Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hello, Alaska glaciers!

This blog will be inactive for vacation - we're off to Denali National Park and other parts of Alaska at the end of this week. We plan to do some glacier monitoring similar to what I did at Glacier National Park last fall, and then have some free time. We're open to suggested activities in Alaska if anyone has ideas over the next few days. I used to work at Denali and look forward to returning, but I don't know other areas of the state that well.

Enjoy the summer, everyone, and my next post probably won't be until after July 16th.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ernst Zundel and capital punishment and 9/11 conspiracies and everyone's screwing up

Ernst Zundel, author of "The Hitler We Loved and Why," whose second wife said "By the end, I thought he was evil incarnate," is a political prisoner in Germany, currently going through a criminal trial because he denied the Holocaust. He was also deported from the US and Canada, bringing our nations into the mess.

I see a parallel to capital punishment, because like the majority of death row inmates, he doesn't deserve what's happening to him but he's also truly awful. It makes it hard to want to lift a finger to help him, especially after reading lovely quotes from his Hitler worship. But like any other type of repression, Germany's habit of imprisoning people for spreading hate has consequences. People who buy the 9/11 conspiracy theories are looking at Israeli/Jewish connections, and it's easy to tie actual repression of anti-Jewish sentiments as a way to support their theory that the truth about 9/11 is being repressed.

Anyway, time to assign blame: as for the US, we deported him for a visa overstay. I think it's possible that would've been overlooked for a non-controversial person, but I don't know how the enforcement machinery operates. I can't confirm that we screwed up, just suspect that we did. Kind of an interesting parallel to another bastard, Ward Churchill.

Canada refused asylum and deported him for potential involvement in actual hate crimes, but used secret evidence. Blame Canada on that - you couldn't (easily) get away with that in an actual criminal trial. He was also previously convicted for the violation of spreading hate on the internet - in other words, thought crime.

Germany deserves the most blame (after Zundel) because of their stupid laws. Their democracy is a crock if it can't withstand a bunch of fools telling lies 50 years after Hitler got a small taste of what he deserved.

And a special raspberry for Amnesty International - here's a stupid letter they wrote in 2003, apparently buying into the idea of a hate crime where the only "crime" was hate (note it's reproduced by a Zundel supporter, though, so some caution about what AI actually wrote). I tried to find what AI thinks about German Holocaust Denial laws in general, but didn't find anything.

UPDATE: edited for politeness.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Some documentaries on DVD

World Trade Center: Anatomy of the Collapse: decent portrayal of what happened. I think the details of the collapse are portrayed slightly differently between this 2002 documentary and more recent analyses. Nothing really new for those of us condemned to follow the 9/11 Conspiracy stuff. Good video of how uninsulated steel structure collapses in a fire.

Bush Family Fortunes: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
: A Greg Palast documentary, I think he overplays his "discoveries" that seem familiar to me. The story is that Bushes aren't to be trusted. I agree, but it's nothing exceptional.

Uncovered: The War on Iraq: This one's a little better. While mostly old news, the interesting part was David Kay's discussion of how he went about reviewing whether WMDs were in Iraq after the war. While Kay was clearly a conservative, he was also clear in setting up an unbiased review process. Kay got the right result, while Bush handed us a disaster.

Murderball: The best of the lot, covering the game of quadraplegic wheelchair rugby, with an unvarnished human element to the documentary. I highly recommend it. If you get this DVD, you must watch the "extra" segment featuring the stars' appearance on the TV show "Jackass," where they show themselves to be male twenty-something jackasses - full of life, humor, and mind-blowing stupidity. And then the contrasting reaction seeing the Iraq war veteran amputees, none of whom look old enough to have graduated from high school.

Before Stonewall: A 1984 documentary on gay rights and culture in America prior to the 1969 Stonewall riots, it felt more like a series of anecdotes than an overview. It provided some context for a period I know nothing about, but someone else needs to give the history another try. It would be interesting to learn about gay rights in other countries during that period too.

The "Grizzly Man" documentary is well known, but I'd encourage people to also watch The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill for a perspective on a similar but far less harmful person who can't fit in society and anthropomorphizes his animals.

And while not a documentary at all, I can't ignore the Deadwood television series. It tries to be a cowboy western co-written by William Shakespeare and William Faulkner, and it comes close. Second season isn't quite as good as the first, but it's still one of the best shows I've ever seen. Hard to believe there's better stuff than Joss Whedon's Firefly series, but there is.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Something's up with Benny Peiser

Benny Peiser is a British anthropologist who's been dishonest about some denialist work he's done on global warming.

In the last week or so, my site stats show a lot of people coming to my blog to look him up. While it gives me a public-service glow to see that someone got here after Googling Peiser, I also wonder why it's happening so much lately. I suspect he's up to no good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Global warming cut-and-paste for charity

I have an idea that readers can use to make money for charity - if you see any blogger or even any commenter on any blog, anywhere, who denies that temperatures will be trending upwards in the next 10-20 years, just cut and paste the following italicized text into a comment:

If you don't believe that global warming is more likely than cooling over the next few decades, then you can make money for a charity of your choice. Go to here:


The bettor there believes that global warming will happen. You bet against him and both of you give a tax-deductible donation to the Long Now Foundation. When the bet pays off, all the money goes to the charity of the winner's choice. His bet offer has been sitting there unanswered for over a year. This is your chance to put your money where your mouth is, double the amount of money you'd normally give to charity, and make sure HIS money goes to whatever cause YOU think is worthy. Check it out.

Of course, the bettor is me and I think I'm going to win, and I also intend to give the money to a worthwhile environmental charity. To give further incentive to readers, if your cut and paste ultimately results in a bet, I'll give $100 to the charity of your choice. I'm also going to add a hot link to this post near the top left of my blog, so the cut-and-paste will be easy to find.

(If you feel like going out and to look for trouble, click here to search blog posts on global warming.)

And in other betting news:

James Annan's bet was briefly mentioned by global warming denialist Tom Bethell on National Public Radio, in a debate with Chris Mooney. More info here. It was a good move by the denialist to bring it up first as if the betting issue has been settled, but a simple response is, "There are plenty more global warming proponents who can't find any denialists willing to take bets - why don't you take them up on the chance to relieve them of their money?"

Tim Lambert covers more denialist nonsense here by Tom Harris and Gary Sharp. I've sent them both bet offers, and we'll have to wait to see if either one surprises me with a response.

Unsurprisingly, I've heard nothing from San Francisco columnists Debra Saunders and Cinnamon Stilwell, so we can probably put them in the unwilling-to-bet category.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Reasonable Libertarian and Vegetable Insurance

Following Kevin's and James' posts on the need for bicyclist/motorcyclist helmets and helmet laws, I thought I'd add what the reasonable libertarian position would be. This treads on the area where I'm closest to a doctrinaire libertarian - when it involves forcing adults to do something "for their own good." The Reasonable Libertarian seeks to maximize individual freedom while protecting societal interests, and I don't see how that gives society the right to protect competent adults from their own risk-taking.

Of course, if a motorcyclist dies, then family members are saddened, but that extreme argument really means your individual autonomy is meaningless. A much better argument is not to protect motorcyclists from themselves, but to protect society from direct, reasonable impacts of the rider's stupidity. The Reasonable Libertarian position would therefore focus on Vegetable Insurance. By law, motorcyclists must wear helmets, UNLESS they buy Vegetable Insurance, which will pay for their lifetime medical costs if they crash and turn into vegetables. A sticker would be placed prominently on the bike, and they must carry the insurance record with them when they ride.

As for bicyclists - they should wear helmets (I think James is wrong, based on nothing more scientific than my gut feeling), but adults shouldn't be legally required to wear them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An open letter to to Debra Saunders and Cinnamon Stilwell

Dear Ms. Saunders and Ms. Stilwell,

I see in your recent Chronicle articles criticizing Al Gore that you promote the ideas of global warming denialists and skeptics, and the more recent position to the effect of "it's just a coincidentally-natural warming, people." These ideas have no support in the scientific literature or from within the scientific consensus.

I suggest you put your money where your mouths are, something that's especially relevant when you presumably make some money from your columns advocating this stuff. Please bet me over whether global warming is happening, or over whether we're in a natural warming cycle. I've asked Ms. Saunders once before to bet me, and heard nothing; seeing as she continues to support these opinions, maybe she will be willing to bet. I hope that Ms. Stilwell will also be interested.

Ms. Saunders, you cite Bill Gray and Richard Lindzen for support, both of whom are unwilling to bet over global warming. You also cite noted Creationist Roy Spencer, whose discredited work on satellite temperature readings might give some pause, but apparently doesn't. Ms. Stilwell, you cite the "it's just natural" argument prepared in advance by people highly unlikely to admit that their lifestyles could be problematic for others. Curiously, not even fringe climatologists seem to support that viewpoint.

There are enormous consequences to what we do about global warming. I'll even admit there are consequences to spending money on stopping a dangerous warming that wouldn't actually happen, although it's less harmful than the consequences of your advice being wrong. Given the consequences, I'm willing to back up my position with money, and I hope you would do the same.

I expect one reaction would be to say that you haven't claimed Al Gore is wrong, but just that he hasn't proved his position. My response is that my bet offers are very generous to the skeptic position, so only someone who gives a significant chance to human-caused warming would reject them. In other words, if you reject action on global warming and also reject my bets, then you are applying the precautionary principle to your money, but not to other people's lives.

I could call this a "put up or shut up" email, but I actually prefer to give the issue an immediacy that will people more thoughtful about rejecting the scientific consensus. If not, then I hope to make some money.

My bet offers are here:


and on natural warming:


I hope to hear from you both.

Brian Schmidt

Sunday, June 11, 2006

It's not just bloggers - an audience reacts to CEI ad on carbon dioxide

this is an audio post - click to play

The above is a 20-second audio clip from NPR's "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" (for full length, click on "Wait Wait", and then click on Panel Round Two). The website gives a much much better sound quality, I was just experimenting here.

Seems the audience has the same reaction as the blogosphere.

More fun wikipedia edits!

I could blame it on rash encouragement, but I was planning to do it anyway: I updated Patrick Michaels' and "global warming skeptics'" entries on wikipedia to include information on betting over global warming. Since Michaels, Gray, and Lindzen either actually invited or all-but-invited bets, I'm glad to have them and the catch-all site updated, but I'm not in as much as a hurry to get the countless other denialists who have turned down offers. Some day, maybe.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Thoughts of a Jury Foreman

(Guest posting by Dad.)

As a practicing attorney, I had never been allowed the viewpoint of the jury box, until now. Recently I was sworn in as jury foreman of a jury of 6 in a misdemeanor case at a Florida county courthouse. It was very illuminating, but also frustrating. There are many things that could be done to drastically improve our justice system.

The first is for the district attorney's office to persuade the victim who brings the case on a statement of information, to use alternative methods besides the criminal courthouse. Our case involved a domestic dispute, and it became clear to us that both the victim and the accused needed to have at least a year of counseling. Indeed, that might have been the sentencing if we could have been justified in finding the accused guilty, but we could not - it was one of those cases where we thought the accused probably was not innocent, but because of the state's ineptitude, we had to bring a verdict of not guilty. And of course, we were not able nor even tried to bring up the counseling suggestion at any point in the proceeding. (Did the judge do it privately out of the hearing of the jury? Is that something a misdemeanor judge would even DO?)

Which brings me to the second thought. We the jury wanted two things during our deliberation: we wanted a review of some of the evidence from the court transcript (evidence we had just heard that day), plus we wanted more instruction from the judge on a key issue. When we submitted those 2 questions, the judge called us out to simply inform us that as to a) the evidence, we had to rely on our best recollection. As to b) the instructions, we already had clear and sufficient instructions. Thank you, judge, very much. If we had thought what we had was sufficient, we would not have posed the questions, for crying out loud.

The third thing is something that I expect most juries complain about - there were questions that should have been asked by the appropriate attorney, but were not, and WE WANTED TO ASK THEM. But of course, that is not our time-honored practice. Heaven forbid that we should make such drastic changes in our hallowed justice system, even in the interest of bringing more justice. But if the courts ever do become more open-minded, it might be possible to allow juries to pose questions by funneling them through the judge.

Of you who are attorneys, if you think it appropriate, feel free to forward my message to any attorney or judge friends you might think would be interested. Also, if any of you have reasons why my ideas are unsound or impractical, I would appreciate hearing them.

Dana Schmidt

Monday, June 05, 2006

May 2006 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily military fatality rate (nearly all of them Americans): 2.55. April was 2.73, March was 1.06, and May 2005 was 2.84. Overall average to date is 2.3. Total US dead as of today: 2476.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 149. April was 201, March was 193, and May 2005 was 259. Total dead: 4751.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 979. April was 809, March was 901, and May 2005 was 572. Total since March 2005: 9817. Note that the civilian numbers may be less accurate than others, but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: There's a bad trend in recent months for civilian deaths, while US and Iraqi military deaths continue at a typical rate. Not sure what to make of this.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Inconvenient Truth of Volokh Correction #12

I watched Al Gore's movie on Friday - like everyone says, it's very good. My companion who's not a global warming nerd liked the two-thirds of the movie about warming the most, while I actually preferred the one-third that was biographical. AGW nerds aren't going to learn a whole lot, but a few things were new to me, and it was the best PowerPoint presentation I've ever seen. Real Climate and Roger Ebert have the best reviews.

Which brings me to Volokh Conspirator Dave Kopel, who argues elsewhere that the history of mainstream media alarmism over climate change should be used to discount media portrayals of global warming. Kopel would be surprised if he ever bothers to watch Gore's movie to learn that Gore would agree somewhat - the media is doing a terrible job of portraying the state of the science about climate change. Gore makes it clear the media under-reports the existing scientific consensus. Reading Kopel and listening to Gore emphasizes the rather obvious point that the scientific literature and not the media is the place to go to understand the science. Where Kopel is completely wrong is to assume media confusion tells us anything about the scientific consensus. And he pulls out the standard garbage about global cooling concerns in the 1970s to back it up.

Anyway, Kopel seems to be a big fan of Bill Gray, as well as other warming skeptics like Lindzen and Michaels, all of whom have refused to bet over global warming. I just emailed Kopel to see if he'll bet - I'll be pleasantly surprised if he does better than his heroes.

UPDATE: For a much-better-informed-than-Kopel, somewhat-contrary opinion on the state of the science, try Kevin V's piece.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

DNA dragnet discrimination

Good article in the Washington Post about misuses of DNA profiling to find criminals. I think many of the privacy concerns people have are overstated, but discrimination against minorities and the poor have been ignored. People who have been arrested but not convicted, and are guilty of absolutely nothing, will have their DNA collected and tested in every DNA search. What social categories of people are more likely to fall in this category - the arrested but innocent?

Anyone saying that they shouldn't worry if they've got nothing to hide should then have no objection to a national database from everyone. That's my "reasonable libertarian" position - get identifying DNA information from everyone, destroy the sample afterwards to preserve all other aspects of privacy, and provide enough funding to get testing done quickly.

I recognize some libertarians would reject this as even vaguely "resonable". Too bad.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Denialists: Warming won't be bad (if you don't listen to us)

Global warming denialist/skeptic/minimalist/whatever Jason Steorts says global warming hero James Hansen agrees with the minimalist position, having "predicted 0.75 degrees of warming by 2050, an amount consistent with the low end of the IPCC scale—and, consequently, the low end of the IPCC’s predicted effects of global warming."

What do you know, a non-lie. Hansen says "Expected global warming by 2050 is between ½°C and ¾°C, i.e., a warming of about 1°F" (pdf, pg. 18). But wait, he adds some conditions that Steorts doesn't: "This alternative scenario has two components: (1) halt or reverse growth of air pollutants,specifically soot, O3, and CH4, (2) keep average fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the next 50 years about the same as today" (emphasis added).

What Steorts says will happen if we do nothing is what Hansen says could happen if we take some giant steps, which would require first of all that we stop listening to people like Steorts.

I've seen this trick before, attacking credible positions like the one taken by Think Progress. It's lame.

Oh, and Steorts' other shtick is that a failure to disagree with every other claim he makes is a concession that the claim is correct. I haven't bothered to check all his various claims, but he's not looking too good right now. All I can say is that if he wants to hire me to evaluate his work, or even asks very politely, then I'll think about it.