Saturday, May 28, 2011

Images of Jesus on French Toast

This rant by Bill McKibben is emblematic of the kind of slap-dash, free association that passes for smart commentary by global warming fanaticists.   The author seeks to discredit those who would not readily assume that a series of recent severe weather events constitute evidence of climate change.  By mocking those who would assert otherwise, McKibben is, in effect, arguing that recent torandos in Joplin, MO, and Tuscaloosa, AL, and the "enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that" are related events, and that the link is . . . (you guessed it) manmade global warming!

What a rube I must be.  Here I've lived in the upper Midwest my entire life, and just assumed that tornadoes occur when air masses of certain temperature and barometric pressure collide.  I also believed what I heard in statistics class about random, independent  events seeming to come about in discernible patterns.

Until now, when people told me that "deaths come in threes," I would gently suggest to them that it just seems that way, given a never-ending string of deaths in our lives, and a vague idea of just how close those deaths would have to be in order to be related.   If A dies on April 27, and B dies on May 22 (the span of time between Tuscaloosa and Joplin), are those deaths close enough to be part of the same tri-part event?  Does that mean that C has to die on or before June 22?   What if C doesn't die until July 15?

Some people see religious imagery in knots on trees, on rust stains on stone walls, and in the random designs "visible" on burnt toast. 

As is typical in screeds  posted by true believers, the facts get in the way of McKibben's thesis. McKibben points to 2011 tornadic activity as evidence that global warming is heating up the atmosphere.  The problem is that there are HUNDREDS OF TORNADOES EVERY YEAR in the United States.  Once, over a two day span (April 3-4, 1974), there were 147 separate tornadoes in 13 states! (see the Online Tornado FAQ hosted by NOAA).   Per the same source, the month of May, 2003, saw 543 tornadoes in the United States!

Let's face it, Bill, there are ALWAYS severe weather events (hurricanes, tsunamis, blizzards) trundling one after the other across North America and the world.  You can group them any way you wish in order to suggest a pattern (or lack of one, for that matter).

I'm not saying that there could never be a link between global temperature change and severe weather. It makes perfect sense that there could be such a link.  I for one, haven't seen the straw people that McKibben hypothesizes (the myopic d-e-n-i-e-r-s) who adamantly assert that there can't be a link.  But I can well imagine the intelligent and thoughtful (not necessarily readers of WaPo) who admit the possibility but intuitively understand the risks of jumping to broad conclusions based on clusters of more or less random events.

It is silliness to suggest that a cool spring debunks theories of global warming.  It is just as silly to assert that a couple of severe weather events in a 3 or 4 week period supports those same theories.

While there "could be" a link between 2011 tornadoes and global warming, I suppose that there could also be a link beween the death of my mail carrier and that of Aunt Agnes about 6 weeks ago. 

If it is wrong to be skeptical about the conclusions of fanatics and true believers, then I don't want to be right.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

One America

As I look out over I-57 tonight, I think that the differences between us are not so great, that we are but one America.  One country.  Allied and aligned.  And what we all want is universal:  a good life for ourselves, our children, and our fellowman.  And how to get there: hard work (who among us wants to reward the slothful?), hope, and an omnipresent eye on the prize relative prosperitry, a tomorrow brighter than tonight).

I cringe at those among us who want the working and giving amng us to give even more to those who think that they haven't been given enough. I cringe at the sight of those who beg at the steps of the county courthouse: Give me some more!  (For you seek but a gift, exactly like those at the food line at the homeless shelter).

This man's America is a land where we all work hard, and we all do well.   Not well enough to fly in jet airplanes to tropical beaches to frolic in the saline tides, but well enough to dine on eggs and sourdough biscuits and bacon.   To live well, in the humblest sense of the word. 

This man's America is a land where we stop crying, and stop begging. Where we get off our chairs and stoops and take what is ours, what is our birthright:  wealtth, prosperity, happiness.

What do we need from Uncle Sam, from Government? 

Nothing, except open roads and freedom from interference.

Freedom made this land great.   Freedom  from oppresssion.  Freedom from contol.  Freedom from those who would make their pet issue ours.  Freedom from those who demand 'rights,' when the only authentic right is that to be left alone to pursue our destiny. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

From Diversity to Sustainability: How Campus Ideology is Born

October 12, 2010 By Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars.

(Originally published by The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Recently I came across a photograph of students at an event gathered around a cake that bore the iced command, "Celebrate Sustainability!" Clearly the candle had been passed. For more than a generation, cakes at campus events have tutored students to "Celebrate Diversity!" Something has changed—besides the frosting.

The pursuit of diversity on campuses remains a highly visible priority, but it is being subtly demoted by enthusiasm for sustainability. As an ideology, diversity is running out of steam, while sustainability is on fire. This month hundreds of colleges will mark the eighth annual Campus Sustainability Day, with activities to include a Webcast offering "social-change strategies and tools" to help campuses lower carbon emissions.

How did this happen? Partly it is the Macy's-window effect: Ideologies have to be replaced from time to time to attract attention. But sustainability is gaining ground also because it offers college students a stronger sense of personal significance than diversity does.

Diversity and sustainability are the two most characteristic ideas of the modern academy. Diversity asks us to focus on group identity and personal affiliation, and it puts race at the center of the discussion. Sustainability asks us to focus on humanity's use of natural resources, and it puts climate at the center of discussion. Outwardly, diversity and sustainability belong to separate narratives. They deal with different topics and might, in principle, have no more friction between them than typically exists between English departments and physics labs. Or between polar bears and tropical fish. But in fact, diversity and sustainability have a complicated, decades-old rivalry.

They vie, in effect, for the same conceptual space and the same passions. Both are about repairing the world; both invite exuberant commitment; both are moralistic; and most of all, both are encompassing ideas that crowd out other encompassing ideas. They also compete for the same financial resources.
Diversity and sustainability are also both second-wave movements. Diversity is second-wave affirmative action; sustainability is second-wave environmentalism. Like all second-wave movements, each embodies a complicated awareness of its predecessor, by turns appropriating and repudiating the earlier movement. Diversity set aside the ideal of racial integration as a moral imperative for equity in favor of a convoluted claim that racial preferences should rest on pedagogical advantages. Few proponents of racial preferences actually believe this, and the old moral imperative lurks in the background. But the pedagogical rationale became enshrined in law in Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's majority opinion in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger.

Likewise, sustainability set aside the driving idea of the original environmental movement, that we help ourselves when we clean up the environment. Sustainability shifts the focus to both the imagined future and the supposed needs of the earth itself. Sustainability decenters environmentalism from the health and enjoyment of living people to the world beyond and replaces a focus on the dangers of pollution with the idea that Western society itself is profoundly at odds with the earth.

Diversity and sustainability are not simply repackaging of old ideas. Both are distinct ideas in their own right, and both aspire to be cultural concepts that impose a general order, not only on the university but also on society at large. Both express vigorous dissatisfaction with the social order, but beyond that, they convey ideals that are probably irreconcilable. Diversity calls for a fractionated America but leaves intact a vision of personal success and amenity. Sustainability is, not far beneath the surface, a doctrine of privation, offering only the psychological comforts of asceticism.

One index of the rise of sustainability at the expense of diversity is the size of the institutional memberships of their professional groups. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education now lists as members 800 colleges and universities in the United States. The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, by contrast, has about 150 member institutions.
Diversity is a story of a once-fresh ideology that swept through higher education in a spirit of triumph but that quickly seems to be losing its status as the sexiest ideology on campus. Diversiphiles would like to keep the adrenaline flowing, but it is hard. Freshmen now arrive on campus already having sucked on multicultural milkshakes from kindergarten to senior prom. Diversity for them is just the same ol' same ol'.

That doesn't stop the diversicrat establishment from trying to pump new excitement into the project. California State University at Chico, for example, recently circulated a new "action plan" titled "To Form a More Inclusive Learning Community," in which the university president sets his sights on placing "diversity at the core of our mission, vision, and priorities." The practical goal is to get ChicoState listed as an official "Hispanic-Serving Institution" by 2015, which requires substantially increasing Hispanic enrollment past the university's current 13.5 percent. (ChicoState serves mostly a local population in a part of the state with relatively few Hispanics. Hispanics are already "overrepresented" at Chico from a purely demographic standpoint.) The federal designation "Hispanic-Serving Institution" would bring access to additional federal support. But the diversity game is never about just numbers and dollars. It is also about ideology and intimidation, and Chico State is actively pursuing those, too. As part of the new campaign, it invited the "Diversity Guru" Lee Mun Wah to provide workshops including "Unlearning Racism in the Classroom." Faculty members get the message: Openly expressed doubts about the diversity program will be treated as racist conduct.

Sustainability hasn't yet achieved this level of intimidation, but not for want of trying. AASHE keeps a directory of "peer-to-peer sustainability outreach programs," or "eco-reps." These are the busybodies who do things like go through students' trash to make sure that everyone is diligently recycling, and who hector everyone to squeeze into a tighter carbon footprint. The Green Gator at Allegheny College is promoting dorm-based compost bins and planning to map energy usage. It urges lights out in the bathrooms and laundry. BardCollege students, meanwhile, are working on "the psychology of fostering sustainable behavior" and are promoting "Recyclemania." If it sounds like the "psychology" of sustainability is akin to OCD, maybe that isn't far off. At the University of California at San Diego, the enforcers posted a shocking discovery complete with photos: "Sadly today we found a bunch of recyclables in the GARBAGE!" A happy ending, though: "We rescued all the recycling ... and got them in the recycling bin."

The power to enforce something, of course, always finds takers, no matter how petty the rules. Sustainability, however, seems especially suited to the rise of student enforcers. They might best be described as sustainabullies. Why does this have the power to light up the imaginations of so many students? How did it become the distinctive banner of this generation?

I view this changing of the ideological guard with wariness. Diversity was pretty bad; sustainability may be even worse. Both movements subtract from the better purposes of higher education. Diversity authorizes double standards in admissions and hiring, breeds a campus culture of hypocrisy, mismatches students to educational opportunities, fosters ethnic resentments, elevates group identity over individual achievement, and trivializes the curriculum. Of course, those punishments were something that had to be accepted in the spirit of atoning for the original sin of racism.

But for its part, sustainability has the logic of a stampede. We all must run in the same direction for fear of some rumored and largely invisible threat. The real threat is the stampede itself. Sustainability numbers among its advocates some scrupulous scientists and quite a few sober facilities managers who simply want to trim utility bills. But in the main, sustainability is the triumph of hypothesis over evidence. Its scientific grounding is mostly a matter of models and extrapolations and appeals to authority. Evoking imminent and planet-destroying catastrophe, sustainatopians call for radical changes in economic arrangements and social patterns. Higher education is summoned to set aside whatever it is doing to help make this revolution in production, distribution, and consumption a reality.

Sustainability combines some astonishingly radical ideas with mere wackiness. Many sustainability advocates want to replace free markets (a source, as they see it, of unsustainable growth and exploitation) with some kind of pan-national rule with little scope for private property rights. On the other hand, sustainatopians also busy themselves with eliminating trays from cafeterias and attacking the threat of plastic soda straws. Sustainability thus unites vaunting political ambition and comic burlesque.
Both are at odds with patient and open-minded intellectual inquiry.

The diversity movement has always been rife with contradictions. Seeking to promote racial equality, it evolved into a system that perpetuates inequalities. But whatever else it is, the diversity movement thirsts to be part of mainstream America. Its ultimate goal is to make diversity a principle of the same standing as freedom and equality in our national life. The sustainability movement, by contrast, has no such affection for the larger culture or loyalty to the American experiment. It dismisses the comforts of American life, including our political freedom, as unworthy extravagance. Sustainability summons us to a supposedly higher good. Personal security, national prosperity, and individual freedom may just have to go as we press on to our low-impact, carbon-free new order. In this sense, it goes beyond promising to redeem us from social iniquity to redeeming us from human nature itself.

Many campus adherents to sustainability may eventually tire of its puritanical preachiness and its unfulfilled prophecies, but for the moment, sustainability has cachet. Diversity, meanwhile, has aged into a static bureaucracy, and diversicrats increasingly spend their energy polishing the spoons. The current displacement of diversity by sustainability can be traced back to two developments. In June 1992, Sen. John Kerry and Teresa Heinz attended the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development—the Rio Summit. On their return to the United States, they founded an advocacy group called Second Nature, specifically dedicated to bringing the sustainability movement to the American college campus. Second Nature is explicitly radical. It calls for making "sustainable living the foundation of all learning and practice in higher education." Second Nature chose as its primary tactic the winning over of college and university presidents, and it has so far succeeded in getting 674 to sign its "American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment."

The other development that seems to have pushed sustainability forward as a campus movement was the rise of social activism in residence-life offices. Responding to a call from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for colleges to do more to promote "community" on campus, residence-life staff stepped up in 1994 with new "co-curricular" programs heavily freighted with leftist ideas about social transformation. Sustainability soon became part of that package. In 2005, nine higher-education associations teamed up to create the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium. They aimed, like Second Nature, to make "education for sustainable development" the priority for American higher education. The HEASC announcement was timed for a "United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development," from 2005 to 2014.

Sustainability thus did not grow up organically on campus. While there were faculty members who pursued research on climate change and a few, such as the Oberlin professor David Orr, who gained recognition as uncompromising proponents of radical environmentalism, there was no mass movement behind them, nor did such a movement well up from students. It arrived, Cort├ęs-style, as a well-financed and shrewdly organized expedition bent on conquest. And its immediate target was academic administrations.

One wouldn't think on that basis that sustainability would have had much of a chance in displacing diversity as the dominant campus ideology. Yet here we are, eating our sustainability cake without a tray and sipping our bug juice without a plastic straw. In the end, I suspect that a quarter-century or so of hugging identity politics close and trying to feel perpetual shame about the nation's racial past just proved too dreary. Sustainability may be based on a grimmer view of life in general, but it offers relief from that ever-expanding story of group oppression that had eventually become all that diversity had to offer. In an odd way, sustainability is liberating.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Earth from 3 Billion Miles Away

Photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by Voyager 1

CARL SAGAN:   "From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

                                     -Carl Sagan Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cheering Immaturity

This article by Thomas Sowell touches upon one my all time pet peeves: the expectation of liberals that the world should operate on a quota system, when the reality is that outcommes depend on inputs.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Please No Romney, No Palin

Mitt:  Don't run in 2012.  You are nothing but a carpet-bagging, slightly more conservative version of Bill Clinton.  Like Bill, you have proven that you  will do anything, say anything to get elected.  You are a carpetbagger and an unprincipled opportunist.  Not only will I not vote for you, I will oppose you.

Sarah: Don't run in 2012.  You are a lightweight; you lack what the pundits called "gravitas" in 2000.  Turned out that W had a hell of a lot more gravitas than the Associated Press gave him credit for when 9/11 struck.   You have none.  You lack a conversational understanding of most of the issues which you would confront as the leader of the free world.   Love the glasses, but I can't support you.

People I can support:

Bobby Jindahl
Paul Ryan
Mitch Daniels

Saturday, March 27, 2010

ObamaCare Redux

I highly recommend an excellent overview/summary of the shortcomings of ObamaCare at the Weekly Standard ("REPEAL - How and Why Obamacare Must Be Undone"). In it, Yuval Levin eloquently makes the case for repeal of this monstrosity, both as to the whys and the practical possibilities.

The Wall Street Journal Opinion blog also has a great article discussing immediate real world impacts of ObamaCare on the financial statements of some major American companies such as AT&T, Deere & Co., Caterpillar and others.

Thanks again to Barry, Nancy, Harry and the other fools who made all of this possible.