Tuesday, December 08, 2009


The business about the hacked e-mails is dredging up all the nonsense that has been spread around about global warming. But it is also reminding me how much nonsense we’ve all swallowed for a very long time.

Lyndon Johnson thought we could have “guns and butter” during the Vietnam war. Or thought he could convince us that we could. But the draft continued, and not only were young men faced with the prospect of guns and no butter, those guns just might take their lives. Nixon eliminated the draft, so that the illusion of guns and butter could become more plausible to more people. There are other reasons for having a volunteer army, but most of us, who don’t have a family member in the military, have become more disconnected from the waging of war, which thus becomes easier.

Politicians have always wanted to tell us that we can have what we want without having to pay for it. Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and other Republicans pushed the idea that the lower the tax rates, the more taxes would be collected. That result depended on numerous assumptions that appear not to be true. It did make an effective campaign message, especially when combined with the message that the government was wasting your taxes anyway. This left out the utility of collective action on roads, communications, electrical transmission, schools, and any number of other things that a large and complex society needs. And those same politicians felt that any amount of spending on defense-related items was necessary and legitimate. So defense is the largest part of our national budget, while civilian infrastructure decays.

Many people now believe that lowering taxes will give us ponies and drown the ugly government in the bathtub, and that this will be a good thing. They have been told that for three decades now, by people in that same government, so it must be true, never mind the contradiction. They join the hysterical tea party movement to make their feelings known.

The Clinton administration was passive; instead of actively propagating nonsense, it remained inert when opportunities arose, like the end of the Soviet Union. This allowed the free-marketeers to raid what was left of that agglomeration and removed attention from the fact that Russia’s people and nuclear weapons continued to exist. It also allowed a celebration of the unipolar moment to overtake good sense in relations with most other countries while sub-national threats grew.

The Bush administration was the most active in marketing nonsense. It doesn’t much matter whether this came about because of a president who loved nonsense and fart jokes or because large corporations were running wild with the messages they felt were necessary to their future profit or because Karl Rove thought that it was a good idea to encourage a know-nothing Republican base. Nonsense was what we got, and, even if you tried to plug your ears and think, it corrupts your mind. Eight years of that.

I’d like to think that we’re coming out of that mass stupidity. Like any detox, it’s going to take time. The media fell prey to it, which is why so many of us in the blogosphere have so much bad to say about the MSM. It’s not clear that they are recovering; James Fallows, of the MSM, produced a series of blog posts about the irresponsible news coverage of President Obama’s trip to China and today compares the New York Times’s and Washington Post’s coverage of the climate change “controversy.” He reports that the Times actually describes the sides as "’decades of peer-reviewed science" and politically-motivated opposition,” whereas the Post provides the familiar “critics say”, as if Sarah Palin knew what she was talking about. I don’t see much of the MSM following Fallows’s lead, and I am looking forward to seeing whether he and The Atlantic feel that his observations are worthy of a full article.

It may be postmodernism with a vengeance. Stanley Fish pens an appreciation of Sarah Palin’s book; it’s an autobiography, he says, and it doesn’t matter whether an autobiography is true or not but whether it represents its writer. Or something like that. Fish is, of course, a postmodernist of the left and also a professor of law, according to the Times blog. Wikipedia identifies him as a literary theorist, which is the way I had thought of him. It seems naïve not to consider that Palin might have had other motives in writing the book than simply expressing her essence, but I’m not a literary theorist.

Or we learn that Moscow hopes to lessen its snowfall by cloud seeding. I thought that most people knew that cloud seeding was a scam, but apparently not the Los Angeles Times. Or maybe they just thought that it was a good story, bringing to light the feelings of a number of Russian scientists and politicians in the postmodern mode. And maybe it can overcome global warming!

Speaking of the Russians, I can’t figure out why a conservative European commentator would swallow the Russian line on the Baltics to try to discredit the Soviet Union. Or something. I’m not good at all those twists and turns. Deconstruction here.

We’ve been stupefied by the idea that health insurance from employers is a “benefit,” when its cost is balanced by what you don’t get in wages. That was why it was started back in the days of wartime wage controls, but hey!

And now we know that yes indeed, Osama bin Laden was at Tora Bora when we called off the chase. I still don’t know why, and Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t seem to be saying. We also know that ACORN is not a threat to the republic, but it’s achieved symbolic stature at the tea parties, so we’ll probably hear more about its supposed wrongdoings.

Debate goes on forever in the Senate over the health care reform bill, and apparently an AIPAC-sponsored bill for sanctions against Iran will be quietly passed tonight unless one senator can find some spine (M.J. Rosenberg, Stephen Walt). Congress is a rich source of these contradictions and learned ignorance, combined with that lack of spine. Legislating under the best of circumstances may be about as pretty as sausage-making, but what we’ve got right now is worse. Although the Senate did duck the Stupak bullet today.

And then there are the amplifiers of the nonsense, not to mention what is happening to Christianity.

Paul Krugman tries to figure out why
Nothing gets me as many crazed emails and comments as any reference to climate change. The anti-global-warming people are just filled with hate for anyone who suggests that maybe, just maybe, the vast majority of scientists are right.
I've always believed that policy should be based on sound science, not politics. Mnmh, yeah. Me too. Like that the past decade is the warmest on record.

This is just a sampling from today. Tomorrow there will be another load. We have too many real problems to spend time refuting nonsense. In science, we talk about the signal-to-noise ratio. If we’re going to solve our problems, we need more signal, less noise.


troutsky said...

Broken record, I know, but might I suggest replacing the nebulous "post-modern" with the structural "capitalism" and see if what seems upside down is righted.

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