Global Warming Histrionics and Nuclear Energy

The field of global warming has become a happy hunting ground for holier-than-thou poseurs and ideologues on both sides. This is evident from the tone of the debate. The two sides have congealed into ideological in-groups that demonize the opposition and reveal all the inaccessibility to logical argument typical of such groups. For the “antis” their opponents are “environmental wackos.” For the “pros,” their opponents are “deniers.” That’s unfortunate, because it’s probable that global warming is real, that it is dangerous, and that it would behoove us to take effective action to stop it. Some of the arguments on both sides may be found here and here.

There will certainly be “action,” in the form of political grandstanding, but effective action is another story. A big part of the problem is that the environmental scientists, the people who should be sounding the alarm, have lost their credibility. They have cried “wolf” too many times, as documented, for example, by Bjorn Lomborg in his “Skeptical Environmentalist.” When they responded to Lomborg’s book by collecting a gang of ideological shills posing as scientists into a kangaroo court that accused Lomborg of “scientific dishonesty,” they lost what credibility they had left. As a result, in terms of social influence, they are now limited to preaching to the choir, because no one else will listen to them.

The result has been the co-option of the debate by ideologues referred to above, accompanied by the usual stifling of intelligent debate. Anyone who disputes any aspect of the “absolute truth” of global warming automatically becomes a “denier,” or, in other words, the evil denizen of an out-group. “Winning” the argument has now become much more important than actually doing anything effective to solve the problem. This is demonstrated by the way in which, with a few noteworthy exceptions, the global warming zealots are studiously ignoring the option of nuclear power. A rapid transition to nuclear power production is the single most effective, and at the same time most environmentally benign action we could take to combat global warming. The fact that the ideologues are ignoring this part of the solution demonstrates that, in fact, for them the pose is everything, and the reality nothing. They really don’t mind a little global warming as long as it gives them one more chance to climb up on the moral high ground a strike heroic poses as the saviors of the planet.

Astroturf and the Swiftboaters

I recently ran across an amusing piece of irony in another of Edge.org’s recent collections of essays by the intellectual avant-garde. It appeared in the introductory essay of the book, entitled “What Have You Changed Your Mind About?” edited by John Brockman. According to its author, Brian Eno, “There is now an almost total disconnection between the validity of a story and its media success. If it’s a good enough – or convenient enough – story, it will echo eternally around the media universe.” Eno then goes on to unwittingly prove his own assertion with the observation that, “The result is a diminishing accountability at almost every level of public discourse and a burgeoning industry of professional Swiftboaters.”

The rest of the essay is a ringing appeal to the virtues of intellectual flexibility and the ability to admit being wrong, closing with the sentence, “Changing our minds is our hope for the future.” The irony in all this is that, by using the term “Swiftboaters” in the context above, Enos identifies himself as both a denizen of the ideological left and an ideologue. He could no more change his mind about the Swiftboaters than a leopard could change its spots, because a particular perception of who the Swiftboaters were is part of his ideological identity. It defines the ideological box he lives in, and, if he changed his mind about it, he would lose that identity in the process.

The Swiftboat myth, which has been anchored in concrete in leftist dogma lo now these many years, is of a piece with the equally imbecilic “Astroturf” myth. The Swiftboat veterans served in Vietnam at about the same time I did. During the 2004 election campaign, we were to believe that scores of them, older men approaching retirement age who had everything to gain by their association with a heroic new President, suddenly threw honor, respectability and common decency out the door and decided to recite a pack of lies in unison like so many mindless zombies at the behest of Karl Rove. Absurd and implausible as this story was and is, it was seized on by the political left and believed implicitly because it was politically expedient to believe it.

Today we see the same phenomenon in response to the Tea Party Movement. Against all odds, we are to believe that all of the hundreds of thousands of people who have attended these events have no real political concerns of their own, but are merely the mindless tools of lobbyists, corporate bosses, and GOP operatives. Those who would foist this grossly distorted version of reality on us refer to the process as “astroturfing.”

Lacking expertise in such matters, I cannot presume to advise those who create these myths with respect to their political expedience. I can only speak for myself and note that, when the odor of the rotting corpse of the truth becomes too strong on the left, atheist that I am, I tend to turn to the right to avoid the stench.

Sweet Reason at Daily Kos

One can imagine the sage nodding of heads among the Kossites when they read this appeal to the noble virtues of tolerance and understanding by “high bitrate.” My favorite bit:

My personal preference is to listen quietly for a minute or two, and then say in a dispassionate way “yes, I understand that you’re angry, but the reasons for that anger are past. We need to come to a resolution of this issue, and anger isn’t going to allow us to do any productive work. What kind of solution do you see?”

This elevating appeal to the virtues of charity and tolerance was not without its effect on high bitrate’s fellow philosophers. Looking over the posts on the same page we find the latest calm analysis of Sarah Palin as a “whackjob quitter,” guilty of “sheer hysterical fantasy.” Apparently, as we are informed with philosophical detachment, she has been devoting her free time since retirement in the “killing of patients.” I need hardly add that this post also demonstrates the intellectual virtue of prudence, whacking away as it does at the Wicked Witch of the North, avoiding the reckless hubris of those who assure us that she’s dead,

The Wicked Witch is Dead!

and won’t come back

Or maybe not!!.

Next, there is the following dispassionate description of political opponents (or in the conciliatory words of the article, “frothing-at-the-mouth conservatives”), infused with passages written in the “find the good in everyone” spirit of high bitrate’s admirable appeal, such as:

As the hateful rhetoric and dangerous tactics of furious Birthers, raging Teabaggers and town hall intimidators edges towards the brink of violence, today’s bitterly divided Americans are still living in Nixonland.

Next, in keeping with high bitrate’s admonitions to listen quietly and speak softly, we find an article with the “dispassionate” title, “Idiot nation, idiot press,” followed by the meek admonition, apparently directed at a journalist who had trouble memorizing the days talking points, “You have to really, really try, in order to take a story so asinine and report it with such studious credulity. Well freakin’ done.”

Moving on to a more studious post, we find an anthropological discussion concerning the logical basis for the argument that we must assume some people are racists because they have white skin, especially if they are old and male:

You can almost sense (Florida Senator) Martinez’ slow realization that his party is fundamentally hostile to brown people.

A bit further on, we find more closely reasoned arguments to the effect that, if someone disagrees with you, and has white skin, he must be a racist:

The wingers are in a frenzy this week. It has something to do with the black guy in the White House. And to think, we still have 89 months in the Obama Administration.

So much for the voice of reason and the “unclenched fist” on the left. Do you, too, gentle reader, have a difficult time imagining what form this “reasoned discourse” might have taken if it were not inspired by high bitrate’s appeal for “quiet listening” and “turning off emotionalism?” I honestly suspect it might have sounded downright fishy.

Astroturf, Democracy, and Doublethink

Logically, it’s impossible to simultaneously believe in democracy and the notion of “astroturfing.” Democracy assumes free will and belief in the ability of individual citizens to act responsibly on their own behalf. Belief in “astroturfing” is based on the assumption that any organized opposition to one’s own point of view must either consist of evil political puppet masters or mind numbed robots who obey them thoughtlessly like so many Pavlov’s dogs. Belief in “astroturfing” logically excludes the belief that “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” is legitimate or even desirable if extended to political opponents.

Similarly, it’s logically impossible to believe that all of one’s political opponents are morally bankrupt demons and simultaneously accept the principle, inherent in democracy, that opposition to one’s own opinion is legitimate. The two points of view are mutually exclusive.

Orwell was right again. Doublethink is real. We do live in a world where two plus two equals five. Our political landscape is crowded with those who actually simultaneously believe that all organized political opposition to their opinions is “astroturfing” on the one hand, and that they genuinely support “democracy” on the other. We also suffer from an overabundance of pious peacocks who strut about on the “moral high ground,” shouting down anathemas on the evil ones who don’t agree with them, and simultaneously honestly believe they are genuine supporters of “democracy.”

It’s encouraging to see that these “defenders of democracy” are not only playing into the hands of their political opponents, but making themselves ridiculous in the process.

On the Wisdom of Committing Suicide to Avoid Population Decline

A lot of people seem to have trouble putting two and two together. They’re concerned about the demographic problem so many developed countries are facing on the one hand, and on the other they’re worried about global warming and environmental degradation. Perhaps it’s a good thing that one of the nations most threatened by both these problems is Japan. As Mark Steyn points out, her population peaked at 127.8 million in 2004, and will drop to 89.9 million by 2055 if current trends continue. She will, therefore, be among the first nations that will be forced to solve the problem one way or another. Her people are conservative and aren’t good at assimilating foreigners. Even if they were, Japan isn’t an easy place for potential immigrants to reach, illegal or otherwise. It may be that’s a good thing, both for Japan and the rest of us. It will be good for Japan because she will likely be forced to solve the problem without inundating her islands with immigrants whose language and/or culture is alien to her own. It will be good for the rest of us because it will demonstrate that, for better or for worse, the problem can be solved without risking cultural, political and environmental suicide.

Clearly, we cannot put off the demographic problem forever. We and Canada can import the entire populations of Central and South America, and Europe can import the entire populations of North Africa and the Near and Middle East, but, eventually, the problem will just come back. No nation can support an infinite population. The problem must be faced, and, if it must be faced, it is better to do so with a population that is not wracked by ethnic tensions and that is not so large that the available environmental resources can no longer safely support it.

Human beings can survive without national health care programs. They can even survive with reduced social security benefits. They will have somewhat more difficulty surviving on the planet if we degrade the environment to the point of collapse. Our environment is already threatened by excessive population. When will it be seriously threatened? Depending on your point of view, it may be now, it may be at some distant date in the future, or it may already have been decades ago. It doesn’t matter. The question is one of risk. How much longer will it behoove us to risk the environment of the planet by forcing the growth of our populations to support government entitlement programs? I suspect we should have abandoned this dubious method of “solving” our problems a long time ago.

Why? Our environmental problems are obvious enough. The environmental impact of increasing the population in developed countries is substantially greater than similar increases in less developed countries. As for the wisdom of tolerating unlimited immigration by culturally alien foreigners, you might want to ask the Serbs how that worked out for them in Kosovo. For that matter, we have legions of subject matter experts right here in the United States who are quite capable of analyzing the potential outcome of the complexities of population dynamics in such cases. You will find them on any Indian reservation.

It would be wise for the developed nations to severely curtail immigration, accept the natural declines in their populations, and reduce entitlement benefits to sustainable levels. If they don’t now, they will eventually be forced to under much less favorable conditions, and that in the not too distant future. So much seems obvious to me. However, I realize that, at least in the United States, there are powerful blocs of opinion on both the right and the left that, whether they worry about possible declines in our economic and military power, or are concerned their “progressive” social programs will be threatened, are prepared to deny the obvious indefinitely as we stumble into an uncertain future. As a result, for the time being, rational action along the lines I’m suggesting is probably out of the question. One can only hope that Japan, fortuitously protected from the worst of these threats in spite of herself by miles of ocean and cultural taboos, will serve as a role model for the rest of us in the way she solves her demographic problem. Perhaps her solution will be sufficiently elegant to convince the rest of us to follow her example rather than continuing to risk cultural and environmental suicide.

GM and Profitability in the Emerald City

I suspect GM will need to do something more drastic than change its logo to return to profitability. They might start by seeking to recover the lost art of making head gaskets and intake manifold gaskets that don’t leak. My Mom just had to fork over $700 to fix a leaky gasket on the lemon they sold her. The mileage, you ask? 30,000!

All the evidence I can gather on this issue seems to indicate that the ancients actually found a solution to this problem, but the knowledge was lost during the ensuing decades. I recommend an archeological expedition to recover it. New generations of highly sensitive metal detectors could be used to find ancient dump sites. If an intact fossil of a Model T could be found, the key to the gasket riddle might be rediscovered via reverse engineering. GM would truly have taken a giant step back on the road to economic recovery.

Torture Update: Political Expediency Trumps Principle

Obama joins the rabbit people.

The very last thing we EVER want to do is risk our precious “security” if it’s merely a matter of ignoring a few obsolete human rights. Things have changed since the days of Patrick Henry. Life has become too dear and peace too sweet to quibble about the occasional need for chains and slavery. Of course, the chains and slavery are only for other people – you know, the “terrorists,” and we’re sure we know who they are.

Torture: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

We are told that torture is essential to defend our “security.” Here are a few examples of how torture has contributed to the “security” of society over the years.

From “The History of the Franks,” by Gregory of Tours (in 584 AD a nobleman named Mummolus annoyed Queen Fredegund. Gregory continues with the story):

(The Queen) had a number of Parisian housewives rounded up, and they were tortured with the instruments and the cat, and so compelled to act as informers. They confessed that they were witches and gave evidence that they had been responsible for many deaths. They then added something which I find quite incredible: “We sacrificed you son (a young boy who had just died of dysentery) O Queen, to save the life of Mummolus…

Chilperic (the king) immediately sent his men to seize the person of Mummolus. He was interrogated, loaded with chains and put to the torture. Then his hands were tied behind his back, he was suspended from a rafter and he was questioned about these sorceries…Mummolus was extended on the rack and then flogged with treble thongs until his torturers were quite exhausted. After this splinters were driven beneath the nails of his fingers and toes. So things continued…

From “Red Victory” by W. Bruce Lincoln, describing the methods of the Cheka, the first of the infamous Communist security organizations, during the civil war that followed the 1917 Revolution:

Rapes of female prisoner by Cheka guards and interrogators were so commonplace that they occasioned comment from superiors only if performed in some particularly brutal or perverted fashion…

…each Cheka headquarters evidently developed certain specialities. The Cheka in Voronezh rolled its prisoners around inside a barrel into which nails had been driven, while the Cheka in Kharkov used scalping as a preferred form of torture. In Armavir, the Cheka used a “death wreath” that applied increasing pressure to a prisoners skull; at Tsaritsyn, they separated prisoners joints by sawing through their bones; and, in Omsk, they poured molten sealing wax on prisoners’ faces, arms, and necks. In Kiev, Chekists installed rats in pieces of pipe that had been closed at one end, placed the open end against prisoners’ stomachs, and then heated the pipes until the rats, maddened by the heat, tried to escape by gnawing their way into the prisoners’ intestines.

From a U.S. military autopsy report:

Final Autopsy Report: DOD 003164, (Detainee) Died as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation as evidenced by the recently fractured hyoid bone in the neck and soft tissue hemorrhage extending downward to the level of the right thyroid cartilage. Autopsy revealed bone fracture, rib fractures, contusions in mid abdomen, back and buttocks extending to the left flank, abrasions, lateral buttocks. Contusions, back of legs and knees; abrasions on knees, left fingers and encircling to left wrist. Lacerations and superficial cuts, right 4th and 5th fingers. Also, blunt force injuries, predominately recent contusions (bruises) on the torso and lower extremities. Abrasions on left wrist are consistent with use of restraints. No evidence of defense injuries or natural disease. Manner of death is homicide. Whitehorse Detainment Facility, Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Such acts really do merit moral condemnation, but we’ve become jaded to moral condemnation. We’ve been afflicted by the professionally pious with their ostentatious displays of superior virtue and their holier than thou preening for so long that we dismiss moral revulsion as a pose, because that’s what it usually is. For the professionally pious, the pose is everything, and the reality nothing. When the reality really is an outrage to human decency, we tend not to notice, dismissing any reservations about, for example, torture, as just another pose, just another facet of someone’s political narrative.

Well, a healthy conscience and a conventional sense of right and wrong aren’t really necessary to understand why it’s necessary to resist the legitimization of torture. It can really be boiled down to a matter of self-preservation. Read through the above incidents, and multiply them hundreds of thousands of times. That’s been the reality of human history. Can anyone really still be so naïve as to believe that what goes around will never come around, that they will never be the victim of what they gladly condone when applied to others? As state power continues to expand exponentially, not only in the US, but in virtually every other country on the globe, who can still be blind enough not to see that, if they legitimize torture, they will eventually become its victim, or, if not them, their children? Has “security” become the sine qua non of modern society, trumping habeas corpus, the right to a trial by jury, the right to confront ones accusers, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without hindrance except by due process of law? If so, then I submit that security is not to be found by the legitimization of torture, but by its final, unequivocal condemnation as a legal instrument of state power.

If security has really become the ultimate social value, then perhaps, when it comes to torture, it would be wise to forget the terminological hair-splitting one finds here, there, and everywhere on the web these days, and coolly consider the odds of ourselves becoming victims. Do you really want security above all else? Then work to put the state out of the torture business once and for all. You’ll be a more secure.

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