Archive for July, 2010


Pretty Close to Reality

July 9, 2010

Happy Friday!

Vodpod videos no longer available.



July 9, 2010

Revkin interviews Don Brown (Penn State) about environmental ethics and climate ethics. Not a terribly substantive interview, but worth a few minutes of your time, at least. Here’s one quote of interest:

We like to say if we get the science and economics wrong, we will likely get the ethics wrong. More importantly, to do this work well one must follow climate change policy controversies as they unfold. Most ethicists don’t typically do this kind of work and only a few universities allow their ethicists to do this kind of “applied” environmental ethics. I am lucky to be at Penn State.

Don seems to have flipped things on their head here. I think it’s more likely that if we have the ethics wrong, it doesn’t matter if we get the science or the economics right or wrong. The problem with the holocaust wasn’t that the Germans got the science and the economics wrong (though they did that too), is that they were completely ass-backwards with regard to human rights.

True, though, that many universities traditionally don’t smile much on applied environmental ethics. Fortunately, there are many now that are starting to see the value in interdisciplinary collaboration on these applied issues, so there are a growing number environmental ethics outposts. All told, we’re pretty late to the game.


Heat Waives

July 9, 2010

ClimateWire reports that heatwaves have outpaced coldspells by 2:1 over the past decade:

But how much of the heat can be blamed on climate change?

“We can’t say that one individual or even two heat waves are due to global warming,” said David Easterling, a climatologist with NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “But what we can say is that warming temperatures do increase the probability of a heat wave.”

Scientists have documented a pronounced warming trend in the United States and around the world over the last several decades. In its 2007 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded with 90 percent certainty that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been the primary factor in Earth’s overall temperature rise since 1950.

Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization said late last year that the 2000-2009 decade appears to be the warmest since record-keeping began in the 1850s.


Record highs outnumbered record lows 2-to-1 over the last decade, and the study — published in Geophysical Research Letters last year — predicted that disparity could balloon to 20-to-1 by the end of this century without sharp curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.

While it’s impossible to pin blame for one heat wave on climate change, since naturally occurring weather patterns like El Niño can magnify or counteract human-caused warming over short periods, experts said an emerging crop of studies suggests that heat waves will become more frequent and intense without strong cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Gazoinga. 20-to-1? Yipes. But that raises the question: will it actually count as a heat wave if the climate has shifted? If the climate shifts, that’s just the way things are, we get a new baseline.

I’m sure Roger will have something incisive to say about this.



July 7, 2010

The New Scientist has an interesting piece on the Climategate Scandal that never was:

In truth, climategate was a pseudo-scandal, and the worst that can be said of the scientists is that they wrote some ill-advised things. “I’ve written some pretty awful emails,” admitted Phil Jones, director of the CRU at the time. The scientists also resisted turning over their data when battered by requests for it – requests from climate sceptics who dominate the blogosphere and don’t play by the usual rules.

But there is nothing very surprising, much less scandalous, about such behaviour. Yes, a “bunker mentality” developed among the scientists; they were “huddling together in the storm”, in Pearce’s words. But there really was a storm. They were under attack. In this situation, the scientists proved all too human – not frauds, criminals or liars.

So why were their hacked emails such big news? Because they were taken out of context and made to appear scandalous. Pearce repeatedly faults the sceptics for such behaviour. Yet he too makes the scientists’ private emails the centrepiece of the story. Pearce’s investigations don’t show any great “smoking gun” offences by the scientists – yet he still finds fault. And who wouldn’t, when they can read their private comments in the heat of the battle? (I can’t help but wonder what Pearce might think if he had the sceptics’ private emails too.)

Meanwhile, the Guardian offered some insight into the vitriol sloshing around in the buckets and pails immediately afterwards.

The scientists revealed they have been told to “go gargle razor blades” and have been described as “Nazi climate murderers”. Some emails have been sent to them without any attempt by the sender to disguise their identity. Even though the scientists have received advice from the FBI, the local police say they are not able to act due to the near-total tolerance of “freedom of speech” in the US.

Mmm. Razor blades. Made in Germany.

And on that note, today Germany will slash Spain.

[UPDATE: Doh!]


Toronto Ethics Center to Close

July 6, 2010

This is a shock. Discussion at Leiter’s palace.



July 6, 2010

It was a joy to watch Uruguay get their asses handed back to them today. Go Orange! I just want to say one more thing about the no-hands rule being constitutive of soccer.

I do think that the operative issue here is that no-hands is constitutive of soccer — meaning that it’s not a simple regulative rule against slide tackling, but instead specifies what soccer is — but I think a case can be made along non-constitutive lines as well.

There is no clear rule against bringing a jet engine onto the field, for instance. It is conceivable, though, that there might be one. Suppose that for odd historical reasons, there are restrictions on any non-codified arbitrary intervention by any player, not just hands — rogue tubas, naked old people, hordes of vampire bats, robots — and suppose also that the penalties for intervening in this way on the field are the same. Red card. Penalty kick.

So if a player brings an army of self-propelled robots on the field to disrupt play, this results in a red card and a penalty kick.

If Saurez had positioned the jet engine just right, and then flipped it on so as to blow the Ghana’s ball out of the goal, thus resulting in his expulsion from the game and also forcing Ghana to take a penalty kick, would this count as cheating?

I think it would.

Or what if Suarez had very quickly slid a giant sheet of plexiglass between the goal and the ball… would that be cheating? I think it also would; and I think a penalty kick would be the wrong penalty for an intervention of this sort.

Now consider something more plausible: what if he had caught the ball instead of batting it away? Seems to me that our intuitions might be stronger that the goal should be given to Uruguay.

It’s over now, of course. But it’s been a fun little discussion.


Ghana Got Screwed

July 3, 2010

Roger, that little devil’s advocate, asked me what I thought of this piece on the Ghana/Uruguay match today, in which there’s a call for an ethicist.

With Uruguay’s advancement through such a weird turn of events confirmed, the debate over whether Suarez was a genius savior or a Thierry Henry-level cheat rages. It’s obvious Suarez used his hands with purpose, but unlike Henry, he was immediately caught and punished and will now miss the semifinal against Holland. However, Ghana is now out of the tournament because of Suarez’s decision to break the rules. Though Ghana did have a golden chance to make Suarez’s efforts irrelevant with that Gyan penalty. Is there a correct moral view of this situation? Or is it just an unbelievable turn of events within a game that should be appreciated for its complexities? Luis Suarez doesn’t care. His team plays on.

This was an amazing bit of football, if I do say. I was watching live and could hardly breathe as events unfolded. Jasper, my four-year-old, seemed worried: “What happened? What happened? What happened?!”

It’s hard to explain these things to a four-year-old when gasping for breath. Since Roger asked, I might as well say what I think. “I don’t know!”

I think Uruguay’s win was total bullshit. Ghana rightly won this game.

Okay, right, rules are rules; but rules that allow cheating of this variety are rules that the game can’t stand. And make no mistake. This was cheating. Let’s trace the logic:

If one subscribes to the rules regulating play, and assumes that rules are mere contingencies, it would appear that Suarez made a very smart and calculated decision. He won the game for Uruguay… or at least, prevented Uruguay’s defeat, thereby creating the conditions that made possible their win.  He did this by using his hands to block the shot from entering the goal. This block is an automatic penalty, resulting in his immediate ejection from this game, as well as his ejection from the next game. Under normal circumstances, this is a stiff penalty. Under these circumstances, it’s clear first that the penalty wasn’t stiff enough, but second, that any response that doesn’t undo what was done — that is to say, that doesn’t grant Uruguay the goal — basically reasserts the contingency of the regulative rules, thereby suggesting that the rules are practically inconsistent.

It would be tempting to see this violation of the no-hands rule as wrong for the reason that it might create hostile play, resulting in a free-for-all in the penalty or the goal box. It introduces the possibility of winning by any means necessary, so long as one is willing to suffer the consequences. One can imagine a state of play where dangerous tackles will be taken strategically. If I were a coach and rules like this were allowed, I’d swell the size of my team by bringing in some decent but not great players — pawns, basically — and having them slide tackle the good players on the other team to take them out. Tonya Harding offers a slightly gruesome parallel. That’s a very bad rule, and so a rule like that ought to be changed.

More importantly, however, is that this is a rule that simply isn’t fair, since its deployment suggests that the no-hands rule isn’t a rule at all. It suggests that the no-hands rule is only contingent, not constitutive, of play. It suggests that it can broken when it suits a person.

What do I mean?

Well, what’s one of the first things you learn about soccer? Here. I’ll answer for you. You learn this:

The game is played on a rectangular grass, or green artificial turffield, with a goal in the centre of each of the short ends. The object of the game is to score by driving the ball into the opposing goal. In general play, the goalkeepers are the only players allowed to touch the ball with their hands or arms, while the field players typically use their feet to kick the ball into position, occasionally using their torso or head to intercept a ball in midair.

That’s right. You learn that what makes this game soccer (or football) is that it is a game played primarily with the foot. Apart from the goalie, all players must use their feet (and any other appendage not resembling a hand). So the rule is this:
No player, apart from the goalie, may use his hands to field the ball.
That’s soccer. Now imagine this game with Suarez’s rule:
No player, apart from the goalie, may use his hands to field the ball; but some players may use their hands when it suits them.
That rule is weird. And it’s not just weird. It’s contradictory. It suggests that one both can and cannot use one’s hands.
My use of the pawns to slide tackle the powerful players above illustrates the practical implication of this contradiction; and should probably help explain why Uruguay’s win was cheating. The Suarez rule’s deployment may result in a dangerous pitch for players, but that isn’t its main problem. It’s main problem is that it is unfair.

Bottomless Dumb

July 1, 2010

Here, enjoy this bit of mental distortion from the American Enterprise Institute on why soccer is for socialists.

Matt Yglesias responds, and his commenters slather the icing on.


Mann Exonerated

July 1, 2010

Joe Romm has the skinny.

Who’s next?


Crises of Capitalism

July 1, 2010