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Update, Plans, Etc

Hi, there. It’s been a while since I’ve posted updates. I’ve been busy with many things, but I wanted to throw out some news.

First, I have been reading a ton of books recently — the majority of them are related to pedagogical methods. I plan to post one or two batches of brief book reviews on education books eventually. I just posted a lengthy book review about a math book.

Speaking of book reviews, I published a long book review of a recently published Jack Matthews Note: this is not one of the books my Personville Press has been publishing.

I think this year I will be reading Chinese literary classics mostly. Also, fiction for pre-teens and teens.

In 2015 I never got around to posting a list of things read and movies watched. In 2016 though I plan to maintain a 2016 list (and include some of the major finds from 2015).

I have been listening to a ton of music and posting a list of my recent emusic purchases here.  I’ve also been contributing a lot of posts to the emusic forum and finding some great stuff. The list is presented in chronological order, and it’s worth skipping down to the SXSW section (between March and April 2015) to see the latest albums which have struck me.   In addition, I’ve started to post on Google Docs a list of capsule music reviews of new and old albums (which are either used purchases or library CDs). So far I’ve posted 154 album reviews and have given my highest rating to about 30-40 of them. (I tend to be picky about what I review). When I get around to it, I’ll create a link to these reviews which is easier to read.

I’m in the middle of publishing a Jack Matthews fiction title (probably his best).  I was going to produce a drupal 8 site for my Personville Press, but plans for that were derailed somewhat. I’ll get back to that when I get the chance.

I’ve mentioned before that despite the dearth of blog posts, I post lots of meaty posts on Facebook and Google Plus. I post identical content on both social networks. About a year ago I explained the technical difficulties of syndicating my blog posts to different social networks. I’ll take another stab at it when I get the chance. I really hate ignoring my blog so much.

Last year I maintained a blog for my creative writing class. It had a lot of fun stuff, but at the end of the semester I wrote a letter to my middle school students about writing.

Oh, yes, it occurs to me that I should repost my “Best of 2015” list I emailed my friends. I’ll do that very soon. Speaking of end of the year, I recently celebrated my 50th birthday and decided that at the end of each year I will compose a list of lessons learned from the past year. As exhibitionist as I am,  I won’t be sharing this list online  (not soon anyway). But I’m sure over the years it will be interesting to see how my perspectives and lessons changed.

A few days ago I was amazed to learn that my 15 year old nephew and 16 year old nephew take about 30 photos of themselves each week.  I doubt that when I was that age I took that many photos (and certainly not selfies!). Recently even I haven’t had any reason to pose for pictures. But here’s a pic from my 50th birthday dinner with my sister and mother.

Robert Nagle at 50

What I’ve posted here hardly scratches the surface of what I’ve been into or writing. I think in 2016 my blog will return to normal again.


Making Sense of Algebra (Book Review)

making-sense-algebraTitle:  Making Sense of Algebra: Developing Students’ Mathematical Habits of Mind

Author:  E. Paul Goldenberg, EDC, Inc., June Mark, EDC, Inc., Jane M. Kang, EDC, Inc., Mary Fries, EDC, Inc., Cynthia J. Carter, The Rashi School, Tracy Cordner, EDC, Inc.

Publisher: Heinemann,  (Download Sample Chapter)

ISBN:  978-0325053011

Publishing Date: April 2015

Where to Buy: Publisher’s Web Site. Amazon.com, BN

Price: $22.50 for print book (no ebook is available)

Summary: Excellent CC-oriented guide for getting students to adopt the “algebraic” habit of mind with a particularly strong chapter on using puzzles in the classroom.

I’m a first year middle school math teacher  trying to broaden my pedagogical understanding of the subject. I have come across many impressive math  education books by  Jo Boaler, Cathy Seeley, Marilyn Burns and  John A. Van de Walle. I’ve also picked a few recent titles which are “Common Core” aware (such as Cathy Humphreys’ Making Number Talks Matter, Building Powerful Numeracy for Middle and High School Students by Pamela Weber Harris and finally Making Sense of Algebra by  E. Paul Goldenberg and others). All are excellent in their own way. “Making Sense of Algebra” selects a small number of topics and covers them in depth; the problems and puzzles it presents  would fit perfectly well in high school algebra as well as a class for advanced middle school students. At the same time, the book covers some fundamental topics which properly should be taught at the middle school level (or  earlier).

Making Sense of Algebra  does not contain lesson plans or activity worksheets. While the book alludes frequently to CC math standards, it doesn’t try to review these standards or at least provide a reference to them (that might have helped). Although the book has multiple names in the byline,  it has a good logical flow and certainly doesn’t read like an education textbook (it’s much better!)  With an important  exception noted below, the book doesn’t really cover geometry, nor does it refer to trigonometry or calculus in any in-depth way. Still, the general principles of solving math problems elucidated here do apply to all kinds of higher math.

Rather than trying to plan a class or curriculum, the book covers the development of mathematical habits of mind.

The first chapter introduces the concept of “algebraic habits of mind” and how it relates to the Common Core’s Standards for mathematical practice. Chapter 2 discusses problems in contemporary math education and the special challenges facing certain kinds of struggling learners. Chapter 3 covers how puzzles can be used in class to promote algebraic habits of mind. Chapter 4 talks about how  teachers can help students to  investigate problems and formulate solutions. Chapter 5 talks about the importance of revising certain mental models commonly used in lower grades to illustrate multiplication and negative numbers. It shows why  using number lines to illustrate addition and subtraction obviate the need to teach certain rote rules (like “multiplying two negatives cancels each other out”) and that using the metaphor of area  to illustrate multiplication lays the groundwork for explaining how to multiply polynomials.The last chapter covers how a teacher can monitor and tighten  language used in the classroom to best facilitate learning. It also provides insights into how a teacher can overcome a student’s reluctance to  talk in math class.

I found the chapter on puzzles to be the most remarkable and helpful to me as a teacher. It can be a challenge though to use them in class. Some  puzzles that are too hard (or too dependent on non-mathematical skills) can end up segregating the class into those willing to try hard puzzles and those who don’t even bother. For example, I — like many other math teachers — introduced the infamous Cheryl’s birthday math problem to  my middle school students. My top students found it challenging but  perplexing while a good  chunk of my students didn’t even try (despite some pre-teaching about how to systematically record guesses, etc).  The puzzle chapter makes a case about the pedagogical value of having students experience frustration and  try a variety of approaches to solve something. It covers lots of different puzzle types which are more specifically about math (unlike the Cheryl’s birthday problem),  more inviting to students and apt to lead  students down algebraic paths. The book discusses the  learning opportunities of various puzzle types and the advantage of using puzzle types which are easy for a teacher (or student) to  create on their own. The idea of students creating math puzzles was  intriguing  to me, but it makes perfect sense; it helps students with  “posing interesting problems” which is another  habit of mind which  the book believes to be important.

The book suggests that puzzles be used as  “stand-alone investigations” rather than introducing them during units when a specific topic is studied. The book defends this practice by saying: “Life’s real problems arrive at any time, not just when you are conveniently studying how to solve them. We investigate when we don’t know how to solve a problem. We must not start out by thinking, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to factor because that’s what we’re studying now.'”  The book argues that cultivation of  “stamina” is important when when trying to solve math problems and that  “problems which are too short or too scaffolded don’t increase students’ investigation skills or stamina.” For this reason, it’s helpful to give students problems with a “low threshold, high ceiling” (translation: problems which are easy to play with, but might involve concepts beyond their zone of proximal development).

The book offers several strategies for helping to cultivate student’s investigative skills. First, it emphasizes the importance of gaining experience about the problem itself before trying to formalize a solution. This can involve plugging in a few haphazard numbers or  using experimental aids.   Second, the teacher can give “tail-less” or “headless” problems whereby students are given a set of facts without an actual question being asked and must  write a list of assumptions implied by this set of facts (or conversely,  the student is given a problem and asked to speculate about what data is needed to solve it). What a good idea! Often  failing to recognize the implications of a mathematical statement can prevent the student from reaching a solution. Third, presenting students with redundant quantitative  information  in a problem can make it easier for  struggling students to make connections. Fourth, providing additional questions (i.e., “have you found ALL  the solutions?”) can  be a challenging and interesting way to extend the assignment for advanced students.

While the first half of the book did a great job of explaining how students think mathematically and how to make them think more productively, I was beginning to think that the book offered little real insight about how to run a math class and organize students effectively. Some questions spring to mind: 1)how do you do assessments of puzzle solving or habits of mind? 2)what kinds of topics lend themselves better to small group activities and what kinds require more teacher-prodding? 3)How do you  integrate the need to teach habits of mind with the need to teach mandated objectives?

The second half of the book  tackles these kinds of questions. The investigations chapter ends with a fairly good discussion of how to structure whole class discussions of investigations after students have collaborated on clarifying examples. The subject of the last chapter “Thinking Out Loud” is about the best ways how  to teach students  to discuss mathematical ideas in the classroom. The book stresses the importance of encouraging students to “think first, then talk,” but argues that discussions are a way to “vary the texture of the class.” I recently finished Cathy Humphreys Making Number Talks Matter and feel that this book provides a exhaustive treatment of the value of a more communicative approach to math and how to implement it. The  chapter in Thinking Algebraically covers some of the same ground (without as many examples), but it makes several important new points. First, the teacher should encourage and model precision in speech. For example, when discussing a cube, using the word “side” invites misunderstanding; if you use “vertices,” “edges”, “faces”, that reduces the possibility of confusion. (Of course, it is impossible for students to avoid using “sloppy” language, but it is possible to make students aware of the need for precision). It’s important to choose topics which are actually discussable and to give the student enough time to formulate an answer (the book says “counting to 20 in your head….is not unreasonable”).

The book analyzes in great detail the various reasons why students prefer not to talk in a math class. Perhaps the question seems too trivial, or the student may lack confidence in their own math skills to express their ideas. It offers ways that teachers can encourage productive discussions. For example, instead of saying “close” or “you are getting warmer,” the teacher can respond to a wrong answer with supportive    statements like “the answer needs to be even” or “were you thinking that 7×7= 49?” The book offers ways for the teacher to make the student feel empowered in the classroom and links the ability to solve puzzles appropriate to their level as a confidence-builder. One  recommended technique  is to present written fictional  “math dialogues” about a math situation, and have students read along and critique the approaches of the fictional students. Although these dialogues may sound corny, “the student reading it can imagine — even without knowing this is fiction — how characters who are never told what to do or how to do it can believe and demonstrate that they can figure out mathematical ideas for themselves using what they already know. This invests mathematical authority in these characters, repeatedly giving the message that mathematical knowledge can be built logically rather than from some external source.”

This is a brilliant insight and a great way to model student conversations  and habits of mind. The book provides one extended example of a fictional dialogue and references to other books which contain additional dialogues.  (I would have liked the book to have a second example, but this is fine).

My only complaint is that I wish the book had covered how technology and videogames can be incorporated in class. In Texas, all middle schoolers are expected to follow self-guided online lessons and videogames called Think Through Math. I have recently been wowwed by the Dragonbox Algebra 12+ mobile app/game (described in detail in Greg Toppo’s book The Game Believes in You). For various organizational and budgetary reasons, math departments are having to use these kinds of courses and modules, and  teachers could benefit from guidance about whether these methods can be academically rigorous and easily integrated into the classroom. I suspect that the book’s authors would  be skeptical of algebra via videogames. At the same time, students have lots of access to math resources via the web; are these “cheats” pedagogically useful? Or should the teacher make some attempt to discourage students from finding the answer online so they may arrive at their own insights?

OVERALL this compact book is a pretty dense read, but full of insights  and really fun to read. (I enjoyed trying out many of the puzzles myself).   This book  showed an awareness of existing scholarship and provided an ample bibliography, making it invaluable for the novice teacher (though the experienced math teacher will find useful insights here as well). I fear that the book will be known mainly for exploring the use of puzzles in the classroom. But the book covers a lot more ground than that.


Here’s a message I sent via email (and Twitter)  to the PBS Newshour:

Dear PBS Newshour:

I have been watching your news show for more than 25 years. It is a fantastic source of news and commentary.

Recently you changed the look of your show. Nothing wrong with that.

However, on today’s program (July 29) I noticed that you have a chyron on the bottom left of the screen which rotates nonstop during the entire program. It shows two things: #pbsnews (the twitter hashtag) and pbsnews.org/newshour (the URL).

In theory I don’t have a problem with the display of either thing. But it is extremely distracting — so much that I cannot concentrate on anything else.

Actually you already have the newshour logo above these things, so either thing is actually unnecessary.

Also, do you you really worry that people don’t know the URL? You don’t even need to show that!

From your viewpoint, you may wish to publicize these things, but a lot can be said for keeping the screen clear of unnecessary information. Generally I have always appreciated the visuals for your stories and how un-glitzy your presentation is. Now with those rotating chyrons, though I am afraid I cannot look at the TV screen for any more than a minute before I want to throw a sneaker at it.

Let me stress that I don’t have a problem with captions or even the logo itself. But the URL and hashtag add nothing to the presentation.

Perhaps my reaction is atypical. I don’t know.

Here are some solutions:

  1. Show these things during the first minute of the story and then hide them after that.
  2. Lengthen the rotation time. Currently you seem to rotating every 10 seconds between the hashtag, the URL and nothing. It would help to put everything on a 30 second rotation instead of a 10 second rotation.

Please consider my feedback when you plan the visuals for the Newshour. Thanks.


P.S. Thanks for beefing up your climate change coverage. About 2 years ago it was fairly skimpy and you really didn’t choose good guests. Now it’s much better.

P.S.S.  I greatly enjoy the regular features (Art Beat, Paul Solman, Mark Shields, Education coverage, Ask the Headhunter). The Website rocks!


It needs to be said: books, books, books!

I am aware of how my sparse my blog posts have been recently. But I have been reading lots of good stuff. (Ironically I began a lot of stuff last summer which I didn’t get around to finishing until recently). Also, I’ve been reading lots of books about teaching and education which are worth mentioning. I may not get around to posting a lot on my blog for a while, but you will surely be seeing some reviews pronto.


First Post from my Galaxy Tab Pro

I’m creating this test post to verify that I can post from my TABLET. Check out my Jack Matthews author page for more fun..

UPDATE: The wp client for android doesn’t seem to sync with desktop updates. THAT IS GOING TO BE A PROBLEM.

OTHER USABILITY ISSUES:  the tablet guide will save your update only after you have backed out of the new screen. NOT SMOOTH EITHER. I constantly am searching for a nonexistent save button when I just need to click the Go Back button on the tablet.

Update 2: I guess I can live with a tablet wp client which publishes only one way….

Also, I am absolutely hating having to type from the onscreen keyboard. The android is particularly bad about guessing what I want to say.

Update 3. Well, it seems that the android client does refresh/update the post’s content, but it does it quietly so you never know for sure whether it has done it or not.


Bringing the blog back to life

I have been furiously busy with my teaching job — and as of yesterday now have time to reclaim my writing projects. I plan to do a facelift on this blog within the week. Stay tuned!

Update 1: Ok, I’ve going to be doing a lot of bug fixing and design tweaks. (What the heck is up with those navigation menus?) At least now the comments display properly.


I am way too busy with teaching now to do anything about it, but I just noticed that my default Thesis wordpress theme somehow doesn’t show comments anymore. My database still has the comments; they just don’t appear!

I think it’s now time to move to a more modern and generic theme. That’s an afternoon project, and I expect I’ll be able to fix everything next week. Actually I might look at enabling some other design features while I’m at it.


I have been away from blogging for a long while — stay tuned!  (though I have been blogging here for the new creative writing class I’m teaching — That’s right, I teach creative writing at an Houston middle school).

It’s an obvious point really, but even though I haven’t had time for blogging in the last year, I do check my blog often — all the time, in fact. Mostly I use my blog to keep track of stuff. Links usually (like my ever-expanding music collection), but also things I have already written. I like to update/correct my old stuff; I have planned a major addition to an important blog post from about a year ago.

Sometimes I just read my old stuff to reminisce and remind myself what a brilliant guy I am/was. Call it vanity,   I always am delighted  to rediscover a phrase I used several years ago or how something I said a long while back still holds true today. Actually the world is always changing — accelerating — and you almost assume that anything written more than a second ago has to be  irrelevant. I am not irrelevant! — not now at least…

This time of my life  is probably something I will describe at great length in a year or two. (It reminds me of the experience of watching Michael Apted’s Up Series and realizing that you don’t find out what had REALLY been going on that person’s head   until the next episode 7 or 14 years later. Have patience, my friend.

Three other random notes. 1.  Drupal 8 is slowly crawling into a beta. AFT.  The final release is probably just going to be one big anticlimax, although I’m eager to climb onto that platform.  2. I am at a loss to explain why, but 99% of this blog’s  comment spam arrives at one rambling and inconsequential post. (Akismet successfully swallows up so none of it shows up — thanks, Matt!)  I realize that comment spam assaults web applications relentlessly and indiscriminately, but if someone can explain what’s so awesome about this  particular post, I’m all ears.  3. Looking back, I am so glad I didn’t embed my youtube links into posts. It is always a bummer to see the embedded youtube player  in old posts linking  to nothing — especially when the video is usually still up on youtube — except at another URL. (Google, get working on that one please!).

That’s all folks, and I’ll report back in half a century. In the meantime, you can watch one of my favorite What’s My Line episodes.



Messages to My Dog

I love my dog AJ, but I just wish for 5 minutes we could speak the same language so I can give him a piece of my mind. Here is a list of the things I would say:

  • Just because I am entering my kitchen does NOT mean I will be fetching you a dog treat.
  • Aluminum foil is NOT interesting!
  • Our primary reason for going out to a walk is for you to poo and pee, not so you can dig up chicken legs and find poo from other dogs.
  • I wouldn’t come close to stepping on you so often if you didn’t take naps 3 inches from my desk chair.
  • Please don’t lick my ears when I am doing pushups. They ruin my concentration.
  • The main reason I leave the house is 1)to buy food and 2)to earn money to buy food. I don’t like staying away from you any more than I do, but I do it because I have to….think of the extra bones and dog treats!
  • There is no need to drink from puddles outside. I got unlimited supplies of water at home!
  • I wish you’d bark at strangers coming into my house more. That’s the “good kind of barking.”
  • Thank you for not being a prima donna about the bathtub.
  • When we go on a walk, I don’t mind your eagerness to run around. But I do mind when you stubbornly refuse to go anywhere besides the direction you want.
  • If I thought I could hold you in my lap and still get work down on my computer, believe me, I’d let you stay there. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
  • I like meeting new dogs almost as much as you do.
  • Why do you not get excited when you meet other wiener dogs? You know you are a wiener dog …. don’t you?
  • I think about you all the time when I am away or at work.
  • Truthfully, I really enjoy bringing you to the dog sitter and not having to walk you all the time. I need a vacation too. But I’m glad that you don’t get sick of me.
  • I’m happy as hell that I don’t have fleas.
  • Humans won’t let you inside their home  unless they  invite you first!
  • I feel guilty for not taking you to the dog park more often, but frankly, it’s a relief when you are content to take a normal walk around the block.
  • I like surprising you.

Unfortunately, this tongue-in-cheek blog post  has a rather sad ending. Last September or October, my dog AJ hurt his back. I knew that wiener dogs had this tendency, so I took some preventative measures. Unfortunately, I should have taken even stricter measures. Initially the vet was hopeful that AJ could recover through rest and relaxation and limiting of his movement. It definitely worked for a while — even though AJ had his pain points which we had to be extremely careful about. (I was on the second floor and had to carry him up and down the stairs — which was hard for both of us).

After persistent begging to join me on my recliner chair, I finally relented and carried him into my lap, holding him tightly. The problem was not jumping up but jumping down, and after about 15 minutes of lying comfortably,  AJ unexpectedly leapt off the chair and fell in a really bad way. At first he seemed ok, but then his hind legs were utterly paralyzed, pretty much making him incapable of normal life. I ended up bringing  him to the vet on Monday and having him put to sleep. I knew it was for the best, but it was still very sad.

Besides being the perfect companion, AJ also enjoyed sitting on my lap while I watched TV.  It felt perfectly natural to both of us — and regrettably, this probably was a factor in facilitating his fatal injury. I didn’t feed him much people food, but I fairly often fed him leftover sweet potatoes and peas. He loved that, and so did I.

AJ enjoyed many human friends — almost more than other dogs sometimes. One of the great things about walking a dog is that you meet other dog owners and get to see which people are comfortable interacting with dogs. Dogs learn very quickly which humans are the most friendly.  For some reason in the last year or two AJ would cry with excitement whenever a recognizable human appeared. It was both amusing and touching. On Sunday before I put AJ to sleep, my neighbor visited my home to offer comfort. AJ had been suffering all day in silence, but when my neighbor and friend John appeared at the door, AJ started whining uncontrollably. This whining was a combination of things: it was genuine joy that John had come to see him, combined with a desire to make John aware of how much he was suffering and how helpless he felt before everything. At the vet the next day, my vet explained that for evolutionary reasons,  animals hid their pain very well to avoid being easy prey for a predator. But in this case, AJ was vocalizing his pain  to John because he knew John was part of his family.  Inside that apartment, we were three creatures who were joined by a common fear of mortality and a desire to help one another.

I thought back to this blog post and realized that I had an awful lot of things I wanted to say to him during those last 24 hours:

  • Sometimes I have to limit your activity not because I want to but because I have to. This is a burden for any parent or caregiver.
  • I feel your pain almost as much as you do.
  • Sickness and injury always seem incomprehensible and makes you feel helpless. It also makes people around you feel helpless as well.  Humans and money can’t solve all problems.
  • Our time on this planet is very short, and circumstances change more quickly than we ever thought possible.
  • The difference between pets and humans is that pets have to deal only with the here-and-now while humans must plan for the future and understand the long term implications of everything.
  • Even after you are gone, I think about how  the smallest things used to puzzle or frighten you.
  • I still wonder what you must think about normal human devices like the microwave, the telephone, the iPad.

One of AJ’s claim to fame is that in the first year I owned him, I entered him in a wiener dog race in Buda, Texas. I enrolled him as a joke (and as an outing for my nephews), but as luck would have it, AJ raced very fast. He won 3 races in a row, and out of 600+ dogs, he placed in the top 20. My nieces and nephews loved AJ and they loved to do pretend races. They would hold his leash while I walked 50 feet away. At the count of three, one of them would let go of his leash and AJ would rush towards me at the same time that one of my nephews tried to beat him. AJ always won. I’m sorry to say that he had gained a few pounds in his last year or two, but he still managed to win every race.

Here’s a video I took of AJ with his best doggie friend (whom he played with at the babysitter). I was all too aware that pets leave our lives pretty quickly and so tried to take as many pictures and videos as possible.   As a pet owner, you are aware that these memorials mean a lot more to the owner than to anybody else; a dog is just a dog (except to its owner).

Finally, I guess I really haven’t sketched my dog in very much detail. As a human who spent a lot of time with him, I got to notice a lot of his eccentricities, and he got to see mine. So how would I describe his personality?

AJ was very friendly, especially to children. He was a very calming presence at almost any time.  It was very rare that he growled or reacted negatively to anyone. I still can’t figure out why some dogs growl or act overly aggressive towards strangers. Perhaps it has to do with the way they were raised, but from the very beginning, AJ wanted nothing more than to find another friend.  I think it had to do with his small size and the fact that he didn’t bark. AJ was treated very well sometime. In my first apartment, I lived next to a giant park that was ideal for walking dogs. I would let him off his leash frequently, and he had a lot of freedom to roam around and occasionally socialize with other dogs. But he was always very human-focused; it was almost funny how he sometimes paid no attention to the other dog and instead try to get the attention of its owner. I didn’t actively try to train AJ — I just didn’t feel like it, although I saw how quickly AJ picked up some things about what was off limits and what wasn’t. Unfortunately, AJ didn’t like being in a crate — it was torture to him. I tried to use a bike trailer to bring AJ to a park which was a mile away. AJ thought it was bloody murder.4504699026_8a45ac95f1_z

AJ loved taking walks, but you couldn’t get much exercise while walking him. He smelled things carefully and deliberately. He had an amazing memory for smells. In apartment complexes the big danger was chicken bones all over the grounds. I suspect that squirrels and cats had dug them out of the garbage and were dropping them at random places. As a pet owner you were warned about not giving your dog chicken bones, and however much I tried, AJ always managed to find one before I could yank him away.  One night I walked him and steered him away from a chicken bone; the next day I had completely forgotten about the bone, but AJ darted right to it and snatched the bone too quickly for me to stop him.  Perhaps it was less memory than smell; the thing was, immediately when he started on the walk, he knew exactly where to dart — hundreds of feet before he would come close enough to smell anything.086

AJ and I watched a ton of TV together. During that time I was underemployed a lot and addicted to various TV shows coming available on Netflix. I think it was AJ’s definition of bliss to be lying on my lap while we watched TV.  I didn’t feed him human food, but every so often I would give him leftovers from my vegetables — sweet potatoes and peas. Occasionally AJ got into some food he shouldn’t have — for example, he never went into my trashcan, though he could have easily done so, but generally he respected boundaries between my food and his. Anything which fell on the ground was fair play though. When watching TV, I was really careful to avoid shows showing animals getting hurt, but to be honest, I doubt that AJ would have noticed it anyway. Sometimes I would try to direct his attention to a dog on the TV, but most of the time he didn’t notice or show any interest.

It was strange to sleep in a bed with a dog companion. I had some doggie steps which made it easy for him to get onto the bed. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t let him on my bed at all. First, he would scratch himself at strange hours and keep me awake sometimes. Second, when I later learned about the back problems, I realized how hard it would be to take away a privilege I had already given.  That said, sleeping with him wasn’t really a problem — even enjoyable at times. I always found it amusing how he liked to go under the covers. I really wished I could have set up a webcam while at work to see what he did to occupy the day; I’m sure it was nothing unusual, but still I would have liked to know.

AJ was  fussy about bones, preferring the small rawhide bones to the larger meat bones. I think the most recent batch of rawhide must be sprayed with some kind of smell which dogs must love. Whenever I gave him one of these bones, for an hour or so AJ would stop paying attention to everything about the world and just focus on unraveling one of those rawhide bones. I enjoyed watching him when he was just being a dog.

I had a careful route for giving walks. AJ knew it, and yet would put all kinds of pressure to diverge from it. On the other side of the apartment was a fenced apartment community just like ours — there was nothing special about it really, and AJ absolutely wanted to go exploring over there. At first, I just refused, but once or twice I was able to sneak in when the gate was already open. As I said it was nothing special, but for AJ it was one of these forbidden thrills, and I enjoyed indulging him once in a while.  I lived in a dense neighborhood with lots of cars and very few sidewalks.  AJ just loved to go the longer path around the block; I generally avoided doing it because it was out of the way, but sometime I went along. In Houston we have a lot of heat even at night and you had to be very careful not to exert the dog too much. Sometimes he just couldn’t walk any more from exhaustion. Sometimes I would need to carry him or bring a supply of water.  So he could enthusiastically embark on a long trip, but he just lacked the energy to complete the journey.

AJ had doggie friends; I suspect he must have found the thought of  meeting the same dog every few days must have been relaxing and fun.

Dog owners who live in houses may not realize this, but you end up having to be physically present for every poop the dog takes. I couldn’t just open the door and let AJ do his business outside. As a result, my schedule seemed to revolve around his walking schedule. Often it meant not being able to stay late at a social function  or never being to bring home take out food (because I would need to factor in 30 minutes to walk AJ). Even if I had already walked him, being away from home  2 or 3 hours meant that AJ expected a walk immediately; he was restless and not just because of his bodily functions. AJ’s presence definitely calmed me down and distracted me and reminded me to take a nap (somebody once said that dogs functioned to remind their owners to take more naps!)  Naps are wonderful. Unfortunately AJ ruined the exercise regime which I had established pretty firmly in 2008 and 2009. On the other hand I was engaging in more low intensity activity and was out of doors  a lot more often (and soaking in that Vitamin  D). Also I got to know a lot of people, and not just the pet owners around the neighborhood. I was no longer that scary stranger — I was the man with the dog.

I was rather amused at how assiduously AJ avoided rainy weather. What a baby!  Sometimes if he so much as sniffed rain, he would refuse to go any further.

AJ passed away fairly early in his dog life; I still live with the guilt of it. On the other hand, I know I took care of him better than most dogs and certainly gave him lots of attention. I shall remember the days I spent with him as days of joy and amusement. 5212617067_1cec866eb0_z

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Education Book Reviews

Over the past few months I have been pursuing  a teacher’s public school certification for Texas. One important step in that endeavor has been reading the latest books on education policy, curriculum and classroom management. I have been collecting lots of books and learning new things. I haven’t begun to finish these books, but I have skimmed a lot and learned a lot of important things.

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. By Diane Ravitch . Eye-opening analysis of education reform by one of America's education experts. Ravitch makes the case that a test-centered approach to teaching and learning has done significant harm to students. Significantly Ravitch pins much of the blame on charter schools and the push by foundations (like Gates and others) to privatize learning. One of the most eye-opening facts was how performance of US students on NAEP (a fairly reliable test used for comparing education progress)has been steadily rising, belying the idea that public schools are "failing" the kids. At heart Ravitch believes that public schools are doing as good a job as they can under the circumstances and don't need private entrepreneurship to upend the system. Highly recommended.
Teach Like a Champion. Doug Lemov . This is a very impressive set of practices and guidelines for ensuring that learning actually takes place inside the classroom and that the classroom is managed properly. This is a very clever book and probably most new and experienced teachers could learn a thing or two from it. This helpful book also includes video excerpts on the enclosed DVD to illustrate the principles when put in practice. To my delight, I later learned that Lemov did some teacher training at HISD, and so this book is influencing schools already.
Lies My Teacher Told Me. James W. Loewen . This very famous and respected critique of high school history classes shows the danger of an approach to social studies which skims the surface of historical events. Lowen highlights some howlers which are nonetheless taught in class (and most of which I remember learning about). Although I applaud the aim of this book, in fact I think the process of producing and approving textbooks is what ensures its bland inoffensiveness. I'm guessing that a lot of these misperceptions are quickly dispelled in college history classes, so I have to wonder what Loewen wants here. Does he want history teachers to focus on less material in more depth. Or more class time in general? Also, I'm sure it would be ideal to have high school teachers who know some of these historical old wives' tales. I guess the book's reputation (and catchy title) ensures that all history teachers will have to read it and tailor their lessons accordingly.
Brain Gain. By Marc Prensky .
Power of Mindful Learning. By Ellen Langer .
Essential 55. By Ron Clark.
Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. (Website ).This book argues that schools harm children and family life by assigning too much homework. Most of the book consists of anecdotal evidence, quotes by psychology professors and harried parents. I'm sure there is a grain of truth here, but I felt that the case wasn't made fairly. For example, are some kinds of homework worse than others? What about long term project work rather than daily assignments? The book successfully conveys the fact that huge amounts of homework interferes with family life and participation in extracurriculars. That is certainly important. One Amazon commenter (and school administrator) mentioned that teachers often assign too much homework because they didn't have time to finish their lesson in class (or students didn't have the interest to do their work in class). Having too much homework might be a symptom of a dysfunctional classroom than a teacher with unreasonable expectations. Interesting to read, but I wish it went into more detail about what kinds of homework actually are worthwhile (other than throwaway advice for students to avoid doing more than 5 math problems a night).

Below are books I have been accumulating and haven’t read enough of to formulate an opinion about:

  • Teach like your hair is on fire. by Rafe Esquith.
  • Power of Poems by Margriet Ruurs.
  • Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner.
  • Activating the Desire to Learn. By Bob Sullo.
  • Art of Thinking by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero.
  • Strategies that work. By Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.
  • Myth of Laziness. By Mel Levine, MD
  • Dramatic Literacy: Using Drama and Literature to Teach Middle-Level Content.  By J. Lea Smith & J Daniel Herring.
  • Engaging Minds: Motivating & Learning in America’s Schools by David A. Goslin.
  • Anti-Education Era by James Paul Gee.
  • Unschooled Mind: How Children Learn and how schools should teach.  by Howard Gardener.
  • Live Wires: Neuro-Parenting to Ignite your teen’s brain. By Judith Widener Muir MD
  • Dramatic Literacy: Using Drama and Literature to Teach Middle-Level Content by J. Lea Smith & J. Daniel Herring.

Cool new hair stylist in Houston

I just wanted to recommend a Houston hair stylist named Dori .  She lives and  works around the Houston area. She has done jobs on friends and yes even on my own hair. She performs a variety of personal services  and can even do these things in the privacy of your home. And yes, that is my photo on her home page!


A very odd thing about me and Houston

While coming home I realized a very curious thing: in the 2000+ posts I have made here, next to none have been about Houston, the city where I live. I have lots of opinions about Houston and know a lot of people here from all wakes of life; how surprising that it would never occur to me to write about them!

In a way it is not surprising; I have always  viewed Houston as a generic kind of  city and besides this blog is better at recording random observations and cogitations. But perhaps that is not true at all. After all, a large metropolitan city can be viewed in millions of different ways. It is also always changing;  anything you say about the city will go almost immediately out of date. I know that photo-bloggers and arts critics often captured the spirit of a city better than the local newspapers do. Anyway, the depressing thing about the local paper (the Houston Chronicle) is that it is really an international media property (of which the Chronicle is one prize jewel).  I jokingly have threatened to write a screenplay to vent my rage about Houston, and I still vow to do so, though it is still officially a back burner project.

So I will try to write about the other Houston, the Houston that rarely makes it into the newspaper because it is simply the Houston that envelopes my life.

Stay tuned. And p.s. don’t eat tortillas which are made of both flour and corn. What a monstrosity to the tastebuds!


Remembrance of Thomas F. Nagle (my uncle)

(About my uncle who passed away earlier this year).

Boy, Uncle Thomas was  the world’s greatest uncle!

While growing up in Houston, Texas, I didn’t get to see him except on special occasions.    Uncle Thomas was  good about visiting our family in Houston, but it’s hard (and expensive!) to keep in touch over such long distances.  While I was growing up,  my dad told me stories about Thomas and Ginnie and Eileen; it was clear that my dad and Thomas had a deep  and caring relationship and had been through a lot together.   As someone who grew up as the oldest among 4 kids, I guess I can appreciate the everchanging dynamics of  a household with 4 children.  To borrow an image from my dad’s imagination, I could imagine all four  Nagle siblings on opposite corners  of a boxing ring  at Madison Square Garden. At the bell, Aunt Ginnie rushes forward to get the first punch but ends up  tripping over her feet;  Aunt Eileen resolutely  stays in her corner  to protest the rules; My dad comes out “dancing like a butterfly’ but fakes being knocked out in order to win a bet, and Uncle Thomas tries valiantly to play referee and convince everyone to end the fight until Ginnie swings a wild punch at him and brings him down good.  Now that’s an  event I’d pay good money to see.

As luck would have it, I ended up visiting New York a lot during the 90s. For the first two times, it was for work-related reasons, but later I took multiple trips overseas and made it a point to stay an extra 2 days or so in NY so I could visit  Uncle Thomas and Aunt Eileen.

Uncle Thomas, me on Uncle Bill’s boat on Long Island (Uncle Bill is in the back). 1998

The first trip was in 1993. I had no idea what to expect, but Uncle Thomas met me at the train stop and went out of his way to take me around town.  We did the usual touristy stuff —  visiting the Cloisters, the Brooklyn Zoo  and the Empire State Building and taking the ferry around the island (I’m sure that was not the first time for him!).  Thomas also made sure to show me the neighborhood where he and my dad grew up and other important landmarks. We visited  St Patrick’s Cathedral (where my dad proposed to my mom, for example). Thomas  talked about  their youthful  summers and Uncle Curley and the  practical jokes the kids played on one another. Of course, my dad had told stories with the same cast of characters, but Uncle Thomas had different stories and a memory which seemed inexhaustible.

Surprisingly, I learned from him  that my grandfather was an excellent cook. In contrast my dad could hardly cook anything except steak and hamburgers —  Uncle Thomas never seemed to  cook either; he struck me as the type who would rather invite invite someone over for sandwiches or have seafood at a nearby restaurant. But I was certainly a good cook, and my brother Tommy was an outstanding cook, so this led me to speculate that the  Nagle cooking gene must always skip a generation in the males.

Donald Nagle (my dad) and Thomas Nagle, San Antonio, TX

Donald Nagle (my dad) and Thomas Nagle, San Antonio, TX, 2005

Both my dad and Uncle Thomas were great at telling stories, but their styles couldn’t have been different.  My  dad liked to be outrageous and embellish at the edges –anything for a laugh.  Uncle Thomas told stories earnestly and almost as if he were under oath. At the same time, Thomas always felt compelled to tell everybody’s backstory, causing some of the stories to go on and on.  But I never minded. My dad talked about wacko  clients from his law practice, while Thomas  talked about crazy things which King Kullen workers were trying to pull behind management’s back.   Thomas’s stories   were  funny too, but there would usually  be an insight or lesson at the end.

Like Uncle Thomas  I spent a lot of time at supermarkets.   Having worked as a supermarket cashier  for seven years during school, I regarded supermarkets as familiar territory. Every time  Thomas visited Houston, he made sure to visit the same supermarket I worked at — partly for professional reasons, but also just to walk around  and talk with people and find out how people  did things in Texas.  For some reason, I’ve shared this fascination with supermarkets and often thought that you can tell a lot about a society by what goes on inside its supermarkets.  When I travel anywhere, I always enjoy visiting the local supermarkets to get a feel for what the people were like. I’m sure Thomas would approve.

Before I started visiting New York,  dad and Uncle Thomas once visited me in Baltimore for graduation ceremonies. That was 1989.   I was never really  into sports, but that year my school (Johns Hopkins) had a phenomenal men’s lacrosse team. I suggested that we go see the finals (which was in College Park, Maryland, about an hour away). Dad and I took one car, while Uncle Thomas tagged along in his rental car. This was in the days before cell phones and GPS;  as  luck would have it, I took a wrong turn on the freeway, and it took about 45 minutes to recover from that mistake (mainly because we had to make sure that Uncle Thomas was following us when we retraced our steps). As a result, the rest of the ride was hellish.  Dad was furious and berated me nonstop  for not paying attention to road signs.  For dad, being late to  a sporting event  was like being late to church.  But once we arrived at the stadium, I remember Uncle Thomas’ expression; he was actually chuckling at my dad for giving me such a hard time over something so trivial. There is no more welcome sight to a young man being yelled at by his dad than the eyes of a sympathetic uncle.

(By the way, the lacrosse finals were great. My school’s team won, and we all had a great time).

One of the more memorable NY  visits came when I returned from Peace Corps in 1997. My country Albania  had actually experienced a kind of civil war, and so all the volunteers had to return home in a rush.    When Uncle Thomas met me at the airport, I was still in shock. I had lost most of my belongings and barely had more than the clothes on my back.  After that misadventure,  Uncle Thomas was literally the first recognizable face I saw in the United States.  The first thing he  did was bring me to a department store to buy me socks and underwear and maybe an extra shirt. “Just go ahead,” he said, “Buy anything you want.”  Later he brought me to an Italian restaurant for a sumptuous dinner.  It was so surreal. One day I was living in a country threatened by anarchy and civil war; the next I was wearing awesome American underwear and eating delicious fettuccine with my fantastic uncle. At such a moment, I felt  on top of the world.

During this and subsequent visits,  Uncle Thomas and I  did other touristy things. We visited a Dr. Seuss art exhibit,  saw a great Broadway musical, did dim sum in Chinatown  and visited the TV & Radio museum. All great and fun things. But what insanity!   For an out-of-towner it seemed incredibly stressful and expensive.  The signs,  the traffic,  the noise!  Perhaps these things might be less likely to bother a native New Yorker, but Uncle Thomas had a knack for going with the flow — refusing to be bothered by  $12 an hour parking  or waiters who took forever to bring your sodas or traffic lanes which inexplicably   closed.

Even though I was born in New York and my spent half his life there, ironically all of my New York memories were spent with Uncle Thomas rather than my dad.   Perhaps it would have been better to visit New York with my own  dad; my dad would have shown me all his personal landmarks, as well as any important place which had  importance in baseball or boxing history. But as we all know, my dad moved to Texas, while Uncle Thomas stayed put. One Nagle brother wanted a change of scenery (and profession), so he moved to a place where Yankees were vilified.  Don’t get me wrong, Dad was a proud Yankee — he never touched a jalapeno or went to a rodeo of his own free will. But Uncle Thomas became for me a symbol of a man who was content to stay in one geographic area and soak up its rich history and culture. Uncle Thomas certainly loved to go places — and it’s good he had multiple opportunities to do so over his many years. Certainly having children …. and grandchildren … gave him plenty of excuses. But  I always got the sense that Uncle Thomas was perfectly happy retiring in the same place he grew up in, close to his family, surrounded by great  sports teams, phenomenal bagels and supermarket chains which almost seemed like home.


Mildred Nagle (grandma) with her two boys Donald and Thomas, 1934-5?

Mildred Nagle (grandma) with her two boys Donald and Thomas, 1934-5?

Teresa and Donald Nagle, Bill Farrell and Eileen Farrell, Thomas Nagle, 2005. San Antonio

Teresa and Donald Nagle, Bill Farrell and Eileen (Nagle) Farrell, Thomas Nagle, 2005. San Antonio


From the official obituary:

GUILDERLAND – The family of Thomas F. Nagle issued the following information following his passing on January 31, 2014. As a business executive and community leader, Nagle’s work touched the lives of many and his contributions left a positive mark.

Thomas F. Nagle was born in Brooklyn in 1928, raised in Jamaica, Queens and spent most of his life in Hicksville, until he moved to Guilderland in October 2012. He graduated from Fordham University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1951. Nagle enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1950, was drafted in 1952 and completed his training on Parris Island, distinguishing himself as an Expert Marksman. He served in Nara, Japan during the Korean War. Nagle moved to a Levitt home on Blueberry Lane, Hicksville with his wife and infant daughter in December 1954. Nagle welcomed four more children, two girls and two boys, later becoming a grandfather nine times and a great-grandfather twice. He was a leader in the community. His life ended on January 31 in Guilderland, New York at age 85. He was preceded by his parents Thomas W. E. and Mildred, his brother Donald and sister Virginia. He leaves behind his sister Eileen Farrell (William) and sister-in-law, Terry Nagle, five children:Norine Nagle (Kerry Johnson) Roberta Spinosa (Dan), Ellen Hughes (James), Steve Nagle, Michael Nagle (Diane); nine grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews and their children.

Nagle had polio as a child and was not expected to live, but in typical fashion, he beat the odds and his slightly weaker leg never slowed him down. He competed on organized football and bowling teams, and was always up for a pick-up game of basketball. Even after he stopped playing sports, he continued as a fan. He would bring his children and grandkids to Mets games, and despite their dismal history, he remained a fan. Watching a game with him at home made you feel like you were at the ballpark cheering the Mets, and learned about his insights on the players.

Nagle worked in supermarkets. He started as a store manager for First National Stores (Finast) in 1956 and worked his way up to Director of Labor Relations in the late 1960s. He eventually left Finast to return to King Kullen Supermarkets, in 1979 as Director of Personnel and Labor Relations. King Kullen was where he had his first job at 16 that had continued through his college years. He retired in 2004 and continued to consult and advise for a few more years.

Nagle remained committed to giving back to his community. He was first elected to the Hicksville School Board in 1968 and served for two decades in various capacities until the mid-1980s. In 1969, he helped found H.A.D. – Help-Aid-Direction, Inc. – a program committed to educating Hicksville residents about drug abuse and helping those with problems. He was an active member of Holy Family Church (Hicksville) where he volunteered as a church usher, lector, and member of the booster club. Within the church, Nagle was involved with the Nocturnal Adoration Society, Legion of Mary, and Holy Name Society. He was also a member of the Holy Family School Board.

A phrase you could always hear him say was, “You meet the same people on your way down that you meet on your way up.” It was truly the phrase which defined his life. He treated others with respect and dignity no matter their walk in life, and looked for ways to quietly help others. He never wanted accolades, and worked to make the lives of others better, a true reflection of the Jesuit values he held. Without a doubt, Nagle’s kindness, generosity, and hard work left a mark on the world. He will be dearly missed by his family, friends, and neighbors.


The Man Who Needs No Introduction

A few years ago I was on a  panel at a conference, and someone asked how  I ought to be introduced. “Just say I am a Houston writer.”

I wasn’t being coy; I genuinely hate introductions – giving them, receiving them and having to sit through them. They are as annoying as the warnings at the front of DVDs.

There are many reasons to hate introductions. They are  too long.  They mention unnecessary details. In this Internet age, most of us could look this information up if interested. In many instances, the biographical sketch is already on the program or  panel description, so you are simply repeating  well-known information.

A less important complaint is that these introductions dwell on accomplishments and pedigrees. At one point in my life  I found it interesting that someone got a degree  from Harvard or Stanford, but now I no longer do.  Going through a prestigious academic  program makes it more likely that the speaker has been exposed to the latest research; on the other hand, it also means that the person has probably absorbed certain ideas about education and entitlement and probably had little difficulty pursuing an academic career. Successful academics got tenure because they  already received these distinctions.  When you attend a lecture, you don’t need to be persuaded that the speaker will be interesting or important  — you are already there!

Other people have started businesses or charities, written books, started Internet trends, written  new web applications. I don’t mean to dismiss those kinds of accomplishments. They seem to point to external signs of success or  external validation. To be honest, I have no way of knowing whether these accomplishments are truly impressive or just routine milestones along a certain career path. Most of the time, I don’t care because  the only thing important to me is what will be said during the talk.  Even if I did care about these accomplishments, I want to hear the speaker describe them in his own words.  The talk is all that matters.

I work in writing and publishing; I am aware of how many perfectly interesting and gifted people are ignored or overlooked because of happenstance (indeed, I count myself in that category). Perhaps I haven’t achieved my “true” potential (whatever that means), but I have embarked on some interesting projects. Some of these projects  have succeeded; some have failed; some are ongoing or deferred, so there is no way to judge the value of these projects right now.  There are some projects which I never fully realize for practical reasons. Either I lacked the time or money to execute it or was distracted by another project or some personal crisis  prevented me from dedicating the necessary time to it. Sometimes in the middle of doing something, I realize that the project was not worth finishing; perhaps someone had already done it (and done it better), or perhaps some part of the project was outside my level of talent or interest.  The biggest constraint for a writer is time and money; how do you work on your projects without bankrupting yourself in the process?  How do you balance the day job with the outside projects? Logically, it makes sense to work on projects one at a time, but practically  that almost never happens – especially if you keep stumbling on new subjects of interest.  Alas, nobody said the writer’s life was going to be easy.

It’s hard for many to pretend that social position doesn’t matter when it comes to exchanging ideas. A few years ago I attended a TED talk in Houston. It wasn’t awful or anything, but the speakers were profoundly unexciting. The speakers were  competent academics, most of whom had boring and predictable (but well-researched) ideas (See note at bottom). One was a medical researcher pontificating about science.  I wouldn’t say his presentation was awful, but it really didn’t go anywhere; the audience applauded wildly (I have never seen this kind of fervor  for a speaker). It reminded me of the phenomenon where people who normally have no love for classical music suddenly fall in love with a movie about classical music. In that case, you don’t really love classical music; you are simply expressing appreciation for the idea of  classical music by saying you like the movie. All the speakers were applauded by the audience not for the content of their presentation, but because they had achieved some level of distinction in  their field.   It is basically the celebration of academic success.  Horray, success!

I’ve run a few panels and given a few talks; though I’ve given some good ones, I’m always surprised at how many  remarkable people turn up in  the audience — some of whom never manage to ask a question.  Some of the unconference techniques are better at facilitating the exchange and dissemination of ideas among these types.  I attended an energy conference two years ago; the  best part was a catered lunch  where everyone sat at the round table and had a chance to ask questions of 2 experts assigned to that table.   Attendees could just float from one table to another and discover on their own who was talking about subjects they found interesting. Sure, sometimes it is necessary or even ideal  to sit through an hour long talk because of the subject matter; for some subjects, you need almost 30 or 40 minutes just to lay the foundation for what you are about to talk about.    In that case, the introduction just further delays the main point of a talk.

For various reasons, I have stopped attending workshops or panels in person. Instead, I  watch a lot of lectures on Youtube or listen to  podcasts.  I’ve always found it easy to skip speaker introductions — just cue Youtube to the right place. One of the most mind-blowing lectures I have ever seen was a one hour talk about climate change solutions by  atmospheric scientist Marc Jacobson.  (I must have watched it three times).  Unfortunately before he speaks,  Jacobson is given 18 minutes of introduction by two people who are dull speakers and have practically nothing interesting to say. But who needs people to prepare you for what Professor Jacobson has to say?

Yesterday, at an environmental justice conference, the introducer to an well-known investigative journalist departed from routine by relating a charming anecdote about being arrested together with this same journalist at an environmental protest.  I love offbeat and personal introductions; writers and artists often do such things.  Something 3 to 5 minutes is perfectly adequate — the shorter, the better.

At the same environmental  conference,  the keynote speaker received a long and adulatory introduction from one of his department underlings.  That isn’t necessarily a problem,  but unfortunately the underling (a noted scholar himself) went into excruciating detail about this speaker’s accomplishments and bibliography — all of which could easily be found on wikipedia. In fact, the keynote speaker gave an outstanding talk — he surely deserved those  accolades — but ultimately what mattered was not  that Book X  won an award or that the speaker met Bill Clinton but that his presentation had compelling points to make.

I mentioned elsewhere that panels can have a  more interesting dynamic than single-person lectures.  You are exposed to multiple  perspectives,  and  audience members  are less deferential to a panel than to  a single speaker. If you think about it, a single speaker wields way too much power; he towers behind the podium and determines with the clicker which Power Point bullet points will be seared into  everybody’s  retinas. Sure, with panels you have people jostling to make remarks and that is frustrating, but rowdiness can be part of the fun.   Often after a talk, I chase down an  audience member  who said  something unusual or  ask a panel member a follow up. I   find such encounters enormously  rewarding — note that I did not  need a  formal introduction to decide that a particular audience member  was interesting or worth listening to.

Here are three reasons why introductions can be so appalling.

First, intros often feel compelled to acknowledge their funding source.  This lecture was made possible by a grant from the Blubbertibubb Foundations, with hotel accommodations at the Hilton Hotel. It is part of a Distinguished Visiting Curmudgeon Lecture series which was created in 2002 under the auspices of the Archeology department in conjunction with the American Society for Jugglers under the leadership of department chair William H. Tralfaz who came up the idea for the series during a university-wide inititiative to have more stuffy eggheads visit this  campus. Who cares! Who cares! Who cares! Who Cares!

I realize that sometimes an introduction needs to contain something about the funding source (especially if the benefactor is a 90 year old philanthropist sitting in the front row of the lecture hall).  Hey, it’s ok to give the occasional shout-out — as long as it’s no more than 10 words long! You can easily convey this same information on promotional flyers, handouts and even the opening slide.

I mentioned this in another piece that ” If you cause 100 people to wait an extra five minutes, that means you are destroying 500 minutes of human time.” Every minute of the talk better count, and unfortunately intros never do.  Think about it — how many times do you reminisce about a gloriously long-winded introduction to  a talk  and not the talk itself?  My guess is you never do — although maybe you recall the annoying sensation of having to wait for the speaker actually to start speaking.

Second, for high-profile speakers, often the dean (or even the university president!) will  insist on sharing the stage. My general rule is that almost anything that a university president has to say as an introduction is  ceremonial and mainly geared towards providing a good photo-op for  students and parents. Let me rewrite every single introductory speech so that it accomplishes that purpose in as painless manner as possible:

Hi, I’m President Nagle of Pendelton State University. I can’t wait to hear this talk. It’s gonna be great! I asked  PSU prof Vincent Strudwick to say some  words before the talk begins. See ya!

The Dean can give a variation of the same speech. Here’s another idea. If you’re sitting onstage just for the sake of appearances, try to have enough courage to refrain from talking.   Making an appearance does NOT mean you are obligated to make a speech.

Third, another rationalization for making long intros is  that it reduces the need for the featured speaker to spend time  plugging his books.   Presumably it seems gauche for the featured speaker to do a sales pitch, and so the person making the  introduction can take care of the crassly commercial sales pitches.  As  sympathetic as I am  to this motive, good speakers already know how to insert casual and non-irritating  mentions of their latest books. Yes, I as an audience member probably would like to hear the title of the speaker’s latest (or most important) book, but often it suffices  to see the title listed on a slide.   Actually, if  a speaker is engaging enough,  I’m probably going to look up his books anyway.

Finally, I want to express admiration for what is called the “cold open” in show business. It can work tremendously well. My favorite example of this was a joint presentation by Bruce Sterling and Cory Doctorow at 2002 South by Southwest (summarized here).  My memory of the event may be a little foggy (and I sat in the back of the room), but remember no intros at all — two  cool and well-informed people just started jabbering  away on topics of interest. It blew my mind because 1)both guys were talking fast and extemporizing, 2)clearly their thoughts were original and interesting (and well-thought out), and 3)neither person seemed to care about selling their personal  brand or pimping their book-like projects. They were just having fun.  And the audience was having fun too.

I wish more people would do that. Imagine that Socrates were going to speak at your university. Which kind of opening would engage you more:


Socrates is a controversial philosopher who has been gaining a lot of fame in intellectual circles. The Athens Times wrote that “Socrates is a bold and impressive thinker who has devised a new method for testing the validity of philosophical ideas” and the oracle at Delphi said there was no man who was wiser than Socrates. But Socrates is best known for being portrayed satirically in the comic  plays of Aristophanes.  Recognized for his heroism in saving the life of Alcibiades, Socrates is also a war hero and  is best known for a philosophic method of inquiry called  the “Socratic method.”  Socrates has a reputation for asking unusual questions and has been in heavy demand as a speaker and teacher.  Indeed he has already attracted a lot of intellectual disciples and has at times been accused of corrupting the youth. So far, Socrates has not written any books, but books are already being written about him.  Thinker, rabble-rouser, provocateur or buffoon — you can decide. So now I present to you….Socrates — making his first appearance at Pendelton State University.


Or maybe we can skip the formalities and let Socrates do a cold open:


“Is it always better to tell the truth to someone close to you even if you know it causes pain?”


So I ask you: Which kind of beginning    would engage you more?



A funny thing. After giving a lukewarm assessment about TEDX Houston, I later learned that one of the talks by Brene Brown, (a  UH Professor  for Social Work) had become extremely popular. That’s good because really it was the only talk with a memorable idea as the thesis. Of course, she speaks from the Ivory Tower (news flash: all professors come up with interesting ideas!), but fundamentally I enjoyed the talk because of what she said, not because of the academic credentials she had accumulated.



It may not be as evident on my blog, but people who follow me on Facebook and Google Plus already know that I post lots of climate change links. I keep up with the latest policy debates and to a lesser extent, the science. But it is hard to reference a G+ post and harder still to find it. Therefore, I am keeping this page of G+ posts as a reference. Note: I put all the argument-winning graphs and charts at the bottom of this page!  I’ll try to include dates for everything and put the most important quotes/articles on the top of each section. You will note that I often link to the partisan Climateprogress site. The reason I feel comfortable doing that is that climateprogress usually reports the research accurately and often it puts the study in the appropriate context. Climate change studies have been coming out frequently, so sometimes being as much as 6 months behind  on the scholarship can prevent you from using persuasive evidence. Note: Because I’m using this page mainly as a reference, I won’t accept comments on this page unless they pertain to the sources mentioned here or contain better/more-to-date research. PS, I tend to include a lot of articles by Joe Romm. He’s very partisan and advocacy-oriented, but he also has a deep understanding of current science and policy research. Most of the listed articles by Joe Romm are simply Romm citing/summarizing the latest research. You can disagree with his analysis or the policy implications, but at least he can report  scientific research accurately and put it in the proper context.

My old posts about climate change (may be out of date)

  • Let’s Not Have a Pity Party for Oil Companies (April 2014). Less of a science piece than a discussion of climate change and social justice.
  • Natural Gas is Not Lobster (April 2012, plus updates).  I stopped updating this a year ago, but its basic conclusions on natural gas are basically sound — only we now have better data.
  • Books on Climate Change, Energy and Economics (2012).  I haven’t updated it in a while (mainly because I hadn’t read any books about the subject in 2013 or 2014), but the books I mentioned are still excellent and generally relevant. Now that I have remembered it, I will start keeping it up-to-date again.
  • How to Choose a Texas  Electric Provider the Wrong Way. (Feb 2012)  Here’s an amazing stat from 2011 data: Electric plants in Texas (population 25 million) emit as much CO2  as electric plants in the COMBINED states of   New York, California, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon (population: 86 million)

Calculations about natural gas and methane emissions

  • Stanford/UC Irvine Study finds that in the real world, reliance on natural gas without carbon pricing reduces investment and deployment of renewable fuels and produce an outcome with more overall emissions. ARTICLE QUOTE: Increased use of natural gas has been promoted as a means of decarbonizing the U.S. power sector, because of superior generator efficiency and lower CO2 emissions per unit of electricity than coal,” said the study. “We model the effect of different gas supplies on the U.S. power sector and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Across a range of climate policies, we find that abundant natural gas decreases use of both coal and renewable energy technologies in the future.” The study found that, without a climate policy, electricity use would increase as the natural gas supply increased and cost dropped, canceling out the benefits of lower carbon emissions, even if methane leakage from natural gas exploration—itself a potent greenhouse gas—were near zero. It also found that the low cost of natural gas would discourage and delay development and deployment of clean energy technologies. The research team looked at outcomes with no climate policy, a moderate carbon tax of $25 per ton and a strict carbon cap that reduces carbon dioxide emissions 83 percent over 2005 levels by 2050, as well as with renewable energy standards. “Our results suggest that without strong limits on GHG emissions or policies that explicitly encourage renewable electricity, abundant natural gas may actually slow the process of decarbonization, primarily by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies,” the researchers said. According to the study, coal provides 41 percent of power in the U.S. Natural gas-fired plants emit 57 percent less Co2 per kilowatt hour than coal-fired plants.“The potential for natural gas to reduce U.S. emissions has become increasingly salient as innovations in hydraulic fracturing technology have dramatically increased domestic supplies of gas, and as proposed federal regulations on CO2 emissions from stationary sources are projected to increase the substitution of natural gas for coal,” said the study. “Although the finding that natural gas alone will not significantly reduce CO2 emissions is consistent with previous reports, we believe the important implications for climate-energy policy are nonetheless not widely appreciated.” Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies,” said Steven Davis, one of the researchers.”It may be better than eating full-fat cookies, but if you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether. “(sept 25 2014).
  • Naomi Oreskes writes a long piece about how natural gas affects climate change. “Historians call this the “infrastructure trap.” The aggressive development of natural gas, not to mention tar sands, and oil in the melting Arctic, threaten to trap us into a commitment to fossil fuels that may be impossible to escape before it is too late. Animals are lured into traps by the promise of food. Is the idea of short-term cuts in greenhouse gas emissions luring us into the trap of long-term failure? The institution of rules or incentives in the U.S. and around the globe to ensure that gas actually replaces coal and that efficiency and renewables become our primary focus for energy development is at this point extremely unlikely. Yet without them, increased natural gas development will simply increase the total amount of fossil fuel available in the world to burn, accelerating what is already beginning to look like a rush towards disaster.” (August 2014)
  • NOAA Study (June 2014) estimates that globally methane leaks  are in the range of 2-4%.. That is enough to negate the climate benefits of gas over coal in the next two decades, the studies find.
  • Latest estimates (April 2014) on methane leaks in Pennsylvania suggests that leaks are 100-1000 higher than what EPA estimates. “Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows. Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second…. The researchers determined that the wells leaking the most methane were in the drilling phase, a period that has not been known for high emissions. Experts had thought that methane was more likely to be released during subsequent phases of production, including hydraulic fracturing, well completion or transport through pipelines.”
  • JOE ROMM SUMMARIZES THE STANFORD STUDY (below) AND OTHERS (Feb 2014)  “Replacing coal plants with gas plants would be worse for the climate for more than 6 decades. And again, in the real world, NG doesn’t just displace coal, it also displaces nuclear power, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. So it appears quite safe to say that natural gas simply has no net climate benefit whatsoever in any timescale that matters to humanity. Perhaps it is time to stop squandering tens of billions of dollars — and rendering billions of gallons of water unfit for human consumption — on a fossil fuel source that probably has no meaningful net climate benefit in the real world and may well do considerable harm.”
  • In a June 2014 post, Romm does the math: After discussing the matter with the lead author, Stanford’s Adam Brandt, I wrote that given the risks to humanity from climate change, it seems conservative to take the middle of the range, 5.4%. That’s particularly conservative given that 3 separate studies by NOAA found leakage rates just from NG production of 4%, 17%, and 6-12%!…If one were to use 3 percent as the leakage rate, LNG-fueled power plants would be worse than coal from a climate perspective for decades. If you use 5.4 percent, then Figure 6.8 makes clear LNG-fueled power plants are worse than coal for a century!… Contrary to the implication of NETL’s analysis, natural gas doesn’t just displace coal — it also displaces carbon-free sources of power such as renewable energy, nuclear power, and energy efficiency. A recent analysis finds that effect has been large enough recently to wipe out almost the entire climate benefit from increasing natural gas use in the U.S. utility sector if the leakage rate is only 1.2 percent.
  • This milestone Stanford  study (Feb 2014) summarizes current research that tries to estimate methane leakage from extraction and distribution of natural gas. So far there have been widely divergent estimates about methane leakage. QUOTE: “Reducing easily avoidable methane leaks from the natural gas system is important for domestic energy security,” said Robert Harriss, a methane researcher at the Environmental Defense Fund and a co-author of the analysis. “As Americans, none of us should be content to stand idly by and let this important resource be wasted through fugitive emissions and unnecessary venting.” One possible reason leaks in the gas industry have been underestimated is that emission rates for wells and processing plants were based on operators participating voluntarily. One EPA study asked 30 gas companies to cooperate, but only six allowed the EPA on site. “It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis. “But self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.”
    MY OPINION: This is important research because it forces the natural gas industries to scrutinize their own methane leaks and adopt better leak reduction solutions. Personally, I’m guessing that the natural gas industry will never be able to reduce leakage to 3% or below (the magical threshhold needed for natural gas extraction provide a GHG advantage over coal), but developing better tools to identify and fix these leaks could bring dramatic reductions in GHG. Just arriving at useful metrics and methodologies for measuring these things could bring dramatic improvements.
  • IEA REPORT: (Jan 2014) “An increased share of natural gas in the global energy mix alone will not put the world on a carbon emissions path consistent with an average global temperature rise of no more than 2 [degrees Celsius] ….  Natural gas displaces coal and to a lesser extent oil, driving down emissions, but it also displaces some nuclear power, pushing up emissions. This puts emissions on a long-term trajectory consistent with stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at around 650 parts per million CO2 equivalent, suggesting a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5 [degrees Celsius].”


Climate Sensitivity

  • Quote: “Greenhouse gases contributed a global mean surface warming likely to be in the range of 0.5°C to 1.3°C over the period 1951 to 2010, with the contributions from other anthropogenic forcings, including the cooling effect of aerosols, likely to be in the range of −0.6°C to 0.1°C. The contribution from natural forcings is likely to be in the range of −0.1°C to 0.1°C, and from natural internal variability is likely to be in the range of −0.1°C to 0.1°C. Together these assessed contributions are consistent with the observed warming of approximately 0.6°C to 0.7°C over this period.” (IPCC 5, SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS, 2013, p15 — PDF)
    Noteworthy here is the magnitude of the difference between manmade forcings (fossil fuels, land use, etc) and natural forcings and internal variability. Also: the range of uncertainty in the cooling effect of aerosols (loosely defined as dust/pollution/soot/volcanic ash)
  • Computer  models have had lots of difficulty modeling clouds when estimating climate sensitivity. A new paper tries to address this. (Jan 2014)”When water evaporates from the oceans, the vapour can rise over nine miles to form rain clouds that reflect sunlight; or it may rise just a few miles and drift back down without forming clouds. In reality, both processes occur, and climate models encompassing this complexity predicted significantly higher future temperatures than those only including the nine-mile-high clouds. ‘Climate sceptics like to criticise climate models for getting things wrong, and we are the first to admit they are not perfect,’ said (the study’s author) Sherwood. ‘But what we are finding is that the mistakes are being made by the models which predict less warming, not those that predict more.'”Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt comment dryly: “there is a great asymmetry in risk between the high and low end estimates. Uncertainty cuts both ways and is not our friend.”

Climate Models and Prediction of Physical Consequences under Various Scenarios


How Agriculture/Land Use contributes to Warming

  •  UMBRA (1/2014) : “Livestock, on the other hand, are four-legged methane factories. That includes buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels, but cattle are the primary offenders. A cow’s natural digestive processes produce lots of methane through burps and, yes, flatulence, to the tune of 200 to 400 pounds per year for the average bovine. And cow manure kicks in its fair share, too, when stored in lagoons or holding tanks. How bad is it?  Here in the U.S., cow burps (a.k.a. enteric fermentation) and manure management account for 30 percent of the country’s methane tab. Globally, livestock emissions make up a full 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas production.””

US Production of Fossil Fuels ( and  Subsidies)

  • BILL MCKIBBEN: “By the time Obama leaves office, the U.S. will pass Saudi Arabia as the planet’s biggest oil producer and Russia as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas combined. In the same years, even as we’ve begun to burn less coal at home, our coal exports have climbed to record highs. We are, despite slight declines in our domestic emissions, a global-warming machine: At the moment when physics tell us we should be jamming on the carbon brakes, America is revving the engine.”  McKibben is right to shift the focus from the “American lifestyle” to the “American way of doing business.” Selling fossil fuels used to be something  which only developing countries did; now it seems that the US is embracing this economic model. This seems to conflict with what Americans think of themselves as forward-thinking innovators.
  • Elizabeth Kolbert: (March 2014)  “According to the IMF, the U.S. is the world’s largest single source of fossil-fuel subsidies; the I.M.F. has estimated that eliminating such subsidies worldwide could cut carbon emissions by thirteen per cent. Meanwhile, the tax credit responsible for much of the recent growth in wind generation in the U.S. has been allowed to lapse.”


Climate Change and Texas

  • Texas Climate Scientists (Oct 2013): Of the dozens of atmospheric scientists in Texas, approximately ZERO of them are skeptical of this mainstream view of climate science. Every single  UT & A&M climate science prof signed off on these 4 statements:  1. It is virtually certain that the climate is warming, and that it has warmed by about 0.7 deg. C over the last 100 years. 2. It is very likely that humans are responsible for most of the recent warming. 3. If we do nothing to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, future warming will likely be at least two degrees Celsius over the next century. 4. Such a climate change brings with it a risk of serious adverse impacts on our environment and society.
  • Here’s a long profile of Port Arthur, probably the most polluted place in the US. (Sept 2013). “Cancer rates among African Americans in Jefferson County are roughly 15 percent higher than they are for the average Texan. Shockingly, the mortality rate from cancer is more than 40 percent higher. And cancer is only part of the story. A study by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that residents of Port Arthur were four times more likely than people just 100 miles upwind to report suffering from heart and respiratory conditions; nervous system and skin disorders; headaches and muscle aches; and ear, nose, and throat ailments.”
    QUOTE 2: “When you’re used to presenting versions of the classic David-versus-Goliath tale, what do you do when the Davids have become so dispirited that they’ve all but given up the fight? Today, Carver Terrace specifically—and Port Arthur more generally—are so far gone, so forsaken, that there’s almost no need for industry officials to deceive, or to issue craftily worded denials, or to vow halfheartedly to reduce their refineries’ environmental impact. The industry abides by the letter of the law, dutifully documenting thousands of emissions events, knowing that, in the end, practically no one cares.”
  • 2012 DOE REPORT: (May 2014)Texas has one of the highest potentials for solar capacity — including rooftop arrays, utility-scale arrays, and concentrated solar power — of any state in the country. But with just 201 megawatts of solar as of 2013, Texas ranks 13th among the states for total installed capacity — and it’s using a minuscule 0.7 percent of its potential. Compare that to California, which boasts 5,660 megawatts of installed capacity, which takes up over six percent of its reported potential, and ranks the state first in the nation.
  • TEXAS A&M PROFESSOR LARRY MCKINNEY:    (May 2014) “The recent reports of an accelerated disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet have implications for the Gulf of Mexico and especially Texas where sea level rise is a significant issue, especially along the Upper Coast.Regardless of the cause, we may have reached a tipping point where we will see a rise in sea level more quickly than anticipated. It adds urgency to the need for the long-range planning to adapt to a changing world-scape and in our case, Gulf-scape.”

Green Stuff and Houston


  • AIR POLLUTION MORTALITY (Oct 2013). “Currently, China consumes almost twice as much coal as the rest of the world combined….Earlier this year, a study found air pollution has reduced life expectancy in northern China by five and a half years.
  •  CHINESE SCIENCE STUDY: (Jan 2014)  “coal burning, industrial pollution and secondary inorganic aerosols — the result of the reactions between different pollutants in the air–– are responsible for 18 percent, 25 percent and 26 percent of Beijing’s  air pollution respectively.” Interestingly, trash burning and car pollution are responsible for a combined total of only 4%.  That suggests that China’s temporary measures of reducing car usage on high pollution days is unlikely to make much of a difference and that more systematic changes are needed.

International Treaties


Which places are affected the most?

 Economic Projections/ Cost of Taking Action

  • Cost of Delay. IEA: “Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.” Also: “The world will have to spend an extra $500 billion to cut carbon emissions for each year it delays implementing a major assault on global warming.”
  • The most recent estimates say that emission targets — if agreed to today, would reduce the world’s economic growth rate by 0.6% per year.  But waiting as little as 10 years will end up tripling  the annual costs in order to reach  the exact same emission target.
  • IEA Report:  (May 2014): “The $44 trillion additional investment needed to decarbonise the energy system in line with the 2 degree scenario (2DS)  by 2050 is more than offset by over $115 trillion in fuel savings – resulting in net savings of $71 trillion….” The 44 trillion number is a revision from the 36 trillion estimate given in 2012. “Some of the increase is due to accounting changes, but the calculations show that the cost of decarbonising the energy system – in real terms – is about 10% higher than it was two years ago. In part, this illustrates something the IEA has been saying for some time: the longer we wait, the more expensive it becomes to transform our energy system.”
  • Lower carbon alternatives to Bitcoin (Dec 2013)

Economic Effects of Climate Change

  • SKI JOURNALIST:  (Feb 2014) “Europe has lost half of its Alpine glacial ice since the 1850s, and if climate change is not reined in, two-thirds of European ski resorts will be likely to close by 2100. The same could happen in the United States, where in the Northeast, more than half of the 103 ski resorts may no longer be viable in 30 years because of warmer winters. As far for the Western part of the country, it will lose an estimated 25 to 100 percent of its snowpack by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed — reducing the snowpack in Park City, Utah, to zero and relegating skiing to the top quarter of Ajax Mountain in Aspen.”

Impact on Ecosystem

  • Elizabeth Kolbert: “(Feb 2014): There have been moments in the past where the earth has experienced very swift, extreme changes—in a geological sense. And right now, we are in one of those moments. We are causing changes so fast that in the span of a human lifetime or a couple of human lifetimes, you can watch them happening. So part of the question for who will survive and who won’t is how fast generations are produced. If you are a microbe, you might do a lot better than an insect, which may do a lot better than a mammal. Big mammals are in serious trouble.”
  • Joe Romm (March 2013)  covers what’s new and interesting about the latest IPCC report. He faults the report for not discussing the impacts of 3-5 degree C temperature increase, which seems to be the path we’re currently headed down. The consequences of 3+ degree temperature increases are harder to project even though it seems more likely to happen.

Green Report Cards

Ice, Glaciers and Sea Level

  • 2 Separate Studies suggest that a significant part of the melting West Antartic ice sheet  has already crossed an irreversible threshhold and cannot be prevented from causing 10 feet of sea level rise within a couple of centuries. (The current estimate for this century is 3-6 feet of sea level rise because of global warming). We’ll have to wait for confirmation of these results, but the conclusion has a shocking finality to it. There is evidence that increasing CO2 has contributed to reaching this threshold, but unlike the predicted melting of Greenland or the Arctic (which the link is pretty clear), the Antartic threshold seems to be a result of several factors — including ozone depletion and natural variability… > Even if the warm water now eating away at the ice were to dissipate, it would be “too little, too late to stabilize the ice sheet,” Dr. Joughin said. “There’s no stabilization mechanism.” ….  Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the new research but has studied the polar ice sheets for decades, said he found the new papers compelling. Though he had long feared the possibility of ice-sheet collapse, when he learned of the new findings, “it shook me a little bit,” Dr. Alley said. He added that while a large rise of the sea may now be inevitable from West Antarctica, continued release of greenhouse gases will almost certainly make the situation worse. The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned. “If we have indeed lit the fuse on West Antarctica, it’s very hard to imagine putting the fuse out,” Dr. Alley said. “But there’s a bunch more fuses, and there’s a bunch more matches, and we have a decision now: Do we light those?” (May 2014)
  • A comprehensive look at how U.S. cities are responding and not responding to the threat of  sea level rise. (Lots of discussion about Miami and NYC). “The last time that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were as high as they are today, about 3 million years ago, sea level is estimated to have been about 65 feet higher! That means that if we stopped all emissions at this instant, and waited hundreds of years, sea levels would stabilize at about 65 feet higher than today. That is a long way off, but the problem is that nobody really knows exactly what the curve looks like between here and there. Will most of the sea level increase occur earlier or later in this timeframe, or will it be equally spread out? Will there be abrupt “step-changes” along the way?” That is exactly what James White’s team looked at for the National Academy of Sciences in a recent report on what is called “abrupt climate change.” There is evidence that at times in the past when the world changed from ice ages to post-ice ages the sea level increased by a foot or more per decade. These abrupt shifts in sea level would severely challenge our ability to adapt.The problem of sea level rise is indeed a very large problem. Within the U.S., about 5 million people live within 4 feet of high tide. And it is not just houses that are at risk. A large part of our nation’s infrastructure is located very close to the sea. Wastewater treatment plants are normally located at a low point in the city and are often at or close to sea level. Power plants are often located in low-lying areas.
  • Joe Romm discusses the Antarctica research in the broader context of glacier research.  ” In 2012, the National Science Foundation reported on paleoclimate research that examined “rock and soil cores taken in Virginia, New Zealand and the Eniwetok Atoll in the north Pacific Ocean.” Lead author Kenneth Miller of Rutgers University said: “The natural state of the Earth with present carbon dioxide levels is one with sea levels about 70 feet higher than now.” (Romm adds, “So the “good” news is that it might take 1000 years (or longer) to raise sea levels several tens of feet, and the choices we make now can affect the rate of rise and whether we ultimately blow past 69 feet to beyond 200 feet.”)
  • Jason Box: (2013, as reported by Chris Mooney).  “Box also provided a large-scale perspective on how much sea level rise humanity has already probably set in motion from the burning of fossil fuels. The answer is staggering: 69 feet, including water from both Greenland and Antarctica, as well as other glaciers based on land from around the world.”

Green Computing

  • 2014 Greenpeace Report on Data Centers: The US uses the most power to run data centers, followed by Japan, the UK and Germany, according to the Greenpeace report. Stefansson noted that less than 20% of the electricity used by most of the cloud computing service providers globally come from renewable sources. (PDF of actual report is here).


Chevron Lawsuit

Climate Change and Proposed Laws

Viability of Renewable Energy

  • Wind Farms also reduce the impact of hurricanes.  Mark Z. Jacobsen:  Installing offshore wind farms would not only increase energy output, it can partially offset storm surges of hurricanes. QUOTE: “They concluded that the wind turbines could have sapped Katrina of so much energy that wind speeds would have been reduced by up to 50 percent at landfall and the hurricane’s storm surge could have been reduced by about 72 percent.”

Transportation Issue and Electric Cars

Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

  • A shocking report  about transporting oil by train. From 2008 to 2012, oil transported by trains inside the US  have increased 900% nationally. Last week  the DOT issued an emergency order   about the unsafe design of train cars for transporting oil. (Canada has banned these cars — which are still being used to transport about 70% of oil inside US by train).   Unfortunately, unless Obama issues an emergency order, it will probably take a year or more to implement a new safety standard — which surely will be opposed by the fossil fuel industry. In Houston, I live a few miles away from a train track, so I guess I have a personal interest in ensuring that oil is transported safely.  (May 2014)
  • Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said May 4 2014, “We are very clear that this issue needs to be acted on very quickly,””There is a very high risk here that hasn’t been addressed.” … “One of the most fundamental questions that cuts across everything in crude oil by rail is how it is classified,” (Secretary of Transportation Anthony) Foxx said. “If it is not classified correctly at the beginning, then it is not packaged correctly and the emergency response needs aren’t understood by the communities through which this material is moving.” (Source).


Climate Change, Literature, Movies and TV

Basic Science/Reference

  • How long does CO2 stay in the air?  (2012) “The lifetime in the air of CO2, the most significant man-made greenhouse gas, is probably the most difficult to determine, because there are several processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20–200 years. The rest is removed by slower processes that take up to several hundreds of thousands of years, including chemical weathering and rock formation. This means that once in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can continue to affect climate for thousands of years.”

Attribution to Humans (IPCC, etc)

  • IPCC 5 Summary for Policymakers:  “It is extremely likely (i.e.,more than 95% probability)  that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together. The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.”

Political Rhetoric/Analyzing Media Coverage

  • “Despite extensive data compilation and analyses, only a fraction of the hundreds of millions in contributions to climate change denying organizations can be specifically accounted for from public records. Approximately 75% of the income of these organizations comes from unidentifiable sources.”

Climate Change and Historical Analysis

  • One paper suggests that the doubling of carbon in the PETM period caused rapid temperature increase of  5 degrees in 13 years. The jury is still out about whether this admittedly worst case scenario applies to the CO2 doubling of the current era.

“Carbon Bubble” (Disinvestment Campaigns)

  • AL GORE:  (Oct 2013)“We have a carbon bubble…Bubbles by definition involve a lot of asset owners and investors who don’t see what in retrospect becomes blindingly obvious. And this carbon bubble is going to burst.”
    Specifically, Gore cites the estimated $7 trillion in carbon assets on the books of multinational energy companies. “The valuation of those companies and their assets is now based on the assumption that all of those carbon assets will be sold and burned,” he says. “They are not going to be burned. They cannot be burned and will not be burned. No more than one-third can ever possibly be burned without destroying the future.”

Air Pollution and Harm (Not  Climate Change)

Best Reference Websites for Looking Up Skeptical Arguments

Carbon Neutral Lifestyle

  • Carbon Calculator. (Jan 2014).  Much better than previous ones. My total annual footprint is 5.8 tons CO2 per year, with 2.5 coming from diet. Admittedly, my own lifestyle is a bit extreme.

Government Reports/Docs

Stupid US Energy Policy

  • Stupid Ethanol Policy. (Oct 2013). This groundbreaking article about ethanol reveals the follies and the environmental destruction caused by ethanol. Started by George W. Bush and continued under Obama, few politicians have the courage to cease this madness


 Worst Case Scenarios

  •  Scary  9/2013 video (with quotes from scientists) about how warming of 6 degrees C or higher could trigger another Permian-like extinction. Caveats: it can take as long as 100 years for CO2 to “translate” into global warming, so we’re talking late 2200s or 2300s. Also, this assumes that equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) turns out to be higher than current estimates AND that  the current Business as Usual (BAU) trajectory of carbon emissions will continue much  longer than most people expect.  Both scenarios are certainly within the realm of possibility.

Cool diagrams and graphs


STUDY (PDF Dec 2013). AmericanCarbon

IiB CO2 graphic v3


Some IPCC 5 Graphs. Mitigation Reports/Policymaker  graphics and graphics from the full report.   Below (Figure 8-15)  is a graphic from the full report which  compares natural forcings with manmade forcings and the uncertainty surrounding aerosols. Aerosols is a broad category of forcings — mainly dealing with manmade emissions that change the amount of heat being reflected.  That includes sulfates, etc, but it also includes volcanic dust. A NASA site says, “Models estimate that aerosols have had a cooling effect that has counteracted about half of the warming caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases since the 1880s. However, unlike many greenhouse gases, aerosols are not distributed evenly around the planet, so their impacts are most strongly felt on a regional scale.”

The very important first graph (click to enlarge) is an IPCC graphic which  how small the influence of natural forcings are when compared to manmade forcings. The second one illustrates how different climate change studies weigh in on the manmade vs. natural forcings. (It comes from skepticalscience.com)



2014-04-15_solarpowerisntfeasible_cartoon Click to see high resolution graphic


This next graph comes from an important peer-reviewed  survey of published papers about climate science by John Cook et al which reaffirms the 97% consensus number. Those who reject the scientific consensus say that there is cherry-picking or incorrect coding of papers, or attribution of a judgement about AGW when the paper didn’t mention it. This graph shows that when scholars were asked to rate their own papers, they were remarkably consistent with how the researchers coded the published paper.




The above chart measures the median carbon emissions based on an individual’s consumption lifestyle. It factors out the industrial usage in that country which is normally included in per capita emissions for each nation.



World Bank Climate Change graphic

World Bank Climate Change graphic

Here’s a more detailed version of the preceding graphic.

A more detailed version of the preceding graph


If an industry’s  business model is dedicated to PERMANENTLY degrading the livable world for EVERY SINGLE baby born today, tomorrow, next year, next decade — even the  next century, then it’s a no-brainer that we ought to act sooner rather than later to stop it, especially because we ALREADY HAVE the technology to solve the problem and  already have a good idea about how  to do it right.


Should we have a PITY PARTY for those  who have been profiting  from the permanent harm being done to the human habitat?  No. Instead we should  provide a humane way for EVERYONE   to transition to a cleaner and less destructive economic model. This can be done by changing the incentive structure, so that each person can be rewarded for decarbonizing their lifestyle in a way he or she finds to be the most  suitable. But now the financial incentive structures in the US are designed precisely to do the opposite — to reward bad behavior.    Perversely, last year fossil fuel companies in the US received   $500 billion in subsidies so they could extract and sell even more polluting energy.  Eliminating tax breaks for fossil fuel  companies would go a long way to improve this perverse  incentive structure.

Many people who have become rich from this destructive business model will claim — FALSELY by the way — that “carbon pricing” will translate to higher taxes for everybody. Sure, carbon prices does increase the price on bad behavior — that indeed is the point. But most carbon pricing plans actually refund 100% of carbon taxes to consumers — indeed, taxpayers who decarbonize faster than everyone else can end up making a nice profit.

Sometimes people who understand the dangers of climate change  worry about the costs of making the transition. Actually though, it is relatively easy for individuals and organizations to transition to clean solutions if they have enough lead time. If  carbon reductions were gradually phased in over 10 years, that would minimize the economic disruptions. If you knew you had 10 years to transition to a carbon-free lifestyle, you would have adequate  time to  replace your vehicles, appliances and energy provider without needing to spend a lot of money. On the other hand, if Americans keep putting off agreeing  to an emission target, that will only reduce the time they have to prepare for the transition — and end up forcing them to incur additional costs associated with a rapid transition.  Worldwide, the IEA estimates that every year of delaying a climate policy costs the world $500 billion more in infrastructure costs.  That’s a reason  for enacting an emission target plan sooner rather than later — you have more time to spread out the cost. The most recent estimates say that emission targets — if agreed to today, would reduce the world’s economic growth rate by 0.6% per year.  But waiting as little as 10 years will end up tripling  the annual costs in order to reach  the exact same emission target.


Actually though, this projected 0.6%  reduction in GDP  does NOT take into account the health and economic benefits which will accrue as a result of an emission policy. Decarbonizing brings huge health and economic benefits. Every year air pollution from fossil fuels causes 200,000 premature deaths in the US. Lowering these medical costs would improve the size and efficiency of the workforce  and therefore the country’s economic health. Economists usually say that decarbonizing produces a net increase of jobs. Maybe this surprises you because you constantly hear fossil fuel companies touting the jobs produced by their industry.  In fact, fossil fuel industries are NOTORIOUSLY BAD at generating jobs. One  study found that 1 million dollars invested in clean energy companies produces THREE TIMES  the number of jobs than if you invested that million in a fossil fuel company. Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy  noted that historically when countries have significantly  decarbonized their economy, they  almost  always experience an instant economic boom immediately afterwards.

Some have said that it’s futile to set emission targets in the US because China emits more. It’s true that China’s emissions now exceeds that of the US. But China is already in the process of adopting carbon pricing and transitioning to a cleaner economy  at a faster rate than we are.  The reason we don’t see this decline in the data is that China is still growing  3 to 4 times faster than the US economy — and it’s making up for decades of lost growth — having  started at a baseline so low that modernization itself is causing a rapid increase in  energy consumption. As soon as China’s growth rate becomes comparable to other nations, China’s substantial efforts to transition to a clean economy should be reflected in the data.  Keep in mind also that  a significant percent of China’s emissions come from factories which export products to the west. In fact, the typical Chinese per capita  emissions are still relatively low when compared to Europe and the US.  When the US agrees on an emission target, hopefully that will also cause American consumers to buy greener products — and put pressure on Chinese factories to manufacture greener products as well.

We already know that fossil fuels are causing PERMANENT HARM to the livable world of all future humans.  The sad thing is that the people who will suffer the most from global warming also happen to be the people least responsible for causing it in the first place. A  12 year old girl living today in Bangladesh did almost nothing to cause climate change. Most likely she does not own an iPhone or has ever ridden in a Hummer.   Neither did her family or friends or previous generations of Bengalis. Compared to the typical American, the typical Bengali  has an almost trivial carbon footprint.  Yet according to several  environmental reports,  Bangladesh is the country most likely to experience the most devastating effects of climate change. Food supplies will be disrupted; flooding and sea level rise will render large portions of its coastal regions to be uninhabitable. Most likely the effects of climate change will trigger several waves of climate refugees from Bangladesh into nearby countries, aggravating the region’s economic and political tensions  as well.

Imagine that this 12 year old Bengali girl spoke perfect English and could skype you directly. Imagine her question: “Your  scientists had been telling you for over 20 years that fossil fuels had been causing permanent  harm to the planet and especially  countries like my own; why on earth haven’t you done anything yet ?  Do you really think my life and my country are so unimportant? Do you  really believe that I have less of a right to grow up and make a living in my own country than you did when you were born?  Why have your people been so unwilling to take even modest steps to reduce the harms of climate change being done on countries which never caused it in the first place? Is this what human civilization boils down to — allowing entire states  to collapse in order to preserve one nation’s  precious right to drive gas guzzlers  and blow up mountains to sell coal?


See also: My response to the usual complaints by libertarians about climate change.

Update #1. I am not naive about China’s escalating CO2 emissions (or India’s); indeed,  any observer will observe that the dangers from China’s dangerous air pollution is a much more urgent national emergency than climate change. But at least China has a climate policy (albeit a top down one). In a conference about carbon pricing, Bill McKibben acknowledged the China/US problem in pricing carbon at the border, but made the point that setting a domestic climate policy is the necessary  first step to negotiating a viable bilateral or multilateral agreement. Other countries will not take America seriously about climate change unless it first  demonstrates an ability to adopt a domestic climate policy. Thefore, the US  should  try to lead by example. Unfortunately, our leverage in persuading others to enter into a global agreement is diminishing with every passing year. Five or ten years ago, the economic power of the United States still overshadowed China’s; but as the years go by, our leverage decreases just as China has been increasing.

At the same time, China’s energy profile has always been different from ours; Western countries are indirectly responsible for a sizable portion of China’s emissions because American companies are exporting the dirty manufacturing processes to there. It’s conceivable that multinational companies and global consumers can demand better safety and production standards for the products they use. Again, it’s all a matter of having the right financial incentives in place. Given the national emergency in China and the widespread support in China’s leadership for better environmental policies, perhaps domestic pressure will be sufficient to reduce the carbon intensity of manufacturing processes in China.

Update #2 (July 2015).  A new IMF STUDY finds that  Energy Subsidies in 2015 are 5.3 trillion for the world (or 6.5 percent of world GDP). The US fossil fuel industry would like to thank the American taxpayer for being so generous/stupid to give their industry a subsidy totalling $2176 per American. This Excel spreadsheet  breaks down the subsidies more. Out of that $2176 per American taxpayer, $41 go to pre-tax subsidies, $682 go to harms caused by global warming, $643 go to local air pollution, $458 go to congestion (traffic!), $181 go to accidents, $29.50 go to road damage, $141 go to “foregone consumption tax revenue.”

Update #3. At the bottom is a great chart illustrating the consequences of various emission scenarios.

IiB CO2 graphic v3