Sunday, February 28, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Nudibranch Blogging

(Photo by buzzthediver.)

Friday Hope Blogging

Before getting to the positive news, let's accentuate the negative. You probably know that in Nicaragua, a woman with cancer is being denied chemotherapy because she's pregnant. What you may not know is that there are steps you can take to support her, no matter where you live. Please click here for more details, follow through, and spread the word.

In Utah, meanwhile, pregnant women whose (allegedly) reckless behavior (allegedly) results in a miscarriage may be subject to prosecution, thanks to a truly horrific bill that has passed the state house and senate. You'll find good suggestions for fighting this bill here.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

A judge has ruled that an Oklahoma anti-abortion law is unconstitutional:

An Oklahoma statute barring the termination of a pregnancy based on the gender of the fetus has been deemed unconstitutional by a judge. District Judge Daniel Owens says the law violates the state's rule that legislation address a single subject.

The measure passed the Oklahoma Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry last year.

The law also would have required doctors who perform abortions to provide information about female patients, including age, race, marital status, number of previous pregnancies and the reasons given for seeking an abortion.

Spain has relaxed its abortion laws:
Spain on Wednesday approved a sweeping new law that eases restrictions on abortion, declaring the practice a woman's right and doing away with the threat of imprisonment, in part of a drive toward liberal policies that has angered conservatives and the Catholic Church.

The new law allows the procedure without restrictions up to 14 weeks and gives 16- and 17-year-olds the right to have abortions without parental consent.
Maryland's AG has ruled that the state can legally recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states:
With the ruling, state agencies will be required to extend all benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy to married gay couples. These could include health insurance expansion, spousal legal immunities, property rights, the ability to file wrongful-death suits and perhaps some tax benefits, experts said yesterday.

"There is no law in Maryland that says we don't recognize out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples," Gansler said. "Based on the law and the state of the law in Maryland and the Constitution of the United States, this is what the law is."
The US Navy will allow women to serve on submarines:
The Navy plans to allow women to serve for the first time on submarines, the only class of ship from which they are barred, military and congressional officials said Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates notified Congress on Monday that the Navy intended to change its policy. Congress has 30 working days to object. Unless the House or Senate moves to block the shift, the policy could go into effect as soon as mid-April.
And the US Army will cut 7,000 contractor jobs this year:
The Army intends to insource 7,162 positions this fiscal year, McHugh said in testimony before the Armed Services Committee. From fiscal 2011 to 2015, the service aims to take back 11,084 positions and give them to civilian employees.
A new form of solar cell is said to be remarkably efficient:
Using arrays of long, thin silicon wires embedded in a polymer substrate, a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has created a new type of flexible solar cell that enhances the absorption of sunlight and efficiently converts its photons into electrons. The solar cell does all this using only a fraction of the expensive semiconductor materials required by conventional solar cells.

“These solar cells have, for the first time, surpassed the conventional light-trapping limit for absorbing materials,” says Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor, professor of applied physics and materials science, and director of Caltech’s Resnick Institute, which focuses on sustainability research.
A UK start-up claims to offer a cheap storage solution for renewable energy.
The storage system uses two large containers of gravel, one hot (500C) and one cold (-150C). Electrical power is input to the machine which compresses/expands air to 500C on the hot side and -150C on the cold side. The air is passed through the two piles of gravel, where it gives up its heat/cold to the gravel. In order to regenerate the electricity, the cycle is reversed. The temperature difference is used to run the system as a heat engine.
If you'd like more details, the comments following the post are well worth reading.

At long last, the Hummer seems to be dead.
"We are disappointed that the deal with Tengzhong could not be completed," said John Smith, GM vice president of corporate planning and alliances. "GM will now work closely with Hummer employees, dealers and suppliers to wind down the business in an orderly and responsible manner."
Los Angeles is planning to build parks over freeways, both as a beautification effort and to reconnect bisected neighborhoods:
The cap concept, which essentially covers a portion of a freeway with a planted concrete lid, has gained popularity in the last decade as an urban “greening” solution. The multibillion-dollar projects are meant to knit together previously disparate neighborhoods, theoretically creating cohesion and larger-scale community gathering places without having to destroy or displace existing infrastructures.
Apropos of which -- sort of -- here's an interesting comparison of urban parking lots and Rotterdam after German bombing in WWII.

British Airways claims that it will soon be creating jet fuel from landfill waste:
The initiative is a partnership with US-based biofuels company Solena, and British Airways hopes to be using the fuel by 2014 to help it reach its goal of 50% reduced emissions by 2050. The fuel will be produced by feeding waste into a patented high temperature gasifier, producing BioSynGas which is then converted into jet fuel using the Fischer Tropsch process. As a bonus, the project will reduce methane emissions from landfill and create a further by-product of 20 MW electricity per year.
In Pakistan, smoke-free stoves are benefiting women as well as the environment:
The low-cost elongated stoves with two cells help save precious fuel wood in an area already stripped of trees. They are also a boon to women such as Rozan Nazar, who no longer have to walk five km, at times more, every day to collect firewood....

On the average, a woman would be spending 15 hours a week collecting wood. "It used to take me between two and three hours just to collect wood which is good for a day, sometimes two," said Nazar. "You can’t imagine how much of a relief this is. My life has eased so much."

The other women nod in agreement. They spend the extra time they get doing embroidery, chatting with each other. "I love that! We never had time to do that earlier!" Nazar exclaimed.
An article at WorldChanging discusses similar efforts underway around the globe. For instance:
To ensure a reliable alternative energy supply and to help empower rural women, one man has started a brilliant effort to ensure solar power takes hold in these villages. Previous efforts failed in large part due to the inability to maintain and repair the necessary equipment. Training young men as solar engineers proved futile, as they would quickly leave to more lucrative urban markets.

But, Mr. Bunker Roy, founder of Barefoot College of India, has found a solution to this problem: training illiterate grandmothers. From each African village, he brings an illiterate grandmother back to India for a month of intensive training on solar photovoltaic system maintenance and repair. Learning alongside other grandmothers from villages throughout Africa, the newly-trained solar engineers return to their home village with a newfound sense of confidence and purpose. And, most importantly, they remain in their village, providing a much needed service and passing on their knowledge.
Thanks to a BBC expose on rainforest destruction in Indonesia, the world's largest palm oil buyer has blacklisted a company with a poor environmental record.
Unilever has told Indonesian suppliers to stop sourcing palm oil from Duta Palma due to concerns over deforestation, reports Reuters.

Unilever's warning comes shortly after a BBC documentary linked palm oil used in the company's products to rainforest destruction by Duta Palma.
New research suggests that small tropical farms can preserve more biodiversity and produce more food than large-scale industrial operations:

In addition to better preserving biodiversity, the researchers point out that in many areas of the tropics small family farms match or exceed the productivity of large scale operations.

In fact, report co-author John Vandermeer says he advocates breaking up large-scale farms and incentives to encourage "a large number of small-scale farmers, each managing the land to best of his or her ability, using agroecological techniques.

Wal-Mart claims it will cut 20 million tons of GHG emissions from its supply chain by 2015:

In order to achieve its goal, Wall-Mart will be partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental experts to measure the results of their efforts. They also plan to focus on product categories with the highest carbon footprint. Wal-Mart does not want to force companies it works with to make changes, but would prefer to instead work with them to find solutions that will reduce emissions and costs.

An idiotic anti-solar bill backed by Arizona Republicans has been withdrawn due to popular outcry:
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's office issued a brief statement saying that House Bill 2701 -- widely condemned by opponents who called it "the death knell of the solar industry" in Arizona -- had been withdrawn by its primary sponsor, Representative Debbie Lesko (R-9).
True patriots are well aware that Obama intends to scrap the Second Amendment any day now, and are accordingly stocking up on guns and ammunition. Oddly enough, this behavior actually supports our nascent envirofascist Nanny State:
As documented by John Helland at Conservation Minnesota...the state's bank account for fish and wildlife spending is getting an extra $4 million to $5 million because folks are buying ammunition before President Obama bans or restricts firearms....

The sales boost in the ammunition business includes an increased collection in a federal excise tax on bullets and sporting arms (11 percent) and handguns (10 percent) that gets split among the states. The tax goes into the Pittman-Robertson Fund, which was created in 1937 by Nevada Sen. Key Pittman and Virginia Rep. A. W. Robertson (he was TV preacher Pat Robertson's dad) for conservation purposes.
A new study details the role of the mass media in climate denialism:
"A variety of influences and perspectives typically have been collapsed by mass media into one general category of skepticism. This has been detrimental both in terms of dismissing legitimate critiques of climate science or policy, as well as amplifying extreme and tenuous claims."

Such claims are amplified when traditional news media position noncredible contrarian sources against those with scientific data, in a failed effort to represent opposing sides....
More research of this type would be very helpful, in my view.

An internal report by the DoJ finds that John Yoo and Jay Bybee showed "poor judgment" in inventing pseudo-legal justifications for torture.
Poor judgement indeed. Yoo and Bybee are now well known for their role in enabling the atrocities that went on in black sites and at Guantánamo. Waterboarding. Extreme sleep deprivation. Stress positions. Some detainees were tortured to death. We all know the results of those legal memos.
You can ask the Attorney General to hold them and their superiors accountable by clicking here.

Tom Coburn has apparently expressed a willingness to change our country's absurd federal sentencing laws for crack cocaine. The ACLU's Blog of Rights reports:

To say that Sen. Coburn’s words are a momentum booster is an understatement. By way of background, more than two decades ago, based on assumptions about crack which are now known to be false, heightened penalties for crack cocaine offenses were adopted into federal law. Sentences for crack offenses are currently equivalent to the sentences for 100 times the amount of powder cocaine, and the impact has fallen disproportionately, and with devastating force, on African-Americans.

The Obama administration, to its credit, has consistently stated support for completely eliminating the 100-to-1 cocaine sentencing disparity, and to now have one of the most conservative members of Congress saying that we’re going to see legislation passed is indeed momentum-building and provides this Washington cynic with some much-needed hope.

I'm a bit more skeptical. I think any serious attempt to resolve this issue will result in a flood tide of conservative racism against which Coburn will swim in vain (assuming for the sake of argument that he's sincere, and is not simply baiting a trap).

But I've been wrong before, and I hope to be wrong again. Either way, the story seems noteworthy.

A simple test could dramatically reduce antibiotic use:
The German researchers found that testing for a marker of bacterial infection known as procalcitonin (PCT) helped identify patients whose respiratory tract infections would respond to antibiotics, and stopped others being offered unnecessary drugs....

In a study in the European Respiratory Journal, Tobias Welte of Hannover Medical School said "a simple PCT-guided strategy of decisions on antibiotic treatment" could cut the antibiotic treatment rate by more than 40 percent with no risk to patients.
By the way: Subterranean bridges and underwater archaeology. Beautiful bookbinding. Nineteenth-century photographic backgrounds. Photos by Gregory Halpern (via wood s lot). The World Without US. The Flour Art Museum. Paintings by Florine Stettheimer. And images from the Rousel Archives.

Phonograph records made of melting ice. (The same artist has created an interesting moonbulb, as well). Drift Station Bravo. Some remarks on artificial ice islands. QSL cards from the South Pole. Finnish tourism posters. And the art of cancellation.

Two feet of snow. The distribution of income by religion. Odessa's robot guardian. Photos by Mark Dambrink. iPhone photos by Nick Maggio. A sound walk across California. And vintage firework packaging.

And a movie.

(Illustration at top: "The Angel Marshes" by Mary Newcomb, 1992.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Capacity for Truth

Call me crazy if you will, but I just can't seem to get enough of Carol Iannone this week.

Some years ago, she tells us, a young woman she knows went to France and had a wonderful time. Today, though, things are very evidenced by the fact that a young woman she doesn't know went to Italy, and now stands accused of murdering a British woman in the course of an attempted gang-rape.

Iannone says this about that:

How different was Amanda’s situation from my friend’s.
Yea, verily. All we need to do now is sort out why. First off, you can't deny that if this Amanda woman had been properly chaperoned, the murder of which she's accused never would've happened. Let's face it: her life abroad lacked "accountability and regularity," which is exactly how this sort of thing gets started. Given the permissiveness of continental culture, it's no wonder that the sidewalks of Europe are quite literally awash with the blood of murdered exchange students.

But of course that's only part of the story: technology is also to blame. Just as the easy availability of tape recorders inspired Ian Brady and Myra Hindley to commit the Moors Murders, digital technology has eroded the vital sense of hierarchy that formerly discouraged young people from slaughtering noncompliant sex partners:
The whole thing is reminiscent of Mark Bauerlein’s point in his book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 — that in our culture today, young people are oriented mainly or even only toward each other and have no hierarchy in which to locate and organize themselves.
And consider this: We know that the accused woman was a student, and we also know that students are obliged not just to study but to embrace postmodernism. Could this explain why she allegedly tried to pin the murder on an innocent black man?
Amanda’s odd behavior after the murder; her giving fuzzy, conflicting reports of her actions; and falsely implicated an innocent black man, Patrick Lumumba (her boss at the bar she worked at), give rise to speculation about how much postmodernism has eroded the capacity for truth. But that could be the subject of another post.
Here's hoping, 'cause I really think she's on to something. The only way I could see her being wrong is if there turned out to be evidence that a suspected murderer had acted oddly, or falsely implicated an innocent bystander, prior to the publication, in 1979, of Jean-François Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition. And honestly, what are the odds of that?

I hope my jaunty tone here won't obscure the fact that I find Iannone's "speculations" to be irresponsible, ghoulish, and fantastically stupid. As for her typically cartoonish view of "postmodernism," I hardly need to point out that it's pretty rich coming from someone who treats the "text" of this sad event as an occasion for grotesque interpretive excesses founded on nothing more rigorous than kneejerk intuitions.

Which reminds me of something that's not pointed out often enough: The Sokal Affair is utterly inconsequential compared to the delirious gibberish that kulturkampfers like Iannone spout every fucking day, in perfect seriousness and to general applause from their public and peers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cultural Beliefs

Wuxtry, wuxtry! New research suggests that people aren't reliably committed to "truth," except insofar as holding a "true" belief provides them with some sort of social or psychological advantage. Our rational self-interest, it seems, is rational to the extent that it helps us to get what we want. Opinion is sacred private property, and fact-checkers are bureaucratic thugs who are trying to seize it through eminent domain so that NAMBLA can bulldoze it and build a five-story bathhouse. Read it and weep!

One study looked at opinions on nanotechnology, which tend to break down along ideological lines (depending, I'm sure, on how the questions are phrased, but never mind about that).

Participants in these experiments are asked to describe their cultural beliefs. Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise. They are labeled the "individualistic" group. Others are suspicious of authority or of commerce and industry. Braman calls them "communitarians"....

The individualists tended to like nanotechnology. The communitarians generally viewed it as dangerous. Both groups made their decisions based on the same information.

"It doesn't matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom onto the positive information," Braman says.
Such is life. What's more interesting to me is why someone who embraces authority should be labeled "individualistic," given that this term tends to imply skepticism toward authority. (It's also funny that our nation's "individualists" tend to act collectively for their own common good, while our "communitarians" tend to be isolate and disorganized and unable to agree on the simplest propositions. What a world!)

Does this ideological divide explain the debate on global warming, where the individualistic group's views on "authority" and "new technology" tend to become a lot more negative, and the communitarian group's tend to become a lot more positive? Not really. But focusing on the tangential issue of nuclear power helps to obscure that little detail.
In another experiment, people read a United Nations study about the dangers of global warming. Then the researchers told the participants that the solution to global warming is to regulate industrial pollution. Many in the individualistic group then rejected the climate science. But when more nuclear power was offered as the solution, says Braman, "they said, you know, it turns out global warming is a serious problem."

And for the communitarians, climate danger seemed less serious if the only solution was more nuclear power.
I dunno. In my experience, "individualists" are more likely to say that if the goddamn hippies were really worried about AGW, they'd be willing to site reactors in national parks, bwahaha. And "communitarians" are more likely to reject the premise that nuclear is "the only solution" to AGW than the premise that AGW is dangerous. I don't doubt that these are the responses the researchers actually got (unless the journalist is describing their work inaccurately), but I do find it strange that the "typical" communitarian response is one I've never once encountered, despite decades of hobnobbing with communitarians (because the sex is so hot, if you must know). Surely you're not going to tell me at my time of life that the world is changing?

The larger problem here is that if you want to take a cold hard look at how ideology affects belief, you probably shouldn't start by uncritically accepting the idea that one group of Americans favors individualism and the other doesn't.

I hold this cultural belief to be self-evident: Individualism isn't a trait that's unique to one group of people, but a concept that's exalted when it's useful and condemned when it isn't, across the ideological spectrum, just like the concept of "community" is. Generally speaking, conservatives aren't anti-community per se, nor are they pro- or anti-authority per se. They're opportunists. As are people on the left, generally speaking, except that I prefer to think of them as "flexible."

Like all perceptive and good-hearted people, you knew this already. But here's something that may surprise you:
In relation to the climate change debate, this [research] suggests that some people may not listen to those whom they view as hard-core environmentalists.
We can only hope that these suggestive findings will encourage further research into the theory that America hates hippies. (But not, I hasten to add, into why; there are some things we were never meant to know.)

Meanwhile, what's to be done about the fact that we can all be cloth-eared fanatics when it suits our purposes?
"The goal can't be to create a kind of psychological house of mirrors so that people end up seeing exactly what you want," he argues. "The goal has to be to create an environment that allows them to be open-minded."
In other words, we must smash capitalism now, just like I keep saying! It's nice to see that scientists are finally catching on to what the rest of us have always known.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Limited Construct

Carol Iannone notes that Evolutionary Psychology has a tendency to explain the present in terms of a past that it extrapolates from the present:

[N]ot long ago they were claiming that women were naturally monogamous. As female behavior grew wilder, they changed the evolutionary scenario to conjure up the prehistoric woman with serial partners. If contemporary women begin to curb themselves a bit as the culture keeps changing, and they probably will, the evolutionists will no doubt revise the scenario yet again.

This scenario seems just to correspond with what we see of behavior today, and expresses no abiding truth about human nature.
That being the case,"why should we accept this limited construct of human nature and of the potentialities of our lives"? Instead, let's accept an unlimited that does express an abiding truth about human nature, and will give us a better sense of the potentialities of our lives. Like for instance, the bedrock biological reality of the power that the "male gaze" has over women.
Feminism is largely responsible for the cultivation of “beta males” by making men suppress their natural masculinity. The truth is, even the merest so-called beta has all the masculinity needed to attract women if only he would exercise it. The simplest masculine look or “male gaze” at certain moments can make females melt.
Thus is sociobiology refuted! It's about time we stopped listening to all these just-so stories about masculine power and dominance, and accepted that "beta males" exist mainly because feminists have been emasculating perfectly serviceable men who would otherwise dominate them as Nature intended.

Also: Thanks to this marriage of convenience between EP and feminism, too many men are wearing baggy Hawaiian shirts and backwards baseball caps. Some of them even bake cakes! This behavior drastically reduces their reproductive fitness, because women don't really like men who bake cakes, unless they dress in properly masculine clothes, and maybe not even then. If you doubt this, consider the fact that this man will probably die alone and unloved even though he has a successful TV show. So much for Darwinism!

Cleansing and Clarifying

Georgie Anne Geyer doesn't get out much anymore, and this has led her to take a new interest in "classic American movies" (we all know just what she means, of course).

You arrogant young moderns may think this is mere escapism, or an inability to appreciate bold cinematic statements like August Underground's Mordum, but it just so happens that Geyer is learning quite a bit about our own era and why it sucks.

For one thing, the stars of "classic American movies" were all different people. Guy Kibbee, William Bendix, Wendell Corey, Rondo Hattan, Shemp Howard...they were all individuals, and their like will not be here again. But nowadays, everyone's exactly the same, pretty much:

Hollywood talks endlessly about "diversity," but almost all the leading young actors and actresses look, talk, dress and only pretend NOT to be alike. The women are all Jennifer Anistons, with long, straight blond hair, and the men are all Brad Pitts. Gable? Astaire? Cagney? Kelly? Cooper? Nowhere to be found.
Unless you visit the graveyard, that is.

Kidding aside, she's right. I can't hardly think of a single popular actor who doesn't look like Jennifer Aniston or Brad Pitt (or both, thanks to Hollywood's fashionable obsession with androgyny). Whatever happened to film stars you could actually tell apart, like Stepin Fetchit and Mantan Moreland? Furthermore, a fax machine is nothing but a waffle iron with a phone attached.

When you think about this problem carefully, as though it were true, it becomes obvious that everything comes down to race, as it usually does in Geyer's cramped little world:
Virtually the only diversity one sees today is a series of slight -- very slight -- differences in skin color. And here we face an interesting, if disappointing, conundrum: Race, which is not supposed to be important in a supposedly colorless multicultural world, has instead become the only distinction.
I think Geyer's mixing up her conservative tropes here. Multiculturalism is not supposed to be "colorless"; it's supposed to be a dystopian nightmare in which the eternal verities of Western Civilization are subordinate to the whims of wise Latinas. By contrast, a "colorless" society is one that has overcome discrimination by insisting it doesn't exist anymore.

That's nitpicking, I admit. Other than that, her argument is sound, unless you're the sort of pedant who objects to arguments that proceed from false premises to false conclusions.

If you are, you probably won't like Geyer's explanation for the Good Old Days, either. See, back in Chicago when she was a girl, ten-year-olds would rollerskate down to the Loop and play the piano all night. Wingy Manone and Miff Mole would sit in sometimes, and Al Capone himself once gave her a lollipop! Hence, Cary Grant. Nowadays, ten-year-olds sit around playing so-called "video-games" and acting like they're geniuses just 'cause they know how to operate the Internads. Hence, Brad Pitt.

And another thing: I'll tell the pop-eyed world youse mugs had better get wise to yourselves already, 'cause believe you me, what I say goes and how, you get me?
The next thing that hit me in our old movies was how often I saw variations on the theme of the "man from outside." He was sent in to cleanse and clarify bourgeois American society. These films ranged from the brilliant "High Noon" to the religious "Elmer Gantry" to even musicals like "The Music Man."
Oh fucking hell. [gets up, lights a cigar, paces the floor, wishes this Geyer dame was in Tophet, plague take her]

Look. American film studios made lots and lots of movies of all different types and you don't simply get to take a handful of the ones you've watched while lolling around in a haze of racial resentment and use them as evidence of...of....some kinda preening middlebrow monologic social-hygienist weltanschauung that suffused everyone from Fred Astaire to Victor Mature with moral clarity until it ran out their goddamn ears, for fuck's sake. And especially not when your examples of "cleansing bourgeois American society" comprise one instance of shooting people and two of grifting.

Instead of the man from outside, there is a tendency today to portray the man and woman inside, trying to survive under waves of change.
Yeah. I was just thinking the same thing, after watching a triple-bill of The Magnificent Ambersons, How Green Was My Valley, and The Crowd at my local Octoplex.

Geyer's pals with the great Hollywood director Garry Marshall -- you may've heard of him, he made The Runaway Bride, which starred Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston -- and he has some thoughts on why the industry has changed. In the old days, see, you had to have honest-to-God talent to get ahead, like Charles Lamont. But now, you can be a pandering hack, like Garry Marshall, and no one will notice because they have no basis for judgment anymore, like this one actor Marshall knows who's not sure where El Salvador is, which just goes to show you how low we've sunk, doesn't it?

It's a dreadful world, in short. One tries not to live in it, but they make you.

So what's the solution? As far as I can tell, censorship. Not the silly PC kind we see these days, but the heroic kind that prevented films like Baby Face from including the Money Shot. Also, we need more monocles and cummerbunds, 'cause actors today don't know "crass from class" (why can't they be elegant and refined, like Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly or Spencer Tracy in Dante's Inferno or Lon Chaney in West of Zanzibar?). We also need less rock 'n' roll, by gum, because it's a "minor genre" that has an unfortunate tendency to make overnight sensations out of vulgar young people. For shame!

The sooner this sort of malign influence is purged from Hollywood, the better. Because otherwise, we face "the final debased egalitarianism of our culture," which would be a tragic betrayal of everything Hollywood once stood for.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I see some kids on my lawn. Why can't the little bastards be more like Freddie Bartholomew?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Knowing Energies

If you want to understand evolution, there are two basic approaches you can take. You can read books, take classes, and talk to experts in order to establish what the theory does and does not say, and how the evidence supports it. Or you can go on a piratical whirlwind tour of the history of ideas, plundering concepts from dozens of disciplines in order to force evolution into a philosophical tradition that can be dismissed prior to any real consideration of the evidence, and prior to any real consideration of the intellectual history on which your dismissal is ostensibly based.

Linda Kimball favors the latter approach, possibly because she's fallen prey to the deadly sins of sloth and covetousness. Thanks to The Goldberg Method, she has uncovered the connection between Renaissance Hermeticism and modern evolutionary biology. It's all a matter of knowing where to look and -- more important still -- knowing where not to look.

First, let's define our conclusion, so we'll be ready to ignore any facts that can't be made to support it. Daniel Webster said that we mustn't turn our backs on religious instruction and authority. He was right, obviously: why else would he have said it? And yet some people dare to disagree, especially when it comes to the study of biology. This is a sin against "the rational, personal God," who demands that we ignore the information our senses give us about the world He created just for us.

As a result, scientists have become "practical atheists" who wander around looking for meaning in the world's complexity and grandeur, which they can't properly appreciate because, unlike Ms. Kimball, they're paying way too much attention to how it works. If they'd stop fussing over natural phenomena, they might begin to appreciate the gift of rationality that was bestowed on them by a loving God.

But now, the whole house of cards is about to come down, because Linda Kimball has read -- or at least skimmed -- a book about the "occult intelligentsia" of the Renaissance.

Sound familiar? Well, it should, because there's an occult intelligentsia in our time too, as you can plainly see if you're willing to accept "occult" as a synomym for "materialistic."

If that sounds too difficult, never fear: Kimball has done the heavy lifting for you.

[T[hey eagerly embraced the pantheistic /materialistic occult traditions — Hermeticism, Theosophy, Buddhism, esoteric Cabbalism, alchemy, neo-Platonism, and Gnosticism — sweeping into Christendom at that time.
Right. 'Cause if you were asked what philosophy linked "Hermeticism, Theosophy, Buddhism, esoteric Cabbalism, alchemy, neo-Platonism, and Gnosticism," your answer would naturally be "materialism."

I love the reference to "esoteric Cabbalism," too. That's the sort of fine historical distinction that tells us we're in the presence of a really serious thinker.

Perhaps because she hasn't exposed herself to the earnest pieties of Ficino or Pico della Mirandola, Kimball has no problem identifying Renaissance Hermeticists as "the real powers behind what has been variously called the Progressive Underground, the Anti-Establishment, and the Counter Culture." If we're to have any hope of understanding this, we must first agree on terms.
Under the term occultism are included various practices broadly categorized as animism, astrology, divination (called channeling today), fetishism, shamanism, and underlying all of these is magic.
So the next time a shaman uses astrology to tell your fortune, please remember to refer to it as "channeling."

You also need to understand what magic is:
Magic is generally understood to be an interference with the normal 'way things work' in the course of nature. In short, it is an attempt at procuring godlike powers in order to "unmake" reality and then to recreate a second reality, which is really an illusion.
I guess you could say magic is "generally understood" in those terms. Unless you're talking about Renaissance magic, in which case it's absolute fucking nonsense, as anyone who has a general understanding of Cabbala or alchemy or Hermeticism or Neoplatonism can tell you.

Last, you need to understand that people who believe in magic -- materialists, in other words -- "claim to possess deep inner-gnosis," as opposed to shallow outer-gnosis.

Now that we've defined our terms, let's see how the rise of Hermetic inner-gnostic materialism led humanity away from the commonsense understanding that decaying meat turns into flies and geese grow from barnacles.
Western occult-pantheism speaks of animating spirit or soul while materialism speaks of miracle-producing 'knowing' energies that in their modern forms, animate and inform what can be viewed as either discarnate entities or 'force and/or voice ideas' called memes, genes, dialectical matter, chance, causation, determinism, evolution, and neurons, for example.
Alright. It seems that Kimball objects to the double reification of occult "knowing energies" into discarnate entities like neurons and genes, which are apparently the modern-day equivalent of the Paracelsian Archaeus or some such pagan devilry. The fact that we can look at photographs of neurons just goes to show how tirelessly the Father of Lies works to lead people astray. Besides, 1 Corinthians 13 says we see through a glass, darkly, and Renaissance scientists often referred to microscopes as "glasses." (All together now: So universal and perpetual an Analogy can arise from nothing but its Pattern and Archetype in the infinite God our Maker.)

A few centuries after Teh Renaissance, the Italian socialist Enrico Ferri also talked, more or less, about "knowing energies." You may not have heard of him, but you've heard of socialism, so you know he's bad and wrong. And of course, the Occult Intelligentsia of the Renaissance was bad and wrong too. See how all the pieces are starting to fall together?

A few short decades after Ferri, along came "madman Gustav Wetter," who explained that "the dialectical materialists attribution of 'dialectic' to matter confers on it, not mental attributes only, but even divine ones." (If you can't trust a madman to explain dialectical materialism, who on earth can you trust?)

Next, we need to lock horns with the "master-magician" Hegel, who as everyone knows "informally aligned himself with "Hermetic societies, the materialist-Freemasons, and the pantheist-Rosicrucian's" [sic, sic, sic]. And of course, we must note that when Marx "reworked" Hegel's magical dialectic, he inevitably included "the Hermetic science magic of Hegel's system," because of course he did. I mean, he's Karl Marx, for chrissakes. Why wouldn't he?

Now, we have to define yet another term. (I know this is complicated, but that's true of all hard sciences except climatology and biology, so bear with me.) Hermeticism "is the secret science of magic created by Hermes Trismegistus Thoth who lived in ancient Egypt."

Well, not exactly. But instead of quibbling over where Hermes Trismegistus lived, or when he lived, or whether he lived, or whether his "science" was in fact "secret," let's jump ahead to the good stuff:
The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurias Trismegistus relates Hermes mystical encounter with The Great Dragon. Calling itself Poimandres, the Mind of the Universe, the Dragon transformed itself into a glorious being of Light and proceeded to 'illuminate' Hermes with the forbidden knowledge that would eventually find its' way into Hegel's dialectic and from there into Marx's dialectical materialism.
Let's see now...giant allegorical dragon, universal mind, divine illumination, forbidden knowledge, Hegel, Marx. Yep, it all checks out. Which means that all we have to do now is link Hermes Mercurias Trismegistus Termaximus Thoth to the naturalistic pseudoscience of magico-dialectical occulto-materialistic endo-gnostic "evolution." And despite what you may be thinking, this is actually pretty easy. In fact, it's a lot like those word-search games you probably played as a child. The difference is that instead of looking for target words in a small square of jumbled letters, you look for target words in whatever books you happen to stumble upon while seeking an a posteriori justification for your own willful ignorance.
Though taught under the guise of empirical science, naturalistic evolution is really a spiritual concept whose taproot stretches back to the dawn of history. It was then, reports ancient Jewish historian Josephus, that Nimrod (Amraphel in the Old Testament) used terror and force to turn the people away from God and toward the worship of irrational nature.
Dig it, man! Nimrod forced people into nature worship, Renaissance Hermeticists sought illumination from the divine mind, and evolutionists dreamed up discarnate entities like neurons. No wonder everything sucks nowadays.

Now, let's move "forward in time to the Greco-Roman world," when evolution served "as the mechanism of soul-transference in metempsychosis and transmigration of souls." And then let's move backwards in time to the ancient East, where the concept of evolution was "refined" by "the mystical Upanishads" and became "the mechanism of soul-movement in involutions, emergences, incarnations, and reincarnation."

Involutions and emergences! Write that down in your notebook. And add this:
In that both rationalist/materialist/secularism and its' counterpart Eastern/occult pantheism are modernized nature pseudo-religions, it comes as no surprise that evolution serves as their 'creation mythos'.
Those of you who don't understand what "evolution" means should now turn to page 224 of the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, which explains that it "covers three basic areas: the origin of the universe; the origin of first life, and the origin of new life forms." Apropos of which -- sort of -- let's assume not only that evolution is "a rational process of development" set in motion by a "transcendent rational, personal God," but that any science which fails to present this proposition as an incontrovertible fact is unscientific, on the grounds that "it is Christianity and not naturalism that is the mother of modern science."

I know, I know. We've just gone on a global quote-mining expedition to prove that modern science is basically a pagan-gnostic homunculus cooked up for laughs by Renaissance alchemists. But it turns out that Christianity actually gets all the credit for modern science -- the good kind of modern science, that is -- because J. Robert Oppenheimer and Alfred North Whitehead both say it should, sort of. Also, medieval scholastics believed in the rationality of God and thus in the intelligibility of the world (unlike Renaissance Hermeticists, who were besotted with non-Christian philosophers like Plato and accordingly concluded that God was crazy as a loon and a liar to boot).

It may seem improvised. Contradictory, even. But the important thing to remember -- and this applies to climate science, as well -- is that once you've determined that a proposition ought to be false, all arguments against it are logically consistent, whether you consider them separately or en masse. Thus, Kimball is pleased to report that "original Darwinism" has been rejected by modern scientists as "useless," without considering why they rejected it or whether that rejection is really consistent with her vision of evilutionists as Thoth-addled occultists. All that matters is that they decided to replace it with bigger and better delusions, like punctuated equilibrium and panspermia. And how do we know for certain that these are delusions? Because new agers have embraced them and thereby refuted them for all time, just as Deepak Chopra's fascination with quantum mechanics revealed the Schrodinger equation as ugly nonsense.

Noted in passing: OMG Wiccans! OMG the unbearable queerness of gay shamanism!! OMG people who support disability rights want to hire people with disabilities even though they're crazy retarded cripples!!! OMG what's up with that???? OMG HITLER!!!!!

If you're not convinced yet, prepare to have your smug occultist satano-gnostic ecotopian materio-Zoroastrian worldview shattered by a veritable fusillade of hyphens, every one of which is a deadly arrow in the heart of the unbeliever:
In short, the age of irrationalism, lawlessness, hedonism, megalomania, and utopia-madness commenced when the rational personal God, His Revelation, unchanging Truth and Universal Moral Law were cunningly displaced by naturalistic evolutionism, astral-plane spirit-revelations, pantheistic-conceptions of god-forces, christ-consciousness, animated 'thinking' dead matter , 'force and voice ideas, ' inverted morality and moral relativism, Orwellian doublespeak, and terrible-willed megalomaniacs claiming to be supermen and god-men. These are the unifying factors of Bolshevism, Nazism, and America's Progressive Liberalism.
And that's "in short," mind you. You don't want to see what happens when Kimball has the room and the inclination to be expansive.

All of this is essentially an appetizer for the idea that it's Christian fundamentalists who are truly scientific. On the basis of a study (of sorts) by William Sims Bainbridge and Rodney Stark, Kimball argues that fundamentalism makes people more skeptical, rather than less: it's in communities of unbelief that pseudosciences tend to flourish.

Granting that people are pretty credulous across the ideological spectrum, for better or worse, and that atheism and rationality are by no means synonymous, there are a few problems here. First, disbelief is not the same thing as skepticism: rejecting astrology because the Church views it as unlawful is not the same thing as rejecting it on scientific grounds. Indeed, it's not even the same thing as disbelieving it, necessarily.

Second, if you want to take stock of American credulity, the distinction between fundamentalism and new age pseudoscience seems a bit arbitrary. Worse, it gives fundamentalists a rather unfair advantage, in that they get to believe in the Rapture without being scolded for holding an "unscientific superstition."

Third, the study seems to focus on belief in pseudoscience, as opposed to disbelief in science. Is someone who believes in the Rapture, but not in evolution or astrology, really more skeptical than someone who believes in evolution and astrology but not in the Rapture? And is it really necessary to figure out people's exact position on this continuum? I think there are grounds for debate, to put it mildly. But here's what Bainbridge and Stark have to say on the matter.
"It would be a mistake to conclude that fundamentalists oppose all science (when in reality they but oppose) a single theory (that) directly contradicts the bible. But it would be an equally great mistake to conclude that religious liberals and the irreligious possess superior minds of great rationality, to see them as modern personalities who have no need of the supernatural or any propensity to believe unscientific superstitions."
Fair enough. I've made more or less the same point myself, as have lots of other people. But somehow, we get from there to here:
It is the fundamentalists who appear most virtuous according to scientific standards when we examine the cults and pseudo-sciences proliferating in our society today.
It's not quite that simple. If I assume that homeopathy doesn't work because God would not let it be otherwise, I don't get to pat myself on the back for my grasp of scientific standards. To put it another way, fuck you.

Let's recap: We can speak confidently of an evolution from the Hermetica and the Upanishads to modern biology, during which these ancient heresies become "fitter" as they progressed from paganism to Rosicrucianism to Hegelianism to Darwinism to Marxism to atheism to evo-devo. And naturally, this descent from a common ancestor is no more "blind" than any other kind of evolution: it's directed toward a specific end (OMG gay marriage! OMG death panels!).

One of the many ironies here is that the Hermetic writings appealed to many Renaissance thinkers because they seemed to support the truth of Christianity, once the appropriate genealogical methods were applied (e.g., citations from Lactantius). In other words, the facts were distorted in order to support the preferred narrative. This process of verification is not much different from the one Kimball favors: history, like science, is "true" to the extent that it serves as support for what you already believe.

If our biology textbooks were a bit more like Cotton Mather's The Christian Philosopher, and waxed ecstatic over the divine gift of retrotransposon-induced mutations, I suspect Kimball would have no serious problem with these "force and voice ideas": evolution would simply be another stick with which to pummel her enemies. It's science's failure to be useful, from this authoritarian standpoint, which causes her to interpret it as a tangled web of occultist "knowing energies," while pining for a true science that is rightfully hers and must be reclaimed ASAP so's she can use it to beat up fags.

As she sees it, science must be Christianized, much as the Hermetica had to be Christianized during the Renaissance. Which necessitates "finding" a hidden narrative that will explain how this useful tool ended up in the wrong hands, and why it must be taken back. (Kimball may try to disagree, but how can she? I've made an analogy, and everyone knows those are logically unanswerable.)

Just to prove that I, too, can dig idly through old books, I'll leave you with this passage from Henry Corbin's "The Imago Templi in Confrontation with Secular Norms":
[S]ince the hidden meaning is nothing other than the letter raised or transmuted into symbol, and perceived henceforth on the level of the imaginal world, the symbol itself is no longer something which hides the thing symbolized. It is, quite simply, the form assumed on this level by the transcendent reality, and this form is this reality. Thus, instead of allegory, one could perhaps speak of tautegory.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

HP has vowed to end e-waste exports:

A little less than a year ago, Dell announced that it was not going to export e-waste to developing countries - a corporate policy that is only surprising in that every single electronics manufacturer doesn't already have it on the books. While it seems like an obvious part of acting as a responsible company, it's a notion that has yet to make it into more companies' consciousness. However, thankfully HP is stepping up and following Dell's lead. They've just updated their corporate policy to include a ban on sending e-waste from rich nations into poor nations to be dismantled.
California will withdraw its adoption of a program that allows timber companies to earn "carbon credits" by clearcutting forests:
In response to a formal legal letter filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Air Resources Board has proposed to withdraw its adoption of a “Forest Project Protocol” that would have allowed logging companies to earn valuable carbon credits for clearcutting projects and other destructive practices. At its February 25 meeting, the Board will consider reversing its adoption of the protocol pending a legally required review of environmental impacts to forests and the climate.
The timber industry has also lost a legal battle in Alaska:
U.S. District Judge John Bates Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a timber group and an organization of Southeast Alaska civic and business leaders. The Southeast Conference and Alaska Forest Association had challenged a 2008 management plan for the Tongass developed by the Bush administration.

Environmental groups hailed the ruling as a small victory, saying the judge had prevented what they consider a bad forest plan from becoming even worse....

Under legal arguments made by the industry groups, any effort to protect forest land or prevent logging could have been barred, said Tom Waldo, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental group that is involved in a separate lawsuit over the Tongass.
The EPA will allegedly strengthen federal stormwater regulations:
The rules may include guidelines for techniques such as rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs, green streets and porous pavements, said Connie Bosma, the municipal branch chief in the EPA’s water permits division.

“Whatever we can do to make sure it infiltrates on site instead of flowing across the land and picking up the pollutants,” she said. “Those are the kinds of approaches we would like to encourage.”
The Danish shipping firm Maersk is experimenting with slower ship speeds:
In a global culture dominated by speed, from overnight package delivery to bullet trains to fast-cash withdrawals, the company has seized on a sales pitch that may startle some hard-driving corporate customers: Slow is better.

By halving its top cruising speed over the last two years, Maersk cut fuel consumption on major routes by as much as 30 percent, greatly reducing costs. But the company also achieved an equal cut in the ships’ emissions of greenhouse gases.
The DoD claims that algae-based jet fuel may be cost-competitive with fossil fuels in a matter of months:
"Darpa's research projects have already extracted oil from algal ponds at a cost of $2 per gallon. It is now on track to begin large-scale refining of that oil into jet fuel, at a cost of less than $3 a gallon, according to Barbara McQuiston, special assistant for energy at Darpa. That could turn a promising technology into a ­market-ready one. Researchers have cracked the problem of turning pond scum and seaweed into fuel, but finding a cost-effective method of mass production could be a game-changer.
As long as we're suspending our disbelief, here's more exciting news that may or may not pan out:
[C]hemists at UCLA have developed a new type of synthetic crystal this is capable of trapping [carbon dioxide] 400% more efficiently than similar materials. The crystals were made using a breakthrough technique that “codes” information into their structure much like DNA, allowing researchers to tailor them to soak up carbon dioxide with incredible efficiency.
The EPA will tighten regulations on non-automotive internal combustion engines:

EPA estimates that there are more than 900,000 of these engines that generate electricity and power equipment at industrial, agricultural and other facilities. Industrial facilities use these engines to generate electricity for compressors and pumps as well as grind wood and crush stone. They also are used in emergencies to produce electricity to pump water for flood and fire control....

Operators of non-emergency engines will be required to add on additional control devices to reduce these air emissions by as much as 70%. Selected engines will also have to be of a certain horsepower and age.

In Colorado, the ski industry is fighting Republican attempts to prevent the EPA from regulating CO2:
“It's interesting to me that Senator Murkowski is leading this charge, because Alaska is pretty much Ground Zero for climate change,” said Aspen Skiing Company's Auden Schendler....

Aspen Skiing Company is particularly irked by Murkowski's efforts since the company took part in the fight to allow the EPA to play a role in limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the first place.
The New Hampshire House has rejected a fetal personhood bill.

The House voted 219-122 against the bill, which opponents called an attempt to define an unborn child in statute in an attempt to suppress abortion rights.

"This bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and an assault on reproductive freedom," said state Rep. Beth Rodd, D-Bradford, who argued that the bill would establish conception as the legal definition of life in New Hampshire.

Virginia will offer pro-choice license plates, the fees from which will go to Planned Parenthood despite a conservative attempt to divert the money elsewhere:
After we were thrilled to announce the sale of Planned Parenthood of Virginia's "Choose Choice" license plates, the state House decided that although the plate was introduced by the organization, none of the funds made from the plates' sales should actually go to them. This is despite the fact that the funds from "Choose Life" license plates -- already available in the state -- currently support the anti-choice organization that introduced them, Heartbeat International.

The good news is that the Virginia Senate struck down the Senate version of the House amendment yesterday, and voted to allow the license plates with the money going to Planned Parenthood.
Also in Virginia, a senate panel has rejected a bill that would've made more criminals eligible for the death penalty:
In a time when death sentences are at an all-time low since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, attributable to high-profile death row exonerations and the expensive, drawn-out appeals process of death penalty cases, some Virginia legislators are actually trying to find ways to execute more people.

SB7 would have redefined what's known as the "triggerman rule," which holds that only the person who actually committed the murder would be eligible for execution. This bill would have allowed for a death sentence for someone who didn't commit murder.

San Francisco may convert parking spaces to public space:
A new plan calls for transforming part of Columbus Avenue, the heart of North Beach's vibrant commercial corridor, where street parking already is scarce and alfresco dining is in demand.

If deemed a success, the parking space conversion program would be expanded to other neighborhoods.

The city already is testing road closures in the Castro and the Mission to create what amounts to asphalt miniparks in spaces once dominated by cars and trucks.
New York is turning parking meters into bike racks:
[T]the city recently announced plans to massacre and recycle 225 parking meters and turn them into circular bike racks! This news comes in the midst of NYC’s plans to increase bike commuting three-fold by 2020. New Yorkers across the five boroughs would tell you it’s rather hard to park your bike in the city, so the new racks are sure to encourage cycling.
And Seoul has turned a freeway into a river:
Long ago in Seoul, South Korea city planners paved right over a natural stream to put in a road. It stayed that way for decades, becoming a freeway and adding to the traffic congestion in the burgeoning metropolis. But...that recently, city officials decided to return the road to its natural roots.
Over 100 countries have signed a conservation agreement for endangered sharks:
The sharks are to benefit from better international protection by fishing nations by reduction of illegal fishing and trade through the enforcement of existing laws.
A Sumatran rhino living in a sanctuary is pregnant:
Ratu's pregnancy holds special significance for a number of reasons. It is the first pregnancy at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary; it will be both Ratu's and Andalas' first calf; it is also the first pregnancy in captivity since Andalas' mother Emi—the only Sumatran rhino to successfully give birth in captivity for 112 years—passed away last fall.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems to be having more legal problems:

A federal judge has imposed sanctions on the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office for destroying evidence in a racial-profiling case, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio must answer questions regarding an immigration file he kept.

U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow's order, released Friday, also calls on the Sheriff's Office to try to recover e-mails that were deleted and to swear under oath to steps it took to gather the records.

This seems to me like a good idea:
Under a pilot program starting in the 2011-2012 school year, 10 to 20 high schools in each of eight states (Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont) will allow sophomores ready to take college courses to graduate and move onto local community colleges.

The idea comes from the National Center on Education and the Economy, which proposed in a 2006 report the introduction of a battery of board exams covering English, history, math, and science, which, if passed by a student at the end of the 10th grade, would allow them to leave high school. The point: Cutting down on the number of students not ready for college work. Says that NCEE: "Today, nearly half of the students in community colleges take one or more remedial courses and many are never able to complete developmental courses and move on to credit-level courses to complete their college degree."
A new process may keep vaccines viable at tropical temperatures:

The team showed it was possible to store two different virus-based vaccines on sugar-stabilised membranes for 4 months at 45°C without any degradation. The vaccines could be kept for a year and more at 37°C with only tiny losses in the amount of viral vaccine re-obtained from the membrane. When required the membrane is then attached to a conventional syringe and flushed with liquid, with the re-dissolved product quickly and simply injected.

Skeptical Science has created an iPhone app:

The app lets you use an iPhone or iPod to view the entire list of skeptic arguments as well as (more importantly) what the science says on each argument....

A novel inclusion is a feature that lets you report when you encounter a skeptic argument. By clicking on the red ear icon...the iPhone adds another hit to that particular skeptic argument.

This is pretty interesting:
New research in the American Naturalist shows that crickets can warn their unborn babies about potential predator threats.

Researchers Jonathan Storm of the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg and Steven Lima of Indiana State University placed pregnant crickets into enclosures containing a wolf spider. The spiders' fangs were covered with wax so the spiders could stalk the crickets, but couldn't kill them. After the crickets laid their eggs, Storm and Lima then compared the behavior of those offspring to offspring whose mothers hadn't been exposed to spiders. The differences were dramatic.

When placed into a terrarium with a hungry wolf spider, the crickets born of spider-exposed mothers were more likely to seek shelter and stay there. They stayed hidden 113 percent longer—and as a result had higher survival rates—than offspring from mothers that hadn't been exposed to spiders.
Also: A virtual tour of the California coastline. A virtual journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. A virtual representation of the Marianas Trench. And a virtual survey of eighteenth-century color samples.

Public Collectors, "a place for small things and for fragments of much larger things." Moth engravings and musical geography. Photos from the Ukraine by Arlie Aplin. Lots of snow. Reflections on the glass delusion in Europe, 1440-1680 (via wood s lot). Popcorn clouds and The Silver Lining. And photos of Cristatella mucedo statoblasts.

Wooden Churches in the Russian North (via Coudal, IIRC.) WWII ration cards. Arcade Expressionism. An online service that makes your URL more disturbing. (Bouphonia's URL is now Please make a note of it.) A close-up view of the Japanese toad-lily. Photos by Benedikt Haack. And the Flickr vintage typography pool (via HypeForType).

Here's a movie, too.

Part II is here.

(Photo at top: an aerial view of California City, CA, via BLDGBLOG.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Week in Denialism

Michael Fumento hails the new scientific orthodoxy on medieval warmth:

[T]emperatures in the Middle Ages, at the very least in the northern hemisphere, were considerably warmer than they are now. Conceding both these points in a BBC interview was Professor Phil Jones.
Of course, the denialist article of faith is that the MWP was global, and Jones didn't concede that point by any means. Nor did he concede that that it was "considerably warmer" then than it is now. But Fumento will take whatever he can get, so long as it allows him to reach this epochal conclusion:
If the medieval warming wasn't manmade, then the recent warming may not be either.
Sure. And if arsenic occurs naturally in the Ganges Delta, then these mysterious Australian arsenic deposits might well be natural too. And if Aristotle misunderstood the climate without being an amoral shill for big business, then Fumento's misunderstanding of climate may simply be an honest mistake.

Debra J. Saunders points out that teh Warmists have no one but themselves to blame for the collapse of "the global-warming machine," because "their actions and attitudes did not reflect the sort of behavior you would expect from people who truly believe that the planet is in peril."

See, if they'd truly believed we were in danger, they would've admitted that we know very little about the climate. This would've allowed them to find common ground with skeptics, who might then have been more willing to entertain their outlandish notions about warming (assuming they still had any). But instead, they got greedy, and have now "drowned out the voices of scientists -- including those who believe global warming is largely caused by man -- who have been ready to engage in the complexities of climate science." Which means that even if it turns out that they were actually right, and the climate is warming dangerously, it'll be on their heads. Suck on that, hippies!

David Harsanyi complains that Los Warmistas are comparing denialism to creationism in order to justify taking away our gas-powered lawnmowers, which could force us to trim our lawns with cuticle scissors. He's also very excited about Phil Jones' comment on the MWP. "The importance of this can't be stressed enough," he says, which is probably why he doesn't bother trying to explain it. Why make an effort when you're bound to fail?

Granted, it can be very hard to understand the things climatologists say about stuff. "I certainly can't," says Harsanyi, "despite my best efforts." That said, it don't rightly take none o' that fancy-pants book-larnin' to grasp these fundamental world-historical principles:
  1. Addressing AGW costs money that would be better spent on something more important, like racial profiling.

  2. We can't afford to give in to fear-mongering, especially in a world that trembles under the shadow of Islamofascism.

  3. If the climate changes significantly, we'll simply adapt to it like we always do, 'cause otherwise we'd have to make burdensome economic trade-offs now, instead of waiting until after some sort of disaster strikes.

  4. If climate scientists want to be taken seriously by people who can't understand their work, they must see to it that their integrity is unassailable. In other words, they need to stop trying to frighten us with problems we can't understand that probably aren't a big deal anyway and will cost way too much money to address unless we put things off for as many years as possible.

  5. Gas-powered lawnmowers totally kick ass! Live free or die!
Last, but certainly not least, Donald Trump wants Algore to give back his ill-gotten Nobel Prize on account of it snowed a whole lot on the East Coast, even though the Goracle insisted that it would never snow anywhere on earth ever again, and especially not in winter.

Which brings up a sore point. Speaking as a rabid anti-capitalist who belongs to both schools of Cultural Marxism, I really wish the architects of the International Socialist Global Warming Hoax had been a bit more alert to the possibility that a couple of big snowstorms would come along and destroy all our carefully laid plans. I've been promising my comrades down at the Birkenstock factory that we'd see the Dictatorship of the Proletariat by Halloween, at the very latest. What the hell am I supposed to tell them now?

(Photo: "Lichen and shrub-covered palsas surrounded by a pond resulting from melting permafrost in a bog near the village of Radisson, Canada.")

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Perceived Misbehavior

An editorial on climate science in today's New York Times presents an interesting counterpoint to yesterday's denialist manifesto in the WSJ. Since the NYT is a sober, moderate paper, it naturally affects a sober and moderate tone in order to deliver a sober and moderate version of the basic denialist message.

First off, we need to consider the significant errors the IPCC made, as evidenced by the only one that's really obvious.

The controversy over the 2007 report has been stoked by charges of poor sourcing and alarmist forecasts, prominently a prediction — in a 938-page working paper — that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. This was clearly an exaggeration, though it was not included in the final report.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that mistakes are mistakes and incorrect forecasts are incorrect. It doesn't matter whether an inaccurate forecast predicts melting Himalayan glaciers or a glorious new age of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows; what's at issue is the validity of the science behind it, not the possibility that it represents a sin against the holy spirit of optimism.

Regardless, the NYT is careful to note that this was an alarmist forecast, according to "charges" made by unidentified but presumably serious-minded people. Never mind that the IPCC report comprises any number of alarming forecasts, including -- as I noted yesterday -- its corrected forecast for glacial melting. Never mind that anyone who's capable of being frightened by the near-term disappearance of Himalayan glaciers ought to be frightened by IPCC forecasts that have not been retracted, and may even be conservative. What's important here is that during the process of quantifying and describing a serious threat to modern civilization, the IPCC arguably fell prey in one semi-unequivocal instance to alarmism.

And not the good kind of alarmism, like claiming that Colin Powell's colorful drawings of mobile bioweapons labs oblige us to attack Iraq, or that capping carbon emissions will condemn us to living in some UN-administered troglodyte gulag, where we'll gnaw roots and fronds by the ghostly light of bioluminescent fungus. Nope, this is the bad kind of alarmism...the kind that posits serious problems that can't be solved by electing more centrists, deregulating more industries, beating up more hippies, or dropping bombs on more ragheads.

When an orchestrated ideological attack is launched on science -- on the basis of blinkered business interests, zero-sum competition for authority, and seething resentments that go all the way back to the goddamn Scopes trial -- what can it mean but that science needs to mend its ways?
[G]iven the complexity and urgency of climate change — and its vulnerability to political posturing — scientists engaged in the issue must avoid personal agendas and be intellectually vigilant and above reproach.
That's good for a start, but I could use a footrub while they're at it. If Rajendra K. Pachauri weren't so deeply embroiled in alleged (but still shocking!) conflicts of interest that have undermined the great eternal work of debating whether AGW is really a serious problem, he could be soothing my bunions right now with Ayurvedic massage.

I submit that it's not actually possible to be "above reproach" when ciphers like Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts can casually invalidate your life's work by waving the magic wand of blog science, and virtually any paranoiac halfwit with a Website and an axe to grind can have his or her "charges" about your "alarmism" stovepiped into the mass media. Worrying that scientists are "thin-skinned" because they object -- in private e-mails -- to being called incompetent socialistic genocidal frauds is not really fair. Especially since our nation's Titans of Industry routinely treat any scientific theory that challenges their worldview (i.e., their outdated business model) as a personal affront.

For some reason, the tantrums of these glibertarian dead-enders have a certain nobility and grandeur. But when scientists weary of being told by Dunning-Kruger casualties that OMG ITS TEH SUN STOOPID LOLOLOLOL, they need to be reminded that "perceived misbehavior...can diminish the credibility of science as a whole.”

That last quote is actually from Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. As such, it's a pretty good example of how poorly scientists tend to function in the political field, and how easily their words can be used against them. If you want to talk about "perceived misbehavior," you need to talk about how scientific behavior is represented to the public, which means you need to talk about media and politics, which means you need to talk about money and power.

It's nice to imagine that as long as scientists "behave," misperceptions won't arise. But as this editorial shows, the official lesson of the recent denialist onslaught is not that powerful, coordinated interests are dedicated to putting every single thing "warmists" do and say in the worst possible light while avoiding close scrutiny themselves, but that scientists shouldn't scare people and must maintain a saintly patience when they're accused of being frauds and fools. Essentially, climate scientists get a defective dueling pistol and are expected to hit their target eleven times out of ten, while denialists get a flamethrower and are allowed to burn down entire neighborhoods so long as they claim afterwards that their target was destroyed. Or failing that, singed.

The "liberal" NYT may favor a different tone than the "conservative" WSJ, but they work together nicely: In effect, the NYT holds climatologists' arms behind their back while the WSJ punches them in the face. And as is traditional in American life, any "perceived misbehavior" tends to be on the part of the victim, who clearly asked for it.