Friday, December 15, 2006

Snow: the ghost of Christmas past? Posted by Picasa
Let Old Temps Not Be Forgot

News that will stay news in 2007:

The year 2006 will be the fifth hottest on record for the planet Earth (according to NASA) or maybe the sixth (according to the World Meteorological Association).

England had its hottest year since their records began in 1659. The U.S. had its third hottest since 1880. "But all of the reports noted that temperatures greatly above normal were recorded in places as varied as Australia and Scandinavia’s Arctic islands, shattering a variety of longstanding records," writes the New York Times. "The records set this year support various studies that “showed links between human behavior and the warming trend,” said David Parker, a climate scientist at Britain’s Met Office."

2006 was the hottest year in the Netherlands since 1706.

Meanwhile, a team of American and German scientists studying the tricky topic of future rises in sea levels have concluded that previous predictions under-estimate their forecasts by 59%. The study, published in Science, also said (according to this BBC report) that "the observed rate of sea level rise through the 20th Century held a strong correlation with the rate of warming."

Thursday, December 14, 2006


President Bush has put off announcing his new Iraq policy until after the holidays. Meanwhile the killing and violence accelerate, more American soldiers are killed and injured, and political maneuvering in the Gulf region and in Iraq is likely to be going on at a fever pitch. The Bushites risk having a new situation handed to them (like the fall of the current government) before they can announce how they would have responded to the ongoing one.

But the delay may be inevitable if there is any chance Bush is going to change policy at all. The
reason for the delay and the methodical approach being taken may well be that everybody knows they have to change Bush's mind, and it probably looked as if he was going to retain his faith-based policy if he announced before Christmas, so they've talked him into delaying it and listening some more, in the hopes that he can be persuaded to change.

Except for a few Bush retainers, a lot of people in the White House and Republicans in Washington want to have jobs after Bush leaves, and they can read the polls, which lately show over 70% no confidence in Bush's current Iraq strategy. They know the Iraq policy has to change, and they've got to get Bush to do it. A stubborn man with little patience and curiosity and a dim bulb to begin with, it's not an easy task. However, giving him some bonus time at the ranch before he heats things up again with a policy statement probably appealed to his innate laziness. Maybe it will clear his head as well as some brush, and he'll change.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

by Paul Klee Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Bookshelf

The Emotion Machine
Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of the Human Mind
By Marvin Minsky

Science may begin with wonder and strives ultimately for understanding, but as a practical matter, science is interested in how to do things. Physics formulated a few simple laws (governing how falling bodies behave, for example), which enabled engineering and technology to develop.

So when some scientists set out to create intelligent machines -- "machines to mimic our minds" -- Marvin Minsky writes, they looked for simple laws that govern how our brains work. They didn't find them, he argues, because our brains are "complicated machinery" and we need "to find more complicated ways to explain our most familiar mental events." Humans adapt to different environments and situations because our brains are resourceful -- we have lots of different ways to solve problems, and if one doesn't work, we can switch to another. This book is about what Minsky believes those processes are.

continued at The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sun by Yukie Adams at Posted by Picasa
Darfur and the Climate Crisis

Most of the crucial challenges of today and tomorrow are related in some ways, but there is a particularly direct connection between two problems that don't seem to have that much in common: Darfur and the Climate Crisis.

But as former president of Ireland and former UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson made a point of saying in an important environmental speech Monday, the economic and social effects of the Climate Crisis will hit the poorest people the hardest, and global heating directly affects some of those poor areas, throwing a vulnerable subsistence into chaos and catastrophe.

Some such areas are already being affected, like Inuit villages in the north but also vast areas of Africa, where persistent drought is diminishing arable land, and various groups may fight over what's left. That's what Kofi Annan, Al Gore and others claim has been happening when Lake Chad dried up, resulting in the ongoing genocide in Darfur, partly a grab of dwindling food-producing land and water.

Kofi Annan also pointed to areas like Kenya where drought partly attributable to global heating is displacing populations, and the spread of malaria, one of Africa's major diseases, to higher regions, as they become hotter and more hospitable to mosquitos. While global heating may be changing the environment in the Arctic, it is likely to be accelerating and exacerbating ongoing desertification in Africa which may have many causes, including manmade ones.

As a global matter, a report last month by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern said that while actions now to curb carbon emissions would cost one percent of world economic output, delay could push the price up to 20 percent. As usual, the brunt of any economic problem hits the poor hardest, even when they live in an area that's less directly affected. That's why Mary Robinson insists that the Climate Crisis be conceptualized as a human rights crisis as well as an environmental one.