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) https://www.huffpost.com/entry/newt-gingrich-nancy-pelosi_n_1171530

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 https://accordingtohoyt.com/2020/04/03/assume-a-spherical-cow-of-uniform-density-in-a-frictionless-vaccum/ 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: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6 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 https://covid19.colorado.gov/case-data). 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 (http://www.drroyspencer.com/2020/03/australia-bushfire-smoke-now-warming-the-lower-stratosphere/ )

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

January satellite temperature graph

As always with the semi-regular posting of these: this is not the best global temperature data set and I’m intentionally using a website of a scientist who has supported and boosted global warming denialists because using that site is the simplest way of cutting out two kinds of common arguments from the right.

  1. “oh weather stations are badly positioned or its the urban heat island effect or weather stations are in the wrong places or weather station data is rigged” – the data shown doesn’t use weather stations. That’s not conceding any of those points but rather to show that the same overall picture arises even if you use a radically different way of getting at the data.
  2. “oh global warming scientists are all leftists or its a big academic conspiracy or dissenting scientists don’t get heard” Dr Roy Spencer is a conservative evangelical who is very much on the right wing side of the global warming argument. If he has an innate bias it would be to establish that there is cooling. Again, I’m not conceding those other points but showing that same overall picture arises even if you source the data from somebody who was delighted that Trump gave Rush Limbaugh a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It’s a kind of scientific control, except for bad faith arguments. Eliminate two spurious factors that modern conservatives are claiming create a false picture of warming and then look at the data. When you do that…the warming is still there (what a surprise).

To recap: global warming is still real and is still real even in the face of silly arguments.

December satellite temperature record

As always, some caveats. The UAH satellite based temperature record isn’t the best or most authoritative and has had errors in the past. I pick it out because it avoids a pointless argument about where weather stations are sited or whether global warming is just urban heat island effects (it isn’t) or whether the record is rigged by climate scientists (it isn’t)


Way back in 2018 [good grief – when did 2018 become the past?] I looked at the whole “it’s the Sun” diversion. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/08/02/the-sun-and-global-warming/ That idea has an intuitive appeal, after all the ultimate source of our earthly energy is from this guy.

I thought I’d update the graph I showed then: compare historical temperatures with solar activity data.


The graph plots SIDC monthly sunspot numbers and the BEST temperature set with both sets of data normalised so they fit on the same axes.

The “it’s the Sun” theory has a basic prediction: lower solar activity then lower temperatures. We have lower solar activity but we have historically HIGH temperatures. We are actually at the trough of a historically low cycle.

Like all of these alternative explanations for the undeniable warming that has occurred, the solar activity hypothesis predicts at some point we should see a reversal of the warming trend and a period of global cooling. Indeed, we should have seen that start by at least the year 2000.

Global warming isn’t the sun, it’s not clouds/cosmic-rays, its not some big natural cycle. None of these match the data. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions mainly from burning fossil fuels DOES match.

How denial of global warming kills

I’ll start with the usual satellite temperature record:


All the usual caveats apply.

Meanwhile, here is a photo I took yesterday:

Those clouds aren’t clouds but smoke from a huge 26 thousand hectare fire in the southern part of the Blue Mountains/Kanangra-Boyd National Park. The smoke from that fire, another near by, and an even bigger fire in bushland to the north-west of Sydney is pushing smoke into the Sydney Metropolitan area and creating a persistent smog-haze in the city.

Further north in the state, more extensive fires have been burning for months now, impacting farms, regional communities, tourism and wildlife. With no end in sight to the current drought and three months of summer still to come, Rural Fire Service volunteers and NSW Fire Brigade staff are stretched to the limit.

Naturally the issue of global warming is a major topic in Australia. The right, for obvious reasons, want to downplay that discussion. They have been making use of three arguments. Two have some value (but avoids a deeper point) and the other is a rather nasty lie:

  1. If Australia had taken more extensive action on climate change it wouldn’t have stopped the drought or these fires.
  2. Periods of drought and fire is just a fact of life in Australia.
  3. The fires are the fault of the Greens (sometimes they say ‘inner city Greens etc) who stop burning back aka hazard reduction burns in cooler months.

The first of those points is strictly true. If Australia alone had taken stronger action on climate change it would not, BY ITSELF, have prevented global warming and hence the inaction on climate change isn’t to blame for the fires. Of course, that downplays the role Australia has played in undermining global efforts on climate change but there is a worse aspect that I’ll get to.

The second point is true. Australia has some unusual climate cycles, including periods of drought and periods of heavy rains. There is plenty of evidence to suggest substantial bush fires have been a fact of life in Australia since at least human habitation began a very, very long time ago. That fact though tells us nothing about how we might currently be making things worse.

The last is a simple lie and reveals the issue hidden behind the other two. The Greens who currently enjoy no substantial control over any government in Australia have zero influence on hazard reduction policy and ‘greens’ in a generic sense are not particularly opposed to nor are campaigning against hazard reduction burns and even if they were, nobody is going to NOT do a needed burning back because of that. It’s an obvious nonsense that falls down after a moments inspection. Yet it is repeated on talk-back radio stations and by conservative politicians.

So what is the core issue that is being hidden? Mitigation.

We are already past the point where every nation but particularly Australia now has to plan for and adapt to a world with higher baseline temperatures. Reducing emissions will help limit how bad it will get but the bad is happening now whether we like it or not.

But here is a simple fact: mitigation is going to cost money. At a basic level for Australia that means:

  • More firefighters
  • More firefighting equipment
  • Less sharing of specialist equipment with other nations because now our fire seasons overlap (e.g. California and Australia share equipment which is great but not when b0th places have fires at the same time)

None of that, even in the wildest libertarian imaginings, is going to be paid for by magic market forces. That means funding has to come from somewhere and yes, you guessed it, that means taxation.

The real reason why there aren’t more hazard reduction burns in Australia during winter is that they are difficult to do right, dangerous and require lots of expertise and people…all of which costs money…which the two fire services don’t have…because of limits on public spending…by conservatives.

Spending big on fire fighting should be an easy vote winner and an obvious thing to do EVEN IF a politician thought that reducing carbon emissions was not worth it economically. However, spending big on fire fighting in a planned manner (or on mitigation measures against drought or other impacts of global warming) would mean conservatives conceding that global warming really was real and a problem. If they did that then…well they would find it difficult to argue against emission reductions, so they have been playing down the risks of climate change for decades INCLUDING around mitigation.

Note, this avoidance of both mitigation spending and emission reduction doesn’t save money in the long term. The Australian government (and the ‘taxpayer’) still ends up footing a big bill to help out drought stricken farmers, the huge cost of fighting massive bush fires and the huge economic cost to communities of both bush fires and drought. We can add to that the direct deaths caused by the fires and the indirect health problems caused by heat and air-quality and the mental-health impact on rural communities.

Global warming denial is costing lives in Australia. It is a crude diversion to avoid and disrupt a national conversation. By pretending the risks are low or non-existent right-leaning state and federal politicians have avoided taking even the absolutely needed measures needed to mitigate the impact of climate change. Denial is killing us.

Global temperatures from satellites again

As I do semi-regularly (i.e. when I remember) here are figures from the UAH temperature record up to October.


The usual caveat applies: this is not necessarily the best temperature record but it’s one that avoids a whole set of pointless side arguments.

Meanwhile, as I’ve discussed before the impact of climate change continue. Northern and Southern hemisphere fire seasons are now more extensively overlapping. Changing rainfall patterns are impacting agriculture across the world. For those conservatives worried that climate change advocacy will lead to governments increasing spending, you’ll be glad to know that ignoring climate change is already increasing spending as local and national governments struggle with impacts on farmers and impacts such as both droughts in some places, floods in others (i.e. changing rainfall patterns) and fires.