Saturday, November 30, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
- The deal profoundly imperils Israel's security. As I've argued before, Iran's offensive nuclear capability--and it will almost certainly have one, sooner rather than later, irrespective of this deal--will be effectively deterred by both the Israeli and American capabilities, just as the Soviet Union's was. Iran's very likely possession of nuclear weapons is thus not a major direct threat to Israel, let alone an existential one.
- The deal is intended first and foremost to weaken Israel. As I've also argued before, the Obama administration's guiding foreign policy principle is the desirability of diminishing American power and influence around the world. This deal contributes substantially to that goal, and while it also harms Israeli interests, it's American interests that by far suffer the greatest harm, more than enough to amply justify it under the president's worldview. (Of course, the two effects are directly correlated: given that Israel is a strong ally and supporter of the US, a blow to Israeli strategic interests is highly likely to damage US strategic interests as well--and vice versa.)
- The primary effect of the deal is to clear the way for the Iranian nuclear weapons program. In fact, the Iranian nuclear weapons program has been moving forward at full speed for many years now, and this deal scarcely affects it. Rather, the primary (and wholly negative) effect of the deal is to undermine the sanctions regime against Iran. Once the sanctions are lifted--and given this deal, that lifting is now inevitable--Iran will have more cash to spend on conventional mischief in the region, such as propping up its puppets in Syria and Lebanon, extending its influence in Iraq, fomenting unrest in the Gulf monarchies, and sponsoring terrorist plots around the world.
- Israel is now more likely to launch its own pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. I don't believe that such a strike was ever remotely plausible. The risks--of failure, of casualties, of a diplomatic backlash, of Iranian retaliation--are huge, and the likelihood of delivering a substantial setback to the Iranian program is negligible. It's possible that the Netanyahu government sees things differently, but my guess is that if they did, they'd have launched a strike years ago. More likely, the entire "do something or I'll be forced to act on my own!" charade was simply a ruse to get Western governments to impose sanctions. If so, then it worked brilliantly--there's absolutely no way any sanctions, let alone the fairly substantial ones that were in effect until now, would have been imposed without this threat. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has from the beginning hungered for reconciliation with Iran as part of its overall strategy of snubbing friends and courting enemies, the more effectively to undermine American power and influence abroad. It was therefore something of a miracle that Netanyahu was ever able to huff and puff his way to a global sanctions regime, and probably inevitable that Obama would eventually find a way to dismantle it.
- The deal dramatically improves Iran's strategic position. In the short term, no doubt, the extra revenue that will accompany a lifting of sanctions will expand the Iranian regime's freedom of action. But it still finds itself in dire straits in the medium term: its most important satellite, Syria, is mired in an unbelievably bloody civil war that has already begun to spread to its second most important satellite, Lebanon. The Saudis and their allies are certain to be even more determined than ever in their efforts to support the rebel factions in Syria and Lebanon--not to mention domestic dissidents within Iran itself. The Iranian economy will be helped but not saved by the lifting of sanctions--it's still a corrupt quasi-command economy dominated by the leadership's relatives and cronies in the clergy and the Revolutionary Guard. And a global oil and gas production boom is very likely to lead to a decline in oil prices in the near future, with consequences for Iranian government revenues that could easily end up dwarfing the recent sanctions in their severity.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Viewed as a case study, this simple outline strongly suggests a tragic but depressingly familiar pattern: the early stages of severe mental illness, symptoms of which typically appear during young adulthood, and can include identity confusion and compulsive, antisocial behavior. But when a writer named Jon Krakauer somehow got ahold of McCandless' story--including a diary disjointedly documenting his wanderings--he found McCandless' professions of anti-materialism and alienation from society more inspiring than disturbed. In tribute, Krakauer penned a long article on McCandless' fatal journey, which he later turned into a book called Into the Wild, the latter also inspiring a film adaptation directed by Sean Penn. In both the book and film versions, McCandless is portrayed as a brilliant, idealistic young man disgusted with conventional society and eager to "find himself" through renunciation of material comforts, rejection of social mores and obligations, and solitary communion with nature. Even his most erratic behaviors--that is, the ones that most strongly suggest mental disturbance--are portrayed rather as examples of his determination and purity of purpose.
Particularly prominent in Krakauer's telling of McCandless' tale is his theory that McCandless died of starvation not due to inability to fend for himself in the Alaskan wilderness, but rather because of the effects of some poisonous seeds he'd been eating, believing them to be safe. An earlier hypothesis about the particular plant and toxin responsible having been proven incorrect, Krakauer has recently proposed an alternative culprit, and claims to have laboratory evidence supporting his new theory.
But Krakauer's obsession with the precise details of McCandless' death is misplaced. It seems as if Krakauer believes that if he can only prove that McCandless died accidentally by ingesting the wrong seeds, then his entire thesis about McCandless being an inspirational hero rather than a deeply confused young man will be vindicated. But let us suppose for a moment that Krakauer is correct, and McCandless had indeed succumbed to the toxins in some seeds he had eaten. What would have happened if by some good fortune he'd managed to avoid those seeds? One possibility is that he'd have continued his quest to survive in the Alaskan wilderness, and most likely subsequently perished in the harsh Alaskan winter, which he was completely unprepared to survive. If there's a meaningful difference between that outcome and the actual course of events, I'm afraid it's lost on me.
Krakauer, on the other hand, apparently believes that "he probably would have walked out of the wild in late August", and gone on to live a more or less normal life. That's certainly possible--and would perhaps even have been probable, if McCandless had in fact been merely a naïve adventurer rather than a deeply troubled young man. On the other hand, what would we make of McCandless' story--and Krakauer's reverent retelling of it--if it turned out, in the end, to be nothing but a rather reckless lark, a brief interlude of "wild man" survivalism in an otherwise unremarkable life story?
Krakauer's take on McCandless thus rests on a fundamental contradiction: if McCandless' journey into the wild was a great and admirable quest, then we must acknowledge that it ended in abject failure, and draw the obvious conclusions. On the other hand, if it was merely the tail end of a two-year spree of irresponsible youthful naivete, then why on earth would it merit Krakauer's heroic treatment?
Of course, it's not McCandless' death, accidental or otherwise, that truly inspires Krakauer's admiration. Rather, it's McCandless' professed philosophy, which amounts to little more than a kind of obsessive worship of the self. In his two years of wandering, McCandless shows no interest in any outward-directed higher purpose, such as helping humankind, increasing his understanding of the physical universe, or even connecting spiritually to a deity or deities. His journey is a strictly internal voyage of self-discovery through isolation, contemplation, and rejection of all personal responsibility or obligation. To most responsible adults, such a mission would not seem inspiring at all, but rather dull and self-indulgent (or, quite possibly, mentally unbalanced).
And that is why McCandless' alleged accidental death is so significant. Had he succumbed to obvious reckless incompetence, or else lived to continue on his self-absorbed path, or even abandoned his life for a more conventional one, the pathological nature of his self-absorption would have been readily apparent. By constructing a tragic accidental death for him, Krakauer was able to recast him as a heroic martyr to the religion of the self, where otherwise he would have been merely a living testimony to the falsity of its promise.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
But there is a more cynical view of the affair: that Profumo's fall, and subsequent refusal to even attempt to regain his former position, demonstrated first and foremost the British ruling class' utter enfeeblement, and foretold its complete surrender shortly thereafter to other contenders--organized labor, the bureaucracy, the intelligentsia, the professional class, the entrepreneurial/financial class--for domination of British society. Sexual indulgence, after all, is hardly limited to aristocrats, and there has been no shortage of political sex scandals in the years since John Profumo's. But members of a robust, confident elite don't simply lie down and accept disgrace, then wander off to clean toilets for a poorhouse for the rest of their lives, as Profumo did. And indeed, numerous British public figures have survived greater or lesser embarrassments and lived on to contend in the corridors of power. Profumo, however, was astute enough to recognize that his and his peers' (in both senses of the word) time had past, and that any attempted comeback would be futile.
In America, where elites have long been more dynamic than in the Old World, we see a similar pattern: the strongest (the Kennedys, to take the most obvious example) are never tainted by personal scandal, however egregious their behavior; the strong (the Clintons) brazen it out, and emerge largely intact; the weak (Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner) fall from power and must endure at least a period of disgrace before being allowed to attempt a comeback; and the weakest (John Edwards, Larry Craig) succumb, never to recover.
I have long held the opinion that in the political world, a "scandal" is best described as a kind of political contest: an accusation is made against a politician by his or her political enemies, the consequences of which are determined primarily by the relative political power of the target and his or her enemies, largely irrespective of the actual severity or validity of the accusation. This is particularly true of sex scandals, where "severity" is a highly subjective judgment that can easily be swayed by political sympathies. John Profumo's indiscretion was fairly minor, even by the standards of his day. But as an old-school upper-class traditionalist in a rapidly changing Britain, he had the misfortune to be politically vulnerable, and in the Darwinian world of democratic politics, even the tiniest of cuts will draw the predators to a sufficiently weakened prey.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
“In the Middle East, it is the regimes or the Islamists; there is no third way.”...[B]ut I do not quite understand why. After all, the throngs of young people that we have witnessed in recent days in the streets of Egypt are not a mirage. No more were the young civil society activists who began the uprising in Syria, or the sophisticated liberals and reformers in Egypt. What are the factors which time and time again prevent the emergence of a muscular, representative, civilian and secular politics in the Arab world?Spyer displays here a very common misunderstanding: that "representative, civilian and secular politics" is naturally "muscular", unless suppressed by "factors" that "prevent" its "emergence". In fact, it is not the absence of democracy that requires an explanation: the very idea of democratic government--indeed, even the idea that governments ought to be accountable to their citizens, the principle on which elective, representative democracy is based--was simply unheard-of until a couple of centuries ago. Until then--and even to this day, in many places--it was universally taken for granted that governments are, should be and always would be selected and maintained by force of might or apparent divine sanction, and their power to impose laws unlimited, except perhaps by greater might or holier divine sanction.
Democracy is thus perhaps best thought of less as a political movement than as a kind of technology: a collection of non-obvious principles, practices and processes that enable a society to impose accountability on its own government. And like many technologies--say, the automobile--it needs both a broad supporting infrastructure and a widespread understanding of its use and maintenance in order to permeate a society. One would never pause to wonder why automobiles weren't ubiquitous in those societies that haven't yet developed both the physical infrastructure to support them and the intellectual infrastructure to use and maintain them. Likewise, one shouldn't be surprised at the lack of "muscular" democratic politics in countries--like those of the Arab world--that haven't yet created either the supporting institutions or the consensus understandings that make a working democracy possible.
It is therefore heartening and necessary--though obviously far from sufficient--to see protestors overthrowing governments in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. Although such proto-democratic actions are far from authentic democracy--no doubt many of the protestors in those countries actually have little understanding of it, and even less sympathy for it--they nevertheless represent a slightly broadening public embrace of a weak version of the important democratic principle of popular sovereignty. And while full-fledged democracy may be unlikely to blossom any time soon in those countries--the path from the French Revolution to representative democracy took nearly a century, after all--every such step brings them closer to the day when democratic ideas are as natural and obvious to their populations as they are to the citizens of Western democracies.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
- If you have a choice of playing life at the easy, moderate or difficult level, always play at the easiest level.
- Save often. That way, if you are killed or badly injured, you can always restart your life.
- If you see a switch anywhere, flick it; if you find a button, press it.
- If people are trying to kill you but you don't know where they are shooting from, just run out into the open and look around as they shoot at you. Then when you restart (see #2 above), you will know where they are.
- Pick up everything you can and keep it with you.
- Read every book you can open.
- Just for fun, try shooting your friend in the head. Probably nothing will happen, but in the worst case you can always restart (see #2 above).
- Always look around for ammunition, weapons, or health supplies that someone has dropped. Don't forget to look in the toilets.
- Don't forget to search every dead body you come across (see #8 above).
- If you happen to come across a strange machine that aliens left here eons ago, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what it does and how it works (see #3 above).
- If you kill someone, hide his body. That way, he will never be missed.
Based on recent problems at the nuclear weapons plant Y-12, it appears that some of our security professionals haven't played enough video games.
One [security problem] was relying on "pan-tilt-zoom" cameras that sweep back and forth, because a sophisticated adversary could learn their pattern and time an entry to avoid detection.Actually, it seems that these Security Professionals haven't played any video games. So although they're not really very interesting or funny, let me add a couple of points that may actually be useful to these people.
- If you have to get by a sweeping camera or laser beam, wait till it sweeps out of the way and then run.
- If #12 above doesn't work, try shooting out the camera.
Some sites repair broken sensors and cameras within 24 hours; Y-12 set a window of 5 to 10 days, but that was only a goal, not a rule, the report said.There was no word on whether or not Y-12 stores its ammunition and first-aid equipment in the toilets.
Everything's okay now.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
And that's presumably why it's being ignored. To a large segment of the American (and global) foreign policy and journalistic establishment, Morsi's anti-Americanism isn't irrelevant--rather, it's a perfectly reasonable sentiment that needs to be downplayed to avoid inflaming the uneducated yahoos who don't appreciate its wisdom.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Sunday, January 06, 2013
First, a recap of last year's (unusually poor) crop of predictions:
The Euro's never-ending soap opera will badly constrain European growth, and developing-world growth will also slow. As a result the US economy, though stronger than elsewhere, will grow only modestly in 2012. The stock market will decline as profits get squeezed, and interest rates and inflation will remain low. Real Estate will bottom out but remain flat, and oil prices will (finally!) drop modestly, as new supplies start to come online. The US dollar will continue the recovery it began in mid-2011, as other economies continue to show greater weakness.Not bad--until we get to the specifics: the market's actually up, real estate is up modestly, and oil prices and the dollar are basically flat. Nothing's off by much, but lots of things are off by a little bit.
At least one European country will begin concrete initial moves towards exiting the EMU (AKA the Euro). Rather than causing the predicted crisis, this move will eventually come to be recognized as the only realistic solution to Europe's financial crisis, and the question of which countries will require a bailout or default will shift to that of which countries will require a Euro exit.It was touch-and-go for a while, but the new ESM has apparently convinced just enough people that the EU isn't on the verge of collapse to, well, stave off collapse (for now, at least--see below)...
The "Arab spring" turmoil in the Middle East will turn out to be more of a large-scale collapse than an awakening. Following the departure of American troops, Iraq will dissolve into the civil-war-like conditions of 2006, with the Iranian-backed Shi'ite government battling Saudi-supported Sunni rebels, and the Kurds increasingly clamoring for independence. Syria's Bashar Assad will remain in power, but will be forced into a protracted low-level conflict with a Turkish-supported insurgency, as Western sanctions bring the country's economy to its knees. Egypt will face food riots as its economy also collapses and foreign aid fails to prop up the government's finances enough to keep up the necessary rate of subsidized food imports. The new Islamist governments of Libya and Tunisia will attempt to impose strict Shari'a laws, but will find themselves unable even to maintain basic order in the face of domestic political infighting, corruption and tribalism. The PA will find itself under increasing pressure from a resurgent Hamas, and the two will spend most of the year alternating between making nice and fighting bitterly. Iran's nuclear program and apparatus of internal repression will continue to operate unimpeded--new sanctions will be imposed, which will be about as effective as the ones against Saddam Hussein were--but it will be too preoccupied with propping up its proxies in Syria and Iraq to cause much trouble elsewhere.
Amidst all this chaos, Israel will be a haven of stability, with ample time and resources to devote to its endless internal political squabbles.As with my financial predictions above, I was off on many of these by just enough to look bad--overestimating the rate of collapse in Iraq, Egypt and Tunisia, and underestimating it in Syria--while getting the overall picture pretty accurate.
At least one of the following autocrats will fall from power this year, due to death or ill health: Hugo Chavez, Ali Khamenei, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Robert Mugabe, Raul Castro.All of them have somehow managed to hang on through 2012, although one may not last much longer...
Mitt Romney will very narrowly defeat Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. The Republicans will also win the Senate--but just barely. They will maintain control of the House of Representatives, but with a net loss of seats. Turnout will be low compared to recent presidential elections.Well, given today's intensely polarized, nearly perfectly evenly-divided political landscape, trying to figure out which way turnout will tilt in any given election ten months in advance is becoming a hopeless project (also, the sun was in my eyes and my cat ate my homework)...
The issue of concussions will become the NFL's equivalent of MLB's steroid scandal.Okay, maybe not this year...
And now for this year's no doubt equally off-base offering:
- The US economy will continue to grow at a sluggish pace, constrained by declining government stimulus and interest rates inching up with the growing concern over public debt, but buoyed slightly by lower prices for fossil fuels. Inflation will remain tame, and the stock markets will weaken slightly. Real estate will continue its very gentle upward trend.
- The newly-restabilized Eurozone will destabilize again, when domestic political pressure forces one of the bailed-out governments (most likely Greece) to balk at the required austerity measures, and/or one of the bailing-out governments (i.e., Germany) to balk at its required contributions.
- Any US government spending reduction of any kind, let alone entitlement reform, that occurs this year will be purely cosmetic. The debt will continue to expand until the threat of rising interest rates forces politicians' hands.
- Damascus will fall to Syrian rebels, and chaos will ensue as Alawi Assad regime loyalists retreat to defend their stronghold in the northwest, the Kurds carve out an enclave in the northeast, and Sunni Islamists set about slaughtering minorities elsewhere. The unrest will spread to Lebanon, where Sunnis (including Islamists) emboldened by events in Syria will begin challenging Hezbollah's dominance in earnest. Meanwhile, in Egypt, The Muslim Brotherhood will consolidate its iron grip on power, but will be too busy dealing with economic crisis and the resulting unrest to make trouble elsewhere. The Palestinian Authority will bring some kind of case against Israel to the International Criminal Court, where it will sit for some number of years, but the West Bank will be largely quiescent, and no "third intifada" will break out, a few occasional minor disturbances notwithstanding. And despite increasing hostility from the Obama administration, overall global anti-Israel agitation will decline, as a result of Iranian setbacks and the increased respect that typically accrues to a potential future energy supplier to Europe.
- Binyamin Netanyahu's party will win the January election, and form a center-right coalition largely similar to the current one, but without Ehud Barak. There will therefore be more settlement activity, but no military strike on Iran's nuclear program, which will remain in its current alarmingly-close-to-nuclear-weapons-but-somehow-not actually-building-them-yet state. In fact, following the fall of Assad and the resulting decline of Hezbollah, Iran will begin to look--to all its adversaries, including both Israel and the Gulf states--like a much more manageable regional threat. Official and unofficial expressions of anti-Iranian hostility in the Sunni world will thus become much bolder and more open.
- At least one of the autocrats from 2012's list (Hugo Chavez, Ali Khamenei, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Robert Mugabe, Raul Castro) will not make it through 2013.
- The next hit cable TV series will break new ground by revolving around a fascinating, complex male character who's not involved in violent crime.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
NOTE: Update added below.
A recent article reports a new discovery about the speed of neutrinos:
Today, at the Neutrino 2012 conference in Kyoto, Japan, the OPERA collaboration announced that according to their latest measurements, neutrinos travel at almost exactly the speed of light. "Although this result isn't as exciting as some would have liked, it is what we all expected deep down," said CERN research director Sergio Bertolucci in a statement.It turns out that you don't have to know any physics whatsoever in order to understand this discovery, or to understand why it was inevitable. In fact, the explanation is pretty obvious from the article, although neither the author nor any of the physicists involved seem to have noticed it.
The article explains that last September, OPERA announced the discovery that neutrinos actually travel slightly faster than the speed of light (denoted by c)! The OPERA people were well aware that this result would overturn a century of fundamental physics, so they made sure to check very carefully that their result was correct. After being unable to find anything wrong with it, they announce it to the world. And the world was not willing to believe it.
So what happened next? A number of other labs tried to reproduce OPERA's result, and none of them were able to. So OPERA was shut down and their physicists returned to their previous farming occupations.
Just kidding. After OPERA realized no one was buying their schtick, they realized they had to retreat. Exactly what happened next is not completely clear. It appears they first did what the technical support people always tell us to do, namely they checked that their cables were connected well. And they found one that wasn't. So they fixed the cable, and the speed of neutrinos decreased, but not below c. So they looked further and found a faulty clock. Replacing the clock caused the speed of neutrinos to fall just slightly below c, which is where they wanted it to be.
So what did they do next? They next replaced every other piece of their equipment, one piece at a time, to see how sensitive the results were to the vagaries of their equipment. Just kidding again. Next, they did absolutely nothing except to announce their new result. Which just happened to be the result they expected. And was exactly the result I would expect to be achieved by people who keep jiggling their equipment until their output is on the right side of c, and then stop jiggling. Now I suppose one can say that the fact that their original result was close to c is strong evidence that the correct value is also close to c. But surely the subsequent jiggling gives us no further confidence that this is the case, and there is no good reason to take their new error bars seriously.
There is disagreement within OPERA about how much jiggling there should have been before they announced the earlier, unbelievable result. But everyone seems to agree that if a result is believable and even desirable, then it should be believed, and that no (further) jiggling is necessary.
For more fun with OPERAtic neutrinos, consider the following passage:
Before OPERA, all the evidence for neutrino oscillations came from disappearances: detectors would end up with less of a certain type of neutrino than they started with, suggesting some had morphed into other flavours. Then in 2010, OPERA found the first tau neutrino in a beam of billions of muon neutrinos streaming to the Gran Sasso detectors from CERN. The discovery was a big deal at the time, but the team said they needed more tau neutrinos to make it statistically significant. Now, a second tau neutrino has shown up in the detectors, they report.In unrelated news, I recently conducted an exclusive interview with Joe, a janitor who works for OPERA. Joe told me that he remembers very well the day when the second tau neutrino was discovered. "I remember that day" he explained, "because that was the day I badly sprained my ankle tripping over a cable." "I should have been more careful" he added. "That was the second time that happened to me."
update: September 4, 2012
Innumerable people have written to ask me what I think about the discovery of the Higgs boson (or at least a particle very similar to the Higgs boson) by CERN. According to Joe Incandela (probably not the Joe quoted above who used to work at OPERA), in order to discover this particle CERN had to observe a number of collisions comparable to the number of grains of sand that can fit in an Olympic size swimming pool. In all those collisions, the elusive particle only showed up a few dozen times.
But it appeared nearly exactly the number of times and in exactly the way that the theory predicted.
Not clear. But if so, this is a triumph. And if not, it's even better because it's a "gateway" to Something New. Why should we believe all this? Because Scientists did the Math, and determined that the observations could not be due to anything except this "God particle" (or something similar). Sort of like when Creationists do the Math and conclude that a new species could not have arisen except by some sort of ... God particle. Of course, scientists correctly point out that the math done by the Creationists fails to take into account certain alternative natural mechanisms. So exactly what mechanisms did the CERN Scientists take into account in order to rule out explanations alternative to their desired one? At last count I calculated that the Large Hadron Collider consists of a gazillion separate parts, each of which can malfunction in interesting ways. Did anybody do the math here? As of last September, we know the answer is "NO". (See footnote.)
But not to worry. This is a result everybody wanted, so what's not to like?
(Footnote: Perhaps malfunctioning equipment can cause an error in a measurement, but not in the detection of a particle. I doubt this, since I think everything is measurement. I haven't read the technical literature. But the best we can say about these scientists is that they are treating us like idiots. The worst we can say is ...)
Sunday, March 18, 2012
The problem with this detached, neutral, scientific conduct-focused approach is that the scientific questions can't be so cleanly separated from the conduct questions. It's nice to think that even when one side in a scientific debate--whether the establishment or the dissenters--is the scientific equivalent of flat-earthers or creationists, the other side can and should stick to careful technical arguments, and will eventually win the day. But people (and institutions) are human, "eventually" is a long time, and a lot of damage can be done when flawed ideas are advanced by unscrupulous means, and resisted only by the most fastidiously scrupulous ones. In this respect, the "alarmists" actually have the better of the argument.
"Fakegate" has provided an excellent illustration of this point. Most of the discussion on both sides has carefully avoided the question of the authenticity of the disputed "strategy memo"--one side emphasizing instead Glieck's dishonest methods in obtaining insider information from the Heartland Institute, and the other side, the contents of the acknowledged-authentic Heartland documents--for the understandable reason that the authenticity of the "strategy memo" cannot be proven one way or another, and probably never will be. Yet the final judgment on Glieck's actions depends crucially on that question: if the memo is indeed authentic, then Glieck's deception to expose an organization intent on undermining science education (among other sins outlined in the memo) is at least understandable. And conversely, if the memo is fake, then Glieck isn't simply an investigator with somewhat controversial methods--he's at the very least a reckless purveyor of slanders, and at worst an outright forger.
Likewise, if opponents of the "consensus view" on AGW really are the equivalent of flat-earthers or creationists, trying to replace legitimate scientific consensus in the service of a patently unscientific agenda, then scheming to keep them out of peer-reviewed journals and science classrooms is a perfectly reasonable, even noble endeavor, arguably necessary to defend the standards of scientific research and education from attack. It's only if the climate skeptics have a legitimate scientific case that the shenanigans of Jones, Mann et al. start to look disturbing.
And this is where the real failure of the broader scientific community becomes clear. Academic research has become so specialized and compartmentalized--for political reasons as much as for scientific ones--that entire scientific fields of highly dubious merit have sprung up, keeping large numbers of "scientists" busy doing research that is at best useless and at worst downright bogus, with nary a complaint from the collective scientific establishment. In this environment, it's simply expected that the scientific community will rush to the defense of any fairly small collection of scientists that comes under attack from without, regardless of the credibility of their conclusions and despite a complete lack of external scrutiny.
It should be obvious to any scientifically literate person that the claims of the AGW establishment are nowhere near iron-clad enough for all of their critics to be dismissed out of hand as cranks, lunatics and political hacks. Yet not only do I hear embarrassingly few scientists from outside the immediate field address this point, but nobody thinks it odd that these outside scientists should simply defer en masse to their specialist colleagues, no questions asked. If I didn't know better, I'd think the scientific research community as a whole cared more about solidarity in the protection of its status as collectively coddled, well-funded "experts" than about the quality of its scientific research.
Monday, February 06, 2012
Sunday, January 01, 2012
It's time for ICBW's annual predictions post...First, a review of last year's predictions:
Not a great prediction--in a nutshell, I expected a stronger recovery in the US economy, the absence of which weakened the US dollar, causing oil, gold and commodities to remain strong.
Birmingham AL and Harrisburg PA both declared bankruptcy this year, and numerous states and municipalities have experienced major budget crunches. Several European countries (Italy, Portugal and Spain) joined Ireland and Greece to form the notorious "PIIGS" group.
Pretty much on-target, although the American withdrawal from Iraq became markedly less gradual at the end of the year, and some say the resultant increase in instability has become correspondingly less modest.
Pretty much dead-on.
Perhaps they should have taken my advice--a year of continuous confrontation and hostility has badly tarnished the approval ratings of both the Republican Congress and the Obama administration. As a result, Mitt Romney is looking more and more like both a clear frontrunner and a credible threat to Obama's re-election.
Well, maybe next year...
And now for this year's fearless (or fear-mongering, or fearfully misguided, or merely frightful) predictions...
There they are--read 'em and weep (or laugh derisively)...
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Applebaum's observations on the divided middle class are nothing new--I noted the phenomenon some twenty years ago, and it was one of my early blog topics. During the 1960s, America's white-collar middle class, having grown explosively and prospered spectacularly during the entire postwar boom, began to assert itself as a separate class, with economic, social and cultural interests that diverged sharply from those of the blue-collar lower-middle class. Much of the political and cultural turmoil of that decade and subsequent ones--the takeover of the Democratic Party by the (upper-middle class) New Left, with its emphasis on (white-collar-run) services for the poor, rather than the (blue-collar-run) union movement; the sexual and feminist revolutions, driven primarily by the more libertine mores of the upper-middle class; and of course the rise of the coalition uniting the blue-collar lower-middle class with the wealthy to form the modern conservative movement, as embodied by the Republican Party--can be traced to this historic schism within the American middle class.
The schism has also evolved over the decades since the 1960s. Most notably, the boom of the 1990s sharply reduced the political significance of serving the poor, as large numbers of them became gainfully employed, effectively joining the lower-middle class. At the same time, the wealth accumulated by the upper-middle class during that boom caused their interests to shift closer to those of the wealthy. By the crash of the late 2000s, in fact, the left-right partisan divide had come to resemble a straightforward split between the white-collar upper-middle class and their wealthy allies, on the one hand, and the blue-collar lower-middle class on the other.
The effects of that crash are the subject of Anderson's and McArdle's observations. As they point out, the upper-middle class is itself now splitting, with its more tenuously affiliated members--"the helping professions, the culture industry, the virtueocracies, the industries of therapeutic social control", as Anderson puts it--rapidly losing socioeconomic ground. (To that list of losers can also be added the legal profession, which now finds itself in the midst of a terrible glut, and journalism, which is being demolished by the Internet revolution.) Hard times, government budget cuts, and student loan debts imposed by skyrocketing college tuition rates, have conspired to markedly dim the once-bright futures of college graduates with ordinary liberal arts degrees and no other marketable skills--that is, a large portion of the less fortunate scions of the upper-middle class.
The "Occupy Wall Street" movement--and the protests in Israel which preceded it, I might add--appear to be this cohort's cri de coeur, as they demand what everyone would have assumed to be their natural birthright a decade ago: a comfortable, satisfying white-collar job, with all its accompanying economic security and social status. Although their official demands are incoherent--a hodgepodge of vaguely radical leftist and populist proposals to be funded by taxes extracted from "corporations" and "the rich"--their overall theme is society's obligation to pour billions of dollars into addressing the concerns of (and, implicitly, valuing--and appropriately remunerating--the contributions of) young, privileged-but-unambitious left-wing liberal arts graduates. Student loan forgiveness, money for environmentalist projects, anti-corporate regulatory regimes (presumably staffed by activist investigators)--these are hardly the stuff of revolution, but they certainly resonate among the protestors' demographic.
What, then, of the ostensible focus of the protests--wealth and income inequality, as symbolized by the supposed depradations of the "1 percent" at the top? Ironically, the protests themselves are proof that the problem is resolving itself as we speak. As Applebaum notes, "[d]espite all the loud talk of the “1 per cent” of Americans...the existence of a very small group of very rich people has never bothered Americans. But the fact that some 20 per cent of Americans now receive some 53 per cent of the income is devastating." In other words, it's not the richest 1 percent, but rather the bifurcation of the American middle class itself, that has generated the most class friction and resentment in American society. And by slipping down and out of that coveted upper tier into a kind of hopeless socioeconomic limbo, the OWS protesters and their supporters are doing more to bridge the gap between the middle class' estranged upper and lower halves than any of their radical proposals could ever hope to accomplish. Eventually, once the howls of entitled indignance have trailed off, we may well see a resurgence of "middle-middle-class" solidarity, uniting middle-income white-collar and blue-collar workers to protect their common interests.