Saturday, September 30, 2006

AL GORE: BLOWING SMOKE

From THE DRUDGE REPORT: SEPTEMBER 30, 2006:

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore warned hundreds of U.N. diplomats and staff on Thursday evening about the perils of climate change, claiming: Cigarette smoking is a "significant contributor to global warming!"

Gore, who was introduced by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said the world faces a "full-scale climate emergency that threatens the future of civilization on earth."

Gore showed computer-generated projections of ocean water rushing in to submerge the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, parts of China, India and other nations, should ice shelves in Antarctica or Greenland melt and slip into the sea.

"The planet itself will do nicely, thank you very much what is at risk is human civilization," Gore said. After a series of Q& A with the audience, which had little to do with global warming and more about his political future, Annan bid "adios" to Gore.

Then, Gore had his staff opened a stack of cardboard boxes to begin selling his new book, "An Inconvenient Truth, The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It," $19.95, to the U.N. diplomats.

Friday, September 29, 2006

GLOBAL WARMING: A CHALLENGE AND MY RESPONSE

Here’s an ANONYMOUS POST that was written in response to the INHOFE GLOBAL WARMING ARTICLE linked below. Since the post raises points worth addressing, I’m publishing it here. My response follows.

From ANONYMOUS:

Part of the problem with public debates about complex scientific subjects like the anthropogenic cause of global warming is that non-experts think they are qualified to make judgments based on simplistic reasoning and incomplete evidence. “Of course there can’t be global warming,” lay critics claim, “because the East Antarctic ice shelf actually expanded.” The truth is that you and I are not able to make knowledgeable judgments about the specific claims of science, and that facts, like the growth of the eastern ice shelf, that would seem on the face of it to contradict the science in fact do not. Instead, the public must rely on the scientific community to inform us of the state of research and the degree of consensus and uncertainty. Certainly there are respected academic scientists—especially Richard Lindzen of MIT—who strongly disagree with the claims of many researchers in the field, and we need to be aware of such dissent. However, a great majority of the relevant scientific community believes that global warming is at least in part human caused, and that the environmental repercussions have a significant chance of being disastrous. One only need turn to journals like Nature or Science, rather than to the NYT, Gore, or Inhofe to get a more firm understanding of issues and the state of the scientific community.

Now Lindzen’s claim that funding issues promote BS science is certainly on some level legitimate; but how much is it impacting the science of global warming? Don’t forget that Lindzen himself is one of few prominent scientists on record against global warming, one who owes his popular fame precisely to his opposition: he is the darling of all those who are critical of anthropogenic global warming precisely because there are so few of his kind. If we are going to let conspiracy theories rule the debate, it would be all too easy impugn his motives. How do you suggest that we weigh Lindzen’s claim in assessing global warming science? Scientific truth-claims can only be validated by specialized scientists working in a related set of disciplines. I cannot, for instance, form my own informed opinion on the problems that string theory analyzes. Certainly we should be aware of and to the extent possible fix structural biases, but just because Lindzen claims large-scale bias does not in fact mean that there is one. Only the scientific community can evaluate such claims. To the extent that Lindzen helps to exhort scientists to greater disciplinary rigor, the better; but we should not mistake his accusations as reason to dismiss global warming science.

If liberals sometimes overstate the claims of the scientific community on global warming, it is because the public is too addicted to their prolific consumption, and Republicans too addicted to oil money and corporate interests, to care. We have a serious problem here, Mr. Kirk: the scientific community thinks there could be a real chance of major environmental consequences deriving from our current practices. Scientists aren’t sure of the extent of those consequences (a few admittedly think it will be zero), but many think there is real probability of disaster: the results may not just be ruining La Jolla’s year-round surfing weather, but large-scale displacement of populations in those areas least able to handle it: the third world. How then can we get this issue before the public in all its complexity? We need real public debate on this issue. Too often, the conservative tactic is too dismiss the near consensus in the scientific community, claiming that the science is insufficiently developed while simultaneously providing scant funding for further research.

My point is not engage in political scorekeeping. Both parties have serious problems and moral failings. Rather, I want to know what you think should be done about global warming given the issues at hand. I would argue that: 1) there needs to be significant public airing of the state of climate science, the degree to which consensus exists, the uncertainty of models and predictions; the potential impact of various likely scenarios; 2) that there needs to be large-scale public debate around acceptable strategies for reducing greenhouse gas admissions given the risks and likelihoods of various scenarios. Unfortunately, the radical skeptics of climate science, of those who seek to dismiss the issue as purely conspiratorial, are major obstacles to such discussion. Let us not forget the global consequences that will follow if certain models prove right. The stakes for the future COULD be extremely high.

MY RESPONSE:

The first point on which we differ is the deference you show toward scientists who presumably deal with matters about which laymen must be silent. This reverential attitude is a serious mistake that puts scientists on an almost superhuman level. In my prior blog posting, INCONVENIENT TRUTHS—FOR AL GORE, I argue that the consensus of scientific opinion is as susceptible to social influences and self-delusion as the general populace. That article refers specifically to the “scientific” backing for eugenics that was common in the 1920’s. I’m glad that folks back then weren’t as deferential to the “men in white” as you seem to be. C.S. Lewis’ classic work, THE ABOLITION OF MAN, is a helpful antidote against this attitude, as is also Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD.

Secondly, you suggest that Richard Lindzen is almost alone in his views and you confidently assert that a “consensus” exists in the field of atmospheric science on global warming. Additionally, you imply that Lindzen objects to that consensus because of the publicity he’s getting. (Using your own standard of expertise, I think you ought to refrain from engaging in psychological analysis unless you have the appropriate credentials.) What you don’t acknowledge is that a large number of “dissidents” exist, scholars mentioned specifically by Senator Inhofe. These scientists emphasize specific data that is ignored by global warming enthusiasts and, of course, by the media. Your willingness to leave the hashing out of these matters to folks in the discipline, without any “outside” interference betrays, I think, a na├»ve view about the sociology of science. You are happy to let scientists do their thing (by majority vote of “those that count,” presumably) in a way you would never agree to if the professionals wore business suits. (Scientists are different!) At the same time you ignore the role that media coverage has on who is and who isn’t considered a credible spokesman and on what evidence gets prime time coverage and what evidence never sees the network light of day. (Who made CAIR the go-to organization on all things Islamic in America?) Do you expect the media to “stand back” patiently while “objective scientists” huddle up and observe “the evidence”?

It has been my experience that most scientists are as abysmally ignorant about the history of their enterprise as they are about its philosophical premises. Most of the rank and file (This isn’t true of many of the best scientists.) assume, as perhaps you do, that science proceeds incrementally, adding bit by bit to a store of “facts” that just keep getting better and better. As Thomas Kuhn, among others, has noted, science proceeds incrementally (to the extent that it does at all) only within the framework of fundamental paradigms. These paradigms, however, are subject to radical changes that often redirect and revolutionize the interpretation of prior data. Thus, epicycles within a geocentric universe gave way to a heliocentric universe with planets following slightly out of kilter circular (and later elliptical) orbits. Likewise, Newton’s infinite, uniform, mathematical universe was replaced by a universe where time is relative and space warped.

More importantly, the less “fixed” paradigms are within their disciplines, the more “facts” and “theories” become intertwined. This observation is fairly obvious in the field of psychology but it applies just as well to “dynamic” and highly unpredictable models within disciplines that focus on the earth’s atmosphere. Here one model produces results that are touted as facts. A different model produces a different set of facts. If ever there was a scientific situation that lends itself to manipulation and wishful thinking and political skullduggery, this is it—dynamic variables, a vast number of variables, and the promise of being at the center of an effort to “save humanity”--with the help of generous foundation and government grants.

It is the myth of “incremental” knowledge that leads ignorant laymen to assume that any consensus hypothesis, no matter how ephemeral, moots any historical objections. Science, on this view, is always advancing and, thus, always “closer to the truth.” This worshipful StarTrekism confers practical infallibility on scientific opinions of every stripe since the time of the Enlightenment and ignores the fact that a litany of radical reversals is incompatible with the notion of incrementalism.

Senator Inhofe, who (contrary to your implication) doesn’t claim technical scientific expertise, does possess the ability to read and to publicize an historical record that many scientists and the mainstream media gladly ignore. That record shows an almost humorous movement, back and forth, on the issue of global cooling-warming-cooling-warming. And with the last two theoretical scares, active government intervention and suspension of industrial development was touted as the “cure” for both these maladies—global cooling and global warming! As Karl Popper observed, when any possible scenario fits your theory, what is at work isn’t science, it’s ideology. And the ideologies at work here are political and anti-industrial.

Since I have a fairly respectable background in the philosophy of science, I am reluctant to put myself on the same level of scientific ignorance that you place yourself. I suspect you have never taken post-graduate courses in the Philosophy of Science or read Karl Popper’s contributions to the subject or persevered through Alfred North Whitehead’s “Science and the Modern World.” Perhaps you’ve looked at Thomas Kuhn’s work, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” but probably not “The Copernican Revolution.” Nor, I dare say, have you ever had a post-graduate class that correlated scientific perspectives with the cultural milieus in which those ideas flourished. As a “semi-professional” philosopher of science I think I have enough expertise to distinguish between highly tentative theories that are hugely susceptible to political manipulation and more reliable theories that exist in a calmer social atmosphere. I think I understand fairly well the psychological, sociological, and political dynamics that are in play when it comes to the global warming issue.

As to the “cost” of being wrong on this issue, the question assumes there is no “cost” to a policy that would divert trillions of dollars toward an effort that “might” be environmentally useless, or even harmful. If you bothered to read the Inhofe speech carefully—a proposition for which I have no tangible evidence—you would see that the funds that “may” be squandered on a political boondoggle could unquestionably be employed to address a number of needs around the globe—starting with the eradication of malaria. That is the priority of one group of scientists who aren’t on the media’s call-for-comment list. Furthermore, the “anti-industrial” Kyoto agenda of eco-fascists will surely, in any case, condemn billions of human beings to a life of impoverishment and disease—all to the greater glory of Paul Ehrlich and his loyal band of misanthropes.

As for your suggestion about open discussion of the global warming issue—that is precisely the position I am advocating. YOUR side claims, via its delusional demagogue, Al Gore, that the question has been settled. Read Karl Popper’s THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES to see what label he would attach to global warming’s biggest mouthpiece. Whitehead refers to such statements—proffered frequently by a “consensus” of scientists—dogmatism.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

BENEDICT XVI: FAITH, REASON, AND VIOLENCE

Joseph Stalin famously discounted the power of the pope by asking how many troops he had. The Soviet dictator shared the belief of his soul-mate, Mao Zedong, that power comes from the barrel of a gun. The final leaders of the Soviet Empire were less sanguine about the uselessness of spiritual weapons. Witness the conspiracy to assassinate John-Paul II.

The recent comments that Benedict XVI directed to the “representatives of science” at the University of Regensburg concerned a similar topic—the relationship of faith and reason to violence. Based on news snippets, one might think the talk was an extended harangue against Muslims.

In fact, the address was over the heads of 99% of reporters who bothered to read it. Fortunately for them, the inflammatory sound bite they crave came toward the beginning of the talk. That remark was a quotation “by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II” to “an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.” Manuel II, Benedict noted, “addresses his interlocutor with an astounding harshness on the…relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: ‘Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’”

The reason for this “astounding harshness” [wrongly translated “startling brusqueness”] doubtless had something to do with the fact that these remarks were set down by the emperor shortly before or during the siege of Constantinople by Muslim Turks from 1394 to 1402. Manuel goes on to explain why violence is incompatible with God’s nature: "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.”

Benedict proceeds to argue that there is an essential continuity between rationality itself and the God that transcends human reason. Were this not the case, an unbridgeable chasm would arise between faith and reason—a chasm that consigns faith to the sphere of individual subjectivity or opens the door to a religion spread by force of arms.

The irony of Benedict’s address is that he was speaking to two groups who posit an absolute fissure between faith and reason. The first group consists of modernists for whom all talk about God is balderdash—folks who think ethics can be reduced to an evolutionary bi-product and who accept without comment those rational structures that make science possible. The second group consists of believers (Christians and Muslims) who reject links between reason and faith as an infringement on God’s sovereignty. Strange bedfellows. For both sides, reason yields to irrationality—and often to brute force.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

FORGETTING 9/11

“She would have been a good woman,” the Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

The line occurs near the end of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” It refers to a self-absorbed grandmother who had just been murdered (along with her son and his family) by a religiously reflective killer. Sadly, the poignant observation seems to fit many Americans’ relationship to the events of 9/11/2001.

For some weeks following that infamous date, Americans focused intently on things that matter: courage, honor, integrity, especially patriotism. An inconceivable tragedy highlighted the tenuous nature of the blessings we take for granted--family, peace, freedom--and temporarily diverted attention from the superficial, vile, or self-serving activities which preoccupy so many of us.

During that time firemen and cops replaced movie stars and pop divas as society’s most admired individuals. Anonymous heroes without Malibu mansions or drug rap sheets were honored instead of their celluloid counterparts. People were jolted into
asking serious questions: “What is really important? What is worth dying for? Why am I here?”

As months wore on, however, it became obvious that many individuals-- especially the rich and famous camera cult--were eager to reinstitute the old regime. Where, after all, would MTV be if youngsters began to idolize Todd Beamer instead of Eminem or Madonna? Where would Hollywood’s hedonism rank in a world where integrity was defined by virtue and self-sacrifice instead of doing whatever the heck you please? And how could Leno and Letterman deliver nightly monologues for audiences that weren’t tawdry and cynical?

Where would the talk-show Lilliputians be in a world where national leaders aren’t caricatured as blithering idiots who deserve nothing but contempt? And what would happen to that cohort of intellectuals whose sense of moral superiority rests solely on acts of vicious criticism--folks physically revolted by exhibitions of patriotism and profoundly depressed at the prospect of restraining their venom another day?
A world where personal virtue is taken seriously isn’t to the liking of these groups. Like the children of Israel in the book of Exodus, they long to return to the “fleshpots of Egypt”--to revel in the thoughtless security of a society where matters of life and death are reduced to vulgar punch lines in yet another South Park episode.

They wish to “get on with their lives”--to forget the truths of death, heroism, and evil and to slide back into a world of cheap sex, cheap talk, and cheap rebellion. They crave a life of comfortable celebrity devoid of nobility and moral earnestness.

As the memory of 9/11 fades, “American Idol” replaces the World Trade Center on pop-culture’s jumbotron. Too many Americans, it seems, need to be shot every day to avoid reverting to lives of brutish pettiness.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

THE SHADOW PARTY by David Horowitz and Richard Poe

A month after John Kerry’s narrow loss to George W. Bush in 2004’s Presidential election, Eli Pariser boasted to his MoveOn associates, “Now it’s our party. We bought it. We own it.” The huge question raised by this audacious declaration was, “Who are ‘we’?” That query is answered in David Horowitz and Richard Poe’s new book, The Shadow Party—a work that also explains how this political takeover was accomplished. In the authors’ own words, “This book documents how, through an extraordinary series of political, legal, and financial maneuvers, an unlikely network of radical activists and activist billionaires gained de facto control over the Democratic Party’s campaign apparatus….”

The eminence grise lurking behind these machinations was and is George Soros, the billionaire financier and founder of the Open Society Institute. It was Soros who declared in November, 2003, that defeating President Bush was “the central focus of [his] life” and “a matter of life and death”—then devoted twenty-seven million dollars to accomplish that goal during the 2004 campaign cycle.

That figure was almost matched by Soros’ friend, Progressive Insurance Chairman Peter Lewis, who channeled $24,000,000 into supposedly non-partisan “527” organizations. Donations by three other Soros associates, Hollywood mogul Stephen Bing ($14,000,000) and Golden West Financial Corporation’s Herbert and Marion Sandler ($13,000,000), brought contributions by the Soros five to a staggering $78,000,000. The Machiavellian quality of these massive donations becomes apparent when one discovers that Soros was also an influential figure, and possibly the key figure, behind the push for campaign finance reform.

This multi-year conspiracy to pass a law for which there was no electoral constituency was dubbed “Pewgate” by the New York Post’s Ryan Sager—a Bronx tribute to the Charitable Trust whose Program Officer made public the covert strategy. A centerpiece of this top-down scheme was Senator John McCain, the “maverick Republican” whose adulatory press was matched by a spate of large gifts from left-wing foundations to his “Reform Institute for Campaign and Election Issues.” Other media icons like Bill Moyers, with substantial foundation backing, joined in conjuring up an illusory popular demand for campaign finance reform. Even a bogus academic study was part of the mix.

In the end, as Horowitz and Roe note, the McCain-Feingold legislation succeeded only in regulating political speech—not at limiting campaign finances. Indeed, the law created a funding crisis for Democrats since they relied more heavily on large “soft-money” contributions than Republicans did. Into this financial breach stepped Soros and company—not with contributions doled out to party regulars, but with an avalanche of funds to establish organizations of their own. Thus did campaign finance legislation and lawyerly accounting methods facilitate a political coup staged by billionaires. Machiavelli, the authors suggest, could only gaze in admiration at this cynical feat of ideological misdirection.

Connected at the hip to Soros’ archipelago of non-profits is the Byzantine political structure known as “Hillaryland”—a secretive world dedicated to the aspirations of the junior senator from New York. Needless to say, “Hillaryland” is generously supported by the former First Lady’s “good friend George Soros.” According to Horowitz and Poe, the “unofficial CEO” who coordinates the activities of all these “independent” and “non-partisan” groups is Harold Ickes—another “good friend” of Hillary and, for a time, Bill Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Of Ickes’ White House job description, Dick Morris commented in 1997, “Whenever there was something that…required ruth­less­ness or vengeance or sharp elbows… [Clinton] would give it to Harold.” This was a job for which Ickes had been well trained, having spent years providing legal representa­tion for union bosses with purported mob connections. Ickes, it seems, thrives in the shadows.

Among the groups that Horowitz and Roe link to the Shadow Party are a klatch of non-profits known as the “Seven Sisters.” These include MoveOn.org (the feisty brainchild of Wes Boyd and Joan Blades that was transformed into a political player on steroids by infusions of Soros cash), the Center for American Progress (headed by Bill Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff, John Podesta, and known as “the official Hillary Clinton think tank”), America Votes and America Coming Together (organizations focused on voter registration and turnout), the Media Fund (an in-house advertising agency), the Joint Victory Campaign 2004 (a funding conduit), and finally, Thunder Road Group (a powerful organization that combines planning, polling, opposition research, and PR).

While Horowitz and Roe focus much attention on the top of the political ladder, they also show how those players employ, sometimes illegally, grassroots activists. The use of Soros money to fund the successful campaign of David Soares for Albany County District Attorney is an instructive case in point. Even more disturbing, however, are indications that coordination exists to implement a new version of the radical Cloward-Pivin strategy. In the seventies this tactic resulted in dramatically expanded welfare rolls that brought New York City to the brink of bankruptcy. Today, a similar plan of attack is being used “to overwhelm the nation’s understaffed and poorly policed electoral system.”

The disdain that radical leftists have for the democratic process, Horowitz and Roe suggest, may not be an attitude that is anathema to Soros—who from 1959 to 1965 lived among Greenwich Village’s socialist bohemians and later became a close friend of the poet Allen Ginsberg. Evidence from Soros’ revolutionary undertakings in Serbia and Georgia also implies a greater concern for Soros-approved results than for strictly democ­ratic methods. Furthermore, the fact that Soros views the United States government as an oversized bully isn’t encouraging—especially in light of the legion of lawyers that were poised to challenge 2004’s Presidential election results and Congressional proposals for U.N. oversight of elections. Such tactics suggest, at the least, a cavalier attitude when it comes to undermining public confidence in the democratic process.

The Shadow Party’s most intriguing pages provide an ominous portrait of the Hungarian-born billionaire who, in one interview, expressed his wish to become “the conscience of the world,” but on another occasion coolly observed that taking “social consequences” into account would throw off his financial calculations and reduce his profits. Put more bluntly, the latter statement means that Soros wouldn’t have netted two billion dollars from “breaking the Bank of England” in 1992 if he thought about the pain his currency play would bring to British citizens. Similar contradictions attend the man who, until the Tax Reform Act of 1986, sheltered his Quantum Fund from U.S. taxes but now wishes to create a global economic system that would prevent others from doing the same.

Intellectually, Soros declares himself a disciple of Karl Popper and of his former prof’s “open society” philosophy. Yet Soros has little sympathy for an America that is clearly more “open,” by Popper’s standards, than the one the philosopher praised in the early 1950’s. Furthermore, Soros works, often surreptitiously, to establish open societies around the world, yet he opposes the “imposition” of values on foreign cultures. What Soros most clearly despises is “American Supremacy”—a political state of affairs that he likens to a stock market bubble. It’s no wonder that Soros gave up serious philosophizing when he was unable to make heads or tales of comments he had committed to paper the previous day.

The arrogance suggested by Soros’ hopeful self-designation, “the conscience of the world,” is echoed less benevolently in a comment made to The New Republic in 1994: “Just write that the former Soviet Empire is now called the Soros Empire.” Additional doubt is cast on Soros’ philanthropic motives when, as in Kosovo and Russia, the global mogul mixes open society initiatives with shady financial deals. Soros at times acknowl­edges his schizophrenic persona, but then rationalizes this duplicity by observing that a wealthier Soros can do more good than a less affluent billionaire. For many observers, Soros’ will to power reveals itself as the majority shareholder in an uneasy psychological partnership.

Stories that describe Soros’ tenuous relationship to the Jewish community are also instructive. They include anecdotes that go back to his father, a well-to-do lawyer who exchanged the surname “Schwartz” for an Esperanto appellation based on the verb “to soar.” Soros describes his non-practicing, globalist upbringing as “Jewish” and “anti-Semitic.” When the Nazis overran Hungary in 1944, the Soros family assumed Christian identities and later split up. “Gyorgy’s” safety was secured by paying an official in the fascist regime to take the fourteen-year-old into his home. During the next months this man’s presumed “godson” often accompanied him as he delivered deportation notices and confiscated Jewish property. Decades later, when Soros was asked in a Sixty Minutes interview if this experience had created feelings of guilt, he replied, “Not at all,”—strange words from “the conscience of the world” but not unexpected from an individual who once lectured a group of American Jews on their contributions to anti-Semitism.

Blaming the victim, it seems, is typical for Soros, who immediately rejected a military response to 9/11 and articulated instead a policy of self-scrutiny. For Soros, the best way to retaliate against terrorism is global redistribution of wealth—a policy that a few years earlier (inasmuch as he and Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs redistributed multinational funds in the new Russian state) resulted in “one of the greatest social robberies in human history.”

Viewing events through the lens of moral equivalence is another Soros trademark. This trait was on full display when the billionaire equated the murder of thousands of civilians on 9/11 with the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: “I think that those pictures hit us the same way as the terrorist attack itself, not quite with the same force because in the terrorist attack we were the victims. In the pictures we were the perpetrators….”

Even if the Horowitz-Poe portrait of Soros isn’t the whole story, their work certainly raises profound questions about the man’s psychic shadow. The billionaire promoter of “open societies” is also, it seems, an opportunistic financier and stealthy kingmaker—a man whose globalist fantasies and contempt for America are matched only by delusions of grandeur rooted in a desperate lack of self-awareness and moral perspective. Such is the mind of the man who, more than anyone else, dominates the Shadow Party.