Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two news items

Two recent items caught my attention yesterday.  The first can be seen here, where the band and their crew denied any responsibility for the stage collapse caused by a downburst during the Indiana State Fair.  In effect, they said the victims were at fault and the construction of the stage was not responsible for the tragedy.  I discussed this event in an earlier blog posting, considering things from a different viewpoint.  It's my understanding that there's a code covering the construction of outdoor stages that, if followed, would mitigate the chances for such events as what occurred at the Indiana State Fair - but there is no substantive enforcement of that code.  Hence, I suppose the construction of the stage was formally done legally, but it evidently didn't follow the (unenforced) construction code.  To put the blame for the event on the fans is not entirely without some substance, but certainly it seems like a pretty weak defense that I suspect won't stand up in court.  Not only is it a weak defense, but I find it personally repugnant that the band and crew have chosen to wash their hands of any responsibility for what happened.

Of course, the whole process of severe weather warnings and emergency preparedness had some serious deficiencies during the event, so Sugarland should not have to shoulder the entire burden of responsibility for the fatalities and injuries.  There's plenty of folks with whom they can share that blame.  But the blame game is a matter for the courts to work out.  What I'm mostly concerned about is learning the lessons from this and similar recent events.  If the band and crew walk away without having to accept some part of the responsibility for what happened, will any other band and crew be encouraged to take the extra effort and cost to construct an outdoor stage meeting the industry's (unenforced) code?  Shouldn't there be a move in the industry to accept enforcement of this code, for the safety of those attending outdoor events? 

The second news item concerns the discovery of the source for leaked documents that were confidential information regarding the misinformation campaign on global warming by the Heartland Institute, funded by the big oil companies and other right-wing "business as usual" groups/individuals.  It seems that Peter Gleick, in seeking confirmation regarding the authenticity of documents he'd seen, obtained them directly from the Heartland Institute by posing in an email as one of the members of the institute's inner circle.  Thus, he obtained his copies by what has to be considered as an unethical process, and the climate change deniers are all up in arms about this, howling for Gleick's blood.  I certainly don't condone the unethical process by which Gleick received copies of the documents, but ...

I want to remind the climate change deniers, now in a self-righteous rage over this incident, that some of them used even less ethical methods when they hacked into the computers at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Centre (the so-called "Climategate" affair), and obtained private emails of the scientists working at the Centre.  The deniers were dismissive at the time about any concerns regarding the ethics of how the confidential emails were obtained - instead, they were howling for answers to the charges made against the scientists associated with the research.  As it turned out, all of the scientists accused of wrongdoing were subjected to multiple investigations by various groups, and eventually were exonerated of any serious ethical breaches.  The deniers have denied the validity of those investigations, of course!  And the climate change deniers are still dismissive of any concerns about how the information leading to the "scandal" was obtained.

If the scientists associated with "climategate" were forced to answer the charges associated with revelations derived from illegally-obtained emails, then it seems to me that the Heartland Institute should be forced similarly to submit to investigations and answer to any charges derived from unethically-obtained documents.  What's good for the goose should be good for the gander!  If the ethics of obtaining information are irrelevant when considering the revelations in that information for one side of this controversy, then they should be equally irrelevant for the other side.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Congress blocks a NOAA Climate Service

Evidently, I've been living in some sort of insulated box lately, because for some reason I was amazed to learn only today -  from a colleague's tip - that Congress acted in November to prevent NOAA from establishing a climate service!  The reasons given for this decision are astonishing!  Almost as astonishing are some of the comments about NOAA's data following the story - one apparently popular comment was that NOAA's data are "science fiction"!  On what possible basis could such a statement be made by some nonscientist?  It must be the result of the colossal misinformation campaign regarding anthropogenic global climate change being conducted by such propaganda machines as the Heartland Institute - advocates of right-wing "business as usual" policies that have been instrumental in delaying any meaningful response to the potential problems associated with human-induced changes to the climate.  The climate change deniers have succeeded in this delaying tactic by using cynical political machinations, instead of providing scientifically-valid research in support of their blatant and unwarranted denial of the scientific consensus on this topic.

Months ago, I was aware that the establishment of a national climate service was being proposed by NOAA management in a rare case where management apparently was acting to provide a new service that would be helpful to the nation at a time when information about climate and climate change is critical for making important national policy decisions.  Apparently, our Congress critters have come under the sway of the influence peddlers seeking to maintain the status quo.  The decision by NOAA management to reprogram agency funds, rather than seeking new funding for this new service meant, of course, that some other NOAA services would have to be cut back or even eliminated.  While I worried about the details of how NOAA management might wish to play this zero-sum game, I still believed strongly that establishing a national climate service in NOAA was a high enough national priority to accept sacrifices in other programs in order to have this new program.

It seems that the Congress critters see it differently - even as their campaign coffers bulge with funds provided by the influence peddlers.  This must be a new low in Congressional behavior - for them to imply that NOAA is some sort of political animal can only be an example of narcissistic projection of their own faults onto this highly-respected agency.  The people who work in NOAA's constituent agencies (like the National Weather Service, the National Climate Data Center, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, etc.) are human beings and have their own political views but they also have a deep commitment to serve the needs of the nation and have no significant history of letting their political opinions affect the integrity of their work in their agencies.  It's outrageous to question the integrity of this service and, by implication, all of its employees.  Of course, no agency is populated entirely by hard-working, ethical saints, but by far the majority of people I worked with in NOAA are quite far from the widely-accepted stereotype of the bureaucratic civil service parasite.  Impugning their commitment to accurate, truthful data collection and analysis is simply an unacceptable insult to the good people I know (and the numerous good NOAA employees I don't know!)

I believe my stance regarding the administrative management of NOAA is well-known.  If you're unaware of it, you can read about it here.  When I worked for them, and since my retirement from NOAA, I've never hesitated to be critical of their management decisions when I felt those decisions were not supportive of the important work the agency needs to accomplish in order to provide the services mandated for NOAA.  I'm certainly not a NOAA shill!  I stand to gain precisely nothing from any decision by Congress regarding NOAA and its priorities.  But I still know many people in NOAA who work very hard to provide accurate data and scientific analysis of those data to help the nation make decisions regarding the weather and climate.  When NOAA management actually makes what I believe to be a good decision - creating a national climate service within NOAA - it's infuriating to learn that our elected representatives are blocking that decision for reasons that clearly are driven by right-wing political influence peddling!

We so much need to vote these bastards out of office!  Any Congress critter who supported this decision to block the formation of NOAA's climate service has shown compelling evidence of being unfit for representing the public interest and needs to be put back on the street.  They simply don't deserve the privilege of "serving" this nation!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Theocracy means misogyny

Recently, the religious right-wing has used the hot-button issue of abortion and contraception to push forward assorted legislative efforts in several red states (including Oklahoma) designed to prohibit the use of contraception and to make all forms of abortion illegal, down to spontaneous abortions!  This is a move I see as obviously motivated by those who seek to have christian theocracy in the USA.  Somewhat ironically, these "christians" want to emulate the islamic way of reducing women to mere slaves of men, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, subject to whatever their men choose to inflict on them.

The decades since women's liberation began in the 1920s apparently have been targeted by the theocratic agenda.  The hard-won gains of the women's movement are under attack, and the vehicle - the excuse - for this assault on women is religious dogma.   The religious reich has employed the usual "right to life" argument to push such extreme legislation.  The smokescreen is to limit the discussion by reducing it to the essentially endless "debate" regarding the arbitrary definition of when life begins, even as the real issue at stake here is whether or not women can maintain control over their own bodies.  Should the government even be involved in this?  I think not, but in this apparently "special" case, the religious right-wing is actually seeking government intrusion:  the control of women's bodies.  They seek to make any form of abortion illegal, including many methods of contraception.  This intended government intrusion is another ironic situation, given the right-wing's usual insistence on reducing government control.  Of course, right-wing hypocrisy includes its unswerving support of welfare for the rich, even as it seeks to eliminate welfare for the poor.  It seems this contraception-abortion conflict is in some sense consistent with other forms of right-wing logical chicanery.

I suspect the catholic church has been ecstatic to find an issue (insurance coverage including contraception for employees of catholic businesses) to distract attention from the continuing appalling revelations of child abuse by their "celibate" clergy.  They choose to characterize this contraception issue as "war" on the catholic church to try to galvanize the believers to support the clergy.  Personally, I think there should be a war-like commitment:  to an effort preventing the catholic church from trivializing the awful crimes their priesthood has perpetuated on the children who look to the priesthood for guidance and support, many of whom have gotten instead only molestation and shame in return for their trust.  The priests should be figuring out  how to reestablish trust in a meaningful way before they even consider such things as counseling women how to control their bodies - a task for which a celibate, wholly-male priesthood is pretty poorly-qualified except in theological "theory".  Of course, 90+% of catholic women are already using some form of contraception unapproved by their church.  They've already spoken on behalf of themselves by their actions.  There's a war going on here - it's that being waged by the catholic church against their own women, for the terrible "sin" of seeking to control their own bodies!

It's my sincere hope that the women of America will demonstrate their concerns regarding these issues in November - in the ballot box.  Supporters of religiously-motivated misogynist legislation need to be voted out of office, and not even given the nomination of their party for the November elections.  It's time for women to show their real power and their determination not to surrender the hard-won gains they've achieved so far.  Not all men support the subjugation of women to a "morality" that has lived on from the brutal, primitive age of scriptural times, long after it should have become mere history.  Perhaps together, we can fight for women's rights against the attack by the religious right-wing.