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Dave Cohen
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Interests: evolution, energy, the economy, climate, astrobiology, music, paleontology, culture
Recent Activity
The number of Americans who occasionally think about Indonesia is only slightly higher than the number of Americans who can find it on a world map, but I'm asking you to think about this southeast Asian country now. Indonesia's annual fire peat-burning season is unusually severe this year. Here's what caught my eye, from Yahoo Finance (October 2, 2015). Jakarta (AFP) - The forest fires blanketing Southeast Asia in choking haze are on track to become among the worst on record, NASA has warned, with a prolonged dry season hampering efforts to curb a crisis that has persisted for nearly... Continue reading
Posted 40 minutes ago at Decline of the Empire
When I went to Tim Iacono's site to see his daily links this morning, there it was—a Wall Street Journal editorial by Ben Bernanke called How the Fed Saved The Economy. Not a humble man, Ben. We find things like this: How has monetary policy scored on these two criteria [inflation and full employment]? Reasonable people can disagree on whether the economy is at full employment. The 5.1% headline unemployment rate would suggest that the labor market is close to normal. Other indicators—the relatively low labor-force participation rate, the apparent lack of wage pressures, for example—indicate that there is some... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Decline of the Empire
UK environmentalist George Monbiot asked the title question in There may be flowing water on Mars. But is there intelligent life on Earth? (The Guardian, September 29, 2015). The lead is even more revealing. While we marvel at Nasa’s discoveries, we destroy our irreplaceable natural resources – so we can buy pre-peeled bananas and smartphones for dogs Smartphones for dogs. Even brief contemplation of this product of "human ingenuity" speaks to Homo sapiens as an evolutionary disaster. Evolution is a "blind watchmaker" according to Richard Dawkins, and thus sometimes wanders into blind alleys. This is clearly one of those times.... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright, The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light; And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout, But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out — Casey At The Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer I don't go after "climate deniers" on DOTE because the psychological stuff I'm trying to describe is far more subtle than the example such people provide. There's nothing subtle about "climate truthers," which is Dave Roberts' preferred term in AP says to call climate deniers "climate doubters." Whatever. (Vox, September... Continue reading
Posted Sep 28, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
As I perused the Flatland landscape today—think of it abstractly as a huge 2-dimensional square—I felt the urge to add that dreaded third dimension, the one humans can not see. That 3rd dimension is called depth. And since I was reading Flatland climate discussions, adding depth in this context means we can have a climate change discussion for adults. Adults do not exist in Flatland. Michael Mann and some of his colleagues have come up with a simple model of climate sensitivity which says humans will get 2 degrees centigrade (2°C) of warming by 2036 in a "business as usual"... Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
When I first saw the WWF study which estimated that 49% of the remaining animal populations in the oceans had been wiped out since 1970, I said nothing. A couple weeks later I wrote the satirical post which appeared yesterday. I mean, what the fuck I am supposed to do with such reports? These kinds of reports come out all the time and they never have any effect. Human behavior is human behavior. Flatland is Flatland. Every day is the pretty much the same as the day before. Really, what am I supposed to do with depressing shit like that?... Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
In a stunning sign of humanity's triumphant subjugation of other animals and the planet at-large, the World Wildlife Fund brings us some very good news indeed. Within a single generation, human activity has severely damaged almost every aspect of our global oceans. That’s the finding of a new World Wildlife Fund study, which revealed that marine populations have declined 49 percent between 1970 and 2012. The WWF’s Living Planet Index database, maintained and analysed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species ranging from sea birds to sharks to leatherback turtles to coral reefs. This... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
A subtle shift occurred over the weekend. What we might call "new normal" uncertainty gave way to genuine uncertainty after the Federal Reserve could not bring itself to raise its short-term rate even 1/4 of 1%. Genuine uncertainty leads to fear. Fear leads to panic. Panic has all sorts of bad consequences. This does not bode well for global financial markets or the world economy. You see, it is a question of legitimacy. Since 2008, the Federal Reserve has been perceived as more and more important to the functioning of the "real" economy. After the initial fiscal stimulus of 2009,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Today the FOMC (the Fed) will decide whether to raise interest rates 1/4 of 1%. You would think from some of the coverage that the world will end if it does so. (It won't.) But the Fed probably won't raise rates because lots of pigs feed at the zero-rate trough, and even a teensy-weensy rate hike might disrupt that feeding frenzy. The Fed's short-term rate lowers all sorts of other interest rates (mortgages, cars, corporate bonds, etc.) but it's been clear for many years now that interest rate "stimulus" has failed to revive the Main Street economy. On the other... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
You should know the answer by now — it runs on optimism. Invest in a beautiful world Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The Nature Climate Change note starts like this: To the Editor — California is currently experiencing a record-setting drought that began in 2012 and recently culminated in the first state-wide water restriction. The snowpack conditions in the Sierra Nevada present an ominous sign of the severity of this drought: the 1 April 2015 snow water equivalent (SWE) was at only 5% of its historical average. In the Mediterranean climate of California, with 80% of the precipitation occurring in the winter months, Sierra Nevada snowpack plays a critical role in replenishing the state's reservoirs and provides 30% of its water supply.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Michael Mann's Ecowatch article Climate Shock talks about the "fat tail" risks of climate change if there is a doubling of CO2 to pre-industrial levels (~550 ppm, or 700 ppm CO2-equivalent, or CO2e). From Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, by Environmental Defense Fund senior economist Gernot Wagner and Harvard economist Martin Weitzman. There is a >10% chance that we will get 6C of warming The point all such articles is scare people enough to get them to do something about future climate risk. All such efforts have failed up to now. Why does Mann think his... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
There is a perhaps apocryphal story that stuck in my mind when I first heard it. When Ray Goulding of the great radio-era comedy team Bob And Ray was asked why they didn't do political humor, Ray responded with a question of his own: How do you make it funnier? Exactly. I always hesitate to write about contemporary American politics because one quickly runs out of words — sham, circus, cluster-fuck, bogus, fraudulent, bamboozle, etc. These are all good words, but somehow none of them seems to capture what's really going on. I will depart from my usual stay-above-the-fray stance... Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The "news" is often good for a laugh. China has revised its annual economic growth rate in 2014 to 7.3 percent from the previously released figure of 7.4 percent, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. Gross domestic product stood at 63.6 trillion yuan ($10.00 trillion) last year, down by 32.4 billion yuan from the initial estimate, the bureau said in a statement on its website. The bureau has revised down 2014 growth of the services sector by 0.3 percentage points to 7.8 percent, which helped drag down estimated GDP growth rate, it said. The primary sector - the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Those looking to whitewash the health of the jobs market in the United States use various lines of bullshit to rationalize the status quo. One prominent story says the shrinking labor force participation rate is due in large part to retiring Baby Boomers, and thus represents a natural demographic shift. Doug Short demolished this nonsense in What Would It Take for the Prime U.S. Workforce to Fully Recover? (Advisor Perspectives, August 12, 2015). Here's the chart and text we're interested in (the emphasis is Doug's). The Growth of the Elderly Workforce and Its Causes Let's close this analysis with a... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Here in Pittsburgh it's so hot & humid that going outside during the afternoon can be hazardous to your health. You know, hottest year on record and all that. So I am inside the house listening to Robert Glasper's new album Covered. Here's Radiohead's tune Reckoner from that album. Robert can do no wrong IMHO. Here's hoping you will have a nice Labor Day Weekend. Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
There's a new paper out called Irreversibly increased nitrogen fixation in Trichodesmium experimentally adapted to elevated carbon dioxide (Nature Communications, September 1, 2015). Here's the abstract, though you can find a more readable summary at Science Daily. Nitrogen fixation rates of the globally distributed, biogeochemically important marine cyanobacterium Trichodesmium increase under high carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in short-term studies due to physiological plasticity. However, its long-term adaptive responses to ongoing anthropogenic CO2 increases are unknown. Here we show that experimental evolution under extended selection at projected future elevated CO2 levels results in irreversible, large increases in nitrogen fixation and growth... Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Sarcasm Alert As all of you faithful DOTE readers know, I lay awake at night worrying about global warming. Will humanity respond in time? Oh, the suffering! Oh, the agony! But I am greatly relieved now that I've read Dave Roberts' Will California redouble its push for clean energy? It all rides on this upcoming vote. Well, OK, I didn't actually read it. In fact, I didn't get past the first paragraph and this graph. It's difficult to overstate how important California is to the US clean energy effort. For decades it has been serving as a kind of existence... Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
In an article published last year in Scientific American, Caleb Sharf, the director of Columbia University's Astrobiology Center, talks about The Unstoppable Extinction And Fermi’s Paradox. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the evidence that we are currently within a period of mass extinction, the kind of event that will show up in the fossil record a few million years from now as a clear discontinuity, a radical change in the diversity of life on the planet. This Holocene extinction (or sixth extinction) seems to have started around 10,000 years ago with the disappearance of mammalian megafauna,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world — Archimedes I went to my local bar last night with a blank piece of paper and a pen. I jotted down some notes. ultra-social monkeys telling often self-serving stories highly defended against threatening realities, including of course realities which reflect badly on them since these monkeys are such fuck-ups, there's no end to painful, disgraceful realities that have to filtered, covered up, or distorted beyond all recognition And so on. Then I got drunk. I really should finish that... Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
There's been an interesting development these last few weeks. The Fed has threatened to start normalizing monetary policy, hinting that they might raise short-term rates by 25 basis points (1/4 of 1%). Some normalization! But normalizing monetary policy in our abnormal "new normal" scares the bejesus out of lots of people who have benefited from the current arrangement, or those who believe Fed policy has provided substantial benefits to the broader U.S. economy (i.e., the official jobless rate). Among the latter, a contradiction arises because these people are now forced to argue that the U.S. economy actually sucks, meaning that... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
There is chaos in global markets. I may post everyday because finally something is happening. Something any reasonable person expected to happen. The only mystery is why it took so long. I never thought this central bank reflation nonsense was going to work, and it's imploding right now all over the world. Mighty China is leading the way down. The nitwits on NPR were talking about "learning lessons" today as they urged people not to panic and stay in the market. They were so desperate to prop up the status quo that they started talking about how loss aversion causes... Continue reading
Posted Aug 26, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
U.S. stocks rallied today, which was not a surprise The S&P 500 finished the day down 1.4%. A trader named "Fly" takes a longer view. Futures are lifting off and all is well in China, following a clown-car like -5.5% open. Right after those communist bastards (extra Red Scare) fixed their markets higher, Japan followed suit. Commodities are up and all is well again [oil prices here]. Here is what I am wrestling with now. This feels different. Previous market dramas were caused by superfluous events: Greek-German comedies, Federal Reserve maladies and a series of stupid things purported by Congress... Continue reading
Posted Aug 25, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The bloodbath "correction" in global markets continues today. The Shanghai Composite? Forgettabout it! American stocks? Flirting with disaster! All weekend long we were assured that "corrections" are normal and there's no need for panic. I agree. Words like "pop", "burst", "meltdown" or "collapse" have lost their force in the 20th year of the Bubble Era. Surely we are used to such "volatility" by now. Surely we know that what goes up must come down. Never forget that these events have lots of Entertainment Value. I invite central bank-inspired gamblers investors all over the world to say hello to my little... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Elizabeth Kolbert's The Weight of the World, subtitled Can Christiana Figueres persuade humanity to save itself?, starts off like this. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or U.N.F.C.C.C., has by now been ratified by a hundred and ninety-five countries, which, depending on how you count, represents either all the countries in the world or all the countries and then some. Every year, the treaty stipulates, the signatories have to hold a meeting—a gathering that’s known as a COP, short for Conference of the Parties. The third COP produced the Kyoto Protocol, which, in turn, gave rise to another... Continue reading
Posted Aug 23, 2015 at Decline of the Empire