Thursday, December 8, 2011

Boo, Yale

Why do they do this? You of course recall my recent post noting how uninformative all those comparisons about stacks of dollar bills to the moon were.  Now the New York Times "Green" blog quotes a paper from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, saying that yearly carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. rivers and streams are "equal to a car burning 40 billion gallons of gasoline, enough to drive back and forth to the moon 3.4 million times."

Helpful? How many times do you drive back and forth to the moon in a year? Does this give you any idea about the magnitude, other than "big"?

Let's make it simple. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. consumes 378 million gallons of motor gasoline per day. So the annual emissions from rivers and streams are equal to a little over 100 days of emissions from cars burning gasoline, or between a quarter and a third.

At this point it becomes apparent that either we've buried the lead, or we're not understanding the story. Here we are going to all this trouble about carbon emissions from cars, and we haven't done anything about killer rivers and streams. I presume that this study is not really about finding a huge new source of carbon emissions, but about changing our understanding of transport mechanisms. But that gets obscured by the image of The Little Camry That Could making those millions of round trips (it's a long commute, but the scenery is great).

Anyway, no more moon statistics, OK?

The Huntsman Miscalculation

Over at The New York Times, Ross Douthat, the Other Conservative Columnist, is apparently discouraged by the assortment of dolts and liars running for the Republican nomination for President. He has devoted a column to lamenting the "staggeringly inept" political mistakes that have kept a more plausible conservative, Jon Huntsman, mired in the low single digits in popularity.

Douthat says Huntsman was not well known to conservatives in the Republican base. Therefore he should have tenderly wooed them (I'm paraphrasing). Instead, what did he do? "He picked high-profile fights on two hot-button issues — evolution and global warming — that were completely irrelevant to his candidacy’s rationale....Imagine a contender for the Democratic nomination introducing himself to liberal voters by attacking Planned Parenthood...."

Well, gosh, Mr. Douthat, can you see any difference between attacking Planned Parenthood and supporting evolution? How about the fact that the "hot-button issues" for the Republican base involve denying reality? Doesn't it bother you to be a supporter of a party whose other supporters have to be appeased by never mentioning what you and every other educated person know to be true? Doesn't that ever make you wonder if you've got the wrong party?

Actually, I think Huntsman was following a conscious strategy. Here's the calculation: "People don't like Romney. Everyone else who runs is going to be appealing to the Tea Party. They split the votes, and I get the votes of all the rest, the people who are sick of all the nut jobs. That may not be a majority,but it  might be a plurality, say 30%. There have got to be at least that many Republicans who are still sane."

But apparently, there aren't. Oops.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Who's Got Cultcha?

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center has created a minor stir. It seems that a mere 49% of Americans agree with the statement, "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others." True, this is higher than other countries, but it's down from 60% in 2002. Fox and Friends wasted no time in blaming this on Obama, despite the fact that the figure had already declined to 55% by 2007.

It's time for someone (i.e., Obama) to take on this whole Republican thing  about "American exceptionalism." The Republican idea seems to be that because we're Americans we're exceptional, without the need to actually do any of the things that made us exceptional. For example, America used to have the best-educated population in the world. Not any more.

That aside, there were two odd things about the Pew survey. First is the whole idea of Americans thinking of themselves as having a "superior culture." Offhand, I would've said that the American attitude is better expressed as, "When I hear the word 'culture,' I reach for my remote."

Second is the international comparison. Wouldn't you think that Germans would be a little reluctant to describe themselves as having the Uberkultur? You'd be wrong: 47 percent felt their culture is superior, almost as many as in the US (though 52 percent disagreed). The real stunner, though, is France: only 27 percent thought their culture was superior. I thought the whole point of being French was to feel culturally superior to everyone else, and to see France as the  fount of enlightenment for the whole world. Maybe they're discouraged because they haven't been able to produce a talent to equal Jerry Lewis. Or because they've realized John Lennon really is better than Johnny Hallyday.

Courage, mes amis. I mean, just the food alone...