Monday, March 30, 2009

Gavin A. Schmidt v. Belligerent Kook

Mr. Gavin A. Schmidt, a real, god honest climate scientist for NASA, tries to politely reply to a belligerent Bill O'Reilly type kook at Embedded in Gavin's response are some very useful scientific insights.
Comment by Adam Gallon — 30 March 2009 @ 7:35 AM

Perhaps this scientifically illiterate public is using its senses? We’ve been bombarded with horror stories about the disasterous effects of “Global Warming”, “Climate Change” or whatever it’s name is today. Then we, the public, compare reality to the computer models.

[Response: Ah, ‘you’ the public. Well, I’m part of the public too, and your tiresome list of red-herrings, cherry-picks and outright untruths does not accord in any way to what this member of the public sees. I’m sure the other members of the public would appreciate you not speaking for them either. But since you put it all down in a list, it’s easy enough to critique. - gavin]

We’ve been told that AGW will lead to more frequent & destructive hurricanes.

[Response: It may well do. The magnitude of such an effect is still difficult to discern. - gavin]

We see such storms have dropped to an historic low, lower than at least the past 30 years, possibly the last 50, as measurements aren’t as good in the pre-satellite era.

[Response: Physical understanding is not based on time-series correlations of noisy data. ]

Speaking of measurements, we’re told that (insert year you like) is amongst the “warmest on record”.

[Response: Well, yes. It was. ]

We find that these records have been adjusted, possibly for good reason, but such adjustments do seem to favour reducing temperatures a bit before the 1930s, raising them a little post 1950s.

[Response: So you would rather leave in obvious errors that reduce the overall trend? Hmm… Many adjustments also reduce the trends (such as correcting for UHI and the bucket corrections on the SST). I suppose those are ok? ]

We see that the surface stations are poorly positioned to return accurate measurements, the ones in the USA demonstrably so, ones elsewhere are unlikely to be better.

[Response: You fail to see that ocean temperatures, satellite measurements, glacier melting, Arctic ice retreat, changes in phenology are all consistent with a warming planet. Or that all the independent analyses actually agree, or that the GISTEMP analysis is very similar to what you get only if you use the ‘good’ stations? ]

We question whether measurements from what was the USSR are trustworthy, when how cold things were in the back end of Siberia would be taken into account when fuel was allocated via a government office in Moscow, a few thousand miles away.

[Response: Changes in vegetation as a response to warming as seen by satellites over the same areas are obviously caused by former-USSR apparatchiks painting the ground green. ]

We’re told that anyone who questions the veracity of AGW, is a paid lackey of some big energy company.

[Response: No. You appear to be doing it for free. You realise that you are undermining the market for professionals in this field though?]

We note that it’s a government that’s sticking a tax on a tax with fuel duty added to the pump price, then VAT (Sales Tax) is stuck ontop of the gross sum; we note that our vehicle tax is linked to its CO2 output, so who’s making the most money from this?

[Response: Oh my god! The UK government taxes food - they must want us all to starve! When you stop using services that the government pays for (err… like roads), I’ll take you more seriously. ]

We’re told that the North Pole is melting, more and more is going each year, with 2007’s melt meaning some 2m sq miles less than 2003

[Response: You dispute this? Long term trends in all seasons are towards less Arctic sea ice. You truly have to be blind not to see this one. ]

We see that the arctic sea ice extent has increased since then, currently up around the 2004 levels, so we’re told that it’s not actually the area, it’s the thickness and what birthday it’s celebrated.

[Response: Ah, the old short term noise trick again. Don’t you get tired of always using the same crutch? ]

We see intrepid men, paddling their way to the pole, to demonstrate how much the ice has melted. We see them getting picked up by the ship that’s followed them and then find out that an expedition got 60 miles further north in 1922.We see another intrepid group, walking to the pole, “Tweeting” as they go, telling us they’re measuring the thickness of the ice, whuic has never been done before. We find out that the weather’s so cold, that it certainly isn’t the air temperature that’s melting any ice and that the USN has had automated bouys measuring the ice thickness, bobbing away for years.

[Response: The reason why there is ice there in the first place is because it’s cold. And the reason why we don’t have great in situ measurements is because working there is tough. Pretending to rediscover these facts is no surprise to any potential explorers or to any readers. And if you looked at what the Arctic buoys are showing with respect to ice thickness, it is clear there is a long term decline. Probably just because former-USSR apparatchiks keep moving them though….]

We’re told that the sea level’s rising, flooding Pacific Islands.

[Response: Sea levels are rising. Or are you in complete denial of this also? ]

We haven’t seen any being evacuated, we see that Venice is actually doing what it has been doing, ever since some bright Italian decided to build a city on a swamp.

[Response: Actually Venice is built on islands in a lagoon, not a swamp. And they are spending billions of dollars building a barrage system to reduce their risk of flooding - which is increasing due both to rising sea levels and subsidence. I’m sure the good people of Bangladesh would appreciate your support for a similar construction across the entire Bay of Bengal. ]

We’re told that a warmer climate is a worse climate.

[Response: No, it’s just a different climate and one we have not spent the last 200 years adapting to. ]

We remember what our grandparents told us and old news reels show of the winter of 1947-8, where snow lay on the ground for months, livestock starved in the fields if a helicopter couldn’t get hay to them and we think “Thank (insert name of diety) that hasn’t happened this year”.

[Response: And we remember the summer of 2003 where 30,000 excess deaths occurred during a summer heat wave. What is your point? ]

We’re told that non-climatologists aren’t “qualified” to voice opinion on this matter.

[Response: When it comes to the science, you are right. Expertise does matter. Your contributions, for instance, are pretty much worthless, other than as an indication of how people behave irrationally when it comes to dealing with complex issues. Your opinion on what society should do about scientific discoveries however is worth exactly the same as mine since that is part of the democratic give and take. ]

We see a failed politician making films & globe trotting on a private jet; a highly intelligent man with a PhD in Engineering chairing the IPCC.

[Response: And we see underemployed peers of the realm pretending to know something about climate give testimony on capitol hill. Or retired TV presenters complaining about conspiracy theories. Or science fiction authors briefing the president.]

But seriously, all those trends show how layman’s opinions on global warming have almost nothing to do with the science. it has to do with PR. “warmists” have a formidable PR machine. we have Andrew Watts and Steve McIntytre - both admirable men who make sound rational appeals to our intellect. this doesn’t work with most people. “Warmists” appeal to emotions and exploit ignorance (pretty easy marks).

[Response: Oh yes, the IPCC reports, or the National Academies are full of hyperbole and appeals to emotion. Not like anything that comes from Monckton or Art Robinson of course. ]

I wonder if this will make it passed the censor’s red pen here?

[Response: This is the most tedious complaint of all. Your contributions add nothing to any conversation. They simply regurgitate trivial and easily dismissed talking points you pick up from the flotsam of the blogosphere. Your freedom to contribute in your own house, on your own blog and indeed anywhere else that will have you is unabridged. That we choose to try and keep conversations on topic, civil and free of the seemingly inevitable tedium of your style of ‘argument’ is our choice. You do not have to read. Think of the blog like a dinner party - interesting discussion and disagreement is welcome, but boorish abuse of the hosts is not. You fall well into the latter category and we act accordingly. Now run off and complain about how mean we are. - gavin]

Comment by Adam Gallon — 30 March 2009 @ 7:35 AM

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March 27, 2009

1. We were going to do the river trip, but we didn't do it the year before so all the food and stuff was still sitting in a giant pile in the yard, totally soaking wet from last summer, and the food was all soggy and rotted.

2. I found this rifle packed away in a canvas case, called a "paper gun" that fired drinking straws, but fast enough so they could go in you and penetrate your skin.

3. This young kid showed up in a tux, trying to sell tickets to some benefit, and wouldn't stop yakking about the paper gun and how kool it was, which it was, but I was like, hey man I have to pack up to go on the river and we haven't even started yet and everything is totally soaking wet from last year and everybody's standing around and nobody's even helping.

4. Nearby, just prior to this, I was at this small but protruberating knob of solid granitic rock in Falmouth, Mass. it was a geological landmark in the area, visible from Martha's Vineyard (where I first saw it), with field trips & stuff for geology undergrads, it had basalt dikes. I almost killed a couple people by knocking down big rocks on their head. But on the flatter side of the hill it was a town park, then it went to woods. People played horseshoes but the pits were surrounded by tall nets, so you had to throw the horseshoes almost straight up in the air to get them over the nets. So forget about aiming them. Scott Bolduc was playing.

5. Back at the house (next to the massive pile of wet junk for/from the river trip) A woman who resembled Brenda Day was trying play cassettes but they kept getting eaten by her little tape player, then I noticed they were my cassettes. Lots of odd home recordings.

6. Nobody was really helping with the packing and it was obvious we had 5x more stuff than the canoes could ever handle. One of the canoes had like a 10 foot high stack of wadded up wet sleeping bags, tents & stuff coming out of it. Most of the food was ruined, cuz it had been left out for a year.

7. Then for some reason I decided that before we left to go camping I had to go to this place in the woods where an igloo made of stones had been built by Indians, or so everyone said. I knew of it well and wanted to go and sit inside it and smoke pot. It was not a long distance away from us, which is why I went. I figured I could be back in an hour. However, the whole forest was being clearcut and there were so many new logging roads I could not find the path leading to the stone igloo and the clear-cutting was so severe that I flew into a blind rage.

8. On the second trip to the stone igloo that day I took a white van that got stuck in the snow deep in the woods so I had to walk. At this point some was with me. Now there was a large old partially abandoned factory complex that I kept running into every time I tried to get to the stone igloo. Sometimes there were apartment buildings in the way, built into the sides of sand and clay cliffs. Basically, everything had fences and no trespassing signs. Now someone was with me, I want to say my cousin Todd. We now discovered the entire complex was at the headwaters of a river that flowed very steeply and was all diverted for water power and taken out of its channel, so you could see where the original polished stone ledges and water falls used to be, but they were now dry, or just mossy and trinkling. The place was a mess with barb wire, old falling down buildings and abandoned iron machinery and old dump truck bodies.

9. We popped out to a spot where there was a fairly well built apartment complex on the left, and some small ponds on the right. Behind them was a huge shher 80 foot grey granite bedrock ledge with a giant, tall black iron edifice built into the ledge that looked like three smokestacks. But they weren't smokestacks. They were black test tubes built into the rock like veins. Each of their tops were built into and inside the rock of the ledge. Only after I got a lot closer could I see the whole factory was the stacks from a very old and odd dam turbine. The mountain stream came off the top of the ledge and all of it poured like a pitcher of milk into the black iron test tubes and turned a rusty 2 foot little turbine that spun like a pinwheel near the bottom, and you could see it spinning through a little isinglass window at eye level at the bottom. A guy came out from the building behind the test tubes. I was first afraid of him, but he was friendly and so we talked. I told him we were just trying to get to the Indian igloo and didn't realize it was on the other side of the river. He knew about the stone igloo. I asked him how Joe Emerson was, so apparently I had been to this place before. He knew Joe, so that broke the ice. He said the whole place sort of fell apart a few years ago after FERC would not let them apply for one license for the whole place as a hydro complex, called "Eschaton," and instead made them apply for a license for each little dam, which bankrupted them. He said if FERC had given them one license he was sure they could have fixed the place.

10. We started walking back toward where we thought was the road, because we learned we had to cross the river to get to the stone igloo and it was obvious the water was way too high to cross it anywhere. We kept getting lost in small, odd, clearings, an old rifle range, an old rod & gun club, then we got to a big giant clearing full of old dump truck bodies and metal junk. Lots of guys were there and it was cold, standing around and cutting up metal with torches or just goofing off.

11. The guy from the dam and another guy came by us in a truck and said they'd give us a ride to the road. We then passed a shallow, riffly stream that was tributary to the larger stream. I remember having fished it before, only caught one smallmouth. It flowed directly down the road, or the road flowed down it, so we drove in down it. But it was only 1 foot deep. The old guy said the state was putting alewives in the brook. I said that was great and this stream was probably the farthest upriver that alewives ever travelled up the whole river. And the other guy muttered, "canals," meaning that he believed the local anti-alewife story that alewives never went up this river except after they had built a canal in the lower river at a falls. I dropped the subject because I didn't feel like arguing. We got to where the stream flowed into the larger river, at a bridge over the larger river, which I remembered from a dream before, and it was made of railroad ties, but now the bridge was fallen apart and one side was collapsed into the water. It had been solid before. I got out and tried to walk across the left side of the rails, but it collapsed under my weight and I fell into the river and waded up my the chest to get to the opposite bank. The water was aqua green like the Waits River. Then the truck drove right through the river up to its windows but somehow got through.

12. My friend and I stood soaking wet on the black top road on the opposite bank, which was a state highway, which looked like along the Piscataquis in Guilford, Maine but also looked like Locke Mills. And then we looked at each other, like, how the hell are we supposed to get home? Cuz we still had to pack the canoes for the big river trip. Then one side of giant old wooden building across the street careened over. One whole wall like a piece of paper folding up in the breeze. The side that fell over had "BUTTER" painted on it in 20 foot letters. An excavator was knocking down the whole building, one wall at a time. Then I notice the low building we were standing next to was falling down, but had all of these cool, colorful old metal advertising signs on its inside walls next to us. So my friend and I pulled down a whole sheet of the metal signs, about 6 feet long, and started rolling them up like a map. When I got the coil under my arm and heading back up to the state highway, this guy with a dark forest green uniform stopped me and said he was assistant something from the Forest Service, and wanted to talk to me. I figured he was busting me for stealing the metal signs. But he asked me for my drivers license and said it was because I fit the description of a robbery suspect from China, Maine. After he looked at my license he asked me if I had any older copies of my drivers license and I said no and he looked disappointed. Then he said he had to conduct a test on my eyes to confirm my identity. Then he took out a little shiny steel tube like a pen and squirt cigarette smoke into my eyes. He said I had to try to keep my eyes open and not close them when the smoke and mist went in my eyes, which I did. Then I woke up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Rich Are Different From Us

They are richer.

The initial justification for the bailouts was (for those gullible enough to believe it) that we faced annihilation of our financial system if we didn’t do it. Bailout advocates are now in the position of having to explain why we face annihilation of our financial system if Mr. “X” doesn’t get his million dollar bonus. It’s a more difficult sell.

DL at Barry Ritholtz.

Deep Historical Thought.

"Bush couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel."

-- "Doc."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Toward A More Honest Accounting

In a well-functioning economy, supply and demand should balance. -- Winston Munn.

In a well-functioning society, people should not be considered a hindrance.

One of the key asymmetries of modern economies, which is rarely accounted for, is the “fossil economy.”

The fossil economy is the rapid and total liquidation and sale of a natural resource which has taken millennia to accrue and will be exhausted within a century or two. The whaling industry is a perfect example. There was no plan to sustain whale stocks. The plan was to literally kill every single whale and convert them into saleable products.

Most of the economies of the world are based on the exploitation of fossil resources like whales, or old growth forests, or enormous swaths of land to build plantations or hydro dams, or to extract oil and natural gas.

These economies are not converting present labor and present productivity into a saleable commodity. They are mining fossil energy and resources that we did not create into, often, “burnable” assets (ie. whale oil and crude oil). These economies are literally based on mining and burning the past.

Our economists’ books have been always skewed to forget that these fossil assets are finite and are not being renewed. But in reality, our entire economic model is based on the continued free availability of these fossil resources.

What we folks are seeing now is, in some sense, that natural bank account being drawn down to the dregs in the bottom of the barrel. This is a rant about "peak oil." Nor is it meant to be apocalyptic -- the Earth is 4 billion years old. This is an accounting question.

I think we need to split our accounting books between what is “newly” created value and what is value that is created on the back of very old natural resources that we are mining and will not last much longer at the rate we are now consuming them.

A more honest accounting book will give us a better sense of what compass heading we need to take tomorrow.

What the AIG Exec. says to his kid.

“You’ve humiliated me and our family name by showing up in class stoned on crack, failing every course, and copulating with a goat in public –- here, let me buy you a new car to reward you for your performance!”

-- AGG at TBP.

Hope Zombies v. Failure Mongerers

Hope Zombies say stuff like this:

People must have really thought that Obama was Jesus. I swear.  The man has been in office for 2 months yet they want him to reverse 8 years of damage, like yesterday.  It will probably take him at least a full year just to wrangle a look at the books, who owes who what and figure out who are the crooks are and how to root them out.  Right now he's just trying to stop the country from imploding until something constructive can be done.

Failure Mongerers say stuff like this:

We're not upset that Obama hasn't magically fixed everything. We are upset because he is doing the WRONG things and relying on the WRONG people.

I'm verklempt.

I need a lozenge.

Talk amongst yourselves.

It's Always the Sheriff ...

My wife and I came up with a new tee vee series called:

"It's Always the Sheriff."

Each episode opens with a hideous, mysterious, seemingly unsolvable crime.

Only at the very end of the show do you discover, much to your surprise, that ...

Oh wait.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Deep Thought

If it is alright for black people to say “nigger,” then is it alright for Rush Limbaugh to say “braindead fat drug addict loser” ?

Remove the Beam from Your Own Eye

When Barack Obama says this to the people of Iran:

You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right — but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.

It fails. The U.S. has done everything in the past eight years that Obama lectures the Iranian people not to do. And we have not apologized or made amends for what we have done.

"You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Matthew 7:5

Come on, Obama. You're better than this.

Stop hiding it under a bushel.

What can $165 million buy?

The $165 million in bonuses (oops .. $218 million) handed out to AIG executives is equivalent to more than twice what the entire State of Maine received in 2008 for elderly and low income heating assistance. In 2008, Congress appropriated $79 million to the State of Maine to keep elderly and low income people from freezing in the winter due to $2.50/gallon heating oil prices.

Think about this when someone tells you that $165 million is just a 'drop in the bucket' or is just a 'grain of sand on the beach' and you shouldn't worry your pretty little empty head about it.

$165 million is an enormous amount of money.

It could and should do an enormous amount of good.

But sorry, the AIG millionaires need it more than you.

And they got dibs.

Suck on that, Madawaska.

What can $165 million buy?

Funny ... while some people say the $165 million in fraudulent bonuses to AIG is a "grain of sand on the beach" that amount is 5 times more $$$ than the U.S. govt. has allotted since 1996 to keep native birds in Hawaii from going extinct.

From the story:

"At the moment, more than a third of the bird species listed under the Endangered Species Act are in Hawaii, but state and federal agencies spent only $30.6 million on endangered birds there between 1996 and 2004 ..."

"With sufficient funds, Wallace argued, federal managers could restore Hawaiian birds' habitat and protect them against introduced species such as pigs, sheep, and deer that threaten their survival. He estimated it would cost roughly $15 million to erect extensive fencing for the Palila, a Hawaiian honeycreeper whose numbers declined from 6,600 birds in 2003 to 2,200 in 2008."

Think about this when someone says "$165 million is a just a drop in the bucket ..."

UPDATE: Now the AP is reporting the total is $218 million.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Oppressed White Man Speaks ...

Once, a long time ago, a black man was said to be disrespectful to someone who lived down the street from a friend of one of my parents' relatives. That’s why I feel empowered to dislike the black man.

Joe Cardoza and Manhattans

I learned about Manhattans from my dad's friend, Joe Cardoza, who learned about them from an architect in North Easton, Massachusetts, named Everett W. ("Evie") Erickson.

When I was a teenager at the Easton Rod & Gun Club's hunting camp in Dummer, New Hampshire, Joe Cardoza told me and my father about how he and Evie Erickson went to a hotel bar in Groveton, New Hampshire in the 1960s and Evie ordered a round of Manhattans. Joe said, "I said to Evie, 'What the fuck's a Manhattan?' I never heard of a fuckin' Manhattan before." Apparently, according to Joe, they got so drunk on Manhattans that they were asked to leave the hotel in Groveton. This is funny to me because today, Groveton, New Hampshire is barely even a town because of the demise of the lumber and paper industry in northern New Hampshire. But in the 1960s, Groveton was still a vibrant town, even if it was polluting every breath of life out of the Upper Ammonoosuc River, which flows alongside it.

Everett Erickson, along with Louie Freitas, convinced me when I was five to eat a raw quahog on the half shell at Aucoot Cove.

It tasted like a gob of cold, salty spit mucous.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Leaping Atlantic Sturgeon

These are six foot long Atlantic sturgeon leaping in the Kennebec River in downtown Augusta, Maine as they get ready to mate and spawn. I filmed them in late June 2003 by sitting on the river bank aiming my movie camera and tripod at the river and letting it run for an hour at a time. Usually, the sturgeon would jump just upstream or downstream of the camera's field of view, meaning I got no shot. In order to get a good shot I had to have the zoom on the camera cranked to 10X, its highest setting. Unfortunately, using the 10X zoom greatly narrows the field of view, which means a sturgeon has to jump exactly in a 30-50 foot area to be filmed. By lowering the zoom, you get more sturgeon footage, but they are too far away to really show them off.

Nobody knows why Atlantic sturgeon jump. They only do it when they are getting ready to mate and spawn. My brother's theory is that leaping is a mating behavior, specifically, that it allows the sturgeon to locate each other, since the sound can be heard for long distances underwater, and it is obvious that the sturgeon try to make the loudest and biggest splashes possible when they jump. My hunch is that the males are doing it as a way to show off for the females, as in "my splash is the biggest and loudest." This theory is is difficult to test because you can't tell the males from the females when they jump. It could be tested if you caught about 20-30 sturgeon in a spawning area, identified their sex, visibly marked them according to their sex, and then watched to see who was doing the jumping: males, females or both.

Here's a really cool clip of an Atlantic sturgeon swimming along the bottom of Chesapeake Bay:

On the Kennebec River the Atlantic sturgeon appear in the Augusta area (40 miles above the ocean) in early June and stay until late July. Very little is known about them, except they became nearly extinct by the 1970s and are now slowly recovering in number. Their recovery has occurred for three reasons. First, the U.S. Clean Water Act has eliminated the severe water pollution that destroyed the Kennebec River for most of the 20th century. Second, in the early 1980s the State of Maine made it illegal for anyone to catch and keep a sturgeon. Third, in 1973, Richard Milhous Nixon signed the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) into law, which protected the shortnosed sturgeon but not the Atlantic sturgeon. In 1998, Jasper Carlton of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation tried to rectify this omission by submitting a petition to list the Atlantic sturgeon as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Mr. Carlton's petition was thorough and accurate. Mr. Carlton's petition was denied by the National Marine Fisheries Services because they believe Job One is to hasten and accelerate the death of all marine fish and mammals so we have big lifeless, empty oceans to dump nuclear waste in.

Whitman Brook will not die

Last night I dreamed I was driving through my native town of Easton, Massachusetts wondering which of my favorite brooks I should visit before I drove back up to Maine. I chose Whitman Brook.

When I got there, the town was restoring the entire brook into its original channel and I stopped to examine their work. There were caddis flies and cranefly larvae in abundance in the clear, cream soda colored water. The town manager and the others there proudly showed me how the water temperature in the brook was 78 degrees, but I told them that was bad, because it was much too warm for trout, and such temperatures made no sense in March.

Then I noticed that all of the brook's warm water was coming from an old rusty, broken pipe. Just below the pipe, a real brook came in, very small, pouring over a polished slab of black slate, and its water was very cold. I went to tell the Easton town manager that they needed to plant trees along that brook, because it flowed through a bunch of mowed fields and the sun would warm it up and not leave the brook trout any place to stay cool. Then I woke up.

It's a good sign when you dream of stream restoration projects.

This reminds me of walking through Wheaton Farm on Bay Road in South Easton with Chris Daniels and Bob LeSieur over Christmas. We tried to find Spring Brook but we ended up finding Round Pond instead, which is the only natural pond in Easton. I had never seen it before. It's quite tiny ... and very round.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

365 days

If the Earth went around the sun in much less or much more than 365 days, humans would never have evolved on Earth.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Mark Anthony Kemezys: 1961-2009.

My friend Mark Kemezys was found dead in his home this morning, March 5, 2009.

Mark was 48.

Between 2003 and 2005, Mark Kemezys and I composed and recorded more than 50 songs at my home recording studio at 38 Northern Avenue in Augusta, Maine. I would improvise music on keyboards or guitar and Mark would improvise lyrics. We would record direct to my iMac through a bewildering array of effects boxes and microphones and a never ending parade of guest musicians. Working this way, Mark and I made an album called Amaso Nib Dalen: AM at CPG, some of which can be heard here.

Mark Kemezys was one of the most fearless, talented and funny musicians I have known. Because of Mark, I fell back in love with writing and recording music after a long stint of stagnation. Mark made making music fun again. "Hey Doug Watts," he would say. "Let's go upstairs to your place and jam." And so we did. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Mark would corral half the denizens of 38 Northern Ave. up to my apartment to accompany us or be our audience.

Mark was like the social director on a cruise ship: he wanted to make sure everyone onboard was having fun. These were hootenanies in the truest sense of the word. Mark made them happen. He was the instigator, the prime mover. I was glad to help out.

As Mark said in the first song we recorded, Getting Married: "What are you laughing about, son?"

When Mark did all of this recording, he was also going through the hell of radiation treatment and multiple surgeries for testicular cancer and complications, which ended up with him surviving cancer but having to get a colostomy. Despite not knowing if he was going to die next week or next month and having to suffer the embarrassment of crapping into a bag taped to a hole in the side of his chest, Mark kept his spirits up, and in doing so, kept up those of everyone around him.

Mark and I collaborated on a 12-minute operetta about 9/11 and the Bush administration, "Mark Kemezys: Air Traffic Controller." This operetta had its radio debut on February 2, 2009 at WMPG-FM in Portland, Maine on the show "Thought Crime Generator" hosted by Dan Knight. I will put up a sample of the broadcast soon.

I did not know Mark would die a month later.

Time robs the thief who tries to steal from it.

Mark Kemezys lived every moment of his life to the bone and marrow.

Not many of us can say that.

I will miss you, my brother.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lies about Life Expectancy

One of my pet peeves is umpteen articles which state that in year X or civilization Y, "the average life expectancy was only 45."

The wording of these articles leads one to believe that few people in these periods or cultures lived past 40 or 45.

This is not true. Adult humans have always lived about as long as they do now, ie. 60, 70, 80, 90, 100.

These "average life expectancy" numbers are so low because they include the number of babies who die at or just after birth (infant mortality) and the number of children who die very early in their lives (before 5). Infant and early childhood mortality was much higher in earlier centuries and millennia for all races and ethnicities than today for all types of obvious reasons. Thus, by averaging in a much higher infant and early childhood mortality rate in these periods and cultures, you end up with a much lower 'average life expectancy.'

The fallacy is best illustrated with turtles. Turtles have extremely high mortality rates at birth and in the days and weeks soon after birth: well over 90 percent. But those few turtles who survive these first few weeks have life expectancies of 30, 50, 100, or 150 years. As with humans, a graph of turtle life expectancy is not linear. There is a massive mortality bottleneck in the first months and then life expectancy skyrockets.

Unfortunately, many people read these poorly worded assertions about the average life expectancy of "early man" or 'indigenous, non-white culture X' and interpret these statistics to mean that up until the 1800s, very few people anywhere lived past the age of 45.

That's not true.

Adult humans have always lived about as long as they do today.

The female snapping turtle in the photo above, from Mill Brook in Westbrook, Maine just below Highland Lake, is probably 20-40 years old and will probably live (barring getting run over by a car) for another 20 or 40 or even 60 years. Nobody knows if there is even an upper limit on the age of snapping turtles, except that it is probably like humans, around 120 years.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Linton Kwesi Johnson: Inglan is a Bitch.

My translation of the West Indian patois Linton Kwesi Johnson uses to convey the voice of the man in the poem, a West Indian man who came to work in England during the 1950s. The speaker of this poem is like an Everyman and Everywoman of the first generation immigrant experience, trying so hard but seemingly getting nowhere. As a child in Massachusetts I heard older people talk like this among themselves. I would hide and listen.

Inglan is a Bitch.

When me just come to London town.
Me used to work pon the underground.
But working pon the underground.
You don't get to know your way around.
England is a bitch.
There's no escaping it.
England is a bitch.
There's no running way from it.

Me get a little job in a big hotel.
And after awhile, me was doing quite well.
Them start me off as a dishwasher.
But when me take a stack, me no turn clock watcher.

England is a bitch.
There's no escaping it.
England is a bitch.
Nobody try to hide from it.

When they give you your little wage packet.
First them rob with you them big tax racket.
You have to struggle to make ends meet.
And when you go to bed, you just can't sleep.

England is a bitch.
There's no escaping it.
England is a bitch, for true.
And no lie me tell, it's true.

Me used to work big ditch when it cold as a bitch.
Me was strong as a mule, but boy, me was a fool.
Then after a while me just stop the overtime.
Then after awhile, me just put down me tool.

England is a bitch.
There's no escaping it.
England is a bitch.
You have to know how to survive in it.

Well me do day work and me do night work.
Me do clean work and me do dirty work.
Them say a black man is very lazy.
But if you see how me work you would have said me crazy.

England is a bitch
There's no escaping it
England is a bitch
You better face up to it.

Them have a little factory up in Barclay
In this factory all them do is pack crockery
For the last 15 years them get my labor.
Now after 15 years I fall out of favor.

England is a bitch.
There's no escaping it.
England is a bitch.
There's no running way from it.

Me know them say they have work, work in abundant.
Yet still, they make me redundant.
Now at 55, I'm getting quite old.
Yet still, them send me to go draw dole.

England is a bitch
There's no escaping it
England is a bitch, for true.
Is what we going to do about it?