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June 28, 2006

“The most intense rainfall in a 24-hour period in the history of Washington”
Posted by Patrick at 07:55 AM * 125 comments

Going by today’s paper, we’re now in the world of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain.

There are certainly worse futures than a Stan Robinson novel. At least in Stan’s world, there are smart and sensible people doing Big Science to hopeful and humane ends.

Comments on "The most intense rainfall in a 24-hour period in the history of Washington":
#1 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 08:38 AM:

Yeah, but I would prefer to be living in Antarctica or Blue Mars.

#2 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 09:58 AM:

Yeah, but KSR seems to think that scientists would do a better job of running the world than the current crop of loonies.


Y'know, maybe he's right. Even if he isn't, I might personally do better in such a world. All hail our new scientific aristocracy!

#3 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 10:30 AM:

Friends of ours were evacuated yesterday. I am glad to be living in one of the highest-elevation neighborhoods in Baltimore (we're feet and feet above sealevel) with no rivers nearby.

#4 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 10:37 AM:

First, you get more, and more intense, rain; some of this is the ocean evaporating, and some of this is the land drying.

After the land dries out, you get rain only rarely, because the weather systems that have moisture hit the dry air further away. Great tornadoes in interface zones, though.

What rain you do get -- too erratic and irregular to grow crops -- causes extensive mass wasting and wipes out your roads, power lines, telephone, and other continuous infrastructure.

That's the interior of NorAm from the Western Cordillera to at least the drainage divide of Appalachia under the 3-to-5 C warming scenarios.

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 10:51 AM:

That's the interior of NorAm from the Western Cordillera to at least the drainage divide of Appalachia under the 3-to-5 C warming scenarios.

I'd expect the Central Valley to become more desertlike most of the time - the coast ranges are a major weather factor now, blocking moister air. The rivers would be more likely to become intermittent; snow might be thinner or melt intermittently in the winter because of warmer air temperature. Not good for the farmers.

#6 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 11:03 AM:

I had this very thought yesterday. Stan had better hurry up and finish the third book, where Science Saves the World. Otherwise we may be stuck in 50 Degrees Below.

#7 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 11:39 AM:

Oh, hell, yes. I sbout freaked when I heard the news about flooding in DC.

OK, anyone know what impact the Lesser Dryas is supposed to have on the Pacific NW?

#8 ::: Henry ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 11:45 AM:
I had this very thought yesterday.

As had I. I've never seen anything like the last three days, and was joking half-heartedly with my wife about global warming and how we were getting the first tranche of our come-uppance. We're not in KSR territory yet, but yesterday it surely felt as if we were beginning to get there.

#9 ::: Henry ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 11:49 AM:

Also see Max.

#10 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 12:32 PM:

CaseyL --

Nobody knows what it did last time. No appropriate ice cores or old lake beds to do paleoclimatography with.

This is just like nobody knows what it did last time to the monsoons, which is a pity because some of the models have 'monsoon? what monsoon?' coming out.

#11 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 01:12 PM:

...there are smart and sensible people doing Big Science to hopeful and humane ends.

Unfortunately for us who aren't living in KSR-land, those smart and sensible people are being silenced by short-sighted jackholes who have the ears of Congress and the President.

I'm still holding out for the Pacific Edge future, just 'cause I want to ride my bike down the 55.

#12 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 01:12 PM:

P J Evans: I'd expect the Central Valley to become more desertlike most of the time - the coast ranges are a major weather factor now, blocking moister air.

Well, there was a paper in Science last year (link to abstract which I think doesn't require a subscription) which suggested a likely result is "Permanent El Niño-Like Conditions". What we've seen in recent El Niño years was weakening of the Pacific highs, resulting in more storms steering south -- more rain in California, less in Oregon and Washington.

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 01:33 PM:

"There's no such thing as global warming."

"There's global warming, but it's a natural cycle."

"There's global warming, and humans caused it, but it's a good thing."

"Hey, quit pointing fingers and playing the blame game and let's get together and solve this problem. Starting with an allowance to congresspeople to relocate their homes to high ground, and tax breaks to encourage housing developers to build New Washington up in the Appalachians, and a bail-out of the insurance industry, and . . ."

#14 ::: Cathy ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 01:46 PM:

I'd prefer not to be in a KSR novel run by a GWB administration. We just saw what that looked like last weekend, didn't we?*

*(Patrick and I just got back from the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. These people are still in a world of hurt and need our help.)

#15 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 01:59 PM:

I dunno. It feels more like a Bruce Sterling Heavy Weather future. Or maybe Distraction.

#16 ::: Mike Scott ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 02:02 PM:

Actually, we're a bit past that point. I'm just rereading Forty Signs of Rain now, and I note that the previous hurricane season in the book had been a record-breaker with eight hurricanes and six tropical storms, but the US had escaped major damage, which is all considerably milder than 2005 was.

#17 ::: Michael Falcon-Gates ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 02:26 PM:

And here I've been too afraid to read the book... I guess it didn't help, and I might as well pick up a copy.

#18 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 02:49 PM:

I've got your drying land right here in Texas--the only part of the state that's not in a drought is Houston/Beaumont, where they had a little system called Rita.

#19 ::: kvenlander ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 03:26 PM:

Actually I think the book sucked. I kept waiting for it to start. It just went on and on and on establishing characters and laying the groundwork and all that. Now I know it's part of a trilogy but if the rest is like this, there's material for one 250-page book in total.

Lest you think I'm just trolling, I did like his description of the Prez: his genius was a huge amount of low cunning. Rather remarkable similarity between this universe and KSR's.

#20 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 03:32 PM:

Holy Crap:

Pennsylvania Governor Orders Evacuation of 200,000 from floods

Nothing's happening. Just a natural cycle. Treehuggers and doomsayers and grant-hungry atmospheric scientists looking for attention. 99% percent of scientists saying "yes" isn't consensus. OH MY GOD, SOMEONE'S TRYING TO BURN THE FLAG!

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 03:38 PM:

What kvenlander said, for the most part: Far too many pages of talking and walking and descriptions of child-care duties.

I don't care much for the environmental disaster genre. Ludicrous scare stories like The Day After Tomorrow are counter-productive. But Forty Signs of Rain took things too safe.

I still plan on reading Fifty Below, but it won't be howling now! now! from its place in the read-queue.

* * *

But still, I thought of "Forty Signs" when I read that the Supreme Court was chewing over CO2 regulations on the same day that the IRS HQ was closed due to flooding.

#22 ::: Leslie Turek ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 04:05 PM:

I liked Forty Signs of Rain. It showed the day-to-day workings of scientists coping with the real world of government funding and bureauocracy.

In the Boston area, we've just set the record for the most rain in a two-month period (and June still isn't over and it's raining today). We're over 22 inches for May and June, which about 4 times the usual 2-month total and about half of our normal yearly total.

#23 ::: Jacob Krash ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 04:19 PM:

I can attest to Leslie Turek's comment: I live in a suburb of Boston, and in May, parts of the town were declared a national disaster area. Several people in our town had 4 or more feet of water in their basements (or, in at least one case, in the main floor of their house), ruining many possessions, and, in some cases, making the houses temporarily unlivable. My partner and I were fortunate in that we had no damage.

This is not to minimize what those in DC are going through currently, but only to emphasize that this is a pattern that's affecting a whole helluva lot of people. I'm wonder if, in 30 or 40 years, my house will still be standing or if it will be underwater.

#24 ::: Emily Cartier ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 04:32 PM:

Hrm, what they're describing in the MSNBC article in PA is *not* what the map is showing. 6 inches in a week is about what you'd want in PA at this time of year. This was clearly 6 inches in a *day*. It's also inaccurate about what exactly is causing the problems in Schuykill county.

To quote my sister: "There is a dam that has overflowed and is feeding water into the Little Schuykill. All of downtown has been evacuated as a precaution and they are not letting anyone through town. Since they aren't letting anyone through town and I need to go through town to get to work that means no work for me today. I have family members that are volunteers with the fire companies and they are keeping me updated in the off chance I may be able to get through later." That river feeds into the Susquehanna river system, which drains most of the state. So towns bordering the rivers and creeks (which is pretty much all of them in Schuykill county) are having low lying areas evacuated. She's not being evacuated, and neither are most of her neighbors. Like most small towns up there, people live on the hills, and if anything is built in the floodplain, it's businesses. Keep in mind that most dams in PA are *not* flood control dams, they're earthen or inflatable dams to make a smallish creek wider and improve the fishing.

This is an unusual amount of rain, but it's not outside the bounds of normal. PA gets rain like that about once every 10 years or so, tho it's more usual for it to come from leftover hurricane going splat on the state. So I wouldn't use *this* particular storm as evidence of global warming, unless it's hurricane leftovers. The last three flood seasons in PA have been a bit rough, because there were so many hurricanes that made landfall and then dumped a lot of water on the state. Three autumns in a row of flood watch nearly every day *is* unusual.

#25 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 04:44 PM:

Everyone knows that global warming is caused by the drastic reduction in pirates over the years.

#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 04:58 PM:

Stefan Jones: That has the ring of prophecy.

#27 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 05:34 PM:

Upstream on the Susquehanna, Binghamton NY also set an all-time one-day record, over 4" of rain in 24 hrs. The previous record had been set 'way back in 2001.

Anyway, all of central NYS is flooded: I-90 is closed due to the Mohawk River being over its banks, and they are diverting E-W traffic to I-88. Except that this morning, I-88 was itself severed by a flooding stream. All four lanes.

Clearly, we are living in the end time.

W/r/t KSR: Asimov used to remark that, far from being escapist literature, SF actually allowed its readers to worry about problems LONG before anyone else ever heard of them - atomic war, global warming , etc.

#28 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 06:31 PM:

Just got off the phone with my parents. The NYTimes web page showed a fellow riding a bicycle through floodwaters in Sullivan county, where they live. The article mentioned that the Neversink river had flooded. (Julia's Mom lives up that way too.)

I was concerned because they've gotten a basement full of water several times since 1999. Nothing compared to the mess caused upstream from them, where several houses were washed away a few years back, and in Otisville down the highway, where an unincorporated neighborhood of dodgy-deed homes was flooded last year and just got hit again.

#29 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 06:34 PM:

"Stefan Jones: That has the ring of prophecy."

Yes indeed, but it still wasn't enough to make "Forty Signs" a fun read. More like homework.

#30 ::: Douglas Anders ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 06:45 PM:

One week ago, Toledo, Ohio had very heavy rain -- someone from the University said it was a once in 150 years storm. Kinda freaked me out.

#31 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 07:08 PM:

Bob Oldendorf wrote:
W/r/t KSR: Asimov used to remark that, far from being escapist literature, SF actually allowed its readers to worry about problems LONG before anyone else ever heard of them - atomic war, global warming , etc.
Way cool. Every once in a while Asimov really nailed something. Anyone have a source on that quote?

#32 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 08:03 PM:

A Maryland county has evacuated about 200K people to shelters because a lake contained by an earthen dam is just about to break. The forecast now says Thursday & Friday will be sunny, so they may get to go home soon. So far, seven known human deaths from the flooding, and many thousands of little chicken deaths over on the Eastern Shore.

#33 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 08:44 PM:

a lake contained by an earthen dam is just about to break

I believe that is an instance of the Thing Contained for the Container.

Sorry, the Copyeditor Within seems to be on Orange Pencil Alert today.

#34 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 08:56 PM:

John M. Ford: 'Contain' can be used to mean 'hold in place' (as in the policy of 'containment' advocated by George Kennan).

#35 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 09:30 PM:

a lake contained by an earthen dam is just about to break

In re JMF and Fragano above: which is about to break, the dam or the lake?

Yet another IncitefulInsight™.

#36 ::: Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 09:33 PM:

Gotta put in another good word for the Kim Stanley Robinson books (in fact, all of his books). I tore through 40 Signs & 50 Degreesand can't wait for the next one. Some of us actually likethe background stuff as much as we like the action.

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 10:11 PM:

Larry Brennan: You're right!!

#38 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 10:38 PM:

40 Days was talky, but I mostly liked it. I'm not in academia, or science, or politics, so I rarely get a chance to hear all of the above discussed so passionately and intelligently.

50 Degrees had a lot more action. I think the trilogy is meant to be more like a three-act play, with the first act (40 Days) mostly dedicated to introducing the characters, their milieu, and the theme(s) of the play.

The last book in the series is coming out in 2007, and some on-line retailers are accepting pre-orders. I'll wait and get it from one of the local independents.

#39 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2006, 11:29 PM:

I was in DC when Agnes came through (June 1972); downtown wasn't nearly that bad (nothing like the flooded theater in the photo), but the (unused, preserved) C&O canal broke through in several places, one of them leaving the sort of arc-of-unsupported-railroad-tracks-with-the-odd-tie-dangling that you normally see only in Roadrunner and similar cartoons. I wonder if there's anything left of the canal now?

I also heard the news about 88 and wondered what Corning was like. We took 88 to Torcon and stopped at the glass museum, which has marks all over it indicating how high a flood Agnes caused. The museum was rebuilt with an upper floor but IIRC there are still some exhibits below those marks -- not surprising as the town is absolutely flat above the river bank.

At least this time flooding in Boston has been more localized; IIRC, it was after Agnes that somebody realized that the Charles was self-adjusting if you didn't lay concrete right up to the banks, and persuaded the state government to start buying and preserving/re-establishing wetlands.

#40 ::: The New York City Math Teacher ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 01:06 AM:

There are pictures of mountain watershed flooding archived here. This is a picture of a small dam on the Jeff Creek, above Jeffersonville, NY. Ordinarily, the lake remains between three and eight feet below the top of the dam. The house below the dam is has two hydroelectric generators, one 25KW and the other 200KW. Usually, only the first runs this time of year, while the other feeds power into the grid in the fall and spring, during the fall rains and the spring runoff.

South of the dam, and about twenty feet higher is the radio station. I worked there for nine years, and looked out at that stream for nine years, and I never, *ever* saw the water level rise any higher than the bank. Not like this. The two figures in the foreground are Kevin and Barbara, caretakers of Jeff Hydro, and residents of the hydro-house. They have three children.

Eight hundred people live along the stretch of Rte. 52 west of Lake Jefferson. The town is 200 years old. One of the best Turkish restaurants/greasy spoons in the world is across the street from the Peck's Supermarket. Tonight the town is evacuated because the Lake Jeff dam is about to burst.

My parents live on the other side of that watershed, on the eastern side of that particular landform. I live on the transverse slope of the Long Island Terminal Moraine, about forty feet above sea level. And maybe, maybe, if I didn't know not only the local area but the hydrology and the water-impoundment system of the area to a more rudimentary degree than I do, then I might run around with my head cut off squawking about global warming instead of the real problems in the area which I will mention in two paragraphs.

m strck by mmdt rfrnc t Km Stnly Rbnsn's mst rcnt wrk by th rglr cmmntrt f ths prtclr wblg. mgry nd jky, rrlvnt cmmntry frm lssr wrk f fctn r btwxt nd btwn th sbr rprts f th dtls f hrrnds ntrl dsstr. nd, f crs, Grydn s rdy wth xcrctngly wll-cnstrctd Nrs Stntrn tchncl dmsyng.

One of the NYC watershed reservoirs (Swinging Bridge Reservoir) has been drained because the private company that received the contract to maintain the earthen dam and manage the hydroelectric dam failed to report severe undermining of the dam - they went into receivership and didn't maintain the dam. Two giant sinkholes opened in the dam, ending the dam's career and threatening thousands. Dam safety engineers have been discovered falsifying safety records for two other NYC water property reservoirs, Rondout and Neversink, and there are concerns about sinkholes opening below Neversink.
The reason that dam in the pictures is in the process of bursting is that Lake Jeff hasn't been dredged in fifty years, and it is stuffed to the gills with silt, reducing its capacity by thirty to fifty percent. If the dredging had been done, the dam would be holding, instead of eroding along its crest.

There has been gross neglect of the public and private water-management infrastructure throughout the area, which, combined with a lot of deforestation and second-home development in the catchment basins, and a nice ten year rain, is inflicting a great deal of pain on impoverished communities.

This wasn't caused by global warming -- this was caused by criminally negligent oversight of public works. Put the shrill clarions against appositely irrelevant bugaboos aside!

t wld b nc t s slf-prclmd mlrsts wrk fr gd gvrnnc nd tchnclly cmptnt mncpl wrks vrsght, nstd f fnctnlly slss bt mtnlly stsfyng plnts gnst glbl wrmng.

nd myb sm Prl Bck Yllw Rvr Fld rfrncs t, nstd f KSR's rrnt trsh (gd hlp s!).

#41 ::: John From Uconn ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 02:18 AM:

I type this from a hotel in chicago, because my amtrak train east, the lakeshore limited, was canceled due to extensive flooding of rail lines. They say we may be here tomorrow, too.

#42 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 04:35 AM:

Well, if you're all going to be complaining about getting too much water, send it over to this side of the Pacific. Persistent year after year of El Nino means we get year after year of drought. I know personally of two cities which have permanent water use restrictions (as in "water gardens only before 9am and after 6pm, wash cars with buckets, all hoses must have trigger guns on them to be used" etc), and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it's pretty much a standard across the lower half of Australia. Meanwhile, as everything dries out more and more, we get more bushfires, and when we *do* get rain, it causes more erosion, and takes more topsoil with it. Given the general state of the soil in this country, we don't have that much topsoil to lose.

I think there are two things which annoy me about the whole situation. One is that our Federal government and state governments are busy ignoring the problem at full speed (which is a pity, since even a small measure like a $100 per household rebate on the purchase of rainwater tanks might make a difference; as would allowing households to run "credits" for supplying power back to the power grid.) The second is that the majority of people in this country haven't bothered to look ahead and think about what they could be doing to make a difference in even a little way (things like installing that rainwater tank, or putting solar panels on the roof, or even just putting a brick in the cistern of the loo) to enable us to keep our current rather affluent lifestyles for just a weensh longer.

#43 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 04:57 AM:

And, of course, Graydon is ready with excruciatingly well-constructed Norse Stentorian technical doomsaying...
Put the shrill clarions against appositely irrelevant bugaboos aside!
It would be nice to see self-proclaimed meliorists work for good governance and technically competent municipal works oversight, instead of functionally useless but emotionally satisfying plaints against global warming.

That comment was brought to you by Reader's Digest - It Pays to Improve Your Word Power.
Yesterday's words were "Stentorian", "apposite", "clarion", "bugaboo", "meliorist" and "plaint".

It would be cruel to point out that Stentor was Achaean, not Norse; that an object cannot be both apposite and irrelevant; and that no one on this blog has used the word "meliorist" to describe themselves or anyone else since 2002.

The NYC maths teacher wins yesterday's prize.

Today's Vocabulary Challenge is to work the following words into a comment:


Don't forget - fabulous prizes to be won!

#44 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 07:02 AM:

Here in the UK, we seem to be heading for drought restrictions on water supplies in the south-east, which is the area around London. But it's not just because of a shortage of rain.

Now, there's a tendency for British media to concentrate on the London area, but go and check the BBC Radio 4 site. Today, thursday, the headlined report is on the effect of the privatisation of the water industry. The "You and Yours" programme, starting in about five minutes.

On Tuesday, File on 4 dealt with Thames Water, which is losing about a third of its available water supplies through leaks in the distribution system, and which is being managed to boost the share price while the owners try to sell the company, again.

Now, the BBC can be a bit picky about overseas listeners on the Internet, so you might not be able to take advantage of such things as the "Listen Again" Real Audio streaming, but File on 4 does release transcripts after a few days. The one on the mess the government made of farming makes me glad I'm out of it. But I still have to eat.

Oh, and bother! I've just missed "Imagining Albion", Francis Spufford on British SF.

#45 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 08:49 AM:

Meg: my hometown (Athens, GA USA) also has permanent water restrictions (water only at night, wash cars only with shut-off hose, odd-numbered addresses on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, even-numbered on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday, nobody waters on Friday). After several drought years interspersed with only a couple of years with normal rainfall, we are losing trees.

#46 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 09:22 AM:

Down here in Raleigh this bit of rain wasn't as bad as the one we got when Alberto's remnants came through a few weeks ago. That storm dumped over 8" of rain on us in less than 24 hours, which was a historic amount. Everything near any stream flooded (including a major shopping center and several major roads), and got everyone worrying about flood control and measures to keep it from happening again.

Of course, the powers that be then turn around and approve more and more hard surfaces (parking lots, rooftops) to be built in watersheds, which increase runoff rates and flooding dramatically over grassy areas.

#47 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 09:42 AM:

"I wouldn't use *this* particular storm as evidence of global warming"
Well, if you load a pair of dice so that they are twice as likely as 'natural' ones to turn up ... er ... whatever the number is that people like to get — sixes? (non-misspent yoof) — how can you say which of the sixes that turn up are due to the loading and which would have happened naturally?

#48 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 09:58 AM:

I would also note, beyond applauding ajay, O Instructor in Mathematics from the Big Apple, that I'm ethnically Canadian and I spent some of my formative years on a farm.

So, hey, I already believe the weather is trying to kill me.

If you don't believe that, go look, not a hurricane map, but at a drought map.

Loud bad weather -- floods, hurricanes, the driving, bitter sleet, all these things are transitory. You can build around the problem; you can move your cities uphill and inland, bury the power lines, and so forth.

Drought that kills the crops, well, that's going to kill you, too, long before even the sleet shall.

#49 ::: The New York City Math Teacher ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 10:15 AM:

jy - tht ws brsh snr.

Cmplnng bt glbl wrmng n ths mttrs ds prcsly fck-ll whn the Greenland icecap is melting and the thunderstorms are dumping decadal rains annually into the watershed of my hometown.

Th grnd pln t sv th wrld by cmplnng bt crbn mssns dsn't ppr t b defending my family, friends, and childhood neighbors from flooding caused by incompetent management of Catskill hydrology.

Remember the picture I linked, the two figures Kevin and Barbara? They are the Grefs (Kevin is an environmental activist and ex-submariner, Barbara is the editor and publisher of the Narrowsburg River Reporter) whom I have known for fifteen years: I watched their kids grow up; I clambered in the basement of the hydrohouse between station-ids at the radio station, feeling the turbines thrum. They are my friends.

The flooding is in my home county, the rambling hills of my youth. The reason this flooding is worse than it could have been is because of overdevelopment and neglect of hydrology infrastructure - nt bcs f rmgddn rns lldd t n hck scnc fctn nvls.

We have this neglect because intelligent potentially interested parties of the body politic left policy up to party hacks and time-serving sinecurists because they were too damn bored to get involved. gss snrky cmmnts nd grnd prtc gstrs mk ll th dffrnc n ths wrld.

Not that I haven't been involved in these issues for over a decade, or anything, ajay. (find footnote 8.38b)

#50 ::: The New York City Math Teacher ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 10:39 AM:


I think I've been clear as to what I think activism's praxis ought to be. We got the problem, now we have to manage its sequelae with grace and enlightenment.

Carbon emissions have already screwed us. Snrkng t t thm wth bbbl-bbbl pps th zts f tmprry hgh ddgn, spllng n rschlm f nrvtd ndffrnc t ncssry cntnd wrk.

nd *tht* s my bf wth th snr.

(BTW, Graydon, you've known me on Usenet going on twelve years. We met in Kitchener eight years ago during Jo Walton's visit.)

#51 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 11:03 AM:

John M. Ford, Larry Brennan,
Thank you for:

the Copyeditor Within seems to be on Orange Pencil Alert today.

Yet another IncitefulInsight™.

You have improved my day!

#52 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 11:28 AM:

Hmm, there have now been three or four "hundred year floods" hereabout in the past decade. Back when I was working in Waltham, there were the spring rains that turned Trapelo Road heading to Belmont coming down a hill, into an amazing waterway. The water fortunately ran off into Beaver Book at the bottom of the hill, though, instead of continuing along Trapelo Road, or I couldn;'t have diverted around and gotten into work going through Belmont and then back into Waltham, and parking at an athletic fiew a few hundred feet from where I was working--the water was already rising on the road and invading the parking lot at work.

Not a whole lot of work got done that day, everyone was watching out the windows as the water rose, the drainage ditches overflowing the parking lot, the swamp turning the road into a lake, the Audi floating in the middle of the road, and the idiot drivers who were so stupid they were trying to drive through the closed-down road. Around noon everyone got told to go home, and it was a couple days before the building reopened.

There was the time that there was so much flooding that both 3A and the Middlesex Turnpike were flooded out by the Shawsheen River--that has't happened this year, but then May and June don't get melt water from a couple feet of snow turning into liquid from being rained on, either.

The Shawsheen went over its banks back during the worst of the rain and flooding, but not up over 3A and the Middlesex Pike again. It flooded houses where it goes into the Merrimack, but then the Merrimack was flooding out houses, too... friends who live about a quarter mile from the Merrimack in Haverhill, said that their basement got wet from the amount of rain that came down in their yard, and there were flooded road intersection blocking them getting out, but that the were sufficiently high up that their house didn't get water from the river.

For a while in particularly the 1980s Massachusetts got very strict about flood plains... in the Republicrap era, though, even though Republicans in Massachusetts are an endangered species (and even more endangered as a species these days than before Schmuck got in orifice), the Department of Environment Quality has been giving more and more waivers for building in floodplains and rerouting water flow etc.

Environmentalist here goes back quite a ways, though--way back during colonial days there were major political battles about damming rivers interfering with salmon and herring, Thoreau complained about the dam on the Concord River in Billerica and got into political trouble with people about it, and organizations like Trustees of Reservations and the Audobon Society and such came into existence a century ago or more intent on buying up land and preserving the natural environment (or what was left of it...)

It's been very wet here, and some places have seen I think more than 6" of rain in a day the rainiest day of the past two months. There were houses and businesses flooded out along some rivers, particularly the Merrimack. Boston seems to have not suffered any of the hotel and hospital and Boston Public Library basements flooding and consequent power outages that happend for various instances of unduly large amounts of rain in the past decade or so. Life's mostly "normal" here except for the people with the significant flood damage, and the loss of sunny day tourism activities and sales and revenues.

The report therefore of dire consequence and evacuation of 200,000 people in PA, etc., are somewhat astonishing to me, given all the rain that's come down here the past two months and the damage here compared to the damage and damage possibilities there.

Thinking it more, DC is built on a swamp, but then too, so are the Back Bay of Boston and MIT, and they've come through the past two months without hitting the news for outages or flooding, despite the wide Charles River Basin between Cambridge and Boston and the filled land on both the Boston and Cambridge sides.

#53 ::: Emily Cartier ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 11:35 AM:

Well, if you load a pair of dice so that they are twice as likely as 'natural' ones to turn up ... er ... whatever the number is that people like to get — sixes? (non-misspent yoof) — how can you say which of the sixes that turn up are due to the loading and which would have happened naturally?

A single storm is not evidence of a change in weather patterns. A change in weather patterns is determined by having many *years* of storms misbehaving. That's why I mentioned that flood season has been especially bad for the past 3 years. Very little "real" flooding, but a great deal of high water where it shouldn't be that high.

See, in most of PA you're dealing with fairly steep hills, covered in a fairly smooth clay soil, aerated by large trees and brush in a fairly natural second growth forest. In between hills, you've got streambeds, generally with a high flood stage for that size stream, and a somewhat broad flood plain for that size stream. So an inch of rain in a day is easy to absorb. Even 6 inches of rain in a week won't do much (a typical storm made up of leftover hurricane bits might well do that). Six inches of rain in a day does stress the system's ability to cope, but a lot of places in the state can *take* that amount of rain.

So I tend to get a lot more alarmed by the small things. A stream that when I was small almost never overflowed it's banks habitually doing so for most of the fall. A pond near the house where I grew up overflowing a road without a hurricane as the proximate cause, or flooding more than once every 4-5 years.

And well, I *know* that there's been a lot more small floods over the last 3 autumns than we should have, even in places where the hydrological system is not stressed the way it is in my hometown. Nothing that the system can't contain one or two of, but its not designed to take a stream running over it's banks almost 3 months out of a year. Its meant to take maybe a week's worth out of the year.

So at this point, I'd be willing to say there's certainly a shift in the weather pattern. I'd not be willing to say what is causing it, because I'm aware that weather is a complex system and *I* don't understand it well enough on a global level. I'd also not be willing to say whether it's a permanant change, because few things are truly permanent when it comes to weather. This is taking a rather long view tho... we have records of temperature patterns changing for periods measured in centuries, and then changing *back*.

I end up with "I don't know" as my final answer on global warming, even now.

#54 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 11:41 AM:

Who is this math teacher, out of curiosity?
And why is this person attacking someone
for making a comment on a blog if they know
the real cause of the problem is somewhere else?
Does screaming at people generally win allies?
Or am I missing some other reference that puts
this into a different perspective?

#55 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 11:44 AM:

Snarking out at them with bibble-babble pops the zits of temporary high dudgeon, spilling an Urschleim of enervated indifference to necessary continued work.

Am I the only one having trouble reading this?
The rarified air is too pure and thin for my lungs.

#56 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 11:58 AM:

New York City Math Teacher: You have a good point, in among all the sneering. If you'd made it in a civil manner, no one would be sneering at you now.

--Mary Aileen

#57 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 12:35 PM:

True. If you're worried about CC-induced flooding, it's a good idea to pay attention to your own local flood defences, as well as trying to encourage cuts in carbon emissions. Just because the former is treating only the symptoms, doesn't mean it's not a good idea; just because the latter will have only diffuse and delayed benefits doesn't mean that's not a good idea too.

Running around shouting "we're all dooooomed!" is never a great plan.

#58 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 12:41 PM:

Graydon, I'm trying to figure what 'ethnically Canadian' means. I tend to think of being Canadian as being a cultural identity rather than an ethnic identity, so I'm curious.

#59 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 01:43 PM:

Am I the only one having trouble reading this?
The rarified air is too pure and thin for my lungs.

I think what he's trying to say is that the praxis of environmental activism should not be to dissemble bibble-babble which unnecessarily spreads gloomth. On the contrary, we should hurtle ourselves out of the Urschleim like a violently spinning dreidel by striving for the Epicurean ideal of freedom from fear through knowledge to put environmental activism to a useful end.

Or in other words, rather than fear-monger, assess the problem then fix it.

I still have to see An Inconvenient Truth so I don't yet have an opinion on its take of global warming. However, based on the reactions to the movie I've read, there are still people resistant to the whole notion of global warming. I think that's unfortunate.

(BTW, what's the difference between a "cultural identity" and an "ethnic identity?" I remember listening to CBC Radio talking about a contest by McLeans to find a Canadian equivalent to "As American as apple pie." IIRC, the winner was "As Canadian as possible under the circumstances.")

#60 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 02:10 PM:

'Ethnic' refers to race as well as to culture, language, religion etc. Hence my curiosity of what it means to be 'ethnically Canadian.'

#61 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 02:49 PM:

Debcha --

Well, if I've got an ethnicity, it's Canadian. (More properly, ethnic central Canadian, because I'm not a Maratimer or Québécois or Native.)

My family, both sides, has been here long enough to lose the memory of having been from anywhere else. I'm not going to define it as liking bagpipe music and knowing how to eat with chopsticks -- that's more plausibly the cultural identity -- and I don't think there's a meaningful genetic anything to the idea, beyond the very high likelihood of not being allergic to blackfly bites.

#62 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 03:13 PM:


I've given way too much thought to this kind of thing myself, having worked with people from India, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, Hong Kong, mainland China, and Taiwan, all of whom were U.S. citizens, none of whom referred to themselves as "American". I was one of the "Americans" in the division, not being able to name a unique (in the mathematical sense, i.e. "the only one") other country from which my ancestors came. I guess I'm an Anglo-Saxon/Norman blend, my middle and last names being Anglo-Saxon (Stuart Hall), my blond hair and blue eyes Norman. My last name comes from the generic "of the hall", apparently, which reminds me of the George R.R. Martin bastard surnames: Snow, River, Stone, etc., so I'm probably descended from the bastard child of some noble, if you go back far enough.

#63 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 05:00 PM:

my middle and last names being Anglo-Saxon (Stuart Hall)

I just feel like noting that Stuart Hall is a British sociologist, of Jamaican origin and mixed African and European ancestry....

#64 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 05:03 PM:

What on earth is "Norse stentorian technical doomsaying"? (Calling Mike Ford...) For my part, I don't find Graydon stentorian (Norse or otherwise) -- I'm always happy to see a Graydon post because a lot of times it says what I want to say, only better.

Here's a question for the group -- someone I work with said today that he doesn't believe in global warming, that there's "not a shred of evidence" for it. What do I say to him? Is there somewhere I can point him? I asked him if he'd seen Gore's movie, and he said "Oh, Gore" dismissively, as if that made his point. I offered to send him some URLs but he doesn't have e-mail. It frustrates the hell out of me to hear him use talking points that I know originated with the energy companies and Fox News, because he's a good person underneath it all. What I finally said was "You better hope you're right, because if you're not we'll be in big trouble starting in ten years."

#65 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 05:29 PM:

Lisa: you could start with this AP news story that just came out:

Scientists OK Gore's Movie for Accuracy

"The nation's top climate scientists are giving "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy."

#66 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 05:32 PM:


The easiest way to show him that *something* is happening is by showing him sequential pictures of glaciers taken periodically over the last 50 years.

They ARE shrinking, and it is glaringly obvious.

Point out that it takes a fair amount of heat to melt a glacier...then ask him where he thinks that heat is coming from (it ain't just the sun).

#67 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 05:40 PM:

Or find the clips of Kilimanjaro shown in Gore's film. Snow 20 years ago = heavy. Snow now = sparse.

#68 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 05:47 PM:

They were talking about some water restrictions here in Prescott AZ too. We did get over an inch of rain in the thunderstorms a couple of days ago, but yesterday's promise fizzled out and today is still uncertain. (If it had started thundering, I wouldn't be on the computer.)

I've been watching the news about the eastern floods with horrified interest. One minor positive note: now I know how to pronounce Wilkes-Barre (like "berry"? weird...).

PS: Can't resist mentioning that yesterday in the nearby Gulch, I saw a bird whose official name is Phainopepla (AKA "black flycatcher" or "shining fly-snapper"). Black, crested, with flashes of white on the wings when it flies. The name may sound like a digestive medicine, but it means "shining robe", and the sighting was pretty cool. Made my day.

#69 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 05:48 PM:

Linkmeister -- I was thinking of mentioning Kilimanjaro too, but every time I typed the word it didn't look right to me. Brain freeze strikes again!

#70 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 08:14 PM:

"Scientists, pffft! I learned what I need to know about global warming from a hack-thriller author and an extra tall magician! Because they tell it like it is!"

I know people who think like that. A very good friend thinks global warming is junk science. Or, if you pin him down, things it's real but not our fault.

John Stossel, Penn Jillette, and Michael Crichton all speak with great authority without actually being authorities. Having an authority figure be indignant and dismissive is evidence enough for some folks.

For the technically minded, RealClimate is your friend.

I suspect An Inconvenient Truth will only convince fence-sitters. There are an awful lot of those, but the folks partying on the other side of the fence have made their minds up, thank you.

#71 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 08:51 PM:

Heck, Lori, at least you have the excuse that it's a furrin' word. I've had that happen to me with six-letter English/American words.

#72 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 08:58 PM:

I just feel like noting that Stuart Hall is a British sociologist, of Jamaican origin and mixed African and European ancestry....

Wow. I really, really, like this fact. Thank you.

#73 ::: Emily Cartier ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 09:19 PM:

One minor positive note: now I know how to pronounce Wilkes-Barre (like "berry"? weird...).

It's WILxBARah. Or at least that will get you fairly close to a native pronunciation. If they're doing Wilx-Berry on TV or radio, they're doing a southern PA pronunciation. You can still *really* hear the regional accents in PA placenames :). Fortunately, the TV reporters probably aren't having to do any of the *really* hard ones.

#74 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 09:50 PM:

Graydon - fair enough.

Mary - I've given this a lot of thought too, in that I've dealt with the opposite scenario all my life - every time I say I'm Canadian, or from Toronto, the followup question is invariably, 'No, where are you really from?' (Graydon, I hope this explains my sensitivity to the issue.) As a result, I tend to carefully differentiate between ethnic identity and cultural identity. Part of that is also a learned wariness regarding what it means when people say 'American' or 'really American' (or Canadian, as it were) - as in 'not those people with funny accents who somehow got passports' or 'people who are a colour that is neither white nor black, even if they were born here.'

For the record, I'm ethnically South Asian, culturally Canadian, a Canadian citizen (although I plan to get dual citizenship as soon as I can) and I am a permanent resident in the States. This causes a lot of brow-furrowing for people who are trying to describe me with a single word. :)

#75 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 10:10 PM:

"New York City Math Teacher" is evidently a guy with an old grudge against one or both of us. I can't help but suspect he'd be happier with some hobby other than posting bitter attacks on Making Light regulars, imagined "self-proclaimed meliorists", and the supposed "arrant trash" of Kim Stanley Robinson.

On the other hand, maybe it's what gets him off.

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 10:37 PM:

Patrick, I remember him from his earlier visits here.

Math (mind if I call you Math?), I hope you remember those visits too, particularly what happened to objectionable passages in your comments. It may help to explain what's just happened to certain passages in your latest crop of comments.

There is nothing about the position you've adopted that obliges you to be impolite. You're doing that for your own amusement. Knock it off.

#77 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 10:40 PM:

Mike is right, the dam is trying to break. I've been a little incoherent lately and I have an appt with the doctor next week.

CHip, the canal still exists, although they'll probably have to fix it some again.

Take a $20 bill and look at the tree to the right of the White House. That came down in the storm. Lots of trees came down.

And as I mentioned in the other thread, the IRS building in DC will be closed for a month.

#78 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2006, 10:43 PM:

My grandmother used to say about the weather that 'it wasn't like this before Nixon went to China'. It appears that she was actually correct.

#79 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 12:11 AM:

I made a point of quickly signing off for the night after reading "Math Teacher's" post.

On one hand, interesting and valuable information about the state of the hydrological infrastructure up by where my parents live.

On the other hand, a cranky, unfair, but oddly whimsical . . . oh, never mind.

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 12:33 AM:

It's been a rough week. Let evildoers beware.

#81 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 12:50 AM:

Marilee: And as I mentioned in the other thread, the IRS building in DC will be closed for a month.

Reminds me of the episode of Get Smart where CHAOS creates a silent explosive and quietly destroys important government buildings, including the IRS, which are quickly replaced by facades.

#82 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 01:28 AM:

Flood Trivia:

When I visited my folks last month, I made a point of visiting the D&H Canal Museum down the road. The canal, now a shallow ditch for the most part, was a thriving freight and agricultural line at one time, allowing coal to be economically shipped from NE Pennsylvania to Kingston on the Hudson.

Something I learned that I'd never considered before:

Canals occasionally broke, stranding barges and spilling inconvenient amounts of water into neighboring towns and fields. People and livestock drowned. Lawsuits often followed. Repairs had to be done quickly; local farmers were often hired to patch up the holes.

#83 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 03:39 AM:

Ajay writes:
no one on this blog has used the word "meliorist" to describe themselves or anyone else since 2002.

Well, actually, Patrick described himself thusly in December of 2003 and used the word in relation to Bono just last January.

(Nitpicker? Moi?)

#84 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 04:48 AM:

"Stuart Hall" was also a laughable commentator on the UK TV gameshow It's a Knockout and its Europe-wide counterpart Jeux Sans Frontières, a show now perhaps best known as the inspiration for Peter Gabriel's song Biko.

#85 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 05:23 AM:

I assume Niall's being silly here: the Peter Gabriel song in question is Games Without Frontiers; in fact, the phrase "Jeux sans frontieres" can be heard throughout the refrain. Biko is about Stephen Bantu Biko.

#86 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 06:59 AM:

I've dealt with the opposite scenario all my life - every time I say I'm Canadian, or from Toronto, the followup question is invariably, 'No, where are you really from?'

Oh, ok. My strategy is to start with the city that I currently live in and go back to the immediate previous city of residence each time the person repeats the question. Yes, you eventually do make it to my birthplace (Taipei), but no one has gotten there yet. One person did come close. (I think it says something for the politeness of modern society that no one has asked me enough times in a row yet even though I haven't moved to that many cities.)

Of course, there's the other side, the people (mostly, but not always, of Chinese descent) who either assume I speak Chinese because of the way I look, or assume that I don't speak Chinese because I speak English with an American accent. Actually, because of the way I look, some of the latter eventually end up speaking to me in Chinese anyways out of habit and then feel the need to comment when I respond in kind. (e.g., the last car saleman I had to deal with.) Others of the latter speak Mandarin around me expecting me not to understand them. Of course, the easiest way to end up like this is to leave your birth country at an early age but after you've started to read and write.

With the former I end up engaging in whichever language they are more comfortable in. It's usually Chinese. Too bad my Chinese really isn't as good as my English. The latter, I get "compliments" like "But you don't sound Chinese at all!" with respect to my English, or "You sound so Chinese!" with respect to my Mandarin. In the latter case, it's not so much what they say as much as they can't hide the surprise (or occasionally, disdain) from their faces. I think, if they expect any Chinese at all, they expect me to speak like my cousin, who was born in Chicago, fluent but with a noticeable American accent. Instead, I sound like a hick, but a native hick. Not only can the elephant roller skate, but it can even do a spin, albeit an ungainly one.

The upside of changing countries early in life is that you get a shot at native fluency in more than one language while it's still relatively easy to do. The downside is that you don't fit easily into either culture. (Well, perhaps I shouldn't generalize. This is just my experience. I haven't taken a survey. Also, I think I'm as much to blame for not fitting in as the culture is, if not more so.)

I figure having been a young immigrant can either make you extremely sensitive to the notions of ethnic and cultural identity or cause you to discard those notions. I think I've done both at this point.

(BTW, as for the weather in Boston, we're supposed to get scattered thunderstorms over the next few days. The current projections look good for ReaderCon though, not that you can trust long range projections.)

#87 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 09:01 AM:

The downside is that you don't fit easily into either culture. (Well, perhaps I shouldn't generalize. This is just my experience. I haven't taken a survey. Also, I think I'm as much to blame for not fitting in as the culture is, if not more so.)

I think that's a pretty common experience. The flip side, of course, is that you do fit somewhat in more than one culture. I think that the better flipside is that, having been raised in more than one culture, you are open and comfortable with other cultures generally (in my experience, and I present Toronto and New York as examples).

I say in jest/in truth that the unifying culture of Canadians (at least in Toronto, where there's an extremely high immigrant population) is not what 'home' culture they're from, but the experience of navigating between their birth culture or their parents' home culture and the local culture. So people who all look different and may speak different languages at home have this common cultural experience - everyone talks about trips to see relatives in the 'old country,' having had lunches that were weirder than your classmates, your parents' opinions on dating vs your opinions, marrying outside your ethnicity, and so on.

I figure having been a young immigrant can either make you extremely sensitive to the notions of ethnic and cultural identity or cause you to discard those notions. I think I've done both at this point.

Mostly, I think a lot about the idea that ethnicity, culture, and citizenship are being decoupled and that you can't really assume anything from what someone looks like.

#88 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 01:38 PM:


The looks you get can't be any stranger than the startled looks my son gets when he speaks Mandarin, one of his college majors. And of course people speaking Mandarin around him have no clue that he can understand them. The coolest thing about it, from my perspective, is that he sometimes sounds like a character out of Firefly.

#89 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 02:22 PM:

The coolest thing about it, from my perspective, is that he sometimes sounds like a character out of Firefly.

I'm sure your son sounds nothing like a character out of Firefly. He undoubtedly speaks far better than any of the characters in Firefly (but perhaps on par with the guy in the Fruity Oaty Bar commercial in the movie).

I loved the show, but the pronunciation was rather dodgy and I wonder if, in the Firefly universe, the Chinese made this great impact on popular culture and then all died on the Earth That Is No More. (And if Chinese culture is so integrated into the dominant culture, why do they never express anything relevant to the plot in Chinese?)

In any case, I think the lesson is as debcha says. Acting on guesses based on appearance can get you burnt. (Also, anyone attempting to use one of the major languages of the world as a secret language deserves what's coming to him or her.)

#90 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 03:12 PM:

I'm sure your son sounds nothing like a character out of Firefly.

Well, he sounds like one to me, not knowing any better, but he agrees with you that the actors' pronunciation is Not Good.

#91 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 03:39 PM:

Debcha: "You can't really assume anything from what someone looks like."

My mother and her friends speak Hungarian a lot in public -- it's one of those languages where you can be almost certain no one else can understand you. So they were pretty surprised when a black woman came over and started talking to them in flawless Hungarian. Apparently the Soviets had had a program to train engineers from some African country (Nigeria?), which involved sending some people to Hungary to learn engineering (and, of course, Hungarian).

As for my co-worker who doesn't believe in global warming -- thanks for the links, but I think he needs something simpler. But this whole conversation has stimulated me to try to google something for him -- Global Warming for Beginners, like that. The question now is, will he read it?

#92 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 04:13 PM:

"Oooh, shiny!"

"You didn't tell it right."

#93 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 04:21 PM:

Like the college girls who saw me knitting in a café in France. One said to the other in English, "God, knitting is such a waste of time when you're young!" I asked them if that meant it's OK when you're old, and if so am I old?

The really funny part is that they were Canadian.

#94 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 04:23 PM:

I just returned from village hopping in the Sierra Madres east of Albuquerque. 40 deg F in the evenings, rain every evening, hail one night (we were hoping for snow), and amazing (amazing!) thunderstorms.
In New Mexico.
In the high desert.
In June?

#95 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 04:27 PM:

Aw, nuts. My previous remark was supposed to start with this: "(Also, anyone attempting to use one of the major languages of the world as a secret language deserves what's coming to him or her.)" Apparently I can watch soccer and drink beer without harmful side effects, but I can't watch, drink, and post. (Whoa. Italy just scored again.)

#96 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 04:34 PM:

I loved the show, but the pronunciation was rather dodgy and I wonder if, in the Firefly universe, the Chinese made this great impact on popular culture and then all died on the Earth That Is No More.

According to the DVD commentary, they had someone acting as a chinese language consultant, and when asked for some curses would return the phonetic pronunciation for "hairy monkey butt" or whatever, and then the actors had almost zero time to memorize the phrase, and what generally ended up on film was nothing that the consultant could recognize.

#97 ::: proud to swim home ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 05:05 PM:

DC has flooded? maybe it's too risky to rebuild it. move it to a safer site and rebuild. let's not give DC any money to rebuild since we all know how corrupt their government is.

worst thing is it might mean that trent lott gets fema money on *both* his houses now. :(

#98 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 05:43 PM:

In New Mexico.
In the high desert.
In June?

Hail goes with thunderstorms. If June is when you get them, June is when you get hail. Hope it's small hail. Big pieces are dangerous.

#99 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 08:44 PM:

Lisa, the best beginning presentation on global climate change is probably Gore's, and the summary for policymakers from IPCC III is a good two page summary. If he's bound and determined not to look at either, you might hand him William K. Stevens's The Change in the Weather. I wonder if anything can persuade someone who is ignoring the past three hurricane seasons, however.

#100 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 09:00 PM:

debcha: I say in jest/in truth that the unifying culture of Canadians (at least in Toronto, where there's an extremely high immigrant population) is not what 'home' culture they're from, but the experience of navigating between their birth culture or their parents' home culture and the local culture.

I had a friend who grew up in Toronto, who commented one of the most common conversation openers was "Where are you from?". "I grew up in Toronto" was the answer 10% of the time. ( This hadn't been a kvetch; he took pride in both being a native of Toronto, and living in such an interesting city. )

#101 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2006, 10:21 PM:

Randolph Fritz -- Oooh, that looks good. I'm too busy to read it now, but it might be just what I'm looking for. Simple language, footnotes, scientific studies ... Thanks!

#102 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2006, 08:42 AM:

Toronto - London, too. Of the Londoners I know, maybe 10% were born in London.

#103 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2006, 05:06 AM:

Someone elsewhere wrote that they didn't believe in Global warming: here's my reply for what it's worth.


You can believe what you want; that the world is flat, that the universe was created by the great spaghetti monster, whatever. But nothing is going to change the facts that:

1 Covalent molecules absorb infra-red radiation

2 Carbon Dioxide is a covalent molecule

3 Carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation at wavelengths of 2.69 micrometers (µm), 2.76 µm, 4.25 µm, 14 µm, and 15 µm

4 Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen from 270ppm in 1900 to 375ppm today

5 As a consequence of these facts, an extra 2.4Watts of heat are absorbed per square metre of the earth's surface now than were absorbed in 1900. That equates to a total of 10KW of extra heat per acre of the Earth's surface.

So human activity is effectively running five 2-bar electric heaters constantly over every single acre of the earth's surface.

And you believe this won't do anything to the climate?

#104 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2006, 11:08 AM:

Andy: good response.

The second line you'll get from them is, "but, but, it's natural warming, not man-made." (On the grounds that "natural" phenomena are somehow good and safe to ignore.)

To which the response should be: "if you discover your house is on fire, do you ignore the blaze if it's burning because the chimney was struck by lightning, but call the fire service if you forgot to switch off the cooker?"

It doesn't matter whether warming is anthropogenic or not, we've still got to deal with it.

#105 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2006, 04:01 PM:

People who don't believe in global warming simply won't believe in it no matter what you say.

When it give them immediate obvious problems, then they'll come up with a new name for it and talk about solving that problem, and they'll still deny global warming.

#106 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2006, 11:10 PM:

My friend's parents moved from Brooklyn to Binghamton some years ago. They bought a house in a nice part of town, right on the Susquehanna River.

Last year, with the summer flood, their basement flooded. It was the biggest flood in 35 years, so they figured, a little repair here & there, they'll be OK. They're planning to retire to Israel, they have a house in a nice Jerusalem suburb (on the right side of the Green Line), and figured selling their US home would give them a nice nest egg for their retirement. With a once-in-35-years flood, well, it wouldn't happen again until they wanted to sell, right?

This year, the Susquehanna flooded again. At record levels. Checking the NWS hydrologic data (flow rates and river heights) for the Susquehanna - well, the Binghamton sensors seem to have washed away. The next stations up and down-stream recorded river crests 3.5 and 5 feet higher than ever before (at least since records have been kept , since the 1930s).

Their first floor flooded. Fortunately, they were both away last week, and a nice neighbor went in and moved their books to the second floor. But what resale value will this house have now? If it's still livable. If it doesn't need a huge amount of renovation work. It's in a flood zone.

#107 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 09:00 AM:

So how do you convince a person who believes in global warming, but who says "Why should the US decrease our emissions when India and China are getting a free ride?" I compared it to all his friends jumping off a cliff, but I don't think it worked.

#108 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 09:10 AM:

TexAnne --

Well, it's like this.

The climate has no concept of fair; it will derive no glee from the inundation of coastal cities and the death of billions. It purely doesn't care if something is fair or not, or what definition of fair is being used. (The Indian and Chinese line that the US has plundered a continent to get out of poverty, and why shouldn't they? has some fairness to it, too; it's very, very easy for the US position to look like a demand that they stay poor.)

The choice, right now, may[1] be between 8m and 15m of sea level rise. If we have that choice, cutting US emissions by lots is what will make the difference.

The US then gets to invent the tech required to gets its emissions into a carbon-negative state.

Once the US has that it can eventually sell to the Indians and the Chinese the power systems and technologies involved; this will be to the great benefit of the US balance of trade and the global climate.

[1] the other option is '15m or better'. It might be just barely theoretically possible that Greenland won't go, but that would require events that aren't going to happen.

#109 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 09:17 AM:

Graydon: Given the person involved, I'm not sanguine. But thank you, I'll try it.

#110 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 10:54 AM:

TexAnne --

Some people are really, really stupid about "fair means the same thing happens to everyone all the time", yeah.

Comments about the desirability of enforced uniformity of sexual practices can sometimes get through the mental block in question.

#111 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 11:31 AM:

Just saw An Inconvenient Truth last night, and TexAnne's question is addressed therein: India and China both already have dramatically lower levels of carbon emissions that the US does, measured both regionally and per capita.

#112 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 04:43 PM:

What use decreasing US emissions just as China is industrializing? We need to impose global emissions reductions, and without a war, it ain't gonna happen. And them Chinesers have nukular weppins.

Yes, right now, their emissions may be lower than ours, but will it stay that way at current growth rates?

And even if the US agrees to lower emissions, who's going to enforce it? Between non-ratification of lots of treaties, and signing statements, we don't have a good record at keeping our own laws.

#113 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2006, 07:01 PM:

Mr. Baker --

The US emissions dwarf those of the Chinese, and the problem is happening now. The temperature change we experience today isn't today's CO2 emissions; it's -- no one is certain -- last year's, or last decade's, or maybe last century's. Lots of lag in the system.

The US could lower emissions very readily just by shifting the basis of its taxation to carbon emissions, most especially if it did this without exception and on the producers, rather than the consumers. (You used to be the sovereign people; maybe you shall be again.)

And, of course, the Chinese and the Indians and the Malaysians don't need to industrialize in a 19th century way; they can entirely well industrialize in a 21st century way. They'd be quite happy to adopt cleaner tech; what they can't do is develop it, they don't have the surplus capital.

So what, precisely, is wrong with fixing your dependence on foreign oil and your balance of trade with China and ceasing to harm yourselves, all at once?

It seems very strange to me that any American patriot could possibly object to any of those things, never mind the three of them together.

#114 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 03:54 AM:

I have trouble working out in what sense China doesn't have surplus capital; nine hundred billion dollars of foreign reserves pays enough in interest to pay Pfizer's, Nokia's and Intel's R&D bills taken together, and China is demonstrably not averse to building twelve-gigabuck, twenty-gigawatt hydroelectric power stations, or three-billion-dollar railways running through a thousand kilometres of the definition of desolation at an average height thrice Snowdon's.

If this is a problem that can be solved by targetted research spending, I'd look at China as the place to solve it.

#115 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 05:33 AM:

Tom - you're missing half the story. Unfortunately, it actually costs the Chinese government money to maintain high dollar reserves. The dollars aren't held as immense Scrooge McDuck piles of notes - they're invested in US Treasury bonds, which are very safe but low-yielding.

Now, the Chinese central bank got the dollars by buying them with yuan. In order to get the yuan in the first place, it sold its own bonds. But since China isn't as strong an economy as the US, its bonds aren't considered as safe - and so the yield (ie the interest China pays on its bonds) has to be greater to offset that. Effectively, they are facing a negative spread - the difference between the yield on T-bills and Chinese bonds - and so the bigger the reserve, the more it costs to maintain. The difference between the yields is a direct transfer from China to the US.

GLAUKON: Then why, O Socrates, do the Chinese maintain such high reserves if it costs them money to do so?

SOCRATES: Because of two reasons: first, they regard it as a sign of national strength to have large foreign currency reserves; second, it allows the Chinese government to intervene in the foreign currency markets in order to maintain favourable exchange rates.

GLAUKON: But from the point of view of the Chinese bloke on the street, it's a dead loss?

SOCRATES: Indeed, O Glaukon. If the Chinese government decided to bin its reserves - ie sell off its T-bills and repatriate the money, say, by buying lots of foreign-made infrastructure - it would have a vast amount of money for domestic investment, including the R&D you mention. It would be terrific news for importers to China.

But it would also produce a catastrophic drop in the dollar's value, both because it would dump a lot of dollars onto the market and because it would no longer be intervening to maintain a weak yuan/strong dollar by buying dollars, effectively fubaring the US-export-oriented economy of the Chinese coast.
Therefore, arguably, the size of the reserves is a proxy for the relative strength in the Forbidden City of the coastal chiefs, who like exports, and the inland Party barons, who like development investment.


#116 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2006, 09:51 AM:

Also note that in real terms, US tbills are depreciating fairly rapidly, are expected to depreciate more, and that the Chinese political problem between the affluent coast and the poor inland regions isn't simple or stable.

That pile of cash isn't ready money; it's tied up in a Chinese political detente, they haven't got the ability to use much of it, and the ability to use it (for things like core infrastructure, in which China has what amounts to a major deficit) is connected to the good will of people who may not much care if the coast drowns.

It's also, all of it, not that much money compared to the scope of the problem, which is 'carbon-neutral economy in ten years'.

#117 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 02:49 PM:

Is that a can-do attitude, joann?

#118 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 03:01 PM:

More like can, too.

#119 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 03:03 PM:

::cues Galop::

::shakes skirts, checks shoe buckles::

Now we dance the Can Can!

#120 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 03:07 PM:

"Oh, Canada..."

#121 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 03:29 PM:

"We get it stolen lower than wholesale and then post bait-and-never-deliver fraud message."

#122 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 09:53 PM:

Perhaps this is an issue for the Australians. It should be referred to Canberra.

#123 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 11:35 PM:

I say it's for the birds. Toucan play at that game.

#124 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2007, 11:59 PM:

Yes, but while one is fine, the pair rots.

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