The Blog

27 Nov 2015

Meet the UK's "Committee on Climate Change", A balanced response to the risks of dangerous climate change, Independent, evidence-based advice to the UK Government and Parliament

Yes, Minister? It's one of those delightfully dry UK civil service productions. Some entertaining reading in there. Especially the last entry in the FAQ. Can you see the fnords? 

12) Despite reports of falling UK emissions, hasn’t our real carbon footprint actually risen?
The fall in emissions within the UK is real, reflecting- for example – reductions in emissions from power generation. But if we look at consumption emissions, then yes, our analysis suggests that our carbon footprint has increased since 1993, as growth in imported emissions has more than offset the reduction in emissions produced within the UK.
This increase in imported emissions is largely a result of rising incomes, with associated increased demand for consumer goods, many of them imported. This emphasises the need for policies globally to reduce emissions. It is very encouraging in this respect that countries, including China and the US*, have made ambitious commitments to reduce emissions. There is now widespread coverage by low-carbon policies of major emitting sectors around the world. The UK is not acting alone.
*China and US together made up about 45% of world CO2 emissions in 2011.

They're recommending to the Government to target 57% reduction in carbon emmissions by 2030

Meanwhile the BBC is reporting that global public support for any action at all is falling.
And the UN thinks that all the pledges so far should only result in a warming of 2.7C in 2100 down from 3.1C. Which is not enough.

Although, really, the scientists are lying to themselves and us by being publicly overly optimistic even while in private they are deeply pessimistic. Here's a meta analysis of what they're saying and an aggregation of how their models look.

Anderson’s case, in summary, is that most of us, whether scientists, policy makers or citizens, are suffering from cognitive dissonance. We acknowledge the mathematics of carbon budgets compatible with the 2°C target, yet are unable to face the revolutionary implications of what we need to do to get there. Put simply, our entire way of life for most of us in rich countries—and for an increasing number of rich people in poor countries—has to change radically, starting now.

There's that 1000Gt figure again, except this time it's 1000GtCO2 to stay under 2C of which 300GtCO2 is probably already gone. That's 0.3TtC. Much more likely is that mankind blows the full 1TtC   #terafart  of accessible fossil fuels over the next 100 years.


Thre was no pause. And warming is accelerating again.

Support your local artists

Go on the March on Sunday. It'll make you feel better.
 Committee on Climate Change | Independent, evidence-based advice to the UK Government and Parliament »
A balanced response to the risks of dangerous climate change. Independent, evidence-based advice to the UK Government and Parliament. Search for: Skip to content. Home · About us · News · Tackling climate change · Publications · Blog · FAQs · Charts & data · Contacts ...

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26 Nov 2015

Stanford and MIT reckon we can ditch fossil fuels globally and go 100% renewable by 2050.

What can I say, except that this needs fact checking.

Note that 2050 is the new 30 years out, again.

You've got to love those techno-optimists.
 Stanford study says world could be fully powered by renewables by 2050 »
A mix of wind, solar and hydro power could replace fossil fuels in every country in the world.

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Instead of using humans to colonise and terraform Mars into Planet B, I think we should use Tardigrade water bears. They can go on the generation ships to the nearest star system with a goldilocks planet as well. With some mushroom spores. It shouldn't take more than half a billion years or so to result in some intelligent life that can talk back.
 The tardigrade genome has been sequenced, and it has the most foreign DNA of any animal »
Scientists have sequenced the entire genome of the tardigrade , AKA the water bear, for the first time. And it turns out that this weird little creature has the most foreign genes of any animal studied so far – or to put it another way, roughly...

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What are these Paris Climate Change talks anyway? 
Here's one of those fast talking youtube guys telling it like it is with the aid of plenty of nouns in a large font face. It's only 4 minutes. You can find 4 minutes, right.

As one commentator says, "And the better news is that even if Paris totally flops, and everyone is just hurling brie and baguette at one another, cities and private companies can take action to cut emissions and make a difference. In fact, they're the real key players here, because diplomacy isn't real climate action. How does any treaty matter if no one does what is says?" 

Holy pea-huck, hipster man! That's the better news?

Via one of those essays about Uncharted Territory in FlatLand (where be dragon kings, and black swans).

- This year will undoubtedly be the hottest year on record
- Before the start of the Paris climate talks, negotiators working to craft an international agreement that will curb rising global greenhouse gas emissions are staring into a wide gulf between what countries are willing to do and what they need to do.
- Not only are we humans unable to verify INDC emissions pledges after the Paris talks conclude, but we are also unable to take into account all of the GHG emissions our global civilization creates and has already created. But we can measure the resulting CO2. And that's at an all time high.

Another facebook commentator said: "Are you people. For. Real. We're. On. The verge. Of ww3 and your On about. This. BOLLOX." 
Hey ho. What's below the emergent behaviour? Oh, it's emergent behaviour all the way down. Thing is, we're all doing our best. Just because one aspect of modern life is rubbish doesn't mean we can't put effort into trying to deal with some other aspect that's rubbish.

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25 Nov 2015

There is no de-coupling between GDP growth, energy and resource usage. So how do we get to sustainability?

From a comment earlier in the year. "Yes, we will have completely changed mankind's approach to global economics by turning the quest for endless growth into the quest for endless sustainability by 2115" #22C
 Consume more, conserve more: sorry, but we just can’t do both | George Monbiot »
Economic growth is tearing the planet apart, and new research suggests that it can’t be reconciled with sustainability

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Because there's no Planet B.
Sunday 29 Nov.
 Global Climate March »
The police have just informed us that the tragic attacks in Paris have made the march there impossible. Now it's even more important for people everywhere to march on the weekend of November 29th on behalf of those who can't, and show that we are more determined than ever to meet the challenges ...

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24 Nov 2015

A short excerpt from some comments at
It's politically unpalatable for most nations to see complete failure in Paris. We will get some sort of agreement. The governmental leaders and the media will then tout the "success" of the event. The story will be that it's not enough, but it's a start

Now, here's the "success" of Paris put another way. Instead of "it wasn't enough, but it's a great start", it's "we couldn't currently treat the issue seriously enough, so we made a bunch of non-binding promises towards reducing only a percentage of emissions by going after the easiest sources to reduce with the assumption that most nations would keep these promises in faltering economies and shifting national governments, and then we hoped that we'd improve them further".


From yesterday's Guardian:-

More than 2,000 academics from over 80 countries – including linguist Noam Chomsky, climate scientist Michael E Mann, philosopher Peter Singer, and historian Naomi Oreskes – have called on world leaders to do more to limit global warming to a 1.5C rise.

In an open letter, they write that leaders meeting in Paris at a crunch UN climate summit next week should “be mustering planet-wide mobilisation, at all societal levels” and call for citizens around the world to hold their leaders to account on the issue.

The world has already warmed by 1C above pre-industrial levels. Holding warming to 1.5C would be a far greater challenge than the 2C that leaders at previous climate talks have agreed to limit rises to. Current emissions pledges tabled ahead of the Paris summit would see warming of around 2.7-3C.


The problem is that 1.5C is locked in even if we magically switched to zero emissions today. 2.5C is probably locked in as well. The optimistic view of the scientists is that if we meet our pledges to reduce emissions, then 2100 will see 2.7-3C rise. Except that we haven't actually started trying to meet those pledges. The rise in atmospheric CO2 is still accelerating. What we're really doing is business as usual blowing the whole #terafart of 1TtC into the atmosphere in the next 100 years.

So what exactly do we hope for from the Paris talks and the activism around them?

And yes, I'll be riding my petrol powered scooter into London to march on Sunday.

Today's bonus links.
 The Unforgivable Sin - Decline of the Empire »
I heard the following discussion in a New Yorker podcast in which David Remnick interviews Elizabeth Kolbert. They are discussing the upcoming Paris climate talks. The quote starts at the 9:47 mark and runs to the end. Remnick — Isn't this part of the problem? That in addition to the fact that we all have to change the way we live, the way we move around the globe, etc., etc., the political way [the climate issue] is discussed, and the intricacie...

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23 Nov 2015

One week till the start of the COP21 Paris Climate talks (Nov 30). Less than one week till Sunday's worldwide (except in Paris) Climate marches (Nov 29).

Sadly though, I think the message Ed Miliband gives here is deluded. There are no zero emissions strategies that include business as usual.
 Yes, the Paris climate change conference can save the planet | Ed Miliband »
Earth’s temperature is heading towards its highest for three million years. We must move to zero emissions – and it can be done without closing down our economy

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22 Nov 2015

A message from the recent past (2009), 

President 'has four years to save Earth'. US must take the lead to avert eco-disaster. Crucially, that action will have to be taken within Obama's first administration.

So since that didn't happen, I guess that about wraps it up for Planet Earth. 

Thanks, Obama!
 President Obama 'has four years to save Earth' »
Barack Obama has only four years to save the world according to Nasa scientist Jim Hansen

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21 Nov 2015

The #terafart

What mankind does when we dump 1 Tera-Tonne of Carbon (1 TtC) into the atmosphere by burning all the accessible fossil fuel, mixed in with some methane liberated from the melting tundra.

It isn't completed yet but we're well on the way with business as usual. We're currently blowing 8 Giga-tonnes of Carbon (8GtC) into the atmosphere per year. And it's still accelerating no matter what gets pledged for the Paris Climate talks. Deep human history to 1970 =~ 185GtC, 1970 to 2010 =~ 185GtC. 2010 to 2100 is predicted to be 700-1400GtC. That's one hell of a "Whale Fall". Unlike a real whale fall, there won't be another one. We get just one shot at this and when the whale's gone, it's gone. After that, it's all renewable sustainability.

Hat tip to for coming up with the idea, described in 
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20 Nov 2015

[from: Librarything]

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19 Nov 2015

Be fairly afraid. Here's another relatively well known person getting caught up in Google's T&Cs despite having done nothing wrong.

I've no way of knowing what has caused these problems. It could be an innocent mistake, an internal or external party with a vendetta, something I've done... But there's no way for me to find out. Google doesn't do customer services - that's part of its business plan. Got a problem? Feel free to kindly piss right off.

That's no way to live. Constantly in fear that one day the most powerful information gatekeeper on the planet can decide you are persona non grata.

It's time to start moving away from Google. I know it won't be easy, but it's now obvious it is the right thing to do. If I'd been away on holiday, or couldn't afford ID, or wasn't acquainted with several Google employees - this could have been an absolute disaster.
 The Day Google Deleted Me »
(Trigger Warning - violent swearing and criticism of your employer / focus of your fanboi-ism.)Google knows me. I've been using Google since long before they were fashionable. I have a Gmail acco

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15 Nov 2015

Signal Bump.

Please read the comments as well. Not just for the quality ones but also for the occasional crazies to remind yourself about the general state of commentary elsewhere and especially in the mainstream media.

Yonatan Zunger originally shared this post:
Twenty-four hours after an attack by Da'esh (the organization formerly known as ISIS [1]) on Paris left 129 dead and 352 wounded, the Internet and the airwaves alike have been filled with profound waves of self-serving nonsense and stupidity from left and right alike. Everyone seems to have found a way in which this situation justifies their position – protect the refugees! Exile the refugees! Bomb someone! Stop all bombing of anyone! – and magically, it seems that one of the most complex political situations of our time can be reduced to simple slogans.

Well, I've run out of patience with this, so let me seriously discuss what just happened here, and what it tells us. I'm going to talk about three things which have combined to lead to yesterday's massacre: the refugee crisis, Europe's Muslim population, and Da'esh. I'll then talk about a few things which I think have little or nothing to do with what we're seeing – most importantly, religion and oil – and a few things which do – such as food and water. And finally, we'll talk about what it's going to take to fix this, both in the short term and the long term.

Being entirely out of patience right now, forgive me for being particularly blunt. I suspect that, by the end of this, you will be thoroughly offended by my opinions, whether you are American, European, or Middle Eastern, left or right: nobody has behaved well in the lead-up to this.

The first thing to realize about the refugees streaming into Europe from Syria and its environs is that not only are they not, by and large, terrorists – they're people fleeing these exact terrorists. France was just hit by Da'esh, with over five hundred casualties; in Syria, people are surrounded by Da'esh on one side, and a bloodthirsty army on the other side, and have been seeing death on the scale of yesterday's attack every single day for the past four and a half years. [2] If you were living there, you would very likely be fleeing, too.

But the second thing to realize about the refugees is that there are, in fact, Da'esh members among them. It's clear that at least one of the attackers came in from Syria as part of October's refugee flood, and there's no reason at all not to believe that quite a few more are among them, working both at short- and long-term goals. (More on which in a moment)

Everyone seems to have simplistic solutions, here: kick out all the Muslims (as America's Ann Coulter and Donald Trump suggest), settle the refugees more permanently, build giant prison camps. These solutions tend to miss a few very basic points:

(1) When you have hundreds of thousands of people who are quite literally willing to risk not only their deaths, but the deaths of their families, in order to escape, your odds of being able to keep them out aren't actually great, unless your plan is to mobilize a giant army and start attacking inward until they're fleeing in the opposite direction.

(2) You do not have enough prison camp capacity to handle this many people, nor could you build it. Nor do you have enough housing and residential infrastructure capacity to easily settle this many people, because the flux you're seeing out of Syria is very far from the end of it. 

This is why large regional disasters quickly tend to spread into adjacent regions. This is why it's important not to let regional disasters get out of hand, no matter how politically appealing isolationism may appear.

The second thing to be aware of is that this didn't happen in a vacuum: Europe has a very large Muslim population, and it seems that most of the attackers were French or Belgian citizens. This started out with Europe's colonial ambitions, back in the day: France, for example, ruled over Algeria with a mind-bogglingly bloodthirsty approach [3] for decades, but now has a large population of people with a right to French residence who have been moving in to the country in search of a better economic situation. (Hardly surprising, when you leave behind a colony wracked by a horrifying civil war for decades) And France is far from alone in this.

Europe's Muslim population is both profoundly European and profoundly not European. They are European in that they have been living there, often for more than a generation; they work there, they pay taxes, they have become as assimilated as they can. They are not European in that Europe has been profoundly unwilling to allow them to assimilate. This is far from a historical anomaly: Europe has historically defined itself in terms of villages or cities and their local populations, which one can't really join very easily. Groups marked as outsiders – be they Jews, Romany, or Muslims – have been considered only marginally European. At times, there has been a high degree of apparent assimilation: for example, Jews were thoroughly integrated into European culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, intermarrying, forming friendships and professional associations across the board. As you may notice, "thorough integration" can be an awfully chancy business. 

Muslims in today's Europe, on the other hand, don't have anything close to this superficial level of integration; France has been routinely passing laws banning Muslims from dressing the way they did in their home countries in the past few years, which should tell you a great deal about local opinions of that population.

So you have a large population who finds it systematically hard to find work, impossible to be accepted, the regular target of police, and told every day that they should probably be kicked out of the country. I'm sure you will find it shocking that, if you do this to a few tens of millions of people for a few decades at a stretch, you will end up with a disillusioned and disenfranchised youth, some of which will combine this with the general hot-headedness and stupidity of being a young adult to become easy fodder for people who have shown up to recruit.

Lots of people seem to have half-assed solutions here, and they tend to be even more foolish than the solutions to the refugee crisis. "Send them back," the European right frequently cries: back to where? Most of the Muslim population is no longer fresh immigrants; they are second and third generation Europeans. They don't have homes anywhere else. The European left, on the other hand, preaches a mealymouthed combination of urging assimilation and unmistakeable racism. 

For some context, go back to the Charlie Hebdo attacks several months ago. There was a large outcry, saying that what the magazine (a notable left-wing satirical organ) had been doing was entirely in the bounds of proper satire, that the satire of religion was a hallowed European tradition. What this explanation glosses over is that nobody on the receiving end of the satire saw it as satire of religion, for the simple reason that religious affiliation, in Europe as in the Middle East, has little to do with what you believe and much to do with who you are. Charlie Hebdo's targets weren't simply religious extremists preaching from Saudi mosques; they were a portrayal of the French Muslim population as violent extremists, the dangerous other. And that's precisely the European left-wing line: Muslims are fine, so long as they become completely European, to the extent that we can forget that they were ever from someone else. Which, realistically, might mean they have to intermarry for a few generations and acquire blue eyes and blond hair, but that's OK, we welcome them!

The honest fact is this: neither the European left nor the right have ever made the large Muslim community into a full part of society. One side has covered it in nice words, while the other side has blared its xenophobia from the rooftops, but nobody on the receiving end of either of these has been fooled.

You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. What did you expect was going to happen?

And then we come over to our friends in the Middle East, the psychotically bloodthirsty bastards of Da'esh itself. It's a bit off to even refer to them as Islamist extremists in the mold of al-Qaeda; they've gone so far off the rails of Islam that the only clear ideology that often seems left is power and murder. Exhortations from theologians of any stripe aren't really going to have an effect on them.

But they seem to have realized that they are on an upswing of power, nobody having the resources or will to stop them, and have come up with the idea of spreading this worldwide, with attacks spreading to places like Russia and France – and, as soon as they can, everywhere else. Because as far as anyone can tell, they want to take over the world.

(Yes, this is a kind of screwy plan, and they barely even control chunks of land in the ass end of Syria and Iraq. But they've had enough luck with killing people that they seem to have convinced themselves that if they engage in even more killing people, it'll continue to work just as well. [4])

They seem to have one fairly simple strategic objective with these new attacks: drive a hard wedge between Muslim and infidel populations around the world, so that the Muslims will have no choice but to join them and become their army, overthrowing the local governments and establishing a world-wide Caliphate.

Unfortunately, political stupidity seems likely to help them. If the response to these attacks is to further isolate Muslim populations – both settled and refugee – then they will certainly have a far easier time recruiting among them. It's not actually going to lead to them taking over the world, but it will lead to bloodshed.

This recruitment tends to take a few forms. One is to recruit fighters to come and help in the bloodshed in existing battlefields; the second is to recruit suicide bombers and the like in other countries. These are somewhat disjoint processes, since the process of recruiting someone to commit suicide is rather different and targets different sorts of people, but there is also overlap: one strategy which al-Qaeda long favored was to recruit people to come to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Chechnya to fight, and later export trained fighters elsewhere.

One important thing about these tactics is that they seem to be realizing that surprisingly little training and planning is required. Yesterday's attack required some coordination among teams, but nothing spectacular; it did require practice in gunplay. But even this was fairly complex compared to the bare minimum required; consider the amount of chaos caused by the D.C. Sniper back in 2002.

Da'esh poses a particular danger because they seem to have latched onto the idea of exporting their violence to the rest of the world, but they're hardly the first or the last group to do this. If they were to be wiped out, I wouldn't bet any money that someone else wouldn't get the same idea soon after, much like al-Qaeda did before them. It's not even a particularly regional idea; the notion that if we kill enough people we can restructure the world to be perfectly {Aryan, Muslim, Democratic, Christian, Communist, etc.}, or to be the economic vassal states of the {X} empire, is frankly a cliché by now on pretty much every square kilometer of the planet.

So let's review where we are, for a moment. There's a large European Muslim population which is disillusioned, disenfranchised, underemployed, and generally treated as outsiders and fair political punching bags by the society as a whole. There's a giant stream of refugees pouring in to Europe, combining huge numbers of people running for their lives from bloodthirsty maniacs with small numbers of bloodthirsty maniacs looking to recruit. There's a factory of particularly bloodthirsty maniacs with a vision of taking over the world through (a) killing people and (b) convincing the rest of the world to treat Muslims even more like outsiders, who are actively trying to both create refugee streams and send out recruiters, to this end.

At this point, I expect to hear a chorus of voices blaming two things for this: religion (specifically, Islam), and oil (specifically, the West's insatiable need for it). To which my main response to both is "hogwash."

The reason I reject Islam as an explanation for this is that there's nothing particularly Muslim about any of it. The European Muslims which are being treated as second-class citizens aren't being treated that way because they pray on rugs facing Mecca, rather than in pews facing an altar; they're being treated this way because they're "dirty foreigners." (I'll spare you the actual terms used to describe them) Da'esh's plan to take over the world isn't rooted in a theological destiny of Muslims; it's rooted in an explicitly political vision of conquest. And quite frankly, the people being shot at the most are Muslims, too; remember who the refugees were running from?

More profoundly, people in the Middle East aren't systematically any more religious than people are in America. You have the same spectrum from the wholly secular to the crazed fundamentalist, with the former predominating in cities and the latter in the countryside. There's a tendency to assume (for example) that any woman wearing a headscarf must be extremely devout, or subject to domination and terror by some devout man; you have to back away and look at it in its local context, where sometimes it's a sign of devotion or a political statement, but it's also just what people wear; for many people, walking around with one's hair exposed is not done in much the same way people don't walk around in most of the US or Europe with their asses hanging out.

Oil is generally used as a proxy for "if only the Americans|Europeans never intervened in the Middle East, it would be peaceful there!" This bespeaks a rather curious innocence as to the history of the Middle East, combined with a reversed vision of (generally American) exceptionalism, that somehow our surpassing evil can corrupt otherwise noble savages. It's certainly true that without oil, most of the Middle East would be desperately poor – but as it happens, most of it is desperately poor anyway. Oil is not uniformly distributed, and Syria doesn't have that much of it to begin with.

There is one sense in which this is true, which is that the 2003 invasion of Iraq created a spectacular disaster. George W. Bush's belief that if we just created enough of a power vacuum, democracy would magically rush in to fill the void – the precise belief which his father didn't have, mind you, which is why GHWB made the explicit and deliberate decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power – proved to be exactly as unwise as it sounds when written so plainly. The result was a giant area of anarchy and civil war smack in the center of the Middle East, into which would-be fighters from all over the region (as well as other regions) swarmed: veterans of Chechnya and Bosnia found new employment in Iraq, as Sunnis and Shi'ites alike slaughtered one another. This anarchy, never resolved, has been the perfect factory of chaos which quite easily spilled over elsewhere.

But there's one profound factor which has driven the violence in the Middle East far more than oil ever could: water.

The entire Middle East has been in a water, and thus food, crisis for decades. In Egypt, for example, the Nile Valley has been drying out ever since the Aswan Dam was completed in 1970; as this once-fertile soil turned to desert, people have streamed into Cairo, doubling and tripling its population by forming tremendous shantytowns. Unemployment was extreme, as it's not like the cities suddenly had tens of millions of new jobs in them; the government kept order as well as it could by importing grain in tremendous quantities (the government's by-far largest annual expense) and selling bread cheaply. Unfortunately, a drought in Russia and Ukraine, Egypt's primary suppliers, caused those countries to cut off wheat exports in 2011 – and the government collapsed soon after.

Syria is a similar story: the lead-in to the collapse of Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship was steady droughts in the Syrian countryside driving people into the cities by the hundreds of thousands, leading to mass unemployment and unrest. People's livelihoods had simply disappeared. Stories like this repeat across the entire Middle East.

When we talk about the ultimate causes of the situation, this is the fact we tend to ignore: at the root of it, there isn't enough water, and there isn't enough food, and droughts have been hitting the area harder and harder for a decade. When there isn't enough food, people move from the countryside to the cities; and now you have giant groups of people who still don't have jobs or food, and that's a recipe for the collapse of governments as surely today as it was in Europe in the 1840's.

If you've ever wondered why I have often said that we need to be very actively worried about climate change, this is it. Changing climate breaks agriculture in various areas; the people who were farming there don't magically turn into factory workers or teleport to places which are (slowly) becoming more fertile; they become desperate former farmers, generally flooding into cities. 

So given all of this, what can we actually conclude? I think the most important thing is that you can't bury your head in the sand, and assume that problems in some other part of the world aren't your own. A drought or a civil war somewhere else can easily start to spill over in unexpected ways.

If you want to avoid terrible consequences, what you have to do is plan, and in particular never let kindling build up. For example:

(1) If you have a large, disenfranchised, population, this is trouble waiting to start. The only way to fix this problem is to enfranchise them: give them a full stake in your society. Yes, that means treating people who are very different from you like full equals. Yes, it also means that your society – that is, the set of people that you're responsible for – now includes a bunch of people who are a lot poorer than you are, and this is going to be expensive to fix. You're not going to like it. But you're going to like the alternative a whole lot less.

(2) If there's political instability, or worst of all, food supply instability somewhere else in the world, it doesn't matter how far away it seems: you need to get together with everyone else and have a serious plan to deal with it. Once masses of hundreds of thousands of people start streaming across the countryside, chaos will follow in their wake. 

(3) Climate change isn't an abstract fear for the future; it's a major political problem right now. You can't punt it away and talk about what to do about carbon emissions or its effect on the economy; you have to sit down and come up with serious strategic plans for what to do when agricultural productivity in critical breadbaskets drops sharply, or watersheds dry up. Contingency planning for any government needs to include anything from hurricanes to long-term droughts, and not just as one-offs, but what to do if these start happening a lot. The reason you need to plan for this is that it's not a goddamned hypothetical, you idiot.

What do we do in the short term? This is harder, because right now Da'esh has been sending agents across the planet to cause as much trouble as they can. One obvious prong of the solution is ordinary police work; that's proven far more effective than complex intelligence solutions at catching terrorists. Another prong is stopping their support system at the root. Because Da'esh's plans are so focused on actual conquest, a collapse of their regime back home is likely to have more of an effect on their satellite agents than the collapse of a more ideologically-oriented organization like al-Qaeda.

A third prong is to stabilize the situation in Syria: here the key isn't so much blowing anyone up as giving people a way to stop fighting. There are three key obstacles to this. One is Da'esh, which seems to be pretty committed to fighting for its own sake; this is unlikely fixable by any means short of straightforward military defeat. One is the underlying lack of food availability. The third is that quite a lot of people have reason to believe that they will be killed either if al-Assad regains power, or if he loses power. They need a serious guarantee of personal safety in any peace.

What this probably means is that a peace agreement will require very heavy international support: aid to rebuild the country, neutral military forces to guarantee cease-fires, and some way to deal with the underlying economic issues. That's going to require heavy international coordination of the profoundly unsexy sort: not deploying giant militaries to bomb targets and wave banners, or propping up regimes and helping them "suppress insurgencies," but working on the long-term realities of helping locals build a government that they're invested in – even when said government is unlikely to be either similar to Western norms, or friendly to Western aims. Military force to crush Da'esh is almost certainly needed as a precondition to this, but it's by far the smaller part of the game.

The short version is: if you want to fix problems, you're going to have to deal with some very serious, expensive, and unsexy solutions. Because life isn't simple, and you can't just bomb your way out of trouble.

[1] See this recent editorial for the argument for switching to the term Da'esh more broadly: [Thanks to +Lisa Straanger for finding this more in-depth discussion than the Boston Globe op-ed which I had earlier cited]

[2] cf, for example, this infographic:

[3] cf, for example, this obituary of a proud French torturer:

[4] cf

 Paris attacks were carried out by three groups tied to Islamic State, official says »
President Francois Hollande decries an “act of war.”

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11 Nov 2015

The first rule of Tautology Club is

It only ever meets on the same day as the Tautology Club meeting.
 xkcd: Linguistics Club »
We've almost eradicated polio. For World Polio Day, I drew a comic about the eradication efforts. You can see it on Bill Gates's blog. My new book of complex diagrams and simple words comes out Nov 24th. Linguistics Club. |< · < Prev · Random; Next >; >|. Linguistics Club ...

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CryptoParty London

Thur 3rd December 2015, 6.30-9pm

King's College London, Strand
 london [CryptoParty.] »
A cryptoparty aimed at helping those who wish to protect their privacy online, and learn more about how and why to do so. All levels of experience and abilities are warmly welcomed. Training will focus on: anonymous web browsing. email encryption. Training is also available in: data encryption ...

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04 Nov 2015

[from: Librarything]

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03 Nov 2015

In the last couple of days, I've been playing with the Tor Browser bundle for Windows (5.0.3) running on Windows 10. For no obvious reason, or none that I can fathom, it's got an annoying security feature. It only runs once after a clean install. On the second and subsequent runs, I can see it start to load in task manager, the browser loads, it kicks off tor.exe which does something for a few seconds, then dies, then the browser shuts down. Running tor.exe on its own does nothing at all. Delete the whole directory, re-install and it works again. Re-install as if it's an upgrade and it still fails. So I guess there's some config file getting written that on the second start is telling tor.exe to do something it can't.

Not very impressed with this.
[from: Google+ Posts]

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30 Oct 2015

No matter what music event you go to there'll be people in the crowd having a conversation during the performance. If it's a quiet bit of ambient in a church, it's two girls discussing a facebook post on one of their's iPhone. If it's unbelievably loud industrial it's a couple of hipsters shouting at each other. Even when it's pumping Techno and most of the crowd is leaping around and waving their arms, there's the group of friends talking about where they're going next or something.

Just like the people standing in the dark reading Twitter, or the one's taking pictures of lasers through the fog machine haze, or the conga line of people pushing to the front or back to the bar, it's pointless getting upset about it. It's just part of the performance.

What I'm curious about is how the talent feels about it. If you've spent months creating an audio-visual masterpiece of 3 projector CGI mixed in with artfully a-rhythmic beats and samples, does it upset you that 1/3 of the audience are not Here and Now and paying attention?

When we were in the Dark Place in Galloway there was a lovely simple art installation. A projector on to a big screen and a camera recording the screen with a 15 second delay and some fuzz and pan before feeding it back into the projector. All this was across a main walk way so people left shadows which then became part of the repeat echo. Mixed in with this were some emotionally charged text like "Authentic" or "Anticipation". It's pretty simple programming with a Mac, webcam and projector but was remarkably effective. Most people walked through without realising they were part of the performance but some discovered they could manipulate the images.

So here's the thing. If people talking in the crowd are part of the performance, can we make that explicit rather than just accidental. Do the same kind of approach but with the audio domain rather than the spatial. I picture a directional mic or perhaps a sneaky roving collaborator with a mic recording the conversations and then feeding it back into the mix after a few seconds delay. Would that freak out the people who noticed or would they join in?
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27 Oct 2015

Last time we tried to make Sloe Gin it was a disaster. Maybe this time will be better. There's huge numbers of Sloes and Bullace out in the hedgerows if you know where to look. We're following this recipe from Sipsmiths, more or less.

1) Ripe sloes. Frozen over night in the freezer
2) Decent or at least good Gin. This time we're using Beefeater.
3) Half fill a bottle with sloes, top up with gin. So I've taken a 1.5L kilner jar added 750ml of Sloes by volume and then added a 75cl bottle of gin.

Leave for 3 months or as long as you can stand it. Strain and filter either with a jam maker's muslin or a coffee filter. Add simple syrup to taste.
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22 Oct 2015

Annette Peacock - Pony from "I'm the One" (1972) and Morcheeba - Back to Mine (2001) for #Throwbackthursday
The title track from that album just turned up again in the stream. It's some forgotten, weird, 70s psych stuff. Worth a listen or two.

The Quietus called her a "stone cold original".

She's playing Cafe OTO, 20 November but £30 for an hour or two at that venue is too rich for me.

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