A short break during a miserable summer

July 24, 2015

It has been cold and wet this July.

On a short break but without any great expectations of much warm weather, but with high hopes of meeting warm friends. Unlikely for any day to have a temperature above 19ºC.

Warm clothing, no shorts.


 

Pachauri finally sacked by TERI

July 24, 2015

RK Pachauri, former head of the IPCC, has finally been sacked by his home institute (which has operated as his fiefdom for over three decades), following allegations of sexual harassment against him.

Since the IPCC is entirely a political body, the behaviour and transgressions of its former head does bring disrepute on the the organisation itself. His transgressions are not the only example of the manner in which the IPCC has operated.

ToIAjay Mathur, technocrat and one of the members of the Prime Minister’s council on climate change, will be the new director general of The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), replacing Rajendra Kumar Pachauri who, facing sexual harassment changes, was removed as its chief by the institution’s governing council on Thursday. …….. 

The move comes as many existing employees of the institution strongly resented Pachauri’s decision to resume his work as its chief this week after getting a court order for the same on last Friday. Employees of Teri — the institution involved in research on energy, environment and sustainable development issues — are learned to have also flagged their concerns to the governing council which has many prominent names as its members. …. 

A case of sexual harassment was registered against 74-year-old Pachauri by the Delhi Police after it received a complaint from a woman employee of the Teri in February. Though the court had granted him anticipatory bail, he was restrained from entering his office premises and contacting officials at the institution.

Thereafter, Pachauri — the then chairman of the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) — had to proceed on leave, pending police investigation against him. He was, however, on Friday allowed by a Delhi court to enter his office premises except the head office here and a branch in Gurgaon.

Pachauri’s removal from Teri has come nearly five months after his resignation from the IPCC as its chief and also as one of the members of the Prime Minister’s council on climate change — a body which advises the government of India for all issues relating to adaptation and mitigation measures in the country to deal with the challenges posed by global warming.

Of course, the IPCC itself ought to be disbanded for the murder of science in favour of advocacy.

Will Trump or Corbyn step down?

July 24, 2015

The clowns went in when the Labour party in the UK and the Republicans in the US both found their own audiences were deserting them. Just some light entertainment thought the aspirants for leadership. In the UK some actually nominated the clown to “widen appeal” and liven things up, thinking he was a no-hoper.

But the respective electorates are in no mood for the clowns to be just a relieving act before the main show. They are inclined to make the comedy act the main show.

The clowns are still in the lead.

But what was initial amusement at Trump’s antics and Corbyn’s naive Marxism is now becoming a nervous panic within their respective parties. It sounds like the nervous giggling before the catastrophe. It is beginning to sink in that a Corbyn win could split the UK Labour party and keep both parts in the wilderness for decades to come. In the US, the other Republican hopefuls are all united in castigating Trump. But the disillusioned Republican voters in the country are staying with the comedy act. If the opposition to Trump continues, he could go it alone and that would fracture the Republican vote so fundamentally that they could be kept out of the White House for the next 4 terms.

Could Trump or Corbyn step aside and save their parties?

Their parties probably need them to. But that will not happen unless there are other credible and convincing candidates for the leadership position. And such figures are conspicuous by their absence, both in the UK and in the US. The Labour party only has lightweights to offer and the Republicans only some less accomplished clowns. The Republican field of candidates must be quite depressing for party members.

Still, there is little doubt that the clowns are livening things up.

Only one sentient species at a time

July 23, 2015

Roger Pielke Jr. has an interesting article in the Guardian where he addresses the search for extra-terrestrial life. His primary point is that we do not give sufficient consideration to the consequences of success. We see the search as satisfying curiosity but have no real hopes for success. And we have not really given much thought to the consequences of actually finding extra-terrestrial life.

Politicians tend to stay away from talking about aliens (unless they are “illegal aliens”) for obvious reasons. The United Nations briefly took up the issue of extraterrestrial life in 1977, but has let the issue lapse since then.

Following the 2010 Royal Society meeting, the UN’s Director of the Office for Outer Space Affairs, Mazlan Othman, categorically denied that she was the “the “take-me-to-your-leader person” if the Earth were to be contacted by alien life forms.” It does sound a bit silly. But when pressed Othman “stressed that she did not know what role she would play.”

In fact, it seems unlikely that any policy makers in national or international settings have a clearly thought–through plan for responding to the discovery of extraterrestrial life, whether that be microbes on another body in our solar system or beady-eyed aliens looking to invade. The conversation is only silly if we assume that efforts to detect alien life will never succeed.

But that got me to wondering what would happen not only if we found life but if we found sentient life out there. And I am led to the inescapable conclusion that in the same habitat or space, it is not possible for more than one sentient species to hold sway.

If any of the primate species on Earth displayed sentience, we would wipe them out. Not because humans are so evil as a species but because any sentient species dominating a habitat could not tolerate another less sentient species from challenging that dominance. Unless different sentient species, in the same habitat, displayed exactly the same level of intelligence and mastery over the physical world, then the dominant species would have little option but to ensure that its dominance was not, and could not, be threatened. In most scenarios that would mean wiping out the subordinate sentient species. Live and let live would only be feasible if the two species inhabited completely different habitats. To survive, a sentient species needs to be far below the level of sentience of another more dominant species so as to be “allowed to survive”. As a pet species. Or else it must be the dominant species where all other species sufficiently far below in level of sentience may be allowed to survive.

If any earth species, gorillas or chimps for example, showed signs of becoming sentient and becoming a self-aware, socially coherent group, they would be a more serious existential threat to the human species than any asteroid impact or super-volcanic eruption. Perhaps we might cede the ocean habitat to sentient dolphins, but even that is unlikely. Sentient birds with dexterous appendages with land and the air as their habitat would not long suffer the human race to survive. The Planet of the Apes type of scenario where genetic modifications by humans inadvertently creates a rival, sentient species is, I suppose, not totally implausible. But as soon as two species in a common habitat are close in intelligence and physical capability, the die is cast and there is space only for one to survive. If our pet dogs started challenging our authority and – say – demanding to set the menu for their meals, they are doomed. If we created neo-chimps which started demanding their “rights”, they could not survive. If cows or horses demanded the right to choose their own partners, they would be doomed to extinction or genetic modification to make them more docile.

This also applies to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Suppose we found another sentient species on another planet. It is highly unlikely that it would display a similar level of sentience. Suppose anyway that the species can discern each other and perhaps even communicate. That itself is pretty far-fetched, but not impossible. It is more likely that the “finding” species is higher up in the sentience scale than the “found” species. So if we found a sentient species of inferior ability we might be magnanimous enough to allow it to continue in its own habitat, especially if the habitat was hostile to us. But we would see to it that its habitat was contained and could not expand to ever be a threat to humans. The obvious analogy is with the wiping out or subjugation of the local populations in the Americas or Australia. And that was with populations of the same species.

If we find a species that is superior to us (though it is more likely that they would find us), then it would be best if they were so far superior that the human race was perceived to be a “pet species”. Otherwise we are in for Star Wars and may the best species win. And the worst case scenario is that they find us. That we are found on Earth by a superior – but not too superior – species who find our habitat to be of interest. And the worst of worst cases would be if they found that we did not have the temperament to function as their pets and, moreover, if they found that human flesh, lightly spiced, was a particular delicacy.

The CAR scandal: Cover-up of incompetence continues at the UN

July 22, 2015

Flavia Pansieri, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for human rights, resigned today after admitting in March that she had failed to follow up on the allegations of sexual exploitation of children in the Central African Republic by French troops and which had been revealed by the Swedish whistle- blower, a UN staff member, Anders Kompass. Initially the UN sought to cover-up by suspending Kompass and putting him under investigation. Even Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary general attacked Kompass for breaking UN rules rather than address the failings of the organisation. Kompass has now been reinstated but still remains under investigation for his administrative misdeeds. He had informed Pansieri about his misgivings but apparently she was too busy with budget cuts at the time and failed to take any action. Now she has resigned “for health reasons”, but the UN High Commissioner himself, Zeid Raad al-Hussein remains. According to Pansieri he also was informed and failed to take action.

Being UN officials, they all have immunity from any liability – even for incompetence and gross negligence. No further action will probably be taken, though Anders Kompass should probably give up any aspirations to promotion within the UN organisation. (I note again that no UN official will ever be held accountable for the negligence which led to cholera being introduced to Haiti by UN troops).

ABC (AP):

The U.N. confirmed Wednesday that Flavia Pansieri has left the post of deputy high commissioner for human rights “for health reasons.” No more details were given.

The allegations by several children as young as 9 of trading oral sex and sodomy for food with French soldiers tasked with protecting civilians in the violence-torn country didn’t become public until late April, almost a year after U.N. staffers first heard the children’s stories. Pansieri’s comments and other leaked documents led the U.N. secretary-general this summer to order an investigation into how the U.N. handled the case.

In a confidential statement for a separate internal investigation, obtained by The Associated Press, Pansieri said she had been distracted from the case by other issues, including budget cuts for several months. “I regret to say that in the context of those very hectic days, I failed to follow up on the CAR situation,” Pansieri said in the statement dated March 26.

She said she and her boss, high commissioner Zeid Raad al-Hussein, had assumed French authorities were handling the allegations, even as France pressed the U.N. for months for more information.

No arrests have been announced, and it appears that the only person who has been punished is the U.N. rights staffer who first notified French authorities.

The French soldiers, who were not U.N. peacekeepers, had been tasked with protecting civilians in a chaotic camp for displaced people in Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, during vicious violence between Christians and Muslims.

Of course the UN is only as good as its member nations. I sometimes think that the UN, just like the EU, is not a forum for the dissemination of best practices as it should be, but functions instead to level down to the worst standards of a member nation.

Surge of news articles suggests that EC will approve GE acquisition of Alstom’s power and grid businesses

July 22, 2015

I speculated a few days ago that the remedies that GE had submitted to meet the European Commission’s concerns for this deal could well succeed. I also speculated that GE would have addressed concerns in two main areas; gas turbine technology and the business of servicing the Alstom fleet of gas turbines.

The EC decision is not due till late August but I observe that there has been a surge in speculative reports about a likely approval. These are appearing in the business and in the trade press and my guess is that they must be based on some background, unattributable discussions not only with Alstom and GE officials but also with officials of the EC. It does seem that a conditional approval will come in August and with the time needed for implementing the proposed remedies, financial closure could come early in 2016, Q1. Financial closure by the end of 2015 would be a little optimistic.

Reuters: France sees ‘reassuring elements’ in GE/Alstom bid

Nuclear Power Industry News: GE Proposes “Remedies” In Push For Alstom Acquisition

WSJ: GE Says It Submitted Remedies to EU Regulators for Alstom Deal

Recharge: Alstom CEO says GE deal ‘moving ahead’ as pair await EU verdict

The Street: GE’s $13.8 Billion Alstom Deal Likely to Get EU Approval, Alstom CEO Says

 

 

One cool summer increased Arctic ice by 30% – another indicator of the coming ice age?

July 22, 2015

A new paper in Nature geoscience confirms that the “cool” summer of 2013 increased Arctic ice volume by a third. It increased again in 2014 by 25%. Two cool summers have increased Arctic ice volume by 1.33 x 1.25 = 1.41 (41%).

The authors claim that this indicates that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than has been previously considered, but I would  suggest that this also indicates something much more significant. It suggests to me that the conditions needed to trigger a little ice age (lasting 3 – 5 decades) are not so difficult to conceive of. With low solar activity, a few cool summers and a volcanic eruption or two would more than suffice. Even the long term shift from the current interglacial and back to glacial conditions (where interglacials last for 10 -20 millenia and glacial periods last even longer) could also probably be triggered by a few key events occurring together.

It is worth noting that for the last few years, ice cover in the Antarctic has been higher than it is has ever been since records began. The Arctic ice cover reached a very low level in 2012 but has rebounded quite strongly. Arctic ice levels are at the same level as in the 1980s.

By constantly rewriting historical data, the global warming orthodoxy try to show that every year is warmer than the artificially cooled past. Raw data shows no such warming. Satellite records show no such warming. It is only data sets where raw data is recalculated every year by very dodgy algorithms to give a calculated value for “global temperature” that warming shows up.

Global climatic changes must also show up as local weather. And this has been a miserable summer so far. June was colder and wetter – as perceived – than usual and July is proving to be colder and wetter than I have any memory of. My personal empirical observations would suggest that the shift into another little ice age has started.

Increased Arctic sea ice volume after anomalously low melting in 2013

Abstract: ……. Between autumn 2010 and 2012, there was a 14% reduction in Arctic sea ice volume, in keeping with the long-term decline in extent. However, we observe 33% and 25% more ice in autumn 2013 and 2014, respectively, relative to the 2010–2012 seasonal mean, which offset earlier losses. This increase was caused by the retention of thick sea ice northwest of Greenland during 2013 which, in turn, was associated with a 5% drop in the number of days on which melting occurred—conditions more typical of the late 1990s. In contrast, springtime Arctic sea ice volume has remained stable. The sharp increase in sea ice volume after just one cool summer suggests that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than has been previously considered.

Even the BBC which is religiously fanatic (only exceeded by The Guardian) in its adherence to global warming orthodoxy, has been compelled to report the increase in Arctic ice. But of course they continue to deny that real data in conflict with model expectations can invalidate the models predicting man-made global warming:

BBC:

The volume of Arctic sea ice increased by around a third after an unusually cool summer in 2013. Researchers say the growth continued in 2014 and more than compensated for losses recorded in the three previous years. The scientists involved believe changes in summer temperatures have greater impacts on ice than thought. 

Why do they have to then add pure rubbish?

But they say 2013 was a one-off and that climate change will continue to shrink the ice in the decades ahead.

Who needs a train?

July 21, 2015

From Twitter

At a Railway station in Bombay July 20th 2015 (unknown photographer)

Monsoon railways in Bombay

Every captive is not a hero – Trump may have a point

July 21, 2015

Trump is being castigated from all sides for questioning John McCain being described as a “war hero”.

“He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

A “hero” or a “war hero” is just a label created by the media and public perceptions. The mere fact of capture and captivity cannot be a qualification for the label – but it very often is. It is a label often used and exploited by those released from a perceived “unjust” captivity.

(In Sweden for example, two rather irresponsible journalists who accompanied rebels from Somalia, illegally across the border into Ethiopia, Martin Schibbye and  Johan Persson, were captured and prosecuted for terrorist activities, and sentenced to 11 years in prison in Ethiopia. But after much outrage and diplomatic activity and ransom payments, they were released after about 18 months in captivity. Being journalists they were feted and made into heroes by the Swedish media – essentially for breaking the law in Ethiopia and for being incompetent. They have exploited their notoriety and their reputation as “heroes” extremely well since then. I note that another black Swedish journalist, Dawit Isaak has been in prison in Eritrea since 2001 but his plight has not engaged the interest of the Swedish media or the public or the government in the same way. A prisoner left behind.)

In McCain’s case, the basic facts seem to be:

  1. McCain was captured and badly tortured.
  2. He spent over 5 years in captivity.
  3. He did receive preferential treatment in captivity because of who his father was.
  4. He did make a “confession” about his war crimes which was widely disseminated by his captors.
  5. He did suffer permanent physical disabilities as a result of poor medical treatment and his torture.
  6. He was one of 591 prisoners released. Many prisoners died during captivity. About 600 other prisoners were alive at the time but were never released.
  7. For some reason, McCain is not supportive of the relatives of the missing prisoners in their efforts to get information about them.

He certainly showed great endurance and fortitude. He certainly suffered greatly. But does that make him a “war hero”?

In October 1967, McCain was flying over North Vietnam when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg ejecting from the aircraft and nearly drowned when he parachuted into Trúc Bạch Lake. Some North Vietnamese pulled him ashore and he was then transported to Hanoi’s main Hỏa Lò Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton”. He received very basic medical treatment and suffered severe torture and solitary confinement. His father was appointed commander of all U.S. forces Vietnam in 1968 and he was offered early release for propaganda purposes. He declined, in accordance with the Military Code of Conduct for POW’s and his beatings continued. In late 1968 he made a “confession” about his war crimes and this was used extensively by the N. Vietnamese. From 1969 prisoner conditions improved somewhat. He was among a total of 591 POW’s released in March 1973 after over 5 years in captivity. Many prisoners had died in captivity.

But there were many – supposedly hundreds – of other prisoners who were not released at the time. And now the story becomes very murky. Apparently the other prisoners were being retained to ensure that the Vietnamese received war reparations agreed to in the peace agreement. But these reparations were never payed since the agreement was rejected by Congress and these other prisoners were never released. The US Military always denied that there was any evidence of any prisoners left behind. Eighteen years later, in 1991, John McCain became a key member, with John Kerry as Chairman, of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.

But apparently McCain was disinclined to pursue the fate of the prisoners left behind.

John McCain and the POW Cover-Up

……. The Pentagon had been withholding significant information from POW families for years. What’s more, the Pentagon’s POW/MIA operation had been publicly shamed by internal whistleblowers and POW families for holding back documents as part of a policy of “debunking” POW intelligence even when the information was obviously credible.

The pressure from the families and Vietnam veterans finally forced the creation, in late 1991, of a Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. The chairman was John Kerry. McCain, as a former POW, was its most pivotal member. In the end, the committee became part of the debunking machine.

One of the sharpest critics of the Pentagon’s performance was an insider, Air Force Lt. Gen. Eugene Tighe, who headed the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) during the 1970s. He openly challenged the Pentagon’s position that no live prisoners existed, saying that the evidence proved otherwise. McCain was a bitter opponent of Tighe, who was eventually pushed into retirement.

Included in the evidence that McCain and his government allies suppressed or sought to discredit is a transcript of a senior North Vietnamese general’s briefing of the Hanoi politburo, discovered in Soviet archives by an American scholar in 1993. The briefing took place only four months before the 1973 peace accords. The general, Tran Van Quang, told the politburo members that Hanoi was holding 1,205 American prisoners but would keep many of them at war’s end as leverage to ensure getting war reparations from Washington.

Throughout the Paris negotiations, the North Vietnamese tied the prisoner issue tightly to the issue of reparations. They were adamant in refusing to deal with them separately. Finally, in a Feb. 2, 1973 formal letter to Hanoi’s premier, Pham Van Dong, Nixon pledged $3.25 billion in “postwar reconstruction” aid “without any political conditions.” But he also attached to the letter a codicil that said the aid would be implemented by each party “in accordance with its own constitutional provisions.” That meant Congress would have to approve the appropriation, and Nixon and Kissinger knew well that Congress was in no mood to do so. The North Vietnamese, whether or not they immediately understood the double-talk in the letter, remained skeptical about the reparations promise being honored—and it never was. Hanoi thus appears to have held back prisoners—just as it had done when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and withdrew their forces from Vietnam. In that case, France paid ransoms for prisoners and brought them home. ………..

Donald Trump may be a clown.

But he has a point.

Gold price at 5 year low – grounds for optimism?

July 20, 2015

I grew up in the post-war period when gold price was fixed at $35/ounce. That came to an end in 1971 when the US Dollar was decoupled from the gold price. Gold price has little to do with supply and demand and is more a measure of existing financial turbulence or fears about coming turbulence.

gold price 1900 - 2000

gold price 1900 – 2000

The gold price dropped to just under $1100/ounce yesterday. But does it actually function as a forward indicator of what is to come? Many analysts see it as a trailing indicator reflecting the movement of money into a “safe haven” or out of “safety” into areas of perceived , future growth. Rising gold prices then reflect – after the event – turbulent times. Growth, of course, lags investment. Therefore, it is thought, that falling gold prices is a forward indicator of coming growth and an indicator at least of bullish sentiment if not necessarily of a bull market.

Gold price 2010 - July 2015  graphic Bloomberg

Gold price 2010 – July 2015 graphic Bloomberg

Certainly the soaring gold price after the financial crisis reached its peak of $1883/ounce in September 2011 and stayed at very high levels through 2012. The current decline started in January 2013 and has been followed by rising markets for the last 2+ years. But while a weak growth (sans inflation) is beginning to show up globally (strong in the US, weak in Asia and treading water in Europe), a real growth spurt ought to bring gold price down to less than $1000/ounce.

So the current level and falling trend shows at least that in spite of the Greek problems and the Eurozone weakness, expectations of growth are still strong. Historically, before and during the “good days” of the 1990s, gold prices were at or lower than $400/ounce. The 2008 financial meltdown itself took prices from 800 to 1800.

Gold price 1980 - july 2015

Gold price 1980 – july 2015

So I’m looking for a global growth level corresponding to gold prices back to around $900/ounce. But, unfortunately, I suspect that the gold price will not function as a forward indicator but will only reflect what has already happened. So, if it drops to less than $1000, my retirement funds will be reasonably safe.

But if it rises, I’ll have to have scrambled long before it does.


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