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Finding insights in the seas of information & misinformation

24 June 2014

Summary: We have magnitudes greater access to information and analysis than any previous generation. Yet a look at the comments section of any website quickly shows that the information highway runs in vain. A reader asks how can we do better?

“Nietzsche said the newspaper had replaced the prayer in the life of the modern bourgeois, meaning that the busy, the cheap, the ephemeral, had usurped all that remained of the eternal in his daily life.”
— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1988)

“News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.”
— attributed to Alfred C. Harmsworth (1865–1922), British newspaper magnate

Data man


  1. A serious problem of our time
  2. Don’t listen to amateur analysis
  3. Start with the views of major institutions
  4. About government agencies & NGOs
  5. There is always another side
  6. Check the history of the experts you rely upon
  7. How to follow an issue
  8. The big challenge
  9. What can you do to make a difference?

(1)  Email from a reader about a serious problem of our time

I have been spending the past few days reading posts as well as comments, and cannot help but feel jaded from the divide I see between your strong opposing forces.

I am disillusioned and not sure what to believe now of the scientific community. I always thought there was a dignified but unified dialogue between educated individuals. I can see now that even the peer reviewed journals that I trusted can be interpreted any which way. My question is – how do I, as a concerned American and student, cut through the noise to the raw data?

I’m not sure what to believe anymore.

It’s a serious problem. Gallup’s annual poll of our Confidence in Institutions shows a long collapse in confidence in everything but the military and police.

For good reason. Our ruling elites have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations: we are gullible. We love lies. Slowly this knowledge spreads, and more people learn that lies work — and the truth becomes a disposable commodity. As a result Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda.

So what can we do to see through the flak to the truth?


(2)  Don’t listen to amateur analysis

It might be correct, but you and I — as laypeople — cannot tell fact from fiction. Journalism differs from amateur analysis; it reports the analysis of experts (rather than the reporter doing his own).

For an example of this rule’s importance, see Should we listen to amateurs’ analysis of climate science?

(3)  Start with the views of major institutions

You’ll often need to dig, since activists often work to mask more authoritative views. An journalists often highlight activists, with their vivid confident messages, over the grey but solid information from relevant institutions.  The views of institutions is seldom definitive, and often wrong; but these are the sources to base your learning upon.

That’s true in the climate wars. For climate change, we have the work of the IPCC, UK Met Office, NOAA, etc. They’re expanded their outreach programs, becoming both relevant and easy to understand. Unfortunately, both Left and Right have abandoned them as insufficiently alarmist and politically inconvenient. They make guest appearances, like the Pope, as useful; but both tend to rely on other sources for analysis and prediction.

Examples of climate activists ignoring the IPCC:

Read more…

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Techno-utopians keep us ignorant of the past so we cannot see the future

23 June 2014

Summary: A new industrial revolution has begun. Knowledge of previous ones can guide us, preparing us for its likely dynamics and showing us the political actions necessary to distribute it’s benefits. But the 1% are working against us, seeking to return us to the pre-New Deal era of inequality and profitable (for them) instability. Keeping us passive is the key to their success; keeping us ignorant is one way to do that.

Comet 's office of the future



  1. The past helps us see the future
  2. The world of yesterday
  3. The world of tomorrow, emerging today
  4. Jeff Bezos shows us our high-tech future
  5. For More Information


(1)  The past helps us see the future

The previous industrial revolutions produced great new wealth from increased productivity, but distributed only by politics:  collective action producing new public policy.

The future need not resemble the past, but it’s a likely scenario. The technopians, like Marc Andreessen (@pmarca on Twitter) vividly describe the wonders of the future, but actively deny the political action probably necessary to realize it. They’re brilliant, educated people. How could they ignore this history? The simple answer: they’re not stupid; they believe that we are stupid.

(2)  The world of yesterday

“Knowledge itself is power.”
— Thomas Hobbes’ Sacred Meditations (1597)

This works in reverse as well. Our amnesia shifts power from our hands to those of others. A people that have lost their past cannot learn, and so cannot prepare for the future.

The advent of the first two industrial revolutions produced great wealth, but concentrated in few hands — with massive unemployment and poorly paid workers in unsafe conditions. This resulted from policy, not happenstance, as the 1% bitterly fought efforts to change the Gilded Age political system and distribute the bounty of America’s material and technological riches.  This, plus a financial system run by and for the 1% (e.g., creditor-friendly deflation) produced incredible (and unnecessary) hardship accompanied by economic instability.

As a result America’s second industrial revolution started and ended with decade-long depressions (the Long Depression and Great Depression), with frequent use of violence to suppress workers (see this list of private and State violence against unions).

Due to our sanitized children’s history, Americans know little of our history between the Civil War and WW1 (other than the cowboys). We cannot see the sad real history behind our fables (e.g., see “Little Libertarians on the prairie“), let alone learn from it.

Read more…

Learn what few know: how much did we warm in May? how much has the world warmed since 1979?

22 June 2014

Summary: The world has been warming. Seldom mentioned is how much it has warmed, which allows alarmists to more easily sow fear. For the answer we turn to the NASA-funded global temperature data from satellites.  They show the warming since 1979 is small (so far; the future might be quite different). The truth is out there for people willing to see it. Only with it can we prepare for our future.

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
— conclusion of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I

Pure alarmist propaganda



  1. Status report: what do satellites tell us about global warming?
  2. The long-term history of warming
  3. Who produces this satellite data & analysis?
  4. About The Elusive Absolute Surface Air Temperature (SAT)
  5. For More Information

To the right is a typical over-the-top image to arouse fear, about a world now less than one °F warmer than the 30-year average.

(1) Status report: what do satellites tell us about global warming in May 2014?

Satellites provide the most comprehensive and reliable record of the atmosphere’s warming since 1979.

The May 2014 Global Temperature Report
by the Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville
(Blue is cold; red warm}. Click to enlarge.

May 2014 Global Temperature Report

Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville


See the equivalent graph from the surface temperature stations of the Climate Anomaly Monitoring System (CAMS) of the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) at the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP).

Key points from the UAH report (prepared under contract for NASA), which show a world that has warmed since 1979, but only slightly (few alarmists know this; even fewer admit it):

  1. It was the 3rd warmest May in the satellite record (since 1979). The global composite temperature in May was +0.33°C (0.59°F) above the average for May during 1981-2010.  {the other satellite record, RSS, has it the 6th warmest}
  2. The warmest May was in 1998, during the “El Niño of the century”, at +0.56°C (about 1.0°F) warmer than average.
  3. May 2010 — also an El Niño month — was 2nd warmest at +0.45°C (0.81°F).

More about the world’s atmosphere temperatures in May:

  1. Global climate trend of temperature starting in 16 November 1978: +0.14°C  (0.3°F) per decade.
  2. Compared to seasonal norms, in May the coolest area on the globe was over the northern Pacific Ocean,
    where temperatures were as much as -2.8°C  (3.7°F) cooler than seasonal norms.
  3. The warmest area was along the western border of Kazakhstan, where tropospheric temperatures were +4.2°C  (7.5°F) warmer than seasonal norms.
  4. Anomalies are computed per the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recommended method, comparing the current temperatures vs. a 30 year base period ending with the latest decade.

For more detail see Global Temperature Update Through 2013, James Hansen, Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy, 21 January 2014.

(2)  The vital context: a longer-term temperature history

Two decades of cool weather, followed by 15 years of warm weather. Wide swings in temperature; a relatively flat trend since 1998 – 2000. For more about the pause see links to climate research in Section 5.

(a)  From the UAH monthly report,  a graph of the full record of UAH satellite data (started in 1979). Click to enlarge.

Read more…

Gallup warns us to prepare for fascism!

21 June 2014

Summary: The sands on the hourglass slowly run out for America’s Second Republic. Anyone who cares to look can see this in a thousand ways, large and small. Today we review an especially ominous indicator: Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions Poll. The laughter that greets it each year shows the decayed state of the Republic. We don’t need a Nostradamus to see how this trend might end. It’s time for DEFCON 2.

And therefore never ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee — and thy nation.
— Meditation XVII of John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), slightly tweaked.




  1. Confidence in Institutions
  2. Look at the trends
  3. The news media, the new and the old
  4. The bad news: we love the military
  5. For More Information


(1)  Confidence in Institutions

Each year we look at Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions Poll (which they’ve run since 1973). Each year things deteriorate at little more.

Our confidence declines in the Republic’s democratic institutions and in the non-governmental institutions that are the ribs of America’s social fabric. But confidence increases in the authoritarian institutions of society, the police and military. We’re a people at risk for fascism or some other regime in which the few use force and guile to rule the many who lack the confidence to stand together.

One graph shows the problem. Every year Gallup posts this chart; laughter is a common reaction. Or disgust that we don’t have a Congress worthy of our awesomeness. We vote for Congress like we choose which TV show to watch: as consumers, assuming no responsibility for the show. This is how we get such a Congress. This is how the Republic dies a little each year.

Gallup: Confidence in Congress

Gallup: Confidence in Congress, June 2014

Here’s the big picture

Read more…

After 13 years of failed wars, do we know our warmongers?

20 June 2014

Summary:  After 13 years of wars that failed at great cost in money and blood, our hawks urge that we start yet another war — in Syria. But we have learned. Some have found the courage to name our warmongers. This experience has been dearly bought, and might yet prove insufficient. Further lessons might prove even more expensive.

The War on Peace


Don’t Fight in Iraq and Ignore Syria“, Anne-Marie Slaughter, op-ed in the New York Times, 17 June 2014  — That she sings this is unsurprising. That so many still listen is sad, an astonishing Failure To Learn.


For the last two years, many people in the foreign policy community, myself included, have argued repeatedly for the use of force in Syria — to no avail. We have been pilloried as warmongers and targeted, by none other than President Obama, as people who do not understand that force is not the solution to every question. A wiser course, he argued at West Point, is to use force only in defense of America’s vital interests. …

Slaughter is a foreign policy insider , served under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as director of policy planning at the State Department (2009–11), and is now CEO of the New America Foundation (bio here). She was one of the major advocates of our disastrous intervention in Libya.

On the other hand after 13 years of futile war there is progress. Acknowledging the obvious truth is the first step to reconnecting with reality: “A Warmonger By Any Other Name“, Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, 18 June 2014 — Opening:

It’s a little strange that Slaughter opens with these lines.

  1. She has been a consistent supporter of using force in foreign conflicts, which is how she has earned a reputation for always being in favor of military action.
  2. Not only has she supported intervention time after time, but she has been an outspoken and vocal advocate for these views.
  3. She is notable among Syria hawks for having made some of the most outlandish arguments in favor of bombing Syria.

No doubt she has argued for more aggressive policies because she believes them to be preferable to the status quo or any other alternatives, but that is exactly why she doesn’t get to complain when critics point out the problems with her consistent hawkishness and advocacy for military action. Slaughter is one of the liberal hawks that made a point of celebrating the Libyan war as a success and as vindication for their interventionist instincts. As far as I know, she has never faced up to the negative consequences of the Libyan war on Libya or the surrounding region, nor has she applied any of the lessons that might have been learned from the Libyan intervention to her arguments on Syria.

Read more…

“Climate Change: The Need to Act Now”

19 June 2014

Summary: Congressional hearings often bring America’s best to testify, long-form analysis about our greatest problems. Such as what scientists know about the effects of climate change on Earth’s plants and animals. It’s one expert’s perspective, and so more interesting than the blander consensus view of the IPCC. Written for us non-scientists, with lots of detail, for those who like their science straight up. See his bio at the end.



Excerpt from the testimony of Daniel B. Botkin

Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety
Climate Change: The Need to Act Now
18 June 2014


(1)  {W}e have been living through a warming trend driven by a variety of influences. However, it is my view that this is not unusual, and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are neither apocalyptic nor irreversible.

(2)  My biggest concern is that both the reports present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve. The reports are “scientific-sounding” rather than based on clearly settled facts or admitting their lack. Established facts about the global environment exist less often in science than laymen usually think.


Yes, we have been living through a warming trend, no doubt about that. The rate of change we are experiencing is also not unprecedented, and the “mystery” of the warming “plateau” simply indicates the inherent complexity of our global biosphere. Change is normal; life on Earth is inherently risky. It always has been. The two reports, however, makes it seem that environmental change is apocalyptic and irreversible. It is not.


No, it has always undergone changes.


Yes, CO2 rapidly.


Yes, a great deal of it.

Read more…

Examples of blind allegiance to tribal truths, keeping us weak & ignorant

18 June 2014

Summary: Truth has become a tribal thing in America. Scores of posts have documented this on the Right and Left. Today we have two fun examples by the Left, with sublime but blind confidence in their tribe’s truths. Our tribalism divides us, making us weak. Our blinders keep us ignorant. The combination probably makes reform impossible for America.

Spirit Of Truth



  1. Matthew Yglesias indicts Bush, defends Obama
  2. Tribal truths about climate vs George Will
  3. For More Information


(1)  Yglesias indicts Bush, defends Obama (blindly)

An analysis by Matthew Yglesias  VOX, 16 June 2014 — Excerpt:

The US military is the finest military in the world, the sharp spear of the mightiest empire in human history. But the considerable virtues of America’s fighting forces do not give it any particular expertise in micro-managing Afghanistan politics.

And the fundamentals in Afghanistan have simply never been very good for a peaceful and democratic settlement. The country is not only divided between sectarian groups, but sandwiched between two rival regional powers … and neither power having any particular interest in democracy and pluralism. Throw in the well-known phenomenon of the resource curse and the country’s lack of stable institutions, and you’ve got a recipe for problems, problems that a bunch of heavily armed young people — no matter how well-intentioned or well-led — are not capable of solving.

This is a searing indictment of Obama’s war policy. During the 2008 campaign he advocated boosting the war effort in Afghanistan, despite 7 years of futile but expensive effort. Which he did starting in early 2009. Now our failure is obvious to all who look (although many prefer to see with closed eyes).

Surprise! This was in fact a defense of Obama, and by implication an attack on Bush Jr, titled “The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave“. In this excerpt Afghanistan was swapped for Iraq, and resources for oil. Yglesias writes it with no sign of awareness that his logic defending Obama’s Iraq withdrawal also condemns Obama’s Afghanistan surge.

Read more…

Choose to follow those who were right about our wars, or those who were wrong

17 June 2014

Summary: Each major decision point for a great nation is an intelligence test of its people. As is the decision to re-involve ourselves in Iraq. The architects of the failed war urge action, based on the usual threat inflation. Those who correctly forecast its futility urge caution. Have we learned anything from our long failed War on Terror?

This is a follow-up to Will lies shape our actions in the last chapter of our war in Iraq?, 13 June 2014

Bloody Shirt

“Waving the bloody shirt” refers to the practice of politicians invoking the blood of heroes to criticize opponents. It’s a manipulative form of propaganda, used on emotionally driven mobs.  As in “Julius Caesar” Act III, Scene 2

You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it …

Two thousand years later it is used against us: “Iraq veteran: This is not what my friends fought and died for“, John Nagl, op-ed in the Washington Post, 11 June 2014 — Excerpt:

For a veteran of the fighting there—and proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy that provided a chance for the country to stabilize — watching the recent unraveling of Iraq has been disheartening but not surprising.

… We are reaping the instability and increased threat to U.S. interests that we have sown through the failure of our endgame in Iraq and our indecisiveness in Syria. There is a clear lesson here for those contemplating a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Having given al-Qaeda a new lease on life in the Middle East, will we provide another base where it began, in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

This is not the end state my friends fought for and died for.

The Post describes Nagl: “a veteran of both Iraq wars, is the headmaster of The Haverford School and author of the forthcoming Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War.” That is coy, even misleading. He was no simple soldier fighting our wars. Nagl was one of the architects of our wars (see his bio in Wikipedia).

Read more…

Learning about – and from – the super monster El Niño coming this year

16 June 2014

Summary:   Today we update the predictions for a El Niño. It’s a valuable case study, as our response to climate change highlights America’s poor ability to process information. Normal weather (by historical standards) becomes extreme weather; scientists’ analysis gets exaggerated into climate porn.

Until we become more savvy, more skeptical, reform in America might be impossible. This will be updated with additional links as the situation develops.

The World in our Hands


  1. El Niño: the climate giant
  2. Will there be a super monster in 2014-15?
  3. Scientists speak out
  4. Other posts about this event
  5. For More Information about El Niño
  6. Other posts about weather & climate

(1)  El Niño: the climate giant

Alarmists attempt to panic the public into adopting their public policy recommendations. They often justify these exaggerated warnings, often false, as raising people’s awareness of the problem. But they probably don’t. Instead they seem to dull our ability to assess and respond to dangers. For example, see the predictions after Katrina in 2005 of more and bigger hurricanes. In fact it was the last year in which a major hurricane hit the US. Hurricanes of the sort that often hit America pose a great danger, as they’ll eventually hit a major city — most of which are unprepared, as we saw in New Orleans and New York (our disinterest in preparing for reoccurrence of past weather is just one mad aspect of the climate wars).

This Spring alarmists warned in their usual confident shrill way of a “monster” or “super” El Niño coming to wreck your community. Such as this: “El Niño is going to make your 2014 miserable“, Salon, 14 June 2014 — “Scientists anticipate extreme weather patterns nationally and globally.” It reposts a Scientific American article, which the Salon ‘s lurid title greatly exaggerates.

A May 2 post described El Niño cycles and documented the spread of this meme from a modest forecast by a meteorologist, growing through cycles of exaggeration, mostly by laypeople linking it to anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Today we see what the professionals tell us. We’re almost through the “Spring barrier”, allowing some accurate predictions for the next 6 – 9 months.

El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Monthly Report
National Weather Service, 5 June 2014

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch

Synopsis: The chance of El Niño is 70% during the Northern Hemisphere summer and reaches 80% during the fall and winter.

Over the last month, the chance of El Niño and its ultimate strength weakened slightly in the models (Figure 6). Regardless, the forecasters remain just as confident that El Niño is likely to emerge. If El Niño forms, the forecasters and most dynamical models, such as NCEP CFSv2, slightly favor a moderate-strength event during the Northern Hemisphere fall or winter (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index between 1.0°C and 1.4°C).

However, significant uncertainty accompanies this prediction, which remains inclusive of a weaker or stronger event due to the spread of the models and their skill at these lead times. Overall, the chance of El Niño is 70% during the Northern Hemisphere summer and reaches 80% during the fall and winter.

NWS El Nino model plume

Figure 6. Forecasts of sea surface temperature anomalies of the Niño 3.4 region. As of 13 May 2014


From NOAA’s weekly report on ENSO: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions, 16 June 2014:

Sea Surface Temperture Outlook

From NWS weekly ENSO report, 16 June 2014


(2)  Will there be a super monster El Niño in 2014-15?

The models shown above forecast an El Niño peaking with a Niño 3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly of 0.5°K – 1.5°K. If correct, would anomalies in that range make it a super monster El Niño? No.

First, the top of that range barely qualifies as a strong El Niño (source: NOAA):

Read more…

Don Vandergriff strikes sparks that might help reforge the US Army

15 June 2014

Summary: Yesterday’s post continued a long series describing problems facing our military. Today we look at solutions, given in a new book by Donald Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired — a co-author on the FM website). He strikes at the very heart of the Army’s power and traditions.

“People, ideas and hardware, in that order!”
— the late John R. Boyd (Colonel, USAF), “A Discourse on Winning and Losing”, August 1987

The Path to Victory



  1. Vandergriff strikes at the heart of the fire
  2. Solutions for the core problem facing the US Army
  3. A review by a pro
  4. About Don Vandergriff
  5. For More Information


(1)  Vandergriff strikes at the heart of the fire

Don Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired) has identified a powerful point of leverage to change our massive military apparatus:  its personnel system, the process by which the Army recruits, trains, and promotes its officers. Change this and the effects ripple outward through the entire organization over time, as the nature and behavior of its leaders evolve. The Army has begun the long slow evolution of its personnel policies, responding to the ideas of Vandergriff and others. This success means that Vandergriff is on the cutting edge of America’s 4GW sword.

He, and others like him, are crafting A solution of the third kind (the real kind) to AGW.

(2)  Solutions for the core problem facing the US Army

Don Vandergriff has released the second — expanded and updated — edition of his critical analysis of the Army’s officer corps, The Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs. You can find it on in at Amazon.

The book explains why and how the Army’s leadership has designed itself for both bureaucratic success and leadership failure in battle. It is important reading, I believe, for any who want to understand of one of the most important problems that decays America’s armed forces from within — and from the top.

The new second edition is revised and with a new foreword from leading reform advocate Douglas MacGregor (PhD and Colonel, US Army, retired).

Few books in the history of the U.S. Army have made a more convincing argument for change than Don Vandergriff’s new book. It is a privilege to offer some thoughts on the re-release of this important work.

When Don’s book appeared in 2002 it was not simply a detailed account of the Army’s personnel management system, its promotion policies and unit manning practices. It was also a critical examination of the Army as an institution and its extraordinary resistance to change in the way it identifies, develops and employs human talent. Most important, the book stipulated recommended changes informed by the ageless understanding that really great military success can be achieved only when leadership, technology and organization work hand in hand.

If leadership were truly recognized inside and outside of the American military as a vital component of national military power, most of Don’s Vandergriff’s recommendations would have been embraced and implemented long ago.

In the Preface, Vandergriff explains why he updated his book while serving in Afghanistan. In 2002 the Secretary of the Army, Thomas White, stated it would be the blueprint for the future Army. Unfortunately for Don and the Army, Secretary White was fired in April 2003. In 2013, Don wrote:

Read more…


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