Archive for July, 2012

Olympics Opening Ceremony #nbcfail

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

I’m not sure what bugs me most: That NBC had commentators talking over many of the best parts of Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony; that they cut out what looks like it was, in some ways, the most moving part of it (see Here’s The Opening Ceremony Tribute To Terrorism Victims NBC Doesn’t Want You To See); or that they replaced the 7/7 victims tribute with a Ryan Seacrest interview.

I could really do without Ryan Seacrest interviews, generally.

Also #nbcfail-worthy: Making a joke out of Tim Berners-Lee’s obscurity.

I look forward very much to being able to view a version of the opening ceremonies that has those mistakes corrected. By which I mean, a version that just gives me the audio and video feed as it was intended to be seen, without added inanity.

What Does Dan Kahan Think of Mooney’s ‘The Republican Brain’?

Friday, July 27th, 2012

If you’ve followed my regular ravings about Dan Kahan, Chris Mooney, and Mooney’s book The Republican Brain, you will not be surprised to know that I found the following article, just posted on Kahan’s blog, fascinating: What do I think of Mooney’s “Republican Brain”?

As it turns out, I don’t feel persuaded of the central thesis of The Republican Brain. That is, I’m not convinced that the mass of studies that it draws on supports the inference that Republicans/conservatives reason in a manner that is different from and less reasoned than Democrats/liberals.

The problem, though, is with the studies, not Mooney’s synthesis.

Dan Kahan really is just spectacularly awesome.

The ‘Cloud Atlas’ Trailer and Directors’ Commentary

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

I think this is a first: An almost-six-minute movie trailer that comes with its own director’s commentary. And the commentary really is helpful, I think, to get a sense of what’s going on with the trailer. See the Apple Trailers site for the commentary: Cloud Atlas.

Here’s the trailer itself:

I think that movie could be a complete mess. Or it could be completely awesome. Or both. Anyway, I think I’m about ready for the Wachowskis to blow my mind again, and I’m looking forward to them (and Tom Tykwer) giving it their best shot.

Update: Here’s the commentary:

Drum on Romney’s ‘Creepy Small Lies’

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Kevin Drum remains my favorite political blogger. I find his views congenial (obviously), but more than that, I like his commonsense take on things. Here he is with a headline dear to my heart: The Creepy Small Lies of the Romney Campaign. Drum links to an item from David Weigel at Slate, It’s a Weekday, So It’s Time for Another Misleading Edit of an Obama Quote, in which Weigel points out how the Romney campaign is taking an Obama remark about Clinton-era tax rates producing better economic results than Bush II-era tax rates and selectively misquoting it to make it sound like Obama is claiming the economy has done great on his (Obama’s) watch.

Drum continues:

We’ve now seen the Romney campaign make hay out of three wild misquotations: 

* "If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose," which turned out to be Obama in 2008 quoting John McCain. "What’s sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander," Romney said in his defense.

* "If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that," a statement that quite obviously referred to the "roads and bridge" of the previous sentence. This one is so bad that supporters have taken to splicing it together with an earlier part of Obama’s speech and simply removing the "roads and bridges" reference entirely.

* "We tried our plan — and it worked."

As Weigel says, "At this point, getting video clips of Obama from Republican campaigns is like getting an article pitch from Jayson Blair. It might tell a good story, but you need to run down the source and triple-check."

I know I keep asking this, but has any previous campaign ever done this on such a routine basis? I don’t mean to suggest that no campaign has ever been as nasty. Obviously Willie Horton and "creating the internet" and the Swiftboating of 2008 were worse. And both sides traffic in distortions and cherry picking all the time. But there’s something about the methodical small lies of the Romney campaign that seems quite new. And frankly, just plain creepy.


Romney on Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That”

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Hey, it’s time for campaign ads. (Apologies to those of you who’ve been suffering from them for a while. I live in a non-swing state, so they, like Aaron Sorkin, are still kind of fresh-sounding to me.) You’ve probably heard about this already, but I wanted to note it in passing. Here’s Obama speaking at a campaign event in Roanoke on July 13:

I think it’s pretty obvious that the “you didn’t build that” line was meant to refer to the bridges and roads Obama mentioned just before that. Romney, though, has cut that part out, making it sound like Obama was saying small business owners didn’t build their businesses:

It’s fairly small potatoes, I realize, as political fibs go. But it’s early days. I’m sure we’ll get better whoppers as we move closer to election day.

Why Don’t I Hate Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’?

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

The response to Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series The Newsroom has been, as they say, “mixed.” I knew that going in, and yet, I’ve kinda liked it. I see the things that the haters are complaining about, and yeah, I guess they bother me a bit. But I find myself really enjoying the show anyway.

Here are some people who have panned the show:

Here, on the other hand, are some people who enjoyed the show:

Among the people who hate it are several of whom I think pretty highly. In particular, Emily Nussbaum, whose anti-Sorkin views were published in the New Yorker, earned my undying affection when she wrote a love note to back in the days of the Winona Ryder trial. So when I called this post, Why Don’t I Hate Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’? I really did mean it as a question. It wasn’t Why I Don’t Hate…

So, why don’t I hate it? I’ve come up with a few theories:

  • I never watched The West Wing, or Sports Night, or any other Sorkin TV shows, so for me the rapid patter and walk-and-talk and smart-sounding people speaking wittily and earnestly to each other haven’t gotten old. Many of those criticizing The Newsroom accuse Sorkin of self-plagiarism; since I don’t know the original material he’s cribbing from, it doesn’t bother me.
  • The sexism and assorted other insensitivities Sorkin is being accused of have tended to go over my head, since (like him) I’m a white, privileged, hetero male. If I were viewing the female characters on the show as stand-ins for myself, rather than as potential romantic interests who (according to detractors) exist mainly to be comically inept, then gaze admiringly at the show’s male characters with tears in their eyes, it probably would bother me more.
  • I’m not a journalist, so I’m less sensitive to the ridiculousness of the over-the-top fantasy Sorkin has constructed. For viewers who are actual journalists, having his characters re-enact recent-past news stories, honing in with preternatural skill on the precise truth that took days to uncover in the real world, comes off as being either laughably unrealistic or insulting or both. But for me it’s not such a big deal. I get that it’s a fantasy, and a morality play, and Sorkin at times is revealing the limits of his own knowledge, in the same way The Social Network (which I did see) occasionally felt like a caricature, given my experience at Internet startups. But I enjoyed it anyway, because the human story was interesting, even if the setting sometimes felt less than completely real.

Reality is great. I love a nice, realistic portrayal on screen. But I also can enjoy a more stylized presentation. I’m a sucker for a big emotional arc, and can forgive a certain corniness in pursuit of it. In his interview with Terry Gross, Sorkin talked about that when Gross asked him about his time in rehab:

SORKIN: …as you mentioned, I got to this place, and there are these, as I call them, fortune cookie sayings on the wall like one day at a time, and, of course, the 12 steps, and that kind of thing. I’m not susceptible to that kind of thing. I have a much narrower mind than I ought to. But it was just going to be 28 days of penance.

What I wanted to be was a, you know, a good patient. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to have to stay extra days. I was going to do whatever they told me to do and do it well so I got out in time. But maybe 10 or 11 days into it, I just really started liking it, and it was really working, and I was just getting it.

And by my 27th of my 28 days, I was saying to my counselor: Are you sure it’s OK for me to go home? I can stay longer, if you want. And he told me to get out.

GROSS: But I’m kind of interested in, like, OK, so you don’t believe in fortune cookie sayings. You’re not susceptible to that stuff, but things like one day at a time took on a meaning for you. Did you learn anything as a writer about that, that things you might dismiss as being cliche, corny, a bromide can actually have meaning, have value?

SORKIN: Yeah. And I think that I – I think that that’s present in so many things that I write, that I will – I mean, I write corny, you know? But I feel like if you can execute corny well enough, you can still strike a chord in people. You’re taking a big swing at the ball. You’re swinging for the fences. So if you miss, you’re going to look bad missing, you know. And a lot of what I write about could be considered fortune-cookie wisdom.

The corny stuff in The Newsroom mostly works for me. For example, I really liked the “Fix You” montage at the end of episode 4. The emotion they went for in that sequence took a big risk. On some level, sure, it felt weird watching Will fist-pumping and exultantly shouting the F-word during coverage of a mass shooting (a queasiness that is even stronger in the aftermath of the Aurora killings). But it worked, at least for me.

The Newsroom often feels like a guilty pleasure, like a show that’s right on the edge of jumping the shark even though it’s only four episodes in. The love triangle between Maggie, Don, and Jim, for example, is so thoroughly evocative of Pam-Roy-Jim from The Office that I can’t help but think it’s intentional. (As does Rainn Wilson, apparently.) The Office didn’t invent that storyline, I realize, but there’s so much about The Newsroom’s version that is so close to it (the way Maggie and Jim are styled to look so much like Pam and Jim; the similarity of the name Jim Harper to Jim Halpert; the almost shot-for-shot fidelity to the earlier show in the sequence when Jim was walking over to comfort the sad Maggie, only to have Don swoop into the shot ahead of him, leaving us to watch Jim watching Don and Maggie in each other’s arms) that I could see myself almost writing it off as too cynical and manipulative to be valid.

Almost. But so far, that feeling hasn’t been able to overcome the crush I’ve had on Alison Pill since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. If a show is going to give me Kim Pine finally having a chance to get the guy, I’m there. Just don’t make me wait too long for the proposal in the rain at the roadside rest stop.

For a more age-appropriate romance for this 50-year-old viewer, I’m also there for the Will/Mackenzie storyline. Like with Maggie/Kim/Pam, I think on some level I’m sucked into wanting to see the “perfect girl” from Notting Hill (another guilty pleasure) finally have her chance.

Anyway, my wife won’t let me talk about The Newsroom anymore, so I gushed here. You might hate it, you might like it, or there might be some of each. If you’ve seen it, I’m curious what you think.

Bill McKibben Does the Math on Global Warming

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth was simple, overwhelming, and depressing, with maybe just a hint of hope around the edges. His new article in Rolling Stone, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math is pretty much the same thing, condensed down and updated with the latest scariness.

When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn’t yet broken through to the larger public. This analysis upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change. And it allows us to understand our precarious – our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless – position with three simple numbers.

The three numbers are these:

2 Degrees Celsius – This is the amount of warming that the world’s governments have agreed represents the redline beyond which we run an unacceptable risk of triggering quite horrific consequences. So far we’ve created about 0.8 degrees of warming. That makes it sound like we’ve got time to put the brakes on to avoid passing 2 degrees, but the inertia in the global climate system means that even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, the temperature would continue to rise to a peak of around 1.6 degrees. In other words, as McKibben explains, “we’re already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.” There’s also reason to think that 2 degrees was optimistic, and that extremely dire effects will be kicking in before that. But set that aside, and assume that two degrees of warming would represent a livable future.

565 Gigatons – This is the amount of additional carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere while having a reasonable chance (four chances in five) of staying below 2 degrees warming. If the current trajectory continues unchanged, we’ll add that amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in the next 16 years.

2,795 Gigatons – This is the amount of additional carbon dioxide that would be added to the atmosphere should all the world’s current “proven reserves” of coal, oil, and gas be extracted and burned.

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

McKibben explores this more in the rest of the article. It isn’t pretty.

Voosen on Krosnick on Public Perceptions of (Climate) Scientists Who Advocate

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

There was an interesting article from Paul Voosen in Greenwire the other day: Climate: Scientists struggle with limits — and risks — of advocacy. I came across it on Judith Curry’s blog (Just the facts, please). Voosen talks about a not-yet-published study by Stanford psychologist Jon Krosnick:

Krosnick’s team hunted down video of climate scientists first discussing the science of climate change and then, in the same interview, calling for viewers to pressure the government to act on global warming. (Out of fears of bruised feelings, Krosnick won’t disclose the specific scientists cited.) They cut the video in two edits: one showing only the science, and one showing the science and then the call to arms.

Krosnick then showed a nationally representative sample of 793 Americans one of three videos: the science-only cut, the science and political cut, and a control video about baking meatloaf (The latter being closer to politics than Krosnick might admit). The viewers were then asked a series of questions both about their opinion of the scientist’s credibility and their overall beliefs on global warming.

For a cohort of 548 respondents who either had a household income under $50,000 or no more than a high school diploma, the results were stunning and statistically significant. Across the board, the move into politics undermined the science.

The viewers’ trust in the scientist dropped 16 percentage points, from 48 to 32 percent. Their belief in the scientist’s accuracy fell from 47 to 36 percent. Their overall trust in all scientists went from 60 to 52 percent. Their belief that government should “do a lot” to stop warming fell from 62 to 49 percent. And their belief that humans have caused climate change fell 14 percentage points, from 81 to 67 percent.

Krosnick is quick to note the study’s caveats. First, educated or wealthy viewers had no significant reaction to the political call and seemed able to parse the difference between science and a personal political view. The underlying reasons for the drop are far from clear, as well — it could simply be a function of climate change’s politicization. And far more testing needs to be done to see whether this applies in other contexts.

I was glad to see Voosen go on to discuss the study’s implications with Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognition Project. As a Kahan fanboy, I was already saying, “yeah, but…” as I read the interpretation Krosnick appears to be applying to his study’s results, and it was good to see Kahan’s perspective represented in Voosen’s article, even if he (Kahan) was characteristically circumspect about getting into a detailed criticism of a study that he hasn’t seen (since it hasn’t actually been published yet).

We’re still arguing about whether the elephant is more like a writhing snake or a solid tree trunk or a flapping sail (No! It’s like an elephant!), but it’s good to get some data to help us focus on the elephant’s actual characteristics.

JPL’s ‘7 Minutes of Terror’ Video

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

On August 5 at around 10:24 p.m. Pacific time, engineers at JPL will experience “7 minutes of terror” as they follow the delayed telemetry from the Mars Curiosity rover to see if it successfully reaches the end of its automated landing procedure. I’m hoping it does. And if the production quality of the latest video describing the rover’s descent is any indication of the JPL geeks’ technical proficiency, I’d say they’ve got a shot at it.

A Trio of Climate Change Items

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Three of the better items on climate change that have floated by my newsreader in the last day or so:

First up, some propaganda:

Next, an interesting post from Michael Tobis about scientific uncertainty: A Precedent for Failure of Consensus.

Scientists, being human, will err on the side of intuition, and having done so, will cluster together until new evidence changes the picture. Of course, we are amenable to new evidence. That’s the good news. But we can be blind to it if we are comfortable with the herd, and especially if the new evidence is even further from the intuitive sense of things.

And we are still fighting an intuitive sense based on our historical context, that the world is much larger than humanity. That’s totally wrong now, at least insofar as its surface processes go. The earth’s surface is a wholly owned subsidiary of the human enterprise. But most of us are still awestruck by the size and, well, awesomeness, of the world.

That is, our consensus estimate of 2.7 for climate sensitivity is a battle between the evidence at hand and our own innate cultural intuitions, to which as scientists we are not immune.

He continues from there. I found the whole thing really interesting.

Finally, David Roberts interviews Bob Inglis, the former U.S. Representative from South Carolina who was kicked out by a Tea Party opponent in the 2010 primary for the heresy of believing the scientific consensus on climate change: Hey, look, a Republican who cares about climate change!

Q. Tell me about the new organization you’re starting.

A. It’s called the Energy & Enterprise Initiative. It’s an effort to advocate for the elimination of all subsidies for all fuels and the attachment of all costs to all fuels. That’s the free-enterprise fix to energy and climate. If you correct the market distortions and make all fuels accountable for all of their costs, that will drive innovation and as a result reduce CO2 emissions.

The freebies for coal and petroleum are substantial even if you leave out the climate change impacts — just consider the health impacts, or attach to petroleum some of the defense costs in the Persian Gulf.

We want the accountability that is a key value of social-issue conservatives, who believe, as I do, that human beings are responsible actors. The argument to social-issue conservatives will be, if you’re coal, you gotta be accountable! If you’re causing 23,600 premature deaths in the U.S. annually, over 3 million lost work days annually, pay up!

And to the economic-issue conservatives, the argument is, don’t you see the market distortion? If those costs aren’t attached to coal, how will you ever build a nuclear power plant? It used to be convenient for us as conservatives to blame enviros for why we’re not building nuclear power plants, but if we update our rhetoric to the actual facts, what we find is it’s more a question of economics. It just doesn’t make sense to build a nuclear power plant if you can build a coal-fired plant that can belch and burn for free.

For the libertarian conservative, our case will be that we shouldn’t socialize costs and privatize profits. And for the national-security conservative, the case is, why haven’t we broken this addiction to oil? Why has every president since Richard Nixon made the same speech that Barack Obama made last spring? Because we haven’t said we’re ready to fight this thing; we’re gonna make the economics right. We fund both sides of the war on terror. We fund them with our gas pump purchases and then we fund the bombs to blow them up.

So the concept is, all four docks on the waterfront of conservatism, we think we’ve got a case — social-issue, economic-issue, libertarian, and national-security conservatives.

As the only politically conservative climate change skeptic to whom I have ready access, I’m curious what shcb makes of Inglis’s arguments.

Jeremiah McDonald Talks to His Former Self

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Droll Spoilers in YouTube Comments for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

I’m not sure I can even explain why I find this funny. But I do: Trolling for the educated. (Context at the LizzieBennet YouTube channel.)

People Are Not the Same

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

How do you make sense of someone different than yourself? How do you bridge the gap between your worldview and theirs? It’s worth doing, but it’s hard. (Witness the ongoing labors of the commenteriat.)

Law professor Dan Kahan has some really interesting thoughts on this. In a recent comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare (What I have to say about Chief Justice Roberts, and how I feel, the day after the day after the health care decision), Kahan wrote about how pleased he was that Roberts took the position he did. It wasn’t just that Kahan liked the outcome (though he did). It’s that by the way he arrived at it, Roberts helped communicate the importance of judicial neutrality.

I admire the Chief Justice for displaying so vividly and excellently something that reflects the best conception of the profession I share with him. I am grateful to him for supplying us with a resource that I and others can use to try to help others acquire the professional craft sense that deriving and applying neutral of constitutional law demands.

And I’m happy that he did something that in itself furnishes the assurance that ordinary citizens deserve that the law is being applied in a manner that is meaningfully neutral with respect to their diverse ends and interests. They need tangible examples of that, too, because is inevitable that judges who are expertly and honestly enforcing neutrality will nevertheless reach decisions that sometimes profoundly disappoint them.

But Kahan goes beyond that, and it’s the next part that was most fascinating to me. Kahan turns his attention on himself, and his reaction to Roberts’ ruling.

As I said, I admire Chief Justice Roberts and am grateful to him for reasons independent of my views of the merits of Affordable Care Act case. I honestly mean this.

But I am aware of the awkwardness of being moved to remark a virtuous performance of neutral judging on an occasion in which it was decisive to securing a result I support. Or at least, I am awkwardly and painfully aware that I can’t readily think of a comparable instance of virtuous judging that contributed to an outcome that in fact profoundly disappointed me. Surely, the reason can’t be that there has never been an occasion for me to take note of such a performance—and to remark and learn from it.

I have a sense that there are other members of my profession and of my persuasion and outlook on generally who share this complex of reactions toward Chief Justice Roberts’s judging.

I propose that we recognize the sense of anxiety about ourselves that accompanies our collegial identification with him as an integral element of the professional dispositions that his decision exemplifies.

It will, I think, improve our perception to harbor such anxiety. And will make us less likely to overlook– or even unjustly denounce–the next Judge whose neutrality results in a decision with which we disagree.

Lots of other great stuff at Kahan’s blog recently. I also really enjoyed Nullius in verba? Surely you are joking, Mr. Hooke! (or Why cultural cognition is not a bias, part 1) and The cultural certification of truth in the Liberal Republic of Science (or part 2 of why cultural cognition is not a bias).

Kahan is onto something, and I appreciate his enthusiasm in pursuing and sharing that something. He betrays a gentle human spirit, a willingness to consider the legitimacy of the other person’s point of view, that I find admirable.

Here’s another gentle human spirit, the late Mitch Hedberg, dealing with a nightclub heckler in a way that affirms both of their humanity:

There are differences that divide us. But there’s common ground, too, if we’re willing to look for it.