December 24, 2012

Counterpoint: 2011

Counterpoint

Mark Steyn (1959):
In a democratic age, you can't buck demography — except through civil war.
The Serbs figured that out: if you can't outbreed [Muslims,] cull 'em.
The problem Europe faces is that Bosnia's demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent.
(America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It, Regnery Publishing, 2006)

[If Obama] can establish federal spending at 25% of GDP as the new baseline, then he fundamentally transforms the nature of American society in a way that is tremendously advantageous to those of his political disposition. …
(Armageddon will be brought to you by "the experts", 26 September 2011)

Contents


In Praise of Mediocrity

Keith Windschuttle: A Threat to Freedom

The Emperor's New Clothes

Climate, Culture and Conflict

Religous Environmentalism


COUNTERPOINT


Michael Duffy & Paul Comrie-Thomson

  • Armageddon will be brought to you by 'the experts', 26 September 2011.
    Mark Steyn.

    [When] you watch [Barrack Obama] addressing the world in his Berlin speech you see someone who I think at a certain level is disconnected from the rhythms of American life …

    This administration is nominally a smart administration, the smartest administration of all time. …
    They are all Ivy League guys, a lot of them have advanced degrees, there is heavy representation from Harvard and Yale. …

    [The] United States is $15 trillion in debt and borrowing one-fifth of a billion dollars every single hour of the day and is sliding off a fiscal cliff, and yet we're run by supposedly the smartest people in history.

    [When] we had Ronald Reagan from Eureka College, Illinois, and we had Harry S Truman the haberdasher, and we had Abraham Lincoln who only had 18 months of formal education, and Andrew Jackson who never went to school at all, oddly enough a lot of these problems didn't seem to exist.
    And then the smart guys took over and we're heading for the cliff edge. …

    [The] diversion of spending six-figure sums on elite education and then training people [such as Michelle Obama] to be diversity outreach consultants … is a flawed business model that is a complete waste of the Western world's human capital. …

    [British sociologist Michael Young] invents this term 'meritocrat', and then suddenly an entire generation of politicians actually regards themselves as meritocrats.
    And Lord Young made what I thought was an interesting point [that] these guys were actually far more dangerous than an hereditary aristocracy or monarchy, that if you have somebody who just happens to be running the government because he was born an archduke, at a certain level he understands that the only reason he is getting to do that is a kind of accident of birth.

    Whereas when you have this super-talented, self-reinforcing conformocrat bubble who all think alike, some of them are white, some of them are black, some of them are straight, some of them are gay … for all the celebrating diversity on skin colour and orientation and all the rest of it, there's no diversity in opinion, they are ruthlessly homogenised in that, and yet they think they deserve to rule.

    Barack Obama … looks like a man who has never broken a sweat in his life …

    [This] is a tribute to how influential my book was, I basically said that most of the Western world, particularly Europe, had adopted this disastrous business model …
    [If] you look … at just the annual deficit on the Medicare entitlement in America, that's about $38 billion every year. …

    [When] you look at the guys rampaging through the streets of London a couple of weeks ago, trashing their own neighbourhoods, I think that's actually part of the same problem [that] big government debauches its human capital. …

    [By] the middle of this decade, just the interest payments on the federal debt to China will be covering the entire cost of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. …
    [On the other hand, America might have some difficulty maintaining it's military forces without the 1.16 trillion dollars invested in US Treasury securities by the PRC?]

    … I think when 70% of births in the biggest hospital in Dallas are Hispanic, a category that didn't even exist in the 1960 census of the United States, and yet is now the dominant demographic in the south-west, I think it's quite possible it could rejuvenate or re-energise America.
    [A bigger question is] whether it actually will be America or whether it will simply be a kind of northern version of Latin America. …

    [When] the dependency class and the government class get big enough to crush the productive class in the middle, you're in huge trouble. …

    [Note 1]

  • Climate, culture and conflict, 4 July 2011.
    David Burchell: Lecturer, School of Humanities and Languages, University of Western Sydney.

    [The] intellectual arguments against any notion of climate change are incredibly weak.

  • Surface temperature measurements: how reliable? Part two, 20 June 2011.
    John Nielson-Gammon: Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University; Texas State Climatologist.

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    [Based] on analysis of this data, do the mates of observed historical temperature trends in the United States, do they need to be changed?

    John Nielson-Gammon:
    Based on this data, for mean temperatures, the answer's no.
    We found that the mean temperature trends for stations independent of siting were almost identical, you couldn't really tell them apart, certainly nothing significant.

    [We did find that] the maximum temperatures are different, the worse the siting, the lower the temperature trend.
    The minimum temperatures are different, the worse the siting the higher the temperature trend. …

    [The] second IPCC report … flagged five or six indicators of climate change as being key signals that something was happening, and one of them was … Diurnal Temperature Range, the difference between the daytime high, and the night time low.
    [That] was based, primarily on a study that showed a rapid decrease over time.
    Then an updated study came out that showed that it had leveled off, so they backed off on that a little.
    What we're finding here [is that] the diurnal temperature range is very sensitive to the quality of the station siting, so it's likely a lot of the previous findings [were] influenced very strongly by [poor station quality.]
    You get a good quality station, there's no trend over the long term.

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    [You said in your blog]
    [Maybe,] DTR really isn't a robust signal of global warming and … the discrepancy between models and observations is primarily a problem with the observations rather than the models. …
    John Nielson-Gammon:
    I joined the Watt's study primarily because I wanted to make sure the results were not going to be tilted in a particular direction [so the people would get] a solid analysis of this rich data set to go with. …

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    Do we need more people [like Anthony Watts] hypothesising that the Emperor is really not fully clothed?

    John Nielson-Gammon:
    What we need, is people to have a better understanding of science … how science works …
    There's so much to do with climate that's beyond the issue of what greenhouse gases are doing to the earth's system that we've essentially lost sight of the forest for one tree, that's essentially dominated our attention. …

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    … I for one, know very little about earth sciences …

    John Nielson-Gammon:
    … Texas has had the dryest eight consecutive months that it's ever had going back to 1895. …
    And it's going to take a couple of years to do the model runs and find out why that happened and see whether there is some science we can use to be able to see this sort of thing coming. …

    The effect of greenhouse gases on the climate system is probably the … most well understood factor.
    It's the simpler to understand and calculate than the impact of the sun.
    It's simpler than volcanoes and so forth. …
    The thing that people think we're debating is actually the thing that we understand the best. …

    [Open Ended Question]


    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    Nigel Lawson … posted this on the web:
    While it is scientifically established that increased emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the use of carbon based energy, such as coal, oil and gas, can be expected to warm the planet, it is uncertain how great such warming would be. …
    Would you have any objection to anything he said there?

    John Nielson-Gammon:
    … Scientists have been trying to pin down the magnitude of the [greenhouse] effect for decades and the answer really hasn't really changed a whole lot.
    It's somewhere around 2 to 4½°C for a doubling of C02.
    So yes, it's uncertain, and it could be less than that, and it could be more than 4½°.
    For me personally, it's the uncertainty is what bothers me because the consequences of what we're doing to the climate we don't understand fully, and that there's an inherent danger in what we're doing that needs to be considered.

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    There's still more work to be done …

    Would you like to know more?

  • Anger, politics and the new media, 6 June 2011.
    David Burchell: Lecturer, School of Humanities and Languages, University of Western Sydney.

    David Burchell:
    … Bob Brown [is] treated almost as a spiritual voice rather than a political voice …
    [You] don't usually have politicians confused with spiritual figures, but somehow Bob's managed to pull it off. …

    [The] culture wars are politics fought as if it's about one's own style of life but also ones inner self rather than just about the mundane world of politics. …

    … I think if you quizzed the general public they'd probably be hard pressed to give you a very coherent sense of what the Greens' actual policies are, including a fair few members of the Greens I would suspect, they're actually not very clear on that question either.
    [In] a sense the Greens are kind of a political party but they are another kind of force as well, … a force that … for a lot of their supporters represents them in some kind of deeper sense, as if they feel like the party is speaking for them.

    [That's] a really powerful thing in the contemporary world. …
    There were moments when John Howard may have been able to pull that off with parts of the electorate, but it's a pretty rare thing.

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    [There] is the utterance 'I feel very deeply about this', that is viewed as an indication of having a strong political conviction.

    David Burchell:
    I think it is true … if you take politics to be the successor to other notions of personal, spiritual and conscientious identity …
    Of course it's a very curious description of what traditionally has been called politics because it is so subjective. …

    [Historically, it's] clearly tied up with the whole role of personal conscience that one finds in intensely religious folks in the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries [and which] has migrated its way into politics and become a core of the way at least some people think about themselves as political beings …
    [Politics] and their individual conscience are tied up together in such a way that … they project their conscience on to the world, almost through a kind of film projector, which is often a really fraught way to engage in politics.

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    And the difficulty with basing political action on that is that feelings are very flighty things, aren't they.

    David Burchell:
    That's one problem … clearly, that one's own subjective states of being may seem profounder to you than they do to other people, that's certainly a danger.
    The other problem is … [and it's not a problem that religious activists in the 18th or 19th century had to face much, except perhaps in the campaign against slavery … that it] tends to be insensitive towards other points of view and to devalue them and isn't very good at negotiating, and therefore it's quite hard to find middle grounds or to have debates which can be carried out in a simple fashion.
    [You're almost always] compelled to cast doubts on the sincerity or the integrity or the authenticity of people who disagree with you, and that as a basis for political debate is a very bad starting point.

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    You're a university man, is dispassionate debate increasingly looked upon as being morally inferior?

    David Burchell:
    Yes, I think in a word, yes. …
    One could go on about the politicisation of the academy over the last few decades. …

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    Have we lost that … old-fashioned academic detachment when one [debates] things?

    David Burchell:
    I think that's right. …
    [For] decades now there has been a way of talking that treats objectivity and detachment as if they are fraudulent ideas, and only engagement and commitment are valuable ideas …
    [As if it was] a kind of naivete to speak that way, whereas of course … intellectual commitment was always supposed to be … about the capacity to entertain, Walt Whitman-like, more than one point of view in one's mind simultaneously.
    [I should stress I mean low-level discussion in the academy, not the greatest minds.]
    [The] aspiration of scholarship, to be able to understand the people with whom one disagrees …
    To keep more than one idea in one's head simultaneously …
    That has fallen out of fashion. …

    Paul Comrie-Thomson:
    It's very important because you're talking about what ideally universities should be about, where one explores all options without fear or favour in order to come to a reasoned conclusion, but it's not there on campus, is it?

    David Burchell:
    It's less there … I certainly wouldn't say it's not there, but it's less there than it used to be …
    I think often that kind of bombasticism towards ideas which refuses your opponent's ideas is often a sign of intellectual insecurity in fact. …
    [A] lot of the culture wars … is actually about intellectual insecurity posturing as intellectual certainty. …

    In fact many of the positions held today … the left wouldn't have been thought of as left positions 20 or 30 years ago.
    [The] blurring of traditional ideological boundaries [over the last decade] has forced people to be much more dogmatic and histrionic than they would have felt the need to be before.
    In a sense it's actually the fear of intellectual insecurity that causes the tone and the temperature to rise.


NOTE

  1. A earlier example of right wing catastrophism:
    • Jastrow, Robert, 1987.  America has Five Years Left!  National Review, Vol 39, 13 February.
    • Oreskes, Naomi, 2011.  Merchants of Doubt, Public Lecture at the University of NSW, Science Show, ABC Radio National, 8 January.

      Between 1984 and 1989, [the founders of the Marshall Institute] Jastrow, Seitz and Nierenberg worked to defend SDI by promoting an alarming view of Soviet strength and a very frightening picture of American military weakness.
      They wrote numerous articles, opinion pieces, white papers, defending SDI and claiming that the Soviet Union was overtaking the United States in military and technical superiority.
      [However] in 1989 … the Berlin Wall falls and the Soviet Block begins to disintegrate. …

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