Saturday, December 24, 2005

Trade agreements, not treaties, should regulate greenhouse gas emissions

Below are two ideas that I think may be politically feasible, and can still handle the ultimate problem of very large reductions or mitigations of greenhouse gas emissions.

Number one: Magic! This is also known as the technology solution to climate change. I'm being somewhat facetious here, because technology has solved many of our problems, just as it has also created many of our problems (including this climate change). But expecting technological improvements to come up with a perfect, cheap, and easily-implemented solution to processes that emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere is something that amounts to playing the technological lottery.

As an example, see the post by Roger Pielke Jr. on open-air capture of carbon dioxide. The assumptions involved in making that concept work are truly heroic. Carbon sequestration from point sources is going to be hard enough, while this concept of open-air capture adds an additional, poorly defined step that must then be combined with the point source sequestration (when the open-air-captured carbon dioxide has to be released from the capturing material, and sequestered using point-source methods).

A historical note: reliance on not-yet-developed technology was the thing that kept Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party going towards the end of World War II, when it was clear that they were losing. Things did not work out so well for them.

Bottom line is that technology will of course be important, and I wouldn't even rule out some "magical" technology that makes everything easy, but in the meantime we have to look at some solutions that will require actual effort.

Number two: greenhouse gas controls regulated and adjusted through international trading mechanisms. This is very different from the current treaty-based approach that involves unanimous consent by each nation, and treaty ratification in the United States Senate (if it's to be made applicable in the US). Instead, a critical mass of the world economy, which may or may not include the United States, first determines the total level of allowable greenhouse gas emissions for the entire world, then uses whatever method they choose to allocate those omissions to each country, and finally enforces against noncompliance by any country, whether the country likes it or not, through trade duties on exports from the country that exceeds its allocations. Those trade duties could then be used to pay for greenhouse gas mitigations that would balance out the noncompliance by the offending country.

There are two advantages to this approach over a treaty-based approach. First, if enough of the rest of the world is willing to stand up to the United States, and any other country that refuses to participate, they can do so. I think this is crucial because even a Democratic president may not be willing or able to get the United States to agree to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade or two, especially in light of the two thirds vote of approval necessary for treaty in the United States Senate. Furthermore, just the fact that this possibility exists could make the United States and especially the American business interests more willing to compromise than would otherwise be the case.

The second big advantage in a trade-based approach is that it does not need the two thirds vote requirement in the United States Senate required for a treaty. Trade agreements only need to be approved by a majority of both houses of Congress, something that is much more feasible. Alternatively, the US doesn't sign at all, but that doesn't even matter if the majority of the world's trading economy does sign and enforce the trade agreement. I'm referring to the United States primarily, but other problem countries like Australia and China could also be regulated this way.

I'm not pretending that this approach is easy, as it would have to significantly modify the current World Trade Organization approach to trade, and it would require Europe and Japan to be willing to go to the wall with the United States over trade. I just point out that it's a way to get things done without the entire world being held hostage by one-third of the US Senate. Not easy this way, but the other way is much harder.

I would like the flesh this out at some point, rather just having some barely-described idea, but that will have to wait for a later time.

Enjoy the holidays everybody. I'm off backpacking in Death Valley, and won't be blogging for a week or so.

UPDATE: see the comments - commentators whose opinions I respect suggest that the trade agreements idea is not a feasible method for getting around the legal requirement for a two thirds majority in the Senate. This isn't my field of law, but I still think it would work. See this web site (or click here if you don't have Powerpoint) for more information that trade agreements do not need two thirds majority vote.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

On working with, not against, the Peak Oil people

Below is an email I received from David Room of the Post Carbon Institute, a non-profit advocating for adaptation to a Peak Oil world. Speaking even as someone who's somewhat skeptical about the Peak Oil worst-case scenarios, I'm still disappointed in responses he's received from some climate change advocates, and their unwillingness to work with Peak Oil people:

I have been trying to work with the Greenhouse Network (through the Executive Director) for 18 months, but am consistently told that they do not have room for me (no pun intended). I hope that we will be able to work with them in the future.

Lately I am meeting more people that I think of as "Climate Change Bigots". This subset of climate change activists believes that peak oil will be a non-problem due to technology and the market, and is therefore at best a distraction. ([It is] not my intent to imply that Greenhouse Network is a climate change bigot.) I have been scolded by one of these folks for talking about energy issues - "you're talking about the right solutions for the wrong reasons". While I agree that climate change is the most disastrous problem facing humanity, the peaking of global oil production will likely have severe ramifications that may drive mainstream behavior much sooner than climate change. I think climate and energy activists need to work together. In fact, I see oil depletion and climate destruction as two sides of the same coin - the responses are the same. I am interested in ideas for bridging the gap between climate and energy activists.

In the last two months I have interviewed Ted Glick of the Climate Crisis Coalition and Joseph Romm, author of the hype about hydrogen, for Global Public Media. The Romm interview will be posted shortly [at]

I'd just add that even if one believes that technology and markets will solve the Peak Oil "distraction," they could do so in ways that are very bad for climate, like increased coal use. Climate change advocates need to be informed and help influence the policy decisions to push adaptation in the right direction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Gorilla menopause, toys, and whales

Gorillas experience menopause, says a new study. Pretty dramatic, in that I believe humans were thought unique in undergoing menopause:

Many biologists believe menopause evolved because it gave human grandmothers more time to help care for their grandchildren, said Steve Austad, a researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio who was not involved in the study.

The new findings argue against the so-called ''grandmother hypothesis,'' because female gorillas in the wild migrate away from their family groups and don't hang around to care for the grandkids.

In other primate gender news, male and female vervet monkeys show the same preference for "gendered" toys as human boys and girls. One more data point in balancing nature and nurture.

And in other "smart animal" news, a humpback whale freed from entangling ropes by divers went around and nuzzled each diver before swimming off. Assuming the divers aren't exaggerating, it's hard to deny that the whale understood what the divers were doing, despite having no similar experience in the past, and at least showed affection. Concluding that it was attempting to communicate gratitude might be more than the evidence shows, although the evidence also leaves that possibility open.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Volokh Non-Correction #2

Orin Kerr of the conservative Volokh Conspiracy weighs in on the legality of the Presidential wiretapping. The result: probably doesn't violate the Constitution, but probably does violate statutory protections.

I'll just add he's being generous to Bush on the constitutional issue. One defense relies on a border search of "international email." My question is, what's an international email? Either all email is if you follow the electrons as they get scattered around the internet (doubtful legal argument), or you have to know that the sender or the recipient was out of the country when it was sent or read, which seems hard to establish.

More news on the subject at Talkingpointsmemo.

UPDATE: Because the path here leads to straight to the top, don't expect any Dept. of Justice investigation, let alone a Special Prosecutor. The way Dems should handle this is to demand a Special Prosecutor, or they'll bring impeachment proceedings.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Short posts: stem cell scandal, and Tom Bethell echoing lies

1. From Pharyngula, on the Korean stem cell scandal: "Big buckets of money and a government that wanted certain highly desirable results is a recipe for exploitation, and they seem to have found the man to take advantage of it all."

Sounds like a warning for California, with the billions planned for stem cell research here. We better do it right.

2. Came across this tidbit in The Conservative Book Club review of Tom Bethell's "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science": it includes an "open admission by a Sierra Club official that they want to keep the DDT ban in place because it reduces African populations." (NOTE: Next sentence is wrong; see the bottom of this post.) Presumably that's a reference to Charles Wurster of Environmental Defense (not Sierra Club), and it's a lie that gets told repeatedly in right-wing circles. Anyone (as in Bethell) doing basic research would find that out.

I hope to track down Bethell to challenge him over global warming, which he also denies.

UPDATE: Tim Lambert found a different right-winger attributing an alleged quote to a Sierra Club official, here. As Tim says, no original source is given. The quote is often combined with the fraudulent Wurster quote (see also here and here), so I'm suspicious. A Google search generally leads back to the unsourced, Frontpage magazine Tim mentioned. This could use some additional reseach...

UPDATE 2: Went to a bookstore and found the pages in Bethell's book so I wouldn't have to buy it (pages 83-84). It is a reference to Michael McCloskey, a Sierra Club official, and the source is J. Gordon Edwards' malaria article here. Still researching....

Friday, December 16, 2005

Some bad news for carbon sequestration

Another really good post at The Oil Drum, except that they buried the lede - when you attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by pumping CO2 into oil fields and get the "benefit" of capturing oil that would otherwise have stayed underground, "the additional oil puts out more CO2 than is buried."

Damn. So much for that technique.

You could of course bury CO2 someplace besides an active oil field, but that then changes the economics to all costs and no benefits.

This stuff is going to take some work. As I recall, the IPCC counted on sequestration to handle 30% of the needed reductions in CO2 emissions to get a stable atmospheric concentration. I hope their economic analysis was conservative in considering whether sequestration is feasible.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Body downgrades and technology upgrades

So I haven't blogged very much in the last week or so because of pain in my left arm that's made it difficult to type. This happened once before in 1996 in both arms and lasted for four years, so hopefully this time will be a little bit better.

I am now using voice recognition software, the latest Dragon Naturally Speaking version. I tried to install it on my home computer as well as my work computer but found that my home computer, five years old, can't handle the software. So I pulled up the older version of the same software from three years ago and try to use that one there. I had trained that document for hours as opposed to about 20 minutes for the current software. The current software is much better. It is still annoying as hell though, so I hope I get my chance to type again soon.

Apparently someone somewhere said that if you have a toothache you don't care about what happens in Cambodia. It's pretty much the case for me, looking at the previous post I have here in the blog. I thought Arnold Schwarzenegger would do a little better than he has.

There is a new death penalty case making the rounds of the blogosphere, about an African-American man who who shot a white policeman that had broken into his home. More information is here, and it looks like a pretty valid argument to be a person who should not be executed. Once again, we will see what will happen.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Clemency, Arnie, Tookie, and me

Your friendly environmental lawyer has been asked to weigh in on criminal law clemency in general and Tookie Williams in particular. Let's go!

Q: Why, after millions spent on trials and appeals, with judges and juries who have very appropriately played their roles, should one man in the executive branch of government then get to decide the life or death question?

A: As my law prof once sang in class to Fiddler on the Roof, it's "Tradition!"

The sovereign's power of clemency and pardon goes back to when we had kings, when the king could also be the judge. While many other parts of the legal process have well-defined standards, I think having a safeguard providing clemency for a broad variety of reasons is useful. Example: Virginia's governor stopped the execution of a man because the state had accidentally destroyed forensic evidence that could have cleared (or reinforced) the defendant's guilt. That kind of flexibility is useful.

Q: Since the jury originally decided on death, shouldn't they get the choice to decide whether the rehabilitiation is worth a stay of execution?

A: The jury's been disbanded for years at this point. You could theoretically assemble a new jury and ask them to reassess the original judgment given all the time that's passed, but you'd need to change the law to do that. I wouldn't have a problem with that as yet another safeguard against "improper" executions, but I'd still keep the executive pardon power, just in case.

Q: In your judgment as an environmental lawyer, does Tookie Williams represent a good case for clemency?

A: He appears to be a model of rehabilitation, except that he denies responsibility for the murders that are the basis of his capital punishment. That leaves two options:

1. He's guilty, and is lying about the worst thing he's ever done to the great harm of the victims' survivors. Hardly the model case, no matter what else he's done to fight gang violence.

2. He's innocent, and the most deserving recipient of clemency on all of Death Row.

My superficial impression is that the evidence against him is strong, but not perfect. I casually allocate odds at 95% guilty, 5% innocent. No way would I allow such an execution to go forward on those odds.

Q: So what will Arnie do?

A: Schwarzenegger will occasionally reach out to the left, so long as it doesn't involve raising taxes or otherwise irritating big business. Commuting the sentence will get him in trouble with police unions, and might reduce financial contributions from knuckle-draggers. But he's in trouble and needs to take chances. I say, 55% chance he'll commute to life in prision. I assume that morality plays no role in his decision, just political calculus and personal whimsy.

So far, my success rate in political predictions in this blog has stayed at the exact same level. We'll see what happens.

Monday, December 05, 2005

95-10: good, oversold, and can be improved

Via Jonathan Zaslof and The Carpetbagger, there's a plan to reduce abortions 95% through better contraception and adoption incentives, but also including a ban on late-term abortions.

It's a good idea. I see no way it'll reduce abortions 95%, but I do see a way to sell it politically: the politicians supporting it can say this idea will reduce the abortion rate (not by 95% though), that's a measurable trend, and if it doesn't in 4-6 years, they promise they won't run for re-election. I challenge my opponent to make a similar pledge about his position.

There should be a number of empirically-testable positions where Democrats differ from Republicans, and can make promises like this that Republicans will have to run away from.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

November 2005 Iraq casualties

On to the monthly casualty report for November:

Avg. daily military fatality rate(nearly all of them Americans): 2.87. October was 3.19, September was 1.73, and November 2004 was 4.7. Overall average to date is 2.35, up 0.02. Total US dead as of today: 2,129.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 176. October was 215, September was 233, and no stats published for November 2004 (January 2005 is when the stats started: 109). Total dead: 3701.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 581. October was 465, September was 640, stats begin in March 2005: 240. Note that the civilian numbers may be less accurate than others, but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: second month in a row where American fatalities exceed the overall average while Iraqi military fatalities have decreased.

"As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."


key: Iraq, monthly report

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Understanding v. racism

Some bloggers are trying to organize today as the "Blog Against Racism Day".

I'm not sure how much this white boy has to add on the subject, but I do know a place to go to get more information: The Yforum. It's set up as a place for people of differing ethnicities to ask each other questions and to understand or explode stereotypes. Embarassing questions are very much allowed. Not a bad place to check out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A definite maybe on nuclear power

I’ve been thinking of doing an “off the reservation” series of blog posts on issues where I stray from the general left-of-center tilt in this blog. Maybe I’ll just start with this one, where I endorse Belette’s “maybe” approach to nuclear power.

One criticism I’ll make of parts of the environmental movement is showing insufficient desperation over global warming. Fighting certain windmills because you think they’re ugly, like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., isn’t showing desperation. Rejecting nuclear power outright is also showing insufficient desperation, so I think a pragmatic assessment of nukes is better.

Commenting on subjects raised in Belette’s post: as he suggests, there’s no way nukes will help meet emission targets in 2012, that’s way too soon to construct operating plants. This does touch on the worst argument against nukes, though – because they’re not a panacea, therefore they’re not worth pursuing. My take is that if they’ll help in the more distant future, I’ll take the help.

The economics issue is the biggest one. As Steve Bloom points out in Belette’s comments, conservation is a lot cheaper way to reduce CO2 than nukes are. I don’t have the figures but I think wind power is also cheaper (but it doesn’t work everywhere). If you add all the subsidies over the last 60 years that nuclear power received to its cost, it would be off the table completely. But, past subsidies are a sunk cost – it might be worth pointing out to nuke fans how subsidized their industry of choice has been, yet that doesn’t determine what we should do now. Steve may be referring to present/future subsidies, but I’m not aware of all that much for mature technology, as opposed to new nuclear tech. This is also where the “no panacea” argument rears its head – nukes won’t accomplish everything, but they could be one more solution to add to the mix.

Now here’s an idea that goes way off the reservation – one way to reduce nuclear power costs would be to reduce safety margins. Nukes are ridiculously safe compared to the thousands of people killed annually by coal power plant emissions, so reducing nuclear safety margins and shifting power from coal to nuclear would end up with a net safety benefit. This is politically unacceptable, though, so it’ll go nowhere.

As to nukes producing emissions comparable to coal/gas, I also highly doubt it. Even when I worked for Natural Resources Defense Council and we were fighting some lies on emissions put out by the nuclear industry, we didn’t make this claim.

Belette doesn’t mention the vulnerability to terrorism – that’s a significant problem. On the other hand, we already (hopefully) have more nuclear plants than can be blown up by terrorists, so adding more might not make a difference. On the third hand, if terrorists develop effective techniques for attacking nukes and our only available response is to shut down all the nuclear plants, then we don’t want to be any more dependent on nukes than we are currently.

So – show me a way to solve the economics issue and some type of fudge regarding terrorism, and I won’t stand in the way of nukes (even if I’m not totally enthusiastic).

P.S. The comments to Belette's post are worth reading

P.P.S. Being politically correct and all that, I researched whether the term "off the reservation" is offensive to Native Americans. I did find one Native American activist on the Web who said it was, while no one else seemed to care. The term seems to me to indicate a laudable inclination to break stupid rules, so I'll use it unless it seems clearly inappropriate.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Peak oil and global warming

I recently added a peak-oil blog, The Oil Drum, to my blogroll, have been following the issue for a while, and just came back from a lecture at Stanford presenting contrasting views on the issue. I think there are really 3 questions on peak oil and global warming:

1. Is peak oil a real issue?

2. If it is, what effect will it have on efforts to control global warming?

3. What effect will global warming policies (and other enviro policies) have on efforts to overcome peak oil issues?

You'll wonder why I'm wasting your time with this post when I have no real answers to these questions, but I do have speculations, which is more than good enough for blogging work.

Question #1 was the focus of tonight's lecture, and I felt the speakers were talking past each other. One focused on the limited availability of a finite resource, and the other spoke of the ability of markets and technology to find substitutions. I don't think history is all that kind to the "Ohmigod we're all going to die"-type predictions, so I think the oil optimists have an edge on that part of the spectrum. On the other hand, history has given us two oil shocks in the 1970s, so I don't see why that can't be repeated, especially given oil concentration in the hands of cartels in unstable regions. Also, free markets are screwed up by bad information, and there's reason to believe that the information coming from Saudi Arabia and maybe other countries has exaggerated reserves. That would depress prices relative to the theoretical price that markets would have established given future shortages, meaning prices would be in for a shock when the correct information comes out.

So, some troubles ahead, I think.

Question #2 gets some attention (see here and here). Peak oil could provoke an oil drilling craze - bad for the environment, but an overall neutral effect on AGW as compared to a world without a peak oil problem. But, peak oil could also bring tar sands and oil shale into production, and those suckers have to be heated to get oil. If you don't sequester the carbon released during heating - and I don't know how you would for shale being heated underground - then you have a net problem. And then there's substituting coal for oil - if you don't sequester it, you have a huge problem. And if prices are high already, there will be less political willpower to require sequestration for any of these alternatives.

Balancing against all that is the possibility that peak oil will jumpstart climate-friendly technologies a decade or two before we would otherwise get serious about doing something to reduce CO2 emissions.

So, you got me on this one. Looking back again at history, the 70s oil shocks helped alternative energy technologies while doing nothing for tar sands, shale, or coal gasification (don't know what effect it had on coal generally - probably a bad one in switching power plants from oil to coal). My guess is a possible net benefit to global warming, while a net negative to the environment overall.

Question #3 gets the least attention, I think. It says that maintaining our present lifestyle through other means (like coal gasification) won't work for completely different reasons. It will also impose additional costs for carbon sequestration, which could be hard for the world to absorb with peak oil shocks hitting it. If we ever become serious about stopping climate change, and also have to deal with peak oil at the same time, the transitional costs will be huge.

If we get serious about global warming first, that would be a great help in dealing with peak oil. Too bad it's not likely that we'll get serious about warming soon, though.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Battlebot, with a side of moron

My jaw has dropped several times in the last 6 months at the apparent mistakes by Karl Rove's lawyer, Richard Luskin, particularly the probable-accidental signal that journalists should start talking to the Plamegate prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. He may have now blown it again and waived attorney work-product privilege. Firedoglake has a good run-down here of the developments.

Relevant quote:

"Is Luskin a sloppy media hound and a moron, or is he simply acting as Rover's battlebot?"

My vote is battlebot for Rove, who's trying to mix the spin machine with the legal arena (they don't mix well). Luskin is doing what Rove wants him to do. But Luskin gets awarded a side of moron, for going along with it.

America thanks him, though.

And other fronts, a corrupted Vietnam war hero/Congressman pleads guilty to a conspiracy for accepting bribes. Talkingpointsmemo is all over it. Cunningham's resignation speech is kind of moving and sad - except that I first got the idea that he was simply pleading guilty. Nope, he struck a deal in a plea bargain. A heroic admission would just accept guilt and whatever punishment awaited him (but it would be terrible lawyering).

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Arrgh - another ruined post

Wrote half a post last night on how global warming skeptics who refuse bets are applying the precautionary principle, when the computer crashed and destroyed everything.

I give up for now, and am going backpacking instead. Enjoy the holidays, and I'll try and resuscitate the post next week.

Meanwhile, check out Spocko's post on "How to talk to wing nuts" for those holiday conversations (scroll to Nov. 22d, I can't get a direct link to the post).

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bested by a Curveball

The German intelligence agency is saying that the Bush Adminstration exaggerated the WMD claims of an Iraqi exile code-named Curveball, who "never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so."

Interestingly, Curveball was known to be an unreliable, alcoholic liar (see here for more).

So by exaggerating his claims, the Bush Administration showed that an even a lying alcoholic stayed closer to the truth than the Bush presidency over Iraq.

UPDATE: just came across this: "Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the [pre-war National Intelligence Estimate] had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries." I think this factoid makes Bush I and Clinton look bad, but it makes Bush II look horrible.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Jiu-jitsu with the Bush Administration

Bush and pals have gone nuts in the last week because they've been accused of deliberately misleading America into war with the WMD and Al Qaeda allegations. I think the way to respond is to draw the Republicans out on why this issue is so important. How about saying:

"You're right to be so upset about being accused of something so awful. After all, Republicans, surely you agree that misleading America into a war is an impeachable offense. Let's settle how serious the charge is, figure out who's right and who's not, and take appropriate action against the side that's wrong, whoever it may be."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

My phone conversation with Bill Gray

Although there may have been no doubt by this point, global warming skeptic Bill Gray is not willing to make a bet based on his prediction that temperatures will decline in 5-8 years.

I got tired of approaching the issue in a roundabout way, located his number and called him this morning. I explained I wanted to bet him over his prediction, but admitted it would take some time, maybe as long as 15 years, to resolve a bet. Dr. Gray said that as a man in his seventies, that wasn't practical. I explained that there's a charitable foundation that we could both give our money to now, and the foundation would award the money to the charity of the winner's choice, which could be Gray's own research center. Gray then said that he just wasn't interested in participating in a long-term bet.

So it is frustrating that Dr. Gray isn't willing to back up his policy position, which will have catastrophic impacts if he's wrong, with his money. On the other hand, he was nice enough in our conversation and I think his beliefs are sincere (which I don't think is true for some prominent denialists). He said he assumed I'll still be around in fifteen years and that he believes he's right, but if he's wrong, to please forgive him. It's hard to be angry with an unpretentious, sincere, elderly scientist that I've talked to directly. But he's wrong.

One way to look at betting over this kind of issue is to view it as a form of ethical insurance. The person who is wrong and loses the bet will have hindered the development of policy that follows the correct, winner's view. As an ethical matter, the loser should take some consolation that some of his/her money will go the winner or winner's charity, where it can hopefully do some good. I'm going to email this post to Dr. Gray - if he wants to figure out a way to be "forgiven" if it turns out he's wrong 15 years from now, then a bet that sends money to an appropriate charity would be a good way to do it. Meanwhile, I suggest he encourage other people who support his position to take up a bet on his side.

(My other bet offers may not exactly match his position, so I'll suggest this: I'll give 2:1 odds that temperatures in 15 years will be warmer than they'll be in 5 years. That should be good odds from his perspective.)

UPDATE: A simple alternative way to arrange a for-profit bet when the parties aren't sure they'll be around long enough - simply agree the bet is cancelled if either party dies before the bet's decided. I should've thought of this before.

key: global warming, bet

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My evening with Michael Crichton

Apparently the global warming skeptics Michael Crichton and Bill Gray so enjoyed their appearance together before a Senate Committee that they've taken their act on the road. Rounding out the card is Sallie Bailunas and George Taylor, more skeptics. Someone to represent the consensus view of 99% of the scientists? Who needs that? The team came to San Francisco tonight.

But they didn't count on me being there.

And unfortunately, it didn't matter that I was there.

I hate how I'd get ready for a pitched battle with evil (or in this case, stupidity), and have it just fizzle out. When I saw that Gray was joining Crichton after ignoring everyone who challenged him to a bet, I thought, "here's my chance to confront him publicly!" I imagined a microphone for the public to ask questions, where I would pull out $1000 cash along with a checkbook and demand a bet on the spot. Turns out they only take written questions and ran way over their allotted time. I did submit a bet question targeted at Gray and left my email address, but I had to leave. I'll be amazed to see anything in my inbox tomorrow. Meanwhile, they got my $35. I even wasted a half-hour getting there early to see if I could talk to Gray before the event, but no luck.

So reporting briefly on what they had to say, it wasn't much. Crichton said virtually nothing about his stupid book, trying instead to describe some meta-lessons about science and "complexity theory" for us idiots. He prattled on about mismanagement of Yellowstone in the 20th Century, ideas obviously cribbed from the book, Playing God in Yellowstone, which he never mentioned directly. His thesis, apparently, was that we interfered with nature in Yellowstone, thought we had science to support the interference, but we didn't really know what we were doing and screwed it up, and therefore we should continue to interfere with climate because reducing that interference may have chaos theory effects. Something like that.

Gray repeated his claim that temperatures will change to "cooling slightly" in 5-8 years. He said the doubling CO2 will cause a 0.3C temperature rise, and that water vapor is a negative feedback (rising vapor will cause dry air to descend, increasing transparency to infrared). I can't tell if 0.3C is a net effect after the alleged negative feedback, or how it fits into the forecast temperature drop, but he was very firm, again, in predicting the temperature drop. He said Crichton is his new hero, and that Gray would devote his remaining years to fighting global warming nonsense. Gray started talking about hurricanes, but I had to leave.

Sallie Bailunas talked earlier about how people blamed witches for erratic weather in the 1500s, apparently digging even further back in time than the tired "they laughed at Galileo, and they're laughing at me, therefore I'm the next Galileo" canard. I never heard Taylor, and some other guy talked about how natural pesticides in broccoli cause cancer so we should stop worrying about artificial pesticides and pollution.

That was it. The crowd ate it all up, and the large ballroom was packed. I expect they consider it a great success. Look for the show to come to your city next.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Alito, abortion, and gay rights

I wonder how many Americans are like me - somewhat equivocal about some aspects of abortion rights, while strongly supportive of gay rights. What has struck me about the debate about Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito is that the respect for long-standing precedent, called stare decisis, will be of little help in deciding whether to reaffirm Lawrence v. Texas, decided in 2003 on privacy grounds similar to those of Roe v. Wade.

In the Lawrence case, five Supreme Court justices found a right to privacy protected intimate sexual relations in one's home. A sixth justice, O'Connor, found the Texas law illegal on equal protection laws, since the law banned only homosexual sodomy and discriminated against defendants according to the gender of the persons the defendants were with. The Court in Lawrence expressly over-ruled a previous Supreme Court ruling, and said stare decisis was not absolute.

Alito would replace O'Connor and is unlikely to support her equal-protection claim. One more judge replaced and the entire ruling can go away. I think gay rights are even more at stake than abortion rights, but you hardly hear anything about it in the context of the Supreme Court fight.

Friday, November 11, 2005

I'm not learning much from the French riots

From Juan Cole: France refused to adopt affirmative action, instead using "color-blind" policies that ignored the reality of racism, engendering the resentment that eventually exploded.

Okay, so the right wing concept that we should drop affirmative action has been tried and failed.

From TAPPED: France has a much more generous welfare state for the poor than the US, with better housing, better education, and a better standard of living, but the social and political isolation remained and caused the riots.

Okay, so the left wing concept of a decent welfare net with the panacea of a good education for the poor also doesn't work. Many Americans on the left, maybe me included, have felt that national health insurance plus an educational system that doesn't screw over the poor is all that's needed for a wave of prosperity and social harmony. Maybe it's not so simple.

On the other hand, I'm not buying that affirmative action plus neglect of the poor (the US model) is the solution either.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Searching denialist blogs on global warming

I've been offering to bet bloggers who either deny global warming is happening, or make related, ridiculous assertions that could be tested in 10-20 year bets. My bet offers are here.

My bet offers have never been accepted, and I usually hear nothing in response from denialists, indicating to me that they have no leg to stand on.

Clicking on the links below will automatically search the blogs to see if they're continuing to make ridiculous assertions. If they are, I encourage anyone to challenge them in the comments to take up the bet that they've been offered. I'm only going to list the ones who allow comments open to anyone - the ones who don't have definitely shown their own fear.

I'm including the dates to indicate when I contacted them and offered a bet:

Commonsensewonder (9.23.05)

IMAO (9.05)

Captain's Quarters (10.3.05)

Rightwing News (10.21.05)

Outside the Beltway (a "weaselblog," 10.8.05) (11.11.05 - group blog, not all posters are denialists)

Blogs for Bush (11.20.05 - also a group blog)

Tim Blair (12.19.05)

Volokh Conspiracy/Dave Kopel (6.4.06)

key: global warming, bet

Saturday, November 05, 2005

NASA and marginal stupidity

I've been thinking about Kevin V.'s post for a while about the craziness of NASA's manned space program. I've got mixed feelings - Kevin's generally right, but this might also be one of the very few areas where the Bush administration has created a policy improvement over Clinton. They upgraded the manned program from "unimaginably stupid waste of money" to "stupid waste of money." Instead of using the proven-dangerous Shuttle on an indefinite mission to a tin can circling the world for no good reason, we're going to the moon, and possibly Mars - for no good reason.

Where the rubber hits the road in the future, as Kevin implies, is in marginal changes to increase the budget allocations for the manned program. While "stupid" is better than "unimaginably stupid", the "more expensive stupid policy" isn't necessarily better than "less expensive, unimaginably stupid."

Latest news: NASA wants $5 billion more for shuttles. While the extra money goes to the old shuttle program, I think it's needed only because they're phasing out that program. Relevant quote: "Mr. Boehlert said he did not see how NASA could fulfill its commitment to complete the space station, develop a shuttle replacement called the Crew Exploration Vehicle by 2012 and maintain the agency's science programs with the flat NASA budgets forecast for the near future."

Marginal stupidity in budget allocation is rearing its head. We'll see who wins the budget battles, science or stupidity.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Primate infanticide

Via Tangled Bank, I read this interesting post comparing infanticide in human and non-human primates. It appears that the evolutionary explanations that best fit the data for infanticide in our cousins do not work well with the infanticide data for humans. One example of a difference in the data: no recorded case, ever, of a non-human primate mother committing infanticide of her own offspring in the wild. I assume they're excluding abandonment, which maybe they shouldn't, but still it clearly indicates that we're a weird primate.

Another interesting aspect is that chimp infanticide appears somewhat harder to explain with simple evolutionary principles than is the case with monkeys. That fits my own little theory that behaviour of smart animals is hard to predict, and we're a lot smarter than chimps.

I think the concepts behind evolutionary psychology, that evolutionary principles help explain human psychology, is worth considering. I'd take any simple explanations evolutionary theories with a boulder of salt, though.

key: science, ape

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Reasonable libertarianism

I've been thinking of posting occasionally about my libertarian sympathies (and antipathies). I've occasionally cast Libertarian Party votes but can't quite take on the libertarian label, and many libertarians wouldn't accept me as a member of their club, anyway. I think "reasonable libertarianism" is a good reality-based concept of maximizing human freedom in a non-simplistic manner.

So here's a reasonable libertarian concept that I think could work: transitional adulthood. I accept that many people are rightly concerned with the consequences of conferring maximum freedom on 18- or 21-year olds. It's crazy to think that young adults magically transform from dependents to free agents on a single birthday, and it's crazy to ignore how a childhood with poor upbringing or much worse could result in self-destructive paths that are hardly a matter of free will.

Transitional adulthood gives people some time to shake off bad educational, psychological, and economic upbringing and be responsible for their own preparation for full autonomy. Any time period will be arbitrary, but I think seven years, from the ages of 18 to 25, is a good choice. Options that might not be a good idea for an 18-year old could be considered with eyes wide open by someone in their mid-twenties.

Two examples that I think would work: becoming a prostitute, and becoming a professional boxer. Both of these careers entail significant risks, and I think teenagers might fall into those fields based on other people controlling/screwing up their childhoods. It's a different story if they begin making money in those fields as full adults.

This is where reasonable libertarianism could work, I think, and actually make society a little better, in addition to being more free.

key: libertarian

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

October 2005 Iraq casualties

On to the monthly casualty report for October:

Avg. daily military fatality rate (nearly all of them Americans): 3.19. September was 1.73, August was 2.68. and October 2004 was 2.16. Overall average to date is 2.33, up 0.03. Total US dead as of today: 2,035.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 215. September was 233, August was 281, and no stats published for October 2004 (January 2005 is when the stats started: 109). Total dead: 3,509.

New monthly statistic: Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 465. September was 640, August was 1,524, stats begin in March 2005: 240. Note that the civilian numbers may be less accurate than others, but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: not much to add this month. My recollection is that daily casualties rose after the constitutional referendum, instead of falling as it has in the past after criticial events. And a side note: Juan Cole passes along a report that Shiite Ayatollah Sistani may call for a timetable for US withdrawal. I agree with Cole that if he does, the US will have to acquiesce. I expect that the Bush Administration would be glad to announce a timetable before our 2006 elections saying "we're not withdrawing out of weakness, but in acknowledgment of the growing strength of Iraqi democracy," or something equally transparent.

key: Iraq, monthly report

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sam Alito = bad

In case you need more detail than the title, look here:

  • "Alito appears to have favored environmental protections 'mainly in the face of unanimous agreement and overwhelming evidence against polluters,'";
  • His reading of the 11th Amendment may block enforcement of federal environmental laws against state governments and related agencies (cities, etc.) that construct environmentally damaging infrastructure;
  • He supports restrictions on citizen suits based on harsh application of "standing," a doctrine not found anywhere in the Constitution that conservatives made up to overrule congressional authority; and
  • His reading of the Constitution's Commerce Clause would limit its power, which in turn could limit environmental laws based on the Commerce Clause power.

For a stupid defense of Alito by a stupid blog, try Powerline. They say his dissent in an opinion saying it was illegal to strip-search a 10 year-old girl with a faulty warrant was correct, but they make the mistake of providing a link so you can read the actual decision. The warrant was faulty because it failed to request a search of all the building's occupants, although a supporting affidavit did request such a search. The problem is that the reviewing magistrate never had to confront whether the affidavit gave enough evidence to support a search of all occupants, because the warrant didn't ask for that search. End result for Alito: if the government undertakes a criminal procedure that resembles a legal action, then it's legal.

In Alito's defense, he apparently has supported gender discrimination as grounds for political asylum. Overall, he's probably one of those biased-but-persuadable conservative judges. Liberal causes start out with two strikes against them in his court - you can win sometimes, but it's not easy or fair.

But none of the above determines whether Dems should filibuster. If they do, Republicans will violate the Constitution and deploy the nuclear option to confirm him. Democrats can then shut down everything else Congress does in retaliation. Repubs will blame the Dems for obstructionism. Not sure this plays out well in an election year.

I almost blogged a while back that we should confirm Miers, but couldn't quite bring myself to do it. Maybe that was a mistake.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Book and movie reviews

Some random reviews:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (available anywhere on the planet, in every language): it's okay. Enjoyable, but I like Harry Potter as a wide-eyed boy at Hogwarts more than I like the teenage hero. And the whole major-character-will-die thing was overplayed.

Born Into Brothels: very good documentary about children growing up in the red light district of Calcutta. An American teaches them photography and tries to get them a better future. A slight spoiler here but I think it's worth mentioning: she's successful with about half of the kids, and I was surprised by which ones made it and which didn't. A dose of reality for pampered Westerners, but not a completely depressing one.

Ghost in the Shell 2: almost as good as the original Ghost in the Shell, and both of them are the best of my limited experience with Japanese sci-fi anime geared to adults. It's a murder mystery set in the future where the line between human and machine gets harder to find.

To Catch a Thief: an overrated 1955 Hitchcock film (except for the stunning scenery). Skip it unless you have to see everything he made.

Watership Down: the book is great, but skip the cartoon movie - it's mediocre.

Dead Alive: Stay away! The gore is still bothering me 2 months later, and I did okay with Evil Dead 2. Now I know not to explore Peter Jackson's other horror films.

Serenity: A fun science fiction movie from the creator of Buffy and Angel TV series. This is an interesting way to market it: click here to see the first 9 minutes from the film.

UPDATE: I'm always looking for suggestions for movies or books. Feel free to post a comment or email me!

Friday, October 28, 2005

They're not putting up - an interim report on bloggers denying global warming

About a month ago, I started going through the Truthlaidbear "ecosystem" ranking of the most popular blogs, picked out the ones that denied global warming or were strongly skeptical, and challenged them to bets over whether warming will happen. I've gone down the ecosystem from Higher Beings to Mortal Humans (the top 30 blogs) at this point, and thought I'd give an interim report.

Out of the top 30 blogs, 5 deny or strongly express skepticism of human-caused global warming (IMAO, Commonsensewonder, Powerline, Captain's Quarters, and Right Wing News), 3 play a cute game of posting links to skeptical news about warming while hiding their own opinion (Instapundit, Little Green Foothballs, andOutside the Beltway), and one is just stupid (Wizbang, which says natural warming will end in 100 years). These constitute the majority of the conservative blogs that deal with a broad range of issues. The conservative blogs that didn't make the list usually had very little to say on warming, or were group blogs with split positions. None of them beat alarm bells over the issue.

Atrios has a regular "Wanker of the Day" feature highlighting those who deserve the exposure. I'm nominating all of the above blogs for his feature for the following reasons:

  • Their position shows a ridiculous, baseless contempt for science and humanity's future.
  • They have failed to make bets that put their money where their mouths are.*
  • They never responded to emails and state why they refused to bet.*

Now I don't expect a response from every blog I contact offering them a chance to make some money off of a fool like me who dares contradict them, but what's interesting is that none of them responded. They generally seem to have plenty to say for themselves, but I read something into this lack of response, like they can't justify their refusal to bet.

Seeing as they're not putting up, I'll go back in a while to see if they're shutting up. If anyone else spots them spouting their garbage, feel free to send a comment or email their way suggesting they back up what they say. Meanwhile, I plan to gradually expand the list to lower-ranking blogs.

* Wizbang's position creates no room for a bet, but Wizbang still makes the nomination list for being incredibly stupid.

key: global warming, bet

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hit Bush on the pardon issue

Many bloggers have speculated that if indictments lead to convictions, Bush will just pardon all concerned after the 2008 elections. We can make that tougher for him, maybe starting tomorrow.

As soon as the indictments are out, Bush and his press secretary should be constantly asked whether Bush will promise not to give out pardons. If Bush refuses to answer, he pays a price that will be continuous as long as people keep asking him. If he admits that he might pardon his staff, then he starts paying a price that he'd otherwise attempt to minimize by waiting until after the elections.

If Bush promises not to issue pardons, then the defendants are more likely to plead guilty, as they can't count on a pardon to reduce their sentence and clear their criminal record. If Bush promises no pardons, but is lying and issues pardons after 2008 election, the Republicans pick up even more of a stench than they would otherwise, especially those Bush family members still seeking political office.

Under any scenario, we're better off getting the press to push Bush on this issue rather than simply being passive.

UPDATE: via Rara Avis, Act for Change is already on the issue - please consider signing their petition.

UPDATE 2 (Oct. 30): Senator Harry Reid calls on Bush to pledge not to issue pardons. The press should ask for Bush's response.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Doing my part to focus on the wrong question

We already know that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is likely to increase tropical storm intensity in the future (Table 1, pg. 15), due to increased global warming. The wrong question at the intersection of science and policy to be focusing on is this one about the present, not the future:

Thinking about the increase in the number and strength of hurricanes in recent years, do you think global warming has been a major cause, a minor cause, or not a cause of the increase in hurricanes?

Of course that's the one that everyone focuses on, and as a conformist, I will too. But first, some other questions and their answers.

1. Does controlling land use to prepare for hurricanes/typhoons have more effect on reducing their impacts than controlling greenhouse gas emissions? Yes - if proof was ever needed for this, there's plenty of it at Prometheus.

2. Because land use changes will do more to protect from hurricanes, should we be forbidden to consider the benefit that reducing GHG emissions will have on reducing tropical storm damage? No - reducing storm damage is a real benefit of fighting emissions that should be considered while deciding policy. Focusing attention on the problem of increased future storm damage could actually benefit efforts to improve land use.

3. Is there any reason to ignore AGW-caused storm damage after 2050? No, unless you think there will be no AGW after 2050. In fact, AGW will have worse storm effects after 2050, and the artificial cut-off results in bad policy that ignores available science.

I expect Roger Pielke Jr. is right that some have exaggerated the extent we can connect the dots right now between current AGW and current hurricanes, but it really doesn't matter as a policy question. The reason to change GHG policies now is because of their future effect of emissions, and we already know our policies are likely to have a future effect, and should therefore be changed.

But since everyone wants to focus on the question of current effects, let's do it. If AGW is currently worsening hurricanes, then that's one more reason to change policies. Just as there is a consequence for acting incorrectly, there's also a consequence for inaction. While current science hasn't finished connecting the dots and telling us that AGW definitely is worsening hurricanes, it doesn't deny a connection either. The question of current effect is best phrased as a question of what probability science now assigns to AGW having a current effect on storms.

Readers of this blog will know I'm a one-trick pony when it comes global warming and probability - let's set up a bet! My bet is that the International Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report, will say that AGW likely intensified tropical storm damage from at least 2005 onward. I believe science says it's more likely than not that we already have a problem, and I'm probably not going far out on a limb to say that.

It's not a very strong signal that science is sending to policy-makers, and it's not a very important one because we already know that we will have a problem with future hurricanes from AGW, but if people disagree on connecting current storm activity to AGW, they should consider betting me.

FWIW, I've submitted this as a bet offer to in case someone wants to bet for charity rather than get the money back. It might take some time for the bet offer to register, but it should come up here.

UPDATE: light edit for politeness.

UPDATE 2 (April 2012):  edited to move to it back to AR6 and to start the period in 2005 - looks like they're not ready to make the conclusion just yet.

key: global warming, bet

Monday, October 24, 2005

Do the Iraqis really want us out?

The moral case for our troops invading, staying, or leaving Iraq depends in large part on what the Iraqi people want to have happen. I wouldn't say it depends exclusively on that wish, because there is the issue of protecting individual and minority rights against the tyranny of the majority, but it's the determining factor absent some overwhelming reason to act otherwise.

I didn't make up my mind in March 2003 whether to support the invasion (a mistake on my part) because I couldn't decide if I could figure out what the Iraqis wanted. Polls of Iraqis after the invasion gave some mixed and incoherent results.

The latest poll isn't mixed; it basically says we should leave. The conservative British newspaper, The Telegraph, has these figures:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

So I don't know what to do with these figures. I'd prefer to see the answer to a conditional question, like "should the Americans and British withdraw all their troops over the next three months, even if few or no troops from Muslim/Arab countries come to replace them in providing security?" I'd like to see the poll repeated, and I'd like to see the figures broken down by ethnicity.

My best guess is that a complete pullout in a short period would be a disaster. It's getting harder for me to say that America and Britain have the right to decide that, though, when we bear only a tiny part of the consequences.

The other factor is to what extent Iraq's elected representatives truly act with legitimacy, because they don't seem to want us to leave: "Iraq's President Jalal Talabani pleaded last night for British troops to stay. 'There would be chaos and perhaps civil war,' he said."

Sorry, this is not a clear post, seeing as I don't know what to think of this mess. Thanks a lot, Bush. At least I'm going to enjoy this week more than your administration will.

UPDATE: added a reference to the invasion being a mistake.

key: Iraq

Friday, October 21, 2005

How betting can clarify wishy-washy positions on global warming

I've been gradually expanding the list of bloggers I've asked to bet over global warming (unsuccessfully so far). There are a fair number who argue global warming might happen but it might not, so let's just try our luck. I think they're hiding behind vagueness, and betting odds could bring out what they really think.

Below is an email I sent to one blog that argues for the "maybe" position. I just sent it, so we'll have to give them a little while to see if there's a reaction.
Dear John,

I've looked at various posts that your blog, Right
Wing News
, has on global warming. They seem to say
first, that human-caused global warming might be
happening, but we don't really know that for sure, and
second, even if we're causing warming, we shouldn't do
anything to stop it.

I'm not really interested in the second part of your
argument. The first part is more interesting because
I think it's what a lot of right wingers say as a
justification for passivity. I want to bet you over
your position on whether global warming is happening.

You might think there's nothing to bet about because
your wishy-washy position could go either way, but
that's not quite right. I have a number of bets I'm
willing to offer that give up to 2:1 and 3:1 odds in
favor of the side arguing for no warming. If you
reject those odds, then you can still claim you think
global warming only has a chance of occurring, but the
probability you're assigning to global warming is
high. At 2:1 odds, you either believe there are at
least even odds that human-caused warming is
happening, or you would want to bet me. So I'm curious
as to what your reaction is.

To see some details on bets, here is a bet I'm
offering to people who believe in "natural" global

And here are a bunch of others:

I hope to hear from you.

Friday panda blogging

Unfortunately it's not my own panda, but it is a baby panda video, now with squeaks. Resistance to clicking through is futile.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Miller is lying to provide useless evidence for Libby's trial

Best blog post I've seen so far is from Talkingpointsmemo. Judith Miller's former attorney says Miller essentially could only have heard the name "Valerie Flame" from Scooter Libby, Karl Rove's aide. Miller meanwhile says she didn't think she got the name from Libby, and did discuss the Plame issue with other sources, but can't remember who or when.

My interpretation is that she wanted to sing herself out of jail while lying enough to keep from putting Libby in jail. It would be very hard for a jury to convict Libby for revealing Valerie Plame's name to Miller, based on Miller's testimony alone. But if Libby cracks someday under pressure and tells the truth, it would also be hard to convict Miller of perjury since she didn't say she was certain it wasn't him. Trying to prove a negative - that her other sources whose identity she can't remember - is nearly impossible. Assuming Miller doesn't actually care about Libby, we can conclude she's doing this to remain a player in national security news. The motive can't be journalist ethics, since she is presumably lying her head off.

There are three flaws in Miller's plan. First, she's not the only one supplying evidence against Libby, so her attempt to degrade her evidence does not completely eliminate its usefulness to the prosecution when added to whatever else they're presenting. Second, the name may not matter - outing a now-identifiable covert CIA agent is enough to break the law. Third, Miller will face repurcussions outside of court, where a strong suspicion that she's a dirty liar should be enough to put a well-deserved dent in her career.

So what's with her former attorney, Floyd Abrams, spilling the beans? Attorney-client privileged information can be released only at the permission of the client. Assuming Miller didn't give permission, Abrams may have just screwed up and said far more than he should have. Alternatively though, he may have previously told the prosecutors (or the judge? not sure if they had any closed sessions) that there was only one source. If Miller then changed her tune, with the effect of making Abrams look like he lied, then he has a lot more room for disclosure in order to protect himself.

We'll see the real opening salvos for this, really soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Believers in "natural" global warming: your time is running out

The dominant line of defense among people trying to avoid action to stop global warming is to acknowledge "some" global warming exists, but then claim it's part of natural warming cycles that have happened off and on since the end of the Northern Hemisphere's "Little Ice Age" in 1850.

So let's look at those cycles. I see the following periods from this temperature record:

years 1855 to 1909: little change

1910 to 1945: warming trend

1946 to 1978: cooler compared to the end of the prior warming period

1979 to present: warming

So the last warming period lasted 35 years, and we are currently 26 years into the current one. Natural warming proponents have got nine more years before we should start seeing cooling, based on the only argument they've made. I'm ignoring the fact that their argument is garbage and has no science to back it up, but am looking at the shred of evidence they try and twist in their direction.

For me it all comes down to betting, and it shouldn't be too hard to design a bet that would be attractive to people who truly believed in natural global warming. Here's one: temperatures in 20 years will be warmer than the average temperature of the next 10 years, and I'll give 2:1 odds in their favor (consistent with the odds I'm willing to give for a 10-year bet). According to the graph I linked to above, if I were making this offer 26 years after the start of the previous warming cycle in 1910, I would lose. And if they want to come up with a different bet that is consistent with their theory, I'm open to it.

The "natural warmers" might argue that this warming cycle could last longer than the 1910-1945 cycle. I suppose that's possible, but the only evidence they rely upon suggests they're more likely to win than lose, and then on top of that, I'm giving them 2:1 odds. So if they really believe what they're saying, they need to back it up.

key: global warming, bet

Friday, October 14, 2005

DDT and the lying liars

See Tim Lambert's post. His conclusion:

So the people with significant responsibility for the resurgence in malaria were the chemical companies that stymied efforts to reduce the agricultural use of pesticides [resulting in increased mosquito resistance to DDT]. And it was chemical companies that helped set up the astroturf junkscience site that has attempted to blame Rachel Carson for causing the resurgence. Nice. It’s like a hit-and-run driver who, instead of admitting responsibility for the accident, frames the person who tried to prevent the accident. Bastards.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Indonesian hobbits and global warming consensus

I like following some non-political scientific controversies, partly just because they're interesting, and partly because they are the "control" group that might help us understand the proper way to handle politicized scientific issues.

Carl Zimmer has written on multiple occasions about the "hobbit" people fossils discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. They were about 3 feet tall, and the only complete skull had a brain one-third the size of our own, about the same size as a chimp's brain. The scientific controversy is whether these people are Homo sapiens or if they're descendants of an ancestral hominid species that survived on Flores long after being wiped out elsewhere. The recent discovery of additional fossils provides support for the latter claim, although proponents of the other view remain unconvinced. As best I can tell, there are a lot of supporters for either claim, and one can't say that the vast majority of relevant experts firmly believe in one of these claims as being the clearly correct position.

This will be a fascinating debate to watch for its own sake, but I have a thought experiment we can conduct right now. Let's suppose that five years from now, additional evidence will have convinced almost all the experts that one side is right. It doesn't really matter which side - let's say all but a tiny fraction of experts end up believing that the hobbits were H. sapiens like us.

The question is, should we non-experts rely on this turn of events to come to any conclusion as to whether that dominant side is right?

If you're Michael Crichton, then you have no better idea under this future scenario as to who is right than Crichton has right now. As he says, "If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period." Crichton draws no conclusions from the fact that the vast majority of experts in that field will have changed their minds, dropped their uncertainty, and drew their own conclusions in one direction.

If, on the other hand, you've evolved to a Homo sapiens-level intelligence, you would conclude that the consensus of a majority of experts that the hobbits were part of our species probably means something. If the die-hards on the other side complain about not getting equal time and money, their first task should be getting enough experts on their side to reopen the question, and not come running to us.

The hypothetical consensus about the hobbits compares to the existing consensus about anthropogenic global warming that's developed over the last two decades. I'm sure Crichton's view that this scientific consensus is meaningless is itself something that will go extinct - I just hope it doesn't take too many of us with it.

key: science, global warming, politics

Monday, October 10, 2005

Arctic politics and global warming

My friend Jeff in Alaska says my global warming blogging shouldn't ignore what's going on up there. Several developments he mentions:

  • The arctic ice cap is reducing at the rate of about 8% per decade (Ed. note: this might be high - see the comments).
  • Polar bears were found dead in the ocean, apparently they were starving with the ice being too far from land for their prey animals. The weakened bears couldn't make the swim to land.
  • Land around Fairbanks is sinking where the permafrost is melting.
  • The last two summers have been the first and third worst for forest fires.
  • A beatle is killing the spruce trees further north.

More general info here. While you can't draw global conclusions from warming in a geographically-small location, the entire, not-small Arctic is warming, and it verifies global warming predictions that the Arctic would heat up even more than the rest of the world.

There was some silliness at the US Senate a few weeks ago, with global warming testimony by noted idiot Michael Crichton, and by some entertainingly-crazy older guy who is ignoring my invitation to bet me (I had the best luck accessing the realaudio file here). I think all the science bloggers on my blogroll covered the testimony, but I was interested in how the conservative Alaskan senator wasn't as denialist as the rest of her party. I hope anyone who wants to stay in politics for a while might be careful in denying global warming, especially in a place like Alaska where it's so obvious.

key: global warming, science, politics

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Edible landscaping in cities has a great article on growing fruit trees on sidewalks. I think the messiness issue is a crock - the good far outweighs the bad of getting something useful from the trees. A very easy solution though is to use cherry trees and blueberry bushes - their fruits are so small that they don't make a sticky mess, and the birds and squirrels will eat whatever we people don't.

I've always thought that non-fruiting cherry trees are ridiculous.

I'll end my Andy Rooney-like ranting minute now....

UPDATE: Not for the first time, I find myself in the minority position in the comments. Seeing as this isn't the world's most important issue, I think it's okay for me to be stubborn. Until I see fruiting cherry trees leaving substantial messes on the sidewalk, I remain doubtful that it's much of a problem.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Volokh Correction, Number - wait a minute...

Hell freezes over as the conservative Volokh Conspiracy comes out in favor of reasonable environmental regulation, instead of being opposed. In this case, they support regulations preventing light pollution in night-time skies.

I have no explanation for this.

key: Volokh Correction

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Operation Yellow Elephant and Afghanistan

A group of bloggers are performing a valuable service with Operation Yellow Elephant - encouraging Iraq war supporters, especially College Republicans, to back up their support for the war with their own military service. My impression is that it drives the younger war supporters nuts, precisely because they have little response to the argument unless they've served. Even the ones with families don't have an out - there are plenty of soldiers with families who have served out their terms and are forced to remain in the military under Bush's back-door draft policy.

One response heard from College Republicans runs along the lines of "Democrats support the war in Afghanistan - why aren't they lining up to serve there?" The main problem with this response is that it isn't a response - they still haven't answered the question of why they're sending their countrymen to die in Iraq without going themselves. Apparently, they can't think of a good answer but hope that the liberals have thought of one for Afghanistan, and the Republicans hope to pretend that the Afghanistan reason is the one they've been using all around.

It won't work. What is and should be asked of Americans and America's military in Afghanistan is different from Iraq. While American soldiers have made great sacrifices and the ultimate sacrifice of dying in Afghanistan, the same is true of other conflicts that have been feasibly managed by our all-volunteer military. Equally important, the sacrifices in Afghanistan would have been much less if that conflict had been managed competently, instead of having their resources bled off to serve in Iraq.

The military can handle the Afghanistan war without bankrupting the country, destroying military readiness, and driving down recruiting. The reverse is true in Iraq. Combine those factors with a split nation, where those with financial means and support the war are using those without the same means to fight a war they often don't support. These reasons, none of them applying to Afghanistan, are reasons requiring that the College Republicans and others very literally fight for what they believe, instead of demanding that others do it for them.

key: Iraq

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Carbon storage and a watermelon litmus test

There's been very little media coverage about the International Panel on Climate Change's recent report, regarding the role of carbon dioxide capture and storage as a way to reduce climate change. The idea is to capture carbon dioxide as it's produced by power plants, and then store it someplace where most of it is unlikely to leak out for hundreds of years or longer. The "someplace" is either underground, which seems relatively safe, or in the deep ocean, which raises other concerns but is still less dangerous than spewing CO2 into the sky.

The lack of media is surprising because the IPCC says this method alone can account for 15-55% of all the needed mitigation to stabilize CO2 levels - at the high end, it can do more to stop global warming than all other methods combined. It appears to increase energy costs by 20 to 50 percent, not chicken feed but also not bankrupting us.

This brings up a litmus test. Conservative wingnuts refer to us enviro-whackos as "watermelons," because underneath the superficial green rind, what we supposedly really care about is our red socialist agenda. If that allegation is true, you should expect enviros to reject carbon storage without making any serious analysis, as it will do nothing to transform society or take down corporations.

The litmus test also applies to conservatives - with carbon storage, they don't have to abandon capitalism and live on communes, and the cost will be less than the cost of the recent runup in oil prices. They can take carbon storage seriously, or they can abandon remaining shreds of credibility.

So let's watch.

key: science, global warming

My grudging tribute to Justice Anthony Kennedy

As Chief Justice John Roberts takes up his new job, I thought I should bring up Anthony Kennedy. While doing a little research, I realized the evil, Orwellian American Values website spells it out pretty well:

To conservatives, Justice Kennedy is the worst of turncoats


WASHINGTON - Two short years ago, the buzz in Washington was that if Chief Justice William Rehnquist retired, Justice Anthony Kennedy had a good shot at replacing him.

Kennedy was seen spending quality time with first lady Laura Bush on a civic education initiative Kennedy launched in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was speaking out on drugs and prison sentences, and his former law clerks were well-placed in Bush administration jobs.

But then came June 2003 and Kennedy's majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down sodomy laws and breathed new life into the gay rights movement.

Last week, Kennedy did it again. In a stunning reversal for the court and himself, Kennedy led the court in striking down the juvenile death penalty. Writing for the 5-4 majority in Roper v. Simmons, Kennedy cited social science research on adolescents and the strong worldwide consensus against the practice.

Nobody is talking about Anthony Kennedy for chief justice anymore.

Kennedy was known to be quietly campaigning for the Chief Justice position several years ago, and then these cases reached the Court. He's no idiot - he knew he would pay a price, and he did the right thing anyway.

A number of wingnut sites that I found had mentioned the disconnect between his votes and his chief justice aspirations, but no one to the left of Attila the Hun has brought notice to it. Kennedy deserves some credit.

If he'd only get it right the remainder of the time, as well....

Monday, October 03, 2005

September 2005 Iraq casualties

Back to the monthly casualty report for September:

Avg. daily military fatality rate (nearly all of them Americans): 1.73. August was 2.68. July was 1.87, and September 2004 was 2.9. Overall average to date is 2.3, down 0.02.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 233. August was 281. July was 304, and no stats published for September 2004 (January 2005 is when the stats started: 109).

Comments: we should add one and one-half pieces of information to the above stats. The one piece is that Iraqi readiness has declined from 3 battalions at the highest readiness state to one. This might explain the drop in the Iraqi military casualties - they don't have anyone who can "stand up," as our idiot President would say, so they've been withdrawn. On the other hand, I thought this would mean more American involvement and more American casualties, when the reverse was the case. The one-half piece of information is anecdotal information that violence has increased in Iraq. So here's a possibility: as the Iraqis have stood down, the Americans have not filled in the gap, and the Iraqi civilians have suffered more violence as a result.

Of course, it could be that the anecdotes of increased violence are wrong - no one has good stats on civilian deaths that I know of. Your mileage may vary on the value of these interpretations. See you for next month's report.

UPDATE: Click here for a breakdown of the individual causes of deaths for Americans (includes Afghanistan casualties).

key: Iraq, monthly report

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bugs and left-right bugaboos

Kevin V. has an interesting post on identifying scientific issues that divide the left and right, with the key idea being that in theory, scientific disagreements are apolitical, so the left-right alignment shows a distortion in the use of science.

I wrote a long-winded, blathering comment to attach to his post, but submitting it didn't work (maybe he has an automatic quality control filter for comments to his posts). I then tried to email Kevin to tell him his website has a problem, but my email isn't working. This technological revolution isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Anyway, blogspot is working now (it wasn't earlier this morning), so I'm putting up this post here - feel free to read Kevin's post at the link above, and my blathering comment is below:
Interesting idea, Kevin. The picky refinement I'd make is that on many of these issues, people could theoretically agree on the science and disagree on preferred policy for reasons they acknowledge are unrelated to science. That means looking at policy preferences does not by itself tell you whether science is being distorted or ignored.

On the other hand, some subsidiary issues are purely scientific questions (or close to it), and what people say about those issues should be revealing. In particular, the effectiveness of a proposed policy in achieving a well-defined goal should be scientific. People may disagree on abstinence-only versus integrated sex-education, but if the science was undistorted, there should be much less disagreement on which is more effective in preventing teen pregnancy.

Other potential questions:

Do homosexuals make good parents (as opposed to whether homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children)

Is there a genetic component to homosexuality

Is there a genetic component to intelligence with a measurable difference between ethnicities or genders

Is there a genetic component to any aspect of being human, other than disease susceptibility, that is measurably different between ethnicities or genders

Does second-hand smoke cause or aggravate disease

Does thimerosal (or mercury in general) cause autism

Do electromagnetic fields cause disease

Does the present level of exposure to endocrine-disruption chemicals cause disease

Some of these questions are too arcane for your purposes, but I think they're interesting anyway.

Science can't help on Bush's drinking

Rumors have been flying that Bush has started drinking again, either recently or beginning sometime last year. One scientific hypothesis would be the amount he's drinking now is too small to impair his effectiveness. The problem with this theory though is that it's not falsifiable. People will have to stick to the rumor mill instead of science to figure out what's going on.

Friday, September 30, 2005

A Play

Nothing Shared, Nothing Violated

(phone rings)

Senator Bill Frist: Hello?

Thomas Frist Jr.: Hi, it’s your brother Tom. Called to catch up.

Sen. Frist: Great! What's going on at home?

Tom Frist: Not much, Bill, just mentioning that the executives are SELLING STOCK IN THE MASSIVE FAMILY BUSINESS THAT I HELP MANAGE. Just SELLING, SELLING, SELLING. That’s all publicly-available knowledge, by the way, that the executives are SELLING OUR COMPANY’S STOCK. Certainly not sharing any inside information here amongst family, because that would be wrong. So, what are you doing?

Sen. Frist: Oh, bankrupting the country, hiring investigators to find skeletons in Jeb Bush’s closet, the usual. Selling stock, you say?

Tom Frist: Yes, SELLING STOCK IN OUR FAMILY BUSINESS THAT I'VE HELPED DAD MANAGE. For some purely random reason, while all this SELLING is happening, I thought I’d call you and catch up. And it is publicly available information about who's SELLING THE STOCK. In fact, it’s so public, I’ll send you the disclosure information that shows how much that executives are SELLING. Just for kicks. What are you up to this weekend?

Sen. Frist: Uh, I forget. Look, I’ve got to go and give orders to the guy managing my blind trust that I don’t control and tell him to sell the family stocks, even though as far as I know, I don’t own any such stock.

Tom Frist: That’s interesting – it’s amazing, the number of coincidences in this crazy, crazy world.


What do you think? First play I've written since college. The concealed ending (making it high art) is that on the above facts, Senator Frist committed no crime. Check out the conservative-but-reliable Baseball Crank for confirmation - as long as Frist only had public information, his sales were legal. Think the emphasis from his brother constituted inside information? Have fun proving that in court. Where I differ from Baseball Crank is whether the above scenario vindicates Frist. He could get off while still being as sleazy as any de jure inside trader.

Two short additional notes: First, Baseball Crank notes that even if inside information is given away, the tipper has to receive something from the tippee in order for it to constitute a crime. If Sen. Frist got inside information from his brother or a friend, he's not off the hook - strengthening an established relationship is enough of a quid pro quo.

Second, Baseball Crank properly notes elsewhere that "innocent until proven guilty" is a legal concept, nothing more. If you're a judge or a juror, you better follow that concept, but the rest of us are free to think whatever the hell we want. There's no ethical obligation to believe in innocence until a bunch of other people decide otherwise. The only ethical obligation is to use good judgment about judging people to be guilty of terrible things. And we're free to qualify our judgments, so Frist in my opinion is probably guilty. If I were on a jury right now I'd find him innocent unless I were given a lot more evidence, but I'm not on a jury. Tom Delay: almost certainly guilty. OJ Simpson: you've got to be kidding.