Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A cautious posting about ethnic/cultural differences

This weekend I’m moving from the ethnically-diverse city of East Palo Alto, to nearby Mountain View. One observation I have based on living in an area with a large African-American community is that there are more people willing to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, as in talking to me, than I’d otherwise expect.

I just wonder how it’s perceived from the other side of the racial divide – do African Americans think the reason why white people don’t strike up conversations with them is racism? Someone who is African-American might notice the same difference I've noticed, but not know whether white people are more likely to start conversations among themselves. Racism is always a possible reason for how people treat other ethnic groups, but the other reason could just be cultural differences.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Maybe the left will now cut a small amount of slack to right wing libertarians

I'm annoyed with the meme on the left that libertarianism is something that in practice is indistinguishable from the standard conservative line. This is despite my being only a "reasonable" libertarian.

Anyway, a right wing libertarian from the Cato Institute has saved Cory Maye from Death Row, not something I'd expect your typical authoritarian sympathizer to do. Radley Balko, and the Cato Institute, deserve a significant amount of credit. I expect the people criticizing libertarians will just completely ignore his politics, if they even notice what he accomplished.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not betting with Glen Raphael, apparently

(UPDATE: Glen says he is interested in betting - see comments.)

Blogger Glen Raphael, another denialist of anthropogenic global warming, posted a comment here on my blog saying he "would have been willing to take your bet" over at Longbets, and it was too bad that Longbets was having problems. I emailed Glen saying maybe we can work something out - LongNow is based in San Francisco, not far from me, and if we can arrange a bet then I can show up at LongNow and force them to do their job.

Glen replied, withdrew his willingness to take my bet, declared himself a natural warming proponent, and made a counteroffer (even odds that temps won't increase above .2C in 20 years). I accepted, provided that the bet amount be real money, not the token amount he suggested. Glen now seems to have lost interest in the conversation. To be fair though, it's only been several days, so I'll post an update if I hear from him.

Not the first time this kind of thing has happened, but something useful did come out of it. Glen claimed, incorrectly, that temps warmed 1 degree C over the last century (it's .6C). Since that's supposed to be just a rebound from the Little Ice Age, I think one would expect the increase to slow down or stop entirely, but let's generously give to the natural warmer perspective that temps will continue to increase at the same rate of .6C per century. The result is .06C for 10 years or .12C for 20 years. By contrast, the mid-range of the consensus position is that temps will increase .15C for 10 years or .3C for 20 years. Mid-way between the two positions is 0.105C for 10 years and 0.21C for 20 years. While the mid-way point is above the bottom end of the consensus range of expected increase, it's close enough to the bottom to be acceptable for betting.

So that's my newest bet offer - even odds that future temperature increases will accelerate in 10 or 20 years, and will come closer to that predicted by the IPCC than the warming that ocurred over the last century.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Iran again

I suggested last April that the Bush Administration might launch a nuclear first strike on Iran while refusing to call it a "nuclear weapon," instead giving a new name to a nuclear bunker-buster (fortunately, the date I suggested it would happen by was wrong).

I wasn't imaginative enough, though. The latest idea spinning in the White House is to launch a nuclear strike and then lie about using nukes at all, claiming instead that the radiation is from the nuclear facility they destroyed with conventional weapons.

And apparently they imagine that under either a nuclear or conventional attack scenario, the Iranians will just sit there and accept the first strike without retaliating.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My pathetic attempt to actually persuade Bush to do something

Text of a letter I just sent:

President Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave,
Washington DC 20500

September 16, 2006

Re: Please do much more than you have so far to stop the genocide in Darfur

Dear President Bush:

This is the second time I have written you during your term as president, and the first time that I am going to grovel. I plead with you, I beg of you that you do much, much more than you have so far to stop an entirely foreseeable genocide in Darfur that could be only two weeks away.

Specifically, you must personally call Validimir Putin and Hu Jintao and tell them that their countries must use their influence to persuade Sudan to accept United Nations peacekeeper troops. Your giving a speech is insufficient; talking to diplomats is insufficient; you must talk directly to them yourself. Russia and China must understand that this is a priority for the United States, something that must be made more important to them than the moderate amounts of oil they can receive from Sudan’s dictator.

I am sorry that I cannot make this request as a supporter of your administration. It is because of the urgency and danger of the situation that I beg you to do this. All I can offer is that I own a blog with a small but real readership,, and I intend to post this letter to the blog. Several hundred people will probably read it over the course of the month, and I will be certain to post any real response your administration provides. My blog has had very little positive to say about your work so far - this is your opportunity to change that, on an issue for which there is no reason for partisanship.

Darfur is your administration's Rwanda moment, and you have the advantage of considerable warning. You have the opportunity to go down in history as succeeding where the Clinton administration failed. Once again, I beg of you that you do this.


Brian Schmidt

Sent it via email, fax and post. While I doubt it makes that much of a difference, it's something you just have to do. Maybe they'll surprise me in a good way though, for once.

White House contact info here, more info on the Darfur campaign here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I'm republishing the allegedly defamatory letter about Tim Ball

Via Deltoid, who's doing the same thing, I'm republishing here a letter that global warming denialist Tim Ball is suing over on the claim that publishing it is defamatory.

The letter here:

Whatever one may feel about Tim Ball's denial of climate change science, newspapers ought to report factual summaries of authors' credentials. Your article by Tim Ball (April 19) notes, apparently as evidence in support of his position, that he "was the first Climatology PhD in Canada and worked as a Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg for 28 years". Incorrect, on both counts. Dr. Ball received a PhD in Geography in the UK in 1982, on a topic in historical climatology. Canada already had PhDs in climatology, and it is important to recognize them and their research. Examples include Kenneth Hare, a well-respected Professor at McGill, who received his PhD in 1950, also in the UK. Climatologist Andre Robert (PhD from McGill, 1965) conducted research that laid the groundwork in atmospheric models and climate. Timothy Oke, a leader in the study of urban climate, received his PhD from McMaster in 1967. You can find others listed on the website of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, or through Canadian Universities. Next, did Dr. Ball work as a Professor of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg for 28 years? No, according to his own website. And how could he have? He did not even have an entry-level PhD until 1983, that would allow even Assistant Professor status. During much of the 28 years cited, he was a junior Lecturer or Instructor who rarely published, and then spent 8 years as Professor (of Geography, not of Climatology). Ignoring the adjustments to his CV for the moment, does his work show any evidence of research regarding climate and atmosphere? No, and the few papers he has published concern other matters. There are great gains to be made in science from conjectures and refutations, but sometimes denial is nothing more than denial.

With clarification here:

Clarification On Sunday, April 23, 2006, The Herald published a letter from Dan Johnson, a professor in environmental science at the University of Lethbridge. Johnson was responding to an article of April 19, 2006, written by Dr. Timothy Ball. In his letter, Johnson criticized Ball's lack of research regarding climate and said he rarely published while teaching at the University of Winnipeg. According to Ball's curriculum vitae, he has conducted research on climate and has published 51 papers - 32 directly related to climate and atmosphere. The Herald wishes to clarify that information.

Deltoid has the details on how ridiculous the lawsuit is. Clearly, no one should hire Tim Ball, and anyone currently employing him should fire him immediately.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Paperback Republican War on Science

Chris Mooney is doing his book tour for the paperback release of his book, The Republican War on Science, and I got to see him do his presentation and finally pick up a copy of the book myself.

His presentation was quite good, focusing more on what to do than on trying to prove the thesis of his book. A lot of his discussion concerned global warming, which is great. Two points I'd disagree somewhat with - first, he drew a stronger distinction between improving science education versus improving science policy than I would. Science education will build a constituency for stronger science policy.

Second, he politely disagreed with a questioner about targeting the nearby Congressman Richard Pombo, who's tried to do terrible things to the Endangered Species Act. Chris is right that the national Democratic party should prioritize the most vulnerable and anti-science Republicans, and Pombo isn't the most vulnerable. That doesn't mean that us locals going after Pombo is a useless act, though. If his re-election is closer than he'd like, he might modify the zealousness of some his more stupid proposals. Finally, although Chris wouldn't be expected to know this, Pombo has some corruption problems. If things break the wrong way for him, Pombo could be in real trouble.

It might not be that much of a stretch though for an anti-science congressman to have corruption problems. At heart, they're lying about objective facts - if they're willing to do that, lying for their own gain isn't too far away.

UPDATE: Chris writes about the signing here. I should clarify that Chris didn't say opposing Pombo is useless, just that it shouldn't be a national priority.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pakistan and The Shape of a Mother

One of the advantages of the blogosphere is the lightning-fast reaction time it has. So typically for me, I'm now following up on two blog posts from one and two months ago.

1. Kevin Drum reprints another blogger saying, "Our Pakistan policy gets scant coverage, but shouldn't an unstable nuclear-armed nation awash with Islamic radicals be the real "central front" of the war on terror — and not Iraq?" He follows it up with asking, "does anyone actually have any proposals for a different and more productive way of dealing with Pakistan?"

Okay. My answer is Ireland plus spies. Economic development put the final nails in the coffin for Irish terrorism, and development is helping stabilize India. Pakistan will have to follow a similar path, and we'll have to do everything we can to help Pakistan develop economically.

I think the above is not a bad answer, except it'll take 20-50 years to get results. In the meantime, spies. We need to thoroughly penetrate Pakistan's military, intelligence, nuclear forces, and its Islamic radicals with people who will spy for us, so we can do what we can to control loose nukes if things go badly wrong. This poses an ethical problem of recruiting spies in a democratic (or semi-democratic) system. No easy answer to that - I think we should be ethically precluded from taking any direct actions that undermine a democracy, and we shouldn't recruit elected officials as spies. When the danger to us goes away, constraints on what we should do would be much stronger still, but in the meantime, we need an alternative.

Neither of these are foolproof answers, but they're better than nothing.

2. From global to personal, the other issue I meant to blog about was a reference in Bitch PhD to a blog, Shape of a Mother. The blog shares photos and stories by and of pregnant women and their bodies (may not be work-safe). I've always somewhat lamely justified my more-or-less acceptance of traditional beauty standards as just reflecting what's natural and healthy. I don't like the super-thin look, after all. On the other hand, there's nothing unnatural or unhealthy about these women's pregnant and post-partum bellies, but they're not quite working for me as beautiful. Guess I need to push my boundaries a little.

This one seems beautiful, but the photography and likely air-brushing are meant to appeal to traditional beauty standards, so best I can say is a half-step forward. Oh well.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

9/11 and The Reagans

Someone besides me noticed the parallel between the CBS miniseries, The Reagans, that got cancelled and shunted aside to cable, and the current controversy over the ABC "docudrama," The Path to 9/11, that blames the Democrats for everything (criticism of the docudrama here).

Of course, it's a little dangerous to say the people you oppose are hypocritical in supporting one thing and opposing the other when you do the exact opposite, and that's been noted also (by crazy libertarians, of all people).

I think there are some grounds for making a distinction though. The Reagans was to be shown in a non-election year, not two months before an election. The issues there weren't as directly relevant to who should win the election. And ABC's defense, more or less that "it's not a documentary, so it doesn't have to be accurate" doesn't cut it when ABC is shipping 100,000 free DVDs to schoolteachers to try and influence the public perception of what happened.

Despite all that, I'm not quite as exercised as many others are over this. The program should end before mid-October, they shouldn't confuse schoolkids with fiction, they should plaster the beginning and ending with disclaimers, and they should run an equivalent docudrama that's slanted toward the truth - Clinton didn't do enough to stop 9/11, while Bush did significantly worse.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

August 2006 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate (nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis): 2.13. July was 1.55, June was 2.1, and August 2005 was 2.74. Overall daily average to date is 2.28. Total US dead as of today: 2657.

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 233. July was 217, June was 132, and August 2005 was 282. Total dead: 5323.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 970. July was 1060, June was 738, and August 2005 was 463. To-date total since March 2005: 12,467. Note that the civilian numbers may be less accurate than others (most likely to be greatly underestimated), but could still be useful in determining trends.