Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lee Rodgers to potential KSFO advertisers: Don't start advertising with us, or we'll make you regret it!

There's a long-running implosion at the Bay Area right-wing radio station due to some local hate-jocks being caught by Spocko, a local blogger made good. Short version: Spocko posted short clips of their most offensive segments; KSFO's mouse-eared overlords tried to cover it up by shutting down his website provider with completely fake copyright claims; and then the crud then hit the fan. Longer version here (with my bonus hint to corporate tyrants: don't try and pull this stuff in the city where Electronic Freedom Foundation is based).

Part of the fallout from the controversy is an attempt by resident hate-monger Lee Rodgers to threaten former advertisters:

Responding to an email question, Rodgers declined to name advertisers that have withdrawn their support, but added: "People who want to play that boycott game seem to forget this is a sword that cuts both ways. We have plenty of people that listen to this radio station that say 'hell, if somebody is trying to shut up the people on my favorite radio station, I don't think I want to give them any money,' so it could work two ways."

Tomorrow's threatened former advertiser is a potential advertiser today, deciding whether they want to buy air time. Rodgers is saying to them that starting ads on KSFO carries a downside risk the buyer won't find anywhere else: if you ever stop advertising for any reason, Rogers or his fans may try to harm your company's brand and image.

Step into that slime pit, and the denizens will try very hard to make it difficult to leave. You might consider advertising somewhere else, where you're not punished for changing your mind.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Making sense in South Carolina

At the beginning of this month, a poll in South Carolina - an important presidential primary state - gave this result:

A majority of Republican voters in South Carolina believe global warming is occurring, but is a problem people can resolve, according to a new survey.... It found most respondents support a cap on carbon emissions and incentives for companies to stay below the carbon pollution limit...."This says that a flat denial of global warming no longer has any credibility,'' Ayres said. "The debate now is over what we do about it.''....Dick Harpootlian, a former Democratic party chief in South Carolina, said the Republican survey shows that former Democratic Vice-President Al Gore's message has gotten out....."The nation owes a debt of gratitude to Al Gore for talking about it to begin with,'' Harpootlian said. "Even Republicans are beginning to be concerned.''....Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, recently said he would appoint a climate change panel in South Carolina to study the effects of global warming and provide a plan to attack the problem at the state level.

Maybe not too surprisingly, we've just had an Op-Ed by Governor Sanford in the Washington Post, arguing for some kind of conservative approach to addressing global warming, something that isn't denialism and isn't Gore-lite. I'm not sure quite what the approach is, except that it seems serious, not a Jonah Goldberg-esque 'let's build swimming platforms for drowning polar bears' approach.

He may be arguing that conservatives should take the lead in creating a culture of personal responsibility to address our environmental impacts, recalling the anti-materialist, "respectable Republican cloth coat" beliefs that Nixon talked about in his Dr. Jekyll moments. That would be a great challenge to come from the conservatives. Let's see what the Republican presidential candidates have to say about it when they come to South Carolina.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Reasonable Libertarian and the ethics of assassination

At first glance, a reasonable libertarian might consider Glenn Reynold's enthusiasm for assassinating radical Iranian mullahs and atomic scientists to be a "small government" approach, and Reynolds might even think he's returning to his libertarian roots following his armchair leadership in Iraq. I'll just note that as a policy matter, "no government" as in no assassinations and no wars of conquests, can often be superior to small government. Maybe assassination can sometimes be helpful, but at least in the case of radical mullahs, getting caught doing what Saddam tried to do to Bush Sr. would be the exact opposite of helpful.

And then there's the small matter of whether it's ethical. I disagree with Kevin Drum (linked above) who calls all killing of civilians "terrorism". Those civilians and high-ranking politicians who are intimately involved with the military may as well be wearing a uniform and are legitimate military targets. But Reynolds wants to kill all the radical mullahs, not just high-ranking ones, and if Iranians aren't working on a bomb, then killing their scientists is also wrong. Reynold's ethical screen needs a great deal of tightening.

Assassination and other threats of force could be appropriate for an ethical or even a competent presidency to use in dealing with Iran, but that's not what we have, and Reynolds is making a mistake to encourage this behavior.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Part 3 (Katrina-specific): Legal theories of causation, hurricanes, and climate change

Part 1 of this series found that climate change easily satisfies the first required part of causation under the law, being a "but-for" cause of hurricanes. Part 2 found that the second required part, "proximate cause," couldn't be proven for the mere fact that a hurricane existed and injured someone, but probably could be found as a general matter for some as-yet undefined increase in hurricane intensity.

But can a court find that proximate cause exists for the increase in intensity of a specific hurricane, say Hurricane Katrina? This question is complicated, I think, because the but-for cause (multiple influences on chaotic weather systems) and proximate cause (increase in sea-surface temperatures) derived from global warming are different. Usually the law analyzes the same alleged mechanism to see if it satisfies both but-for and proximate cause. Remember, absent global warming, Hurricane Katrina would not have existed. It's difficult to ask how much of Katrina's damage is especially attributable when all of the hurricane's damages are attributable to warming, but not necessarily especially attributable.

Here's the closest I can get to an answer, using another thought experiment. Suppose it's late August 2005, and just as Hurricane Katrina crosses west over Florida, some technologically-advanced space aliens decide to conduct an experiment. Using means we don't understand, they remove all effects of anthropogenic global warming from sea-surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. (I'm simplifying things to assume at this point in time, no other AGW-effects will do much to Katrina). This seems like a strange thought experiment, but it's the only way I can examine the issue. So what happens in this thought experiment?

If climatologists could say, "under this scenario, we're certain that the Gulf's sea surface temperatures in August-September 2005 would decrease," and given how the otherwise-unchanged conditions otherwise allowed Katrina to maximize intensity, then we could say it's likely that AGW-caused temperature increase made Katrina still more intense, and proximate cause has been satisfied. I doubt climatologists could deliver this certainty, though. Instead they'll say there's a range of probability that the Gulf was artificially-warmed. I doubt that probability, reduced by the large-but-not-100% probability that the sea temperature warming would also have the effect of intensifying Katrina, would be enough to show proximate cause.

This isn't the end of the story, though. Climatologists will be getting more certain about the specific, regional effects of climate change. And if you broaden your potential lawsuit from my single example of a newborn baby to a whole class of widely-distributed hurricane victims, then proximate cause becomes a lot easier to demonstrate. Similarly, showing proximate cause for increased insurance costs or inability to get insurance is also easier. Litigation on this type of issue is increasingly viable.

UPDATE: Welcome, readers from ExxonMobil's Internet Service Provider! That's an interesting blog search you've got going. Seriously, I am glad if oil companies are taking private litigation issues seriously. Oh, and please stop funding the inanity at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Part 2: Legal theories of causation, hurricanes, and climate change

In Part 1 of this discussion, I argued that the "but-for" causation test used in American legal proceedings would find that global warming did more than make hurricanes worse in general - it would show that global warming specifically caused specific weather events like Hurricane Katrina.

The law requires more than this to find that causation has been demonstrated, however. The tricky, second part is called "legal causation" or "proximate cause". Nobody has a perfect definition of proximate cause that I know of. The idea though is that in addition to global warming being one of the necessary causes that preceded Hurricane Katrina, global warming must especially cause the hurricane - or at least to have especially caused harm to the newborn child in the hypothetical from Part 1.

Another hypothetical might help here. Suppose you're injured in a car crash caused by someone else's negligence. Rushing you to the hospital, the ambulance gets into an accident that was unavoidable because of the speed necessary to get you to the hospital, and you suffer further injuries. When you recover enough to leave, you are unfortunately injured a third time while driving away from the hospital a normal speed, in another unavoidable accident. What damages to you does the person who first injured you have to pay for?

The "but-for" test is satisfied in all three injuries, but proximate cause exists only for the first two. There is a special relationship between the ambulance's speed, caused by the need to respond by the accident that the defendant created, and the ambulance's crash. By contrast, it's basically coincidental that you were injured a third time while driving normally when leaving the hospital. "Proximate" used to mean what it sounds like - that the defendant was the last cause or nearly the last cause preceding the injury - and that closeness is still helpful, although not determinative, in satisfying proximate cause.

While the mere existence of Hurricane Katrina and any other specific tropical storm is sufficent to satisfy "but-for" causation, it's not enough to show proximate cause. There would have been a different set of hurricanes in 2005 folowing different tracks even without global warming, and it's just coincidental that global warming was one of countless necessary causes that ultimately sent Hurricane Katrina to Mississippi, just like it was coincidental that your first car accident ultimately led to you being in a place where you were injured, leaving the hospital.

That's not the end of the story, though. In addition to making Hurricane Katrina and other specific hurricanes happen, global warming as a general matter makes them worse. The IPCC found (pg. 9) that is "more likely than not" that anthropogenic global warming has already contributed to increasing intense tropical storm activity. I'll bet every lawyer for a fossil fuel company felt a chill when reading that IPCC description, because it closely matches the burden of proof needed to show causation in a civil trial - "the preponderance of evidence".

To the extent that AGW made hurricanes worse, that increase in damaging effect clearly satisfies proximate cause. There's this WMO statement (pg. 6):

A more appropriate question is whether the probability of an event happening in a particular basin has been increased by the ocean warming....The possibility that greenhouse gas induced global warming may have already caused a substantial increase in some tropical cyclone indices has been raised (e.g. Mann and Emanuel, 2006), but no consensus has been reached on this issue.

This basically responds to proximate cause issues, not just the but-for causation (which they get wrong in a preceding sentence, but we can let that pass). And the law doesn't require consensus, "more likely than not" is good enough for a verdict.

So the law would likely find both but-for and proximate causation as a general matter regarding an undefined level of increased damage from hurricanes. But the question people want to ask is whether AGW made a particular storm worse - so did AGW make Katrina worse than it would otherwise have been? I think from a legal perspective the question might not have an answer - not that we don't know the answer, but rather that the question doesn't make any sense. I'll discuss that in the next post, and see how close I can get to an answer if it's possible.

More information on legal causation/proximate cause is here.

UPDATE: softened my suggestion in the last paragraph that the question doesn't have an answer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Legal theories of causation, hurricanes, and climate change (Part 1: But-for causation)

I'm going to apply the Dilbert Rule to the hurricane-global warming issue - that the only approach to a problem happens to be the only one you know. So let's take the legal approach to the question of the causal relationship of global warming and hurricanes, through a hypothetical:

A new-born baby in Mississippi was orphaned and injured in Hurricane Katrina. The court-appointed guardian decides to sue every corporation, entity, and individual she can reach for causing global warming and injuring her ward. What result?

Some preliminaries: first, I chose an orphaned newborn to dismiss the counter-argument that the victim actually benefits from the modern economy - no unclean hands here. Second, this isn't a full-scale legal analysis - in the real world, this lawsuit would face all kinds of procedural hurdles, some legit and some seized upon by judges looking for an excuse to push this judicial-career-consuming morass out of the courtroom. What I'm really focusing on is the causation.

The law requires two types of causation be satisfied before it will conclude that the defendant "caused" the injury to the plaintiff. First is the "cause-in-fact" requirement that global warming resulted in injury to the baby. This legal requirement can be simplified (in this case, anyway) to the "but-for" question. But for global warming, would the baby have not been orphaned and injured?

I'm now ready to finally say something halfway interesting, I hope: a judge could easily go beyond the current arguments about whether warming has intensified and find that anthropogenic global warming actually caused Hurricane Katrina. The way to determine this is with a thought experiment, imagining what the world would have been like without AGW.

Imagine some invention in 1850 had the incidental effect of absorbing all the excess carbon dioxide and methane we've produced since then. Would the baby have been injured in this thought experiment by Hurricane Katrina? Considering that Altantic hurricanes generally result from tropical waves, which themselves are the results of minor disturbances in African weather systems, and considering how different the no-warming world's weather would have been on a day-to-day level, it's nearly impossible to imagine that a hurricane like Katrina would have hit Mississippi at the same time in 2005 in the no-warming world. That world would have had hurricanes, but they would have been different hurricanes at different times taking different paths. But for global warming, Hurrican Katrina would not have happened.

This still leaves the second type of causation required in an injury claim like this one, called proximate cause or, confusingly, "legal causation". I'll save that for my next post.

More information on cause-in-fact is here.

Part 2 of this series is here.

Part 3 of this series is here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Maureen Dowd should stop writing, and just talk

The one-millionth takedown of Maureen Dowd's wasted New York Times space is here. I'll admit that not every Times column has to be deep, but Dowd's end of the swimming pool is barely humid. Wonkette does the gossip thing much better, and Molly Ivins sunk the verbal knife with a moral heft attached to it, something Dowd can't find. And while we should be past the time when women are standard-bearers for their gender, it's a shame that the woman with the best media real estate space in the country chooses this stuff for her material.

The funny thing is that she's so good at giving speeches. I heard her on the radio one time delivering the same material, and she was excellent. Gossip launched over the back fence doesn't look so good written down. Dowd should keep it in the air.

Monday, February 19, 2007

No tears for the anti-Romney bigotry

Mark Kleiman (and many other bloggers) has the right summary of the issue of Mitt Romney, who tells people to cast aside their anti-Mormon bigotry and instead be bigoted against atheists and agnostics. I suppose Romney could've said "hey, at least I'm not Jewish or Muslim," but he decided to target the bigotry against a more-unpopular group. It may or may not be a good idea politically, but playing that card eliminates any sympathy he should otherwise get.

The Far Side cartoon that Kleiman mentions is here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Denialist blogger hired on to Hunter presidential campaign

Duncan Hunter, a low-rent third-tier anti-immigrant Republican presidential candidate, has hired John Hawkins of Right Wing News to do some consulting, whatever that is. Hawkins is a denialist blogger I challenged over a year ago to bet over warming, and like most of them he never responded.

And even more than most, not putting up didn't equal shutting up for Hawkins.

Most recent is a fawning interview of the "Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years" author who says the warming is totally obvious and natural (refuted here).

A month earlier gives us this post: "Just consider that the warmest year on record is 1998 and so there hasn't been any global warming for the last 8 years. Furthermore, remember that the earth was getting cooler from roughly 1940-1970, then it warmed from roughly 1970-1998 -- and since then, it has plateaued even though the amount of greenhouse gasses pumped into the atmosphere has continued to rise during that time."

If Hawkins and Hunter ultimately decide that they don't believe in global warming, they can make a little bit of money and maybe some publicity by betting me.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The wisdom of crowds, and why we shouldn't dismiss the validity of personal experience with climate

Over at Tamino (and Rabett), they're discussing how to talk to the general public, genuine skeptics, and insincere denialists about climate change. I'd generally agree with Rabett's statement regarding denialists and skeptics "that the separation is between those who have filled the trough of denial and those who, wandering by have supped from it." With maybe two types of exceptions, I don't think anyone who stayed and spent alot of time looking at the evidence can remain a genuine skeptic. The first exception is someone who develops a monomaniac obsession with an alternative theory like cosmic rays that allows them to blind themselves to the mountains of evidence. The second exception type is someone willing to put their money where their mouths are and bet against warming, and these people are few.

But that's not what got me going on this post - instead I was thinking about the true general public, not those who occasionally blog about climate change. There's this comment by inel:

I think more time needs to be spent on listening to the views of the general public (as opposed to the denialists and sceptics who undoubtedly influence them), and reflecting back the average person’s concerns in an empathetic way. Then our focus should be on educating, reassuring and encouraging the vast majority of people who (potentially) inhabit the middle ground on the climate challenge: let’s gain their trust, then reinforce their basic knowledge, now that Al Gore has got their attention, so they feel compelled to act and vote for action.

John and Jane Public, I think, are heavily influenced by the basic knowledge of what they personally experienced, remembering recent heat waves or feeling like the weather's screwy compared to when they were kids. Scientists and hangers-on like me don't like this reasoning very much because we know there's a low signal-to-noise ratio in the randomness of individual experience of weather. Still, there is a signal there - climate change has increased record heat events, made winters milder, and affected some kinds of weather.

If you think of understanding information at the aggregate level, rather than the individual, then much of the noise problem cancels out, and the signal from personal experience becomes stronger. Millions of people are walking around, and the ones who experience record heat and mild winters outnumber those with the reverse experience. Yes, real scientific data is better,* but this isn't all that bad a way for the general public to understand things.

So if someone I meet on the street says "I believe in global warming now, after last week's heat," then the appropriate response is "well, it's unlikely but possible that global warming made the heat even worse." If they say, "what global warming? It was freezing last night," then I'd say "yeah, but it can still get cold sometimes even if the average is going up."

The denialists who should know better, deserve a much stronger response.

*For once, there is a viable argument here about the Urban Heat Island effect when combined with increasing urbanization to affect perceived experience. Maybe people account for it in their own assessment, and there's a reverse trend from the post-World War II migration from cities to suburbs. Again, I'm not arguing that personal experience is perfect, but just that it has some validity at the aggregate level.

The European Glacier Weight Loss Diet, in pictures

A dieting company that could post this many Before/After pictures would make millions.

I found this in a comment on a denialist blog - the other commenters said it should be ignored. Best possible response.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Local event: Symposium on Climate Change Liability and Allocation of Risk, Stanford Law School, February 24th

More info here. Registration is free - I had read elsewhere that the deadline to register was the 15th, but there's no mention of that on the website. I plan to attend at least part of it.

Words from another government "interfering" with domestic politics are fine

I disagree with Mark Kleiman's assertion that there's something immoral about the principle of the Australian Prime Minister criticizing an American presidential candidate. As long as foreign leaders are just trying to use persuasion to influence voters but not use force or money, then they've got every right to do it and voters have the right to consider their arguments.

As a matter of policy instead of ethics, though, it's rarely a good idea. If the Australiam PM or his party stays in power through 2009, they may find he just created a significant problem for Australia that he could have easily avoided.

And as a matter of substance, what he said was complete nonsense, and will go nowhere in terms of persuading Americans. Someone else noted that the comment really had nothing to do with America, though, and is all about domestic politics. The Australian PM is sacrificing Australia's interest to help himself politically. Sounds familiar.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bush Administration just reports - we're responsible for the decisions

The latest in our universally-erroneous tendency to think the Bush Administration supports what it's saying, when anyone can figure out they're merely relaying news items to the rest of us:

So, you remember all that, um, stuff created by Doug Feith's private intelligence shop in the Pentagon back in 2002 and 2003? You know, the stuff about how Saddam Hussein had close ties to al-Qaeda and possessed an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons? The stuff that helped justify a catastrophic preventive war that's still raging four years later?

Yeah, that stuff. Today, Feith tells us what it actually was:

This was not "alternative intelligence assessment." It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance.

This has been clear for years about the Bush Administration, yet we insist on misinterpreting their words. For example, these ones:

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Conservative hero, David Horowitz, understood it well enough:

The British government continued to stand by its report, making the presidential statement literally true.

Chris Mooney actually thinks Bush was expressing an opinion that there was a meaningful debate of global warming when Bush said
a debate existed over whether global warming was "manmade or naturally caused." In fact, Bush was just pointing out that people were arguing, and like Doug Feith, was not endorsing the substance of whether it was meaningful. Therefore, the administration is completely consistent in saying that "Beginning in June 2001, President Bush has consistently acknowledged climate change is occurring and humans are contributing to the problem."

We need to get this stuff straight.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The religious reason for the Bush escalation

1. Bush believes that God wanted him to be President.

2. Invading Iraq was the most important decision that Bush took.

3. God couldn't have wanted Bush elected in order to do something disastrous.

4. De-escalating in Iraq would be basically admitting a disastrous failure, even if it would somewhat limit the consequences of failure compared to staying indefinitely.

5. Keeping the same force level doesn't appear to be working, has no political support, and could lead to de-escalation.

6. God must have made it possible for his chosen President, George Bush, to obtain victory in the most important action Bush took.

7. Neither de-escalation nor keeping the same force level leads to victory.

8. Therefore, God must want Bush to take the only course that leaves a chance for victory, even if it is no more clear to us how that will occur than it was clear to Abraham's wife, Sarah, that at 90 years old she would have her firstborn child, Isaac.

It's not hard to figure out what role is being played by those who oppose the escalation.

I'd also note that someone with more religious sophistication than Bush could question #3 above, but I doubt Bush will.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

One more in the Misinterpretation of the IPCC Parade

Stoat notes Viscount Monckton (who won't bet) has incorrectly claimed the IPCC just reduced its estimate of our effect on climate by one-third.

RealClimate found the Wall Street Journal making the same mistake.

I just thought I'd add that National Review Online also repeats the talking point:

The new IPCC report has also reduced its estimate of the human influence on warming by one-third (though this change was not flagged for the media, so few if any news accounts took notice of it).

It appears this type of "knowledge" is continuing to circulate through that side of the blogosphere.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Being Caribou, and a personal note

Just watched the documentary, Being Caribou, about a Canadian couple's five-month, 1500 km hike from Canada to Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to follow migrating caribou. Their aim besides just going on the trip was to highlight the danger of oil field development in ANWR.

I highly recommend the documentary, it was a fascinating trip, and they had some great footage of wildlife and scenery (they saw wolverines, which I never saw in six summers in Alaska). While the couple had a slight New Age-y feel to their discussion about the caribou, it wasn't enough to get annoying, and they're very likeable. Their third partner on the trip was a plastic figurine of George Bush, who provided some comic relief.

One of my political heresies, though, is I'm not convinced that the caribou will be harmed by ANWR drilling. There's no evidence of harm in Prudhoe Bay, which has far more development than ANWR would. Nothing in the film changed my mind, although in their defense, it was an experiential film, not a science documentary. And while my best guess is drilling in ANWR would not be much of an environmental problem, I see no reason to rush in and disturb this pristine area - the oil's not going anywhere, so if we really need it, we can get it later.

The personal note - while this isn't a "personal life" blog, I just thought I'd mention that my girlfriend and I got engaged over the weekend, while snow-camping in the Sierras near Lake Tahoe. Karen's a very good sport and enjoyed our 8-day backpacking trip in Alaska last summer, but she informed me that for our honeymoon, we're not doing a 5-month backpacking trip like these people did. Oh well, maybe we can do a four-month trip.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reading the AEI and Exxon tea leaves on global warming

Leaving aside the propriety issue of the American Enterprise Institute's attempt to buy anti-IPCC studies, it's interesting to look at the angle they're taking:

..... AEI would like to commission a series of essays from a broad range of experts on various general and specific aspects of the issue [climate policy]....

....climate change has tended to be caught in a straightjacket between so-called “skeptics” and so-called “alarmists,” with seemingly little room left in the middle for people who may have reasonable doubts or heterodox views about the range of policy prescriptions that should be considered for climate change of uncertain dimension. This perception is mistaken, of course, as Andrew Revkin’s recent New York Times article on “an emerging middle ground” on climate change made evident. Nonetheless, we would like to attempt to break out of this straightjacket and see if it is possible to create a space for an identifiable “third way” of thinking about the problem....

.... One idea is to solicit essays in two categories. The first category would be along the lines of a blue-sky essay on “What Climate Policies Would I Implement If I Was King for a Day.” The second category would be specific critiques of existing or proposed policy responses such as will appear in Working Group III or have been put forward in reports such as the Stern Review....

The two actors who motives we need to consider are AEI as an institution, and ExxonMobil. AEI wants to keep its snout in the trough that is Exxon funding, and whatever similar funding it can get from that part of the economic spectrum. Exxon has trouble funding complete denialism now, given its recent promises not to, so AEI is positioning itself to follow the moving trough into a "Third Way," something that's allegedly Not-Denialism.

Exxon, meanwhile, has done a somewhat strange conference call with mid-ranking climate change bloggers to explain its position. Nothing against those bloggers (they're bigger than little ol' me), but there are bigger ones who write regularly about climate, and still more popular blogs like Washington Monthly and Talking Points Memo that understand the issues. My guess is it's a trial balloon and a chance to refine their message, and the message Exxon claims to be giving out is "climate change is a serious issue and that action must be taken."

There's an unsurprising fit between AEI and Exxon's latest stance. But, what does it mean? You can take the plain English approach, and I won't discount the possibility that even at the highest levels of one of the worst oil companies, there's a limit to the lying.

Somewhat more sinister would be that they're still going to lie as always, while restrained by the fact that there's only a certain distance that they can stretch between the truth and their lies. As the truth is getting more clearly in one direction, they have to shift in that direction, but still lie.

Third, and sadly most likely, is it's the standard response of a regulated industry to imminent regulation: "if you can't beat 'em, delay 'em." Let a thousand alternative policies bloom, and declare that government should do nothing while the debate continues as to the best approach. Every year of delay means that much more profit, at least in the short term quarterly earnings perspective.

Part of the reason why I think the third outcome is most likely is that I share the opinion of most of the other climate bloggers I read, that Revkin's article didn't really come up with a "third way," and the people he cited believe in controlling emissions. AEI might come up with a third way, or a thousand third ways, but they'll be bogus.

Here's hoping I'm wrong.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A third motive for defending Gitmo detainees

Jonathan Adler, slumming it over at The Corner, speculates on why some lawyers from premier law firms choose to spend their pro-bono hours defending Guantanamo detainees:

I don't think it's because they are getting paid off. I also don't think that it is because most of them harbor secret, anti-American sentiments (though some may). Rather, I believe it is a combination of a) a desire to work on sexy, high profile issues that are more exciting than the cases on which they bill most of their hours, anbd b) a sometimes-misguided sense of noblesse oblige combined with a desire to "make a difference."

I'll add a third: nothing might be more exciting for a lawyer than getting factually-innocent defendants free from jail, and given the evidence, these lawyers may actually believe and have good reason to believe their clients are completely innocent. Adler missed that motive.

Mitigating this oversight, though, is Adler's belief that Gitmo detainees deserve a fair hearing, a belief not shared by the other authors at The Corner.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"More likely than not" is plain English enough, I think

Roger Pielke Jr. translates the "more likely than not" human influence on hurricanes from the IPCC summary:

In plain English this is what is called a "hypothesis" and not a "conclusion."

That seems like playing games with the plain English connotation that "hypothesis" is little different than a "guess" from which we cannot draw conclusions. In the real world, people appropriately draw conclusions and take actions all the time based on information that is only more likely than not to be true. RPJr might not want people to draw conclusions, but they have the ability to take IPCC's information and act accordingly.

As to the lengthy discussion elsewhere about whether the WMO's "no firm conclusion" really differs from the IPCC, it kind of reminds me of when people debate what really happens to characters in a movie after the movie ends ambiguously. There is no reality to the characters beyond what happened in the movie, so the question doesn't make much sense.

For the WMO and IPCC, the best we can guess at is the intentions of the people involved. Since some of them are the same, the 51-66% certainty range for hurricane intensity probably doesn't correspond to a "firm" conclusion, so for those people at least, there's no conflict between the two positions.

And are we mortals allowed to draw "conclusions" when the WMO forbids "firm" conclusions? How about "tentative" conclusions? Can I say that?

Some of this language parsing is getting a little ridiculous, even for a lawyer.

Friday, February 02, 2007

January 2007 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate during the last month: 2.81
(nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis)

Previous averages
December 2006:
November: 2.57

Last year, January 2006: 2.06.

Overall daily average to date is 2.36. Total US dead as of today: 3093.

Iraqi monthly military and police fatalities: 91.

Previous military/police fatality rates
December 2006: 123
November: 123

Last year, January 2006: 189.
Total Iraqi military dead: 6034.

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

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1711

December: 1,629
November: 1,741

Last year, January 2006: 590.

To-date civilian total, begining in March 2005: 24,040. 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: Now five months in a row with American casualties above average, no prior bad stretch lasted longer than three months. Continuing a trend found in recent months, Iraqi military fatality rates continue to be low, more evidence that they're sitting out the civil war. Also as before, civilian casualties remain terrible.