Thursday, September 8, 2011

A game plan for global warming

Recently, a friend at NASA -- after I had been somewhat dismissive of his (and James Hansen's) political acumen -- asked me how I would propose to get a solution to global warming through the American political system.

So ...

1. Prove that the problem exists. "But we've done that!" I hear you complain. No, you haven't. To prove that the problem exists, you need to provide relatively short-term predictions (5-10 yrs) that are proven correct in every particular. Only then can you create confidence in longer term (50-200 yr) predictions. This is a high bar, of course, given the reality of climate science.

2. Get your allies to shut up, part one: weather. There's a fun page that lists everything that anyone has ever blamed on global warming: the warmlist. This is propaganda, and deeply unfair -- but quite effective. The practice seems to be that anytime some unfortunate event occurs in the natural world, someone will attribute it to global warming, and that attribution will show up in the newspapers, thus making global warming look rather silly. (Look, for instance, at the "Atlantic more salty" and "Atlantic less salty" links on the warmlist.) Also, the "cooling trends are mere weather" vs. "warming trends are a result of long-term climate change" arguments are unconvincing (even if true!), and make global warming seem nonfalsifiable.

3. Do the economics. Now, economics is an even less accurate science than climatology, so this will prove a challenge. But if the present cost of mitigation is greater than the future benefit, then mitigation will never occur. (And any forecast must assume that the future world is richer and smarter than the present world, so more expensive fixes later are actually less costly than cheap fixes now.)

4. Consider fairness. Any mitigation effort that maintains the status quo in poor countries will be ignored, being rightly perceived as the West saying to the Rest "I've got mine, Jack." And any mitigation that explicitly disallows the possibility of a Western life to the 6 billion or so who aspire to exactly that will not be popular. For that matter, those in the West will not countenance any diminution in their living standards.

5. Get your allies to shut up, part two: politics. Al Gore, Tom Friedman, James Hansen, and others have lamented the existence of democracy in the West and dreamed of running a Chinese-style totalitarian state ("for a day" -- Friedman) so they could get their preferred policies put in place by fiat. This is not the kind of sentiment that makes it easy to get majority support.

6. Squash the watermelons. "Watermelon" is a term of abuse directed at global-warming activists: "Green on the outside, Red on the inside." Cf. "Oreo". Unfortunately, most proposals to stop global warming curtail both individual freedom and economic growth. If mitigation policies are not pro-freedom and pro-growth, they will not be accepted.

7. But, most of all, we need the accurate predictions mentioned in point 1. Those of us who lived through the 70s have heard dozens, if not hundreds, of predictions of catastrophes, from ice ages to Jupiter effects to global famine to superstorms. None of them have come to pass. Thus, global warming has become the wolf the boy kept crying about.

In my judgement, the propaganda battle is far more likely to be won by global warming skeptics, due mainly to the complete lack of understanding of history, politics, morality, and human nature on the part of global warming activists. See also Walter Russell Mead.

Certainly I would rather be charged with the task of preventing, rather than enabling, global warming mitigation.

It is instructive to compare this issue with those revolving around the Federal deficit. Everyone knows that the government cannot continue to run deficits of $1e12/yr; but everyone also wants to solve the problem later. (Hence my own political party: the "Make someone else pay for it later" party.)

American citizens do not presently feel any ill effects from the deficit. One can argue that there are some, but they are lost in the noise of other phenomena (unemployment, housing market collapse, general recession). And any effort to diminish the deficit will cause pain to all Americans.

However, if the deficit is not brought under control in a relatively short time (a decade or so), we face the likelihood of a severe, Weimar Germany--level, economic catastrophe.

This is a very good analogy with global warming, I think -- and points up how hard a solution will be.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Presentism and homosexuality

It is widely assumed by the bien-pensants that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable.

This is obviously untrue, as even the most cursory acquaintance with history, anthropology, and current practice would reveal.

For it has long been the case that, in any environment from which females are excluded, males will indulge in sex acts with each other – aboard ships, in prisons, at boys’ boarding schools. The vast majority of these men revert to heterosexuality behavior as soon as the opportunity presents itself. This leads, naturally, to much unfalsifiable hair-splitting about the difference between ‘behavior’ and ‘orientation’. Historically, of course, humans have been far, far more concerned with outward behavior than inward tendencies. In fact, all of Western jurisprudence is based upon the former.

The recent phenomenon of ‘repressed memory’ – now well-established as a destructive lie – should make one leery of any pronunciamenti regarding anything interior. If a woman can be convinced that her father raped her, how can we be sure that a man can’t be convinced that he’s homosexual? Especially if he’s in a subculture (ballet, theater, San Francisco) that enthusiastically endorses it.

And then there’s the example of ancient Greece, which institutionalized ‘man-boy love’ among the upper class. So – either all members of the Greek elite just happened to be homosexuals (or pedophiles) or their sexual behavior was determined not by their innate orientations, but by the external society.

Even John Boswell hints at this in his ridiculous (American Book Award–winning) tome Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, in which he makes the ‘argument’ that, because there is no single word in Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew that unambiguously and solely means ‘homosexual’ or ‘homosexuality’, neither could have been condemned by Scripture. (Note that this concept, like relativity, did not exist anywhere in human thought before modern times. One could just as well argue that, because there is no ancient word meaning ‘brainwash’, Scripture could not possibly condemn the practice.) Boswell then explains the Pauline passage (Rom 1:26) referring to women who act ‘against nature’ as condemning not homosexuality per se, but those who are, by nature, homosexuals yet indulge in heterosexual practices, and vice versa.

Of course, that thought could not have been formed by Paul – or, indeed, by anyone else who lived before the modern era. One simply cannot apply our current understanding of sexuality and our current sexual practices to people who lived centuries or millennia ago. (And they would certainly resent any such imposition, were they to know of it.)

We are about to destroy all that has been true about the most fundamental familial relationships for thousands of years and replace it, root and branch.

It is odd, to say the least, that those who support such an effort are, with microscopically few exceptions, the same ones who reject genetically modified foods as unnatural and ‘not proven safe’. No one has made the least effort to prove that this wholesale change being imposed upon human nature is safe in any sense.

But the precautionary principle never has appealed to the engineers of human souls.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Jersey’s Hindu Problem

Whaddaya mean, you haven’t heard of New Jersey’s Hindu problem? Don’t you keep up with the news?

OK, well, actually – there is no Hindu problem. Not in New Jersey, and not too terribly much anywhere else, though Tamils and Pakistanis may have different opinions.

I’m drawn to this topic by Reihan Salam’s recent post, The Browning of America, at, where he describes being among a group of mostly brown bus riders in L.A.

Well, Reihan would also not feel out of place on the Northeast Corridor line between Trenton and New York. Sure, we have lots of white traders and hedge-fund types – but, at a guess, 10–40% of the riders between Hamilton and Metropark are from the Asian subcontinent.

It would seem, based on my coworkers and friends and other random observations, that most of Central Jersey’s subcontinental immigrants are Hindu, with small admixtures of Christians, Muslims, and irreligious (but that last category is not exclusive).

Yet we never hear about our Hindu problem. Children whose parents speak with funny accents at home still perform quite well in our English-mostly (some Spanish) school system.

And Hinduism is quite radically different from Christianity; in fact, compared to Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are practically identical. Yet there are no difficulties based on religious differences with our Hindu immigrants.

So far as I know, no one – not even Pat Buchanan or Lew Rockwell – has raised the alarm against the Hindu menace.

Perhaps there's something here worth exploring … what could be the difference be between Hispanic and Muslim immigrants on the one hand and Hindu immigrants on the other?

Analogizing Madison

I’m afraid that even those commentators who discuss the basic problem with public-sector unions are not explaining the problem clearly enough. Analogies, ideally homely analogies, are always the way to go.

Let’s say I’m not a very good employee, but that I want a 3% raise anyway. My company offers 6% raises to outstanding employees. So, I tell my manager that if he goes to bat for me to management and gets me a 6% raise, I’ll give him half my raise every payday.

Clearly, this is fraud against my employer and both my manager and I could end up in jail.

But – this is precisely the way public-service unions work. The ‘I’ of the story above represents the unions; the manager, the state legislatures; and the company, the taxpayers. And the 3% kickback of the story is the campaign contributions the unions make to pliant legislators.

Not being a lawyer, I would argue that all contracts between states and public-service unions should be invalidated because of their basically fraudulent nature – but I note that no one else is going that far. Yet.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A government of laws, not of (school) administrators

In Hammonton, NJ, a few miles south of the Contrapunctal manse, a young fellow was brought up on charges for bringing a weapon to his local establishment of education. As always, MSNBC is on top of gun crime.

The usual folks are outraged by the idea that a seven-year-old child can be arrested for possession of a toy; and there is, indeed, much to lampoon here.

But isn’t this what John Adams had in mind when he advocated “a government of laws not of men”? If the law prohibits toy guns at schools and mandates criminal charges – well, then, that’s what should happen. (We’re assuming that there’s a law at issue and not merely a rule or regulation.)

Now, whether or not the law makes any sense is an entirely separate question. It is possible that there’s a good chance that this particular law would be judged to be less than optimal by the vast majority of Americans. Most of us, when faced with the threat of a pipsqueak armed with a ping-pong-ball shooter, would simply explain to him that he can only play with that toy in certain places and not, for instance, in a classroom.

However, what if a high-school senior brings a more-or-less realistic toy gun to school? This one, say. (OK, it’s not that realistic -- but close enough, I think, especially given the amount of experience the products of our colleges of education are likely to have with firearms.) Is there any question that his only motive (assuming that he’s of normal intelligence and not a “mainstreamed” child) would be to upset and disrupt the school?

So it’s possible that the law/regulation/rule/whatever was written with a real problem in mind. But it’s still stupid.

The offense has nothing to do with the gun, but rather with the effect. No one would object to punishing children who intentionally disrupt their schools – but the offense is the disruption, not the mechanism thereof. There is no need to outlaw toy guns, noisemakers, bullhorns, fire extinguishers, liquid nitrogen, and every other substance or object that could conceivably be used to cause trouble.

Did you notice the weasel word I just snuck in? Who is to judge whether an action is “intentional” or not? Since our public-school administrators are selected such that their chief attributes are subnormal intelligence, limited knowledge, and lack of imagination (yes, I’m serious: have you ever spoken to one? or read the statements of “Dr.” Dan Blachford in the MSNBC article?), granting them any discretion at all is bound to lead to serious problems.

Our problem is not with this particular case, galling as it is, but with the culture of public education in the United States. And that’s a completely different post….

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

James Fallows, civility, and me

When the recent brouhaha about Sarah Palin’s responsibility for the massacre in Arizona turned to talk of civility, James Fallows of the Atlantic asked for reader comments. He was kind enough to publish mine – though, as is his wont, anonymously. You can find them here and here.
Mr. Fallows’s willingness to republish my emails led directly to this blog – so he has, perhaps, a lot to answer for!

My two contributions follow:
I think the effort to bring ‘civility’ into public discourse is both doomed and ahistorical. Political rhetoric was much rougher in the 19th century, after all, and a greater proportion of the population was armed, yet political assassination was a remarkable rarity.

Note, too, that the rhetoric surrounding sporting events (and sometimes the events themselves – football, boxing) is quite violent: “Kill ’em”, “Kill the ump!” &c. Yet umpires and players are not often murdered in this country – or not on the field, anyway. Of course, the sport the rest of the world calls ‘football’ is quite different in this respect: how many other sports spark wars?

Most of us are perfectly capable of understanding that when Clinton, Begala, and Carville create a “war room” they're not actually plotting to kill Republicans. Ditto Palin’s ‘targeting’ – which is, after all, a very common metaphorical usage throughout American society (as is “blow x away”). To censor speech based on the evidence-free speculation that some words might just possibly nudge some lunatic to violence is irresponsible.

That having been said, I would like to see political debates which do not begin and end with the Left asserting that the Right is evil and the Right asserting that the Left is stupid. But see, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”: and Lord knows we have plenty of stupid politicians – and a long tradition of pointing that out.

On yet another hand, sometimes ad-hominem arguments are not out of place: Obama’s tobacco and fast-food habits do rather conflict with his wife’s enthusiastic hectoring of everyone else to eat more healthily.
Your correspondents on civility (and perhaps you, yourself) assume a level of reasonableness in public discourse that does not actually always exist. When, for instance, Dennis Kucinich inveighs against mind-control rays from outer space, the only reasonable response is, “You're an idiot.” Or when Charlie Rangel doesn't pay his taxes, what can one say but, “You’re a crook”? Ditto William Jefferson and his freezer cash. And when Clinton is shown to have had some kind of relations with Monica Lewinsky, how can one not say, “You’re a cad and a bounder”? One more: former Representive Paul Kanjorski’s explicit call to assassinate the now-current governor of Florida: “That Scott down there that’s running for governor of Florida. Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him.” (See The Scranton Times-Tribune.)

I know all my examples are from the Left; consider it a corrective. Your readers will enthusiastically supply dexterous examples. However, I’m willing to bet a doughnut that they will not be able to find a Sarah Palin quote explicitly advocating the murder (as opposed to the ‘targeting’) of a Democratic politician.

Of course, most politicians are not so far removed from either reality or normal standards of adult behavior. Still, any standard of civility that prevents one from calling a spade a spade is likely to be either ignored or used by ne’er-do-wells to mask their misdoings.


I’ve decided to break my habit of posting comments on other websites and, instead, post my thoughts on my own little blog under my own name.

But first I had to settle on a name – some phrase previously invisible to Google. This is much harder than it used to be. I thought of “myrrour of my mazed hart”, “the doom of orthodox sophrosyne”, and “failing numina of column and entablature” 6 – but those are all too popular for my taste. But I’m pleased that Spenser (463), Auden (52), and Jones (3) have such large followings in cyberspace.

So – I give you contrapunctal disjunctions.