Friday, December 29, 2006

Caveat emptor for Alaska Airlines tickets

So here we are once again, sitting in San Jose Airport for hours, waiting for the Alaska Airlines flight to replace the one they cancelled once again. They seem to specialize in doing this for early a.m. flights. Last time we had to get up at 4:30 a.m., and the rescheduled flight didn't leave until past noon. This time it was 5:30 a.m., and the flight they found for us leaves at 6:30 p.m.

Thought I'd bore you all with this. Think twice before flying with them.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Uncertainty over certainty

Via Deltoid, Kevin Vranes and Andrew Dressler have differing views over whether scientists perceive themselves as having oversold certainty about global warming. The comment thread for Kevin's post is especially interesting.

I want to hear more evidence before I can believe this extends beyond the debate between the moderate warmers and those that think nearly-catastrophic, pre-year 2100 warming is possible.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

My Komodo dragon deduction

News report:

Scientists report of two cases where female Komodo dragons have produced offspring without male contact...Tests revealed their eggs had developed without being fertilised by sperm - a process called parthenogenesis, the team wrote in the journal Nature... "Parthenogenesis has been described before in about 70 species of vertebrates, but it has always been regarded to be a very unusual, perhaps abnormal phenomenon..."But we have seen this in two separate, unrelated female Komodo dragons within a year, so this suggests maybe parthenogenesis is much more widespread and common than previously considered...Because of the genetics of this process, he added, her children would always be male.

and another:

Only about 4,000 dragons remain in the wild, of which 1,000 are female.

The news reports generally say it's unknown how commonly this occurs in the wild, but we have this information:

1. Komodo females can reproduce by parthenogenesis.

2. The viable reproduced eggs from this process are all males.

3. There are three times as many males as there are females in the wild.

My deduction: Komodo dragon parthenogenesis is common in the wild.

News you can use, only here at Backseat Driving.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Let's see the denialists spin this bit of insurance news

If denialists bother to acknowledge how concerned the insurance industry is with global warming, they say it's just a scam to justify increasing insurance premiums.

So now, this piece of news, from "Global Warming Ate My Insurance Policy":

Allstate plans to stop offering property insurance in nearly a dozen counties along the Chesapeake Bay starting in February.

The reason: the increased risk of hurricane damage due to rising ocean temperatures, possibly caused by global warming.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Allstate is part of a growing number of insurance companies that are refusing to cover hurricane-prone areas. The trend started in Florida, which sustained millions of dollars in damage from Hurricane Andrew, and is now moving up to our neck of the woods.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance decided to limit the amount of business it does in coastal areas two years ago and not do any new business in two ZIP codes near Ocean City, Md.

Hard to fit this action with the supposed motive of trying to justify rate increases. I expect the denialists will pirouette with the agility of Rush Limbaugh in a tutu, and come up with a new, completely different explanation: insurance companies are moving out for reasons of their own, and use global warming as a convenient excuse.

That doesn't really work though - why come up with an explanation that provides a justification for the competitors who remain in those areas to jack up the rates?

I should note it's not completely clear if the insurers are expressly relying on global warming concerns as their reason for butting out, but it seems likely. We can list inability to get insurance coverage as a likely present-day cost of global warming.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Restoring faith in democracy, or at least local democracy

I try to keep a pretty strict separation between my personal blog and my work, but in this case I will bring up a general observation that I've developed from my work. My job brings me in a lot of contact with local governments, giving me a chance to see local democracy in action. It can be really annoying and petty, and even have hints of corruption here and there, but the volunteerism can also be amazing.

This week I had a chance to see a city-organized volunteer task force present to the Palo Alto City Council their proposal for what the city could do to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Forget for a moment how effective it will be, I really don't know. I just remain impressed by the extent to which dozens of people are willing to put in total hundreds of hours of volunteer time on this one project, which is just an example of what people will do. The volunteerism also goes up a fair ways in the local government food chain. Many people are unaware that most local elected officials are either unpaid or paid so little as to hardly make a difference. The various commissions in even the smallest towns also consist of volunteers, usually trying to do the rirght thing.

I've generally believed the Winston Churchill quote that democracy is just the least bad of all alternatives for governance. And I have to acknowledge that for all the volunteer work I saw this week by local people, there is probably an equivalent amount of volunteer work elsewhere by people trying to keep evolution from being taught to schoolchildren. Still, I've got my little piece of evidence that the better side of human nature can ever so slightly outweigh the worst side, and democracy can actually sometimes be a half-decent method of governance.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Number-crunching the Congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq invasion

The rightwingers have wasted a lot of bandwidth arguing that democracy, not WMDs or Al Qaeda, was the real reason Congress gave Bush approval to attack Iraq. They seem less interested in democracy these days and more interested in strongmen, but it has been their main argument justifying the invasion. I thought I'd test it by number-crunching the words in the Whereas justificatory sections of the Congressional resolution authorizing force.

I've reprinted the Whereas part below with the democracy-related provisions in bold italics. The whole section runs at 1,259 words, and I count 143 words as discussing democracy. Eleven percent doesn't make democracy anything like the primary cause. If you read the resolution, it's primarily about non-existent WMDs, secondarily about non-existent ties to terrorism, and last about everything else.

The rightwingers are wrong about history, just as they've been wrong about Iraq.
Congressional Resolution:

Whereas in 1990 in response to Iraq's war of aggression against and illegal occupation of Kuwait, the United States forged a coalition of nations to liberate Kuwait and its people in order to defend the national security of the United States and enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions relating to Iraq;

Whereas after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Iraq entered into a United Nations sponsored cease-fire agreement pursuant to which Iraq unequivocally agreed, among other things, to eliminate its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs and the means to deliver and develop them, and to end its support for international terrorism;

Whereas the efforts of international weapons inspectors, United States intelligence agencies, and Iraqi defectors led to the discovery that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and a large scale biological weapons program, and that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons development program that was much closer to producing a nuclear weapon than intelligence reporting had previously indicated;

Whereas Iraq, in direct and flagrant violation of the cease-fire, attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and development capabilities, which finally resulted in the withdrawal of inspectors from Iraq on October 31, 1998;

Whereas in 1998 Congress concluded that Iraq's continuing weapons of mass destruction programs threatened vital United States interests and international peace and security, declared Iraq to be in "material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations" and urged the President "to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations" (Public Law 105-235);

Whereas Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations;

Whereas Iraq persists in violating resolutions of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait;

Whereas the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people;

Whereas the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States, including by attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush and by firing on many thousands of occasions on United States and Coalition Armed Forces engaged in enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council;

Whereas members of al Qaida, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq;

Whereas Iraq continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations, including organizations that threaten the lives and safety of American citizens;

Whereas the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001 underscored the gravity of the threat posed by the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by international terrorist organizations;

Whereas Iraq's demonstrated capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so, and the extreme magnitude of harm that would result to the United States and its citizens from such an attack, combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself;

Whereas United Nations Security Council Resolution 678 authorizes the use of all necessary means to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 660 and subsequent relevant resolutions and to compel Iraq to cease certain activities that threaten international peace and security, including the development of weapons of mass destruction and refusal or obstruction of United Nations weapons inspections in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, repression of its civilian population in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688, and threatening its neighbors or United Nations operations in Iraq in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 949;

Whereas Congress in the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution (Public Law 102-1) has authorized the President "to use United States Armed Forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678 (1990) in order to achieve implementation of Security Council Resolutions 660, 661, 662, 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674, and 677";

Whereas in December 1991, Congress expressed its sense that it "supports the use of all necessary means to achieve the goals of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 as being consistent with the Authorization of Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution (Public Law 102-1)," that Iraq's repression of its civilian population violates United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 and "constitutes a continuing threat to the peace, security, and stability of the Persian Gulf region," and that Congress, "supports the use of all necessary means to achieve the goals of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688";

Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;

Whereas on September 12, 2002, President Bush committed the United States to "work with the United Nations Security Council to meet our common challenge" posed by Iraq and to "work for the necessary resolutions," while also making clear that "the Security Council resolutions will be enforced, and the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable";

Whereas the United States is determined to prosecute the war on terrorism and Iraq's ongoing support for international terrorist groups combined with its development of weapons of mass destruction in direct violation of its obligations under the 1991 cease-fire and other United Nations Security Council resolutions make clear that it is in the national security interests of the United States and in furtherance of the war on terrorism that all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions be enforced, including through the use of force if necessary;

Whereas Congress has taken steps to pursue vigorously the war on terrorism through the provision of authorities and funding requested by the President to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 or harbored such persons or organizations;

Whereas the President and Congress are determined to continue to take all appropriate actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such persons or organizations;

Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States, as Congress recognized in the joint resolution on Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40); and

Whereas it is in the national security of the United States to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region;

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This joint resolution may be cited as the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq".

Tangled Bank #69

Tangled Bank #69: War on Christmas is up. My post, E.T. Smacks Down Pharyngula, is part of this TB.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Peiser's anti-global warming list is off to a bad start

Benny Peiser claimed that Naomi Oreskes' proof of a scientific consensus on global warming was wrong, but has since recanted part of that claim. Not all of it, though:

as I have stressed repeatedly, Oreskes entire argument is flawed as the whole ISI data set includes just 13 abstracts (less than 2%) that explicitly endorse what she has called the 'consensus view.'

He then posts the thousand-plus abstracts and invites us to "Check for yourself!"

Okay - here's the second abstract of the thousand abstracts he posted:

A stochastic approach is developed to estimate the probability of wet days, and the mean and standard deviation of local daily nonzero precipitation reflecting global climate change scenarios. The approach is based on the analysis of daily atmospheric circulation patterns (CPs) and the linkage between types of CPs and daily precipitation. Three CP data sets are used for the 500-hPa pressure field: 40-year historical, 10-year 1 X CO2, and 10-year 2 X CO2 scenarios obtained from the atmospheric general circulation model of the Canadian Climate Centre. CP types obtained by clustering techniques and their frequency distribution are similar for the three data sets. The linkage between CP types and precipitation considers an additional variable, the spatial average pressure height within each CP type. The difference in pressure heights among the three CP data sets makes it possible to estimate the effect of global change on local precipitation statistics. Under the dry continental climate of eastern Nebraska the effect of 2 X CO2 scenario on local precipitation regime is spatially variable and significant: the number of wet days slightly decreases but both the mean and variance of daily precipitation increase resulting in a more variable precipitation regime.

(emphasis added)

Somehow I doubt this abstract made his list of the thirteen that explicitly endorse a consensus position on climate change, but it makes my list.

I doubt there's any part of Peiser's study that's accurate.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Inconvenient Bayesian Truth?

James Annan feels his (and Hargreaves') paper, which says that the high end of predicted temperature changes from global warming is unlikely for a doubling of CO2 levels, has been unjustly rejected for publication, possibly because it is not an alarmist result. Stoat agrees.

I don't have anything like the math chops to make my own judgments, but I accept James' statement that multiple referees may have had criticisms but didn't consider his work to be fundamentally flawed. Given that, and because Annan gets a result that eliminates possibilities no one else has eliminated, it seems pretty obvious the paper should be published. Let the debate then go on as to whether the paper's right.

Several points worth mentioning though - Annan thinks the resulting temperature increase is still enough to warrant emission reductions. His result doesn't support the next line of defense by fossil fuel industry - the "forget reductions, let's just adapt" nonsense. It also only deals with doubling CO2 - if we don't control emissions, they'll more than double and cause much more trouble. Eli Rabett also points out that what Don Rumsfeld would call "known unknowns" are mostly dangerous - at best, they won't make things worse, and at worst, they will. Those unknowns weren't (and couldn't be) included in Annan's result. Not a flaw in the paper, but another reason to do something about greenhouse gases.

And one of Annan's commenters notes that it's hard to draw conclusions about peer review of a single paper in terms of demonstrating institutional bias. The only conclusion Annan may be able to draw from being screwed over is that he's been screwed over. Hopefully, the paper will get published somewhere appropriate.

Friday, December 15, 2006

How to cook Tim Blair, Andrew Bolt, and Patrick Michaels

1. Place Blair, Bolt, and Michaels in a large, water-filled pot equipped with a step ladder they can use to escape at any time. Set initial water temperature at average levels.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: We're quite comfortable, thank you!!

2. Increase temperature to an unambigous, new historic high.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: No big deal! Not going to last!

MICHAELS: Want to bet it won't be this warm again?

3. Drop temperature back down, but still far above average.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: See!! Vindication!! There is no potboiler warming! Not a problem!

4. Gradually increase temperature to near or above the historic high.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: We deny it's above the historic high! Deny it!

MICHAELS: And, uh, the bet offer is withdrawn.

5. Keep temperature very high, but a tiny bit below Step 4.

BLAIR/BOLT/MICHAELS: The science behind potboiler warming is bogus, and we'll stay here for as long as it takes to prove it!

BLAIR: I'm not feeling hot - crank it up, people!

BOLT: Me neither!

6. Repeat Steps 2 through 5 until done. Don't worry, they won't use the step ladder to get out. Process will be sped by the fact that their brains were already cooked.

Please, please, please, may some denialist point out to me that we haven't yet repeated Step 2 - just be prepared to put your money where your mouth is about what will happen in the near future.

(Hat tip: Deltoid.)

UPDATE: From RealClimate:

Most bizarre new contrarian claim:
"Global warming stopped in 1998".
By the same logic, it also stopped in 1973, 1983, and 1990 (only it didn't)
So we have repeated steps 2 through 5, multiple times.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Global warming's effects on the space program

Global warming is good for space program because it thins the outer atmosphere, says the usually-reliable Planetary Society blog. Thinning the outer atmosphere reduces the drag it has on orbiting satellites, which means they need to use less fuel to prolong their lifespan.

Global warming is bad for space program because it thins the outer atmosphere, says a Reuters report on the same study referenced by the Planetary Society. Thinning the outer atmosphere reduces the drag it has on orbiting space junk, meaning the junk will stay in space longer, threatening satellites and astronauts, before burning up (they do note the positive benefits on satellites).

Neither of these two sources tries to weigh the positive against the negative, but my guess is like most aspects of climate change, the negative outweighs the positive. The solution to atmospheric drag on satellites is to provide more fuel. It has a cost, but no comparable solution presents itself to the problem of space junk, a problem that's expected to get signficantly worse.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Volokh Correction #17

Outsourced to Tim Lambert via a lame, not-much-of-a-retraction by Jonathan Adler, regarding the claim that the IPCC is reducing its estimate of future global warming. Adler could try just admitting the report he referenced was completely wrong.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Republican War on Science, and Imperial Life in the Emerald City

I finally had the time to finish Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War on Science. Like everyone says, it's a very important and useful book. While it may be a little inappropriate to compare RWOS to a book I've only heard about but haven't read, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, I was stuck with how both books reference the Bush Administration's insistence on ideological screening of people for job positions that should be apolitical.

I thought the Bush insistence on "conservatives only" for Iraq reconstruction jobs had a clear cause. They refused to allow companies from countries that opposed the Iraq war to compete for reconstruction contracts, and they fought the UN's initial efforts to get involved in Iraq, all because they felt that spoils belong to the winner. It was conservatives who had the brilliant idea of invading Iraq, so non-conservatives had no right to participate in the "spoils" of reconstructing it.

Same thing with science. Conservatives won the 2000 and 2004 election, and so to them belong the spoils of manipulating science. The alternative idea, that they were elected to do the job of serving the voters and their responsibility is to do the best job possible, seems to have escaped them.

A few other thoughts on Mooney's book:

He mentions Dr. David Hager's abuse of science while leaving out Hager's personal scandals. Mooney may be above mentioning that, but I'm not.

On page 253 of the paperback edition, Mooney writes that given the evidence, "we can infer that the Bush Adminstration almost certainly had politicized science to an unprecedented degree." While I think he's right, it's a hard statement to prove, going beyond a bunch of anecdotal observations to actual conclusions. After all, Roger Pielke Jr. put together a bunch of anecdotes saying the media and others overexaggerated the threat from global warming. Did he prove his case?

I think Mooney's best evidence is the number of prominent Republicans he found who criticize the Bush war on science. His second best piece though is on page 255, where he found that both Bush and Clinton took a similar position on an issue that wasn't supported by the science (exchanging needles with drug addicts to prevent HIV). Bush lied about the science, Clinton didn't. Anecdotes like that are powerful evidence, especially in the absence of counter-examples.

Mooney says early in the book that he's not considering funding issues. I would disagree with that decision - if an administration is abusing some science while generously funding science in general, it might be hard to say that it's worse than another administration that only starved science. Still, abusing science is done either for religious or business reasons, and either one involves important societal issues. From global warming to women's reproductive choices, the Bush Administration is screwing up important science, and their general support for science funding doesn't overcome that.

Finally, my one stylistic criticism is that as a visual learner, I could use something eye-catching to reinforce the text - graphics, charts, tables, or even a list of the many repeat characters and their roles. Mooney has another book coming out, Storm World, covering a subject ideal for visual aids, so hopefully we'll get some eye candy inthat book.

Tangled Bank #68

Tangled Bank #68 is up - my post on the Supreme Court's discussion of alleged uncertainty over the science of global warming is part of Tangled Bank, where it says "It was also crucial to understand the uncertainties of the weather [Backseat Driving]."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Computer-printed paper ballots are the solution to electronic voting

A federal election commission rejected requiring a paper record of electronic voting on the grounds that it's too much work:
"They should be longer-range goals," said Britain Williams of the National Association of Election Directors. "You are talking about basically a reinstallation of the entire voting system hardware."
Yes, we are. You all screwed it up, so go make it right. And paper trails create problems of their own with privacy and paper jams. The best solution I heard was on NPR's Science Friday - don't have computers print out a paper trail but rather an actual paper ballot that will be used to register a vote. This combines all the advantage of clarity and access for disabled voters that computers have, with the voter security and robustness of a paper ballot system. And if the computers or printers fail, voters just fill out the ballot by hand.

Six years of embarassing elections are more than enough. Let's fix this.

The solution to a collective action problem is to stop people from doing anything about it...

...according to the honorable Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. I had pointed out this excerpt from last Wednesday's Supreme Court hearing in an earlier post:
JUSTICE SCALIA: I presume the problem that they have in mind is that we have nothing to give in international negotiations. If we have done everything we can to reduce CO2, you know, what deal do we make with foreign nations? What incentive do they have to go along with us?
MR. GARRE: That's right, Your Honor. We've got a unique collective action problem, and yet, the reaction experience of the agency in dealing with the issue of stratospheric ozone depletion rate had precisely that situation, where the U.S. initially took steps. The stratospheric ozone depletion worsened, and it was only after international agreement was reached in the Montreal Protocol that a global solution to the problem was reached.
It's outrageous given the context, which I suspect Scalia knows nothing about. The United States has been a millstone around the neck of the Kyoto and post-Kyoto efforts to fight global warming. Not only has the Bush Administration done what it could to keep other countries from ratifying Kyoto, the US unwillingness to do anything about global warming has limited the political will in other nations to do something.

By this blighted standard, the rest of the developed world has acted immorally by adopting Kyoto without requiring binding reductions from Third World countries, and only the virtuous
American decision to pump unlimited amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere makes a global limit on CO2 still achievable.

Scalia is unbelievable. The only comparison is Tim Blair, who also thinks that not doing your part is the thing to do.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

November 2006 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate during the last month: 2.6
(nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis)

Previous averages
October: 3.52
September: 2.53

Last year, November 2005: 2.87.

Overall daily average to date is 2.32. Total US dead as of today: 2900.

Iraqi monthly military and police fatalities: 123.

Previous military/police fatality rates
October: 224
September: 150

Last year, November 2005: 176.
Total Iraqi military dead: 5823.

Note that I've seen media reports suggesting the Iraqi military casualty figures are signficant undercounts.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1,741

October: 1,315
September: 3,389

Last year, November 2005: 592.

To-date civilian total starting from March 2005: 20,754. Note that the civilian numbers are far less accurate than others (most likely to be greatly underestimated, or even ridiculously underestimated), but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: Three bad months in a row for the Coalition is enough to identify a trend. As before, Iraqi military fatality rates continue to be low, more proof they're sitting out the civil war. Also as before, civilian casualties remain terrible.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Supreme Court transcript excerpts related to science

I'm reading through the US Supreme Court case hearing from last week, and thought I'd pull out a few excerpts related to alleged scientific uncertainty over anthropogenic global warming:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, there's a lot of conjecture about whether -- I gather that there's something of a consensus on warming, but not a consensus on how much of that is attributable to human activity.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But at the outset, you made this, some of this perhaps reassuring statement that we need not decide about global warming in thiscase. But don't we have to do that in order to decide the standing argument, because there's no injury if there's not global warming? Or, can you show standing simply because there is a likelihood that the perceived would show that there's an injury?
MR. MILKEY (attorney for plaintiffs/appellants): Your Honor, especially in this case where none of our affidavits were challenged, I don't think the Court needs to go there ultimately on the merits because we showed through our uncontested affidavits that these harms will occur. There was no evidence put in to the contrary, and I would add that the reports on which EPA itself relies conclude that climate change is occurring in....
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: That's not all they said. I'm looking at A-85 and they said establishing emissions now would require EPA to make scientific and technical judgments without the benefit of studies that are being developed to reduce the uncertainty in the area. That's different than saying they disagree with the regulatory approach.
MR. MILKEY: It is and it isn't, Your Honor, because that statement will alleges be true. There will always be scientific uncertainty. Agencies will always have an understandable interest in seeing more information. They never -
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: There's a difference between the scientific status of the harm from lead emissions from vehicles that -- when you have lead in the gasoline, to the status, the status of scientific knowledge with respect to the impact on global warming today? Those are two very different levels of uncertainty.
MR. MILKEY: Your Honor, when EPA regulated lead back in the ethyl days, as the Court court itself took note, there were huge amounts of uncertainty atthat time. And EPA has a lot of discretion in evaluating that, that uncertainty.
And if the EPA determined that the level of uncertainty was such that it was not reasonable to anticipate endangerment, that is perfectly appropriate. It would also be appropriate if the agency determined that there was so much uncertainty that they couldn't even form a judgment on that. That would be applying the endangerment statute at the same time it put off. But the point is they did not say any of that. They instead relied on impermissible grounds.
MR. GARRE (attorney for defendant/respondent): Thank you. Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.
After carefully considering the issue the nation's expert agency in environmental matters concluded that Congress has not authorized it to embark on the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions to address global climate change. And that even if it has, now is not the time to exercise such authority, in light of the substantial scientific uncertainty surrounding global climate change and the ongoing studies designed to address those uncertainties....
MR. GARRE: .... And one of the reasons that the agency gave was the substantial scientific uncertainty surrounding the issue of global climate change. Petitioners acknowledge that that was an appropriate consideration for the agency....
MR. GARRE: I -- I don't think that that is a fair reading of the EPA decisional document, Your Honor. Certainly, the agency didn't go out of its way to say, "and reading these considerations together and not any of them individually." And with respect to the scientific uncertainty, Your Honor, you also have to take into account that the EPA had before it and pointed to the report of the National Research Council on global climate change.
JUSTICE STEVENS: I find it interesting that the scientists whose worked on that report said there were a good many omissions that would have indicated that there wasn't nearly the uncertainty that the agency described.
MR. GARRE: Your Honor, if you are referring to the amicus brief, Your Honor, there are -- assuming there are amicus briefs on the other side. The Ballunas amicus brief -- I think it is fair for the Court to look at, to look at the document that the agency had before it. That -- that document produced by the National Research -- Research Council, that's the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences. And it's one of the gold standards of research.
JUSTICE STEVENS: But in their selective quotations, they left out parts that indicated there was far less uncertainty than the agency purported to find.
MR. GARRE: Well, Your Honor, I think one thing that we ought to be able to agree on is there is that there is uncertainty surrounding the phenomenon of global climate change. I think the debate is on which areas are more uncertain than the others. But certainly I think the agency was entitled to conclude, particularly if you take into account the deference this Court should give to that kind of determination, that the scientific uncertainty surrounding the issue of global climate change, surrounding issues of the extent of natural variability in climate, surrounding the issues of impact of climate feedbacks like ocean circulation, and low cloud cover, are permissible considerations for the agency to take into --
JUSTICE STEVENS: Is there uncertainty on the basic proposition that these greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.
MR. GARRE: Your Honor, the report says that it is likely that there is a -- a connection, but that it cannot unequivocally be established....
(UPDATE: this post originally included an off-topic transcript excerpt, but I'm deleting it and giving it a separate post here.)
JUSTICE SCALIA: That's what I was asking, yes. And you think it will go back to them and they will say, oh my goodness, the scientific uncertainty is not enough by itself? You really expect that to happen?
MR. MILKEY: Respectfully, Your Honor, I think EPA will have a hard time saying that there is insufficient -- I mean, too much scientific uncertainty. The very sentence -
JUSTICE SCALIA: They said it already.
MR. MILKEY: No, Your Honor.
JUSTICE SCALIA: The only question is whether that alone is enough.MR. MILKEY: Respectfully, Your Honor, they did not say that. They did not anywhere say why the existing uncertainty mattered. To the contrary, they emphasized the need to act in the face of current uncertainty, but never explained why that principle applies to a nonregulatory approach but not to a regulatory one.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: What they said was until more is understood about causes, extent and significance of climate change and the potential options for addressing it, we believe it's inappropriate to regulate these emissions.
MR. MILKEY: Your Honor.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: That strikes me as saying they think there is too much uncertainty for them to act.
MR. MILKEY: Your Honor, they did not say there is too much uncertainty for them to form a judgment, which is the key issue. They said they preferred more certainty, but because of the nature of the endangerment standard, which emphasizes the important of regulating in the face of uncertainty, they have to at least explain why the uncertainty matters. And that is -- what they did here is particularly troubling in the fact that they ignored all of theindications pointing toward endangerment. They looked at what we don't know without ever looking at what we do know.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Today's idea - anonymized audio interviews

One of the nice things about radio is that you can turn it on in the middle of a news interview and listen to what the interviewee says without the bias of knowing who he or she is. The other day I listened to some Washington politician talk straightforwardly and intelligently about her aims next year, and was very impressed. At the end I found out it was Missouri's new Senator, Claire McCaskill. Same thing happened the first time I heard Barack Obama. And a year or so ago, I listened to someone talk about a gas tax and some other things I basically agree with, and felt that even though I agreed with him, he was so condescending that I wanted to reach through the radio and slap him. That turned out to be Tom Friedman.

So the idea is a website that collects worthwhile audio interviews but bleeps out identifiers until the end. Tremendous copyright problems with this idea, but I'll just do a Bushlike wave of my hands and pretend they go away.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Volokh Correction #16

Jonathan Adler critiques a New York Times editorial about tomorrow's Supreme Court case over global warming. Let's return the favor.
NY TIMES: The Bush administration has been on a six-year campaign to expand its powers, often beyond what the Constitution allows. So it is odd to hear it claim that it lacks the power to slow global warming

ADLER: This is a fair point about the Bush Administration, but it says little to nothing about the merits of the litigation.

BACKSEAT DRIVING: Fine, but the Times is just commenting about the oddness, it didn't try and make a legal point.

NY TIMES: A group of 12 states . . . backed by environmental groups and scientists, say that the Clean Air Act requires the E.P.A. to impose limits on carbon dioxide...

ADLER: All true, but only part of the story. The EPA's position is also supported by several state intervenors, .... Nonetheless, the Times simply refers to "the states"...

BACKSEAT DRIVING: Times already made it clear it was 12 states, not 50, and referring to appellants as "the states" is a convenient shorthand. This is beyond nitpicking.

ADLER: It is also important to underscore that this case is not about the science of climate change.

BACKSEAT DRIVING: My recollection is that the Bush Admin. argued that the science is still unclear at the appellate level. I haven't read the current briefs, but I doubt they'd drop that argument, and if they did, I'll bet some crazy amici briefs picked it up.

NY TIMES: [Bush Admin] contends that the court should dismiss the case because the [petitioning] states do not have “standing,” since they cannot show that they will be specifically harmed by the agency’s failure to regulate greenhouse gases.

ADLER: This is a fair characterization of the EPA's position, but it is also worth nothing that the EPA is hardly alone in this case...

BACKSEAT DRIVING: The standing arguments are the worst for reasons I laid out here (the argument is that because everyone is somewhat affected by climate change, the harm is too "diffuse" to be solved by courts, and should be solved politically instead). If this argument succeeds, it will be used to cut off legal redress for many other air and possibly water pollutants.

NYTIMES: A plain reading of the Clean Air Act shows that the [petitioning] states are right.

ADLER: is difficult to argue that the relevant provisions of the Clean Air Act have anything to do with global warming. The text of the Clean Air Act, read in its entirety and in historical context, clearly bears this out. Congress has repeatedly considered climate change policy, beginning in 1978, and has repeatedly refused to adopt regulatory measures in favor of non-binding programs of one sort or another.

BACKSEAT DRIVING: Drawing inferences from what Congress did NOT do is a weak argument. Congress could be relying on the EPA faithfully administering the law it passed. What Congress did not do years after the Clean Air Act passed also tells you little about what Congress originally intended. This isn't a meaningless argument, but it's pretty weak.

ADLER: To declare carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to be "pollutants" under the Clean Air Act is to require far more than the control of vehicular would almost certainly place the EPA in the position of trying to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for greenhouse gases....Yet the structure of NAAQS compliance, including localized State Implementation Plans, is wholly incompatible with a climate-wide concern such as global warming.

BACKSEAT DRIVING: Requiring state action on greenhouse gas emissions is hardly incompatible with addressing climate. States are already doing it.

NYTIMES: Beneath the statutory and standing questions, this is a case about how seriously the government takes global warming.

ADLER: Not at all. This is a case about what authority Congress delegated to the EPA and the role of the courts in climate policy.

BACKSEAT DRIVING: First, courts can and do consider the policy implications of their potential rulings. While policy can't override legal arguments, it informs them - a ruling with terrible policy implications is more likely to be a misinterpretation of Congressional intent, for example. Adler knows this. Second, the Times is talking to the public, not the Supreme Court, and they're giving the Bush Administration the criticism it deserves for doing bad policy on global warming.

NYTIMES: The E.P.A.’s decision was based in part on its poorly reasoned conclusion that there was too much “scientific uncertainty” about global warming to worry about it.

ADLER: I agree that if one concludes that the Clean Air Act applies to greenhouse gases, than the EPA's arguments for failing to regulate fall flat, but (again) this just begs the prior question.

BACKSEAT DRIVING: Adler ducks the issue that the Bush Administration is denying the scientific certainty of global warming. Contrary to his assertion, the case in large part is about the science and denialism.

The Supreme Court can strike an important blow in defense of the planet simply by ruling that the E.P.A. must start following the law.

ADLER: ...
the ultimate question for the Court is whether it wishes to place its thumb on the scales of climate policy, or is willing to leave such important policy questions in the political branches where, as a matter of both law and prudence, they belong.

BACKSEAT DRIVING: He's got the issue backwards. The Clean Air Act delegates significant power to regulatory agencies, and then expects them to act. If Adler doesn't like it, he and his friends should ask Congress to change the law, instead of supporting the Bush Administration's attempt to ignore it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Annoy the dolphin slaughter in Japan!

This'll be the second petition I've passed on in two-plus years of blogging. It won't end the dolphin slaughter in Japan, but maybe getting enough signatures will annoy it a little. I signed it a week or so ago and haven't noticed any increase in spam, so they appear to be taking their privacy vow seriously.

The environmental justification for ending the killing seems a little weak to me, but the moral justification for stopping the needless massacre of animals at their level of intelligence seems clear enough.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What Borat tells us about Jeff Goldstein

Goldstein is a conservative who enjoys recounting violent homosexual fantasies he has about his left-wing opponents. Apparently I'm a humorless leftie who failed to appreciate his wit until I saw Borat. The nude wrestling scene is probably the model of Goldstein's fantasy. Understanding that's what Goldstein is about makes him less creepy, maybe all of one percent less.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Volokh Correction #15

Jonathan Adler claims that:
most so-called "denialists" or "skeptics" do not deny the reality of anthropogenic contributions to global warming nor are they skeptical about the basic science of climate change. Rather, most folks tarred with these labels are, to some degree or another, skeptical of the evidence for certain apocalyptic claims and the need for particularly dramatic policy measures and particularly vocal about their concerns.
Adler says his definition doesn't apply to Roger Pielke Jr., so I can't think of anyone it does apply to. Pielke Sr. seems to disagree with the basic science, although I don't follow him too closely. Monckton and some others think there will only be a tiny amount of anthropogenic warming and arrive at that conclusion by completely disagreeing with the consensus.

Adler's wrong. Or - congratulations, James Annan - you are a climate denialist!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trade-based CO2 regulation raises its fair head

The NY Times wrote about a French proposal to tax imports from countries that refuse to comply with the Kyoto Protocol. I've seen several mentions of similar ideas over the last year or so - in other words, an unstoppable phenomenon!

As I wrote last year, I think trade-based CO2 regulation is a great idea. I continue to believe, until provided contrary evidence, that this is a legally-viable way to get US involvement in an international accord through a majority vote that would otherwise require a treaty's two-thirds approval in the US Senate. And as the French are suggesting, it's also a way for the rest of the world to force cuts by countries like the US and Australia that are free riders.

Taxing the imports in the right way would be important. Increasing taxes for products composed of non-recycled material would give an advantage to recycling, which is a decent proxy for saving energy and reducing emissions. So would biasing the tax on energy-intensive products produced in the coal-based eastern half of the US, versus the more diverse energy sources in the western half.

A revenue-neutral import duty would be even better - you increase the tax on bad products and reduce it on good ones. This might have a slight chance of being acceptable under the WTO as a means of requiring foreign products meet the same environmental standards as Kyoto-compliant country's domestic products. I'm not sure though - getting serious might require the rest of the world to overlay the WTO with a CO2 trade agreement, and make the overlay the controlling agreement, regardless of whether the US agrees. It's a matter of willpower. I concede it won't be easy, but it's not impossible if the rest of the world is serious, and the threat itself could make future American governments more reasonable.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Christopher Monckton won't bet over global warming

Monckton wrote yet another of those wrong denialist screeds about global warming (taken apart by Deltoid and others here and here). Monckton did say though that his best estimate was warming would be 0.6C per century. At .06C/decade, that's a significant difference from the consensus position of .1-.2C per decade. Time for a bet!

Or not.

I proposed to him an even-odds bet, he wins if temps increase .1C/decade or less, I win if it's .11C/decade or more. He replied, contrary to his previous statements, that climate is chaotic (I presume he means it's therefore unpredictable). He stated he had no problem with betting in other circumstances, but he wasn't a sucker born yesterday.

I'll grant him that he's not sucker enough to bet his money on a position he advocates that he's betting other people's lives with. And he also ranks in the top ten percent of denialists merely by coming up with an excuse for not betting. Most just ignore the suggestion that they put their money where their mouths are. Still, it's far from adequate.

My reply:

Dear Mr. Monckton,

I find it hard to believe that you can successfully
count cards in blackjack but can't see a mathematical
advantage to you in the bet I proposed, from your
perspective of what's likely to happen with climate.
As with election outcomes, you think you have a better
idea of what's likely to happen than the IPCC
consensus, so let's bet on it.

I'm willing, and would actually prefer, to use
five-year smoothed averages to eliminate most of the
random annual volatility in average temperature. And
while it's not my preference, I'd be willing to change
the bet so neither of us pays out within our likely
temperature range - say you win if the increase is
.06C or less, I win if it's .15C or more.

Finally, if you think temperatures are more chaotic
than driven by anthropogenic forcings, you should be
especially interested in my bet, since a random walk
that could go down as well as up is more likely to pay
out in your favor than mine. Even a modest increase
means you win.

Nicely written, but quite unpersuasive. Sorry. If my
improved terms sound interesting to you though, please
let me know.

(UPDATE: Via Deltoid, I find out that I'm a typically-ignorant American. First, I didn't know Monckton was a viscount; second, I didn't know what a viscount is; and third, I don't care.)

(UPDATE 2, Nov. 27th: Monckton replied very quickly to my original email, but I heard nothing after sending my response above. Another bet that's not going to happen.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Get out of Iraq, and go fix Afghanistan

Same Facts is discussing what the Democrats' reform agenda should be (starting here and then with subsequent posts). Most of it sounds pretty good, and it feels even better to be able to seriously consider these things.

I disagree with simply backing anything reasonable that Baker-Hamilton produces on Iraq, though. Let's see what they produce. And while Dems could support anything that's superior to current policy, they can also advocate for what the best policy would be, which is to get our troops out of Iraq, and go fix Afghanistan while that's still possible.

Half our troops should go home, one quarter should stay in forward bases nearby (or possibly Kurdish areas) to intervene when absolutely necessary in the Iraqi civil war, and the rest go to Aghanistan.

I think escalating our investment in Afghanistan would make it hard for the Bush Administration to hit this strategy as cut-and-run.

Other thoughts:

  • The post I linked to says forget doing anything on universal health care before 2008. I wouldn't eliminate trying to get universal health care for children.
  • Some rumors were floating around that Bush is planning to have a Nixon-goes-to-China moment on global warming in his forthcoming State of the Union speech. I'm skeptical, but if it happens then the Dems should see how far they can take it.
  • Back to playing hardball - Dems can prohibit spending any money on planning permanent bases in Iraq. While such a prohibition is mostly symbolic, I think the symbolism could actually be very helpful in Iraq and in the Arab world.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Republican and Green Party votes

I voted for two Republicans and one Green. I picked Steve Poizner for California Insurance Commissioner over Cruz Bustamante. Poizner is an interesting, moderate Republican businessman, while Bustamante is a lackluster career politician who's taken a lot of money from insurance companies. Poizner took none, and that would be a great precedent to start for that office. The other Republican was a local candidate who gave a better answer to an environmental question I posed at a League of Women Voters forum than the Democrat did.

The Green candidate was Todd Chretien for Senate. Feinstein doesn't take chances for progressive causes, and a California Senator has the political opportunity to take chances.

The tough race was governor. Since it's not a close race, I'm free to vote as I wish. Schwarzenegger is pretty good for a Republican, but Angelides is still significantly better. But Green candidate Camejo is better still. In the end, I figured marginally increasing the vote for a good Democratic position will better influence Arnold than marginally increasing the Green candidate's position.

Other than that, my vote was for Dems, or unaffiliated local campaigns.

Now to see if the country is getting its act together.

Monday, November 06, 2006

E.T. smacks down Pharyngula

(Recently, Backseat Driving had the opportunity to interview E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial about Pharyngula's claim that alien intelligence is unlikely. Below is the transcript.)

Backseat Driving: E.T., thanks for taking time to answer my questions.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: EEEE TEEE PHONE HOME!

BD: Uh, that cliche got old a long time ago.

ET: Sorry baby - here in Hollywood, once you find a good schtick, you keep it.

BD: Okay. Your agent said you don't have much time, so let's get to it. What do you think of PZ Myer's statement in his Pharyngula blog: "Maybe, if we actually had accurate values for the [equation predicting whether other intelligent species exist], the expected number of spacefaring civilizations in our galaxy is something less than 1."

ET: He's wrong.

BD: Why?

ET: Well, first of all there's the classic documentary about my arrival here on your planet, now available on DVD with many wonderful extras.

BD: I have a feeling you make residuals off the movie.

ET: Maybe.

BD: Any other reasons why he's wrong? I mean, for people who think you're fictional.

ET: Well look, he's guilty of the same anthropocentrism he accuses Sagan of having when he says technological capability has only evolved once on earth. So what? It always evolves only once per planet, from the perspective of the first species to get it on that planet. That doesn't make it unique.

BD: I'm not sure I understand.

ET: Well, a good comparison is when my crabby old uncle got here. Uncle Deekchaynee landed here millions of years ago-

BD: Deekchaney?

ET: Yeah.

BD: What's he look like?

ET: You don't want to know.

BD: Ugh. I think I do know. Well, what about him?

ET: His first visit here was well over 300 million years ago, right after the very first insect species started to fly. They were the only animal with powered flight then - no birds, no pterosaurs, no bats, just one species of insect. If he had reasoned like PZ, he would've said, "only one species out of millions has ever evolved flight on a planet over 4 billion years old. Sounds like a fluke that won't repeat here, and is unlikely to exist anywhere else in the galaxy. The Search for Extraterrestrial Flight will find nothing."

BD: So the idea is that our current snapshot of earth's biology shouldn't be considered The End of History?

ET: Yeah. You've got another half-billion years or more before the oceans boil away, and you evolved in 65 million years after the dinosaurs died and opened up evolutionary niches. A lot could happen in the time earth has left.

BD: Okay, any other arguments against PZ's critique?

ET: The "technological intelligence" definition is arbitrary. Five million years ago, hominids had not much more technology than dolphins and chimps do now - mind if I smoke?

BD: I guess not.

ET: So back then, Earth would've completely failed PZ's test, when it was just a blink of a geologist's eye from going techno. (Pulls out cigar, lights it with a finger.)

BD: Wait a minute, I thought you meant cigarettes. That stuff is vile.

ET: Arnold gave it to me from his private stock.

BD: It's vile.

ET: (Sighs dramatically, puts out vile cigar.) What you have to consider is whether a trend towards greater intelligence is one of the countless ecological niches that life will explore multiple times, just like powered flight has evolved independently multiple times.

BD: So is getting smarter an evolutionary trend?

ET: Yes, it's ONE trend of many that animals explore. Many of the modern mammals are a lot smarter than their rodent-like ancestors. Pigs, dogs, elephants, and cetaceans are pretty smart - who knows where they could end up in a half-billion years? And lots of other primates besides you guys have travelled well down the big-brain path. Even octopi are pretty smart.

BD: But octopi have been around for what, hundreds of millions of years? They're not building spaceships.

ET: They have more time remaining than what they've used so far. You don't know what some of them will end up doing. Actually, I'd say getting smart isn't like powered flight so much as it's like gliding. Lots of species have explored gliding - squirrels, snakes, lizards, frogs, fish - so you have an indication from your one sample planet that on other planets, multicellular life with a high metabolism rate is going to explore getting smart, just as it will explore gliding and powered flight.

BD: Any last thoughts?

ET: Pharyngula is right that microbial life is dominant here and will be dominant elsewhere, but the question you're interested in is whether intelligence will happen on other planets enough times to make it likely that there's someone to talk to. You can't draw too many conclusions from your sample size of one biogenesis on one planet, but what evidence you have is promising.

BD: Okay, thanks E.T.

ET: Just call me E, baby, call me E. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention - PZ does a great job with Pharyngula, it's just in this case that he's wrong. Gotta go! We'll do lunch, sometime soon.


(Welcome, Tangled Bank readers! Would love to hear your comments, and please feel free to check out Backseat Driving's main page.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Methyl bromide and bonobos

Completely unrelated to each other, but two interesting links via recent posts in Focking Science:

1. An update on the usual Bush Admin. effort to screw up the environment, this time by further delaying the phaseout of ozone-destroying methyl bromide, which was supposed to have been eliminated by now. We Californians are the heart of the problem in pushing for a delay in the phaseout, and my recollection is that Dems are little better than the Republicans on this. Left out of the article was how bad this stuff is for farmworkers. They use it 30 miles from here, on strawberries grown on coastal farms, and the migrant workers suffer for their wages. Best argument around for eating organic strawberries, at least in the US.

2. A Smithsonian article on bonobos, saying the "make love not war" image they have isn't completely true. I never believed it, anyway - in Africa before humans became the dominant force, the bonobo population presumably expanded until it used all the food resources, and then they had the problem of determining who gets the food and who starves. I don't think playing kissyface was the method that rival bonobo groups used to solve that problem.

Friday, November 03, 2006

October 2006 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate for the last month: 3.52
(nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis)

Previous months:
September: 2.53
August: 2.13

Last year, October 2005: 3.19.

Overall daily average to date is 2.31. Total US dead as of today: 2826.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 224.

September: 150
August: 233

Last year, October 2005: 215.
Total Iraqi military dead: 5703.

Note that I've seen media reports suggesting the Iraqi military casualty figures are signficant undercounts.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1,315

September: 3,389
August: 2,733

Last year, September 2005: 463.

To-date total since March 2005: 18,962. Note that the civilian numbers are far less accurate than others (most likely to be greatly underestimated, or even ridiculously underestimated), but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: there's a deteriorating trend, but it's too early to determine if American casualty rates are entering a permanently higher level. Civilian casualties remain terrible.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

To all my friends and family in California and some other states - please forward

(I'm somewhat blurring the line I maintain here between my blog and my work, but so be it. Below is a modified version of an email I blasted out to anyone I can think of .)

Hi everyone!

I think it's been two years since I last sent out an email blast to most everyone on my list, and I'm sorry this can't be an individualized email to each of you.
This is just a heartfelt plea to consider two political issues in the upcoming election (and if you're not in the states where these apply, maybe you have friends who are).

If you live in California, please consider voting no on Proposition 90. This proposition tries to fool people into thinking it's about "eminent domain", but that's just a cover. I've worked for an environmental group for years.
Proposition 90 could stop any of our future attempts to fight sprawl in the hillsides because property owners will claim that preventing them from building Los Angeles-style sprawl means the government has "taken" their property value and has to pay them.

More information available here:

The other issue is for California residents who live in Santa Clara County, and I will get down on my knees and beg you to vote yes on Measure A. This measure puts the same type of voter protections against sprawl that we have in neighboring Alameda and San Mateo counties, where it's worked very well. The link above has more info, and there's the website

I know a lot about both Prop. 90 and Measure A, and would be happy to talk to you or anyone you know who has questions about them.

For residents of Washington, Idaho, Arizona, and Montana, you have your own version of Proposition 90 on your ballots (Initiative 933 in WA, Prop. 2 in ID, Prop. 207 in AZ and Initiative 154 in MT) I know less about these initiatives but it appears to be the same thing - pretend to be about eminent domain, but are really about preventing land use regulation. Some information is available here:

There's a big difference between attacking the use of eminent domain to transfer property to private parties, versus striking down the ability to do new regulations of land use. Some other state initiatives only go after eminent domain - I don't really care one way or another about those, but protecting the ability to protect the environment is crucial.

Thanks for putting up with this long email, please forgive me if your political views differ from mine, and please forward this email or something similar to anyone you think appropriate.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sharing subpoena and hearing powers as a solution to inadequate legislative oversight

This is an idea I thought I'd try and float more formally somewhere, but that may have to wait. The idea is that there's no reason why the majority party in Congress, or any other legislative body, should have exclusive control in overseeing the executive branch. While winning the majority vote rightly gives that party control over the legislative agenda to put its ideas into effect, oversight is a different matter.

My idea is each congressional committee that has an oversight role would split the oversight functions between the majority and minority party. The majority gets more hours to hold hearings and issue subpoenas, but not exclusive control. This way the advantage of having the executive and legislative branches controlled by the same party - a better chance at carrying out a legislative agenda - still has real oversight, something sadly missing in Congress for the last six years.

It would also have the effect of encouraging competition between the parties over which one does more effective oversight. It would be harder for Republican congressmen to coddle the Bush administration if on a regular basis they turned the gavel over to Democrats who actually asked hard questions. Maybe the Republicans would start stepping up to the plate.

Finally, I think it's a good idea for either Republicans or Democrats. All of them think they'll be in Congress for a while. Rather than become nearly irrelevant when they're in a minority, this could give them a bit of power in the lean years.

I don't see much of a disadvantage. But I always like my ideas.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Newsweek proves its climate change journalism has worsened since 1975

Over at Real Climate, Connolley points to a Newsweek "re-examination" of its 1975 article predicting global cooling. Newsweek claims the 1975 article, while ultimately wrong, was accurate journalism.

Connolley lets Newsweek off way too easy by calling the judgment "self-serving". The 1975 article says:

the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.

That was a demonstrably wrong assessment of what scientists thought at the time, but has been used endlessly by idiot denialists ever since to argue against the significance of actual scientific consensus.

So in 1975, Newsweek couldn't do accurate journalism research. Now, they can't even read their own article closely. I don't know how good its journalism has been on climate change in the intervening decades, but Newsweek has bookended its work with incompetence.

UPDATE: Working Newsweek link to article here (the one at RealClimate died).

Monday, October 23, 2006

An open letter to California Lieutenant Governor candidate Tom McClintock

Dear Senator McClintock:

I have an open challenge for you, Senator McClintock: you have repeatedly dismissed global warming, saying it is nothing more than what "has been going on since the last Ice Age and it will continue until the next Ice Age." I suggest that you put your money where your mouth is.

There’s a charitable website called, where bettors donate their bet money to a foundation that holds the bets and donates all the money to a charity chosen by the winner. I challenge you to bet over global warming - I even have a bet waiting at If temperatures go down or even just go up slightly, my money will go to a conservative charity of your choice. I'll even sweeten the pot - you seem to hold the view, without any scientific evidence to back it, that we're just in a natural warming cycle. I'm willing to set up a new bet with you that warming will accelerate in the next decade or two compared to the last century. Given how strongly you've spoken out on this issue, I sure hope you won’t run away now that you have a chance to be personally invested in the outcome.

Please contact me if you intend to put your money where your mouth is. I look forward to hearing from you.

Brian Schmidt

P.S. I'll put this letter on my website and will be sure to post any response I receive from you at the site:

Sunday, October 22, 2006

NY Times on science fraud

NY Times has an interesting piece on uncovering ten years of scientific fraud by a prominent medical researcher. I still think the fact that the fraud was caught after many years shows a weakness in the scientific process, not a strength, as well as make me wonder what other frauds are ongoing.

Especially interesting was the implication that the young technician who turned in the researcher had damaged his own career - in a just world, one that the academic elite could affect, it would do the exact opposite. I think scientific academies and universities should include in their hiring criteria that uncovering major fraud is at least as important in someone's CV as a major research project. I'm sure it took up about as much of that tech's time, and involved greater risk.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Volokh Correction #14 and a Prometheus Correction

Two more erroneous posts at the Volokhs and Prometheus argue it's wrong to call global warming denialists by that name, because it reminds some people of Holocaust "deniers", which reminds Volokh and Prometheus of Godwin's law, which somehow means then that "denialist" term is an ad hominem attack.

I would agree that the statement, "Global warming denialists are wrong because they're similar to Holocaust deniers," is an illogical, ad hominem attack. Count on me to shoot that statement down if somebody somewhere decides to say it. Otherwise, denialist is a fair and accurate term. "Skeptic" is inaccurate, and "septic," while sometimes accurate, interferes with talking to the other side. I and many others didn't draw the Holocaust connotation, and I don't really care if others noticed the similarity.

Generally, I'm a reluctant convert to the idea that we need to influence language. I'd rather have it be a neutral process, but that's not the real world, and the other side is pushing the other direction. The key is to be fair, accurate, and ethical. Denialist fits that criteria.

(More relevant musings by Connolley here. Ironically, he's one of the few tagged with seeing the Holocaust connection, but he doesn't use the term, preferring "septic" instead.)

UPDATE: I should clarify that I don't see anything ethically wrong with expressly drawing an analogy between the two denialist classes, but it's just that such an analogy doesn't prove anything. As a science matter though I wouldn't draw the analogy myself because global warming, while proven, is not as completely undisputable as the Holocaust.

UPDATE II: Adler at Volokhs repeats the claim some use denialist as a parallel to the Holocaust. His proof is Connolley, who doesn't use the term, and Pielke who says he proved it sometime around 2001, but doesn't provide a link.

Friday, October 13, 2006

I want bacteria to have separate species

Lyn Margulis thinks they don't though, and she's just a hair more qualified than me to judge. She says they change genes too readily to be consider genetically isolated, and should be ID'd as strains instead.

All I can say is that the species concept is a little fuzzy too with eukaryotes (ring species, anyone?), and bacteria maintain a meaningful separation between their "strains" so the concept is close enough. The reason I want them to be separate species is because I still want to demonstrate speciation in a petri dish. Maybe someday.

(And I do recognize that the fact that I want bacteria to have separate species has no influence on whether they have separate species. Unfortunately.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

655 thousand and 65 percent

The first figure is the best estimate on the number of excess deaths in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. The second number is the low end of several polls that asked Iraqis if they want American troops to leave (high end is 80 percent).

Below is the unimpressive history of my views on Iraq:

2002-03: undecided over whether we should invade. If I were President, I wouldn't have done it, but if I were in Congress, I probably would have voted in favor of giving Bush the authority. I could claim there's some way to reconcile those positions, but I won't bother. After all the time I spent in Burma, I couldn't easily pass up a chance to overthrow an entrenched dictator.

2004: I realized it was a mistake, and unlike some VIPs, also realized that I should have known better before the invasion. I didn't think we should pull out though.

2005: Moved to undecided on whether to pull out.

early 2006: Increasingly believe the US should pull out in 6-18 months.

now: We should definitely pull out in 6-18 months.

I find it very hard to argue with 655,000 dead and 65% who want us out. Yes, the Iraqi parliament might be different, although they haven't put it to a vote there, I believe. Even if the parliament wants us there, I still think it's a mistake. And I don't expect things will go well if we leave, either.

The Democratic and moderate Republican position should be get out of Iraq, and double our effort to fix Afghanistan. That's the best option we have now.

UPDATE: Just thought I'd also add that unlike some VIPs who've acknowledged their mistakes, I don't believe that the fact that I was wrong before somehow makes my opinion more weighty than people who have been right from the beginning.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Loose Change versus Popular Mechanics on 9/11 - score one for Loose Change

I did not expect to write the headline above, but that's the way it turned out when I tested one randomly-chosen contradiction between the two sides.

"Loose Change" is a documentary with an IMO ridiculous claim about 9/11 being a conspiracy. Popular Mechanics wrote a rebuttal which became a book. Democracy Now hosted a debate, and this came up regarding the Loose Change claim that Underwriter Laboratories certified the Twin Towers steel as something that wouldn't melt or weaken under the heat from the fires:

DAVID DUNBAR: In fact, Underwriter Laboratories does not certify structural steel.

DYLAN AVERY: Oh, okay.

JASON BERMAS: I would disagree with that.

Okay, seems like there's no gray area on this question. I looked up Underwriters, and found several relevant examples of certifying steel for structural uses. I emailed Dunbar about it two weeks ago, and have heard nothing so far.

So this doesn't change me from being a skeptic about the conspiracy theory, but it's a little disconcerting how this seems to have turned out. I hope Popular Mechanics did better quality control on other things they assert with equal authority.

To put some fuel on the fire, I'm going to send this entry to the Skeptic's Circle. Folks there might be able to explain how Popular Mechanics is right - otherwise, they would just know not to use this argument when talking about 9/11.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The silver lining about the North Korea test bomb

It'll make it a little harder for the Bushies to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran. I think the Joe Sixpack reaction would be that Bush is going after the wrong target, again. Still, you never know the level of stupidity these jokers can reach in their holy mission.

I suspect the test will help Bush and Republicans, slightly, as the rally to the flag reaction battles against the wondering about what's Bush done to deal with this in the last six years.

Via Kevin Drum, there's a recap of how Bush screwed up Clinton's attempt to keep North Korea from getting nukes. Left out in that recap is the role Senator Jesse Helms played in stopping the US from giving them the reactors we promised. That guy did a lot of damage in his lifetime, and some of it hasn't been felt yet.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Boy do I hate to agree somewhat with Brooks and Althouse, but...

...there's something very wrong with seduction of a 13-year old (changed to a 16-year old) by an adult woman in The Vagina Monologues, and anyone on the left who disagrees with that position likely has some inconsistent positions about Mark Foley. Alicublog does a reasonable job of pointing out the stupid overgeneralizations Brooks and the extremely annoying (yet banal) Althouse make, but ultimately misses the germ of a reasonable point about taking a consistent position regarding sex with minors. Yes, there are some differences between the real Mark Foley and the somewhat based-on-reality Monologues, but that doesn't eliminate a reasonable comparison between the two.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The next Lieutenant Governor of California knows about betting over global warming

I met John Garamendi at an environmental fundraiser last week. He's the Democratic candidate for California Lieutenant Governor, and a shoo-in for office. He was emphasizing his interest in "the central challenge of our time—reversing global warming and climate change." I told him I had a global warming hobby - challenging denialists to long-term bets over global warming. He was interested and asked a few questions about how the bets would be decided. I added there's a number of us who've been doing this, and he said I should challenge his opponent, Tom McClintock, another denialist. I think I will.

Garamendi has made global warming an important part of his campaign. It's very interesting triangulation - putting Garamendi in the same camp as both the Dem and Republican candidates for governor, and isolating McClintock. And it's a data point - Garamendi emphasizing an issue in 2006 when Al Gore said in 2000 that polls showed voters didn't care about it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

September 2006 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate for the last month: 2.6
(nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis): 2.6.

Previous months:
August: 2.13
July: 1.55

Last year, September 2005: 1.73.

Overall daily average to date is 2.29. Total US dead as of today: 2720.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 150.

August: 233
July: 217

Last year, September 2005: 233.
Total dead: 5468.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1,429.

August: 970
July: 1060

Last year, September 2005: 640.

To-date total since March 2005: 13,905. Note that the civilian numbers may be less accurate than others (most likely to be greatly underestimated), but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: Things look slightly worse to me this year for US figures, but not dramatically worse as per Woodward's new book. Just continuing badly.

There's an uncovered story in the decline of Iraqi military casualties compared to 2005 while civilian casualties skyrocket. I'd assume that the Iraqi military stats would also get worse. My best guess for an explanation is that the military and police are sitting out the civil war, one more unhopeful sign for the future.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A cautious posting about ethnic/cultural differences

This weekend I’m moving from the ethnically-diverse city of East Palo Alto, to nearby Mountain View. One observation I have based on living in an area with a large African-American community is that there are more people willing to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, as in talking to me, than I’d otherwise expect.

I just wonder how it’s perceived from the other side of the racial divide – do African Americans think the reason why white people don’t strike up conversations with them is racism? Someone who is African-American might notice the same difference I've noticed, but not know whether white people are more likely to start conversations among themselves. Racism is always a possible reason for how people treat other ethnic groups, but the other reason could just be cultural differences.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Maybe the left will now cut a small amount of slack to right wing libertarians

I'm annoyed with the meme on the left that libertarianism is something that in practice is indistinguishable from the standard conservative line. This is despite my being only a "reasonable" libertarian.

Anyway, a right wing libertarian from the Cato Institute has saved Cory Maye from Death Row, not something I'd expect your typical authoritarian sympathizer to do. Radley Balko, and the Cato Institute, deserve a significant amount of credit. I expect the people criticizing libertarians will just completely ignore his politics, if they even notice what he accomplished.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not betting with Glen Raphael, apparently

(UPDATE: Glen says he is interested in betting - see comments.)

Blogger Glen Raphael, another denialist of anthropogenic global warming, posted a comment here on my blog saying he "would have been willing to take your bet" over at Longbets, and it was too bad that Longbets was having problems. I emailed Glen saying maybe we can work something out - LongNow is based in San Francisco, not far from me, and if we can arrange a bet then I can show up at LongNow and force them to do their job.

Glen replied, withdrew his willingness to take my bet, declared himself a natural warming proponent, and made a counteroffer (even odds that temps won't increase above .2C in 20 years). I accepted, provided that the bet amount be real money, not the token amount he suggested. Glen now seems to have lost interest in the conversation. To be fair though, it's only been several days, so I'll post an update if I hear from him.

Not the first time this kind of thing has happened, but something useful did come out of it. Glen claimed, incorrectly, that temps warmed 1 degree C over the last century (it's .6C). Since that's supposed to be just a rebound from the Little Ice Age, I think one would expect the increase to slow down or stop entirely, but let's generously give to the natural warmer perspective that temps will continue to increase at the same rate of .6C per century. The result is .06C for 10 years or .12C for 20 years. By contrast, the mid-range of the consensus position is that temps will increase .15C for 10 years or .3C for 20 years. Mid-way between the two positions is 0.105C for 10 years and 0.21C for 20 years. While the mid-way point is above the bottom end of the consensus range of expected increase, it's close enough to the bottom to be acceptable for betting.

So that's my newest bet offer - even odds that future temperature increases will accelerate in 10 or 20 years, and will come closer to that predicted by the IPCC than the warming that ocurred over the last century.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Iran again

I suggested last April that the Bush Administration might launch a nuclear first strike on Iran while refusing to call it a "nuclear weapon," instead giving a new name to a nuclear bunker-buster (fortunately, the date I suggested it would happen by was wrong).

I wasn't imaginative enough, though. The latest idea spinning in the White House is to launch a nuclear strike and then lie about using nukes at all, claiming instead that the radiation is from the nuclear facility they destroyed with conventional weapons.

And apparently they imagine that under either a nuclear or conventional attack scenario, the Iranians will just sit there and accept the first strike without retaliating.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My pathetic attempt to actually persuade Bush to do something

Text of a letter I just sent:

President Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave,
Washington DC 20500

September 16, 2006

Re: Please do much more than you have so far to stop the genocide in Darfur

Dear President Bush:

This is the second time I have written you during your term as president, and the first time that I am going to grovel. I plead with you, I beg of you that you do much, much more than you have so far to stop an entirely foreseeable genocide in Darfur that could be only two weeks away.

Specifically, you must personally call Validimir Putin and Hu Jintao and tell them that their countries must use their influence to persuade Sudan to accept United Nations peacekeeper troops. Your giving a speech is insufficient; talking to diplomats is insufficient; you must talk directly to them yourself. Russia and China must understand that this is a priority for the United States, something that must be made more important to them than the moderate amounts of oil they can receive from Sudan’s dictator.

I am sorry that I cannot make this request as a supporter of your administration. It is because of the urgency and danger of the situation that I beg you to do this. All I can offer is that I own a blog with a small but real readership,, and I intend to post this letter to the blog. Several hundred people will probably read it over the course of the month, and I will be certain to post any real response your administration provides. My blog has had very little positive to say about your work so far - this is your opportunity to change that, on an issue for which there is no reason for partisanship.

Darfur is your administration's Rwanda moment, and you have the advantage of considerable warning. You have the opportunity to go down in history as succeeding where the Clinton administration failed. Once again, I beg of you that you do this.


Brian Schmidt

Sent it via email, fax and post. While I doubt it makes that much of a difference, it's something you just have to do. Maybe they'll surprise me in a good way though, for once.

White House contact info here, more info on the Darfur campaign here.