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Iran-caused Hawkish Schizophrenia

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(Letter to the IHT)

Dear Editors

I am quite worried for the weeks to come.

A lame-duck US Presidency unable to convince Congress to pass its financial rescue package, and utterly unpopular around the country, may as well try to use an attack against Iran as a way to bolster its image, and to leave another lasting (and deadly) legacy. We could wake up one morning to hear very bad news indeed.

There is at this moment one question I would really like anti-Iranian hawks to answer.

The Iranian regime is building the Bomb because of perceived threats to its national security, That much will certainly be agreed by all: every country member of the “nuclear weapons club” has entered it because of security (and prestige) concerns.

Also, nuclear weapons are pretty much useless for an offensive strategy, as demonstrated by 63 years without a single atomic attack. Furthermore, even a single botched nuclear explosion, say, in Tel Aviv, would massively increase the risk for the regime, as most certainly followed by a massive atomic retaliation against Tehran.

And yet: commentator Gary Milhollin (“An arms race we’re sure to lose“, IHT, Sep 29) and reader James W. Litsey (“Stopping Iran“, Letters section, IHT, Sep 30) respectively recommend “a credible threat of international economic and diplomatic isolation” and making NATO “soon intervene by whatever means necessary“.

How on earth can they believe the above will make Iran change its mind? To the contrary: by piling up threats, Iran will surely be convinced to accelerate its nuclear program even further.

Shouldn’t we remove threats instead, and go back to old-fashioned diplomacy, thereby destroying the case for a nuclear Iran?

Didn’t that work with Lybia, and perhaps even with North Korea?

Written by omnologos

2008/Sep/30 at 12:41:04

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Reply to “How Good Are Internet Sources?”

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(Blogger “Emily” has mentioned a post in my climate blog as an example of what to look for when deciding to trust an internet source or not. Here’s my reply)

I definitely agree, the only way to measure the truthfulness of a story is by keeping a critical, inquiring mind always turned on, looking first to check if a story is internally consistent, then if it can be verified independently, and finally if it leads to obvious consequences. If somebody says people are living in tents, then one or more organizations helping the homeless must be reporting something about that too.

There is always a limit though, as resources are not…unlimited. In my blog you linked to, there is a language barrier that would need a dedicated professional translator to bridge. In my experience the situation is even worse the other way around, as I often try to convey in Italian, to an Italian audience that is, pieces of interesting information originally written in English.

Or, say, think about the report from Austria on hailstones coming out of a toilet. If you search for it on the Internet, there are pictures of a bathroom covered indeed with what look like tiny clumps of ice. But how can we tell if the pictures themselves are not fake, or even staged?

Fact is, we cannot do that. Or at least, we cannot do it in a universal sense, in a way that we know will be the same for all fellow human beings. At the end of the line, there is always a judgement call, by each individual: and different individuals will look for different “signs” in a story to confirm its truthfulness, they will hold it to different standards, and at the end of the day will (perfectly reasonably) arrive at different conclusions.

Part of living as a human being should be about peacefully handling those differences. Unfortunately, a great deal of us are still convinced “truth” is something that can be beaten into (bombed upon, knifed into, shot into) other people.

All in all, the question perhaps is not “how good are Internet sources?”. Rather, “how good are we in dealing with them?”

ps my own preferred “truthfulness test” is Carl Sagan’s. Extraordinary claims must be backed by extraordinary evidence. People living in tents in perilous economic times? It has happened already -> not an extraordinary claim -> a good article with references, and some minor additional confirmation do suffice to take the story as true.

Human beings changing the planetary temperature by minutely increasing the presence of a trace gas? It has never happened, and CO2 physics says the effect is logarithmic (each additional molecule matters less than the one emitted immediately before it) -> such an extraordinary claim will need something stronger to it than what we have at the moment.

Some people disagree with the above. And that’s fine to me.

ps apologies for any mispelling and grammatical errors…

Written by omnologos

2008/Sep/19 at 21:57:41

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The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (3 of 3)

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Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy (BA) and Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit (CA) have been awarded the 2007 Weblogs Award for Best Science blog. Remarkably, they are both prisoners of their own devices: BA cannot criticize mainstream science, CA can only criticize mainstream science. They are both great blogs and their shared Award is a honest snapshot of their relative merits. PZ Myers’ Pharyngula, on the other hand…

The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (1 of 3) – Introduction and The Bad Astronomy Blog
The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (2 of 3) – The Climate Audit Blog and The Weblogs Award for Best Science Blog committee

The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (3 of 3) – Pharyngula and Conclusions (and a Prayer) 

Pharyngula was one of the nominees this year, having won the title for 2006. Its author PZ Myers is a friend of Phil Plait’s so I am sure that somehow somewhere in some occasion he must be fun, knowledgeable and a person nice to discuss things with.

Evidently though, not in matters of climate.

Where Science has in Plait an ally in the War against it, in Myers it finds a mixture of a pasionario and a pasdaran. For a guy competing in Best Science Blog he has definitely shown too short a temper and too high a willingness to shower insults to anybody in sight. Not sure how he won anything last year, but I do wonder how (highly) lively and how (pretty) meaningless the commentaries on Myers’ blog must be.

Well, I’ll keep wondering. Pharyngula? No thanks. I’ll stay away from it.

Conclusions (and a Prayer)

In a sense, both BA and CA show strong signs of being more than a little bit prisoners of their own background. One cannot criticize mainstream science, the other can only criticize mainstream science. One can only think climate change is strong science, the other cannot think it is strong at all.

Is BA better than CA? The other way around? Who knows?

The one thing that can be learned is that as in so many other endeavours, anthropogenic-global-warming (AGW) advocacy poisons everything it touches

In fact, there is one big difference between McIntyre and Plait. The former can afford talking graciously of the latter. Phil Plait instead only (mostly?) sees global warming skeptics as “denialists”: being at war _and_ in the AGW camp, out of sheer comradery he simply has to sing in tune with question-dodging debate-challenged censors like RealClimate’s Gavin Schmidt.

McIntyre may then look a tad more gracious than Plait regarding the BSB prize, but that’s also because his war is of much more limited size than Plait’s.


May the Bad Astronomer wake up one day to the fact that if there is a War on Science out there, it is not the only game in town. And so it is possible to honestly doubt the dire predictions of contemporary mainstream climatology: just as one can be a honest cosmologist and still not believe in strings or dark energy.

I am optimistic about it. You see, being a Skeptic, Phil Plait is bound to agree with that. What is the point of being very strict in analyzing and refuting the claims s that prayer can heal you, only to support shoddy politicized statements by the IPCC on climate?

One last thing though. Did I mention this already? Pharyngula is a foul-mouthed blog too full of its author.

Written by omnologos

2007/Dec/10 at 23:26:10

Posted in Uncategorized

The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (2 of 3)

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Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy (BA) and Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit (CA) have been awarded the 2007 Weblogs Award for Best Science blog. Remarkably, they are both prisoners of their own devices: BA cannot criticize mainstream science, CA can only criticize mainstream science. They are both great blogs and their shared Award is a honest snapshot of their relative merits. PZ Myers’ Pharyngula, on the other hand…

The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (1 of 3) – Introduction and The Bad Astronomy Blog
The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (2 of 3) – The Climate Audit Blog and The Weblogs Award for Best Science Blog committee
The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (3 of 3) – Pharyngula and Conclusions (and a Prayer)

Climate Audit
CA is a great blog too, especially if you have a fixation with climate.

It is very much different from BA. Its remit is almost exclusively climate-related stuff, and there is an apparent generational gap (so we don’t read of McIntyre’s favourite actresses, TV shows or cartoon characters).

As it says on the tin, CA is a long-running audit of the various claims done in the name of Climate Change and in particular of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). It is a great way to learn the details of all that has to happen before things get published, as we are lead through various investigations on where and how bark samples are collected for example, and what needs to be thought and done (a lot) to translate an ice core into a record of past temperatures. At every step of the way, the list of assumptions grows while unavoidable errors pile up.

Having seen a few egregious examples, one would be tempted to say the AGW motto is, never let actual data get in the way of with a good interpretation.

Curiously for an audit, CA ends up doing much original research: the way the AGW community is presented by McIntyre, a great deal of samples and raw data are hidden away from the view of almost everybody but the original authors (a rather awful, unscientific way to conduct scientific research).

With these obstacles nastily thrown in his path, all the activity and attention for the detail that make Steve McIntyre an indefatigable auditor may also make him sound at times verging on the insane. Yet one can only admire him for a remarkable Climate Audit career that includes the effective destruction in 2003 with Ross McKitrick of Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick of temperature, once the Great “Smoking Gun” Hope for the AGW community and now hidden away in obscure temperature graphs (yes, not even the IPCC believes in it any longer, even if they can’t help inserting it here and there) (just look at it now, it’s a golf club at best).

More recently in August 2007, McIntyre got interviewed by major media outlets after discovering a 1-degree C “y2k” jump in NASA’s published temperature readings for the USA (note that the consensus on global warming so far is only 0.6C so the “jump” was 40% bigger) (by the way: James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, recognized the error but couldn’t help kicking and screaming, demonstrating once and for all that “AGW science” is not “Science” but a political party if not a religion, or even a personal quest for glory).

Notably, both of those errors were towards warming. Perhaps that means the AGW community if left to its own devices only corrects upwards. Or perhaps, as pointed out by Phil Plait of BA, the CA blogger only tries to find the warming-ward flaws in the climate science mainstream, not in the sometimes absurd counter-proposals circulating in the AGW-skeptic community. Time will tell which is which. Perhaps one day McIntyre will find a NASA flaw pointing in the other direction.

The criticism about not auditing the claims of anti-AGWers is valid up to a point. What is the CA “audience”? It is not the general public. CA “competes” with other climate-science blogs, such as for example RealClimate, created and managed at NASA by “real scientists” who unfortunately don’t think twice about being partisan, censoring adverse commentaries and even preventing the release of their methodologies and raw data.

McIntyre’s personal fight is not with the whole world, but with the most unscientific bits of the AGW science community.

The Weblogs Award for Best Science Blog committee
One wonders how often it happens. A poll is set up online for some good-natured fun competition among a disparate set of people. Everything goes fine until a few days before the poll closure, when for some reason a group of voters hijacks the poll, making a storm in the proverbial teacup.

I remember ten years ago an internet poll to vote for the most beautiful (British?) girl, with several of my colleagues happily clicking away for somebody called Laudie the Toadie or something of the sort (yes, an amphibian).

What happened with the BSB 2007 was obviously much less good-natured. My impression is that the toxins came out of the nasty atmosphere surrounding climate change discussions. At one point somebody decided either that CA had to be prevented from winning, or that CA had to be helped get the top spot.

It doesn’t matter, as “the opposite party” quickly decided to fight with the same arms, and so the mad voting started. Whatever the original BSB poll was for, we can be sure that it lost any validity as soon as fellow competitor JunkScience encouraged people to vote CA, and fellow competitor Pharyngula suggested their readed to vote BA.

Voting rates reached then amazing levels. Worse, even if the count at closing time indicated CA in front of BA, mysteriously the subsequent “checks” put BA in the lead. Talk about a hot potato. At one point I wondered if the competition would be decided by the Supreme Court after a hurricane of lawsuits perhaps even brought up independently of Plait and McIntyre.

At the end, some “fancy footwork” meant BA and CA got recognized at Best Science Blogs, with 20,000 votes each. Surely, this will leave some lingering issue with the awards…who gets on top is not “Best of” but “Most capable of getting clicks”. Perhaps in 2008 they should rename it as “Most popular”?

Congratulations though, to the committee.


Written by omnologos

2007/Nov/30 at 21:18:05

Posted in Uncategorized

This is a test

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Apologies, I need to properly test FeedBlitz for this blog…

Written by omnologos

2006/Nov/13 at 00:25:57

Posted in Uncategorized

Think the Unthinkable: Make Bombing a War Crime

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Lives of enemy civilians have already little importance but in hypocritical declarations for the media.  

The progressive increase in the ratio between civilian and military casualties has been a sad trend during the history of war. Together with the overall rise in our weapons’ killing efficiency, it will only mean that in a few decades if not years, wars will be fought with zero dead among the warriors, and millions among the rest of humanity

Actually, the fact that wars mainly kill and maim people with no weapon, no intention to use weapons and posing absolutely no danger whatsoever to the enemy, is considered sound and sensible. It is accepted. 

But it really makes no sense


I was surprised actually this week at my relief when finally Israel soldiers marched into Lebanon, instead of just the usual rounds of military airplanes trying to “surgically” act and killing hundreds of bystanders in the process (not to mention the distorted lives of countless children living in terror of the sound of bombers flying nearby)

Finally, I thought, there will be real people fighting each other directly, not through bombs far away

And so there will be the hope that a soldier won’t kill groups of children, like an airplane pilot does: perhaps, by the mere fact that the soldier will have to look at whom he’s killing, whilst the pilot gives his soul away to a robotic murderer.


Can bombardment be anything but a war crime?

In fact, say you are a Hizbullah fighter shooting rockets towards Israel. Are you aiming them at anything in particular? If not, anything and everything is your “target”. But then what are military advantages gained in killing mothers and children, something that is bound to happen? And if there aren’t what are you doing shooting those rockets but an indiscriminate killing, a crime then against the rules of war?

Say you are instead an Israeli pilot releasing a smart bomb to destroy a building where you’ve been told Hizbullah wdfd shooting rockets from. Imagine now the bomb actually hits that building, and not one nearby. Say, tens of children are killed. Even if somebody would be able to demonstrate the military advantages gained in doing that, who is going to do that? What independent tribunal will check your behavior? And still, if you were sorry about those children, what will make you less liable than a just-as-sorry person guilty of manslaughter?

This is not limited to Israel and Lebanon. The US and other forces have periodically justified the bombings of villages in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a justified way of targeting al-Qaeda terrorists.

Just as in Vietnam, we terminate lives in order to free them


The above does not even cover the use of cluster bombs, merrily floating towards the ground while luring little children to get near them toy-like killers

What do we do with killers and people committing manslaughter in “normal” life? Why would that have to be any different in war, apart than when all the people involved in the war are consciously doing so?


What kind of civilization are we talking about: one that has learn its ways out of the Nazi’s destruction of
Guernica in Spain during the local Civil War?

Are we willingly equating ourselves to the supposedly despised Nazis? Has any other Nazi policy or strategy been accepted in any other part of life?

And yet for some reason we all espouse the idea of “total war”, where every pram and every hospital bed in the enemy’s hands is to be bombed like an aircraft carrier or a dirty-bomb production facility

Instead, for the sake of safeguarding our lives, we give the Governments we have freely elected the power of taking out somebody else’s, however innocent, however young or old. How nice to sleep soundly with our consciences bloodily clean

Truly the Pearly Gates will open only for a few elected people!


What should a State do then, to fight another State or militia? Use a “novel” approach: send infantry with the precise aim of finding, routing, destroying the enemy soldiers.

You’re going to lose plenty of soldiers (if you can’t stomach that, surrender at once): but you will concentrate your fire power onto getting rid of the enemy’s ability to harm you and your country.


How can anything else be taken as reasonable?

What would you think of a racing driver wasting fuel in knocking down the mechanics of the other teams and their families, instead of focusing on winning the race with the minimal effort?

A more complete analogy would be: what would you think of a racing driver intent at (1) knocking out down the mechanics of the other teams and their families, (2) making the other drivers’ racing easier, and (3) lining up his own mechanics for the others to eliminate?

Because bombings have always elicited a stronger fighting mood in the enemy. And any civilian that dies as “collateral damage” is an argument in favor of exploding terrorist bombs among innocent bystanders


And so the Geneva Conventions must be expanded to prohibit all kinds of remote warfare, starting with bombing, but in the most exceptional circumstances (such as the targeting of military compounds)

We must protect civilians for our own sake. Because the idea that children and the elderly can be considered legitimate targets or even acceptable collateral damage surely is repugnant to anybody but mass murderers. Because it’s our lives that are becoming more and more cheap and expendable.

We must go back to the old ways of military confrontation between military forces. Anybody touching any person not actually fighting should be considered a war criminal and treated as such


Is this feasible? We know we could win wars by slaughtering each and every one in our enemy’s population. That’s what happened for thousands of years, and yet, we have managed to outlaw such a crime against humanity.

Many nations could have access to chemical arms of untold horror and killing potential. Many have used them, in World War I and up to the Second World War. And yet, we have managed to outlaw such a crime against humanity too

Ditto for nuclear weapons


The only thing preventing us from seeing bombings and all other kinds of “remote warfare” for the crimes they are, is the same thing that prevented our forebears to understand that wars need have rules too: and so until the Red Cross was founded, wounded enemy soldiers were left to die, and bayonets were badly-shaped for un-necessary harm


Think the Unthinkable: Make bombing a war crime

Written by omnologos

2006/Aug/02 at 22:57:39

Mobile phones, weapons of self defence

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Personal recording devices, and by that I mean especially mobile phones, will soon become a tool for reasserting our individual rights

Already now, one can record sound and even images with nobody noticing. Pictures are taken with no much of a fuss in the most unlikely of places, and whatever happens in the (connected) world, some sort of audio/video record usually tends to show up on the Internet (newsmedia are starting to make large use of user-provided content).

All you need for your mobile to become an electronic shield is some kind of wireless minicamera and a bit more memory on the phone

Your entire life will then be recordable *

And what could be there to record, as a way of defending oneself? For example: when asked for a bribery, the business person could walk into next police station and deposit the evidence of the crime.

Or when threatened by the mob, he or she will be able to throw back the threat. Or when confronting politicians that are trying to expand their sleaze empire, the “victim” will have the option of cashing in by sending the right files to scandal-hungry magazines

Elderly people will be able to show who attacked them in their house, and which carers treat them inhumanely

Children bullied at school won’t need to hide a thing, and life will become harder for sadistic teachers and nannies as well.

We’ll soon be able to literally see the last thing a murder’s victim was looking at

Even torturers will be in trouble, if they won’t take care of eliminating anything with an electronic memory: and still it may not be enough: one can imagine pictures being downloaded elsewhere continuously (it already happens with some mobile phone providers), so that even if the Bad People snatch the camera, what’s been snapped until then will be left for posterity

Expect a flurry of hi-tech bust-ups then not prepared by police. Ehi, even Robocop got out of trouble by showing what he had recorded.

And expect lots of “interesting” items appear on gossipy and even serious newspapers, mostly during the initial period, with people not smart enough to understand they are being filmed during 99% of their lives.

Things will definitely get better on several fronts for a while (and even if you’re the paradigm of honesty, just be careful about picking your nose in the street: your fame may be preceding you at your next job application)

But surely it will be no Paradise: criminals and evildoers will simply have to find a different way.

Some scandals will turn up to be elaborate hoaxes based on doctored pictures, and no doubt we will see discussions about that at trials, as entertaining as genetics during OJ Simpson’s

Still, it will be a progress. Hypocrisy will need a tad more effort to be maintained.

After all, the only freedom we are losing by getting our lives recorded, is the freedom of not having to face our individual consciences

(* How much memory? 24hx3600s/hx24pics/s=2 million pictures. Say, 320×240=76,800 pixels x 3 bytes = 230kB/pic

So one day is 230kB/pic * 2 million pics = 440 Megabytes. With a good compression rate, 200 Megabytes. Do we want to record while asleep? If not, 180 megabytes may suffice. How long before that much will be available on mobile phones? It is already. Average memory now is a bit more than 400 Megabytes)

Written by omnologos

2006/Jul/25 at 23:55:13