There is disturbing news, and then there is disturbing news coverage. To me, the past weekend’s reporting on the death of “Super Sniper” Chris Kyle was much more disturbing news coverage than it was disturbing news.
Here I am in California, for another few hours anyway. I’m reading the newspapers, watching the news on TV, and listening and talking to real people. Everyone is paying attention to the Fiscal Cliff dramatics, but with less intensity than you might expect, given the hype about how dire the consequences will be if no deal is struck before midnight rings in 2013 in a couple of days. It seems that no one is really engaged; no one is really expecting much.
One thing that I’m noticing is the nearly universal pessimism, not to mention cynicism, that people down here express whenever the subject turns to the dysfunctional U. S. federal government. No one expects a comprehensive deal, and few hold any hope that the likely deal, to extend the middle class tax cuts and the extra unemployment benefits, will do anything more than yet again defer any comprehensive agreement.
And no one here is expressing faith in the legislators, who will, as they always do, calculate their fiscal principles in the currency of their chances for re-election. Continue reading
One of the benefits of my three-month hiatus from this blog is that I avoided all temptation to write compulsively about the American presidential election.
But now that I’m back, I really do have to post one — and only one — analysis of the result, and its implications.
To start, and this is directed to all of my left-leaning confreres and relatives south of the border, Barack Obama did not win anything that could honestly be called a “mandate.” Not a mandate for change, not a mandate for staying the course, and certainly not a personal mandate.
Now that even the Koch brothers’ personal scientists have conceded the reality of climate change, it’s time to move on from the rather silly question of whether it’s happening to the very real question of what might it do to us?
One way to answer the question is to investigate what climate change has done to civilizations in the past. The results of this approach were the subject of an article published online by New Scientist on August 6th (and due to be paywalled next week).
“Climate change: the great civilization destroyer?” summarizes recent research into the relationship between sustained climate change and the decline of civilizations both ancient and modern. From the collapse of the Akkadians in 2200 BC to the frequency of wars in Europe in recent centuries, the evidence suggests, societies put under pressure by climate change (or by neighbouring societies feeling climate stress) were liable to catastrophic failure.
A growing chorus of economists has lately been trumpeting the undeniable truth that, badly expressed, got President Obama into trouble with the right-wing media last week.
What Obama said was that no one builds a successful business alone. There’s a necessary infrastructure of roads and bridges and schools and hospitals, of banking and trade and tax regulations, and much more.
While Obama’s “No, you didn’t” was willfully transferred from building the roads and bridges that he was talking about into a cynically inaccurate claim that the President doesn’t give any credit to individual initiative, at least some of the media spent a little of their time discussing what he’d actually meant.
I’ve dealt in this space with both The Self-Made Myth (reviewed and Robert Reich’s Aftershock.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz appeared recently on The Daily Show, promoting his latest book, The Price of Inequality. Stiglitz outlined the main ideas of the book in “The 1 Percent’s Problem,” published by Vanity Fair in May.
Stiglitz’s article caused quite a stir for arguing that it’s in the selfish interest of the super-rich to make sure that the not-rich get a bigger piece of the pie.
Part of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s initial reaction to the Aurora theatre massacre was to assure citizens that the act of a “deranged” individual would not be allowed to take away Americans’ freedom to lock and load with private arsenals of assault weapons.
Boy, am I relieved. For a moment there, I thought that yet another slaughter of the innocents might threaten Bubba’s right to own enough weaponry to wage a small civil war.
No one is talking at the moment about the squirrel gun in the barn, or even the .38 Special in the nightstand. Maybe some places have too many squirrels, and maybe some neighbourhoods have too many thugs.
But when Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin responded to the immediate calls for a little gun control by suggesting that a well-armed “responsible citizen” in the movie theatre might have prevented some of the carnage by cutting loose with his own weapon(s), you really had to wonder just what planet these people inhabit.
What’s wrong with society?
According to some on the intellectual right, it’s everyone on the intellectual left.
According to Russell Jacoby, that claim is yet another sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary conservative thought.
In “Dreaming of a World without Intellectuals,” published on July 12th by The Chronicle Review as a response to David Gelernter’s America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats), Jacoby takes on the idea that America was just fine, thank you, until the 60′s, when campus radicals began the deadly revolution that continues to poison society.
I have no intention of reading Gelernter’s book — the title gives away its core biases without the bother of reading the rest of it. But I’ll gladly take any chance I can get to share vicariously in Jacoby’s evisceration of yet another right-wing champion.
When a personality that’s not me commits a crime, is it a fair punishment to incarcerate the body we share?
And if it’s not, then doesn’t a part of me that I don’t even know get away with it, even get away with murder?
These are the kinds of brain-twisting questions that loom over criminal justice thanks to advances in neuropsychology. And these are the questions that give nightmares to the many who worry about a science-induced end to criminal justice as we know it.
In “Split personality crime: who is guilty?” — a soon to be “paywalled” article published by New Scientist on July 5th — Jessica Hamzelou reports on a study of patients diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder.
Much of this week’s American political news has been dominated by two high-profile and highly-anticipated Supreme Court decisions.
The first decision struck down much of Arizona’s intrusion into immigration law, on the grounds not that the law violates individual rights but on the narrower legal grounds that immigration is a federal concern. The second, even more prominent decision gave Barack Obama a win (and Mitt Romney a campaign issue) on medical care.
But it’s neither of these decisions about which I want to write.
Instead, I’m motivated by the less-trumpeted and more predictable Supreme Court decision that upheld the Republican Wyoming legislature’s repeal of a law banning large third-party campaign contributions. This decision was along the same 5-4 ideological lines that had previously removed campaign contribution limits from federal elections.
If I say something you don’t like, I hope that you’ll be civil enough to engage the point of disagreement directly, without undue derision or invective. You would be right to expect the same graciousness from me.
But that isn’t always what happens when science encounters resistance from an audience that is, for one reason or another, biased against it.
My observations are prompted by a dispiriting, if unsurprising, reaction in the online version of the local broadsheet daily to Nature‘s publication of an article titled “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosystem” (Nature, June 6, 2012).