Wednesday, February 25, 2015

VORTEX - SE: A political scientific boondoggle

It's come to my attention that a project to study tornadoes in the Southeastern US has been created, via political 'pork barrel' machinations.  This project is predicated on the following basis:

"The southeastern United States commonly experiences devastating tornadoes under conditions that differ considerable from those on the Great Plains region where tornado research has historically been focused.  NOAA/NSSL has a newly funded mandate to collaborate with the National Science Foundation in better understanding how environmental factors that are characteristic of the southeastern U.S. affect the formation, intensity, and storm path of tornadoes for this region."

Several institutions within the southeastern US have been pushing this sort of idea for years.  With the help of their Congressional delegations, they evidently have succeeded in forcing this absurd project on the rest of us.  They assert that tornadoes in the southeast are different, and that their regional storm problems therefore have been overlooked.  There's little doubt that tornado fatality counts in the southeastern US are higher than elsewhere, but it's never been demonstrated that this is the result of a difference in the meteorology of tornadic storms in the southeast.  There are many non-meteorological reasons for high death rates in the southeastern US - this blog isn't the venue for a complete discussion of those non-meteorological explanations. 

Nor has it ever been shown that tornadoes in the southeastern US are the result of some (as yet, unspecified) difference in the physics of severe storms and tornadoes.  To the contrary, there is every reason to believe that the meteorology of severe storms and tornadoes is the same the world over.  Absent a compelling demonstration of an important difference in the meteorology, this program is based on an unvalidated hypothesis. 

Yes, the climatology of tornadoes in the southeast differs from that of the Great Plains.  For instance, there's a well-defined tornado "season" in the plains:  tornadoes occur with high frequency in the months of April, May, and June on the plains, and relatively low frequency at other times of the year.  In the southeast, tornado frequencies generally are much lower than the peak months of the plains tornado season, but those relatively low frequencies only decrease substantially during the summer months in the southeast.  Thus, although tornadoes are less frequent in the southeast, they can occur at almost any time of the year, including in the winter.  The reasons for this are clear to most severe storms meteorologists:  they have to do with the ingredients for severe storms and tornadoes, which come together often in the early to late spring on the Plains, and rather less frequently in the southeast but without a clearly defined "tornado season".  This is a clear indication that severe storms and tornadoes in the southeast are more or less identical to comparable storms on the Plains.  The only difference in the regions is the climatology of the ingredients, but the ingredients are everywhere the same!  It seems quite unlikely that any particularly useful meteorological insight is to be gained by this project.

The proposed program is patterned after the already completed VORTEX and VORTEX2 field observation campaigns in 1994-5, and 2009-10, respectively.  These observational campaigns included mobile radars, instrumented vehicles to intercept storms, and so on.  Doing a similar project in the southeast will be much more challenging, owing to the presence of extensive trees, substantial orography, a high frequency of low cloud bases, and a higher overall population density compared to the Plains.  Visibilities needed for successful storm intercepts are just not common in most of the southeastern US.  This renders even more questionable the basic concept of conducting such an exercise in the southeastern US, since it adds to the danger level for the participants, who will be much less able to see and avoid storm hazards in the course of their observational assignments.

This situation is simply an example of how some institutions can game the system to secure funding for themselves.  Unfortunately, government funding is basically a zero-sum game.  What existing programs and projects will have to be cancelled or delayed because of this boondoggle?  This is not the path to scientific cooperation and collaboration - rather, it's divisive and will damage the relations among scientists for decades to come.  This is not a good idea in any way, and it speaks loudly that this ill-advised reallocation of scarce scientific resources is the result of political posturing rather than a reflection of sound scientific justification.

English as the language of science

As a "beneficiary" of the widespread dominance of English in science, I'm often embarrassed by my inability to speak in more than one language. When people apologize to me for their English, my response is always that their English is far, far better than my ability to communicate in their native tongue.  I've often wished that we Americans routinely were schooled in another language at the same time we learn our native tongue, as happens in many nations in Europe. A good argument could be made that we Americans should be taught Spanish at the same time as we learn grammar in schools.  Spanish allows the easy extension to other European languages:  French and Italian, for instance.  Of course, it would nice to speak German, and Russian, and Mandarin Chinese as well.  The problem is that many people, including myself, have limited aptitude for learning new languages, and the time spent doing so takes time away from things we need to do to advance our scientific careers.  It's all too easy for me to defer the effort since most all of science these days is conducted in English.

Forcing non-native speakers to make presentations in English usually results in awful  presentations, forcing them to listen to presentations in English inhibits their ability to understand, and forcing them to write in English frequently results in nearly unreadable manuscripts.  It's NOT "efficient"! Attending international conferences can be quite painful, as people forced to use English struggle mightily to make themselves understood.  I assume they have a genuine wish to communicate their scientific work, but their limited mastery of English makes it very challenging, and often unsuccessful.  I cringe during such presentations and breathe a sigh of relief when they finish.

I think if everyone spoke the same language as their first language, that surely would be "efficient" but most people cling to their own native language as a form of tribalism, resenting strongly the forced imposition of another language on them. I've not experienced it directly, but it's not hard to grasp why that resentment arises.  Cultural tribalism is inevitable, no matter how much we might hope otherwise.  It's not necessarily a completely bad thing:  from my perspective, language is intimately tied to culture, and I surely have no wish for all the diverse cultures of the world to merge into a global mirror of American strip malls, American movies, chain stores and restaurants, and suburbs.  I like to experience different cultures and learn about other viewpoints.

The ascendancy of a language in science is tied, I believe, to the ascendancy of the science done in that nation. It becomes a self-reinforcing tendency: the more important the science done in your particular language, the more scientific colleagues need to be able to communicate via that language. We Americans have benefited, language-wise, from the rise of England as a world power and its scientific prosperity in the post-Renaissance era. As American science declines in significance, thanks at least in part to economic decline (as well as rampant anti-intellectualism and anti-science campaigns by fundamentalist religious extremists), the use of English as "the" language of science will decline. However, as this article suggests, there's a sort of hysteresis as a result of earlier work forming the foundation for current work.  There always will be a need to read foundational scientific works, at least in translation, if not in their original language.  Nuances in one language may not be translated properly in another, so there's always a benefit from the ability to read the original works, to see and understand the original presentations rather than subtitles or other translational forms.

It's quite unlikely that a universal native language will ever arise, despite the clear and obvious advantages of having one primary language.  Our languages are a big part of who we are as cultures and I doubt that many would surrender that willingly.  Hence, I believe it's important to encourage children, whose ability to learn languages is undiminished, to learn at least one other language at an early age.  America has "benefited" from the dominance of English far too long and far too deeply.  Most of us have surrendered our ability to communicate effectively with the non-English-speaking part of the world.  It's bad enough for our society to be in such a position but, beyond that, it's quite detrimental to our science.  I envy my scientific colleagues who are fluent in at least one other language.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My take on the Chapel Hill murders

We still, as of this writing, have no definitive explanation for the murders of three muslims by atheist Craig Hicks, who voluntarily surrendered himself to police and is charged with these murders. The media have noted he is an atheist and the suggestion has been offered that this crime may have been motivated by his atheistic "hatred" of muslims and is not just a dispute about parking.  This despite his saying (on June 18, 2012), "While I am an outspoken atheist (obviously), I would never take away a persons [sic] right to religion. I would even fight for their rights to have religion if it ever came to that."  I don't know what the investigation will find as an explanation.  And the results of such an investigation may not reflect reality.

Whatever his motivations, the murder of three people is a heinous crime and it's quite appropriate for atheists to confirm that violence is not an acceptable way to resolve religious disputes.  I think such a  message should be directed primarily toward religious believers, as they seem to be the ones most inclined toward seeking violent "solutions" to disputes.  Need I enumerate all the myriad examples of violence committed as a result of religious extremism?  I think not.  [Please don't bring up atrocities perpetrated by atheist Communist dictators.]  Examples of atheists resorting to violence in the name of atheism are pretty uncommon.  This incident is conspicuous precisely because of its rarity.

Being an atheist carries with it no guarantee of anything, good or bad.  No doubt atheists have committed a full spectrum of crimes, but it's perhaps of some interest to note that our American prisons hold only a tiny percentage of atheists (around 0.2 percent).  It seems clear that being religious doesn't prevent believers from being incarcerated for criminal acts.  Since atheists have no sacred scriptures calling for them to commit violence on unbelievers, there are no universally-accepted atheist clergy who might sanction criminal acts of violence against believers, and there are no doctrines of any sort uniting atheists in a violent "crusade" against believers, then we are left with an inescapable conclusion:  Craig Hicks acted on his own volition to commit murder, for a reason or reasons yet to be determined.

Naturally, when religious apologists are called upon to explain why people professing to be of their faith have committed violent crimes, they like to say that these are not "true believers", with the obvious implication that true believers would never do such a thing.  It seems there are a lot of phony believers in prison.  Now I'm not going to say that Craig Hicks could not have been a "true atheist".  That would be quite comparable to the christian apologists' explanation for christians who commit vile crimes.  If it were valid to say that no atheist could commit a violent crime, then that might be an explanation.  Unfortunately, that's not a true statement.  However, there's considerable evidence that atheists are less likely to commit a violent act in the name of atheism than religious believers in the name of their religion.  Know any atheists who've flown planes into buildings lately?

Muslims have become very frightening to many people around the world.  You can equate islamophobia with racism if you wish, even though being a muslim is not a racial thing at all. But islamophobia is not paranoia;  it's based on the reality that muslim terrorists commit murderous criminal acts on innocent victims in the name of islam (that there are explanations for their terrorism is irrelevant). It's become evident that seemingly peaceful muslims living in our communities can be vicious terrorists.  A concern for islamic terrorism isn't just bigoted islamophobia!  Some of the more well-known atheist spokesmen, like Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins agree.  Muslims have yet to outgrow the propensity to violence codified in their "sacred" scriptures, and so they represent a much more worrisome threat than christianity at this time.  To think otherwise is to be oblivious to reality.  What worries me is that christian fear of islam will lead to a more militant form of christianity - not a more militant form of atheism.  Will the terrorists succeed in creating a real religious war by spreading fear in christians?  They're close to that in their clash with the jews of Israel.

I have no reason to apologize to anyone, as an atheist, for what Craig Hicks has done.  If it turns out to be a parking dispute, of course, that settles the issue.  If he did it from some spasm of anti-islamic fervor, I surely can say I had nothing to do with that - if he'd asked me, I'd have told him to back off and not give in to such passions - that it would be harmful to the cause of atheism to make martyrs of these innocent people. Some atheists seem willing to accept responsibility for the actions of this man.  I don't believe there's any reason for atheism to do so.  My friend RJ Evans has articulated this pretty well here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Let the recriminations commence!

It's becoming apparent that the forecasts for a 'historic' snowstorm for New York city have proven to be incorrect.  At least one meteorologist has already apologized for not getting this correct.  So the recriminations will commence in the media, I'm sure.  Blogs will be written, Bill Belichick's nasty mischaracterization of weather forecasts will be resurrected, politicians will voice their displeasure, letters to the editor will be written, and so on.  Mea culpas and excuses will be offered.

All of this could have been avoided, of course, and I don't mean by the obvious decision to issue a different forecast.  Let me explain briefly from where forecasts come these days:  to an ever-increasing extent, forecasts are more or less coming from numerical weather prediction [NWP] computer-based models.  Human forecasters who have to make forecast decisions are presented with a number of different model forecasts, some produced by different computer models, and some produced by starting the same model with slightly different input starting conditions.  To some extent, the variability within the ensemble is a measure of the uncertainty of the forecast, but even the uncertainty is, well, uncertain!  This collection of different model forecasts is referred to as an 'ensemble' of forecasts, and at times, there can be considerable variation among the different forecast model results, as was the case with this event.  It was quite likely to snow heavily somewhere at some time - the problem was to pinpoint when and where.  A 'historic' snowfall in New York city would have devastating consequences! 

In reality, what is inevitably true is that all the model forecasts will be wrong, to a greater or lesser degree.  No human- or computer-based weather forecast has ever been perfectly correct, and none ever will be.  Uncertainty is inevitable, so the best any forecaster can do is to say "[some weather event, like a blizzard or a tornado] is likely to happen, and my confidence in that occurrence is [some way to express the uncertainty of that forecast, such as a probability]."  Numerous studies have shown that forecasters are actually pretty good at estimating their uncertainty; this is seen by their forecast reliability.  Reliability of a probabilistic forecast means that, given a particular forecast probability, as that forecast probability increases, the frequency of occurrence of the forecast event also increases.  Forecasts are perfectly reliable when the probability forecast is X percent and the occurrence frequency is also X percent.  In general, it's not a good idea to present forecast event probabilities as either zero or 100 percent, although it's possible in certain situations - the probability of having a blizzard in the ensuing 24 hours when it's presently 100 deg F in July is pretty close to zero.

If the forecast probability is neither zero nor 100 percent, then a particular forecast is neither wholly right or wholly wrong.  If the event occurs although the forecast probability was low (say, 1 percent), then this is the one case out of 100 you would expect to find.  If the event fails to occur despite a forecast probability of 99 percent, again, it's the expected one case out of 100.  In the case of the snowstorm in the northeast, the problem was to know just where the heavy snow would be.  Clearly, when the event occurs, you want the forecast probabilities to be high and when it fails to occur, you want the forecast probability to be low.  Of course, there at times when it doesn't turn out that way, as I've described.

Getting back to the 'dilemma' of choosing from an ensemble of forecasts, the most likely event is the average of all the ensemble members.  But even if that average actually turns out to be the best forecast, it will not be completely accurate.  And there are times when the forecast that would have been the best is one of the ensemble members - the problem is to know with confidence which would be the correct choice, and the challenge is that science simply can't predict that with accuracy.  And in some situations, none of the ensemble members is very close to the real evolution of the weather, unfortunately - i.e., none of the model solutions were accurate.  There is no scientific way to choose the "model of the day" and efforts to do so are simply a waste time!

Everyone wants the forecasts to be absolutely correct, all the time - but like the Rolling Stones say, "You can't always get what you want!"  We need to re-negotiate our contract with forecast users who expect us to provide a level of certainty we simply are [and always will be] incapable of providing.  Users deserve to know our uncertainty in the forecast products we send out.  Not doing so is scientifically dishonest - forecasters know their uncertainty, so not sharing it is to withhold important information!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Encouragement or Nagging?

My son's interest in Scouting began in elementary school, when we lived in Longmont, CO.  Chad joined the Cub Scouts and really enjoyed the experience.  His best friend was also a Cub Scout, not coincidentally.  When we moved to Oklahoma, it took us a while to get him into a Boy Scout troop, for no particular reason, but he was insistent enough that he made it happen.  It turns out that his interest in Scouting was a big influence on my life, and definitely for the better.

Chad was among the first members of a new troop forming in Norman - at first, I had no interest in doing anything more than giving him a ride to and from troop meetings.  After Chad's first summer camp, a conspiracy was hatched:  at the next troop meeting, I found I had become a Patrol Dad, partnering with a person who was a relative stranger.  Suddenly, I was in Scouting, and up to my neck!  As it has turned out, this was more than a great opportunity for Chad.  It was an important life-changing experience for me as a parent and as a person.  We had joined a troop with wise leadership, where the focus was totally on the boys, not the parents.  Our job as adult leaders was to help the boys grow up into good young men.  I had not enjoyed my own Boy Scouting experience, so I wasn't very enthused at first.  But like the boys, I loved the outdoors.  I didn't know much about hiking and camping then, but I was willing to learn.  And I certainly didn't know much about Scouting, but my Patrol Dad partner was an Eagle Scout and our Scoutmaster was a wonderful man, so they patiently waited for me to find my bearings and begin to know how to help the boys.  With time, I learned ... a lot ... about Scouting, about hiking and camping, and about helping boys grow into men.  Our troop involved whole families, including wives and daughters.  They became a second family to me.  Many wonderful experiences were to follow. Chad's participation resulted in one of my life's most rewarding experiences.

I could go on at great length about all my personal Scouting history, but not here.  The point is that one of the most important lessons I learned, by seeing the mistakes being made by others (as well as then seeing what I was doing as a mistake), was to not help the boys very much.  A huge problem for Scouts is parents who live vicariously through their children.  If their children fail, that's seen by the parents as a reflection on them, so they'll do anything to force their child to succeed.  Such parents want their boys to advance as fast as possible, not at a pace determined by the boys' personal growth.  They impose wholly unrealistic expectations on their boys:  that their boys be perfect in every way, all the time.  Therefore, they're constantly griping and nagging their boys about every little thing they might be doing.  I could see most kids not much caring for the constant nagging.  They 'tuned out' most of that harassment and did whatever they wanted, instead.  Sound familiar to you? 

And such parents get so involved in their boys' projects, they wind up doing most of the work for the Scouts.  When camping and hiking, some parents don't want their boys to make any mistakes that might inconvenience the parents, so they get involved in everything the boys are doing and never let the boys make any mistakes.  And of course, the parents make mistakes that inconvenience everyone!

It was easy to see others doing this.  Not so easy to recognize when I came to realize that I was doing it.  Through Scouting, I came to know many good parents whose primary concern was supporting the growth of the boys.  If parents had to do some growing, too (as I did), then the leaders patiently explained what they were doing and why I had to stop doing certain things and provide support in other ways than nagging and interfering.  I found I could see the rightness of this 'philosophy' of letting the boys make mistakes and overcome them.  Nagging and doing things for the boys was actually a demotivator, not helping them.  I watched my son grow into a real leader right before my very eyes.  If he needed discipline, I let other parents (who wouldn't take his transgressions personally) help him see his mistakes.  That was the way the troop worked:  parents helping boys other than their own grow into men.  I found I enjoyed working with boys not my own, and I had deep reservoirs of patience with them, whereas I was prone to be impatient with Chad.

Support what your children choose to do, of course.  But if you have to nag at them all the time to succeed at what they're doing, then perhaps they really want to do something else.  I told my son if I had to drag him to Scout meetings and events, then we just weren't going to do Scouting.  As it turned out, I never found myself having to nag at all.  His participation was always enthusiastic and frequently successful.  He formulated and carried out his own Eagle Scout project - when I was bragging to my boss at the time about my son's success with his Eagle project, he asked me (facetiously) if he could get his managers into Scouting! 

With teenagers, I think parents need to back off and give their kids room to grow as they themselves see fit, not just what the parents want!  Let your children define success in their own terms.  Let them make mistakes and fail, and then learn how to overcome those setbacks on their own, as much as possible.  And not just in Scouting, either!!  Kids need to learn how to make life choices and deal with the consequences on their own. If you can show them how to do that, they'll likely be just fine.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fraud and Insanity - Welcome to Meteorology 2015, Part 2

I would add the following final thought to my previous blog:  No forecast that doesn't contain information about the uncertainty of the forecast can be honest.  Uncertainty is inevitable with any forecast and to issue a product without including that information is dishonest and unprofessional.  If people want to use a long-range forecast as if it were just as accurate as a 1-day forecast, even after being told about the uncertainties, that's their choice.  But if we want to be professionals, we need to be honest, regardless of whether or not people choose to listen to our caveats.

OK - moving on to my next topic, I want to spend a little time on an example of a conspiracy theory that doesn't involve climate science:  the very weird and bizarre notion of the so-called "chemtrails".  Up until a few years ago, I didn't know that this nonsense existed.  The basic notion is that aircraft are dispersing chemicals via their contrails, and those chemicals are supposed to be associated with a whole array of fantasized evils.

It seems that a person named Scott Stevens ... "an award winning television weatherman"... has developed quite a following with wild claims about "geoengineering" projects including (but not limited to) the chemtrail concept.  If you're involved much with social media, no doubt you're well aware of the fanaticism associated with conspiracy theories of all sorts.  There is no scientific basis for claims of a conspiracy involving aircraft contrails, and the other similar parts of "sinister" geoengineering.  Mr. Stevens is careful not to claim he's a meteorologist ... probably since he was forced to resign from an Albany, NY TV station in February of 1995:

Weatherman Scott Stevens has resigned from WRGB (Channel 6) after station management accused him of lying about his credentials.

In a statement read during Tuesday's 6 p.m. broadcast, David Lynch, vice president and general manager, said WRGB "hired Scott Stevens to be chief meteorologist based on faulty information provided by Scott" and his agency. WRGB subsequently learned that "Scott has never completed the necessary academic course of studies that would lead him to the official title of meteorologist,'' according to the statement read by anchorwoman JoAnne Purtan.


In effect, he has essentially zero qualifications to engage in such claims.  It seems that these days anyone can make any wild claim they wish, including those that are virtually complete fabrications, and they can put such garbage out via the Internet.  Gullible, ignorant people are taken in by such nonsense, and the followers of such can infect others easily via electronic media.  This applies to a lot of such imaginary conspiracies (like the putative conspiracy by climate scientists to defraud the world into believing in anthropogenic global warming).

I'm a huge fan of the freedom of speech on the Internet - but people need to take some time to consider what is and is not credible.  Wild "scientific" ideas are common in today's world and nonprofessionals might easily be taken in by them   People need to be able to recognize reliable sources from the loonies out there trying to convince you of such absurdities as the government is using aircraft to fill the air with chemicals that will harm you.

Finally, I've recently seen several examples where junk science concerning topics involving meteorology that may even have been rejected by meteorology journals then turns up in some other journal.  There's the utter nonsense of the example about erecting walls to prevent tornadoes, another one where the authors make up some gibberish about:

... the theory of byuons, allegedly realized by means of a positive feedback between the tornado updraft and the cosmological vector representing the global anisotropy.

as an "additional energy source" for tornadoes, and so on.  My favorite subject - tornadoes and severe storms - long has been a magnet for crackpots and those who think they know something the subject but in reality are profoundly ignorant about severe storms meteorology.  When I dispute their ideas, I've even been subjected to insults.  As a recent example from someone responding to one of my blogs, he called me a "government paid phoney" and said about my science that "One thing we know is that it will be meaningless. It will be pseudoscience. It will be more Doswellian lunacy."

Next, I suppose, come death threats from the chemtrail fanatics ... 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fraud and Insanity - Welcome to Meteorology 2015, Part 1

There are several things going on in the weather business that make me cringe these days.  This field has become politicized and even worse of late, in ways I never dreamed of in my past, when I was nose down into my research.  I can only touch on a few of them, but the list is long, especially in the climate business - a can of worms I won't review here.

Most everyone now is accustomed to seeing 7-10 day forecasts, where the forecast high and low temperature, as well as clouds and precipitation are presented, usually in some graphical format (as shown in the example).

These show up on TV weather broadcasts but are quite common on the Internet.  No doubt many people look at these on a regular basis, most without any suspicion that they're being sold a pig in a poke - such an extended range forecast includes a fundamental dishonesty.  Here's the crux of the problem:  if anyone gives the topic even a few moments of thought, it should be obvious that the farther ahead the forecast product extends, the skill and accuracy of that forecast diminishes.  It's a well established principle in meteorology that every self-respecting meteorologist knows - it's an indisputable fact of the science.  A 3-day forecast is less reliable than a 1-day forecast; a 7-day forecast is less reliable than a 3-day forecast.  By roughly 10 days, the forecasts are essentially without any skill: they're no better than simply forecasting the long-term average conditions.  At that range, if you know the local climatology, you know as much as the forecast can offer.

There are scientific reasons for this growth of error with forecast time - basically, in about 10 days, any very small errors at the start of the forecast will grow to the point where they have contaminated the resulting forecasts.  And small errors at the start are inevitable - we don't know atmospheric conditions well enough to eliminate those small errors.

Furthermore, the detail contained in the forecast becomes less and less reliable with increasing lead times (that is, the time from the start of the forecast to the time when the forecast is valid).  A 1-day forecast has one day of lead time, for example.  The farther into the future the forecast goes, those details (such as the location of a front, or the region where precipitation might occur) become "fuzzy" - it's sort of like looking into a crystal ball, where the farther ahead you look, the cloudier the crystal ball becomes.  In the example above, the day-7 maximum (57) and minimum temperature (39) simply aren't known to a precision of 1 degree Fahrenheit, despite what's shown.  At 10 days or so, none of those details can be trusted beyond what you would expect from climatology for that location and time of the year.

Presenting this information with attractive graphics but without any indication of decreasing reliability is just not being honest.  It's a misrepresentation of the information.  Where does that "detail" come from?  For all practical purposes, these forecasts are derived from numerical weather prediction (NWP) models, where the equations governing the atmosphere determine the values on a grid of points in space (and time).  These models not only provide the forecast data used in those pretty graphics.  They also have been used to determine the limits of reliable forecasts I've referred to previously - roughly 10 days or so.

Any source of forecast information that doesn't let the user know about these limitations on extended forecast skill and accuracy is misrepresenting the science of meteorology.  In my view of things, the meteorological community should rise up in protest over this fraudulent practice.  The only hope to reverse this situation lies with the professional meteorologists, who need to stand up for what is right.  My blog can only reach so many and has little influence by itself.  If professionals can somehow muster the courage to speak out against this egregious practice - yes, it takes courage, as many feel their jobs are at risk when they speak out for the truth - we can change the way our forecasts are presented to the users, for whom we can have no expectation that they will figure this out for themselves.  It's our professional duty!

... more to come ...  

Monday, January 5, 2015

The passing of friends and family

It seems that 2014 and now 2015 has seen death take many people from those within my circle of friends and family.  All of us know that death will come for us some day, sooner or later.  Life is not a contest to see who can live the longest.  We're given the gift of life without ever having asked for it, and it's up to us to use it as we deem best.  Some of us find life to be cruel and burdensome or even loathesome, some seem to be indifferent to it and perhaps take it for granted, and some find great joy in being alive.  In my life, it's been my privilege to have known many people who are in the latter category.  They seize the opportunity and revel in all of life's gifts - even the bad times seem not to bother them too much.  Without bad times, we could never understand the full measure of the good times.

One of life's bad times is the passing of those we know and love, whose companionship has meant so much to us.  Your life is marked by the deaths of friends and family, right up to your own death.  I often find it difficult to know what to tell people who have lost friends, so I try to think about when it has happened to me.  What words or thoughts have I found some solace in, when it's happened to me?  To me, it always comes down to remembering the times I had with a friend or family member.  There never was a guarantee that those good times would go on until I died; the end of my personal "forever".  I try my best to be in the moment in the company of my friends and family, to savor those times as best I can.  Truthfully, it's not always easy to do so.  Real relationships are complicated and can be plagued with petty conflicts that seem important at the time.  Nevertheless, I feel I should try to be more appreciative of the here and now, so that I'll have fewer regrets when the time comes to bid those I know a final goodbye.  Most of my life's regrets to date are tied to not having expressed what I felt toward those who have passed, before the opportunity was lost forever.  There can be no replacement of my friends and family members ... once gone, they are gone forever, never to return.  Holes in my life (and those of others, of course) that can never be filled.

Sometimes, when I particularly miss a certain person who has passed on, I still feel the grief I felt when I found out they were gone.  I'm just feeling sorry for myself, though.  I miss them and the good things they brought into my life.  But it does no good to indulge in such moments of sadness overlong.  What's gone is permanently gone and I can do nothing to bring it back, save perhaps to think about them and keep their memories alive.  It's not necessary a melancholy thing;  after all, I had that time with them, and it was good.  I try my best to pay forward what my absent friends and family gave to me.  Those left behind have to live their lives, despite their losses and sorrow over the absence of those that matter to them.  Life is too rich with wonders and joy to remain sorrowful all the time.  It truly would be a disservice to those special people in your life who have died if you were to be so crushed and disheartened by their loss that you lost your interest in what life has to offer the living.

Some years ago, a friend died in an unfortunate home accident.  The loss was shocking and sudden - a good man cut down in prime adulthood.  At his funeral, the following quote was read, and I was deeply touched by its message, and by how well it applied to my friend's life.  It has come to mind several times since, when friends and family have been taken from me.  I'd like it for my epitaph, if those who survive me deem it to be applicable to me.  Obviously, I think a similar message applies to women.

The man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; 
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; 
who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; 
who never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; 
who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had. 
     - Robert Louis Stevenson