From Watts Up With That: Richard Lindzen On Positive Climate Feedback

Updated post here.

“The earth’s climate (in contrast to the climate in current climate GCMs) is dominated by a strong net negative feedback. Climate sensitivity is on the order of 0.3°C, and such warming as may arise from increasing greenhouse gases will be indistinguishable from the fluctuations in climate that occur naturally from processes internal to the climate system itself.


“Alarming climate predictions depend critically on the fact that models have large positive feedbacks. The crucial question is whether nature actually behaves this way?

Sounds reasonable, though I need some help with this one.

And…the NY Times publishes a piece about Freeman Dyson and his global warming skepticism.

Maybe one thing that I’ve been convinced of in all this global warming talk is the need people have for belief, and that perhaps secular belief is striving to be as potent a political and social force as is religion (though I don’t think they are equivlaent in depth).  It’s interesting to observe how public opinion becomes the ever shifting floor upon which politicians must move.  An examined life?

Addition:  How did we end up putting this much pressure (much of it misapplied) on our political system anyways?

On This Site:  Freeman Dyson On The Question Of Global Warming

From Chris Colose: Lindzen On Climate Feedback

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From Andrew Sullivan: A Brief Discussion Of John Rawls

Full post here.

From one of Sullivan’s readers on Rawls:  

“Rawls political philosophy seems to me to be little more than an emaciated form of liberal Christianity, sure of what it wants but unwilling to appeal to any foundation in nature, history, or religion.”

He made a good case for political liberalism…Also:

When I read Rawls, I read a humane, decent man that quite obviously was a liberal Protestant who lost his faith, but wanted to keep the attic finery of Christianity around.”

Maybe was a little deeper than that...

Related On This Site:  Perhaps Samuel Huntington was a believer in political liberalism who lost faith, pointing out its limits and failures…From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’…and Roger Scruton pines for the old days, when humanism more seriously maintained the values of the church…Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism.

People on the modern American right take issue with Rawls, but have they addressed his depth?:  From The American Conservative: Going Off The Rawls–David Gordon On John Rawls

John Rawls His Life and Theory of Justice

by Miller Info Commons

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Revisiting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

He may have been fired for many reasons, but Summers off-the-cuff Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce had a lot to do with it:

1.  The first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis-Summers notes that high positions demand high commitment.  Science could be analogous to other professions like law.   He appeals to a longitudinal study that suggests that fewer women may agree to, or be willing to, devote such time and energy to their jobs over their careers as do men.  Changing the nature of these professions to higher female ratios may change some of the fundamental ways we arrange our society:   

“…is our society right to expect that level of effort from people who hold the most prominent jobs?”

Perhaps…though the subtext might be:  are some members of our society right to expect that the guiding ideas of diversity and equality won’t come with a host of other problems…?

***Charles Murray takes it a few steps further, asserting that our social sciences are leading us to become more like Europe (less dynamic and less idealistic in our pursuit of Aristotelian happiness)  He also argues that there is a sea-change going on in the social science that will come to support his thinking. This could be a few steps too far…

2.  The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end-The bell curve argument that there are more genius and idiot men.  When you get to MIT, 3 and more standard deviations above the mean…means a lot. 

3.  The third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search-If discrimination is such an important factor in there being a lack of women scientists, then economic theory holds that there are going to be:

“…very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating.”

So if the theory holds…where are the science departments scooping up all women scientists at low cost…who’ve been rejected elsewhere due to discrimination?


I believe there is arguably discrimination against women in the sciences, and they have a harder road to reach success.  But there is also substance here…and clearly politics was a factor in Summers’ firing as well;  the women’s groups who viewed his ideas as an attack on their belief appealed to public sentiment in the worst kind of way.  

Will social science ever be enough to address such an issue…or is it possibly changing to adapt to the demands people require of it?

On This Site:  Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Addition:  I always get an email or two that suggests I’ve joined the ranks of those who don’t fully understand the problem and seek to oppress women.  I don’t think I’ve done such a thing, and if women are going broaden and deepen feminism, they may well have to answer to arguments like these.  

It’s not like there aren’t women in the sciences either, Vera Rubin, Lisa Randall and Lise Meitner come to mind, but this debate is clearly not just about science.  It’s also about feminism, the social sciences, money, politics, public opinion etc…

Larry Summers - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007 by World Economic Forum

Other things on his plate-worldeconomicforum

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Repost: From MIT OpenCourseWare: Walter Lewin’s Lecture On Lightning

Full lecture here.

My brief summary:

So at room temperature, the electrical breakdown of dry air at 1 meter of distance is 3 million volts (at which point you have discharge sparks, visible light and heat, and moving air). 

Go and shuffle your feet on the carpet and touch the doorknob and if you see a spark of 3 mm it’s around 10,000 volts on average according to this calculation (a little prickle on the fingertip, maybe through your hand).

In the very large electrical field generated during a thunderstorm (400,000 storms every day on earth) you can get up to 300 million volts and more, blinding light and up to 50,000 degree F superheated air rushing outward in waves, or thunder.  The current should it ground itself through your body, can clearly kill you:


Through induction the stepped leader has made contact with the earth, and the return strokes travelling back up to the cloud are visible and audible.

**Of course, if you go and look at the nearest light bulb, the current passing through the resistive filament also produces light and some heat. 

That’s my oversimplification.  Listen to the lecture, it’s worth it.  A whole semester’s worth of his lectures are available for free at that link.

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Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On Kant

Full paper here.

It’s one thing to question the influence of a thinker’s effect on intellectual history (Kant poisoned everything after him with his idealism and mysticism,  and his “leaving room for faith” as Rand claims), it’s another to dispute his metaphysics.  Ayn Rand rejects Kant’s a-priori category of knowledge upon which he built much of his metaphysical system.  The author of the paper discusses (and summarizes) Rand’s similarities and differences with Kant.

“(1) They both accept the existence of a world whose major constituents they call entities or objects and regard as ordered in a system of space, time and causality and perceived by men generally. This world Kant calls “empirical reality” and Rand calls simply “reality.” In contrast to this world are some illusions and delusions whether individual or collective. These can be detected and corrected by the application of ordinary rules and processes. (But Rand interprets Kant as saying that the whole of what he calls “empirical reality” is itself a “collective delusion,” which is universal in scope.)

(2) They both agree that the proper use of man’s perceptual and conceptual faculties, in other words, his reason, in dealing with this world, results in knowledge.

(3) They both agree that man, by accepting this world as metaphysically given, i.e., “outside the power of any volition” (Rand), can adjust to it, control it and thrive in it.

(4) They both agree that in dealing epistemologically with the universe as a whole, we cannot treat it as an entity in the sense in which we call a table or a chair an entity, and can deal with it only in terms of the most fundamental concepts.”

You’ll have to go to the link for the differences.  As for me, I just had a conversation with a bright Objectivist and felt the need to respond much better than I did in the conversation.

Here’s Albert Einstein discussing Hume and Kant, among other ideas, in his Remarks On Bertrand Russell’s Theory Of Knowledge:

“The following, however, appears to me to be correct in Kant’s statement of the problem: in thinking we use, with a certain “right,” concepts to which there is no access from the materials of sensory experience, if the situation is viewed from the logical point of view.

As a matter of fact, I am convinced that even much more is to be asserted: the concepts which arise in our thought and in our linguistic expressions are all — when viewed logically — the free creations of thought which cannot inductively be gained from sense experiences.”

An old German rationalist?  

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From Bloggingheads: Daniel Drezner and David Frum Briefly Discuss China

Diavlog here. (About 5:00 min or so)

China is still heavily dependent on exports and has a big economic engine it has to keep running to stay ahead of the masses of people flooding into its cities…as well as the civil unrest that can potentially come from new questions of freedom and a people living under a formerly communist apparatus…

If the Chinese keep growing economically, will we see a rise in nationalism and military self-determination? Saber-rattling?

If they fail economically in an important way, are they strong enough to pose a threat to the U.S. militarily?…(obviously) to their neighbors?

I’m sure there are plenty of people in the U.S. who wouldn’t mind a new cold-war dance partner.

See James Fallows’ Atlantic Monthly site.

Related On This Site:  We’re certainly dependent on each other economically:  From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’

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From NOAA: Tornado Safety Guide

Full post here.

We’ll be hearing about tornadoes in the news in the next month or so, so I thought I’d post a link to a safety preparedness page (if you live in a tornado prone area).

Here’s a video from Tornado videos of a huge wedge tornado in Manitoba:

Notice how at 1:30 or so the pressure is so low around vehicle (getting sucked into the vortex) that the gentleman riding shotgun can’t open the door against it.  That’s pretty close.

See Also On This Site: The Greensburg Tornado on Doppler Radar… Tornadoes! Some Links…Tornadoes In Major Cities: Atlanta

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From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Full review-essay here.

Nussbaum’s book can be found here.

 “Nussbaum sees the university as under attack from two directions, one represented by conservative critics, such as Allan Bloom, George Will, and Roger Kimball, who accuse the university of fostering relativism, trendy “political correctness,” and an ignorance of, if not downright antipathy toward, the standards of reason and the canon of Great Literature that the university, they believe, should be defending. The other threat comes from groups, including some feminists and advocates of racial and ethnic difference, who have also challenged the traditions of the university, questioning its reliance upon Western- or male-centered rationality and a canon that is insufficiently inclusive of the contributions of nondominant groups.”

This is insightful.  Perhaps, like Camille Paglia, you are genuinely concerned that humanities departments have given too free a home to equality ideologues, feminists and relativists, and that this has spilled back out into the culture at large.   Yet, popular political thinkers on the right, like George Will (and Paglia herself who’s not on the right), aren’t deep enough to get at the root of the problem as Nussbaum is here defining it:  classical learning.

(Would Stanley Fish be part of that same rightist group, or is he deeper than that?  Is Rush Limbaugh the tail end of it)?

In addition, perhaps like Nussbaum, you may be concerned at Allan Bloom’s reliance on Platonic Idealism to diagnose the problem.

I should mention this, among other things, is what really frightens me about Nietzschean influence; what he didn’t understand of the mathematical sciences and philosophy,he attacked from within his own ideas.

So what does Nussbaum suggest?

“Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.”

This has always struck me as a little too broad of a vision to maintain (too heavy on the gender and equality side of things, too much of its time), though I certainly respect the attempt.  We should aim to be citizens of the world and in the best Aristotelian sense (such depth and breadth may be in fact necessary). But is it enough within this framework?

Our author remains skeptical, and finds that the book didn’t quite meet Nussbaum’s own aims:

“In all of this, I think, we return to the narrow conception of philosophy that drives Nussbaum’s argument. By equating philosophy with the defense of Socratic reason, and by refusing to consider that this mode of analysis may not provide the universal discourse for resolving disagreements even within this society, let alone on a global scale, Nussbaum ends up providing, on the whole, a conception of liberal education that diverges very little from the secular university’s present self-conception.”

An interesting review.   Obviously, there’s more depth here than I’ve addressed.

*  Could the limits of such a view be seen in Amartya Sen’s recent New York Review Of Books piece (is Sen’s thinking more apropos of India’s problems rather than America’s…despite its depth?)  Sen and Nussbaum have worked well together to address difficult problems, but maybe I don’t understand economics enough to say. (Am I flirting with isolationism?)

Related On This Site:-Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  The limits of globalism? Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal …Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy…A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche Connection

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Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The Crisis

Full post here.

Sen starts off by asking three questions, the first of which highlights something of an ideological problem:

“First, do we really need some kind of “new capitalism” rather than an economic system that is not monolithic, draws on a variety of institutions chosen pragmatically, and is based on social values that we can defend ethically?”

Perhaps.  Perhaps old and new capitalists need to broaden their thinking.  This leads him to a second question:

“How do we assess what is taught and championed among academic economists as a guide to economic policy—including the revival of Keynesian thought in recent months as the crisis has grown fierce?”

Sen suggests that Keynes has limitations, and focuses on those limitations by contrasting him with Cecil Pigou , a Cambridge economist with whom Keynes disagreed.  Sen argues that what Pigou focused on that Keynes did not was how much human psychology effects the markets (pessimism creates a vicious circle), and the importance of  addressing the problems of the poor and disadvantaged:

“There is a critical need for paying special attention to the underdogs of society in planning a response to the current crisis, and in going beyond measures to produce general economic expansion”

If Sen means that we have a moral duty to focus on the poor and disadvantaged in pursuing economic policy decisions, then I would somewhat agree.  Few ideas can potentially preserve American dynamism, social mobility and egalitarianism (freeing it from grip of even the most righteous (E)galitarians).  However, few ideas could so easily become (and so often are) idealized, codified, and enforced by by those who know what’s better for us than we do.   I’m a little wary. 


Sen’s main focus though is on Adam Smith, and he argues that Smith understood the fact that free-markets don’t function in a vacuum; they require moral, legal, and other institutional support structures for their survival.  A system of laws and economic practice is required to maintain and enforce a basic level of ethical/moral activity in the markets, and was developing rapidly during Smith’s time:

“Investment in productive businesses could not flourish until the higher rewards from corruption had been moderated.”

Agreed.  This is deep, pragmatic wisdom.  

Sen also points out that the reaction to Smith’s Wealth of Nations was quick to come:

“While a number of socialist critics, most notably Karl Marx, influentially made a case for censuring and ultimately supplanting capitalism, the huge limitations of relying entirely on the market economy and the profit motive were also clear enough even to Adam Smith.”

I’d just offer that the Marxist/Communist worldview is still very much with us, influencing me, you, Sen, India, Europe…and some of those who perhaps cling too tightly to “capitalism” right now.  It’s not as urgent an issue as many zealots on the right here in America may claim…but it’s certainly there.  


So what to do?  Sen suggests we could try and solve the health-care situation (we are spending a lot of money on a rickety, ineffecient system) but even in doing so, we need:

“Third, in addition to working our way toward a better assessment of what long-term changes are needed, we have to think—and think fast—about how to get out of the present crisis with as little damage as possible.”

But how do we do as little damage as possible?

“What is also needed is a clearheaded perception of how different institutions actually work, and of how a variety of organizations—from the market to the institutions of the state—can go beyond short-term solutions and contribute to producing a more decent economic world..”

I’m still a little wary of that state part.

Obviously, I’m not an economist, so I’ve probably just stepped into a heated debate…one with differing schools of thought and competing influences.   One of Sen’s suggestions seems to be that we need to think more about having government in the picture, which is in line with much of the views that seem to have animated his life’s work.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition:  This is a quite liberal, center left, but economically profound vision about which I harbor much doubt.  Does Sen’s thinking truly address America’s current issues with an understanding of its traditions?  See the above post.  

Related On This Site:  Is health care a right?  From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?  Martha Nussbaum worked with Sen in India…Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

Also:  Robert Nozick anticipates arguments for distributive justice in his libertarian response to similar arguments:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”

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