… because of stupid things like this. Seriously? Anybody who calls
for a suspension of the worlds' democracies in order to fight climate
change is an idiot. Don't get me wrong — it'd take that (and more) to
actually do anything about it. But the rational response to that
scenario isn't to call for the impossible (and thus brand yourself
irrational), but to say "There's probably nothing humanity can do to
stave off climate change, so let's just plan on it occurring and prepare."


Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting
on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of
James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and
independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory.

It follows a tumultuous few months in which public opinion on efforts to
tackle climate change has been undermined by events such as the climate
scientists' emails leaked from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and
the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit.

"I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough
to handle a complex a situation as climate change," said Lovelock in his
first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last
November. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do
anything meaningful."

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy",
he added. "Even the best democracies agree that when a major war
approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a
feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may
be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

Lovelock, 90, believes the world's best hope is to invest in adaptation
measures, such as building sea defences around the cities that are most
vulnerable to sea-level rises. He thinks only a catastrophic event would
now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously
enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica, such as
the Pine Island glacier, which would immediately push up sea level.

"That would be the sort of event that would change public opinion," he
said. "Or a return of the dust bowl in the mid-west. Another
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report won't be enough.
We'll just argue over it like now." The IPCC's 2007 report concluded
that there was a 90% chance that greenhouse gas emissions from human
activities are causing global warming, but the panel has been criticised
over a mistaken claim that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2030.

Lovelock says the events of the recent months have seen him warming to
the efforts of the "good" climate sceptics: "What I like about sceptics
is that in good science you need critics that make you think: 'Crumbs,
have I made a mistake here?' If you don't have that continuously, you
really are up the creek. The good sceptics have done a good service, but
some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favours. You need
sceptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic."

Lovelock, who 40 years ago originated the idea that the planet is a
giant, self-regulating organism – the so-called Gaia theory – added that
he has little sympathy for the climate scientists caught up in the UEA
email scandal. He said he had not read the original emails – "I felt
reluctant to pry" – but that their reported content had left him feeling
"utterly disgusted".

"Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against
the holy ghost of science," he said. "I'm not religious, but I put it
that way because I feel so strongly. It's the one thing you do not ever
do. You've got to have standards."

Anybody care to make any measurable predictions for how the French three strikes law plays out over the next year?  I predict:

1) It’ll probably never really go into effect in any meaningful way.  It’ll either be blocked somehow, or not enforced, or in some other way neutered.  By this time next year, there won’t be a single person shut off as a result of the law.  This is the most easily measured of my predictions.

2) Regardless of whether or not it is enforced, there will be stories of how piracy took a nosedive.  But given that piracy is so incredibly difficult to measure, these stories will have essentially no data to back them up.

3) Despite claims of a nosedive in piracy, there will *not* be a substantial uptick in sales via legitimate channels.  It’ll continue growing at roughly its current (slow) pace.

4) This I’m the least confident in, as France is too small a pirate market to really drive this sort of innovation, but at least one of the major pirate tools (probably Azureus) will begin shipping with encryption default “on”.

Any other predictions?

David Barrett

Saw this headline on Google New:

Hamas rules out setting up specific date for truce declaration

GAZA, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) — The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) officials Saturday ruled out setting up a specific date for declaring an 18-month Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel.

What caught my eye is the “18-month” timeline mentioned for the truce.  What’s the point of a limited-duration truce?  Is the implication that upon the expiration of the truce, hostilities will resume?  After all, didn’t the current spate of hostilities happen coincidentally as the last “Egyptian-brokered truce” expired?

A limited truce with an organization bent upon your destruction seems little more than a coordinated re-armament period. 

Of course, given the region’s history, perhaps interspersing 18-month periods of peace with a couple weeks of intense violence (on both sides) is the best that can be hoped for.  Better that than the reverse.

David Barrett

Review: Kill Bin Laden

December 2, 2008

Not the most creative title, but then again, it’s not written by the most creative guy.  Rather, it’s written by the guy who was literally given those orders: go into the mountains of Tora Bora and kill Bin Laden.  Bring back a thumb as proof.

I first learned not of the book, but of the controversy of the book ever being written.  See, officially, the Delta Force doesn’t even exist.  I know, the name sounds so Hollywood, and the notion of a secret elite military organization that swoops around the world in — get this — black helicopters, ya, it sounds crazy.

But it also happens to be true.

So when the secret commander of honest-to-god super-soldiers goes on to recount a first-hand experience of a battle that, officially, they took no part in — people who prefer those secrets be kept were justifiably upset.

Despite that (or even because of that?) it’s definitely worth a read.  Indeed, I’d suggest you stop right now and go pick up the book.  Kill Bin Laden.  Hard to forget that title.

For the rest of you, I’ll summarize as follows: Kill Bin Laden is a single book that tells two stories.

First and foremost is a story of how utterly bad-ass the Delta Force is.  In a matter of days, precision airstrikes, a dozen Delta soldiers, and a ragtag group of bickering Afghani mercenaries accomplished what the Soviet Union failed to do with tens of thousands of highly-trained soldiers: evict Bin Laden and his soldiers from Tora Bora.  The enormity of that success can’t be overstated.

But the second, more poignant story is the complete failure to catch Osama Bin Laden, despite having him boxed in from all sides to a tiny ten-mile square — and covered day and night with total air superiority.

There are many, many fascinating components of each of those stories, but I’ll only mention two here:

On the good side, I had no idea what a game changer it is to have people on the ground.

When watching CNN, I sorta got the idea that targets are selected by satellite view, conveyed to the pilots, programmed into the bombs, and then dropped.  It all seems handled from such a distance.  But in practice, the constant drumming of remotely-targeted bombs as small as grenades up to the massive Daisy-Cutter had almost no effect.  They were so dug in, and so well concealed, they were completely untouchable.

But the moment a Delta operator got into position, that changed.  Bombs that previously struck harmlessly on the mountain sides started dropping straight into tunnel entrances and hardened bunkers.  After every hit, people would scatter and reveal more tunnels and more targets.  With nothing more than what they could carry on their backs, this tiny crew of Delta operators turned the Air force from an impotent noisemaker into a devastating machine for precision destruction, literally overnight.

It’s an amazing transformation to read in the book.  But even more amazing is the futility of it all.  After all, the mission wasn’t to destroy their compound.  The mission was to catch Osama Bin Laden.  And by that measure, the mission was a complete and utter failure.

It’s hard to convey the anti-climactic end without reading the book.  But our guys were just getting up to speed — finally gaining and holding ground (unlike the Afghani soldiers who just raided every morning and came home for dinner every night, regardless of whether they won or lost) — when Al Qaeda surrendered and all our Afghani allies just sorta gave up and went home… with Bin Laden disappearing in the confusion.

There’s this great scene where our Delta operators are still high atop the barren, snow-laced mountains, looking for targets that would never appear, just refusing to give up despite every living person in the area — friend or foe — having left long ago.

And I think that’s what makes the book so great.  It’s not a celebration of might.  It’s not even a finger-pointing exposé.  It’s simply a retelling of what happened, warts and all, from the only person in the world who was in a position to know.

Sure, mistakes were made.  Some of those mistakes probably allowed Bin Laden to escape.  But the only way to learn from those mistakes is to know what they were, and this book is the only authoritative book on the subject.

For reasons I don’t understand, people love to hate.  Democrats love to hate Republicans, Christians love to hate Atheists, VI hates Emacs, etc.  But the one thing people of all walks of life seem to jointly hate is how the modern way of life is gradually corrupting the moral and intellectual fiber of their fellow man.

I think Idiocracy gave the most condensed (and entertaining) presentation on the topic, essentially arguing that stupid people reproduce faster than smart people, and because everybody is getting stupider, there’s a global “race to the bottom” where the intellectually meek inherit the earth.

But this notion was refined and socially reinforced well before that movie came onto the scene.  For as long as I’ve known, I’ve been surrounded by people who make dire predictions and cynical extrapolations of today’s trends, with the inevitable conclusion that humanity’s end is just a choice between Nevil Shute or Aldus Huxley.  More or less destructive, but with mass stupification taken for granted.

That pessimism, that general hatred of the new and wistful longing for better times, never sat well with me.  After all, the only reason the “new” came to be was because billions of people individually and as a group chose to make it so.  It’s hard to believe that generations would labor endlessly to actively worsen the world and squander their mental capacities.

So at risk of engineering my own “scenario fulfillment” I was drawn to Everything Bad is Good For You — a book making the outrageous claim that, shockingly, humanity’s toil is paying off.  Yes, it sounds incredible, but what if people *weren’t* getting stupider, and in fact all these brilliant information innovations were in fact contributing to a global rise in intellect?

I expect the top rejection of the book amounts to the carefully researched rebuttal: Sounds too good to be true.  Watching TV doesn’t rot your brain?  Playing video games doesn’t erode your morals?  You mean education and self improvement could actually be fun?  Heaven forbid!

But that’s precisely what the book argues — quite compellingly.  It’s the sort of thing that seems so obvious when you read it, it’s truly refreshing.

Indeed, it’s such an obvious conclusion, I don’t even know what to say about it. 

And perhaps that’s its core weakness: it’s got no punch.  It has no “call to action”.  As a meme, it lacks any sort of virulent property that would convince people to convince others.

Somehow, conventional wisdom has adopted the opposite of this book’s conclusion.  But how to turn that around?  Or, is it even necessary?

After all, this “sleeper curve” will continue whether or not people acknowledge it.  And I’m not sure if acknowledging it explicitly will make it happen any better or faster.

Similarly, even after reading it, I’m not sure what advice to take from it.  How do you “learn” from a book that seems so common sense (even if that sense is far from common)?

So it’s a bit of an anti-climax for me.  Good stuff, reassuring, but it leaves me with a sorta “ya, so now what?” feeling.

I’m not pro-suicide.  But $40-$50 million dollars + $78K/year to build a net under the Golden Gate Bridge in order to dissuade just a few dozen jumper a year seems outrageous, on so many fronts.

First, anybody who actually does jump is probably pretty serious about killing themselves — serious enough that they’ll find some other way.  So probably the most absurd part is it being a completely stupid and pointless plan on its face that will probably end up saving zero lives.

But ignoring that — after all, I’m willing to endorse symbolic plans on occasion — the price for this meaningless gesture is astronomical.  $40 – $50 *million* dollars?  To encourage only 39 jumpers a year to go somewhere else?  Who can possibly suggest it’s a wise expenditure of money, especially in this economic climate, to spend over a *million dollars* to stop just *one* jump a year?

To put that in perspective, if we kept that same money as cash, we could spend over $100,000 per jumper per year for the next century.  We could hire 50 full-time-people to just stand there, 24/7, and watch the bridge — perhaps talking down anybody who looks like they might jump — until 2108.  Even just investing $50M dollars at a 5% interest rate would earn $6.5 *billion* dollars in 100 years. 

Even if it were “only” the $78,000 per year maintenance fee (that’s right, once built, it needs to be maintained), that’s like $2000 per jumper per year.  Even that “paltry” amount could be better spent saving actual lives, or even just hiring another full-time member at a suicide prevention line.

So the cost is outrageous and simply indefensible, especially given it will completely fail to accomplish its objective.  But on top of this, the Golden Gate Bridge is a historic landmark that probably brings in billions of dollars a year in tourism to San Francisco.  We’re seriously going to be some huge frickin’ ugly net under it?  What kind of effect will that have on tourism or even our international reputation?

Who is in charge of this boondoggle of a plan, and is there any time to breathe sense into the process?  I’m down with spending money to save lives.  But this is just such a ridiculous waste of money it’s infuriating.


Isn’t it really surprising how much people hate this $700B bailout bill?  

I read a report there was near unanimous opposition among constituents — so much opposition that websites were crashing under the volume.  I thought this was probably bull, but when I went to call Barbara Boxer I found her voicemail full.  On her website there’s a special note that the contact form might not work due to high volume.  Her alternate number is full.  Diane Feinstein’s number is busy.

(Here’s a helpful page showing California Senator contact info.)

Is this level of true grassroots opposition unprecedented, especially given that both Republican and Democratic Party leaders support it unequivocally?

Personally, I agree with the masses.  America is going bankrupt and I’m much more concerned about another $700B of debt — especially when I have zero confidence it will actually accomplish its intent of rescuing the economy — than waiting to see what happens and letting the market sort itself out.  And now that they’re trying to sweeten the deal by trowing in tax cuts?  Have we completely lost our minds when it comes to fiscal responsibility?

Furthermore, the defense is just absurd.  Granting that there are probably really good arguments for it, given that this whole episode was triggered by irresponsible lending, can’t we find some other defense than “this is needed to let people borrow money to buy homes”?

Regardless, it sounds like the masses’ opposition might have tapered off given the stock market crash, so who knows.  Maybe we’ll get bailed out, whether we like it or not.