Quotulatiousness

October 22, 2014

What would Milton Friedman do?

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:20

David Friedman, who we can safely assume has a better sense of the late Milton Friedman’s thoughts and beliefs than most people, disagrees with a recent Forbes article asking WWMFD:

A recent Forbes article is headlined “What Would Milton Friedman Do About Climate Change? Tax Carbon.” It reports on a forum at the University of Chicago at which several economists, including Michael Greenstone, described as the “Milton Friedman Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago,” argued that Friedman would have supported a carbon tax. The evidence for that claim was a 1979 clip from the Phil Donahue show where Milton Friedman argued that if the government is going to do something about emissions, they should use an effluent tax rather than direct regulation. He does not actually say that government should do something about emissions, only that there is a case for doing so and, if it is done, the best way to do it is by a tax on emissions.

To get from there to the conclusion that he would have favored a carbon tax requires at least one further step, a reason to think that he would have believed that global warming due to CO2 emissions produced net negative externalities large enough to justify doing something about them. The problem with that claim is that warming can be expected to produce both negative externalities such as sea level rise and hotter summers and positive ones such as longer growing seasons and milder winters. The effects will be spread out over a long and uncertain future, making their size difficult to estimate. My own conclusion, defended in past posts here (one example), is that the uncertainties are large enough so that one cannot sign the sum, cannot say whether the net effect will be positive or negative.

I do not know if my father would have agreed but I have at least a little evidence on the subject, more than offered in the Forbes article. The same issue arose in the earlier controversy over population. Just as it is now routinely assumed that warming is bad, it was then routinely assumed that population increase was bad. Forty years ago I wrote a piece on the subject for the Population Council in which I attempted to estimate the externalities associated with population. I concluded that they were too uncertain for me to tell whether the net effect was good or bad. My father read the piece and commented on it. If he had disagreed he would have said so, and he did not. It is possible that he would have felt differently in the case of climate change, but I can see no reason to expect it.

October 21, 2014

A welcome bit of local by-election news

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:01

I’ve been a bit busy to pay much attention to the by-election going on here in Whitby-Oshawa for the seat of the late Jim Flaherty, but I was delighted to get this bit of news:

At least I know I’ve got someone I can vote for without having to hold my nose.

October 17, 2014

The latest moral panic

Filed under: Gaming, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

In sp!ked, Allum Bokhari looks at #GamerGate:

The gaming community is no stranger to cultural warfare and moral panic. In the 1990s, a cohort of censorious, ‘family values’ politicians waged a ceaseless campaign to regulate the gaming industry, following a series of panics over the ultra-violent Mortal Kombat series. In the early 2000s, the socially conservative activist Jack Thompson gained notoriety for engaging in a stream of litigation against video-game companies, arguing that they were responsible for everything from gang violence to school shootings.

The tenor of moral panic has changed since then. Now, the main source of fear, loathing and general misanthropy in the gaming industry stems from the cultural left rather than the socially conservative right. Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned. In this remarkable video, a cultural warrior goes on a tirade against mainstream gamers, culminating in the destruction of a copy of the controversial video-game Grand Theft Auto V before a cheering crowd. The misanthropic disgust with ordinary gamers is palpable.

The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months. Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.

You may well ask how these activists are able to sustain these bizarre beliefs, particularly given the mounting evidence that gamers are actually a pretty diverse and welcoming group of people after all. One explanation is their fondness for echo-chambers, maintained through exclusive email groups, social media blocklists and mass deletions of user comments on open forums. The extent to which the new cultural warriors will go to remove uncomfortable opinions from view is quite extraordinary. Reinforcing, rather than challenging, one’s own biases has become the norm.

October 15, 2014

QotD: The value of economics

Filed under: Economics, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Having taken a stab at sociology and political science, let me wrap up economics while I’m at it. Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much. However, careful economic analysis does have one important benefit, which is that it can help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data. This insight covers at least 90 percent of proposed economic policies.

Ben Bernanke “The Ten Suggestions”, speech at the Baccalaureate Ceremony at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey. June 2, 2013.

October 10, 2014

QotD: When bashing America is just code for bashing the Red Tribe

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

[A]lthough liberals and conservatives live in the same area, they might as well be two totally different countries or universe as far as level of interaction were concerned.

Contra the usual idea of them being marked only by voting behavior, we described them as very different tribes with totally different cultures. You can speak of “American culture” only in the same way you can speak of “Asian culture” – that is, with a lot of interior boundaries being pushed under the rug.

The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

[...]

Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so. We know they are not exaggerating, because one might exaggerate the flaws of an enemy, but that anyone would exaggerate their own flaws fails the criterion of embarrassment.

The Blue Tribe always has an excuse at hand to persecute and crush any Red Tribers unfortunate enough to fall into its light-matter-universe by defining them as all-powerful domineering oppressors. They appeal to the fact that this is definitely the way it works in the Red Tribe’s dark-matter-universe, and that’s in the same country so it has to be the same community for all intents and purposes. As a result, every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.

And so how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better!

Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 9, 2014

QotD: “I can tolerate anything except intolerance”

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The result is exactly what we predicted would happen in the case of Islam. Bombard people with images of a far-off land they already hate and tell them to hate it more, and the result is ramping up the intolerance on the couple of dazed and marginalized representatives of that culture who have ended up stuck on your half of the divide. Sure enough, if industry or culture or community gets Blue enough, Red Tribe members start getting harassed, fired from their jobs (Brendan Eich being the obvious example) or otherwise shown the door.

Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.

If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time and have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.

And if you mix together the open-source tech industry and the parallel universe where you can’t wear a FreeBSD t-shirt without risking someone trying to exorcise you, you can prove that Christians are scary and very powerful people who are persecuting everyone else all the time, and you have a great excuse for kicking one of the few people willing to affiliate with the Red Tribe, a guy who never hurt anyone, out of town.

When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 8, 2014

QotD: Blue Tribe and Red Tribe media encoding

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

But the story I’m actually referring to is liberal talk show host / comedian Russell Brand making that same rant against Fox News for supporting war against the Islamic State, adding at the end that “Fox is worse than ISIS”.

That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

I would go further. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

[...]

In a way, Russell Brand would have been braver taking a stand against ISIS than against Fox. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE outgroup WHO’S BOSS!”

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 7, 2014

QotD: The Blue Tribe’s reaction to two famous deaths

Filed under: Britain, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to a blog post was when I wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden. I’ve written all sorts of stuff about race and gender and politics and whatever, but that was the worst.

I didn’t come out and say I was happy he was dead. But some people interpreted it that way, and there followed a bunch of comments and emails and Facebook messages about how could I possibly be happy about the death of another human being, even if he was a bad person? Everyone, even Osama, is a human being, and we should never rejoice in the death of a fellow man. One commenter came out and said:

    I’m surprised at your reaction. As far as people I casually stalk on the internet (ie, LJ and Facebook), you are the first out of the “intelligent, reasoned and thoughtful” group to be uncomplicatedly happy about this development and not to be, say, disgusted at the reactions of the other 90% or so.

This commenter was right. Of the “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn’t happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us.

And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”. Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like “I wish I was there so I could join in”. From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a “c’mon, guys, we’re all human beings here.”

I gently pointed this out at the time, and mostly got a bunch of “yeah, so what?”, combined with links to an article claiming that “the demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous”.

And that was when something clicked for me.

You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.

On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.

[...]

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 6, 2014

Pollsters are finding it even harder to get people to talk to them

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 18:06

In Mother Jones Kevin Drum discusses the plight of the poor poll organizations who have seen yet another drop in their telephone response rates. A recent report said that the average response rate for polling companies this year is 11.8%, and that’s a 1.9% drop from 2012. It probably explains why the polls seem less accurate every election.

I assume the problem here is twofold. First, there are too many polls. A few decades ago it might have seemed like a big deal to get a call from a Gallup pollster. Sort of like being a Nielsen family. Today it’s not. Polls are now conducted so frequently, and the public has become so generally media savvy, that it’s just sort of a nuisance.

More generally, there are just too many spam phone calls. The Do Not Call Registry was a great idea, but there are (a) too many loopholes, including for pollsters, and (b) too many spammers who don’t give a damn. When the registry first went on line, my level of spam phone calls dropped dramatically. Since then, however, it’s gradually increased and is now nearly as bad as it ever was. I won’t even pick up the phone anymore if Caller ID suggests it’s a commercial call of some variety.

We’ve been seriously talking about dropping our land line: fewer than one call in ten is from anyone we know or do business with. Most of them are (real or fake) surveys, “Microsoft” scam calls, and “You’ve won a cruise!” spam. WestJet seems to think I’ve flown with them and keeps calling me to say “Thank you for flying WestJet” (the harassing phone calls make it exceedingly unlikely that I’d voluntarily do any business with them if I have a choice in the matter). My favourites are the “This is a very important call about your current credit card.” Those ones we hang up within three syllables on average.

QotD: The political tribes of America

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

I think these “tribes” will turn out to be even stronger categories than politics. Harvard might skew 80-20 in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans, 90-10 in terms of liberals vs. conservatives, but maybe 99-1 in terms of Blues vs. Reds.

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 5, 2014

Protest locations in Hong Kong

Filed under: China, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:03

In The Atlantic, Bourree Lam looks at where the Hong Kong protests tend to be located:

Hong Kong’s “umbrella revolution” — an anticipated protest movement with unanticipated mass turnout — is currently spreading across an island slightly bigger than Manhattan.

The Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) campaign, whose main demands are the resignation of Chief Executive CY Leung and true democracy for Hong Kong, announced months ago that it planned to shut down Hong Kong’s Central District — the city’s financial hub, which also houses government offices (including the Legislative Council’s buildings and the chief executive’s residence) and a luxury-shopping strip featuring a city block-wide Louis Vuitton store (by night it’s where tourist and locals go drinking and clubbing, especially in the Lan Kwai Fong area). Beginning with British colonial rule in 1841, the district has gradually become the main artery of Hong Kong’s business and social life.

But the protest movement, of which the OCLP is now just one part, has expanded in the last few days to the districts of Admiralty, Causeway Bay, and Mongkok — some of the city’s most bustling commercial sectors. On Tuesday, the protests encompassed the areas of Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai. And, in a twist on the ‘Occupy’ movement in the United States, the demonstrations haven’t been confined to public squares; they’ve also spread to intersections, forcing road closures. Protesters, for instance, are currently holding their positions on Connaught Road Central, a major six-lane throughway that connects four districts on the island.

[...]

Hong Kong protest locations, October 2014

Update: Zachary Keck is quite pessimistic on the chances for success.

As covered extensively in The Diplomat, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Hong Kong demanding democratic reforms. Specifically, the protesters want free and fair elections and universal suffrage to select the city’s government, which Beijing promised as part of the condition for the U.K. handing back the city to mainland China.

Sadly, Occupy Central is doomed to fail. The Chinese government will not accept the protesters’ demands.

Beijing has already made it clear that it views free and fair elections in Hong Kong to be a threat to one-party rule in the country. At most, it will allow Hongkongers to select one of the candidates that it pre-approves. It has also deemed Occupy Central illegal. In other words, the Chinese Communist Party views the issue as one of its “core interests,” and it hasn’t stayed in power this long by compromising on issues that it views as threats to its survival.

[...]

The massive protests that have swept through Hong Kong in recent days have only made it more urgent that the CCP hold the line on the issue. The Party can ill afford an example of mass demonstrations forcing it to compromise on an issue deemed to be of core importance. Before the protests, it was possible the CCP might have assessed that free and fair elections in Hong Kong would not threaten one-Party rule on the mainland because of the “one country, two systems” mantra. However, the Party giving in on a core issue because of mass protests would, without question, set a dangerous precedent for the CCP’s grip on power in mainland China. It therefore will not be done.

This isn’t to say that a violent crackdown is coming. Indeed, as is almost always the case, the CCP will want the local government on the frontlines in handling the protesters, while Beijing directs things from behind the scenes. As Steve Hess has pointed out in The Diplomat, using local governments as scapegoats has long been an effective tool of the CCP. If it means the restoration of stability, that could very well mean the end of CY Leung’s career. It’s also possible some sort of “compromise” will be worked out that allows the protesters to claim some sort of victory without compromising the CCP’s ability to maintain a large degree of control over the chief executive of Hong Kong.

September 30, 2014

Implementing libertarian principles in practical politics

Filed under: History, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:33

P.J. O’Rourke talks to Senator Rand Paul:

The Senator smiled and shrugged. “I never really felt like it was a problem explaining libertarian principles in practical politics. Republicans are champions of economic liberty. Democrats are champions of personal liberty. Bring the two back together.”

The Senator said, “The problem is mostly how people characterize libertarianism. But that’s changing. Libertarian has gone from being something scary to something people like as a label for themselves.”

He said, “There are different ways to get where we want to go.” And gave an example of going nowhere. “Nothing good has come out of the war on drugs.”

“What’s a different way?” I asked.

“I like the unenumerated powers.”

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. The Tenth Right in the Bill of Rights keeps us from having just nine rights.

“In The Federalist Papers,” I said, “Hamilton argued against the Bill of Rights on the grounds that government even mentioning rights like free speech implied government had some power over those rights.”

“But it’s a good thing we did write them down,” the Senator said, “otherwise we’d have nothing left.”

Senator Paul asked, not quite rhetorically, “Is this the ‘Libertarian Moment’? If so, it probably won’t come from a third party. Probably it will come from within a party.”

“From within the Democratic Party?” He didn’t seem to think it was inconceivable. “In New Hampshire,” he said, “even Democrats are against state income and sales taxes.”

But he didn’t seem to think it was likely either. “Republicans are an ideological coalition,” he said. “Democrats are a coalition of ideologies. The only thing Democrats agree on is income redistribution.”

Sen. Paul said, “Republicans have tradition on their side. It’s the American revolution versus the French Revolution.”

This was a switch – a flip-flop if you will – from Thomas Paine’s radical liberty de facto to Edmund Burke’s traditional liberty de jure. But I don’t fault the Senator. No friend of liberty can avoid the tumble back and forth between Burke and Paine.

“Tradition is a good thing,” the Senator said. “Ninety percent of Americans don’t break the law, not because there’s a law against it, but because they have a tradition of conscience. Republicans are traditional. But tradition can be boring. Libertarianism spices things up. Republicans have to either adapt, evolve, or die. They either have to water [down] their message — or extend liberty.”

September 29, 2014

QotD: Presidential elections and personal attacks

Filed under: History, Humour, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In the hotly contested election of 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams called Andrew Jackson a “slave-trading, gambling, brawling murderer.” Mac McClelland, Ten Most Awesome
Presidential Mudslinging Moves Ever, Mother Jones, (October 31, 2008).11
Jackson’s supporters responded by accusing Adams of having premarital sex with his wife and playing the role of a pimp in securing a prostitute for Czar Alexander I. Id.

During Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, James T. Callender, a pamphleteer and “scandalmonger,”
alleged that Jefferson had fathered numerous children with his slave Sally Hemings.12
Callender’s allegations would feature prominently in the election of 1804, but it wasn’t until
nearly two centuries later that the allegations were substantially confirmed.13

More recently, we’ve had discussions of draft-dodging, Swift Boats, and lying about birthplaces14 — not to mention the assorted infidelities that are a political staple.

11. Available at http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2008/10/ten-most-awesome-presidential-mudslinging-moves-ever.
12. Monticello.org, James Callender, http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/james-callender.
13. Monticello.org, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account, http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-sally-hemings-brief-account.
14. While President Obama isn’t from Kenya, he is a Keynesian — so you can see where the confusion arises.

Ilya Shapiro and P.J. O’Rourke, BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE CATO INSTITUTE AND P.J. O’ROURKE IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONERS, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus [PDF], 2014-02-28

September 23, 2014

“Arab civilization … is all but gone”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

In Politico, Hisham Melhem explains why the Middle East is in the current state of chaos:

With his decision to use force against the violent extremists of the Islamic State, President Obama is doing more than to knowingly enter a quagmire. He is doing more than play with the fates of two half-broken countries — Iraq and Syria — whose societies were gutted long before the Americans appeared on the horizon. Obama is stepping once again — and with understandably great reluctance — into the chaos of an entire civilization that has broken down.

Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism — the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition — than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays — all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf — which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos — and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.

Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State? And that there is no one else who can clean up the vast mess we Arabs have made of our world but the Americans and Western countries?

This is what a genuinely ethical oil divestment plan for universities would look like

Filed under: Environment, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:45

Megan McArdle explains why universities are not in a particularly righteous position when they push for divesting out of fossil fuels:

I understand that universities are exploring sustainability. Just the same, they consume huge amounts of fossil fuels: To heat and cool their buildings. To power their labs and computer networks. Maintenance and landscaping. Cooking all that food. Lighting all those rooms. Every year, they put on many large events to which people fly or drive long distances. Their students travel to and from their premises multiple times a year, rarely on foot. Their faculty fly to do research or attend conferences; many of my friends in academics have much better frequent-flier status than I could ever dream of. Their admissions officers fly hither and yon to recruit students. Their teams fly or drive to games. But you get the idea. The point is that the fossil-fuel consumption of every university in the country dwarfs the impact of their investments on climate change.

[...]

If divestment activists were serious about making a difference, setting an example, and drawing the full weight of America’s moral opprobrium onto the makers and consumers of fossil fuels, they’d be pushing a University Agenda that looked more like this:

  1. Require administrators, faculty, sports teams and other student groups to travel exclusively by boat and rail, except for “last mile” journeys.
  2. Cease construction of new buildings on campus.
  3. Stop air conditioning buildings, except for laboratories and archives that require climate control. Keep the heat no higher than 60 degrees in winter.
  4. Put strict caps on power consumption by students, keeping it to enough electricity to power one computer and one study lamp. Remove power outlets from classrooms, except for one at the front for the teacher.
  5. Ban meat from campus eateries and require full-time students to be on a meal plan.
  6. Remove all parking spots from campus.
  7. Stop operating campus shuttles, except for disabled students.
  8. Divest the endowment from fossil-fuel companies, if it makes you feel better.

Why has No. 8 jumped to No. 1? Because it’s easy. Because a group of students pushing endowment divestiture can shut down a public meeting and be rewarded with the opportunity to hold a teach-in; a group of students pushing a faculty flying ban and the end of campus parking would find the powers that be considerably more unfriendly. Not to mention their fellow students. Or, for that matter, their fellow activists, few of whom are actually ready to commit to never in their lives traveling out of America’s pitiful passenger rail network.

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