Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know Aldisa barlettai....
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)

(Photo by Dr. Peter Wirtz.)

Friday Hope Blogging

The Messiah, Walter Benjamin said, "will not wish to change the world by force but will merely make a slight adjustment in it."

This is as good an introduction as any for Things' discussion of the Untergunther, "a secret society dedicated to 'good' deeds," which broke into the Panthéon in Paris, set up a secret workshop, and surreptitiously repaired the building's 18th-century clock.

Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s....

The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.
Chicago has 2,000 miles of alleys, which comprise "the paved equivalent of five midsize airports":
Imagine having a duplicate set of streets, in miniature, to maintain that are prone to flooding and to dumping runoff into a strained sewer system.
Having noticed the problem, the city intends to do something about it.
Chicago has decided to retrofit its alleys with environmentally sustainable road-building materials under its Green Alley initiative, something experts say is among the most ambitious public street makeover plans in the country. In a larger sense, the city is rethinking the way it paves things.

In a green alley, water is allowed to penetrate the soil through the pavement itself, which consists of the relatively new but little-used technology of permeable concrete or porous asphalt. Then the water, filtered through stone beds under the permeable surface layer, recharges the underground water table instead of ending up as polluted runoff in rivers and streams.
Townspeople in Ohio are trying to prevent foreclosed properties from being bought up by real-estate spectators.
"This is not for the faint of heart. It's a proverbial pig in a poke. You can't inspect it. There's no walk-through. You show up at the auction with a blank check," Sherwood says. "Much like a dog chasing a car, we didn't know what to do with it once we got it."

But having control over the eventual use of the property - and its parking lot, which supports several other College Hill businesses - could help keep control of a strategic property in local hands, she says.
Thanks to international pressure, the Saudi judiciary may possibly be rethinking its brutal punishment of a young girl who had the temerity to get raped.
The remarks by Prince Saud al-Faisal, made in the United States and carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, were the latest in response to a salvo of international condemnation of Saudi judicial authorities' handling of the case.
And in the UK, juries in rape cases will be briefed on common misconceptions about rape:
In 1977, 33% of reported rapes ended in conviction. By 2005, that percentage had dropped to 5.4%. So in one form of response, a number of doctors, judges and academics are in the process of putting together a packet to be presented to juries which addresses these myths (such as the fact that not all rape survivors report the crime immediately, or that not all will act emotionally on the witness stand).
Inhabitat reports on the MagLev wind turbine.
Magnetic levitation is an extremely efficient system for wind energy. Here’s how it works: the vertically oriented blades of the wind turbine are suspended in the air above the base of the machine, replacing the need for ball bearings. The turbine uses “full-permanent” magnets, not electromagnets — therefore, it does not require electricty to run. The full-permanent magnet system employs neodymium (”rare earth”) magnets and there is no energy loss through friction. This also helps reduce maintenance costs and increases the lifespan of the generator.

Keith Farnish has written an interesting post on home energy management:
The peak load will always be around 5.30 in the evening, and the lowest demand will always be in the early hours of the morning. Now, remember my washing machine which did its wash cycle while I was asleep? By moving the time during which appliances do their work, you could help be responsible for shutting down every coal-fired power station on your electricity grid.
A new website allows you to see how much of your electricity comes from coal, and to survey the damage the industry has done to Appalachia's mountains.
With My Connection, a feature from North Carolina-based Appalachian Voices, users can enter their ZIP codes and use Google Earth to view the decimated mountains from which their power provider obtains coal. “When you can show people they have a direct connection to it, it makes it that much more relevant to their day-to-day life,” Mary Anne Hitt, the executive director of Appalachian Voices, told the Wall Street Journal.
Google has launched an initiative to make renewable energy cheaper than coal is claimed to be:
The company announced today their Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative with the stated goal of producing 1 gigawatt of renewable energy, enough to power the city of San Francisco, and to do it within years, not decades, as some less ambitious pundits claim such a goal would require.

Google says it will commit “hundreds of millions of dollars” to the effort in hopes that doing so will spur innovation and make renewable energy sources like solar and wind an economic rival to coal.
An African inventor has devised a generator that utilizes yeast and sugar to deliver up to eight hours of electricity.
My invention will make it easy for these people to charge their cell phones. Also, this generator can be used to charge $100 computers which are being introduced in Africa. It can also be used to charge or operate medical devices in rural Africa.
I don't normally mention fripperies like energy-efficient Christmas lights, but these ones, via AIDG Blog are really pretty nice:

It was deeply satisfying to see John Howard get his ass kicked from here to the Black Stump. He deserves worse, of course, but this was a nice start. His successor, Kevin Rudd, has made climate change a top priority...but I was almost more impressed to learn that he will seek "an end to controversial offshore detention of illegal immigrants."

Meanwhile, membership in the great global warming conspiracy continues to grow:
A sizable fraction of the international business community launched an effort to press for mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions yesterday, on the eve of a major round of climate negotiations set to begin Monday in Bali. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, leaders from 150 global companies endorsed the idea of a legally binding framework in a statement published in the Financial Times newspaper. Some of the world's largest firms -- including Coca-Cola, General Electric, Shell, Nestle, Nike, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, British Airways and Shanghai Electric -- said that the scientific evidence for climate change is 'now overwhelming' and that a legally binding agreement 'will provide business with the certainty it needs to scale up global investment in low-carbon technologies.'
And there's new evidence that ocean fertilization is a bad idea:
Scientists have revealed an important discovery that raises doubts concerning the viability of plans to fertilize the ocean to solve global warming, a projected $100 billion venture.

Research performed at Stanford and Oregon State Universities, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, suggests that ocean fertilization may not be an effective method of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a major contributor to global warming. Ocean fertilization, the process of adding iron or other nutrients to the ocean to cause large algal blooms, has been proposed as a possible solution to global warming because the growing algae absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is revising seven insane decisions by a disgraced BushCo apparatchik:
The policy reversal, sparked by inquiries by the Interior Department's inspector general and by the House Natural Resources Committee, underscores the extent to which the administration is still dealing with the fallout from the tenure of Julie MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks who repeatedly overruled agency scientists' recommendations on endangered-species decisions.
Mexico is vowing to protect Monarch butterflies:
President Felipe Calderón pledged 4.6 million U.S. dollars toward advertising and equipment for the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, which covers a 124,000-acre (50,000-hectare) swathe of trees and mountains that for thousands of years has served as the winter nesting ground to millions of orange-and-black-winged monarch butterflies.
A rare Chinese tiger cub has been born in South Africa:
"It is truly a historic event, because it is the first time that a South China Tiger has been born outside of China. Only around 60 South China Tigers exist in captivity and less than 30 survive in the wild," Li Quan, founder of the organization, said in a statement sent to Reuters.

More photos here.

The Global Text Project seeks to distribute free textbooks in the developing world:
The project evolves upon a “WikiBooks” strategy (free, open content, permanently updated by common effort), as the result of a “from many to more many” philosophy and mindset.
WorldChanging discusses some implications of Radiohead's decision to release their latest album digitally:
In the United States alone, every month some 100,000 pounds of CDs become outdated, useless or unwanted, especially as their useful lifespan contracts: among younger generations in developed countries, CDs are often only used to upload the content they hold into digital devices, limiting the lifespan of a CD to a single use. The possibility of digital-only distribution to reduce at least some of the current CD production would mean good news for the environment.
In Africa, deaths from measles are down 91 percent.
Measles deaths worldwide have fallen from an estimated 757,000 to 242,000 - 68 percent - between 2000 and 2006, according to the Measles Initiative, which includes the American Red Cross, the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

In Africa, the deaths dropped from 396,000 to 36,000.
British researchers have reportedly devised a means of quickly identifying multidrug-resistant bacteria:
The new test is important because it means we can rapidly identify patients who are colonised with drug resistant strains of the bacteria so that special infection control measures can be put in place.
Anne Matthews argues for the preservation of soundscapes:
EW: Will the preservation of sound become more of an integral part of historic preservation here?

AM: Yes, especially as we move away form the urge to re-create and then freeze-dry pretty buildings and think more about human narrative, the material-culture matrix, and the art of hearing time. History is text-based; it favors the eye. But sound is nearly as powerful.
With that in mind, check out Small Sounds / Big World, Tsai-Wei's Sound Journal, The Big Ear, and Xeno-Canto.

Since Toronto's my favorite North American city, I'd be obliged to recommend Toronto Ghost Signs even if it were a good deal less attractive than it is. Also, Vintage Knitting Images (why not?).

The Tabula Peutingeriana, an ancient Roman road map.

And at Luminous Lint, Portugal 1934: Photomontage as Propaganda.

Last, Things alerts me to the embarrassment of riches at Notcot, which includes Polanoid, whence comes the image at the top, which is by a contributor named Bernhard.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Really Good Things

A cryptoclimatological discoverist from the Kansas state legislature expounds on the Great Chain of Being:

A state legislator Wednesday criticized rejection of two coal-fired power plants in western Kansas, saying carbon dioxide emissions were good for crops.

“One of the really good things about CO2 is that plants perform better under stress (drought, etc.) with increased levels of CO2,” Rep. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, said in a letter disseminated to the media.
Ideally, CO2 will increase agricultural yield, which'll increase earth's carrying capacity, which'll increase earth's population, which'll increase CO2 emissions, which'll increase agricultural yield. World without end, amen!

Powell's information comes from a report by Craig and Keith Idso, who've been singing this tune for many years now (with a little help from ExxonMobil and the rabidly pro-coal Western Fuels Association).

All their huffing and puffing will come to nothing, though. Coal is the fuel of the past; the fuel of the future is low-grade synthetic crude extracted from oil shale with "portable" nuclear reactors that may or may not actually work:
Though it would produce 27 megawatts worth of thermal energy, Hyperion doesn’t like to think of its product as a “reactor.” It’s self-contained, involves no moving parts and, therefore, doesn’t require a human operator....

“The lab is doing a lot of work on oil shales and oil sands, but there’s no way to get power to those facilities,” Blackwell says. “So, this nuclear battery would be brought in and that would provide the power to run a small city of industrial use.”
Oil shale extraction is thirsty work. But since increasing CO2 emissions will make crops more drought resistant, it seems logical that this'll free up water for the oil shale boom.

All things considered, I'm feeling cautiously optimistic.

(Photo: Mid-day dust storm in Garden City, Kansas, 1935.)

The Queer-Friendly Skies

WorldNetDaily has come up with a truly inspired piece of anti-gay agitprop.

Alaska Airlines' gay travel page offers hellbound sodomites like Ken Mehlman 10 percent off on holiday travel to Newark/New York City (where else?) until January 6, 2008.

Once you manage to wrench your mind away from the frightening thought of hot 'n' heavy, transcontinental, no-holes-barred gay sex, you may presently begin to perceive that the discount is really not all that different from this one, which offers 10 percent off to prostitutes, frotteurs, erotographomaniacs, Discalced Carmelite nuns, toe fuckers...and anyone else who feels like going to Reno, NV.

But here's how WND describes the offer:

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air have announced a new program that will charge heterosexuals 10 percent extra for their air travel to specific locations during the Christmas season.
This is a fine day's work indeed. Your garden-variety hysteric would've presented the discount as a reward, or an incentive, for teh buttsecks. But WND brilliantly depicts the regular fare as a penalty for being heterosexual. So much for the people who say homosexuality is a victimless crime!

It gets worse, though. In an especially lurid instance of closet-case dream logic, this purity tax on straights will also lead to an epidemic of airborne transvestism:
"They are giving preferences to male passengers who want to wear dresses on the planes, and giving them preference over married couples," Fischer said....
Well, that's capitalism for you: All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.

If you don't like it, you can always move to Saudi Arabia.

(Illustration via Miss Magnolia Thunderpussy.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sacred Texts and Abstract Principles

As we all know, belief in global warming constitutes a religion. And while religion may be fine and dandy for 35-year-old virgins, Southern trailer trash, and softheaded old biddies, sensible people like John Kay of the Financial Times prefer to take their marching orders from the Invisible Hand.

Some climate zealots have argued that we have a responsibility to our descendents to address global warming. Kay concedes that it's pretty to think so, but points out that it may not be practical:

The problem of weighting the present and the future equally is that there is a lot of future. The number of future generations is potentially so large that small but permanent benefit to them would justify great sacrifice now. If we were to use this criterion to appraise all long-term investment, the volume of such investment would impoverish the current population.
This is no laughing matter. Let's suppose that your upfront cost of ensuring a "small but permanent benefit" for posterity is one dollar per year. Now, let's assume that the future comprises 500,000 years. That's half a million clams you owe the ingrates who'll someday picnic on your grave, payable this instant.

I'm guessing that if you had that kind of cash lying around, you'd be reading the Financial Times instead of this cold, lonely little vanity blog.

And let's not forget that we don't know what kind of people our descendents will be. They may be protectionists, or neo-Muggletonians, or cannibals, or God only knows what. Why should we pay through the nose in order to subsidize lifestyle choices of which we might not approve? Why should we supply lifeboats to people who may've grown gills, for that matter, or food to people who may've learned to eat tin cans like cartoon goats? Where's the ROI, exactly?

The way some people talk about it, it almost sounds like a gift, for which we'd get nothing in return.

This is the sort of outlandish decision people inevitably make when they "seek to extend our natural, but not unlimited, capacity for solidarity with others by calling on sacred texts and abstract principles."
History illustrates the harm done when the fundamentalism of faith or abstract reasoning overtakes pragmatism as political principle.
What might history eventually "illustrate" about our staunch pragmatism? As our President wisely said, "We don't know. We'll all be dead." The only thing we do know is this: To the extent that we've entrusted our fate to "economic and political marketplaces," we'll be able to enter Heaven or Hell with an equally clear conscience.

UPDATE: Smokewriting goes further and fares better.

(Illustration: “Thoughts of Capitalism by a Missourian in the Depression Thirties" by James Penney, c. 1935.)

They're All Around!

We're in a war for our very survival against radical Islam. Which means it's time for all patriotic Americans to harass Mexicans at the local big-box hardware store:

For Truman Fields, the war against foreign invaders begins at home -- Home Depot.

Several times a month during Florida's latest building boom, the retired IBM executive climbed into his Dodge pickup and cruised home-improvement stores or construction sites in southwest Florida. Armed with a camera and a missionary's zeal, he'd look for groups of Hispanic men and start snapping pictures. Fields, 66, assumed anyone who ran off was here illegally....

"They're all around if people will just open their eyes."
The goal here is to prevent La Reconquista, which is at least as imminent as our national subjection to Sharia. (This dual threat is what makes the strategic thinking of America's own modern-day Clausewitz more compelling than ever.)

Some people call the anti-immigrant movement racist. It isn't, though. It's RACIST.
"Real Americans Committed to Integrity, Sovereignty and Truth."

"That's what 'racist' means to us."
And really, what other interpretation matters?

Truman Fields believes that people who run away from him are probably here illegally. If we could somehow make an armed drone "understand" this deep insight, it'd free confused, angry, and racist RACIST Americans from the drudgery of playing soldier in strip malls, and let them return to more personally fulfilling endeavors.
A French businessman tells AFP his company is working on putting TASER stun guns on a flying saucer that would zap protesters, evil-doers, and anybody else that authorities there don't like.
This technology could also prevent messy situations like the recent tasing of a mildly argumentative motorist; eliminating the human factor will make summary punishment easier to accept, or at least harder to argue with:
Police in Texas want to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to spot speeders, and now Miami cops are also looking at drones for SWAT Teams.
These systems are fallible, of course. That's why we need lots of them, everywhere. Traditionally, the border has been visualized as something like the aseptic seal that keeps a product uncontaminated. We'd be better off seeing it as something more like the immune system, with the official border as a skinlike barrier, concerned private citizens as pattern recognition receptors, and armed drones as monocytes.

Xenophobes, racialists and paranoiacs have an advantage when it comes to viewing human beings as pathogens that are "all around if people will just open their eyes." Thus, their visionary insights will be invaluable in helping to define and deploy this vital new security technology.

You may think this is insane. But to me, "insane" simply means "Improving National Security As Needed, Eternally."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ambition, Aspiration and Power

Jonathan Adler ladles a generous helping of grease onto those exceptionally squeaky wheels Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, whose new book strikes him as richly suggestive in its depiction of environmentalists as hectoring anhedonic grinches, and eminently reasonable in its embrace of "an explicitly pro-growth agenda."

First and foremost, Adler agrees with Nordhaus and Shellenberger that environmentalists must stop, already, with the "finger-wagging rhetoric." 'Cause as everyone knows, moral appeals for self-denial and personal responsibility are politically appropriate only when one is agitating against premarital sex or socialized medicine.

Another part of the problem is that too many environmentalists perceive "the environment" as a sort of substrate for human existence, like the Free Market, instead of as an optional lifestyle accessory:

The environment, Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger say, is a "post-material" need that people demand only after their material needs are met.
Personally, I can't think of a much more material need than clean air and water, but that's probably just a symptom of my inability to move beyond "a politics of limits."
To make normal, productive human activity the enemy of nature, as environmentalists implicitly do, is to adopt policies that "constrain human ambition, aspiration and power...."
God forbid anyone - or anything - should do that. As President Bush so often says, "if it feels good, do it!"

Nordhaus and Shellenberger do have one fault in Adler's eyes, and that's their antiquated belief in the plausibility of government solutions:
[I]t is hard to see why their centralized subsidy plan would produce commercially profitable -- that is, "pro-growth" -- technologies better than the multiple efforts of private investors. In short: Why would an "Apollo" plan succeed where the Synthetic Fuels Corp. failed?
That teensy little quibble aside, he feels they've got a pretty firm grasp of the problem: doomsaying environmentalists and their philosophically untenable belief in constraining human ambition. Nordhaus and Shellenberger may not be quite ready to sit at the adult table, but when they are, it seems safe to say that no one will welcome them more heartily than Jonathan Adler.

(Illustration: "Monstrous Craws, at a New Coalition Feast" by James Gillray, 1787.)

A Malicious Ideology

A word to the wise from Phyllis Schlafly: Them radical feminist dames is crooked as a barrel of snakes:

Radical feminists have devised a scheme to cash in on the flow of taxpayer money in a big way. Their good buddy, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., has just introduced Senate Bill 2279, called the International Violence Against Women Act.
Some of this money will go to "a certain type of women's organizations" (e.g., the Family Violence Prevention Fund). This exemplifies the shamefully narrow focus of the International Violence Against Women Act, which targets violence against women rather than fetuses or men or conservative Supreme Court nominees or Lasiorhinus krefftii, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat.
Radical feminists who would be the recipients of the act's awesome bureaucratic and money power are very selective about the kinds of violence they will target in 10 to 20 foreign countries. They have no interest in speaking up for the hundreds of thousands of unborn girls in China and India who are victims of sex-selection abortions.
Schlafly probably hasn't read the UNFPA's statement on gender-based violence, which specifically identifies prenatal sex selection as a form of "gender violence." Feministing recently had some not entirely complimentary things to say about the practice, too. The disagreement, of course, is over methodology. Schlafly wants to solve this problem, and most others, by banning all abortions now and forever. Most "radical feminists" would probably prefer to address the causes of prenatal sex selection, such as social structures that perpetuate the idea that women are inherently less valuable than men.

So far, we've learned that a bill intended to prevent violence against women will try to prevent violence against women by giving money to groups that try to prevent violence against women. And that feminists who support abortion rights aren't calling for a worldwide ban on abortion. We can be forgiven, I think, for feeling that Schlafly's hunt for logical inconsistencies has been a bit of a bust.

She's nothing if not persistent, though:
Feminist ideology about the goal of gender-neutrality and the absence of innate differences between males and females goes out the window when it comes to the subject of domestic violence. Feminist dogma is that the law should assume men are batterers and women are victims.
Just in case you doubt this, here's an example of gender neutrality going out the window, thanks to the "malicious ideology" of feminism:
Political correctness requires that the Illinois Bar Journal use gender-neutral words, but anyone familiar with this subject knows that "petitioner" overwhelmingly means wife and "respondent" means husband.
Yes, we do know that, don't we? (And isn't it odd how the people who dispute this fact tend to be perfectly comfortable with racial profiling?)

Having demonstrated that political correctness is the handperson of feminist ideology, because it demands the gender neutrality that feminist ideology rejects except when it doesn't, Schlafly points out that accusations of domestic violence can give one party - and it's usually going to be a woman, since the little minxes are clever enough to know that they're statistically more likely to suffer abuse - an "unfair advantage in divorce and child custody."

The possibility of this grave injustice - which is far more dangerous, you'll agree, than legally codifying the presumption that women are lying bitches who probably deserved whatever they got - is apparently what justifies Schlafly's headline: Feminists Abuse Domestic Violence Laws.

My brain hurts.

(Illustration via What Were They Thinking?)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Errors and Heresies

Dinesh D'Souza is troubled by a certain...laxity in modern thought, and goes in search of its parentage:

About a hundred years ago, two anti-religious bigots named John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White wrote books promoting the idea of an irreconcilable conflict between science and God. The books were full of facts that have now been totally discredited by scholars. But the myths produced by Draper and Dickson continue to be recycled. They are believed by many who consider themselves educated, and they even find their way into the textbooks. In this article I expose several of these myths, focusing especially on the Galileo case, since Galileo is routinely portrayed as a victim of religious persecution and a martyr to the cause of science.
Like pretty much everyone who's even marginally informed on this issue, I have little respect for the work of Draper or White. But it's not quite fair to call them "anti-religious," since Draper was a deist, and White an Episcopalian. Also, the conflict they described was between science and organized religion, not "science and God."

I'm sorry to say that D'Souza's account of the "Galileo myth" isn't very accurate, either. After conscientiously explaining that "the leading astronomers of the time were Jesuit priests," he assures us that
They were open to Galileo’s theory but told him the evidence for it was inconclusive. This was the view of the greatest astronomer of the age, Tyco [sic] Brahe.
D'Souza's clear implication is that Tycho counted and weighed Galileo's theory and found it wanting. The problem is, Galileo's theory was based on observations he'd made in 1610, with the aid of a new-fangled device known as the telescope; Tycho had been lying in the cold, cold ground for nine years by then.

Next, D'Souza claims that Church didn't "dogmatically" oppose heliocentrism, but simply demanded a little more proof than Galileo was able to provide. From there, it's a short step to the incoherent position that "the Church should not have tried him at all," but nonetheless deserves credit for the tender mercy of putting him under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Finally, he says that "Galileo was neither charged nor convicted of heresy." Which is technically true, sort of: The heliocentric system was described as "formally heretical," and Galileo was therefore "vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy." He was accordingly given the opportunity to "abjure, curse, and detest the above-mentioned errors and heresies and any other error and heresy contrary to the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church." Which he did, perhaps because he found it preferable to the alternative.

Obviously, I'm not expecting anyone to be shocked that a column by D'Souza is full of serious errors. I am a bit curious, though, as to whether anyone believes that they're the product of stupidity or ignorance, rather than a fairly sophisticated sense of what he can get away with, given his audience's slavering appetite for lies.

(Illustration from Sidereus Nuncius by Galileo, 1610.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

I couldn't resist posting this footage, but I strongly urge you to turn the sound off before viewing.

Friday Hope Blogging

Brazil is dramatically increasing the availability of contraceptives:

As part of a new fight against Brazil's sky-high number of unwanted pregnancies and illegal abortions, the country's most populous state is offering "morning after" contraceptive pills at metro stops and 90 percent off contraceptive pills at pharmacies.

And that's not all. Federal Health officials are offering to train teachers to give sex education and offering condoms to pupils. And the Health Ministry wants men to take more responsibility and is offering free vasectomies.
The Boy Scouts, as a private organization, have the right to discriminate against gays and the insufficiently religious, according to the Supreme Court. You’d think that’d make ‘em happy as clams, but in an act of true perversity, they insist that their bigotry must be subsidized by the very people it designates as second-class citizens.

The city of Philadelphia begs to differ:
Citing a local 1982 "fair practices" law, the city solicitor has given the Scouts until Dec. 3 to renounce its policy of excluding homosexuals or forfeit the grand, Beaux-Arts building it has rented from the city for $1 a year since 1928.

"While we respect the right of the Boy Scouts to prohibit participation in its activities by homosexuals," the solicitor, Romulo Diaz, said last week in an interview, "we will not subsidize that discrimination by passing on the costs to the people of Philadelphia."
A spokesman for the Boy Scouts points out that they're required by the organization's national charter to discriminate. That being the case, it sounds like they’d better pony up the dough, and be grateful the city’s not demanding 25 years’ worth of back rent.

In wholly unrelated news, "the Jesuit order of Roman Catholic priests agreed to a $50 million settlement with 110 Eskimo victims of alleged sexual abuse."

The Center for Biological Diversity has won yet another victory against BushCo:
The Bush administration has agreed to a court settlement, finalized November 19th, requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the environmental hazards of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides and revise, as necessary, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for these two dangerous pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
CBD does great and difficult work, year after year; you could do worse than send ‘em a donation.

An effort is underway to gather data on the one billion people of whom there no official records. One could argue that this has some troubling implications – practically and philosophically - but it still seems worthy of mention here:
One important outcome of this enterprise it that it will provide new accurate data for the international aid community and private enterprises looking to do business with the poor, often limited so far to demographic data based on 10-year old surveys. International and local NGOs will also benefit some better leverage from this. The social impact of the initiative is expected to be huge: increased employment, revenue flow to the community, access to critical social services and technology skills while lifting community morale.
By an odd coincidence, one billion is also thought to be the number of people without reliable electricity. A new lamp built around a recycled cell-phone charger could change that:
It is a simple, inexpensive, sustainable alternative to kerosene lamps. The key components are a recycled cell phone charger, a set of rechargeable batteries, and very efficient LED lights. When power is available, it charges the batteries; when light is needed the batteries can provide up to 40 hours of continuous use.
Triple Pundit reports on the astonishing Tate Ambient Power Module:
The Tate Ambient Power Module, patented by Joseph Tate of California, converts radio-wave energy (manmade and natural) into energy that can be used by small appliances such as smoke detectors and clock radios.
And the Naib reports on inflatable cars; unfortunately, the Robert Crumb cartoon I need to illustrate this concept is packed away in my storage space, along with the rest of my books.

A huge new rainforest preserve has been set aside in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
U.S. agencies, conservation groups and the Congolese government have come together to set aside 11,803 square miles of tropical rain forest, the U.S.-based Bonobo Conservation Initiative said in a statement issued this week. The area amounts to just over 1 percent of vast Congo but that means a park larger than the state of Massachusetts.
A new earth observation system may reduce cyclone deaths:
"The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) will help drive further improvements in, and integration of Earth observations instruments, models and early-warning systems," said Achache.

"The end result should be -- and must be -- a continuing downward trend in the death toll from cyclones."
In related news, storm surge maps from LSU helped Bangladesh to save the lives of coastal residents:
Early on the morning of Nov. 16, Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh and showed no mercy. The death toll continues to rise even today. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. But, nearly 24 hours in advance of the storm, Hassan Mashriqui, assistant extension professor of coastal engineering with LSU, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, gave Bangladesh emergency officials storm surge maps so detailed that area agencies were able to take action, saving countless lives.
A new type of trawling net may reduce bycatch:
This year’s winning solution, the "Eliminator”, is an innovative device that captures haddock while reducing the accidental netting, or bycatch, of other marine species.
Diego Gonzalez Zevallos, a marine biologist at the Centro Nacional Patagónico in Argentina, studied the accidental death of seabirds as they dive for food and are struck by trawling cables and dragged under the water and drown. His device, a simple plastic cone is likely to dramatically reduce seabird deaths, while not affecting the profitability for fishermen.
At Grist, Andrew Dessler describes his attempt to find a climate skeptic who’d be willing to visit his classroom and talk to his students. You'll never guess what happens.

A new study suggests that renewable energy is a better option than coal for Nevada:
Renewable power paired with a more aggressive energy efficiency program will mean 'Lower costs and lower risks for ratepayers and probably will produce a higher number of job opportunities for Nevadans,' Ernie Niemi, ECONorthwest analyst and primary author of the report, said during a Tuesday telephone press conference.
The EU is considering a ban on GM corn:
European Union environmental officials have determined that two kinds of genetically modified corn could harm butterflies, affect food chains and disturb life in rivers and streams, and they have proposed a ban on the sale of the seeds, which are made by DuPont Pioneer, Dow Agrosciences and Syngenta. The preliminary decisions are circulating within the European Commission, which has the final say.
There are encouraging prospects for removing endocrine disruptors from water:
"No single process was able to remove absolutely every chemical," says Shane Snyder, an environmental toxicologist at the Southern Nevada Water Authority and lead author of the study. "The findings demonstrate, though, that certain processes can greatly reduce the concentration of many classes of contaminants, while others have little impact on removal."
The study was funded by the drinking-water industry, and is definitely reflects their perspective. Given those caveats, though, the findings are pretty interesting.

All of the above is really just an excuse to promote The Wooden Library in Alnarp.
Each "book" describes a certain tree species and is made out of the actual wood (the "covers"). The spine is covered by the bark, where mosses and lichens from the same tree are arranged. "Books" of shrubs are covered with mosses with split branches on both covers and spines.

Link via wood s lot.

Anything else I link to will probably seem anti-climactic. All the same, I have to recommend the photos of Peter Merts.

And The Super Bolide of September 13, 2007, a movie from Heliotown (see also Ashcraft's Catalog of Fireballs, Meteors and Space Dust).

And, finally, this lovely footage of San Francisco's Ocean Beach in 1903, which I dedicate to someone very sweet:

(Illustration at top via the ESA: “This image shows a simulated view of Earth as seen from the position of Rosetta, just before the spacecraft's closest approach to Earth. It was acquired on 13 November 2007 at 20:30 CET using the WAC with a red filter.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Drawing a Bright Line

I was sitting in a downtown bar, knocking back a few cold ones after another tough week of agitating for oligarchical collectivism. Suddenly Candace de Russy tottered in, looking downright incendiary in a red silk brocade gown replete with a poi de soie bodice and an overskirt trimmed with gold-thread jacquard ribbon.

She collapsed onto the stool next to me and gave me a goggle-eyed leer. "Mind if I ask you something, mister?"


She leaned over conspiratorially and put her lips against my ear; my head swam with the heady aroma of butterscotch and toluene. "What does 'nuptial mysticism,' as opposed to neo-scholasticism, have to do with winning the war against Islamic terror?"

I thought about it for a while and drew a blank. "You tell me," I said.

She laughed unpleasantly, her eyes as hard as jujubes. "Learn about this from a most interesting review by 'Spengler' of a theological text by a Scots Dominican, Fergus Kerr," she snapped.

I had plenty more questions for her, but it was too late: She was already halfway to the floor, singing "Mairzy Doats" in a small, dreamy voice. I stabilized her as best I could, and went home to track down this "Spengler" fellow.

And I'm glad I did. His argument is sprawling, to say the least, but I'll try to boil it down to the essentials:

To win a gunfight, first you have to bring a gun, and to win a religious war, you had better know something about religion.
This analogy is unbalanced in several senses of the word, but we'll overlook that for now. The thing to remember is that we're in a religious war, and this makes the Pope "the leader not only of the Catholics but - by default - of the West."
Radical Islam threatens the West only because secular Europe, including the sad remnants of the former Soviet Union, is so desiccated by secular anomie that it no longer cares enough about its future to produce children.
Or as Heinrich Himmler put it, "A people of good race which has too few children has a one-way ticket to the grave.”

So far, so good. Religious war, check. Pope leads the West by default, check. The Muslims are outfucking us, check.

So what does nuptial mysticism have to do with winning the war against Islamic terror? Well, to shorten an extraordinarily convoluted argument, modern secular thought (i.e., Heidegger and Strauss!) has ignored divine self-revelation in favor of "the metaphysics of Being." As it happens, this is a metaphysics "that the Church of Vatican II consigned to the dustbin," while embracing certain congenial currents of Protestantism (Barth) and Judaism (Rosenzweig and Buber). Which just goes to show you that:
All of the really important issues were fought out over generations in the one Western institution with a long enough memory. That is why the Catholic Church remains the world's indispensable institution.
The current Pope's dim view of Islam signifies that he comes down on the correct side of this philosophical divide; his belief in "God's self-revelation through love," as opposed to "the irreligious deism of the 18th century," allows him to grasp that "one cannot simply teach political systems, or as Immanuel Kant put it, devise a constitution for devils."

To put it another way, when a good old-fashioned Holy War is in order, Pope Ratzo's your only man:
Benedict is the first pope in the past century to draw a bright line between Islam on one hand and Judeo-Christian revealed religion on the other, and that may destine him "not to send peace, but a sword."
And that, as far as I can tell, is what "nuptial mysticism" has to do with winning the war against Islamic terror.

Please do make a note of it.

(Illustration: "Entrance of the Crusaders into Constantinople," by Gustave Dore.)

The Tools of Colonial Development

While wandering lonely as a cloud through the Conservapedia, I stumbled on this informative entry:

Neocolonialism is a myth perpetuated by leftist institutions, like Marxism. The basic idea is that colonial powers still have control over their colonial assets like Africa. Proponents of neocolonialism claim that wealthy western countries are responsible for the economic misfortune of their previous colonial assets. These claims are inherently flawed because they forget to take into account that institutions like slavery were not one sided.
It's amazing how many of the Left's intellectual failings stem from the inability to grasp that slavery was "not one sided."

The next section is helpfully entitled "How the Myth Got Started." Have your smelling salts at hand before proceeding, for this is exceedingly stern stuff:
The myth was originally a ploy by Marxists to tarnish capitalist governments, claiming that free trade agreements were simply ploys by the West used to exploit other nations. The myth was used by Marxists to mobilize indigenous nationalists to the the Marxist cause by providing a common enemy; in fact, it was just another way the Communists used people during the Cold War in their calculative chess battle of Proxy wars. Neocolonialism later became a fad by post-modern philosophers such as Escobar, Obadina, Agamben, Spanos, Mignolo, Soja, Massey, Foucault, Said, Lafava to criticize the West. And the list of taint goes on. All speaking the same thing with a twist thinking they are so clever with their big words, when in truth it is all just a myth peddled by post modern academics who wish to deny the agency of African peoples. Post modern academics are, (to use their own critisim against them) bourgeois swine who deny the agency of African people in a selfish attempt to advance their academic careers.
As far as I can tell, "deny[ing] the agency of African peoples" means denying their status as people who traditionally "had limited understanding or control of their physical environment," and accordingly find it hard to reap the rewards of their "inheritance from colonial rule."
The African economy is crumbling but that is not the West's fault; if anything the West is continuing Africa's existence.
And what an existence it is!
Slavery continues to remain prominent in Africa in the form of child soldiers, sex workers, coerced or debt workers.
Coerced or debt workers, eh? Must have something to do with the famously low IQ of Africans, or their "barbaric practices such as pagan worship"; to believe otherwise, after all, would be to "deny their agency."

In summation, you must not be taken in by the Marxist myth that "colonial powers still have control over their colonial assets like Africa," and you must also comprehend that "the tools of colonial development will allow for countries like Africa to develop and become equal trading partners in the future."

Unless, of course, the African susceptibility to debt, coerced labor, and the "calculative chess battle of Proxy wars" makes further progress impossible, and the West is at last obliged to stop "continuing Africa's existence."

(Illustration: "The Filipino's First Bath," 1899.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Few Bad Snowstorms

Irving C. Sheldon, Jr applauds St. Mark's School in Providence, RI for inviting climate skeptic Richard Lindzen to reassure students who've been scared stupid by An Inconvenient Truth:

Lindzen has been a minor affliction to those like Gore who maintain that the science on global warming is settled and the debate is over.
Who does he mean, exactly, by "those like Gore"?

Well, you know...those people. Stupid people, fat people, alarmists, foreigners, Wiccans...the usual crowd. The kind of people who throw common sense out the window by predicting "the melting of the Greenland ice sheet," or daydreaming about "rising sea levels," instead of cheerfully doubting, with Lindzen, "that the effects of warming are necessarily bad."

Some people claim that Lindzen may not be objective. But if that were the case, however could he have "infiltrated one of the country’s leading science institutions"? Accusing "those like Gore" of bias is one thing. But casting doubt on the veracity of members of "leading science institutions" is something else entirely. Not quite pukka, don't you know. Not our sort at all.

Ultimately, the only real danger the climate change "consensus" poses is to environmentalism itself:
[W]hen the theory is inevitably discredited and dismissed, possibly after a few bad snowstorms, the whole package of environmentalism will be discredited too, along with all the worthy parts involving the reduction of harmful pollutants and preservation of wildlife habitat.
Too true, begob. And with Old Man Winter preparing even now for his annual rounds, the warning couldn't be more timely. Two or three serious blizzards, and the public will rise as one to demand more pollution in its drinking water and more clearcutting in its national parks. And who'll be to blame? Those like Gore.

Meanwhile, Tom Teepen pokes a bit of fun at arguments like Sheldon's, and manages to cook the denialist position down to its pitchy essence:
The U.N. panel has it that if climate change isn't checked, North America will suffer longer, hotter heat waves and water shortages, Europe will lose many of its species, Asia will be hit by huge floods and, worldwide, new diseases will evolve.

Yeah, right. Well, we'll just see about that!
UPDATE: Tim Lambert reports on a pair of French denialists who don't seem to realize that the world is round. Teach the controversy!

(Painting at top by Philip Vaughan, after the 1934 Ub Iwerks cartoon "Jack Frost.")

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Pre-Emptive War

Henry Payne endeavors to describe the Great Global Warming Swindle in terms the average American can understand:

The Greens-Government-Media Complex – the new Iron Triangle – was on full display this weekend as the U.N. tried to muster a frightening dossier of intelligence to convince the international community to fight a pre-emptive war on global warming.
That's a pretty daring metaphor coming from a conservative, wholly apart from the calculated obnoxiousness of calling this last-ditch plea for mitigation "pre-emptive."

They're trying to frighten us, the story goes, and we mustn't give in...partly because it could distract us from more serious dangers (e.g., balsawood drones bearing anthrax spores), and partly because attempting, however modestly, to mitigate global warming would destroy the economy and plunge us into a Second Dark Age where cannibalism is seen as the PC alternative to eating animals, and antibiotics are rejected as "speciesist."

With these terrifying (but plausible!) scenarios in mind, let's take a closer look at how the conspiracy works. The UN craves untrammeled power, so it created the IPCC to describe global warming in frightening terms. The media want the UN to have untrammeled power, so they dutifully report on what the IPCC says:
New York Times’s green reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal (in dispatches that ran across the planet via the Times News Service) committed journalistic malpractice as she uncritically reported on the “forceful language” of the “most powerful” IPCC report warning of “mounting risks.”
See how the pieces fall into place? The NYT is so committed to propping up the UN and the Greens that it's using its wire service to disseminate this article worldwide, instead of targeting its green agitprop at the thousand or so irrelevant academic Marxists who still read the daily paper.

The Nobel Committee is in on it too, needless to say:
The triangle was further reinforced by the Nobel Peace Prize, “an honor,” wrote Rosenthal, “that many scientists here said emboldened them to stand more forcefully behind their positions.” Science? Sounds like raw politics.
Real science, in case you're wondering, involves weaving a web of circumstantial ad hominem wide enough to entangle everyone except you and your ever-shrinking group of industry-idolizing co-religionists.

I've heard it argued that some catastrophe will one day force people like Payne to change their tune. I disagree. I reckon they'll simply claim that the UN itself caused the disaster - with Iranian plasma weapons, perhaps - because it needed "a new Pearl Harbor" to ensure the triumph of Socialism.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

Chromodoris magnifica are blest
Do eastern stars slope never west,
Nor pallid ashes follow fire:
If hours be years the twain are blest,
For now they solace swift desire.

(Photo by Edouard Potjes.)

Friday Hope Blogging

I wouldn't want FHB to emphasize feeling good over doing good, so I'll start out this week with a couple of pleas for action.

For a limited time, you can buy an XO-1 laptop for a child in a developing country, and get one free for yourself. The cost is $399, $200 of which is tax-deductible. You'll also get a year of free access to T-Mobile wi-fi. The offer's only good for 11 more days, so get busy!

PZ Myers has a fascinating, frightening post on an infectious form of cancer threatening the Tasmanian Devil. He asks readers to make donations to researchers who are working to save them, which you can do by clicking here. (It shouldn't need to be said, but as PZ points out, understanding this disease will benefit human beings as well.)

Virginia has rejected abstinence-only funds:

"The governor supports abstinence-based education, but the governor wants to see us funding programs that are evidenced-based," said Skinner, who added that Virginia will now offer "more comprehensive" sex education.
A federal judge has ordered anti-abortion zealot John Dunkle to remove threats against abortion providers from his website:
Golden also ordered the government to monitor Dunkle's Web site to ensure he did not post names, addresses or photos of clinic physicians, staff or patients....Jennifer Boulanger, executive director of the Allentown Women's Center and another target of Dunkle's protests, said Golden's ruling was "wonderful" and added that it would improve safety for abortion providers, clinic staff and patients.
Yet another federal court has ruled that the Bush Administration has - steady, now - broken the law:
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today announced its ruling that the Bush government violated the law by ignoring global warming when it set national gas-mileage standards for SUVs and pickup trucks. The court sent the decision back to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a full Environmental Review of the gas-mileage standards.
POGO announces "a victory for transparency in Congress":
Thanks to the diligent efforts of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a provision that would have undermined transparency in government spending will be removed from the final version of the House FY 2008 Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Cited as Section 193 of the appropriations bill, the provision would have prohibited the public as well as congressmen not on the Transportation-HUD appropriations committees from viewing agency budget justifications prior to May 31 of each year.
Coturnix has landed a major scientific paper in his open-access journal PLoS ONE. Revere explains:
This is a Big Deal for paleontology and also a Big Deal for Open Access publishing. The hollow bones of this beast make it a lightweight among dinosaurs, but this publication makes PLoS ONE and Bora heavyweights in Open Access publishing. Bora is justifiably excited and we are excited too. The significance of some events is not appreciated until long afterward, but we think this one speaks for itself.
Research into the chemical vocabulary of cholera bacteria offers hope of treating bacterial diseases:
Bassler's team realized that the cholera must be signaling each other with some unknown chemical when the time was right to stop reproducing and exit the body. But no one before had found it.

"We generically understood that bacteria talk to each other with quorum sensing, but we didn't know the specific chemical words that cholera uses," Bassler said. "Doug (Higgins) led the hard work that was necessary to figure that out."

Higgins isolated the CAI-1 chemical, which occurs naturally in cholera. Then, Megan Pomianek, a graduate student in the laboratory of Martin Semmelhack, a professor of chemistry at Princeton, determined how to make the molecule in the laboratory. Higgins used this chemical essentially to control cholera's behavior in lab tests.
Marketplace has an interesting interview with the head of Interface Carpets:
Interface is nearly halfway toward its goal of having zero environmental impact -- basically, taking nothing from the Earth that isn't renewable, and doing no harm to the biosphere in the process. To get there, Anderson wants to reinvent the way the industry works.

For example: Instead of selling carpets, he wants to lease them to corporate clients. That guarantees Interface a steady stream of recyclable material once the carpets wear out. But it also introduces a revolutionary concept to manufacturing -- corporations taking lifetime responsibility for their products.
Their report on local economies is also worth reading:
McKibben rejects criticism that he's an idealist who just wants to turn back the clock to 19th-century localism. The utopians, he says, are the ones who think our rates of consumption can keep on growing forever.
Both links via Adventus; there's more here.

Treehugger reports that a poor and dangerous neighborhood of Mexico City "is on track to become a prototype for green development":
The community of 5,900 residents is receiving a cash injection of $2 million (20 million pesos) from Venustiano Carranza borough president Julio César Moreno to build gardens in schools and apartment buildings, install solar panels, and recycle wastes.
Also: Structural building blocks made from garbage. A home made from discarded materials from Boston's Big Dig. Lamps made from old irons. Rugs made from old blankets. And - possibly - tires made from orange peels.

Here's some news on hydrogen production, just to keep my hand in:
In certain configurations, nearly all of the hydrogen contained in the molecules of source material converted to useable hydrogen gas, an efficiency that could eventually open the door to bacterial hydrogen production on a larger scale.
There's more at Sietch.

Use of a different type of fish hook is helping to save sea turtles:
Unlike the J-shaped hook that has its point parallel to the shaft, the circular hook points toward the shaft and is also wider, making it more likely that it will lodge in the lip rather than the throat or stomach, which is fatal, the WWF says.
A group of rare birds has been released back into the wild after being rescued from smugglers by Russian authorities:
The falcons were brought in special crates by air from Moscow, then driven into the forest about 70 km (44 miles) outside the regional capital, Barnaul. They were then set free one by one.

"The return of every bird into the wild is a unique process and for us it is also a great joy," said Viktor Plotnikov, director of the Barnaul falcon sanctuary.
Ever considered how many clothes hangers are manufactured and discarded? You should.

A nicely done parody site: The Predatory Lending Association. It's funny 'cause it's true!

Geoff Managh discusses Climate Change Escapism. See also the related - in a certain sense - post on Bannerman's Island, which includes some incredible photos by Shaun O'Boyle, as thus:

Who's Afraid of the Dark? is an amazing collection of "night and night life in photography." The City Night gallery is especially striking.

Botland compiles anonymous photographs "acquired in archives and fleamarkets all over the world." It's small, but definitely worth a look! Have a peek at the Abandoned Photo Museum while you're at it. Or skip directly to this remarkable gallery by Denise Fuson.

(Illustration at top by Tove Jansson, from her illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, 1966. I'll been looking for this book for decades; feel free to send a copy along if you have a spare!)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Now We Are Three

I just noticed that Buffoonia's third birthday has came and went. Traditionally, I celebrate by indulging in a bit of arch self-mockery about my method and madness, and offering a slightly less fanciful shout-out to my worthy constituents.

Not this time, though. Anyone who's stuck with me over the last year deserves something a bit less theatrical.

This has been a stressful year, personally and professionally and politically. It's been hard to think, and to write, and almost impossible to do both at the same time.

Part of the problem is my own personality, which, as I've pretended to overstate before, is hopelessly melancholic. Beyond that, though, it's become clear to me that what's happened in the last few years - during and after Hurricane Katrina, especially - has pretty much broken my heart. I've consciously indulged my tendency towards abstraction since then, partially out of escapism and cowardice, but also because I felt like I had an obligation to rethink...well, everything.

The positive side of all this is that I've had any number of longstanding preconceptions challenged by any number of absolutely brilliant people, whose exemplary goodheartedness assures me that whatever I become will be far better than what I was.

RMJ, for instance, has gently forced me many times to reconsider pet theories, and to forego premature allegiances (the proof is more in the absurdities I didn't write than in the ones I did).

I could say much the same of Thers and Rorschach and Echidne, but that's less important to me than my conviction that they're family.

There are plenty of people in my blogroll who are equally thought-provoking and inspiring; listing them here would be a waste of time given that I've listed them there. And I'm also very grateful to my commenters, who've reassured me many times that I'm not mad...or that if I am, I'm in exceptionally good company.

Drop in and say hello, if you feel like it.

Thanks, and may we all meet at last in better times.

Getting to No

This morning, I read an article on the UK's plan to demand unprecedented amounts of personal information from travelers, which made reference to this dissenting argument:

Critics warned of mayhem at ports and airports when the system is introduced, beginning in earnest from mid-2009.
Not long after, I heard AAR's Thom Hartmann try to argue against drilling in ANWR, on the grounds that the pipeline is vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Like the earnest claim that "torture doesn't work," these criticisms amount to little more than sales objections; they imply that if a few minor logistical problems could be worked out, the objections would be withdrawn. If people are worried about longer lines at ports and airports, you can propose a plan to streamline the process. If people are worried about attacks on an aboveground pipeline, you can offer to bury it, or militarize the area through which it runs, or both. If people are concerned that torture isn't reliable, you can explain that this is precisely why more research into "enhanced interrogation" is so necessary.

The Right routinely complains that the Left is too emotional and too subjective. If anything, the opposite is true. The way to oppose an unprecedented invasion of personal privacy, or an insane energy policy, or torture, is to refuse to consider it. You don't say, "I don't like this feature, or that defect"; you say, "I don't want this, period, for myself or anyone else." The supposed liberal virtue of dialogue, of the "free exchange of ideas," is precisely what we should reject here, in favor of what Judith Butler calls "the active and difficult resistance to the temptation of war."

Because as I've said elsewhere, mainstreaming surveillance and torture is not about breaking the terrorists' will; it's about breaking ours. You can't hope to save yourself from brutality; you can only hope to save yourself from being brutal.

Pity and Awe

We all have to draw the line somewhere, and I draw it at Camille Paglia. I can manage Goldberg, Derbyshire and even the occasional dose of Steyn, but I avoid Paglia's thought almost as assiduously as I avoid chewing tinfoil.

Today, though, I'll make an exception. Thers advises me that La Paglia objects to Hillary Clinton's "mercurial, soulless self-positionings." Which strikes me as a bit odd, coming from someone who hails Madonna as our liberator precisely because "[she] says we are nothing but masks." Maybe I'm not Dionysian enough to appreciate the distinction.

What's more interesting, in a very mild sense of the word, is her theory on global warming (which, you may recall, was previously advanced by David Limbaugh and some quasi-Paglian chatterbox named Adri Mehra):

This facile attribution of climate change to human agency is an act of hubris. Good stewardship of the environment is an ethical imperative for every nation. But breast-beating hysteria merely betrays impious tunnel vision. Thousands of factors, minute and grand, are at work in cyclic climate change, whose long-term outcomes we cannot possibly predict. Nature should inspire us with awe, not pity.
Perhaps because I've never suckled at the milk of wisdom that seeps from Harold Bloom's breast, I'd question whether "good stewardship" is possible once you've embraced Paglia's weird notions about human agency. Perhaps she meant to say "wise use."

Note, too, that we know - somehow! - that climate change is "cyclic," but we "cannot possibly predict" any of its long-term outcomes.

More to the point, there's no reason why nature's vulnerability should make it less awe-inspiring. Rainforests are as magnificent a manifestation of "nature" as you could hope to see, but they're also pretty easy to burn or chop down. And Glen Canyon was pretty impressive before we submerged it under Lake Powell, or so I hear.

We have it within our power to destroy virtually everything on earth, gradually or in a matter of hours. The assumption that the climate somehow remains beyond our reach makes no sense at all. And the argument that recognizing it as vulnerable amounts to "pitying nature," and that pitying nature is "impious" by definition, is as spiritually bankrupt as it is logically incoherent.

Then again, Althouse calls Paglia's argument "a nice twist," so I may have to rethink my position before I'm much older.

(Photo at top: The Babbling Head.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Memorial to Nothingness

Candace de Russy has discovered yet another reason to be angry at postmodernists:

Academic postmodernism has profoundly influenced the arts, including memorials such as that long, black, unadorned sculpture in a hole in the ground, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, created by a college student a quarter of a century ago.
The Memorial is adorned, of course...with the names of 58,000 dead people.

The design seems to me to be pretty respectful, not least because it avoids needless editorializing. My understanding is that many of the hundreds of thousands of people who visit it each year find it to be emotionally overwhelming, if not devastating. There are probably people who'd rather see a 200-foot statue of Richard Nixon planting his boot on Hồ Chí Minh's neck while running Jane Fonda through with a bayonet, but I think the majority of visitors would find that sort of pseudopatriotic kitsch somewhat...distracting.

The ability to create a monument that moves people from across the ideological spectrum is pretty impressive, I'd say, whether postmodernism inspired it or not.

For de Russy, though, art exists solely to indoctrinate. Thus, the absence of any overt flag-waving or hippy-bashing renders the Vietnam Memorial a "memorial to nothingness" that serves "merely to note the reality of death."

The moral vacuum is in the monument, y'see, and not in the spectator whose instinctive response to it is frivolous ideological bellyaching.

In our next installment, de Russy travels to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and complains about the postmodern aestheticization of ruins.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Battle Over What To Think

Though I'm as besotted with dialectics as the next lefty extremist, I can't quite approve of Andrew Revkin's attempt to achieve a synthesis of denialist disinformation and peer-reviewed science:

For many years, the battle over what to think and do about human-caused climate change and fossil fuels has been waged mostly as a yelling match between the political and environmental left and the right.

The left says global warming is a real-time crisis....The right says global warming is somewhere between a hoax and a minor irritant....
The thing is, if someone is yelling that global warming is a "hoax," that person is yelling nonsense. And anyone who hopes to give an accurate account of the debate is obliged to say as much.

Revkin can't bother himself with these minor details, though. He's too excited by the thought that reasonable people are beginning to "urge a move to the pragmatic center on climate and energy," as reasonable people must.

Who are these paradigm-shattering pioneers? Well, there's Newt Gingrich, who was "one of the most polarizing forces in politics a decade ago," according to Revkin (how times have changed!). He's now calling for "curbing carbon dioxide emissions (affordably)."

Who gets to decide what is and isn't affordable? Revkin doesn't say, but I'm guessing the honor'll go to a member in good standing of the pragmatic center.

Next, we have Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, whose self-congratulatory approach to torching strawmen is guaranteed by Nordhaus and Shellenberger to light our path towards a better future.

Last and least, there's Bjorn Lomborg, whose appalling new book I've dealt with here and here. Revkin, who's less compromised by partisanship than yours truly, effectively praises it with faint damnation:
In his short new book, “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming,” Mr. Lomborg...tries to puncture more of what he says are environmental myths, like the imminent demise of polar bears. (Most bear biologists have never said the species is doomed but do see populations shrinking significantly in a melting Arctic.)
Ah, but are these "bear biologists" pragmatic centrists? To the extent that their views are not in harmony with those of Mr. Lomborg, one suspects that they are not, and pities them.

For those who came in late, here's a quick recap: The "pragmatic center" on climate change is inhabited by Newt Gingrich, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, and Bjorn fucking Lomborg. Or to put it another way, two pathologically dishonest free-market fundamentalists, and a couple of preening bourgeois polemicists who espouse "an ambitious new [!!!] philosophy that isn't afraid to put people ahead of nature and to dream big about creating economic growth."

This, you'll agree, is a group of thinkers who could solve all our problems, had we but world enough and time. My only complaint is that Gregg Easterbrook didn't make the grade.

UPDATE: David Roberts notes that Revkin's gone this route before.