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March 25, 2007 - March 18, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

Global Warming:

Searching for Context

Who to believe? And who are we to say?

IF. Two small data points prompted me to write this entry. First, on the evening of Al Gore's Global Warming testimony before Congress, Brit Hume told his show's panel, "Nobody disputes that global warming is occurring and that there's some human contribution to it." He went on to say that the controversy was over how serious the situation really is and whether anything can be done about it that's worth the cost. Second, courtesy of Glenn Reynolds, I found an Ann Althouse "liveblog" entry recording her reactions to her first viewing of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. Here are a few brief excerpts:

Now we're seeing him on stage talking and it's much less pretentious... and quite charming...

It bothers me that he shows thick, dirty smoke pouring out of smokestacks and then green blobby cartoon characters to illustrate "greenhouse gases." Aren't we talking about a clean, colorless gas -- carbon dioxide?...

In fact, the movie did a good job of building toward a passionate conclusion that we can and must act. So there was a scientific and a political argument combined and sold through the persona of The Man Al Gore...

In the end, I wondered: How do I know how much of all this to believe? I don't have the basis to test Gore's assertions...

But what is the process of determining what the information presented here is worth? I'm not a climate scientist. The answer, I assume, is the marketplace of ideas. I have to rely on the debate, the responses that the film has provoked...

We're left to feel good about ourselves (for believing, unlike those bad people), about the ease with which we can do the needed things, and -- above all? -- about Al Gore.

And dammit, it works. I do feel good about Al Gore!

Both Brit Hume's assertion and Ann Althouse's post are disturbing. If Brit had done his homework, he would know that there are serious scientists who dispute that global warming is occurring at all (a distinct minority, these days, to be sure) and more importantly, serious scientists who don't believe human beings are contributing to any warming that is occurring. (For example, if carbon dioxide levels rise in response to rising temperature levels rather than vice versa, as Gore claims, human CO2 output is irrelevant.) I suppose Brit doesn't much care about these disputes because he sees Global Warming primarily as a political issue, in which the policy mandate claimed by the environmentalists involves an indefensible strategy -- seriously sabotaging the world economy with measures that admittedly can't have much of an impact.

Ann Althouse is even more casual about the underlying science than Brit. How long has this topic been kicking around in the public domain? Twenty years? And with fairly high visibility for at least ten years. Yet, she feels no compunction about conceding, rather airily, that she has "no basis to test Gore's assertions."

Both Hume and Althouse are solid, meticulous professionals, regardless of how you view their political positions. (Hume is clearly a conservative, and Althouse admits in her post that she voted for Gore.) On the one hand, it's understandable that intelligent professionals have the humility to acknowledge they aren't expert in all things. On the other hand, their obvious remoteness from the actual science that's at issue directly contributes to the atmosphere of popular ignorance in which important political decisions are being made. If highly educated and politically involved figures like Hume and Althouse can't or won't understand the specifics of the scientific questions, then why should the average citizen even try?

Last week, I posted links to a movie that seeks to refute Global Warming alarmists generally and Al Gore's movie specifically. One of the reviews I encountered before posting the link was (alas, I can't find it again) from a political conservative who said it was interesting and persuasive, though perhaps overdone with respect to the sun's role in temperature changes on earth?! His or her personal take was that humans do most likely still play a role in temperature, but that there's significant question about how much difference we can make.

This kind of response represents one of the biggest dangers of the Hume-Althouse laissez-faire approach. If we all come to accept that the political aspect of the question is the only one that's accessible to us, we will likely come to believe that the right answer about its truth or untruth is also political -- that is, some kind of flabby compromise between the most extreme positions. That's how you get a lay reviewer who feels justified in combining two directly opposing theories, picking and choosing the elements of both that seem "reasonable" to an ignorant observer.

That's not how science works. Somewhere amidst all the theories and mathematical models and thousands of conflicting statistical citations and studies and methodologies, there is a correct answer. Just how near to or far away from that answer we really are is something individual non-scientists can learn. It's important to know at least that much because there's an enormous inertia already built up toward reckless actions that will injure developed economies and perhaps fatally wound undeveloped economies. These kinds of policies will affect all of us, even those who blissfully contend they have no responsibility because they lack the relevant academic degrees.

Even those who believe the most devoutly in the catatrophic consequences of Global Warming have a responsibility to move beyond the position, "It's so critical and so far advanced that it's riskier to do nothing than to try everything we can think of." Why? Because there's a Catch-22 out there waiting for them if they are right. If human beings do exert a massive influence on climate because of our behaviors, then the more we attempt to change climate, the greater risk we incur from the law of unintended consequences. What subtle but vitally important unknown variables might we affect disastrously by acting in too much haste? Don't we have real-world experience of environmental catastrophes created by the best of intentions? There was a time when scientists thought it was a good idea to import species from other continents to correct an ecological imbalance of some kind. Killer bees, anybody?

I'm arguing that we all have a responsibility to go beyond head counts of how many scientists from which institutions are on which side and perform a political calculation about who's right. Further, I suggest that it is possible to learn enough about the central scientific issues to determine whether scientists have accomplished enough for us to believe what the most vocal advocates are telling us.

For some people a good first step is viewing the Gore movie and the movie I linked to last week. But there are also those who (rightly) suspect that all forms of film production are subject to emotional manipulation, visual tricks, and artful (or cynical) omissions. Some people also respond better to the written word, and there are books on both sides of the argument to be found at and other booksellers.

Still others -- perhaps blog readers in particular? -- prefer to make the acquaintance of a topic by kibbitzing on a debate conducted by people other than politicians. For them I have a recommendation that may be helpful. One of the books that tackles both the scientific and political issues is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming. I'm not steering you directly to the book, which is obviously arguing against the alarmist viewpoint. I'm directing you to the customer reviews of the book, which are numerous (over a hundred), often rational and concise, and most significantly, commented upon by other reviewers and advocates for various viewpoints. The result: a lively back and forth that may test your own talent for objective logic.

It's true that many of the book's critics are shrill, ad-hominem, and obviously writing without having read the book. But if you keep digging, you will eventually find calm and fact-filled reviews on both sides, which may collectively give you enough of a feel for the issues that you can go on to do your own research. You'll find thumbnail descriptions of publications on both sides that you may want to read, depending on your own interests, and you'll find references to specific facts at issue which you can pursue further through scientific journals. Best of all, you'll find that it is possible for a layman to follow and understand discussions about science and even find them interesting.

I'm not trying to trash Hume and Althouse and others who have been keeping a respectful distance from the scientific battleground. But I do want to offer a whispered tut-tut. You and they are better than that.

A Single Dissenting Voice

Not a technical glitch.

UM. After the Edwards press conference yesterday, I expected both sides of the aisle to offer best wishes for Mrs. Edwards and some mixed reviews for Edwards himself. I did NOT expect that his own part of the decision would draw no criticism at all and attract more praise than trepidation. I'd prefer to remain silent myself, because I wish both of them well in this private matter between them. But somebody has to say it. John Edwards's conduct in this matter is highly questionable precisely because he has made an intensely private and personal matter a public affair with extremely public potential consequences.

The reason there's "No Image Available" for this post is that nobody can imagine just how ugly this situation could get. I'm going to be allusive rather than vivid here, since I don't like to be discussing this at all, so activate your mind's eye. Network television cameras where nobody wants them, except they will be there. An official party nominee in the final stages of an election campaign who suddenly resigns (or doesn't), putting his party and nation into a miserable quandary. A distracting siege in the White House itself, with few willing to voice the extremity of a leadership crisis at a critically inopportune time. Yes, these are all eventualities that could happen to any first family, but the probabilities here are, well, different.

Worse, and perhaps even uglier, a husband who simply cannot be there to hold hands during all the routine checkups (scary), tests (scarier), treatments (scary and painful), good news (joy), not so good news (terrifying), and, well, enough of that. Yeah, I know, a strong woman may be determined not to seem to need this kind of support, but there's also a certain kind of husband who knows when to overrule even the strongest woman and make it clear he's going to be a sticking plaster to share the ordeals, protect her privacy from prying eyes, and be with her because he doesn't want to be anywhere else.

Dean Barnett wrote a beautiful, empathetic, and oh-so-subtly doubtful essay about the decision the Edwards have made. He knows whereof he speaks, but his point of view is inevitably tilted toward the perspective of Elizabeth Edwards, whose courage and present mindset he undoubtedly understands better than I do. My only disagreement with him has to do with John Edwards's role in this decision, which -- given the national affairs issues involved -- merits at least some thoughtful, and skeptical, questioning rather than unbridled praise.

I'll say what no one else will. This gives me greater doubts than I had before about John Edwards as a man and a candidate. I'm sorry if this sounds inappropriate, but the truth is it is appropriate because it's not just his business anymore. He made it my business about 24 hours ago.

And now it's your business too. Remember that.

More Boortz Booltzit

He better hope there's no Jaguar God. But we kind of do.

REDUXITUDE. We've had multiple previous reasons for calling out Neal Boortz for his boor(tz)ishness. Yesterday, no doubt, he thought he was just being wickedly provocative and generating a flood of amusing phone call-ins with this little gem:


Why all the fuss? Am I not correct in that all of the pet fatalities, save one, were to cats?

This is the kind of remark he employs to generate a tide of illiterate email condemnations, which enable him to ridicule the ignorance, irrationality, and spelling idiosyncracies of his most illiterate listeners. When he reprints negative emails, he never includes any that employ logic or decent grammar. In other words, his native mode is to act like a bully. Which is precisely the mentality he is revealing here without being aware of it.

I know what his argument would be. Cats are never going to understand that he's insulted them, and so the invective he receives from cat fanciers is automatically irrelevant and laughable.

He's full of it. He hasn't the wit or consciousness to envision the innumerable (other) Boors in pickup trucks and Lincoln Towncars who go out of their way to run over cats on the roadways. There is some vestige of crude adolescent macho, of which he himself is an example, that thinks it manly to despise, deride, and mistreat cats. It's just a joke. Even when the result is a beloved family pet lying on the road with every bone in its body crushed. Ha ha. At present, there are viral videos celebrating the torture and death of cats orchestrated by teenage boys who are simply younger versions of Boortz himself. What the Big Boor hasn't bothered to think about is the example he sets for crackers younger than himself for good or ill. If he thinks killing cats is funny... or if he thinks killing cats is, maybe, not funny... A huge talk radio audience does bring with it some responsibility beyond hawking your own books and inciting furious commentary.

If you care about cats, email this post to Boortz. He'll never print it or respond to it. But let him know that some of us have his number. A joke like this is harmful, whether he deigns to acknowledge it or not. If he hears it enough, though, he may forgo such jokes in the future. If he's more than a superannuated teenage thug. That's the best we can hope for.

Unless it turns out that there really is a Jaguar God such as the Mayans had. Wouldn't that be interesting?

POSTSCRIPT. Speaking of Mayans.... and lunatic adolescent adults... what was Mel Gibson drinking thinking the other night? Could he possibly be so naive as to believe that Mayan descendants aren't as post-modern as other descendants of primitive cultures? Sure, the Mayans were a bloody and bloodthirsty gang of killers. So were their south-of-the-border colleagues the Incas and Aztecs. And their north-of-the-border cousins the (newly) sainted American Indians. And every other empire in history ruled by a  royal bloodline and vassal "nobles" or priests. You're just not allowed to say it anymore. It hurts their precious feelings. And when one of their politically correct victimologists stands up to denounce you for mentioning it, you have no right whatsoever to tell her to "F*** off!"

Sheesh. How dumb can you get in this day and age? Go to jail, Mel. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go and do not collect $200. Your whole image makeover has to start again at square one. Maybe if you announced you were going into rehab...?

POSTSCRIPT 2. Izzie is pissed.

The Jaguar Goddess, 2007

Nobody with half a brain wants that. But who can speak for Boortz? Well, who cares?

UPDATE 3/27/07. A couple of great laughs from Boortz today. Suddenly, for some reason, he's trying to take credit for his humane feelings about animals. Turns out he can't stand to watch big animals preying on little animals on the new documentary Planet Earth. The camera's too close to the action perhaps? Maybe if predation could be accomplished more remotely -- by poison or off-road tires -- he'd feel different. What a self-important, superficial bozo.

EXTRA CREDIT for InstaPunk readers who can spot the howler at the end of this typically learned Boortzian paragraph about reparations:

But why stop with an apology for slavery? What about the slaughter of the Native Americans? Obviously they deserve some money for their pain and suffering. And if we're talking about reparations, the biggest piggy bank of all has to be the British government. They still haven't paid for all the havoc they caused in the Revolutionary War. And what about Aaron Burr's relatives? Alexander Hamilton owes them some money.

Don't think so, Neal.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Big Switch

Look out for Laila.

ALI BOMA YE. All right. This is embarrassing. But it still has to be done. All of the dozens of you out there who are trying your best to live the InstaPunk Lifestyle are going to have to change channels on Monday nights.

No more Twenty-Snore. Jack Bauer died in China during the hiatus, and now there's some sort of impotent clone wandering pretty helplessly around L.A. while the parallel universe depicted in the show spirals into chaos. There's nothing left to attract our interest. Apparently, no President of the United States is ever again going to finish his term in this bizarro world. And the replacement Bauer has lost all his powers. He can't stand up to his evil father. He can't stop crying. He can't compensate, as he used to, for the fact that his agency, CTU, is staffed exclusively with losers, incompetents, traitors, and soap opera villainesses. He can't appear on screen for more than about 15 minutes an hour. And he can't stop a single terrorist act from happening.

That last item is pretty crucial. I mean, isn't that the whole premise of the show? Preventing the terrorist acts planned by the bad guys? Not this year. It's not even the middle of the season, and the terrorists have already nuked L.A. and put the President of the United States into a coma. And did we mention just how tired we are of the endless parade of fascist vice presidents who can't wait to ditch the Constitution in favor of rule by sadistic VP brownshirts?

Enough already. Rush Limbaugh can excommunicate me if he wants, but I'm abandoning ship. You can laugh if you must, but Mrs. IP and I are watching Dancing with the Stars instead.

Go ahead. Get it out of your system. Laughter is the best medicine.

Are you done yet? No? Okay.

(tick tick tick tick tick tick
tick tick tick tick...)

Now? No? Well, okay, then. I'm going to resume talking anyway, and you can catch up later, when you feel like it.

We like the latest crop of dancing celebrities. Clyde Drexler is charming, and he might actually have the talent to master ballroom dancing.  John Ratzenberger is game, an old guy who joined the show late as a replacement but still seems determined to work his ass off. Heather Mills is brave (screw you, Beatles fans), and as early as the first episode, she's already overcome the handicaps of her so-so looks and awful dress to become a longshot contender. Apolo Ohno, the speed skater, has Mrs. IP's heart all aflutter. There's also an incredibly tall woman who's not without grace and a fat-ass Italian boy band alum who could take the whole thing if he can manage to lose 50 pounds before the finals. There's someone to root against as well. The country singer. Who thinks he can dance but can't.

And then there's Laila Ali. The daughter of Muhammed Ali. She's got all of her dad's star quality. She's also a boxer. And a dancer. There's no question she could kick Jack Bauer's ass, and her Russian dance partner is so intimidated by her that whenever he thinks the camera isn't looking he sneaks a testosterone injection into his overflexed bicep.

Watching her first dance number felt like some kind of time warp. I could see her father in her face, and as she glided and whirled to the music, I kept flashing back to the fourteenth round of the Thrilla in Manila, which is probably the most brutal three minutes of sport I have ever witnessed, a display of courage and athleticism and character such as I never expect to see again. But here's Laila, dancing, graceful and beautiful but nevertheless competing, as if ballroom dancing were actually some kind of sport.

Come to think of it, it is. This is the one show where the celebrities aren't just glitter and makeup. They're working really hard and accepting the risk of looking like an idiot every time they set foot on the dance floor. Kind of admirable. And kind of irresistible too.

Are you done laughing yet? Let us know.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Ace of Spades Lifestyle

Junk Style

THE SALT HAS LOST ITS SAVOR. TruePunk here. What I don't get -- Michelle Malkin is such a prude her trackback function won't accept a post that uses any off-color words, including "crap" and "breasts." But her blogroll includes Protein Wisdom and actually begins with Ace of Spades. They're both gutter-mouthed adolescents. Michelle Malkin is a hypocrite.

InstaPunk goes on and on about how stupid and shallow the lefties are. I'm here to tell you that the righties aren't much better and in the case of the blogosphere, they're just about equally mediocre. Which is a shame. Political discourse in this country needs a kick in the pants. All it's getting from the most popular righty bloggers is a knee to the groin.

Michelle Malkin works hard, but she can't think, and her sense of humor adds up to exactly zero. (If you don't believe me, go look at her pitiful performance art at HotAir. Nice looking, but not funny. At all.) Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom posts a billion words a day, but he can't write. Every comment thread includes a complaint about his endless sentences. He laughs it off every time because he's got the half-smart knowledge that many good writers do produce long sentences, which even leads him to congratulate himself for being more literate than the complainers. But he also has a convenient (and more than half-dumb) blindness that prevents him from perceiving his complainers have a point. You can diagram his long sentences and verify their grammatical correctness, but there's no tool besides judgment capable of revealing that his paragraphs are stuffed with redundancies and inflated with verbose rhetorical flourishes designed to conceal the slightness of his insights. Remove all his purple references to penises, and he's little more than a long-winded bore.

And then there's Ace of Spades. He's an exponent of what he calls the "Ace of Spades Lifestyle," which is magnetically attractive to cow-college political conservatives who are part-time drunks and full-time porn addicts. Ace is so popular he actually makes a living from his blog. You'd think he'd have the time to proofread his posts. But he doesn't. He's so busy generating vapid bullshit that he feels entitled to boast about his bad grammar and worse spelling, taking it as common knowledge that these lowly attainments consume additional time that just isn't available to a VIB (Very Important Blogger).

Well, Ace of Spades is a fraud. It does not take much time at all for a literate person to write correct sentences without missing words and lunkheaded misspellings. But Ace of Spades is not a literate person. He's not even what he most prides himself on being, a politically incorrect freethinker. He's far less a pirate than a conventional and utterly unoriginal cartoon dude. His idea of a piratical punchline is to repeat anti-gay cliches couched in the leaden irony of the fact that he's not really anti-gay. In fact, he's not really much of anything he plays at being. He's not a critic of pop culture; he's simply one more of its creatures, captivated by bad movies and worthless celebrities who aren't interesting at all. He's not a political philosopher; he's an illustration of just how ignorant young people are of history, religion, and ideology. He's not a male chauvinist; he's the inevitable by-product of a generation of feminism -- a crude-mouthed macho blowhard who nevertheless accepts the premise that despite 5,000 years of nonperformance, women are basically as capable and creative as men. Maybe that's why Michelle Malkin retains him on her blogroll. She'd no doubt love the buccaneering entry today musing about why it is that women laugh sooner and oftener than men when someone is trying to be funny.

Women don't seem to laugh much more at tv shows or movies (maybe they even laugh less at that), but do seem to laugh more at humor in real-life humor situations.

I don't know why this is myself. But, taking a few guesses:

1. As a rule, women simply find particularly-male humor funnier than men find particularly-female humor.

2. Women have an innate giggle-reaction in socially awkward situations to reduce tension. It's not so much they try to laugh to relieve social awkwardness; they just do. So a joke made, bad or not, is either going to get a laugh because it's funny or because it's unfunny and laughter is a nice way to conceal the awkwardness of a bad joke.

3. Men don't laugh at each other's jokes as much do to learned behavior of social competition. Giving another guy a laugh is giving him a small amount of credit in a social competition, and men have been conditioned not to do so. I know a lot of funny guys and, mostly, getting a laugh out of them is difficult -- partly because they just seem to not want to laugh, and when they do, there's a bit of a "Okay, you got me, I didn't want to, but you managed it" submission to a joke.

I do that a bit myself. A joke from a guy not only has to be funny in the first place, it has to be funny enough to overcome my egotistical reluctance to give someone else his props. Especially when it's a guy, but that trained behavior carries over to jokes made by women as well.

Women don't consider funniness an important attractor of the opposite sex, so they don't have the conditioned reluctance to laugh at each other's jokes or to men's, either. They don't mind laughing at a fellow female joke-teller because they haven't been conditioned to find anything threatening, in a social-competition regard, from a funny girl. And so they don't have that conditioned response to male humor, either (and, in fact, there's probably a bit of conditioning to laugh at men trying to be funny, because men like women they can make laugh).

4. Girls just have the giggles. That simple.

The thing about women deciding to laugh is silly, because real laughs are involuntary. Women do fake-laugh more than guys, but their hearts are usually not in it, and whether or not these little chuckle-sluts have managed to convincingly fake an orgasm, none has managed to convincingly fake a genuine laugh.

Pirate, my ass. Ace of Spades is a pussy-whipped moron who believes in his heart of hearts all of the propaganda we've heard over the last 30 years about the innate social and emotional superiority of women. He believes it because he's an emotional (and intellectual) dwarf himself. Problem is, that's the only part of the equation he's got right.

Women laugh early and often because they don't really have a sense of humor. They have learned (i.e., decided) to laugh in the vicinity of jokes they don't really understand. They are attracted to men who are funny, which they correctly read as an indicator of power, because it gives a man dominance when other men laugh at his jokes. (Also, except for AoS, men do not hoard their laughter; when something's funny they laugh, without a thought about sexual competition.) And, yes, there is absolutely no question about the fact that men are funnier than women. Female comedians are always playing a part, earning laughs from those who recognize the accuracy of their performance. Male comedians are trenchant observers of the absurdities in life, making us see the familiar in unfamiliar and illuminating ways.

The Ace of Spades lifestyle is a total dead end. Men who are men all know what Ace never will. Look for the one woman in a hundred who really does have a sense of humor. Pursue her to the ends of the earth, regardless of her bust measurement, and marry her. Chances are, she won't think the Three Stooges are funny, but she's actually right about that. They're not. Girls may giggle. That's their fatal flaw. Too many men confuse their appetite for the grossness of fart jokes and Benny Hill tit skits for real humor. That's theirs.

The blogosphere needs a house cleaning. The left doesn't know where to start. But thanks to me, the right has a chance to get the job underway.

UPDATE. InstaPunk here. Apologies for permitting TruePunk to slip his leash again, but I have to admit he has a point this time. On the topic of men being funny, it's hard not to give you a contemporary example. Wuzzadem. And it's impossible not to make mention of the William Butler Yeats/James Joyce of stand-up, the absolute genius who calls himself Dylan Moran. Here's a taste, but if you're worth anything you'll go to YouTube yourself and watch every scrap you can find of a comic funnier and more brilliant than any female who has ever stood at a microphone for the purpose of making us laugh. (And by all means, study the women in the audience. They're laughing all right, but they don't understand a word he's saying, yet they laugh and laugh and laugh because they know he is funny, and they wish like anything they could figure out why.)

Thank you. Come back when your sides stop hurting.
UPDATE 2. Mrs. IP objected to the categorization of female comedians and offers this as rebuttal.  But I don't think she's making the point.

But what do you think?

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