Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Climate Change expectations getting more realistic

I can't tell you how happy this makes me.
The new projections, published this month in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate, indicate a median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, with a 90% probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees. This can be compared to a median projected increase in the 2003 study of just 2.4 degrees. The difference is caused by several factors rather than any single big change. Among these are improved economic modeling and newer economic data showing less chance of low emissions than had been projected in the earlier scenarios. Other changes include accounting for the past masking of underlying warming by the cooling induced by 20th century volcanoes, and for emissions of soot, which can add to the warming effect. In addition, measurements of deep ocean temperature rises, which enable estimates of how fast heat and carbon dioxide are removed from the atmosphere and transferred to the ocean depths, imply lower transfer rates than previously estimated.

Yeah. The estimate's more than doubled in 6 years because the model's have all changed. Or is it that scientists who present these inconvenient truths no longer fear getting shot in the face by Richard Bruce Cheney? If it's actually model improvement, and model improvement causes a doubling rate of five years, we're pretty much toast. The mean July high for New York City is 83 °F. Adding 5.2 °C would give us the same mean July high as Miami.

Professor Krugman yesterday pointed out some issues
[T]he House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill... [b]ut if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth.... [T]o believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

We can start to have some hope around Climate Change science affecting policy, although I still don't think there's a big chance Congress will meet my goal of ceasing electrical production with greenhose gas emissions by July 17 of 2018.

I'm sort of hoping that if we do start to take our imminent demise seriously, we can still avoid war with China.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We're the reason Iran is not democratic

So, people settled Iran a while ago, and a lot's happened since. I'm going to zero in on the last 56 years. As I've mentioned, Iran actually struggled out from underneath a history of autocracy and colonialism to install a democratic government in 1951, and was deposed by us in 1953. I know that sounds like Belgians shooting Lumumba or any number of wacky conspiracy theories that you hear, and that the truth must be more complex. Well, do your own research. You can start in the New York Times.

But, when Iran comes up, and especially when we talk about their making democratic reforms, we really have to keep returning to this point. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei didn't arbitrarily designate us as 'The Great Satan.' We really did overthrow the democratic government and install a dictator in service to British oil interests. They're in a theocracy now because they didn't like that.

When I searched the New York Times for the above link, I found Nick Kristoff's column yesterday, where comments 4 and 5 refer to the coup, as does an Op-Ed today by a Columbia history professor. So, it's in the public discourse, which is a little comforting.

Five Mature Adaptations

link (it's not going to take you very far)
So, returning to the last blog post, one needs five or six of the Seven Pillars of Happiness at age 50 to be 'happy well' at age 80 according to George Vaillant's analysis of Grant Study data. I don't know what happens to people with Seven, but it's probably not good. Anyway, my current plan is to go for all seven with the expectation that one (or two!) will be unattainable.

The First Pillar is 'mature adaptations,' altruism, humor, sublimation, anticipation and suppression. I believe the idea is, you have to walk around ready to use one of these five adaptations in any (otherwise) anxiety-producing arena. So, we have to remember what they are. One problem is, they make a sucky mnemonic acronym, first because there are no end stopped first letters -- one of the two consonants is 'H' and the other is 'S' -- but because the five words start with only three letters. If you went with 'assha[t]', for instance, you right off get confused with whether your talking about altruims or anticipation first, and you've got to make something up for 't.' Maybe 'tidiness'? The planets (my very educated mother just served us nine... oh, sorry. Um, jumped straight upon Neville?) or g-clef (every good boy deserves fudge) have little mnemonic sentences, which fails on the one hand for the same reason, and on the other because there's no intrinsic ordering for adaptations. We can be expected to keep Mercury and Mars straight, so the two Ms in the first sentence don't really create a problem.

In these cases, I don't think we have a lot of options other than digging down a level into the semantics, and making a rhyme based on the meaning. Something you can crochet and hang in the nursery. Something like

Do for others when you can,
when you can't, laugh at 'em;
plan for miseries to come
and when they come, postpone 'em;
Follow your base prim'tive drives,
in a way that none can see

Clearly, that's not going to catch on. But, submissions are welcome.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


So, I fell off the edge of the World, and am now in Brooklyn. But, since I had to blog anyway to note that I'd run up again in an Overheard in New York Headline Contest, I thought I'd check in in a slightly more rural, salt of the Earth sort of way.

So, happiness, really, is the goal. Not the Todd Solondz movie, which while a fine movie is a terrible date movie, but the state of being which Bhutan purports to let drive its public policy. Here's the current conventional thinking:
[H]appiness scientists have come up with all kinds of straightforward, and actionable, findings: that money does little to make us happier once our basic needs are met; that marriage and faith lead to happiness (or it could be that happy people are more likely to be married and spiritual); that temperamental “set points” for happiness—a predisposition to stay at a certain level of happiness—account for a large, but not overwhelming, percentage of our well-being. (Fifty percent, says Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness. Circumstances account for 10 percent, and the other 40 percent is within our control.)

That's pretty useful to know, but there was this astonishing latitudinal study done on JFK, former WaPo editor (and 'Vice President at large') Ben Bradlee and 266 other students from the Harvard classes of 1947, 48 and 49 (WW II vet age) and further informed by a group of poor Boston boys identified in 1937 and high IQ girls from 1920s California written up in the Atlantic Monthly this month.

It seems pretty 'sensitive dependence of initial conditions'-ish, but the article is about a study which originally sought to make prescriptive statements about happiness. I'm going to allow the possibility that stuff that happens to one can have an effect. But, the article suggests a lot to watch out for. It's also fun to read, and has a lot about the study's current steward, George Vaillant, who in his most recent book suggests faith in God is essential to happiness -- I've come to believe this myself, so he's already winning me over.

I do recommend you read the whole thing, but here's the money graf:
What allows people to work, and love, as they grow old? By the time the Grant Study men had entered retirement, Vaillant, who had then been following them for a quarter century, had identified seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically.

Employing mature adaptations was one. The others were education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight. Of the 106 Harvard men who had five or six of these factors in their favor at age 50, half ended up at 80 as what Vaillant called “happy-well” and only 7.5 percent as “sad-sick.”
Let's make this about me. I'm 41. I'm educated, I don't smoke, I exercise some. That's three. Eh, abusing alcohol. There doesn't seem to be any level that's really good for you([A]lcoholism... is probably the horse, and not the cart, of pathology.), so I don't know where abusing starts. I've been married less than three months. It seems pretty stable, but it's where it is in nine years that matters, apparently. Assuming I... or, you know, we can nail that down, I've either got to stop drinking or get to a healthy weight. Or, I could get into these 'mature adaptations,' so let's look at what they are.

The article mentions
  • altruism,
  • humor,
  • anticipation (looking ahead and planning for future discomfort),
  • suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict, to be addressed in good time), and
  • sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship)
I feel like I'm doing pretty good on those, so I guess I can stop worrying about obesity.

This is another bit I love:
Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections—but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak.
I am always counseling people to open themselves up to emotional pain, to stay vulnerable in the face of the terrors of others, for some abstract payoff. It's nice to have Science on my side. There's more great relationship advice.
"On the bright side... reaction formation allows us to care for someone else when we wish to be cared for ourselves.” But in intimate relationships... the defense “rarely leads to happiness for either party."
Maybe I'm just hearing what I want to hear, but it sounds like emotional reactions have to be pretty carefully managed.
Regular exercise in college predicted late-life mental health better than it did physical health.
That's not good. Maybe some of you who went to college with me can help me out, but as I recall it, I quite running when I was 19 because it interfered with my smoking, and that's pretty much where things stood for five years. I can't be expected to remember myself, because...
[O]lder people tend to remember fewer distressing images (like snakes) and more pleasant ones (like Ferris wheels) than younger people. By giving a profound shape to aging, this tendency can make for a softer, rounder old age, but also a deluded one.

Overheard in New York: Ran Up Again!

Thought I'd let you know.