Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Global Warming, Our Newest AIDS Ribbon

KRAMER (to organizer at desk): Uh, Cosmo Kramer?
ORGANIZER: Uh...o.k., you're checked in. Here's your AIDS ribbon.
KRAMER: Uh, no thanks.
ORGANIZER: You don't want to wear an AIDS ribbon?
ORGANIZER: But you have to wear an AIDS ribbon.
KRAMER: I have to?
KRAMER: See, that's why I don't want to.
ORGANIZER: But everyone wears the ribbon. You must wear the ribbon!
KRAMER: You know what you are? You're a ribbon bully.
ORGANIZER: Hey you! Come back here! Come back here and put this on!

before michael richards recently became a stand-up pariah, he was just that goofy neighbor on seinfeld who got his laughs through a mixture of discombobulated physical comedy and his general insistence on marching to the beat of his own drummer. for instance, when kramer signs up for the aids walk he stays up the whole night before the walk playing poker and when he checks-in he refuses the AIDS ribbon he is given.

now, in the debate over global warming, i seem to have encountered my own aids ribbon. i believe that temperatures on average are warmer today than they were a hundred years ago. i believe that the release of greenhouse gasses traps heat in our atmosphere and exacerbates warming trends. i believe in, and practice, the three r’s – reduce, reuse and recycle- as a means of lessening our negative impact. i believe that the development of so-called “green” technologies presents an enormous opportunity for a cleaner and more energy-efficient world. all that being said, i’m not sure i believe in global warming; not in the sense of a catastrophic, man-made disaster that threatens to hit a tipping point in the next ten, or even fifty, years.

to me it’s a perfectly reasonable position. it’s not calculated to shock environmentalists and is only partially due to my contrarian nature. nonetheless, this view is often greeted with the sort of incredulous looks i had always assumed were being saved for biblical fundamentalists who say they don’t believe in dinosaurs or evolution. “what do you mean you don’t believe in global warming? it’s not debatable. all of those science types and al gore believe it. so, why don’t you?”.

so, why don’t i?

an environmentalist might tell you it’s because i’m a conservative right-winger with an anti-intellectual bent for dismissing scientific fact, or that i’m too addicted to my fossil fuel guzzling lifestyle to think objectively, or maybe i’m just an “exx-con”.

part of the reason that I don’t believe in global warming can be seen in the backlash against climate skepticism. case in point is this article. there is something quite unsavory about the belief that we’ve reached the end of all skepticism in any arena of human knowledge. it’s as if climatologists and green activists got together and decided, “... if we don’t make our case in the most alarmist and hyperbolic language possible, then nobody will take us seriously”. perhaps there is a grain of truth in that sentiment, but we don’t organize our beliefs and set policy around grains of truth.

i don’t question global warming so exxon can continue to make big profits or to justify america’s love of big cars or a personal desire to burn as much fossil fuel as i can. i question global warming because i worry about the economic impact of ill-conceived alarmist policies.

more on this later…

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nothing's Shocking

this was the front page news story from yesterday’s new york daily news. i believe the accompanying headline was “DISGRACE”. personally, i am torn on this matter. on the one hand i find honoring cop-killers and terrorist bomb-makers reprehensible, but on the other i tend to believe in a near absolute freedom of speech and expression.

my real interest is in the multi-cultural/post-structuralist appropriation of personalities and images. the perfect example, and my biggest pet peeve, is che guevara. nevermind that he had a hand in bringing a totalitarian dictator to power, ran a notorious Cuban prison and oversaw numerous show trials and subsequent executions; he looks really cool on a t-shirt. then, there is everybody’s favorite death row inmate, mumia abu-jamal. i’m willing to wager that majority of those who support his case know almost nothing about the facts of that case. what they do know is that he’s got dreadlocks and radical sounding name, so he must have been framed by those evil white pigs.

it’s the same thing at city college and it doesn’t much shock me. the facts of the case and the moral issues don’t seem to interest some. what does matter is the perception of shakur as “a hero to most of the people in her community”. the fact that she probably shot a cop and is now a fugitive living in castro’s cuba… well, that’s just extra street cred.

according to today’s daily news, the offending sign has been ordered down.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sometimes I wonder Why We Have Courts at All

besides my ideological objections to identity politics, there’s the practical drawback, as well. once questions of individual justice become confused with the fuzzy logic of “social justice”, facts invariably becomes obfuscated and discourse falls to the pre-adolescent nadir of finger-pointing and mutual recrimination.

the perfect illustration can be seen here, in this piece by jack dunphy at NationalReviewOnline concerning the police shootings of three unarmed men here in new york.

dunphy gives himself away at two distinct points. once when he says, “As in other large cities, crime in New York follows predictable ethnic patterns” and again by his assertion that what “happened earlier this week in Queens” was a “confrontation between cop and criminal”.

this piece is ostensibly a rebuke of mayor Bloomberg for rushing to judgement and for placing the appearance of justice, the mayor surrounded by a phalanx of “community leaders”, over the facts of the case. after reading the NRO piece, the question should be obvious: how has dunphy done anything different? the main thrust of the column seems to be (1) they were shot by cops so they must be criminals and (2) of course black males warrant increased scrutiny from police, they commit all the crimes.

the issue of whether an individual is guilty or not is a matter for the courts, and not for the court of public opinion; that goes for white cops as well as black suspects.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Il "W"?

one of the outcomes of the mid term elections was that everybody had there reasons why what happened happened and what it means for the american political landscape. some of those postulations are valuable and deal with real trends and important implications. one story that comes to mind is the rise of economic populism and what it means to our political and economic future; another is the waning influence of the neocons and a return to realism in foreign policy. but for every good theory and commentary there seem to be scores of crackpot ideas.

today’s lead story on falls into that category:

this is the response i posted on slate’s message board:

i want to begin this post by admitting that i have serious issues with the bush administration’s tendency to play loose with civil liberties and its attempts to legalize behavior beast left in the shadowy quasi-legal world it naturally inhabits. i also have very serious issues with the degree to which congress has abdicated its role as the primary receptacle of American democracy and given the president carte blanche. that being said, dianne mcwhorter’s article implies that we have stepped over some imaginary threshold into uncharted territory; that the bush administration is taking us places our democracy has never been and may never make it back from.

i find it quite ironic that she begins the article with mention of eleanor roosevelt and america’s pragmatic nature. it’s ironic because fdr is often praised for his pragmatic approaches to the great depression and his willingness to do something, anything, is played against the supposed stoicism of his predecessor herbert hoover. it’s also ironic because no american president can be better described as a facist than fdr himself. wikipedia defines facism as “a radical political ideology that combines elements of corporatism, authoritarianism, nationalism, militarism, anti-liberalism and anti-communism”. with the exception of the last, all of those labels can be easily applied to america during the new deal and through the war.

let’s take a look at mcwhorter’s list of nazi comparisons to w and see if any of them can be similarly compared to fdr. i find it a bit of a stretch to compare the classification of suspected terrorists as enemy combatants to the legalized extermination of european jewry, but then that stretched out category should accommodate those japanese-americans interned during wwii. similarly, there are no shortages of allied responses to the “total war” waged by the axis powers: the doolittle raid, the firebombing of dresden, the literal use of the “nuclear option”. what certainly involve no stretching are fdr’s own “executive enhancing strategem”s. think about how much of the new deal was enacted through executive orders and through the alphabet soup of bureaus and agencies. and think about how many of the country’s best and brightest legal minds were put to the task of negotiating legislative and judicial obstacles to the new deal. also, let’s not forget fdr’s court packing scheme as long as we are talking about enabling the unrestricted power of the executive branch.

mcwhorter does hit one nail right on the head when she admits that the word fascism has “something of the quality of a joke” and is often just thrown out as pejorative against “anything we don’t like”. the thing i have always found funny about the term is that it’s often employed by leftists against any authority they disagree with, and that even though facism and communism are often set up as opposites, in practice they look quite similar. both –isms rely on a strong central authority and heavy government involvement in the economy. both seem to breed dictators who solidify their hold on power through legal manipulations and by playing redundant and competing layers of government off each other. both are organized around some rather questionable conceptions of identity; class-consciousness for communism while facism relies on nationalism or ethnic identification.

of course, mcwhorter has read a hitler biography and that act alone resurrects the word from any possible obfuscations or mischaracterizations. part of the reason that we don’t throw the “n word” around is out of some sensitivity to the atrocities of the holocaust. but it’s also because calling someone a nazi or a facist is most-often just a form of political hyperbole. i do not see how this case is any different.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


it is with no small sense of personal irony that the week i decide to start blogging some of my thoughts and idea was also the week that milton friedman passed. capitalism and freedom might very well be the book that began my preoccupation with individual liberty and economic freedom.

check out this obit of sorts and biograpgy both from the cato institute:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Innaugural Blog

earlier this year i came off of four years active duty in the united states army. there's a saying in the army among soldiers about to get out: i'm going to go and enjoy some of that freedom i've been fighting to defend. for about a year now, that is exactly what i have been doing.

ncos and officers always seemed quite fond of pointing out that while the united states is a democracy, the army is in fact a dictatorship. it needs to be and i accepted that as a condition of my service. however, nothing grants the appreciation of living in a free and democratic society quite like spending some time bereft of that freedom.

there's a lot of talk from the right about america being a "christian nation", or "judeo-christian" from those being particularly charitable. i'll be honest and admit i do not quite know what that means. i understand that christian ideas of morality and justice and sense of purpose have informed our republic from its earliest stages, but i guess i have a real difficulty envisaging faith as a primarily public entity. faith, and one's relationship with the eternal, is an intensely personal thing; even when one chooses to celebrate that faith publicly. so, even if personal faith is a prime motivator of many individuals in our society, i don't see how that translates into it being the basis of our democracy.

what i do know is this: for me, the fundamental characteristic of america, and of the liberal democracy in general, is the belief in the individual as a self-contained moral and rational being. that is to say, individual human life and individual human freedom is its own justification. i believe that a just society is one that recognizes its citizens possession of these three things, the inalienable natural rights of life, liberty and property. i take this idea straight from basic enlightenment and classical liberal principles.

this notion of individual freedom takes its knocks from the left of the political spectrum, as well. post-modern '-isms', the welfare state, identity politics are all flawed in that they approach the individual first as a member of some constituency. all to often they put natural human rights at the service of some indeterminate notion of "social justice". we are social animals and community is important, but i will not accept the idea that community is something that can be mandated from the top-down. a just society treats people as free-thinking and acting individuals and allows community to develop organically.

so, that's where i'm coming from. i plan to write primarily about politics and culture on this blog. most likely, everything i blog will in some way, shape or form be about the above-mentioned assault on basic human freedoms from both conservatives and liberals. along with that, and from a more pragmatic angle, i firmly believe that our policy ought to reflect these basic principles because it's right and because they work.