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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
Following the Copenhagen fiasco, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer of the Netherlands, resigned in frustration. He had, he said in a 2013 interview with Bloomberg Business, lost his faith in climate diplomacy. "The only way that a 2015 agreement can achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy," he said. — quote from Der Spiegel Der Spiegel has published a long article called Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet? (Naomi Klein's book is just now getting published in Germany.) There are two answers to that question —... Continue reading
Posted 8 hours ago at Decline of the Empire
Here is another source for my next Flatland essay, should I ever get around to writing it. I want my readers to see the primary/secondary sources I'm using before they read that essay. Below I've reprinted a good review of William Hirstein's 2006 book Brain Fiction. Hirstein's work was featured in the New Scientist article I published here. Spin Central "Know thyself," urged the inscription over the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, setting a goal for Western philosophy and many of the sciences it would ultimately spawn. Although nobody claims that self-knowledge is easy, certain basic facts... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Decline of the Empire
Below I've embedded a video of the philosopher John Searle talking about the problem of free will. Please watch it, and as you do so, think about what Searle is saying in light of the of the following questions: The scientific evidence is overwhelming that humans are altering the Earth's biosphere in a very a destructive way (global warming, marine ecosystems, deforestation, the Sixth Extinction, etc.). And yet humans (at the species/population levels) are doing nothing to slow the destruction of their own habitat. In fact, humans are behaving (or always striving to behave) in exactly the same ways which... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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Following up on my Michael Gazzaniga post, here is the conclusion of Everyday Fairytales (New Scientist, October 7, 2006). I am posting some of the sources I'm using for a planned (but not written!) Flatland essay on our subjective sense of self, free will, storytelling, and sources of human delusion in the brain. Just an illusion There is certainly plenty of evidence that much of what we do is the result of unconscious brain processing, and that our consciousness seems to be interpreting what has happened, rather than driving it. For example, experiments in 1985 by Benjamin Libet of the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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I have almost completely lost the urge to write on this blog. I guess I'm writing this easy post to keep busy, as Arthur Schopenhauer recommended. So those of you waiting for updates to the Flatland series may be waiting for some while. We'll see. My motivation has disappeared, which may betoken my acceptance (at last!) of this crock of shit called the Human Condition. There is a new series on PBS called EARTH: A New Wild. The "new wild" is new because there is no wild. There is no wild because "people are everywhere" (video below). The series was... Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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Today I ran across a number of articles discussing the death of blogging (hat tip, Naked Capitalism). All this hand-wringing was prompted by Andrew Sullivan giving up his blog. Now I know who Andrew Sullivan is! Is blogging dead? I'll get right to the point—sure it is! Deceased! A dead parrot! There is lots of analysis, including the obvious point that blogs no longer matter because of the existence of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. (e.g., see Kevin Drum here, and Ben Thompson here). Blogging is always seen as an individual endeavor, but that is never true. Like all things human,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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In Part III of Adventures In Flatland, I wrote the following— We can think of bullshit, or, in contemporary usage, spin, as the other side of the filtering coin discussed in Part I. Filtering and bullshit are the yin and yang of the human flight from reality—humans unconsciously filter what they can't acknowledge, and then generate all sorts of bullshit to cover up, justify or rationalize what is unconsciously unacceptable to them. Human cognition is thus consistently out of kilter with reality nearly all of the time. In important matters, reality basically counts for nothing. This seems like a good... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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I've been doing some thinking over the last few weeks, and I've decided a few things—I am exercising whatever free will have First, I am no longer interested in describing this predictable human atrocity or that one. I have done that lately out of feelings of overwhelming disgust, a typical human emotion. Political corruption? Destruction of the biosphere? Grotesque income and wealth inequality everywhere? Grinding, hopeless poverty in the "wealthy nations" (United States and Europe)? Partying Davos elites planning our future? We all know about these ongoing human-caused catastrophes, and, predictably, they are all getting worse in what is now... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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The Southern Education Foundation just released a report finding that 51% of American school children live in "low income" homes. Here's the WaPo version of the story (January 16, 2015). For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation. The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
Read this New York Times article and then review Adventures In Flatland — Part II. Also review my oceans posts covering this topic. — Dave Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says By Carl Zimmer A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them. “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of... Continue reading
Posted Jan 16, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
We live in complicated times, but I have a simple story to tell. The phony housing boom in the U.S. went bust in 2008, two years after house prices peaked nationally. The global economy went into severe recession because the global financial system is highly integrated, so massive bank fraud and bad debt rippled across the world's economies, crippling them in the process. Central banks all over the world stepped in to re-inflate the global economy. The "stimulus" applied was massive and sustained. Stimulus seemed to work for a while, especially in so-called "emerging" markets (China, India, Brazil, Russia, others).... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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I call your attention to the Bloomberg editorial America's Going To Lose The Oil Price War (January 12, 2015). There's a lot of blah, blah blah about when (not if) the American shale oil boom is going to go belly-up. At $40/barrel? That doesn't mean that once Brent hits $40 — and that is the level Goldman Sachs now expects, after giving up on its forecast that OPEC would blink — shale production will automatically drop by 1.5 million barrels per day. Many U.S. frackers will keep pumping at a loss because they have debts to service: about $200 billion... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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Forgettaboutit... By 2035, almost everybody is dead ... and it looks like the die-off starts just about now. But there's Good News — AGW won't be a problem and neither will the Sixth Extinction Well, I told you 2015 would be another Big Year in Flatland, and here's more proof of that. Flatland Chart of the Day Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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I haven't mentioned the collapsing oil price on DOTE, mainly because I don't know exactly why it's collapsing—the global crude oil demand data I want to see isn't there to be seen. And since I've said in the past that oil would never be cheap again, and at current prices, crude oil is indeed cheap, I must do some penance. Mea culpa. Hence this post. Also, I seem to be in a posting mood. I've been looking for clues about oil prices. Here's one, from Platts. Asia's top 4 oil users record slowest demand growth in 6 years Singapore (Platts)--11Dec2014/221... Continue reading
Posted Jan 7, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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I am still working in a desultory way on Adventures In Flatland — Part IV, but it's not nearly publishable yet. I'll finish it eventually, but I don't know when. Still, some of the stuff I discuss in that forthcoming essay is worth looking at on its own. Today I will discuss an excellent article by Lawrence Mitchell called The wealthy suffer from an ‘empathy gap’ with the poor that is feeding a rise in inequality (The Conversation, December 8, 2014). Some of this text is from my forthcoming essay. I am not concerned with the "empathy gap" itself in... Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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I see that human nature did not change when the clock struck midnight on December 31st Of the near infinity of examples I could cite to back up that statement, I will choose one. It's called The End of Endless Growth: Part 1 (Vice, January 1, 2015). The article, which is by Nafeez Ahmed, serves up some pretty standard doomer stuff, the main source of which is— The Great Transition by Mauro Bonaiuti, an economist at the University of Turin in Italy. Bonaiuti’s book applies the tools of complexity science to diagnose the real dynamic and implications of the global... Continue reading
Posted Jan 3, 2015 at Decline of the Empire
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What I would say is that things could get much worse if we don’t do something. — Joe Stiglitz It's time to polish off 2014. If the year ended today, it couldn't get worse, right? I was reminded of this while reading Fed Grants Volcker Reprieve in Banks' Second Big Win This Month (Business Week, December 22, 2014). Banks added to their wins in Washington this month by getting a reprieve from the Volcker Rule that will let them hold onto billions of dollars in private-equity and hedge-fund investments for at least two more years. The Federal Reserve granted the... Continue reading
Posted Dec 22, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
The Lima climate talks ended last weekend. Those talks were meant to set the stage for the Big Event, which will be held in Paris next year. Predictably, the Lima Call For Action is just what is says—a call for action. A call for action is not action. A call for action is more abject failure in what has now become a long tradition of failure. We are told that there was progress of sorts. Let's look at that. By establishing a new structure in which all countries will state (over the next six months) their contributions to emissions mitigation,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
We're deep into the Holiday Season now, and Congress made sure they did their bit. The bill which funds the government for another year will be the "gift that keeps on giving" for big donors to political parties and the Big Banks for many years to come. Fighter jets the Pentagon didn't ask for will be funded, and "food insecure" infants and children will be further challenged. Ho! Ho! Ho! Rectal rehydration of the American people took various forms. Josh Silver of represent.us wrote up a nice summary at The Huffington Post. Here's 5 of the most awful [provisions attached... Continue reading
Posted Dec 12, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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This morning the Senate torture report was all over the news. The Huffington Post had an article on Jon Stewart's take on the report. There's the torture, which we all knew was happening, and then there's Stewart making a living reacting to the torture on the Comedy Channel. And there's all those people laughing about his reaction to the torture. HA-HA-HA-HA-HA... You see, I'm so far gone with respect to this Human Condition shit that my reaction to the torture and my reaction to a stooge like Stewart is pretty much the same: is there some other planet where I... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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Do you wanna change the world? Naomi Klein does. Elizabeth Kolbert is becoming more and more convinced that it can't be done. I'll have more on that below. If you wanna change the world, the first step is remarkably but deceptively easy. Just ask yourself this question: Do we humans have the capacity to address our big self-created problems? * * the climate, the oceans, extinctions, disappearing top soil, melting ice sheets, etc. When you ask yourself this question, and take the question seriously, really ponder it, you may not change the world, but you will certainly change yourself. I... Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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I now regret writing those posts on The Newsroom clip, as I regret all my interactions with the Flatland public. But rather than take those posts down, I will simply finish the job. The word in the title refers to the scientific finding back in May that the loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) appears to be inevitable and irreversible. The EPA guy in Sorkin's TV show cited sea level rise as the reason he had lost hope, so it will be of some interest that loss of the WAIS will add 4 meters (about 13 feet) to... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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In the five days after I posted "The Newsroom" Tackles Climate Change, that post came up first if you ran the Google query the newsroom + climate (with private results "off"). I ran that query again tonight to see who else is writing on the same subject. Imagine my surprise when I saw a Grist post by Dave Roberts called Aaron Sorkin tackles climate change on “The Newsroom” and … oy (published today). Roberts' title sure does look a lot like the title I used five days ago. What a coincidence! And maybe it is a coincidence, although it would... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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When I first saw "The Newsroom" clip, after I stopped laughing, I thought I would dust off my science chops to get to the bottom of that sea level question. It wasn't too hard—it took about an hour and a half to get confident about the current state of the science, which is based on paleoclimate proxy data. Years ago, when I still thought there was a point to things, I used to read paleoclimate stuff all the time. I see that Aaron Sorkin's "end of the world" video (the one I linked to) has gotten up to 6,963 views,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 26, 2014 at Decline of the Empire
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Unfortunately, I can not embed The Newsroom video in which Aaron Sorkin tackles climate change (episode 3, season 3). I suggest you watch it and then return here for the analysis. Here's the relevant part of the transcript. McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is the anchor of the fictional news network. Westbrook (Paul Lieberstein) is the climate expert being interviewed (emphasis added). McAVOY: Okay. Tell us about the findings in the report that was just released. WESTBROOK: The latest measurements taken at Mauna Loa in Hawaii indicate a CO2 level of 400 parts per million. McAVOY: Just so we know what we're... Continue reading
Posted Nov 25, 2014 at Decline of the Empire