Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On carbon neutrality

Let's start with the links. Here's Wikipedia on the subject. And here's a killer bit about Al Gore's supposed carbon neutrality - note particularly that he's apparently buying his offsets from a company of which he's cofounder and chair. And of course here is a piece about Bush's Crawford ranch, with its geothermal climate control, rainwater collection system, graywater recycling, and modest size.

What I bring from these stories is a Lenten theme, weirdly enough. It's the injunction to pray in secret, to wash your face and smile on the street - not to be like "the hypocrites" who hire people to beat drums ahead of them on their way to make their offerings at the Temple. It'd be so much easier to take the Terrible ThreatTM of (anthropogenic?) global warming seriously if its Jeremiahs were less ludicrous.

Instead, as I've said before, my position on global warming, cooling, spinning, magnetic-pole-changing, etc., etc., is that the Earth has been doing these things, willy-nilly, for some five billion years now; it behooves us, as a species that may (for the first time in global history) have some modicum of control over its destiny, to try to make ourselves and our society as adaptable as possible to major changes. We know that we as a species already survived ice; we know that large numbers of people already survive heat, though there are obvious problems such as disease, crops, and how to get everyone to like warm beer. We already genetically engineer lots of plants to suit our current needs; is anybody working on genetically engineering very heat-tolerant and cold-tolerant and drought-tolerant and wet-roots-tolerant strains of foodstuffs? If not, that's where our concentration should be. Water purification and desalination: another no-brainer. Inoculations against diseases more common in lower latitudes, especially those horribles for which the main therapy right now is "get the uninfected out of Dodge and wait for it to play itself out."

When the Earth's climate changes, it will be beyond us to stop it - and any efforts we make that have an actual effect, however small, are bound to have other, unintended consequences as well (see: rabbits, Australia). If we limit our attempts at ginormous changes to the social and technical, it seems obvious to me that we also limit those unintended consequences. That alone, even leaving aside the do-ability factor, brings me to my firmly held opinion that our better course is to prepare ourselves, not to try to hold back the tide.

Social engineering, then? No... I'm agin' it. But if we're going to try to take some kind of major action, I vote for explicitly setting out to build a resilient society rather than (a) giving very rich people feel-good points plus a free pass to contribute as much carbon to the equation as they like, (b) setting up a "carbon underclass" of people who, because they can't afford a "carbon usage tax" or magical (if ineffective) offsets, simply have to live as our grandparents and great-grandparents did, and (c) holding down the development of the undeveloped and underdeveloped world in the name of The Environment. And as I (and others, I'm sure) observed somewhere (I'm sorry, it's after midnight and I don't recall whether it was in some blog post of mine or a comment left elsewhere), if those selfsame Jeremiahs actually believed the drivel they're spouting, they'd be doing things differently: if Gore thought we were decades from "buh-bye Manhattan," he'd be living... um... the way Bush does.

So it comes down to power, as always. Sometimes I imagine Gore in his carefully offset obscenely energy-hungry mansion, giggling like a little girl over how much more influence and exposure he has now than he did as a Presidential candidate.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What a maroon

I just stumbled across Mark Kleiman at Reality-Based (?!) Community, via this Instapundit bit. Kleiman has a "thoughtful and damning critique" (not a quote from Kleiman or anyone else but my characterization of how he seems to appear to himself in that spotted and wavy glass he evidently calls "reality") of Mark Steyn. In sum, Kleiman claims that Steyn advocates genocide against Muslims. He bases this claim on this passage from an interview Steyn gave to Christopher Hitchens:

Why did Bosnia collapse into the worst slaughter in Europe since World War Two? In the thirty years before the meltdown, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43 percent to 31 percent of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26 percent to 44 percent. In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography—except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out—as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em. The problem that Europe faces is that Bosnia’s demographic profile is now the model for the entire continent.

And here's what Kleiman says about that passage:

Hitchens let this pass in silence, except for a little bit of tut-tutting about the differences among Muslims, but let's call it by its real name: Steyn is justifying genocide, both retrospectively in Bosnia and prospectively in the rest of Europe.

He implies that the silence of everybody else from "Red bloggers" to anti-Holocaust groups on the subject (of Steyn's call for Euro-genocide, that is) is tacit agreement with Steyn's premise as he - Kleiman - interprets it. He of course overlooks the fact that all this silence might just mean that his interpretation... um... doesn't fit the facts.

Only someone who had never read one other word of Steyn could interpret that statement as advocacy of genocide. I'll admit that a passing familiarity with Steyn's actual premise on Europe - that demographically, Muslims in Europe are not just outperforming but overwhelming traditional, or ethnic, Europeans, and that therefore the "never again" Europeans had better watch themselves lest they somehow manage to forget the "never" part of that phrase - is a bit helpful.

Kleiman, you listening? (At last I understand the frustration Michelle Malkin's opponents feel when they can't comment on her blog - though, given the horrifying examples of comments she received that led her to disable commenting, I don't blame her, and for all I know, Kleiman has been on the receiving end of similar disgusting displays of pique.) Steyn is, was, and has long been warning Europe that they will be faced with "the cold equations" sooner than they expect: Muslims will soon outnumber ethnic Europeans (forgive the awkward phrase - I'm at a loss for what to call non-Muslim Europeans besides the even more awkward, and less descriptive, "non-Muslim Europeans") if current demographic trends continue, and birth rates among ethnic Europeans and Muslims in Europe and elsewhere pretty much guarantee that current democratic trends will continue. Europe has a history of using genocide as a weapon against "threatening" ethnic groups. It has happened in living memory, not just in the Holocaust but thereafter in Bosnia, as he points out in the passage from the Hitchens interview. Muslims are a potentially "threatening" ethnic group, in that all over Europe, Muslim communities have resisted assimilation and have insisted that they are or should be bound by other rules - sometimes even other laws than the rest of the society in which they live. Some of these rules, and certainly Shari'a law, stand in direct opposition to the Enlightenment values on which European civilization is supposedly based.

Steyn's assertion is that European "civilization" is a veneer. It's an effective, beautiful, and in some ways robust veneer, but he writes and speaks from the standpoint that a veneer is not very thick and is vulnerable to accidental or willful rubbing, and that it didn't take a whole heck of a lot to sand through that veneer to expose the barbarity beneath during World War II, for instance.

He doesn't except the rest of western civilization; he just points out that Europe is in a particularly bad position at present: faced with what it - Europe - has tended to view as an existential threat, with feckless domestic policies that do nothing to address that threat, a populist sense not unlike that which allowed Hitler to come to power in the '30s could again prevail in Europe, and we don't want that.

Are we clear?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wonders of modern medicine

You want to know how many different drugs my children are getting at the moment? Three proton pump inhibitors - a different one for each - to block acid production in their stomachs in response to acute gastritis attacks, probably caused by a nasty stomach bug that's going around; two antibiotics - a different one for each of two of them - for strep and an ear infection possibly caused by strep (I assiduously avoid giving antibiotics for ear infections without great cause - but in this case, the older brother with strep is cause enough); two pain relievers, alternating around the clock, for fever reduction and pain management (I normally only medicate fevers if the child is really uncomfortable, figuring that a fever serves a purpose - but in this case, rest trumps allowing body temp to rise for whatever purpose); and one antihistimine being used as a sedative (on doctors' advice! I swear it!) until a couple of nights ago to help one of them sleep around the gastritis; and one narcotic, given in the hospital to two of them over the last two weeks whose gastritis was severe enough to warrant (I'd say require) hospitalization.

Five, count 'em, five trips to the ER. So far five visits to our regular doctor's office. One meltdown by my dear husband addressed to said doctor's office, to the effect that the county hospital is apparently now our primary caregiver and what the bleepity-bleep is our doc doing for us besides rubber-stamping what the ER and peds docs are saying? Four strep cultures and a flu culture. Untold urine and blood samples. One (ugh) stool sample (that was a fun one). A chest X-ray, a belly X-ray, a CAT scan, an ultrasound. More lousy hospital food than I care to remember, none of which was for me, so why should I complain? Five full nights and about seven days in the hospital, plus two (I think) more partial nights. One overnight babysitting issue, precipitated by a five-day business trip by my better (or at least 'other' - the jury was definitely out during the business trip) half. One nor'easter, just to add variety and excitement to our regular (far too regular) route to the ER.

All of this is out of order and minimizes the strenuously resisted panic that's been at the top of my emotional spectrum for the past seventeen days; at the moment, with everyone well medicated and apparently recovering, it all just seems banal. Thank God for the art and science of medicine, and the efficient yet compassionate care of the nurses and docs who have been taking care of us. My title was in no way ironic: while none of what has ailed my kids has been life-threatening (probably - or not too life-threatening anyway), it's been far, far easier to cope because of the tools, therapies, and knowledge of which we've been the beneficiaries.

I was, and am, a fan of minimalism, preventative medicine, medicinal herbs, and providing support to the body while it does the heavy lifting. But the naturopathic options for my child sobbing "Help me... help me..." as he arched, writhed, and twisted in agony just didn't seem all that... compelling somehow. I still advocate doing as little as possible to mess up body chemistry and function - but bring on the morphine, baby, when it's needed: that's what it's for.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Wretchard at Belmont Club was writing recently about Palestine, in particular the terrible price Palestinians pay for their hallowed status as perpetual victims.

Did I just state a chicken-and-egg problem? Are Palestinians poor, insecure, and desperately unhappy because of their refugee status, or are they still considered refugees because their situation is so dire? Well... as Wretchard says,

The pseudonymous Spengler, writing in the Asia Times, argues that Palestine is partly the Frankenstein creation of Western guilt and international fantasy. They are people forced into a time trap, in a kind of ghastly ethnographic museum, except that their native dress consists of explosive wrapped round their waist, and their colorful dances celebratory gunfire fired up to rain down on their heads, because we want to remember them that way.

The comment thread for that post includes a number of observations about the irony of multiculturalism: that once you postulate that all cultures are not just equally valid but equally desirable (or, in practice, that the less first-world - even more, the less American - the culture, the more desirable), and take it as your mission to preserve each native culture unchanged, you've become King Canute standing in the incoming tide. Worse, you've become the paternalist you deride.

Orson Scott Card wrote about this phenomenon in Speaker for the Dead. Humanity's first contact with another intelligence resulted in the destruction of that other intelligence. So, long afterward, when humans discover another intelligent species, they strictly constrain themselves from "polluting" that species in any way: like anthropologists they spend time with this other species and observe them, but the human scientists carry no artifacts (they do wear clothes!) and say nothing, ask no questions that would provide clues to human culture. No asking about hunting, for instance, because if this species doesn't hunt, asking them about hunting might encourage them to explore this species-inauthentic activity for themselves.

Eventually a representative of this other species, the pequeninos, finally snaps, accusing the human observers of withholding valuable information from them not out of respect for their culture but out of fear. (It turns out that the human enclave on this planet, which the humans believed to be protected by an impassible barrier, had been under close observation by the pequeninos from the get-go: a goldfish bowl.) Why not share agriculture with these hunter-gatherers so that they can thrive, work less hard, develop more technology on their own, have more offspring? Because if the pequeninos are given this head start, they may sooner pose a threat to humanity. So says this "piggie," as they're colloquially known.

And so. When we say, "The Muslim world isn't ready for democracy," "The Palestinians can't help being disaffected," "There's no sense in opposing tribalism in Africa," or "Western culture is supplanting authentic native cultures all over the world, and we need to stop," what is our real motive? Does it even matter? If our motive is in fact respect for these different cultures, who are we to tell them what they can and can't do, should and shouldn't adopt? More, if we can save them some stumbles on the road to first-world status, aren't we negligent if we withhold our experiences? Yes, it smacks of paternalism, as I said - but at least it's a more benevolent paternalism than the alternative form, which pats a third-world culture on the head and says, "You're not mature enough," then stands back and watches, bemused (or even sticks out a foot to trip them), as they make mistakes we can see coming.

On the other hand, if our motive is to keep these other cultures "authentic" (hence relatively primitive) so that they pose less of a threat to us, we're first, cowards, and second, obtuse.

I know an ardent nativist. He has traveled fairly extensively in the Southern Hemisphere and considers any incursion of American or Western culture there a travesty, an ugly blot on the pristine fabric of native life. And he's convinced that he is on the side of the natives in taking this view. Now, don't get me wrong: I have zero desire to live in a homogeneous world, and great respect for both differences among peoples and the right of every person, and every people, to stay separate if that's their wish. But, as a privileged member of the dominant culture, for this man to try to keep his culture away from others in the name of cultural purity - for the little village, not for the American city - denies the village information and opportunities that could be helpful as well as "polluting." If he's doing it for the natives, he's being paternalistic; if he's doing it for the authenticity of his own experience, he's being selfish. And either way, he's condemning the natives to nastier, more brutish, and shorter lives than they might otherwise enjoy.

Of course he doesn't see it that way. I applaud and share his desire to experience all the great diversity of humanity, even as I hope his tactics fail: whether he likes it or not, all culture is authentic.