when we lock ourselves indoors with a fire (whether we have a fireplace or not) and stare at screens until our skin matches the blue fluorescent glow emanating from the TV.

And those are the good days.

I’ve spoken to visitors who are forced to travel here during winter. They ask why we live here. They laugh at us. When Jerry Seinfeld did a show in downtown Minneapolis this winter, he referred to our skyways as “Habitrails.”

The rest of the country cannot fathom why we put ourselves through this, and let’s be honest: We can’t either when we’re in the throes of winter. We all just pile on layers and pray that, this year, summer will fall on a Saturday.

Jim Souhan, “We’re back on center stage, with frozen warts and all”, Star Tribune, 2014-05-21.

March 16, 2014

David Friedman responds to William Nordhaus on global warming costs

Filed under: Economics, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:40

At his blog, David Friedman links to a recent New York Review of Books article by William Nordhaus (itself a response to a Wall Street Journal article) which argues for economic action to address the impact of global warming:

His final, and possibly most important point, is based on his own research, which he complains that the WSJ article is misrepresenting. He starts with a correct point—that it is the difference between benefit and cost, not the ratio, that matters. He goes on to summarize his conclusion:

    My research shows that there are indeed substantial net benefits from acting now rather than waiting fifty years. A look at Table 5-1 in my study A Question of Balance (2008) shows that the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion. Wars have been started over smaller sums.

What he does not mention is that his $4.1 trillion is a cost summed over the entire globe and the rest of the century. Put in annual terms, that come to about $48 billion a year, a less impressive number. Current world GNP is about $85 trillion/year. So the net cost of waiting, on Nordhaus’s own numbers, is about one twentieth of one percent of world GNP. Not precisely a catastrophe.

I suggest a simple experiment. Let Nordhaus write a piece explicitly arguing that the net cost of waiting is about .06% of world GNP and see whether it is more popular with the supporters or the critics of his position. I predict that at least one supporter will accuse him of having sold out to big oil.

[…]

The future is very much too uncertain to have confidence in estimates of what will be happening fifty years from now — for an extended demonstration, see my Future Imperfect. If we follow Nordhaus’s current advice and tax carbon now in order to slow warming, it may turn out that the costs were unnecessary or even counterproductive. We may be spending money in order to make ourselves poorer, not richer.

I conclude, on the basis of Nordhaus’s own figures and without taking account of my past criticism of his calculations, that he has his conclusion backwards. The sensible strategy is to take no actions whose justification depends on the belief that increased CO2 produces large net costs until we have considerably better reason than we now do to believe it.

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