31 January, 2007

Anti-Socialist = Anti-Environmental

Apparently this is juicy news in some circles:

[Canadian] Prime Minister Stephen Harper once called the Kyoto accord a "socialist scheme" designed to suck money out of rich countries, according to a letter leaked Tuesday by the Liberals.
And the reason that's controversial is...? It is merely descriptive in my view. But y'all already knew that. Those sympathetic to the leakers make the 'controversy' plain:
Liberal MP Mark Holland told the Canadian Press on Tuesday that the leaked letter shows that Harper isn't actually committed to climate change. "Now, suddenly, because he has seen the polls and realized the political opportunism of going green, the prime minister has launched a new campaign — that of trying to convince Canadians that he actually cares about the environment," Holland said. "But no one is buying it."
Leaving aside the silly/bizarre idea of someone being "committed to climate change" (hunh?), the left's logic in this is clear from the article: Harper calls Kyoto socialist. Kyoto is apparently the only valid litmus test for being concerned about the environment these days. The liberals (capital 'L' in Canada) accuse Harper of being anti-environmental (broad, sweeping slur).

Now, net out the equation: What they're really accusing Harper of being is anti-socialist (description, not epithet). But if they said that, people might not vote for them. I said might.

Last Resort When Nobody Will Listen: Muzzle the Opposition

Thom Hartmann, Air America's replacement for the departing Al Franken whined in a recently reprinted editorial about a lack of "fairness" in 'corporate' media:

...the situation with regard to talk radio is particularly perplexing: It doesn't even carry a pretense of political balance... Al Gore recently came right out and said that much of the corporate-owned media are "part and parcel of the Republican Party"... [emphasis added]
Which is odd considering that on his website, Hartmann brags about being a NYT bestselling author, carried on 68 stations coast-to-coast plus Sirius and offering podcasts galore (not to mention the website itself, of course). There's something deeply disingenuous about a guy who obviously doesn't lack for access to 'corporate' platforms from which to preach his 'progressive' message comparing Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh to Joseph Goebbels. Hartmann writes:
Apparently the combining of nationwide German police agencies (following the terrorist attack of February 1933 when the Parliament building was set afire) into one giant Fatherland Security Agency answerable only to the Executive Branch, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and its SchutzStaffel, was a lesson of history this guy [Rush] had completely forgotten. Neither, apparently, do most Americans recall that the single most powerful device used to bring about the SS and its political master was radio. Is history repeating itself?
No Thom, history is not repeating itself. Get a paper bag. Sit down and breathe into it for a few minutes. Those Adolf Hitler hallucinations you've been having are probably just flashbacks from that bad acid trip you took at Woodstock. Your historical comparison breaks down before it even gets started. Answerable only to the executive branch? I musta missed that one. Radio in the 1930's comparable to an age in which the Internet brings millions of sources to the majority of the population? Have you seen any pink elephants lately?

Why do I bring up a 2002 editorial (recently re-'printed') from an obviously unhinged left-wing nut-job? Because, 1) people really believe this stuff, 2) Mr. Hartmann is part of a movement that now has control of Congress and 3) they are actively seeking to bring back the Fairness Doctrine--and have a reasonable shot at doing so. (I encourage younger readers who think that the Fairness Doctrine has anything to do with promoting or enabling fairness to re-read Orwell's 1984 (I know, second time in a week) and consider that that prescient work was meant to portray real and ever-present tendencies in human society and government.)

Hartmann and his ilk would like to divert our attention from the near total left-wing monopoly on university campuses and (almost as complete) in print and television media in their effort take over radio too--or at least wrestle it to a draw they've been unable to achieve on their own. They claim that the New York Times and other MSM outlets, never mind FOX, are (get this) far far to the right. I actually know people here who think this--despite all evidence to the contrary (more on that study here). I can't even begin to understand how they would think such a thing unless they really had no idea what the true breadth of political spectrum looked like.

Their only calibration seems to be the small differences between the Washington Post ("right wing"!) and the Boston Globe (almost liberal enough), with the NYT in the middle but leaning well to the right in their skewed view. Of course all three slant well to the left when calibrated according to history (e.g., this or their own archives) or to the Congress (via think tanks).

(When drifting rapidly out to sea, it's wiser to conclude that the ship you're on has pulled its anchor than to start screaming that the process of continental drift has accelerated a billion trillion times while nobody was looking and that the land is moving away from you. Then again, given the left's hysterical claims about global warming, such a misunderstanding isn't all that hard to imagine.)

The fact that the left's two attempts to get a liberal radio network going are abject failures in the marketplace should tell us something. Marketplaces are not antithetical to democracy, they are merely a slightly skewed form of it. You like something, you pay for it. You don't, you don't. Unless the government compells you to under threat of imprisonment.

Instead, we have the repeatedly bankrupt and scandal-plagued Air America and the taxpayer-supported National Public Radio. The fact that there are only these two is something some might take as prima faciae evidence of bias. I take it as indicating a market hunger for balance against other media that are anything but fair--a point the Fairness Doctrine does not address. Hold that thought. As I wrote last year, NPR has:
...been so unbalanced for so long that it truly believes everyone else is unbalanced.
(Another earlier KMaru NPR rant can be found here.)

If we don't scream loud and long to our representatives there (and not just in one party), we're at real risk of losing fundamental freedoms. The seriousness of this can be illustrated by the fact that the Family Research Council and the ACLU actually agree on at least part of it.

As Nat Hentoff wrote recently:
Many liberals believe they are far more firm in their support of freedom of speech than many conservatives. A strong argument against this stereotyping of both sides is the current campaign to restore the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting by, among others, four liberal Democrat members of Congress -- Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, and U.S. Reps. Dennis Kucinich, of Ohio, and Maurice Hinchey and Louise Slaughter, of New York. They intend to bring this assault on freedom of speech back to life in the new Congress.
That would be the same Dennis Kucinich who marched in solidarity with the folks who last weekend thought that the best way to get their message across was to spray-paint government buildings and other public property and spit on disabled vets. They were allowed to do so by DC police commanders because the alternative was being pelted with bottles of urine. Nice. (Ironically, the above cited article for The Hill was written by one Jackie Kucinich... hmm.)

For an example of what Dennis Kucinich stands for, check out this sympathetic piece recounting his interview with Sean Hannity who yes, for the record, is a boob and a bully--none of which excuses the fact that Kucinich's argument is effectively a socialist one. If it were about who was nicer, Kucinich might have won. If it were about who was nicer, Jimmy Carter would be looking at his eighth term. If it were about logic and Constitutionally grounded principle: different story.

Kucinich's argument is essentially that the government owns it all and that the government definitely knows better (ordinary people being poor and stupid and dependent and easily led by demagogues, doncha y'know). Only the government can establish fairness. Only the government can bring balance to the force. What he is arguing, essentially, is that if we call something "corporate", then the individuals who organized such an entity lose all of their rights by doing so. Which is kinda funny because he'd never say that about labor unions or the ACLU or Air America. But I digress.

Kucinich's world view in one in which government stands alone as a powerful, consolidated voice and the rest of us are left blogging away as best we can. In other words, precisely what Hartmann fears in his Omni-Nazi-esque view of conservatives.

What do I mean by organize?

It may have passed by many readers, but in Senate bill #1 (S.1) a few weeks ago, a provision nearly passed that would have forced all bloggers with "audiences" over 500 to report detailed information to the government. It would also have put onerous and invasive requirements on grassroots lobbying and information-providing groups, of which many of the most successful have been conservative (e.g., the FRC). It was a blatant attempt to shut up what the MSM has been unable to squash in the Internet age: the voice of the people.
The Senate, on a 55-43 vote, also approved an amendment pushed by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, to strip a provision requiring reporting of "grass-roots" lobbying.
Backers said it would shine light on special interest groups that use "hired guns" to organize mass mailings, phone-ins or e-mail campaigns. Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition, argued that it was a free-speech issue, discouraging people or groups from organizing petition drives.
Kucinich's argument (and that of many Democrats) is one that those under thirty may not be familiar with. If not, it's worth brushing up on what the Fairness Doctrine was (and might yet become again). Hentoff puts it succinctly:
In effect by the Federal Communications Commission from 1949 to 1987, the Fairness Doctrine mandated that broadcast stations devoted a reasonable amount of time to discussions of controversial issues of public importance -- and that the broadcaster was required to offer reasonable opportunity for opposing viewpoints to be heard.

If a station failed to adhere to the FCC's interpretation of this "fairness" doctrine, the broadcaster could lose his or her license. Accordingly, the government would be in charge of policing the First Amendment -- precisely the opposite of what the Founders clearly intended.
(Not surprisingly, Wikipedia has become a battleground for defining what the Fairness Doctrine is... which isn't really all that surprising in an age where similar battles have been fought over the meaning of the word "is" itself.) A more reasonable, historical take with references can be found here. The American Thinker has a worthwhile piece.

So where does all this leave us? Let me try to sum up what I know has been a rambling post. Thanks for sticking with me. I have much more to say on this and plan to in coming weeks. In short, Democrats are trying to impose a framework for 'fairness' that:
  • May have made some sense in 1949 when media channels and modes were scarce and access relatively expensive. None of those factors apply in 2007. They didn't even apply in 1987 which was why the doctine was abolished: cable had come along and the Internet was just around the corner.

  • Sets the government in the position of deciding what is fair and what is not rather than individual information consumers. (Far more like Hartmann's Nazi example than what exists now.) This one is truly frightening. All of these proposals beg the obvious question: WHO GETS TO DECIDE?

  • Brushes under the rug Judge Brandeis famous axiom that sunlight is the best disinfectant. I.e., that the best antidote to abhorrent speech is more speech, not managed speech. This may not seem as obvious, but think about it: with a bazillion blogs, cable channels, satellite radio, podcasts, and newspapers galore, why must each station be balanced? Why is it not true that balance is achieved in the aggregate? Why must it be fractal? (i.e., down to the finest grain in the system) There is an analogy to managed care here that just occurred to me but that's got to be another post.

  • Puts a label on a piece of legislation that's patently untrue. If this were really about fairness, we would be having a national debate about media and 'corporate' bias across the entire spectrum of all media (television, radio, newspapers, Internet). That's an impossible and improper task for government but worth pondering as a strawman concept. That debate would also challenge the notion that there is something especially worth scrutinizing about the corporate form that is not worth scrutinizing when it comes to non-profits such as universities. I know this is a "careful what you wish for" area, but again, it's a strawman to point out the ridiculousness of pointing out the one media form in which your party doesn't have an airtight lock and seeking fairness in it only.

  • Has no fixed reference point. Let's assume for a moment that the government got back into the business of establishing fairness. I know in reality what benchmark they would use and it is as skewed as the newspapers are today. But in this imaginary scenario, what benchmark(s) should they use? How would one calibrate whether media was fair and balanced against an eternal standard or simply with reference to itself--leaving open the strong possibility that it would simply drift, Ouijia-board-like over time.
Finally, why does it matter? Everyone knows that FOX's "fair and balanced" is more than a bit tongue-in-cheek. It holds up only in contrast to other outlets. It's not really all that balanced, but who cares? (Aside from Mr. Hartmann and Dennis Kucinich and their buddies). The thing that the left simply doesn't get about the blogosphere and new media is that we state out biases, we are unapologetic about them and we trust readers to be smart consumers of many such prognosticators. New media trusts that people will make their own choices and have common sense. The Fairness Doctrine crowd believes that only government can have such sense.

There are many things under siege in the new political reality of this Congress--the war, all kinds of 'life' issues, etc. And all of them are important. If we lose this one however, we will put the government back in the position of regulating media and muzzle the diversity of voices that have sprung up since it got out 20 years ago. And that, as one loyal reader points out, might just be the lynchpin that would lose all of the other issues also.

Would we ever think to re-nationalize an industry? (I mean everyone but the leftie nut-jobs). That's in effect, what Democrats are proposing to do with radio with this effort. We need to stay on top of this one or all the other issues are lost.

29 January, 2007

"Deep Felt" Psychoses

I am no psychologist, but I doubt I'm the only one to think that the doctors and parents 'caring' for this err, um, person should be shot.

A boy of 12 is believed to have become the world's youngest sex change patient after convincing doctors that he wanted to live the rest of his life as a female. The boy - originally called Tim, but now known as Kim - has started to receive hormone treatment, in preparation for the operation that will eventually complete the sex change. Tim was diagnosed as a transsexual two years ago, when doctors and psychiatrists concluded that his claims to be "in the wrong body" were so deeply felt that he required treatment.
I have a different idea for 'treatment': patience--as in, six to nine years' worth at least. Here's another: wisdom. Here's a third and a fourth if those don't work: forbearance and humility. And if all else fails, how about speaking the truth in love to this poor, mixed-up kid. That is, if the adults around him/her can even remember or find reference points themselves for what truth is in the midst of a culture in which sexual identity is of absolute, primary importance.

Is there anything in the realm of modern psychological, sexual and medical possibility that isn't taboo anymore so long as it's "deeply felt"? This seems to me like the natural if horrific playing out of a self-centered, atheistic worldview that insists that our threescore and ten corporeal existence (and our right to maximum personal fulfillment in it) is really all there is.

And if sexual identity is so important as to require radical surgery in some cases (a position more associated with the left than the right), then how can feminists also insist that there are no intrinsic differences on average between the capabilities, preferences and outlooks of men and women? (E.g., in the case of Larry Summers being drummed out of Harvard for asking exactly that question.)

UPDATE: The doctors are German. Eerie.

Overclocking Your Brain

Speaking of brains, I found this interesting, particularly numbers 1, 19 and 22... so long as they don't interfere with the all-critical #15. ;-) H/T: jomiwi!

444 Days in Reverse

Even as a politically clueless (and leftist) teenager, it was obvious to me at the time--and still more obvious today--that Iran's release of the American hostages 26 years ago this week was in direct response to their fear of what Reagan would do once inaugurated. It was an equally stark illustration of the utter contempt in which the Islamofascists held America while Carter was in charge. Now we are seeing the reverse. Story one:

Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that President Bush should withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq before he leaves office, asserting it would be "the height of irresponsibility" to pass the war along to the next commander in chief.
She doesn't appear to have cared quite so much about her husband passing along a well-known and long-festering problem in OBL, with 9-11 the result eight months after Bush was sworn in.

Story two:
Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq — including an Iranian national bank branch in the heart of the capital — just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iran’s plan, as outlined by the ambassador, carries the potential to bring Iran into further conflict here with the United States, which has detained a number of Iranian operatives in recent weeks and says it has proof of Iranian complicity in attacks on American and Iraqi forces. The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraq government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called “the security fight.”
And y'know what? Iran will be successful--because they are the ones fueling the violence.

Hillary and her ilk say they want to support the troops yet something typically goes unnoticed by the MSM in such a statement. She claims to support the troops below a certain rank. The fact that General Petraeus (a 'troop' himself) specifically said in his Senate confirmation hearings that the kind of unilateral withdrawal Hillary is proposing would render worse than moot everything done to date and imperil the security of the United States does not seem to have registered as being in direct contradiction to bland platitudes about "support".

Say one thing for this move on Hillary's part: it is being honest. My bet is that by this time next year both she and Obama are struggling mightily to keep their heads above the political waves.

27 January, 2007

Pinker on Consciousness

I find Steven Pinker simultaneously challenging and short-sighted, as in this recent piece in Time magazine. The man is clearly a pioneer in his field--brilliant as both researcher and clear communicator of cutting-edge neuroscience discoveries and ideas.

Unlike Dawkins or Dennett, who deal with related subject matter (but who invariably cause me to roll my eyes with their dark and angrily simplistic anti-religious agendas) Pinker always causes me to think more deeply. I can disagree with his larger conclusions and still accept his findings. I am often enlightened by them. He seems to come closer than either of the other two to true scientific humility. (Those two words--'scientific' and 'humility'--used to go together far more naturally.) And then he belies that impression.

Pinker is delicate almost to the point of apology in the Time piece in approaching an existential subject to which he too is subject: the nature of being. And yet he like others, is too constrained by the silo in which he studies and by an over-arching set of unstated personal assumptions to come to anything but a depressingly reductionist hypothesis: man as meat. Where he really runs off the rails is in attempting to spin this all into a new secular morality. Thankfully, he puts in enough qualifiers to render moot some of his most passionate arguments.

The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place. And not surprisingly, everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery...

[Nonetheless] consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain... scientists have amassed evidence that every aspect of consciousness can be tied to the brain... when the physiological activity of the brain ceases, as far as anyone can tell the person's consciousness goes out of existence. Attempts to contact the souls of the dead (a pursuit of serious scientists a century ago) turned up only cheap magic tricks, and near death experiences are not the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but symptoms of oxygen starvation... [emphases added here and throughout]
What he should have said in order to stay within the bounds of his expertise is that as far as any scientist can determine by current experiment, the person's consciousness is removed from the realm in which the consciousness of the observer ordinarily dwells.

Pinker dismisses out of hand--as he should given the scientific frame in which he operates--the copious anecdotal evidence for out-of-body experiences in which highly specific details of the resuscitation scene were reported from vantage points 'impossible' for the subject to have occupied even if s/he were conscious. Not to mention the vivid dialogues with long-dead relatives, the sense of choice, etc. Near-death experiences are hardly reducible to a walk towards a bright light, as Pinker seems to suggest.

Yet Pinker would ignore or reduce the importance of such reports. His reference to "cheap magic tricks" while valid in reference to much 19th-century showmanship is overly sweeping, causing me to question where else in the article he may have strayed from his core expertise without my being aware of it. It also hardly needs saying that Pinker is neither an historian nor a theologian (nor a bunch of other things) and thus he is unwilling to make reference to the ample evidence for eternal life provided by other domains.

Scientists play a key role in helping us to understand created things; however, leaving the understanding of the nature of our being (origin, purpose, meaning and destiny) solely to scientists is like fielding a baseball team made up entirely of second basemen.

In that vein, two books are worth noting: 1) Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" and 2) William F. Buckley Jr.'s 1951 classic, "God and Man at Yale" which I'm reading right now.

Part of our current one-discipline-at-a-time (and the narrower the better) approach to such cosmic questions lies in the fragmentation of the university. It used to be all about the search for literally "unity in diversity" (before the term 'diversity' got completely perverted to mean the kind one can see in a picture, i.e., of viewpoints, expertise, etc.). This is a point that rock-star Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias is fond or reminding his listeners.

Today the university is more about specialization, all residing (as Buckley presciently pointed out in 1951) within a framework that is now fundamentally self-referential. That is to say, the university has given up altogether on any pretext that is purpose lies in the search for any higher pattern or meaning in our observations of creation. If there is no God to perceive, then everything we might seek to understand is only about what He has created, not Himself. Separating the two has never made sense to me--a major reason why I view the Creationism vs. Darwinism debate as foolish on its face: God would be rather limited if he weren't capable of creating processes that appear natural and time-bound to us yet which He can know the end of.

Pinker continues:
To appreciate the hardness of the Hard Problem, consider how you could ever know whether you see colors the same way that I do. Sure, you and I both call grass green, but perhaps you see grass as having the color that I would describe, if I were in your shoes, as purple. Or ponder whether there could be a true zombie--a being who acts just like you or me but in whom there is no self actually feeling anything...

No one knows what to do with the Hard Problem. Some people may see it as an opening to sneak the soul back in, but this just relabels the mystery of "consciousness" as the mystery of "the soul"--a word game that provides no insight...

Whatever the solutions to the Easy and Hard problems turn out to be, few scientists doubt that they will locate consciousness in the activity of the brain. For many nonscientists, this is a terrifying prospect. Not only does it strangle the hope that we might survive the death of our bodies, but it also seems to undermine the notion that we are free agents responsible for our choices--not just in this lifetime but also in a life to come. In his millennial essay "Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died," Tom Wolfe worried that when science has killed the soul, "the lurid carnival that will ensue may make the phrase 'the total eclipse of all values' seem tame."
Notice what Pinker has done here, which even the most literalist religionists seldom do for themselves. He has set up science, and particularly scientists, as a kind of priesthood, entirely separate from everything and everyone else. It's an assumption that's easy to pass over without noticing in our technlogy-transfixed society. An unstated implication of that assertion is that science has a lock not only on truth but on the all-encompassing truth.

In other words, Pinker is attempting to surround all other science and thought with his own: brain science. That gives him a handy counter-argument to any critic: i.e., that s/he cannot get outside of his/her brain any more than Pinker can and thus it's all about who has the better one. By labeling all non-scientists as "terrified", he also sets himself up in a superior position to argue that the rest of us are only reasoning from fear. He alone is calm, fearless and above it all.

Now here's where it gets really interesting:
My own view [says Pinker] is that this is backward: the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul. It's not just that an understanding of the physiology of consciousness will reduce human suffering through new treatments for pain and depression. That understanding can also force us to recognize the interests of other beings--the core of morality.
Again, Pinker is going beyond his domain of expertise to make an assertion about others. In an age gone by, he would instead be learning about them and attempting to incorporate them, not dismissing them out of hand and elevating his own to the pinnacle of reason. His notion of a soul seems flat, i.e., it either exists inside oneself as an illusion (his position) or outside as a "ghost in the machine" (a favorite phrase of his). Having consulted for years on computer architectures, it doesn't seem all that difficult to imagine instead a more nuanced middle ground: a 'soul' that's just as complex and brain-bound as Pinker suggests AND that has an enduring component we cannot perceive. This is much as one might walk up to a computer and be unable to distinguish between data, programs and processes stored, run and/or backed up locally versus remotely. (Any combination could be possible... some mysteries are impenetrable.)

He goes on to equate dogs with people because they both have brains and then to reveal the true nature of his "new morality" (and his completely misunderstanding of faith) by doing the moral equivalence "thing":
And when you think about it, the doctrine of a life-to-come is not such an uplifting idea after all because it necessarily devalues life on earth. Just remember the most famous people in recent memory who acted in expectation of a reward in the hereafter: the conspirators who hijacked the airliners on 9/11.
Yep. Anyone who believes in life after death is uniquely prone to being a mad bomber... not like us rational, scientific secularists, no sir! It's remarkable that, having just trashed the ability of the brain to ponder higher order outside itself, he has the chutzpah to argue for an unproven morality by saying "...when you think about it". As if the rest of us haven't--and found our own thought wanting... desperately in need of an eternal Thinker not constrained by a brain at all.

(It's worth noting in passing that Pinker never really disproves the notion that, having dissected the immensely complex computer of the human brain, he may still have failed to perceive a kind of biological "wireless modem" that operates on principles we have not yet discovered. If the concept of the Holy Spirit lent itself to a purely biological explanation I would be disappointed yet if it also incorporated biological mechanisms I would not be surprised. And having failed to disprove such an extra-dimensional hypothesis, his call to a "new morality" is more than a little bit hasty and inadequately grounded.)

One could argue all day with who is doing the asserting here and who is being dogmatic, flying off into a debate about what constitutes proof... and get nowhere. Instead, I'll leave off with this:

Many other social scientists, psychologists and philosophers have created (sometimes inadvertently, sometimes not) "new moralities" based on emerging but not yet fully fleshed-out theories (some more scientific than others). Darwin, Freud and Marx come to mind.

These views of human nature have all seemed credible or at least interesting to many at the time--and then been taken farther than they should have by others. (Some, like Das Kapital, should never have made it out of editing). Sadly, the history of the 20th century is littered with the misery wrought by grand experiments with real human beings built upon such unproven "makes sense to me" foundations.

Pinker would do well to start observing human nature, history, experience and social institutions more honestly and humbly outside the narrow confines of his laboratory. Teams made up entirely of second basemen aren't all that effective. Sometimes they are dangerous.

UPDATE: One other thing occurred to me that’s so obvious I missed it on a first pass. Pinker’s assertion that “the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul” is entirely without reference. If we can assume that (at least in a Christian frame) a lack of an eternal soul implies a Godless universe (for Pinker), then how can he say what is moral and what is not?

It’s not a peripheral or academic question. Pinker (or anyone) must stand outside of his humanity and his brain in order to make such a claim or else resort to disproven naturalism. He makes reference to the supernatural without ever intending to do so.

Morality is not self-evident from birth and Pinker leaves that Rousseau-esque (and utterly incorrect) notion of the noble savage hanging. He seems to say that it (morality) stems from natural instinct and evolved, adaptive social processes, enhanced by a strange kind of intellectually derived empathy at realizing (thanks to Pinker, et al) that other beings will eventually be scientifically proven to be sentient. Some of us already figured that out and it is not deterministic. E.g., yes, I now know that homeless person is sentient. So what? I'm busy.

The sweep of history should be enough to prove naturalist morality suspect in its claims to being benign, as should the experience of parenting. (Children must be taught not to hit one another. Pointing out the personhood of the one being hit is insufficient so long as the child realizes that it is all about extracting all the pleasure s/he can out of this life.)

Others have tried to argue for a natural, source-less morality that one can derive de novo, independent of God. And they have failed. (I watched a VH1 documentary on the late 60s rock scene over the weekend and it was incredibly sad. Man seems to have a need to re-invent his morality every few generations with predictably disastrous long-term consequences.)

Pinker does no better. His appeal to morality depends (without his giving credit) on a shared sense of morality that traces its roots to at minimum a religious ethic and more specifically to the Judeo-Christian foundations underpinning the culture in which he lives and works. Yeah, I know the Greeks were involved too. So were the Romans. Guess who they turned to en masse in the first milennium?

26 January, 2007

When Ted Kennedy Visits, He Must Feel Right at Home

This one pretty much speaks for itself.

Presidential candidate John Edwards and his family recently moved into what county tax officials say is the most valuable home in Orange County... the tax value will exceed $6 million when the facility is completed.

The rambling structure sits in the middle of a 102-acre estate... The heavily wooded site and winding driveway ensure that the home is not visible from the road. "No Trespassing" signs discourage passersby from venturing past the gate... building plans [show] the Edwards home totaling 28,200 square feet of connected space.
I also like Drudge's headline: "Two Americas". Yes indeed.

For the record: having this is fine. Making your public persona all about being for the little guy and against the evils of wealthy Republicans and also having this... is not. It is, at the very least, counterproductive to one's aims and certainly opens one to the charge of hypocrisy. It should raise a major caution flag to those who would believe that Democrats are saints and Republicans are all Jack Abramoff clones. Last I checked, human foibles were equally distributed across the political spectrum.

25 January, 2007

Religious Faith as Skanky Belch

That's what the oh-so-sophisticated, rational, intelligent and above-it-all Jeff Sharlet, a Contributing Editor of Harper’s Magazine seems to think:

We keep trying to explain away American fundamentalism. Those of us not engaged personally or emotionally in the biggest political and cultural movement of our times—those on the sidelines of history—keep trying to come up with theories with which to discredit the evident allure of this punishing yet oddly comforting idea of a deity, this strange god. His invisible hand is everywhere, say His citizen-theologians...

Who would worship such a god? His followers must be dupes, or saps, or fools, their faith illiterate, insane, or misinformed, their strength fleeting, hollow, an aberration. A burp in American history. An unpleasant odor that will pass. [emphasis added]
Well, it's nice to meet you too, Jeff.

I may have missed it, but when exactly did vitriol become a hallmark of the tolerance the left used to stand for? Why is it seen as acceptable to smear Christians in a way that could ruin one's career if any other group were the target? Why is it worth reading over 8,600 words on the subject when the author begins with a falsehood: lumping a wide array of of Christian denominations under the single banner of "fundamentalists"? Just asking.

UPDATE: Following up on the comments thread. No argument on Mr. Sharlet's depth, credentials, or sincerity as a journalist. This is about the words and the double-standard. With that sharper focus, I'm now sorry I led in the way I did. Folks in doubt about whether I'm off-base here can go read the article and decide for themselves and tell me I'm wrong.

My point though is a narrow one: I'm still trying to imagine even a relatively mild intro like the following making it past the PC police for legitimate consideration in an MSM article. I started to write a more pointed version about gays or blacks or Mexicans or Jews or Muslims or Puerto Ricans but even in obvious jest, those seemed utterly abhorrent--the worst kind of bigoted, reactionary stuff that I try very hard to stay away from. Write your own and see how it sounds if you don't believe me:
We keep trying to explain away American secularism. Those of us not engaged personally or emotionally in the biggest political and cultural movement birthed in the 1960s counter-culture—-those on the "sidelines of history", they told us—-keep trying to come up with theories with which to discredit the evident allure of this punishing yet oddly comforting idea that fulfillment is to be found in the here-and-now, this strange god of self-established, relativist, reference-free morality. The invisible evidence for the truth of this is self-evident, say its citizen-adherents. Just look around...

Who would worship such a 'god'? It's followers must be dupes, or saps, or fools, their faith in things that pass away illiterate, insane, or misinformed, their strength fleeting, hollow, an aberration. A burp in American history. An unpleasant odor that will pass.
To write something like this and then tell the offended recipients that they are being overly paranoid or sensitive and should get a thicker skin is not a defense for the kinds of groups I mentioned above. Apparently it is when the target is Christians. In the world of politically correct, special off-limits groups, it is not intent that matters but perception and I am reflecting back that standard. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I'm reflecting it back to test whether it is unfair.

Net/net: What comes after, no matter how professional and informed, has--after an intro like that--turned a lot of people off. Does that mean that Sharlet's piece reflects a double standard? If it doesn't, I need that explained to me. It may not be a standard Jeff Sharlet invented, but it's certainly one that he's perpetuated by this kind of an intro. (It's all about sensitivity to oppressed groups, right? At least that's what they tell kids on college campuses these days.)

I don't (or at least try not to) write about people I disagree with in this way. Yes, I often fail and end up being more vitriolic than I intended. When offense is taken, I try to apologize for it, even if it was not intended. But I'm an amateur blogger with a modest audience. Sharlet is not.

24 January, 2007

Global Warming Causes Terrorism

I actually laughed out loud (alone in my home office) when someone sent me this one. Then I almost started to cry. People actually believe this stuff. It is perhaps the perfect storm of left-wing phobias and wishful psychoses all rolled into one giant and utterly misguided self-serving theory.

Global warming could exacerbate the world's rich-poor divide and help to radicalize populations and fan terrorism in the countries worst affected, security and climate experts said on Wednesday.

"We have to reckon with the human propensity for violence," Sir Crispin Tickell, Britain's former ambassador to the United Nations, told a London conference on "Climate Change: the Global Security Impact."
He cited Rwanda and Sudan's Darfur region as two examples where drought and overpopulation, relative to scarce resources, had helped to fuel deadly conflicts.

Experts at the conference hosted by the Royal United Services Institute said it was likely that global warming would create huge flows of refugees as people tried to escape areas swamped by rising sea levels or rendered uninhabitable by desertification.
John Mitchell, chief scientist at Britain's Met Office, noted al Qaeda had already listed environmental damage among its litany of grievances against the United States.

"You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries," al Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden wrote in a 2002 "letter to the American people."

Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, said any attempt by countries to build fortress walls to keep out climate change refugees -- what he called the "barbarians at the gate" mentality -- was doomed to fail.
OK, I'm still laughing. Where does one even begin with something like this? I'll try to rein myself in by putting this in bullet-point format. The most important flaws in his argument don't even touch on global warming. It just provides a convenient vehicle for them.

- Poverty does not cause terrorism. Megalomaniacally expansive death-worshipping ideologies cause terrorism. And terrorism causes poverty--along with many other undesirable things. The costs of 9-11 in jobs and economic growth worldwide are well into the hundreds of billions of dollars. If poverty caused terrorism, we would have had ragtag Hindus from New Delhi flying airplanes into skyscrapers killing thousands. Instead the perpetrators were Western-educated Islamist PhDs with rich parents. If poverty were the issue, we would have had Palestinians accepting an offer for 97% of what they asked for a decade ago and getting on with economically productive lives just like dozens of other formerly poor, oppressed, displaced nations have since WWII. (Take super-prosperous South Korea as just one example.)

- "Overpopulation", drought and starvation do not become problems on nearly the scale they are in Africa when they occur in economically free, non-repressive, democratic nations. The Okies migrating to California from the 1930s dustbowl certainly caused some social friction. They did not build 'technicals' and go driving around the countryside machine-gunning anything that moved, slaughtering rival tribes with machetes, imposing sharia law and raping women by the thousands. UN peacekeepers and warlords do that. (Sometimes its hard to tell the difference.) Again, causality is misplaced if not reversed.

- If the "human propensity for violence" bothers them so much, where do they stand, I wonder, on the old adage that "guns don't kill people; people kill people?" For that matter, where do they stand on the human propensity for violence in Iraq under Saddam? I'm reminded of a joke running around a few years ago in which Dick Cheney solemnly announces that the "Free Tibet" bumper sticker crowd has finally gotten its fondest wish courtesy of the 82nd Airborne. Oh no, cries the pacificist left (who still hire cops in their towns and cities)... we didn't want you to actually do anything about it!

- If "the world's rich-poor divide" bothers these folks so much, they should realize that the easiest way to achieve equality is to bring back 90% marginal tax rates. Better not speak too loudly on that one... When will they ever stop to examine what's been behind the enormous wealth pouring into many formerly dirt-poor parts of the world over the last half century? (Think Singapore, Thailand, Eastern Europe since 1989, etc...) This phrase alone, early in the Reuters piece, tips their real hand as socialists... not an epithet, just a valid description.

- Global warming (whether natural or man-made) transpires over decades and centuries. People adapt. How do we know this? Because they already have. Did anyone notice that sea level already rose by a foot over the last century or so? I didn't think so... and I have Dutch in-laws who tend to notice these things on an inches-matter scale... because they have to.

- Al Q'aeda's pinning culpability for environmental damage--not to mention every single other left-wing grievance--on Western culture and industrialization is no accident. They have studied left-wing agendas and mimicked them to a frighteningly precise degree for years now. They do so in order to split us and bleed off support for opposition to their utterly anti-liberal (as in, intolerant, repressive and violent) agenda. To take such a statement from Bin Laden at face value is to become the very definition of what the Kremlin used to call "useful idiots". I find it amazing and frightening that people think such a grievance is genuine.

- Global warming does not raise sea levels by enough to cause significant flooding. It may not raise them at all. If this assumption is at the root of a chain of logic that leads to conclusions about new policies for how we should combat terrorism then the inmates (or rather the nouveau socialists) have truly taken over the asylum. Nancy Pelosi... two heartbeats away from the presidency.

- I love the parting shot by the Bradford University guy about not being too hasty to build walls. In one sense he may have some valid arguments about the dangers of isolationism and disconnectedness from the global economy. Given the context however, it's hard to see the statement as anything more than a reflexive lunge for world government (a melting pot in which to average out liberty with tyranny and good with evil and take a vote on the resulting moral mush... much as they do at the UN). It's also not hard to see the statement as a back-handed swipe at Israeli's wall to keep out homicide bombers and at those wanting to build a fence to keep out Mexican illegals. (What part of HOMICIDE and BOMB and ILLEGAL don't they understand, exactly?) Yes, walls sometimes are a good idea--at least when the alternative is chaos and mayhem. Do these people lock their car and house doors? I thought so.

Now, can we please get back to paying attention to the people who've said repeatedly that they are trying to kill us sooner rather than later and are doing their best to muster the means to make good on that promise on a grand scale?

UPDATE: Another negative proof point occurred to me last night: the North Sea Floods of 1953 devasted large portions of the Netherlands. "...flooding killed 1,835 people and forced the emergency evacuation of 70,000 more [and] covered 9% of Dutch farmland, and sea water inundated 1.365 km² of land. An estimated 30,000 animals drowned, and 47,300 buildings were damaged of which 10,000 were destroyed." There was no "huge flow of refugees". There was no mass violence. There was no mass starvation. People pitched in, fixed the problem and went back to business--and this all in a destitute Europe still recovering from WWII. In short: it's the institutions and the culture. Soggy or dry ground is not deterministic.

Hewitt, Hitchens and Ferguson on Iraq

I've been listening to Hugh Hewitt's show more and more often on podcast while I walk the dog... who really likes to walk... a lot. It seems that he (Hewitt, that is) has managed to corner the market on incredibly smart, strategically-oriented, non-shrill, thought-provoking regular guests, e.g., (as I noted last week) Thomas P.M. Barnett, Victor Davis Hanson and Mark Steyn as well as Christopher Hitchens and Niall Ferguson--among others. If this keeps up I may not need to listen to any other talk show. (No, I don't get any kickbacks.)

One show that's especially worth catching was his pair of interviews (separately and serially) with the latter two. You can find it here. Not sure if it has an expiration date. I won't spoil it too much, but the short gist is: if he hadn't identified them, I might have mixed them up. 'Liberal' Hitchens laying out a case for why the U.S. absolutely must continue to engage in Iraq and 'Conservative' Ferguson advocating turning it over to the UN. In a way those are more classically true positions. We forget that the president himself is acting more liberal than JFK most of the time. Go listen. There are several other twists, surprises and insights including comparisons between the Islamists and the Khmer Rouge.

23 January, 2007

More Important Than Star Trek?

I probably shouldn't say this too loudly lest the folks at P__am__nt be listening, but it's a minor thrill to discover that this blog now appears higher in a Google search than all but the Wikipedia entry for the original Star Trek episode that inspired it, ahead of the definitive Trekkie site.

S/he Would Have Been Fifty-Something

Interesting that this should come to light on the 34th anniversary of Roe.

A partially mummified baby was found wrapped in newspaper in a warehouse self-storage unit and is believed to have been born sometime in the 1950s...

The "Religious Right" - Booga, Booga!!

Just back from suppressing speech and oppressing my neighbors, not to mention working hard to "abolish the Bill of Rights, outlaw sin and replace democracy with a theocratic state that will make Calvin's Geneva look like Hugh Hefner's bachelor party." Former Boston Herald columnist Don Feder has the goods. (H/T: The Merry Widow)

There's something about living in this state (Massachusetts) and coming face-to-face with the self-righteously socialist set on an almost hourly basis that leads one to either abandon one's core beliefs and be assimilated into the borg, leave quietly for liberty-loving New Hampshire, or become radicalized and stand one's ground. Mr. Feder has unashamedly chosen the latter and all I can say is "you go, man!"

Actually, I was only walking down the street to vote. It was my hyper-liberal neighbors holding placards who were haranguing me about my lack of civic-mindedness for voting against an outrageous tax override that our Dukakis-admiring mayor said (just a few months ago) would never happen on his watch.

They're Baaaack!

From the BBC (video):

The followers of twelve gods from Mount Olympus claim they've been persecuted for 1600 years, ever since Christianity rendered their religion virtually extinct. But following a court decision to legitimize their beliefs, they came to the temple of Zeus, the most powerful of all the ancient gods to celebrate their new status. Believers dressed as Athenian warriors laid down their arms before entering the temple to send a symbolic message of peace to the rest of the world. The ceremony was bound to aggravate the conservative Orthodox church which has described these people as miserable rescuscitators of a degenerate dead religion... Having now created a precedent by holding ceremonies at ancient temples, the followers of the twelve gods want to go further by holding legal baptisms, marriages and funerals.
Not a trace of irony. Athenian warriors, some of the most brutal the planet has seen as ambassadors of peace. Christians?: "conservative". And baptism into what exactly? Again, no trace of irony. And who exactly was persecuted for 1600 years? Sure not these lost, aging hippies who probably have no idea that they were predicted long before they were 'persecuted':
...you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
H/T: Fausta

22 January, 2007

Climate Change in Iraq? Just Ask Heidi Cullen

Heidi Cullen, the latest mother-knows-best expert-of-the-moment on global climate change is also an expert on... Iraq. Yes, you read that right.

In a press release issued a month after the invasion began, Cullen is listed as the primary go-to person for media inquiries by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), part of a murky nonprofit entity called the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) which in turn gets most of its funding from the left-leaning National Science Foundation (NSF), plus lesser sponsorship from a host of government agencies:

Cullen focuses on the climate of Iraq and the Middle East, and its impact on society. She also studies water resource issues, archeology, and the effect of climate on past civilizations. Cullen has spent considerable time in the Middle East, and has personal experience with dust storms and other weather events of the area.
Personal experience with dust storms: now there's a qualification. Maybe we should ask our men and women in uniform about global warming. Who knows, maybe next year Cullen will be an expert on free trade, arms control policy and geopolitical strategy.

What's even more instructive though is a March 18, 1997 article I dug up in which Cullen's research is cited in the New York Times. It's the only citation I could find in that publication's history. (Sorry, no live link--I got it from an archival database at my local library.)

Besides the incidental mention of Cullen in the piece (she was clearly a secondary if not tertiary player in her field at the time), the piece is fascinating as a benchmark for how much the climate change hysteria has evolved in less than a decade. Its tone is relatively dispassionate and balanced--a far cry from recent screeds by Cullen and others. All of which begs the question:

How could such a complex discipline, full of scientific humility, conflicting data and diverse viewpoints turn into a veritable religion in just a few years? Some key excerpts from the 1997 Times article which ran on page one of the 'C' section (emphases added):
Since the 1970's, scientists say, the North Atlantic [ocean current] oscillation and a similar oscillation in the Pacific have made the continents of the Northern Hemisphere unusually warm, on the average, in winter and spring. This natural heating is believed to be a major reason for an especially sharp rise in the average global surface temperature from the 1970's to the 1990's...

...it is the decade-to-century scale that is the most relevant to the question of human-induced climate change, since that is the shortest span over which it can be reliably detected.

...Temperature patterns recorded by tree rings show that these flip-flops have come every 20-30 years for the last 200 years, suggesting that a new flip might now be due. But it is too soon to tell whether that is happening.
In other words, it was common knowledg euntil very recently--even to the left-leaning New York Times--that natural climate cycles are the norm, that the timescale for looking at this stuff need to be long, and that the biggest certainty is uncertainty. The article continues:
While the [ocean/atmosphere] system's elements do indeed appear to work in concert... not all aspects... are nailed down, said Hugo Bezdek, director of the [NOAA]'s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami. "I wouldn't call it an airtight case yet," he said... evidence of the ocean's connection to the atmosphere "is suggestive but I wouldn't call it robust."
Funny... how is it that the same theory has become so robust in just nine years that Cullen can call with a straight face for the de-licensing of scientific colleagues who don't accept it? Science, even on very narrow questions with far less complexity and controversy just doesn't proceed that fast. Something else has changed and that is the willingness of global warming adherents to jump straight to century-long predictions, skipping over the much harder forecasts of what's going to happen two weeks, two months or two years hence. Dr. Bezdek noted in the same NYT piece that if the ocean current theory was correct:
"Then you['d] have a scheme to make some predictions," something of enormous economic value. It would be possible, for instance, to forecast rainfall trends in Europe and probably the Middle East and North Africa years ahead.
Funny, I don't remember any commodities traders making headlines going short on this year's California produce harvest back in 2003. If such medium-term predictability were possible, all of the financial incentives are there for them to have done so. And if such predictability is not possible, then what business does anyone have making even longer-term forecasts on a much larger scale with vastly larger financial implications? Here's the only mention of Cullen in the piece:
Two paleoclimatologists at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Heidi Cullen and Dr. Peter deMendocal, extracted a sediment core from the bottom of the Persian Gulf that, they say, shows that huge amounts of dust blew off the Mesopotamian landscape about 4,200 years ago, just as the Akkadian drought was beginning.
Here's where it gets really interesting (to me anyway). That date would roughly coincide with biblical and archeological conclusions about the date of the Noahic flood, as well as the subsequent drying up (rainbow, dove, new covenant with God--that sort of thing). The flood is believed to have happened in the same area (i.e., Turkey/Northern Iraq).

I don't know where that all leads, but at a minimum it's intriguing to discover that the a high priestess of the Church of Global Warming stumbled on evidence for biblical truth on her way to getting her doctorate (a credential she appears not to have earned as of 1997). Could it be that God and science are not in conflict after all? Now there's a thought: the creator of the universe also created science... not all that difficult to believe unless one is set on denying that such a creator exists and/or denying that He is omnipotent. Sadly, it remains in the interest of the global warming-as-religion set to do just that.

The last interesting tidbit in the 1997 article is this:
...carbonate shells... on the surface of the Sargasso Sea... clearly reflect... two periods of Medieval warmth, 500 and 1,000 years ago, as well as an even more pronounced warming about 2,500 years ago. The shells show the depths of the Little Ice Age about 300 years ago. "The evidence of natural oscillation is clear," Dr. [Lloyd D.] Keigwin said. "They have been going on as long as we can look back in time." According to the shells, a recovery from the Little Ice Age is still going on.
Again, it's interesting to note the rough 'coincidence' of past and current long-term natural warming trends with the flowering of various civilizations (e.g., Rome 2500 years ago, European and modern American civilization 300 years ago, etc.) Perhaps the Heidi Cullens of the world can stop wagging fingers long enough to entertain an alternate theory: cycles of global warming have been powerful forces in the dynamism of human civilization. And once one accepts that historical hypothesis, an alternate prescription immediately becomes obvious: embrace change... because attempting to stop it in its tracks is the ultimate in hubris.

20 January, 2007

Climate Change Money Trails and Orwellisms

For those who haven't heard about the Weather Channel flap or Heidi Cullen, it might be a good idea to first brush up on the plot of George Orwell's "1984". Here's the gist:

Wonya Lucas, Exec. VP and GM of The Weather Channel Networks came from CNN where she helped to shift that network from straight news reporting to "personality-driven" programming. Never mind that CNN's ratings fell as a result of its leftward lurch. Under Lucas' direction,

The Weather Channel is launching a new website and broadband channel dedicated solely to global warming called "One Degree" [link added] and has a weekly program called "The Climate Code," [hey, historical fiction-as-fact worked for Dan Brown] devoted almost entirely to liberal advocacy on climate matters... Dr. Heidi Cullen... serves as the network's cheerleader for global warming hysteria. Cullen's supposed expertise on climatology includes, among other things, earning a bachelor's degree in Near Eastern religions and history from Juniata College.
On Thursday, Cullen wrote on her blog:
...after more than a century of research--based on healthy skepticism--scientists have learned something very important about our planet. It's warming up -- glaciers are melting, sea level is rising and the weather is changing. The primary explanation for this warming is the carbon dioxide released from--among other things--the burning of fossil fuels.
In addition to the condescending tone, there are at least seven incorrect, misleading statements in just this one short paragraph. I'll fisk those later, but won't be able to add much to the 1200 commenters who have already done so with exceptional logic and civility. (Why is it that more commenters on the right seem to be able to make a point without resorting to profanity?)

But that's not what started the flap. That was only Cullen's spin on the flap. Her original post went up December 21st. It drew over 1600 comments. What got everyone excited was this:
If a meteorologist has an AMS Seal of Approval [and]... can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval... It's like allowing a meteorologist to go on-air and say that hurricanes rotate clockwise and tsunamis are caused by the weather. It's not a political statement...it's just an incorrect statement.
In other words, if independent weather forecasters won't agree to put the label of settled, proven science on a deeply controversial long-term hypothesis and agree to become public advocates for one particular point of view on it then they shouldn't be allowed to work. It's the kind of stuff one would expect to find in a totalitarian state--or maybe a union, a university, or a newsroom.

Cullen's comparisons to hurricane rotation and tsunami genesis are thoroughly disingenous. Both are much smaller phenomena than centuries of global climate: more isolatable, common and easily observable. Cullen's flaw in reasoning (or sleight-of-hand) involves using examples that most people automatically think of as involving prediction. Yet the particular examples she uses (the internal dynamics of hurricanes and the origin of tsunamis) do not.

Why it's taken this long for such an Orwellian suggestion to rise to media prominence is anyone's guess. Speaker Pelosi's call for hearings is one possible spark. The looming State-of-the-Union speech (in which its rumored the president will speak about, and possibly 'cave' on, climate change orthodoxy) is another. It almost doesn't matter who started it. The suggestion is real; it is chilling (pun intended); and its proponents are defending it vigorously.

A third and equally plausible explanation for the timing is this post by meteorologist James Spann who works for a local ABC affiliate in Alabama. (Sadly, that locale automatically makes him less credible in liberal eyes. His mention of God no doubt puts him beneath derision.) His response got picked up by Drudge and on a U.S. Senate environmental website. Spann writes:
Well, well. Some “climate expert” on “The Weather Channel” wants to take away AMS certification from those of us who believe the recent “global warming” is a natural process. So much for “tolerance”, huh?

I have been in operational meteorology since 1978, and I know dozens and dozens of broadcast meteorologists all over the country. Our big job: look at a large volume of raw data and come up with a public weather forecast for the next seven days. I do not know of a single TV meteorologist who buys into the man-made global warming hype. I know there must be a few out there, but I can’t find them. [emphasis added] Here are the basic facts you need to know:

*Billions of dollars of grant money is flowing into the pockets of those on the man-made global warming bandwagon. No man-made global warming, the money dries up. This is big money, make no mistake about it. Always follow the money trail and it tells a story. Even the lady at “The Weather Channel” probably gets paid good money for a prime time show on climate change. No man-made global warming, no show, and no salary. Nothing wrong with making money at all, but when money becomes the motivation for a scientific conclusion, then we have a problem. For many, global warming is a big cash grab.

*The climate of this planet has been changing since God put the planet here. It will always change, and the warming in the last 10 years is not much difference than the warming we saw in the 1930s and other decades. And, lets not forget we are at the end of the ice age in which ice covered most of North America and Northern Europe.

If you don’t like to listen to me, find another meteorologist with no tie to grant money for research on the subject. I would not listen to anyone that is a politician, a journalist, or someone in science who is generating revenue from this issue.
Spann's claim about billions of dollars in grant money flowing to those who will add to the global warming 'consensus' is not far off. I was faced with a professional dilemma last year when a colleague approached me about doing contract work for a major foundation that wanted to develop scenarios on climate change. Tentatively interested (I like working; I'm good at what I do--scenarios; I studied this stuff in school and have done plenty of research since; and I have no shortage of opinions on the subject) I asked him about the sponsor's motivation and how open they were to investigating the topic as widely and honestly as I thought necessary.

He made clear that the scenarios would need to focus solely on different ways that man-made climate change could be harmful and how vast sums of money ought to be spent to combat it.

I turned him down. I have since learned that others were not so scrupulous. Reviewing their work is little different from reading a favorable review of Al Gore's movie.

As I wrote earlier this month, oil companies are by contrast dropping paltry sums (and with fewer strings attached) to those investigating climate change. (For the record, I am not working, nor have I worked for or taken any kind of compensation from any of them on any basis.)

The UK Independent writes a reasonably balanced account of the Cullen flap but tellingly ends its article with a summary of recent unseasonable weather around the world--as relevant to proving climate change is dire, man-made and long-term as is a graph of the temperature in my basement. NRO has little commentary to add to the stories I've already cited, however their whimsically relevant pictures from recent films involving weathermen are not to be missed.

The National Ledger notes the obvious: Cullen's paycheck and career are staked to her support for global warming orthodoxy. That line of thinking is unnecessary to the larger argument laid out here, but it's worth noting in passing. It becomes more germane to the degree that those on the left accuse some of global warming's detractors of having strong financial incentives. Limbaugh sums it up nicely:
This whole global warming thing is a political movement. It is a refuge for displaced socialists and communists who simply want big government and total control or as much control over people as possible. It's a way to get money. It's a way to get paid via study grants and this kind of thing.

19 January, 2007

The PRC's Military Stance: Migraine or Mirage?

I've been listening avidly via podcast to a weekly series of discussions that Hugh Hewitt has been having with author and geopolitical/military strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett covering one chapter per week from Barnett's best-selling (2004) book, "The Pentagon's New Map". Highly highly recommended for a rich, smart discussion offering perspective several levels above the typical MSM, blog or talk radio fare... which is not to say that they agree all the time--or that I do either--but it's got a high signal-to-noise ratio.

I've met Barnett on several occasions and dined with him once. (OK, it was at a big table filled with high-level Pentagon folk and business executives but we did get a chance to talk one-on-one at some length after the meal.) He's a super-sharp guy not easy to categorize politically. Liberals think he sounds too much like a neo- or even a paleo-con, while the 'cons think he sounds too Clintonian. What he really is though is a deep thinker and incredibly prolific blogger who can see and debate strategically way above the day-to-day wrangling of partisan politics... which is not to say that he's naive or apolitical. (He voted for Kerry in 2004, though in reading his books it's not entirely clear why. That's another story altogether, somewhat orthogonal to his professional craft, namely geopolitics and military strategy.)

The reason for mentioning Tom Barnett here is that he's been at the center of a long-running debate inside the Pentagon (pretty much ever since the end of the Cold War) over how to think about China--the two major options being "the new USSR" (i.e., a potential superpower rival) or an economic ally not likely to bother going to the trouble and expense of projecting military power outside Asia. Barnett is firmly in the latter camp and has good reasons for getting there, though I remain skeptically on the fence. His is an economics-uber-alles argument that glosses over the nasty fact of the PRC being a repressive Communist regime.

His argument in chapter two of TPNM says, essentially, that China is mostly interested in ensuring that it would be very very costly for the U.S. to defend Taiwan. That may be a fine option to consider in thinking about them, but in looking at events like this, one has to ponder whether such a view might be better categorized as wishful self-deception.

The prospect of "Star Wars" between China and the West loomed last night after Beijing used a ballistic missile to destroy a satellite in space. The missile, which hit a 4ft-wide obsolete Chinese weather satellite 530 miles above the Earth, is thought to have been launched from the Xichang space centre in China's Sichuan province. It suggests that the Chinese have developed a major new capability that underscores the communist regime's desire to use its military might as well as burgeoning economic power to expand its influence. [emphasis added]

"The US believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of co-operation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area," said Gordon Johndroe, spokes-man for the US National Security Council, yesterday. "We and other countries have expressed our concern regarding this action to the Chinese." It is understood that Australia and Canada have also protested to China.

The ability to destroy satellites with such precision could undermine the US National Missile Defence programme, a network of rocket interceptors, computers and satellites intended to protect America and its key allies from nuclear attack.
In a word: oops. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the ability to destroy a satellite might not only be used to wipe out a missile shield in advance of a nuclear attack. Rather, it is a generic capability equally applicable to wiping out say, the satellites that support global GPS capabilities, critical military wireless communications and surveillance.

In other words, China has just announced that it has the power to veto any U.S. military action it doesn't like by setting our advanced information-age military capabilities back to Vietnam-era stance in a matter of hours. And that would in turn demand we have more collective willpower (and adequately but not superbly trained bodies) to throw at a military challenge. And those things are clearly in short supply for us in the current pansy-a$ed political climate.

China's anti-satellite capability could be used to deter a U.S. defense of Taiwan. It could also be used to deter a U.S. defense of Israel, render ineffective any action we might take against Iran (or North Korea) and pretty much anything else China might prefer we not do. An anti-satellite action by China would not be without diplomatic and military consequences of its own but those could (they might reason) be handled later. ("We're sorry. We won't do it again. No, you can't have Taiwan back.") It is, in essence asymmetric: bringing us down to their level in a hurry rather than spending the time and cash it would take to come up to ours.

Captain Ed's take:
Does China intend on striking our sensitive military satellites? Perhaps not. This seems more like a pressure tactic by Beijing to get the US to change policy on space weapons...However, the test ...explosion left a lot of debris... Satellites are remarkably delicate instruments, and having them peppered with shrapnel could knock several of them out...
True, their intent right now may not be to strike our satellites. That doesn't mean that having the capability doesn't now give them leverage, forcing us to re-shape how we think about deploying our forces. A new risk has been introduced: the risk that those technologically advanced forces will be rendered blind, deaf and dumb on the field of battle, giving a distinct advantage to the nation with the massive numbers of men with lesser equipment. Nothing from Austin Bay yet. Barnett's take is here ("Infantile U.S. Strategy on China"):
A shocking surprise to some, but to me this is part and parcel of China's modernization effort designed to threaten our high-tech ability to threaten their somewhat lower-tech ability to threaten Taiwan's lower-tech ability to make good on their threat to declare independence.
Not sure how we get from there to 'infantile' (hey, in a relativistic world, everything is the U.S.' fault, right?), nor how he can skirt the issue of Taiwan being free and prosperous and the PRC being... well... neither of those things. (Their prosperity is only notable in comparison with their sordid past and in anticipation of its long-term potential. In absolute terms it is still marginal.)

Why MLK, Jr. was in the GOP & why the issue didn't die with him

Everyone knows that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. I must admit, I never knew that Martin Luther King, Jr. was one also. And what I've never fully appreciated is how little 'old' (pre-1970) Democrats differ in their elitist assumptions from their current flag-bearers. One Frances Rice (no relation to Condi that I know of) is chairman of the National Black Republican Association (NBRA). She writes:

Democrats, in pursuit of their socialist agenda, are fighting to keep blacks poor, angry and voting for Democrats. Examples of how egregiously Democrats act to keep blacks in poverty are numerous...

Opposed by the Democrats are school choice opportunity scholarships that would help black children get out of failing schools and Social Security reform, even though blacks on average lose $10,000 in the current system because of a shorter life expectancy...

Democrats have been running our inner-cities for the past 30 to 40 years, and blacks are still complaining about the same problems. More than $7 trillion dollars have been spent on poverty programs since Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty with little, if any, impact on poverty. Diabolically, every election cycle, Democrats blame Republicans for the deplorable conditions in the inner-cities, then incite blacks to cast a protest vote against Republicans.
Hmm... earnest-sounding Democrats urging trillions in spending to absolutely no effect just to feel good about doing something. Remind you of anything? H/T: Anchoress.

18 January, 2007

Prayer Warriors Needed

Nobody should have to endure this. Nobody.

Dr Kurztberg and her team have told us that [two-year-old] Donovan's cancer is spreading so fast despite the chemo and that it is very likely that he will not make it through the weekend. I am angry, sad, afraid, heartbroken and in such despair.

Going Forth and Multiplying

Could it be that when God said to his people: "be fruitful and increase in number", He didn't mean to stop when we decided we had a better idea? Could it be that he was thinking ahead to a crisis like this?

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned the U.S. Congress on Thursday that failure to take action soon to deal with the budgetary strains posed by an aging U.S. population could lead to serious economic harm... Left unchecked, the costs of so-called entitlement programs... are set to soar as increasing numbers of the baby boom generation retire.
The baby boom--the first generation not coincidentally, that decided it was all about them, that more sex and fewer children was actually kinda fun, and in their infinite Malthusian wisdom that gloom and doom would befall the planet if the population continued to grow. All of which brings to mind another piece of eternal wisdom... something about reaping what one sows...

Al Gore Takes on His Critics...

...or not (W$J).

Traveling around Europe this week, preaching the need for world government (not that that's a hard sell over there), Al Gore was asked by Denmark's biggest newspaper, Jyllands-Posten (remember the mohammed cartoons?) for an interview as he passed through that country.

...for this, the paper thought it would be obvious to team up with Bjorn Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," who has provided one of the clearest counterpoints to Mr. Gore's tune. The interview had been scheduled for months. Mr. Gore's agent yesterday thought Gore-meets-Lomborg would be great. Yet an hour later, he came back to tell us that Bjorn Lomborg should be excluded from the interview because he's been very critical of Mr. Gore's message about global warming and has questioned Mr. Gore's evenhandedness.

According to the agent, Mr. Gore only wanted to have questions about his book and documentary, and only asked by a reporter. These conditions were immediately accepted by Jyllands-Posten. Yet an hour later we received an email from the agent saying that the interview was now cancelled. What happened?
Al Gore is on a mission. If he has his way, we could end up choosing a future, based on dubious claims, that could cost us, according to a U.N. estimate, $553 trillion over this century. Getting answers to hard questions is not an unreasonable expectation before we take his project seriously. It is crucial that we make the right decisions posed by the challenge of global warming. These are best achieved through open debate, and we invite him to take the time to answer our questions: We are ready to interview you any time, Mr. Gore -- and anywhere. [links and emphasis added]
That would be roughly five trillion dollars per year--a little less than $1,000 per year for every man, woman and child on the planet. For at least 100 years. As the world government types themselves like to remind us, that's more money than most people make in a year. And since per capita figures include everyone--not just those in the workforce--it's a truly massive figure for even the wealthiest nations. (This leaves aside the other debate Mr. Gore doesn't want to have: whether any of that money would do anything at all, much less something we could predict, much less something we could justify.)

Two weeks ago the temperature hit 70F here in Boston. Out in LA it's snowing. I find it remarkable that both extremes are taken as evidence of global warming. Such 'reasoning' smells to me a lot more like blind faith than hard science.

If a fast-growing church were to emerge out of nowhere, founded on a radical doctrine barely a decade old, headed by a charismatic preacher unwilling to face his critics, shilling for even a tiny fraction of the money Al Gore is seeking, and pleading for the fundamental restructuring of world society to uncertain ends, most self-styled liberal intellectuals would run the other way as fast as they could, laughing with derision at the stupidity of those who did not.

Why should the Church of Global Warming be any different?

UPDATE I: Other facts in the WSJ piece worth mentioning for those without a $ubscription:
  • Gore's movie shows a 20-foot sea level rise flooding major cities. The U.N. climate panel expects only a foot in 100 years--exactly what the world has experienced since the middle of the 19th century. Has anyone been unable to adapt to that? Has anyone even noticed?

  • Gore says global warming will increase malaria--except that Nairobi (the main example he cites in his movie) has become malaria-free as temperatures have increased over the past ~75 years. Again, has anyone been unable to adapt, even thrive through that gradual change?

  • Gore features the 2% of Antarctica that's warming, yet 98% of it has cooled over the past 35 years. The U.N. panel estimates Antarctica will increase its snow mass this century, making it possible that the forecasted sea level rise could actually become a decline.

  • Gore points to shrinking Arctic sea ice. It's increasing in the Antarctic.

  • Gore talks about heat waves killing people--and they do. What he ignores is that avoided cold deaths far outweigh those figures. The historical ratio in the UK, for example is 10:1 (cold : heat) or roughly 20,000 vs. 2,000 there.
Are you still sitting in the 'CoGW' pew, drooling in adulation alongside the mindlessly faithful? If so, you're not alone.

UPDATE II: Great article in American Thinker: "Why Global Warming is Probably a Crock" (H/T: Anchoress)
...in the best case, the smartest climatologist in the world will know 100 variables, each one to an accuracy of 99 percent. Want to know what the probability of our spiffiest math model would be, if that perfect world existed? Have you ever multiplied (99/100) by itself 100 times? ...a little more than 36.6 percent.

The Bottom line: our best imaginable model has a total probability of one out of three. How many billions of dollars in Kyoto money are we going to spend on that chance? Or should we just blow it at the dog races?

So all ye of global warming faith, rejoice in the ambiguity that real life presents to all of us. Neither planetary catastrophe nor paradise on earth are sure bets. Sorry about that. (Consider growing up, instead.)

That's why human-caused global warming is an hypothesis, not a fact. Anybody who says otherwise isn't doing science, but trying to sell you a bill of goods.