Friday, November 19, 2004
As someone who posts to websites often, has a blog, and freely gives out his (public) email address, I get a LOT of unsolicited email. And a lot of it is stunning. For some reason, my frequent posting to places like Green Housing leads to a lot of stuff like the “Overpopulation Time Bomb!!!!” email I mentioned previously. One that I got recently was “Pressure your congressperson to adopt to Kyoto Accords on global warming”, etc., etc.
Now, I will admit; I’ve never, ever been worried about global warming. Ever. Not once. Waterworld, The Day After, Split Second (never heard of that one, have ya’?), none of them struck me as more plausible than When Worlds Collide. Some of this may be a book I read in high school about the ‘little ice age’ when world wide temperatures plummeted for the 200 or so years before 1450 and things stayed cold until about 1850. Crop cycles were disrupted, health declined, etc., etc. In a rather, well, chilling passage, a French priest wrote of a winter so cold that most of the birds died and hundreds of oaks burst asunder.
Now, since it took about 200 years to cool down, the author figured it would take a bit more than 100 years to warm back up. Especially since the climate in southern England (where we have a lot of archaeological climate data) still isn’t quite where it was in the early 1100’s. The book I read (trying to ID it at Amazon) predicted that the return to pre-little ice age temps would conclude about 2050-2100.
In other words, climatologists have had reason to suspect we are within a normal climatic warming trend for about 25 years. Add in the fact that further research revealed the Medieval Warm Period – before the Little Ice Age, the climate was warmer than the current average for a period of about, oh, 400 years from the 9th to the 13th century. In other words, climactic archaeology shows that the world was warmer than it currently is for about 400 years, rapidly cooled (well, ‘rapidly’ in global weather terms), was cooler than currently for about 400 years, and then began to rapidly warmed up. And we are probably in a ‘warming up’ phase right now.
Huh. Now, I wrote a paper on this in high school in 1984 after reading some trash novel about the coming ice age and how New York would be frozen in. [BTW, thanks, Aunt Marilyn, for all those pulp, trash science fiction, and damn-near-softcore-porn novels you always had lying around when I was a kid. I wouldn’t have the deep appreciation for real literature I have today without your help]. At that time these weather researchers expected global temperatures to rise (rapidly from the viewpoint of history, slowly from the viewpoint of a human life) over the next, oh, 50-100 years, stabilize for a while, then go back down the same way.
Flash forward about 10 years and people are worried about global warming. I shook my head at this and moved on. But this email (remember that?) got me to thinking; was I being complacent? Is human activity combining with natural processes to really muck things up? Was I being prideful?
Well, deciding that I was probably guilty on the ‘prideful’ thing, I did some research. Fascinating stuff, research. Especially when you are researching global warming, a topic so political that I’m amazed at the stay-at-home attitudes of both sides of the abortion debate in comparison. A lot of the research on global warming is pure, unadulterated, rank junk science propping up a political/social agenda. And many of the people that lend their name to the issue obviously know little, if anything, about it (I’m looking at you, Dave Matthews).
Is everyone ready for the inevitable “He’s going to bore me to DEATH” with numbers? You know, I am!
To begin, the fact that global mean temperatures are increasing is, indeed, a fact. What is in question is; A) is it increasing because of human action? B) is it increasing rapidly? And C) are we now in a warmer phase than has ever existed before in human history, so that civilization itself will collapse if we don’t do something drastic, and pronto? For brevity’s sake (rare for me, I know) I will refer to the belief that global warming is man-made and very, very dangerous as “global warming”.
Let’s start with the ‘smoking gun’ or the global warming advocates, a data analysis by Mann, Bradley, and Hughes in 1998 (hereafter ‘Mann’s report’ or somesuch). This analysis of data from 1400 AD to 1995 or so ‘proves’ that global warming is man-made and precipitous and that the Earth is warmer now than it ever was before in human existence. The ‘big deal’ of this paper was a sharp increase in global mean temperature over the last hundred years or so. Called the ‘hockey stick’ because of the sharp curve in temperatures, this increase (roughly equivalent to the Industrial Revolution and cars and stuff) demonstrated directly that human action is cooking the planet.
This report is the cornerstone of the arguments of those who advocate drastic action to curtail global warming. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued all sorts of recommendations based upon this report, including a lot of the third Kyoto Accords. This clear demonstration of anthropogenic (i.e., ‘man-made’) global warming was the last nail in the coffin of nay-sayers that ‘deny’ global warming.
In 2003 McKitrick and McIntyre, two Canadians, published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal where they claimed to demonstrate that Man, et. al. got their data analysis wrong. McIntyre and McKitrick show in their paper that the Mann data was manipulated, that extrapolations were really, really forced, and some of the data points were used ‘inappropriately’. Their own analysis of the exact same data showed that the 15th Century was warmer than the 20th and that there was no ‘hockey stick’ at all, let alone in conjunction with industrialization. Combined with the fact that the Mann paper had conflicted with many previous studies that showed that the 20th Century is not the warmest in the last 1000 years this seemed to blow global warming’s ‘best offense’ out of the water.
That’s when things got interesting. Three other papers after Mann had also shown the 20th Century as warmer than the 15th. Mann and his co-authors then replied that the two Macs had not used the original data, but a different set. And a number of ad hominem attacks were launched against the two Macs; that they ‘aren’t scientists’ (McKitrick is an economist – he certainly knows statistics, and McIntyre is a statistician for a number of mining companies); that ‘they “analyzed” the data on an Excel spreadsheet, not a scientific program’ (not true, they provided the software); and that ‘they don’t understand how to manipulate data’ (they used the exact same procedures that Mann did).
A number of environmentalists used columns and blogs to attack the credibility of everything McKitrick had ever written on global warming and said it was all flawed. Others rebutted these articles, also mainly on blogs and columns. Some tried to discredit the journal the two Macs had published in, neglecting that many other ‘respected scientists’ publish there. A real mess, actually. The two Macs replied to Mann’s rebuttal, stating that they used his new, ‘correct’, data and got the same ‘no-hockey-stick’ results and countered that he had not yet explained some of the more ‘inventive’ uses of data in the Mann paper. The journal Nature limited the two Mac’s rebuttal to 500 words, then rejected it because the information was too technical to be conveyed in 500 words. The rebuttal is available online, but dismissed by global warming advocates as ‘rejected by a peer reviewed journal’.
Mann did, however, respond to the full rebuttal with more reasons why the extrapolated data should be manipulated a certain way. The two Macs responded by generating random numbers, manipulating it as Mann did in the second response – and got the ‘hockey stick’ chart from trendless data (in other words, no matter what numbers you used, Mann would get his hockey stick). Mann replied that only he had the data that made the process ‘unbiased’ and refused to provide it. The two Macs complained to Nature under that journal’s rules that all data pertaining to a aper be freely available. Finally, after Mann never provided it, Nature issued a statement that the Mann paper had important errors that affected the integrity of the work, or the reputation of the authors, or the reputation of the journal. In other words, the Mann paper was ‘unpublished’ by a peer-reviewed journal. Mann wrote a correction where admitted that much of the material he said he used weren’t while some unmentioned data sets were – and concluded by saying that didn’t affect the results. Nature let that be that, and effectively said that this statement by Mann that his results were good even if the data and data manipulation weren’t, ‘republished’ the Mann paper.
Confused yet? This is only the controversy over ONE paper. An extremely important, influential paper – but only one. So now some people write the Mann paper off completely, and some still use it as the core of climate science relating to global warming. Some see Mann as a liar, others see the two Macs as incompetent rubes opposed to ‘real science’.
Now many scientists and ideologues that believe in global warming argue that the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age only happened in Europe, while others support the contention that it was global. See, if it was limited, then on the Mann paper and those like it are correct. If it was global, Mann and supporting papers must be false because Mann shows a global warming trend during the Little Ice Age as well as showing global temperatures as too cool if the Medieval Warming Period was global.
In other words, if Mann is correct all previous climate research is wrong, the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age only affected western Europe and North America, and global warming is a fact. If Mann is wrong, the MWP and LIA were global and global warming is a natural trend that will peak soon and has nothing to do with human activity. One or the other.
But who is right?
Well, the two Macs weren’t the first to criticize Mann. The biggest problem most scientists have is that they heavily manipulated a lot of data from before 1850 that has been demonstrated as accurate. And while they used archaeological data for all periods they also “added in” actual thermometer readings for the 1902-1980 period and extrapolated backwards from it. In other words, they used two completely different sorts of data for the periods of 1400-1901 and 1902-1980. Guess where the ‘hockey stick’ is? Yup, 1902+. The data summary provided by the two Macs from the same data without the ‘culling’ and without the added-in data from a different set is a dramatic match to previous research and clearly shows the MWP and the LIA exactly as previous work predicted them, both in duration and degree. And when the two Macs went to the original data that Mann didn’t use but had been verified as accurate, it still matched previous works and didn’t match Mann’s conclusions.
As an observer, the thing I find most disturbing about Mann and the other papers supporting it is that many of them have never made their source data available. Now, in scientific journals there is a rule that this data must be available so that other scientists can see if they have the same results. Mann has never released his core data and admits that the data he gave to the two Macs and others who wanted to check his results was incomplete and full of errors. So his paper failed the test of peer-review (as Nature originally admitted). While previous climate papers and current ones that support the global MWP and LIA have available data, Mann and the supporting papers do not. Why is that? Why is it that the papers that support global warming can’t be confirmed? And, if the data isn’t available, why were these papers published?
As you can see, I’m tending not to buy the whole global warming story. Paleoclimatology was firmly sure that the MWP and LIA were global. Indeed, some argue that if they were just isolated to Europe then we don’t know nearly as much about climate as we think we do. But within the last decade the MWP has been rejected as never happening (indeed, now the 15th Century was cooler than the 20th) and the LIA was recovered from in about 50 years. At the same time, there are still plenty of papers being generated that support the MWP and LIA being global. I am suspicious.
The reason I am suspicious is that science isn’t what it used to be. The fact of the matter is that Einstein, Sagan, and Hawking mucked it all up and got famous. Mann’s paper is now setting the energy and foreign policy of a dozen nations; he’s a darling of hundreds of groups, and his opinion is highly sought after - all because he proved global warming. Its probably a safe assumption that, given the world’s political *cough* climate, he could have easily anticipated this development. At the same time, the two Macs could have just as easily predicted just what a splash their own rebuttal would make and the notoriety it would generate.
But additional facts are always out there, somewhere. Mann himself recently told a Senate committee that his work is mainstream, mainly because it is part of the U.N.’s IPCC report (which he chaired, BTW). Two scientists disputed this claim, stating that the vast majority of climate literature supports the global MWP and LIA and refutes Mann’s work and the handful of supporting papers. These scientists, Soon and Baliunas, were labeled as ‘fringe scientists’ with no expertise, no knowledge, etc. Their paper that disputes Mann’s work was savaged, even though it was published in a peer-reviewed journal. Indeed, many called for the editor of that paper to be fired simply for publishing something critical of Mann’s work. Soon and Baliunas, by the way, are Harvard astrophysicists whose paper was on solar cycles and global climate – well within their expertise.
In other words, global warming advocates are opposing those who disagree with them not because of their science but because of their conclusions. Whenever you begin excluding people from ‘the truth’ because their conclusions are different from yours, you are practicing heresiology; you are expelling heretics. Now, this is perfectly legitimate in religion, but completely unacceptable in science. In effect, it shows that a large number of people in the global warming group are no longer thinking rationally about climate. You agree with them or you are ‘fringe’, ‘corrupt’, ‘partisan’, etc. Never a good sign.
In short, I think we can completely ignore the Mann report and the other recent papers that support it. While embraced as received truth by many environmentalists, it is in contradiction of a great deal of other science work being done.
This still leaves the question – is global warming real? Yes, I noticed that the above only stops a handful of scientific papers. Let’s move on to the real question.
Everyone should know the drill by now – the Earth’s temperature is what it is because of the greenhouse effect; sunlight falling on the Earth warms the surface and reflected infrared radiation is absorbed by ‘greenhouse gasses’. This keeps the Earth at its current just-right temperature. One of the greenhouse gasses is carbon dioxide; human industry is dumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; therefore, the greenhouse effect is increasing. If we don’t do something, the Earth will warm up until civilization collapses under melting icecaps, super-hurricanes, and no crops. There is clear, irrefutable evidence that man-made carbon dioxide is heating up the Earth this way – that is global warming.
While this is the ‘elevator pitch’ of global warming and is probably well-known by virtually everyone in Europe and the Western Hemisphere, it is amazingly over-simplified. So over-simplified that it can be misleading. For example, while the greenhouse effect depends upon the so-called ‘greenhouse gasses’, there is one such gas that dominates on Earth – water vapor. As a matter of fact, water vapor (i.e., clouds and stuff) is responsible for 98% of the greenhouse effect.
On top of that, the absorption of radiated infra-red accounts for only about 25% of the total greenhouse effect. That’s right, the actions of greenhouse gasses, the only issue mentioned 99 times out of 100 in global warming discussions, is only 25% of the total greenhouse effect (the rest is convection and conduction at about 37% each). So the non-water vapor greenhouse gasses account for about .5% of the total greenhouse effect. That is ½ of 1%, by the way, not five percent. By itself, a doubling of carbon dioxide could not under any model increase average global temperatures by more than 1.7 degrees centigrade.
But global warming advocates state that CO2 doesn’t act alone; the .4 to 1.2 degree centigrade increase that most models predict from doubling CO2 in the air will, they say, increase the amount of water vapor in the air. This would amplify the effect and result in a total increase of about 5 degrees centigrade – pretty darn serious! But, unfortunately, the assumptions made about the increase in water vapor and the actions of the increased water vapor are just that – assumptions. For example, most models predict that water vapor will increase, but cloud cover won’t. The reason? Well, the energy increase absorbed energy by doubling carbon dioxide would equate to about 2 watts of energy per square meter of the Earth’s surface (why that weird number? You’ll see). But clouds reflect about 75 watts of energy per square meter. So a 2% increase in cloud cover would negate the doubling of CO2.
Now, the mechanisms involved are far more complicated than that (for example, very high altitude clouds can increase greenhouse effects instead of reducing them, like low level clouds do). For example, many computer models predict an increase in temperature associated with diminished snow cover (it gets warmer=less snow; less snow=less reflection of sunlight=warmer Earth). Problem is, recent research indicates that a reduction in snow cover results in increased cloud cover to an extent that to total greenhouse effect may be negative, i.e., it makes the Earth cooler.
The main problem is that weather/climate actions are stunningly complex, complex enough that the term ‘butterfly effect’ is used. In short, the butterfly effect is the concept that weather actions are so complex that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Japan can cause a storm in France weeks later. All existing models of global warming are completely insufficient in the face of this. The biggest issue for current global warming, for example, is the very obscure physics of water vapor. Right now all models show increases in temperature resulting in an increase of water vapor at all levels of the atmosphere equally. If the actual increase is off by as little as 4% weighted toward low-level humidity, however, the net effect would probably be equilibrium or a decline in global temperatures, not global warming.
The best way to test a model is to compare it to the known past. In other words, use your model to ‘predict’ what happened over, say, the last 100 years and see if it matches reality. We can only really go back to about 1900 for weather data because before that weather information is indirect; we have temperature and humidity levels after about 1900 that are fairly accurate, but before that we have to figure out weather from things like tree-ring thickness. When you take current models used to support global warming they predict that the last century should have seen a total increase in temperature of about 2 degrees centigrade with most of that occurring in the last 30 years of the century. In actuality the climate record show an increase of temperature of about .45 degrees centigrade with the majority of it occurring in the first 40 years of the century and a small spike in the last ten with a minor cooling phase in the 1970’s.
Here’s another kicker; according to isotope samples about 440 million years ago total CO2 levels on Earth were roughly 10 times what they are today. In computer models that support global warming the mean temperature must have been no less than 8 degree warmer than today. However, the Earth was in the grips of an ice age at the time. Even indirect evidence refutes these models.
The models also call for an increase in equatorial ocean surface temperature of about 2 degrees. There is a change of about .3 degrees, no more. In other words, the models fail miserably. Every single application of current climate models that support global warming to the past century grossly overshoot actual warming during that period.
And interesting look into ‘climate hysteria’ can be gleaned from that book I read so long ago. In the 1950’s and ‘60’s the Earth had a minor global cooling trend. The result was a slew of papers, books, and pop-culture obsession with ‘the coming ice age’. One prominent science writer issued a book that mocked skeptics of the global freeze theory and stated bluntly that the possible dangers were so great that the absence of confirmation should not prevent us from acting. Sound familiar? Two of the scientist/authors who issued books warning of the coming ice age (Schneider and Tickwell) are now prominent proponents of global warming. In other words, many of the people who spent the 1970’s warning of global freezing are now warning of global warming.
We are now in a situation where the predictive models for global warming fail repeatedly and there is some evidence that the major supporting works for global warming were faked. The result has not been self-reflection and review, however, it has been to expel ‘heretics’. In 1988 Lester Lave was dismissed from a Senate advisory committee where he served as a scientific resource because he said that the evidence for global warming was ambiguous. In 1989 Dr. Newell of MIT lost National Science Foundation funding when his results refuted global warning; his reviewers said his results were ‘dangerous for humanity’.
Many environmental advocates are calling for an end to research and a start to drastic action to end this obvious, imminent threat. In other words, they don’t care for facts, they want action! Environmental advocacy is a big, powerful business. Environmental NGO’s in America control hundreds of millions of dollars in donations and grants. Environmental groups in Europe are full-fledged political parties. Global warming has been a easy tool for fund raising and access to power. And many are using this influence to silence any dissent. Then-senator Al Gore led this charge with an editorial in the New York Times that equated the fight against global warming with the fight against Nazism.
Dr. Aaron Wildavsky, a professor of Political Science, once said this,
“Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist's dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population's eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.”
In other words, the primary motivation of a great many global warming advocates is political, not environmental. One call from the IPCC was to reduce all CO2 emissions 60%. This would involved shutting down a significant number of factories, eliminating virtually all gasoline-powered cars, and throwing literally millions of people out of work. In 1999 it was estimated that reducing CO2 emissions 10% in America alone would cost about $250 billion a year for 10 years! The costs involved in the proposed 60% global reduction would dwarf the expense of WWII by all sides and the human impact would be potentially as great. The major sufferers would be Third-World nations who could not afford to implement new and cleaner technology. And the major shifts in transportation would radically alter Western society, especially America. Indeed, based upon a rather controversial report on methane emission by cattle (methane is a greenhouse gas), some are calling for legal controls on the number of cattle to ‘protect the Earth’ – many of these proponents are also members of groups like PETA.
In short, I do not worry about global warming. Not then, not now.
Monday, November 15, 2004
Boy, do I get tired sometimes. Tired of the weird, yet deeply offensive, claims of those who do not share my views. I’ve mentioned recently the huge number of liberal columnists, bloggers, and leaders calling everyone from areas that didn’t have a majority vote for Kerry ignorant, stupid, evil, etc. On Hannity and Colmes a few days after the election Geraldine Ferraro, the one-time Democratic vice-presidential candidate, stated “…if all the blue states … seced[ed] from the union, think what would be left for those red states; nothing….no educational system. Nothing. …where is all the talent in this country? Both sides, the Northeast corridor.”. Ms. Ferraro has seemingly never heard that there are, indeed, universities and businesses in places other than New England and the edges of the coasts.
Similar arguments abound that ‘the most food production in America comes from the Central Valley of California – if the Red States don’t get with the program, we’ll starve them out’. Of course, the Central Valley voted overwhelmingly Republican in 2004. While the voting patterns in the last election look shockingly like the map of America from space at night, showing where the most lights are, to assume that intellectual capital means superiority, or even supremacy, is pretty silly. The concentration of intellectual capital in urban areas has more to do with access than innate superiority. And all the stockbrokers on Wall Street won’t help you if the farmers on Main Street won’t sell you milk.
Writer Lawrence Henry, in his article Secession, eh? In the online version of the American Spectator draws a very interesting parallel. The last time that a group of people that felt that they were being isolated and disenfranchised by the American voting system and began making noises about secession was in the early 1800’s. The Southern American states felt threatened by the changes that threatened to permanently alter their way of life. The change from a distributed agrarian economy to a concentrated manufacturing economy terrified the South, enough that they waged war to keep things from changing. In the end, of course, they were doomed. The same forces that were changing economics had changed everything else.
The secessionists of the antebellum South made a lot of valid-seeming points; they were richer than the North, especially the plantation owners. They were the center of culture for America, especially the arts and fashion, and were much more cosmopolitan with regular trade with Europe, an elite that traveled abroad extensively, and a more cohesive culture. And, of course, during the War Between the States the Confederacy enjoyed the support of the French
Despite loudly spoken concerns from conservatives that America is going down the wrong path; despite 40 years of Democratic control of Congress; despite the legalization of abortion, a key moral issue with many conservatives; despite the attacks of the Left; you don’t hear conservatives speaking about leaving the country. But the Left speaks about it more and more. Perhaps this is indicative of something.
I think that, deep down, many liberals realize that change is inevitable and unstoppable. The generation of change that began in the late ‘60’s may be like the Lost Generation; a single generation with concerns that seemed to dominate for a time, and then faded away into history. The decision that must be made by liberals now is – is purity more important than influence?
The vast majority of liberals are calling for either no change to the Democratic platform, or a shift further to the left. They again and again refuse to “compromise” on their “core issues” or abortion and gay marriage. This may be the key to their self-destruction. Many Democratic voters are primarily interested in social justice (living wage, poverty, death penalty issues) or peace (opposition to war and American foreign policy) or economics (a bit of both social justice and peace with a focus on reining in corporations and the power of the wealthy). And ecological concerns (vanishing wilderness, pollution, animals, etc.) are also a large part of the Democratic base.
Just like the misconception among liberals that all ‘moral values’ voters are a monolithic bloc focused on abortion and gay marriage, they seem to think that all Democrats value all elements of their platform equally. If it continues to be apparent that a hard-line leftist stance on abortion and gay marriage loses elections, they may begin to see defections from their party by people willing to compromise in order to make gains in social justice, the environment, etc. In other words, the pledge that the Democratic Party will always support abortion on demand may be a suicide pact.
We can see the effects of this myopic view of all voters as ‘single issue voters’ today. As Charles Krauthammer pointed out in an article in the New York Daily News, the ‘moral values’ exit poll has led an overwhelming number of liberal commentators and strategists to conclude that they were defeated by angry, ignorant, homophobic, White, redneck men. This leads to an easy demonization of their ‘enemy’ and allows them to claim the moral high ground. After all, they are ‘tolerant, open-minded, and on the side of rights’ while their foes are ‘inbred hicks’.
A look at polls, though, proves them wrong. The ‘anti-gay backlash’ is a myth – the increase in votes for Bush in 2004 compared to 2000 in the 11 states with an amendment to ban gay marriage was less than his percentile increase in states without such an initiative. In Ohio the increase was less than 1/3rd the increase in states without gay marriage on the ballot. In other words, there was no surge of anti-gay sentiment driving people to the polls – in reality, a large number of people who voted Democrat also voted to ban gay marriage. This fact is probably too disturbing for many liberal pundits to contemplate.
Bush increased his numbers among Hispanics, Jews, Catholics, Blacks, senior citizens, and women. Especially married women. Where is this surge of ‘rednecks’? Why would married women vote based on homophobia? Think about it; based on polling a person who voted for someone else in 2000 but voted for Bush in 2004 is likely to be a married Hispanic Catholic woman – hardly your typical homophobe with two teeth driving a truck with KC lights. Yet the liberal pundits and bloggers insist that the election was because of the mythical redneck, not the actual middle-class woman with kids.
So where do they go? Insisting that they are both innately superior and posses the moral high ground, what will the Democratic Party do? My prediction is – they’re gonna’ crank it up to 11. By refusing to consider that they may be wrong, but convincing themselves that they only lose because people don’t ‘get it’/are ignorant/deluded, and by refusing to consider that some of their platform items are incompatible with the morals or desires of a majority of Americans, they will try what they tried in 2000 and 2004, but with more force. Michael Moore has already announced he is making a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11 to “inform people of the truth” and a lot of columnists are increasing the tempo of their attacks on conservatives. Add in the repeated statements that any judge who agrees with the majority of America will be filibustered, and we are looking at some serious brinkmanship by liberals already.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
[Note: having some trouble with links, so it’s a little clunky right now]
Well, after just a few days the vitriol from the Left has gotten worse and worse. I have my favorites, of course. Like Left is Right at http://www.mstabile.blogspot.com/ . This genius posts the definition of bigot and then goes on repeated rants that everyone from a ‘Red state’ is an evil moron who wants to kill her. The Hell? So saying that everyone who disagrees with her is stupid, ignorant, and psychotic makes them bigots and her open-minded? The Daily Kos at http://www.dailykos.com/ is no better. Indeed, worse. He seems to betray his own high ideals by basically planning to starve the ‘ignorant, incapable’ masses by keeping them from the food and money only really produced in the ‘Blue states’. “They need us more than we need them – if they won’t let us lead them, let the world burn!” - how very Atlas Shrugged of you, pal.
Let’s try this again. Self-described evangelical Christians are about 40% of the voting populace. Only 75% of them voted for Bush. So the “Right-wing Republican Bigots are all alike” rant is a denial of reality. Even people who call themselves the right-wing don’t vote alike! Kerry lost a lot of the Catholic vote. According to exit polls (thanks, Zogby), mainly Catholic who regularly go to church. Those same Catholics overwhelmingly disapprove of almost everything Bush is doing except oppose abortion. Catholics were once a more dependable bloc of Democratic voters than Blacks – yet the Democrats won’t bend an inch on their pro-choice stance. It can be argued that if the Democratic Party would just talk about the abortion issue as if people who disagree with ‘abortion on demand at taxpayer expense’ aren’t evil, then millions of voters who support healthcare, living wage, the end of poverty, the end of war, and the environment would flood back to their side.
And that is the central error of all of these oh-so-angry liberals. Millions of us who voted for Bush desperately want to vote for a Democrat. Hell, any Democrat. But we have items that are centrally, vitally important to us that we want taken seriously. The Democratic Party has not been willing to discuss them. And these bloggers certainly don’t want to hear it. Most of the liberal columnists don’t want to hear it. So, deeply conflicted, we do what we feel we must; vote against some social justice issues to support others we think more vital.
This is a terrible position to be in. And those that we want to reach out to us seem to hate us for making the choice.
Friday, November 05, 2004
I hope you didn’t think that an election would go by without some Deep Thought! As some of you may have guessed, I vote conservative. I don’t call myself a conservative, because (as I have said elsewhere) that comes with a huge list of “conservative=” assumptions that don’t fit me. I have a list of issues, some more important than others, that guide my voting. Conservative parties tend to meet me on the ‘most important’ list, liberal on the ‘less important’ list, so I vote conservative.
I am also a bit of an amateur statistician (loved the college coursework, use it at work, think its kinda’ fun. No, really). Looking at the exit polls and then reading what the ‘pundits’ write, I notice something interesting. This is something most conservatives would say ‘well, duh’ to, but to which most liberals would react with a ‘that’s not true!’.
The liberal leadership, including its pundits and apologists, don’t understand the average American.
Now, I am certain they care for the average American (hereafter just ‘Americans’), mainly because they want to care for everyone. And they think they understand Americans. And they try to speak to Americans. But they obviously failed.
Exit polls here are very interesting. Thos e who regularly attend church overwhelmingly supported Bush. Those who rarely or never go supported Kerry in roughly equal numbers. And while the “Catholic vote” was split, I have a guess – of those who call themselves Catholic, about half attend regularly, about have attend rarely or never. In other words, it was church attendance, not denomination, that mattered.
In America more people live in suburbs or rural areas than in urban areas. People in suburban and rural areas are more likely to be regular church-goers. So the ‘average American’ is a suburban/rural person who attends church on a regular basis – the people who just elected George Bush. Regular church-goers tend to oppose gay marriage, be pro-life, and to place moral issues over economic ones – even when economic conditions aren’t that good for them personally.
Its not just cut-and-dried, though. Many of these non-urban Americans are also deeply concerned about the economy, the war in Iraq, etc. – the issues focused on by Democrats. The Democrats obviously and specifically hoped that they could convince enough people that they were right on these issues to draw them into voting for Kerry. Although there was some success, it was far from enough. I think the main reason is that the Democratic Party is more ideologically rigid than the Republican Party.
While many on the Left assail the Republicans as close-minded authoritarians the fact is that there is a great deal of dissent within the ranks of the Republicans. From the large numbers of legislators who do not actively support pro-life issues or directly oppose things like stem-cell research to the Log-Cabin Republicans, a group of openly homosexual politicians and ideologues, the Republican party has members and leaders who openly disagree with the Party’s ‘core issues’.
The ‘open-minded’ Democratic Party, on the other hand, tends to dismiss or quash dissent very effectively. There is no room for pro-life Democrats within the party; Bob Casey, then the newly-reelected governor of Pennsylvania, was not allowed to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because of his pro-life stance. At that same convention, however, there was time for 6 pro-choice Republican women to speak, including one who had worked in the campaign against Governor Casey. Democratic politicians are ever-vigilant to oppose any judicial nominee who has not stated specifically that they support pro-choice laws (Estrada’s only ‘failing’). And the group Democrats for Life is routinely excluded from any gathering of Democrats.
A current bit of political wisdom is that the once-formidable “Catholics vote” is gone; now Catholics vote like everyone else. But this is wrong. In the key battleground states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, etc. the Catholics there were much more likely to vote for Bush than for Kerry. In Minnesota voters as a whole were 56% likely to vote for Kerry. But Catholic voters were 60% for Bush – in short, the only reason Minnesota was a battleground state at all was because of the Catholic opposition to Kerry.
Catholics in Minnesota are, according to other polls, pretty darn Liberal (like the state as a whole). The key issue that aimed them at Bush was abortion with gay marriage a catch-up second place. While Democratic strategists claim that ‘people who vote Republican because of abortion would vote that way for a whole list of other reasons’ are lying to themselves. Poll after poll indicates that many would vote for Democrats if the Democratic Party would just discuss pro-life concerns. Not support them, not endorse them, just talk about them. This poll from the University of Michigan was released before the 2000 election – and ignored to this day.
And this election provides more evidence. Ohio is suffering from a serious economic downturn and massive job-loss. But a lot of people there voted for Bush and a lot of them based their vote on “moral issues”. In other words, abortion and gay marriage. One Missouri voter, a life-long Democrat, stated specifically that he thought Bush’s economic policies would hurt him and his family but he felt compelled to vote for Bush because of his concerns for the unborn.
In short, a number of Americans; non-urban, churchgoing Americans; are willing to see their families suffer economically to oppose abortion and gay marriage. That is pretty damn serious. And that is a voting bloc that is committed in ways that transcend issues like whether or not explosives went missing, or who was a ‘real’ war hero. So a lot of the efforts of the Democratic Party to paint Kerry as a compassionate, intelligent man who would help them get and keep jobs meant almost nothing to a large number of average Americans.
How committed is the Democratic Party to pro-choice? It maintained a link from its web page to the very small group Catholics for a Free Choice despite a well-run boycott and letter-writing campaign by the Catholic Defense League to remove it. Why? Catholics for a Free Choice is pro-choice. At the same time, the repeatedly refused to post a link to the webpage of Democrats for Life because they were pro-life. Willing to endure a ton of negative publicity in an election year to show any form of support for a tiny pro-choice group, they were unwilling to show any support for a Democratic group that was pro-life.
That seems pretty clear. This is a refusal to admit that there are people that agree with a majority of ‘liberal’ issues yet vote conservative over one or two “key points”; so-called ‘single-issue voters’ or ‘litmus test voters’. Liberals both decry single-issue voters as ignoring larger issues (read any liberal commentator over the last 2 years) and support single-issue items (Kerry’s promise not to nominate a judge that wasn’t pro-choice, for example). Liberals (a broad, sweeping generalization, I admit) see their opponents whole cleave to a single issue as having overriding importance as close-minded, yet see themselves as dedicated to truth, justice, etc. when they do the same.
This myopic view extends up and down the chain. Writer Byron Williams writes “Fear and [a concern for moral] values trumped the majority [of voters] who felt the country is headed in the wrong direction, the possibility that the Supreme Court could take a major shift to the right, [and] the global communities overwhelming disapproval…”. Byron is symptomatic – if a majority of voters selected Bush based on moral values or fear of terrorist attacks, how can he claim that “the majority” feel that the country is headed in the wrong direction? Bush has been in office for four years promoting pro-life views and aggressive military actions; the majority of voters re-elected him; who the heck is Byron talking about?
He is, of course, talking about the people he associates with. In the same article he mentions that America is a red nation with blue on the edges (not his exact words). The heavily liberal areas are also heavily urbanized. There are Democrats in rural areas – lots of them (look at Minnesota, a largely rural state). But the often have different values that urban Democrats. Again, Pennsylvania is an example – many Dems in Pennsylvania are rural, and many of them are pro-life. Who within the Democratic Party considers them important, let alone speaks for them?
Many other liberal pundits wail that the economy and the war in Iraq are moral values (My favorite is Ellen Goodman). No doubt about it, the economy and war are morals-based things. Period. But they are all missing something – people who are worried about keeping their job voted for Bush even though they feared he could (or would) make job-loss more likely. People who oppose the war in Iraq voted for Bush even if they thought Kerry would end it faster and less violently. What they miss is that to a great many Americans issues of abortion trump money and war; that judicial changes to the definition of marriage (in defiance of laws passed by legislators elected by the people) are seen as more critical than the amount of taxes paid by the top 1% or incomes in America.
So why the heck to the liberals miss this? Why do these pundits and strategists, so eager – even desperate – to reach as many people as possible with what they feel is the truth, not realize that many people who vote conservative could easily vote liberal if the Democrats relaxed their white-knuckled grip on an all-out support of abortion on demand paid with tax dollars? I don’t like the conclusion I’ve reached (although I reached it some time ago). I believe it is because of a combination of arrogance and contempt of those who disagree with them.
In the same article Ellen Goodman lumps pro-lifers, those who oppose gay marriage, and Creationists into a single category, a category she contrasts with people who “…see poverty as a moral issue”. She doesn’t consider for a moment (in the article at least) that pro-lifers, those who oppose gay marriage, and Creationists might be different groups with different goals. Also: newsflash for Ellen – the majority of outreach to the poor and activism against poverty comes from religious institutions, often very conservative religious institutions.
Columnist Paul Krugman states that those who are pro-life and pro-family are implicitly anti-minority rights. That’s right, he assumes that if you are pro-life and oppose gay marriage you oppose equal rights for Blacks, Hispanics, etc. Never you mind that 75% of Black Georgian voters opposed gay marriage. Or that a stunning majority of Hispanics are pro-life. See, opposition to any equals opposition to all in Mr. Krugman’s mind. Many of the liberals I know (and I know a whole lot of ‘em) automatically assume that those who disagree with them need to learn more – that all opposition to their own worldview is borne of ignorance or hate. People who hold such views can never reach a rapproachment with their opponents; they are, by definition, inferior.
This arrogance and condescension is seen and understood by many ‘average Americans’ and the Republicans exploit it. The ‘liberal elite’ is not a myth; the web page Democratic Underground has some insightful commentary on this, pointing out that a large number of Democratic leaders and strategists are wealthy professionals from affluent families from the Northeast of Left Coast that have almost no experience interacting with average folks. When they focus on economic issues (which the Democratic Party has done for a long time) there is a sense of noblesse oblige, a feeling that “those people” should be grateful for the help.
I found one author that admits this, Jeanette Batz Cooperman. She admits to feelings of intellectual superiority and tries to overcome them. The article, of course, implies that those who disagree with her aren’t actually stupid, they are just genetically unable to grasp complexity. At least she’s moving in the right direction.
I find myself in an interesting position. Although I far prefer to not talk too much about my personal beliefs, I find that no one speaks for me and few want to speak to me. I am the opposite of Jessie Ventura and Arnold the Governator, I am the quintessential devout Catholic: socially conservative and fiscally liberal. Yet Republicans don’t care for me for my support of welfare programs, broad reform in healthcare (and contemplation of how a national health care system would work, and well), and belief that aggressive progressive tax rates (including stiff estate and capital gains taxes) would benefit the country.
Evangelical Christians don’t want me. In addition to being Catholic, I think evolutionary theory is pretty solid science. And Democrats also don’t want me. So why do I end up voting conservative? Because while conservatives don’t like some of my positions, there are plenty of Republican politicians who support tax breaks aimed at low-income families, the minimum wage, healthcare reform, etc. In short, I can be a conservative and dissent. But Democrats tell me I am anti-woman (I oppose abortion), a homophobe (I am against gay marriage), and irrational (I am religious). In short, I face more hate speech from the left. Because they are more ideologically rigid.
Monday, October 11, 2004
Spam, Birth Rates, and The End Of The World As We Know It
I received some spam today. No, really! I have had my main internet-based email account for about, oh, 9 years or more so I get a lot of spam – this one just slipped by the filters. It warned of overpopulation and encouraged me to learn more about how to keep the world from being destroyed by people.
Now, I’ve seen Soylent Green and I thought it was cool. And I’ve visited overpopulation.com and thought it was lame. All in all, the ‘overpopulation issue’ leaves me either chuckling (at best) or angry at the gullibility of people (at worst) because there is no overpopulation issue on Earth. Never has been, never will be. As a matter of fact, I’m seriously worried about underpopulation. Here’s some quick numbers, many from the CIA factbook (you should go there) and overpopulation.com’s won website (check it out, too).
Let’s start by mentioning a minister named Malthus. He made a basic observation about animal populations in the wild. In a nutshell, he predicted that, in the absence of predation, creatures would grow to the limit of their food supply and then the relative scarcity of food would limit population. That’s it, really. Darwin was stimulated by this concepts and it helped him formulate his theories of the origin of species. And a lot of people think it means humans will reproduce until we all starve to death. Huh? No, really, since the writings of Malthus, such ‘malthusian’ predictions that there would be too many people to support have been going strong. They really hit their stride in the 1960’s and made a big splash in a number of science fiction stories, including the afore-mentioned Soylent Green. This has led to the creation of a number of studies, think-tnaks, and groups, all focused on limiting human reproduction before we all kill ourselves with our own children. Some of the big donors to the distribution of birth control to the Third World, legal and financial backers of the push to legalize abortion and make it easily accessible, and many environmental groups are mainly focused on overpopulation.
These people focus in the horrible sufferings of the victims of famine. They point to images of starving children and demand that we limit population so there will be enough food. The trouble is, of course, that in the modern world famine isn’t about lack of food, it is about a lack of power. There is more than enough food to feed everyone on Earth a rich, varied, and sufficient diet. But some people can’t get it because they lack money and/or guns. The famine in Ethiopia was about war; Somalia about the lack of law, etc. In each case men with guns prevented people without guns from getting the plentiful food that was available. As this becomes more common knowledge, some in the anti-childbirth campaign speak of standards of living. They argue that we will use up all of the resources and we will have a meager existence of lower-lower class subsistence as the world fills up with too many people.
Problem is, the core conceit of too many people has never been an issue. At current rates, it never will be. As a matter of fact, in the same year Soylent Green was released in theaters a report by a small United Nations commission on world health predicted that the world population would peak around 2040-2050 at a sustainable level and thereafter decline. Their numbers were pretty darn good, actually. Let’s talk numbers. I know, I know – boring, right? But unless you understand the numbers, you might miss the real danger that threatens the entire world. Yep, that’s right – a world-threatening danger. Well, a world-civilization-threatening danger, at least.
The first concept I want to talk about is Total Fertility Rate (TFR); the number of children the ‘typical’ woman of child-bearing age would have in a society. Its also the average number of children per woman – same thing. In a nutshell, this indicates how much and how fast the population of a place (we’ll focus on countries) will change. Since it takes 2 to tango, the TFR should be 2 in order to maintain a steady population, right? Well, mostly. Some children will, unfortunately, die before they have their own kids, in childhood, etc. So the minimum TFR to maintain a steady population generation to generation (called a ‘replacement rate’) is roughly 2.1. I say roughly because this number is for people with access to Western medicine, hospitals, etc. In some Third World places the replacement rate can be as high as 2.4. Maybe more. But we will use the conservative 2.1 as world-wide replacement rate TFR.
So what is the global TFR right now? Last time I checked, it was 2.7. ‘Hmmm’, you say, ‘above replacement rate - so we are going to starve!’. Time for a little context. You see, the global TFR in 1990 was 3.4. In 2000 it was 2.8. And it is estimated that in 2025 it will be 2.3. This is expected to continue to decline with some blue-sky predictions showing a global TFR of 1.2 in 2100. But before you relax and think about all that land your grand-kids can buy cheap, we need to talk about 2 more number-thingys. The first is age-distribution.
Age distribution is the relative number of children, the young, the middle-aged, etc. Because we have had large TFRs in the past and they are currently dropping like rocks, the total world population won’t just start going down – it takes time to stop a train, after all. It is predicted that the world population will peak around 2050 at no more than about 9 billion people. At the same time, age-distribution means that the average age of the population will shoot upwards. In 1975 the mean global age was 22 years old. In 2050 it is estimated it will be 38 – the elderly will outnumber the young for the first time in human existence. And this is an average; the median age for Japan is expected to be 53, Italy to be 58.
The next thing to discuss is the mortality rate, or how fast people die off. While global mortality rates were dropping for decades, the global mortality rate is increasing again. This is due to a combination of factors, mainly the resurgence of malaria, the AIDS epidemic, and the transmission of diseases to new areas. So people are dying a little faster than they did 20 years ago. Mortality rates are, for related reasons, highest in regions with the highest TFRs. Because of these changes in mortality rates, which were expected to drop faster than they are, the most-supported world population total is about 7.6 billion people in 2050, followed by a sharp decline.
So where is the threat to global civilization? You just read it. Underpopulation is a serious threat to global civilization as we understand it. One of the big reasons is the fact that local TFRs vary a great deal. The lowest are in Europe (Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, many others) and Asia (Singapore and Japan). These nations have a TFR of 1.5 or less, with Bulgaria at the lowest of 1.1. This means that the next generation will be no more than 75% the size of the current generation, maybe only 50%. This means that the population will continue to become (on average) much older very rapidly. As a result the care of the elderly will consume more and more of the time, energy, and resources of the entire working population. By some estimates Japan will suffer first. With one of the longest average lifespans in the world, excellent medical care, and a rapidly dropping population, some predictions so that in the year 2040 35% of all Japanese workers will be engaged in care for the elderly. This will be a staggering drain on the workforce, effectively forcing Japan to import millions of workers or face the problem of not having enough workers to staff factories, law firms, etc. Globally, in 2050 there will be more people between the ages of 65 and 80 than between the ages of 0 and 10. The political impact of the majority of voters being over the age of 65 means that younger generations will probably be completely unable to exercise control of democracies in the West.
And this will be repeated globally. Nations will either face massive immigration in order to meet staffing needs or simply not have enough people to work. It will be like the staffing crunch of the late 1990’s but in every sector with no relief in sight. Even with increases in automation, there will also be a decline in consumers (especially as the elderly begin to die). By 2050 a globally shrinking economy will be the norm. Concepts like ‘pension’, ‘retirement’, and ‘limited work week’ could vanish in the face of a shortfall of tens of millions of workers per country.
Certain social, cultural, and political factors are making this problem even worse. Some Asian cultures place a premium on male children at the expense of females. Access to in utero gender identification and abortion means that there is a resulting slant towards more males being born. South Korea, for example, has a TFR of about 1.8, but the most recent group of school children is not 50% male, but 60%. This is more acute in China where there are legal limits to childbirth. Some estimates place the youngest Chinese at a male to female division of 70%/30%, making China’s TFR effectively 1.4, not 1.8. The implications of a future with millions of young men with no potential spouses at home include mass emigration, the ‘importation’ of brides, and a radical change in the racial and cultural makeup of these countries.
The change in ratios of populations in regions is pretty significant. In the early 1900’s Europe had 3 times the population of Africa. In 1990, the populations were even. In 2040 Africa will have three times the population of Europe. Of the 12 most-populous countries of 1950 only 6 will remain on that list in 2040. New additions will include Nigeria, Zaire, Ethiopia, and Iran. No European nation or former Soviet republic will have as many people as the Phillipines.
Other implications are pretty sobering, as well. The earliest impact will be in Europe (including Russia and its former republics), where TFRs are lowest currently. Italy, for example, has a TFR of 1.2 and dropping; the UN estimates that its total population will decline by 25% by the year 2050. Russia and Ukraine are in worse shape with an estimated 40% decline in the same period. The result will be an elderly population dependent upon immigrant labor for care and a nation requiring the same immigrants to main more and more critical areas. There is a serious concern that some cultures and nations will simply vanish as they die out and are replaced by waves of immigrants. And if they ban or severly limit immigration they face simple extinction through lowered birth rates – Italy, for example, theoretically reaches a population of zero in the year 2150. Some theorists also point out that immigrants tend to quickly mirror the TFRs of their new homes, global TFRs may drop more rapidly than expected.
Perhaps the most sobering projection is a simple projection of global TFRs stabilizing in about 2040 at roughly 1.7 or so. This projection by the UN shows a population peak in around 2040, a worldwide decline in population of about 85 million people by 2050 – and then a decrease in population of 25% every generation. If this is stable, meaning if TFRs stay at that level, by 2100 the world population will be roughly 4.5 billion people. By 2200 population projections show a global population of about 1.45 billion, and by 2300 a global population of 450 million people, or less than the projected population for the U.S. alone in 2040.
Now, we cannot make too many assumptions – population projection is tricky. There are a huge number of variables, many of which are not well understood. The current projections have been very accurate for over 30 years and (for a variety of reasons) I expect them to remain valid probably until about 2100 in broad terms. Some population experts expect global pop to stabilize around 1.8-2.2 billion around the year 2250. I am not trying to replace an ‘everyone starves to death’ scenario with an ‘everyone dies’ story.
What I am talking about is a big change in human life on a global scale. Shifting from a growing, young population to a shrinking, elderly population will cause massive societal changes that we can only guess at. A shrinking consumer base combined with a shortage of workers could very well force a number of companies completely out of business. It will certainly have a big impact on distribution of wealth and political power. A global deflationary economy is possible, changing marketing and savings patterns. And the massive drain on manpower and money needed over the next 50 years as the majority of the population ages rapidly will certainly hurt.
Let’s add in that many ‘developed’ nations could end up with a wealthy, well-educated native elite with an average age in the 60’s being served by a youthful, poor, relatively-uneducated workforce of immigrants. The potential for strife is huge. At the same time, many developed nations will have too few young people to field an army of respectable size, while many poor nations will still have plenty of young men – all during the time that may represent the period of greatest economic and political unrest in human history. Disturbing concepts.
Another thing to consider is the pattern of births. Devout members of ‘fundamentalist’ Judeo-Christian religions have a higher TFR than their non-devout, non-fundamentalist, and secular peers. This is particularly true of Catholics and Mormons. Thus, while Italy and Spain, both nominally ‘Catholic nations’, have some of the very lowest TFRs in the world this seems to be because they are heavily secularized. Devout populations of Catholics in both countries seem to be the reason that their cumulative TFRs are not even lower. Among Jewish, Catholic, and Mormon women, TFR increases correspond almost directly with religious participation. Put simply, Jewish, Catholic, and Mormon women that attend church/temple more regularly have more children. Participation in volunteer activities within these religious groups also increases TFR. Interestingly, while Islmaic TFRs are above the global average, they are dropping rapidly and have no similar correspondence with religious activity.
Another interesting aspect of fertility among the (for wont of a more convenient term) devout is that it does not necessarily follow what everyone believes trends in fertility should be. Advocates of family planning from Planned Parenthood to Negative Population Growth urge education and development as a panacea for reducing fertility. The basic argument is that as populations become more prosperous, more women enter the workforce, more women get higher education, marriage is delayed – as is childbirth, and women ‘naturally’ have fewer children. Trouble is, this isn’t always the case.
American studies show that American Catholics in the 1950’s and ‘60’s had more children when they had more education. Similarly, Mormon women with higher education have more children on average than their less-educated co-religionists. Israeli research mirrors this in Jewish women. The Israeli study, by far the most detailed, showed another factor – from barely-observant to devout Jewish women TFR was just as tightly linked to cultural origins as it was to religious participation. For example, secularized Jewish women descended from North Africans have a higher TFR than secularized Jewish women descended from Russian immigrants. And the correlation extends through to devout Jewish women.
One possible conclusion is that the decline in birthrates among ‘more educated’ women has more to do with the absorption of cultural and societal values than with education in and of itself. Because not only do highly-educated religious women have a higher TFR than their secular peers, in Europe and North America the differences in TFR between high-school graduates and those with a bachelor’s degree are far less than similar positive trending amongst the devout. In other words, it seems that it is not higher education in and of itself but rather a “secularized Western” worldview that leads to declined TFRs. The decrease in TFRs seems to have more to do with exporting cultures and values than with improving education.
Another issue is the increase in commitment among young Catholics. By far the largest single religious group on Earth, the Catholic Church seemed to suffer a decrease in members who could be called ‘devout’ during the last 40 years. At the same time, however, total numbers grew until approximately 1/6 of the world is at least nominally Catholic, or about 1.1 billion people. An interesting trend seen recently is a rather sharp increase in the number of young Catholics attending religious services regularly, volunteering at church activities, etc., especially in the developed countries. In other words, as measured here young Catholics are becoming more devout. At the same time, outside of Jewish youths, Catholics have the highest average level of education in developed nations. This seems to open the possibility of developed nations becoming more and more devout as non-devout women have fewer and fewer children while their devout neighbors have more and more. And the ‘undeveloped’ regions that currently have high TFRs also have expanding and devout Catholic populations, especially Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
More interesting extrapolations are possible, aren’t they? What happens if by 2100, when world population has dropped to about 4.5 billion with a large percentage of them being devout Jews, Catholics, and Mormons? Devout members of these faiths tend to be much more homogeneous in their voting habits than their more-secular co-religionists and are overwhelmingly, almost exclusively, conservative. What will be the results of an increasingly religious population worldwide? Other point is the fact that a large number of the elderly population of the next 30 years, especially in the West, is largely anti-religion in its viewpoints?
One outcome that I see as possible combines all of these elements; in the theory or vision the Earth of 2040 has a population of about 7.5 billion people, a majority of Westerners are over 50, anti-religious, or both. The workforce that cares for and supports them is young, devout, and from somewhere else. The societal pressures of a relatively small, poor, devout workforce being under the economic and political thrall of an elderly, wealthy, secular elite will be stunning. If even half of this comes to pass I will be shocked if there are not major changes in not just geo-politics but the very structure of political power and the global economy.
Thursday, September 30, 2004
In this article, ‘A Gay Old Time for the GOP’, Mr. Conason talks about the politics of homosexuality. It isn’t his discussion of various Republican party members who are tolerant of homosexuals that is offensive. No is it his discussion of ‘closeted’ homosexuals within the Republican Party. No, it is his characterization of the majority of Americans.
Poll after poll indicates that the majority of Americans do not think that homosexual unions should be equivalent, equal to, whatever, of marriage. So how does Mr. Conason refer to such people? Well, he calls us “rubes”. See, he is certain that the ‘act’ put on by Republican leaders opposing homosexuals ‘basic rights’ is a con job to snow us ignoramuses in fly-over country. Now, I assumed that perhaps an elected official would subsume his own opinions to represent the desires of those who elected him, but what do I know? After all, I have been manipulated by my fear of homosexuals to the point that I am incapable of thinking for myself.
Will Durst (who can actually be funny) betrays a central conceit of liberals; that those who disagree with them are stupid. His article, a satire as subtle as a hammer, states flatly that stupid people like Bush, smart people like Kerry. Of course, smart people listen to classical music and stupid people listen to country music in this realm, so we get to combine a number of stereotypes favored by liberals.
Yes, I understand Mr. Durst is writing satire. But its only a satire if you agree with the basic concept. If you disagree, its just hateful and offensive. And Mr. Durst makes a big mistake – he equates I.Q. with education level. The two are not related; Albert Einstein never completed grammar school and George W. Bush (who Durst derodes as ‘sim’ elsewhere) has an Ivy League education, for example. Which just points out that Mr. Durst is probably not a Mensa keynote speaker, himself.
Let’s move on to Kiersten Stewart at Gadflyer. In her article, Ms. Stewart performs a trick I like to call ‘statistics equal truth’’; this is where someone hopes that a slew of statistics will make you accept dubious claims. Not likely. And in this case, Ms. Stewarts statistics are waaaaay off. She claims that “Homicide, usually at the hand of an intimate partner, is in fact the leading cause of death for pregnant and recently pregnant women.”
Hmmm. Sounds serious, doesn’t it? Actually, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released a report that is often listed under the headline ‘Homicide Leading Cause of Death for Pregnant Women’, or some such, but it A) isn’t statistically significant, B) is limited geographically, and C) actually says that women who are currently pregnant or have given birth within the last six weeks are less likely to be victims of homicide. Only when the period of ‘pregnant’ is extended to a period of one year after giving birth do those numbers show homicide as a leading cause of death. By about 1% over medical complications. Amongst a primarily young urban poor demographic. Oh, and this only works at all if you discount ‘death by accident’ (i.e., car crashes, slip/fall injuries, etc.). So the NOW articles touting these same things coyly slip in ‘after accidents’, limit the ages to very specific ages, and keep on going.
Don’t get me wrong; women shouldn’t have to worry about homicide at all. And it is a tragedy that so many murders against them are by husbands or boyfriends. But here’s another exercise – go look up the leading cause of death for young men. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Surprised? You see, homicide is a plague on everyone in this country. The honeymoon period discovered in Massachusetts means young women are marginally safer if they are pregnant. See how I can make statistics say all young girls should get pregnant?
Ms. Stewart also uses statistics on the number of women on public assistance who cite domestic violence as a cause of divorce; the numbers are quite high. But those numbers include all women of all age groups. Why is this relevant? Well, Ms. Stewart argues that government incentives for marriage would ‘force’ women to stay in abusive relationships. In making her argument with these particular domestic violence statistics she neglects to mention that the ‘target audience’ would be young couples, both unmarried and newly-married, who have a domestic violence incidence of about 2% - quite low. The goal is to keep these relationships from fragmenting. Other statistics show that an unwed or divorced mother is more likely to be abused in relationships entered into after the termination of the relationship with the father.
In other words, women who marry and stay married to the father of their child are much less likely to ever be abused.
Ms. Stewart also glosses over other, very important, numbers. One-third of all single mothers and their children live in poverty. Here’s the scary part – that number is from 2001. That’s before the recession we’re currently in. If the gain in poverty among single mothers just went back to 1996 levels, its actually 40+% of single mothers and their children living in poverty today. Young couples (and their children) are less likely to be living in poverty.
Ms. Stewart, herself a mother and child of a single mother, admits that having two parents makes it easier. And she skips over the many studies that show that children of single mothers are more likely to fail school, use drugs, commit crimes, etc., etc. (and this is true of children of divorce and of women who never married, making domestic violence moot). This makes Ms. Stewart cross the line into offensive or stupid; either her resistance to marriage is borne out of a dislike of marriage itself or ignorance of the effects of single parent families on kids.
Let us now go on to Ellen Goodman and her article ‘Religious Malpractice’. With the tag line “Catholic Health Plans Augur Frightening Declines in Care” I think the tenor of her article should be clear. She sees the introduction of ‘Catholic health plans’ as a dangerous trend where soon no one will be able to get health care unless the Pope signs off. No, really, the article is about that reactionary. She ignores that the appeal of these plans is that devout Catholics can rest assured that their health care premiums will not help fund an elective procedure they find morally repugnant. She does concede that health care professionals can opt out of providing options that they find morally repulsive, but denies that an institution such as a hospital can. She warns that religious practice will become medical malpractice since a bishop or some-such might determine what can and can’t be done.
Ms. Goodman ignores a few points; first of all, condoms and abortions are available, often free, from Planned Parenthood and government clinics virtually everywhere in this country. Despite her conceit that women won’t have access to these options if Catholic hospitals don’t provide them, she’s wrong. It might be a little inconvenient, but they can be had. And while admitting that Catholic-run hospitals are more than 10% of all hospitals in America, she almost certainly doesn’t know that one of the reasons they want to avoid offering abortions and such is not just the moral objections, but the fact that funding those procedures drains money away from such things as, oh, performing free work that is not optional, such as free surgery for the poor, or much less optional, like plastic surgery for poor kids with cleft palates.
And the final nail in Ms. Goodman’s coffin is her use of quotes from a lawyer who conjectures about Jewish hospitals that ‘circumcise every baby’. Puh-leeze. This is disingenuous to the extreme. As if there is a comparison between not offering abortions and forcing a religious practice on every child that passes through. And I’ll only mention in passing the use of quotes by cough ‘Catholics for a Free Choice’, i.e, Frances Kissling and her fund-raising intern.
Friday, September 10, 2004
Today I was, as usual, perusing a number of news and political views web sites and it brought something into focus for me. Time for some wandering into Deep Thought.
People who know me are often puzzled as to my political views. While I support a number of ideas thought of as ‘liberal’ (support for the poor, involvement in international aid, etc.) I also support many ‘conservative’ ideas (pro-life, minimal government, etc.) I self-describe myself as a conservative. I tried using the term ‘progressive’, but it was (in my opinion) hijacked by the ultra-left. And I hoped the term neo-conservative would be available, but its now used for a certain flavor of militaristic right-wing thought.
The reason I choose ‘conservative’ over ‘liberal’ is this; while both sides make errors in thinking, I believe the liberal side to be guilty of more serious crimes against logic. Oh, don’t get me wrong, conservatives make serious errors (especially of the ‘capitalism good, therefore libertarian economics better’ variety). But where conservatives often make errors as they reach conclusions, liberals more often make errors in their premises.
The example for today is Geov Parrish in his article The Obsession at http://www.workingforchange.org/ (article here). Mr. Parrish is arguing that the use of 9/11 to generate fear is being used by the unscrupulous in politics for their own ends and we need to ‘come to grips’ with 9/11. OK concept within a flawed framework. By that I mean that Mr. Parrish states some things in his article that erode his credibility as a clear thinker.
The first is the following statement;
“The sensible course [to combat terrorism] would be to create fewer enemies, but our rulers in both parties show no inclination to do that, and our wealth and outsized resource consumption will always guarantee a certain level of conflict with the less fortunate. Terrorism is the 21st Century price we will pay for our affluence, our influence, and our meddling.”
Mr. Parrish presents as fact his assumptions. No crime in and of itself, but his assumptions (his premises) are wrong. Yes, wealth can generate envy, but not necessarily conflict. After all, America was arguably the wealthiest nation in the world in 1920 yet we faced no external terrorist or military threats. As he himself pointed out, foreign terrorism was almost non-existent in America until 9/11and the foreign wars we engaged in between 1950 until today have all been wars of our own choosing. During this time world-wide terrorism was born and engulfed a number of countries, something he points out in this very article. So his statement that being a wealthy nation generates conflict is obviously false. And we haven’t even discussed nations such as Japan, or Sweden.
And the off-hand comment about ‘outsized resource consumption’ is disingenuous. Americans do consume a great deal per-capita, and this is disproportionate to our population. It is not, however, quite so disproportionate to our productivity. In other words, while Americans use more power, wood, etc. per person than any other group of people, they also produce more goods, services, etc. per person. While it still doesn’t offset the disparity in consumption, it makes the cause-effect relationship between making and having much more clear.
More importantly, the only terrorists I know of that commit acts with the goal of ‘fighting America’s over-consumption’ are groups like Earth Now!, i.e., mainly American kids who wore Tommy Hilfiger while attending state college with federal student loans as they realized that Americans consume too much. [It should be obvious that I have little more than contempt for those who destroy the lives and livelihoods of others in the name of ‘trees’ or ‘anti-consumerism’. While environmental causes are important and protests, etc. are warranted, vandalism and terror are never warranted.]. So Mr. Parrish’s second little gem there is as hollow as his first.
Next is his contention that our ‘affluence, influence, and meddling’ must result in our being the target of terrorism. I’ve already discussed the mistaken idea that being affluent must result in being attacked. Let’s talk about influence.
First of all, ‘influence’ is a broad term. Let’s assume he means international political influence. Again, like ‘wealth’, above, I don’t think this holds water. Even during the Cold War, when America’s political influence was matched against the Soviet Union, Mr. Parrish states we had no terrorist attacks in America (other than domestic). We supported Israel more fully then, we influenced and ‘meddled’ in world affairs more often, more aggressively, and with more drastic results.
Don’t mistake me; I do believe that America was and will continue to be attacked because of her influence, politics, and actions in international politics. I just don’t think that it is the fact of being influential that makes America a target. It is the fact that America is opposed to Islamo-fascism.
An Islamic commentator recently stated (I paraphrase) ‘almost all Muslims are not terrorists. But almost all terrorists are Muslims’. I will state this clearly as my own opinion – Islamic culture stands in opposition to Western culture in general and American culture in particular. This is stated most explicitly by al-Qaeda, who use the work In the Shade of the Qu’ran as the basis for their ideology. In this work the Islamic theologian Sayed Qatb argues that the separation of church and state leads inexorably toward an immoral government/state that actively corrupts those that live within it. Therefore, those within this ungodly state are corrupt, as well. Qatb’s works (especially his Milestones) have been the ideological sources of terrorist groups almost since he wrote them in the ‘50’s.
Let me be more clear. Qatb regarded Western Civilization with revulsion. Our religions are seen as Ignorance, our customs as corrupt, and our political ideals as evil. Groups such as Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda, etc., also view us the same way. If we were become completely isolationist and self-sufficient we would still be viewed as inherently corrupt, inherently evil, and by our very nature a threat to be destroyed. This is forgotten at great peril. We are not in a situation where if we just do the right thing, pass the right law, and appease the right people it ‘goes away’. To these groups this can only end with the destruction or serious decline of Western democracy.
So it isn’t that fact that we are influential or that we use that influence. It’s the fact that we are what we are that is causing terrorism to affect us.
Moving along, Mr. Parrish later says;
“The invasion of Iraq, and the Bush endorsement of Ariel Sharon's ongoing war on Palestinians, have done more between them than anything Al-Qaeda or its brethren could have done themselves to ensure a steady flow of new recruits for the jihad.”
I want to focus on the phrase “…Sharon’s ongoing war on Palestinians…”. I don’t know what rock Mr. Parrish has been living under since 1948, but he has a lot of company. There is an entire school of thought, more and more common on university campuses, that Israel is this terrible aggressor that is trying to eradicate the defenseless Palestinians. They speak of Israel’s ‘illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank”, and the ‘atrocities’ Israeli military personnel commit.
The Palestinian councils, groups, and other leaders all admit that their goal is the destruction of Israel as a nation. The neighboring Arab states all hold that they desire or actively work for the destruction of Israel. Arab politicians have admitted for at least 40 years that the Palestinian refugees have been denied citizenship in their countries so that they may be used as a tool to destroy Israel. Arab nations push the UN resolution for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes despite the fact that so such right has ever been granted to any other group of refugees in history, including under UN mandates – and Arab leaders speak openly that this right of return is to be used to destroy Israel.(By the way, when Israel tried to resettle refugees in Gaza (in other words, give them land and homes in Israel) they were forbidden to do so by the UN!). The UN defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone who lived in the region between 1946-1948 and left during the war, losing a place of residence, even if they had an apartment while the worked for the British government or Jewish businesses while a temporary worker. Even more amazingly, any descendent of a refugee is also a refugee. So the initial 914,000 refugees in 1950 is now more than 4 million people. And Arab nations will grant none of them citizenship because it would remove a weapon from their anti-Israel arsenal.*
The charter of the PLO calls specifically for the destruction of Israel. It also states that armed struggle is not a ‘tactical phase’, but the overall strategy of the destruction of Israel and that they plan to organize all education and business toward the destruction of Israel by ‘commando’ activities. Although it has been ‘amended’ to remove such language, PLO Headquarters and their official offices still proudly display the original document. All other Islamic terrorist organizations have similar charters or claims that their goal is the destruction of Israel (including al-Qaeda).
These groups, especially the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, continue to conduct serious terror attacks on Israel. Their favored attacks are ambushes of soldiers and the use of suicide bombers to kill civilians. Suicide bombs have been detonated on buses, in markets, at hotels, and other places where civilians gather. Several Arab and Islamic organizations gift the mothers of suicide bombers with money and gifts. More than 200 Israeli civilians were killed by suicide bombers between July 2000 and May 2002 alone. Terror groups are eager to claim responsibility and speak openly of recruiting more suicide bombers (Al-Aqsa even sponsors a “Martyr’s Summer Camp” for children).
Pardon my long exposition, but doesn’t it sound like war had been declared on Israel long before Sharon was Prime Minister? Don’t get me wrong – Israel has screwed some things up and over-reacted. Palestinian civilians have been killed, including children. But the big difference is that the vast majority of Palestinian deaths caused by Israeli forces are of Palestinian combatants (about 90%) while Israelis killed by Palestinians are mainly civilians (over 80%)**. I think that the statement about “Sharon’s war on Palestinians” is disingenuous. Sharon is trying to prevent terrorists from setting off bombs in pizzerias, not carpet-bombing refugee camps. This is emotional rhetoric, not a serious attempt to explain why terrorists are killing civilians.
This leads me back to where I started; the differences in the sorts of errors made by conservatives and liberals. I think this is pretty stark in Mr. Parrish’s article. The solution to terror, it seems, lies not with terrorists, but with us. We ‘meddle’, we ‘consume too many resources’, we are ‘wealthy’. Israel’s attempts to protect itself from terrorist groups bent on destroying it is a ‘war on Palestinians’. This is pointing the finger at those being attacked by terrorists and saying ‘you are to blame’. This is akin to telling an abused woman ‘if you didn’t antagonize him, he wouldn’t hit you’.
Another telling phrase is way back in that first quote. Mr. Parrish says “The sensible course is to create fewer enemies…”. See, we created them – its our fault. There isn’t anything to do about the enemies we have, so we should try to make fewer of them in the future. Its all passive – don’t upset them, don’t have influence, don’t participate.
The bully beats you because he’s jealous. The rapist attacked you because you wore a tight sweater. Al-Qaeda killed all those Americans because we aren’t devout Muslims. Its all the same argument.
* Another interesting fact about the refugees; the total Arab population in Palestine in 1948 was about 1.2 million people. After the 1948 War of Independence about 180,000 stayed in Israel (and became Israeli citizens after the war, by the way) and about 600,000 were in areas not part of Israel. So either the refugees were composed of 200,000 couples who each had 2.5 children in 2 years, or the UN granted refugee status to a lot of non-refugees. More interestingly yet, the refugee population in 1990 was 2.4 million people. In 1995 it was listed as 3.2 million, an increase of about 6%. The birthrate at that time was only 3.2% growth. So even if we assume that no one died, left the camps, or otherwise moved beyond the status of Palestinian Refugee (meaning, living in a refugee camp), where the heck did the extra refugees come from?
** Per HonestReporting.com
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
You read that right - close-minded secular humanists. An old pet peeve of mine from waaaay back, from even before I was religious.Here's the drill - there is a certain sub-set of secular humanists that are actively antagonistic toward religion and the religious. They tend to self-identify in one or more of the following ways; 1) they are aggressive in labelling themselves atheists (i.e., you don't need to ask); 2) they are adamant that they are not agnostic; 3) they are Objectivists with a capital 'O'; they identify themselves as anarcho-capitalists (a real oxymoron).
These sorts tend to have a train of thought that leads them to a certain level of blindness, a place where they are incapable of objective thought. Here's how it generally goes. A: there is no objective evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity. B: therefore, there is no logical way to believe in a god, gods, or any form of deity-related religion. So far, we're OK - its the next couple that get weird. C: therefore, anyone who believes in god, gods, or follows a deity-based religion is doing so for non-logical reasons. D: therefore, such people are incapable of thinking rationally. E: therefore, their ideas are inherently irrational and , thus, dangerous.
There aren't many people that follow this train full-blown (although more than you think). But there are a lot of people who go down this path quite some way before stopping. This path is more dangerous than you think because it means that the holders of such ideas use the rationale that they are more objective than others to reject ideas, concepts, and arguments without objectively examining them. In other words, their belief in their own inherent intellectual superiority traps them in to the logical fallacy of circular reasoning. Never good.
The place I run into this mental block most often is the debate over fetal stem cell research. Most 'rational, objective' atheists I run into have baldly told me 'you just think that because your superstitious beliefs prevent you from thinking for yourself' (a direct quote). They then do not address my key point; thus far adult stem cell treatments have been dramatically more successful than any fetal stem cell research. The results that fetal stem cell researchers hint may be years or decades away is already being acheived with so-called 'alternate' adult stem cell work.
In other words, my argument is that the use of fetal stem cells isn't warranted; most of the work with fetal stem cells have been a total failure, many of the 'successes' have been marginal improvements in treatments that still ultimately fail, and the moral issues are a quagmire. Why not focus on adult stem cell research, where the results continue to be amazing? (for more on this, start with http://rossolson.org/bioethics/stem_cell.html).
When I re-tried this argument, the result was, again, a rant against religion even though my statements were as utilitarian as his.
Go to any big forum online where such issues as abortion, stem-cells, politics, etc. are debated and you can see this same error in many degrees; "if you are religious, you cannot think". Watch for it. I have a friend from college who is firmly opposed to abortion. She is an atheist who feels that Aristotlean logic leads to the conclusion that abortion is immoral. She was booted out of her college Objectivist group because of her 'irrational adherence to religious concepts' before she could explain her logic. In her opinion, the others in the group assumed that if she agreed with the stance of religious people, her position could not be rational for any reason.
One of the people that I argued with about this is the person who calls himself Roman Piso. Google for this guy; he's hilarious. He insists that all ancient writings (up to, oh, about 1400) and a large number of modern works were forged by a single ruling group, all inter-related and, effectively, from one family. The Old Testament, the New Testament, the works of Pliny, Homer, Josephus, Tacitus, Julius Caesar - all faked. This family further totally dominates all religions and governments. The Caesars, the Holy Roman Emperors, the Popes, the Kings of Europe - all puppets to the secret masters, the Pisos. All source materials are faked, but he has learned to see through all the lies, all the obfuscations. By carefully understanding which words are true and which are fake, which are encoded and by whom and when, and by understanding how they worked, and (most importantly) by being one of the rare few who are smarter than some of the greatest minds that have ever trod the Earth, this man has revelaed the truth. Every other critic, historian, and archaeologist is a fool, a babbling moron beside Roman Piso. His proof? not one of these "experts" agrees with him.
His thinking is not so far removed from some Objectivists, I think.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
This time out - the recent statement by the Vatican on Feminism and its aftermath.
(I love the word 'aftermath' - implies something "went down", doesn't it?)
Cardinal Ratzinger (head of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith) said in this 37 page pamphlet that makes a number of points. One of the most critical is that governments should focus on helping working women so that they do not have to choose between families or careers. The document also criticizes attempts to create an adversarial relationship between men and women, discusses the importance of women within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and decries the treatment of the work of women in the home as 'less important or less valuable than the work of women outside the home.
These points seem to be, if not well-received, 'under the radar'. The ones that cause real reaction are the statements on post-modern attempts to deconstruct gender. Cardinal Ratzinger challenges such attempts head-on as attempts to deny reality in the form of biology. Men and women are different in their essential nature and such ideas as 'male' and 'female' are not merely constructs of society and conditioning. Ratzinger argues that attempts by ideological feminists to state otherwise will have far reaching negative effects, some of which we are already seeing in assaults on the concept of family and marriage.
This document calso clearly condemns the subjugation of women and calls for a collaboration between men and women.
While I thought it was a very interesting work, where the core concepts of feminist thought (male and female equality; freedom for women to work; the valuation of women's work in the home; no sugjugation of women; etc.) are supported but the excesses of post-modern thought are discarded (as they should be). But here are some sample headlines concerning this document; 'Vatican letter denounces 'lethal effect' of feminism' (Washington Post); 'Vatian Fears Feminism Threatens Families' (ABCNews.com); 'Vatican Fears Effects of Feminism' (AJC). Many of these articles parrot one another as they mention the same things that i do; the core concepts of feminism are supported, but radical attempts to create adversarial relationships or to erase the biological differences between the sexes are condemned.
On NPR I heard a commentator state that (I paraphrase) "...women met the document with irritation or amusement...". But there seem to be quite a few who support it (check the forums at catholic.com, or any Baptist, Evangelical, etc. web site for the responses of women).As a matter of fact, some prominents Protestant speakers have thrown their support behind the document (although they shy away from 'that Mary stuff').
All in all, I think that we have two things going on in the media. First, they use misleading headlines. The Vatican doesn't 'fear' anything directly, they are concerned with the possible impact of certain ideologies on society. More importantly, the majority of the document supports equal rights for women. This reflects a long-standing dedication from John Paul II and the Magisterium to support and champion women. JP II has issued dozens of papers, encyclicals, and pamphlets support equal pay, equal treatment, and freedom from oppression for women. Most of the 'experts' quoted in the article either say that the document is no big deal or they point out the support to women that JP II has always given. The only real critical voice is Francis Kissling, and anti-Catolic media hound, and a professor that worries that it will be misused.
In short, a non-controversy blown up into one.