Saturday, March 31, 2007

Linking to it because I have to

Otters holding hands.

(via Boingboing)

Not understanding the lack of a filibuster over Iraq

I haven't seen an explanation of why not a single Senate Republican was willing to filibuster the Iraq budget authorization last week. My understanding is that while filibusters arent' allowed for the final joint House-Senate authorization, they were allowed at the previous stage, and any single Senator could've filibustered, requiring a vote of 60 Senators to overcome it.

So are the Republicans really opposed to ending the war, or not? I'm not sure that relying on a presidential veto is a sufficient answer for them. The money has to come through sometime, so the whole process will just get repeated. Maybe the Republicans just figured that a filibuster woudn't stop anything because the joint bill would come back with a timetable, anyway. Still, a filibuster would have added a roadblock to the process.

I'm open to the idea that Republicans with a political future extending through 2009 might not want the Iraq debacle to follow them indefinitely, and might try and pin it on Bush, have it collapse during his administration, and claim the rest of the party wasn't responsible. Not sure if this is the case, but I hope they try it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Murray and RP Jr. getting overbroad in their critiques

Iain Murray, at the denialist/weaselist Planet Gore website, cites approvingly to Roger Pielke Jr.'s attack on the Climate Appraisal website, for doing what Murray calls "selling alarmist predictions of what climate change might do to your property." RP Jr. says:

Call me a skeptic or a cynic but I'm pretty sure that the science of climate change hasn't advanced to the point of providing such place-specific information.

I think the name-calling I'll use is "sloppy," or to be more civil, "overbroad". It's not clear to me that either critic has actually read what the website promises. The sample report is here. The only site-specific, climate change predictions relate to regional temperature changes, derived from US government data, and the local effects of sea level rise. The sea level rise shown ranges from 3 to 20 feet, but they're quite clear about the high end:

Climate Appraisal Services LLC Science Advisors project up to 20 feet of sea level rise within the next several hundred years, possibly by 2500 if there is no material slowing in the rate of global warming via a substantial reduction in greenhouse gases.

On the low, 3 foot end, they say: "Climate Appraisal Services LLC Science Advisors project that up to three feet of sea level rise is likely to occur over the next 100 years, or by 2100, with more than half of that rise likely occurring in the second 50 years." I assume they're rounding to the nearest foot. This is a probability assessment for a higher sea level beyond that found in the current IPCC, but within range of a scientist's expert judgment (see RealClimate for reasons why the IPCC may be underestimating rise by 50%).

Other than pushing the envelope somewhat on sea level rise, I see no validity to the critique of Climate Appraisal. The one good thing from reading the critique, though, is that I now think I'll fork out the $30 to see what results I get at my address.

UPDATE: Reading more closely, Climate Appraisal says "up to" 3 feet is likely. I hope they're not relying on the "up to" qualifier, or else I'd consider it somewhat misleading.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Time to modify the Fifth Amendment

With Bush Administration officials taking the Fifth Amendment, now may be a good time to bring out one of my most right-wing beliefs - that judges should have discretion to allow juries to draw inferences from a defendant's exercise of the right against self-incrimination. This would require a constitutional amendment, but it could be worth it.

The right was designed to protect against torture or other physical compulsion to testify, and that right would be preserved - no one has to testify against himself or herself. The right also potentially protects the innocent where circumstantial evidence that the innocent defendant would testify to could be incriminating. The defendant's attorney would be free to bring this possibility up to the jury. Besides being somewhat unlikely, the nature of circumstantial evidence is that it could be innocent-but-incriminating, yet we still allow it. I don't see the difference when the circumstantial evidence comes from the defendant, but I'd still give the defendant the right to withhold it, just at the risk of the jury drawing inferences from that fact.

The biggest drawback I can see is this will tend to make defendants testify, and prosecutors will then try as much as possible to get juries to learn about past criminal records of the defendants. That information is usally off-limits in a trial because it biases juries. Still, past convictions have to be relevant to the testimony - the prosecutor doesn't have a free pass to open up the record. The value of the defendant's testimony would generally outweigh this risk, so I think it's reasonable to allow this modification I'm suggesting. And it would be nice to see the Bush Administration officials squirm a bit more.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Glenn Beck is a global warming weaselist who wastes my time

Glenn Beck is a true idiot - I couldn't believe it when I first heard him on the radio. Normally the folksy demeanor in talk radio is supposed to be an overlay to a keen intelligence, but they messed up the formula with this guy. He's Stephen Colbert, minus the self-awareness.

He's someone I'd describe as a "weaselist" - waffling or silent or sometimes contradictory on human-caused warming, but always doing everything he can to cast doubt on the issue, or to denigrate international efforts to help the environment. Last year he did an audio program and wrote an article condemning the replacement of ozone-destroying CFCs with HCFCs and HFCs, because the latter two chemicals contribute to global warming. What he doesn't know, because he's an idiot who doesn't read through the article that he cites as evidence, is that CFCs also cause warming. The article says they cause the same amount of warming "through 2015." The article fails to note that HCFCs and HFCs aren't nearly as long-lasting in the atmosphere as CFCs though. Taking the post-2015 effect into account, the CFC replacements are about one-tenth as bad as CFCs themselves.

The part where he wasted my time was in trying to find his idiotic article. It used to be on his site, but it's well hidden now if it's still there. You can listen to the audio though, if you're masochist enough to pay for it.

UPDATE, April 4: found the link to his article finally, here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Volokh Correction #19: there's more to doing the right thing than shouting about it

Todd Zywicki emerges from wherever he's been lurking to highlight a ridiculously one-sided column on "conspicuous virtue" - people allegedly buying expensive things for the ability to shout about the moral quality of their purchases. The column shows the usual hatred for all things environmental.

The column fails to realize that people could buy these things and not only fail to publicize their virtue, but not even consider themselves especially virtuous. It has no knowledge of the encouragement to reduce overall consumption, to buy second-hand, to use things until they wear out. And there's the usual critique of Prius-owners like me, who because we can't be saving money on gas overall, must be proclaiming our ability to purchase a modestly-priced car (and the 80-90% air pollution reductions are completely unknown to the author).

My opinion - I don't even care if the column's right about the motives behind a subset of the purchases which the author assumes to be the entire meaning of the environmental movement. If people do the right thing, I'm glad they're doing it.

UPDATE: fixed bad link

Sunday, March 25, 2007

R.P. Jr. and who controls the agenda

Another post I meant to write ages back:

Nov. 15, 2006, Roger Pielke Jr.:

Looking Away from Misrepresentations of Science in Policy Debate Related to Disasters and Climate Change

....What is most amazing is that in the face of incontrovertible and repeated misrepresentation that the overwhelming majority of scientists, the media, and responsible advocacy groups have remained mute (with a few notable exceptions such as Hans von Storch).

More than anything else, even the misrepresentations themselves, the collective willingness to overlook bad policy arguments unsupported (or even contradicted) by the current state of science while at the same time trumpeting the importance of scientific consensus is evidence of the comprehensive and pathological politicization of science in the policy debate over global warming. If climate scientists ever wonder why they are looked upon with suspicion among some people in society, they need look no further in their willingness to compromise their own intellectual standards in policy debate on the issue of disasters and climate change.

[a list of alleged exaggerations of damage from climate change follows]

RP Jr., Feb. 6, 2007:

Post-IPCC Political Handicapping: Count the Votes

....Bottom line – the votes for action [to address climate change] appear to be there. So too is broad public acceptance of the reality of climate change and a need for action. Why then is not action happening more quickly?

There are probably a few answers:

....3. Those skeptics. Just when you thought that we’d seen the end of the debate over climate skeptics, it turns out that some scientists are busy trying to keep them in the limelight. Yes, you read that right. Consider that immediately upon release of the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers the RealClimate blog immediately followed up its 1,280 word review of the IPCC SPM with a 1,585 word essay on some anti-IPCC statement from a group of self-appointed climate skeptics. Without RealClimate’s generous lavishing of attention and imputed significance, the anti-IPCC document would probably have gone unnoticed by most folks. Like old Cold Warriors longing for the Soviet Union the complete and utter domination of the IPCC consensus view seems difficult for some to accept. This issue runs far deeper than bloggers worried about being out of a job, as it will no doubt manifest itself in debates over climate change research budgets. A strong case can be made that now that the science is settled, at least from the standpoint of justifying mitigation, that there is ample room to downsize significant aspects of the climate research enterprise. After all, plate tectonics is not a big area of research.

The first argument RPJr. makes is a common rhetorical device on the right side of the blogosphere, and occasionally, the left: "How dare you guys fail to write about the things that I demand that you write about?" A typical recent example from Michelle Malkin: "The anti-war demonstrators who behaved responsibly this past weekend have an obligation to denounce — and distance themselves from — those protesters who purposefully offend others and consequently destroy the intended message of peace."

RP Jr.'s second argument is a new one though: not only must the "other guys" write about what I demand they write about, they must NOT write about the things I demand they not write about.

The problem with these bad arguments is similar to other lazy arguments like the ol' slippery slope claim: the argument is an easy one to come up with in some form or another, but because every once in a great while it actually is valid, it's impossible to dismiss categorically.

The second argument - you shouldn't draw attention to things that I don't think you should be writing about - is so unlikely to be right as to hardly be worth the time trying to figure out if it's actually appropriate. The first argument isn't quite that bad. At best, it's a hypocrisy detector, and since we're all pretty good at detecting hypocrisy in people other than ourselves, it may sometimes be right. Still, it's also demanding control of other people's agenda when there's no right to seize control. I'd suggest handling this argument the same way as handling the slippery slope argument - start with the presumption that it's wrong, and see if it can overcome that presumption.

Generally, if Blogger A tells Blogger B what to write or not to write, I think Blogger B should suggest what use Blogger A can make of the advice.

A final note: I'd put politicians in a different category as needing to respond to issues that opinion-writers can take up or leave according to their interests.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

General Pace shouldn't apologize, but should be fired

Thought I'd use my typical, lighting-quick blogger reflexes to comment on the two-week-old story about General Peter Pace refusing to apologize for saying the homosexual soldiers under his command commit "immoral acts." I disagree with calls for an apology, and give him the benefit of assuming it's his considered belief and not a thoughtless mental twitch. No one should apologize for what they think is right - the concept of an apology doesn't even make sense.

But he should be fired - his beliefs are contradictory to the morale and well-being of thousands of soldiers underneath him. Hiding behind the idea that he condemns their acts, not their orientation, is just ridiculous. He did acknowledge that he should not have focused on his own personal views, but it's too late. He can't be an effective leader of homosexuals who are allowed to serve in the military, and should be forced out.

(Of course, that won't happen.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Global warming and the Santa Clara Valley Water District

I recently attended a meeting at the Santa Clara Valley Water District discussing its strategic challenges. The Water District's responsibility is "stream stewardship, wholesale water supply and flood protection for Santa Clara County, California" which covers 700,000 acres and a million-plus people. Third on its strategic challenge list is global warming:

Global climate change means state and local climate change. This will challenge the district’s ability to provide adequate and reliable water supply, stewardship for the county’s watersheds and flood protection for residents and businesses. Melting ice and thermal expansion of the oceans is projected to cause an increase in sea level that would threaten all of the bay front areas of Santa Clara County.

This same increase in sea level would also threaten Bay-Delta levees and waterways, which are critical for conveying about half the county’s water supply. Increasing temperatures are predicted to decrease the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which essentially functions as the largest surface water reservoir in California.

In addition, the warmer, drier and longer summers would decrease local water supplies, increase the demand for water, and impact fish and wildlife in the county’s watersheds. Because water agencies throughout California will be heavily impacted, they are also beginning to take a lead role working with their communities on ways to reduce contributions to climate change.

The aging, Bayfront levees protect land that would be inundated without them. The danger's increased by the fact that San Jose sank significantly due to groundwater pumping. The oral presentation also mentioned saltwater intrusion into local groundwater, which is yet another huge climate-change impact. I'd like to see the levee improvements that fix that problem.

They could also have mentioned increased flooding problems from our coastal streams backing up when they hit higher sea levels (and from worse storms, if that global effect also happens locally here). At least we don't have hurricanes to worry about.

All this is just what one specialized government agency will have to deal with from climate change, in one of the wealthiest parts of one of the world's wealthiest nations. And some people think it's alarmist to call it a "climate crisis".

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Libby to Cheney to Drum to Marshall

Only Libby was found to have lied to the FBI and the grand jury, says Kevin Drum, and the lie he told was to hide Cheney's attempt to shut down investigations that would show the administration already knew the Niger documents were forged when they talked about Niger in the 2003 State of the Union speech. Drum ends his speculations there - it's a coverup to hide their lies. But why stop speculating so soon?

Josh Marshall has long been interested in the source of the Niger forgeries, and the curious lack of interest in how these forged documents came into being. He thinks the official Italian claim that some nobodies created them for money is garbage. While not saying so directly, he leaves potential responsibility for the forgeries at the feet of Berlusconi's military intelligence. But why stop speculating there?

What if the Italians overtly indicated to the Americans, or just to Cheney's separate intelligence system, that the documents were forgeries but they were still welcome to have them? Now Libby and Cheney really have a reason to try and shut down investigations. It wouldn't be the first time someone acting like a policeman had planted forged evidence against a defendant they believed to be guilty.

I could take it even further, and wonder if the Cheney administration had a more
direct part in creating the forged evidence, but I'll just stop here with my speculations.

All speculations, nothing more.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Increased risk aversion may cause increased legal liability, not the other way around


....what could explain this perception that schools call snow days with less weather now than they used to?


2) Liability laws. School districts are more risk-averse because of the possible liability that comes with not calling a snow day and then having a bus get into an accident.

Drezner is suggesting that the liability risks have increased from previous generations, resulting in risk-adverse behavior - maybe because people are more likely to sue, or maybe because some trend in the law has made people more likely to win if they sue compared to before.

I'd suggest the opposite - modern society is less risk tolerant for reasons that have nothing to do with legal liability. What level of risk we consider acceptable has decreased, and that societally-acceptable level defines the difference between legally acceptable and legally liable risk-taking by school districts deciding whether buses can run in snowy weather. In other words, culture guides the law, not the other way around.

This seems most clear to me regarding children. Parents (I think) don't let children run around unaccompanied to the same extent as before, even though the risks of stranger abduction or getting hurt playing aren't any greater.

Part of this increased risk aversion is logical - we can make cars safer than before, so it's appropriate to expect higher standards. But it's not possible to make kids less foolhardy when playing in a nearby woods. That lost opportunity is a shame.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pat Michaels, former denialist?

Interesting post over at Rabett's: one Pat Michaels, who's done everything he could to cast doubt on the global warming consensus, now says with a few caveats that human-caused warming is real. Michaels does a convenient 180-degree turn for denialists. I think the real test now is whether he's another of the No Biggie Denialists, accepting some evidence while denying its seriousness. The real test for that position is whether it accepts the IPCC consensus. The impacts chapter of the latest assessment should be out shortly, and that will make the debate interesting.

I think Wikipedia needs an article on the history of denialism, following people who started skeptical and became convinced, and those who have just pirouetted to new positions, like Singer, to accept a subsection of the evidence while denying any need to do anything that they find politically inconvenient.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

When the right's right

(Bumping this post up, with some new links at the beginning. And with this I'm off for a week or so, going to Death Valley and getting older.)

This is an experimental post that I'll update and bump to the top of my blog from time to time - I'm going to provide links to posts/articles in rightwing blogs and media that I find persuasive (newest links at the top), usually with little elaboration on my part. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

The Christian Closet (about academic discrimination against the deeply religious) (yes, it's a lefty blog, but a right-leaning post, and the righty blogs have written nothing persuasive in a while) (UPDATE: academic Eli isn't quite buying this.)

Down Memory Lane (punishment Bill Clinton received for his "perjury" (not exactly perjury, but relevant)) (UPDATE: Jeff has good reasons to distinguish it here.)

Blocking Cold Cash William Jefferson (D's giving committee assignments to the corrupt William Jefferson)

Vietnam Spitting (protesters spitting on returning soldiers)

posts below from 1/19/07 and earlier:

PEER Overstates "Faith-based Park" Problem (at least half-right - see comments at the post)

EPA Employees Embrace Action on Climate (statement misrepresents all EPA signers as "scientists")

That Did Not Take Long (failure to implement 9/11 reforms) (UPDATE: overstated, see here)

Waging war on JROTC

(Mission Accomplished video)

Medical Self-Defense, Prohibited Experimental Therapies, and Payment for Organs

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Duke lacrosse controversy and attitudes to global warming

Anyone who believes her ideological viewpoint does not color her analysis of an open question needs to do more introspection. I've thought a lot about that regarding the Duke lacrosse rape controversy, which has cross-cutting ideological currents for people on the left side of the spectrum. Left-leaners are more likely to believe defendants are innocent than most people, but they're also more likely to believe a bastion of priviledged white male pseudo-violence, a Southern Ivy-League lacrosse team, would gang-rape a working-class, African-American female stripper.

I often read two lefty blogs, Talk Left and Pandagon. Talk Left is run by a criminal defense lawyer, and Pandagon by strong feminists. Predictably, TL basically thought the players were innocent, and Pandagon (until recently, maybe) knew they were guilty. I always thought the case against the players was weak, but maybe that's because my sister was a criminal defense lawyer. The point is you have to be aware of your ideological viewpoint, however good it might be generally, and decide if it's helpful in this case.

That point isn't all that far from David Friedman, the "no big deal denialist" I wrote about recently, who says when deciding who to believe, we should "look at the incentives various people have to express the views they do." This is a reasonable point. That fighting global warming supports many of my other environmental goals could be evidence that I'm either deliberately skewing my judgment or that I'm fooling myself. Having recognized a potential splinter in my own eye, though, I'll point out his - as an (apparently) conservative libertarian, his no-big-deal scientific conclusion about global warming impacts is an extremely convenient match for his political beliefs in minimizing government. (UPDATE: David clarifies in the comments that he's an anarchist/libertarian. Interesting.)

For my part, I try to minimize the amount of scientific frolicking I do and rely on the scientific consensus - the scientists' motivation is to be right, something that's far more important to their futures than their background political beliefs. I'm not going to completely give up on my own judgment, but will be very careful when it contradicts the consensus. That's where Friedman goes wrong.

(It's interesting, btw, that the few remaining denialist scientists are generally older and unlikely to face long-term professional consequences for being wrong.)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Top sci-fi/fantasy books

I'm imitating Pharyngula here, with the list of the most important sci-fi/fantasy books of the last 50 years, and the ones I've read in bold.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
Dune, Frank Herbert
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer, William Gibson
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. D
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
Cities in Flight, James Blish
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Little, Big, John Crowley
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
Timescape, Gregory Benford
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

Got some reading to do! The advantage of having a blog is now I don't have to remember to carry a list with me everywhere - I can just call up the blog post when I'm at the library and start looking.

UPDATE: Just read Sword of Shannara and updated the list above. That was a mistake.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Making presidents care about the long term consequences of their actions

Dear Democratic/Republican Presidential candidate:

I know that as president, you will care deeply about the long term consequences of your actions and make decisions on that basis rather than for short-term gain. You can prove that to the public, by creating institutions to force your administration and future administrations to think about those consequences of your actions, in the same time period that you make them.

I suggest that you advocate for two new initiatives in the Office of the White House. The first is a White House-sponsored and White House-run Presidential Assessment Conference. This conference will be held in the first year of your term and thereafter once every four years, and it will assess the long term consequences of presidential administrations that ended 25, 50, and 75 years earlier. A report presented to the public and Congress will assess whether the decisions of the three periods worked out best in the long term, and will help the present-day President and public focus on long-term consequences.

The second initiative is to create the Office of Presidential Historian-Advocate. This person will help manage the Assessment Conference, but more importantly, the Historian-Advocate will be the day-to-day reminder for the President and staff members that their administration will eventually be assessed as well. The Historian-Advocate will prepare documents archived for future Conferences that constitute the administration's argument for why it made the best long-term decision based on the information it had available. A Historian-Advocate who witnessesses the most important decisions will be able to do the best possible advocacy, so the president will have an incentive to involve the Historian-Advocate as much as possible.

The functional effect is to have an advocate for the future involved in day-to-day decision making. The President will even have the option of seeking the Historian-Advocate's advice as to which choice will be most easily defended in future Conferences (a young Historian-Advocate might even be present at the future 25 and 50 year Assessments).

Again, I am certain that you have no need for this institutional incentive for long term thinking. Your advocacy of this idea will prove exactly that, because it's an idea that improves the decision-making of presidents that will follow you, in the long term.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Responding to the "no big deal" denialists

I got an email asking how I would respond to the people like David Friedman, who makes this argument:

global warming is probably real, is probably but not certainly anthropogenic, is probably not going to have large effects on size and frequency of hurricanes and is probably not going to have large effects on sea level. It is a real problem but not, on current evidence, an impending catastrophe.

My response would depend on how this type of person reacts to attempts to control this "real problem". If they're willing to support emission control efforts, I'm not going to spend time arguing with them.

Many people making this type of argument though will follow it up by saying this means we shouldn't do anything about emissions, or that "adaptation" is the only thing we should do. I don't know if this is Friedman's position, but these people are the problem, and represent one of the fallback denialist positions as the scientific basis for doing nothing continues to be undercut.

So what to do about them? First, compare their credibility. One set of people have been arguing for 20 years, first that there was no warming, then that it was just natural, and then that the human-induced warming is minor. The other side has been arguing for 20 years that it's a significant, human-induced problem that we need to do something about. While the arguments theoretically stand or fall on their own, those of us who don't have time to acquire multiple PhDs to assess the evidence, need to assess the credibility of the people making the arguments. The "no biggie" denialists generally lack credibility. Maybe Friedman is virtually unique and has been making his argument unchanged for 20 years, but I doubt it. Instead, they're just looking for an excuse on which to justify their political position.

Second, doing nothing about emissions means the emissions will continously increase. I personally am not certain that climate change will definitively cause a catastrophe - but if we do nothing, emissions will be catastrophic. The modest effect outcome for climate change is only possible if we undertake quick actions and the climate turns out to be on the less-sensitive side. If the CO2 levels in the atmosphere triple, which they will barring emission reductions, then we've got a catastrophe. Do we wait, or do we deal with it now?

Finally, Friedman didn't define anything. How many Bangladeshis have to die from increased storm intensity with increased sea levels to make it "catastrophic", or how many African children die from reduced subsistence farming productivity? This won't convince denialists - it'll just make them mad - but it can help bring over people who are on the fence.

I think the denialists are on the run. The question is whether we can act fast enough to get reductions in place.

UPDATE: Friedman responds in the comments to this post. The people replying to him in the follow-up comments do a far better job of it than I would.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pardons, part 2

This time, unlike last time, the media is interested in discussing the pardon issue. I'm not sure why - maybe because rightwingers are now coming out full force to subvert democracy, or because it's a lot closer to happening now?

Democrats should take the same tactic as last time - demanding Bush say what he'll do. Even better, they should demand the Republican candidates say whether it would be appropriate to pardon Libby.

Probably a good chance for the non-Hillary candidates to push an issue that's awkward for her, given that Bill's pardon for his half-brother stank, and his pardon of Marc Rich was fishy. Hillary might want to decide whether to distance herself from the less-savory aspects of the Clinton administration.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Did Exxon stop its denialism because of liability concerns?

I attended the symposium on climate change and liability held at Stanford several weeks ago. Possibly the most interesting statement was in the second panel, where a speaker associated with insurance companies said that directors' liability insurance for corporate boards would start containing climate-change exclusions. This means that unless the corporations undertake certain actions to reduce the insurer's exposure, the directors theoretically could be individually liable for harm caused by the company.

Now on the one hand, I expect the "certain actions" required by the insurers would be extremely limited. But on the other hand, the first exclusion I would put in if I were the insurers' lawyer is "if the corporation lies about climate change, all subsequent legal liability for climate change will be born by the company or by its individual directors." The correlation between this imminent change in liability insurance, which Exxon must know about, and Exxon's recent change from denying climate change to accepting it (at least overtly, I won't exclude some circuitous funding of denialism), is interesting.

I'd guess that a giant company like ExxonMobil would be self-insuring, but maybe conflicts-of-interest policies limit their ability to protect their directors, especially from shareholder lawsuits that might ultimately come about.

Other notes from the meeting:

Liability insurance spends tens of billions of dollars in vehicular accident payouts, and those are weather-related (negligence in bad weather is more likely to cause an accident than in good weather). Insurers are concerned about bad weather from climate change.

A Texas lawyer argued that TXU's proposal for eleven massive coal plants wasn't done despite CO2 emissions, but because of CO2 emissions. If they have lots of CO2 emissions in place when regulations eventually come to Texas, then it will be easy for TXU to reduce emissions from all the coal plants it just built and get “reduction” credits the company can use or sell. The proposal is likely scuttled, at least for eight of the plants. (The lawyer, by the way, had been a tobacco litigation lawyer for the defense, and didn't care about this stuff until his wife dragged him to a climate change conference.)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

With immigration-control friends like these....

...on this NPR program, people like me who favor a balance between immigration and emigration don't have a chance of finding a good outcome. Racists on the right, ideologically-blinded people on the left, and centrists enjoying the ride of cheap labor, combine for a bad policy mix.

I had thought FAIR was in the realm of reasonable politics, but if they're associating with racists then they're worse than useless.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Good news/bad news on a carbon tax

Respected conservative and liberal economists Tyler Cowen and Brad DeLong agree about the good news: an oil tax will mostly just transfer wealth from low-cost oil producers like Saudi Arabia to the governments that impose the tax. The bad news: because the oil tax will mostly just transfer wealth instead of increasing oil's cost, it will do little reduce carbon emissions.

This sounds mostly correct to me, assuming most oil is produced by low cost producers. You can't always predict the behavior of semi-monopolies like the Saudis though. And the economics is clear that a tax does affect price and presumably emissions in the long-term. The sooner we get started, the sooner we get to the long term.

And then there's the issue of what we can do with the tax revenues to reduce emissions.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

February 2007 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate during the last month: 3.0 (nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis)

Previous averages
January 2007: 2.77
December 2006:

Last year, February 2006: 2.07.

Overall daily average to date is 2.37. Total US dead as of March 2: 3166.

Iraqi monthly military and police fatalities: 150.

Previous military/police fatality rates
January 2007: 91
December 2006: 123

Last year, February 2006: 158.
Total Iraqi military dead: 4878.

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

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1381

January 2007: 1,711
December: 1,629

Last year, January 2006: 688.

To-date civilian total, begining in March 2005: 25,360. 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 six months in a row with American casualties above average, no prior bad stretch lasted longer than three months. The overall average rate is now moving up, from a low of 2.9 deaths daily.

Iraqi military fatality rates continue to be low relative to 2005 data, possible evidence that they're sitting out the civil war. As before, civilian casualties remain terrible.

Friday, March 02, 2007

I'm with Al on the travel thing, but not entirely on the house thing

I disagree with criticisms of Gore over his travel-related emissions, and I'm sure the people attacking him over his 10,000 square-foot house don't have the best interest of the environment at heart. But still, ten thousand feet is big.

David Roberts has his "Talking Points" in defense of Gore. That Al needs space for live-in security teams is legit. Office space may or may not be legit - I'll bet the Gores have office space elsewhere. It just seems hard still to add those needs up to 10,000 feet.

Buying carbon offsets is another significant point in Gore's defense, but he acknowledges that's just a backup plan - whether he's truly reduced emissions as much as possible is dubious.

In the end, it's a flaw, but a minor one compared to everything Gore is doing. I wish that all the people living in big houses did as much to help the environment, or any social cause, as Gore is doing.

(Hopefully my perspective on Gore's travelling and house have little to do with the fact that I travel a fair amount but live in a modest apartment, or with the fact that my professional work occasionally involves fighting "monster mansion" development.)