Sunday, December 26, 2021

An overland journey from Sweden to India (1974)

In 2014 I created a photo reportage book about my 1974 journey to India. I published it on Shutterfly, which besides printing it allows you to share it as a PDF/word file. Click on the image below to view the book. <

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Ebenezer Scrooge, Meet Joe Manchin, the Wealthy Senator Who Guards His Coal

Much of President Biden's agenda is on hold, much due to a rich coal baron from West Virginia. 

'The idea of eliminating fossil fuels is “very, very disturbing”, Manchin said in July when specifics of Biden’s climate agenda surfaced.' (The Guardian, September 30, 2021)

He is also firmly against handing out money to the poor, using the stalemate in the Senate to block Biden's Build Back Better plan. 

'His goal, Mr. Manchin later said, was to avoid “basically changing our whole society to an entitlement mentality.”

Mr. Manchin’s language has inflamed tensions within the Democratic caucus. Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, declared: “I believe that seniors having teeth in their mouth, or children having child care is not entitlement. It’s justice.”' (New York Times, October 8, 2021)

Which of course brings us back to Ebenezer Scrooge, who had this to say when approached by two charity volunteer in  Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I am very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since

you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned--they cost enough; and those who are

badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides--excuse me--I don't know that."

"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.

"It's not my business," Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's.

Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

*

Paul Krugman: Joe Manchin Versus West Virginia (New York Times, October 18, 2021) 

"Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia — whose vote is essential given scorched-earth Republican opposition to anything Biden might propose — is reportedly against the Clean Energy Payment Program, the core of Biden’s attempt to take action on climate change, and wants to impose work requirements on the child tax credit, a key element in plans to invest in the nation’s children."

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Syukoro Manabe on Supercomputers and the Greenhouse Effect (Datornytt, 1990)

(Originally published in the Swedish computer newspaper Datornytt in the summer of 1990)

Supercomputers Track the Greenhouse Effect

Syukoro Manabe

The climate researcher Syukoro Manabe doesn’t eat a lot. However, his appetite for data hardly knows any limits, which is why it helps to have access to a Cray Y-MP/832. But will this $25 million supercomputer be able to erase the question marks about the greenhouse effect?

Mankind has since the 1800 hundreds pumped evermore carbon dioxide, methane gas and hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, trapping heat that otherwise should have escape into space. This is the so-called greenhouse effect that many researchers fear will devastate the Earth’s climate.

There is an intense debate and growing political interest around the greenhouse effect. Is it real, and if so, how fast is the global warming? Researchers are increasingly relying on supercomputers to answer these questions.

“I can’t imagine modern atmospheric and climate science without computers,” says Dr. Syukoro Manabe when I meet him in Princeton, New Jersey, in late May.

He has worked on advanced computer models to study the climate for about a quarter century. In 1966, he and Richard T. Wetherald managed to use computer simulations to demonstrate that the Earth’s average temperature would grow by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) if the level of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the Earth’s atmosphere doubled (compared to the period before the industrialization).  

Today, Manabe is head of the greenhouse research at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in Princeton, New Jersey. It is one of the leading centra for climate research in the U.S. and belongs to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which belongs to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The GFDL is not as large as the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, but being small can be a benefit.

“I had over 100 hundred hours supercomputer time left over last month,” says Ronald J. Stouffer, who is one of a handful researchers in Manabe’s group. They have since mid-May had the privilege of hooking up their Sun workstations to one of the largest Cray computers. For the moment they have all the computer power they could wish for. If there is anything they do wish for, it is more storage capacity and better tools for analyzing the data.  

“Things are going to get better,” Lou Umscheid reassures us. He is responsible for the computer systems at GFDL. At the moment, they are evaluating a Silicon Graphics graphical workstation.

“We realize that we need the most advanced technology possible to analyze the data coming out of the supercomputer,” he says. “The problem is that we don’t have software for our particular applications. We need to do quite a bit of adaptation work.”

“It will take time before we have three-dimensional graphics, color and so on, but there are still a lot of things we can do with our Sun workstations,” Umscheid says.

Personally, Syukoro Manabe, doesn’t have a lot of direct contact with computers. He is the only one in the team that doesn’t have a workstation and says that he mostly walks around bouncing off questions to the members of the group. He says that people once thought he was going to far in using computers and building too complicated climate models. Today it’s the other way around.

“It’s not I that have changed,” he says.

What role do supercomputers play for our understanding of climate change?

“We are trying to track the atmospheric circulation, which is ruled by physical laws, using hydrodynamic equations. We need supercomputers to be able to solve these equations as exactly as possible,” he says.

Researchers at GFDL use a theoretical model that describes the atmospheric development through an imagined grid covering the Earth. Flows into and between the grid’s climate boxes decides the global climate. This is called hydrodynamics.


Manabe says that the next goal in building the model is to integrate the atmospheric development with that of the world’s oceans. The latter have a huge impact on the climate since the absorb, reallocate (surface and deep-water currents), and gives off large amount of heat.

“The faster supercomputers we have, the higher resolution we can use in our models, which gives us more precise answers,” he says.

So far, they have used grids where each box is 400 by 400 kilometers. With the new Cray computer, it is possible to use a twice as fine-grained net, using 200 by 200 kilometers as the base.

“We are using exactly the same mathematical operation for each atmospheric box, why this is an ideal situation for computers with parallel processors,” Manabe says. “Which is why we will probably switch to massively parallel computers in the future.”

He is thinking of machines like Thinking Machines’ Connection Machine that has 65,000 simple processors, but costs only a fraction of a Cray.

Why haven’t you already done that?

“We want other people to be the Guinea pigs so we can learn from their experiences! We don’t want to do the mistakes. Another reason is that the Cray Y-MP is more versatile.”

“More powerful computers give us a better understanding of what happens (in the model),” he says. “Instead of conducting one experiment, you can do ten. If you have eight processors, you can run eight experiment concurrently. You can do sensitivity studies by varying different parameters. You can study what role different parameters play for the climate, which helps you understand feedback in the system.”

The science is moving forward thanks to more powerful computers, but Manabe warns against excessive belief in what computers can do.

“People ask if we can improve the precision in the model with more powerful computers. Yes, I say, but it would be highly misleading to say that it is the only thing we can do,” he says.

The climate model Manabe’s group is working on consists of two parts. Once consists of hydrodynamic equations that describe known physical connections. Here better computers generally deliver better results. The other part contains components that are less well known or cannot as easily be described in terms of physical laws. There are many kinds of feedback between the Earth, the atmosphere, and the oceans, presenting very difficult problems for the researchers and their computer models.             

“For example, how does a cumulus cloud affect the state of the atmosphere? How do you treat the heat exchange between the surface of the Earth and the atmosphere? The Earth is covered by trees and land, which makes the whole thing very complicated,” Manabe says.

“Such problems cannot be solved through more computer power. We must conduct field experiments, theoretical studies, diagnostic studies, to figure out how to describe these processes in our models,” Manabe says.

“There will remain uncertainties about the prognoses of the future climate for a long time,” he says.

Forever?

“Yes! Assume that you have a perfect model. But how can you know that it is perfect, when every model is a simplified version of reality? You don’t know which impact that simplification has on your prognosis. How should we value the effect of your ignorance about those parts where we don’t understand the laws of physics well enough?”

He warns against the tendency to respond to uncertainty by adding more and more supporting assumptions to the model.

“The computer is powerful, but it is a double-edged sword. It can hurt us! The trend today is to stuff the model with as much as possible now that the computers are so powerful. This without knowing the consequences.”

“I worry about the uncontrolled march towards ‘complistic’ models. Simplistic models are also dangerous, but right now I am more concerned about ‘complistic” people.”

“People put in everything they can see through the window,” Manabe says. “You can’t do it with the hydrodynamic models, but you can put in lots of different assumptions when dealing with processes on the ground, cumulus clouds and other things that we don’t know how to handle. You create very complicated algorithms, but who know how many programming errors there is in the model?

“People think you can do experiments where you include everything like you are throwing ingredients into a pizza. I don’t like such ideas.,” he says.

“Then they have the model make a random prediction and claim that this is the most sophisticated, complicated model in the world. Hence it must be right. But the main thing is to understand what is going on in the model. Can you trust it?”

“Nobody should believe that the world’s most complicated model will let us go to Mount Sinai like another Moses and get the answer straight from God,” he says sarcastically.

Is there a risk the strong political interest will corrupt the greenhouse research?

“Yes, people will feel that they are in such a hurry that they don’t have time to try to understand what they are doing. People are traveling too much (to give speeches at conferences).”

“We have such a beautiful computer. For it to be worth the effort, we better sit by our desks and do our job.”

Hans Sandberg


Dr. Manabe gets the call from the Swedish Academy.   



Wednesday, September 1, 2021

A Preview of "An Overland Journey from Sweden to India (1974)"

I recently found out that Shutterfly allows you to create a PDF Preview of a book project. Below you can view my 2014 photo book.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

My Dad Writes from Öland (July 8, 1974)

Sandby Löttorp on July, 8, 1974

Dear Hans!

Will try to sketch out a few lines. Hope you and Elisabeth both are doing well. 

The weather has been worse than usual. Cold and damp and some rain. But they say that the weather will become warmer and better, and we certainly hope so.

Mom sanded down the old kitchen sofa, an enormous task, which she’s been working at for 3 days. I thought she would wash it down with some water, but you know how your mom is. It must be done right. Even Ingemar would approve. Pity that she didn’t do it to the car too because it would have looked like new. Good to know. But I am afraid that she will throw out her back and end up in bed any day. 

As for me, I have my usual aches and pains, but I try to take it with a grain of salt.

I still have not finished “Den onödiga samtiden” (Our unnecessary time, a 1974 book based on a letter exchange between the Swedish authors Jan Myrdal and Lars Gustafsson). I saw that an opinion writer entered the debate in defense of Myrdal and Gustafsson

But to be honest, I think they have taken it too far and ended up with gobbledygook. However, I think Delblanc was right to a large degree even if he seemed to be unnecessary hot. 

I tend to think that when you read the book, it seems that Jan Myrdal tries hard to speak about how plain and popular he is, only to quote long segments from old classical books. Then he plugs a lot for Gun’s (his wife, tr) upcoming exhibit.

He also shares a bit too much about how pleasant their time was with Elias Cornell and his wife. Then he mentions Dahlberg as fantastic and how stimulating it is to socialize with highly educated people. To me, it seems that he is highlighting things that are not important. It really can’t be of public interest, just as with Strindberg’s kragknapp.  

Of course, you think that it is the exchange of letters between Gustafsson and Jan that is at stake and that it therefore is of interest! But is it? (for the reader of the book.)

To me, it seems that Myrdal has been infected by parochial thinking and have begun to pay attention to niceties. Considering that he previously has expressed his disgust for careerists that climb the social ladder, it’s like he feels the need to defend himself, and I don’t think he needs to do that. So, I think his novels are better. 

But one must admit that his thoughts about Den onödiga samtiden are valid and scary. 

But maybe it is the future that really is unnecessary. It can’t be fun to be young in such an era, but it has probably always been like that. You, who are so aware of all the terrible things in the world. We were probably more naïve and innocent. So do live and experience as much as you can while you have time.  

That last outburst wasn’t typical for me, but I too sometimes feel the need to let the steam out! 

Well, now I have finished my talk and will pick up Myrdal’s book again. I haven’t had so much time to read. There are a lot of stuff to do and it gets dark quickly in the evening. 

The summer is soon over, and we have not been able to bathe in the sea, and we haven’t had a lot of sunny skies. We’ll see how this week turns out to be. 

For you who work in the freezer rooms (at the slaughterhouse), I guess it doesn’t matter if the weather is grey or the sun shines. 

Well, I see that there is not more space on the paper, so I will have to end writing for this time. 


Hello to both of you from Mom Connie, 

but most of all from your dad Harald S.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

"I'm Adding Sunshine to My Paint" - Kindle Edition - Free

It's Father's Day in the U.S. Thinking about my dad, I decided to give away my Kindle ebook about his journey to become an artist. "I'm Adding Sunshine to My Paint". Just click on the link, and select download to get the Kindle ebook file.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

To Review or Strut Your Feathers

I have been reading The American Prospect since it was launched back in 1992, and it is one of my favorite publications, but even with a magazine you like, you are bound to sometimes be disappointed. One such instance happened today when I read Chris Arnade's snarky review of Anne Case and Angus Deaton's new book "Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism" and Nicholas Krystof and Sheryl Wudunn's "Tightrope - Americans Reaching for Hope." I have only read "Deaths of Despair", but I often read Nick Krystof's NYT columns, so I think I know where he comes from.

Arnade writes that Case and Deaton are "good enough scholars" and he can't really complain on their path-breaking research, "but it can’t replicate spending years in a neighborhood where you are woken up nightly by sirens, or a desperate knock from a neighbor whose son just OD’d, or the police investigating a killing out front." Well, he could have said the same thing about Karl Marx, who spent much of his time reading the British parliament's Blue Books at the British Museum's Reading Room. 

The critique of Krystof and Wudunn is even more bizarre, depicting them as naive philanthropists. "They insist that working-class kids leave behind their former lives, give up their worldview, and become educated. All with guidance, help, and enlightenment from America’s new noble class." 

At the end of the review Arnade goes all out, accusing the authors of "intellectual colonialism from the educated elite", which he accuses of wanting to "strip-mine" the poor, "taking what they want and leaving behind towns filling with death and despair. Lots of Americans want to stop being told they are on the wrong ladder. They want to live in a country that doesn’t insist you have to live like the elites. They want to stop being considered losers for not wanting to shape their life around building a résumé."

If there is anybody being condescending, it is not the authors, but the reviewer. 

I was surprised and disappointed to find this subpar piece in The American Prospect. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Looking at Economic Policy from a Perspective of Economic Dignity

About a year ago, when spring was just another spring, Gene Sperling, who was National Economic Adviser for both Clinton (1997-2001) and Obama (2011-2014) wrote a very interesting essay for Democracy - A Journal of Ideas. The first paragraph makes you wonder if he reflects on missed opportunities, since he was there as an adviser during a time when two Democratic Presidents focused much of their attention on Wall Street (and where their top economic advisers came from firms like Goldman Sachs) at the expense of Main Street. Sperling opened his essay Economic Dignity with these words:

For all the things we find time for in the ongoing economic policy debates I have seen or been part of over the last 30 years, there seems to me too little reflection on the most basic economic question of all: What exactly is our ultimate economic goal in terms of increasing human happiness and well-being?
 And soon he adds:
Over the years, I have found myself stepping outside of the normal metrics that define our national economic dialogue to ask myself: What would a person on his or her death bed say mattered most in his or her economic life? That is the question that guides this essay. It seeks neither to explore highly technical issues of economic measurement nor sort out competing theories of social justice. It is rather one policymaker’s attempt to go out of the comfort zone of numbers to delve into this larger question. 
What follows is an interesting and thoughtful discussion of the role - and often lack of role for - economic dignity in modern economic-political praxis. It is admittedly a vague concept, but if you suffer from having your dignity ignored, you know what it means without having to google it.
As University of Michigan philosopher Elizabeth Anderson has written, compared to the focus on getting jobs, there is an eerie degree of silence on the arbitrary domination so many millions of Americans experience when they are actually working. To start, this means elevating worker dignity when making cost-benefit regulatory decisions—such as in the case of maximum line speeds in the poultry and hog industries. Oxfam and the National Employment Law Project have rightly called those industries out for leading to injuries or to the humiliation of denied bathroom breaks that leave workers no option but to wear diapers. 
Recognizing the fundamental importance of economic dignity has a deep impact on a wide range of policy strategies, including Universal Basic Income (UBI), which is a much more complicated and troublesome policy than some of its supporters understand.

It's a very interesting essay, and well worth your time.

Friday, March 13, 2020

A Brief Reflection on Hirschman's Shifting Involvements in the Time of COVID-19

Rereading Albert O. Hirschman's short, but extremely insightful book "Shifting Involvements: Private Interest and Public Action." (Princeton University Press, 1982).

We're now living in a moment of "shifting involvements", when "me first" is replaced by "us", where individualism and is replaced by collective action and public norms. Joe Biden will replace Donald Trump, and narrow-minded selfishness is replaced by progressive social change, much higher taxes on the rich, expanded public healthcare and a society where  inequality is replaced by inclusiveness.

Previous posts related to Albert O. Hirschman:

Are we heading towards a new 1968? (2014)

Robert Kuttner on A. O. Hirschman (2013)

First Biography of Albert O. Hirschman (2013)

The Social Impact of the Great Recession (2009)