March 7, 2008 - February 29, 2008
Two small data points prompted me to write this entry. First, on the
evening of Al Gore's Global Warming testimony before Congress, Brit
Hume told his show's panel, "Nobody disputes that global warming is
occurring and that there's some human contribution to it." He went on
to say that the controversy was over how serious the situation really
is and whether anything can be done about it that's worth the cost.
Second, courtesy of Glenn Reynolds,
I found an Ann Althouse "liveblog" entry recording her
reactions to her first viewing of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. Here are a few
Both Brit Hume's assertion and Ann Althouse's post are disturbing. If
Brit had done his homework, he would know that there are serious
scientists who dispute that global warming is occurring at all (a
distinct minority, these days, to be sure) and more importantly,
serious scientists who don't believe human beings are contributing to
any warming that is occurring. (For example, if carbon dioxide levels
rise in response to rising temperature levels rather than vice versa,
as Gore claims, human CO2 output is irrelevant.) I suppose Brit doesn't
much care about these disputes because he sees Global Warming primarily
as a political issue, in which the policy mandate claimed by the
environmentalists involves an indefensible strategy -- seriously
sabotaging the world economy with measures that admittedly can't have much of an
Ann Althouse is even more casual about the underlying science than Brit. How long has this topic been kicking around in the public domain? Twenty years? And with fairly high visibility for at least ten years. Yet, she feels no compunction about conceding, rather airily, that she has "no basis to test Gore's assertions."
Both Hume and Althouse are solid, meticulous professionals, regardless of how you view their political positions. (Hume is clearly a conservative, and Althouse admits in her post that she voted for Gore.) On the one hand, it's understandable that intelligent professionals have the humility to acknowledge they aren't expert in all things. On the other hand, their obvious remoteness from the actual science that's at issue directly contributes to the atmosphere of popular ignorance in which important political decisions are being made. If highly educated and politically involved figures like Hume and Althouse can't or won't understand the specifics of the scientific questions, then why should the average citizen even try?
Last week, I posted links to a movie that seeks to refute Global Warming alarmists generally and Al Gore's movie specifically. One of the reviews I encountered before posting the link was (alas, I can't find it again) from a political conservative who said it was interesting and persuasive, though perhaps overdone with respect to the sun's role in temperature changes on earth?! His or her personal take was that humans do most likely still play a role in temperature, but that there's significant question about how much difference we can make.
This kind of response represents one of the biggest dangers of the Hume-Althouse laissez-faire approach. If we all come to accept that the political aspect of the question is the only one that's accessible to us, we will likely come to believe that the right answer about its truth or untruth is also political -- that is, some kind of flabby compromise between the most extreme positions. That's how you get a lay reviewer who feels justified in combining two directly opposing theories, picking and choosing the elements of both that seem "reasonable" to an ignorant observer.
That's not how science works. Somewhere amidst all the theories and mathematical models and thousands of conflicting statistical citations and studies and methodologies, there is a correct answer. Just how near to or far away from that answer we really are is something individual non-scientists can learn. It's important to know at least that much because there's an enormous inertia already built up toward reckless actions that will injure developed economies and perhaps fatally wound undeveloped economies. These kinds of policies will affect all of us, even those who blissfully contend they have no responsibility because they lack the relevant academic degrees.
Even those who believe the most devoutly in the catatrophic consequences of Global Warming have a responsibility to move beyond the position, "It's so critical and so far advanced that it's riskier to do nothing than to try everything we can think of." Why? Because there's a Catch-22 out there waiting for them if they are right. If human beings do exert a massive influence on climate because of our behaviors, then the more we attempt to change climate, the greater risk we incur from the law of unintended consequences. What subtle but vitally important unknown variables might we affect disastrously by acting in too much haste? Don't we have real-world experience of environmental catastrophes created by the best of intentions? There was a time when scientists thought it was a good idea to import species from other continents to correct an ecological imbalance of some kind. Killer bees, anybody?
I'm arguing that we all have a responsibility to go beyond head counts of how many scientists from which institutions are on which side and perform a political calculation about who's right. Further, I suggest that it is possible to learn enough about the central scientific issues to determine whether scientists have accomplished enough for us to believe what the most vocal advocates are telling us.
For some people a good first step is viewing the Gore movie and the movie I linked to last week. But there are also those who (rightly) suspect that all forms of film production are subject to emotional manipulation, visual tricks, and artful (or cynical) omissions. Some people also respond better to the written word, and there are books on both sides of the argument to be found at Amazon.com and other booksellers.
Still others -- perhaps blog readers in particular? -- prefer to make the acquaintance of a topic by kibbitzing on a debate conducted by people other than politicians. For them I have a recommendation that may be helpful. One of the books that tackles both the scientific and political issues is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming. I'm not steering you directly to the book, which is obviously arguing against the alarmist viewpoint. I'm directing you to the customer reviews of the book, which are numerous (over a hundred), often rational and concise, and most significantly, commented upon by other reviewers and advocates for various viewpoints. The result: a lively back and forth that may test your own talent for objective logic.
It's true that many of the book's critics are shrill, ad-hominem, and obviously writing without having read the book. But if you keep digging, you will eventually find calm and fact-filled reviews on both sides, which may collectively give you enough of a feel for the issues that you can go on to do your own research. You'll find thumbnail descriptions of publications on both sides that you may want to read, depending on your own interests, and you'll find references to specific facts at issue which you can pursue further through scientific journals. Best of all, you'll find that it is possible for a layman to follow and understand discussions about science and even find them interesting.
I'm not trying to trash Hume and Althouse and others who have been keeping a respectful distance from the scientific battleground. But I do want to offer a whispered tut-tut. You and they are better than that.
After the Edwards press conference yesterday, I expected both sides of
the aisle to offer best wishes for Mrs. Edwards and some mixed reviews
for Edwards himself. I did NOT expect that his own part of the decision
would draw no criticism at all and attract more praise than
trepidation. I'd prefer to remain silent myself, because I wish both of
them well in this private matter between them. But somebody has to say
it. John Edwards's conduct in this matter is highly questionable
precisely because he has made an intensely private and personal matter
a public affair with extremely public potential consequences.
The reason there's "No Image Available" for this post is that nobody can imagine just how ugly this situation could get. I'm going to be allusive rather than vivid here, since I don't like to be discussing this at all, so activate your mind's eye. Network television cameras where nobody wants them, except they will be there. An official party nominee in the final stages of an election campaign who suddenly resigns (or doesn't), putting his party and nation into a miserable quandary. A distracting siege in the White House itself, with few willing to voice the extremity of a leadership crisis at a critically inopportune time. Yes, these are all eventualities that could happen to any first family, but the probabilities here are, well, different.
Worse, and perhaps even uglier, a husband who simply cannot be there to hold hands during all the routine checkups (scary), tests (scarier), treatments (scary and painful), good news (joy), not so good news (terrifying), and, well, enough of that. Yeah, I know, a strong woman may be determined not to seem to need this kind of support, but there's also a certain kind of husband who knows when to overrule even the strongest woman and make it clear he's going to be a sticking plaster to share the ordeals, protect her privacy from prying eyes, and be with her because he doesn't want to be anywhere else.
Dean Barnett wrote a beautiful, empathetic, and oh-so-subtly doubtful essay about the decision the Edwards have made. He knows whereof he speaks, but his point of view is inevitably tilted toward the perspective of Elizabeth Edwards, whose courage and present mindset he undoubtedly understands better than I do. My only disagreement with him has to do with John Edwards's role in this decision, which -- given the national affairs issues involved -- merits at least some thoughtful, and skeptical, questioning rather than unbridled praise.
I'll say what no one else will. This gives me greater doubts than I had before about John Edwards as a man and a candidate. I'm sorry if this sounds inappropriate, but the truth is it is appropriate because it's not just his business anymore. He made it my business about 24 hours ago.
And now it's your business too. Remember that.
We've had multiple previous reasons for calling out Neal Boortz for his boor(tz)ishness.
Yesterday, no doubt, he thought he was just being wickedly provocative
and generating a flood of amusing phone call-ins with this little gem:
This is the kind of remark he employs to generate a tide of illiterate
email condemnations, which enable him to ridicule the ignorance,
irrationality, and spelling idiosyncracies of his most illiterate
listeners. When he reprints negative emails, he never
includes any that employ logic or decent grammar. In other words, his
native mode is to act like a bully. Which is precisely the mentality he
is revealing here without being aware of it.
I know what his argument would be. Cats are never going to understand that he's insulted them, and so the invective he receives from cat fanciers is automatically irrelevant and laughable.
He's full of it. He hasn't the wit or consciousness to envision the innumerable (other) Boors in pickup trucks and Lincoln Towncars who go out of their way to run over cats on the roadways. There is some vestige of crude adolescent macho, of which he himself is an example, that thinks it manly to despise, deride, and mistreat cats. It's just a joke. Even when the result is a beloved family pet lying on the road with every bone in its body crushed. Ha ha. At present, there are viral videos celebrating the torture and death of cats orchestrated by teenage boys who are simply younger versions of Boortz himself. What the Big Boor hasn't bothered to think about is the example he sets for crackers younger than himself for good or ill. If he thinks killing cats is funny... or if he thinks killing cats is, maybe, not funny... A huge talk radio audience does bring with it some responsibility beyond hawking your own books and inciting furious commentary.
If you care about cats, email this post to Boortz. He'll never print it or respond to it. But let him know that some of us have his number. A joke like this is harmful, whether he deigns to acknowledge it or not. If he hears it enough, though, he may forgo such jokes in the future. If he's more than a superannuated teenage thug. That's the best we can hope for.
Unless it turns out that there really is a Jaguar God such as the Mayans had. Wouldn't that be interesting?
POSTSCRIPT. Speaking of Mayans.... and lunatic adolescent adults... what was Mel Gibson drinking thinking the other night? Could he possibly be so naive as to believe that Mayan descendants aren't as post-modern as other descendants of primitive cultures? Sure, the Mayans were a bloody and bloodthirsty gang of killers. So were their south-of-the-border colleagues the Incas and Aztecs. And their north-of-the-border cousins the (newly) sainted American Indians. And every other empire in history ruled by a royal bloodline and vassal "nobles" or priests. You're just not allowed to say it anymore. It hurts their precious feelings. And when one of their politically correct victimologists stands up to denounce you for mentioning it, you have no right whatsoever to tell her to "F*** off!"
Sheesh. How dumb can you get in this day and age? Go to jail, Mel. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go and do not collect $200. Your whole image makeover has to start again at square one. Maybe if you announced you were going into rehab...?
POSTSCRIPT 2. Izzie is pissed.
Nobody with half a brain wants that. But who can speak for Boortz?
Well, who cares?
UPDATE 3/27/07. A couple of great laughs from Boortz today. Suddenly, for some reason, he's trying to take credit for his humane feelings about animals. Turns out he can't stand to watch big animals preying on little animals on the new documentary Planet Earth. The camera's too close to the action perhaps? Maybe if predation could be accomplished more remotely -- by poison or off-road tires -- he'd feel different. What a self-important, superficial bozo.
EXTRA CREDIT for InstaPunk readers who can spot the howler at the end of this typically learned Boortzian paragraph about reparations:
Don't think so, Neal.