Thoughts on GOP Debate #4

Here are a few of my thoughts about tonight’s Fox Business Channel/Wall Street Journal GOP Presidential Debate…

1. This was BY FAR the best debate of this election cycle. It wasn’t even close. The moderators asked good, pointed, relevant questions, and then got out of the way. Kudos to Cavuto, Bartiromo, and Baker — I’d like to see them moderate several more debates.

2. The longer time allotments for candidate answers and rebuttals was great. It allowed it to feel more like a real debate. It allowed some candidates enough time to put together coherent thoughts and arguments (especially Paul & Rubio), and exposed others who often rambled incoherently with more time (Trump, Kasich, Bush).

3. I really wish moderators would shut off microphones of candidates who do more than finish their current sentence when the bell rings. The worst offenders of the time limits were Kasich and Cruz (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Fiorina), and it was really annoying. Meanwhile, Paul, Rubio, and Carson all did a great job staying within time limits.

4. Rand Paul had his best debate by far. He had some great quotes, including, “We can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the world,” “Can you really be conservative if you support profligate defense spending?” and, “If you’re going to enforce a no-fly zone in Iraq, you need to realize that you’ll be shooting down Russian planes. Are you prepared to send your sons and daughters to yet another war in Iraq?” (Quotes are approximate from my memory.) I mostly like what I know of his tax plan, and he finally got a chance to talk about it tonight. But his tiff with Marco Rubio on defense spending was the most surprising and most memorable moment of the debate. I know a lot of my fellow conservatives poo-poo Rand Paul on foreign policy, but I really wish they’d actually listen to what Paul is saying and seriously think about it. In my opinion, you can’t have a serious plan to address the federal budget and national debt without substantially reducing defense spending *in addition to* reducing domestic spending. We have to take a both-and approach, not either-or. At the very least, Rand Paul’s ideas need to continue to be heard in these GOP debates.

5. Ted Cruz had a Rick Perry “oops” moment, when he said he was the only candidate to have a plan on which specific federal agencies to eliminate. He said he would eliminate five agencies, and proceeded to count out five — except that he listed the Department of Commerce twice. Oops. And speaking of eliminating the Dept. of Commerce, does that mean that he wants to eliminate NOAA and the National Weather Service? Or would he move them to another department? (On a related note, how many non-meteorologists are even aware NOAA is in the Dept. of Commerce?)

6. Speaking of Ted Cruz, he had a couple good lines tonight, but his style gets on my nerves in a hurry. Anecdotes like he had really seemed out of place in a debate like tonight. That, and he’s dangerously ignorant on issues like climate change.

7. Speaking of climate change, Rand Paul got the only question on the issue. He did kind of okay with it, but on the plus side, he’s one of the only candidates who will actually acknowledge that climate change is a real thing and that humans are playing a role in it.

8. I liked Ben Carson’s deft handling of questions about his past, and how he pivoted to a slam on Hillary’s honesty, which everyone knows is non-existent.

9. John Kasich had a dumpster fire of a debate for the second time in a row. He was whiny, condescending, rambling, and incoherent in his far-too-frequent interruptions. He really should drop out before the next debate. Thankfully, I think he removed himself from VP consideration as well.

10. Donald Trump was a rambling, incoherent mess. Again. Why does anyone support this clown? He can’t drop out soon enough.

11. Having only 8 candidates on stage, instead of 10 or 11, also helped things greatly. Didn’t miss Christie or Huckabee one bit. Eight is still too many, but it’s progress. Hopefully by the next debate Kasich and Bush will be out or demoted, and we’ll be down to six.

Here are my rankings for who won/lost tonight’s debate…

1. Rand Paul. I’m not saying that he won the debate just because he’s been my #1 candidate all along, but I really thought he did great tonight, with really good, substantive answers.

2. Marco Rubio. He wasn’t quite as good as previous debates, but he was still better than everyone else on the stage except for Paul.

[big gulf]

3. Ben Carson. He turned in his best overall performance so far, though it wasn’t nearly as good as Paul or Rubio. I think he’s a decent man, and I’d support him in a heartbeat in the general election against anyone the Democrats put forward, but I think he might be best as HHS Secretary or Surgeon General.

[big gulf]

4/5. Ted Cruz/Carly Fiorina. Some good lines, but didn’t move the needle for me. I’m unconvinced they’d be good presidents, though both would be better than Hillary.

6. Jeb Bush. He is so incredibly awkward. He had his best debate so far, but it still was bad. Jeb is toast, and really should drop out before the next debate.

7. Donald Trump. Stunningly, he wasn’t the biggest disaster on stage this debate, because…

8. John Kasich. Ugh.

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So What About Global Warming?

The Earth as seen from Apollo 17As a meteorologist, the most common question I get asked is, “Are you going to be on TV?” The second most common question I get asked is, “What do you think about global warming/climate change?” This is the question I want to write about here. And to be honest, my thoughts on global warming have gradually done pretty much a 180 over the past 10-15 years.

Back when I was in high school (1997-2001), I was convinced that anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming was a hoax. I honestly did not find the evidence to be compelling, and I thought natural variability better explained the data. I was so convinced that the case for anthropogenic global warming was a hoax that I wrote an 8-minute mostly-memorized oratory speech for Forensics in 1999, where I laid out what I thought was good evidence that it was a hoax. I even earned a perfect score with my speech at the State Forensics Tournament in Madison that year.

My opinion gradually started to change after I began graduate school for meteorology at Penn State University in 2005. Learning more and more about the fundamentals of atmospheric physics, along with seeing several more years of observations of the earth system come in, began to make me doubt my certainty that global warming was all due to natural variability. Now I am convinced that not only is global warming happening, but I think the evidence indicates that human beings are almost certainly at least partially causing it.

There certainly have been ups and downs in global average temperature throughout history that were entirely natural, but we are most certainly adding an additional component of warming onto the internal natural variability of the climate system. We know from measurements on Mauna Loa in Hawaii that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) has been steadily rising since measurements began in 1958 (at about 315 ppm) to today (about 402 ppm, or about a 30% increase in 60 years). The increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations is due almost solely to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), deforestation, and the like.

Keeling Curve - CO2 concentrations observed at Mauna Loa

We also know from temperature records that the global average temperature has warmed about 1ºC (or about 2ºF) during the 100-150 years or so over which we’ve taken measurements, with a couple 20-30 year interruptions in that overall warming trend (more on that later).

Global mean temperature (1880-2014)

We know from physics that molecules of carbon dioxide and methane both quite effectively absorb and re-emit heat (longwave radiation, technically). The wavelengths of radiation at which they most effectively absorb and re-emit happens to correspond to bands that are known as “atmospheric windows” — wavelength bands to which the atmosphere is generally transparent, and through which the Earth vents much extra heat into space, to keep the Earth system in radiative balance. However, as we add more and more CO2 and methane to the atmosphere, those atmospheric windows become less transparent, and more heat is, in essence, trapped.

CO2 & H2O absorption

All else being equal, this has the effect of warming the Earth’s surface on average over a period of decades. To complicate matters there are several positive and negative feedback processes which amplify and counteract that basic, foundational signal. But, the basic effect is most certainly warming at the surface.

Back to the 20-30 year cooling interruptions we’ve seen periodically. Yes, the Earth cooled from the 1940s to 1970s, but that was from emitting lots of particulate pollution (coal dust, other things) into the atmosphere during a manufacturing boom, which had the effect of reflecting sunlight to space and cooling the planet. Eventually those particulates settled out of the atmosphere, and we started sending less of those pollutants up into the atmosphere (because we got tired of breathing in smog and dirty air), but the CO2 remained — its atmospheric lifetime is not a few weeks or months like many particulates, but rather hundreds of years. And the current hiatus we’ve seen since about 2000 is probably due to several factors, including somewhat less incoming radiation from the sun, a lot of heat getting stored in the deep ocean because of various ocean currents, and various large-scale, natural multi-decadal atmospheric climate oscillations that occur over large sections of the planet and interact with each other. That hiatus is not likely to last more than a few more years, as these natural climate oscillations flip back into their other modes. All those things would likely normally have cooled global average temperatures, were it not for the high and continually-increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, which are acting to warm temperatures at the surface. In the past 15 years those effects have essentially canceled each other out, but we’re still stuck with being on a plateau at the warmest we’ve been in the past 150 years.

In addition to the surface temperature record and the atmospheric CO2 concentration record, another powerful line of evidence is the decrease in Arctic sea ice extent. Ever since satellite observations of Arctic sea ice extent began in 1979, there have been annual ups and downs, but the overall trend from 1979-present has been a noticeable decrease:

Monthly sea ice extent, NH (1979-2015)

And current observations indicate that sea ice extent is nearly the lowest-ever this year:

Arctic sea ice timeseries

By itself this is not proof that global warming is happening, and while it is true that the Arctic Ocean has been ice-free occasionally in the past, long before the Industrial Revolution, decreasing Arctic sea-ice extent is definitely something we would expect to see in a warming world, along with steadily receding glaciers (which we also see around the world).

In summary, I believe that the evidence is now overwhelming that global warming: a) is really happening, and b) that it is at least partially caused by human activities. What to do in response to this evidence to attempt to mitigate or adapt to future climate change is another topic entirely, and that is where politics enters the discussion. Any mitigation/adaptation strategy has its pros and cons, but what is certain is that in the absence of significant reductions in global carbon emissions soon, the planet will continue to warm. That conclusion is not the result of some vast conspiracy, and it does not depend on the predictions from climate models (many of which have serious flaws) – instead, that is what basic physics tells us. My fellow political conservatives who still think global warming is a hoax would be well served to seriously consider the evidence. Instead of rejecting the scientific evidence because of a distaste for current policy proposals, it would be better to improve or develop better policy proposals in response to the scientific evidence.

Posted in Atmospheric Science | Tagged | 5 Comments

Penn State’s NCAA Sanctions Are Over!

20050823-LionShrineThe NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State are over! News broke on Friday that a settlement had been reached in the lawsuit brought by Pennsylvania State Senator Jake Corman and State Treasurer Rob McCord against both the NCAA and Penn State University. That’s right, Penn State was a co-defendant along with the NCAA in this case, but you wouldn’t know that from most of the media reports about the settlement. But I digress.

The central issue of the lawsuit was not Joe Paterno’s win total (contrary to what many in the public and media believe), but rather the $60 million fine levied by the NCAA against Penn State, and how/where the money should be spent. The NCAA insisted that PSU should pay the fine to the NCAA, and that the NCAA would be in charge of disbursing the money to child abuse prevention organizations nationwide. But Corman and McCord sued the NCAA and Penn State, arguing that Pennsylvania state law (the Endowment Act) required that the money be given exclusively to organizations based in the Commonwealth of Pennsylania, because Penn State receives taxpayer money as a public university. During the various pre-trial phases of the lawsuit, a judge expanded the scope of the trial to include the legality of the “consent decree” that the NCAA forced Penn State to sign in July 2012. This consent decree levied a multitude of harsh sanctions against Penn State, with PSU waiving their right to an infractions investigation conducted by the NCAA. These sanctions included:

  • A $60 million fine over 5 years to fund child abuse awareness non-profits nationwide.
  • A post-season ban for the 2012-2015 football seasons.
  • Football scholarship reductions (reduced from 25/year to 15/year from 2012-2016, with a reduction from 85 total scholarship players to 75 in 2012, 65 in 2013-2015, and 75 in 2016, before returning to the full complement of 85 players in 2017).
  • The vacating of all 112 football victories from NCAA record books by Penn State from 1998-2011. This also reduced Joe Paterno’s career victories total from 409 to 298 in official NCAA records.
  • Free agency for all Penn State football players until the start of the 2013 season. This meant they would not be required to lose a year of eligibility for transferring to a different school.

Basically, the NCAA intended to make Penn State into a smoking crater. But they did not ultimately succeed, largely because they did not have the legal authority to levy sanctions in this case. After the initial public and media support of the sanctions (in the name of “doing something”), the tide started to shift against the NCAA as more people realized the facts of the case and what was really going on.

In September 2014, after the start of the football season, the NCAA announced that they were lifting some aspects of the sanctions early, including the post-season ban and the scholarship reductions. However, the fine would remain, as would the vacating of all 112 of Penn State’s wins from 1998-2011.

(The sanctions were in response to the awful scandal centering on former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of several boys over many years, and the 2002 report against Sandusky, who retired after the 1998 season, by former assistant coach Mike McQueary, which was subsequently swept under the rug by former Athletic Director Tim Curley, VP of Finance and Chief of University Police Gary Schultz, and former President Graham Spanier. Sandusky is justly rotting in jail for the rest of his life for his evil, despicable crimes. Curley, Schultz, and Spanier are currently still awaiting their trials for felony perjury and misdemeanor failure to report child abuse. I wrote a long blog post back on 10 Nov 2011, a few days after news of the scandal erupted, with more info on the particulars of what transpired, and some of my thoughts on the scandal itself. Rather than rehash all of that here, I encourage you all to read that post.)

Anyway, back to the Corman/McCord lawsuit against the NCAA and Penn State. The judge presiding over the case rejected the NCAA’s motions to dismiss the case, and allowed the case to proceed to the discovery phase. During discovery, a multitude of internal NCAA emails were attached to public court filings which indicated that NCAA administrators felt that they had to “bluff” Penn State into accepting the consent decree, as well as internal disagreement over whether the NCAA even had jurisdiction to enforce sanctions against Penn State in the first place for a criminal matter that did not actually have any bearing on games, student-athletes, or prospective student-athletes. The NCAA was being exposed for the slugs that they are, and it was becoming clear that they were going to lose the Corman/McCord case in court, and that the entire consent decree would be declared illegal.

So then on Friday of last week (16 Jan 2015), a settlement was reached in the case. In the words of State Sen. Corman, “The NCAA has surrendered.” And that seems to be an accurate portrayal of what happened. The settlement, which voids the consent decree signed by PSU and the NCAA in July 2012, was unanimously accepted by the Penn State Board of Trustees and the NCAA Executive Committee on Friday. The settlement requires Penn State to publicly acknowledge the NCAA’s “good faith” interest and concern on the Sandusky scandal (but notably, does not affirm the NCAA’s authority or jurisdiction to issue sanctions in this case), and to enter into a new Athletics Integrity Agreement with the NCAA. In return, the NCAA agreed to the plaintiff’s central request that PSU donate (or pay a fine??) $60 million to a fund managed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the benefit of child abuse awareness and prevention. By voiding the July 2012 consent decree, the NCAA also restored all 112 wins from 1998-2011 that the NCAA had vacated. This made Joe Paterno once again the winningest coach in college football history, with 409 career wins.

Even though Penn State was a co-defendant with the NCAA in the case, this was a huge victory for Penn State and a huge defeat for the NCAA. The NCAA has now backed off of every single aspect of the sanctions it originally levied in July 2012. The only aspect that remains is the $60 million fine/donation by Penn State, which is actually the only part of the sanctions that I thought was wholly justified in the first place. (In addition to the criminal and civil court actions that have been brought against PSU, and repercussions from the U.S. Department of Education stemming from violations of the Clery Act.) And now that the fine is going to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the money will be able to be disbursed much more effectively, efficiently, and quickly than if it had found its way into the coffers of the corrupt NCAA in Indianapolis. I seriously question how much of the money would have even escaped the clutches of the NCAA if they had been allowed to administer the fine.

So what effect did the sanctions have while they were in place? First, a few players did transfer, but most players did stay, and the sanctions actually had the effect of galvanizing the entire Penn State community. Though the teams in the 2012 and 2013 seasons didn’t win any championships, and went 8-4 and 7-5 respectively, the character, class, loyalty, and honor displayed by those teams made me immensely proud to be a Penn Stater. Inside Beaver Stadium, the 2012 team is deservedly honored right alongside PSU’s undefeated and championship teams in its ring of honor.

Second, the loss of depth created by the scholarship reductions was most severely felt in the 2014 season, which began with a limit of 65 scholarship players. For some games this season, Penn State had only 48-50 healthy scholarship players dressed and able to play, compared to 85 on most other teams. That put them at a severe competitive disadvantage. There weren’t many subs for any position, which wore down the starters over the course of the season, and inexperienced true and redshirt freshmen were thrust into prominent roles before they were ready, which showed on the field with an offense that struggled mightily to move the ball and score. Even so, Penn State managed a 7-6 record after beating Boston College 31-30 in OT in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Third, the vacated wins were a huge point of contention for Penn State fans like myself, who thought it ridiculous that PSU would be stripped of wins as far back as 1998 for several reasons. The biggest reason is that this abhorrent scandal had absolutely nothing to do with any student-athlete or prospective student-athlete, and had no impact on competitive balance on the field. It is utterly meaningless to vacate victories that actually happened (and incidentally, many of which I personally witnessed, including Paterno’s 400th career victory in 2010) in the absence of something that impacts competitive balance on the field. And then it’s also worth recalling that Child Protective Services and the Pennsylvania State Police investigated a complaint against Sandusky in 1998, but the district attorney declined to issue an indictment because of insufficient evidence to secure a conviction. So what exactly was the justification for punishing Penn State for a man’s crimes when the state police and district attorney found insufficient evidence to prosecute, or when there is still no proof that Paterno was aware of the investigation until years later? If the NCAA would have simply vacated wins going back to 2002 when McQueary witnessed one of Sandusky’s evil acts and then two or three former Penn State administrators (Schultz, Curley, and Spanier) proceeded to sweep McQueary’s report under the rug, that would have been somewhat more defensible for the NCAA. However, going back to 1998 showed that they were being purely vindictive, facts be damned.

20101106-JoePaterno_400WinsBut now, even with the sanctions having been voided, the Paterno family is (for now, at least) continuing their lawsuit against the NCAA for defamation. It will be interesting to see how that case progresses. All along I have been hoping that the truth, no matter what it is or how many people get implicated with guilt, would come out. Hopefully that case can continue to expose more of the truth of what the NCAA did, and hopefully more of the public will be willing to open their ears and eyes to understand what really happened, and to pin guilt on those who are actually guilty.

And above all, hopefully this terrible scandal that brought shame on my university will help people everywhere be more aware of warning signs of abuse to look for. Child predators like Jerry Sandusky are often quite winsome and charming, and not even their closest associates or next-door neighbors have any idea what’s actually going on. That’s how they are able to continue their predation, because nobody suspects anything. But if anyone has any evidence that suggests that someone might be abusing children, people need to not sweep it under the rug or look the other way, but instead talk to the police. And then we have to trust that the police and the legal system will do their work properly, even though this case is sadly evidence that that does not always happen.

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Email Hijackers

So what finally prompted me to download the Instagram app and sign up for an account? Some kid in Virginia who shares my name has been trying to associate my email address with his account repeatedly over the past couple days. After getting the third email about it (and disassociating my email from his account three times), I created my own account (jared_a_lee), found his profile (jared9lee), and left a comment on one of his photos kindly asking him to use his own email address for his account and stop trying to use mine.

You would think that that would’ve stopped him, but the next day he tried to assign my email to his Instagram account again. So I rejected that and then left another comment on his Instagram. Then he signed up for an account with Origin/EA gaming and linked it to his PlayStation account he also just signed up for a day earlier, which prompted another comment by me on his Instagram photo. The only options available to try to contact customer service for both companies was to use login information and then wait a long, long time for a CSR to live-chat me — just the way I wanted to spend part of my New Year’s Eve. The Sony CSR was thankfully quite helpful, however, and provided me with an email address, subject line, and instructions on what I should include in the body of my email to a specific department in order to get this issue resolved. Hopefully that’ll get resolved tomorrow when people are back at work.

Origin/EA was another story, however. The first CSR I live-chatted with last night was rude and dismissive, and his only real advice to me was to “get a different email address.” Umm, no. I’ve had this email address for 10 years or so, and I’m not going to get a different email just because some twit has started using my email on his accounts. Then he started asking me for the answers to this other kid’s security questions to prove my identity. This CSR was totally clueless! I told him that the only reason I was able to even log in to the customer service live-chat was that I was able to initiate a password reset/change — because he had used my email address for his account. (I would’ve reset the password on the Sony account too, except they require the account holder’s birthdate to do that.) Anyway, the Origin/EA CSR I was able to live-chat today was more helpful, but still only told me that I had to initiate a “call me” help session sometime after their call center returns from their holiday break. Ugh. So annoying. Hopefully I’ll be able to get my email banned from all accounts on their site tomorrow.

This is the actually the second unique person who’s tried to use my email address to sign up for all sorts of stuff. The other is a school teacher in Canada named Lee, who three years ago swore that Google let him sign up for my email address (minus the dot, but gmail ignores punctuation in email addresses, so they’re equivalent), and that he set up forwarding from that (my) account to his other email address. He did that because he wanted a “more professional” email address when applying for jobs than his When I asked him to change that setting, he said he couldn’t because he “couldn’t remember” the password to his (my) gmail one. Umm, riiiight. I’ve been getting occasional stuff for him (or his kids) for three years now, because for awhile he put it as the reply-to address in a bunch of emails he sent, thinking that he’d receive them. I even got a LinkedIn invite from him a bit over a year ago, lol.

Why would people think someone else’s email address is their own?!? Not being able to log in because they don’t know my password, my security challenge questions, or have my phone for two-factor authentication should be their first clue…

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U.S. Counties Visited

About a month ago, everyone’s Facebook news feeds were getting clogged with links to maps where people could color in the states that they’ve visited. Checking off states is certainly a cool thing to do. But what about individual counties? Surely that would provide a bit more insight into people’s travel habits — do they take long road trips, or do they generally fly to various destinations and see nearby sights?

Back in 2006 and 2007 (how is that already 7-8 years ago?!) some of my PSU grad school friends and I filled in maps of what counties in the U.S. we’ve visited. I even made a blog post about it in Sep 2007. Here’s what my map looked like back then:

The green counties were counties I’d visited prior to fall 2006, and the red counties were new ones I had added by fall 2007. So what does my county map look like now, especially since I’ve lived in two new time zones since I last edited my map? I took the day off from work today (it is the day after Christmas, after all), so I spent my afternoon updating my map. Here’s my current counties visited map:

The green counties are counties I’ve visited, and blue counties are counties I’ve lived in (Brown, Nicollet, and Hennepin MN, Barron WI, Centre PA, Boulder CO, Monterey CA — Broomfield CO is too small and new to be on this map, unfortunately). I’ve noticed that there are some discrepancies between my new map and my map from 2007 (namely, did my brother Nathan and I follow the Ohio River on the Ohio side or the Kentucky side in summer 2005?, and in what Louisiana parish near New Orleans did my family take an air boat tour of a bayou way back in 1994??), but I’m pretty sure my current map is mostly accurate. I started from scratch today, with my 2013 Rand McNally road atlas as a guide for what roads were in what counties.

Filling in this map was a fun trip down memory lane. I’ve visited counties on all three coasts in the U.S. (Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific). Having traveled on nearly every single mile of I-80 from coast to coast (Kimball, NE to Cheyenne, WY is the only missing segment) sure helped me check off a bunch of counties. Several other interstates are clearly visible here as well from various long road trips, as are locations of a few academic conferences I’ve attended, which are disconnected from my other counties (Seattle, Orlando, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta). Clearly I need to fill in more places in the Pacific Northwest/Northern Rockies, Alaska, the Southern Great Plains, the Mid-Atlantic, and New England. And I think I’ll start keeping a separate counties visited map for our baby once he or she is born in late March. 🙂

So what does your county map look like? Download this blank map from Wikipedia (or if that link breaks, try here), and leave a comment!

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment