Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

From all of me to all of you.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Week in Denialism

Don Lloyd, writing in the Greeley Tribune, explains what environmentalists really want:

[D]amage to our capitalistic system appears to be of little concern to the environmental movements that have gotten behind the global warming alarmists. Their simplistic positions seem to indicate that they prefer the economy of the 19th century, with a much more restrained consumption of natural resources and little industrial pollution about which to be concerned.
Unless I'm mistaken, that'd be the same 19th century in which industrial squalor, pollution and misery constituted a moral crisis to everyone from Charles Dickens to John Ruskin to Alexis de Tocqueville to Marx and Engels. I haven't seen any evidence that "environmental movements" - as opposed to, say, libertarians - want to return us to those cheerful days, but perhaps I'm looking in the wrong places.

Planet Gore has an interesting unsigned post on the phasing out of incandescent bulbs:
Had Thomas Edison employed the same business strategy as his 21st-Century heirs at General Electric, he would have lobbied Congress to outlaw the candle in 1879 when he perfected and patented the light bulb.
Unless I'm mistaken, that'd be the same Thomas Edison who launched the War of Currents:
Edison carried out a campaign to discourage the use of alternating current, including spreading information on fatal AC accidents, killing animals, and lobbying against the use of AC in state legislatures. Edison directed his technicians, primarily Arthur Kennelly and Harold P. Brown, to preside over several AC-driven executions of animals, primarily stray cats and dogs but also unwanted cattle and horses. Acting on these directives, they were to demonstrate to the press that alternating current was more dangerous than Edison's system of direct current....He also tried to popularize the term for being electrocuted as being "Westinghoused".
John F. Brinson looms up from the anti-Parnassus of the Lehigh Valley Tax Limitation Committee to deliver himself of a truly astonishing j'accuse:
The thing that is glaringly absent from the global warming theory is testing. The scientific method requires exhaustive testing to validate a hypothesis, and also requires that a test be applied that would show the hypothesis to be false. This was not done....
Which proves yet again that even the most brilliant criminals will inevitably make that one fatal mistake.

We need more oil, gas and coal -- not less. Yes, we must demand that pollution be reduced, but CO2 is not a pollutant -- it is essential to life on earth.
Mr. Brinson won't mind if I dump manganese, copper and human dung into his drinking water, being as they're "essential to life on earth."

Last, Bjorn Lomborg is troubled in his honest heart by a seeming paradox:
I find it curious that they gave the Nobel Prize to both the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], which says sea levels are going to rise between 18 and 59 centimetres, and Al Gore, who tells us it might rise six metres. The difference is one between a problem and a catastrophe.
An odd decision indeed, and one that the Nobel Committee should explain at its earliest convenience.

As for the "difference" Lomborg mentions, here's a statement issued by polar ice experts earlier in this dwindling year:
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in February that the scientific community could not provide a best estimate or an upper limit on the rate of sea-level rise in coming centuries because of a lack of understanding of the flow of the large ice sheets.
Oddly enough, the six-meter scenario is predicated on the melting of the large ice sheets.

(Illustration: "Skeletons Trying to Warm Themselves" by James Ensor, 1889.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

See how in their veins all becomes spirit:
into each other Chromodoris lochi mature and grow.
Like axles, their forms tremblingly orbit,
round which it whirls, bewitching and aglow.
Thirsters, and they receive drink,
watchers, and see: they receive sight.
Let them into one another sink
so as to endure each other outright.

(Photo by Ian Skipworth.)

Friday Hope Blogging

The EPA claims it will surrender all documents relating to Stephen L. Johnson's denial of California's request to impose stricter air quality standards:

The surrender of the EPA staff recommendations to Congress sets up an unusual autopsy of the behind-the-scenes factors for an executive branch decision— presumably a decision that had been cleared by the White House.
Nanosolar has shipped its first thin-film solar panels. They estimate that energy generated by these panels will be cheaper than coal power:
"With a $1-per-watt panel," [CEO Martin Roscheisen] said, "it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems."

According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said.
Greensburg, Kansas - which was destroyed earlier this year by a tornado - is making progress towards recreating itself as the greenest town in America:
Wallach says residents here embraced environmental sustainability as good old-fashioned thrift and independence.

"They really get it, and they say 'OK, it's not this crazy tree-hugger agenda.' It's common sense, and it's what these people are really about," Wallach said.
Students in an MIT engineering class have come up with some interesting inventions, including a solar-powered bottle sorter, and low-cost insulation panels:
They came up with a way of making insulation panels out of old plastic bottles, of which about a half million are discarded each year in the city of Karachi alone. The cost of enough panels to insulate a typical home would be paid back in fuel savings in about one year, the students calculated, and in the process would create jobs for local people while reducing local fuel needs and the amount of waste sent to landfills.
A innovative recycling facility in California keeps old mattresses out of landfills:
Between its Eugene and Oakland facilities, SVDP manufactures about 200 rebuilt mattress sets every month, says McDonald. Some of these they sell, and some they give away to low-income people. They also recycle various mattress components, including about 600,000 pounds a year of polyurethane foam, most of which is remanufactured into carpet pad.
Congress has allocated $40 million to watershed restoration in America's national forests:
"This funding represents a critical first step in the development of common-sense solutions that include both retiring unnecessary roads and focusing scarce resources on proper maintenance of roads that best serve the public," said Matt Skroch, executive director of the Sky Island Alliance, a regional land and wildlife conservation organization based in Tucson.
Forty million dollars could otherwise fund roughly 34 minutes' worth of the Iraq War, if my offhand calculation is correct.

New Jersey has won the right to improve security at its chemical plants beyond what BushCo thinks is adequate:
The Lautenberg provision, passed over industry objections, says the federal Homeland Security Department can't supersede a state measure that is "more stringent" than federal rules.

"We're very pleased," said Rick Engler, executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, an alliance of environmental and labor groups. "We certainly think there's more to be done and this should remove one obstacle."
An art dealer who got $3 million for a rare Picasso print is giving most of the money to charity:
I found myself in the position of just having sold the world's most expensive printed image in the form of Picasso's La Minotauromachie, in which Picasso contemplates a future of personal change. I had owned the object for many years and although it was a wrench to let it go I realised that, just as the print's imagery addressed the issue of a chaotic future, the assets the sale generated could also be used to address our chaotic future.

I could use the profits for the issues I felt strongly about, in particular climate change, conflict prevention and Third World development. This is going to give sight to people, educate people and help charities working on climate change. One doesn't like to be too dramatic but all of this is as satisfying as having any work of art.
Andrew Dessler at Grist has begun what's sure to be an entertaining series on the scientific bona fides of the 400 "prominent scientists" who signed onto James Inhofe's latest denialist manifesto. This week's lucky winner is one Thomas Ring:
Mr. Ring's credentials include a degree from Case Western Reserve University in chemical engineering, although it is not specified what level degree it is.

The sum and total of his writings on climate change appear to be one letter he wrote to the Marin Independent Journal....
A new study suggests that restrictions on fishing ultimately lead to higher profits for fishing boats:
The new finding is anchored in the cost side of the ledger, rather than the historic focus on the size of the catch. "Our results prove that the highest profits are made when fish numbers are allowed to rise beyond levels traditionally considered optimal," says study author Quentin Grafton, research director at the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University.
New Zealand's effort to preserve its dwindling population of kiwis seems to be paying off:
The plan, called Operation Nest Egg, is simple in conception but difficult to execute. Eggs are taken from kiwi nests in the wild and incubated in places like Willowbank. The newly hatched chicks are then taken to protected areas, many of them on isolated islands off the coast without predators, for about a year until they are big enough to fend for themselves. Then they are returned to the place their egg was found....

After a slow start, Operation Nest Egg is picking up momentum. Its success rate is rising, and similar programs are starting throughout the country.

Planning Magazine discusses the benefits to cities of temporary uses:
Once considered purely a regulatory hassle, temporary use ordinances mainly addressed short-term firework stands, flea markets, and real estate sales offices, among others. Today, many cities are taking a fresh look at the benefits offered by creative temporary uses.

Temporary uses can draw positive attention to underused or vacant sites. They add immediate neighborhood amenities. They incubate innovative business ideas. They also buy time while longer planning and community input processes play out.
A British firm has a come up with a very efficient paper-recycling scheme for London-based companies:
The company sends their paper for recycling at a local mill in Kent. Then it buys back their own, now recycled, paper for the office. It is less hassle and cost saving for the company and guarantees a buyer of the recycled paper.
AfriGadget has more on Africa's modular machines:
[T]he machines are used in wood workshops to make design cutouts, carve out pieces for furniture and to split planks of wood. It is essentially the same machine pieces, motor, pulleys and frame, just customized for different uses.
Treehugger reports on an Kenyan ambulance made of bamboo:
[T]he bambulance will improve transportation for patients as well as medics to and from rural areas, where other transport methods don’t exist or are unsuitable. The benefits of this EMTD are improved speed and comfort over what is currently available, while maintaining cost efficiency and sustainability. Plus, the project will provide education and sustainable employment for HIV positive women and youth.
The One Laptop Per Child program is raising some interesting issues in Peru:
Eduardo Villanueva, a communications professor at Lima's Catholic University, fears "a general disruption of the educational system that will manifest itself in the students overwhelming the teachers."

To counter that fear, Becerra said the government is offering $150 grants to qualifying teachers toward the purchase of conventional laptops, for which it is also arranging low-interest loans.

The second big concern is maintenance. For every 100 units it will distribute to students, Peru is buying one extra for parts. But there is no tech support program. Students and teachers will have to do it.

"What you want is for the kids to do the repairs," said Negroponte, who believes such tinkering is itself a valuable lesson. "I think the kids can repair 95 percent of the laptops."
A court in Nepal has ruled that the government must create new laws to protect gay rights:
Sunil Pant of the Blue Diamond Society, the country's main gay rights group, said it was a bold decision by the highest court in Nepal, where gays frequently face harassment, including by police.

"It was an extremely positive decision and a pleasant surprise for us. It would set a precedent for other conservative countries like Nepal," Pant told the Associated Press.
Washington DC is finally lifting a deadly nine-year ban on funding needle-exchange programs:
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's congressional delegate, said the ban has contributed to Washington's AIDS rate, which is higher than any other major city in the country, according to a recent report on the epidemic.
Pharyngula has reprinted a droll cartoon on the "scientific" side of scientific racism. And Gever Tulley of the Tinkering School has designed some nice warning labels for childrens' toys (via AIDG Blog):

This morning, I stumbled upon a large gallery of old Meccano fire engines. They're very...soothing, somehow. As are the beautiful old photos of the UK at BLDGBLOG:

My existence has also been solaced, somewhat, by the fantastic architectural drawings of Hugh Ferriss (via Coudal), and this typewriter sculpture by Jeremy Mayer.

Strangely Compelling South Jersey, a Flickr set by phoebeofthesea, is strangely compelling, as is Botanicals, an exhibition by Caroline Hyman at Luminous Lint.

If you don't have the time for gateway drugs, you can always skip straight to the hard stuff: Wageningen Wall Charts at BibliOdyssey, and "Les phénomènes de la Nature" at Agence Eureka.

Last, Heinrich the Amazing Dancing Mechanical Man, circa 1919.

(Photo at top by Kievaholic.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What Some Nobody Thinks

CKR was kind enough to ask me to participate in an inter-blog conversation on nuclear weapons policy. My first impulse was to decline; much smarter people than I have studied this problem for many, many years, and there’s absolutely no chance that I’m going to come up with any insights they’ve missed.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for trying to clarify what I think, and why I think it, even if it ultimately benefits no one but myself. (Also, I have a charge to keep: if woefully uninformed people refrain from grappling with the great problems of our age, the Blogosphere as we know it will wither and die.)

Unless your name is Richard Perle or Dick Cheney, your goal is probably nonproliferation now and disarmament…someday. In order to model good behavior, encourage transparency, and win concessions from other countries, it makes sense to reduce our nuclear stockpile to a minimum that would still deter “rational” states from launching a first strike (with some sort of surplus included to allow for redundant targeting, malfunctions, and so forth).

Three or four hundred nuclear weapons would be adequate for this purpose, I think. I should add that I’ve never been entirely convinced that our stockpile prevented attacks by rational governments, who'd presumably have other compelling reasons not to launch a first strike. But there’s lots of room for debate here, and since total unilateral disarmament is a nonstarter in many circles it’d be counterproductive to insist on it.

The threat of reprisal can’t reliably deter irrational attacks, and may even make them more likely. (If a well-heeled fundamentalist cult can wipe out two or more cesspools of urban depravity by detonating one bomb, why shouldn’t they?) Looking at the threats we currently face, it seems pretty clear that nonstate groups like AQ are preeminent, both in terms of seeking nukes, and in being willing to use them regardless of consequences.

Which is pretty much what one would expect. As the excesses of globalization inspire national, ethnic, and religious identities to assert or reassert themselves, mutual assured destruction becomes less a threat than a promise: God will know his own.

Fortunately, the threat of nuclear terrorism seems to be pretty small (though perhaps not as small as it seemed a couple of days ago). And it can probably be staved off indefinitely through diplomacy and cooperation, as well as aggressive - in the sense of competent and thorough - nonproliferation and interdiction measures. (If it can’t, that’s too bad, because we really don’t have any other plausible tools in the shed.)

The NPT loophole for “peaceful” use seem to be me to be flawed (and not just because I’m one of those dirty fucking hippies who’d prefer to see people using solar-thermal power). If we’re serious about nonproliferation, we ought to discourage the construction of new reactors, period.

Since that’s probably not going to happen, I’d go along with the idea of an international fuel bank. (But I can’t help adding that we might have more carrots to offer nuclear-leaning nations if we’d devoted our considerable national resources to alternative energy technologies a few decades back.)

An important part of strengthening what Robert G. Spulak gratingly called “the nuclear stigma philosophy” would be to give up our strategic ambiguity in regards to first use, nuclear response to chemical attacks, and so forth, and acknowledge that the most serious threats we face are from accidents, or being provoked by terrorists into overreaction (i.e., into doing their bidding). At the risk of sounding utopian, I think that a leader worthy of the name could and would explain this to the public, and be understood.

The really difficult step is to realize that nuclear weapons aren’t representative of our power, but of our vulnerability. In particular, the alleged obligation to retaliate – to indulge in ambiguously retributive violence simply because it’s expected - ties our hands, limits our options, and may ultimately put us precisely where our enemies (foreign and domestic) want us.

There's earnest talk of the need for a new and improved military deterrent, but I suspect that this concept of deterrence is very close to being outmoded; it's our military superiority, after all, that's driven the present trend towards drastic forms of asymmetrical warfare. In this sense, the "freedom" we're spreading militarily and economically is the freedom to act without being constrained by the fear of death. This problem can't be solved by force.

I’m not naïve enough to think that this view of things is likely to catch on (though I don't think it's as unlikely as someone like Frank Gaffney might argue). In the meantime, I do think it’s necessary to delegitimize (redelegitimize?) nuclear reprisal, especially in the event of a terrorist attack. While it may be impossible to override the demand for retaliation, we’ll have a much better chance if we collectively recognize the point at which our power is, or becomes, our weakness.

The supreme obstacle, as I see it, is that the defense industry and its political sockpuppets benefit simultaneously from overdramatizing the problems we face, and overstating our ability to solve them by building new weapons systems - nuclear and otherwise - and launching new wars. In addition to undermining democracy and bankrupting the country, promoting this giddy blend of panic and overconfidence gives enemies like AQ an opportunity to set our own power in motion against us through various forms of information warfare and symbolic attack. Without serious new restrictions on defense-industry lobbying, profiteering, and the privatization of conflict, nonproliferation will remain a much harder road than it has to be.

(Illustration by Jules White.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Friday Hope Blogging

The Bush Administration has apparently dropped its plans to punish nonconforming JAG officers by withholding promotions:

An attempt within the Pentagon to politicize promotions for military judge advocates general appears to have been blocked after protests from military lawyers and threats from key lawmakers....

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a senior partner at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell, said the proposal clearly was an attempt to stifle military lawyers who have criticized Bush administration policies on torture and the rights of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Against the backdrop of the events of the last several years, it’s hard to see this as anything other than payback for the independence of the JAG corps,” Fidell said.
The Senate will once again stay in session over the holiday break, in order to prevent Bush from making recess appointments:
"We're going to go into pro forma session so the president can't appoint people that we think objectionable," Reid said on the Senate floor as the chamber prepared to wrap up business for the year.
The Senate has also voted to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act:
A similar bill (H.R. 985), sponsored by Rep. Waxman (D-CA), passed the House in March with a 331-94 vote. It’s unclear now whether the two pieces of legislation will be worked out in conference or informally. There’s a strong possibility that President Bush will veto the final bill, yet Congress could override it if votes remain the same.
Dr. Jeffrey Lewis is somewhat heartened by planned reductions to the 2012 nuclear stockpile:
To my mind, that is a modest reduction that does not alter the character the arsenal in a significant way — but it is welcome nonetheless. As I have stated before, on this blog and in the Washington Post, the goal should not be the size of the stockpile when Ike left office (19,000), but when he entered it (1,200).
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has pardoned the young rape victim who'd been sentenced to 200 lashes:
The woman's husband welcomed the pardon, telling The Associated Press by telephone Monday that when his wife heard the news, she was "very, very happy and felt psychologically better."
I don't doubt it.

New Mexico has become the 15th state to reject abstinence-only funds:
The Health Department says national studies have found that abstinence-only programs are not effective in preventing teen pregnancy or in delaying young people from having sexual relations.
Democrat Dan Barrett has won a surprising victory in Texas:
House District 97 was not drawn to be a Democratic seat. In 2006, Barrett had taken on the recently retired Anna Mowery and claimed only 40.82% of the vote. Tarrant County on the whole only gave Barbara Radnofsky, the U.S. Senate nominee, 34.80%, Chris Bell 31.07% in his bid for Governor, and the bellwhether Texas Supreme Court candidate Bill Moody 42.79% of the vote. The Republican's should have won this election based on the poor democratic performance index (DPI) of the district alone. During the special election yesterday, Barrett won with 52.2% of the vote.
The Forest Service claims it will close more roads to ORVs:
“This action comes not a moment too soon for the health of these streams and the critical habitat they support,” said Michael “Squeak” Smith, with the North Carolina Council of Trout Unlimited. “The Forest Service is finally walking the talk – and we’ll fully expect them to follow through with their intent to do a more thorough, long-lasting plan.”
India has launched a plan to educate its street children:
Eleven-year-old Anurag never went to school because he had to scavenge through Delhi's bins, dumps and gutters in search of sellable trash each day before spending his nights sleeping on the street.

Now, thanks to India's biggest effort yet to educate every last child, he has a smart blue uniform and has started going to a mainstream state school in the Indian capital -- something he had once considered a luxury for destitute children like himself.
More new species have been discovered in Indonesia:
[T]he team documented two mammals, a Cercartetus pygmy possum, one of the world’s smallest marsupials, and a Mallomys giant rat, both currently under study and apparently new to science. They also recorded the mating displays of several rare and little-known birds for the first time.

Japan promises to avoid killing humpback whales...for now, at least:
The move follows an announcement by Australia on Wednesday that it would send a fisheries patrol ship to gather evidence for a possible international court challenge to halt Japan's yearly slaughter.
New standards have been set for the harvesting of medicinal plants:
“This important effort will benefit the health and well-being of both the ecosystems they are part of, and the local people who depend on them for their livelihoods”, stresses Dr. Susan Liebermann, Director of WWF’s Species Program.
A new study claims that organic lemonade has 10 times the amount of antioxidants found in conventional juice:
The study showed that the total eriocitrin (a glycoside form of eriodictyol) in organic lemonade had levels 10 times higher compared to conventional lemonade, and the agylcone form had over three-times the level in conventional juice.
The Sietch Blog reports on a bicycle-powered supercomputer:
The afternoon was about setting a Guinness record for human-powered computing. This time the team used 10 riders. As in the morning run, the bikes were used to power machines made by SiCortex, of Maynard, MA, a venture-funded startup (investors include Flagship Ventures, Polaris Venture Partners, and Prism VentureWorks, along with Chevron and JK&B Capital) that specializes in low-powered supercomputers. To give you an idea of how low-powered, CEO John Mucci says the chip in his supercomputer, with six processors, uses about eight watts of power.
Xan alerts me to a new and improved lithium-ion battery:
The folks at Stanford have come up with an improvement in lithium-ion batteries which effectively raises their storage capacity by a factor of 10. The battery that powers your computer for 2 hours now would run for 20 on this new device.
Making left turns often requires idling while waiting for traffic to clear. Accordingly, UPS has redrawn its routes to reduce left turns:
The company employs what it calls a “package flow” software program, which among other hyperefficient practices involving the packing and sorting of its cargo, maps out routes for every one of its drivers, drastically reducing the number of left-hand turns they make (taking into consideration, of course, those instances where not to make the left-hand turn would result in a ridiculously circuitous route).

Last year, according to Heather Robinson, a U.P.S. spokeswoman, the software helped the company shave 28.5 million miles off its delivery routes, which has resulted in savings of roughly three million gallons of gas and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons.
The omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress requires the EPA to reopen the libraries it closed:
The report language attached to the omnibus appropriations bill for the remainder of the 2008 fiscal year directs EPA to use $3 million to “restore the network of EPA libraries recently closed or consolidated by the Administration…” and to report within 90 days on its plans to “restore publicly available libraries to provide environmental information and data to each EPA region…”
Norway will ban products containing mercury as of January 1, 2008:
The ban will put Norway ahead of the European Union in restricting mercury. Norway is not a member of the EU which plans to ban mercury in measuring instruments, including thermometers, in the first half of 2009, and on exports of mercury by 2011.
South Korea plans to ban single-hulled oil tankers ahead of schedule:
South Korea originally planned to phase out visits by those vessels by 2015 but it is now considering advancing the deadline by up to five years.
This illuminated table is a nice way to recycle a washing machine drum:

Alexandre Orion's Metabiotica includes a number of striking images:

As does this gallery of work by Josh Dorman (via Moon River).

There are new issues of Polar Inertia and Micscape, the latter featuring "a fascinating macroscopic tour of decaying wood" and "a selection of arthropod images":

Also: The David A. Bontrager Vintage Letterhead Collection. The Linnean Herbarium. And a must-see NASA video of a solar flare. (All three via Coudal.)

Last, "Daffy Doings in Doodlebugville: The Milky Way."

(Illustration at top via Boing Boing.)

Let It Snow!

If it's snowing, global warming must be a hoax. Sir Oolius has discovered an intrepid engineer whose homemade chart of snowfall measurements proves that it's been snowing quite a lot in various places.

This will be a staggering blow to skeptics who've already moved on to the "unstoppable global warming every 1500 years" mantra. I think it may be time to stop fighting denialists with facts to which they're immune, and start confronting them with the opposing claims of other denialists. Like cures like, or so I hear.

These are tough times for skeptics, in all but the financial sense; the forces arrayed against them are ever more rampant and ululant. In addition to the supermajority of scientists who've been blackmailed or browbeaten into conformity with the Goracle - that's what they're calling him at Planet Gore, honest - there's President Bush, who said "I recognise the surface of the earth is warmer and that an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem."

And the Military Advisory Board, comprising "11 of the most senior retired U.S. admirals and generals," which claims that "the U.S. should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability."

And Hollywood, whose interest in using climate alarmism to promote the global redistribution of wealth requires no explanation.

Help is on the way, though. James Inhofe has cobbled together a new report which states that "Only 52 Scientists Participated in UN IPCC Summary." This odd claim is sourced to an article by John McLean, who actually says that 62 scientists participated.

Which is a ridiculous assertion, as Tim Lambert explains at length. But Inhofe's goon squad apparently felt it needed to be made more ridiculous. After percolating through the denialist blogosphere, it'll probably shrink to 22.

The best part of McLean's hit piece is his claim that "of the comments received from the 62 reviewers of this critical chapter, almost 60% of them were rejected by IPCC editors." Here's what he fails to mention:

[A]round 90% of these rejected comments originated from one reviewer: Vincent Gray (who has never published a climate article in a peer-reviewed journal) of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project that is headed by both Canadian “climate expert” Timothy Ball (oil funded, hasn’t published a peer-reviewed paper in 14 years), and the same Tom Harris authoring the original article.
There are reasonable arguments to be made against climate change predictions, so why do denialists keep concocting such ludicrous talking points? Because limiting themselves to reasonable arguments would implicitly support the very worldview they hope to defeat. What's needed is chaos and confusion, driven by the vanity that comes with the possession of awe-inspiring secret knowledge, and this requires generating as many outrageous arguments and as much conspiratorial innuendo as possible.

The danger is having too few talking points, not too many; whether they're true on any level is far less important than whether they're available - and flattering - to the people who hunger for them.

Internecine Pursuits

The devout anti-obscurantists at NRO's Phi Beta Cons may want to take a closer look at William F. Buckley, whose prose is becoming downright Lacanian:

It asks for miraculous powers of revision to not see a show on television at night and satisfy ourselves that by abiding by the protocols of collective bargaining we are fighting for the survival of essential American rights. The law is an ass, a humbug, if it is defined by the number of people whose rights are being affirmed by neglecting them entirely.
"I see," said the blind man to his deaf wife, over a disconnected telephone in 1866.

If you persevere, you'll eventually comprehend that Buckley thinks we ought to weigh the right of writers to strike against the public's right to be amused:
What's not about to happen in the present case is the crystallization of the kind of vision necessary to discover and then to assert the right of the public to figure in these internecine pursuits. Perhaps that will happen only when the quarrels become truly asphyxiative and we are driven to our own uninformed resources to attempt to sing like Pavarotti, fiddle like Perlman and amuse like David Letterman. But that isn't happening, and our consciences grow more leaden by the day.
As far as I can tell, Buckley is asking us to discern evidence of our moral decline in the fact that we're not forcing writers to entertain us against their will. Given that he probably has fans who'd be inconsolable if someone lucid and sensible started ghostwriting his columns, you'd think he'd recognize that writers aren't necessarily interchangeable.

As for me, I tend to agree with Abraham Lincoln:
I am glad to see that a system of labor prevails...under which laborers can strike when they want to, where they are not obliged to work under all circumstances, and are not tied down and obliged to labor whether you pay them or not.
(Illustration: "Galley Slaves" from Barbary Rovers by John Finnemore, 1912.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Animal's Nature

Authorities in Bakersfield, California have decided to kill a local beaver because it has a tendency to gnaw trees.

When asked why officials couldn't just relocate the little vandal, they said that is not an option because the animal’s nature is to stop the flow of water, which could ruin an irrigation canal or destroy more trees at another location.
You might be thinking that they could choose a release site without an irrigation canal, but that wouldn't really help. Any site suitable for a beaver would need to have trees, and is therefore disqualified from consideration.

In other news, "Oregon State University has disputed the findings of state geologists who said clearcut logging on university land led to a landslide that recently swept through homes and temporarily closed U.S. 30 near Clatskanie."

A Constraint to Growth

In Palm Springs, California, groundwater depletion is threatening "more than 120 world-class golf resorts - among them PGA West, Bermuda Dunes Country Club and Mission Hills."

The utopian would argue that this problem should be addressed by limiting or even reversing growth, and placing drastic restrictions on water use. The realist, by contrast, understands that rain follows the plow:

"We have a problem, and we have to deal with it," said Steven Robbins, chief engineer for the Coachella Valley Water District. "But our goal is to not have water be a constraint to growth."
This, you'll agree, is a goal suited to the essential dignity of Man. Rather than follow environmentalists down the Via Dolorosa that leads directly to the gulag, officials are reportedly looking at "a giant pipeline to import water for golf courses" from some place that has a bit to spare (Minnesota, perhaps).

Once you've managed the conceptual leap of imagining that water needn't be a constraint to growth, everything else is child's play. There's water elsewhere in the country, and there are several possible ways of conveying it to Palm Springs; the logistics can be worked out in the fullness of time.

As can the logistics of repairing infrastructure damaged by subsidence:
Land is sinking in parts of the Coachella Valley where groundwater is being pumped faster than it can be replaced, according to a study released today by the Coachella Valley Water District and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The survey, conducted from 1996 - 2005, found that the area near the Bermuda Dunes Airport has sunk more than 13 inches during that time - the deepest drop in the valley.
In the meantime, Palm Springs is planning a new luxury hotel:
Promoters have said the hotel will create a "new era of sophisticated elegance in Palm Springs."

The 153,700-square-foot hotel will include an 8,000-square-foot ballroom, meeting room, a 10,780-square-foot spa and fitness facility, pool, restaurant and a 2,000-square-foot gourmet market, city officials said.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Essence of Vileness

(Via Coudal.)

A Constantly Modified Ideal

Wuxtry, wuxtry! Here's the latest news from the Pleistocene!

Like most people, we’re guided by the instinctive sense that a bigger nest is a happier nest. Though we know maxing out our ecological footprint might involve picking up some bad carbon karma, we feel somewhere deep in our guts that we need this house in order to be happy.
Since we feel this need for more square footage "somewhere deep in our guts," it must be the legacy of our hunter-gatherer ancestors' struggles in the Eemian interglacial era.
Most of us don’t need to worry about freezing or starving to death. Yet our happiness barometer continues to compare our living rooms and countertops and backyard barbecues with a constantly modified ideal. “We are victims of that evolutionary hunting strategy,” Rayo explained when I called him to discuss my real estate challenge. “There’s a difference between what’s natural and what's good.”
Given that the desire for an oversized home is "natural," we might reasonably expect it to be pretty much universal. However, the size of the average American house is twice the size of the average house in Europe or Japan. I guess they've had more luck than we have in casting aside Pleistocene hunting strategies.

Interestingly, the architecture in "primitive" villages tends to be fairly uniform, and larger buildings are usually designed to fulfill communal functions. The scarcity of building materials probably has something to do with this, in many cases. But unless I'm mistaken, this approach is also typical of pre-capitalist societies, which have a somewhat different concept of surplus wealth than people do in, say, Palm Springs.

Furthermore, primitive building patterns tend to reflect tribal organization and belief. To depart dramatically from the standard size and construction would represent a break with tradition, and therefore, perhaps, a failure of socialization.

All things considered, we might question whether McMansions in suburban Ohio are really more "natural," in psychological terms, than tiny huts in the Brazilian rainforest. We might even question whether it's wise to use consumption patterns in 21st-century North America as the key to life in the Pleistocene, so that we can then use life in the Pleistocene to explain - or maybe even justify - consumption patterns in 21st-century North America.

The astonishing mystification to which this theorizing can give rise, even among people of good will, is on display in the article's closing paragraphs. The author has bought a house that's too big, thanks to his throbbing biological urges. In order to redeem himself, he intends to rent out the rooms he doesn't need, and form a commune of sorts:
Our acquisitive, status-hungry genes may wish for a life more grand, more private, more sweepingly elegant and expansively lonely. But scarcity will have relegated us to a life of conviviality and trust.
Where is the evidence that our "status-hungry genes" demand expansive loneliness? Where, for that matter, is the evidence that "a life of conviviality and trust" doesn't confer status (as well as reproductive benefits)?

Why, it's all around us. It's just a matter of looking in the right places.

(Photo: "A traditional Kunama village of Eritrea and Ethiopia," by Mutanga Mulambwa.)

Actionable Intelligence

While listening to the radio this morning, I heard a caller arguing that torture doesn’t work, because by torturing people, you can get people to say anything.

I’ve objected to this argument before, because it implies that torture would be OK if only it were more reliable.

There’s another problem with this line of reasoning, though. Suppose you need someone to say something that isn’t true. Suppose that a single lie, professionally extracted from some anonymous victim, will help you to launch a war, or enact an unconstitutional law, or round up a horde of political enemies, or boost defense spending.

Eventually, you might end up in a situation reminiscent of the subprime mortgage crisis, in which vast fortunes are staked on little more than promises made under duress.

If this ever happened, the problem with the existence of a videotaped torture session might not be its brutality, so much as the insight it’d provide into the process by which “intelligence” is manufactured and passed off as legitimate.

This isn’t an accusation, of course; I’m just thinking out loud. But in purely political terms, this does strike me as the most dangerous possible aspect of allowing torture: it can produce “useful” information when reality can’t.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Lesser Place

Nolan Finley explains that truth, by definition, is flattering to Americans:

The former vice president and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner declared with great disdain at the international climate change talks in Bali that the United States bears the blame and shame for stalling the crusade against greenhouse gases....

But Gore is now bigger than America. He belongs to the world. As such, he's fluent in the international language that translates every wrong into an indictment of Americans.
They talk of our drinking, but never our thirst!

In 2006, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell by 1.5 percent. If Gore were honest, Finley says, he'd trumpet this datum as evidence that we can decrease emissions 15 percent over the next ten years, while continuing to grow at our accustomed rate.

He won't, though, because "that would rub hard against Gore's agenda of forcing America to accept a lesser place on the planet."

Finley is writing from Detroit, a hotbed of innovation whose best and brightest would never dream of ceding American supremacy to foreign pretenders. All the same, he's overlooking a couple of points:
"Favorable weather patterns, where both heating and cooling degree-days were lower in 2006 than 2005, and higher energy prices, were the primary causes of lower total energy consumption," the DoE said.
Supposedly, one of the problems with Algore's Global Warming Theory® is that one hundred years of data are not enough to demonstrate warming. And yet, one year of below-average CO2 emissions somehow constitutes a trend:
If last year's reduction proves to be a trend, the United States will trim its greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent during the next decade, without damaging economic growth.
I found ten dollars on the sidewalk today. If this proves to be a trend, I'll have made ten thousand dollars in roughly 27 years. (I'll be able to quit my job at the jute mill! No more shiftin', piecin', spinnin' warp, weft and twine to feed and clothe my bairnie offa ten and nine!)

What'll happen if we accept the Gore Doctrine, instead of counting on this "trend" to continue? Plainly put, the sky will fall:
That will trigger the greatest transfer of wealth in modern history, as American jobs rush to places with the least regulatory burdens, and more Americans join the ranks of the world's poor.
In other words, cutting emissions will lead to an unprecedented new era of offshoring. Pretty sobering!

In a column he wrote earlier this week, Finley blames and shames Michigan's unemployed for being ignorant and lazy:
Create an appetite for the jobs, and maybe job seekers will get off their backsides and get themselves some skills.

Something must change. Because nothing says stupid louder than a state that watches its nation-leading unemployment rate go up while good jobs sit vacant.
None of those "good jobs," it seems, are in the renewable energy or environmental service sector. Which makes Finley's parting sneer at Gore seem a little...frivolous:
A generation from now, Americans may well look back at Al Gore as the Benedict Arnold of his age, someone so determined to save the earth he was willing to ruin his country.
(Illustration by Warren Rockwell, 1911. Via Filboid Studge.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

let us always shuffle through the colour of the world
which looks bluer than the subway and astronomy
we are too thin
we have no mouth
our legs are stiff and knock together
our faces are formless like Ceratosoma tenue

(Photo by Jun Imamoto.)

Friday Hope Blogging

The House has passed a bill that reaffirms the illegality of waterboarding and other forms of torture.

The measure, approved by a largely party-line vote of 222 to 199, would require U.S. intelligence agencies to follow Army rules adopted last year that explicitly forbid waterboarding. It also would require interrogators to adhere to a strict interpretation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. The rules, required by Congress for all Defense Department personnel, also ban sexual humiliation, "mock" executions and the use of attack dogs, and prohibit the withholding of food and medical care.
A federal judge has upheld California's right to impose stricter auto standards:
California's first-in-the-nation effort to limit cars' emissions of gases that contribute to global warming took a big step forward Wednesday when a federal judge upheld the state's right to control air pollution and dismissed a challenge by the auto industry.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii of Fresno also was a victory for 16 other states whose laws or regulations on tailpipe emissions were modeled after California's 2002 statute. The 17 states represent nearly half the U.S. population, and their laws would effectively require automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, despite President Bush's rejection of mandatory national standards.
California has also strengthened its restrictions on the use of lead ammunition:
The Condor Preservation Act already requires hunters to use non-lead ammunition for hunting all big game (such as deer, elk, pigs, and bighorn sheep) and shooting coyotes within the condor range in central and southern California, beginning July 1, 2008. The Commission’s new regulations also prohibit lead ammunition for hunting non-game mammals and non-game birds in the condor range. They also prohibit the use of lead .22-caliber and smaller-rimfire cartridges for hunting non-game birds and mammals in the condor range, which had not been forbidden under the Condor Preservation Act.
Houston has won - sort of - its long battle to remove billboards from residential areas:
The City of Houston has come to an agreement with Clear Channel Advertising for the company to remove about 800 billboards from the city -- the result of a citywide plan to clean up the city's "visual clutter" that started more than 20 years ago.
A Japanese architect has come up with an interesting idea for suspended gardens:

I don't know how resilient these gardens are, but it's probably just as well that advances are being made in earthquake detection:
A California earthquake early warning system now being tested accurately predicted the ground shaking in San Francisco a few seconds before the city felt the Oct. 30, 2007, magnitude 5.4 quake near San Jose, according to a statewide team of seismologists.
A bamboo bridge in China can support 8-ton vehicles:
Made from pre-fabricated structural elements, the bridge was erected within a week by a team of eight workers without heavy construction equipment.
AIDG Blog has a post on the Majenn air rotor:
Helium sustains MARS and allows it to ascend to a higher altitude than traditional wind turbines. MARS captures the energy available in the 600 to 1000-foot low level and nocturnal jet streams that exist almost everywhere.
I blogged on this turbine almost exactly two years ago; unfortunately, it's hard to tell from the manufacturer's site whether it's any closer to being commercially available.

A new report claims that increasing broadband access could prevent the release of 1 billion tons of greenhouse gases. I'm a bit skeptical, but I reckon it's worth a look. And if all else fails, we still have the super-earths orbiting Gliese 581.

Thirteen cities have agreed to go dark for an hour on March 29. This brings up some scattered thoughts. I was in New York City during its massive blackout a few years back, and while my impressions may've been colored by my efforts to help a couple of bars on Amsterdam Avenue dispose of their dangerously underchilled beer, it all seemed delightful, from stargazing in Central Park to watching neighbors play Monopoly on their steps by candlelight. The city seemed like a completely different place.

This reminds me of Geoff Managh's observation that climate change is attractive to the extent that it promises us a transformed world, and makes me wonder whether scheduled blackouts, and other forms of privation, could become something people would actually look forward to and build new traditions around. (And that, in turn, reminds me of the little card William Hogarth dutifully saved from the Frost Fair of 1739, which was printed so that "Ages yet to come, May see what Things upon the Ice are done.”)

If I were arranging these blackouts, I'd send out roving gangs to organize impromptu astronomy lessons and magic lantern shows and neighborhood history lessons, and fill the financial districts with fireflies. Even if crisis is unavoidable, there's a lot to be said for rehearsing it as a carnival.

("Carnival Evening" by Henri Rousseau, 1886. Via Some Landscapes.)

Speaking of which, Pruned has a post on cemetery-dwelling in Manila. It's more thought-provoking than positive, perhaps, but it's fascinating reading all the same. And there's something cheering about this picture of a karaoke singer among the tombs:

This is one of the most interesting things I've read in a while:
Using an innovative surgical technique, researchers have rerouted major nerves to give amputees greater control of prosthetic arms — and unwittingly restored the sense of touch and temperature in their "phantom" limbs.

The surgery connects residual arm nerves to a nerve below the pectoral muscle in the chest. The new connection allows nerve growth into the skin of the chest. When certain spots on the chest are touched, the amputee "feels" the sensation in their missing hand.
Perhaps deconstruction really is justice:
Every year, cities across the country spend millions of dollars tearing down condemned houses and hauling away tons of debris to landfills. But progressive engineers and community activists have found a way to reverse that wasteful process. A demolition method called "deconstruction" uses human power instead of the wrecking ball to preserve and reuse everything from floor joists to the kitchen sink.
A desperately poor school in Malawi has a remarkable success rate:
There are 1,531 students, six classrooms, no running water and no light bulbs.

Yet Chiseka has the best academic record in its district by far. Last year all 40 students in the eighth grade passed their exams. And 30 did well enough to qualify for secondary school -- a significant achievement in a country where less than 30 percent of students finish primary school.
AIDG Blog reports on a Chinese school that's impressive for different reasons:

Children attend class at the Dongzhong (literally meaning “in cave”) primary school at a Miao village in Ziyun county, southwest China’s Guizhou province, November 14, 2007. The school is built in a huge, aircraft hangar-sized natural cave, carved out of a mountain over thousands of years by wind, water and seismic shifts.
I wonder if they take middle-aged exchange students?

An inventor at Cornell has apparently come up with a plastic that uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock:
The Cornell University spinoff’s technology centers on a catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into a polymer that could be used to make everyday items such as packaging, cups, and forks. The plastic, which was originally created by Cornell chemist Geoffrey Coates, is also safe and strong enough to be used in medical implants and devices.
Interesting, if true.

MAKE has compiled a list of books on "lost arts," from chainsaw carving to cabaret mechanics for automata. They also alerted me to this wonderful dual-use dinnerware.

The photo at the top is from a stunning collection of HDR photos by Maciej Duczynski (via Coudal). It's lovely in and of itself, but it also reminds me that tulips shall always grow.

Also via Coudal, Golden and Back by Bryan Schutmaat, which made me feel very nostalgic for the many strange mornings I've spent in cheap Southwestern motels.

The Alaska Highway Archives contain some terrific photos, and they've also come up with an odd in-browser game.

The best graphic I've seen this week comes - not surprisingly - from BibliOdyssey; it's a plate from Chemical Atlas or The Chemistry of Familiar Objects by Edward Livingston Youmans (1855).

You can click through BibliOdyssey to view the entire book.

China on Paper has its moments. As does this site on Thomas Telford, the Colossus of Roads.

Living Color is a nice exhibition of color plate books at the Library Company of Philadelphia. I'm particularly taken with the Mongooz:

Last, "A Colour Box" (1935) by Len Lye. (There's a bit of text to get through at the beginning, but don't let that scare you off.)

Reclaiming Christmas

Well, the War on Christmas has rolled around again, and this time, it’s personal.

Peace on earth? Not ‘til our nation’s enemies are reduced to heaps of glowing ashes. Joy to the world? Only when liberal lunatics like Nancy Pelosi are dragged from the halls of power, pickled in formaldehyde, and put on display in a cautionary freakshow. Goodwill towards men? Not until those Jew bastards get with the program and stop raining on our parade. Hell, it’s only thanks to the USA that those whiners aren’t celebrating Habakkuk - or whatever the damn thing’s called – in a concentration camp.

We’ve outgrown those fairy tales where Christmas makes the miser irresponsible, and turns the stony-hearted industrialist into a socialistic do-gooder. 9/11 changed all that. What’s important at Christmas is the same thing that’s important the rest of the year: Trampling anyone who gets in your way, whether by failing to pledge allegience to the Savior who wisely made us the Kings of the World, or by trying to snatch the last copy of Left Behind: Eternal Forces from the local Wal-Mart.

The real Christmas is about unbending pride, unblushing self-interest, and – above all - settling scores. Sure, Christmas is about being caring and those who deserve it. But it’s also about finding out who’s "naughty," and putting lumps of coal in their stockings. That could mean a firebomb for the local abortion clinic, or a couple of nukes for downtown Teheran. Either way, the idea is to let the evildoers dip their toes in the lake of fire, and see how they like the temperature. You hear that, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? We’re making a list, and checking it twice!

A big part of reclaiming Christmas is desissifying it. Like everything else in America, it’s been neutered and muzzled by castrating feminists, multiculti America-haters, and their Big Media enablers. The real Christmas is a Doberman with a God-given thirst for heathen blood, but these traitors have changed it into a quivering little lapdog.

Take How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I don’t think I need to tell you that every Who down in Who-ville was a liberal appeaser of the worst sort. But in case you don’t remember, let’s review the facts. Because they’re weak on defense, and have made an idol of "tolerance," all their stuff gets stolen by a Grinch. On their walls, he leaves nothing but hooks and some wire. It’s a day of horror like no other.

So what do they do? Do they form a posse, hunt down the Grinch, and string him up? Do they lob a few thermobaric shells into his cave, and turn him into Roast Beast? Nope. They join hands and they sing. What kind of message does that send? Not just to the Grinch and his sympathizers, but to our children?

You know as well as I do that there are some Grinches over in Iran and Syria who’d like to steal our Christmas this year. And let me tell you, their hearts aren’t going to grow three sizes when they hear us singing “Kumbaya” in the smoking ruins of our cities and towns. On the contrary, they’re going to come in and finish the job. They’re going to give us one chance to renounce Jesus and embrace their mongrel religion. And when we refuse, they’re going to lop our heads off one by one…starting with the Jews who made such a fuss about refusing to acknowledge the Reason for the Season.

That’s what’s at stake at Christmas this year - and every year to come for the foreseeable future - and that’s why the best way you can celebrate it is to be vigilant. Santa Claus isn’t the only one who can climb down chimneys, and brightly colored packages are the perfect disguise for enough high explosives to take out most of your block. The carolers outside your house may be singing about “the little Lord Jesus,” but that doesn’t mean they’re not ready to die for Allah.

Beyond that, you need to draw a line in the sand, and let everyone you meet know that Christmas isn’t about tinsel and toys and everyone living happily every after in some socialist wonderland. No, Christmas is about YOU standing up for YOUR beliefs – or God’s beliefs, more accurately – and telling the pagans, the perverts, the postmodernists, the Jews, the atheists, and the Muslims that in America, Jesus is Lord and all shall bow before him. Period, end of story.

In my opinion, there’s no better way to do this than to pay $14.95 for these politically incorrect magnetic bumperstickers. Buy ‘em for everyone on your list, even the liberals. Because in these dangerous times, it often happens that the most generous gift you can give is a piece of your mind. As Jesus himself said, “I do not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Merry Christmas!

(This post originally appeared on 12/12/06. I added one new link, so it wouldn't seem quite so outdated.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Our Impoverished Culture

While trying to follow one of Eschaton's links, I suddenly found myself reading a column by Camille Paglia, in which she weighs in on Mitt Romney and atheism (picture a hummingbird's feather settling onto a truck scale, minus the sense of cosmic drama).

Without getting sidetracked by her miserable prose and appalling personality, it's worth looking at a couple of her assertions in (relative) depth...not because they're hers, but because she's plucked them whole from the thicket of essentially bourgeois received wisdom that she routinely mistakes for her own hard-won insight.

[L]iberals must start acknowledging the impoverished culture that my 1960s generation has left to the young. Atheism alone is a rotting corpse. I substitute art and nature for God -- the grandeur of man and the vast mystery of the universe.
One could argue that replacing religious faith with some vague aesthetic sense of the numinous is a way to enjoy sanctimony without the distractions of commitment and responsibility. One could possibly even argue that this, rather than "atheism alone," is the aspect of our impoverished culture for which Paglia's 1960s generation, with its mix-and-match approach to "hip" (i.e., exotic) religions, might be blamed. (That said, I have to give her some credit: this is the first time I've ever seen it implied that the hippies were insufficiently Spinozan.)

She goes on to say that "without spirituality in some form, people will anesthetize themselves with drink or drugs." Which is a bit like claiming that spirituality, in whatever form, will ultimately lead people to torture or even kill their children. (Hey, it's happened before!)

This perfectly superficial notion of "spirituality" - which bathes everything from (talking about) reading Proust to (talking about) experimenting with the Kama Sutra in the same holy light that Thomas Kinkade manufactures by the metric assload - has nothing to do with ethics, and a great deal to do with competitive consumption and what Adorno called "the jargon of authenticity." As such, it's the opposite of serious philosophy, atheistic or otherwise, which John Caputo eloquently defines as "a work of ceaseless critique of our capacity to deceive ourselves."

Our alleged deafness to the clarion call of "spirituality in some form" is linked, somehow, to the alleged decline of Great Art after (post!) modernism:
Europe, which has settled into a comfortable secularism, is no model for the future. The great era of European achievement in arts and letters seems to be over. There are local luminaries but no towering figures any longer of the stature of James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann or Ingmar Bergman.
The curious process by which a figure manages to "tower" isn't addressed, which is yet another example of Paglia's slavish subjection to received wisdom. Picasso towers because he's great, and he's great because he towers. He innovated, he shocked people, he painted Guernica, he liked to fuck, he paid for meals by doodling on bills. His like will not be here again!

There may've been a few "luminaries" around the European art scene in recent years...W.G. Sebald, perhaps, or Anselm Kiefer or Bela Tarr. But are they equal to towering immortals like Mann, Picasso and Bergman? They're not, because asserting that they are would require a leap of faith - a commitment - much like the one Paglia refuses to make in the spiritual realm (which is pretty sad, given that she'd hoped to replace God with art). It could also require giving up her safe position - safe now, thanks to years of antlike labor by thinkers almost as unimaginative, stolid and resentful as Paglia herself - as the arbiter and defender of "meaningful" (i.e., polemically useful) art and spirituality.

I'm not really a fan of Sinclair Lewis, but I think this quote sums up Paglia's intellectual tradition pretty well:
The men leaned back on their heels, put their hands in their trouser-pockets, and proclaimed their views with the booming profundity of a prosperous male repeating a thoroughly hackneyed statement about a matter of which he knows nothing whatever.
(Illustration: "Nigredo" by Anselm Kiefer, 1984.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Dangerous Precedent

Punishing Christie Todd Whitman for her misleading statements about air quality after the collapse of the WTC could make other functionaries think twice before misleading the public.

You may be thinking that this would be an excellent reason to throw the book at her, even if her lies hadn't blighted so many people's lives.

If so, you fail to understand the intricacies of statecraft:

Holding Christine Todd Whitman liable will set a dangerous precedent, leaving public officials to worry that their words to reassure the public after disasters will open them up to personal liability, Justice Department attorney Alisa Klein told the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
There's enough material here for a dozen posts, but I'll restrict myself to a couple of points. First, I'm not likely to be reassured by people I don't trust. But if I were, it'd probably be because I felt that there was some chance, however small, that they'd be held accountable if they lied to me. That was a rather forlorn hope even before 2000, God knows, but the solution is surely not to treat the anodyne gibberish of party hacks as a balm for which we should be grateful.

Second, if I'd lived in lower Manhattan on 9/11 (instead of the Bronx), I would've found it much more reassuring if Whitman had said, "It's not safe for you to go home." It would've agreed with the evidence directly before my eyes, for one thing, and it also would've given me the feeling that marginally competent people were in charge.

Last, I've never seen much evidence that this government worries at all about frightening people. They've tried to frighten us with anthrax-laden balsa-wood drones drifting across the Atlantic, and a radical homosexual attack on traditional marriage, and ticking time-bombs from which only torture can save us. Worse, they expect us to be more frightened of these threats than the horrific behavior they were invented to justify (e.g., pre-emptive war, institutionalized bigotry, and outright barbarism).

And of course, they've consistently tried to frighten us with the consequences of holding them responsible for their own actions:
"If you speak, you will be potentially held liable," [Klein] said. "Then the clear message for government officials is to say nothing."
I didn't think that any false dichotomy could be venal or insane enough to shock me at this point, but this one does the trick: Officials must be able to say whatever they think will "help" during a national disaster, without any fear of being held responsible, or they'll be forced to preside mutely over the carnage like a funerary statue.

All things considered, I think I'm willing to take the risk.

(Photo: Ruins of Dresden, 1945.)

The Decline of the West

George Leef explains that academics are expected to publish stuff about things:

Professors at most colleges and universities these days have to publish their research in order to win tenure and impress fellow academics who might some day offer them a better job. Often that research is of extremely dubious value and only gets published by university presses.
That's what happens "these days," mind you. Furthermore, academic titles tend to suck because they're usually published by university presses (instead of, say, Regnery).

To be fair, there's a bit more madness to Leef's method than this. We can also recognize substandard research by looking at a book's title and subject matter. In this instance, Mal Kline - whose intellectual independence is signaled by the fact that he sports a cigar and a bow tie - has done the heavy lifting for us:
Our academic elites love to point out to the rest of us how unenlightened we are. Perhaps they can explain the scholarly value of some of the books rolling off of their own university presses....
Images of Bliss: Ejaculation, Masculinity, Meaning, by Murat Aydemir (University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

Impotence: A Cultural History, by Angus McLaren (University of Chicago Press, 2007).

Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid, by Lisa Jean Moore (New York University Press, 2007).
These, you'll note, are books about penises. Why would anyone write about this unedifying topic, when important facts in the case of Alger Hiss often go unreiterated for days at a time?

By way of an answer, Kline trots out the cock-addled frauds who cobbled together this frenchified whacking material. Ms. Moore comes in for particular scrutiny, being as she's "a professor of women’s studies and coordinator of Gender Studies at the college." (How much could she know about sperm, given that she's obviously a dyke?)

Kidding aside, there are two arguments to be made against these books by someone who has no intention of reading them. The first is that it's not possible to write a worthwhile scholarly book about ejaculation or impotence or sperm. The second is that it'd be wrong even if you managed it. There's not much you can say about either stance, except that they go nicely with cigars and bow ties.

Anyway, despite Leef's impotent ejaculations, I remain unconvinced that American academic research standards have declined all that much since the heyday of Lothrop Stoddard and Joseph Pomeroy Widney.