Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lack of Self-Awareness Award

I have found the most amazing article. The Guardian, usually reliable on news and good, if liberal, in commentary, has an absolutely astonishing article on climate change and those opposing the belief in AGW.

Before I begin, let me say, I do not subscribe to the idea of an AGW promoting conspiracy. I believe science is probably somewhat driven by funding, consensus and especially political patronage (see this article for one description), and perhaps some groups use it to push an alternate agenda, but in general I believe most promoting it believe in AGW.

Let me also say I believe in climate change, though I am not certain about the degree of man's involvement, nor what the current direction indicates, and I am very skeptical of the most catastrophic models, if only because they do not reverse well. Finally, I agree CO2 and water vapor do retard the re-radiation of IR radiation, but the total effect is still not entirely clear, or, rather the theoretical effect is well known, what is not known are the other confounding factors, the feedbacks of modern climate models.

Having said all that, this article is amazing.

The topic in question is a valid one, how skepticism of AGW on the right has turned into skepticism about motives and belief in a conspiratorial climate agenda. I had no problem with the topic, but I kept saying in my head "Isn't this what the believers say about JunkScience.com and other skeptics? Do they not impugn their motives and funding? Is this not the same on both sides?"

But the article did not need my commentary. In a remarkable fit of lack of self awareness, it immediately launched into a discussion of the petrochemical industry and the Kochs and began impugning the motives of those pushing the anti-AGW line.

Not that it is surprising. For all the right's recent embrace of conspiratorial thinking may be criticized by the left, they have long had a number of mainstream conspiracy theories. Just think of how they view "big business" or "Wall Street". It is entertaining to hear someone on the left criticize "conspiracy theories" on the right, only to talk about how it is all being pushed by Big Business.

But this article definitely takes the cake, and thus, for its complete lack of self awareness in exhibiting the very behaviors it is criticizing, I have to give it the day's Lack of Self-Awareness Award.

PS: I am missing the link for the article on how funding can drive consensus. Once I find it I will add the link.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

It Has Been A Long Time

I am surprised every time I return to this site and realize how long it has been since I wrote anything. Then again, I suppose real life just caught up with me and I did not find the time to write. Though, perhaps that is an excuse. I was about to write "between family and work and home and medical problems and other hobbies", but realized all of those really don't take up all of my time, I could easily have written, but I didn't. Perhaps it is just as simple as, recognizing I have few, if any, readers, and realizing this amounts to writing for myself, I just did not feel all that motivated to write political commentary only I would read. I honestly do not know. Whatever the reason, I suppose I should stop posting empty promises of regular posts in the future and admit, for the immediate future, posts will be irregular, at best.

If you stop by and feel inspired to comment, please do so; I will check from time to time. And as the mood strikes I may write something new. Then again, I have said so much, there is not a lot of new ground to cover, unless I want to delve into the peculiarities and problems of the new president, and that is a rather depressing subject, not one likely to inspire a lot of enthusiasm. Then again, you never know, perhaps the foolishness about "health care reform" or minimum wage or some other topic will motivate me. We shall see.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Sorry for the Silence, Again

I just realized how long it has been since I posted anything. I think it is the longest I have gone since I started this blog, and I do apologize to any readers I may still have. (If any exist.) I usually try to put some thoughts on line at least once a week, but in the past two months I have become rather busy working on some personal projects, as well as simply dealing with work and have not found time to write. Perhaps I am also a bit discouraged by the current political climate, as, though it does seem the Trump administration may be collapsing, I still find it depressing that the GOP has gone from a flawed, but nominally small government, free trade, federalist party, to a national socialist party whose only connection to the past is an inconsistent social conservative agenda. But I still feel a bit bad about not writing at all, so I will try in the coming weeks to get back on a regular schedule so whatever readers may remain, or may arrive in the future, will find something new to read.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Problem with Trump

Some time ago I decided I would limit this blog to general principles and avoid contemporary issues. However, in this case, as a few other times, I have felt the need to mention a contemporary event, simply because it was too important not to discuss. In this case, I feel the need to point out what has recently struck me as the biggest threat of the Trump administration.

I have complained about a number of aspects of the Trump administration. How he has changed the GOP from a (at least nominally) small government, free market, federalist party into a national socialist, nativist, protectionist party. How his actions have restored the old association of racism, nationalism and nativism with conservatism, after that myth had been at least partly destroyed*. How he continually feels the need to threaten, berate and bully anyone he sees as a foe, domestically and internationally, without thought of the proper role of his office or the consequences. How he will likely destroy the economy with protectionist measures and crony capitalism. And so on. But above all, I have come to see one aspect of Trump as a greater threat than any other.

And that is Trump's habit of speaking without thought or reflection.

Actually, I must clarify, Trump's problem is a mixture of simple thoughtless comments, combined with a desire to appease too many conflicting positions, resulting in frequent trial balloons which he needs to "clarify" or "walk back", as well as espousing multiple contradictory positions simultaneously. Though these represent a variety of different activities, and a number of different motives, in the end, they produce the same outcome, a president whose words cannot be relied upon, and whose statements give no indication of what he plans to do.

Which is what worries me most about Trump.

Many of his defenders say they are "just words", but a president's words are never "just words". That is why presidents have traditionally spoken only in formal settings, after their words have been carefully reviewed, and answer questions with, as much as possible, prepared answers, or at least very restrained responses. The words of a president move markets, they start and stop armies, they drive business plans, they make friends and enemies around the world. In short, the words of a president are seen as guidance about the future direction of the nation.

Which is why Trump is such a threat. When he has  3 AM twittertantrums, or speaks off the cuff, when he floats a trial balloon as if the decision were already made, or when he makes any of his off the cuff comments, people around the world expect those words to be sincere, expect that he is presenting an honest picture of where the country is headed. So, when he reverses course an hour or a day or a week later, he shatters all the plans made based upon those initial comments, making people around the world suddenly change course.

Worse still, after a while, as people come to believe Trump's words are unreliable guides, they will stop listening, and Trump will have no means to interact with the world. People will not trust him, and he will be unable to indicate what he hopes to accomplish. In short, eventually he is going to neuter himself, leaving him unable to drive action by words, and at the same time turn the US into an enigma, with both citizens and foreign powers unable to determine what course it shall adopt. And that is a recipe for chaos.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

I Am Puzzled

My son was watching some scientific videos on YouTube when he came across a story on climate change. As a skeptic, I told him why I believe the theory is flawed, though I did tell him it is probably best not to argue the point with teachers, since skeptics tend to get labelled as "anti-science deniers", and I also urged him to look at the science and decide for himself, though I would be happy to help him evaluate various arguments.

However, this particular video, though adopting a (mostly) objective tone -- excepting a few claims about the current cabinet being filled with "anti-science deniers" and oil executives* -- puzzled me with one claim. Among various figures -- invariably the most extreme examples possible -- there was a claim that CO2 levels had risen 450 ppm in the last century. Now, as far as I know, CO2 generally hovers around the 350-450 ppm level more or less (I may be going too far one either end, actually, but it usually falls in that range). So, if this claim is correct, at the start of the First World War there was no atmospheric CO2?

This is a bit baffling, as I seem to recall trees existing in the period, not to mention that without CO2, the temperature of Earth would likely be slightly below freezing, which I think they would have noticed. I know there was a very cold period in the 19th century, but I did not think it was quite that cold, not to mention that I think someone might have noticed the lack of vegetation.

Obviously, the person making this video simply has no idea of what he speaks, and picked up a number either from someone equally ignorant, or copied a number incorrectly. But that points out a problem not just with YouTube, but with popular science reporting as well. They simply parrot numbers and claims without any evaluation. 97% of scientists, 7 inches of sea rise, x degrees in the past century and so on... They do not bother checking if the numbers even make sense. They have such faith in their beliefs they simply parrot them. And, sadly, many readers and listeners just accept them. No mention of all the skeptics who had argued against these theories, the many petitions signed by equally large numbers of scientists, and the many problems trying to make these models match reality. No discussion of the secretiveness about how the "hockey stick" was generated, or that it omits the Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age. No mention of the earlier panic over global cooling. Or the many who pretend that panic never happened.

Until we get some better reporting, I am afraid real debate over AGW will not exist and we will simply have this foolish close minded situation where any skeptic is dismissed as anti-science.

POSTSCRIPT

One thing I never quite figured out. Historically, CO2 drops during ice ages, and rises afterward, however, overall, each ice age seems to generally deplete CO2 somewhat. That is why some few scientists argue we need to increase CO2, as the next ice age could drop levels below that needed for vegetation. But, ignoring that, what I cannot figure out is that, historically, CO2 has been very much higher, as high as 2200 ppm in the Ordovician. Yet the globe did not boil over as many AGW models predict at MUCH lower concentrations. How do AGW proponents explain the lack of global meltdown in thee past eras?


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Risk and Freedom

I just heard my governor is thinking of passing a law limiting prescriptions of opiate drugs to only one week of medicine. Since I suffer from chronic nerve damage and depend on opiates to be able to work and raise my son, this harms me directly. Even now I need to go to my doctor every two months, since the feds are not fond of longer prescriptions, but if this law passes, I will likely be unable to work, since my job is not letting me take off part of a day every week to see my doctor. In short, a nominally Republican governor, in the name of "stopping drugs"1 is forcing me to become "disabled" when I could lead a normal life if only I had normal access to medication. Nor is it even achieving what it sets out to do, as I could take $10 or $20 and find opiates in Baltimore, or even Annapolis, within an hour or less. So all it does is inconvenience the ill, while doing nothing to stop drug use2.

I have often discussed the drug laws under which doctors operate with friends, and find it a terrible policy. Until I found my current doctor, I often found myself in pain because stopping my pain would take "too much medicine", or forced to go through withdrawal when a doctor decided he had prescribed too much and cut off my medication. (In two years I underwent withdrawal three times.) All this because the federal government does not trust doctors' judgment and worries some people may either get "too many" drugs or get drugs they "do not need". Well, let us think about this. We have two choices. We can allow people in pain to get medication that alleviates that suffering, or maybe even allow people to function who are currently called disabled, but would have to accept that maybe some people would get drugs that are not strictly necessary, and maybe even a few people who have no pain might get pain killers. The alternative is to try to stop people from getting drugs they don't "need" (by whatever definition3), but as a consequence, people in pain will be inconvenienced by frequent doctor visits, and many will either get too little pain relief or maybe get none4.

This argument points out one troublesome aspect of true liberty, akin to the one I discussed in "The Right to Be Wrong -- An Uncomfortable Argument". Freedom often mean accepting things that you may not like. And just as freedom means accepting people may say things you don't like, run businesses in discriminatory ways, and so on, freedom also means accepting risk. And that goes contrary to our modern philosophy. Just look at the argument about drugs. We would rather make sick people suffer with too little relief than run the risk that people may get drugs we find unacceptable. We cannot live with the risk people may behave in unacceptable ways.

But it is not just behavior. Risk is very real as well. Our current government is, at its heart, risk averse. We pass law after law based upon the worry that some problem may occur. All our laws are intended to change the world to make life "safe", to make it "fair" to ensure none suffer any hardships. Why do so many call it a "nanny state"? Simple, because it seems more and more our state is willing to curtail our freedoms out of fear that we might suffer some hardship, physical, financial or emotional. And not just content to protect us, the law goes even farther, trying to channel our behavior into "proper" behavior out of fear that we might make a "wrong" choice, or be led into "improper" behavior.

We need to eliminate this belief. Government cannot prevent all hardship, nor can it make life free of risk. All it can do is eliminate opportunities and reduce overall happiness. Freedom, true freedom, means accepting that life may bring hardships, and others may suffer as well. If you worry about risk, in a truly free state, you will prepare for it yourself, you will not force others to live by your level of risk aversion, and cut off their choices to match the fear you feel. Freedom means allowing others to run risks, and preparing personally for the threats you might face. Freedom means risk, and others acting in ways we may not like, but it also means opportunities, and the ability to behave as we wish, whether others like it or not.

And that is what we need to understand. When we strive for elimination of risk, "fairness" and "right" behavior, it means we lose our liberty, we eliminate our ability to choose and little by little allow ourselves to be enslaved, and we still do not gain the supposed benefits. It is a process of selling off our freedom to gain nothing but illusory benefits.

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1. He also has an emotional appeal, as he lost a family member to drug overdose. However, that is a poor guide for policy. I thought conservatives were led by reason, not emotion. Yes, it is sad that people suffer tragedies, but that does not mean government is the tool to prevent those incidents. Trying to make life perfect via government is a prescription for misery and totalitarianism. ("Life Is Not Fair - And Trying To Make It So Makes Things Worse", "For Your Own Good -- The Problem with Subjective Rights", "The Road to Violence", "The War of All Against All", "In Loco Parentis", Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "The Sexual Revolution and Prostitution", "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions" and "Arbitrary Choices")

2. I admit up from, I believe in decriminalizing drugs. For that matter I believe in eliminating the prescription drug system, and allowing free purchase of medicine. (See "Drug Legalization", "The Danger Inherent in Banning "Bad Ideas"", "Guns and Drugs", "Missionary Zeal and Human Discord", "Smoking Versus Sex -- Want and Need Take Two", "Common Sense,Philosopher Kings, Arbitrary Law and Dictatorship", "Guns and Drugs", "The Problem of Established Perspectives", "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est", "Guns and Drugs", "Nonsensical Regulation", "The Free Market Solution", Medical Regulations" and "Medical Regulation II")

3. I am not sure exactly what "need" means, as it is a meaningless word. If a stressed person gets valium from a psychiatrist it is valid and "needed", if he does it himself, or uses an illegal depressant,  he does not "need" it. And exactly how much pain relief is "needed"? Can the government tell how much pain I have or how well a drug suppresses it? Even doctors admit they cannot, but a bureaucrat making a singular rule for all can? For that matter, if an individual gets benefit from recreational drugs, who is to say he does not "need" them? By that definition, your books, your television, your church and anything beyond bread and water could be made illegal, as you don't "need" it. People decide what is or is not beneficial for them, "value" is subjective, just because one says drugs have no benefit does not mean some do not find benefit in them. ("Rationality, Drug Use and Laws", "Luxury and Necessity", "Putting My Cards on the Table", "Arbitrary Choices", "Addicts?", "Standing By My Principles", "Who Does it Harm?", "It Doesn't Matter to ME...")

4. Once, when forced to go through withdrawal while suffering horrific pain, I tried to change doctors. The doctor I saw, being a pillar of compassion told me I was a "drug seeker", and scolded me for "going through withdrawal" (which I told him was the case). The fact that I had discolored hands and feet, medical history of nerve damage and other documentation (though at the time no diagnosis, as it took doctors six years to figure it out -- cf "Morbus non Gratus"). That is the sort of behavior the current system favors, judgmental doctors denying treatment (and often insulting -- it happened more than once) to those in pain for fear of being prosecuted.

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UPDATE (Later the Same Day): I am not sure if the initial description I heard of the law is entirely accurate or not. I am getting multiple, conflicting descriptions. On the other hand, since people who require pain killers are routinely treated as potential criminals and "guilty until proven innocent" of moral turpitude, I am inclined to always expect the worst when it comes to drug laws. You would not think to call a diabetic who came in to ask for insulin a "drug seeker", but those of us who need pain killers cannot actually ask for them or risk being called the same. We have to routinely pretend we do not want drugs we need, try over and over to substitute other drugs that often fail to work (I have had to try over a dozen drugs that had horrible side effects, did not relieve my pain, and sometimes had to do it more than once for the same drug), and accept doses far below what we need, waiting two or three visits before hinting obliquely that our continued excruciating pain might demand a tiny increase. If we treated, say, heart medications the way we treat painkillers, we would have people dying left and right of coronaries as they waited to suggest to the doctor that maybe that erratic heartbeat might suggest they need a little more medicine. But since pain does not kill, only disables, and our prohibitionism history and war on drugs demand over the top hostility to any opiate, those suffering from pain must continue to suffer lest someone,somewhere may receive some illicit pleasure from opiates.





Saturday, January 21, 2017

Grammar Nazi Comment of the Day (Cliche Nazi?)

I am surprised to realize that I failed to cover one of my favorite malformed cliches. I have covered a number  in past posts ("I could care less", "it takes two to tangle", "mix and mash") but I failed to cover what is likely the most common mistake, "free reign".

I suppose, superficially, this almost makes sense. After all, "reign" involves rulership and control, and thus "free reign" would seem to suggest unlimited power, but on a deeper level it really does not. After all, reign already incorporates the concept of power and rulership, and thus "free" is an unnecessary modifier.

No, the cliche does not come from the concept of rulership, but rather from horse riding.To give a horse "free rein" is to stop directing its motions, and allow it its own head, let it lead where it will. And that is the analogy being made here. To give someone "free rein" is akin to allowing a horse to direct itself, and thus it is properly spelled "rein" not "reign".

Sorry, not as amusing as most of my rants about cliches and misused words, but one I felt I had to mention.

POSTSCRIPT

My past grammar and spelling nazi posts can be read at "Off-Topic: How Many Dimensions Should a Character Have?","I Don't Know What to Say", "Sex and Gender","The Most Unnecessary Neologism", "Biggest Spelling Nazi Laugh of the Day", "Quick Grammar Nazi Note", "Return of the Grammar Nazi: Faux Latin Plurals", "Always Something Worse", "Crimes Against Language and Logic", "Try and Listen to the Grammar Nazi", "A Brief Visit From the Grammar Nazi", "Beyond Grammar and Spelling", "The Grammar Nazi Versus George Lucas", "Ye Olde Grammar Nazi", "Grammar Nazi Comment on Greco-Latin Words", "Why Spelling Matters, One More Time", "The Irony of Lax Internet Standards", "Short Grammar Nazi Post" and "The Spelling Nazi Begs to Differ".

POSTSCRIPT II

It is hardly worthy of a post of its own, but I have noticed another spelling mistake that has appeared a few times. It is a silly misspelling, but it differs enough from the pronunciation, I wonder how it ever came into use. This is the spelling "luckluster" for "lackluster"/"lacklustre". It is hardly as common as "rediculous", but it is one to watch, as I have seen it appear a few times.