Saturday, January 31, 2009
I don't know much about global warming. But I do know a little something about the dangers of precipitous action, especially when its advocates appear to be caught up in something akin to religious fervor. My instincts run towards stop, take a deep breath, and be absolutely sure that you're not about to put the world's economy in a stranglehold just to please the people who despise modernity.
That's why I was both heartened and disheartened to read Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch column in the Washington Post on Thursday. Entitled "With All Due Respect, We're Doomed," it gives an account of Al Gore's recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where apparently he was treated like a prophet. Quoth the tongue-in-cheek Milbank:
The lawmakers gazed in awe at the figure before them. The Goracle had seen the future, and he had come to tell them about it.
What the Goracle saw in the future was not good: temperature changes that would "bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the Earth--and that is within this century, if we don't change."
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry (D. Mass.) appealed to hear more of the Goracle's premonitions. "Share with us, if you would, sort of the immediate vision that you see in this transformative process as we move into this new economy," he beseeched.
The article is well worth reading in full, but you get the idea. The bad news is that even Republicans on the Committee, like Sen. Bob Corker, treated Gore with a reverence ordinarily reserved for the likes of Isaiah and Ezekiel. But there's good news here too: Milbank himself, a card-carrying member of the MSM, gets it. He knows we need to take that deep breath before we plunge ahead at the behest of "the Goracle." I suspect that more and more liberals are going to go skeptical on this issue.
Alarmingly, the prophet that Gore most resembles may turn out to be Nongqawuse, who led her people to ruin in the mid-19th century. Nongqawuse was a teenager and a member of the Xhosa tribe in South Africa. One day in April or May of 1856, she went down to the river to fetch water. When she returned, she said that she had encountered the spirits of three of her ancestors who told her that her people must destroy their crops and kill their cattle. In return, the sun would rise red on February 18, 1857, and the Xhosa ancestors would sweep the British settlers from the land and bring them fresh, healthier cattle. (Some of the Xhosa cattle had been suffering from a lung ailment, which may or may not have been brought by the British settlers' cattle.)
Astonishingly, the Xhosa chieftain, Sarhili, agreed to do exactly as this young girl urged. Over the next year, a frenzy occurred in which it is estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 cattle were killed and crops destroyed. Historians sometimes call it the "Great Cattle Killing."
But on February 18, 1857, the sun rose as usual. It was not red. And the Xhosa ancestors did not show. But the Xhosa people had destroyed their livelihood. In the resulting famine, the population of the area dropped from 105,000 to less than 27,000. Cannibalism was reported. Following Nongqawuse's advice was a calamity of staggering proportions for the Xhosa people.
Like Nongqawuse, Gore tells us that the sun will soon rise red over the land. Well, maybe. But already the models that he relies on have been proven wrong. The intense period of warming that these models predicted over the past ten years never came to pass. Yet we are repeatedly told that it's still coming and that it's just a little late. Apparently, we should pay no attention to the fact that the polar ice is expanding again. Instead, we must put the brakes on our use of energy--the very thing that makes the modern world possible--to avoid antagonizing the spirits of our ancestors ,,, I mean to avoid climate disaster.
Again, I am persuadable. But it will take more evidence than I have seen so far (and yes, I've spent more time than the average lawyer trying to piece the evidence together). And there are two more parallels to the Great Cattle Killing that are worth pointing out. First, Nongqawuse's urgings did not come out of nowhere. Some of the cattle were indeed sick. The problem is that her proposed course of action was utterly disproportionate to the problem, just as Gore's proposals are disproportionate given the state of our knowledge. Second, some historians believe that the Great Cattle Killing was in part motivated by class animosity. The Xhosa people had been losing ground to white settlers for years, and some members of the tribe blamed their more prosperous members. Cattle were a status symbols, and initially at least, the burden of their destruction seemed to be something that would fall disproportionately upon these tribal leaders. The cattle were, in effect, the SUVs of their time.
Here's hoping that Sen. Corker and his colleagues adopt a little healthy skepticism before they adopt the solutions proposed by Gore. We don't need a Senate of Sarhilis. For the record, I should point out that he perished in the famine.
Friday, January 30, 2009
I hadn't thought of that. The world wide credit crunch give the US the chance to drain the punch bowl (to shift metaphors) before everybody else even gets to the party. We'll be poorer, but everybody else will be much poorer, so we still win.
This is a really dreadful story of abuse in the juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania. This sort of thing is, one hopes anyway, rare these days, but it didn't use to be.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Glenn Reynolds is doing yeoman's work reminding the world about Chris Dodd's wrongdoing. Glenn quotes a NRO piece:
The Army of Davids is in action. The problem is that the Republican Senators don't seem to be cooperating. I don't get it. Don't they want to punish wrongdoing and regain a majority? They need to publicize this stuff and demand action. After all, Dodd may just be the tip the iceberg.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The House stimulus bill. This would be really bad in normal times. In these times, it's very dangerous. I mean a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending would not be a good idea, but it would at least be, well, sincere. This monstrosity heaving itself out of the House is a recipie for an American lost decade and quite possibly worse. At a time like this to take a trillion dollars of borrowed money and just absolutely piss it away on rank pork? What kind of irresponsible low life votes for that? What could you be thinking? Our political system is really broken. We really are Japan, or worse, but instead of construction companies and bent banks we have public sector employees unions, insolvent banks and some weird sort of collective illusion that not only can we spend our way out of this mess, but that it doesn't even matter what we spend it on. And Obama signs anything like this swamp monster, I hereby take back all the nice things I have said about him.
Some background on the macro-econ wars. Very interesting, I think. In brief, I think it is fair to say the Salty Left such as Krugman and DeLong believe that macro-economics is about empirical research, not fancy mathematical models, and that this research shows that government can accomplish things experience suggests it can't or at least certainly won't. The Fresh Water Right Wingers from places such as Chicago on the other hand disdain empirical research and instead opt for ridiculously elaborate mathematical models which suggest that that government efforts to, for example, fiscally stimulate the economy are doomed to fail. So while the Salty Left uses the correct methodology to reach the wrong conclusion, the Fresh Right uses the wrong methodology to reach the right conclusion.