SocraticGadfly: 8/25/13 - 9/1/13

August 31, 2013

Yes, animals are conscious. And?

The "and" is meant to be first a rhetorical question, not a bit of snark. But, with further reflect, there is snark, too.

What raised it?

This declaration on issues of animal consciousness from Cambridge, which seems rather "loose" on detailed, nuanced discussion on issues of consciousness, but rather heavy on being a PR event. I'll discuss both in what follows.

First, brief thoughts on io9's take on it.

For people who follow evolutionary biology enough, or theory of mind issues in philosophy, it's not that big a deal to note that a variety of animals have some degree of consciousness. Evolutionary biology points at expanding brain complexity, even without getting bogged down in the world of evolutionary psychology. Theory of mind points at things like embodied cognition, hinting that animals with suitable appendages and/or use of items as tools will develop some sort of consciousness. 

It's almost like io9's writer was engaged in some version of speciesism.

Second, some points specific to the declaration, focusing on this graf:
 "The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states," they write, "Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors."
Here's a few points to note, in light of that, though.

This is important in informing us on animals rights issues. That said, before we all become Peter Singer, there's points to note:

1. Consciousness is not a black-white, on-off issue. It's an emergent property of some sort.

2. Related to that, there are degrees of consciousness, reflected in things like "levels of thought." For example, a dog, or an octopus, has no idea that I know it's thinking about something. A chimpanzee does, whether about me or a fellow member of Pan troglodytes. However, it probably doesn't reach third-order thinking; that is, a chimp probably doesn't know that **I know it knows** I'm thinking about it. And, certainly, no critter outside of H. sapiens reaches fourth-level thinking/awareness.

Closely tied to this are communications skills, and levels thereof. It's pretty clear that dolphins talk to each other. It's certain that octopi don't. And, while pheromones, etc., are a form of communication, beyond that, it's pretty clear that dogs don't communicate in depth with each other, and most of what they do vis-a-vis their two-legged masters is imitation, not communication.

3. Points 1 and 2 apply to emotional awareness and complexity, too. An octopus doesn't have as deep an emotional life as a dog, surely. It, in turn, while deep enough, isn't as deep as a chimp or, say, an elephant or dolphin, which in turn aren't as deep as us.

4. The "problem of other minds," or heterophenomenology, means that we'll never likely pin down No. 2 and 3, on a per-species basis, to an exact level of precision. I don't care how much more precise fMRIs get as far as either brain space focusing or real-time brain action measurement, they wont' get that precise, and, even if everything seems analogous to human brain actions, we won't know exactly what they're thinking, or emoting. This is especially true with more primitive emotions, or actions like whether a certain animal feels pain or not. Is that an emotion from some degree of quasi-conscious cognition, or is it a purely reflex action.

5. Related to that is the issue of "projection." Sure, those chimps might look oh-so-conscious, but it that because they look so much like us, from hairless faces and forward facing eyes down to opposing thumbs? Or, does a dog look oh-so-conscious precisely because he or she is "mirroring" us and we don't stop to think about that?

Contra what a Singer might say, none of this is "speciesism." Hopefully, our species is smart enough that, should sufficiently advanced aliens ever visit us, we'd admit they're on at least one level higher yet.

Back to other animal species here on earth, and riffing again on the Singer angle.

The above notes about levels of consciousness, combined with pain perception, say that we should be more enlightened in animal ethics in general. But, we don't need quite the same level of concern in our laboratory dealings with an octopus or other mollusk as with a dog, let alone as with a chimpanzee or dolphin. 

So, saying "animals are conscious" or "more animals are conscious than we thought before" is nice, or "nice," but it doesn't really tell us a lot.

The grunt work is in identifying levels of consciousness (after all, we H. sapiens are sometimes less conscious than at other times), followed by discussing what this means for how we should act toward animals.

That (as Singer shows, regardless of what one things of his particular  views and program) is where science leaves off and philosophy begins. What do these levels of conscious mean? What does our reaction to trying to sort out and assign levels of consciousness mean? Beyond faulty brain examination tools and maze-type tests, what do the particular tools that we use to try to determine consciousness mean?

All these things are important because, although the Cambridge Declaration is a statement by a small group of scientists, it's going to be one that's repeatedly used by scientific activitists. And, given that a signatory like Christof Koch works on issues of consciousness, the failure to note that consciousness is a nuanced issue, and that, as many people have pointed out in discussion of consciousness as a phenomenological issue, that people still don't see one "universal X" as a keystone of consciousness, is part of why this declaration, while "nice," and while interesting, even as a scientific document, is less than perfect.

As a document of philosophy, or philosophy of science, for that matter, it lacks more yet. 

Add in that these aren't "junior varsity" scientists, and that 60 Minutes was there, presumably at their invitation, to "memorialize" the event, and from where I stand the public relations angle of the thing only rises. Why else would you have Stephen Hawking, who has done zero scientific work on issues of consciousness, present?

To me, this document is as much pop science as it is science.

Also, by having Hawking involved, it's a false appeal to authority, a fundamental error of logic.

Let's duly note it as a news event and move on, but not while filing this, as a PR event, in our collective memory banks for times in the future when its signatories make statements about consciousness.

It's sad that Koch et al decided to exploit Hawking to, I presume, make this a capital-S "Science" event. That too, will be duly filed away in my memory banks. So, too, will Hawking playing along.

So, too, will the old "follow the money" adage. With Obama announcing the "decade of the brain" research idea here in the US, and similar things abroad, I think it has to be asked.

I'm kind of doing a slow burn at myself, as much as anything, as I finish updating this, for not picking up on the PR and logical fallacy angles earlier.

#Cardinals fans and Kozma-ic cluelessness

Dear fellow Redbirds aficionados:

I understand that the St. Louis Cardinals are in the middle of trying to not only make the playoffs, but win the Central Division and avoid the wild-card play-in game.

I understand that you are worried about the performance of particular players.

And, I of course understand, and know, that shortstop Pete Kozma is at the top of this list.

But please, especially if you're linking to Baseball-Reference for blogging, actually check the stats of the players you're linking to before writing drivelous nonsense?

Like nonsense about how Ryan Jackson is "the answer." Or how Daniel Descalso is "the answer."

Let's have a bit of a reality check, shall we?

First, Pete Kozma is what he is. But, Jackson  is not the answer; if he were, he wouldn't be in Memphis now, would he? He's the same age as Kozma, and had a cup of coffee with the big club himself. If he were the answer, Kozma would be further down the river, not Jackson.

If anything's the answer out of Memphis, it's Greg Garcia, anyway, since he's pretty much supplanted Jackson at SS and also is a couple years younger and with a touch more speed, perhaps.  For the year-to-date in Memphis, Jackson's handled more chances, etc., at SS than Jackson has. Jackson's now in the OF, if you'll check his minor-league page on B-R.

Descalso? Puhleeze. He'ss not enough better than Kozma as a hitter to offset his stone glove. He's a utility player backup, period, and on the glove side, SS is the worst of his three infield positions. Cards fans who think he's the answer need to think again.

Doesn't .941 fielding percentage, and below-league-average range, say a thing to you? 

The real answer is "accepting" Kozma (and other band-aids as necessary) for this year, while looking ahead to the offseason.

Now that Kolten Wong has been called up by the St. Louis Cardinals, if he makes the grade enough, from what he shows this year, or maybe this year plus spring training next year, then 3B  David Freese, of course, becomes trade bait, since current 2B starter Matt Carpenter is better at third than second.

Jon Heyman at CBS has issued an initial ranking of the top 50 MLB free agents for the upcoming year. There's only one third baseman on the list, and that's perhaps using the term loosely. Michael Young is tied for No. 50 on Heyman's list. 

Freese is six years younger, and even with a bit of a slip this year, is still a better power hitter and better overall.

And, of course, we all know what to look for out of that trade — a shortstop!

Yes, the Angels likely were overcharging in the midseason for Erick Aybar. Maybe their price comes down in the offseason. And, with Chris Nelson now at third, the Haloes could stand an upgrade.

If the ChiSox are in a mood to let go of Alexei Ramirez, Freese is an upgrade over Conor Gillaspie!

Or, maybe Freese becomes part of a trade for pitching, and Garcia makes the big squad. Or maybe we find out Wong isn't ready yet, and so, the Cards give Freese another one-year deal in arbitration.

But, Descalso and Jackson aren't the answer. Period. Not as a starting SS. (That said, because he's OK at 2B and 3B, and passable at short, Descalso IS the answer as a utility infielder to keep around.)

And, Cards fans, by blog posts, who need to "think again" about either Jackson, Descalso, or both, include this and this among others. And, if I need to post more links, I will.

Again, if you're going to link to a site like Baseball-Reference, actually look at the stats before making  comments like these. I understand the frustration with Kozma, but as Lincoln said about replacing Gen. McClellan, you can't replace Kozma with "anybody," you have to replace him with "somebody."

Update, Sept. 3: Yes, I'm aware that Jackson has now been called up. Big deal, it's September and time for a few more 40-man call-ups to come up from Memphis. Don't read too much into that.

August 29, 2013

#ESPN spinelessness bites it in the a** on #NFL #concussions

We all know that The Worldwide Leader is all about the sports dollars at bottom line.

That's why its chickenshit withdrawal from working with PBS' Frontline on an extended documentary about concussions was not surprising. Nor was its ombudsman's weaselly attempt to justify that move.

Well, now, news that the NFL has agreed to settle a lawsuit by retired players, for the handsome amount of $765 million, puts ESPN's cowardice in a whole new light. So too does past touting of all it's done to cover the issue.

So does the fact that ESPN's story and blog about the settlement fail to mention the WWL's withdrawal from the Frontline piece. It's arguable that the Frontline issue didn't need to be in the story, even if ESPN's doing fairly serious overwrite of the AP piece. But, for Seifert to leave it out of the blog? Nope. Not good.

That's even more the case when either Seifert himself, or whoever writes his heads, trumpets how this "saved the game."

Nooo ... with no admission of guilt, and for relatively low cost — likely due to most the plaintiffs not having the money to stand up to Daddy Warbucks, personified by the Commish, Roger Goodell, in a trial and appeals — it saved the NFL. Not "the game," if by that we mean football in general.
Now, for about a third of (estimated possible damages), the league has settled the case before its dirty laundry was aired in court, and without admitting any guilt.
But, that's the NFL, not "the game." Seifert admits as much in the last graf:
 The NFL can go forth with certainty and continued vigilance, but for now at least, with no fear about its future in American culture.
Bingo. I'm sure there's dirty laundry. But, barring another suit, we won't know. (See below for that.)

In fact, in the AP's story used as the base for ESPN's write-up, player lawyer David Frederick explicitly accused the NFL of covering up studies linking concussions and neurological problems.

But both story and blog hint that the NFL had "done all it could" on this issue.

More bollocks. Daddy Warbucks' continued push for an 18-game season, also not mentioned by the WWL, is proof beyond Frederick's claims that it had not. (I'm assuming this is the final nail in the coffin for Daddy Warbucks' push for that 18-game season.)

Let's also take note that the $765 million settlement is only 40 percent of the cost of the NFL's annual contract with ESPN.

Meanwhile, the No Fun League could be on the hook for some bucks over this:
The N.F.L., legal experts said, still must clarify how much of any settlement its insurance companies will cover. Several of them have argued in court that they do not have to indemnify the N.F.L. because of the policies they wrote. A lawyer representing Alterra America Insurance, which wrote one policy for one year for the N.F.L., told the judge that a settlement could cost $2.5 billion, a figure some legal experts considered conservative. The league and the plaintiffs had to consider their mounting legal bills. 
This ought to be fun.

And, maybe we will get a lawsuit that goes to discovery on this. A group of retired players may not have deep pockets vis-a-vis Daddy Warbucks. A major insurance company does.


That all said, what's actually in it for players?

Barring a rush of last-minute retirements, the players who sued, plus all other eligible retirees, will get $150K per person, roughly. Players can opt out, but it's doubtful they'll do better against Daddy Warbucks in a future suit.

That doesn't count the money going to the baseline medical fund.

As for the money going to research, assuming Frederick is right, a key question is going to be: who monitors that fund, including how its money is spent and how its findings are reported?

Other notes include the observation

Time is right for #Cardinals to trade Freese in offseason

Now that Kolten Wong has been called up by the St. Louis Cardinals, Redbird fans wonder what this means for the future of 3B  David Freese, since current 2B starter Matt Carpenter is better at third than second, where Wong could start, assuming he makes the grade.

Jon Heyman at CBS has issued an initial ranking of the top 50 MLB free agents for the upcoming year. There's only one third baseman on the list, and that's perhaps using the term loosely. Michael Young is tied for No. 50 on Heyman's list. 

Freese is six years younger, and even with a bit of a slip this year, is still a better power hitter and better overall.

And, of course, we all know what to look for out of that trade — a shortstop!

Pete Kozma is what he is. Ryan Jackson is not the answer; if he were, he wouldn't be in Memphis. Daniel Descalso is not enough much better as a hitter to offset his stone glove. He's a utility player backup, period, and on the glove side, SS is the worst of his three infield positions. Cards fans who think he's the answer need to think again.

If anything's the answer out of Memphis, it's Greg Garcia, anyway, since he's pretty much supplanted Jackson at SS and also is a couple years younger and with a touch more speed, perhaps.

Cards fans, by blog posts, who need to "think again" about either Jackson, Descalso, or both, include this and this among others.

If you're going to link to a site like Baseball-Reference, actually look at the stats before making  comments like these. I understand the frustration with Kozma, but as Lincoln said about replacing Gen. McClellan, you can't replace Kozma with "anybody," you have to replace him with "somebody."

August 28, 2013

Is high-speed rail closer to coming to Texas?

The Dallas Morning News says yes, with word that North Texas über-insider Tom Schieffer has become an adviser to the Texas Central High-Speed Railway, a proposed private bullet-train line between Dallas and Houston.

The Snooze notes this about the former ambassador to Japan:
The Japan part of Schieffer’s résumé is key: The Texas-based company is affiliated with the Central Japan Railway, a leader in rail technology and operator of the bullet train that serves Tokyo and Osaka.
Yep. Despite touting of China's recent (shoddy) bullet train construction, Japan is probably still ground zero on where to look for engineering, routing and other ideas.

This sounds smarter than waiting on driblets of federal funds for high-speed rail, given wingnut opposition to Obama's push, and other issues.

It also sounds smart to focus on Dallas-Houston, rather than looking at the whole Texas Triangle.

And, per company president Robert Eckles, a former Harris County judge, it sounds like the path of the train likely would NOT follow I-45.
“This train doesn’t perform well if you have to stop it many times," Eckels said. "It works great if you stop it midway, maybe up at College Station, maybe a couple of other places.”
Given that Aggieville is on Texas 6, which splits off I-35 at Waco, a Waco stop near Baylor makes sense. And none other.

You could run a couple of "express" routes with no intermediate stops and a couple of nonexpress routes with those two stops added. Those trains would have a stop every 90 or so miles. You don't want anything shorter than that.

Now, this is all years, years, away, but, there's smart thinking, it sounds like.

Thomas Frank details the academia-big biz crackup

Those of us who are good liberals, good left-liberals, or even per the Slackhalla personality test making its way around Facebook, good communists (adjusts necktie and bowler hat, shaves full beard back to Lenin goatee) know that American academia has increasingly become a money-grubbing hog trough, starting from the president/chancellor level on down.

Thomas Frank has all the blood-spattered details of how this has wrongly played out, and is getting worse, in the latest issue of The Baffler.

Beyond the money-grubbing itself, with tuition, books, and increasingly, varieties of tack-on fees that are exceeded in their inflation-busting rate of growth only by medical costs, there's all the other ways in which Big Biz has penetrated the ivied walls.

First, there's a business management style. Professors? We only need enough to improve "the brand." For the rest, there's a growing pile of adjuncts. And, because we the Big U have fired more of the profs, the adjunct pool gets ever bigger, so we can flatten wages!

The "brand"? Ahh, here's where they can get away with it. Let's capitalize Ivied walls. At "select" universities, they overcharge because they know a "credential" in the name of a degree, with their select university's name on it, looks even better in the job market on a resume. That's why Dear Leader's idea of a White House-imprimatured college ratings list, one that would look like the U.S. News top 100 or something, not only would not lower college costs, it would likely raise them even more. Who wouldn't give their left ovary or testicle for a "credential" from such a list?

Of course, that's the next part of the Big Biz crapola. It's the idea that everything about education can, should, and will be quantified to something measurable and testable. It's why boards of regents and the new breed of presidents and chancellors, want to junk humanities departments.

I do disagree with one other thing in the essay, though, and that's Frank's claim that the typical 17-year-old going to college has little-to-no savvy of his or her own. Bull, at least when it comes to, say, the Ivies. Dear Mr. Frank: It's called "legacies." Look under "Bush, George W." There's plenty of ppl who know damned well already at 17 or 18 that it's a game to get the right collegiate name on that credential and nothing else. As for the debt amount at said places, it's not naivete but the Dunning-Kruger effect that leads said students to plunk down that much money.

Yes, it may be our neoliberal educational culture that pushes, steers, entices, or intoxicates many of said high-schoolers toward believing in the value of "the credential," but, per the old cliche: "It takes two to tango." Now, for high school kids who, as Frank says, aren't as savvy, I agree they're being exploited. But, for the young Princetonite gambling that he is indeed smarter, suaver and a better butt-kisser than anybody else? I've got a lot less sympathy for him. That's just like the largely white OWS protestors (actual Zucotti Park OWS) who, with their 25 percent grad degree percentages, were mad Wall Street didn't hire them with their MBAs and JDs, and suddenly discovered they had a socialist bone caught in their throats, which I blogged about at the height of the movement.

Here's the most pertinent information:
92.1% of the sample has some college, a college degree, or a graduate degree.
27.4% have some college (but no degree), 35% have a college degree, 8.2% have some graduate school (but no degree), and close to 21.5% have a graduate school degree. 6.4% in the sample agree somewhat or strongly that they regularly use Facebook and 28.9 percent use Twitter regularly.

The data suggest that 81.3% of respondents considered themselves White, 1.3% Black\African American, 3.2% Asian, .4% Native American Indian, 2.9% Mixed, 7.7% Hispanic, and 3.2% considered themselves some other group.
Whiter and much better educated than average. 

I'll halfway agree there that it's tough to avoid the tango. But, if you really were that liberal, you'd have gone to a different college and pursued a different career path in the first place.

A little bit of that is true for adjunct instructors, too. I mean, especially if you've been doing it for 10 years, and you've still never gotten a full-time position, I'm sorry, but that's going to be your lot for the rest of your natural born life unless you change careers. Now, if you want to keep accepting the misery, frustration AND low pay that goes with it, without looking to follow another path, then that's your problem. Now, if you're trying to get out, but still to a not-too-craptacular alternative, but haven't succeeded yet, I empathize. Remember, I'm in the newspaper biz, for now at least.

Indeed, Frank even addresses this, and the Dunning-Kruger effect, in talking about adjuncts, even if he doesn't also apply it to students, and doesn't cite the paradox by name:
Just about everyone in academia believes that they were the smartest kid in their class, the one with the good grades and the awesome test scores. They believe, by definition, that they are where they are because they deserve it. They’re the best. So tenured faculty find it easy to dismiss the de-professionalization of their field as the whining of second-raters who can’t make the grade. Too many of the adjuncts themselves, meanwhile, find it difficult to blame the system as they apply fruitlessly for another tenure-track position or race across town to their second or third teaching job—maybe they just don’t have what it takes after all. Then again, they will all be together, assuredly, as they sink finally into the briny deep. 
So, both students and faculty need to be like the medievals at the University of Paris and go on strike. (Forming a union, of students, and a better one, of faculty, where it doesn't exist, will be part of that.) However, per the paradox, and the fake meritocracy, and how much strength neoliberalist hypercapitalism has gained in academia, maintaining unity in such a strike will be a hell of an uphill slog. 

Frank, near the end, agrees with me, doing a skillful tease of the is-ought error while rejecting it:
What ought to happen is that everything I’ve described so far should be put in reverse. ...
But repeating this feels a little like repeating that it will be bad if newspapers go out of business en masse. Of course it will. Everyone who can think knows this. But knowing it and saying it add up to very little. ...

What actually will happen to higher ed, when the breaking point comes, will be an extension of what has already happened, what money wants to see happen. Another market-driven disaster will be understood as a disaster of socialism, requiring an ever deeper penetration of the university by market rationality. ...

And so we end with dystopia, with a race to the free-market bottom. 
He then mentions an alternative to the strike:
The only way out is for students themselves to interrupt the cycle. Maybe we should demand the nationalization of a few struggling universities, putting them on the opposite of a market-based footing, just as public ownership reformed the utilities in the last century.
Sorry, nationalization would be worse, if anything, as long as the current political classes are in charge.

Meanwhile, add to the problem: A "citation cartel" within academic publishing.

Socrates is overrated (updated and expanded)

Yeah, given my blog name and handle, it sounds ironic for me to say that, no?

Of course, some people might accuse me of being hypocritical, if I do think he's overrated. That said, my blog name trades on the myth of Socrates, which we shall now call into account ... by using some Socratic-like questioning!

1. If he really were ignorant of so much, how could he always be right in his dialogues -- especially since he proves his opponents wrong in every one of them and therefore he couldn't have learned from them?

2. If he really were so ignorant, and knew that he were, then why didn't he follow Wittgenstein and remain silent about what he did not know?

3. If he really were so ignorant, then how can we believe he understood the Sophists' teachings so well?

The baseline answer to all of these individual questions and more is that Socrates, that is, the Socrates who is a Platonic mouthpiece (and, an ideal one for Plato, pun intended!) makes straw men out of Sophists and their thought, opposes the democratization (for money) of knowledge that they offer because it upsets his classist views and more.

But, specifically:

1A. The Platonic wordsmith hoists him by his own petard, not to mention, especially in the Cave analogy, also getting hoist on the petard of ineffability.

2A. Because it does that, Plato's Socrates only mimicked the idea of being ignorant.

3A. This builds on the "baseline" answer. In a sense, Socrates, to the degree we can really guess at who he was, DOES know the ideas of the Sophists well — and fears their democratizing strain.

Beyond that, while I don't buy into every argument Izzy Stone made in "The Death of Socrates," I do think he was anti-democratic and an elitist. Rather than the crime of affronting the gods of the polis, what he really was guilty of, in modern American legal terminology, arguably, was treason. So, contra Aristotle, mourn not his death as being in the nature of a crime against philosophy.

Besides that, from Xenophon and Aristophanes, especially the latter, we have a somewhat different version of Socrates. Indeed, Aristophanes calls Socrates, not any opponents of his (not mentioned in "The Birds") a Sophist.

Some additional thoughts:
Unfortunately, philosophical smarts, just like atheism (especially Gnu Atheism) and Professional Skepticism(TM) are no guarantors of being good secular humanists.

Both Socrates and Plato were anti-democratic elitists.

David Hume, despite all his other common sense, and being one of my favorite philosophers, was a racist. (And, Nov. 27, 2020, update, per David Harris' 2015 bio, which I've now read, in many of his Essays Moral and Political, distressingly shallow, as if le bon David followed Addison too much and acted like he was writing for the 1750s British equivalent of New Yorker readers at best.)

But, speaking of skepticism, and as a philosophy, not an investigative movement, Diogenes was, well, Diogenes! Maybe not a humanist in every way, but, he certainly was true to himself.

And here's more thoughts of mine on overrated and underrated philosophers in general.

And, this means that Plato is also overrated, for erecting such a blatant straw man in Socrates.

August 27, 2013

Pirates prove they're serious with Marlon Byrd trade

I like the move, the Pittsburgh Pirates making a waiver-wire trade for Marlon Byrd from the Mets. It's a move the team needed to make even before Starling Marte's injury. They badly needed a decent right-handed bat in the outfield. Add in that he's an above-average fielder, and there you go.

Now, he is having a career year, and he is also a free agent at the end of the year, as is add-in catcher John Buck, who's not a bad addition to give Russell Martin some rest.

As for the payout by the Bucs?

Dilson Herrera wasn't listed among their top 20 prospects at the start of the season. He's a 19-year-old having a so-so to decent season, at best, and a decent but not spectacular fielder at an important but not critical defensive position.

I say there's only 1-in-3 odds he ever plays at the MLB level.

With that alone, the deal's all Pirates, even if Buck and Byrd are both pending free agents.

But, the Bucs also owe the Mets a player to be named later. Who is it?

At the same time, the Mets gave the Pirates "cash considerations." Given that Byrd was playing for the minimum, and Buck had $1.5 million left on his contract for this year, that means the Pirates are getting them for nearly free on salaries.

Plus, this indicates to fans and the team that ownership and management has at least some degree of seriousness about making sure the team makes the playoffs. Don't forget an intangible like that.

Anyway, that should lock down the Pirates' playoff spot, and keeps them in the hunt for the Central Division title.

Old man drought keeps on rolling?

Unfortunately, in addition to being denialists of global warming and climate change, the folks at Texas Farm Bureau seem to think The Old Farmer's Almanac is the be-all and end-all of long-term weather forecasts. Unfortunately, they're not alone; the folks at Nice Polite Republicans repeat the claim that it's going to be generally cooler and wetter than normal this winter, not just in Texas but across most the nation.

Sadly, the National Weather Service strongly disagrees with the idea Texas will have a cool, wet winter. And, contra NPR with the Almanac, I don't "believe" what's a legitimate scientific forecasting model; I "accept" it within the bounds of probability the NWS stipulates.

That said, for the three months of winter, on average, December-February, the NWS predicts almost all the nation is likely to see above average temperatures, and a fair chunk of it, including about all of Texas and most the south central and Southwest, is very likely to see above average temps. On precipitation, most the nation is likely to see average.

That's exactly what winter Texas had this year. And, above average temps, even in winter, here in Texas, mean more evaporation.

Before that, northeast Texas has a slight to moderate chance of above-average precipitation in mid-fall, but the whole state's supposed to continue to have above-average temperatures.

And, looking beyond winter, models for early spring predict a hot one, not just an above-normal one, for much of the Southwest.

In short, don't expect any drought relief.

At the same time, don't expect any climate denial relief from the usual suspects, either.

Beyond that, the NWS' research, paid by your and my tax dollars, is free. As well as better.