A judicial opinion from the Queen's Bench [n.1] declares that An Inconvenient Truth
is "broadly accurate," and that it's central theses about anthropogenic global warming are "supported by a vast quantity of research published in peer-reviewed
journals worldwide and by the great majority of the world's climate
scientists"; but that it
contains errors of fact that render the film "partisan" within the meaning of the relevant statutory provision, such that it cannot be shown to students absent the presentation of other viewpoints.
The Volokh Conspiracy's David Kopel mentions only one of these two findings. Guess which?
I pointed this convenient elision out to him in a comment about almost a week ago (and I'm not the only one who did so), but so far no update or clarification in his post. I can only assume he wants to provide a comfortable echo chamber for denialists. If so, Mission Accomplished.
Depressingly, if not surprisingly, Kopel's brand of journalistic malfeasance is notpeculiar to the blogs.
NOTES 1. "United Kingdom's High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division" sounds very grand, indeed. But in civil matters, the Queen's Bench is roughly analogous in its authority to a district court. So we're not talking about an opinion by the Supreme Court, here. Besides which, it's, you know, in England.
The Economist's Free Exchange limns an amusing colloquy among economists about the utility of existence. Worth reading in full, but I just want to rebut this one part of FE's analysis:
Mr Mankiw avoids talk of souls and simply speaks of what may be
observed. [But if admit such talk,] it is then
vivid that the decision not to have the next child will leave some unlucky soul dejected and unrealised. If having a kid benefits the kid, then not having a kid harms the kid-that-might-have-been.
Of course this conclusion is not ineluctable. For instance, when Sam Kinison's parents announced to him that he was “old enough to be on [his] own," Kinison noted:
You know, before I was your little son. Before I was your baby — before I was your loan — I was a free spirit in the next stage of life. I walked in the cosmos, not imprisoned by a body of flesh, but free, in a pure body of light. There were no questions, only answers. No weaknesses, only strengths. I was light, I was truth, I was a spiritual being, I was a God!!!
But you had to F*** and bring my ass down HERE!
I didn’t ask to be born! I didn’t call and say: ‘Hey, please have me so I could work in a f***in’ Winchell’s someday!’ Now you want me to pay my own way? F*** YOU! PICK UP THE F***IN’ CHECK, MOM! PICK IT UP!
I can't be sure, of course, but I read Kinison as pretty much disagreeing with the FE's analysis.
Tanasije Gjorgoski wonders what it would mean for math to be empirical.
I think we can stipulate that mathematical theorems are “empirical”
all and only to the extent that they are construed as statements that
apply to (among other things) empirically describable states of
affairs. So the proposition ‘2+2=4′ is an empirical fact just to the
extent that it is taken to mean that a collection of any two things
added to another collection of any two things will in every case yield
a collection of four things. (This may be what Einstein had in mind.)
Now, '2+2=4' even construed as an empirical claim admittedly seems like a case of necessary truth. But perhaps it's only a case of what I’ll call necessary truthiness. (Apologies to Stephen Colbert.) How would we know the difference?
A possibly instructive example come from (where else?) quantum
mechanics — viz., the case of quantum indeterminacy. Try to conceive of
a particle that does not have a jointly determinate position and
momentum. Can you do it? Probably not. In fact, I think doing so may be
psychologically impossible. And yet, if the predominant interpretation
of quantum uncertainty is to be credited, particles do not have a
This confounding empirical discovery, combined with the
necessary-truthiness of determinate position-momentum, is probably what
led Feynman to declare that “no one understands quantum mechanics.” I
think we’d be in a similar situation with respect to mathematics, were
such a compelling series of countervailing discoveries to undercut it:
No one would understand it.
It’s no surprise, then, that we can’t imagine how it might be so.
* I’m setting aside several possible objections here, among them: that the quasi-necessary status I attribute ex ante
to the thesis of determinate position-momentum is contestable; that
notwithstanding the consensus view, some scientists and philosophers
insist that uncertainty is epistemic and not ontological (though this
may be further evidence that the intuition underlying the determinacy
thesis is irresistible); and that unlike mathematical statements, the
determinacy thesis is not a formal theorem.
The WaPo profiles the soldiers of Fort Hunt -- the men charged with interrogating Nazi POWs.
Interesting in its own right for the soldiers' recounting of their interrogation techniques (which included playing chess and buying the prisoner a steak dinner), the article also provides a clear explanation of why this administration has had to resort to...other measures. For, as WWII veteran George Frenkel notes, their strategy involved engaging prisoners in a "battle of the wits."
This is a bizarre case. Former Procol Harum keyboardist Matthew Fisher sued for a share of the copyright to "Whiter Shade of Pale" based on his contribution as keyboardist on the recording and...won. I'm pretty sure that's unprecedented. Studio musicians routinely contribute key melodic hooks to songs for which they receive no copyright interest. It's just part of the gig.
Before I get into my criticism of the decision, I should mention I actually think the court here was aiming at something desirable, namely, rewarding such contributions with some kind of quasi-copyright protection when those contributions effectively become a part of the song. An example that comes to my mind is session guitarist Robert White opening riff to "My Girl", a lick that's so integral to the song you really can't imagine someone covering the song without it. I think most folks would agree that White deserved more thanks for what he contributed than his standard $20 song fee.
That being said, the legal mechanism established in this case is an impossibly blunt instrument to implement this kind of reward. And besides, I doubt anyone thinks even an original contribution like White's would be due a 40 percent share of the copyright (which is what the judge here awarded Fisher). So the court's decision is pretty bad even if you end the criticism there.
But the truly bizarre thing about this case is that Fisher's averred contribution isn't even original. Rather, it's a slightly digested rendition of Bach's Orchestral Suite in D (a/k/a "Air on a G String"). So whether or not it was Fisher's idea to play that melody on the organ on "Pale" is irrelevant: Bach's melody was in the public domain. For whatever reason, this point isn't made in the article, so thought I'd mention it.
BTW, I once did a quasi-surf-guitar version of Bach's "Air." Kind of fun. Just for kicks, I'll upload it to my MySpace jukebox for your listening pleasure and update here when it's ready to spin. Till then...
UPDATE: Okay, surf's up, so cut on over and catch some "Air," dude.
P.Z. stirs me out of my bloggerly dormancy with a viral challenge to name
An interesting animal I had;
An interesting animal I ate;
An interesting animal in the Museum;
An interesting thing I did with or to an animal; and
An interesting animal in its natural habitat
and then infect nine other hosts with the meme. This is a suitably frivolous exercise, so looks like I've little choice but to succumb to this animal madness:
An interesting animal I had. A Bajan vervet monkey. His name was Togo. We'd met him down at the local beach bar, Sparky's Joint (itself a watering hole frequented by many other forms most interesting). My folks offered Togo's owner one of our Doberman pups in exchange. Togo turned out to be a handful. He was by turns aggressive and, well...overly amorous. (Ever heard Richard Pryor's bit about his pet monkey who had an unnatural attraction to the external acoustic meatus? Let's just say I find his account ear-ticklingly plausible.)
An interesting animal I ate. Rattlesnake cooked on an open fire. Tasted like...rattlesnake.
An interesting animal in the Museum. At a museum? The only animals I've ever seen at a museum were taxidermied. And the less interesting for it. (Then again, there was Picasso's Goat at MoMA. Does that count?)
An interesting thing I did with or to an animal. When I was seven I shook forelimbs with Orky (or maybe it was Corky) at (now defunct) Marineland. Also, patted his (or her) tongue. Wow. Second place: Swimming amidst a vast bloom of small jellyfish in the Caribbean Sea. They stung, to be sure, but the pain was mild, and I wasn't about to give up viewing this extraordinary spectacle.
An interesting animal in its natural habitat. I've encountered barracuda a couple of times while snorkling. They rarely attack humans, but man they are some creepy looking fish. Second place: Vervet monkeys. Yes, the forest around our house was swarming with them. They are not highly domesticable. Togo didn't much care for his wild brethren, either.