Sunday, July 31, 2005

Topic lists for future posts

For a while I've had a post hidden from public view of things I want to write about, but I don't see any need to keep it hidden. I'll change the date on it from time to time so it stays on the current page for the blog:

Posts to write:

The Evolution Kit -done

living will - done

semantic analyis of statutory language -

bat houses for malaria prevention, fertilizer, and protein -

under your or your parent's belief system: - done

interest on karma

pharyngula and fermi's paradox

Updates: Benny Peiser, John Ray, and gardening

Benny Peiser had dishonestly claimed to have analyzed the "same set of abstracts" as Naomi Oreskes to dispute proof of a global warming consensus. John Ray has apparently been spreading a bogus quote to discredit the left. And my gardening last year left much to be desired. What's happened lately?

On Peiser: not much, which is a good thing. I searched a little while back, but I couldn't find anything on the internet indicating that he has repeated his false claim of analyzing the same set of abstracts, at least not after he'd been caught. But just because I haven't written about Peiser in a while, no one should assume that I've stopped watching.

The other good thing about Peiser is that searching his name together with Oreskes' results in very critical websites appearing high up in the results, so anyone attempting to research the issue can't help but come across the truth. Maybe the blogosphere is somewhat self-correcting, even if individual blogs aren't.

On Ray: Tim Lambert caught Ray removing an editor's note in The Christian Science Monitor, where CSM had published a speech critical of global warming and the editor had corrected a false statement saying that satellites showed no warming. I'm feeling less generous these days towards Ray than I had - if he hasn't crossed the line into intentional dishonesty, then he's seeing how far he can lean over the line.

On gardening: last year my garden was two cherry tomato plants. This year my garden is one cherry tomato plant and one tomatillo plant. Based on that vast experience, my advice is to go with the tomatillos. They (or I suppose, "it") are much less finicky than the stupid cherry tomato plants that just turn yellow and refuse to produce the required gobs of tomatoes. My housemate with the quarter-acre vegetable plot might have different ideas, but what does she know.

UPDATE: Forgot to include one more on the mercury vaccine/autism debate that I wrote inconclusively about: the claim is that autism rates are now stabilizing/falling in California several years after mercury was taken out of vaccines. The source of the info is "some guy" as far as I can tell, so take it with a block of salt and wait a few more years for the definitive answer.

key: science, global warming, Peiser, gardening

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Carl Zimmer versus Eugene Volokh

I'd be surprised if anyone has pitted highly-interesting science blogger Carl Zimmer against the highly-interesting conservative libertarian blogger Eugene Volokh, but I'm going to try it out. (Disclaimer: I've criticized some of the conservative postings on Volokh's group blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, but the criticism usually involved other bloggers' posts, and in any event, the group blog remains interesting.)

Volokh has asserted numerous times over the years his opinion that "Religious people have moral views just like secular people do, and they're just as entitled as secular people to use the political process to enact their views into law." I have no problem with that opinion. He says that most coercive laws involve the majority forcing its views on the minority; implies that in many cases those views involve moral viewpoints; and argues a person/group/majority that has a religious basis for its moral viewpoint can still work to enact that viewpoint. Volokh is still on solid ground.

Where Volokh goes wrong, though, is arguing that a faith-based moral viewpoint presents no special problems in a democracy where people are meant to attempt to persuade one another of their viewpoints. I would make a distinction between some types of religious morality - someone could accept Christ's resurrection as a leap of faith that trumps reason while accepting Christian moral teachings only because they seem reasonable. Such a Christian could remain Christian theologically no matter what evidence is presented, be a current proponent of a Christian moral worldview, and yet be persuadable that the moral viewpoint should change given good reason. This Christian viewpoint is just as "democratic" as any secularist. In contrast to the "persuadable Christian" and the secularist, we have the Biblical literalist whose views on abortion and homosexuality are derived solely from "literal truths" in the Bible. The literalist has made a moral leap of faith, not just a theological leap of faith, and is beyond the persuasion that is the lubricating element of democracy.

Volokh argues that persuadability is overrated, that the many different secular and religious moral viewpoints are all beyond persuasion. This is where Zimmer comes in, with the most interesting "science and ethics" article I've seen on the web. Zimmer interviewed the philosopher Joshua Greene, who asked people to ponder two ethical dilemmas while monitoring their brain activity in a magnetic resonance imager. The dilemmas require the patient to choose between the collective good and individual rights, and for no inherently obvious reason, people tend to protect the collective good in one case, and individual rights in another:

Imagine you’re at the wheel of a trolley and the brakes have failed. You’re approaching a fork in the track at top speed. On the left side, five rail workers are fixing the track. On the right side, there is a single worker. If you do nothing, the trolley will bear left and kills the five workers. The only way to save five lives is to take responsibility of changing the trolley’s path by hitting the switch. Then you will kill one worker. What would you do?

Now imagine that you are watching the runaway trolley from a footbridge. This time there is no fork in the track. Instead, five workers are on it, facing certain death. But you happen to be standing next to a big man. If you sneak up on him, and push him off the footbridge, he will fall to his death. Because he is so big, he will stop the trolley. Do you willfully kill one man, or do you let reality play out and allow five people to die?

People tend to protect the collective good if it involves turning the trolley wheel, and individual rights if it involved physically pushing a man from a height. While no logical distinction exists here, an evolutionary one does. A caveman, or an even-more primitive ancestor, understands what it means to kill someone with your bare hands. Moral revulsion could be hard-wired in this case, not based on reasoning. Greene found that to be the case based on the MRI scans:

personal moral decisions tended to stimulate certain parts of the brain more than impersonal moral decisions. . . . Impersonal decisions (like whether to throw a switch on a trolley) triggered many of the same parts of the brain as does non-moral questions (like whether you should take the train or the bus to work). Among the regions that become active was a patch on the surface of the brain near the temples. This region, known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, is vital for logical thinking. Neuroscientists believe it helps keeps track of several pieces of information at once so that they can be compared. . . . Personal moral questions lit up other areas. . . . .Greene suspects these regions are part of a neural network that produces the emotional instincts behind many of our moral judgments. The superior temporal sulcus may help make us aware of others who would be harmed. Mind-reading lets us appreciate their suffering. The precuneus may help trigger a negative feeling—an inarticulate sense, for example, that killing someone is plain wrong.

The question Zimmer would pose to Volokh concerns what - if anything - would the different types of people learn from this experiment. The "persuadable Christian" and secularists of any stripe should consider the experiment directly relevant to their ethical beliefs, and possibly cause them to rethink those beliefs. The Biblical literalist considers it to be just so much time-wasting trivia that could be better spent in determining what the Bible says in these situations.

This type of reasoning and persuasion plays a necessary role in democracy. I agree with Volokh's statement that "We cannot demand that religious believers leave their deepest beliefs unspoken, while secular believers remain free to speak their own deepest beliefs." I disagree with an argument that these types of beliefs pose no problems in a democracy based on persuasion and reason.

One final note: I'll email both authors, and would be happy to post any reaction they have.

key: science, morality, religion, Volokh Correction

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

My partial solution to the immigration problem

I suggest an immigration limit that roughly matches emigration, which I understand is roughly 300,000 people annually, with the crucial exception that older immigrants be allowed in at much higher levels. This should help manage overpopulation both in the United States and countries that provide the source of immigration.

Overpopulation is a problem on regional and global levels. In poor areas of the world where economic development isn't happening, overpopulation makes life more miserable. Where economic development is happening or will happen (which I think is more likely worldwide than stagnation), overpopulation leads to increased consumption of natural resources and increased environmental damage. The stunning per-capita pollution in the United States makes our overpopulation and net immigration a huge threat world-wide.

Immigration that exceeds emigration is a form of environmental externality where many effects of overpopulation are transferred from one nation to another. An immigration surplus is also one of the few forms of environmental problems caused by Third World nations more than the developed world, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored.

The problem keeping environmental groups from addressing this issue is the long and still-existing tie between racism and immigration control. Sierra Club has refused to endorse immigration limits and even (in my opinion) reduced its commitment to reducing global overpopulation because of the implicit and near-explicit racism of many immigration control proponents.

So my partial solution - an immigration policy for the United States that seeks a rough balance between immigration and emigration, EXCEPT for immigrants who are old enough to not have many biological children. I'd guess that immigrants who are 35 or older will have so few biological children that they will have little permanent demographic impact. Immigration from older people could even be increased to match the current overall level of legal immigration.

This solution focuses tightly on the immigration/overpopulation issue. Transfer of older immigrants between nations will not have a permanent impact on where the overpopulation is located. Racists will not be able to support it, and losing their support is absolutely essential. I hope it will be less unattractive to groups on the left with close ties to recent immigrant groups, although I doubt they're going to like it.

This is only a partial solution so long as we have extensive illegal immigration. "Closing the border" is not a realistic solution by itself - we've developed an economy dependent on that cheap labor. Some type of amnesty for most of those already here, and a non-exploitative guest worker program, AND control over employers hiring illegals under these future conditions where they'll be competing for jobs, AND truly securing the border, AND accepting that some things grown and produced here are going to cost a lot more because the workers will be more expensive and less exploited, will all be necessary for a complete solution.

Not holding my breath for all this, but I do think my partial solution is possible. I expect national security may push illegal immigration issues in the right direction, although it will also push in a police-state direction as well. We'll see.

key: population, immigration, politics

Monday, July 25, 2005

I fail again at getting a bet on global warming

When I saw that Steve from the conservative blog Thoughtsonline had bet money against Karl Rove being indicted, I thought, "Who is this guy - I've got to get to him before James Annan does!"

Sure enough, searching his blog turned up a number of highly skeptical statements about global warming, although to be fair, he does not hold himself out as an expert. So I emailed him about my offered bets on global warming, but he responded by declining the bets.

Steve's reasons for not betting are here; I've responded in his comments. He doesn't seem like a "toe-the-line" type, so maybe the evidence will eventually reel him in.

Meanwhile, the search for a global warming denialist willing to put his money where his mouth is goes on....

UPDATE: after reading the comments, I think I should clarify that my reference and link to James Annan is primarily respectful for his work, and only secondarily an attempt to beat him to what appears to be a small-to-nonexistent pool of denialists who would be willing to bet money based on their claims. Money is a secondary issue for all of us - this is really about saving the planet.

key: global warming, bet, science

Friday, July 22, 2005

Some good news about daylight

We're getting four more weeks of it - or at least, four more weeks of Daylight Savings Time and four less weeks of Who Needs Daylight Anyway, Let's Waste It In The Morning Instead of Evening When It Would Be Really Nice Time. Besides being nice, Daylight Savings conserves energy from lighting. I'd favor shifting Daylight Savings by two or more hours and make it year-round, but this change is an okay start.

And I'm off to enjoy that daylight at Mount Shasta - will be back in a few days.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More on the Barton harassment letters - now with a cartoon!

RealClimate has an update on the harassing letters that Rep. Barton sent to scientists who reached scientific conclusions on global warming that Barton dislikes (I wrote about it here, saying Barton was harassing them but still had the right to some limited answers).

Mann's response is included at the RealClimate post, and it's more of a response than Barton deserves. Mann clearly notes that Barton has demanded Mann's private property (the computer code Mann generated), for public use, without any compensation. Some conservative - I look forward to Barton offering some level of compensation.

All in all, Barton has received a lot of flack for the harassing tone and burdensome demands, so I think this turned out reasonably well. Next time, maybe he'll be more reasonable.

P.S. This Tom Toles cartoon seems relevant here (read the small print at the bottom).

key: science, politics, global warming

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My Harry Potter spoiler, without having read the book yet

Using the same awesome powers of deduction that led me to conclude that Howard Dean had wrapped up the Democratic Party nomination last year, I make the following prediction about who is the major character that dies in the latest book (skip reading further if you don't want to speculate, or don't want spoilers from earlier books):

It's Ron. My reasoning is that Rowling said it's not Harry, and reviews said her decision was gutsy and children might need grief counseling. She's killed off other characters before like Sirius Black and that kid competing with Harry for the Goblet of Fire, so a "major character" has to be more important than those. I don't think Dumbledore is that much more major than Sirius, so that really leaves Ron and Hermione. And despite how much less sexist society may be, I don't think J.K. Rowling or her publishers are ready to kill off "the girl" in a story where children are the target audience. Ergo, Ron gets it.

This posting doesn't make much sense, in a way. If I'm wrong, I show my foolishness to the world, and if I'm right, people won't know if I cheated and found out the ending. Too bad though, I'll feel somewhat redeemed about my Dean prediction if it turns out I'm right, whenever I finally get a chance to read the book.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Plug-in hybrid cars available in 2006

The good news:

*in 2006, a for-profit company plans to offer conversions of Toyota Priuses from regular hybrids to plug-in hybrid cars capable of 100 miles per gallon or more.

*Daimler-Chrysler will sell a plug-in hybrid van for 15 passengers.

The not-so-good news:

*Prius conversions will only be done in Los Angeles (info at the first link).

*The cost will be "under" $12,000, which at the upper end represents half the cost of a new Prius. My wild guess is the conversion would save one to two thousand dollars over the car's lifetime in gas costs, which is much more expensive than electricity.

*Conversions being done by a small company, not a major corporation, will have very little environmental benefit until the concept is proven successful.

So this is earlier than I expected, but little more than an experiment. I'd heard a little about plug-ins before, and CalCars has more information. Five thousand is probably the upper limit of what I could spend - hopefully the cost will drop to that level soon.

This news takes the edge off an annoying development - car manufacturers are developing hybrids that increase engine power instead of saving gas, and may benefit from tax and other advantages given to "deserving" hybrids. Evolving from hybrids, even inefficient ones, to plug-in hybrids will have to improve mileage, so free-riding muscle cars won't be a long-term problem. The best interim solution would be a carbon tax on emissions, but that's not happening soon on a national level here in the US.

global warming

Monday, July 18, 2005

Economics of war

A depressing (and not widely reported) news article totals the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan war so far - $315 billion - and projects new costs over the next ten years - an additional $450 billion. Afghanistan accounts for less than a third of the costs to date. The projection assumes a significant decrease in the annual cost - let's hope they're right.

I didn't consider myself an optimist in May 2004 when I reviewed cost projections, made some guesses as to the future and said "my grand total is $210 to $360 billion dollars, or three to seven times the [original] Bush estimate, and twenty to forty times the cost of Gulf War I."

Clearly, this blog has been way too trusting and supportive of the Bush Administration.

Iraq, politics

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Trying to close the courts to any lawsuit over global warming

I'm going to break tradition here at Backseat Driving and write about a field where I have actual expertise - environmental law.

Last week the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in Commonwealth of Massachussetts v. Environmental Protection Agency that the EPA had the right to refuse to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, without analyzing whether the agency was legally obligated NOT to regulate greenhouse gases. The decision is here; Chris Mooney has a great discussion of the science issues here; a news writeup is here; environmental law professor Susan Smith summarizes the case here.

The issue I want to focus on is the standing argument by Judge Sentelle. "Standing" is a restriction on court access that requires, among other things, that an injury a plaintiff is suing about must be particularized to that plaintiff, not a general grievance against government that should instead be addressed through the political process. Standing is a mostly-invented-by-conservatives doctrine found nowhere within the original intent of the Constitution, and used in part to keep people from holding government accountable.

Back to our friend, Judge Sentelle, who says of the arguments that standing exists in this case:

even in the light most favorable to the petitioners,
in the end they come down to this: Emission of certain gases that
the EPA is not regulating may cause an increase in the
temperature of the earth – a phenomenon known as “global
warming.” This is harmful to humanity at large. Petitioners are
or represent segments of humanity at large. This would appear
to me to be neither more nor less than the sort of general harm
eschewed as insufficient to make out an Article III controversy
by the Supreme Court and lower courts.

This is just the opinion of one of the three judges - Judge Tatel disagrees, and Judge Randolph ducks the question. That means Sentelle's opinion is not mandatory to lower courts, but it has persuasive authority for lower courts and other courts. The significance of the argument, however, is that it throws all global warming cases out of the federal courthouse, not just this Clean Air Act case but any other case brought under other laws like the National Environmental Policy Act. And because standing is a constitutional doctrine (for these purposes), it would be somewhere between difficult and impossible for some future, Democrat-controlled Congress to fix the situation with a law giving the right to sue over global warming.

All this for something that is just plain wrong. Judge Tatel makes it clear that the effect of sea level rise to the plaintiff state Massachussetts is different from that experienced by landlocked New Mexico. Many other particularized effects could be described from weather changes, habitat changes, and economic disruptions.

Sentelle's argument is simply that if you do something awful enough to effect nearly everyone in a variety of ways, then the courts offer society no protection. Hopefully that argument will get tossed out of the courts as "unpersuasive" authority, in the near future.

global warming, law

Saturday, July 16, 2005

John Ray pollutes the Internet with his "People Are Pollution" phrase

John Ray is an Australian conservative fond of needling the left by saying the Zero Population Growth movement's slogan was "People Are Pollution". Ray used this slogan to justify the claim that a faked quote about an environmental leader supporting population control through disease was "fake but accurate".

Now if you google "people are pollution" and "zero population" you get about 30 hits from a variety of sources, which seems reasonably impressive. The problem is that virtually all of them trace back to one person, John Ray, and I've found no actual documentation from him linking the slogan to the Zero Population Growth movement.

Mr. Ray and I have been corresponding over this issue. He asserts that the Internet doesn't back him up because the slogan is from the 60s and 70s, pre-Internet. Apparently almost no one other than Ray has remembered and reproduced the slogan on the Internet, though. He has no hard-copy documentation from that time, saying it wasn't "his scene", although he sure likes writing about the scene. He said I would have to do "dead-tree" research in libraries to find the slogan.

So off I go the library to attempt to document Ray's assertion that he fails to document himself. Yes, I know I'm an idiot for doing his work for him - let's move on. I leafed through several old books about the population explosion, reviewed headlines in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature from 1969-1974 and in the NY Times Digest, and read the April 17 1970 Life Magazine cover story on ZPG. I found no slogan asserting "people are pollution". Hardly a comprehensive search, but this slogan sure isn't jumping out anywhere besides from John Ray.

The closest I've gotten so far is an search turning up an e-document titled "People Pollution." Still being an idiot, I bought it and read it - the document is unclear over whether it referred to people as pollution or just the pollution they generate. Anyway, it's from 1995 and by a single person, so it doesn't support Ray's repeated assertion about the ZPG "slogan."

Ray's last argument is that he used the unattributed slogan several times in academic articles and no one challenged him before, so it must be true. That argument speaks only to the quality of the editing of his work.

I don't think Ray is intentionally dishonest (unlike Benny Peiser) but I suspect the quality of his work on this slogan, given how often he repeats it, indicates how much one should trust anything from him that does not come with independent documentation. As with Peiser, I'll give Mr. Ray a chance to rebut me here.

UPDATE: Tim Lambert also writes about this issue, and links here (under July 2005).

John Ray emailed that he'll look up the issue the next time he can get to a university library. I look forward to hearing what he finds out. Mr. Ray also posted a short rebuttal in the comments to this post, FWIW.

science, population, debunking

Friday, July 15, 2005

Paul Erhlich on climate change in 1968

While researching something else, I came across this on page 52 of The Population Bomb (published 1968):

The greenhouse effect is being enhanced now by the greatly increased level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the last century our burning of fossil fuels raised the level some 15%. The greenhouse effect today is being countered by low-level clouds generated by contrails, dust, and other contaminants that tend to keep the energy of the sun from warming the Earth in the first place.

At the moment we cannot predict what the overall climatic results will be of our using the atmosphere as a garbage dump.

Just one more refutation of the denialist claim that scientists were convinced 30-40 years ago of an imminent ice age, and so we should ignore the current scientific consensus on global warming.

P.S. Yes, I know that Ehrlich greatly overestimated the short and medium term effects of the population explosion. Given that we now know which atmospheric garbage dump trend will win out, the long-term effects of the world's population increase may still bear out Ehrlich's predictions.

UPDATE: Trying to add pictures of the text:

From Page 51: "But even more important is the potential for changing the climate of the Earth. All of the junk we dump into the atmosphere, all of the dust, all of the carbon dioxide, have effects on the temperature balance of the Earth."

Page 52: showing the quote from the top of this post.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What the Republican Party Chairman will be saying about gay marriage in 30 years

It's the same thing that the current chairman is saying about the Republican's "Southern Strategy" developed 30 years ago to win racist white Southern voter support at the expense of minorities:

Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican Chairman to tell you we were wrong.

But if my party benefited from racial polarization in the past, it is the Democratic Party that benefits from it today.

I know it is not in my interest as chairman of the Republican Party for close to 90% of African-Americans to vote for the Democrat every election.

Karl Rove, and every Republican analyst less than 40 years old, knows this speech will happen one day about gay marriage and Republican homophobia. What they misunderstand is the timeline. They think that for 20 years, they'll benefit from gay-bashing, for five years it will have neutral political value, and then they will instantly drop the gay-marriage opposition when the polls say it harms them politically.

The actual timeline is that they'll benefit politically for another five years, it won't help or harm them much overall for ten years past that, and then for fifteen years it'll hurt them as they fight the fundamentalist dinosaurs in their party before they can finally get rid of the anti-gay marriage plank of the Republican Party platform.

politics, homosexuality

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Under-reported global environmental problems

1. Ocean acidification. I've been hearing about how excess carbon dioxide is changing the PH balance in the oceans for about a year, we'll see how serious the effects will be.

2. Global nitrogen overload: we're now adding more biologically-available nitrogen fertilizer to the planet's ecosystems than all the naturally processes do, combined. Look forward to a planet of weeds and algae - that's the direction we're heading.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Afghanification of Iraq for the US Congressional elections

Click here for Juan Cole's description of the British memo discussing the idea of nearly halving the number of US troops in time for Congressional elections next year. Cole doesn't know exactly what to make of the idea, and neither do I. I would call it the "Afghanification" of Iraq, turning some provinces over to an unstable coalition of militias and warlords under an brittle and superficial governmental umbrella. I have doubts over whether we'll even try it, and if we do, whether it'll work.

As for Cole's idea of having UN military forces replace most of the American military presence, I think the drawdown idea makes the UN presence less likely, as American conservatives will argue it's unnecessary. I've been pessimistic about the idea anyway, although I also think that the opportunity to remove 80% of our troops from Iraq might overpower some tough obstacles. This drawdown concept, without the UN, doesn't help in getting a chance for better options.

Iraq, politics

Monday, July 11, 2005

I'm not good enough for the Climatesceptics Yahoo Group

A while back, Tim Lambert determined that a supposed survey of climatologists about global warming was useless because the password to take the survey was leaked to an email list of climate "skeptics". I decided I should get myself added to that list and make sure they're not pulling any other fast ones. Problems arose, however, stemming from my decision to play it straight. In my request to join I said I was doubtful of the skeptics' position, but willing to listen to their arguments.

I received this reply from the list moderator, Timo Hameranta:

Dear "schmidtb98",

thankyou for your interest to Sceptical Climate Science –
Climatesceptics – the global
scientific discussion group.

Unfortunately, our group is for climate scientists only.

Yours sincerely

Timo Hämeranta

As of today, the climatesceptics web page says it is "primarily" for climate scientists. I'm curious whether it was always described that way, but even if it did have that description, it's not "only" for climatologists. The list also has 279 members, and I doubt all of them are climate scientists.

Along with getting banned from The Free Republic for offering a charity bet over global warming, I'm just picking up the rejection slips. Feels kind of lonely.

UPDATE: In the comments to this post, Steve Bloom and William show that as recently as last November, the group was open to non-climate scientists (and maybe it still is if you have the right viewpoint). I'm kicking myself for failing to note the group's description when I tried to apply - I wonder if the removal from invitation of "other participants" had anything to do with little ol' me.

UPDATE 2: After emailing Mr. Hameranta about my doubts regarding his explanation, he responded:
You have correctly noticed that this group has also layman members.

For the moment and in the foreseeable future we do not accept laymen

This group is primarily for climate scientists interested in discussing
critical and sceptical views in climatology.

Honestly I can assure that your suspicion is unfounded.

I don't know the man's character, so I can't make a definitive judgment, but it still seems fishy to me.

science, global warming

Sunday, July 10, 2005


"Michael Moore Hates America": since I watch a fair amount of liberal documentaries, I thought I'd give the conservatives a chance too. Overall, this was better than I expected. It attacks several of Moore's documentaries, but I can't say if it scored any hits because I haven't seen Moore's films in a while, and I'm hesitant to trust what this documentary is claiming that Moore said. On the other hand, the film-maker is surprisingly modest and gives people a chance to critique him, which I found refreshing. If you're planning to watch any of Moore's latest films, this might make a good follow-up. And I should add that Moore shouldn't have ducked an interview with the film-maker as he did. For a contrary opinion, see here and click on "Dislike Mike"

"Deadwood": This TV series is as good as everyone says, although as an HBO series, it's also a graphically sexual and violent portrayal of the post-Civil War American West. Not recommended for my parents, but the quality of the plot and writing matches series like Buffy and Angel.

"True Romance" and "Sleeper": both have their moments, but True Romance is shallow and Sleeper is boring. Watch True Romance if you really need something connected to Quentin Tarantino and can't find anything else (he wrote the script). I can't recommend Sleeper except for enthusiastic Woody Allen fans.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Volokh correction #7

Todd Zywicki of the Volokhs attempts to attack the left while ignoring how many conservatives are split from reality over creationism/intelligent design. I'm outsourcing this correction to Pharyngula.

The one place I'd differ with Pharyngula is with the Harvard President's off-hand wondering whether biological differences between genders play a role in scientific achievement. While wrong, it was little more than a question, not an assertion, and the reaction to it has been exaggerated.

I think this whole issue supports my argument that creationism is a wedge issue for the left that splits conservative support. Zywicki is casting about for a distraction.

Volokh Correction, wedge, science, politics

London and Iraq

We may eventually find out if the people involved in the London bombings had training or established connections in Iraq. If they did, Bush has a question to answer.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

On the London bombings

Kevin Drum asks for one day without either political side attempting to score points over the London attacks. Okay from here.

June 2005 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily military fatality rate (Americans and others): 2.77. May was 2.84, April was 1.73, and June 2004 was 1.67. Overall average to date is 2.31.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 296. May was 270, April 199, no stats for June 2004 (January 2005 is when the stats started: 109).

Comments: I don't see an overall trend in the US fatality rate, looking back 18 months. Sometimes it's significantly better, sometimes significantly worse. As I said last month, the Iraqi military/police fatality rate doesn't seem sustainable over the long term, even assuming that it gets no worse.

I'll try to remember to do this each month.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Michael Crichton compares global warming to Y2K

I wanted to give this post the title, "Idiot Interviews Idiot" but thought I should be more specific. Flying home on the plane yesterday I watched a canned news interview by John Stossel of ABC's 20/20 program. Stossel is famous for reporting fake test results saying organic food was dangerous on the 20/20 program, was allowed to keep his job, and now is interviewing Crichton, who makes up bookful of fake information in denial of global warming in his novel, State of Fear.

I decided to write about the interview when I heard Crichton say that just as Y2K turned out to be no big deal, global warming will turn out to be no big deal. A number of denialists say global warming is overrated, but the irony is that they're most likely to be right if no one listens to them. The low end of the temperature range for the increase predicted by the scientific consensus depends on a small increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, while the high end results from more "business as usual" increases. (Note: reasonable confirmation at that site, but I'd like to find a better information source). This is what makes Crichton's comparison to Y2K so ironic - the reason why Y2K turned out well was the massive preparation involved in fixing the computer glitch. Fortunately, Crichton wasn't spouting nonsense about ignoring Y2K in the late 90's, or we might have been less prepared. Too bad he couldn't just stay quiet. Or take me up on my global warming bets.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Volcanoes and betting on global warming

One of the problems with my attempted betting over global warming is that rare, random events like a large volcanic eruption might cause a large temperature swing and mess up the bet. The point of betting after all is to demonstrate whether global warming is occurring (and whether each side believes what it is saying), not whether random events like large eruptions will occur at a certain point in the future.

Here's my fix to the problem - a three-year reset into the future for the bet period from the time of any large eruption occurring in the last three years of the bet. For example, say someone bets against me and says significant global warming won't happen in the 2005-2025 time period. In 2024, a large eruption occurs. Betting period gets reset three years from the eruption, so it's from 2007 to 2027.

Large eruptions make things cooler, so this is just protecting my side of the bet. I'm open to a similar provision in case a strong El Nino creates an unusually hot year in the last three years of the bet.

Defining "large volcanic eruption" and "strong El Nino" might take some work, but I think it's doable, especially by reference to the Mount Pinatubo eruption in the early 90's, and the strong El Nino in 1998.

Now I just need to find global warming denialists who will put their money where their mouths are. The mouths aren't scarce, but the money is.

keywords: science, global warming, bet