Friday, April 29, 2005
Enemy of the State
As Matthew Barganier writes:
Since when is communism anti-state? And since when do conservatives, much less self-styled libertarians, consider "enemy of the state" a pejorative?
(One could argue about the communism bit). Once being an "Enemy of the State" becomes a pejorative, it's time to prick up your ears and listen to those marching boots, slowly coming closer. Thump thump thump thump.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Thus Arthur Silber describes radio host and right-wing piece of human flotsam Rush Limbaugh's celebration of Abu Ghraib day:
CALLER: How you doing Rush?
RUSH: Pretty good, Kevin.
CALLER: Love to talk to you.
RUSH: Thank you.
CALLER: I just want you to know that we are going to have our Abu Ghraib barbecue party tonight and we are going to be playing nude Twister.
RUSH: (Laughing.) How many people you got coming?
CALLER: Well, I figure we only need 8 or 10 to make it a rip roaring time. I thought that would be kind of fitting.
RUSH: Yeah. Nude Twister? Big Abu Ghraib barbecue. (Laughter.) Okay. And that’s from Oregon. Progress here.
And Justin Raimondo over at Antiwar.com savagely takes down Debbie Schlussel's gloating over the death of Marla Ruzicka, an aid worker, at Frontpage magazine. Marla Ruzicka, whose organization aids civilian casualties of the ongoing war, was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq. Apparently, drawing attention to the fact that, when you bomb a country back to the mesolithic, innocent people will get maimed and killed, provoked the proto-Fascist American right to reveal all of its utterly ghoulish tendencies, such as here at Freerepublic.com.
The big price for its heroic endeavour to descend to the moral level of the army ant must probably go to the ultra-right Little Green Footballs, gloating about the death of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in March, 2003. Here is the LGF post in all its hideousness - more on the naked bloodthirstiness of the American right confronted with Rachel Corrie's death here by Antiwar.com, here and here by Arthur Silber, and here by Harry's Place.
The two-faced nature of the U.S. pro-war right - going on about fighting terrorism, liberating Iraq, and so on, while revealing themselves as bloodthirsty monsters when they think nobody's watching them, was captured brilliantly by this cartoon of the Idleworm. But perhaps the cartoon does little justice to reality, which seems much more bleak.
- Merlijn de Smit
Saturday, April 23, 2005
A Plague on Both Your Houses!
Take this item, for example. More here. The student organization of the British Socialist Workers Party joined in a walkout together with the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, in protest against a speech by Houzan Mahmoud. Houzan Mahmoud happens to be an activist of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, which condemns both the occupation and, rightly, in my view, the sectarian and reactionary resistance. Here's an interesting article by Houzan Mahmoud on the deteriorating situation for women in Iraq and the resurgence of political Islam. The homepage of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq is here. One might think it's opportunistic for the pro-war Harry's Place to point this out - after all, the WCPI resists the occupation as fiercely as they resist political Islam - but that does not make the SWP students' behaviour in this any less nauseating.
And then there's this infernal "Academic Boycott" of Israel, which, unfortunately, passed in case of two Universities (scroll down from here if the link doesn't work). Let me be absolutely clear on this. I am as disgusted by Israel's policies in the occupied territories as I am with, say, Russia's policies in Chechnya. But academics supportive of this thing should be tarred and feathered, as far as I am concerned. A University is not the place for political sandbox games and playground logic. Academic Boycotts are a betrayal of the universal values academic work should serve. And don't come to be with postmodernist bullshit about academic research being always political or ideological in nature - if I were to believe that, I would leave University immediately, and do something else.
There's two points in which the detractors of the Anti-War/Pro-Palestinian movement are right on. There's doubtlessly more. That does not mean that the sliver of the left supportive of the war in Iraq is any more fertile a ground for a resurgence of the left as the SWP or the Respect Coalition or similar organizations in other countries are. World-weary moderate Social Democracy has been as gutted by the downfall of the Soviet Union as the more radical left and reached its political bankrupcy when the "progressive" babyboomers - Joschka-Fischer, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Susan Sontag, you name 'em - supported bombing Yugoslavia to ashes. Watching them and their anti-war opponents slagging it out is a bit like watching a deathmatch between T-Rex and Spinosaurus after the big comet hit.
A plague on both their houses.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Against academic boycott of Israel
I'm no fan of boycotts in general, but academical boycotts I find downright offensive. Regardless of what country is in question. The idea of science and academia, to me, is that they should be unpoliticized, as internationalized as possible and generally working towards the betterment of humanity as a whole. Academic boycotts negate all of this - by depriving academics of other nationalities of knowledge and the possibilities to exchange knowledge, and by making academia into petty political playgrounds.
Let's hope this infernal boycott proposal ends up in the paper bin where it belongs.
Merlijn de Smit
Quo vadis, vermis desidiosus?
I think there's cracks beginning to appear in the politico-scientific construct of Global Warming... One of the reasons is that one of the most prominent models of changing climate over the past millenium or so - the famous "Hockey Stick" model, which showed a nearly constantly downward climate curve until a sudden rise at the end of the twentieth century - seems to be pretty definitely broken, reinstating a picture of a much more variable climate, with a Medieval Warm Period, a subsequent Little Ice Age, etc. More here, and here. At the last-mentioned link, McKitrick and McIntyre essentially claim that the methodology used for the original "hockey stick" model basically creates hockey stick models out of red noise - random data.
Now, this does not cast doubt on the issue of man-made global warming itself. What it does cast doubt upon is the effectiveness of peer review of for example the IPCC - which failed to turn up the flaws unearthed by McKitrick and McIntyre. It also means that there is significant natural variability in climate - but that does not mean recent climate trends are not anthropogenic.
Why do I nevertheless speak of cracks beginning to appear?
First of all, the question of Global Warming is politicized to an enormous extent. Both the viewpoints of sceptics about the issue as adherents to the idea that Global Warming is man-made, dangerous, and providing a necessity for action such as the Kyoto protocol are inextricably tied up with political questions (whether we can or can not consciously influence such a complex issue as climate in a specific direction, whether transnational political action should have the day, or the mechanisms of the free market, etcetera). All too often, extremely uncertain possible trends are augmented into alarmist worst-case-scenarios in the media, more about that here.
As an example of brazen dishonesty, see how the topic of the declining snow cap of Mt. Kilimanjaro is connected to the issue of man-made climate change, for example here, or here, or this BBC report:
The United States has opted out of the climate change protocol and other countries, including Japan, have said they are only prepared to ratify the agreement if the Morocco conference agrees constructive guidelines. Delegates at the conference have been watching a live videolink with environmental activists on Mount Kilimanjaro - Africa's highest peak.
They were warned that the ice-covered summit of the mountain could have disappeared completly within the next 15 years.
In the past century, Mount Kilimanjaro has already lost 80% of its snow and ice.
Or look here:
MOUNT Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, has been photographed stripped of its millennia-old snow and glacier peak for the first time, in a move used by environmentalists to show the perils of global warming.
The picture is the first time anyone has caught the Tanzanian mountain's dramatic change, according to the Climate Change group which led a project to document the effects of global warming across the world.
The launch of the photo project NorthSouthEastWest coincides with a meeting of environment and energy ministers from 20 countries at a British-sponsored conference on climate change that opened today in London.
It also comes ahead of a further meeting of G8 ministers in Derbyshire, north England, later in the week.
Or do a google search. Now, the problem with this is that, as this article points out, the retreat of Mt. Kilimanjaro glacier has been going around for quite some time - a century, at least - before anthropogenic global warming could have taken off, and cheerfully continued during the period between the 1940s and 1970s - a period of "global cooling". The retreat of the icecap seems mainly connected to changes in local precipitation patterns.
This article on the whole controversy has more than a bit of a taste of sour grapes, particularly in the last paragraph:
We are entirely against the black-and-white picture that says it is either global warming or not global warming," said Prof. Georg Kaser, the paper's lead author and a glaciologist at the Institute for Geography of the University of Innsbruck, in Austria. "As a scientist I'm happy it's more complex, because otherwise it's boring."
Other authors of the new study said they were particularly dismayed that the industry-supported group had portrayed their paper as a definitive refutation of the idea that melting from warming was involved.
"We have a mere 2.5 years of actual field measurements from Kilimanjaro glaciers, unlike many other regions, so our understanding of their relationship with climate and the volcano is just beginning to develop," Dr. Douglas R. Hardy, a geologist at the University of Massachusetts and an author of the paper, wrote by e-mail. "Using these preliminary findings to refute or even question global warming borders on the absurd."
In short, Kilimanjaro may be a photogenic spokesmountain — no matter what the climatic agenda — but it is far from ideal as a laboratory for detecting human-driven warming. The debate over it obscures the nearly universal agreement among glacier and climate experts that glaciers are retreating all over the world, probably as a result of the greenhouse-gas buildup.
Fair enough, but the blame for Mt. Kilimanjaro becoming an unfitting icon for the global warming debate lies wholly with the environmental activists trying to pull a quicky with striking photographs of a retreating glacier.
Anyway, prophecies of impending doom have a typically short shelf-life. The bandwagon may easily run to the other extreme. A Dutch television program, Netwerk, dedicated an item to McKitrick's and McIntyre's research which can be found online here. Now, Netwerk is not a particularly good program. I generally find them to be moralizing and shallow to the extreme. Their item on Kyoto and Global Warming was not one-sided in favour of alarmism, though, but one-sided in favour of the view that the Kyoto protocol is absolute bunk. This surprised me greatly, and perhaps it indicates which way the wind blows.
But my main reason for thinking that within a few years, the world will have moved on to a new armaggedon scare is that some among the more alarmist left seem to have already found one. Particularly the Idleworm has been going on about peak oil the last weeks, for example, here, here, and here. The last link contains an ominous sign that the Idleworm is cocooning into Yuppie Green New Age Worm:
Whether or not we're going to end up like Mad Max in that Mad Max movie, it's a good idea to get off your arse and walk more, eat less, consume less, switch off lights when you leave a room (duh), try to cut out red meat (your fart-stench will decrease by 5000%), buy food grown closer to home (no more wines from Chile, unless you live in Chile), grow some veggies if you can, etc. etc. etc. I'm healthier and happier since I began doing more and eating less - my 34 inch lardo waistline is now a hunkerific 32, I've lost 25 lbs in 2 months, never felt better. I no longer need to "wash mahself with a rag on a stick". I'm having to take a baseball bat to work in the morning, to beat away the hordes of women.
How deep have the mighty fallen! Anyway, I partially blame this on the understandable shock of having seen Bush re-elected in November. The idea of aforementioned low-browed hominid in charge of the world's largest nuclear arsenal makes armaggedon look surprisingly desirable. The Daily Kos seems to suffer from this symptom a bit, too.
The idea behind "Peak Oil" is that, as fossil fuels are a finite reserve, oil production will peak long before we have actually run out of fossil fuels - as remaining oil fields will be progressively harder and more expensive to pump as we are nearing the end. Idleworm believes this time is nigh. What will happen if we do run out of cheap oil is a big question mark. Oil is used in lots of products. And where you can heat homes and so on with nuclear energy, for example, we can't make a car run on uranium quite yet.
Whether we run out of cheap oil in the envisionable future depends first of all on whether oil is really a fossil fuel. Recently, an abiotic theory of petroleum origin has been proposed by the late astrophysicist Thomas Gold. Gold basically argued that hydrocarbons constantly bubble up from really deep below the earth's surface, and that organic remnants - causing it to have an apparent fossil origin - are really caused by a "deep hot biosphere" of extremophile micro-organisms who, basically, like to swim around in the stuff. Tests of this idea seem to have been inconclusive. Upon Gold's suggestion, the Swedish government drilled deep into the granite bedrock and did, indeed, strike oil - though no commercially viable amounts - but as I understand (which is not much), fossil oil could have basically seeped down through cracks and pores. So let's assume that the current consensus - that fossil fuels are really fossil fuels - is correct.
If so, then at some point we will run out of the stuff. The question is when. There are alternative sources for oil such as shale oil, and tar sands, the exploitation of which is pioneered by the Canadian government. At the moment, though, the price of exploitation is too high to make it a viable commercial alternative to "normal" oil. However, it would be a big mistake to assume the price would always remain that high. If indeed we will run out of cheap oil sources, investing into shale oil and tar sands, would become attractive - and likewise, investing into research leading to more economically viable ways of production.
The optimistic oil scenario would assume that the market will do its work in stimulating creativity at a time of need. The earth's resources are not finite, as what counts as a resource or not is dependent on technological factors. Uranium was not a natural resource a century ago. Similarly, shale oil might become one, yet. The pessimistic scenario, argued by Idleworm and James Howard Kunstler, argues that particularly the United States, with its urban sprawl, non-existent public transport, and concomitant serious oil addiction, would not be able to adapt to changing circumstances without some serious social upheaval.
I'm opting for the optimistic scenario. The main reason is that the imminent prediction of the end of cheap oil is nothing new. Predictions have come and gone since the early 20th century. As many more doom scenarios - such as the overpopulation predictions of Paul Ehrlich during the 1970s. Most of these predictions seem, to me, to be seriously underestimating mankind's capability of adapting to changing circumstances, and utilizing new technologies and new resources, finding new life and new civilizations, and to generally boldly go where no one has gone before.
Finally, I think that at least part of the peak oil discussion on the left is tied up with the idea, current among the anti-war movement, that the war in Iraq was basically a desperate grab for resources. A kind of Command & Conquer Marxism, if you like. I think, and it pains me to say that I am, for once, in agreement with Harry's Place, that the "blood for oil" theory is crap.
Picture the following train of thought:
Question: Peak oil is imminent, and we are running out of cheap oil. What do we do?
Answer: Invade one of the primary oil-producing countries in the world, bomb it to rubble, overthrow a cruel but stable dictatorship with no real plan for what we put in its place, and see the country descend into a low-intensity civil war which could last for a decade.
See the problem here? No competent oil company would support the invasion of Iraq. Particularly as probably Saddam would have been happy so sell of some of its oil fields for lifting of the sanctions and perhaps US support for his regime. I think there's a variety of rational and irrational motivations behind the war in Iraq, and oil isn't one of them. First, I think that the American neoconservatives are serious about imposing liberal democracies with military might. They genuinely believe it works that way. And I think that they agree, though they may be loath to say it, with some of America's detractors on one count: that 9/11 was at least partially a blowback resulting from, for example, US arming of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The neocons in the US probably do believe that liberal democracies in the Middle East are the best guarantee against islamic terrorism.
Also, Iraq was invaded because it didn't have WMDs and didn't seriously support terrorism. But three of its neighbouring countries - Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, did support terrorism, and one of them, Iran, is quite serious about Weapons of Mass Destruction. A successful war in Iraq would put American troops on the borders of all three of them. Of course, Iraq is not as stable a bridgehead as the Americans probably expected.
But the left antiwar movement will have to scuttle the ludicrous blood-for-oil argument. It's not even vulgar Marxism, it's something quite worse than that. Marxism does not mean all policies must have secret economical motivations behind them. Historical materialism does not mean that ideal motivations, rational or irrational, can start to live a life of their own and influence policy decisions, for better or for worse. The 20th century has seen enough of the latter, one would think.
Merlijn de Smit
Monday, April 11, 2005
Off the deep end...
Until recently, one of my favourite political parties on the Dutch scene was the left social democrat Socialist Party. Reason being, despite their statism, environmentalism (they're very anti-GM) and moldy taste of lifestyle conservativism, they're just about the only serious outfit on the Dutch left these days, with the burned-out yuppies of the Green Left not going anywhere.
Anyway, one of the more decent of the SP's members of parliament used to be their foreign policy expert, Harry van Bommel. Very well-spoken and active in opposing both the bombing of Yugoslavia and the war against Iraq.
However, unfortunately, it seems that Harry van Bommel has gone crazy. Bananas. Gaga.
Apparently, Harry van Bommel has recently quit smoking and has found a new goal in life: badgering smokers. Recently, he proposed that smoking in front of animals be banned.
Really, he did propose that.
Somehow I must have missed the epidemia of emphysemia among cats, dogs suffering of lung cancer, goldfish coughing their lungs out...
One also wonders, what counts as an animal? Does a fly count? A spider? What of the birds outside? Bed mites? Bacteria?
Harry van Bommel, do your party a favour and leave it, and join, for example, the rest of the lunatic asylum at Partij voor de Dieren.
And one final word, which I am going to repeat with all the tenacity of Cato speaking about Carthage: the health risks of passive smoke have not been established.
Merlijn de Smit
PS: Harry van Bommel presented his anti-smoker claptrap in a column on the late Theo van Gogh's site. He received the column after Theo van Gogh's death. I am sure the great master is rolling on and on in his grave - and it must be quite a big mound by now, what with his size...
PPS: We used to have this cat, who lived to the ripe age of 26, and that with my mother, my father, and most of our relatives smoking in its presence. An equivalent of the well-known "My grandfather smoked and became ninety"-story...