All posts by Greg Laden

Four Distinct Democratic Campaigns

Here is a nice new graphic showing the polling data for four of the current Democratic candidates. The graphic is meant to contrast the campaigns with respect to their overall pattern of performance over time.

Each of the four graphs represents polling from April to the present.

Each graph has four lowess smoothed lines representing the data, with all four candidate’s lines on each of the four graphs.

Each candidate gets its own graph, with those four lines, but with that candidate’s polling data shown.

The polling data is normalized so that each point is the proportion of polling points across just these four candidates, so there are no effects of other candidates entering or leaving the race.

All four graphics are on the same scale, but since I don’t want scale or actual polling numbers to be the focus, I did not include them.

What we see here is four distinctly different patterns. Biden is a top candidate with a declining campaign. Warren is an up and coming candidate with an expanding campaign. I used to use the term “flat line” to describe Sanders’ numbers, but I won’t do that any more. Let’s just say he has a nice, healthy, straight line that does not go up or down.

Harris has a campaign that experienced a temporary peak that went away.

Pretty cool graph, if I may say so myself.

Dear Republicans: What is taking you so long?

I know the answer to that question. You are bad people, every one of you. You are morally, ethnically, and intellectually incapable of doing the right thing. Every single one of you who considers yourselves still a Republican is not worthy to breathe the same air our children are being poisoned by as we speak.

Everyone who formerly thought of themselves as Republicans, any time over the last two or three decades as this situation built up, even if you reject the party now, share some of the blame and if you do not feel shame, you are bad, bad people. Sorry, no forgiveness here. You have systematically worked to ruin the future for our children and grandchildren, for your own selfish reasons, and we have Trump today because of the decisions you consciously made.

So, yeah, fuck you and don’t expect even a modicum of good will from me.

But if you don’t like me being mean to you, maybe see what Barack Obama has to say. Here, he owns you, cucks.

The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg

The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg is a podcast hosted by, you guessed it, former prosecutor and Justice Department administrator Chuck Rosenberg. You will know of Mr. Rosenberg as a regular justice expert guest on various MSNBC shows, especially the Rachel Maddow Show. Rosenberg was appointed as US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2006, and was previously a US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, and later, Chief of Staff to Jame Comey at the FBI. He was administrator of the DEA from May 2015 to October 1, 2017. Appointed under Obama, departed under Trump.

Rosenberg stepped down from his post at the DEA because he had to either go along with Trump’s very wrong policies, or step away, which at the time was considered proper for justice department officials. (I suspect that is changing.) You may have heard his famous departing remark, issued in an internal DEA memo in response to Trump telling cops to get illegally tougher on the people they interact with:

The President, in remarks delivered yesterday in New York, condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement… I write to offer a strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we, as law enforcement professionals, adhere. I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong. That’s what law enforcement officers do. That’s what you do. We fix stuff. At least, we try.

Among his well known cases were the dog fighting charges against Michael Vick, the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, and work on child porn (against, not pro). So, not only has he great and interesting experience, but over time, he has made good friends with many key players in US Justice under the Bush and Obama administrations.

Because of these connections, and the high degree of respect he commands from his colleagues, it has been possible for him to put together a rather bang-up podcast. Different people will like or not like the subject matter, or will find it essential or outside their area of interests, but in fact, any one who listens to a good sampling of the interviews will learn things they didn’t know they didn’t know, but in fact, do need to know. I just now listened to his interview with Joyce Vance, also a regular on MSNBC as a commentator, and former AUSA in Alabama. (You also learn things like what “AUSA” stand for from this podcast.)

One thing I appreciate about The Oath is that Rosenberg, either through careful planning or skilled and thoughtful editing (probably both), makes sure the audience gets what they need to understand the story that is being told. He eschews the common fault many interviewer have of making sure the audience knows how much the interviewer knows, and asks what are probably utterly dumb questions from the point of view of an expert, but essential questions for the average listener. Like, “So what does AUSA stand for?”

I have never been a big podcast listener, but a while back, long after I started my own podcast with Mike Haubrich, I started to listen to a few, and I have a very short list of blue ribbon podcasts I keep up on. The Oath is one of them.

The podcast web page is HERE, but as is the case with most podcasts, you can listen to it with your favorite podcast accessing software on whatever device you use. Within reason.

The State of the Democratic Race

In the race for the Democratic nomination for the office of President, one thing is clear: Pretty much anybody could win.

Well, not really, but this time in previous elections, over several years, it has been uncommon for the leading candidate to stay the leading candidate, and it has been difficult to predict which of the candidates might eventually take the nomination. That prediction will be something one can make on Super Hangover Wednesday, I suspect (the day after Super Tuesday) in this particular year, or maybe a couple of weeks later.

However, that does not mean that an examination of the polling data is without merit or interest. Or, at least, interest.

Here, I look only at the three candidates that have been consistently in the double digit range for months: Biden, Warren, and Sanders. There are three simple and very interesting observations to make.

1) Sanders is to the polls like a nuclear power plant is to the electric grid supply. Baseload steady. People remark now and then that his numbers are up, or down, or whatever. But as the analysis below shows, Sanders’ position in the polls have been uncannily steady for months.

2) Biden has undergone a steady decline, starting with a stronger decline owing to simple stabilizing of numbers (with no real meaning, I think) followed by a long period of slow decline, and ending over the last few weeks with some real drops in the polling. Statistically speaking, using the i-statistic (“I can see this without even calculating any numbers) Biden is still probably in the number one slot, but we are observing a transition, which leads us to…

3) Warren has gone from a highly variable third/fourth place position to a strong second place position, and is moving on first place like a Marine.

In this analysis, numbers from only the three candidates are considered, and recalculated in relation to each other. This removes effects of other candidates moving into the race, out of the race, or around the race in relation to each other.

The usual most statistically reliable and widely understandable way of tracking a sequence of numbers (where you have an x and y axis or similar) is as simple regression analysis, where a single line is constructed that minimizes the total difference between the line and each data point. However, if the data points have some sort of oscillation or cycling, one must instead use entirely different techniques (like Fourier Analysis). In this case, the data have the potential of shifting orientation over time, so for a while the numbers are going up, or going down, or staying flat, then changing, but at a time and in a way you can’t know a priori.

The most accurate way to describe time series data, especially when it is kinda fudgably true that each point is from a different point in time (maybe by averaging all the polls released on a given day) is to make an equation that has one term for each and every point. However, that would be absurd. A lesser and more useful way to describe the data is to use a polynomial equation with just a couple of terms. that allows for the line the equation traces to track changes in direction as long as they aren’t too abrupt.

For this analysis I used a second order polynomial with an extension out in the future of 30 days, just for fun, and with no argument being made by me of the statistical significance of stability of such a line.

What we see here is a remarkably straight line, even though the line is allowed to curve if it wants to, representing Sanders. Look at that line. Flat.

We also see the double drop of Biden, with the second part of that drop much less clear and quite possibly not at all real. And, the two part upward sweep of Warren, with her early move into second/third placesness, and her later move int something challenging first place.

In particular note the small cluster of four red markers for Warren handing out up there with the Biden markers, near the end of the series.

If Warren’s rise to possible first place is real, most of the next half dozen polls, over the next few days, will be up there with these. We’ll see.

Here’s the graph:

Climate Change Science Resources

Books about climate change science and policy

Dire Predictions: The Visual Guide to the Findings of the IPCC by Michael Mann is a visually rich, detailed, but very accessible retelling of the IPCC scientific basis report. I recommend this volume (get the most current one) for use in classrooms as well as for general reading.

Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics by Dana Nuccitelli. The main thrust of Dana’s book is to put climate science deniers’ models and predictions to the test. If they are so right, and real climate scientists are so wrong, and this fight has been going on for decades, we should be able to see a divergence between what real scientists say and what fake scientists say, with the latter (the denier’s choice) being more correct. But it isn’t. Real science got climate science right, fake science did not.

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® by Joe Romm. Here, Romm addresses a wide range of questions people have about climate change, but with a focus on what you need to know in order to inform decisions in your actual Life. Climate change is real, and matters. You are real, and you matter too. How do these two real things that mater intersect?

Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment by Paul Douglas and Mitch Hescox. I know a lot of my readers are atheists, and this book is written by a Christian fundamentalist and some sort of Bishop. Put Paul, a friend and colleague, is a true blue scientist even if his politics have not always been that blue, and he is sincerely committed to the cause of promoting good climate science and fighting the deniers. (Those of you who live in the Twin Cities already know about Paul Douglas, I’m sure.) So, while this book might not be for you, it might be for your Uncle Bob, if Uncle Bob is a fundamentalist Christian.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited Paul Hawken, with a forward by Tom Steyer, gives a ranked list of things that can be done, by people, governments, institutions, and corporations, to decarbonize our economy.

Books about science denialism and related topics

The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazyf by scientist Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles is a newspaper-political-cartoon style commentary, with text, putting climate change denial in proper context.

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway demonstrates the links between the tobacco industry’s efforts to control their narrative and cause several generations of kids to become addicted to nicotine, and the climate denial industry, well funded by Big Oil, doing roughly the same thing but for petroleum. The links are both in form (science denial through doubt), function (gaining money and power) and often, in who participates, with many individuals doing both jobs.

The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It by Shawn Otto is the single best and most comprehensive overview and careful analysis of the war on science. Otto even covers what to do to help win this war.

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines by Michael Mann is an accounting of the denialist attack on his imprtant “hockey stick” research and parallel stories.

Web sites or organizations

NASA Global Climate Change

Get Energy Smart Now!


Carbon Brief

World Meteorological Oragnization

Paul Douglas Weather

Twitter feeds

I started out copying the twitter handles off of the account profiles from my own internal and private Twitter list of climate tweeters. Then, I started to break out in a cold sweat, and I think it was memories of spending hours messing around with blogrolls back in the day. So I stopped, renamed the list to make more sense, and make it public. That makes so much more sense. This way, if I update the list, it is updated for you as well, if you subscribe to it.

So, check out my Climate Change Tweeters Twiiter list!


The Copenhagen Diagnosis

IPCC Reports

Hard to Swallow

Dear Readers,

Yes, the rumors are true. I removed several comments by J. D. Swallow on the grounds that they were promulgating bad science, and at the same time constituted mean attacks against other readers.

The bad science part, I don’t worry about too much because the loyal (and rational) readers of this blog had been handling that very well. But JDS’s personal attacks were too much.

Swallow has been banned, not for the first time, but likely for the last time.

At least we can revel in a bit of nostalgia, remembering the days of the old forums, when Swallows came in flocks instead of just one at a time.

Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout

Rachel Maddow is the Charles Darwin of Cable News.

Darwin’s most important unsung contribution to science (even more important than his monograph on earthworms) was to figure out how to most effectively put together multiple sources into a single argument — combining description, explanation, and theory — of a complex phenomenon in nature. His first major work, on coral reefs, brought together historical and anecdotal information, prior observation and theory from earlier researchers, his own direct observations of many kinds of reefs, quasi experimental work in the field, and a good measure of deductive thinking. It took a while for this standard to emerge, but eventually it did, and this approach was to become the normal way to write a PhD thesis or major monograph in science.

Take any major modern news theme. Deutsche Bank. Trump-Nato-Putin. Election tampering. Go to the standard news sources and you’ll find Chuck Todd following the path of “both sides have a point.” Fox News will be mixing conspiracy theory and right wing talking points. The most respected mainstream news anchors, Lester Holt, Christiane Amanpour, or Brian Williams perhaps, will be giving a fair airing of the facts but moving quickly from story to story. Dig deeper, and find Chris Hayes with sharp analysis, Joy Reid contextualizing stories with social justice, and Lawrence O’Donnell applying his well earned in the trenches biker wisdom.

But if you really want to Darwin the news, and sink your natural teeth and claws into a story, go to Maddow.

I’ve heard Rachel does not like being called “Doctor” (most of us PhD’s don’t) but she is an Oxford trained Doctor of politics. She also has a degree in public policy from Stanford, and is a Rhodes Scholar, having turned down the Marshall to accept it. In other words, she is both very well educated, and very smart.

In the Early Oughties, Maddow’s career evolved through a series of radio shows, panelist roles, substitute-roles, to eventually become the Rachel Maddow Show, in 2008. RMS (which also stands for root-mean-square, a mathematical concept that is not about roots and is more about curves than squares) almost instantly moved into state of great success, almost single handily pulling MSNBC materially upward as a high ratings cable network.

The point being this: If you want to really get a story, find out if the story is covered by Rachel Maddow where it got the RMS treatment, and sit down and absorb that. It might take several episodes, or there might be that one RMS segment that nails it once and for all. Depends on the story.

I consider Maddow to be the number one modern historian of modern news. If she had gotten her graduate training in history rather than politics and policy, the major living historians would have had a brilliant addition to their ranks. But everyone else, or at least, the thinking liberal left side of the spectrum of people, would have lost a regular supply of information and inspiration that, frankly, keeps a lot of us going these days.

You know that an elixir works magic when certain forces ban it. About a year and a half ago, I decided to alter my exercise routine at the gym so I could be on the tread mill during the Rachel Maddow Show, which I do not get at home since I don’t have that kind of cable (I watch the show next day on line, streaming). I was shocked to find out that MSNBC had been replaced with some dumb thing up on the monitor. I went to the “help desk” at the gym and asked about it.

“We took off all the news sites because it was driving people crazy, they were getting less rather than more healthy,” they said.

“Ok, but I see ABC and some business version of CBS is showing. You seem to have only gotten rid of MSNBC, is this some kind of right wing conspiracy?” I accused.

“Ah, well, we got rid of both MSNBC and FOX. It was a corporate decision. I know nothing about it. Would you like to sign up to have a trainer, we have a special this week…”

Anyway, I conjecture, and what I’m about to say is either deeply insightful or terribly offensive, but I’ll revise it as needed on receipt of further information, that Darwin and Maddow are also similar in another way.

Darwin first developed his amazing craft of explanation out of fear. See, it went like this. While out on the Voyage of the Beagle, and generally out of contact, he had corresponded about an early version of his theory of coral reef formation, growth, and maintenance. An outline of this theory had been read to the Royal Society without his knowing it. It is said that when he heard about this in a letter from his sister, he became very worried that his hero, Charles Lyell, would now lose respect for him and abandon him as a colleague. Or worse, whatever worse might be in Victorian England among the nerds of the day. You see, Lyell’s version of how reefs work was the standing science at the time, and Darwin’s view was heretically different. The fear this struck in the young, and in his own mind unqualified, researcher led, I think, to the nearly obsessive care he took in constructing his final arguments about reefs,and everything else he did after that, including taking decades to publish the Origin.

So, to be blunt, I’m suggesting that Charles Darwin suffered from a sort of impostor syndrome that led him to become excellent, as a means of protecting himself and his science. And maybe something happened along these lines with the young, up and coming, Rachel Maddow who was almost certainly, as a female, a young scholar, a Liberal, and a lesbian, required to dance backward and in high heeled Birkenstocks in the early phases of her career, and likely, through much of her graduate education before that.

The result: The frequent generation of richly evolved narratives of current news, embedded in history, linked to parallel stories, details well sorted out and beautifully integrated. And that is what we get from, and love about, Rachel.

But then, every now and then, instead of a 25 minute segment about something on the Rachel Maddow Show, we get a book! Earlier, Drift. Now, Blowout.

Blowout is the Rachel Maddow treatment of the petroleum industry. That sentence right there should make you want to read this book. In ways I will not here enumerate, Blowout is both prescient and uncannily relevant to this week’s news (and by this week I mean last week, and probably next week.) Russia, the Ukraine, Rex Tillerson, Exxon, ExxonMobil, Chevron, nuclear bombs in civilian hands, freakin’ fracking, Putin, power, crude, crude politicians, corruption, regulation syphilatic African dictator, technology, power, Texas, Siberia, corruption, brilliant business people and, did I mention power? These are the things that make every chapter sing.

This is a book about how Big Petrol was subsidized into a state of power great enough to eat the very democracies (and other forms of government) that created it. This is the Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein story of our times.

In modern geopolitical terms, Blowout seems to explain everything. But it doesn’t, that will require two or three more books by Rachel Maddow. But for now, Blowout is the treatise that gives rich detail and extreme documentation to a theme with which you are already familiar, and already know is important. You will not be shocked to find that Big Oil is up to something. But every chapter, at several points in each said chapter, will shock you nonetheless, because the story is so rich that you can not possibly have grasped it before. Blowout, the book, will bury you.

Get it. Read it. Report back: Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth

Also by Rachel Maddow: Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

If you are interested in following up on Darwin and coral reefs: Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral by David Dobbs.

And, of course, now in paperback, unrelated to the rest of this post but a must read: In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden

Harbinger by Louis du Toit and CL Raven

I’m an American who has spent considerable time in South Africa, so I enjoy a good novel that is set there. Harbinger by Louis du Toit and CL Raven is set, instead, in the memory of that fraught and beautiful country, written by a South African author. I live in a place where racial tension, especially anti-Muslim or anti-Middle Eastern feelings rest at a low level below the surface, and this is also a place where I accompany my son to the bus stop where he is the only child who is NOT an immigrant, a Muslim, a Hindu, or, egads, a French Canadian Catholic. I consider us both lucky to be among such diverse friends.

Harbinger explores a much more intense version of that world, a more extreme version of it than most Americans will ever experience, where racism and Islamophobia are the expected norm and create a harsh and frightening setting.

Louis du Toit and CL Raven’s novel succeeds as a piece of literature because it tells a great story, in a fraught and intense context, with compelling characters and situations.

Once you start reading it, you’ll appreciate the way it challenges personal beliefs and society’s norms, and explores the inner pain and personality of an unlikely hero (or two). The characters are palpable, and you will start to care a great deal about what happens from the very beginning to the very end.

Climate Change Reading and Resources

Dire Predictions: The Visual Guide to the Findings of the IPCC by Michael Mann summarizes the IPCC Report on climate change (scientific basis) in a clear and understandable way without sacrificing important detail and nuance.

One test of the legitimacy of claims about scientific matters is time. Over time, if a proposal about how nature works that buck the consensus is valid, it will be shown to be valid. If it is not, it will fail the test of time. Climatology Versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics by Dana Nuccitelli looks at the predictions of those who have been denying the reality of climate change, comparing those predictions made by mainstream science. Read the book to find out who won!

Even though this is not specifically about climate science, I always recommend that people read Sean Otto’s The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It to understand why we are not simply and directly dealing with climate change. Along the same lines, Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines chronicles the denier-science fight at its high water mark, a few years back.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming is a pretty good book, and at this moment very current, to read about how to address climate change.

A Portrait of Dorian

UPDATE: Everything below is still current, but right now at about 10PM eastern Aug 31, Dorian is a Cat 5. Just figured you’d like to know

Original post:

Heed this most important message from the National Hurricane Center:

Key Messages:

  1. A prolonged period of life-threatening storm surge, devastating
    hurricane-force winds, and heavy rains capable of life-threatening
    flash floods are expected on the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama
    Sunday through Monday, and a hurricane warning is in effect for
    these areas.

  2. A tropical storm watch is in effect for a portion of the Florida
    east coast. Since Dorian is forecast to slow down and turn northward
    as it approaches the coast, life-threatening storm surge and
    dangerous hurricane-force winds are still possible along portions of
    the Florida east coast by the early to middle part of next week.
    Residents should have their hurricane plan in place, know if they
    are in a hurricane evacuation zone, and listen to advice given by
    local emergency officials.

  3. There is an increasing risk of strong winds and dangerous storm
    surge along the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North
    Carolina during the middle of next week. Residents in these areas
    should continue to monitor the progress of Dorian.

  4. Heavy rains, capable of life-threatening flash floods, are
    possible over coastal sections of the southeastern United States
    from Sunday through much of next week.

It now looks more and more likely that Dorian will make a dramatic right turn, far enough away from the Florida coast to menace but not totally destroy things there. But as the storm moves north, the track is less certain. There is no reliable estimate of the location where Dorian would make a real strike on land, but it may be late PM or evening Thursday or later, and it might be North Carolina.

Dorian is now a strong Category 4 storm, and may briefly hit Category 5 over the next day. It will not strike land as a Category 4 or 5 storm. Maybe a 2, maybe a 1.

This will be difficult for the reporters (sorry I keep harping on them, but it is necessary) to describe, because once a storm reaches a certain category, it is forever known as “A Category Five Storm” or whatever, even after it has changed to a lower level of intensity. So, “Category Five Dorian Strikes Jacksonville, North Carolina as a Weakened Category Two Storm” is a sentence you may well see, or something like it.

Meanwhile the Bahamas are in very serious trouble. There may not be a place in this world that is both so vulnerable to major hurricanes but at the same time, most ready for them. But a major, Category 4 or 5 hurricane, moving slowly, is about to rake the north part of that island chain.

Sunday afternoon, the bad part of a hurricane with 150 mile an hour winds will likely be affecting the atolls north of Little Abaco Island. It will take well more than 24 hours for the storm to clear the area and as it does so, it will actually speed up. For the sake of Bahamas, this speed up will hopefully happen faster.

Here is the currently projected track. Each of those dots is a 12 hour interval. The little “M” Means major (Category 3 or above).

Seat Belt Wearing is a Cultural Phenomenon.

Or, at least, not wearing them appears to be.

In Minnesota, 7% of drivers don’t wear seat belts. About 30% of the fatalities in car crashes are people not wearing seat belts. For every 76 people injured in a traffic accident, one is killed.

Who the hell doesn’t wear seat belts?

Turns out it is mostly young, unmarried men driving pickup trucks.

In a related matter, it is common for studies such as those that look at traffic data to become available long after the fact. Today, the Minnesota report to which I refer cam out, updated only through 2018. So well over a half year. At the same time, the AAA Foundation came out with their latest report, studying information collected through 2017.

I think this is more a matter of expectation than need. In the old days, when everything was pen and paper, you were lucky to get two year old data. People in agencies that handle the data are accustom to a large lag, and seem rarely if ever, encouraged to be more up to date. Traffic data does come from a wide range of sources, but most of it is reported by local agencies monthly, and it can not be too difficult to have an updated if not perfectly corrected database that is never more than 60-90 days old. Studies that do the same thing with the data every year can be boiler plated. Other fields do this. You should see the amount of data that is merely days old that comes out in epidemiology.