Culture War Dispatches

from a Progressive People's Republic

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Saddam Hussein a.k.a. "Thomas Jefferson"

This week's winner in the idiotic sentence of the week competition:

R.D. of Beverly, Mass has an interesting take on the Iraq War:

"We took a country that was secular, where women had full rights, probably the freest in the Middle East, and turned it into an Islamic theocracy. " (Boston Globe letter, 12/29/07)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Assault on the Vision of the Anointed

Al Gore has strong political views on the many subjects he covers in his book, The Assault on Reason (2007). He believes for example that global warming is manmade and catastrophic and the Iraq War was Bush-made and catastrophic. Many otherwise intelligent people share his views, and they are rightly part of a lively political discourse. Al Gore however does not see his opinions as one side of an argument. He sees them as the truth. If you agree with Al Gore politically, his book is consoling. If you disagree with him, Al Gore’s solipsism is disturbing, starting with the title; when he talks about the assault on reason, what he means by “reason” is his own eminently reasonable point of view. A better title for Gore’s book might be, The Assault on the Vision of the Anointed—with apologies to Thomas Sowell’s phrase that describes the left’s self-appointment of their views as the voice of reason.

Regarding Iraq, he states, “hardly anyone now disagrees that the choice to invade Iraq was a grievous mistake.” He seems perplexed by the fact that George Bush’s arguments have prevailed, and his only explanation is that there was no debate: “We are supposed to have a full and vigorous debate about questions as important as the choice between war and peace. So why didn’t we?” In other words had we had a vigorous debate, any reasonable person would have sided with Al Gore. But of course, we did debate what consequences Saddam Hussein should face for violating the numerous U.N. resolutions, and in the end much of the world community—including many of Al Gore’s fellow Democrats--supported George Bush.

Gore’s views on global warming have been well disseminated by the MSM: “our civilization’s tragic overdependence on burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels” (p. 191) is the root of all evil. As with the Iraq War, Gore proclaims that the debate is over: “There is no longer any credible basis for doubting that the earth’s atmosphere is heating up because of global warming” (p. 205) (And to reverse the tautology, the globe is warming because of earth heating.)

Inconveniently, however, the debate is not over. In December 2007 the U.S. Senate released an extensive report titled, “Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007.” The sub-heading is: “Senate Report Debunks ‘Consensus.’”
Global warming acolytes can of course argue with these 400 scientists, but it is increasingly difficult to accept their debate-squelching mantra that the debate is over. Al Gore’s response to this report will likely be the refuge of failed debaters, an ad hominem attack; those scientists must be shills for a multinational violator of Mother Earth; as Gore says in TAOR, Bush “has preferred a self-interested and deeply flawed analysis financed by the largest oil company on the planet, ExxonMobil” (p. 200).

More important than the earth’s apparent—and non-controversial--warming trend are the prescriptions offered to fix the problem. Many courses of action have been proposed, from doing nothing because the whole thing is a hoax, to doing something in fifty years, to spending money on adaptation (building seawalls if the sea levels rise rather than trying to stop the sea from rising.) Al Gore’s proposal is on the extreme end: the “climate crisis…demands immediate action to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in order to turn down the world’s thermostat and avert catastrophe.” A letter to the UN IPCC signed by 100 scientists (part of the above report) calls this approach “a tragic misallocation of resources that would be better spent on humanity's real and pressing problems." But for Al Gore, it is the only possible approach that moral people can choose. The situation “demands” it. Again, he is not willing to debate the issue; anyone who disagrees with him is not just wrong but evil.

Gore’s primary opponent in the assault on his reason is, of course, George Bush, whose reaction to the “carbon crisis,” Gore claims, exhibits many “pathologies,” including “the appeal of a ‘crusade.’” Strange choice of words for the crusading high priest of the church of global warming.

Gore sums everything up with a bizarre walk into the land of metaphor:
Connect those who ignored the warnings about Katrina and then bungled the aftermath with those who ignored the warnings not to invade Iraq and then bungled the aftermath, and the line makes a small circle. In the middle of that circle is President George W. Bush. We were warned of an imminent attack by al-Qaeda; we didn’t respond. We were warned the levees would break in New Orleans; we didn’t respond. Now, the scientific community is warning us of the worst catastrophe in the history of human civilization.

At first glance, there’s a certain logic to his argument. The sentence structure creates parallels between the ignored warnings and bungled aftermaths. But remember: Al Gore is demanding that we create an enormous new global bureaucracy with the power to radically reorganize the multi-trillion dollar global energy market—and that we do it immediately. The arguments he brings in to buttress this drastic plan involve connecting a line to make a small circle around George Bush?

If you accept that the Presidential briefing about al-Qaeda gave specific enough information to prevent 9/11; and that George W. Bush was responsible for the levees breaking in New Orleans, (which I don't) then Gore makes a plausible case for George Bush’s ineptitude (and why he, Al Gore, would have been a superior president.) But these events are completely irrelevant to Gore’s case for drastic immediate response to curb CO2 emissions. He could bring up any policy disagreement with the President. What about tax cuts? We were warned by experts that cutting taxes would lead the country to financial ruin, but George Bush didn’t listen to the voice of reason. Aside from the minor point that tax cuts led to economic growth, isn't this just like Bush's lack of response to global warming? No, it's not just like it at all.

Al Gore is dangerous enough writing books that some people take seriously. Thank God he hasn't had the power of the Presidency behind his messianic schemes.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Church of Global Warming (cont.)

"Every one of the Democrats is a devout believer in emissions caps."

Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe

Monday, December 17, 2007

Golden Compass

My daughter coerced me into taking her to The Golden Compass, that atheist movie, as I call it. I was prepared to de-program her afterwards from the atheist message I have been warned about. I confess that if all those worried people hadn’t pointed out that “Magisterium” is the name the Catholic Church uses to describe itself, the anti-Church message would have flown right over me, like those slinky witches in the movie. I don’t like kids thinking daemons are cool and witches are good, but even if the bad guys were called Catholics, it’s a fantasy world that bears no relation to the Pope and the Vatican and the Catholic church down the street. The bad guys are fascist villains cut out of the same central casting mold as Darth Vader's Empire. Or Al Gore's Church of Global Warming. Apparently many liberals interpreted the East German Stasi in The Lives of Others as a metaphor for Bush’s fascist shock troops. They both monitor phone calls! People bring their pre-conceptions into the movie theatre; secular progressives might have their disdain for religion confirmed by The Golden Compass. It seems to me that if the Magisterium is evil because they want to tell you what to think and how to live, the movie could just as well be a critique of big government liberalism.

Narrow Notions of Nationalism

Getting steamed up about the latest James Carroll column is a sucker’s game. He’s a well-educated moron who shouldn’t be taken seriously. But he does get published twice weekly in the Boston Globe, which means apparently some people do take him seriously. Scary thought.

Today’s column is about religion in America. Here’s a sample:

Yet such American smugness seems to miss the largest point of difference between the Old World and the New. In the very years that majorities of Europeans were walking away from organized religion, they were resolutely turning away from government-sanctioned killing, whether through war or through the death penalty; they were leaving behind narrow notions of nationalism, mitigating state sovereignty, and, above all, replacing ancient hatreds with partnerships. All of this stands in stark contrast to the United States, where the most overtly religious people in the country support the death penalty, the government's hair-trigger readiness for war, and the gospel of national sovereignty that has made the United States an impediment to the United Nations.

Where to begin? It is rich to have one of the smuggest men in journalism criticize American smugness. And by America, he means those Red State Americans who still cling to the “narrow notions of nationalism”—that atavistic belief that America should remain a sovereign nation. James Carroll on the other hand is a global citizen, in exile among an unenlightened people. He pledges allegiance to the United Nations; the Internationale is his anthem.

It is strange that the anti-globalism people who smash McDonald’s windows and burn SUVs at G-8 conferences are the same ones who want to create a global bureaucracy—more power to U.N. kleptocrats and new Kyoto-style regulation of American businesses doing business in America. When they say that they celebrate diversity because our children need to navigate an increasingly globalized world, it sounds like they are dreaming of training businessmen to make money in Tom Friedman’s flat world of international supply chains, but they despise Wal-Mart and any capitalist enterprise. The kind of globalization they’re dreaming of is one-world government. They’re dreaming that one day our kids will become Ministers in the new World Climate Regulatory Board headquarters in Khartoum. If big government on local, state and national levels is a measure of compassion, why not dream really big and add another layer: big international government?

A few choice phrases in the selection above:

--“They were resolutely turning away from government-sanctioned killing.”

What he’s describing is the fact that Europe no longer pays for its own defense. Since they have someone else (the U.S. military) to do their “government-sanctioned killing” for them, they can put on airs of moral superiority. Smug is too kind a word.

-- “hair-trigger readiness for war”
Calling a two year long process a “rush to war” in Iraq apparently isn’t histrionic enough.

And finally: “the United States [is] an impediment to the United Nations.” Yes, thankfully.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Church of Global Warming

More religious metaphors from those who "believe" in global warming:

The Boston Sunday Globe reports: "The city planning director briefed [the mayor of Keene, NH] in his third-floor office about the threat of climate change. It was an epiphany, Blastos recalled this month.

"I wanted to do something about it," the 75-year-old mayor said. "Before that, I wasn't carrying a cross for global warming . . ."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In Ahmadinejad We Trust

This week's winner in the idiotic sentence of the week competition:

A letter from a Boston Globe reader in Wood-Ridge, NJ makes a "crucial" point: "Americans may not trust Iran's leaders, but we trust our own less."

I couldn't formulate a more damning indictment of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Green scare

If inordinate fear of communism is called a red scare, inordinate fear of global warming should be called a green scare.

Letter in Commentary magazine

Arthur Herman’s otherwise excellent essay “Who Owns the Vietnam War?” (December 2007) appears to downplay the devastating effects of Nixon’s bombing campaigns in Cambodia. He describes the precision of smart bombs and claims that “the collateral damage caused by American bombing [in Vietnam]…was actually very limited.”

Philip Short, Michael Lind, Elizabeth Becker and others offer clear evidence that the US bombing created enormous hardship for Cambodia’s rural populations, causing large peasant migrations to both Phnom Penh and the forests. Regardless of how smart the bombs were, there were a lot of them—according to some accounts, more than were dropped in all of World War II--and many many Cambodian villages were destroyed. The bombing was also an effective recruiting tool for the Khmer Rouge, although the banditry of the South Vietnamese troops in Cambodia was also important in creating support for the Communists.

Although the bombing might be justified by Cambodia’s violation of its claimed neutrality, minimizing the collateral damage makes it easy for the anti-war Left to condemn everything we did in Indochina by pointing to an apparent lack of sympathy for the civilian population.

On the other hand, Mr. Herman is right to dismiss attempts to hold the American bombing accountable for the Cambodian genocide that followed. Some have proposed that the “savage” American bombing drove the Khmer Rouge to respond with savagery of their own—although no other population in history subjected to bombing has reacted by murdering millions of their compatriots. Noam Chomsky went beyond the moral equivalency of this thesis, proposing a morality tale with the United States as the villain and the Khmer Rouge the victim. It is sophistry to blame the anti-Communist campaign of the U.S. when nearly two million Cambodians were murdered by a Marxist-Leninist government whose leader, Pol Pot, adopted the terror strategies of Stalin and Mao. They were called Red Khmers for a reason.

Evolution of the zebra fish

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about evolutionary biology, but after sending a letter to the WSJ yesterday on intelligent design, I opened my morning Globe to find a front page story about a biologist who was fired for his “creationist” beliefs.

The story mentions his “Christian belief that the Bible presents a true account of human creation,” but it’s not clear if this is the reporter’s interpretation of what all creationists believe or his own view, i.e., that he’s a knuckle-dragging Bible literalist who thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old. Given that the man has a master’s degree in biology and a Ph.D. in philosophy (from St. John's University), it seems hard to imagine, but anything is possible.

However, the following paragraph gave me pause:

"[Nathaniel Abraham] was hired by Hahn's marine biology lab in March 2004 because of his expertise working with zebra fish and in toxicology and developmental biology, according to court documents. He did not tell anyone his creationist views before being hired. Hahn's lab, according to its website, studies how aquatic animals respond to chemical contaminants by examining '. . . mechanisms from a comparative/evolutionary perspective.'"

One would hope that given Dr. Abraham’s education and profession, he does not deny that animals are capable of adapting to their environment, i.e., that evolution through a process of genetic mutation exists. Dr Abraham might differ with Darwin however, on two of Darwin’s larger hypotheses: 1) that new species are created through a series of genetic mutations; and 2) that these mutations are entirely random. Intelligent design theory proposes that although genetic mutation creates micro-evolution within species, there is no proof that it creates new species. I assume that Woods Hole is not expecting the zebra fish Dr. Abraham is studying to evolve into elephant seals.

On the second point, one can accept that some mutations are random, and one can study these mutations using scientific methods—see Michael Behe’s recent book The Edge of Evolution, which examines the limits of random mutation in the malaria virus—without accepting that all mutation is random. If a scientist believes that the awesome complexity of life requires an intelligent designer, i.e., God, it need not affect his research on the response of a zebra fish to chemical contaminants.

"Not comfortable thinking about science"

Letter to the WSJ:
Lawrence M. Krauss’s valid case for increasing scientific literacy in America (Wall Street Journal, “Science and the Candidates," 12/6/07) would have been more compelling if he had not tried to bring in the debate about evolutionary theory. The ability of a presidential candidate to tackle the technological challenges facing America is unrelated to his views on intelligent design.

Mr. Krauss points out that when avian flu appeared, “no one suggested that ‘intelligent design’… could provide answers.” No one suggested that a rocket scientist or an auto mechanic could provide answers, either. Intelligent design investigates a very specific question: did the complex design observable everywhere around us arise through a series of completely random genetic mutations, as Darwin proposed, or was some form of intelligence necessary to guide the process?

In fact the mutation of viruses like avian flu are studied by intelligent design researchers—but not with the goal of preventing infectious disease that Mr. Krauss is referring to. In his recent book, The Edge of Evolution, Michael Behe makes the case from data on the malaria virus that the power of random mutation to create new forms of life is limited.

Michael Behe seems convincing to a layman. He may be proven wrong. I’m not averse to the idea that evolutionary biology will one day trace how random mutation created a whale from a paramecium. At present though Darwin’s hypothesis is still being tested, and the larger question of the origin of life remains an unsolved mystery. I find this debate about where we came from lively and exciting. When Lawrence Krauss tells us that the debate is over (not unlike global warming alarmists), that intelligent design is believed by people who don’t know that the earth goes around the sun, who are “not comfortable thinking about science,” it comes across as anti-intellectual and close-minded.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Irrational obsession with CO2

The Globe editorial "Carbon Capture, but then what?" points out that converting the Somerset facility to coal gas will reduce air pollution, including mercury and sulfur, but you urge the DEP to halt this good project because the details haven't been perfectly worked out for capturing and sequestering CO2 emissions. One might say that this illustrates the maxim that the perfect is the enemy of the good, but I'm not convinced that the goal of capturing carbon is worthwhile. There is very good evidence that increases in CO2 lag behind increases in temperature by 800 to 2000 years; i.e., increased CO2 does not lead to global warming--global warming leads to increased CO2. An irrational obsession with CO2, a non-toxic gas necessary for plant life, should not obstruct valid efforts to reduce air pollution.