SimEarth: Global Warming and the Great East Anglia Geek Betrayal

1 12 2009

So, unless you’re living under a rock or are only getting your news from the mainstream media, you may already be familiar with ClimateGate. If you haven’t, in a nutshell, a bunch of e-mails stolen (or possibly leaked) from the University at East Anglia in the UK reveal a major pattern of lying, obfuscation and data fudging that casts a huge shadow over the entire theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming. This is not a small scandal either. East Anglia casts a disproportionate shadow over climate research and their findings make up a huge chunk of the data on which the work the UN’s IPCC and other climate scientists relied on to come to the conclusion that global warming is a huge threat that needs trillions of dollars and a complete realignment of the world’s economic and political systems to address.

Or maybe not.

Now I’m not a climate scientist or a statistician or even a computer scientist. That will immediately bring out cries from global warming’s true believers that I am therefore not qualified to comment on this issue and should therefore shut up. This completely ignores the fact that most of those doing the yelling are also not scientists and are no more qualified to comment on this than I am. There is however, one area in which I believe I am an expert — in geeks and geek culture and it was my knowledge of geeks that started sending up red flags on this issue a number of years ago.

One of the first red flags came when I first heard the phrase “computer models” offered as proof that AGW was happening. My first thought at the time was that I hoped that the climate model that these scientists were using was better than SimEarth, one of the forgotten “Sim” games created by Will Wright and Maxis back in the ’90s. The game modeled the Earth and the evolution of life based on James Havelock’s “Gaia” theory and allowed the player model various climactic and geological developments to build whatever sort of Earth one wanted.

As it turns out, the leaked emails reveal that the programs these scientists were using may actually have been worse predictors than SimEarth. According to the leaked e-mails — especially the Harry_Readme.txt programmer comments file — the code in these climate models was abominable. It was so bad that these guys were essentially making stuff up as they went along to make the climate models do what they wanted them to do — and sometimes to just make them work at all. They really were playing SimEarth and a lot of grandstanding politicians, glory-seeking scientists and radical environmentalists looking for their “emergency” went along for the ride.

What really set me off on the climate models was everything I read about how getting data sets impossible because the scientists in question did everything they could to hide the raw data and the details of the climate models they were using from skeptics. These were people who did everything they could to subvert the very peer-review process that is supposed to insure that science is reliable. That betrays everything that geeks usually stand for. I know geeks. Geeks welcome skeptical inquiry. Geeks are very into the whole “radical honesty” thing. I know plenty of engineers in the gaming biz and one of the most important lessons any PR person learns is “Don’t let engineers without media training talk to the media.” Otherwise your programmer will tell a journalist just how crappy your latest game is turning out. Scientists, like engineers, are geeks and it’s this welcoming attitude toward skepticism that’s supposed keeps the wheels of scientific research turning.

Global Warming was different. The more this issue dominated the media and government policy, the more red flags started going up. Calling skeptics “denialists” (subliminally bringing up the spectre of of Holocaust deniers). Demonizing those who question conventional wisdom on Global Warming. Burying, ignoring or evading questions that even a lay person could see poke serious holes in the AGW theory. Claiming that the science was “settled” when a growing body of evidence (including the statements of obviously reputable scientists) says it isn’t. Ignoring the work of statisticians (climate science places enormous weight on statistics) who said that the numbers of global warming just didn’t add up. Global Warming started to look more and more like a flame war on a gaming forum. Too many people had too much invested in global warming being real to ever admit that they might be wrong — and billions of dollars and a tremendous amount of political power are much better motivators than being right about which Final Fantasy was the best.

Finally comes this piece of news — much of the raw data that’s supposed to underlie these climate models was destroyed by the scientists involved. To go back to my SimEarth example, this is rather like dumping the source code and expecting everyone to just believe what comes out on the screen. It’s no longer just about the climate science — it’s about what was revealed about the statistical methods and coding methods of the scientists involved. There are a lot more geeks in those disciplines than compromised scientists and as people with expertise really begin to dig into these emails and the trail of tainted data spreads across the work of climate scientists around the world, it may at least bring some sense of balance back into something that was beginning to take on the disturbing overtones of a new secular religion with Al Gore as its high priest.

As for me, I’m still a Global Warming skeptic. I don’t know that it’s happening, I don’t know that it’s not. But I do know a few things. I know that if global warming isn’t real, these guys deserve to be in jail because we may have just avoided a huge waste of time, money aqnd energy into solving the wrong environmental disaster when we really do have environmental issues to deal with. That’s always been my response to people who ask me “How could you be against cleaning up the environment?” I’m not. I consider myself a conservationist in the Teddy Roosevelt mold. If there is no global warming, we were about to destroy our way of life for a lie that might not even help with real environmental problems.

If it is real, these guys deserve to be shot. They’ve given environmentalism and the process of scientific peer review a black eye from which it may take decades to recover all while global warming really does wipe out our world. This is a real issue and our decisions have real consequences and we need better data than can be generated from a 20-year old video game.





Lunacy: The Madness of Twilight — New Moon

24 11 2009

So this weekend, I did something that I thought I would never do. I went over to a friend’s house and watched Twilight, the first movie in what is laughably called “The Twilight Saga.” The reason I did so was because they were “getting ready” to see New Moon, the latest edition of what threatens to be a four movie saga — possibly more given the massive box office numbers of the latest installment. I went because these are my friends and I love them and I love getting together with them. Plus my friend Theresa makes some awesome chips & dip.

Now full disclosure. About a year ago, my wife brought home the first Twilight book on CD. At the time I was working at GameSpy and I had a massive commute every morning so I spent a lot of time listening to books on CD they she would borrow from the library. She knows I like fantasy and SF and according to the book’s description, Twilight was about vampires, so she thought I’d like it. I didn’t know anything about Twilight either, so I listened to it — and I liked it. It wasn’t great literature by any means, it was cute in that “High School Musical” sort of way — it’s a romance aimed at tweeners that just blew up into this massive thing that defies reason.

The benefit of that was that by circumstance I happened to have read Twilight before it blew up into this big pop culture phenomenon and that offers an interesting perspective on it. When my friends and I got together to watch the first movie, about half of us are really into it, while the other half are what you might refer to as “haters.” The thing was that my friend Theresa actually had T-shirts made up that said “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” and she had gotten her husband a T-shirt that said “H.A.T.E. — Husbands Against Team Edward.” It was then that I realized that none of us was actually serious about this.

Here’s the thing, I know that there are people out there that really like Twilight and enjoy getting caught up in the hype of a phenomenon. We’ve all done it with summer blockbusters or best-selling novels or other “madness of crowds” moments. The thing is that the other side of that also enjoys it on a certain level. “Haters” are also caught up in the hype and they’re enjoying provoking the fans. Having listened to Twilight and enjoyed it and now joining the “haters” camp kind of gives one a bit of remove from the whole process. I’m having fun poking at all the Twilight lovers out there but do I truly “hate” the book? Obviously not, I already mentioned that I enjoyed it.

To me, the only real danger of something like Twilight is there are always those who forget that no matter what side of the “debate” you’re on, it’s all ultimately inconsequential. The fact is that young girls need their dreamboats. Team Edward and Team Jacob are just the latest in a long line of bobby-sox idols that stretch back through the New Kids on the Block to David Cassidy to Elvis to Frank Sinatra and Rudy Vallee. Twilight will fade, as all such fads do. If something like Twilight excites your anger to the point where you get really mad about it, may I suggest you take two spoonfuls of perspective and call me in the morning?





On V, Obama and the Worship of the State

5 11 2009

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So I watched the premier of the the “re-imagining” of “V” on ABC last night. The series is, of course, a retread of the early-’80s vintage piece of sci-fi cheese that starred the Beastmaster, Jane Badler’s sexy shoulder pads and the blonde chick from The Greatest American Hero. The storyline remains the same. A race of aliens that look just like human beings land on Earth bearing a message of peace and an offer of technological assistance in return for our friendship and a chemical they need to survive. Naturally there’s more to the “Visitors” than meets they eye and as they insinuate themselves more and more into our daily lives, they gradually begin to assume a fascist control over our world, sparking the inevitable rag-tag resistance filled with photogenic rebels.

The good news is, the re-make is actually quite good. I enjoyed it and since everybody knows by now that the aliens are actually carnivorous lizards disguised as humans, the producers wisely chose to get that minor revelation out of the way in the first half hour and move on to the real meat of the story which is apparently a criticism of the Obama Administration and the cult of personality which has grown up around our President — particularly the slavish nature of the mainstream media. It’s tough to miss if you’ve been paying any attention at all to, like, life since the coming of The One. At various points Anna, the leader of the Visitors, makes pretty speeches to the frightened citizens of Earth, addressing themselves to protesters against the aliens’ presence, telling them that embracing change is difficult but that we must resign ourselves to it and promising them all kinds of goodies if only they’ll place themselves in the Visitors’ caring hands. At one point, Anna tells reporter Chad Decker (played by Party of Five’s Scott Wolf) that the Visitors would like to become the Earth’s sole health care providers — literally offering us “Universal” Health Care.

It’s Wolf’s reporter character that makes the criticism most obvious. Decker is a pretty-boy talking head on a cable news channel who has dreams of being a real reporter (a story idea he comes up with is praised by his boss and then handed off to another journalist while Decker is directed to return to his TelePrompTer). Yet when presented with an opportunity to be a real reporter, Decker muffs it — twice. First he actually shuts down fellow journalists who have the temerity to ask Anna some semi-tough questions, telling them to “have some respect.” Having shown himself to be pliable, Decker is then offered the opportunity for the first one-on-one interview with Anna where he’s told to “not ask any questions that might put us in a bad light.” When he objects, he’s told his big exclusive will be cancelled unless he plays ball. He does so and delivers a softball interview, only to be offered an ongoing exclusive arrangement with the Visitors that basically turn Decker into Anna’s Chris Matthews. On accepting this arrangement, he’s actually told by one of the Visitors that “sacrificing one’s principles for the greater good isn’t a bad thing.” That, of course, could be the motto for the Obama Administration.

The big thing though, is the worshipful attitude that the public begins to adopt about the Visitors. They are literally the “Deus ex Machina” — the machine out of the sky that has come to solve all our problems. It’s also the element that’s most changed with the original series which was a pretty explicit analogue for Nazi Germany and a forceful fascist takeover. The difference is mainly in tone. Rather than an explicit takeover, the new series seems to be more about gradually conditioning the populace to depend upon the Visitors for everything and turning gratitude into worship. It’s not for nothing that one of the lead characters in the new series is a Catholic priest who is dismayed rather than overjoyed by the suddenly filled pews in his church (he disagrees with the Pope’s acceptance of the Visitors as God’s creations by pointing out that rattlesnakes are God’s creations too.) He realizes that times of strife can awaken religious longings in people in search of security — longings that can be subverted by those looking for power by replacing God with the State.

It’s this theme that resonates most strongly with Obama. Now before the objections start, I am NOT comparing Barack Obama to Hitler or a Nazi. What I am saying is that — as Jonah Goldberg points out in “Liberal Fascism,” — both American liberalism and fascism share intellectual roots. Both are ultimately concerned with the proper ordering of society and the proper redistribution of wealth along regimented, almost militaristic lines in the interest of complete equality and fairness of outcome. The problem with that, of course, is that that is incompatible with individual free choice, so naturally that’s the first thing that has to go. There’s also the idea of the State as cornucopia — the font of all good things. At the heart of this idea is the belief that it’s the responsibility of the state to care for its citizens in loco parentis, — a key point of contention for those like me who would like the State to stay the Hell out of our business.

Of course, bringing this up irks Obama supporters no end. Thin-skinned as our Dear Leader seems to be, they seem offended by the idea that a mere science fiction series might be criticizing Obama or worse — pointing out the almost religious cult of personality that’s grown up around him — so they do their best to dismiss it. I’ve heard everything from the fact that this re-make was in development before Obama was elected to it being a mistake to read too much into an action-adventure series to the fact that the storyline is a pretty solid match for the original. The last seems pretty ridiculous to me. It’s like saying that the new “Battlestar Galactica” wasn’t about the War on Terror because the original series was a sci-fi re-telling of the Book of Mormon (which it was, by the way.) As for not reading too much into it — this is science fiction people. This is the genre where, as Rod Serling pointed out, “A Martian can say things a politician can’t.” Metaphor and allegory are as natural to the form as rockets and rayguns. Why get so upset? I got over the Anvilicious “red energy is the source of all evil, blue energy is the source of all goodness” political commentary in Astro Boy. You can get over this.

The original “V” showed the “1984”-esque face of fascism — the “iron boot stamping on a human face, forever.” The new one shows the kinder, gentler sort of fascism, the “Brave New World” –esque universal nanny state. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with it and whether Obama’s supporters can be as tolerant of criticism as they claim to be.





This is What Oppression Looks Like: Iran’s Gay Hanging

16 10 2009

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This just in from The Petrelis Files: it seems our new dialogue partners and burgeoning nuclear power Iran hanged a man last week for being gay. According to the story at IRQR:

On October 6, 2009, Rahim Mohammadi was executed in Tabriz, a city in northwest Iran, after being convicted of sexual abuse and rape during sexual relations between males (a homosexual act called Lavat).

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what oppression looks like. I think what scares me about the current state of American politics is less the partisan rancor, which we’ve always had, than the debasement of the language that we’re using to describe our opposition. When any and all resistance to the President is referred to as “racist,” (to say nothing of the last eight years of facile Nazi and execution references) that really doesn’t leave much room to describe incidents of actual racism.

When we’re now more outraged by a blowhard radio host’s NFL bid than by reinstating an admitted dog-fighter I’ve got to wonder where the Hell our priorities are. I realize I’m screaming into the wind here, but can we please ratchet down the rhetoric? Ladies and gentlemen, there’s genuine evil in the world and we really need to be able to recognize it when we see it and what’s merely an honest difference of opinion.

In case you’re wondering — this is evil:

gay iranian execution, mashad, july 2005

This is a right-wing entertainer:

rush-limbaugh

See the difference? My great fear is that many of us will say “no.”





Attention Gays: Democrats are not your Friends

13 10 2009

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I found this little tidbit from from NBC News fascinating. It’s certainly thrown the gay Left into a tizzy. Just a day after the National Equality March where Barney Frank was quoted as saying “The only thing they’re putting pressure on is the grass,” NBC reporter John Harwood says that an anonymous White House source said:

Barack Obama is doing well with 90% or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the Internet left fringe… For a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn’t take this opposition, one adviser told me those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed, and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.

To that, the only thing I can say is welcome under the bus, gay Americans! It’s getting pretty crowded under here what with all those racists and tea partiers and Green Jobs advisers and angry reverends and other people that aren’t the people Barack Obama once knew. What is it with this President that no matter how often he lashes out and vilifies anyone with the temerity to disagree with or oppose him, people are still shocked when it happens? Is it because you’re on the Left that you’re supposed to be safe? Is it because you’re gay? Excuse me while I laugh for a moment.

Here’s the bottom line, people. It’s not just that Barack “marriage is between one man and one woman” Obama merely gives you lip service to your agenda, it’s that the Democrats are not and have never been your friends. The biggest difference between the Democrats and the Republicans has always been that Democrats are a fractious alliance of left-wing splinter groups who have agreed to unite and help advance each other’s agendas — despite the fact that they very often have little to do with or often have conflicting beliefs. The Right has its factions also, but there’s a lot more common ground between social conservatives and libertarians than there is between a global warming doomsayer, a militant feminist and a “tax-everything-till-it-can’t-breathe” socialist.

Very often all that holds these groups together is the fear of the “evil religious right” and the Taliban-like regime that would undoubtedly take over the country if we allowed a Republican to win an election. This is encapsulated in the classic question — “What are you going to do? Vote Republican?” Well here’s my question. If you’re gay, is there a difference between how far your agenda advanced under George W. Bush than there was under Bill Clinton who ushered in DOMA and “Don’t ask, Don’t tell?” Bush was in power for eight years, six of them with a Republican-controlled Congress, yet somehow those lavendar-colored gulags remained just a figment of some overheated imaginations.

Gays have always been a reliable source of votes for Democrats and as such, they’ve never felt the need to do more than give lip service to the issues that matter to you and as long as you vote monolithically Democratic, they never will. I’m not suggesting that you start voting Republican, but there are plenty of other ways to get your point across. Start running candidates whose first allegiance is to your agenda in Democratic primaries. Reach across the aisle to people you think of as being “on the right” and you might find more allies than you think on issues that don’t pivot on your sexuality. As I’ve said in the past you don’t have to be straight to want lower taxes and less government interference in your life and you’re not betraying your sexuality if you don’t think single-payer health care is a good idea.

As for me — if you want to get married, good luck God bless. Everyone should have the right to be miserable with the partner of their choice.

For you, you’ve already come out of the pink closet, it’s OK to come out the blue one too.





Today’s Moment of Genius: Beyonce’s Single Ladies Cover

8 10 2009

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I’ve got nothing really profound to say about this particular Pomplamoose Music video except that it made me really happy today when I really needed it. I’m not a huge Beyonce fan but I love living in a mix-it and re-mixable culture where if you don’t like the entertainment that’s on offer, almost anyone with a few bucks, a little talent and a lot of ingenuity can quite literally roll their own fun.





Sgt. Friday schools Mr. Polanski

3 10 2009

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I’d resisted writing anything about the Roman Polanski situation because thinking about him makes me physically ill. Still, the only thing worse than what that man did is the so-called Hollywood elite riding to his defense. Harvey Weinstein — a man well known for the ethical and above reproach way he conducts his business — launched this little gem (as quoted in the LA Times).

“In an interview, Weinstein said that people generally misunderstand what happened to Polanski at sentencing. He’s not convinced public opinion is running against the filmmaker and dismisses the categorization of Hollywood as amoral. “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion,” Weinstein said. “We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe.””

Oh yeah. When disaster hits, we can count on Hollywood to boldly rearrange their schedules and show up for a well-lit photo-op. Thanks guys. Don’t know how we did it without you.

As for Polanski himself, here’s a little thought experiment:

In a parallel universe, Father Roman Polanski of the Los Angeles diocese drugs and anally rapes a 13-year old altar boy. He then flees to Europe before sentencing where the powerful Catholic Church proceeds to shuffle him from parish to parish to keep him away from the law. All other facts of the case remain the same.

In 2009, he’s arrested at a Catholic Bishop’s conference in Switzerland.

Are we still defending him?

Where is Jack Webb when we really need him?