Sunday, October 30, 2005
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (available anywhere on the planet, in every language): it's okay. Enjoyable, but I like Harry Potter as a wide-eyed boy at Hogwarts more than I like the teenage hero. And the whole major-character-will-die thing was overplayed.
Born Into Brothels: very good documentary about children growing up in the red light district of Calcutta. An American teaches them photography and tries to get them a better future. A slight spoiler here but I think it's worth mentioning: she's successful with about half of the kids, and I was surprised by which ones made it and which didn't. A dose of reality for pampered Westerners, but not a completely depressing one.
Ghost in the Shell 2: almost as good as the original Ghost in the Shell, and both of them are the best of my limited experience with Japanese sci-fi anime geared to adults. It's a murder mystery set in the future where the line between human and machine gets harder to find.
To Catch a Thief: an overrated 1955 Hitchcock film (except for the stunning scenery). Skip it unless you have to see everything he made.
Watership Down: the book is great, but skip the cartoon movie - it's mediocre.
Dead Alive: Stay away! The gore is still bothering me 2 months later, and I did okay with Evil Dead 2. Now I know not to explore Peter Jackson's other horror films.
Serenity: A fun science fiction movie from the creator of Buffy and Angel TV series. This is an interesting way to market it: click here to see the first 9 minutes from the film.
UPDATE: I'm always looking for suggestions for movies or books. Feel free to post a comment or email me!
Friday, October 28, 2005
Out of the top 30 blogs, 5 deny or strongly express skepticism of human-caused global warming (IMAO, Commonsensewonder, Powerline, Captain's Quarters, and Right Wing News), 3 play a cute game of posting links to skeptical news about warming while hiding their own opinion (Instapundit, Little Green Foothballs, andOutside the Beltway), and one is just stupid (Wizbang, which says natural warming will end in 100 years). These constitute the majority of the conservative blogs that deal with a broad range of issues. The conservative blogs that didn't make the list usually had very little to say on warming, or were group blogs with split positions. None of them beat alarm bells over the issue.
Atrios has a regular "Wanker of the Day" feature highlighting those who deserve the exposure. I'm nominating all of the above blogs for his feature for the following reasons:
- Their position shows a ridiculous, baseless contempt for science and humanity's future.
- They have failed to make bets that put their money where their mouths are.*
- They never responded to emails and state why they refused to bet.*
Now I don't expect a response from every blog I contact offering them a chance to make some money off of a fool like me who dares contradict them, but what's interesting is that none of them responded. They generally seem to have plenty to say for themselves, but I read something into this lack of response, like they can't justify their refusal to bet.
Seeing as they're not putting up, I'll go back in a while to see if they're shutting up. If anyone else spots them spouting their garbage, feel free to send a comment or email their way suggesting they back up what they say. Meanwhile, I plan to gradually expand the list to lower-ranking blogs.
* Wizbang's position creates no room for a bet, but Wizbang still makes the nomination list for being incredibly stupid.
key: global warming, bet
Thursday, October 27, 2005
As soon as the indictments are out, Bush and his press secretary should be constantly asked whether Bush will promise not to give out pardons. If Bush refuses to answer, he pays a price that will be continuous as long as people keep asking him. If he admits that he might pardon his staff, then he starts paying a price that he'd otherwise attempt to minimize by waiting until after the elections.
If Bush promises not to issue pardons, then the defendants are more likely to plead guilty, as they can't count on a pardon to reduce their sentence and clear their criminal record. If Bush promises no pardons, but is lying and issues pardons after 2008 election, the Republicans pick up even more of a stench than they would otherwise, especially those Bush family members still seeking political office.
Under any scenario, we're better off getting the press to push Bush on this issue rather than simply being passive.
UPDATE: via Rara Avis, Act for Change is already on the issue - please consider signing their petition.
UPDATE 2 (Oct. 30): Senator Harry Reid calls on Bush to pledge not to issue pardons. The press should ask for Bush's response.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
“Thinking about the increase in the number and strength of hurricanes in recent years, do you think global warming has been a major cause, a minor cause, or not a cause of the increase in hurricanes?”
Of course that's the one that everyone focuses on, and as a conformist, I will too. But first, some other questions and their answers.
1. Does controlling land use to prepare for hurricanes/typhoons have more effect on reducing their impacts than controlling greenhouse gas emissions? Yes - if proof was ever needed for this, there's plenty of it at Prometheus.
2. Because land use changes will do more to protect from hurricanes, should we be forbidden to consider the benefit that reducing GHG emissions will have on reducing tropical storm damage? No - reducing storm damage is a real benefit of fighting emissions that should be considered while deciding policy. Focusing attention on the problem of increased future storm damage could actually benefit efforts to improve land use.
3. Is there any reason to ignore AGW-caused storm damage after 2050? No, unless you think there will be no AGW after 2050. In fact, AGW will have worse storm effects after 2050, and the artificial cut-off results in bad policy that ignores available science.
I expect Roger Pielke Jr. is right that some have exaggerated the extent we can connect the dots right now between current AGW and current hurricanes, but it really doesn't matter as a policy question. The reason to change GHG policies now is because of their future effect of emissions, and we already know our policies are likely to have a future effect, and should therefore be changed.
But since everyone wants to focus on the question of current effects, let's do it. If AGW is currently worsening hurricanes, then that's one more reason to change policies. Just as there is a consequence for acting incorrectly, there's also a consequence for inaction. While current science hasn't finished connecting the dots and telling us that AGW definitely is worsening hurricanes, it doesn't deny a connection either. The question of current effect is best phrased as a question of what probability science now assigns to AGW having a current effect on storms.
Readers of this blog will know I'm a one-trick pony when it comes global warming and probability - let's set up a bet! My bet is that the International Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report, will say that AGW likely intensified tropical storm damage from at least 2005 onward. I believe science says it's more likely than not that we already have a problem, and I'm probably not going far out on a limb to say that.
It's not a very strong signal that science is sending to policy-makers, and it's not a very important one because we already know that we will have a problem with future hurricanes from AGW, but if people disagree on connecting current storm activity to AGW, they should consider betting me.
FWIW, I've submitted this as a bet offer to Longbets.org in case someone wants to bet for charity rather than get the money back. It might take some time for the bet offer to register, but it should come up here.
UPDATE: light edit for politeness.
UPDATE 2 (April 2012): edited to move to it back to AR6 and to start the period in 2005 - looks like they're not ready to make the conclusion just yet.
key: global warming, bet
Monday, October 24, 2005
I didn't make up my mind in March 2003 whether to support the invasion (a mistake on my part) because I couldn't decide if I could figure out what the Iraqis wanted. Polls of Iraqis after the invasion gave some mixed and incoherent results.
The latest poll isn't mixed; it basically says we should leave. The conservative British newspaper, The Telegraph, has these figures:
• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;
• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;
• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;
• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;
• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;
• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.
So I don't know what to do with these figures. I'd prefer to see the answer to a conditional question, like "should the Americans and British withdraw all their troops over the next three months, even if few or no troops from Muslim/Arab countries come to replace them in providing security?" I'd like to see the poll repeated, and I'd like to see the figures broken down by ethnicity.
My best guess is that a complete pullout in a short period would be a disaster. It's getting harder for me to say that America and Britain have the right to decide that, though, when we bear only a tiny part of the consequences.
The other factor is to what extent Iraq's elected representatives truly act with legitimacy, because they don't seem to want us to leave: "Iraq's President Jalal Talabani pleaded last night for British troops to stay. 'There would be chaos and perhaps civil war,' he said."
Sorry, this is not a clear post, seeing as I don't know what to think of this mess. Thanks a lot, Bush. At least I'm going to enjoy this week more than your administration will.
UPDATE: added a reference to the invasion being a mistake.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Below is an email I sent to one blog that argues for the "maybe" position. I just sent it, so we'll have to give them a little while to see if there's a reaction.
I've looked at various posts that your blog, Right
Wing News, has on global warming. They seem to say
first, that human-caused global warming might be
happening, but we don't really know that for sure, and
second, even if we're causing warming, we shouldn't do
anything to stop it.
I'm not really interested in the second part of your
argument. The first part is more interesting because
I think it's what a lot of right wingers say as a
justification for passivity. I want to bet you over
your position on whether global warming is happening.
You might think there's nothing to bet about because
your wishy-washy position could go either way, but
that's not quite right. I have a number of bets I'm
willing to offer that give up to 2:1 and 3:1 odds in
favor of the side arguing for no warming. If you
reject those odds, then you can still claim you think
global warming only has a chance of occurring, but the
probability you're assigning to global warming is
high. At 2:1 odds, you either believe there are at
least even odds that human-caused warming is
happening, or you would want to bet me. So I'm curious
as to what your reaction is.
To see some details on bets, here is a bet I'm
offering to people who believe in "natural" global
And here are a bunch of others:
I hope to hear from you.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
My interpretation is that she wanted to sing herself out of jail while lying enough to keep from putting Libby in jail. It would be very hard for a jury to convict Libby for revealing Valerie Plame's name to Miller, based on Miller's testimony alone. But if Libby cracks someday under pressure and tells the truth, it would also be hard to convict Miller of perjury since she didn't say she was certain it wasn't him. Trying to prove a negative - that her other sources whose identity she can't remember - is nearly impossible. Assuming Miller doesn't actually care about Libby, we can conclude she's doing this to remain a player in national security news. The motive can't be journalist ethics, since she is presumably lying her head off.
There are three flaws in Miller's plan. First, she's not the only one supplying evidence against Libby, so her attempt to degrade her evidence does not completely eliminate its usefulness to the prosecution when added to whatever else they're presenting. Second, the name may not matter - outing a now-identifiable covert CIA agent is enough to break the law. Third, Miller will face repurcussions outside of court, where a strong suspicion that she's a dirty liar should be enough to put a well-deserved dent in her career.
So what's with her former attorney, Floyd Abrams, spilling the beans? Attorney-client privileged information can be released only at the permission of the client. Assuming Miller didn't give permission, Abrams may have just screwed up and said far more than he should have. Alternatively though, he may have previously told the prosecutors (or the judge? not sure if they had any closed sessions) that there was only one source. If Miller then changed her tune, with the effect of making Abrams look like he lied, then he has a lot more room for disclosure in order to protect himself.
We'll see the real opening salvos for this, really soon.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
So let's look at those cycles. I see the following periods from this temperature record:
years 1855 to 1909: little change
1910 to 1945: warming trend
1946 to 1978: cooler compared to the end of the prior warming period
1979 to present: warming
So the last warming period lasted 35 years, and we are currently 26 years into the current one. Natural warming proponents have got nine more years before we should start seeing cooling, based on the only argument they've made. I'm ignoring the fact that their argument is garbage and has no science to back it up, but am looking at the shred of evidence they try and twist in their direction.
For me it all comes down to betting, and it shouldn't be too hard to design a bet that would be attractive to people who truly believed in natural global warming. Here's one: temperatures in 20 years will be warmer than the average temperature of the next 10 years, and I'll give 2:1 odds in their favor (consistent with the odds I'm willing to give for a 10-year bet). According to the graph I linked to above, if I were making this offer 26 years after the start of the previous warming cycle in 1910, I would lose. And if they want to come up with a different bet that is consistent with their theory, I'm open to it.
The "natural warmers" might argue that this warming cycle could last longer than the 1910-1945 cycle. I suppose that's possible, but the only evidence they rely upon suggests they're more likely to win than lose, and then on top of that, I'm giving them 2:1 odds. So if they really believe what they're saying, they need to back it up.
key: global warming, bet
Friday, October 14, 2005
So the people with significant responsibility for the resurgence in malaria were the chemical companies that stymied efforts to reduce the agricultural use of pesticides [resulting in increased mosquito resistance to DDT]. And it was chemical companies that helped set up the astroturf junkscience site that has attempted to blame Rachel Carson for causing the resurgence. Nice. It’s like a hit-and-run driver who, instead of admitting responsibility for the accident, frames the person who tried to prevent the accident. Bastards.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Carl Zimmer has written on multiple occasions about the "hobbit" people fossils discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. They were about 3 feet tall, and the only complete skull had a brain one-third the size of our own, about the same size as a chimp's brain. The scientific controversy is whether these people are Homo sapiens or if they're descendants of an ancestral hominid species that survived on Flores long after being wiped out elsewhere. The recent discovery of additional fossils provides support for the latter claim, although proponents of the other view remain unconvinced. As best I can tell, there are a lot of supporters for either claim, and one can't say that the vast majority of relevant experts firmly believe in one of these claims as being the clearly correct position.
This will be a fascinating debate to watch for its own sake, but I have a thought experiment we can conduct right now. Let's suppose that five years from now, additional evidence will have convinced almost all the experts that one side is right. It doesn't really matter which side - let's say all but a tiny fraction of experts end up believing that the hobbits were H. sapiens like us.
The question is, should we non-experts rely on this turn of events to come to any conclusion as to whether that dominant side is right?
If you're Michael Crichton, then you have no better idea under this future scenario as to who is right than Crichton has right now. As he says, "If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period." Crichton draws no conclusions from the fact that the vast majority of experts in that field will have changed their minds, dropped their uncertainty, and drew their own conclusions in one direction.
If, on the other hand, you've evolved to a Homo sapiens-level intelligence, you would conclude that the consensus of a majority of experts that the hobbits were part of our species probably means something. If the die-hards on the other side complain about not getting equal time and money, their first task should be getting enough experts on their side to reopen the question, and not come running to us.
The hypothetical consensus about the hobbits compares to the existing consensus about anthropogenic global warming that's developed over the last two decades. I'm sure Crichton's view that this scientific consensus is meaningless is itself something that will go extinct - I just hope it doesn't take too many of us with it.
key: science, global warming, politics
Monday, October 10, 2005
- The arctic ice cap is reducing at the rate of about 8% per decade (Ed. note: this might be high - see the comments).
- Polar bears were found dead in the ocean, apparently they were starving with the ice being too far from land for their prey animals. The weakened bears couldn't make the swim to land.
- Land around Fairbanks is sinking where the permafrost is melting.
- The last two summers have been the first and third worst for forest fires.
- A beatle is killing the spruce trees further north.
More general info here. While you can't draw global conclusions from warming in a geographically-small location, the entire, not-small Arctic is warming, and it verifies global warming predictions that the Arctic would heat up even more than the rest of the world.
There was some silliness at the US Senate a few weeks ago, with global warming testimony by noted idiot Michael Crichton, and by some entertainingly-crazy older guy who is ignoring my invitation to bet me (I had the best luck accessing the realaudio file here). I think all the science bloggers on my blogroll covered the testimony, but I was interested in how the conservative Alaskan senator wasn't as denialist as the rest of her party. I hope anyone who wants to stay in politics for a while might be careful in denying global warming, especially in a place like Alaska where it's so obvious.
key: global warming, science, politics
Sunday, October 09, 2005
I've always thought that non-fruiting cherry trees are ridiculous.
I'll end my Andy Rooney-like ranting minute now....
UPDATE: Not for the first time, I find myself in the minority position in the comments. Seeing as this isn't the world's most important issue, I think it's okay for me to be stubborn. Until I see fruiting cherry trees leaving substantial messes on the sidewalk, I remain doubtful that it's much of a problem.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
I have no explanation for this.
key: Volokh Correction
Thursday, October 06, 2005
One response heard from College Republicans runs along the lines of "Democrats support the war in Afghanistan - why aren't they lining up to serve there?" The main problem with this response is that it isn't a response - they still haven't answered the question of why they're sending their countrymen to die in Iraq without going themselves. Apparently, they can't think of a good answer but hope that the liberals have thought of one for Afghanistan, and the Republicans hope to pretend that the Afghanistan reason is the one they've been using all around.
It won't work. What is and should be asked of Americans and America's military in Afghanistan is different from Iraq. While American soldiers have made great sacrifices and the ultimate sacrifice of dying in Afghanistan, the same is true of other conflicts that have been feasibly managed by our all-volunteer military. Equally important, the sacrifices in Afghanistan would have been much less if that conflict had been managed competently, instead of having their resources bled off to serve in Iraq.
The military can handle the Afghanistan war without bankrupting the country, destroying military readiness, and driving down recruiting. The reverse is true in Iraq. Combine those factors with a split nation, where those with financial means and support the war are using those without the same means to fight a war they often don't support. These reasons, none of them applying to Afghanistan, are reasons requiring that the College Republicans and others very literally fight for what they believe, instead of demanding that others do it for them.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
The lack of media is surprising because the IPCC says this method alone can account for 15-55% of all the needed mitigation to stabilize CO2 levels - at the high end, it can do more to stop global warming than all other methods combined. It appears to increase energy costs by 20 to 50 percent, not chicken feed but also not bankrupting us.
This brings up a litmus test. Conservative wingnuts refer to us enviro-whackos as "watermelons," because underneath the superficial green rind, what we supposedly really care about is our red socialist agenda. If that allegation is true, you should expect enviros to reject carbon storage without making any serious analysis, as it will do nothing to transform society or take down corporations.
The litmus test also applies to conservatives - with carbon storage, they don't have to abandon capitalism and live on communes, and the cost will be less than the cost of the recent runup in oil prices. They can take carbon storage seriously, or they can abandon remaining shreds of credibility.
So let's watch.
key: science, global warming
To conservatives, Justice Kennedy is the worst of turncoats
WASHINGTON - Two short years ago, the buzz in Washington was that if Chief Justice William Rehnquist retired, Justice Anthony Kennedy had a good shot at replacing him.
Kennedy was seen spending quality time with first lady Laura Bush on a civic education initiative Kennedy launched in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was speaking out on drugs and prison sentences, and his former law clerks were well-placed in Bush administration jobs.
But then came June 2003 and Kennedy's majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down sodomy laws and breathed new life into the gay rights movement.
Last week, Kennedy did it again. In a stunning reversal for the court and himself, Kennedy led the court in striking down the juvenile death penalty. Writing for the 5-4 majority in Roper v. Simmons, Kennedy cited social science research on adolescents and the strong worldwide consensus against the practice.
Nobody is talking about Anthony Kennedy for chief justice anymore.
Kennedy was known to be quietly campaigning for the Chief Justice position several years ago, and then these cases reached the Court. He's no idiot - he knew he would pay a price, and he did the right thing anyway.
A number of wingnut sites that I found had mentioned the disconnect between his votes and his chief justice aspirations, but no one to the left of Attila the Hun has brought notice to it. Kennedy deserves some credit.
If he'd only get it right the remainder of the time, as well....
Monday, October 03, 2005
Avg. daily military fatality rate (nearly all of them Americans): 1.73. August was 2.68. July was 1.87, and September 2004 was 2.9. Overall average to date is 2.3, down 0.02.
Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 233. August was 281. July was 304, and no stats published for September 2004 (January 2005 is when the stats started: 109).
Comments: we should add one and one-half pieces of information to the above stats. The one piece is that Iraqi readiness has declined from 3 battalions at the highest readiness state to one. This might explain the drop in the Iraqi military casualties - they don't have anyone who can "stand up," as our idiot President would say, so they've been withdrawn. On the other hand, I thought this would mean more American involvement and more American casualties, when the reverse was the case. The one-half piece of information is anecdotal information that violence has increased in Iraq. So here's a possibility: as the Iraqis have stood down, the Americans have not filled in the gap, and the Iraqi civilians have suffered more violence as a result.
Of course, it could be that the anecdotes of increased violence are wrong - no one has good stats on civilian deaths that I know of. Your mileage may vary on the value of these interpretations. See you for next month's report.
UPDATE: Click here for a breakdown of the individual causes of deaths for Americans (includes Afghanistan casualties).
key: Iraq, monthly report
Sunday, October 02, 2005
I wrote a long-winded, blathering comment to attach to his post, but submitting it didn't work (maybe he has an automatic quality control filter for comments to his posts). I then tried to email Kevin to tell him his website has a problem, but my email isn't working. This technological revolution isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Anyway, blogspot is working now (it wasn't earlier this morning), so I'm putting up this post here - feel free to read Kevin's post at the link above, and my blathering comment is below:
Interesting idea, Kevin. The picky refinement I'd make is that on many of these issues, people could theoretically agree on the science and disagree on preferred policy for reasons they acknowledge are unrelated to science. That means looking at policy preferences does not by itself tell you whether science is being distorted or ignored.
On the other hand, some subsidiary issues are purely scientific questions (or close to it), and what people say about those issues should be revealing. In particular, the effectiveness of a proposed policy in achieving a well-defined goal should be scientific. People may disagree on abstinence-only versus integrated sex-education, but if the science was undistorted, there should be much less disagreement on which is more effective in preventing teen pregnancy.
Other potential questions:
Do homosexuals make good parents (as opposed to whether homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children)
Is there a genetic component to homosexuality
Is there a genetic component to intelligence with a measurable difference between ethnicities or genders
Is there a genetic component to any aspect of being human, other than disease susceptibility, that is measurably different between ethnicities or genders
Does second-hand smoke cause or aggravate disease
Does thimerosal (or mercury in general) cause autism
Do electromagnetic fields cause disease
Does the present level of exposure to endocrine-disruption chemicals cause disease
Some of these questions are too arcane for your purposes, but I think they're interesting anyway.