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Feb 16, 2011

What I’m Not, But Often Confused For

In my last post, I expressed my skepticism over Anthropogenic Global Climate Disruption. (That’s the newest term.) However, what I find interesting is some of the non-published comments that get sent my way, and the accusations that come with them.
While I am not promoting “raping mother earth,” I don’t have a problem with questioning the validity of Climate Change theory. This does not make what I say absolute in any way. Often I bring up points that don’t get talked about but seem significant in my mind.
However, I hope that I never promote the idea that I know the answer or that if you disagree with me then you are stupid. I’m simply stating why I question something and claim that I would like a clearer explanation because what I’ve heard thus far is akin to marketing scare-tactics with lots of science-you-can’t-understand-so-no-reason-to-let-you-examine-it excuses.
But please, I’m neither smart enough nor comically in-tune enough to claim I know anything for sure.
I sometimes get accused of having no compassion, too. This one stings me a bit, but I’ve grown some thicker skin over time. To this I reply that I think a common misunderstanding among those who perpetually disagree is the consensus of what their disagreement is.
In the example above, just because I am a skeptic of global warming does not mean that I’m am promoting pollution. Ironically, pollution is an issue I’m quite concerned about – and I wish the global warming angle of the green movement would move aside so we could address the pertinent parts of the problem, such as too-few recycling programs, toxic waste disposal procedures and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Those who know me well understand that I have a great concern for the world’s clean water supply.
But my point is the name-calling and red herrings that most disagreements turn into. Neither side really wants to listen or to address the problem. And both sides assume the other is extreme and ignorant, while the truth is each probably agrees about more than they disagree.
Perhaps religion is a good example of this – for what better topic of disagreement is there? The Christians and the Muslims think everyone is going to hell. The Jews no longer believe in hell after dying. And the Buddhists claim we are in a continuous process of dying. In the meantime, the atheists think they’re all a bunch of fools. Hard to get more contentious than that.
But I’m reminded of what C.S. Lewis wrote when discussing the various cultures and religions of the world. While the explanations of origin may vary, in all cases the values and morals taught, the proper behaviors expected and the wisdom given were all quite similar. No religion or culture promoted lying, cowardice, swindling and murder.
The same is true for many of the social and political issues about which I choose to write. Neither liberal nor conservative want more violent crime. No one wants greed and corruption in our economy. We all would love to live in a peaceful world without war. Everyone agrees better education and healthcare reaching more people is a good idea. Nobody, not even me, thinks poisoning the earth is good.
But the devil’s in the details – not to hark back to religion. Although we tend to claim the other side doesn’t recognize the problem, that’s probably not true. It’s the method of resolving it where the debate occurs, at least when rational, solution-oriented people dispute. If someone is calling you a bleeding-heart liberal who doesn’t understand human nature, then don’t debate with them. Even though I would probably agree with their stance on the issue, I doubt they know why I do…or even why they do.
Thus, in this vein, allow me to be a little defensive concerning past, present and future accusations of what I am. I’d like to give a high-level summary of why I hold the stance I do on a few key issues. I won’t burden you with the detail, but I am willing to explain my position further for individuals who are curious of the reasons behind my premises.
Welfare: I don’t want anyone to be without basic necessities. I believe there is a minimum level of human dignity one should expect from society. However, the recent extension of payouts and removal of much accountability in the system give incentive to many capable people not to work and not to improve their condition. I believe in Lao Tzu’s perspective here. The goal should be to turn consumers into producers and not simply sustain the non-productive. Sometimes helping is enabling, and I feel we’ve erred too far on that side. And while I generally oppose governmental welfare, I am a huge proponent of private and personal charity. I also don't give cash to vagrants, but I do keep a stack of fast-food gift cards in my car to give away to the hungry.
Universal Healthcare: If a fiscally responsible plan could provide more medical care to more people than are currently treated as needed, and the quality of that service would be the same or better – then I’m all in for the plan. But that's the idealistic pitch rather than the reality, as I do the math. The current plan trades sick people into the healthy pool but exchanges more previously-covered people to the 'useless treatment' plan, doing more harm than good. Poorer medical coverage with a higher total cost, enforced by the IRS – that seems to be the existing plan. Worse yet, the administration of the system is in the power of a small oligarchy who have special medical privileges and who have no risk or accountability for the plan’s success or failure, which simply exacerbates the haves-versus-have-nots reason this issue exists.
Airport Security: Do I want passengers carrying weapons to hijack or explode planes? Of course not. But the response to the underwear bomber doesn’t match the threat. The new scanners do not detect explosive powders. Who sold the idea of taking naked pictures of people as security? Plus, the TSA has lied about how the machines work. Yes, it can and does store the image. That’s been demonstrated. But even if it hadn’t, think about it. How would they prosecute without one? How would they defend the probable cause position to perform a violation to the Fourth amendment without demonstrating that cause? I have no clue why these machines were placed into service. Capitalistic terror-profiteering? Ignorance of the technology? Unknown ulterior motive? Or perhaps just stupidity in general. But what I feel strongly on this topic is it has almost nothing to do with actually securing the safety of the passengers. And that’s what I wish we would focus on.
Global Warming (or whatever your favorite climate buzz-term is): So, let’s just say – I’m not pro-pollution and I don’t want to rape the planet. But more specifically, I seriously question the strength of the IPCC’s evidence and credibility. The scientists have been seriously wrong (and even manipulative) in several calculations. Doomsayers have been with us since recorded history, but all marine life didn’t die off in the twentieth century, England is still above sea-level and Phil Jones has still not released the data requested through the Freedom of Information. I don’t deny that global temperatures statistically changed, but I question whether this is due to mankind’s behavior or whether this is just a natural cyclical pattern, similar to seasons or ocean current patterns. However, I see great harm economically if we react for long-term changes without better understanding the true cause. (Google “Winooski 1979” for an example.) Trillions of dollars could be spent on people who have yet to be born for something we don’t even know is real. I wonder how much of that money could be redirected on hungry, homeless and uninsured people alive right now.
At the risk of sounding apologetic for my ideals, I hope that I have demonstrated my heart is not in a bad place when it comes to the reasons I believe what I do. We may disagree on how the problems should be addressed, but I hope I never convey the idea that I don’t care or claim you’re a fool if you differ with my stance. I actively try to ignore the sound bite and hear the logic. I hope others will afford me the same courtesy.
Only through acknowledging those who differ from our view are not morons…or perhaps I should say, they are not morons solely because we differ… (Sorry, but some are morons whether they differ or agree.) But this is the first step in compromise, opening our eyes to the drawbacks of our own opinions and finding solutions that are mutually beneficial. For true social benevolence, we must view our antagonists for what they are not.

Feb 12, 2011

The Planet Won’t Save Us!

It’s been a pretty harsh winter in Oklahoma. Well, the latter part of winter, anyway. I recall comments before Christmas by neighbors talking about how mild the weather had been and how fortunate we were. Today, they say the weather is wickedly unpredictable and this chaotic climate has been consistent nearly every day for the past several years….What?

It’s this type of anecdotal evidence, based on frustration and poor memories, which perpetuate all the crazy weather theories out there. Only scientific data can really shed any light on the circumstance. But even then –the best we get is correlations, not causality. That’s when the agendas come out of the woodwork to convince you to behave and mostly buy the things that benefit the soothsayer.

For those less familiar with what a correlation is allow me to explain. In its simplest definition it is a mathematical relationship between two factors. Such as age and height in a child – as one increases, the other tends to also increase, or food to starvation – as food decreases, starvation increases. These examples are “strong” correlations; however, a correlation could be there has been an increase in timberline acreage in America over the past 100 years and the population in America has also increased over the past 100 years. This would be a “weak” correlation as the cause of the two are likely not related, but the facts and data are true and crazy arguments could be made that to control population in America we should cut down more trees.

I think I was a teenager when I understood correlations did not necessarily mean causality and could be sold to sound scientific and convince people to change what they did. I read an article that said men who had sex more often were healthier and better looking. It mostly implied, but actually stated at times, that having sex would make one healthier and more attractive. Then I shook my head and laughed, realizing the converse was a better explanation – healthy, good-looking men are more likely to be having sex (at all) and therefore more often.

Anyway, back to the green part of the message. I read in the Wall Street Journal this week that climate alarmists are now switching gears about “planet warming” and now claiming (with handy-dandy statistical correlations) that the increased CO2 that humans have put in the air is the cause of the crazy cold we’ve been experiencing the last few years, and also the droughts and out-of-season heat waves around the world. However, the statistical conclusion of this claim simply doesn’t bear out.

The specific claim tested is that increased CO2 shows more extreme weather as this life-giving gas is increased in the atmosphere. (Yes, I did call CO2 life-giving; it’s not a poison – look it up). The study showed no indication of this at all. I’ve also read other studies that claim the weather is not getting more extreme, but rather the information about extreme weather is simply better distributed. There is even some evidence that the climate is actually milder now than two hundred years ago. And one of my favorite scientific “greenhouse gas” findings is the ratio of CO2 to water vapor’s proportionality for both quantity and quality for contributing to global warming. There is more statistical evidence that water is destroying the planet than carbon di-oxide is.

“But what if you’re wrong?” is always the counter-debate I get when I discuss these things. “It’s not worth the risk if it turns out you’re wrong, Dj!” (Note the Chewbacca defense.)

A friend from Florida addresses this best, I think. He explains weather risk by comparing computer models’ abilities to tell him whether or not to abandon and protect in half-a-million dollar investment (called his house) when a hurricane is less than 36 hours from the coast. “It’s still a crap shoot as to where it’s really going to hit, when it’s only 36 hours away,” he says. “Now, I’m supposed to trust their prediction of the temperature fifty to a hundred years from now – and put my money into their undeniable truth? No, THAT is too risky!”

The late George Carlin gives a pretty good skeptics take on the environmental movement. He even humorously states that the earth deliberately evolved humans in order to create plastic because it couldn’t do it on its own. “And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet…Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned how to care for one another. But we’re gonna save the f***ng planet?”

Another friend of mine mirrors Carlin’s sentiments. He asks why we are trying to “save the planet.” He points out that most evidence shows the planet tries to kill us. Perhaps bad environmentalism is just a preemptive strike against the monster. Okay, not seriously, but he does laugh at the idea of saving the planet and follows up with the statement – should he be absolutely wrong and this global warming is truly man’s fault, then worst case, all the humans die and the planet wins. If we truly are that horrendous of a species, then cosmically that’s a good thing.

Well, perhaps I can’t go that far, but he does have an interesting point. And mother nature seems a bit tougher than we give her credit. Last year's oil spill showed us this in a way most Sierra club members won't talk about. Now don't think I'm promoting dumping crude into the oceans; that's absolutely not what I'm saying. However, the Gulf self-cleans 40 million gallons of naturally seeping oil annually; thus when a man-made one occurs, it may not be quite the planet-ending disaster we tend to conclude it to be.

Then again, even if I'm wrong - perhaps near-global annihilation isn’t a bad thing. According to geologists and evolution, it has happened at least five times before, without which, we wouldn’t even be here. It provokes curious thought. I’ve never equated the green movement with nihilistic existentialism before…but don’t worry – it’s only a correlation.

Feb 7, 2011

Comfort In Chaos

For those who are unfamiliar with my work, I provide technology solutions for the Litigation Department of a sizable corporation. It is a continuous commotion of fire-fighting where the needs and priorities are constantly changing. It has very high demands which require rapid solutions that are not always perfect but must be implemented, even as kludges, to handle to existing crisis. Many of the stopgaps applied often conflict with previously-required solutions. Eventually, more elegant answers are put into production, but the course is often chaotic.
Before I continue, let me state that I love my job…and it is far from thankless. I am compensated for the trouble, and my clients are very appreciative of what I do. Some days the gratitude is more important than my salary – paydays excluded, of course. But please understand, this is not about grumbling or asking for sympathy for my woes.
My point is that with the hectic schedule and constantly shifting goals, it is often difficult to gather reasonable metrics or define success properly. Further, once the priority has been fulfilled, its importance lessens and the value of the need changes. This often leads to the feeling that very little actually gets accomplished. Frequently, I succumb to the dread of the “lack of progress.”
However, I do make myself stop and recall where we were one-month ago, six-months ago, a year ago, three years ago. This allows me to look at the situation more holistically and realize all the positive things that have occurred. I then recognize the project-paralysis is only an illusion created by the circumstances.
Now after this long-winded introduction, allow me to segue to my point. Allegorically, my job is much like American politics and our society at large. We are constantly distracted by the latest crisis. We try to apply metrics of the moment to measure the progress of the system. The goals and importance of the issues are shifting and changing; patches are applied as temporary fixes, and we often fail to notice when things are properly put in place. It is quite easy to feel overwhelmed and depressed, as if nothing is really working towards a better end.
But like my job, if we pause and examine things holistically, in apple-to-apple comparisons, we can separate the myths and illusions from the reality. Also like my job, the problems will never cease; there will always be a new issue to solve, a new unpredictable problem to arise and a better way handle things. If we look at the problems too much, without allowing ourselves to examine the real accomplishments too, we can become bitter, angry and dissatisfied.
It doesn’t mean the problems aren’t real. It doesn’t mean they are unimportant. But an honest inventory does allow us to keep our perspective and our sanity.