Thursday, August 30, 2007

Very little blogging for a while

Really busy, then off travelling, so little/no blogging between now and Sept. 10.

Be excellent to each other!

Republican (and Democratic) hypocrisy on homosexuality

There's an excellent post at the Volokhs on how conservative homosexuals are treated in the Republican party:

First, nearly all the gay Republicans working in Washington or elsewhere are to one degree or another closeted. Second, very few Republican officials care whether someone is gay.

From the top of the party to the bottom, few Republicans personally and viscerally dislike gay people. President Bush has had friends he knew were gay. So has Vice President Cheney. Even the most prominently and vigorously anti-gay Republican, Sen. Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum, had a gay spokesperson whom he defended when his homosexuality became known.

The big, open secret in Republican politics is that everyone knows someone gay these days and very few people – excepting some committed anti-gay activists – really care. It’s one of the things that drives religious conservatives crazy because it makes the party look like it’s not really committed to traditional sexual morality.

So to keep religious conservatives happy the party has done two things. First, it has steadfastly resisted efforts to ease anti-gay discrimination in public policy, even when Republican politicians know better. I can’t tell you how many Republican staffers told me, for example, that their bosses privately opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment but would be voting for it anyway.

While the poster denies this is hypocritical, I'd disagree. On the other hand, the same claim could be made about Democratic politician attitudes to gay marriage. They know it should be legal, but won't say it.

The Democrats come out much better than the Republicans on this issue overall - I think the Republicans also, mostly know that gay marriage should be legal, and the Republicans are much worse on all other gay issues. But the Democrats aren't blameless.

For what it's worth, I think Edwards and possibly Obama are leaving the door open to supporting or at least being truly neutral on gay marriage in the near future, possibly before or during their second presidential term if elected. It's something, but it's no guarantee, it'll likely depend on polling, and it's not perfect.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Some good legal news in California about global warming and air pollution

Both of these news items are originally via Warming Law.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has settled a CEQA/global warming lawsuit against San Bernardino County (settlement here).

The heart of the settlement is here:
A target for the reduction of those sources of emissions reasonably attributable to the County’s discretionary land use decisions and the County’s internal government operations, and feasible Greenhouse Gas emission reduction measures whose purpose shall be to meet this reduction target by regulating those sources of Greenhouse Gases emissions reasonably attributable to the County’s discretionary land use decisions and the County’s internal government operations.
(Page 3.)

Basically, the settlement ducks the issue of whether the emissions are significant (what the county wanted to avoid) in return for promising "feasible" reductions (what the California AG wanted to get). A lawsuit by environmental groups is still in place though, so this may not be the final word. Of course, what constitutes "feasible" will determine whether this is at all a meaningful victory, and may require still more litigation.

Warming Law also notes a separate statement in the newspaper, "In a compromise Tuesday, lawmakers agreed that by 2010, new rules would be adopted spelling out how to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions of projects covered by the law." It's unclear what this means, but probably is a promise by the AG's office to issue new regulations under CEQA Guidelines. These regulations can interpret but cannot weaken the underlying CEQA statute. If it's proposed legislation though, then anything is possible, good or bad.

The second development is a federal appellate court case saying Air Management Districts can order local governments to purchase clean fuel vehicles.

Trivia note: I did a tiny amount of work on this case on behalf the air district, six years ago. These cases can take a long time....

(From CGF Journal.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bay Area local: Cafe Scientifique on Sept. 11 - technology and civil liberty

Come to SRI for a conversation with our next Cafe Scientifique speaker:
Peter G. Neumann
SRI International

will discuss:

Technology, Privacy and Civil Liberties: The Challenges of Homeland Security

Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 6 - 7:30 p.m.

SRI Menlo Park

Middlefield Road at Ringwood - Dining Room in the International Building

Click here for map and directions.

Computer technology plays a critical role in homeland security operations. This application of high technology has also created controversy. High profile examples include the FBI’s Carnivore (electronic communications surveillance) project and electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Peter G. Neumann has been with SRI’s Computer Science Lab for over 35 years where he is known for taking a holistic approach to information security issues. He will discuss some of the pressing questions involved in the attempt to ensure homeland security, including:

Do security and privacy necessarily conflict?

Can computer related technologies ensure privacy?

Can surveillance be done without compromise and misuse?

What will the impact be of the emerging Employment Eligibility Verification System?

How effective are biometrics?

What are the implications for civil liberties?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Guest post on Rights to Privacy, and Police use of Evidence

(A guest post from Dana S. -Brian)

Some people think police use of human DNA that we leave on cups we handle and throw away, or spit we leave on the pavement, is a violation of our privacy. That is absurd. If we are out in public, whatever we do there should be susceptible to examination by police if they suspect us. It is similar to a policeman seeing us doing something. If I am innocent of wrongdoing, my DNA is not going to match up with the perpetrator's DNA at a crime scene, and I am exonerated. (Maybe some of the uproar is due to general ignorance of the science of DNA testing and how strong it is as evidence? Are there a lot of Luddites out there?)

Same thing with video cams on every street corner - more power to the police. Those cameras are not penetrating through the window curtains - if they did, THEN that would be an improper invasion.

On the camera question, those of us here in Florida have the absurd law that a criminal charge will not stick from just a camera photographing a red-light runner. There has to be an enforcement officer observing it. As a result, red-light running, and the accidents resulting therefrom, are some of the highest violations we have here. One of my family members got hit twice in 6 months by red light runners. The authorities are now trying to get around that by photographing just the car license plate (not the driver), and issuing a traffic citation (with a substantial fine) to the owner of the car - that is, until the first time it is challenged in court.

If I am missing something here about my rights to privacy being IMPROPERLY trampled, would someone please let me know?

Dana S.

(Your editor responds: I don't have any problem with the use of DNA evidence from discards, or the use of appropriately-situated surveillance cameras like red light cameras. I do, however, have a problem with becoming an always-watched, all-the-time surveillance society like Britain is becoming. There's nothing illegal about government cameras tracking every inch of city sidewalk, but I think there is a gray-area problem with this affecting privacy to the level of decreasing the quality of life. Anonymity is itself a form of privacy protection, and the loss of anonymity in an all-surveillance society is a problem, I think. Anyway, I'm sure Dana would be happy to read and respond to other people in the comments.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lindzen deceives, dog bites man (see update)

A Richard Lindzen quote from Global Warming Is Not a Crisis debate:

"...outside the tropics, the theory of such storms and variability says the variability should decrease in a warmer world .... and we'll be less prone to crisis in a warmer world."

From page 9 of the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers, under the impact category "Heavy precipitation events. Frequency (or proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls) increases over most areas," the IPCC says this impact is "very likely" to occur.

I've only just started listening to the debate, and I'm told that the denialists switched a number of audience members to their side by the end. I assume the audience went in assuming the statements of "fact" by the skeptics to have some relationship to truth. If Lindzen and the other idiot threw in more deceptions than the scientists were ready to catch them on, then denialists had a structural advantage.

UPDATE: see comments. Glen R. points out that because "most areas" includes the tropics while Lindzen carefully excludes them, both statements could be true. I find this approach by Lindzen to be deceptive though. I've changed the title from "Lindzen lies" to "Lindzen deceives."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A new way that Iraq's a mess

From Talking Points Memo: Iraq doesn't control or fund its intelligence service - the CIA does, through a crony of Ayad Allawi, who's been proposed to replace Iraq's current Prime Minister through a legal or "extra-legal" process. Iraq has had to create a second intelligence service so it actually has some control of that one.

I don't blame the US for infiltrating the Iraqi government - it's what I hope we're doing with Pakistan. I just hope we're clear on the true loyalties of the people we're paying, and don't have all our infiltrators located in a single basket. That Iraq is forced to tolerate this level of US control is crazy though - it reminds me of how the Sandinistas have their own private army outside of Nicaraguan governmental control.

I like this comment too, posted at TPM:
So....what are the odds that the big fee Allawi is paying to GOP lobbyists is actually cash that came directly from INIS and indirectly from the CIA?
Your tax dollars at work.

In other Iraq news, the uneven security improvements appear to be a result of Sunni Iraqis anticipating a near-term withdrawal of American troops rather than a result of the surge.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I think Edwards should create a "Nixon to China" moment on monster mansions

Along with other somewhat superficial criticism John Edwards has been handed is the fact that he lives in a very large house. I think he can kill multiple birds here by promising legislation that would limit the mortgage interest deductions for monster mansions. What constitutes a monster mansion is a gray area, but personally I would start phasing out the deduction for houses bigger than 4,000 square feet and eliminate it entirely for mansions over 6,000 square feet. I would also either eliminate the deduction for second homes, or add the footage of the second home to the first home for purposes of figuring out deductibility.

I'm sure this would more than pay for the $1 billion program that Edwards has called for to help homeowners hit by the mortgage crisis (no money figure given in the link, but I've seen it elsewhere). It would limit the extent that the mortgage tax deduction is skewed in favor of the wealthiest. It would reduce the incentives people have to buy environmentally-destructive mansions that are almost always located in sprawl areas. Finally, Edwards has special credibility in making this proposal since it would affect him directly, and at the same time it neutralizes the criticism over the issue, turning it around into something positive he can point to.

A politically-easier version of this is to apply the limitation only to new homes built after the legislation is enacted. It won't bring as many benefits, but would still be helpful in fighting the monster mansions afflicting the country.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Some concerns about Richardson and Wen Ho Lee

Bill Richardson was the other presidential candidate besides Edwards that I've supported, primarily for his foreign policy. I need to know more about his role in the Wen Ho Lee affair, though. There's this from the Albuquerque Journal:

Lee was first publicly identified as a suspect of alleged Chinese espionage in a March 8, 1999, Associated Press news story, which cited an anonymous government source.
Two days later, Richardson told the Journal that "there are very strong suspicions of (Lee's) participation" and that Lee had failed a second polygraph test in February 1999, administered on his insistence.
Richardson later said he did not recall conducting the phone interview with the Journal and has said that he doesn't recall other interviews with the New York Times.
Richardson did appear on a March 1999 episode of CNN's "Crossfire" in which he made similar statements, upsetting then-FBI director Louis Freeh, who said he was concerned Richardson's disclosures could have violated privacy laws.
Freeh, who said in a deposition for Lee's lawsuit that both the FBI and DOE were likely sources of the leaks, also said he was so upset about the leaks that "I would have loved to put the handcuffs on the person responsible for these leaks personally."
In his 2000 testimony to Congress, after Lee was exonerated of all but one charge, Freeh said that the press leaks "effectively eliminated any possibility of the normal, structured counterintelligence interview" when FBI agents sought information from Lee in March 1999.
Instead, he said, "the interview was rushed, an inappropriate level of aggressiveness was applied, and the interview was unsuccessful.

I'll watch this, I guess. For all I know, Lee was a spy, but the whole thing was a mess.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An open letter to Fred Thompson

Dear Fred,

I see you don't think humans cause global warming - instead you think it's caused by the changes in solar output (strange then that Uranus appears to be cooling, but whatever).

I'd like to know if you're willing to put your money where your mouth is. I'm willing to bet that the per-decade warming rate in the next decade will be twice what it was per decade in the 20th Century. If all that's happening is a recovery from a cold spell ending in 1850, I'd think we'd be pretty much done now, without any reason to anticipate the rate to double, so you should clean up.

Or if you think it's just a short term cycle, then I'll bet that it's going to last for awhile.

Please let me know if you're interested. After all, you're betting other people's lives if you're wrong, so I can't see why you won't bet your own money.

Brian Schmidt

Monday, August 20, 2007

A guest post on the FISA mess

(Below is a guest post by occasional commentor Jeff S., from a letter he sent to Senator Dianne Feinstein. -Brian)

Senator Dianne Feinstein
FAX 415-393-0710

In RE: Amendment of FISA (S. 1927)

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I was very surprised and disappointed to see your vote to approve broad new powers to the Executive Branch, which, by every account I’ve read, including those coming from the White House, allows for warrantless wiretapping of the phone calls of American citizens and other “U.S. persons” on U.S. soil, with no court oversight.

Quoting from a recent NY Times editorial:

“Instead of just fixing [a] glitch, the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill railroaded Congress into voting a vast expansion of the president’s powers. They gave the director of national intelligence and the attorney general authority to intercept — without warrant, court supervision or accountability — any telephone call or e-mail message that moves in, out of or through the United States as long as there is a “reasonable belief” that one party is not in the United States. The new law all but eviscerates the 1978 [FISA] law.”

I fully understand that international terrorism poses a serious threat, and I appreciate the need for intelligence gathering to counter that threat. However, I also believe it is critical that this country does not abandon civil rights and civil liberties in an ultimately futile quest for ultimate security, nor do I believe that we should abandon our commitment to divided government, with congressional oversight and judicial review of the executive branch.

I believe granting this type of unlimited discretion for surveillance on Americans to any administration would be a mistake, regardless of if it were lead by a Democrat or Republican, and even if I believed the administration officials involved were honorable, honest, competent, and committed to civil liberties. Sadly, as the past six and a half years have amply proven, however, the current administration that Congress granted this extraordinary power is peopled by the “Mayberry Machiavelli’s”, to quote one former Bush administration official, whose incompetence, mendaciousness and political opportunism is unparalleled, at least in modern US presidential history.

As a senator serving on the Judiciary Committee, you know truth of this statement all too well. Just recently, you referred to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as someone whose “obfuscation, prevarication and untruths” bespoke of someone who “just doesn't tell the truth” and is “contemptuous of Congress." This is the same Attorney General who despite 6 months and several congressional hearings, still has not been able to come up with a halfway credible explanation why Carol Lam, David Ignatius, John McKay and other US Attorneys were fired, lending credence to the theory that they were fired for investigating Republicans too hard or not trumping up vote fraud charges against Democrats to swing elections to benefit Republicans. Moreover, there have been highly disturbing changes in the Voting Rights section of the Justice Department, again apparently to benefit Republican candidates, that have occurred on Mr. Gonzales’s watch.

And yet Gonzales is the person that this bill empowers with broad discretion to interfere in a right guarantied under the 4th Amendment. Exactly what in his record of prevarication, contempt for Congress, incompetence and unparalleled and dangerous politicization of the DOJ lead you to think he would be a good steward of this power? And how do you expect your rebukes of the Attorney General to be taken seriously when you turn right around and write him legislative blank checks?

I understand the powers granted to the Executive Branch expire after 6 months. Once granted, I know these powers are very hard take back. However, when the time comes I ask that you consider the importance of our civil and constitutional rights to privacy and the wisdom of our founding fathers system of checks and balances while still allowing for collection of intelligence. Thank you.


Jeff S.

(UPDATE: One thing Feinstein and the other Dems can do in the meantime is immediately take back the power given to the Bushies that exceeded what was requested. -Brian)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hoping to bet Rush Limbaugh

Via James, Overcoming Bias points out a Rush Limbaugh episode claiming that Rush wants to bet over climate change but scientists aren't willing to put their money where their mouths are. Of course Limbaugh's wrong about scientists not being willing to bet, and I want to see if I can get him to bet me.

So that's the purpose of this post - designing a fair bet that I can explain in a 15-second sound bite, a test that my existing bet completely fails.

Here it is:

Rush, I'll bet you that the next decade will warm at least twice as fast as the per-decade warming rate in the 20th Century. If you believe it's just been natural warming so far that'll reverse itself, you have no reason to expect this dramatic acceleration, and you should clean up in the bet.

That should be enough for talk radio. We'd have to get details out of the way - I'm thinking the best/quickest way to resolve it is to compare 1998-2007 to 2008-2017. The temp rise in the 20th Century was .6C, so a per-decade doubled rate is .12C. I take the risk of a massive volcanic eruption skewing my decade when none occurred during his, but .12C provides a good comfort margin.

We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Random new climate change fact re climate sensitivity

Didn't know this factoid before, from RealClimate:

The climate sensitivity classically defined is the response of global mean temperature to a forcing once all the 'fast feedbacks' have occurred (atmospheric temperatures, clouds, water vapour, winds, snow, sea ice etc.), but before any of the 'slow' feedbacks have kicked in (ice sheets, vegetation, carbon cycle etc.).
I would guess that the slow feedbacks, at least the ones that are faster than tectonic plate movements, seem likely to be bad news rather than good news, so the classic sensitivity definition is an understatement. And there's Hansen's concern that the ice sheet feedbacks may not be so slow.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Egads, I'm inconsistent!

I have some trouble reconciling my attitude towards a post at Feministing, about the difficulties young people have in finding someone to sterilize them, with my attitude towards pharmacists who won't give the Plan B contraceptive pill, or with my attitude towards the Supreme Court decision on the "partial birth abortion" case.

The Feministing post and subsequent commentors talk about the great difficulty that young people under 30, including men but especially women, have in finding a doctor willing to perform sterilizations on them. The doctors always say "when you're older you might change your mind about having biological children" and refuse to do it. An occasional refusal by a doctor wouldn't affect people much for this non-urgent surgery, but because the vast majority of doctors refuse, it makes the whole process extremely difficult.

Most of the commentors have a problem with this. I don't.

But, I do have a problem with pharmacists who refuse to give the "morning after pill" out to women, and with Justice Kennedy's decision in the Gonzales v. Carhart case that because some women eventually regret their decision to have an abortion and suffer psychological harm, "the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice" (quote from the dissent).

So am I just as bad as Kennedy? A Feministing commenter notes that young people can get plastic surgery easily but not sterilization because plastic surgery is about conforming to societal expectations. Am I imposing my own views?

Maybe. There's a difference though between "difficult" (obtaining sterilization) on one side and "legally prohibited" (abortion ban) or "practically impossible" (pharmacists not giving urgently needed contraceptives) on the other side. If I'm imposing my views, at least there's a limit as to how far I'll go.

And as for the Feministing commentors who think they're consistent, I question whether they'd stay consistent if we talked about 18 year olds or 16 year olds requesting sterilization instead of twentysomethings.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cooling on Uranus

While the "warming solar system is proof the Earth is heating naturally" claim is completely bogus, that hasn't stopped the support of idiots.

So I thought the report that the unfortunately-named planet is getting cooler should receive some more attention than it did. Now in the land of science as opposed to the land of science denialists, the fact that a study found Uranus to be cooling wouldn't do much to disprove "sun did it!" claim. For one thing, it's just one study and could be wrong, and for another, Uranus could be cooling for climatic reasons that have nothing to do solar dynamics.

Doesn't matter though - the claims that planets (other than Mars) are warming are also just based on little more than a single study each, and acknowledgment that Uranus' internal climate can override short-term solar influence pretty much shoots down the stupid, if-Earth-is-warming-only-the-sun-can-cause-it claim. Anyway, the claim is just wrong.

In other solar system events, some friends and I went outside last night to watch the meteor shower and play with a 12" Meade LightBridge telescope that I half-own. Now is a nice time to see Jupiter and its moons in the evening sky. What I really need to find is a good place between San Jose and San Francisco to use the scope though; the place we chose wasn't so great.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Obama was right on Pakistan, if we're willing to apply the Golden Rule

Obama has been taking a lot of heat for saying that as president, he would take military action against high-level Al Qaeda forces in Pakistan without that government's permission if the Pakistanis failed to act themselves. There's a certain level of irony in that the critics mostly decry Obama's failure to be vague about this, rather than his actual policy, and then they use the fact that he was vague on just what military action he would do to claim he's talking about a full-scale invasion, like the one that the neocons wanted/still want to do with Iran.

Obama isn't an idiot like the neocons; he's talking about covert ops or small-scale military ops (missiles and in-and-out raids). From my perspective, this is fine ethically, as long as we accept the Golden Rule. Here's the hypothetical: suppose Pakistan locates high-value terrorist leaders targeting Pakistan for something terrible, at a location in the United States, and the US refuses to act against them for whatever reason (maybe the Pakistanis trust their intelligence sources while the US doesn't). Pakistan has the same right to move against these people as we have against Al Qaeda in Waziristan. I don't see any part of this hypothetical as being completely impossible, by the way, including Pakistan's ability to act. They can't launch cruise missiles, but they can send some spies with easily-purchased-in-America, modified automatic weapons to shoot up a terrorist meeting, probably with less collateral damage than a cruise missile would bring.

So I don't see a way around this ethically,* although I would love to witness the contortions of American Exceptionalists in order to claim our moral leadership allows us to act in self-defense in ways that are denied to other nations.

Now, ethics is only the first test; the second test is whether it's a beneficial policy to actually follow, and the third test is whether it's beneficial to openly talk about this policy. I don't really have an answer to the second test because I don't know when the benefit of taking out a particular target exceeds the cost to Pakistan's fragile political structure (assuming the action becomes known). I think it would, if it were 100% certain that cruise missile strikes would kill Osama and Zawahiri with 0% chance of collateral casualties, but beyond that scenario, you have to be more of a Pakistan expert than me.

As for the third question of whether one should talk about this policy, I also think that's okay if you acknowledge the Golden Rule. Obama's statements have already caused unrest in Pakistan, but I think some of the edge could be taken off by acknowledging that the shoe could be on the other foot. Obama could quickly add that in fact, covert foreign action in the US would be unnecessary because the US will act against terrorism plotters, and so any such attempt would be wrong and have negative consequences.

Whether any American politician would acknowledge this Golden Rule application, though, is an open question.

*The one potential way around is to say neither we nor the Pakistanis can act ethically in this manner and must use the legal process instead, but that's an outlier position in today's world.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Carbon emission reductions should be per-capita and based on cumulative totals over time

A while back I argued that the Kyoto approach of freezing each nation's emissions and gradually reducing them is grossly unjust, and that emissions should instead be reduced on some kind of per-capita basis.

I would go one step further though and say that even an equal, per-capital emission standard on an annual basis is unfair for nations that are newly industrializing. Let's say hypothetically that next year, China starts creating the same per-capita emissions as the United States. It would be wrong to say then that China has caused an equal, per-capital level of climate damage and has to make an equal amount of reduction, when the decades of far-higher US emissions are much more responsible for the mess we find ourselves in.

Some versions of this idea, of focusing on cumulative emissions, are percolating through the policy arguments. Here's Jim Hansen talking about which countries have responsibility for initial reductions:

The moratorium must begin in the West, which is responsible for three-quarters of climate change (via 75% of the present atmospheric CO2 excess, above the pre-industrial level), despite large present CO2 emissions in developing countries.

I also heard Nicholas Stern say something similar in a radio program, that primary responsibility for addressing the problem belongs to the nations that have produced the majority of the excess carbon stock in the atmosphere.

A just approach would determine a global emission level that gradually brings greenhouse gases down to a non-dangerous level, and then have differential per-capital allocations - higher emissions for nations with little cumulative responsibility, and the reverse for others. The goal would be to have equal, cumulative, per-capita responsibility for the excess greenhouse gas stock by some date. I think the year 2100 would be appropriate.

Of course this is all dancing on the head of a pin until the US and the rest of the world to decide to get serious about climate change.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Mitt Romney is no Teddy Roosevelt

Romney is catching heat for saying his sons' volunteer work on his campaign is more or less the equivalent of military service in Iraq. I think Republicans will just have to continue to avoid any comparison to another proponent of military adventures, Teddy Roosevelt:

Teddy said he'd never ask anyone to take a risk he wouldn't take himself. As a middle-aged man he volunteered for the Spanish-American War and served under dangerous conditions. He told his 3 sons that he'd disown them if they didn't serve in World War I, and one of them died. He begged his political enemy Woodrow Wilson for a military commission in the war as well, but was denied.

Winning the O'Hanlon Primary

Michael O'Hanlon is an unfortunate presence in the foreign policy establishment, someone who was an enthusiastic war promoter, and who argued that US casualties could be determined by analogy to the Panama conflict.

Worse still, he continues to support our military involvement. Topping it all off, he is considered a "liberal" defense expert likely to get a prominent government job should a Democrat end up in the White House.

We need to end bipartisanship in stupidity and error. The "O'Hanlon Primary" idea has bounced around some blogs - that a Democratic candidate can show a true change by promising that O'Hanlon won't be running the show in 2009.

I would love to see Edwards (or Richardson) win this primary, a win I'm convinced will be ever more valuable as the O'Hanlon-supported misadventure in Iraq deteriorates still more.

To help make it seem less "personal," here's a statement the either campaign could issue that's also a primary winner:

"We will seek and accept good advice wherever he can find it. However, any alleged 'expert' who enthusiastically supported the war and still at this very late date argues in favor of massive military involvement in Iraq is part of the problem, not the solution. Any 'expert' with this level of credibility problems is extremely unlikely to be a core part of our administration."

This would be a great step in showing a real change will happen.

(Cross-posted at

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Newsweek says "Denialists! Denialists! Denialists!"

Lots of folks have noticed the Newsweek article on climate change denialists, and I agree with everyone that it's a good article. My one contribution is that I'm glad they're willing to use the terms denialists and deniers, and I hope it helps kill the idea that term is somehow unfair.

UPDATE: I'll also add this good article partially makes up for the two awful ones they wrote on global cooling. They have still got more ground to cover before they've made up their debt to society, though.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Dealing with whacked out comment system

Hank Roberts sez in a comment to the preceding post that in order to read, write to, or even be aware of the Totally Secret Comment Sections for my awesome blog posts, you have to jump through about a million hoops. I'm thinking of dropping Haloscan, losing all the old comments, and switching to Blogger. Any feedback is welcome - send up a smoke signal or something. Or some hints from Hank:

--- allowing Haloscan to do javascript
--- allowing cookies
--- reloading the page
--- reloading the page a second time
Then the Comment text showed up for me.

Firefox, of course, with the various security options turned on as my defaults; there wasn't even a hint that comments could be possible 'til I did all the above.

Considering that you can't turn around without hearing someone talk about this blog, it's got to be worth it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

James Hansen and the albedo flip

Via a tip from TokyoTom, here's a James Hansen analysis continuing his previous statements that climate change could be even worse than generally predicted. Given Hansen's history of being right dating back to 1988, I think it's worth attention. He primarily focuses on the possibility of rapid change due to an "albedo flip" from reflective snow and ice sheets to heat-absorbing water and dark ground.

A few quotes:

(d ) Planet Earth today: imminent peril

The imminent peril is initiation of dynamical and thermodynamical processes
on the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets that produce a situation out of
humanity’s control, such that devastating sea-level rise will inevitably occur.
Climate forcing of this century under BAU would dwarf natural forcings of the
past million years, indeed it would probably exceed climate forcing of the middle
Pliocene, when the planet was not more than 2–38C warmer and sea level 25G
10 m higher (Dowsett et al. 1994). The climate sensitivities we have inferred from
palaeoclimate data ensure that a BAU GHG emission scenario would produce
global warming of several degrees Celsius this century, with amplification at
high latitudes.

It is difficult to predict time of collapse in such a
nonlinear problem, but we find no evidence of millennial lags between forcing and
ice sheet response in palaeoclimate data. An ice sheet response time of centuries
seems probable, and we cannot rule out large changes on decadal time-scales
once wide-scale surface melt is underway. With GHGs continuing to increase, the
planetary energy imbalance provides ample energy to melt ice corresponding to
several metres of sea level per century
Present knowledge does not permit accurate specification of the dangerous
level of human-made GHGs. However, it is much lower than has commonly
been assumed. If we have not already passed the dangerous level, the energy
infrastructure in place ensures that we will pass it within several decades.

We conclude that a feasible strategy for planetary rescue almost surely requires a
means of extracting GHGs from the air. Development of CO2 capture at power
plants, with below-ground CO2 sequestration,may be a critical element. Injection of
the CO2 well beneath the ocean floor assures its stability (House et al. 2006). If the
power plant fuel is derived from biomass, such as cellulosic fibres5 grown without
excessive fertilization that produces N2O or other offsetting GHG emissions, it will
provide continuing drawdown of atmospheric CO2.

TokyoTom and I disagree somewhat about the last paragraph. He thinks it lends support for open-air carbon capture, the approach favored by Roger Pielke Jr. and the only semi-mainstream idea more speculative than geoengineering. I think Hansen's referring to carbon sequestration from biomass power generation, which is a means of extracting GHGs from the air.

I don't know what this "Injection of the CO2 well beneath the ocean floor assures its stability" is about though. I know of below-ground carbon sequestration, and deep-ocean sequestration, but not of an approach that combines the two. I guess I should read the reference.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

July 2007 Iraq casualties, and NY Times screws up

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate during the last month: 2.87 (the vast majority are Americans, but not including Iraqis)

Previous averages
June 2007: 3.6
May 2007: 4.26
Last year, July 2006: 1.48.

Overall daily average to date is 2.48. Total US dead as of today: 3659.

Iraqi monthly military and police fatalities: 232.

Previous military/police fatality rates
June 2007: 196
May 2007: 198
Last year, July 2006: 132.
Total Iraqi military dead: 7333.

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


Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1441

June 2007: 1146
May 2007: 1782
Last year, July 2006: 1063.
To-date civilian partial total (stats begin only in March 2005): 35,597.

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 eleven months in a row with American casualties above average, no prior bad stretch lasted longer than three months. The overall average for American/non-Iraqi foreign fatality rate continues to move up, from a low of 2.29 deaths daily.

As before, civilian casualties remain terrible. The rate seems to hover around a level that is nearly twice as bad as a year ago, and three times worse than in 2005. Neither we nor the Iraqis realized how good we had it back in 2005.

Six months have passed since the troop escalation began, with no indication in these statistics that it has accomplished anything, except possibly as a contributor to higher US military casualties, with no trend yet for Iraqi military and police.

Three of the last four months have had especially high British casualty rates, so we'll have to see if that continues.

The NY Times screw up is here:

BAGHDAD, July 31 — The death of a marine in western Iraq brought the American military death toll to 74 so far in July, on course to be the lowest monthly figure this year....

It's a terrible reporting job. First, the death toll is significantly worse than the four-year average, so playing it as good news is ridiculous. Second, there's no point in trying to draw a trend based on a single month. I've seen right-wing bloggers do it countless times - take one month of slight improvement from an overall worsening trend, claim victory, and ignore the stats for months more until the process can repeat. The Times isn't keeping good company.