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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
Woody Allen once said "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Some versions say that 80% of life is showing up. I would amend Allen's observation. I think it's more like 95% I was listening to the TED Radio Hour when I heard Simon Sinek say the following: Trust is a feeling, a distinctly human experience. Simply doing everything that you promise you're going to do does not mean people will trust you. It just means you're reliable. And we all have friends who are total screw-ups, and yet, we still trust them. Trust comes from a sense of common... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Decline of the Empire
I'll get right into it: I don't belong to any human social world, so I can pretty much say anything I like. I don't come with all the heavy Flatland baggage which human sociality brings with it, so what I say stands or falls on its own merits or deficiencies. I don't have to kiss anybody's ass. I'm not harmonizing with other humans. My own self-interest is not involved. In fact, writing the stuff I do goes against my own self-interest. (I should be kissing somebody's ass! For money!) In this way, I can bring a certain objectivity to the... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Although nothing I see concerning climate issues surprises me from a Flatland point of view, I do find it very disconcerting to actually observe it day in and day out. I have always found it disconcerting. Talk about feeling alienated and helpless! Wow. Let's review the craziness, shall we? This post was spurred, in part, by the unsurprising revelation that Obama's Interior Department will permit Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Chuchki Sea off the north coast of Alaska. Those of you who have been around for awhile will remember a post I wrote called JFC! (you know what... Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Here's some news — there's a brouhaha concerning that Ecomodernist Manifesto. Everybody should calm down. Nothing those ecomodernists and their critics say matters at all. I can sum up the manifesto in 3 statements (well, OK, 4 statements if you count the "and" in the 2nd one). Industrial civilization is a nice thing to have! (Who could disagree?) We need to preserve and expand that civilization (have our cake) and decouple it from the natural world (and eat it too). Human ingenuity (more & better technology) allows us to have our cake and eat it too. And I say, with... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
You can think of this as an open thread. Feel free to say anything about anything. UPDATE — This is an open thread, so I thought I'd throw in this little goodie because I will use it to make some points in the 4th Flatland essay (i.e., I will make a mockery of it). An Ecomodernist Manifesto And check out the authors too. They should have called it The Flatland Manifesto. For example, the prefix technolog {y,ies} occurs — wait for it! — 51 times in 23 printed pages. It is still early in 2015 but the media is already... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
John Angelos is the Chief Operating Officer for the Baltimore Orioles. His recent statement about the riots in Baltimore appeared on The Atlantic Magazine affiliate on April 28, 2015. I've reprinted the introduction and the statement below. The Baltimore Orioles played a game in an empty stadium (Camden Yards) the next day. The Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox, 8-2. Here's the Quartz introduction. On Apr. 19, Baltimore, Maryland resident Freddie Gray died from spinal injuries while in police custody, sparking a series of protests against police brutality, some of which have turned violent. On Apr. 22, leading area... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I continue to work on the 4th Flatland essay, which focuses on the self, consciousness and free will. I ran across this short essay from cognitive psychologist Bruce Hood at Hood believes we should abandon our naive concept of a "self" operating freely (without constraint) in the world. So do I, but of course that is impossible, so it will never happen. The Self It seems almost redundant to call for the retirement of the free willing self as the idea is neither scientific nor is this the first time that the concept has been dismissed for lacking empirical... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
From a purely objective point of view—there is no such thing—the dolorous fact that human beings are very fucked-up is nothing to get angry about. After all, it's not their fault. Homo sapiens is merely one outcome at the bottom of an enormous evolutionary tree. That outcome is Kurt Vonnegut's "crock of shit." It looks like that leaf node (technical term) will be pruned sometime in the next few centuries, thus the hominin branch will become a dead end. It seems to me that on "Earth Day" one should not even try to be objective. Why would one try to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Some good laughs in this one. God knows we need a sense of humor on this planet. Enjoy. Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
When I asked a reader to give me scientific paper supporting doomer fears of a rapid meltdown (on the human time scale) of methane hydrates in the Arctic, he gave me a reference to Michael Bender's Paleoclimate, part of the series Princeton Primers in Climate. That's a fucking textbook. The most up-to-date overview on the subject, Paleoclimate provides an ideal introduction to undergraduates, nonspecialist scientists, and general readers with a scientific background. I was reading books like that 20 years ago, and since then I've kept up with the subject (e.g. here). Regarding these methane hydrate doomers, you now know... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I am finally writing the fourth Flatland essay, so posting will be sparse. For your amusement, I present the thoughts of Lewis Gilbert, who is Managing Director and Chief Operations Officer of the Institute on the Environment at University of Minnesota. His article appears at The Conversation, and is called To manage Earth in the Anthropocene, we need to focus on systems change. I've added a few notes. Enjoy. He starts with the usual Anthropocene blah blah blah. The higher levels of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels are one feature of what many call the Anthropocene, a new geological... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I have been procrastinating lately. I don't want to write that 4th Flatland essay because once I've written it, as far as I'm concerned, there will be little left to say about the human condition and the fate of our species. All that will be left to do is watch what happens in future, or, as Iain Banks said in one of his great Culture books, watch humans fuck-up. And this is so because the 4th essay is about the nature of our consciousness, or our sense of self, and its relationship to the (for all intents and purposes) fully... Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Today's example of Big Brains gone haywire is far more subtle than the two previous examples. It involves behavioral economics and the cognitive bias known as loss aversion, which also plays a significant role in behavioral economics. Behavioral economics has enjoyed a renaissance ever since millions of Big Brains all over the world went haywire during the Housing Bubble in the United States. You may recall that this craziness caused a meltdown of the global financial system and economy. I only say that now in 2015 because it seems that nearly everybody on Earth has already forgotten it. The Wall... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Today I will reprint NPR's story Understanding The Dark Side Of Enlightenment On 'Diamond Mountain'. Here's the audio. Although the story speaks for itself, I have added some helpful emphasis in the text. Transcript (as it appears on the NPR website, with a few clarifying edits) In 2012, Ian Thorson was found dead in a cave in Arizona. He and his wife had been kicked out of a silent Buddhist retreat that was supposed to last three years, but they decided to finish out the time alone in the desert — and that extreme quest for spiritual enlightenment eventually killed... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Humans are desperately seeking an explanation as to why a 27-year-old German pilot "intentionally" crashed the plane he was co-piloting, killing the other 149 people on-board. I put the word 'intentionally' in quotes here because it really is very, very hard to make sense of what humans mean when they use that word in this context. Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz Hid Illness From Airline, Says Prosecutor Evidence collected at apartment didn’t include suicide note or indication of motive The Germanwings co-pilot who appeared to intentionally crash an airliner into a French mountainside, killing himself and 149 passengers and crew, received... Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
In 2015 the Bad News keeps pouring in. The latest in a series of ominous reports is the early weakening of the AMOC, as Stephen Rahmstorf reports in What's going in the North Atlantic? at Real Climate. Look at that article to get the context for this quote. It happens to be just that area for which climate models predict a cooling when the Gulf Stream System weakens (experts speak of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation or AMOC, as part of the global thermohaline circulation). That this might happen as a result of global warming is discussed in the scientific... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we're losing the creek too — Jay Famiglietti For many years now I have come across the same theme over and over again — Climate change: the poor will suffer most. (The Guardian, March 30, 2014). ... But [the UN report found that] those who did the least to cause climate change would be the first in the line of fire: the poor and the weak, and communities that were subjected to discrimination, the report found. Scientists went to great lengths in the report to single out people and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
You know, you might get the impression reading this blog that the Human Condition is fucked up beyond all repair. And if you look at things from a Flatland perspective, that's no doubt true. But, really, just LISTEN to this tune. Is the Human Condition TOTALLY fucked up? I think not. Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I will quote the opening of Brad Plumer's The big climate question: Can we sever the link between CO2 and economic growth? (Vox, March 16, 2015). Historically, there's been a tight relationship between economic growth and the carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change. As the world's economy expands, we've built more power plants and factories and driven more cars and trucks. That's long meant burning more coal, gas, and oil. If we ever hope to stop global warming, we'll have to sever that relationship — and figure out how to have economic growth while reducing emissions. (Alternatively, we could halt... Continue reading
Posted Mar 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Regarding yesterday's post, watch the video below. This video was uploaded to youtube a few weeks ago. A young person asks UMass economist Robert Pollin— Can underdeveloped countries reduce emissions and still grow their economies? Good question! The "flatland moment" occurs just after the 2:25 mark, but you must watch the video from the beginning to get the full effect Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
The International Energy Agency dropped a bombshell on Friday, announcing that— Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn. "This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today," said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, recently named to take over from Maria van... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Many aspects of Flatland show up in We must reclaim the climate change debate from the political extremes, an article by Mark Lynas published in The Guardian's environment section. In so far as I am a hopeless pedant, I saw fit to reprint it here on DOTE with some short but very enlightening commentary. This was fun to do, so I hope you find it as entertaining to read as I did to write. First, we note that Lynas starts off with a common fallacy, more formally called the argument to moderation (Latin, argumentum ad temperantiam). Climate change is real,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
I just watched a video called The Science of Survival. The discussion features Elizabeth Kolbert, agricultural scientist John Williams and a host whose name I couldn't find. The discussion took place in Australia back in November, 2014. At the 21:37 mark, I heard the amazing exchange below. John Williams — The profound effect [of humanity] on the planet is there for all to see. The human capacity to do that is in our very genes, and our human condition. But my hope and belief is that in that same human condition, is the capacity to be aware of what we've... Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
As I observe the Flatland landscape, I am rarely rendered speechless, for I have taken it upon myself to explain much of this human craziness. But when I read John Cassidy's Why The Fed Needs Defending, which appeared yesterday at The New Yorker, I realized that mere words are useless, much like the situation when we try to console those who have lost a loved one. You must read it yourself to see what I mean (begins below the fold). I confess to not having read all eighteen hundred of the transcript pages released on Wednesday, by the Federal Reserve,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
We got another "solid" jobs report today, so this is a good time to reprint Jim Clifton's The Big Lie. Clifton is the chairman and CEO of Gallup. Here's something that many Americans — including some of the smartest and most educated among us — don't know: the official unemployment rate, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, is extremely misleading. Right now, we're hearing much celebrating from the media, the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is "down" to 5.6%. The cheerleading for this number is deafening. The media loves a comeback story, the White House... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2015 at Decline of the Empire