Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Conversion of a Noted Ostrich - Plus Beck, heir of King?

Bjorn Lomborg has apparently changed his mind, and now thinks that global warming is the number one planetary crisis priority.  “He's back and generating as many headlines as ever. After years as the world's leading climate change critic, Bjorn Lomberg  is now saying that we need to put it at the top of our priority list. What's that, he has a new book out? Indeed, and in , Lomborg, an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, goes so far as to say we should spend $100 billion a year to sort it out. The Guardian calls it a Major U-Turn, one "that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby".

Richard Loosemore comments: ”The last quote from that article pretty much sums it up: >  'Grant him this: Dude knows how to play the media. Who else could get such attention for adopting a position already held by millions of sensible people?'”

By all means use this conversion on your well-educated but obstinate “ostrich-skeptic.” It’s big stuff. 

But don’t expect the spin machine to stop turning out bright fools to razzle us and dazzle us with incantations that have one aim... to keep us doing nothing.  Take Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, who offers yet another version of the right wing nostrum that lots of people, interacting freely, will bounce around so many ideas, that solutions to problems will naturally appear (or evolve, like species in nature), leading to better times for all. 

Now, mind you, I  absolutely agree with everything I just paraphrased! And much more! For example, Ridley correctly demolishes the opposing foolishness of the left - the insipid pessimism conveyed in liberal-influenced media like the film AVATAR - that modern society is somehow worse than cultures that came earlier, more violent, less kindly or thoughtful. 

Baloney. (In fact the very ubiquity and success of messages like AVATAR is partial disproof of its premise!  Think about that.)

Prof. Steven Pinker already has made it abundantly and decisively clear that humanity is now experiencing unprecedentedly-low levels of violence, per capita, compared to any time in (or before) history.  Likewise increasing levels of education,  freedom and (yes) ethical behavior.  The foolish leftist notion - that we can only continue this progress by chiding people, while frantically ignoring the fact that progress has been made - is certainly insane. It deserves rigorous criticism. 

Nevertheless, the right is far worse.  Take the way their fizzy “optimism” arm-wavings start off by reciting truths - (e.g that ideas do breed and evolve among free/educated people... and civilization has thereby moved forward). Only then, insidiously, they razzle that basic truth into rationalizations for indolence!

Problems will solve themselves, as if by magic!  Ignoring Adam Smith’s cautiously pro-government and anti-oligarchy reasoning, they mis-apply his teachings in order to praise the kind of laissez-faire faith in an “invisible hand” that plays right into the hands of entrenched and conniving oligarchy.

The crux: this fizzing, percolation of ideas and solutions does happen - it can lead to all the great synergies that the optimists proclaim... even the miracle of the runaway positive sum game... the suppsed justification of capitalism.  On the other hand this semi-random idea-churn works best when it then feeds into a process called the modern-western, mixed society, wherein smart men and women in business, the arts and government compare notes, deliberate, negotiate, plan and bring about solutions to problems!

The usual prescription that lies underneath what Bjorn Lomberg used to teach, and that other court rationalizers continue to foist on us, is that men like Marshall and Acheson and Vennevar Bush - who MADE this modern world - should be ignored in favor of a random boiling of freely-exchanged solutions. But the invisible hand is only a metaphor.  Groups of human beings do assess, make and implement plans. Civil servants and politicians and scientists and citizens can and should play at least as big a role as crony CEO golf buddies. 

But the message of the right wing optimism machine is to claim that foresight and deliberation can ONLY be engaged in by corporate masters. Never anybody else.  It ignores how much planning and genuine leadership went into making this present world of low violence and rising hope.

------ Other politically redolent matters -----

Kent Pitman offered this observation about “rights” in the US system of government in light of current events (mosques, immigration, etc “Rights are just promises we make to ourselves on our better days, binding us to the conduct we aspire to, hoping that on our worse days we will not be quick enough or powerful enough to undo them before we regain our sanity.”

As for the incredible gall of Glenn Beck arrogating the mantle of “Heir of Martin Luther King?”  I have one response that may seem unfair, regionalist, even a bit snippy.  On the other hand it says a lot, in a visually powerful way.

Find a map showing those states that were most opposed to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Act. Now compare that map to one showing the regions where Glenn Beck is most popular today.  I mean, geez. Some things ain’t complicated.

More evidence of wasted money in Iraq. Of course the pathetic thing is the failure of anybody on the right to call for a Special Prosecutor, re all this.  If you include possible graft in military support contracts, we’re possibly talking about HUNDREDS of billions.  So where are the people who screeched over never-proved assertions that a few tens of  millions (yes, that is an “M”) might have been pilfered from the UN’s Oil-for-Food program, back in the Clinton years?  What do such people call misdeeds under Bushite direction - three or four orders of magnitude worse - “ancient history.”

Why, oh why, does not President Obama use the Gulf Oil Spill and the Minerals Management Agency scandal as an excuse to appoint a special prosecutor... and then simply let the SP run loose?

BCRion reminds us of this classic. (Note the date!) That is both funny and heartbreaking that it hurts, so bad.
If only, it wasn't true.

--- A little Science... and a boycott. ---

A new, magnetic-zap method for treating depression seems verified & approved.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Norton Security Software promised rebates when I bought packages at Fry’s. EVERY time, they have reneged. The “debit cards” they sent me never worked. The call-in numbers never answered.  I’ll never do business with them or with Kaspersky, ever again.


Stefan Jones said...

DB, have you checked to see if your ISP provides a virus checker / security suite for free? Most of them offer MacAfee or Norton for no charge to subscribers.

* * *

Lomborg's change of mind won't effect the debate one whit. The lobbyists and ideologues who run the FUD campaign will continue to count him as one of their own . . . by simply continuing to point at articles citing his old positions.

Between the administration's cowardice, and the desperation caused by the recession, there is now virtually no chance that organized efforts will be made to limit CO2. The chances will be even slimmer if the GOP takes one of the branches of congress this fall.

I suspect that nothing will be done until it is obvious that we are well and truly fucked, and the solutions remaining to us will be inelegant and draconic. And the blowhards and greedheads and ideologues who lied and smeared to prevent action will be dead and beyond justice.

Rob Perkins said...

I wouldn't install Norton on Glenn Beck's PC's. It just. doesn't. work. right. people.

I've used Alwil's Avast (www.avast.com) for years now, and combined with careful avoidance of porn and free movies/music sites, and not installing toolbars or ever regularly using IE, I have avoided getting a virus for over ten years at any time.

They have a free-for-home-users version, and an upsell dynamic firewall whose only enemy appears to be iTunes.

rewinn said...

Dr Brin, please use the correct terminology. We leftists don't "Chide" ... we "NAG"!

(...and it never works ;-)

Beck's 8/28 rally is should be called "Beck's Failed Rally". When you consider the huge amounts of air time that went into promoting it, the free busses etc, it is quite remarkable that he got only 87,000 attendees (wonder how much per-person it cost?) That's more than attend the average Seattle Seahawks game, so you could say Beck/Palin beat the Seahawks!

But then ... who doesn't beat the Seahawks?

(In defense of the Seachickens, you have to pay to attend their failures, whereas Beck's was for free. Let the market decide!)

Thanks for the interesting link on magnetic therapy for treating depression. Perhaps this will grow into treatment for disorders such as PTSD, offering hope to the 10% or more of our troops deployed in America's greatest self-inflicted wound since the Civil War, officially ended today (...take the good news where you can!)

Tony Fisk said...

BCrion's link is slightly broken (though the fix is obvious)

Egad! I think the Onion definitely has a whole swathe for the prediction registry right there!!

Tony Fisk said...

Not sure I *quite* agree with you on Avatar's jaundiced view of modern society.

I thought it more a take on the Iraq adventure, and outfits like BlackWhateverTheyAreNow.

I have hopes and hypotheticals for the sequel (as I also once had for *ahem!* The Matrix)

strut: a support. also a java-based ORM framework. A buzzword used to make the basically straightforward seem quite complex, thereby supporting coders' aspirations to gurudom.

David Brin said...

Stefan, hope springs eternal, and Lomberg's conversion really is big ammo for ostriches.

The biggest OUGHT to be the prospect of liability. Cite tobacco, over and over again. I'd love to get on one of those fox shows and tell the talking heads that they, personally, may be liable if an angry, overheated and soggy world looks for rich people to blame.

Tony Fisk said...

Lomborg's 'conversion' seems to be pitched as 'I always thought CC real, but never thought it warranted a high priority. Priorities have changed.'

Ah well, I'll take it!

Patricia Mathews said...

The best comment of this post: The foolish leftist notion - that we can only continue this progress by chiding people, while frantically ignoring the fact that progress has been made - is certainly insane. It deserves rigorous criticism."

I call it the "Won't take 'yes' for an answer" disease and it's why I quit reading Ms decades ago and have followed it rapidly by the other magazines on the left. (Dumped the ones on the right when they stopped reasoning and took up duckspeak.)

I'm on the left and I DO recognize and celebrate victories. Why can't they? Why, because things aren't PERFECT yet! Sorry, folks. You want perfect, deal with angels, Not talking apes.

Ilithi Dragon said...


That's always been one of my biggest peeves, the notion that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, that all this civilization is bringing us to ruin, or things are only getting worse/more devastating/etc.

It is not the sole province of the so-called 'left', however. I've seen similar sentiments coming from the so-called 'right' just as often. It tends to take a more religious tone, or a more 'humans destroy themselves by inevitable/unchangeable nature' tone, instead of an 'advanced society/industry/corporation/civilization will doom us all! Back t nature!' tone, but those are just surface details. The base sentiments are largely the same. The world is doomed. The future can never be better. The past was far greater and more glorious, or more pure and more natural, or 'meant to be.' Nothing we can achieve can surpass the horrors and pain we have inflicted on ourselves. Humanity is doomed to self destruction.

I could go on and on. Or just point to the couple books worth of rants Dr. Brin has made on the subject.

Two great counter-arguments that can be used to stop a lot of people ranting down the doom-and-gloom path in their tracks (and are still just flipping awesome and totally mind-blowing):

1. We have put men on the moon. Several times.

2. We have put a self-guided robot on Mars. Three times.

Tony Fisk said...

Is the appeal of romanticism so hard to fathom?

"The past is a different country, they do things differently there"

However, we understand what they do there, and are more familiar with it than what we can make out from our fractured vision of the Undiscovered Country (although some folk, like our host, make a few shekels speculating).

Did the notion that the future is necessarily dimmer arise with the concept of entropy?

Changing gears, here is a fascinating report. It seems that Darwin indulged in a bit of terra-forming on the side.

Rob Perkins said...

Beck's and Palin's demagoguery is not for me; it's far too offensive to my sensibility. But if you attack the rally for political reasons, or accuse of racism because they held it on the anniversary of Dr. King's speech (did they read or quote from that speech in the midst of lionizing him?), then you miss the point and feed their emotional machine.

It's not correct, in my opinion, to take the low count of that rally. The official DC count was more like 300,000, according to HuffPost's list. Fox/SkyNews is claiming a half million. Beck claims a half-million. Even if it's entirely beside the point, which I think it is, it still feeds their machine.

But he's also correct in his claims that the rally refuted the worst of his critics. He was in the Sunday-apolitical mode of White Protestant America when he did it. That's useful to him and his faction, because the fear-mongering and distrust from the Left about it was largely politically oriented; they expected him to lambast Obama, and he didn't. For one example.

rewinn said...

Rob - I must agree that it is difficult to criticize Beck's following without contributing to their emotional state. They feel attacked by something, and when you criticize them in any way, you confirm their feelings of being attacked.

But is not the correct way to estimate crowds, or anything else, to look at evidence? The CBS estimate was based on an aerial photo. See see here. I know of no official DC estimate; if you do, can you link to it? And we can agree that the Fox, Beck and Bachmann "estimates" were simply made up, with no evidence at all. Whether you like or dislike their politics, is it not wiser to prefer fact-based decision makers ... or at least legitimate to make fun of the realitiphobes?

I don't see how the rally refutes the "worst of his critics"; to the contrary. Take away his "I think Obama hates white people" and other conspiracy-based material, and he's boring. If I had to bet money, I'd guess his backers required him to dial back on 8/28 because the last thing they needed was to revive Obama's coalition with images like the last Tea Party March On Washington.

Thomas Sobieck said...

I'm extremely concerned about the oligarchy that is setting itself up in the US. The only two people that I consistently hear talk about it are Dr. Brin and Warren Buffett. Why has the electorate fallen for the stupid notion that estate taxes are a drain on economic growth? Why do word games like the “death tax” win out over the fact that the vast majority of people will not ever have the great fortune of inheriting enough to be subject to taxes? Where the hell are the democrats on this policy?


Rob Perkins said...

rewinn, I don't think it's as axiomatic as that.

The numbers summary came from the Huffington Post. Search that site for "Glenn Beck Rally Attendance."

ABC and CBS reported 100k give or take 15k. NBC estimated at three times that. NBC is not sympathetic to News Corp or Beck at all.

The DC estimate turns out to be a Twitter rumor. Disregard it.

Not that any of that is more than a distraction. People opposed to Beck predicted that his crowd would come in, usurp the name of King, and behave like racist pigs. What they actually did was come in, invoke the name of King in connection with King's own religious leanings (at least, according to Beck, that's what they did.) Then they left the Mall cleaner than the inaugural crowd did, according to Beck.

Then, on Monday, using his usual populist demagoguery, Beck "refuted" and really buttered up his audience by juxtaposing the worst of his leftist critics against the most salutary statements of his own faction from that day, where he explicitly kept his faction's criticisms of the President away.

I don't like Beck's approach, his style, or more than a sliver of his political message. I wish he'd give up the President-hating and stop using Skousen's playbook.

But what he had to say on Sunday sounded like so much milquetoast generic American Protestant Christianity without a lot anyone, aside from HItchins and maybe including King, could have disagreed with. (Though King would probably not liked to have been lionized at all, in my estimation.)

For me to really get to the bottom of all this would require that I actually watch more of Beck's show than the 90 minutes I've spent over the last two years. Problem is, I don't want to watch any more than I have. Like you, I prefer my conservatives to be fact-based.

Billy T said...

What's with the "foolish leftist notion - that we can only continue this progress by chiding people"?

In my observations it's the right that spend their time chiding people for not conforming to their moral
"ideals". Check Beck.

David Brin said...

Billy, while the majority here is clearly hostile to the monstrosity that has hijacked "conservatism"... do not expect the Left to get off scott free for its sins... lesser though they may be.

To fail to notice how preachy and chiding the left is... well, that's just plain blinkered and myopic.

Even Sarah Palin and the fundamentalists never produced a hammer-pounding as blatant, overbearing and sanctimonious as AVATAR.

Just because I agree with James Cameron about the general areas where we need improvement, that does not mean I have to go along with his misguided approach, thinking you can guilt-trip new converts to the cause of goodness and light.

Hope is more effective, by far.

Tacitus2 said...

Life continues to send us object lessons.

Don't judge a group or belief system or nationality by the behavior of an aberrant member.

This gun totin' "pastor" in Florida who wants to burn a Koran does not speak for conservatism.

And neither Al Gore's film or Dr. Brin's Life After People deserve blame for the hostage taker at Discovery Channel headquarters today.

Life is messy.


Rob Perkins said...

I did check Beck. What I saw was that he didn't childe or nag. He talked up a bug-eyed monster and then told his viewers that they had already won the game against the monster and all they have to do is stand up, do good works, and be counted.

Jacob said...

But how much should you really expect from a move like Avatar. They sent a guy to negotiate a deal with the natives to allow for mining under a tree. Yet when the deadline came, the natives were surprised at the goal because the 'hero' had never said the first thing about his core mission to them.


button said...

Ilithi Dragon:

On the subject of the inevitable Dooms I've also been hearing of all my life:

These days as an old fart, I'm inclined to attribute it to a common assumption I see on all sides of all sorts of arguments. The assumption that because most people will not agree now to the drastic and urgent action you advocate, that they will therefore never ever take any action about the problem. Or not until it is far too late. While in reality people will start doing something as a problem gets worse.

Does anyone know if there is a proper name for this?

It reminds me of the cognitive error people suffering from depression make, the "all or nothing" fallacy where anything you do that isn't completely perfect must be totally worthless.

lateruc: The trash that accumulates in your car because you always plan to clean it out "later".

Tony Fisk said...

'Allowing them to mine under their tree' meant eviction.

Oh, Jake was dragging his feet, all right. Maybe he wanted to get into a position of trust (ie tribal induction). Maybe he was a little um, distracted? Certainly, he had lost track of time at this point.

However, you might recall that things got precipitated by him knocking out the 'dozer before it destroyed the Grove. While that served as a reminder that time, tide, and Company wait for no Na'vi and that he'd better pull his finger out, it also provoked Quamby into 'reeling him in' *just* at the critical moment when he was trying to explain to the tribe. And a review of Jake's log when he opined that they'd never leave their home precipitated the immediate eviction notice.

I think there are other spots where David's annoyances lie (like villainising Western civilisation while ennobling a pack of insular and snooty blue elves?) but we haven't really had that discussion yet.

David Brin said...

In Dances with Wolves AN Dances with Smurfs... the "gentle" natives almost kill the going-native protagonist many times, without a scintilla of provocation, backing off on a whim. ...

But I had planned to get into all that, in my Avatar review. Someday.

Hank Roberts said...

Worth listening to:

Wed, Sep 1, 2010 -- 8:00 PM
The Commonwealth Club - Climate One Series: America's Climate War

Will the U.S. join many other developed and emerging economies and put a price on carbon pollution? President Obama met with senators to decide whether and how to move legislation before the November elections. The program's speaker is Eric Pooley, deputy managing editor at BusinessWeek, former managing editor of Time and Fortune and author of "The Climate War."....

Tony Fisk said...

My favourite put-down of the Blue movie is this revised summary of Pocahontas.

Meanwhile, other things intervene. Whenever it suits.

Tony Fisk said...

Sorry, I just found a great admission from Cameron himself in this interview:

"[What happened in South America?]
I was doing a fund-raiser for these people called the Achuar. [The Achuar are an Amazonian community who want to keep oil companies from drilling near their homelands.] This fund-raiser was trying to get public attention. A bunch of Achuar were bused in to watch Avatar at an IMAX theater in 3D. These are people who had never been in a movie theater. They’re wearing feathers and paint. And they put on the glasses and watch Avatar, the first movie they’ve ever seen. And when they came out, the BBC interviewed them. This one woman, a tribal elder, says, “In this movie, they solved their problems by fighting. We are not afraid to fight, but we have decided to try to solve our problems through dialogue. So this movie needs a better message.”

I felt like I’d been punk’d. But it made me think."

*Now* I shut up!

Stefan Jones said...

Here is the ultimate put-down of Avatar's parable about imperialism:

It . . . didn't . . . change . . . anything.

Any more than The Lord of the Rings movies, which loomed so large on the cultural landscape for a few years, ultimately changed anything.

These big splashy fantasies, no matter emotionally powerful, ultimately don't change lives and minds. (Well, outside of a few obsessive dweebs who wouldn't have much of an effect on society anyway.)

We're still the same. The "lessons" and moralizing washed over us like wind around a stick.

Well, OK. Here's something that Avatar may have accomplished: Convinced people to buy 3D flat screens and upgraded Blu-Ray players.

The stories that do seem to have an effect these days are of the grubbier sort: Cynical gossip, corrosive rumors, slander, and conspiracies.

Tony Fisk said...

You know, I can't think of *any* film that ever changed anything.

Ironically, the 3D didn't really make me want to rush out and upgrade my flatscreen either! (Happy to keep it in the theatre for now)

As the Achuar elder said so eloquently 'it needs a better message' ('cos we're doing this better already!) Cameron appears to have taken this on board. We'll see.

edness: the essence of a talking horse.

François Marcadé said...

Your Take about the Rational Optimist reminds me of a saying from the time of the very ineffectual IVth Republic (1947-1958) “Il n'est pas de problème dont une absence de solution ne finisse par venir à bout.” [There is no problem that a lack of solution does not end up by solving]. I use this sentence sometime when we fail to agree on a solution at the end of a meeting because more information is necessary, it is not the right time, somebody is not attending …. Usually people start smiling, then think about it, and often try once more to agree on solution, even a temporary solution.

Rob Perkins said...

Avatar's 3D gave me a headache. Yeah, it's a lot better than previous 3D technologies. But cinematographers don't know what to DO with it yet.

Maybe Pixar's people could help with that, I dunno. I heard they used 3D in a subtle way for "Up", but I didn't want to spend an extra $3-$4 just to add a layer of artfulness to an already sufficiently artful tell.

Stefan Jones said...

I saw Avatar in 2D, on a tiny screen in a tiny theater in Old Forge, NY. Tickets for me, my sister, her husband and my two nieces cost $20 total!

I enjoyed the movie a lot. It was derviative of any number of SF novels and earlier movies. There was even a bit of The Uplift War in there.

I've seen very few movies that really used 3D well. It made the flight sequences of How to Train Your Dragon more depth-y, and I think that Coraline benefitted similarly, enhancing the fantastic rooms and landscapes.

That said, I dabble in 3D photography. If you go to Flickr and look up stefan_e_jones you can find some stereo photo pairs I've made. You'll need to cross your eyes to view them. There's a picture of Cory Doctorow at a signing, and another of a ground squirrel that my dog terminated. (I was bored.)

David Brin said...

Wow, that is a terrific snip about Cameron and the Achuar people viewing Avatar!

Stefan, I am not QUITE that down on Avatar. It certainly won a high place on the honor roll of great (and I mean very great) self-flagelating western self-improvement guilt trips. And in that role it no doubt helped reinforce a lot of children bonding with the Otherness movement. Nevertheless, I doubt it CHANGED any adults into Otherness converts. Adults have seen and heard the same thing over and over. If they aren't already converts, a slightly more vivid version won't do it.

Tony, there have been world-changing flicks. Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe really affected precautions against accidental nuclear war. SOYLENT GREEN was early in the enviro guilt trip wave, and so it really converted a lot of people. It can happen. But you have to actually want to LEAD. And that means with fresh ideas and hope.

David Brin said...

Incomplete and flawed... but evenhanded, I think...

... well, actually repetitious and leaves out the most important ones.


button said...

Libertarians and Progressive added here:


Tony Fisk said...

Is that cartoon available for complete rewrites? It would be fun to do a '24 types of independent' for Australian conditions. (Actually, we've got 4... 5 if you include the sole Green. They're ... an interesting lot, and the big parties' wooings, it may yet end in a 75-75 line-up!)

Tim H. said...

An interesting essay here:

Robert Reich suggests income inequality as a sustainer of recession. I'd say it's the root of a few other evils as well.

LarryHart said...

Hey, I'm the guy who has been re-reading Asimov's robot and Foundation novels with an eye toward seeing how well Dr Brin wraps it all up in "Foundation's Triumph". Well, I've just reached the original "Foundation" book itself.

I first read this book as a college student in 1980, and I'm not even sure how many times I've re-read it since then, but this is the first time I'm reading about the fall of the Empire and going "Yeah, that sounds about like what's going on outside my own front door."

Tim H. said...

Would be nice if Foundation could be concluded, but I understand Dr. Asimov didn't know how he wished to conclude the story. For those just beginning on Asimov, you're going to have a lot of fun.

Jonathan said...

this link to the onion piece doesn't work.. which kind of makes sense when one looks at it..


David Brin said...

LarryHart my son just finished the Foundation series and the Elijah Bailey novels. Next come THE CURRENTS OF SPACE and THE STARS, LIKE DUST. Wish I had Pebble in the Sky.

All of those have small cameos in Foundation's triumph. (I tie it ALL together!)

David Brin said...

on to next...