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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Short pieces

There's an internet radio miniseries on global warming, available at The next show starts tomorrow, but it looks like you can download old shows at any time.

Juan Cole offers more defense of his idea of withdrawing US ground troops and using US airbases in the area to prevent a catastrophic civil war. I could see how that could work in a balkanized country without people moving between sections, but not if the country had real freedom of movement, and not in Baghdad, where all three groups live in large numbers. But I'm listening. I've also been fairly dismissive of the idea that foreign troops would replace American troops, until it occurred to me that the 80 billion dollars we're now spending might be able to buy in some real help. I'm still doubtful that short-term withdrawal is a good idea, but less doubtful than before.

key: global warming, Iraq

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bet offers to bloggers and others who deny global warming

I've been making offers to bet bloggers who deny global warming, or sound very skeptical of it. The bets I've offered on whether global warming will happen are here. The blogs I've contacted so far (post will be edited/updated over time):

Denialist blogs

Thoughtsonline (contacted July 2005)

IMAO (posted a comment in mid-Sept. 2005)

Commonsensewonder (emailed about 9/23/05)

Powerline (emailed 9/26/05)

Captain's Quarters (emailed 10/3/05)

Right Wing News (emailed 10/21/05) (emailed 11/11/05 - group blog, not all posters are denialists)

Blogs for Bush (emailed 11/20/05 - another group blog, so positions might vary)

Tim Blair (posted comment 12/19/05)

Melanie Phillips (emailed 1/8/06)

Planet Gore (emailed 4/8/07 - group blog with varying positions)

Ecomyths (emailed 1/26/08) (UPDATE: Prof. Smith may be interested in betting, I'll put in a complete link with his response when it gets sorted out.)

The Travis Monitor (posted comment 7/18/08)

Adding a second list: Waffleblogs/Weaselblogs. These blogs link to doubts over the reality of global warming without stating outright what their position is. I'm asking them if they're denialists and offering to bet them if they are.


Instapundit (Sept. 05)

Little Green Foothballs (10/7/05)

Outside the Beltway (10/8/05)

Volokh Conspiracy/Dave Kopel (emailed 6/4/06)

Al Fin (1/19/07)

The Corner/Andrew Stuttaford (emailed 1/19/07)

Agoraphilia (commented 3/24/07) (says human-caused warming likely, but leaves room for denial) (response from the blog here, I add comments)

Newmark's Door (commented 4/14/07) (his response here)

Watts Up With That and commenters (commented 1/9/09 and later)

Okay, I have to start a third list-

Hall of Idiots:

Wizbang (willing to bet that "natural" warming will stop - in 100 years. That's a useful prediction.)

UPDATE: removed some of the snarky language in this post - probably not helpful while trying to cajole a bet. These people need to put up or shut up, though, or at least say what they believe instead of hiding it.

And greetings to conservative blog-readers who are checking this out. I think the conservative blogs send up a lot of smoke to confuse the issue, but it's telling that there are scientists who believe in global warming and are willing to bet on it, but are having a hard time finding skeptics who are willing to back up their skepticism. Click here for more information on bets that have been offered by climate scientists. And thanks for keeping an open mind over the issue.

UPDATE 2: I've got another post for searching blogs that deny global warming, here.

UPDATE 3: I should've been keeping a list of non-bloggers I've challenged. I can't count the number but I'll put some here:

Marc Morano and James Inhofe
Tim Ball (my favorite responder!)
Bob Carter
Mark Campbell
Debra Saunders and Cinnamon Stillwell

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Do you owe interest on karma?

Yes – or at least, the repaid karma must be inflation-adjusted.

I reached this conclusion recently after finally paying off a long-held hitch-hiking debt. I’d hitched pretty far after graduating from college, and seemed to have little opportunity to repay the debt with rides when I finally bought a car. I still owed 1200 miles at the start of this last vacation. Then, I gave two teenage boys a long ride (that’s double miles), gave a couple of short rides, picked up one ride at night (also double miles for karma points), and then when I found out he was broke, let him share my campground site in Yellowstone. I figure sharing the campsite erased the remaining debt, except for one question – some of the debt is 15 years old – do I owe interest?

My first reaction was no, that repaying kindness transcends the laws of space and time. Then I changed my mind after deciding that the karma debt could be monetized. Instead of waiting years to give rides, I could have given $500 to a Traveler’s Aid society, but giving the same dollar figure now, 15 years later, would be weaseling out of a debt.

My analysis ended there until friends Dan and Bill pointed out that the value of the rides I had recently given had also increased in value. If anything, hitch-hiking may be harder today so I may have more than paid back my debt. How much my riders would have paid probably reflects the inflation-adjusted value of the debt being paid off. As long as you keep that in mind when paying off karma, you’re golden, dude.

Two final thoughts: first, friend Bill says he used to hang around outside convenience stores when he was 14 and give adults money to score him some beer. Does Bill owe a karma debt to score beer to some 14-year olds? He says he wasn’t harmed by it, especially because he was too young to drive. I’ll leave that one for someone else to figure out.

Second, I made one addition to hitch-hiking debt side – I had to hitch-hike back to my car one day after backpacking, in the pouring rain. I guess that means I owe one ride to a sopping wet hitch-hiker. At least I can put it off for a few decades.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Betting on glacier retreat

I've got a new bet offer on global warming, or actually two bets. First, I will give 2:1 odds that any randomly-selected glacier will retreat rather than advance at the end of a ten-year period. Second, I'll give 3:1 odds that the majority of seven or more randomly-selected glaciers will retreat rather than advance at the end of a ten year period.

Why bet on glaciers rather than global temperatures?
  • It eliminates the "noise" factor that a single year at the start or finish of the period will be particularly hot or cold for reasons unrelated to climate change. The single-glacier bet introduces a different "noise" factor of local conditions, so my betting opponents just get 2:1 odds. At seven-plus glaciers, the local conditions factor should be less important.
  • It's more fun - maybe I'll get to go visit the glaciers that my money is (slowly) riding on.
I'll also note that the 3:1 offer leaves William Connolley's 7:3 offer far behind, coughing in my glacier dust. Of course, all these offers should be tremendously attractive to global warming denialists who actually believe a word that they say.

My other bet offers are here, and James Annan has a betting update here (also see William's at the link above). I may also be getting some traction on this offer after all - we're doing some emailing. But I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE: I forgot to include the third reason for betting on glaciers: to needle that idiot, Michael Crichton, who claimed in his stupid book (State of Fear) that we don't know enough about glaciers to determine whether the climate is changing. I'd like him to put his considerable money where his mouth is.

key: global warming, bet

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Artificial intelligence in 20 years, godlike intelligence in 40 years

Kevin Drum has an excellent post on AI pioneer Ray Kurzweil's latest book. I read one of Kurzweil's books years ago and found him very persuasive. All my friends think I'm crazy for believing we will be superseded by computer intelligence in a few decades, but I think I'm right. Kevin lays it out very well: current computers have insect-processing ability, in 20 years they'll have human processing ability, and 20 years past that they'll be a million times better than humans at processing information. What's stopping them from becoming the smartest life forms?

"the only serious arguments I've ever heard against the eventual development of genuinely intelligent machines all boil down to a thinly veiled belief that there just has to be something more to human intelligence than mere neurons and biochemistry. Well, no there doesn't. The pope's opinions notwithstanding, the evidence to date suggests that the brain really is just a biological computing device."

I think there will be an interim period where we'll merge human and artificial intelligence together, but the human part will become less and less important over time. Best case scenario is that super-intelligent computers will ignore us and go off to think their godlike thoughts, and those of us who choose to remain all or mostly human can go about our lives.

key: science, artificial intelligence

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Glacier vacation

So I'm back from a very nice, not-at-all relaxed, two-week vacation. I ended up spending a week in Glacier National Park in Montana, helping (or pretending to help) two friends and their co-workers doing field research. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one friend is with the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, doing field work and analysis of glacier retreat. The other is a botanist at the park. As a general comment, the right-wingers who say government workers are lazy should try keeping up with these folks; it sure wasn't easy for me.

So: the first day, we did repeat photography of Grinnell Glacier from the summit of neighboring Mt. Gould. This is the same picture posted in Real Climate's first posting on glacier retreat, and a "poster child" of climate change. Of course, to do the picture you have to GET to the summit of Mt. Gould, and you need to do it before the afternoon shadows eliminate the light. We went from 5700' to 9500' in 2.5 hours, much of it off-trail on loose, sliding rock. You can see the contrasts between 1938 and 1981 photos here (scroll to near the bottom), and NRMSC has taken additional photos they also plan to publish. Ours were the first since 2001 - alot of retreat has occurred in just four years.

Next day, the glacier people were in the office, so I went out with my botanist friend and her co-worker, who are building a database of plants found at randomly chosen sites throughout the park. We ended up at two sites where a glacier had recently retreated; the database will be helpful for current research and for future researchers who can return to the locations to see what has changed over time.

Third day was a late start up for three of us up to a ranger cabin near Sperry Glacier. The next day we crossed a pass near Sperry Glacier and one person went off to do more repeat photography. The other two of us took ice axes, put on crampons, roped up and went on to the glacier to find stakes that had been drilled in to the glacier. We found all of them and measured the ice that had melted in just one month. I'm not sure what I should say here because I believe they plan to publish their results, but I can say there was an impressive loss of ice - that glacier is thinning quickly. We could see the "firn" area, the area of remaining winter snow that would become glacier ice. A healthy glacier needs roughly 60% firn coverage to be stable. I'd say that Sperry had less than 20% coverage now, and will have still less in the future with increasing temperatures.

After measuring stakes, we walked the bottom margin of the glacier with GPS units, creating a line that can again be used for comparison in the future as the glacier retreats. I'd guess the bottom margin was a mile in a straight line, and it took us about four hours - the bottom of a retreating glacier is anything but a straight line, and none of it is on a trail. By the end of the day, the weather already started to turn. We got back to the cabin, and the other two decided to do a forced march out in the rain and fading light. I decided to enjoy the cabin and left the next morning, walking through several inches of fresh snow.

The weather was expected to stay bad for a week, cancelling the high-altitude field work. So I changed plans and went south. I had a nice, brief visit with science blogger Kevin V from no/se/nada in Missoula (first blogger contact that I've actually met in person). Then did a few day hikes in Yellowstone, a four-day backpacking trip in Grand Teton National Park and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness, and drove back home to the Bay Area.

I've got more to say but I'll save it for later posts. I had a great time doing a volunteer vacation, and would encourage other people to do the same. Personal connections sure are helpful, but sheer persistence can also make a connection. Virtually every American national park has a Volunteer in Parks program; that's one way to get started.

key: science, global warming

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Going dark for a while

I'm off on vacation - I expect to do little or no posting until the week of the 19th.

Meanwhile, I suggest a suggest a comic strip called Unfit. The main character's skepticism is common theme, which is one reason why I like it.

Enjoy the fall!

August 2005 Iraq casualties

Back to the monthly casualty report (this one might miss some data from the end of the month):

Avg. daily military fatality rate (Americans and others): 2.68. July was 1.87, June was 2.77, and August 2004 was 2.42. Overall average to date unchanged at 2.32.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 281. July was 304, June was 296, no stats for August 2004 (January 2005 is when the stats started: 109).

Comments: the serious injury rate for US troops is about five times the mortality rate. Apply that to Iraqi soldiers, add them to the death figure, add more for soldiers who leave legally or by desertion, and the number of Iraqi soldiers/police lost in a single month is nearly half of the number that are fully trained. Bush's statement that as Iraqi forces stand up, we will stand down is a farce - they aren't making progress in getting Iraqi forces to stand up. I suspect the only way they will make progress is by reducing the Iraqi casualty rate, meaning the American casualty rate would have to increase.

key: Iraq, trend