Some Graphs to Start the Year

Not wanting to start your year with doom, I waited a day.

I didn’t post much satellite global temperature data last year because I was busy. Here’s how things look up to November 2021.

The usual caveats apply here: not the best temperature record but the one that side-steps some time-wasting arguments. If you focus just on a very short time period, it looks like a stable wobble around a mean but over long time periods, the move upwards continues as expected.

La Niña conditions have kept things relatively cool & wet in Australia but the impacts on North America are less benign. When things shift away from those conditions it’s likely to be a bad fire season again here at some point.

While the 2019/2020 fire season was notoriously bad, the timing could have been worse. Australia missed having catastrophic fires and a pandemic at the same time. How is Covid going here? Well, the virus is having a great time. New South Wales dialled back its anti-pandemic measures just in time for the omicron variant. Here’s how the cumulative case numbers per million people are looking, with some other industrialised nations which have had relatively low numbers put in for comparison.

Vaccines have made a difference to the deadliness of the virus but exponential growth will still lead to lots of people with major health impacts (including death). The impact on hospitals is getting bad here also, which has health impacts on everybody.

Hospitalisation data is more limited worldwide and obviously when comparing countries, there are going to be a lot of other factors involved. Having said that, I thought this graph showing Canada and Australia together (and adjusted for population size) was interesting.

Canada & Australia are both very different countries and very similar countries depending on what aspects you consider. Up to around the fourth quarter of 2021, they also had very different experiences of the pandemic (Canada’s proximity to the US being a major factor). In more recent months those hospitalisation figures have become a lot more similar. No big conclusion there, I just thought the coincidence was interesting.

I don’t know if covid will become seasonal like the flu but currently, it isn’t. Public policy and viral mutation appear to be having a bigger impact than the time of year.

A different view of culture wars and Science Fiction

I haven’t linked to Sarah Hoyt’s Mad Genius Club blog for a long time, mainly because much of what she is posting is not well structured. However, a recent post was germane to my interests and has some overlap with the Debarkle project. The post is rambling and full of odd leaps and flawed premises but that is the normal situation. The opening paragraphs states her premise relatively clearly:

“Perhaps it makes perfect sense for the science fiction genre — literature and movie, and all its glorious expanse — which achieved prominence in the 20th century to have become in a way, sideways, in small sphere the guinea pig of societal trends to come.

I’m only half in jest and all in seriousness, mind you.

This isn’t some half baked idea, like pretending to see the universe in a droplet of water or the conflagration of a match. (Both of which things I was convinced were perfectly valid, due to having learned them in science fiction books, which by the time I got my hot little — emphasis on little — hands on them were over fifty years old.)

It’s rather the fact that because the twentieth century was riven by two primary and — if we have a future as a species, I’m sure to our descendants — insane ideas: the idea that “science” — by which one must understand the knowledge at that time, not the process by which knowledge is acquired, with its heresies and toppling of accepted theory — could explain and ordain everything; and the idea that “great men” in charge would leads to glory by use of that “science.””

I don’t agree with her general idea and certainly not with the specific claims in the essay but I’d see two related ideas as sensible ones:

  • Science fiction is a genre in which people have often explored big ideas including social, economic and political change including positing (unreliably) some changes that actual occurred.
  • Science fiction as a genre is caught up in social change and on occasion changes that are already occurring may be more visible in science fiction literature and communities focused on that literature.

The second dot-point is sort of the premise of Debarkle i.e. science fiction is downstream of social change but not very far downstream. The first dot-point also suggests that science fiction is upstream of social change and can anticipate it but that’s only true in the way that a gambler who bets on every horse in a race can guarantee they picked a winner.

I’m not going to do a line by line refutation of Hoyt’s essay because that would be tiresome for both you and me but I’ll focus on one part because I like to talk about climate change and I also haven’t done that in awhile:

“And then there was “the Earth is going to freeze to death” — I’m packing my library and hoping that I didn’t throw away the anthology (very convincing) I bought at the end of the 80s in which author after author talked about the Earth freezing due to… well, excess freedom, and “consumerism” and “free market.”

Because those d*mn dirty apes just don’t know how to live, and won’t listen to their betters! The Earth has a chill, and the cure is socialism, population control and the “best” people in charge.

Of course, five years later, there were anthologies about how the Earth had a fever and the cure was socialism.”

Hoyt’s echoing a common climate change denial talking point about the supposed sudden shift in scientific consensus from a looming ice age in the mid-70s to global warming in the mid-80s. The talking point is largely false with some nuggets of truth (i.e. there really were discussions of global cooling as a possibility, leading to a new ice age but not a consensus and this was parallel with growing evidence of potential warming from anthropogenic CO2)

However, she’s also re-writing genre history. There are notable 1960s sci-fi books set on Earth in a new ice age (Moorcock, Silverberg) and books with rising temperatures (Ballard). Asking people to imagine how Earth might be dramatically different in the future and in terms of climate there are two-and-a-half obvious choices: hotter and flooded, hotter and all desert, colder and all ice. Of course, in film we have early 1970’s Soylent Green* mixing over-population fears with an express reference to global warming. Whereas, well past the point where there was any serious doubt about anthropogenic global warming we have The Day After Tomorrow in which global warming triggers a new ice age just to split the difference!

Science fiction affects and is affected by culture and science but not in some neat way.

*(oh and in terms of science fiction affecting the future we now have but the ingredients are closer to the book than the film [I hope])

Some graphs for February

I’m jumping between two different topics rather than doing separate posts.

Firstly, global temperatures. As per usual, I’m looking at the satellite data set from UAH, not because it’s the best but because it avoids a couple of bad faith arguments about the data:

La Niña slowing things down right now, making for a relatively wet summer in Australia. Not wet enough to avoid bushfires though

Jumping to the pandemic, a question I was asked is when we will see vaccinations make an impact on Covid cases? I haven’t found an article on that but it is a good question. The short answer is “not yet” looking at the graphs and it might not ever.

Currently, Israel has the most intensive vaccination program (but foolishly not originally for everybody). This chart shows does administered per 100 people for a range of countries:

Here is the cumulative case numbers relative to population size for the top three countries for vaccination roll out. It’s way too early to see any impact.

Vaccines may not impact these numbers at all ( ) but should impact mortality and other impacts (i.e. covid might well stick around but do less damage).

La Niña and other climate news

Good news for Australia, more mixed news for other places. The Australian Bureau of Metrology is reporting that “The Bureau’s ENSO Outlook has moved to LA NIÑA, indicating La Niña is established in the tropical Pacific. All surveyed international climate models indicate this La Niña will persist until at least January 2021.”

Both La Niña and negative IOD typically increase the chance of above average rainfall across much of Australia during spring. Above average summer rainfall is also typical across eastern Australia during La Niña. Current climate outlooks indicate the remainder of 2020 will be wetter than average across the eastern two thirds of Australia. 29 September 2020

That means less chance of extreme bushfires and frankly I don’t think I’m ready to cope with those again on top of everything else.

Satellite temperatures (usual caveats apply) probably won’t be affected for some months though. Here’s the graph for September.

A Cat Reads Hyperion by Dan Simmons

[September 25, 2019, Felapton Towers]
Good evening everybody, it is I, Timothy the Talking Cat, speaking to you from the magnificent library within my palatial home in Bortsworth, in the green, pleasant and European Union free kingdom of England. God bless her and all who sail upon her.

Today I have mostly been reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons. How much do I love Dan Simmons? I love him a LOT. I love him so very much. Sure, sure, it was only a few weeks ago that I picked up one of his books and flicked through a few pages and I was like “Jezz-louise, where are the ray guns and all the explosions and what’s with all these hoity-toity literary references. This guys is one of them there literati types with their big New York pent-up houses and a butler called Snifflington” and I got all mad and ran around the house three times and then hid in a cupboard and wouldn’t come out. But later, when old Kamchatka Flugelhorn was trying to coax me out for dinner he asked me why I was upset and I explained that Dan Simmons had an audacious lack of rocket ships in the book I was looking at and it had me so, so very mad.

“Judging by claw marks,” said Camerashop Fettlehouse, “you were looking at my copy of The Terror?”

“That’s the very one!” I shouted back (very loudly because I was hiding under a jumper inside the cupboard), “Not a single rocket ship! Not a single space battle!”

“It’s a supernatural horror set on a Victorian British sailing ship. I really don’t know why you would expect rocket ships. It has a giant supernatural polar bear monster in it, if that helps?”

I can tell you now that did not help. Nor did Cattlegrid Fentanyl’s lurid explanation of the plot. Now I was not merely outraged about the blatant incursion of literature into my beloved genre but I was also mortally terrified that I was being stalked by a malovelent spirit in the form of a polar bear. Do you know how many cats get eaten by polar bears each year? Me neither. Which only goes to show that SOMEBODY is hiding the truth. “Probably Greta Thunberg” I said. Of course, silly Camisole Fruitcake couldn’t follow a simple chain of reasoning and expressed some puzzlement about my “outburst”.

I am a patient cat. I suffer fools. I do not suffer them gladly but I do suffer them, for the universe keeps throwing them in my path. I explained in terms a three year old could understand that Ms Thunberg was from polar bear land and so was obviously in on the whole plan to set polar bear ninja ghost assassins after me.

“Dan Simmons is not part of a shadowy cabal run by Greta Thunberg that is plotting to have you eaten by polar bears!” he said. I snorted in disdain, having already laid out the logical proof of my conclusions. “No, seriously. Look, everybody got mad at Dan Simmons for being rude about Greta Thunberg.” Now this was a much better argument than Camelback Flutesection had used earlier (e.g. “Polar bear land is not the name of a country and even if it was it wouldn’t be Sweden.”)

“Really?” I asked, looking out from the cupboard — ready at a moments notice to retreat at the first sign of any spectral ursus maritimus.

“Yes, really. The guy has really reactionary views.” explained the human. Well, that changes thing. If there is one thing I will take a stand on it is my unswerving opposition to cancel culture! Yes, a lesser man would cower in fear at the thought of Twitter mobs but not a fearless and outspoken cat like myself. Pausing only to eat a large dinner of smoked salmon with kibble crusting and then pausing a bit longer for an extended nap by the electric heater, I leapt into action! I rushed to my Facebook page and informed my many followers that Dan Simmons was my favourite author now and also what books I should read by my favourite author (with a specific note that I’m under strict medical advice not to consume any media containing polar bears). Straw Puppy said I should read Hyperion because I would “like the main character – he’s very prickly”.

Well so far I’ve only read a few pages and look at this:

“Whether they seek to control just Hyperion for the Time Tombs or whether this is an all-out attack on the Worldweb remains to be seen. In the meantime, a full FORCE:space battle fleet complete with a forecaster construction battalions has spun up from the Camn System to join the evacuation task force”

From the Prologue, Hyperion by Dan Simmons

That’s what I’m talking about! Time tombs! Space battle fleet! All-out attacks by a sinister group of invaders! I’m a simple cat with simple pleasures and there are the things I want from my reading. Give me stuff like this! Future space action on weird planets! That’s what my now favourite author Dan Simmons is offering! Good for him. I’m glad I found a book that avoids the pretentious topics of the literati set with their obsession with stuff like Chaucer or early nineteenth century poets swooning to death in Rome or whatever. Simple clean narratives is what a red-blooded cat needs to relax and not over-complicated non-linear narratives, pretentious symbolism or inconclusive ends. I’m sure this book is going to be great!

Afterword by Camestros Felapton

Timothy began reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons a year ago on Thursday. I promised to post his review as soon as he had finished it. The book was last seen being used to wedge open a rusted filing cabinet in Timothy’s “war room”.

Meanwhile…global warming

Once again a reminder that amid all our other problems, global warming is still playing on like an insistent bass-line behind a discordant melody.

The usual caveats apply: not the best source nor the best data set but using this one side-steps some pointless arguments.

The current ‘low’ is well above many historical peaks.

…also global warming…

…is still very much happening. A monthly reminder of temperatures creeping upwards.

As I usually do, here is the UAH satellite-based temperature. The usual caveats apply: this isn’t the best temperature record but it side steps some tiresome arguments.

But while I’m here it’s worth taking a step back to a different tiresome argument that didn’t start fading away until about six years ago (and still circulates in some circles). This was the claim that global warming “stopped”.

Here is an example from 2013:

“The New York Times feverishly reported on August 10 that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about to issue another scary climate report. Dismissing the recent 17 years or so of flat global temperatures, the IPCC will assert that: “It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010″

I can illustrate the period in question using a broader context:

Adapted from graph above

That the 17 year period cited was on average measurably warmer than the 17 years the preceded it should have been a hint that finding a flattish point in a noisy set of data and declaring prematurely a rise had stopped is silly in the extreme. Except “silly” misses the point. A bad faith argument is not silly if it is effective in what it was intended to achieve. In this case, the purpose of the “global warming has stopped” arguments were part of a strategy aimed at the centre and centre-right politicians and decision makers.

As evidence of global warming only strengthened in the 2000’s the political consensus on the right only shifted further into scepticism. That change didn’t happen over night and even as late as 2008 Republican Newt Gingrich appeared in a video with Nancy Pelosi arguing for action on climate change (if very vaguely)

Naturally there has been no sign of any equivalent conversions from former “global warming stopped” advocates based on the pattern for the “the recent 17 years or so” as of 2020 which would look like this:

The Virus, The Lockdown and the Wingnut Eschatology

A post really wasn’t coming together on all this stuff on the anti-lockdown ‘movement’ among the US right. However, I wanted a bunch of links in one place to come back to later. The whys and the hows and whos and how it all connects to money, oil and denial is sort of there. I intended just a list of links but you get a rambling post instead. Somehow Jonestown and the Last Jedi get connected in here. More after the fold.

Continue reading “The Virus, The Lockdown and the Wingnut Eschatology”

A study in denial

I could have written a post like this one every other day for the past few weeks. Highlight one of the right-wing blogs I read and talk about their reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. The story would be the same over and over: a mix of genuine confusion, an even more irrational faith in free market economics than usual and the now standard belief that genuine expertise is the hallmark of deception.

But I’ll highlight the inevitable one: Sarah Hoyt The truth of the general statement I made above would also be nearly true of Hoyt’s blog. Not quite every other day but nearly so, there has been a post about the virus offering a close to fact-free dissent about the wider view of the pandemic.

The denial isn’t hard to understand. There really is no doubt that measures to reduce social contact reduces the spread of the disease – indeed, that’s almost axiomatic about communicable diseases. There’s also not much doubt that reducing social contact has a negative impact on the economy. Which takes us straight to the dilemma of every nation on Earth currently: saving lives will hurt your economy. A corollary to that is that there really is no immediate free market solution to the pandemic. Give it time and yes, there are fortunes to be made from vaccines and treatments but this current situation is genuinely a big-government kind of problem and hence even conservative governments are trying to buy time with quite severe laws restricting our movement.

For libertarians and pseudo-libertarians this must be nightmarish. OK the actual situation IS nightmarish but for the pseudo-libertarians like Hoyt the world has turned on its head. The route through the next months has narrowed to variations on the same basic policy: massive government efforts to keep the health system running, laws massively restricting human movement, massive government spending (based on borrowing) to stop the economy from collapsing. This is not a war (the pseudo-libertarians quite like war) but it is not unlike a war-footing but without the militarism that the pseudo-libertarians enjoy.

For the piece linked above the frame is a standard denialist line: models are simplifications of complex things and hence don’t capture the complexities and hence must be false and wrong and bad etc etc. Part of that is true. Models are simplifications of complex things and have aspects that are known to be both false and misleading. The simplest example (and analogy – which is cool that an actual example is also a metaphor for itself) is a map. Maps leave out details. A roadmap exaggerates the width of roads for the purpose of visibility. Any model must contain such simplifications and errors because that is the purpose of models.

The situation is even more dire than that though. Not only is every model ever wrong (to some degree) but we have no choice but to use models. Unless you are omniscient being, you can’t know everything. So you HAVE to use models. Your brain uses models, your basic SENSES use less than perfect models that approximate and fill in missing details. It is not unlike the version of the laws of thermodynamics (attributed to either Allen Ginsberg or C.P.Snow – take your pick)

  • You can’t win
  • You can’t break even
  • You can’t leave the game

People get that the first two must be true about any kind of model (cognitive, mathematical, computer-based) i.e. that the model is a simplification and that there will be aspects of the model that are misleading. People don’t always get the last one: you can’t escape models. Which takes me back to Hoyt:

“This came to mind about a week ago as I was stomping around the house saying that anyone who relied on computer models for anything should be shot.  My husband was duly alarmed, because as he pointed out, he has designed computer models. At which point I told him that’s okay because his models do not involve people.  Which is part of it.  Throw one person into a model, and you’ll wish the person were a spherical cow of uniform density in friction-less vacuum.”

The question Hoyt raises unintentionally is if people are not to rely on computer models then what SHOULD they rely on? What is the alternative? Because not relying on models at all is an impossibility. The virtue of a formal model is that they are examinable. Hoyt uses the old joke about the mathematician given the task of helping a farmer but the joke itself reveals a strength of a mathematical model as the butt of the joke. The simplification and hence the way the model departs from reality is overtly stated. The alternative is situations were we use models without realising we are doing so an without understanding how the cognitive model we are using departs sharply from reality.

Luckily for me (if not for the health and safety of her readers) Hoyt provides a perfect example of exactly that kind of unexamined model:

“It’s hard to deny the disease presents in weird clusters. I have a friend whose Georgia County is about the same level of bad as Italy. Which makes no sense whatsoever, as they have no high Chinese population. And while the cases might be guess work (with tests only accurate AT MOST 70% of the time, it’s guesswork all the way down) the deaths aren’t. The community is small enough they all know each other. And they’re losing relatively young (still working) and relatively healthy (no known big issues) people.”

Hoyt is still stuck with a mental model of Covid-19 as a “Chinese” disease — as if somehow the novel coronavirus has a memory of where it first infected humans. Spread of the disease has long since moved well beyond travellers from China. For example, I believe in Australia more cases originated directly via travellers from the USA than from China. Mind you, remember this a person who puts every effort into refusing to believe that there can be such a thing as unconscious biases (at least among people she approves of).

Having robustly asserted how people aren’t spherical cows, Hoyt then promptly spends multiple paragraphers generalising about New Yorkers and Italians and so on. More flawed models.

That takes us to Colorado. Colorado, Hoyt assures us, is different. Now that is clearly true. Colorado is not Italy and it is not New York and some of those differences do matter for the spread of the disease. It is a less densely populated state without a doubt. Hoyt argues that because Colorado is different then the rules should be different.

“So, why are the same rules being applied to both places? AND why are both places treated exactly alike? And why are both places assumed to be on the same curve as Italy or Spain or Wuhan, places and cultures, and ways of living that have absolutely nothing to do with how we live or who we are? And here’s the kicker: if you allow states like Colorado and others that naturally self-distance to go about their lawful business, not only time but more money will be available to study the problem clusters.”

Here is the real kicker. Models are imperfect (by definition) and those imperfection can be misleading (by their very nature) and you can’t NOT use models of some kind or another BUT we have a way of minimising the mistakes we make. The method is simple but it has taken us millennia to work it out: we check the outcomes of our models against data and observation. Now even with data we still have models (sorry, they are inescapable) but we have ways of checking our conclusions against others.

Colorado isn’t a mysterious far away planet. We can literally go and see how Covid-19 is progressing in the state. I’ll use the John Hopkins University visualisation tool for tracking confirmed Covid-19 cases that is available here: The tool allows you to drill down to state (and within state) data in the USA.

Colorado (pop. 5.696 million) currently (April 4 6:50 Sydney time) has 3,742 confirmed cases of Covid-19. For comparison, New South Wales (pop. 7.544 million) has 2,389 confirmed cases and that’s with long established Chinese communities (that Hoyt seems to regard as the only risk factor) as well as Sydney being a major cruise ship destination (an actually pertinent risk factor). Colorado does have major ski resorts* and I suspect we’ll get a better sense of the role they played in the pandemic in the future.

Yes but…as I said, even data relies on models of one kind or another and maybe Australia and Colorado are using vastly different diagnostic criteria or maybe it is due to vastly different testing regimes. I might genuinely be comparing apples and oranges. Sadly, we can reduce (but not remove) disparities in reporting by looking at a more sobering statistic: deaths.

According to the John Hopkins University dashboard New South Wales has 12 confirmed deaths. That’s a tragic and worrying amount. Yes, many more people die from all sorts of other causes but these deaths add to that total or mortality and the progress of this pandemic is far from over. That’s just the beginning of the numbers.

Let’s compare with Colorado (there is also state specific data here also From the same data source Colorado has had 97 deaths so far. It’s when I saw that number that I shuddered and decided that I’d write this post rather than just shake my head at Hoyt’s nonsense. I knew things were bad in some parts of the US but I’d assumed that some of the denial I was reading was because the writers of this toxic nonsense were in states were the wave of the pandemic was still to hit. Ninety-seven deaths, shit. I keep looking at that number and knowing that there other places in the US where the numbers of deaths are being under reported particularly for vulnerable communities and shuddering at what might be the true scale of thins.

Now sure, maybe the differences in testing and diagnostic criteria and data collection are so different between NSW and Colorado that the number of cases is incomparable BUT they would have to be significantly different in two different directions simultaneously. That is, if NSW are under-reporting the number of cases compared to Colorado then the case-fatality rate in Colorado is even worse when compared with NSW. I’m not making the comparison to say which state is somehow doing ‘better’ (it’s not a race or a competition) but simply trying to get a sense of what I can see HERE and compare it with where Sarah Hoyt is. It is undoubtedly a crisis here and we’ve got a conservative government in power at the state level and the national level and heck, both of them if they had an excuse to cut spending and pull back on entitlements and let business run wild they would and you know what, they aren’t and in fact they are doing the opposite. That’s not because they have had a sudden ideological conversion to policies they have derided for years but because massive government spending is the ONLY way to keep the economy going. When conservative ideologues rush to implement free government funded childcare it is safe to assume that they felt they had no other choice.

The morbid irony here is that Hoyt is ignoring her own advice. Rather than just look at Colorado and consider whether that state, regardless of what is going on anywhere else, is in the midst of viral outbreak and in grave danger and what action in such a circumstance the state government should take (hint: major restriction on movement and social contact to keep hospitals going and to give time for treatments and vaccines to be developed) she is insisting that because Colorado is not New York it can’t need the same measures as New York. It’s a compounded level of illogic.

Strip everything away from that piece by Sarah Hoyt and what you are left with is the common theme that captures so much of the train of political thought that joins Ayn Rand to Trump to Jordan Peterson: the desire to dress up wishful thinking as something other than a demand that reality should accord with their personal desires.

There’s no conclusion. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Think of others. Be kind. Don’t spread nonsense.

*[To be fair New South Wales does have ski resorts as well but during the start of the pandemic it was 1. summer here and 2. they were on fire.]

Feb Satellite temps

Usual caveats etc, etc.

This is the graph for February from the usual (flawed) source:

I’m actually a bit sceptical about that, even with a hellish summer down under that’s a big jump given that its not El Niño conditions. Roy Spencer (again, see usual caveats) has a follow up post speculating on the warming impact of smoke from the Australian bushfires on the lower stratosphere ( )

Either way: the Earth is still warming. This is rather like my Dragon Award news, isn’t it?