Posts tagged ‘Antarctica’

Denying the Climate Catastrophe: 5a. Arguments For Attributing Past Warming to Man

This is part A of Chapter 5 of an ongoing series.  Other parts of the series are here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Greenhouse Gas Theory
  3. Feedbacks
  4.  A)  Actual Temperature Data;  B) Problems with the Surface Temperature Record
  5. Attribution of Past Warming:  A) Arguments for it being Man-Made (this article); B) Natural Attribution
  6. Climate Models vs. Actual Temperatures
  7. Are We Already Seeing Climate Change
  8. The Lukewarmer Middle Ground

Having established that the Earth has warmed over the past century or so (though with some dispute over how much), we turn to the more interesting -- and certainly more difficult -- question of finding causes for past warming.  Specifically, for the global warming debate, we would like to know how much of the warming was due to natural variations and how much was man-made.   Obviously this is hard to do, because no one has two thermometers that show the temperature with and without man's influence.

I like to begin each chapter with the IPCC's official position, but this is a bit hard in this case because they use a lot of soft words rather than exact numbers.  They don't say 0.5 of the 0.8C is due to man, or anything so specific.   They use phrases like "much of the warming" to describe man's affect.  However, it is safe to say that most advocates of catastrophic man-made global warming theory will claim that most or all of the last century's warming is due to man, and that is how we have put it in our framework below:

click to enlarge

By the way, the "and more" is not a typo -- there are a number of folks who will argue that the world would have actually cooled without manmade CO2 and thus manmade CO2 has contributed more than the total measured warming.  This actually turns out to be an important argument, since the totality of past warming is not enough to be consistent with high sensitivity, high feedback warming forecasts.  But we will return to this in part C of this chapter.

Past, Mostly Abandoned Arguments for Attribution to Man

There have been and still are many different approaches to the attributions problem.  In a moment, we will discuss the current preferred approach.  However, it is worth reviewing two other approaches that have mostly been abandoned but which had a lot of currency in the media for some time, in part because both were in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth.

Before we get into them, I want to take a step back and briefly discuss what is called paleo-climatology, which is essentially the study of past climate before the time when we had measurement instruments and systematic record-keeping for weather.   Because we don't have direct measurements, say, of the temperature in the year 1352, scientists must look for some alternate measure, called a "proxy,"  that might be correlated with a certain climate variable and thus useful in estimating past climate metrics.   For example, one might look at the width of tree rings, and hypothesize that varying widths in different years might correlate to temperature or precipitation in those years.  Most proxies take advantage of such annual layering, as we have in tree rings.

One such methodology uses ice cores.  Ice in certain places like Antarctica and Greenland is laid down in annual layers.  By taking a core sample, characteristics of the ice can be measured at different layers and matched to approximate years.  CO2 concentrations can actually be measured in air bubbles in the ice, and atmospheric temperatures at the time the ice was laid down can be estimated from certain oxygen isotope ratios in the ice.  The result is that one can plot a chart going back hundreds of thousands of years that estimates atmospheric CO2 and temperature.  Al Gore showed this chart in his movie, in a really cool presentation where the chart wrapped around three screens:

click to enlarge

As Gore points out, this looks to be a smoking gun for attribution of temperature changes to CO2.  From this chart, temperature and CO2 concentrations appear to be moving in lockstep.  From this, CO2 doesn't seem to be a driver of temperatures, it seems to be THE driver, which is why Gore often called it the global thermostat.

But there turned out to be a problem, which is why this analysis no longer is treated as a smoking gun, at least for the attribution issue.  Over time, scientists got better at taking finer and finer cuts of the ice cores, and what they found is that when they looked on a tighter scale, the temperature was rising (in the black spikes of the chart) on average 800 years before the CO2 levels (in red) rose.

This obviously throws a monkey wrench in the causality argument.  Rising CO2 can hardly be the cause of rising temperatures if the CO2 levels are rising after temperatures.

It is now mostly thought that what this chart represents is the liberation of dissolved CO2 from oceans as temperatures rise.  Oceans have a lot of dissolved CO2, and as the oceans get hotter, they will give up some of this CO2 to the atmosphere.

The second outdated attribution analysis we will discuss is perhaps the most famous:  The Hockey Stick.  Based on a research paper by Michael Mann when he was still a grad student, it was made famous in Al Gore's movie as well as numerous other press articles.  It became the poster child, for a few years, of the global warming movement.

So what is it?  Like the ice core chart, it is a proxy analysis attempting to reconstruct temperature history, in this case over the last 1000 years or so.  Mann originally used tree rings, though in later versions he has added other proxies, such as from organic matter laid down in sediment layers.

Before the Mann hockey stick, scientists (and the IPCC) believed the temperature history of the last 1000 years looked something like this:

click to enlarge

Generally accepted history had a warm period from about 1100-1300 called the Medieval Warm Period which was warmer than it is today, with a cold period in the 17th and 18th centuries called the "Little Ice Age".  Temperature increases since the little ice age could in part be thought of as a recovery from this colder period.  Strong anecdotal evidence existed from European sources supporting the existence of both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.  For example, I have taken several history courses on the high Middle Ages and every single professor has described the warm period from 1100-1300 as creating a demographic boom which defined the era (yes, warmth was a good thing back then).  In fact, many will point to the famines in the early 14th century that resulted from the end of this warm period as having weakened the population and set the stage for the Black Death.

However, this sort of natural variation before the age where man burned substantial amounts of fossil fuels created something of a problem for catastrophic man-made global warming theory.  How does one convince the population of catastrophe if current warming is within the limits of natural variation?  Doesn't this push the default attribution of warming towards natural factors and away from man?

The answer came from Michael Mann (now Dr. Mann but actually produced originally before he finished grad school).  It has been dubbed the hockey stick for its shape:

 

click to enlarge

The reconstructed temperatures are shown in blue, and gone are the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, which Mann argued were local to Europe and not global phenomena.  The story that emerged from this chart is that before industrialization, global temperatures were virtually flat, oscillating within a very narrow band of a few tenths of a degree.  However, since 1900, something entirely new seems to be happening, breaking the historical pattern.  From this chart, it looks like modern man has perhaps changed the climate.  This shape, with the long flat historical trend and the sharp uptick at the end, is why it gets the name "hockey stick."

Oceans of ink and electrons have been spilled over the last 10+ years around the hockey stick, including a myriad of published books.  In general, except for a few hard core paleoclimatologists and perhaps Dr. Mann himself, most folks have moved on from the hockey stick as a useful argument in the attribution debate.  After all, even if the chart is correct, it provides only indirect evidence of the effect of man-made CO2.

Here are a few of the critiques:

  • Note that the real visual impact of the hockey stick comes from the orange data on the far right -- the blue data alone doesn't form much of a hockey stick.  But the orange data is from an entirely different source, in fact an entirely different measurement technology -- the blue data is from tree rings, and the orange is form thermometers.  Dr. Mann bristles at the accusation that he "grafted" one data set onto the other, but by drawing the chart this way, that is exactly what he did, at least visually.  Why does this matter?  Well, we have to be very careful with inflections in data that occur exactly at the point that where we change measurement technologies -- we are left with the suspicion that the change in slope is due to differences in the measurement technology, rather than in the underlying phenomenon being measured.
  • In fact, well after this chart was published, we discovered that Mann and other like Keith Briffa actually truncated the tree ring temperature reconstructions (the blue line) early.  Note that the blue data ends around 1950.  Why?  Well, it turns out that many tree ring reconstructions showed temperatures declining after 1950.  Does this mean that thermometers were wrong?  No, but it does provide good evidence that the trees are not accurately following current temperature increases, and so probably did not accurately portray temperatures in the past.
  • If one looks at the graphs of all of Mann's individual proxy series that are averaged into this chart, astonishingly few actually look like hockey sticks.  So how do they average into one?  McIntyre and McKitrick in 2005 showed that Mann used some highly unusual and unprecedented-to-all-but-himself statistical methods that could create hockey sticks out of thin air.  The duo fed random data into Mann's algorithm and got hockey sticks.
  • At the end of the day, most of the hockey stick (again due to Mann's averaging methods) was due to samples from just a handful of bristle-cone pine trees in one spot in California, trees whose growth is likely driven by a number of non-temperature factors like precipitation levels and atmospheric CO2 fertilization.   Without these few trees, most of the hockey stick disappears.  In later years he added in non-tree-ring series, but the results still often relied on just a few series, including the Tiljander sediments where Mann essentially flipped the data upside down to get the results he wanted.  Taking out the bristlecone pines and the abused Tiljander series made the hockey stick go away again.

There have been plenty of other efforts at proxy series that continue to show the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age as we know them from the historical record

 

click to enlarge

As an aside, Mann's hockey stick was always problematic for supporters of catastrophic man-made global warming theory for another reason.  The hockey stick implies that the world's temperatures are, in absence of man, almost dead-flat stable.   But this is hardly consistent with the basic hypothesis, discussed earlier, that the climate is dominated by strong positive feedbacks that take small temperature variations and multiply them many times.   If Mann's hockey stick is correct, it could also be taken as evidence against high climate sensitivities that are demanded by the catastrophe theory.

 

The Current Lead Argument for Attribution of Past Warming to Man

So we are still left wondering, how do climate scientists attribute past warming to man?  Well, to begin, in doing so they tend to focus on the period after 1940, when large-scale fossil fuel combustion really began in earnest.   Temperatures have risen since 1940, but in fact nearly all of this rise occurred in the 20 year period from 1978 to 1998:

 

click to enlarge

To be fair, and better understand the thinking at the time, let's put ourselves in the shoes of scientists around the turn of the century and throw out what we know happened after that date.  Scientists then would have been looking at this picture:

click to enlarge

Sitting in the year 2000, the recent warming rate might have looked dire .. nearly 2C per century...

click to enlarge

Or possibly worse if we were on an accelerating course...

click to enlarge

Scientists began to develop a hypothesis that this temperature rise was occurring too rapidly to be natural, that it had to be at least partially man-made.  I have always thought this a slightly odd conclusion, since the slope from this 20-year period looks almost identical to the slope centered around the 1930's, which was very unlikely to have much human influence.

 

click to enlarge

But never-the-less, the hypothesis that the 1978-1998 temperature rise was too fast to be natural gained great currency.  But how does one prove it?

What scientists did was to build computer models to simulate the climate.  They then ran the computer models twice.  The first time they ran them with only natural factors, or at least only the natural factors they knew about or were able to model (they left a lot out, but we will get to that in time).  These models were not able to produce the 1978-1998 warming rates.  Then, they re-ran the models with manmade CO2, and particularly with a high climate sensitivity to CO2 based on the high feedback assumptions we discussed in an earlier chapter.   With these models, they were able to recreate the 1978-1998 temperature rise.   As Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT described the process:

What was done, was to take a large number of models that could not reasonably simulate known patterns of natural behavior (such as ENSO, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation), claim that such models nonetheless accurately depicted natural internal climate variability, and use the fact that these models could not replicate the warming episode from the mid seventies through the mid nineties, to argue that forcing was necessary and that the forcing must have been due to man.

Another way to put this argument is "we can't think of anything natural that could be causing this warming, so by default it must be man-made.  With various increases in sophistication, this remains the lead argument in favor of attribution of past warming to man.

In part B of this chapter, we will discuss what natural factors were left out of these models, and I will take my own shot at a simple attribution analysis.

The next section, Chapter 6 Part B, on natural attribution is here

Want to Save The Ice in the Arctic?

I wrote below about Chinese pollution, but here is one other thought.  Shifting Chinese focus from reducing CO2 with unproven 21st century technology to reducing particulates with 1970s technology would be a great boon for its citizens.  But it could well have one other effect:

It might reverse the warming in the Arctic.

The reduction of Arctic ice sheet size in the summer, and the warming of the Arctic over the last several decades, is generally attributed to greenhouse warming.  But there are reasons to doubt that Co2 is the whole story.   One is that the sea ice extent in Antarctica has actually been growing at the same time the Arctic sea ice cover has been shrinking.  Maybe there is another explanation, one that affects only the northern hemisphere and not the southern?

I don't know if you have snow right now or even ever get snow.  If you do, find some black dust, like coal dust or dark dirt, and sprinkle it on a patch of snow.  Then come back tomorrow.  What will you find?  The patch of snow you sprinkled in dark dust melted a lot in comparison to the rest of the snow.  This is an albedo effect.  Snow takes a while to melt because it reflects rather than absorbs solar radiation.  Putting black dust on it changes that equation, and suddenly solar radiation is adsorbed as heat, and the now melts.  Fast.  I know this because I run a sledding hill in the wintertime, where snow falls on a black cinder hill.  The snow will last until even the smallest patch of black cinders is exposed.  Once exposed, that small hole will grow like a cancer, as it absorbs solar energy and pumps it into the surrounding ground.

By the way, if you have not snow, Accuweather.com did the experiment for you.  See here.  Very nice pictures that make the story really clear.

So consider this mess:

china_pollution_ap971430398958_620x350

Eventually that mess blows away.  Where does it end up?  Well, a lot of it ends up deposited in the Arctic, on top of the sea ice and Greenland ice sheet.

There is a growing hypothesis that this black carbon deposited on the ice from China is causing much of the sea ice to melt faster.  And as the ice sheet melts faster, this lowers the albedo of the arctic, and creates warming.  In this hypothesis, warming follows from ice melting, rather than vice versa.

How do we test this?  Well, the best way would be to go out and actually measure the deposits and calculate the albedo changes from this.  My sense is that this work is starting to be done (example), but it has been slow, because everyone who is interested in Arctic ice of late are strong global warming proponents who have incentives not to find an alternative explanation for melting ice.

But here are two quick mental experiments we can do:

  1. We already mentioned one proof.  Wind patterns cause most pollution to remain within the hemisphere (northern or southern) where it was generated.  So we would expect black carbon ice melting to be limited to the Arctic and not be seen in the Antarctic.  This fits observations
  2. In the winter, as the sea ice is growing, we would expect new ice would be free of particulate deposits and that any new deposits would be quickly covered in snow.  This would mean that we should see ice extents in the winter to be about the same as they were historically, and we would see most of the ice extent reduction in the summer.  Again, this is exactly what we see.

This is by no means a proof -- there are other explanations for the same data.  But I am convinced we would see at least a partial sea ice recovery in the Arctic if China could get their particulate emissions under control.

Update:  Melt ponds in Greenland are black with coal dust

 

From the Archives: Eliot Spitzer and the Antarctic Liberation Front

I posted this in 2004, but it seems relevant today:

OK, but what is this Antarctica thing?  Back when I was an undergrad
at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body
Governing Council (USG) election.  The previous USG administration,
headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so
irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the
usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less
who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition
party.  Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his
office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the
student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.

The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic
Liberation Front.  I wish I had saved their brochures, but their
proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the
school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights
between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was
under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica.  The ALF swept
the USG election.  This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG
stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body.  The
pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies
(sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential
election) only amused the general student population even further.
After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF
resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more
boring.

If you think I am exaggerating in saying that the Spitzer-led
student council types had a whiny reaction to this bit of fun, you
should know that Spitzer was still whining about it 20 years later to the New Yorker magazine.  Virginia Postrel, also a Princetonian at the time, had a similar reaction to mine here, and fisks the New Yorker article.

Did the World Overlook a Volcano Eruption?

An interesting story told by Anthony Watts, of trying to figure out if an seemingly extinct volcano erupted in Antarctica last October.  No definitive answers yet, but a reminder that  even in a world of billion dollar particle accelerators, amateurs still have a role in science.

Antarctica

On Sunday, CBS claimed that Antarctica is melting.  In fact, once small
portion of the Antarctic peninsula is warming and may be losing snow, while the
rest of Antarctica has not been warming and in fact has been gaining ice cover. 
The show visits an island off the Antarctic Peninsula which has about as much
weather relevance and predictive power to the rest of Antarctica as Key West has
to the rest of the United States.  Absolutely absurd.

Unfortunately, I have a real job and I don't have time to restate all the
rebuttals to the CBS show.  However, I took on the Antarctic
issue in depth here
, and this post at NC Media
Watch
has more.

Anatomy of A False Panic

I am trying to keep most of my long climate posts off this site and over at Climate Skeptic.  However, I have cross-posted this one because it is a good example for laymen of just what crap gets put forward in the media today about global warming.  It demonstrates the gullibility of the media, the gross exaggerations that exist in nearly every climate catastrophe article, and, as an added bonus, demonstrates the scientific incompetence of the man who leads the UN, the organization that has taken onto itself the role of summarizing the state of climate science. 

OK, here is a great example of the media blithely accepting panicky catsrophism where none is warranted (Link HT to Maggies Farm)

Scientists
welcomed Ban Ki Moon to Antarctica with a glass of Johnny Walker Black
Label served "on the rocks" with 40,000-year-old polar ice. But the
researchers delivered an alarming message to the UN Secretary-General
about a potential environmental catastrophe that could raise sea levels
by six metres if an ice sheet covering a fifth of the continent
crumbles.

The polar experts, studying the effects of global warming on the icy
continent that is devoted to science, fear a repeat of the 2002
collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf. The 12,000-year-old shelf was 220
metres (720ft) thick and almost the size of Yorkshire.

"I was told by scientists that the entire Western Antarctica is now
floating. That is a fifth of the continent. If it broke up, sea levels
may rise as much as six metres," Mr Ban said after being briefed at the
Chilean, Uruguayan and South Korean bases during a day trip to King
George Island, at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. ...

Eduardo Frei Montalva Air Force Base, a year-round settlement of
corrugated-iron cabins belonging to Chile, lies in one of the world's
worst "hot spots" "“ temperatures have been rising 0.5C (0.9F) a decade
since the 1940s.

I don't even know where to start with this.  So I will just fire off some bullets:

  • Over the last 30 years, satellites have found absolutely no warming trend in Antarctica  (from UAH via Steven Milloy):

South_pole_temperatures

  • The tail is measuring the dog.  The Korean station
    couldn't possibly be more irrelevent to measuring Antarctic
    temperatures.  It is on an island labelled 26-34 north of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula in the map below.  One might as well declare she is measuring temperatures in the continental US from Key West.

Antarcticastationsmap1s

  • It is well known that the Antarctic Penninsula,
    representing 2% of Antactica's area, is warming while the other 98% is
    cooling.  I discussed this more here.
    Al Gore took the same disingenuous step in his movie of showing only
    the anomolous 2%.  The Antarctic Penninsula in the first graph below shows
    warming.  The rest of Antarctica shows none  (click to enlarge)

Antarc35_2 Antarc34 Antarc33_2

  • The IPCC (run by the Secretary General and his organization) predicts that with global warming, the
    Antarctic penninsula will see net melting while the rest of Antarctica
    will see net increases in ice.  The penninsula is affected more by the
    changing temperatures of sea currents in the surrounding seas than in
    global climate effects.  For most of Antarctica, temperatures will
    never concieveably warm enough to melt the ice sheets, since it is so
    cold even in the summer, and ice sheets are expected to expand as
    warming increases precipitation on the continent.
  • Scientists studying Antarctica have been there at most a few
    decades.  We know almost nothing about it or its histroy.  We certainly
    don't know enough about "what is normal" to have any clue if activities
    on the Larson B ice shelf are anomolous or not.
  • The UN Sec-gen said that this ice shelf represented a fifth of
    the continent.  Here, in actuality, is the Larsen ice shelf.  The red
    box below greatly exaggerates Larsen's size, and Larsen-B is only a portion
    of the entire Larsen shelf.

Antarctic_map_larson_b

  • The statement that the entire Western Antarctic is floating is
    just absurd.  God knows what that is supposed to mean, but even if we
    ignore the word "floating", we can see from the map above we aren't
    even talking about a significant portion of the Antarctic Pennninsula,
    much less of Western Antarctica.  Here are actual pictures of the 2002 event.  (by the way, if ice is really "floating", presumably in sea water, then it's melting will have zero effect on ocean levels)
  • Such a feared collapse already happened 5 years ago, and sea levels did not budge.  But
    the next time it happens, sea levels are going to rise 20 feet??  Even
    the UN's IPCC does not think sea levels will rise more than 8-12 inches
    in the next century due to their overblown temperature forecasts.

As always, you can consult my my book and my movie (both free online) for more details on all these topics.

Does the US Matter?

After NASA was forced to restate its US temperature data downward, James Hansen argued that the US doesn't matter.  After it was observed that long-term temperature measurement is flawed in South America and Africa, James Hansen agreed and argued that South America and Africa don't matter.  Since oceans cover 75% of the globe and we have no long-term temperature record for these oceans or for Antarctica, I ask the question at Climate Skeptic:  What does matter?

I Find This Argument Uncompelling

I am skeptical of some but not all global warming claims, but must admit that even as a skeptic, I find this argument by James Lewis uncompelling:

Now imagine that all
the variables about global climate are known with less than 100 percent
certainty. Let's be wildly and unrealistically optimistic and say that
climate scientists know each variable to 99 percent certainty! (No such
thing, of course). And let's optimistically suppose there are only one-hundred x's, y's, and z's
--- all the variables that can change the climate: like the amount of
cloud cover over Antarctica, the changing ocean currents in the South
Pacific, Mount Helena venting, sun spots, Chinese factories burning
more coal every year, evaporation of ocean water (the biggest
"greenhouse" gas), the wobbles of earth orbit around the sun, and yes,
the multifarious fartings of billions of living creatures on the face of the earth, minus,
of course, all the trillions of plants and algae that gobble up all the
CO2, nitrogen-containing molecules, and sulfur-smelling exhalations
spewed out by all of us animals. Got that? It all goes into our best
math model.

So
in the best case, the smartest climatologist in the world will know 100
variables, each one to an accuracy of 99 percent. Want to know what the
probability of our spiffiest math model would be, if that perfect world existed?  Have you ever multiplied (99/100) by itself 100 times? According to the
Google calculator, it equals a little more than 36.6 percent.

The Bottom line: our best imaginable model has a total probability of one out of three. How many billions of dollars in Kyoto money are we going to spend on that chance?

Yes, there is a point to be made that climate is really complicated.  However, I can still make correct and valid directional predictions without knowing the exact state of every variable.  For example, I can say with some certainty that, at least here in Arizona, that the temperature at 4PM is going to be higher than the temperature at 4AM, and probably by many degrees.  I can make this statement despite having no idea what the temperature at either time actually is.

I think one can say that the hypothesis is pretty strong that man-made CO2 is increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations which in turn is causing some warming.  Where Mr. Lewis probably has a point is on the issue of positive and negative feedbacks.  Most of the warming in the estimates in productions like "An Inconvenient Truth"  relies not on just CO2-driven warming, but warming from a variety of feedback processes.  These feedbacks are really really complicated and not well understood.  I discuss this issue of feedbacks both here and here and here.

(HT Maggies Farm)

Remind Me, Why is Dick Grasso on Trial?

Aspiring Governor, self-proclaimed substitute for the SEC, and enemy of Antarctica Eliot Spitzer is about to start a criminal trial against Dick Grasso, former head of the NY Stock Exchange (NYSE). 

And I have no idea why. 

Certainly it has something to do with Mr. Grasso's pay, which Mr. Spitzer thinks was too high.  The NYSE, for those who may be confused, is a private institution owned by some of the richest and supposedly financially savviest people in the country.  The owners or seat-holders select a board of directors, who in turn approved Mr. Grasso's pay package.  I imagine that there are folks who think that the stock exchange is a public institution or uses public money, but it is not and does not, though it does have some quasi-regulatory responsibilities.

The best I can figure it, Mr. Spitzer is arguing that Mr. Grasso somehow tricked these babes-in-the-woods on the board, which include naive and inexperienced people such as CEO's of Fortune 50 companies, heads of investment banks and brokerage firms, and a former US Secretary of State.  Now, I can imagine that the government might have an interest if Mr. Grasso somehow cooked the books to inflate his pay fraudulently.  In fact, the director of HR has admitted he did not give the board all the relevant information, but board members have already said that they did not rely on this person for their information.  Remember that most of the folks on the board themselves get paid in a similar league as Mr. Grasso's pay, so most saw it as a competitive offer, at least until negative publicity caused all the cockroaches to run for cover.

So Mr. Spitzer is starting criminal proceedings against people who he thinks negotiate too well for themselves or are paid more than they are worth.  I am sure glad he wasn't doing this 15 years ago.  I remember getting hired as a new Business school grad at McKinsey & Co. as a consultant for some ridiculous amount of money, and thinking "I can't be worth that!  I don't know anything!  Are they really paying me to tell experienced CEO's what to do?"  Boy, what panic I would have had if I had known there was an AG out there looking to send overpaid people to jail!

The WSJ has a really fascinating editorial that I will link to, though a paid subscription is required (update:  Try this link instead, it may get you there free or maybe here).  The overall picture is one of, if there was a crime at all, the wrong people are on trial.  Here is a taste:

In early June of 2003, when the
membership of the [NYSE] compensation committee changed, the Webb interviews
begin to tell a story of wider board dysfunction. And if there was a
screw loose in this new operation it appears to be not Mr. Langone --
who by all the interview accounts ran a tight ship -- but his
successor, [former New York State Comptroller Carl] McCall. This is a vital point, given that Mr. Spitzer, a
fellow Democrat, did not name Mr. McCall in his lawsuit. What toppled
Mr. Grasso was not the $139 million payment the board approved in
August of 2003 but the later news that Mr. Grasso was owed $48 million
more. Many board members said they didn't know about this payment and
for that many blame Mr. McCall.

The interview notes are rife with comments that Mr.
McCall had little inclination or ability to understand the contract he
took over negotiating. An outside consultant, William Mischell, said
that when he and Mr. Ashen explained the contract to Mr. McCall, "the
meeting . . . lasted somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes, with McCall
making or taking phone calls throughout and not really focusing on the
details." Mr. McCall himself told investigators that "the subject of
executive compensation was entirely foreign to him" -- yet he refused
offers of help to explain the contract to others. When asked why Mr.
McCall was chosen to chair the committee rather than someone more
knowledgeable, Mr. Karmazin told the Webb team that it was an "image
thing" (the NYSE had just instituted new governance standards).

Mr. McCall's excuse for not giving directors
"additional details" about the $48 million or other aspects of the
contract -- which were clearly stated in the text -- is that "he was
not aware of any." That's because, as he admitted, he didn't read the
full document, even before he signed it. Moreover, at least one
director, Van der Moolen's Mr. Fagenson "asked McCall twice to make
certain that all pension plans and other plans were going to terminate
on this date, but stated he never received any updates from McCall on
these issues."

As Mr. McCall went to brief the full board on Aug. 7,
2003, he was given talking points that referenced the extra $48 million
but didn't read these or tell the board. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO William
Harrison noted that Mr. McCall "did not appear to understand the
proposed payout very well. . ." Avon CEO Andrea Jung noted that "McCall
struggled" and that "others were more able to answer questions." Mr.
Karmazin described Mr. McCall as "flustered," and said he did a
"horrible job" of explaining the numbers. Leon Panetta, former Clinton
White House chief of staff, speaking of a later McCall performance, was
blunt: "Carl knew nothing."

The article sums up the Board this way:

The board, which was often
dysfunctional, was stocked with celebrities from diverse
constituencies, many of whom didn't understand the NYSE or take their
responsibilities seriously. Former New York State Comptroller Carl
McCall, who brought Mr. Grasso's contract to fruition, was viewed by
his colleagues as incompetent and, in the words of Goldman Sachs CEO
Henry Paulson, not "financially sophisticated." Former Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright felt she shouldn't "question" the pay; Bear
Stearns CEO James Cayne admitted he "tuned out" of the pay proceedings;
and Van der Moolen Vice Chairman Robert Fagenson suggested the only
real concern was "how this was going to reflect on the Board."

But the interviews also make clear that more astute
board members, such as Mr. Langone, former Viacom President Mel
Karmazin, and former Merrill Lynch Chairman David Komansky, took it
upon themselves to understand Mr. Grasso's contract, and offered strong
arguments for why they'd paid him as they had. "We knew what we were
doing when we paid him. We did it purposely, and we believed it was the
right compensation," Mr. Komansky said in his interview

In this environment, Grasso is culpable, how?

Student Government, Pirates, and Antarctica

Okay, how could you resist that title for a post.  My thoughts on this subject were spurred by an article by Fox News about pirates that won election to the NC State student government:

By an overwhelming majority, the Raleigh school last week elected a candidate
called "The Pirate Captain" student body president, giving the old sea dog 58
percent of the vote.

"We're quickly goin' to bae getting our plank started, get the simple things
out of the way," The Pirate Captain (search), real name Whil
(or maybe "Will") Piavis, a junior, told supporters after election results were
unveiled Wednesday night.

Many outlets have reported this story with incredulity that such an unserious person could be elected to so lofty an office.  Several student government weenies at NC State agreed:

More sober student-government types seemed appalled that a character straight
from "SpongeBob SquarePants" had crashed their party.

I was not surprised in the least, for two reasons.  First, I think many Americans in general are fed up with the self-importance of most legislators.  This goes double for students and the student government.  In fact, I think it is nearly a law of nature that the more trivial the government post, the more self-important the occupants of that post are.

The second reason I was not surprised was that we had a similar event twenty years ago at Princeton where the student government was taken over by the Antarctic Liberation Front:

Back when I was an undergrad
at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body
Governing Council (USG) election.  The previous USG administration,
headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so
irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the
usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less
who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition
party.  Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his
office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the
student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.

The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic
Liberation Front.  I wish I had saved their brochures, but their
proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the
school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights
between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was
under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica.  The ALF swept
the USG election.  This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG
stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body.  The
pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies
(sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential
election) only amused the general student population even further.
After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF
resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more
boring.

Yes, that Eliot Spitzer, the overreaching Aspiring Governor of New York.  He is STILL mad about getting dissed in this student election, and whined about it twenty years later in print.  And don't miss fellow Princetonian Virginia Postrel's reflections on the ALF and Eliot Spitzer.

Even More Niche Blogs

I try to keep on the lookout for odd, niche blogs out there.  Previously I linked to the remote (as in TV remote) blog and the NFL Cheerleader Blog

The niche blog today is the Payphone Project, which is both a photo blog as well as a news site about payphones.  Make sure to look at the pictures, but here is my favorite-- The Antarctic Payphone at Scott Base, Antarctica  (uhhh, anyone here have 426 quarters they can lend me?)

Kiwiphonebooth

Though I must admit that this one on Lake Victoria is cool:

Lake_victoria_solar_payphone_01

I actually first ran into this site when I was working in the online directory world at Whitepages.com

Update: While I called this a niche, it must be a big niche, because the Payphone Project has competitors (and here, and jeez, here too)

Coming soon: Carnival of the Payphones?

Iceberg Collision

Courtesy of Nature Noted, comes this article on two enormous blocks of ice set to collide in the next week in Antarctica.

104274main_iceberg_story_pic

As the Nasa site linked above puts it:

It is an event so large that the best seat in the house is in space: a massive iceberg is on a collision course with a floating glacier near the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica. NASA satellites have witnessed the 100-mile-long B-15A iceberg moving steadily towards the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Though the iceberg's pace has slowed in recent days, NASA scientists expect a collision to occur no later than January 15, 2005.

Eliot Spitzer and the Antarctic Liberation Front

The "news" today is that Eliot Spitzer has announced he is running for governor of New York.  This is about as surprising as the "revelation" that Barry Bonds took steroids.  Duh.  The "AG" job is not nicknamed "Aspiring Governor" for nothing.  Also, Spitzer represents the worst of a new trend of AG's using their prosecutor role to engage in lawsuits more for their media and publicity value rather than an sense of public service.  Why else would Spitzer involve himself and the AG office in a compensation dispute between two private parties, except for the fact that the two private parties are very high profile in NY.

OK, but what is this Antarctica thing?  Back when I was an undergrad at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body Governing Council (USG) election.  The previous USG administration, headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition party.  Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.

The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic Liberation Front.  I wish I had saved their brochures, but their proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights between the double yellow lines of the US highways.  All of this was under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica.  The ALF swept the USG election.  This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body.  The pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies (sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential election) only amused the general student population even further.  After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more boring.

If you think I am exaggerating in saying that the Spitzer-led student council types had a whiny reaction to this bit of fun, you should know that Spitzer was still whining about it 20 years later to the New Yorker magazine.  Virginia Postrel, also a Princetonian at the time, had a similar reaction to mine here, and fisks the New Yorker article.