Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Another scientific study that shows what only cognitive dissonance would try to disprove

From the annals of the science of "Well, duh!", we have another study to add to the overwhelming evidence that... wait for it... abstinence only sex eduction does not reduce teenage pregnancy, and is - in fact - correlated with increased teenage pregnancy.

Via Physorg:
States that prescribe abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools have significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than states with more comprehensive sex education programs, researchers from the University of Georgia have determined.

The study is the first large-scale evidence that the type of sex education provided in public schools has a significant effect on teen pregnancy rates, Hall said.
But what about social effects like education and socioeconomic status? I mean, if you believe in the stereotypes, then only the unintelligent poor girls are going to get pregnant. Well, like good social scientists, the team actually did account for these things.
Along with teen pregnancy rates and sex education methods, Hall and Stanger-Hall looked at the influence of socioeconomic status, education level, access to Medicaid waivers and ethnicity of each state's teen population.

Even when accounting for these factors, which could potentially impact teen pregnancy rates, the significant relationship between sex education methods and teen pregnancy remained: the more strongly abstinence education is emphasized in state laws and policies, the higher the average teenage pregnancy and birth rates.
I can hear the cognitive dissonants chanting, "Well, correlation doesn't mean causation!" True, but remember, the saying holds for both sides of the argument; you cannot say that this study's correlation does not mean there is a causitive effect, but for the same reason you cannot say that abstinence only education's (imaginary) causitive impacts exist when there is no correlation to support your claim:
"Because correlation does not imply causation, our analysis cannot demonstrate that emphasizing abstinence causes increased teen pregnancy. However, if abstinence education reduced teen pregnancy as proponents claim, the correlation would be in the opposite direction," said Stanger-Hall.

The paper indicates that states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were those that prescribed comprehensive sex and/or HIV education, covering abstinence alongside proper contraception and condom use. States whose laws stressed the teaching of abstinence until marriage were significantly less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.
(The paper can be found here. )

Of course, as we have seen before, this will not alleviate the dissonance. Why? Because the logic of the false argument makes sense; the position taken is intertwined with a moral stance; or because the position taken is one that is held by a respected authority figure. Merely pointing out that the position is incorrect will not help. Showing relational evidence that the position is incorrect will not help. Showing causational evidence that the position is incorrect will not help. All of these things will merely further entrench those who hold dear the position that abstinence only sex education works. Why? Because more information is not the cure for the condition of dissonance; changing the basis for accepting the narrative will be the cure.

Best Snowblower Ad Ever

Via Copyranter:
11HP/29" Snowblower
Price $900.00
Address Moncton, NB, Canada

Do you like shoveling snow? Then stop reading this and go back to your pushups and granola because you are not someone that I want to talk to.

Let’s face it, we live in a place that attracts snow like Magnetic Hill attracts cars, only that ain’t an illusion out there. That’s 12 inches of snow piling up and, oh, what’s that sound? Why it’s the snow plow and it’s here to let you know that it hates you and all the time you spent to shovel your driveway. Did you want to get out of your house today? Were you expecting to get to work on time? Or even this week?

You gave it your best shot. You tried to shovel by yourself and I respect you for that. I did it, my parents did it, some of my best friends did it. But deep down inside, we all wanted to murder that neighbor with the snowblower who was finished and on his second beer while you were still trying to throw snow over a snowbank taller than you are.

So, here we are. You could murder your neighbour, which could ensure that you won’t need to shovel a driveway for 25 to life, but there are downsides to that too. What to do?

Here’s the deal. I have a snow blower and I want you to own it. I can tell you’re serious about this. It’s like I can almost see you: sitting there, your legs are probably crossed and your left hand is on your chin. Am I right? How’d I do that? The same way that I know that YOU ARE GOING TO BUY THIS SNOWBLOWER.

I want you to experience the rush that comes with smashing through a snowdrift and blowing that mother trucker out of the way. The elation of seeing the snow plow come back down your street and watching the look of despair as your OTHER neighbour gets his shovel out once more while you kick back with a hot cup of joe (you don’t have a drinking problem like that other guy).

Here’s what you do. You go to the bank. You collect $900. You get your buddy with a truck and you drive over here. You give me some cold hard cash and I give you a machine that will mess up a snowbank sumthin’ fierce. I’ve even got the manual for it, on account of I bought it brand new and I don’t throw that kind of thing away. Don't want to pay me $900? Convince me. Send me an offer and I'll either laugh at you and you'll never hear back from me or I'll counter.

You want a snow blower. You need a snow blower.

This isn’t some entry level snow blower that is just gonna move the snow two feet away. This is an 11 HP Briggs and Stratton machine of snow doom that will cut a 29 inch path of pure ecstasy. And it’s only 4 years old. I dare you to find a harder working 4 year old. My niece is five and she gets tired and cranky after just a few minutes of shoveling. This guy just goes and goes and goes.

You know what else? I greased it every year to help keep the water off it and the body in as good as shape as possible. It's greasier than me when I was 13, and that's saying something.

You know how many speeds it has? Six forward and two in reverse. It goes from “leisurely” slow up to “light speed”. Seriously, I’ve never gone further than five because it terrifies me. I kid you not, you could probably commute to work with it dragging you.

You know what else is crappy about clearing snow in the morning? That you have to do it in the dark. Well, not anymore! It has a halogen headlight that will light your way like some kind of moveable lighthouse (only better, because lighthouses won’t clear your driveway).

Oh, and since it’s the 21st century, this snow blower comes with an electric starter. Just plug that sucker in, push the button, and get ready to punch snow in the throat. If you want to experience what life was like in olden days, it comes with a back-up cord you could pull to start it, but forget that. The reason you’re getting this fearsome warrior was for the convenience, so why make it harder on yourself?

By this point, you’re probably wondering why I would sell my snowblower since the first snowpocalypse is upon us today. I’ll tell you why: because I heard it was time for you to man up and harness some mighty teeth and claws and chew your way to freedom, that’s why.

This is my snow blower. Make it your snow blower.
Awesome. Just awesome. I don't have $900 to spend on a snowblower to move the ~1" of wet snow that fell last night, but somehow I wanted to buy it somewhere around the third paragraph!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snow fall

The desktop weather adviser warned of a mix of rain and snow as I was leaving the office. However, by the time I had shut everything down and peeked out of the window, what might have been rain and snow had changed to just snow. (A wet snow as it turned out.)

I put on my coat, cap, and helmet, and headed out to my bicycle - now back in studded-tire mode. The ride to the Kroger was pretty uneventful (mostly because I avoided Liberty and stuck to the far less busy Washington).  

After leaving the store, I was met with this:

The two miles back to the forest was a little less ... peaceful. There's a difference with plowed roads: there's less slush for the cars to splash you with as they pass by. Luckily I was wearing a waterproof outer layer (thanks to the pouring rain of this morning), but it was still annoying - grocery-carrying panniers got soaked. Still I made it back all in one piece and the gloves and jacket are drying out.

Wait, is it "a history" or "an history"?

During one of my office hour sessions, I taught about the use of "a" and "an" in non-standard cases. The thing that (apparently) a lot of national curricula fail to teach about English to their students is that English - as much as it is a written language with thousands upon thousands of books - is a spoken language, and that parts of grammar are based on this point.

There really is no difference in the definition of "a" vs "an". The only difference is in the use of the latter when it precedes a vowel sound; not actually when it precedes a vowel (e.g. "an hour is a unit of time"). It's made complicated because English doesn't have a universally consistent pronunciation method. This is why through, though, bough, and enough are all pronounced differently (and likely why people are shifting to thru and tho; I haven't seen bao and enuf so much, though).

Anyway, the conversation started because the student hadn't used "an" in front of the acronym "N.F.R." (or something like that). So we went through the alphabet to collect the letters that use "an" (which are A, E, F, (H), I, L, M, N, O, R, S, X). The problem with H is that some people actually do pronounce it "haich" (most of them live in England), but I've heard people say, "a H" instead of the more commonly heard (at least in the US) "an H".

This brought us to the use of "a" and "an" with the word history. This word came into English with the Normans (I think), as historie; complete with the French habit of dropping the "h" sound completely. Since there was no "h" sound, then the word would have developed in the English language as "istorie", thereby requiring the use of "an history". However, I know many people who would look at "an history," "an historic," or "an historian" and say that it was wrong. Well, there's probably a reason for that: changing norms in writing, because English is a spoken language, and the "a" vs "an" debate is mostly about pronunciation.

Looking at Google n-gram viewer, you can see that the final shift away from "an historic"* occurred shortly after World War 2 (presumably with the rise of American publishing in comparison to British publishing). The shift away from "an historic" has only just recently been happening in British publishing.

I personally prefer using an historic over a historic, because of the existence of the word ahistoric. However, I think that I say (and write) a history, a historian, a histriography, etc.

* I chose to compare a historic and an historic, because a history and an history seems to have settled the change a LONG time ago, whereas the choice with historic is more recent. The n-gram for historian is even more dramatic than above.

Generational shift in perceptions about foreign policy

Times, they are a changin'. And not only with fashion, music, and communication technology. Times are also changing in terms of vast social trends, including acceptance of multi-racial marriages (and - presumably - the children from such marriages), homosexuality, marijuana use, etc.

One more thing that is changing is the perception of how the US should act militarily.

In a recent Pew poll, there is a very interesting - and very stark - contrast between what members of the "millenial generation" (aka "generation Y") and the "silent generation" think about the how the US should conduct foreign policy.

Apparently those Americans born from 1930-1945 are less willing to take allies' interests into account, even if it means making compromises. They also tend to prefer military strength over good diplomacy in order to ensure peace. Oh, and they don't believe as strongly that reliance on the military to achieve foreign policy goals is related to the hatred that breeds more terrorism.

True, some of this is likely due to youthful enthusiasm and empathy versus age-honed cynicism, and it would be nice to know what those born between 1930 and 1945 thought about similar topics when they were 20-35 years old. (Of course, the world was also a very different place in 1950-1965.) Still, those of us who grew up during Reagan and HW Bush seem to have a very different opinion about foreign policy than those who grew up during conscription. And the number of us who are voting will continue to increase in comparison to the Silent Generation.

For shits and giggles, I've put (some) of the information in the table into a graph. Line "A" is the response percentages to "In foreign policy, the U.S. should take allies' interests into account, even if ti means making compromises." Line "B" is the response percentages to "The best way to ensure peace is through good diplomacy." Line "C"is the response percentages to "Relying too much on military force creates hatred that leads to more terrorism." It's pretty clear how each successively older generation tends toward less favorability in just talking shit out (and less willing to accept moral backlash from those people who come across our military actions).

There is evidence that people - when forced into a minority position - tend to become even more militant in their views. That when their viewpoints - which they feel to be perfectly valid, and used to be perfectly normal - become challenged, there is a tendency of associating that changed social connection with being "wrong"; and how could they be wrong if they are moral people? It is - I think - an extension of the psychology of the "just world" belief to which many Americans (apparently) subscribe.

To borrow (a bit) from Shawn Lawrence Otto's book, Fool me Twice, there is a perfectly understandable reason for this type of behavior:
When presented with evidence that confirms our beliefs and conclusions, we tend to accept it uncritically. When presented with evidence that contradicts those same conclusions, however, we subject it to withering scrutiny, ignore it, argue with it, or try to intimidate its proponents, much like the opposing counsel at a trial does.
When one's viewpoints are the majority viewpoint, it is like being constantly presented with evidence the confirms one's own beliefs and conclusions. However, when time change and one's viewpoints are no longer in the majority, then it is sometimes easier to complain ("you kids don't know what you're talking about"), ignore ("yeah, whatever"), argue ("you're wrong"), or exert control ("let me tell you what we did that actually worked, and none of this namby-pamby bullshit"). This is part of the problem. There is, of course, another part of the problem, which is the base psychology that Americans (supposedly) tend to hold: the "just world" belief. To continue with Otto:
Beyond mistaken reasoning, rhetorical thinking, and a predisposition not to question authority, Americans as a whole have a high level of what social psychologists call the just world belief... People tend to believe that the world is inherently just: The wicked are eventually punished, and problems are corrected....
[This] view is a treasured part of the American ethos, and Americans as a whole have a much stronger belief in a just world than, say, Europeans, who tend to be less idealistic, more cynical, and more likely to believe that good or bad luck rather than individual merit or lack thereof plays a significant role in a person's circumstances....
The idea that despite your best efforts your fate is influenced by luck or the collective actions of others is antithetical to the classic American story that we have self-determination and that with hard work and responsibility anyone can grow up to be president.
Research shows that this conflict makes it more difficult for Americans to accurately assess personal responsibility. For example, the tendency to blame the victim, which is unusually high in Americans, is an effort, psychologists say, to maintain the just world belief that people get what they deserve... If we believe we are responsible for our circumstances, this prejudice makes sense.
My argument that the just world belief affects the results in this manner only serves to reinforce one's position when confronted with the evidence of a changed world, since it is easy to interpret a discontinuation of a particular moral stance as a question of "right" and "wrong" under the just world belief system. However, such a change (from being "right" to being "wrong") flies in the face of seeing oneself as being a moral person. Therefore, it must be the fault of the other, and it is the duty of the United States to change it; with force if necessary. Of course, who knows: I might well turn into a conservative hawk with time, too.

Finally, the just world belief system really does seem to explain why conservatives (who hold even more strongly to this belief) seem less inclined to accept that people in "war zones" are innocent, that the military can do wrong (especially to our own people), and that their moral code may not be universally applicable (oh, and that the US might not actually be the best place on God's green earth). In other words, it can explain a lot of the reason why the shape of Line "C" looks the way it does.

2011 is on track to be tied for the 10th warmest year on record

It's raining (a lot) today, so when I saw the news that 2011 is cooler than 2010 and is only the 10th warmest year on record, I thought of the news hitting the denialist camps and them bouncing it around, saying, "Yeah! See? The world's cooling! It's cooler this year than it was at any year from 2002 through 2010 (save for 2008, which was a La Nina year, so that's anomalous)."

But wait... 2011 is a La Nina year, too, and according to a recent press release from the World Meteorological Organization, 2011 is on track to be tied (roughly) with 2001 (which wasn't a La Nina year) as having the 10th warmest world temperatures on record. This shouldn't be too much of a surprise for people (save if your political or religious or philosophical viewpoints don't allow for the possibility of physics happening).

However, there's one thing that people are missing: 2011 is the warmest La Nina year on record.

La Nina years are usually characterized by being cooler 0.1 to 0.15 degree C cooler than the years that precede and succeed them. In the graph, these years are shown in blue, and it's pretty clear that they are all cooler than the red year bars that surround them. However, the worrying trend is that past La Nina years have also been increasing in magnitude (values from here):
  • 1989: +0.12 degree C
  • 2000: +0.27 degree C
  • 2008: +0.36 degree C
  • 2011: +0.41 degree C
This creates a worrying trend: when a La Nina year places in the top-ten hottest years on record, then we've got to worry, because it's not an indication of cooling: its an indication of warming. Since La Nina patterns are usually 0.1 to 0.15 degree C cooler, then there is a good chance that 2012 will be in the +0.5 (tied for 3rd warmest year on record) to +0.55 (1st warmest year on record) degree C.

Friday, November 18, 2011

History and misuse of BMI

In response to yet another post over at SocImages, I delved even deeper into the coining of the term BMI and how it became used in the health world. I have previously written about BMI (here, here, and here), but I never really delved into how this unit had become a part of looking at population health (specifically obesity). Well, it was because I like participating in the commentary in SocImages that I started to look even further into the history of the thing. Using a lead from Wikipedia's entry on BMI, I found the 1972 document ("Indices of Relative Weight and Obesity") that first coined the phrase "body mass index" (the authors didn't even use the intialism in the article). I was pleased to note that the authors recognized that the body mass index should not be used to describe the individual:
What we here call the body mass index, W/H^2, has a long history. Because Quetelet was the first to calculate that ratio, W/H^2 has sometimes been called Quetelet’s index. But Quetelet himself did not actually advocate that ratio as the general measure of ‘build’ or of adiposity; he merely noted that in young adults W/H^2 was more stable than W/H^3 or W/H with increasing height. ... [No] proponents [prior to this paper] offered a convincing objective analysis in favor of the [Quetelet] index. Further, it should be observed that the greatest emphasis in almost all of the index making of the anthropometrists was on growth with relatively little consideration of the evaluation of body composition, nutritional status or adiposity.
As noted elsewhere [43], the use of ideal or recommended weight confounds age and weight because on the average weight increases with age until the fifties while increase in height is over by the early twenties at the latest. The general trend to continue growth in weight may be undesirable but it has no relevance to the question of providing an objective description of relative body mass; it is scientifically indefensible to include a value judgement in that description. The characterization of persons in terms of desirable weight percentage has resulted in attributing to ‘overweight’ some tendencies to ill health and death that are actually only related to age [43].
Of course, the disappointing thing about some of the commentators is that they don't understand that some terminology is quite old. The BMI was originally referred to as the Quetelet index (named after the man who conceived it), which was formulated in the early-middle 1800s; about 150 years before the paper that first coined "body mass index". Of course, some people apparently didn't know this. "EschewObfuscation" wrote (and at least 1 person "liked"):
But the whole purpose of BMI was to define fatness and thinness of a population. And why do that? So that doctors could talk to patients about their weight. Why? Because you shouldn't fall out side the norm or desired BMI number/category. Who decided normal? Who decided desired? How were those decisions made?
It is a social construction because the names we put on those numbers have social meaning. Why not call them "flower", "blue", "headphones", "towel" and "tricycle" instead of “underweight,” “normal,” “overweight,” “obese,” and “morbidly obese"? Or why provide categories at all and just use the number? Really what use is BMI anyway?

The words attached to numbers have social meaning that affects the society. Only one group is called 'normal' and that communicates a lot to the rest who don't fall in that category. Morbidly obese means "OMG!!! You are going to DIE!!!!11!!!!!!11" It is not a phrase that is purely objective.
Wow. That really did anything but eschewing obfuscation. It failed to approach and clear obfuscation in favor of allowing obfuscation to remain in order to justify what appears to be a normalized rationalization of what BMI is: an unjust, unobjective, and possibly something with an agenda to hurt people.

Now, it is, admittedly, a slightly difficult problem with regard to the idea of "objectivity", since its use for determining an individual's health condition is not objective, but many people fail to understand (quite apparently) the scientific use of BMI as it is used in public health research. My attempt to show why it is both an objective measure and a non-objective measure:
Also, BMI is "Completely NOT objective"? Remember, "objective" here means that it is not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice. Is measurement using standardized lengths (such as feet, meters, pounds, kilograms) not objective? Is dividing weight by the square root of the height (and applying the units correction of 703 if you did your measurements using feet and pounds) not give you an objective output? The measurement and calculation of BMI is objective.
However, is it useful for interpreting individual health conditions? No. (In this way it suffers from interpretive bias, is layered with social interpretation, has caused massive influence to personal feelings, and is - in this way only - not objective.)
In sum: BMI wasn't developed for doctors to talk to their patients about their weight. BMI wasn't used for studying obesity in a population until the 1970s (roughly 150 years after it was developed). BMI is a number calculated objectively based on objective measurements. BMI is next to useless in determining individual health conditions and suffers (for whatever reasons) a lot of social interpretations and personal feelings and is (in this final, falsely applied manner) not objective. Therefore, BMI is an objective, mathematical measurement and BMI - as it is come to be used - is non-objective social construction. 
The blog entry itself is a great article about a book (How Much Do You Weigh?) that shows women of various different body types (heights and weights) and different BMI values. It can, hopefully, diminish the amount of negative pressure that surrounds the (ab)use of BMI in the public by showing women the vast panoply of what it means to be a "21" or a "27.4". (There was also a link in a comment by Tracy Rohlin to a posting at Jezebel that looks like a great website that does a similar thing.)

Now, in the end, do I think that BMI is an evil, unobjective, completely useless measurement? No, but that's not what it is supposed to be used for. At the same time, I don't think that BMI the best thing in the world for all population level analyses (nor the best thing in the world for population level analysis). However, it is a useful population measurement that can show trends over time, and looking at current, historical, and ongoing trends is a very important part of a lot of the sciences that we have. BMI is a next-to-useless metric to help all individuals understand - by the BMI alone - what their overall health condition is, not because it is a "bad thing," but because it is fundamentally not meant to be used in that manner. (Although it is probably a little more precise than one's daily horoscope.)

All that being said, the use of obesity to punish yourself or others is just wrong. Partly because it is based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the application of a population level index, but mostly because using it to punish people is morally wrong.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The CIA should be more honest... about the threats from Climate Change

While a majority of Republican voters as well as representatives and senators consistently align on the side of global warming denial, they also tend to be the side of the political spectrum that demands that good government "listen to the generals" and "hear from the experts" and "be concerned with national security."

However, what happens when "listen to the generals" isn't actually what they are doing when it comes to climate change? What happens to "hear from the experts" isn't what they're doing when it comes to climate change?

Well, you can ignore the experts by claiming that there isn't a consensus on climate change (which is a specious argument, but that's a topic for another time), and you can try to discredit military planners about the defense fallout from climate change. However, what happens when "be concerned with national security" extends to not listening to the CIA?

In a recent piece by The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg reports that the US Defense Science Board (which is an expert panel of civilian scientists and advisers for the military) has, in a recent report, urged the CIA to release its information about climate change and national security; to stop treating climate change as a national security issue. The report attacks the manner in which the CIA disseminates (or fails to do so) information that will be critical for what the generals (as in "listen to the generals") understand climate change to be: a threat-multiplier.

So, will the CIA comply? Will the GOP - so quick to justify and defend the CIA's torture techniques - try to quash the information that they deem to be (as Sen. John Inhofe always puts it) "the greatest hoax perpetrated upon the American people"?

Why should we rethink how we think about environmental constructs

Having spoken with many non-US graduate students in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, it's clear that there are many people hold a different conceptualization of what "the environment" is. Furthermore, the distinction between "Natural Resources" and "Environment" (or "Natural Environment") is rarely clear, either (at least among the Koreans, Chinese, and Taiwanese grad students). Furthermore, I don't think that there is a formal recognition of these different viewpoints that are held across the student body, and (by extension) the population of those working in the field (generally speaking) worldwide.

The terminologies that are used in discussing and (arguably) studying the environment (and natural resources) are culturally defined. And, due to the nature of scientific evolution and the blossoming of environmental movement in the US, many of the terms that we use today (including the concepts and conceptualizations upon which those terms are based) are heavily culturally based. As such, the term "conservation" means a very specific - and cultural - thing in the United States than it does in the United Kingdom (another example of the "two people separated by a common language" meme), and the actions that emerge from these differing conservation mentalities lead to different (each internally logical) directions. These differing definitions of "conservation" do, however, share a lot in common, since they are rooted in shared commonalities of understanding the term itself (which predates the existence of natural resource or environmental conservation) and the two countries share a cultural understanding (although these could also be said to be diverging) of the relationship between the natural world and man. However, what happens when we move wildly outside that close (but diverging) relationship? Where should an American start a discussion of "conservation" with a PRC national is not likely going to share implicit understandings of "nature and man" or even share a shared understanding of the word "conservation" itself, since the meaning is translated and extrapolated from one language to the other?

As we move forward in an evermore-globalized and evermore-urbanized world, understanding what we all mean by "natural resources" and "the environment"; "conservation" and "preservation"; etc. will become evermore important lest we discover that we are talking past each other.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A dismal little truth

When we are talking about the problems of adapting to climate change, and the problems of the current climate bringing about weather that we haven't seen before, we have to stop and think about a small but crucial point. We have no experience of the weather patterns experienced of our forebears. True, we can rebuild the climatic conditions, and -- where weather data exist -- we can reconstruct what a particular day's weather conditions were like. However, even knowing that the weather in 1911 (or 1811, or earlier still) was like in one location will not help us to experience that weather, to internalize that experience, and to then be able to relate future experiences to that. The only thing that we have are accounts (written, transcribed, and measured) of those days; accounts that are interpreted into images and sensations that we -- each -- know and understand based on our experiences and imaginations.

I cannot imagine the snows that fell so high when my mother was growing up that she and her siblings would have to leave from the second floor of the house in order to shovel the snow. My mind cannot comprehend what that means, even though I can see images of how deep the snow gets online. However, according to my mother, the snow doesn't get as deep as when she was a child. How much of this is an absolute measurement, and how much of it is a relative measurement; I mean, she's taller than she was as a child, so things may not appear as large. Too, how much of it is a wistful memory?

The winters that I can relate to are not the winters of 30' snow drifts, but are the far less snowy winters of Tokyo, Budapest, St. Andrews, Denver, Flagstaff, and Ann Arbor. The idea of having to leave my cabin after even 4' of snow seems daunting, let alone having to clean the roof after a 10' or 20' snowfall, and yet these things happened; are happening, still. Yet I have no way of understanding the implications of such a phenomenon that was a real part of my mother's childhood. Therefore, the question of, "What should an Eniwa winter be like?" will make my visceral answer very different from that of my mother's. Even though I could look at photos, read written accounts, and study weather data to determine how different current winters are to the winters of 60 and 70 years ago, the answer I provide won't have any resonance to me.

Such, I argue, will be the same with our children and their descendants. Our would will be one that they won't understand, since they will never have experienced it. The only thing that they will know is their own world, and their own experience in growing up in it. They will hear the stories and read the accounts of "back in my day" and they may -- like we do with the stories of our grandparents' childhoods -- discount them as fantastical tales told through the mists of nostalgia. They may look at the data and see things as charts, numbers, and figures. They may even understand things as reconstructions of the past, but they will not likely ever be in a position of experiencing the weather that you are experiencing today, and (by extension) they will not likely ever viscerally understand how that weather is (or is not) normal for this time of year. True: they will have a lot of secondary clues as to how the weather of their forebears was different from their own; for instance they will know that (if sea levels do end up rising a few meters) much of Florida used to be above the tide. However, they won't know what it was like to live in Florida's climate of 2011 (or 1911 or earlier).

Why should we care, though? Well, if we wish to ensure that the climate is to return to a stable condition (even if it is at a higher CO2 level than now), we must understand that our progeny will come to think of their world as somehow "normal". It may be "messed up", but that condition of being messed up will -- as it is all they know -- likely be considered "normal". They will need to learn that their daily experience is not "normal", and what would that mean? How can we inculcate that notion? How can we normalize the actions of generations to come to move the climate away from warming; to make a culture of climate control? Also, is it ethical to try and inculcate a particular expectation of action for a goal that we set upon the shoulders of our children? Is it ethical, given the fundamental shifts that climate change will cause, not to do it (or even to try)?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know that as surely as I cannot imagine the climate of Eniwa, Japan during the 1940s and 1950s, my children and (hopefully) grandchildren will not (if the studies of the impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes region are even roughly correct) be able to imagine the climate of Ann Arbor, Michigan during the 2000s, even if they end up growing up here. If the impacts of even the current drivers of climate change will play out over the next century (without needing us to add another net 1 kilogram of extra CO2 into the atmosphere), and if we want our descendants to benefit from our climate (one that has been extremely stable for millennia), then we will have to task our children (and grandchildren) with returning to a climate that they won't viscerally know (and will likely never know, if the time scales for reversion are correct).

Ahh: words that sound and look very similar... but aren't

I came across a comment at a blog entry on Soc Images about government censorship. The author of the comment (in addition to other grammatical faults) apparently didn't know the difference between censure and censor:
I don't think "state" is the  correct judge for ads, especially since it could allow them to censure political contents for example. But having an independant organ of regulation against such ads, i think it's a great move ! Let's teens stay teens and live without having to be sexy all the time. 
However, the verb to censure is very different than the verb to censor (indeed, the noun form of to censure is censure, while the equivalent noun form of to censor is censorship, whereas censor as a noun means a person who is enabled to enact censorship).

In response to this comment, I wrote*:
Government already has the right to censure political statements, especially if they are taking the action of censure against others in public service. This doesn't necessarily mean that the government has the right to censor political statements (even if the statements are made by those in public service).

(Censure and censor: they don't mean the same thing.)
Okay, it's true that the two words both (according to refer back to the same Latin root word, cēnsēre, and it's obvious that the two words have associated meanings, but the end result of censure is not always censorship. In other words, condemnation of a speaker does not always end in deletion of commentary; it could, but one does not automatically lead to the other.

There are many other examples of this in English (input and impute; complement and compliment; succeed and secede; resource and recourse; precede and proceed; cavalry and Calvary; etc.), and people get them confused as well. However, even with the apparently opposite definitions of the word sanction, one should at least know the definition of the words that make up the crux of your argumentation.

On another note: censure and a censor are both different than a censer. And (analogously), a brassiere and a brasserie are both different from a brazier.

* For some reason, the computer that I'm on does not allow me to post a comment on the blog entry. Maybe from a different computer, though...

Cavalry and Calvary: they are different words, people!

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a LONG time: people mistaking cavalry for Calvary (it rarely goes the other way, though). In recognition of Veterans Day (aka Armistice Day and Poppy Day in the British Commonwealth), I'd like to point out that there is a big difference between the divisions of the military that we refer to as "cavalry" (in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and NZ, for instance), and the location where Jesus Christ was crucified, which English speakers refer to as "Calvary".

Cavalry: mounted soldiers. We get this term from Italian (cavalleria), via French (cavalerie); the meaning of "mounted militia" to refer initially to soldiers that fought from horseback (instead of riding to battle and fighting on foot) makes a good example of how the term is still (somewhat more loosely) used in today's modern army to refer to mechanized and air cavalry. (The term used for mounted soldiers in Roman times was -- apparently -- eques (plural: equites), in reference to the Latin word for horse (equus). As such, the term cavalry does not come to us from Latin.)

Calvary: the hill outside of Roman-era Jerusalem upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. Calvary is an anglicized form of the Latin Calvariae Locus, which was transliterated from the Greek "Kraiou Topos" (meaning "skull place"), which was translated (most likely) from the Aramaic "Golgatha" (which also meant "skull place"). Calvary apparently first appeared in the King James Bible, and became the standard English name for the Golgatha, having shortened the Vulgate Latin (i.e., the Latin being used by the Church at the time).

In short, there may well have been equites at Golgatha, but this does not mean that the word cavalry is in any way related to the name Calvary.

11-11-11, or is it?

To some, the idea of 111111 is, well, amazing. However, it only works in the 12-month, Gregorian calendar and using the reference frame that has become commonplace in the world. However, if we used the Proleptic Julian date, today would be 2455876. The Julian calendar date of 2222222 occurred on February 11, 1372.

This makes us remember that year and day and month are rather arbitrarily constructed:

If we use the Japanese imperial year convention, it would be: 平成23年11月11日

If we used the Jewish calendar, it would be: 14 Heshvan 5772
If we used the Muslim calendar, it would be the 14 Duh'l-Hijja 1432

There are other calendars that one could also look at, but I think that you get the picture... Anyway, happy 11-11-11, or whatever day it is happens to be in your calendar. (After all, to my Aussie friends, it's already 12-11-11 down there.)

200 years of temperatures

The BEST project was looking at trying to debunk the existing climate predictions by re-analyzing all the data. However, what they found was this:

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Gruesome little thing

The other day, as I was cycling home after dark, I noticed the flashing lights of a police car pulled off to the side of the Liberty Road, just west of Scio Ridge. Hopefully he's ticketing a speeder or a DUI, I thought to myself. The thought that it could have been an accident did briefly rear itself in my head, but since there wasn't any traffic diversion going on, I figured that it wasn't such an encounter. As I rode closer, I didn't see any car ahead of the patrol car. Perhaps the other driver has already left, and the policeman is putting together some additional paperwork or something, I thought. However, as I continued to ride forward, I noticed that the police officer was out of his vehicle, an automatic rifle in his hands, and he was walking toward something struggling and pawing around on the ground.

A deer.

Specifically a deer that had obviously been struck by a vehicle and was lying just off the road. As I passed by the officer, he was crouching and aiming his rifle at the deer; taking an angle so that the bullet would be more likely to pass through the skull and hit the asphalt at a more oblique angle. Ah, shit, I thought as I rode away, I don't want to be too close when he shoots the deer.

As I rode away, I heard a single report.

The next day, the asphalt was darker in that spot, a reminder until the next heavy rain, of the ultimately fatal interaction between cervid and sedan.