Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another reason why I am no longer a Catholic

Charles J Chaput castigates Christans and secluarites alike for the sorry state of society in FirstThings:

Unfortunately, I think the current American debate over religion and the public square has much deeper roots than the 2006 and 2004 elections, or John Kennedy’s 1960 election—or the Second Vatican Council, for that matter. A crisis of faith and action for Christians has been growing for many years in Western society. It’s taken longer to have an impact here in the United States because we’re younger as a nation than the countries in Europe, and we’ve escaped some of Europe’s wars and worst social and religious struggles.

But Americans now face the same growing spiritual illness that J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Christopher Dawson, Romano Guardini, and C.S. Lewis all wrote about in the last century. It’s a loss of hope and purpose that comes from the loss of an interior life and a living faith. It’s a loss that we can only make bearable by creating a culture of material comfort that feeds—and feeds off of—personal selfishness.

You would think that pointing out the people who were describing the West's spiritual illness and loss of hope in the last century would clue Chaput in to the observation that despite such gloomy lack of purpose Western society's surviving another century and thriving to boot puts paid to the notion that those sages of yesterday were on to something. Either they were crying wolf or the presence of wolves in our social pasture is an expected and livable condition.

Bernanos had an unblinkered vision of the “signs of the times.” Remember that, just after the Second World War, France experienced a Catholic revival. Recovering from a global conflict and the Holocaust, the world in general and France in particular seemed to turn back—briefly—to essentials. It was during that hopeful season that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council gave us Gaudium et Spes.

But Bernanos always saw the problems beneath the veneer. He wasn’t fooled by the apparent revival of Catholic France. And so his work is a great corrective to the myth that our moral confusion started in the 1960s. As Bernanos makes clear, our problems began with the machine age—the industrial revolution—but not simply because of machines. They were the fruit of a “de-spiritualization” that had been going on for some time.

Well, we aren't going to de-industrialize. Any spiritual regimen that can't survive the technological progress of society just isn't useful enough to keep around. This isn't far from Richard Weaver's contention in his critique of Western society "Ideas Have Consequences" that the West's moral decay can be traced to the victory of nominalist over realist theology in the Medeval church. If our doom rests on such remote and unavoidable developments, then any prescription for same is undoubtedly futile.

Bernanos argues that the optimism of the modern West is a kind of whistling past the graveyard. The Christian virtue of hope, he reminds us, is a hard and strong thing that disciplines and “perfects” human appetites. It has nothing to do with mere optimism. Real Christian hope comes into play as the obstacles to human happiness seem to grow higher.

Bernanos takes it upon himself to show us just how high the obstacles to real human freedom have become, even in liberal democracies. He argues that our modern optimism is a veneer over a despair bred by our greed and materialism. We try to fool ourselves that everything will turn out for the best, despite all the evidence to the contrary—crime, terrorism, disease, poverty—and we even concoct a myth of inevitable progress to shore up our optimism. American optimism in particular—Bernanos refers to the United States bitterly as “the Rome, the Mecca, the holiest sanctuary of this civilization”—is really only the eager restlessness of unsatisfied appetites.

The problem is that there is little evidence to the contrary. The evidence largely supports American optimism. Bernardos' singling out of America's deleterious influence on the world through the spread of optimism reinforces two negative conclusions that I have made about the Catholic Church: one, that it promotes a worship of suffering; the second is that, at the institutional level at least, it does not sit well with Americanism.

It seems that the Catholic faith that Chaput is arguing for is the opposite of a "hothouse flower". It can only exist in the worst, the most hopeless of social conditions. Once a society gets the crazy idea in its head that conditions can be improved by the application of hard work and human ingenuity, the intense focus on suffering necessary to keep this faith alive becomes harder to maintain.

Christians are always proclaiming the "good news" of the Gospels. But Christianity has always been a bad news, good news proposition. The good news is only revelatory after one has bought in to the bad news. And the bad news brought by Christianity is very bad. Man is universally fallen, corrupt and irredeemable. People aren't naturally born with such a negative disposition toward themselves, it has to be drilled into them. Chaput and Bernardos are complaining that Christians have been lax at drilling in the bad news. They've been too distracted by the "false" good news of human progress. Once the terrible news of inherent, irreversible and irredeemable human depravity is no longer widespread across society, then the good news of the Gospel becomes superfluous.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

News Flash: Ann Coulter writes a column that makes sense, doesn't inadvertently disparage an entire group of people, and is actually funny

How crazy Ann pulled off this hat trick is not readily apparent, but her Townhall column on the Democrat response to the Virginia Tech murders is a good read:

For cranky right-wingers who think politicians don't listen to them, this week I give you elected Democrats running like scared schoolgirls from the media's demand that they enact new gun control laws in response to the Virginia Tech shooting.

Instead, Democrats are promoting a mental health exception to the right to bear arms. We've banned mass murder and that hasn't seemed to work. So now we're going to ban mass murderers. Yes, that will do the trick!

This is a feel-good measure that is both wildly under-inclusive (the vast majority of nutcases receive no formal court adjudication of their nuttiness) and wildly over-inclusive (the vast majority of nuts don't kill people). The worst thing most nuts do is irritate everybody else by driving their electric cars on the highway.

As lovely as it would be, we cannot identify mass murderers before they have broken any law, and mass murder is often the first serious crime they commit. No one can be locked up permanently for being potentially dangerous.

Even stalking laws can put away a person known to be dangerous for only a few years -- at best -- which is generally not worth spending a day sitting in court, facing your stalker, and then waiting a month for the court order.

So on one hand, the mental health exception is a feel-good measure that would be largely pointless. But on the other hand, it's no skin off my back. Liberals go to therapy. Conservatives go to church. And I think we'd all sleep better knowing that David Brock could not buy a gun.

In fact, I think we should expand the mental illness exception to cover First Amendment rights as well as Second Amendment rights.

I note that before mass murder, the only harassment the Virginia Tech killer was guilty of involved speech: creepy e-mails, creepy short stories, creepy phone calls. Stalkers, too, engage in frightening speech -- but that is protected. Revealing a stalking victim's address is "speech" but is little different from being the one to pull the trigger.

This small measure would have taken Dan "What's the Frequency, Kenneth" Rather off the airwaves years ago, preventing him from presenting doctored National Guard documents to the American people to try to throw a presidential election. A mental illness bar would deal a quick blow to Air America and both its remaining listeners. It would also free up about 90 percent of the Internet.

And it would end the public lunacy of Jim Wallis, the Democrats' Christian. Wallis' first remark on the massacre at Virginia Tech last week was to hail the remarkable "diversity" of the victims. True, Cho murdered 32 people in cold blood. But at least he achieved diversity!

Anyone who thinks a single-minded fixation on diversity must be the ultimate goal of every human endeavor, including mass murder, is not the sort of person who should be able to buy a gun or to publish his daft ruminations in public forums.

But just to get this straight: Democrats are saying we should be able to jail "strange" or "angry" people, but we can't deplane imams who demand extra-length seatbelts after boarding?

Ann's targeting skills are much improved. Normally one of her columns or speeches has the quality of a carpet-bombing run, taking out whole swaths of the public in collateral damage in order to achieve a single hit on her intended target. Maybe just by a process of elimination she has finally run out of acceptable slurs. One can imagine her, after her last public fiasco of an attempt at political humor, taking out her notepad, crossing off faggot, and remarking "gee, I've run out of fun colloquialisms. I'll have to think a lot harder about what I write!"

Or maybe she just had an off day.

Mary Ramsey - the Anti-Amy

Daily Duck regulars know that I am not an articulate music critic. I like what I like without necessarily knowing why I like it. Knowing why may be an interesting intellectual exercise, but it isn't necessary for enjoying music. But seeing as how Brit and I have considerably conflicting tastes in divas, I thought I'd spend some effort articulating why I like Mary Ramsey so much more than Amy Winehouse.

Mary Ramsey gained some moderate amount of fame as Natalie Merchant's replacement as lead singer for the band "10000 Maniacs". She is a classically trained violinist and violist who teamed up with 10000 Maniacs founding member & lead guitarist John Lombardo to write and produce several albums as the duo "John and Mary".

Having become a fan of the duo from their 10000 Maniacs CD "Love Among the Ruins" I managed to hunt down and purchase two of their John and Mary CD's, which arrived in the mail last week: "The Pinwheel Galaxy" and "The Weedkiller's Daughter".

Their music can best be categorized as folk. But categories aren't always very helpful, as I dislike much music from that category. Their music borrows from classical, rock, and even some country motifs. As to whether it is maudlin or not I cannot say, as I still do not understand how Brit uses the term. This is why I find it hard to describe musical experiences with words.

A less polite way to describe their music is "white". Another unpolite word would be "square". Which describes me perfectly. I am a white square. I give no apologies for that. I find Ramsey's voice beautifully melodic. It is a pre-jazz, pre-blues, pre-soul American voice, clear and clean with none of the vocal affects, the wailing, drawn out, undulating, bee-booping and scatting excess that seems to be de-rigeur for any aspiring diva today. Simon Cowell would no doubt call her an extreme bore.

So if you don't mind being thought of as a square, and don't feel that every female singer has to be in the mold of Aretha Franklin, then you might learn to enjoy the music of John and Mary.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The American Religion

Awhile back on a now forgotten thread on BrothersJudd I announced that if I had to name my religion it would be Americanism. Well, great minds think alike, it seems, because David Gelernter has just published a book on that very topic titled "Americanism:The Fourth Great Western Religion". Here is the book description from Amazon (emphasis mine):
What does it mean to “believe” in America? Why do we always speak of our country as having a mission or purpose that is higher than other nations?
Modern liberals have invested a great deal in the notion that America was founded as a secular state, with religion relegated to the private sphere. David Gelernter argues that America is not secular at all, but a powerful religious idea—indeed, a religion in its own right.
Gelernter argues that what we have come to call “Americanism” is in fact a secular version of Zionism. Not the Zionism of the ancient Hebrews, but that of the Puritan founders who saw themselves as the new children of Israel, creating a new Jerusalem in a new world. Their faith-based ideals of liberty, equality, and democratic governance had a greater influence on the nation’s founders than the Enlightenment.
Gelernter traces the development of the American religion from its roots in the Puritan Zionism of seventeenth-century New England to the idealistic fighting faith it has become, a militant creed dedicated to spreading freedom around the world. The central figures in this process were Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, who presided over the secularization of the American Zionist idea into the form we now know as Americanism.
If America is a religion, it is a religion without a god, and it is a global religion. People who believe in America live all over the world. Its adherents have included oppressed and freedom-loving peoples everywhere—from the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions to the martyred Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square.
Gelernter also shows that anti-Americanism, particularly the virulent kind that is found today in Europe, is a reaction against this religious conception of America on the part of those who adhere to a rival religion of pacifism and appeasement.
A startlingly original argument about the religious meaning of America and why it is loved—and hated—with so much passion at home and abroad.

Poor Orrin, he still thinks that Christianity is the religion of America.

Britain and America

This is the subject of an interesting blog of that same name, I found this site via a recommendation from Reihan Salaam who is a co-blogger at and who was guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan.

The editor of the blog, Tim Montgomerie, describes its mission as follows:

Offering an urgently needed alternative to the anti-Americanism of much European media, provides a daily examination of the shared interests of two great nations. This blog believes that a strong transatlantic relationship is vital for a safe, just and prosperous world.

I can get behind that.

Hell Was Coming to Iraq Whether the U.S. Intervened or Not

A Hell of a Country
Ali Allawi's new memoir shows Iraq's collapse was inevitable.

By Christopher Hitchens
Monday, April 23, 2007

Ali Allawi's memoir The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace certainly deserves the praise and attention it has been getting. [...] The book is written with a very strong combination of heart and mind by someone with an enviable command of English who both knows and cares a good deal about Iraq. He does not make too much of the fact, but having been both a minister of defense and a minister of finance since the fall of Saddam Hussein, as well as serving as a member of the National Assembly, he must have risked his own life more times in the past four years than many professional soldiers have to do in a lifetime. (We have a tendency to forget this, of the Iraqis who step forward as volunteers for the rescue of their shattered country.) [...]

We are sometimes told in weirdly neutral tones that [...] sectarian mayhem has been "unleashed" or even "fueled" by the arrival of the coalition. [...] But Allawi's work is impatient with rhetoric of this kind, or perhaps I should say incompatible with it. He states plainly that:

When the Coalition arrived in Baghdad on 9 April, 2003, it found a fractured and brutalized society, presided over by a fearful, heavily armed minority. The post-9/11 jihadi culture that was subsequently to plague Iraq was just beginning to take root. The institutions of the state were moribund; the state exhausted. The ideology that had held Ba'athist rule together had decayed beyond repair.

[I]f what Allawi says is true, then Iraq was headed straight for implosion and failure, both as a state and a society, well before 2003. Not only this, but its Sunni ruling elite was flirting increasingly with a Salafist ideology. In such circumstances [...] the United States had to face the alarming fact that a ruined Iraq was in its future whether it intervened or not. [...] Hell was coming to Iraq no matter what.

[In fact], hell was already making considerable strides in Iraq in the decade before 2003. Again, Allawi's cool analysis and careful evidence darkens this already black picture. All the crucial indices, from illiteracy to unemployment to the emigration of talent and skill, were rapidly heading south...

I Shoulda Thought of That

Wanna Bet on Global Warming? You Can

NORFOLK, Va. (April 13) - Think global warming will raise the oceans enough to submerge Cape Hatteras? Want to bet on it?

An online gambling service has started taking bets on global warming, including whether it can submerge some of the East Coast's top vacation spots.

The odds that Virginia's Cape Henry will be under water by 2015 - 200-to-1 at Its odds for Cape Hatteras flooding by the same date - 300-to-1.

Don't bet on it, says Phil Roehrs, a coastal engineer for the city of Virginia Beach. Roehrs said although sea levels are rising along the East Coast, scientists are not predicting anywhere near the levels and dates provided by the gambling service.

"No wonder the odds are so good," Roehrs said.

That hasn't stopped bettors from taking a chance. About 3,000 placed bets during the first three days on online booking, said Reed Richards, a spokesman for

Most gamblers on the site have put down money that Manhattan will be submerged before New Year's Eve 2011.

"Don't ask me why," Richards said.

Free money for, or whomever else books wagers like this.

And speaking of wagering, if anyone wants to make a little money by betting on American politics, here's a "sure thing" - arbitrage between bookies. For instance, the Iowa Electronic Markets and But there are many more.

Right now, the odds of Barack Obama winning the Dem. nomination are priced at 29.5 at Intrade, and at 34.3 at the Iowa Electronic Markets. Buy the Intrade contract, sell the IEM contract, and you've just made 4.8. (Which is 48¢ to $ 4.80, depending on how many contracts you execute, and where).
On the GOP side, there are juicy spreads on Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Scientists Science-based Politicians Offer Deliberately Frightening (although not entirely accurate) Forecast

Timeline: The Frightening Future of Earth
By Andrea Thompson and Ker Than

[All emphasis added]
[In celebration of] the approach of this year’s Earth Day, April 22, [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), predicted that] the global average temperature could increase by 2 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 and that sea levels could rise by up to 2 feet. [...]

Fine bit of precision forecasting there, lads.
Epic floods will hit some areas while intense drought will strike others. Humans will face widespread water shortages. Famine and disease will increase. [A] quarter of plants and animals [will be] at risk of extinction.

So, The Frightening Future of Catastrophic Global Warming™ includes floods, drought, water shortages, famine, disease, and species at risk of failing to adapt to changing conditions. Uh-huh. And this differs from present conditions how, exactly ?
While putting specific dates on these traumatic potential events is challenging...

Ya don't say. But, since falsibility is the main difference between science and state-fair fortune-telling, please be kind enough to let us know when you graduate to professionalism, 'K ?

Global oil production peaks sometime between 2008 and 2018, according to a model by one Swedish physicist. Others say this turning point, known as “Hubbert’s Peak,” won’t occur until after 2020. Once Hubbert’s Peak is reached, global oil production will begin an irreversible decline, possibly triggering a global recession, food shortages and conflict between nations over dwindling oil supplies. (doctoral dissertation of Frederik Robelius, University of Uppsala, Sweden; report by Robert Hirsch of the Science Applications International Corporation) [...]

And this is due to global warming because... ???
This is a "let's throw in a bunch of scary stuff, regardless of relevance" item. I'm surprised that they aren't claiming that The Frightening Future of Catastrophic Global Warming™ will include an increase in attacks by werewolves and vampires.

In any case, "peak oil" definitely would trigger a severe global recession and probably food shortages, and its possibility is already causing conflict between nations over the dwindling oil supplies that are already in production.
But it's complete rubbish; see the bottom of this post for more.

Less rainfall could reduce agriculture yields by up to 50 percent in some parts of the world. (IPCC) [...]

Gee, Andrea Thompson and Ker Than "forgot" to mention that the IPCC report ALSO predicts that more rainfall in some parts of the world will increase agriculture yields. And why is this pegged specifically to 2020 ?

In developing countries, the urban population will more than double to about 4 billion people, packing more people onto a given city's land area. The urban populations of developed countries may also increase by as much as 20 percent. (World Bank: The Dynamics of Global Urban Expansion)

And this relates to global warming because... ???
...Werewolves and vampires, I tells ya !!

The Arctic Sea could be ice-free in the summer. [...] Other scientists say the region will still have summer ice up to [2105]. (Marika Holland, NCAR, Geophysical Research Letters)

Again with the precise forecast. Bravo.

World population reaches 9.4 billion people. (U.S. Census Bureau) [...]

That naughty global warming, causing robust human fertility !!

Or not. The U.S. Census Bureau and the United Nations Population Division were COMPLETELY WRONG in their 70s predictions about year 2000 population, and that was only for 25-30 years out; I regard their 45-year forecasts now as being "for entertainment purposes only".

Coastal population could balloon to 5 billion people, up from 1.2 billion in 1990. (IPCC) [...]

Sea levels could rise around New York City by more than three feet, potentially flooding the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. (NASA GISS) [...]

So right now, 20% of humans live on a coastline, but for some reason by 2080 50% of humans will live there ?!

The "New York will flood" meme is really a "humans are stupid and incompetent" self-hating meme. Over the next seventy years, one of the largest and richest cities in the world can't build a ten-foot dike ?

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will be much higher than anytime during the past 650,000 years. (IPCC) [...]

Thawing permafrost and other factors will make Earth’s land a net source of carbon emissions, meaning it will emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it absorbs. (IPCC)

What's another term for "carbon dioxide" ?
"Plant food". So much for "reduced ag yields".

An Earth day will be 0.12 milliseconds shorter, as rising temperatures cause oceans to expand away from the equator and toward the poles, one model predicts. [...] The poles are closer to the Earth’s axis of rotation, so having more mass there should speed up the planet’s rotation. (Felix Landerer, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Geophysical Research Letters)

Oooooh, scary !

Earth Will Survive Global Warming, But Will We?
By Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer


'Nuff said.

End of Oil Could Fuel 'End of Civilization as We Know It'
By Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Senior Writer
14 December 2004

SAN FRANCISCO -- [T]he argument stretches back to a 1956 prediction by M. King Hubbert that oil production in the lower 48 U.S. states would peak in the early 1970s. He was right. The United States now imports nearly 60 percent of the oil it uses.

Kenneth Deffeyes, a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, has taken Hubbert's logic a step further and predicts the world's oil production will top out late in 2005. [...]

Deffeyes second book on the topic, "Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak" (Hill and Wang) is due out in March. His crystal ball is full of complex formulas and, most scientists agree, numbers that are impossible to accurately pin down, such as the amount of oil in known fields and how much more will be found. [...]

[Michael Lynch, a political scientist and energy consultant] agrees there are problems with relying so heavily on oil, and he sees more price volatility ahead. But he argues that many smaller deposits will be found and they will add up to "a lot of oil" over time. He also faults the running-dry-soon predictions as being based not on geology, but on politics and economics: Oil production in various countries has flattened or fell at certain times for reasons having nothing to do with how much they could produce, Lynch says.

Further, Lynch contends, it is not possible to predict the discovery of new oil fields or the true size of existing in-ground reserves. He likens current oil forecasts to stock market prediction. Charts fit history well, he says, "but they're not predictive."

Likewise, analyst Bill Fisher of the University of Texas at Austin sees plenty of oil over the next few decades. [...] He pointed out that estimates of oil reserves tend to grow over time, no matter who does the guessing. [...]

Caltech physicist David Goodstein sees little hope. [...] "Fusion and shale oil are the energy sources of the future, and they always will be," he quipped. Solar energy shows promise, he said, but "we haven't figured out how to use it." [...]

Goodstein, author of the book "Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil" (W.W. Norton & Company) sees a looming world crisis that could fuel war and bring society to its knees.

"We have created a trap for ourselves," Goodstein said.

The United States has so far avoided serious consequences from the trap by relying on imports. The country uses about 7 billion of the 30 billion barrels of oil produced annually around the globe. And it makes us rich. Oil consumption equals standard of living, experts agree.

Meanwhile, other countries are beginning to clamor for oil at unprecedented rates, and therein lies the recipe for potential disaster.

China uses a comparatively modest 1.5 billion barrels a year (perhaps 2.4 billion this year) according to some estimates. India consumes less. Both countries' economies are becoming increasingly dependent on oil, however. China's consumption is expected to grow 7.5 percent per year, and India’s 5.5 percent, according to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.

By 2060, oil production will have to triple just to meet global population growth and maintain current standards of living, said Stanford University geophysicist Amos Nur.

Yet China's own production has been flat since the 1980s and it now imports 40 percent of what it needs.

"What matters in the short term is, when do we panic?" Nur said. "In my opinion, the point of panic has already taken place."

It's a behind-the-scenes sort of panic. The two largest economies on Earth -- China and the United States -- have already incorporated the finite nature of oil into their national security policies, Nur argues, citing policy statements from both governments reflecting the need to secure stability in oil-producing countries and a free flow of the resource. The war in Iraq, a country second only to politically unstable Saudi Arabia in oil reserves, is another clue, he said.

"There is a huge conflict that might be emerging," Nur said. [...]

Governments do not have the political will to prepare for the end of oil, says Goodstein, the Caltech physicist.

"Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime this century, when the fuel runs out," Goodstein said, adding that "I certainly hope my prediction is wrong."

No worries, mate, you ARE wrong.

The bit about "oil consumption equals standard of living" is exactly backwards, it's putting the cart before the horse. High productivity requires a lot of energy, and high productivity also (usually) leads to a high standard of living.
Therefore there's no mystery as to why nations with high standards of living use so much oil - the oil use and high life both stem from high productivity. This can be seen in the much higher demand for oil from China and India, two nations with very rapidly expanding economies.

Goodstein's claim that we don't yet know how to use solar power and oil shale are laughable. We don't much use them, but for reasons of cost and politics, not inability. They are mature technologies that are just sitting on the shelf, waiting for us to need or desire them.

But hey, he's got a book to sell. Kinda like Gore.
Oil Production Could Peak Next Year
By Melinda Wenner
Special to LiveScience
17 April 2007

Global oil production will peak sometime between next year and 2018 and then decline, according to a controversial new model developed by a Swedish physicist. [...]

Previous oil-peak models have used a “top-down” approach to estimate future production based on three factors—past rates of total production, estimates of how much oil is left and a steady decline rate.

The new model, developed by Fredrik Robelius, a physicist and petroleum engineer at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, uses a “bottom-up” approach based on field-by-field analyses of the 333 giant oil fields in use today. These together account for more than 60 percent of today’s oil production. He pooled the contributions from all the smaller fields together, treating them as an additional giant field.

Robelius built his model, which serves as his doctoral dissertation, after analyzing the fields’ past production rates and their ultimate recoverable reserves. Then he predicted how production will decline after peaking by incorporating rates of drop-off observed at other fields, ranging from six percent in a best-case scenario to 16 percent in a worst-case scenario. Finally, he combined his results with estimated forecasts for new field developments from sources such as the deep ocean and oil sands in Canada, but he says that these are unlikely to offset the upcoming declines from the giant fields—and there is little chance that new giant fields will be discovered in the future. [...]

Although there are other potential sources of oil, they are not only smaller, but also frequently have low production rates because of geological constraints, said Robelius. In Canada’s oil sands, for instance, the oil is so heavy that it must be heated up before it starts to flow, he said, and this is a slow and expensive process.

Others disagree. Not much can be said about additional oil resources because we haven’t really started looking for them yet, said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, an energy consultancy firm in Massachusetts. Lynch thinks that the oil peak lies farther into the future, partially because there’s likely to be a lot of oil in as-yet undiscovered smaller fields.

“You don’t go looking for them until you run out of the giant fields,” Lynch said in a telephone interview. Robelius, and others like him, he said, suffer from a “perceptual problem—‘if I don’t see it, it must not be there.’”

And new technologies could help solve extraction problems, said Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-profit public policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

“New technologies have turned fields that once seemed to be dormant into steady supplies of oil,” said Kazman, who is also of the belief that the oil peak is not necessarily right around the corner. Just because giant oil fields have been important for oil production in the past, he said, “does not mean that they’re going to stay important in the future.”

Robelius says that these kinds of approaches rely on resources and technologies that haven’t yet been developed or even discovered, which isn’t practical. People assume that new resources will be able to produce oil quickly, he said, “without having any evidence whatsoever that that’s the case.”

Lynch and Kazman are right, and Robelius is likely to be wrong. The fields that are already under production are definitely declining, but we have no real idea how much oil there is remaining to be discovered. Further, there are some massive fields that we do know about, that aren't yet under production. The ten billion barrels under ANWR, the two billion barrels in central Utah, and the ten billion barrel ultra-deepwater Jack-2 strike in the Gulf of Mexico are but a few examples; the list is long and global.
Kazman's quote about enhanced recovery techniques is also on point. Right now we leave between half and two-thirds of the oil in any given field in the ground. As we develop better tech for recovering that oil, it reverses or at least slows the decline in production from known fields, and it does so with no risk; as with the Canadian tar sands, we already know where the oil is, so there's no chance of a dry hole. We just have to go get it.

Robelius is technically correct when he insists that most anti-peak-oil arguments rely on resources and technologies that haven’t yet been developed. However, his own thesis rests upon analyzing historical data about oil development, and projecting those trends into the future.
Using that same method, we find that the history of humanity, and especially that of the United States, is of consistently overcoming technical and scarcity challenges. In essence, Robelius's subtext is that RIGHT NOW is the apogee of human problem-solving ability, and that the future is helpless in the face of the problem of pumping more fluid out of deep holes.

That is ludicrous, to put it kindly. One might also say deranged, but I shan't.

Here are some KNOWN methods of producing energy:

Wind. Vastly underused, but could potentially supply all power needs for the entire world - forever. Chief drawback is that the wind is fickle in most places. One possible solution: Flying windmills in the jetstream.

Solar. Vastly underused, but could potentially supply all power needs for the entire world - forever. The major drawbacks are geographical limits on the frequency and intensity of sunlight, cost issues, and NIMBY political issues, due to the area required for solar arrays. One really cool, cutting-edge project: The world's tallest freestanding building, a solar tower of power.

Oil shale. Royal Dutch/Shell believes that they can recover usable petroleum from shale kerogen, (a precursor to both petroleum and natural gas), for $ 30/bbl. The chief obstacle is political: Most Rocky Mountain shale lies under Federal lands. Potential: Some estimates are that there are three trillion barrels of usable petroleum that could be wrung from Rocky Mountain shale.

Coal. Coal can be turned into petroleum for around $ 100/bbl, a figure that seemed over-the-Moon a mere ten years ago. Now it seems nearly reasonable. The United States have the largest supply of coal reserves on Earth, over 27% of total world coal reserves. The U.S. have over 275 billion short tons of recoverable reserves; enough to last for over 250 years, at current use levels. That's the equivalent of 1.4 trillion barrels of oil.

Nuclear fission. Proven world reserves of land deposits of uranium have increased by around 50% since the end of 2003, mainly because the price of uranium has gone up by 1,000%, due to demand from China. Global demand for uranium is currently ~70,000 tonnes/yr. There are an estimated 4.5 billion tonnes of uranium that are dissolved in the world's oceans, that are recoverable for about twice the current price of mining it.

If we were to assume that future use of nuclear fission for producing electricity would increase 1,000 times, to account for replacing internal-combustion engine vehicles with electric cars and whatnot, and we were to harvest the oceans' bounty of uranium, and use Monju / Phoenix type breeder reactors to increase the efficiency of our uranium use 60-fold, then we could fairly cheaply supply the entire world's energy demand with nuclear-generated electricity for the next 4,000 years.

Thoughts on the Virginia Tech massacre

We all share in the horror and revulsion over the senseless massacre of 31 teachers and students at Virginia Tech at the hands of Cho Seung-Hui last week. We all mourn for those killed, and grieve with their families and friends. But the massacre also raised issues over which we are sharply divided.

For starters there is the way that we talk about the killer and his victims. Dennis Prager makes this good point about the way the news media talks about the killer:

Let's also drop the nearly universal moral absurdity of counting murderers among the dead. As of this writing, eight hours after the massacre, I see on all the networks "32 dead." It should read "31 murdered." I do not know when exactly this notion of counting murderers along with their victims began, but it is a moral travesty.

No news organization would have imagined giving the number of dead at Pearl Harbor so as to include Japanese pilots shot down. But in our age of moral neutrality, all dead are given equal weight -- the terrorist along with his victims; the shooter along with the students.

Why is the Virginia Tech murderer always referred to as the "gunman" and not the "murderer"? Had he stabbed a dozen students to death, would he be the "knifeman"?

The term gunman draws attention to the fact that he had a gun, not the fact that he murdered 32 people. One can be a gunman without murdering people, and one can murder without a gun. The more accurate term would be murderer. Going strictly by the language used, one would think that the true crime committed here was carrying a gun. Weren't the police officers who responded to the scene also gunmen?

Bryan Appleyard expressed a typically European attitude of abhorrence with guns when he said:

I've always felt queasy in the presence of guns. It's their single-mindedness. Some machines have a consoling superfluity. Cars seem to be more than just machines for rolling down the road; good cameras do more than just take pictures. But, with the exception of the finest English shotguns, guns are just killing machines. I also don't understand going out into the countryside to shoot things. I feel it's a terrible failure of the imagination, like taking a television set on a hike. The wilderness is complete and self-justifying; all we are required to do is look at it. Many Americans value guns in ways that, occasionally, I have begun to understand, but, on the whole, I don't. Last night I saw a man say that, if the students at Virginia Tech had been armed, then the slaughter there would have been avoided. If Hamadryas Baboons had nuclear weapons, said E.O.Wilson, the world would end in a few days. If students, with all their un(in)formed passions, had guns, then every campus would be a slaughterhouse.

Queasiness is allowable, and understandable. But it shouldn't taint one's view of the role that guns play in our society. A perfect world would not need guns, but a perfect world attitude imposed upon an imperfect world makes an imperfect world worse. Human society is only possible through violence. It is all too easy to overlook the fact that society requires order. Order is acheived two ways: through self-governance, voluntary acts of mutual respect of individual rights, or by state governance, acheived through the coercive application of violence. The latter is the default state of all societies larger than an extended family, but the former can be employed within the state to enhance order. Both forms of governance are facilitated by guns.

We all know and agree that state governance requires access to weapons of violence, primarily guns. For that reason alone guns are a useful and indispensable tool for securing the rights of citizens to live in an orderly society. But self-governance is also enhanced by the lawful possesion and use of guns by individual citizens. Acts of self-restraint by would be criminals are reinforced by the knowledge that armed would-be victims do not make worthwhile targets. The ability of citizens to employ armed violence in their own defence is another great boon to the health of society. Unfortunately this is the point that gun control advocates cannot see through the rose colored glasses of their perfect world wishful thinking. Ann Coulter makes an unusually (for her) serious and lucid argument in this regard:

The best we can do is enact policies that will reduce the death toll when these acts of carnage occur, as they will in a free and open society of 300 million people, most of whom have cable TV.

Only one policy has ever been shown to deter mass murder: concealed-carry laws. In a comprehensive study of all public, multiple-shooting incidents in America between 1977 and 1999, the inestimable economists John Lott and Bill Landes found that concealed-carry laws were the only laws that had any beneficial effect.

And the effect was not insignificant. States that allowed citizens to carry concealed handguns reduced multiple-shooting attacks by 60 percent and reduced the death and injury from these attacks by nearly 80 percent.

Apparently, even crazy people prefer targets that can't shoot back. The reason schools are consistently popular targets for mass murderers is precisely because of all the idiotic "Gun-Free School Zone" laws.

From the people who brought you "zero tolerance," I present the Gun-Free Zone! Yippee! Problem solved! Bam! Bam! Everybody down! Hey, how did that deranged loner get a gun into this Gun-Free Zone?

It isn't the angst of adolescence. Plenty of school shootings have been committed by adults with absolutely no reason to be at the school, such as Laurie Dann, who shot up the Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, Ill., in 1988; Patrick Purdy, who opened fire on children at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, Calif., in 1989; and Charles Carl Roberts, who murdered five schoolgirls at an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pa., last year.

One other lesson from the shooting and the public reaction was captured, once again, by Dennis Prager:

Within hours of the massacre of more than 30 people at Virginia Tech University, the president of the university issued his first statement on the evil that had just engulfed the college campus and concluded with this:

"We're making plans for a convocation tomorrow at noon in Cassell Coliseum for the university to come together to begin the healing process from this terrible tragedy."

In this photo provided by the Collegiate Times, ambulances wait on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., following multiple shootings, Monday, April 16, 2007. At least 30 people have been reported killed. (AP Photo/Collegiate Times)

Other university officials also spoke about beginning the healing process and about bringing in counselors to help students heal.

I believe that this early healing talk is both foolish and immoral.

It is foolish because one does not speak about healing the same day (or week or perhaps even month) that one is traumatized -- especially by evil. One must be allowed time for anger and grief. To speak of healing and "closure" before one goes through those other emotions is to speak not of healing but of suppression.

Not to allow people time to experience their natural, and noble, instincts to feel rage and grief actually deprives them of the ability to heal in the long run. After all, if there is no rage and grief, what is there to heal from?

The Jewish tradition, still observed even by non-Orthodox Jews, is to sit "shiva" (seven) days and do nothing but mourn and receive visitors after the death of an immediate relative. One does not have to be a religious Jew or even a Jew to appreciate this ancient wisdom.

It is not good for people to feign normalcy immediately after the loss of a loved one. People who have not been allowed, or not allowed themselves, time to grieve suffer later on. Any child who loses a parent and is "protected" from grieving by a well-intentioned parent who tries to act "normal" right after the other parent's death is likely to pay a steep psychological price.

Personally, I don't want to heal now. I want to feel rage at the monster who slaughtered all those young innocent people at Virginia Tech. And I want to grieve over those innocents' deaths.

This whole notion of instant healing (like its twin, instant forgiveness) is also morally wrong.

First, it is narcissistic. It focuses on me and my pain, not on the murderer and the murdered.

Second, it is almost obscene to talk of our healing when the bodies of the murdered are still lying in their blood on the very spot they were slaughtered. Our entire focus of attention must be on them and on the unspeakable suffering of their loved ones, not on the pain of the student body and the Virginia Tech "community."

This notion of instant healing and preoccupation with the feelings of the peripherally involved, as opposed to the feelings of the directly hurt and anger over the evil committed, are functions of the psychotherapeutic culture in which we live.

In line with that thought, I personally think that it is possible to overdo the public recognition of sorrow. It seems that every like tragedy nowadays is an occasion for governors to order flags to be flown at half-staff. This was once only an honor bestowed upon the passing of presidents or extroadinary statesmen. It was a gesture of the state for the top person of the state. Now the state has gotten into the business of memorializing personal, private tragedy. That was once the sole province of families, friends and churches. I don't want the state in the grief memorial business, or the "healing" business. I blame the relentlessly corrupting influence of electoral politics combined with the relentlessly shallowing effect of ratings-driven tragedy coverage for the expectation that the national government as well as every state and local office holder feels obligated to "do something" for every tragedy that gains media attention.

I think a little stoicism is in order. Lets not make the memorialization of victimhood the highest expression of our national character.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Captain America may be dead, but Miss America is taking up the slack

It used to be about the music, man!

Jeff Sharlet reviews the book "Faking It: the quest for authenticity in popular music" by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor:

Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor, two publishing professionals who have turned out their personal record collections to produce a persuasive defence of inauthenticity as the defining characteristic of great popular music, borrow the title of their book, Faking It, from a suicide note - the most authentic, and also the stupidest, genre of all. "The fact is," wrote Nirvana's singer Kurt Cobain shortly before eating the muzzle of a shotgun in 1994, "I can't fool you, any one of you . . . The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I'm having 100% fun."

Like many people of a certain age, I remember where I was and what I was doing the day Cobain died. I was in my third year of college, I was in a dorm; friends and I were drinking 40-ounce bottles of Colt 45 malt liquor, and when we heard the news, we laughed. Cobain, the gold standard of rock-star sincerity since his suicide, had long seemed to us like a joke, a poseur, a pretty-boy pop singer for the high-school teens who gathered in herds of earnest weeping within hours of the news. We slightly older boys and girls were past that kids' stuff; we listened to 1980s art-punk and traditional blues - two of the fakest musical genres ever presented to the public as revelations of the real - and it was to the forgotten pain of dead black men, Skip James and Son House and Mississippi John Hurt, that we raised our 40-ouncers.

Little did we know that these musicians had been served up to us on platters, literally, resurrected 30 years before by another generation of white college boys who had looked up and recorded the old men as stand-ins for their fantasies of the romantic savage. They had at least bothered to produce some records; all my friends and I did was listen to them and drink malt liquor, a beverage manufactured to exploit poor black people and winos of all races. For us, it was liquid authenticity.

Our choice of malt liquor and callow disregard for suicide constituted what Barker and Taylor call an authenticity "trap" - the harder you try to "keep it real", the more artificial you become. Barker and Taylor explore the trap in ten chapters ranging from 1920s blues to Nirvana's last concert, most of which pair an artist generally considered authentic with one generally considered not, often to surprising effect.

Cobain's companion is Leadbelly, a favourite of folk aficionados who to this day perceive him as a giant of "black music", even though the vast majority of his fans were white. (When white producers brought Leadbelly to New York City in 1935 to play "traditional" music, Life magazine declared in a headline: "Bad Nigger Makes Good Minstrel".) Cobain's swan song, performed on MTV's Unplugged a few months before his suicide, was a cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night", about a woman who wanders into the woods after her husband is hit by a train. Cobain, so deep into the authenticity trap by then that he'd never escape, seemed to be making one last attempt not to "fake it", by reviving a song by his "favourite performer", and exiting the stage without an encore.

But Leadbelly, Barker and Taylor reveal, was by necessity a master of "faking it", a sophisticated musician of cosmopolitan taste limited to a repertoire of "Negro" songs and told by his manager to perform in prison garb. That manager was John Lomax, one of the early 20th-century giants of what has come to be known as "roots music". "The music that was, for Lomax, the most authentic," write the authors, "the most black, the most free from 'white influence', was the most primitive." That doesn't mean Leadbelly was primitive, only that Lomax and, decades later, Cobain decided to believe that he was, the better to break the bonds of artificiality they felt modernity and celebrity imposed. Leadbelly was a tool. This shifty truth comes to us by way not of postmodernism, but of old-timey Marxist analysis. In 1937, the novelist Richard Wright, profiling Leadbelly for the Daily Worker, declared his coerced performances "one of the greatest cultural swindles in history".

I like the term "authenticity trap". It sums up my opinion of the modern penchant for putting on the customs, traditions and styles of past or foreign cultures, real or imagined, in some quixotic quest to acheive a dimly imagined state of higher being-ness. As Sharlet states, it is usually the affliction of white college educated types, though it wouldn't surprise me to find that it has spread via globalization to the upper classes of non-white countries. The irony of this is that the people embarking on these quests don't see the self-defeating nature of it all. You can't acheive authenticity by choice. There is only one authentic life that you can live, and that's the one you've been stuck with by the random chance of your birth.

But in another sense there is nothing inauthentic about a modern white kid enjoying Mississippi blues or Ska or Reggae or Latin Salsa, because all these are available to him in his modern milieu. He's not experiencing the life of a southern black during Jim Crow, or a Jamaican black, but listening to all these different varieties of music is an authentic expression of the life he is living, as a cosmopolitan white kid in the Information Age.

Authenticity is like body odor. It's something you don't notice in yourself because you're around it everyday. Since you don't notice it, you imagine that you don't have it. Other people have exotic smells, so you feel like they have something that you do not. You never imagine that these exotic people might find their own ways dull, and they may actually find your way of life exotic and exciting.

My "music theory" is very simple. There is good music and bad music. There is no need to articulate the qualities that make up goodness or badness. Much like Emperor Joseph II from Amadeus, bad songs have "too many notes", or "not enough notes", or "the wrong notes". Even that level of critique is considered advanced theory in my book. I've freed myself to like what I like and dislike what I don't, no questions asked. In this way I am living the authentic life of a white Baby-Boomer male from New England transplanted to Minnesota.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Songs to get you up the hill

Per Julia Buckley's comment on my post about Heroes, I'd like to compile a list of the top ten motivational songs, songs that quicken the step or energise the will. Songs for overcoming adversity. In addition to Heroes, I'd like to nominate:

"Gonna Fly Now" from the movie "Rocky"

"Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now: by Jefferson Starship

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Good News for the Entire Blogosphere

Monday, April 16, 2007

We all need Heroes

Here's some classic David Bowie singing his signature anthem (post Ziggy Stardust) "Heroes" in concert in 2002. Heroes would make my Desert Island Disc collection for sure. There's something viral about the song, infectious. The sound of the song is unique, almost otherwordly with its "wall of sound" guitar whine. Bowie starts out low, singing trademark nonsense lyrics that somehow come across as compelling (I wish I could swim, like the dolphins, like dolphins swim). From verse to verse the song builds in intensity as his voice becomes a wail, then a shout. Something about guns firing and lovers kissing, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but you get the idea that he's singing about the little guy overcoming the odds. The refrain "We can be heroes, just for one day" says it all.

I've had a New Year's ritual for many years now. After I awake, I put "Heroes" in the CD player, crank it up loud and sing along. It inspires.

I saw David Bowie in concert back in 1978 or 79 when his Heroes tour made it to the Providence Civic Center. There are many vresions of Bowie singing this song on youtube, from different decades going back to the 1970s. He looks almost as young today as he did back then. He's added to the song since the first minimalist performance in 77. There's a little routine he does at the beginning that seems out of place, and then during the later refrains he's added "what you say" here and there for emphasis. You can tell how much he loves to sing this song the way he comes alive at the end. It's good to see an artist that doesn't sing the old standards by rote at every stop, but puts himself fully into it.

Would I Pass This Test?

From Independent Women's Forum comes this tribute to the brave men of the Titanic

Come Sunday it will be ninety-five years since that great ship the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic. A stunning statistic from the calamity reveals the ethos of the day: While seventy-four percent of the female passengers survived, eighty percent of the men aboard the tragic luxury liner perished. The rule for the lifeboats: women and children first.

On a national level, one has to wonder whether NOW's trampling common sense in pursuit of the faith-based notion that evolution made the sexes identical save for a few niggling anatomical details -- speed and strength among them -- has gelded our society to the point where those numbers might well be reversed in a reprise of that disaster.

Chivalry is a difficult topic for the contemporary world. The very idea of chivalry is inherently subversive; when you talk about chivalry, you are forced to admit the possibility that men and women may be different. IWF’s Carrie Lukas characterized chivalry as “the idea that part of being a man (and certainly part of being a gentleman) is to sacrifice willingly to protect those who are more vulnerable,” adding that, “of course, all those aboard the Titanic were equally vulnerable to the near freezing water. The men who gave their seats in the lifeboats gave their lives.”

Scholar Christina Hoff Sommers invoked the Titanic when reviewing Harvard Professor Harvey C. Mansfield’s book Manliness. “The idea of male gallantry makes many women nervous,” wrote Hoff Sommers, “suggesting (as it does) that women require special protection. It implies the sexes are objectively different. It tells us that some things are best left to men. Gallantry is a virtue that dare not speak its name.”

Perhaps more disturbingly, though, is the question that hasn't gone away all day, and will likely make falling asleep even more than ordinarily troublesome: Would I have been among the manly 80 percent?

Thankfully, up to this moment, I will have to be content with this non-answer*:

Have you ever been close to tragedy? Or been close to folks who have?
Have you ever felt the pain so powerful, so heavy you collapse?
I've never had to knock on wood, but I know someone who has.
Which makes me wonder if I could.
It makes me wonder if I've never had to knock on wood.
And I'm glad I haven't yet because I'm sure it isn't good,
That's the impression that I get.
Have you ever felt the odds stacked up so high, you need a strength most don't possess?
Or has it come down to do or die? You've got to rise above the rest.
I've never had to knock on wood, but I know someone who has.
It makes me wonder if I could.
It makes me wonder if I've never had to knock on wood.
And I'm glad I haven't yet, because I'm sure it isn't good.
That's the impression that I get.
I'm not a coward, I've just never been tested.
I'd like to think that if I was I would pass.
Look at the tested, and think there but for the grace go I.
Might be a coward, I'm afraid of what I might find out.
I've never had to knock on wood, but I know someone who has.
Which makes me wonder if I could.
It makes me wonder if I've never had to knock on wood.
And I'm glad I haven't yet because I'm sure it isn't good.
That's the impression that I get.
Never have, I'd better knock on wood.
'Cause I know someone who has.
Wonder if I could, it makes me wonder if I've never had to.
I'd better knock on wood 'cause I'm sure it isn't good.
And I'm glad I haven't yet, that's the impression that I get.

* The Impression that I get by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Recommended Blogs

I've added two of the Daily Duck's more recent regulars to the blogroll. If you haven't already please read Monix's blog Random Distractions for some very intelligent thoughts on education, the news and all things English. Also be sure to check out Mike Beversluis' blog for all things quirky, weird and techie cool.

Karl Marx High

From the City Journal comes news of a high school in New York City where the three Rs are Revolution, Resentment and Redistribution:

One place where this movement thrives is El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice in Brooklyn, the city’s first “social justice” high school. The school’s lead math teacher, Jonathan Osler, is using El Puente as a base for a three-day conference in April on “Math Education and Social Justice.”

Johnny can't add but he sure can resent.

Osler offers this compelling rationale for the conference: “The systemic and structural oppression of low income [people] and people of color continues to worsen. The number of people in prison continues to grow, as does our unemployment rate. . . .

Don't these people ever come up for air? The unemployment rate is at all time lows!

Among those scheduled to speak at the conference is Eric Gutstein, a mathematics education professor at the University of Illinois and a former Chicago public school math teacher. Gutstein’s book, Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice, combines Marxist teaching methods with examples of math lessons for seventh-graders. One of these lessons is “The Cost of the B-2 Bomber—Where Do Our Tax Dollars Go?” Its purpose, Gutstein writes, “was to use U.S. Department of Defense data and find the cost for one B-2 bomber, then compare it to a four-year, full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a prestigious out-of-state university. The students had to answer whether the whole graduating class of the neighborhood high school (about 250 students) could receive the full, four-year scholarships for the whole graduating class for (assuming constant size and costs) the next 79 years!”

Sure, you could make the same analysis about the cost for any stretch of freeway. It's nice to have college graduates, but at some point you have to spend money on infrastructure and security, or else those graduates won't have a secure place to use their education.

Gutstein also recounts how, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he was able to convince his seventh-grade math class that the U.S. was wrong to go to war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. “I told students that none of the hijackers were thought to be Afghan,” Gutstein writes. He also told them that he would not “fight against Iraq or Afghanistan . . . because I did not believe in going to war for oil, power, and control.”

Another of the math conference’s “experts“ is Cathy Wilkerson, an adjunct professor at the Bank Street College of Education. Wilkerson’s only other credential of note (as listed by the conference’s organizers) is that she was a “member of the Weather Underground of the 60s.” Some credential. On March 6, 1970, Wilkerson was in a Manhattan townhouse, helping to construct a powerful bomb to detonate at a dance attended by civilians on the Fort Dix, New Jersey army base. The bomb exploded prematurely, destroying the townhouse and instantly killing three of the bomb makers. Wilkerson escaped unharmed. After resurfacing years later and serving a brief prison term, she became a high school math teacher and, presumably, developed expertise on how to bring the revolution into the classroom.

I think she should be required to teach the non-violence class.

Backing the conference is another “social justice” teachers’ organization: the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE.) Last October, I attended one of the group’s public meetings on the NYU campus, where about 80 public school teachers gathered to discuss approaches to social justice education. Literature, posters, and T-shirts displayed NYCoRE’s official slogan: “The struggle for justice does not end when the school bell rings.” Inspirational quotations from some of NYCoRE’s heroes, including Che Guevara and Marxist historian Howard Zinn, covered the walls of the room.

The meeting’s chairs were Edwin Mayorga, a twentysomething fourth-grade teacher at the highly acclaimed P.S. 87 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and NYU education professor Bree Pickower. Mayorga urged his fellow teachers to “be political inside the classroom, just as we are outside the classroom. The issues we are up against as we teach for social justice are the mandates of [Mayor] Bloomberg, Klein, and No Child Left Behind.”

Pickower then reminded attendees of the group’s “Katrina curriculum,” which teachers could use to convince elementary school students that the hurricane was, not a natural disaster, but an example of endemic American racism.

There go our science scores! And we had almost caught up with Moldova!

And Mayorga, describing how he had piloted the Katrina curriculum with his fourth-graders, pronounced it a big success. The curriculum leaves nothing to chance, providing teachers with classroom prompts designed to illustrate the evils of American capitalism and imperialism. One section, called “Two Gulf Wars,” suggests posing such questions as: “Was the government unable to respond quickly to the crisis on the Gulf Coast because the money and personnel were all being used in Iraq?”

You might think that public boasting about indoctrinating fourth-graders with canned Marxist agitprop isn’t the best way for a public school teacher to advance either his career or the radical cause. Nor would a former domestic terrorist make the best poster girl for social justice teaching. Surely someone responsible for safeguarding public education in New York City has stepped forward by now, to say that the social justice curriculum violates every accepted standard of ethical and professional responsibility for public school teachers!

But no: the city’s Department of Education has so far turned a blind eye to these radical teachers—who are not only subsidized by taxpayers, but also funded by members of the very capitalist class that the social justice literature demonizes: El Puente was founded with funding from über-capitalist Bill Gates’s education foundation, and the conference on math education and social justice has won a grant from Math for America, an organization headed by billionaire hedge-fund entrepreneur James Simons.

This is why I'm not a big fan of billionaire philanthropists. They would serve the public better by investing their billions in the market. At least there it would be going to a productive use employing people.

These radicals have no shame over the way that they are stealing a life from these young people by feeding them their poisonous resemtment and paranoia. But when the zoo animals are running the zoo you don't blame them, you blame the zookeepers. How could such a travesty of public conscience be perpetrated on the children of New York? Who has been asleep at the switch? If this ragtag crew of wingnuts can get funding for a school, then can it be long before New York is hosting the country's first madrassa?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Dunnoist Caucus

It seems that Democrats have bought into the new conventional wisdom that candidates must espouse a thoroughgoing religiosity in order to be competitive in national elections. Is this a sign that finally America's flirtation with secularism has given up the ghost? Or is it more like a sell signal, similar to the stock market where the surest sign that a bull market has topped is when your grandma is taking out her savings to buy stock? Could the Democrats getting religion foreshadow not the triumph of shirtsleeve religiosity in politics but the topping out and gradual decline of the Religious Right's influence on American politics?

Exhibit A for the prosecution is the Pew Research Center's recently released survey "Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007
which shows a declining trend for religious belief among younger age cohorts:

The survey also finds that the number of Americans who say they are atheist or agnostic, or choose not to identify with a religious tradition has increased modestly over the past two decades. In Pew surveys since the beginning of 2006, 12% have identified themselves as secular or unaffiliated with a religious tradition. That compares with 8% in the Pew values survey in 1987. This change appears to be generational in nature, with new cohorts coming of age with lower levels of commitment to a religious tradition. Among respondents born before the baby boom (that is, prior to 1946), only about 5% are secular or unaffiliated. But the number is more than double that (11%) among the Baby Boomers. The most secular Americans are those 30 and younger – those born after 1976 and sometimes called “Generation Y” – 19% of whom do not identify with a religious tradition.

Pew surveys taken over the past 20 years show that the size of the secular group has remained constant over time within each age cohort. In other words, the number of seculars within each generational group is about the same in 2007 as it was 10 or 20 years before. Thus it appears that people have not become less secular as they have aged. For example, 14% of members of “Generation X” (born 1965-1976) did not identify with a religious tradition in 1997, about the same as in 2007.

Whether younger generational cohorts will continue to be less religious than the previous ones is not known, but the data suggest there has been a strong, undeniable trend beginning with the Baby Boomers. And as the older cohort dies out the percentage of non-religious in the population will continue to grow.

Is the Democrat party the natural home for the non-religious? For now at least, but it doesn't have to remain so. Non-religious people, like any minority group, tends to vote for the party it perceives as less hostile to them. When white southern opponents to the Civil Rights movement bolted the Democrat party for the Republican, African Americans became a core voting block for Democrats. Jews have long seen the Democrat party as their natural home due to the old school anti-semitism of the traditional country club Republicans. Modern day Republicans under the influence of the Religious Right have made no secret of their hostility towards secular people. With a growing demographic of highly educated non-religious voters they can no longer afford to do so.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Hedonic Happiness

In a variant of the trope that mood is completely unrelated to material wellbeing, comes The Science of Lasting Happiness.

Before getting to the meat of the article, there are some bits guaranteed to exercise your gag reflex:

The day I meet Sonja Lyubomirsky, she keeps getting calls from her Toyota Prius dealer. When she finally picks up, she is excited by the news: she can buy the car she wants in two days. Lyubomirsky wonders if her enthusiasm might come across as materialism, but I understand that she is buying an experience as much as a possession. The hybrid will be gentler on the environment, and a California state law letting some hybrids use the carpool lane promises a faster commute between her coastal Santa Monica home and her job at the University of California, Riverside, some 70 miles inland.

Gentler on the environment than, say, actually carpooling in the carpool lane? Or, perhaps, moving 60 miles closer to work?

Further proving AOG's conclusion that for liberals, it is all about intent and feelings.

Done retching? Good.

There is a point to be had, though. When faced with a change in our material circumstances,

We tend to adapt, quickly returning to our usual level of happiness. The classic example of such "hedonic adaptation" comes from a 1970s study of lottery winners, who a year after their windfall ended up no happier than nonwinners. Hedonic adaptation helps to explain why even changes in major life circumstances--such as income, marriage, physical health and where we live--do so little to boost our overall happiness. Not only that, but studies of twins and adoptees have shown that about 50 percent of each person's happiness is determined from birth. This "genetic set point" alone makes the happiness glass look half empty, because any upward swing in happiness seems doomed to fall back to near your baseline.

What of the remainder? Apparently, becoming more or less wealthy, getting that Prius, or discovering how much replacement batteries cost, accounts for a lasting 10% change in mood. The 40% left on the table has "unknown" stamped in big red letters all over it. Clearly, no experimental psychologist can be expected to stand for long next to that word, so it must be the portion left to the mood's owner to control.

Based upon personal experience -- I have gone through several significant changes in material circumstances since 9/11, including, at one point, an 80% reduction in income while I hurled satellite dishes at the sides of houses in the midst of the kind of Michigan winter to have completely escaped Gore's notice -- I agree that my happiness was not particularly affected by the changes in my material circumstances.

That correlates very well with the notion that people don't get happier as they get wealthier, which, in turn, raises the question as to why people work so hard at getting wealthier in the first place.

I put it down to stress reduction.

I'm no happier now than I was being a dish dude, but I'm nowhere near as close to blowing an aneurysm.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Andrew Sullivan is a silly man.

Sullivan doesn't get heterosexuality. This basic fact is on dislpay in this post about the movie "300":

Hollywood and the Curse of Heterosexuality
04 Apr 2007 03:55 pm

Here's an interesting review of "300":

"300" celebrates the male bonding that is found in most war and sports movies. What gives those films their homosexual subtext is less the sweating, shirtless males working together for victory. Rather it's the unstated assumption that unlike the men, none of the women in these men's lives will ever really grasp this singularly important, defining experience. Whatever these men and their future wives share, the women will just never "get it." However, in war and sports films, the men still hunger for a life of normalcy - settling down and raising a family with their female soulmate. But that fantasy of living happily ever after with your true love has little emotional resonance in contemporary buddy films and romances: think The Break Up, Failure to Launch, Old School, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, American Pie.

It wasn't always so. In '50's and '60's films, the emotional relationship that men craved was with a woman. Then two films undermined that assumption. For the artier crowd, "Diner" depicted male friendships as deeper than anything that a man could share with a woman. For the mass audience, the same message was abundantly clear with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. No woman could ever be as perfect for Redford or Newman as they were for each other.

In that sense, Brokeback Mountain wasn't so much about being gay; it was about being male, in ways that women can never understand. Maybe the chick flick has produced its mirror image: the dick flick.

Yes, Brokeback Mountain is about being gay. Male bonding through sports or the military is not about being gay. Emotional attachments between men fostered by team competition and conflict has nothing to do with sex. It isn't a sexual thing. It is a male thing. What is it about the sex part of sexual identity doesn't Sullivan get? Being gay is about wanting sexual relations with men, not about wanting male friends. Sullivan can wish that male bonding would lead to homosexual desire, or that heterosexuality is a curse, but it isn't so. You're different, Andrew. Just accept it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Discombobulation III

Country & Western and Pink Floyd, living together.

That's it. I'm putting a redoubt in my bunker.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More shameless pibggybacking on Brit update


1. Who wouldn't open the door for D?

Brit answered this correctly, it was HAL, the insane computer who wouldn't open the pod bay door for Dave the astronaut in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 space masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey". Stanley Kubrick also directed Tom Cruise and his then wife Nicole Kidman in his 1999 film "Eyes Wide Shut", which was his last movie before his death in that year.

2. Which 2 followed 1 after 33?

Joe Shropshire guessed correctly that it was Pope John Paul II, who succeeded JohnPaul I, who only reigned for 33 days before his untimely death.

3. What GW made GW that AG got AA for IT.

Monix correctly guessed that #3 is George W Bush made Global Warming for which Al Gore won an Academy Award for "Incinvenient Truth".

Extra Bonus Point question: #1, without the clues, has an alternate solution. It is not from a movie but from a comedy skit.


3. The second GW isn't a person. And the idea that GW made GW isn't accepted by all people.

More Clues:

3. GW has another initial that I haven't given.

Even More Clues:

3. AA is an award, IT is a movie. The second GW is a climactic condition.

Update: Monix correctly guessed that #3 is George W Bush made Global Warming that Al Gore used to win an Academy Award for "Inconvenient Truth".

Extra Bonus Question: What alternate answer for #1 was part of a comedy skit from the 1970's?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

News Flash: A Congressional Democrat has acted responsibly on the Iraq War

Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama has revealed the Democratic caucus' bluff on withholding funding from the military as a tactic for strongarming President Bush to set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
If President Bush vetoes an Iraq war spending bill as promised, Congress quickly will provide the money without the withdrawal timeline the White House objects to because no lawmaker "wants to play chicken with our troops," Sen. Barack Obama said Sunday.

"My expectation is that we will continue to try to ratchet up the pressure on the president to change course," the Democratic presidential candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't think that we will see a majority of the Senate vote to cut off funding at this stage."

The usual suspects on the Left are predictably up in arms over a Democrat not toeing the extremist line. But someone has to act like an adult in that party, even if only for a moment. Can't you just feel the knife twisting in Kos' back?