Archive for the ‘post-modernism’ category

Afraid Of Global Warming? Don’t Be.

September 3, 2009

Be Afraid of the Sun. Be Very Afraid

150 years ago this week something very interesting happened, up there, in the sky. Except for telegraph operators on the east coast, most people in the US did not know, or care, until the sky lit up in the evening.  It was very pretty.

On Sept. 2, 1859, at the telegraph office at No. 31 State Street in Boston at 9:30 a.m., the operators’ lines were overflowing with current, so they unplugged the batteries connected to their machines, and kept working using just the electricity coursing through the air.

In the wee hours of that night, the most brilliant auroras ever recorded had broken out across the skies of the Earth. People in Havana and Florida reported seeing them. The New York Times ran a 3,000 word feature recording the colorful event in purple prose.

“With this a beautiful tint of pink finally mingled. The clouds of this color were most abundant to the northeast and northwest of the zenith,” the Times wrote. “There they shot across one another, intermingling and deepening until the sky was painfully lurid. There was no figure the imagination could not find portrayed by these instantaneous flashes.”

It must have been cool.

If it happened today, most all of the world’s – all certainly this country’s – communications would shut down. The vast majority of the hardware we use to run civilizations today would be fried. Permanently. You may expect your TV, PC and even phone to not work. But your stove, if it is less that say, 10 years old, has a chip in it. Fried. Your car, if it’s not an antique, has one also.  Several of them, in fact.  So don’t expect it to start.  And your alarm system at work?  As Tony Soprano would say, fugeddaboudit.  That’s okay.  Tony’s much more interested in the bank.  Oh yes, the back-up battery there will work, but not the alarm that’s wired to the communications grid.

Civilization would come back alright, should such an event occur tomorrow.  None of this is stuff that we can’t rebuild or replace (or do without, mind you).  But the effort would be slow, costly and probably uncomfortable. Some who otherwise might live, will die.

Late last year, the National Academies of Science put out a report on severe space weather events. If a storm even approaching 1859 levels were to happen again, they concluded the damage could range upwards of a $1 trillion, largely because of disruptions to the electrical grid.

What’s interesting to contemplate is that the solar storm that triggered the events of Sept 2, 1859 was not a singular event.  Solar storms – solar flares that strike the earth – happen several times a year.  Only the magnitude of this particular storm was unusual, and that’s only because mankind has not known how to – or even to – look for such things for very long.  Solar storms are not conjecture based on models and derived hypotheses based on scant data.  Indeed, they are a fact of nature.

Land Of The Free

June 21, 2009

Still?

Years, yea, decades ago, I had a “Social Studies” teacher (I put “Social Studies” in scare quotes intentionally) who left an impression.  J.T. is no longer with us, having died relatively young.  And that’s a pity.  Although a lifelong democrat, liberal and supporter of teachers unions, I suspect that despite our diametrically opposed viewpoints that we would have had great respect for each other and our positions.  Let’s say he was a liberal in a classic sense, which is indistinguishable from mainstream conservatism today.

He recognized me as having a conservative bent even as far back as 1970, when I was busy figuring out how to radicalize my fellow high school students and resist the draft. I never succeeded, btw.

I bring this up because he first introduced me to a pearl of wisdom that I have never forgotten.  We’re always ready to trade our freedom for a feeling of safety.   Of course we are.  People don’t (or shouldn’t) mind that when they buckle a seat belt.  And people reflexively support curbs and outright bans on cigarette smoking in public (and sometimes in private) places.  But is there a point at which we stay “stop” to this?

Homeland Security has instituted a requirement that private aircraft operators seek government permission each time we propose to take off if we are planning to depart for Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. We must provide advance detailed information about where, when, and who, including the names, social security numbers, addresses, etc., of all persons who will be in the aircraft. The justification for this, they say, is that we, our spouses, family or friends might be on their mysterious and top secret “No Fly List.” The most significant aspect of this is that Homeland Security has indicated that this is a preliminary step toward their ultimate objective of requiring this data submission prior to EVERY aircraft takeoff in America, regardless of destination. Keep this in mind as we continue.

It is important to understand that this requirement breaks entirely new ground. While ENTERING any country requires formalities, never, ever, has it been necessary to seek and receive government permission to LEAVE America, the “land of the free,” much less to travel within its borders. And never, ever, has it been proposed that such permission is somehow necessary to preserve “national security.” This is a requirement only previously seen in Iron Curtain dictatorships.

It’s only one data-point.  Add it to the complaints that gun owners have had for years, that smokers have had for decades, and that businesses have had forever.  The question is legitimate – Are we regulating ourselves out of our God-given rights?  Have we already?  I know the mechanism by which this is done – it’s done one baby step at a time.  What I don’t know, is why.

Maybe You CAN Be Too Safe

May 3, 2009

Justify Yourself!

Watch out! Buckley’s on his hobby-horse again. Beware!

I caught just a bit of flack for this, written last August.

Only two months ago we experienced a short but very intense storm in the suburban areas north of DC. It happened right before the evening rush hour, and, of course the lights went out. Traffic lights not exempted.

In this, the second most traffic-congested area of the country (after L.A.), during the most congested part of the day, tens of thousands of drivers were forced to take their lives into their own hands and brave intersections without the benefit of technology.

Seldom have I seen moving so smoothly in my 29 years here.

Well, I understand.  It’s hard (read, dumb!) to justify espousing the removal of red-lights, especially if you dress it up as a safety measure, of all things.  Who would be so foolish?

Just because I believe people would drive safer if you removed air bags and replaced them with a sharp spike in the steering column doesn’t make me a fool, does it? [Really want an answer, JB? – ed.]

So what do I find today, but this, by Tom Vanderbilt?

What would happen if traffic lights were suddenly switched off? Would there be gridlock or would the queues of frustrated drivers miraculously disappear?

People in London are about to find out the answer in Britain’s first test of the theory that removing lights will cure congestion.

For six months, lights at up to seven junctions in Ealing will be concealed by bags and drivers will be left to negotiate their way across by establishing eye contact with pedestrians and other motorists.

The reason for the trial was pure accident:

Ealing found evidence to support its theory when the lights failed one day at a busy junction and traffic flowed better than before. Councillors have approved a report which recommended that they “experimentally remove signals since experience of signal failure showed that junction worked well.”

Vanderbilt is quoting the Times of London.  Life may not be a Monty Python skit, exactly, but sometimes it appears to be so.

You May Not Agree

March 20, 2009

And I’m Not Even Sure I Do

And this comic is really, really, unfair.

But he’s got a point.
And it’s really, really. good.

Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

Obama’s Embryo Destruction

March 14, 2009

Who’s Afraid of Post-Modernism?

We were hearing last week about the freeing up of science from the yoke of politics.  No more would government prevent scientific research that would otherwise find cures for a host of diseases that plague us by using dubious ethics as a bludgeon to hold academics at bay.  Yuval Levin, who’s associated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, cuts through the verbiage written about the new Human Embryonic Stem Cell research policies put in place by the Obama administration.  It is, as he says, important to know what the new policy does and does not do.

The federal government has in fact never before-even under President Clinton-used taxpayer dollars to encourage the destruction of human embryos, as it will now begin to do. Obama’s decision is an unprecedented break with the longstanding federal policy of neutrality toward embryo research. Before 2001, not one dollar had ever been spent to support embryonic stem cell research, and when George W. Bush provided funds for the first time, he did so in a way that made sure tax dollars did not create an incentive for the ongoing destruction of human embryos. President Obama’s new policy will do precisely that: it will tell researchers that if they destroy a human embryo, they will become eligible for federal dollars to use in studying its cells; establishing an obvious and unprecedented incentive.

Well, that’s change, I guess.  No more politics over science, right?

Over at Hot Air, Ed Morressey puts his finger on what really happened.

The advocates of this policy cheer the supposed triumph of science over politics, but in truth, it’s the reverse. Over a year ago, researchers found a way to unlock adult stem cells to have the same flexibility as hEsc lines, ie, the ability to transform into any kind of tissue. Bush’s policy in effect pushed the government-funded research in that direction, which prompted the breakthrough. With that process available, we have no need to grind up our offspring to cure diseases, especially since grinding up our offspring has yet to result in even one therapeutic result, despite billions of dollars of research into hEsc. A scientific approach would dictate that we follow success instead of failure.

In fact, the market has done just that.

But the Bush administration was anti-science, wasn’t it?  I mean, everyone was saying so.  It was the meme.

Melissa Clouthier at Pajamas Media questions that idea.

The press, the left and even some on the right have purposefully misrepresented President Bush’s position about stem cells, making it seem like the President hated stem cell research in particular and science generally. This was a simplistic view meant to reinforce the image of Bush as a bible-beating anti-science zealot rather than a man sensitive to the ethical concerns of using the citizenry’s money to fund research which many voters view as morally ambiguous.

President Obama reinforced this inaccurate view by taking jabs at President Bush saying, “Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

President Obama made it sound as if scientists themselves are devoid of ideology and politics. One only has to examine the overwhelming amount of breast cancer research compared to every other kind of cancer research, to know that this is simply not true:

As for breast cancer, the second most lethal malignancy in females, investigation in that field has long received more funding from the National Cancer Institute than any other tumor research, though lung cancer heads the list of fatal tumors for both sexes.

When government funds are used, politics necessarily plays a part in what does and does not get funded. Scientists know this, politicians know this and citizens should know this. [Latest example: nuclear power. Want politics to drive scientific inquiry? Look at anything related to global warming.]

I see often from even conservative writers that the humanities are PC bastions of post-modernism at the heart of universities, and along with it, the notion that the sciences are (at least relatively) unaffected by such things. They are “rational”, “devoid of ideology and politics”.  I don’t think so, and I come to believe it’s a naive idea.

Just Begging For John Galt To Appear

February 28, 2009

It’s Only A Novel. It’s Only A Novel

Keep repeating that to yourself as Ayn Rand’s dystopia comes ever closer to reality.  Check out this exchange in Der Spiegel Online:

SPIEGEL: What do you mean with your battle cry, “We’re not paying for your crisis”? Don’t you want to pay taxes anymore?

Passadakis: We believe that the cost of the economic crisis should be footed by those who profited most from globalization.

SPIEGEL: As a leading exporter, Germany too has profited.

Passadakis: No, the majority of people have not earned much from the boom — instead they have had to deal with restraint in their wage agreements. The rich, on the other hand, have seen strong increases in their wealth. So it is only fair that they should pay extra duties.

SPIEGEL: You want to fleece the Aldi brothers and the Klatten and Otto families (Germany’s richest people) among others?

Passadakis: Yes, they in particular should be ordered to come to the check out. We are calling for the rich to pay out between 5 and 20 percent of their wealth.

I think if you look up the word “theft” in the dictionary, you’ll find that exchange.  What I find so sad is that this is exactly the scenario Rand put to paper in the ’40s and ’50s, which led to the withdrawal of competent people from collective society.  In her novel(s), this left those remaining – the hangers-on, the bureaucrats, politicians, and many whom are now known as “the creative class” – to wallow in a misery of their own making.  Now, Rand was a megalomaniac, a moral cretin and a flake (see also, here).  Her writing is simultaneously awful and great, and in some odd way, unforgettable.  She hit a nerve and she hit on a truth that gets harder to ignore.

Who is this Passadakis character, by the way?  Is he of consequence? Alexis Passadakis is an activist from the group Attac, which is organizing demonstrations in Berlin and Frankfort with the slogan “We’re Not Paying For Your Crisis!”  We’ll see how the Aldi brothers, the Klatten and Otto families react in Germany.  It won’t be long after that we see how the Bill Gates, the Paul Allens and Warren Buffets react in this country.  It’ll be “interesting.”

Al-Qaeda Co-Founder Blames Bush – NOT

February 23, 2009

Someone Has Had Time To Think It Through

From Don Surber, this remarkable quote from the co-founder of Al-Qaeda, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, reported in the UK Telegraph“Every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers.” He did not blame Former Pres. Bush, or Former Vice-Pres. Chaney, nor did he blame American (or European) neo-cons, nor the Israelis.  He blamed Osama bin Laden, and in particular, bin Laden’s Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

I find that stunning.

On the Sept. 11 attacks, he writes:

“Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy’s buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours? That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11.”

On Moslem and Arabic immigration to Britain and European countries, and the subsequent rise in terror-related violence (and in the case of Paris, riots), al-Sharif says:

“If they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum,” then it is “not honorable” to “betray them, through killing and destruction.”

These quotes are from his book, written from his Egyptian prison.

Was he tortured into writing this?  Al-Zawahiri himself apparently doesn’t think so.  He’s taken the trouble to compose a 200 page rebuttal to al-Sharif, something he wouldn’t do if the book could be easily swept aside by such accusations.

Apparently, al-Qaeda is finished.  A major source of terrorism world-wide is crumbling, and the proof is coming more obvious every day.  The War on Terrorism?  It looks very much like we won.  Who knew?

And who will get credit, do you suppose?