Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Roe and Baker

I've been on holiday recently - yes, I flew, the first time I've gone on a foreign non-work-related trip in about a decade - so the first I heard about this was a few days ago when I bumped into someone I knew on the way home (can't go far in Boulder without meeting a climate scientist, it seems).

On the basis of "if you can't think of anything nice to say"...this ought to be a short post, but I don't have time for that, so you'll have to make do with a long one :-) RC has beaten me to it with the wonderfully diplomatic observation that the underlying idea has all been known for 20+ years but this version is "probably the most succinct and accessible treatment of the subject to date". R+B's basic point is that if "feedback" f is considered to be Gaussian, then sensitivity = l0/(1-f) is going to be skewed, which seems fair enough. Where I part company with them is when they claim that this gives rise to some fundamental and substantial difficulty in generating more precise estimates of climate sensitivity, and also that it explains the apparent lack of progress in improving on the long-standing 1979 Charney report estimate of 1.5-4.5C at only the "likely" level. (Stoat's complaints also seem pertinent: f cannot really be a true Gaussian, unless one is willing to seriously consider large negative sensitivity, and even though a Gaussian is a widespread and often reasonable distribution, it is hard to find any theoretical or practical basis for a Gaussian abruptly truncated at 1).

Let's just recap on a small subset of the things we have observed since 1979. Most obviously, there has been about 30 years of rather steady warming, just as expected by the models at the time including most famously the Hansen prediction. The overall ocean warming is also observable, but probably a little lower than models simulate. There have been 2 major volcanic eruptions, following each of which there was a clearly observable but rather short-term cooling, exactly characteristic of a mid-range sensitivity. IIRC the magnitude and duration of the second cooling (Pinatubo) was also explicitly predicted between the eruption and the peak of the cooling itself. Perhaps most interestingly (since it does not depend either on climate models, or uncertainties in ocean heat uptake), a satellite was sent up in 1983 to measure the radiation balance of the planet, and its data since then (as analysed by Forster and Gregory last year) are in line with a low sensitivity. Of course there is a lot more we've learnt besides that, and also substantial improvements in model resolution and realism - I've just focussed some of the things that should most directly impact on estimates of climate sensitivity.

There seems to be a rather odd debate going on amongst some climate scientists about whether new observations will reduce uncertainty (I'll have more to say on this when a particular paper appears). I say it's rather odd, because I thought it was well known (it is certainly true, but true and well known are not always close cousins) that new observations are always expected to reduce uncertainty, and although it is possible that they may not do so on particular occasions, is always a surprise when this occurs. However, the vast bulk of observations (not just limited to those I have mentioned) have been singularly unexceptional, matching mid-range expectations with an uncanny accuracy (I'm ignoring stuff like ice sheets which have no direct relevance to estimating S). I fully accept that some of these observations are not be an especially stringent test of sensitivity, but they do all point the same way and it is hard to find any surprises at all in there . Remember that one of the biggest apparent surprises, the lack of warming in the satellite atmospheric record, was effectively resolved in favour of the models.

I can think of several alternative theories as to why the uncertainty in the IPCC estimate has not reduced, which R+B do not touch upon. Most obviously, I've explained (here and here) that the probabilistic methods generally used to generate these long-tailed pdfs are essentially pathological in their use of a uniform prior (under the erroneous belief that this represents "ignorance"), together with only looking at one small subset of the pertinent data at a time, and therefore do not give results that can credibly represent the opinions of informed scientists. While I think this effect probably dominates, there may also be the sociological effect of this range as some sort of anchoring device, which people are reluctant to change despite its rather shaky origins. Ramping up uncertainty (at least at the high end) is a handy lever for those who argue for strong mitigation, and it would also be naive to ignore the fact that scientists working in this area benefit from its prominence.

So in summary, Roe and Baker have now attempted to justify the pdfs that have been generated as not only reasonable, but inevitable on theoretical grounds. However, they have made no attempt to address the issues we have raised. It is notable that in their lengthy list of acknowledgees, there are many eminent and worthy scientists thanked but not one who I recognise as having actually published any work in this area - apart from Myles Allen who appears to have been a referee. The real question IMO is not whether a fat tail is inevitable, but rather whether it is possible to generate a pdf which credibly attempts to take account of the points I have raised, and still maintains any such significant tail. That challenge has remained on the table for a year and a half now, and no-one has taken it up...

Allen and Frame certainly aren't going to try, because they have gleefully seized upon Roe and Baker to justify a bait-and-switch. After failing to make any progress themselves, they have conveniently decided that it isn't such an interesting question after all, so let's not take too close a look at what has gone on thankyouverymuch. There's a couple of bizarre curve-balls in their comment: they start off by saying that the uncertainty isn't surprising because 4C warmer will be a "different planet". But nothing in Roe and Baker, or anywhere else in the relevant literature, depends on such nonlinearity in the sensitivity. In fact some of the published estimates are explicitly phrased in terms of the classical definition of a sensitivity as the derivative dT/dF (and everyone else uses this implicitly anyway). That is, the uncertainty being discussed is in our estimate of that gradient, rather than the nonlinearity as this line is extrapolated out to +3.7W/m2. So I can only interpret that comment as them preparing the ground for when people eventually do get around to agreeing that the linear sensitivity is actually close to 0.75K/W/m2 (~3C for doubled CO2) so they can wring their hands and say "ooh, it might get worse in the future". Of course the reason that people use the linear sensitivity to directly derive the 2xCO2 value is that all the evidence available, including probably every plausible model integration ever performed, indicates a modest amount of nonlinearity in that range. Allen and Frame's comment doesn't even reach the level of a hypothesis, as they have not presented any testable idea about how a significant nonlinearity could arise. There are other details I'm not very impressed by - the wording seems a bit naive and imprecise but I bet they would just say they were dumbing down for the audience so it would only seem petty to nitpick. Anyway they have at last admitted elsewhere (if grudgingly) that a uniform prior does not actually represent "no knowledge" so I see no need to pursue them further.

I don't think it is clearly expounded the R+B article itself, but in the comments to Stoat's post, Roe expounds his belief that sensitivity is intrinsically not a number, but a pdf. This seems to indicate rather muddled and confused thinking to me. True aleatory uncertainty is hard to find in the real world, and I've seen no plausible argument that the climate system exhibits it to any significant extent. We may on occasion choose to separate out some part of the uncertainty and treat it as effectively aleatory and therefore irreducible (eg consider the weather v climate distinction: if asked for the temperature on Christmas day 50 years from now, an honest answer will always be a rather broad pdf, however precisely we come to understand the forced response which will influence the shape and position of the pdf). But this is not a fundamental distinction, just a practical one - with a sufficiently accurate model and observations, the temperature really could in principle be predicted accurately. For concreteness in the current context, let's consider the following definition of S, which is based on Morgan and Keith's 1995 survey: S is defined to be the observed global temperature rise, measured as a 30-year average, 200 years after the CO2 level is doubled from the pre-industrial level and then held fixed (with other anthropogenic forcings unchanged). This experiment is just about within mankind's grasp if we chose to do it and weren't too bothered about killing a few people along the way, so it seems to be an operationally meaningful definition (at least as a thought experiment) that would clearly result in a specific number. Repeating this experiment several times in a model with different initial conditions will give very slightly different answers, but their range will be negligibly small (< 0.1C) compared to the uncertainties in S that we are presently stuck with. The only large initial-condition-related uncertainty in model calculations of sensitivity is the well-known numerical artefact that causes some slab ocean runs to go cold, and that has no physically realistic basis. So I don't see Roe's point here to be a substantive one.

Monday, October 29, 2007

New blog on the block

I'm adding a new blog to my blogroll: Peripatetic Postmistress, from which I have shamelessly stolen a picture as a tempter:

As the name suggests, it may contain the musings of a wandering postmistress as she drifts aimlessly on the high seas (although ice permitting, she should be marooned on a small rock shortly, at which point the blog name will become particularly unsuitable).

BTW I've just got back from a brief holiday, to find my inbox stuffed with pdfs of and links to the Roe and Baker paper. I'll have a think about what (if anything) to say about it shortly...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Exxon Geosciences Union?

There's an interesting rumour floating around in EGU circles: apparently some people are considering the possibility of sponsorship from an oil company, specifically Exxon. The EGU is a broad church and some people (eg the solid earth types) see no problem with this, but of course many climate scientists find it problematic, to put it mildly.

It's not clear to me what is really in it for the EGU. Maybe they would like to have more money to spend on "good causes" but (AIUI) they are not actually in any financial difficulties. Surely they could raise money for specific goals without branding either the whole organisation or the EGU General Assembly, which is a fabulous interdisciplinary meeting. I can just imagine "The Exxon Climate Lecture", in which they fly over someone like Lindzen (or worse, jokers like Monckton or The Execrable Crichton [did I really coin that epithet?]) to feed soundbites to waiting Faux News reporters. Thanks, but no thanks.

If the idea goes ahead, I predict a bloodbath - but for that reason, I don't think there is any serious prospect that it will happen. As a mildly interested outsider, the EGU seems to work very well as it is. Why fix what isn't broken?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Food and fatness

Well I was going to blog about this article in which a Japanese TV chef utters the idiotic Nihonjinron nonsense that Japanese people have "DNA more suitable for rice than bread."

But then I read this article which claims that British people can't help eating too much and not doing enough exercise. And I can't honestly poke fun at some Japanese TV Celeb spouting rubbish when whole committees of scientists are saying things like that.

Here we have Sir David King saying "What we have to do is pay an enormous amount of attention to how much we exercise we take and how much food we eat." As just about anyone who cycles a modest distance to work can tell you, that is simply nonsense. If I didn't like beer I'd waste away. Maybe it's not fashionable to take a modest amount of exercise most days, but neither is it remotely difficult for the vast majority of the population (and while I'm in Japan now, I cycled in the UK in 3 different towns and 4 jobs).

In unrelated news, Mr Peter Bonehead (MP Wellingborough) is trying to criminalise any child who rides a bike without a polystyrene egg-tray on their head. As usual, his "argument" is the same old discredited lies and nonsense regularly trotted out by those whinging interfering do-gooders Be-Hit, and the Dept of Get-those-pesky-cyclists-off-the-roads^WTransport has fallen for it hook line and sinker (read instead for some rational analysis). Shame the hand-wringers can't start up a campaign about something meaningful where they might do some the rapidly increasing rate of obesity among schoolchildren for example. I dunno, maybe some exercise would do them cycling, perhaps?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Peace, man

So apparently "the IPCC" has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Al Gore got the Fiction Prize.

According to the BBC, the IPCC is "Made up of more than 2,000 of the world's leading climate experts". I don't know who that counts and who it doesn't. But just in case it counts contributing authors, my share of the $1.5m can be sent to me c/o FRCGC, Yokohama, Japan :-)

Who was it that said that climate scientists were just in it for the money...

Seriously, I think the people who actually did the work did a good job overall, despite having some quibbles over the details (that's only WG1 of course). But for all that it's a worthy effort, it's depressing to think that no-one else made a greater contribution to world peace over the last year.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gore gored

I'm surprised this hasn't already made more of a splash in the blogosphere, as it's been floating around in the press for a day or two already. Anyway, the gist of it is that An Inconvenient Truth can only be shown in British (English?) schools if accompanied by some guidance notes pointing out 9 significant flaws in the coverage of the science.

I saw AIT recently, and while it does not make up lies out of whole cloth in the way that Durkin's Swindle did, I was certainly uncomfortable with parts of the story Gore presented. There was a clear intent to persuade as well as inform, and he stretched reality to fit his agenda in a few places. So I think on balance the judge's decision is pretty fair.

Sorry to be boring and uncontroversial - but maybe agreeing with the judge will turn out to be controversial among climate scientists, so I await the views of others with interest. It's worth noting that most/all intelligent reviews have noted some problems with the original film (eg Eric Steig on RC: "There are a few scientific errors that are important in the film", and Stoat sez: "Its more or less OK, um, except the bits that aren't, and except its completely without qualifications, and consistently on the high side") so I don't expect too much harrumphing about senile judges. OTOH, bloggers have to harrumph about something, or they might as well not blog at all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Debito packs it in

I was saddened to see that Arudou Debito, scourge of racist onsen-owners everywhere, has basically given up on his employer (a university in Hokkaido) and is looking for a new job.

The basic reason for leaving? Being denied a sabbatical, strung along with a line of bullshit as to the reasons why, and eventually getting to the bottom line: he's not worth anything to the old farts running the place. He's just an English teacher, after all.

I know Debito rubs some people up the wrong way but I have plenty of admiration for the effort he has put in to standing up for his, and others', rights. Moreover, he is the archetypal well-integrated immigrant, fluent in Japanese, with a Japanese (now ex-)wife, children, house, and indeed Japanese citizenship (born a US citizen, David Aldwinckle). If he is still hitting this sort of brick wall at his stage (and it's not as if a year of sabbatical is an unreasonable expectation for an academic after 14 years of service), then really I don't need to waste any more time wondering whether I have a long-term future here. I hope he finds something suitable for his talents (and I second the sentiment in his comments that something more explicitly activist-oriented may be more suitable than more teaching with activism as a side-line).

Incidentally, I was at a book launch party for the IPCC AR4 last week, organised by the Tokyo office of CUP. We were treated to the spectacle of a succession of Japanese researchers basically telling us all about what a wonderful contribution Japan had made to this project. Needless to say, there was no mention of yours truly, cited (along with jules) in 3 chapters and Contributing Author for one, all while employed full-time in a Japanese research institute. I realise that's hardly a big deal and I wouldn't have noticed were it not for the inordinate fuss they made over someone who managed to get his name mentioned on a figure or something. But it did bring it home to me just how much easier it was for us, as complete outsiders to the process, to affect (albeit in a minor way) the outcome of the massive international bureaucratic behemoth that is the IPCC, than it is to have any influence in the institute where we are nominally "Senior Researchers".

Jules was also invited to attend this event (by a senior manager at FRCGC who helped organise it) "as a researcher of Hadley". Yes, after 6 years here, we are still just visiting researchers to some. She didn't have the heart to tell him that she'd only ever been to the Hadley Centre about twice.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Probability, uncertainty, models and climate

I recently attended the second installment of this sequences of workshops, this time in Durham. It was if anything better than the first, not merely due to the fact that I had a trouble-free journey there, but also because it seemed like the Bayesians and climate scientists were better able to communicate this time around. As I've mentioned, Marty Weitzman's Dismal Theorem made a brief appearance but the most interesting discussion focussed on if and how we could use model output to generate (or inform on) the detailed probabilistic predictions of regional climate change that are increasingly being made.

Lenny Smith gave a very entertaining rant on this topic, which I found very useful as I'd been aware of his scepticism for some time, but not quite understood the reasons for it. Just for clarity, he is not sceptical of the broad picture of global climate change in terms of the expected large-scale future warming, but rather of the ability of models to provide such detailed predictions as say "typical" weather time series for specific locations and seasons several decades ahead (which UKCIP is promising). As he further points out, the time scale on which credibility may be lost is not the decades it takes for such predictions to be falsified observationally, but rather the much shorter time scale over which someone produces a new, conflicting, prediction with the next "bigger and better" model. I've generally been thinking in terms of global and large regional scales, with variables such as (ok, exclusively) mean temperature so had not really considered the detailed predictability of local climate changes, but he certainly painted a very persuasive picture of the difficulty of this. Note this is not the trivial "weather versus climate" meme, but rather the question of whether a model can usefully inform on (eg) the longest sequence of consecutive hot days in a summer, when it simply does not adequately simulate the processes that control long sequences of hot days. It is the statistics of "weather" events such as these that actually matters to end-users, much more so than global annual mean surface temperature.

However, I do think there is room for coexistence between his view and the Bayesian approach. Indeed it was suggested that his criticism was more an attack on a straw-man of "naive Bayesianism" (albeit that this naive Bayesianism is pretty much the path that has been followed so far in climate science) rather than on the principles of Bayesian probabilistic prediction themselves. The distinction as I see it is that the naive approach which Lenny is criticising is the generation of some model (ensemble) output, dressing it up in some sort of uncertainty kernel (to represent "model inadequacy") and presenting this as a pdf. Whereas perhaps a more sound way of addressing things is to start off with a prior on the future operationally-defined variable of interest, and then consider through the likelihood function to what extent the outputs of (highly imperfect) model runs should cause one to update that prior at all. That doesn't amount to any sort of get-out-of-jail-free card - all the hard judgements still have to be made - but it might perhaps encourage climate scientists to address the issues within in a more comprehensive, coherent and plausible framework than they have done previously.

My talks (one on my own behalf, one of jules' work) were fairly unadventurous. I was relieved to see that the uniform prior really does seem to be increasingly acknowledged as a dead duck now, with one of the climate scientists bothering to mention as an aside that of course one could not pretend that a uniform prior was really "ignorant" (only last year, the IPCC was asserting precisely the opposite, but perhaps this little episode has been airbrushed out of history now). Other than that, there was a range of interesting presentations, some maths that was way over my head, and other stuff I thought was probably wrong, including a claim that seems to contradict some well-established mathematical theory, of which the claim's originator was apparently not aware. Par for the course really :-)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Weitzman's Dismal Theorem

This got briefly mentioned at a workshop I attended last week, and has been splashed around the internet a bit so I might as well add my ¥2. Marty Weitzman has circulating early versions of his manuscript widely over a number of months (latest one can be found here), but despite several attempts I've not yet managed to convince him of my POV.

His paper, and main result ("we're all dooomed") has two basic components. The first is that under some assumptions about how one learns probabilistically about future hazards such as climate change, the pdf (eg of climate sensitivity S) will inevitably have a "long tail". By "long tail", he does not mean it will necessarily assign a particularly high probability to extreme cases such as P(S>6C), but rather that the pdf will naturally follow a shape that "only" decreases as a polynomial function in S (say 1/S2 or 1/S3), rather than say the exponential decay of a Gaussian (e-cS2) or other friendlier functions. The second component of his argument is the observation that under any reasonably risk-averse attitude, then as one considers increasingly high impacts, the loss in utility arising from such impacts increases more rapidly than their probabiity decreases (based on the long-tailed pdf), giving a divergent sum, infinite expected utility loss and a conclusion that Something Must Be Done. Or perhaps, that we are all doomed whatever we do.

But there are IMO a few problems with this work. I've had a long, interesting but ultimately fruitless exchange of emails with Marty, in which I failed to persuade him of my points. He's a famous economist and I'm not, so maybe I am wrong. But it's my blog, so here are my opinions, for better or worse.

Firstly, I disagree wth how he has characterised the nature of the uncertainty in the system. He models it as if S (climate sensitivity) is a sample from an unknown distribution, and the only way in which we can learn about S is to draw samples from this distribution in order to infer its shape. AIUI this is fundamentally incompatible with all of the Bayesian work that has been done, in which S is viewed as a constant about which we learn in various ways, with the pdf being simply an expression of our current uncertainty over S, rather than anything intrinsic to S itself. This may seem like a semantic detail at first but in fact it appears to be fundamental to his analysis. To appreciate the distinction, note that under his viewpoint, our estimate of S will converge to a pdf of finite width which must cover all of the recent individual estimates, whereas I (and I believe all climate scientists, even those with who I have had strong disagreements recently) would say that our pdf of S will in principle converge towards a point estimate, especially if we were to carefully operationalise the definition and then go and do a suitable experiment on the whole earth system, which is a plausible experiment at least in thought (we may in practice lose interest in estimating S).

I do wonder if it might be possible to rescue the mathematical content of what he has done via some reinterpretation of his framework but he doesn't seem to accept (or perhaps understand) my complaint in the first place, so I can't see that happening (at least not in his manuscript). I actually don't have any fundamental objection to distributions with polynomial tails, in fact this paper presents such a distribution and I had already realised when writing it that in principle it leads to an unbounded loss under even for a rather tame quadratic cost function (although I truncated the pdf at 20C for pragmatic reasons). My criticism of much previously published work on estimating climate sensitivity is not that their estimates have long tails, but that the probabilities in these long tails are unreasonably high due to the pathological decisions which have been taken along the way.

Next, we have the utility function. I'm not convinced that it makes sense to extrapolate some convenient (perhaps also theoretically and/or empirically justifiable) functional form right down to the singularity at 0 (yes, complete destruction of the entire world economy). But not being an economist, I don't have any particular grounds to criticise and it would be rash to express too much scepticism based on nothing more than my own ignorance of these matters.

Notably, although he talks in terms of climate sensitivity, there is nothing in Marty's maths that depends specifically on a doubling of CO2. A rise to 1.4x (which we have already passed) will cause half the climate change, but that would still give an unbounded expected loss in utility (half of infinity...). By the same argument, a rise even of 1ppm is untenable. Come to think of it, putting on the wrong sort of hat would become a matter of global importance (albedo effect).

When the Dismal Theorem was mentioned at the workshop, a wag in the audience (who had I'm sure already seen the full manuscript) described it as not so much an economic disaster, as an economics disaster. If it becomes widely endorsed by the economics community (Richard Tol is already on record as enthusiastically endorsing it, and there's a long list of acknowledgements to people who presumably did not all say it was bunk) it may come to have more significance in terms of determining to what extent modern economic theory can (or cannot) be used to credibly inform decision making under uncertainty, than in actually informing those decisions. Time will tell.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The future face of conferences?

Having just flown around the world for another meeting, I can't help but wish that someone would put this into production. It's good to meet people occasionally, but given the option, I'd generally prefer to save the cost, carbon emissions, and travel time (or more likely, I'd "attend" more meetings if I could do so virtually).

Mind you, even a decent web-cast of the presentations would be a start, and this would substantially cut down on the technical problems of multi-way communications. Why isn't anyone doing this already (at least, not that I know of in climate science)?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Climate sensitivity is 6C?

Belette alerted me to this article discussing what appears to be a new manuscript by Jim Hansen (which I have not seen, I'm basing this post purely on the quoted excerpt). In the manuscript, Hansen claimes that the "long term" climate sensitivity is 6C. Hansen has long been of the mainstream "climate sensitivity is about 3C" school of thought so it's interesting to see what appears at first glimpse to be a startling u-turn.

But things are not quite what they seem. Generally, when people talk about sensitivity, they mean the sensitivity of the atmosphere/ocean/sea-ice system to changes in boundary conditions such as (especially) CO2 and also other forcings such as the minor greenhouse gases and changes in solar forcing. The relatively slow-moving ice sheets, which can significantly affect the planetary albedo, also are generally placed in this "boundary condition" category.

In this new manuscript, Hansen simply considers the ice sheets as part of the interactive system - which of course they are on a long enough time scale. For colder climates, the ice sheet albedo change roughly matches the GHG forcing, so if we regress temperature against GHG forcing alone (rather than the conventional approach of adding the GHG and ice sheet forcing together) we get a result of about 6C per doubling of CO2, double the conventional figure. (There is no need to get into the question of lags vs leads and cause vs effect here, it is just a matter of what a cold climate state looks like compared to a warmer one.)

On a long enough time scale and looking backwards in time, this approach is not unreasonable. However, looking forward to a warmer climate, there is no significant ice sheet left still to melt (significant in terms of global temperature, that is - of course if the remaining ice sheets melt then sea level rise could be important for other reasons). So therefore there is no obvious reason to think this 6C value is the appropriate one to use in the context of ~100 years or more of future warming. Hansen appears to admit as much in his text, so I'm not really sure what the point of his article is. There's a vague claim that future feedbacks from vegetation will just happen to make up for the fact that the ice sheet feedback disappears, but there is no evidence shown for this and it seems nothing more than anthropomorphism to just say: "The real world will be aiming on the longer run at a warming corresponding to the higher climate sensitivity." Although some people expect a positive effect from the carbon cycle, expecting it to double the warming seems a stretch, to put it mildly.

[Jules spotted Harry Elderfield taking a similar approach in analysing paleoclimate data a few years ago in a poster at the EGU, but I can't find a ref to it - perhaps we (and/or others) persuaded him it was an inappropriate angle to pursue.]

Monday, October 01, 2007


Well no sooner do I go away for a week than Jules makes a "special guest appearance" or three. Suppose I can't really complain since her name is invoked in the URL. But rest assured, the riot troops are in the lounge, tear gas grenades have been thrown (well, the after-effects of a Loch Fyne kipper and 24h of travelling come to much the same sort of thing) and I expect to have fully suppressed this insurgency shortly.

Actually, given that someone felt sufficiently motivated to comment, I may encourage her to write more.

The Unbearable Cuteness of Being.

A few days ago I blogged a no doubt deeply theologically flawed analysis of Japanese society based on the apparent view of the Archbishop of Canterbury that a society needs faith, hope and love in order to function in a non-broken way. While these three emotions are not of importance here in Japan it is open to debate whether the society is particularly broken.

Japan, however, has some other (unique?) emotions. One of these I believe I experienced for the first time just the other day. This emotion is called "moe" (two syllables, the final e pronounced like the first e of elephant) and can perhaps be described as the warm feeling of "unbearable cuteness". Usually this feeling is associated with things ranging from the sickeningly pink (Hello Kitty) through the amusingly freaky (Maid in a Maid cafe) all the way to downright scary (Imagine a ~5 year old and her mum both dressed up in Loli fashion - I've seen it!). I can understand that a geek (otaku) might like a Maid (modern day geisha?) serving him his CocaCola, but the rest makes me feel a bit queasy. Cuteness is endemic even perhaps including the typical skinny metrosexual(?) 5.5 foot Tokyo male with fluffy toys dangling off his mobile phone, wearing what are, to my mind, womens' blouses (flowers, princess seams), and reading fashion magazines over his super-girly girl friend's shoulder. This Lancashire lass (that means me) is not moved to "moe" by any of this, although sometimes she thinks she ought to warn these girls that a happy marriage may not result - but who am I too say...these boys may be more considerate than the misogynist salaryman alternative.

So how did I discover "moe"? Over the last couple of weeks I found some Japanese learning that does not send me to sleep! This comes in the form of the Japanese version of the DS-Lite game, Final Fantasy 3. With, of course, some help from the walk-throughs available on the web I have got quite into it. I have played computer games before. Usually the heros are beautiful, handsome or ugly, and athletic. Final Fantasy, however, is a Japanese game and it is full of a type of "moe" that I can actually appreciate (or even, feel..). My four brave little warriors, prepared to die for the cause are attired with brightly coloured too-big clothes over their pudgy little figures, and they have the cutest expressions and mannerisms when good or bad things happen to them. Most are cheery, but one of them adopts a sulky crossed armed pose. It is all very endearing. I suppose I can appreciate it because it is "moe" without any if the frightening pink or lace. When I told one of my Japanese friend about my new "love" (she said I was "in moe"!) she said I was becoming oh so Japanese! Here is a screen shot from someone else's game. Of course my lot are dressed differently - and are much cuter!