Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My weeklong life as a Washington water lobbyist

I'm not sure how interested the bunnies are in my spectacularly exotic work at a local water district, but I guess I'll find out. I spent this week as one of two elected directors visiting Washington DC to talk about our local flood control and water supply projects, and to try and scare up some money for more. Some notes:

  • I can confirm the obvious statement that the budget process is broken. I respect the antipathy to earmarks and am open to replacing them with another process, but what we have instead is virtually no process to provide local input into federal decision-making about local projects. We had multiple meetings with Congressional offices where they often said they could do little to help, and just one with the Office of Management and Budget, which now has all the power.
  • There is real interest in the Obama Administration in the environment. We talked about environmental benefits to one relatively high-level official in the Department of Agriculture who'd been hired from an environmental organization. She raised Obama's Great Outdoorsinitiative that tries to reconnect Americans to our natural environment, including urban areas. So I pointed to a map that we brought. Here in south San Jose, wild elk will sometimes roam within city limits. In north San Jose where San Francisco Bay ends,leopard sharks swim. Connecting them is Coyote Creek, a major intact riparian system running through central San Jose with migrating, endangered steelhead, a bike/pedestrian pathway, great views of hawk nests. Our flood control project is a major tributary where we want to rip out concrete, replace it with vegetated-earth banks, and add riparian habitat next to an elementary school. She liked it.
  • We can at least take some actions to adapt to climate change. We're trying to restore 15,000 acres of abandoned salt-making ponds to tidal wetlands, but the pond levees form part of the antiquated levee system protecting urban land in the South Bay. We want to rebuild and strengthen the landward side of the multi-ring levee system, and only then can we breach the bayside of the salt pond levees and restore them to tidal flow and vegetation. This was our one meeting with OMB, and there I emphasized that we're sizing the levees to accommodate 50 years of sea level rise (based on Cal. Academy of Sciences 2006 report, using the high end of three scenarios), and sized so they can be built up higher if needed. The OMB people seemed interested, so we'll see.

I sure wish I knew politically-viable ways to make GHG emissions pay for our climate adaptation projects, either on a local, state, or national level, but it's not jumping out at me (don't forget that "politically-viable" requirement). Our riverine flood protection projects also have to be sized for sea level rise because they empty into the Bay, so the costs add up.

My one other observation is that a lot of people we met with sure are young. Our nation is in the hands of twenty-somethings, presumably because we can get away with paying them nothing and working them constantly. Let's hope it works out.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The most perceptive pro-Palin comment ever written

In lieu of demonstrating new and independent thought, I've decided to occasionally re-post some stuff from my old blog. As we finally say farewell to Sarah Palin's overextended fifteen minutes,here's one:

Supporters of Palin say they're not using "rational theorizing"

Interesting comment in a post by a pro-Palin conservative:

I think Sarah Palin is indeed a Rorschach test for’s about what Conservativsm MEANS....

The core idea behind Conservatism is that most of human learning is done not by rational theorizing, but by pattern recognition....

This pattern recognition is called common sense, and over generations, it’s called traditions, conventions etc. Religion is usually a carrier meme for these evolved patterns. It’s sort of an evolutionary process, like a genetic algorithm....

Liberals, Lefties and even many Libertarians want to use only 10% of the human knowledge that’s rational.....

Conservatives are practical people who instinctively recognize the importance of evolved patterns in human learning: because our rational knowledge simply isn’t enough yet, these common sense patterns are our second best option to use. And to use these patterns effectively you don’t particularly have to be very smart i.e. very rational. You have to be _wise_ and you have to have a good character: you have to set hubris and pride aside and be able to accept traditions you don’t fully understand....

Anti-Palin Conservatives don’t understand it. They think Conservativism is about having different theories than the Left, they don’t understand that it’s that theories and rational knowledge isn’t so important.

What's especially interesting is the enthusiastic response following this idea of "going with your gut and calling it wisdom". I think the truth is a lot of what all of us consider reasoned analysis that reaches a conclusion is actually a gut response that's going through the motions, but to not even bother to fight for logic and knowledge is pretty striking.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Media finally listening to what Brian Schmidt has to say about climate change


Astrophysicist Brian Schmidt, 44, named in Sweden as one of three winners of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics, used his first day in the spotlight to appeal to "policy people" to listen to scientists on climate change.


"The science is science. Policy is policy. And I would really like the scientists to continue to debate what's right and what's wrong about everything, accelerating universe, climate," he told reporters in Canberra.

"And I'd really like the policy people to debate how to deal with what is coming in from the scientists, rather than an ill-formed scientific debate.

I even like astronomy. This guy is my overachieving alter-ego. He could at least have the common decency of getting old before receiving the Nobel Prize, but no.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Spencer Weart and Never at War

1. Spencer Weart.

I've been interested for quite a while in the theory that democracies don't fight wars with other democracies, but only recently learned that Spencer Weart, the historian-god of climate change science, also wrote a book in 1998 called Never at War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another. (I'm shamefully cribbing off of wiki rather than his book, but I'll get around to the real thing sometime I swear).

Weart makes the maximalist argument, that any country sufficiently democratic to have let at least 2/3 of male adults to vote and control the government for at least three years will not go to war with a similar democracy. He includes many classic Greek city-states in this category. The book then discusses borderline cases and his theories about why democracies don't fight each other.

Wiki has a quite good general article on the democratic peace theory - as with any other field, you can find some expert who absolutely denies the consensus position, but it seems pretty clear that well-established democracies don't fight each other, and quite likely that even immature democracies are less likely to fight democracies. No consensus on why that's the case however.

My own view: I don't know enough about classical Greece to say anything relevant. I think democracy requires at least a certain level of organization and sophistication before the democratic peace kicks in. Hunter-gatherer and small-scale agricultural societies were reasonably democratic/anarchic and very often violent toward outgroups. Weart's maximalist position may or may not work - the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan that started a year after Weart's book is a contrary example. OTOH, Pakistan's elected parliament didn't really control its military which initiated that war.

That Weart could even plausibly maintain his position suggests the overall strength of the democratic peace theory.

2. Israel.

Israel's antipathy and fear of the Arab Spring is interesting in light of the fact that Israeli policymakers should know about democratic peace theory. Why Israelis thought their security was better protected by a hated 82-year old tyrant instead of a potential shot at Egyptian democratization isn't clear. I guess one response would be to look at how unpopular Israel is now with the average Egyptian, but I suspect that unpopularity itself could partially be a result of Israeli antipathy to Arab democracy.

I think the disinterest in Arab democracy in light of democratic peace theory suggests at least partially that Israel isn't all that worried about its security. It also suggests that Israel does not want democratically elected Arab leaders to be expressing grievances about West Bank and Gaza, because those leaders are much more persuasive that what Israel's had to deal with previously.

3. Labor unions.

Something of a tangent here, but one pithy statement I read somewhere about peace between democracies went to the effect of "yes it works in practice, but can you make it work in theory?" Weart isn't the only one who's tried to explain it, and no one's got a consensus theory for it.

I feel the same way about unions - the increasing inequality and declining middle class seems to be an effect of declining union power, but I don't think there's a good explanation about why unions benefit society generally, as opposed to just their members. I think the data is pretty good that they do benefit society, and there are plenty of theories why, but I'm not convinced as to why.

We'll just have to live with uncertainty.

Friday, September 16, 2011

French nuclear power pricing, and solar power pricing

Via Romm:
Pro-nuclear power France still has escalating costs for nuclear power. It's not American litigation driving these costs.

Also via Romm:

My opinion is that we should maintain and relicense most nuclear power plants (that's cheap), but nukes don't have an expanded role absent massive Republican governmental subsidies, with an unhelpful loan subsidy assist from Obama. A lot safer than coal, though.

UPDATE: probably should add that widely distributed wind power and grid charging off of power stored in plug-in car batteries could handle much of the night time load.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eight percent increase in belief in climate change in the US

Up to 83%, and the Stanford analyst thinks the Republican presidential denialism may be part of it:
As Americans watch Republicans debate the issue, they are forced to mull over what they think about global warming, said Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University.

And what they think is also influenced by reports this year that global temperatures in 2010 were tied with 2005 to be the warmest year since the 1880s.

"That is exactly the kind of situation that will provoke the public to think about the issue in a way that they haven't before," Krosnick said about news reports on the Republicans denying climate change science.

I sure hope he's right. The debates were skewed with 1.5 candidates arguing for sanity and the rest denialists, playing to a skewed-conservative audience. If that still helped climate realism, then bring on the national campaign. The increasing recognition of Republican leadership being anti-science is probably sinking in somewhat.

I wonder though if it's more just the particular time, right after record heat and weather disasters. The previous poll was done in early June rather than the end of summer heat. Or maybe fading memories of the made-up nonsense over the stolen climate emails.

Anyway, modest progress for realism.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

So what would have been the major headlines if violent crime rose 12%

The important good news even if it gets ho-hum coverage is that violent crime is down yet again, this time by 12% last year, down 70% from the 1993 high point. Contrary to the article and its unnamed experts, I don't think the experts are necessarily surprised that crime went down in the short-term in a bad economy (longer term impacts to society from the economy are less hopeful tho). What is surprising is that it went down that much, as the article's one expert says.

Regression to the mean suggests stabilization or increase would be more likely than this large decrease. Maybe someday we'll have some certainty on why it's happening. The whole lead-reduction/crime-reduction thing seems really strong, but not definite. The "more porn, less rape" theory also seems to have some support although not as much. "More abortion, less crime" is also interesting and the least supported in my nonexpert opinion (but can be tested overseas).

Anyway, it's nice to have some good domestic news along with the good news from the Arab world.

A tangent: I recently watched Predator 2 after being told it was good (my review: meh). Filmed in 1990 and set in 1997, it took the then-upward crime trajectory and sent it forward to an ungovernable future. Interestingly bad prediction.

Monday, September 12, 2011

John McPhee, pre-1960 geology, and the climate consensus

A previous post refers to my semi-fruitless quest for a precedent of science in any field being as incredibly 100% wrong as the denialists claim is the case for climate. Commenters there suggested geology before plate tectonics as the best shot. Someone mentioned McPhee's Assembling California for context examining the history of the science of plate tectonics, a book I've had sitting around and unread.

Off to the races!
[Wary of multiple theories by some geologists for what made mountains rise,] many more geologists would not venture further than than to say (indisputably) that "earth forces" or "orogenic forces" had lifted the geosynclines, and that these forces were "not well understood".

[regarding different California mountain geosynclines thrust on top of each other,] "that was the Golconda Thrust. No one knew how this 'orogeny' happened."

[on one side of a mountain range geosyncline] there were shallow-water sediments followed by deep-water material, but there was no other side. "That was never explained".

"the geosynclinal cycle was said to be about two hundred million years. In the Overthrust Belt in Montana, forty thousand feet of Precambrian sediment had been thrust over Cretaceous sediment. As students, we wondered why all that Precambrian was still there. What had the source geosyncline been doing sitting there for a billion years when the cycle was two hundred million? There was no answer."

Halls's idea [orogeny not from tectonics] was not preposterous. It was incomplete. There was, after all, marine rock in mountains. Between the geosyncline and the mountains, though, something was missing, and what was missing was plate tectonics.
(text excerpts pages 38-40).

I think the picture isn't of a scientific field that's confident in a wrong paradigm, but one that has many acknowledged, open questions and hadn't yet accepted a solution that was proven with the subsequent accumulation of evidence. This isn't a matter of overconfidence, the claim made by denialists against climatology.

There's also the issue of whether European geologists were more open to tectonics than Americans prior to 1960, something I don't know anything about.

Granted, this is a pop-sci book, but McPhee's pretty good, so I'll see what else he has to say on this subject.

UPDATE: some great comments below. Read them! In particular, I did wheel reinventing from a 2008 comment at Deltoid:
[tectonics is] a good illustration of one flavor of paradigm shift, in this case, where plausible hypotheses were identified early, but evidence just didn't get strong enough for a long time, but when new kinds of evidence popped up, the discipline pretty much changed views in a decade.

But indeed, the evidence for AGW is (by now) immensely stronger than the evidence for continental drift in 1920. After all, Arrhenius was talking about Greenhouse Effect over 100 years ago, and that wasn't accepted instantly either :-)

And also this:
For a proper comparison in your search for "a precedent of science in any field being as incredibly 100% wrong as the denialists claim is the case for climate.", you really need to consider the supposed "wrong-headed" theory in the light of the existing evidence base. In other words we want a theory that is "bone-headed" in the context of the knowledge-base pertaining at the time.

So Newtonian dynamics isn't a teribly good example since it was a theory that was entirely consistent with the existing evidence base).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Everyone in the country with a concealed carry permit will be packing tomorrow

(Originally published on Sept 10th)

Here's hoping not a single person in the country is an idiot on September 11. Probably not an easy day to be a practicing Sikh. My apologies to those who are. And of course, here's hoping nothing happens at all, although it would be unlikely that car bombs can kill more people than highways.

And FWIW, I agree with Deltoid's assessment some years back - gun control seems to have little effect positively or negatively on gun violence.

UDATE: looks like we made it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

15% estate tax with $100,000 exclusion?

I often disagree with the conservative/libertarian/lukewarmist Tigerhawk blogger, but not always (and it's good that he doesn't take himself too seriously). He had this reaction to Romney's proposal to end the estate tax:
Sure. But also eliminate the step-up in basis at death. (My own view is that the best estate tax would be one with a very low exemption -- say, $100,000 -- but also a tax rate so low that people would not go to a lot of trouble to avoid it. I suspect that a 15% rate with a $100,000 exemption would both generate more revenue and redirect estate planners and lawyers to more productive work.)
I think he might be right, especially if you also include that elimination of step up in basis for purposes of calculating capital gains. I googled around and couldn't find stats on average estates at death, but I doubt it's $100,000 (especially including people with no net estate). Even someone with $200,000 would only be effectively taxed at 7.5%. The current rate is 35% and exempts the first $3.5 million. (UPDATE: actually the exemption is $5 million through 2012. It's then caught up in the Bush tax cut issue - unclear what will happen post 2012.)

Tigerhawk misses that his own proposal might even be more progressive than the current system, assuming it does bring in more money. Most of the money would come from people with estates well over $200k, maybe over $500k. These people are far wealthier than the average American. The obvious downside is while it may be more progressive overall, it catches the moderately wealthy at the expense of giving a huge windfall to the superwealthy.

So of course it's not the ideal estate tax system, which would exempt $50k, start at a rate of 15% and gradually ratchet up to 60-90% at $5m (depending on how effective evasion is), but maybe it's worth considering.

UPDATE: See L's comment below, that an on-paper capital loss from the immediate sale of estate capital items (and due to step up, there should always be a capital loss) can be set against an inheritor's capital gains. You get free money and a tax break on your own taxes. I'd like to get that verified, but it seems plausible and amazing.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Disagreeing with Chris Mooney on handling the need for closure

I'll follow the now-universal practice of recopying comments I left elsewhere, in this case at Chris Mooney's Intersection site. I think in the climate communication field we have not done enough to highlight how skeptics/denialists/lukewarmists rely on multiple massive coincidences to explain why climate change is behaving as mainstream science has predicted since CO2 was identified as a greenhouse gas in the 19th Century. The non-scientist public doesn't generally like reliance on coincidence.

Chris wrote about how anti-evolutionists show a strong need for closure and intolerance of ambiguity. I suggested in the comments that at least in the field of climate communication, we have an advantage over denialists when appealing to fence-sitters with a desire for closure. Chris disagreed. Perhaps Chris may have just needed closure on the idea that we have little we can do with people who need closure.

Anyway, my final comment in that thread:

1. On evolution/creationism, I agree that closure favors denial for those who believe in the inerrant Bible. Evolution isn’t compatible with the Bible being literally true.

2. Climate theory doesn’t have the same trouble with Christianity (edit: Christian literalists). A few climate denialists have tried to use Christian determinist arguments, but they’re pretty weak even from that perspective.

3. On climate, if you accept that temps are warming, as many denialists (and more important, the fence sitters) do, then you have uncertainty and ambiguity. What explains the increase?

4. Climate realists have a theory that eliminates ambiguity – it’s warming because we’re messing up and warming the planet. This theory, btw, is compatible with a Christian frame of humans as immoral screwups who do a bad job as stewards of God’s creation.

5. Denialists who accept warming don’t really have an explanation – they have to rely on coincidence. It’s just coincidence, they say, that we happen to be in a time when temps are rising as part of a natural cycle. It’s just coincidence that Tyndall, Fourier, and Arrhenius more or less predicted what would happen long before it became politicized. It’s just coincidence that Hansen said in 1988 that temps would keep rising, and they’ve risen at the rate he predicted.

6. Some denialists resort to lies to deny their need to argue based on coincidences, but that opens them up to vulnerability when trying to persuade fence-sitters.

7. If denialists fall in the set that deny warming at all, then they have another group of coincidences that they have to explain away (edit: relating to multiple sets of ground/ocean/satellite obs).

8. I agree that some with a strong need for closure and who have already strongly settled on a denialist frame will be very difficult to bring around, but it’s not the committed denialists that we’re concerned about.

9. People who haven’t yet thought much about climate issues are the target. Some of them will have strong need for closure. We have a better story for them by pointing out the other side’s reliance on coincidences.

10. I can be proven wrong. I don’t know this psychological field. If it’s shown that people with a strong need for closure are also strongly tolerant of explanation via coincidence, then I’m wrong.

11. I suspect the opposite is true, that many people are intolerant of explanation through coincidence. It’s kind of an intuitive Occam’s Razor – it’s not science, but it’s not wrong, either. We should use it more – we have an explanation, denialists have coincidences. We have a solution, denialists want to sit there. Who do you trust?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Libya wrap-up: Nato should stay away from Sirte, Alexander Cockburn should stay away from analysis

1. The hard part in Libya is over, and an easy path to clean, Norway-style petro-democracy lies ahead. (Pssst - no, I don't actually believe that, but so many people are warning us not to believe it that I thought I could drive traffic here by being the only person on the Internet saying it, who could then get linked and debunked by all the wise people out there.)

2. I was pretty unconcerned about Obama's War Powers Act violation, but maybe I can balance it here: Nato/US air support for the final attack on Sirte and maybe Sabha is illegal and unethical, although it might make good politics. I'm not aware of any evidence that Gaddhafi forces are attacking civilians in Sirte, where his tribal affiliations seem to keep him popular. Nato's right of action is to protect civilians, so that legal justification goes away. Ethically, the loss of air support might make the TNC a little more willing to negotiate things to avoid bloodshed. While the TNC has the natural right to revolution and this battle appears to be the final stage of exercising that right, it's their right and not Nato's when civilian protection isn't involved.

3. I am also concerned about a President Rick Perry using the Libya precedent to justify a repeat of the Venezuelan military coup, but this time with US air support in an internal war. Or maybe somewhere else like Bolivia. However, this type of Flubber argument isn't enough to overcome the value of our justified involvement in saving civilians and helping the Arab Revolution continue.

4. It remains mysterious to me why the rebels successfully fought off military force for over two weeks early in the revolution, then collapsed and had to be rescued. This led to my rotten prediction of quick victory in late February, although ultimately it seems correct. The rebels hadtwo weeks of military success in a time period I figured that they would be the most disorganized, so I thought there was no turning back. I've yet to see analysis explain why Gaddhafi was unsuccessful for the first two weeks and then turned things around. I'll guess that he couldn't and didn't trust his own forces and had to fight an auto-coup first, but that's just a guess.

5. News reports generally described the war as a stalemate from late March to end of July, even early August. By mid-May, they were wrong (see the previous link). I think you could start a one-month rule looking forward from that point: virtually no territory rebels held a month earlier would be taken from them a month later, and rebels always held more territory than they did a month earlier. Maybe it was a stalemate in the east, but rebels were slowly winning in Misurata and the west.

6. In the field of Libya predictions that start wrong and stay wrong, let's try Alexander Cockburn, one of the very few lefties who also disbelieves in climate change:

It requites no great prescience to see that this will all end up badly. Qaddafi’s failure to collapse on schedule is prompting increasing pressure to start a ground war, since the NATO operation is, in terms of prestige, like the banks Obama has bailed out, Too Big to Fail. Libya will probably be balkanized.

(Via Juan Cole.) He got his lack of prescience right, at least. I think Cockburn has his own version of hippie punching. He hates liberals from a leftist perspective, so anything moderate liberals believe is therefore wrong. I'm not aware of any evidence that he's backed from his climate denialism, btw, but I'm happy to bet him if he wants to put his money where his mouth is.

7. Domestic politics means the US is locked into a biased position on the Arab-Israeli conflict that will remain a major obstacle in relations with Arabs. However, the same domestic politics creates problems for China and Russia regarding the Arab Revolution. It might take some time, but the US and Western Europe might slowly generate some goodwill, because the Arab Revolution isn't going away.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Climate probabilities have multiple outcomes over time (Roger forgets the Fourth Dimension)

At the risk of repeating Roger Jr.'s mistake of not really knowing what I'm talking about, it seems like the fact's been obscured that we're betting not on one climate outcome at a single point in time but at multiple points in time.

To go back to the betting on a weighted die analogy, we're not just betting on a single outcome, but how often the die face saying "getting even warmer" shows up at each point in time as the die rolls. And we're able to make new bets at each point in time. From a policy perspective, we're able to use past experience with models to decide if we want to continue to rely on those predictions.

A related flaw in the delayist/denier argument is the alleged long-term consequences of policies - based on supposedly incorrect predictions of change - won't actually happen. If the predictions are wrong, we can stop investing in seawalls and solar panels in a decade or two. We'll have multiple outcomes over time to test those predictions.

(Per the comments, the title has been updated.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

I'm trying not to porkbarrel, but it's complicated

I haven't written much about my glamorous life as an international spy water district director, but I thought about it today as I spent my Saturday politely sparring with officials from other agencies.

I got elected on an environmental agenda but have spent as much or more time dealing with money and budget issues. That's appropriate - the public doesn't want the Water District dollars wasted.

So here's the real tricky part - I often try to help our taxpayers and ratepayers by fighting with other agencies over who's going to pay for what, but if we're just transferring costs amongst ourselves, are there any real savings?

I think the answer is partly yes - an efficient allocation of resources depends on the communities that receive the benefits being the ones that pay for them (adjusting for any transfers done to fix social problems). Agencies and communities that want our resources without pitching in comparably will demand more than they should, and our community will be willing to pay less than they should.

In today's example, we have a creek flooding issue that crosses two counties, and since more flooding happens on our side, it's somewhat appropriate that we've been paying more. At the same time we also have tidal flooding that will get worse from sea level rise that's partially integrated with our creek flooding (someone tell Roger about that) but is also more evenly spread between the two counties. I supported beginning plans to rebuild the levees to address the tidal flooding, but also said that if damages are more equal between counties then we have to revisit cost allocations. I want the problem addressed and the costs addressed appropriately.

So how does this fit a Stoat post on the failings of politicians? I guess we need to structure elected government so that the ability to win elections derives more from the competence values. If I fight for Water District cost reductions, including some real reductions, maybe that will be rewarded. We'll see.

I also want to see campaign finance reform for our little district, but that's another issue....

Monday, September 05, 2011

Court to Repubs: kill EPA climate regulations and you'll get blowback

The headline is my takeaway from this Jonathan Adler post at the Volokhs, although it may not be his. Here's the appellate court ruling, about whether actions risking the spread of the invasive species, Asian carp, require a preliminary injunction against a public nuisance:

. . . In our view, the plaintiffs presented enough evidence at this preliminary stage of the case to establish a good or perhaps even a substantial likelihood of harm – that is, a non-trivial chance that the carp will invade Lake Michigan in numbers great enough to constitute a public nuisance.... That does not mean, however, that they are automatically entitled to injunctive relief. The defendants, in collaboration with a great number of agencies and experts from the state and federal governments, have mounted a full-scale effort to stop the carp from reaching the Great Lakes, and this group has promised that additional steps will be taken in the near future. This effort diminishes any role that equitable relief would otherwise play. Although this case does not involve the same kind of formal legal regime that caused the Supreme Court to find displacement of the courts’ commonlaw powers in American Electric Power, on the present state of the record we have something close to it. In light of the active regulatory efforts that are ongoing, we conclude that an interim injunction would only get in the way. We stress, however, that if the agencies slip into somnolence or if the record reveals new information at the permanent injunction stage, this conclusion can be revisited.

(Emphasis added.)

American Electric Power was the attempt to bring a public nuisance case against a variety of companies for greenhouse gas pollution. The Supreme Court, with the support of the Obama Administration, threw the case out because the EPA was regulating greenhouse gas anyway. I argued a while back that the Obama Admin positioned itself this way to provide a disincentive to Republicans for killing (or more likely, defunding) Clean Air Act climate regulations and enforcement, that doing so would revive the public nuisance lawsuits.

Now we have a similar issue, expressly citing AEP, that warns that "somnolence" can bring about public nuisance injunctions. As I said in my previous argument, I'd rather have a public nuisance case and EPA regulations, but there is a reason behind Obama's strategy.

Somewhat tangential: Adler is an interesting type, btw. Previously I would've classified him as a delayer/lukewarmist, and dismiss as unimpressive his position of semi-supporting little other than a politically infeasible carbon tax. I think he may have shifted a bit, though, along with a few other conservative intellectuals who are having troubles with the anti-science positions on their side of politics.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Libya learning and persuasion

I don't expect the right-wingers to learn, let alone acknowledge, their mistakes on Libya. The one intervention that saved civilian lives (probably), killed no Americans, and cost less than one percent of the Iraq-Afghanistan interventions, and the right opposed it. With a few exceptions like McCain.

We'll see whether the opposition on the left has anything to say. And to be fair, there's plenty of time for things to go badly. The big lesson of Iraq, one that I didn't realize in advance, is that chaos can be even worse than the Leviathon of tyranny (somebody should write that concept up).

Apropos of this, one Kevin Drum post:
I've been a skeptic of the Libyan operation from the start, but if this keeps up — and if the revolutionary government goes on to establish a decent regime — then it looks like President Obama's judgment in this matter may indeed have been better than mine. At a modest cost in dollars, virtually no cost in coalition lives, and no requirement for postwar occupation or rebuilding, we've backstopped an indigenous uprising against a brutal dicatator who was on the verge of slaughtering thousands of his own people. Not bad.
My own experience, which I think is fairly generalizable, is that within the course of a single conversation hardly anybody ever changes their mind — including me.
He says he changes his opinion over time, though. What works for me is new information. Even if I'm not persuaded originally, new info might convince me - but maybe not so much because it's new but because it's a crutch, an excuse that lets me shed my stupid original opinion. Anyway, good for Kevin for reacting to Libya.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Human Events takes anti-Renaissance views seriously

New Yorker covered Michelle Bachmann's anti-Italian Renaissance ideology with her favorite documentary by Francis Schaeffer:
The iconic image from the early episodes is Schaeffer standing on a raised platform next to Michelangelo’s “David” and explaining why, for all its beauty, Renaissance art represented a dangerous turn away from a God-centered world and toward a blasphemous, human-centered world
This conclusion by Nancy Pearcey that Bachmann supports also demonstrates her thought process:
There may “be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right,” she writes in “Total Truth.” “Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false—for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view.”
Bachmann doesn't care if she's wrong on such things as science and history, and has no interest in corrections, because her overall thought system is infallible.

Human Events appears to fall in the same category. They're pumping a (somewhat doubtful) claim of malfeasance on drowning polar bears that Eli has checked, and found this expert conclusion:
“I think it’s very illustrative of the problems with government research on endangered species, and raises the question as to whether government should be in the business of science,” Ramey said.
I think Dr. Rob Roy Ramey and some government-supported madrasas in Pakistan should share notes. Incidentally, Dr. Ramey sez the survey was only intended to look for whales, when the protocol was actually to record all sightings:

ERIC MAY: Okay, you mentioned earlier other mammals, so are all mammal observations recorded in that database?


ERIC MAY: Okay, so give me an example, what other mammals?

JEFFREY GLEASON: Bearded seals, walruses, ringed seals, polar bears, beluga whales, gray whales. That's sort of the big ones.
Also they took photos:

ERIC MAY: When you did take the photos, were you able to tell what they were?

JEFFREY GLEASON: Most of the time, yeah. We saw some dead polar bears at one time, and it was pretty obvious with the naked eye what it was. But the pictures, they just kind of turned out to be a white blob in the photos. And I can't remember, we probably took three or four pictures, and it's sort of white blob floating in the ocean, so it's pretty hard to tell.

A certain Coyote Blog couldn't handle the truth on that one, saying the resulting study was produced without "even getting a picture of them." I'm also impressed by Coyote's assertion that white bears swimming at the surface are harder to see than grey-colored whales that swim below the surface and only come up every few minutes to breathe.

Not to worry though, the denialist overall worldview is infallible. Or maybe is S Molnar is right, and Bachmann and pals will bring us back to pre-Industrial Revolution, pre-Renaissance economies.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination

My political prediction accuracy rate has skyrocketed in recent years, from "worth your attention for the wrong reason" to "not worth your attention." We'll see if my Romney prediction keeps the trend moving.

I know Perry's kicking butt in Republican polls right now, just like Fred Thompson did four years ago when he jumped in. That doesn't matter much to me.

What does matter is the California Republican Party example from last year. Our state Republican Party is a lifesaver to America due to its incompetence - not just the usual Republican incompetence at state and federal level* in terms of policy, but also incompetent at winning elections. The national Republican Party would be much stronger if its biggest state party wasn't so terrible.

And even this state Republican Party, last year, chose its more electable candidate over the more true-blooded conservative. They didn't win, but they gave it what they could.

I think that's an indication of how Republicans will vote. They might distrust his religion, however much he tries to unite Republicans in hatred of the non-religious, but the Tea Partiers know that the anticolonial Kenyan-born socialist has to be taken out of office, and they'll go with their best shot, which isn't Perry.

Incidentally, it'll be interesting to see if Romney repeats his pattern of loaning his millions to his campaign instead of donating them, which would open a Romney Administration to legalized bribery as after-the-election donations flow right into his personal wallet. There oughta be a law.

And in other predictions, I stuck some cash back in the stock market last week. We'll see how that goes. I've been meaning to make a small bet against gold too, but have never done that before.

And as for Romney v Obama, let's just hope for a good economy.

*the Republicans I know in local office, by contrast, aren't too bad.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Republican climate cladistics

Might be useful to have some categories for Republican leaders:

Genus: Science Believers

Species: As good as typical Democrats
examples: Arnold the Governator, the eight Republicans who voted for cap and trade in Congress in 2009, Bush promises during the 2000 campaign (more or less)
notes: functionally extinct, unless McCain starts getting mad at fellow Republicans again.

Species: Proactive, but not as proactive as Democrats
example: Chris Christie. Others??
notes: they'll do something, maybe even without having to be forced to do something. But not as much as Democrats, which in turn isn't enough.

Species: Embracing science, rejecting acting on the science
examples: Mitt Romney, John Huntsman. Maybe Bush post-2005.
notes: this is the leftist side of the Republican Party mainstream. Might actually do something, very limited, if elected to office.

Genus: Wafflers

Species: Incoherent action rejecters.
example: Tim Pawlenty. Plenty of others I'm too lazy to track down. McCain on some days.
notes: results will likely vary if elected to office - they won't do much anything to be helpful, but the resistance they have to sane efforts by others could differ from case to case. Might have something to do with what they "really" believe, although considering that issue is a road to madness.

Other waffler species?

Genus: Denialists

Species: Conspiracy True Believers
examples: James Inhofe, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry (Morano-approved)
notes: I suppose you could try to distinguish between the ignorant and the express conspiracy supporters, but it doesn't work too well. These folks will only do what they're legally bound to do, after they've been sued for failing to do what they're legally bound to do.

So the Republican nomination is a battle between action rejecters and conspiracy true believers. Wonderful.