Faith in Experts Is More Rational Than Faith that Experts Are Wrong

Climate Change Is a HoaxI should know better than to ever even look at a post on Google+ about global warming. The reason is that I always look at the comments and it makes me very angry. I don’t especially care what people think, but from top to bottom, the denial community is rotten. You have the lowest of the low: people who just know that global warming is a crock because Fox News told them Al Gore made a lot of money off it. There is nothing to be said to these people; their belief is a kind of religious faith. But I find the more polished of the denialists most exhausting. I ran into one today.

He made a point I make quite often here: most people who accept global warming are just as faith based as those who deny it. Absolutely true. I’ve long since gotten over being shocked at just how ignorant many liberals are on the subject. But there is a big difference between deciding that you are just going to accept what the experts say and deciding you are in any position to just dismiss what the experts say.

I don’t know how many times conservatives have given me the Al Gore canard. They somehow think that only Al Gore and a couple of other popular figures have anything to gain by discussing global warming. The fact that fossil fuel companies have billions of dollars per year at stake isn’t ever mentioned. And when this fact is pointed out, they dismiss it because we all know that corporations would never lie to us. Except, of course, we don’t know that because it isn’t true.

We actually have recent experience with this. For decades, the cigarette companies trotted out their cherry picked studies to tell the world that smoking did not cause cancer. There is nothing different here. Corporations have no interest whatsoever in the safety of humanity generally. It is all about next quarter’s profits and the bonuses that the top executives will get. But does this sway the denialists? Of course not! Because they know it is a conspiracy because they’ve heard of Climategate and don’t know the first thing about the difficulties of getting temperature records from tree rings.

What really bugs me about all of this is that in their regular lives, all of these deniers do what liberals do when it comes to global warm. They don’t know how the plumbing in their houses work, so when there is a real problem, they call an expert: a plumber. When they crash their cars, they take them to an auto body shop. But when it comes to global warming, they listen to the oil companies who have an overwhelming conflict of interest.

So liberals look to people like me, who actually do understand the science. And I actually have some credibility here because two decades ago when I was working in the field, I was highly skeptical. But the data got better. The models got better. And the climate got worse. All of this made me change my thinking. But the conservative movement in this country has taken the opposite course: as the science has gotten more certain, they have become more certain that there is nothing at all to worry about. And unlike with smoking, their denial is going to hurt all of us.

See Also

More Republican Delay on Global Warming
Charles Krauthammer Doesn’t Know Science
Why Conservatives Ignore Global Warming
The Global Cooling Myth
If Global Warming’s Real Why Is It Cold?
It’s Raining, But Not for Long
Global Warming and Budget Analogy
Pretend Scientist Fred Singer
A Really Big Problem
And many more…

Dallas Buyers Club Works Well Enough

Dallas Buyers ClubI finally got around to watching Dallas Buyers Club. I really didn’t want to watch it, but a lot of people told me I should. It turned out to be exactly what I thought it would be—exactly the kind of film that I don’t need to see. More important: it is exactly the kind of film that the Academy loves. And it is a well made film. It works surprisingly well as an episodic story. And I suppose we are supposed to think that Matthew McConaughey’s performance is amazingly subtle as he goes from being a homophobic jerk to someone who embraces the gay community. But I think that’s something that is more read into the film than is found on the screen.

To me, the main character, Ron Woodroof, is a selfish jerk throughout the film. But selfish jerks often do a lot of good, as Woodroof does. He has two primary concerns: keeping himself alive and making money. And it is not until the film is almost entirely over that he seems to care about anyone except in the sense that they help him in that regard. And it is only when he is too ill to care about the financial aspect of the venture, that we see what might be considered altruism. I don’t see anything wrong with this. As played by McConaughey, he has the feel of the lovable rogue. How can you not love a man who smuggles a trunk load of drugs over the US-Mexico border dressed as a priest? Moist von Lipwig was never more adorable. (Or is that “Adora Belle”?)

The film does a good job of showing what it was like for people early on during the AIDS epidemic. And it is a hell of a lot of fun watching Woodroof lash out at the haters, even as he still is one himself. At one point, he comes home to his trailer to find graffiti written on it, “Faggot Blood.” The door has had a padlock placed on it and there is what looks like an official notice on the door. So he yells, “I still live here, you hear me?!” Then he gets a shotgun from the trunk of his car, and blows the lock off the door so he can get his stuff. There is another scene where he forces a former friend to shake hands with his new transvestite friend and business partner Rayon.

In end though, I’m not really sure what the film is supposed to be all about. It seems like it wants to be an issue film about the drug companies and the corrupt system of FDA approval. And it makes a point about drug trials where those running them expect half of the ill to die, even under the best circumstances. But overall, this seems tacked on and acts more as a distraction. To me, it is a given that drug companies are always evil. The issue at the time really was whether the government was going to get over itself and allow people who were dying to do whatever they wanted that they thought might help them.

But in the end, the film works pretty well. And Hollywood can pat itself on the back that 35 years after the AIDS epidemic, a couple of unknown screenwriters and a Canadian director managed to get a low budget film made about it that the people liked enough, so that the Academy could nominate it for a bunch of awards. It helps, of course, that Ron Woodroof was presented as straight, even though he probably was bisexual. But this also means that it falls into the same troubling category of a film I like very much, Mississippi Burning, where the white folks come in and save the blacks. Here the straight man saves the queers.

Dallas Buyers Club is still an engaging film. It’s sad, at the same time that it is exhilarating the same way that Dirty Harry was. It’s stylishly shot, at the same time it is lit in a highly realistic style. And I think the editing is particularly good. In a film like this, pacing is everything. Given that the thematic thread of the film is very weak, the whole thing could have disintegrated due to its inherent chaos. Regardless, the film sticks the ending with a public defeat but a private triumph. And then it tacks on a short fantasy of Woodroof riding a bull in the rodeo. It’s pretentious, but the metaphor works on so many levels that I can’t imagine anyone not using it. And it allows our last view of him to be when he was healthy, which otherwise might have been a downer of an ending.

As I’m always on about, the issue is whether a piece of art works on its own terms. And Dallas Buyers Club certainly does that. I have no intention of ever watching it again, but I’m glad that I did watch it. And I can see why a lot of people really liked it. It’s unfortunate, however, that this is what passes for a serious film in Hollywood. I had the same problem with Crazy Heart a few years back, although Dallas Buyers Club is a far better film. So maybe there’s a trend. It is pretty to think so.

Most Racists Are Good People

Ian Heney LopezIn Namibia, then under South African control and also an apartheid state, the towns were widely spaced in a desert of sere geologic beauty. A farmer who gave me a lift lived some hundred-plus kilometers outside of the next town, but recognizing that there would be little traffic and so virtually no chance that I could secure an onward ride, he drove on past his homestead in the fading sunlight. This generous act added hours of needless driving to an already long day for the farmer. As we got close to town, though, he apologized and explained he would have to drop me off several hundred meters from the outskirts. He had killed a “kaffir”—the local equivalent of “nigger”—for poaching, and the constable had asked him to stay out of town for a few weeks until pressure for his arrest subsided. I was stunned speechless. Then the routines of normal etiquette kicked in and carried me through a ritual of thanks, goodbye, good luck with your travels.

Like most, I have been conditioned to think of racism as hatred, and racists as pathologically disturbed individuals. To be sure, sadistic racists exist, and racism is frequently bound up with the emotional heat of fear and hatred. But as I began to intuit while hitchhiking through the landscape of apartheid, most racists are good people. That bears emphasizing, since it runs so profoundly contrary to the dominant conception. Even the farmer who killed another human being for the petty act of poaching, I came to understand, was not a homicidal lunatic but a complex person capable of both brutal violence and real generosity.

—Ian Haney Lopez
Dog Whistle Politics

Modern Racism

Modern RacismI have been reading Ian Haney Lopez’s excellent Dog Whistle Politics. You should expect a quote and a review of sorts coming in the next few days. But I want to talk about the issue of racism in a more general sense. The truth is that I’m feeling a bit full of myself reading the book, because what he argues in great depth with an amazing amount of documentation is what I’ve been writing about here a lot—especially recently. Racism ain’t what it used to be, and more to the point, racism has never been what it used to be.

More and more, I’m exasperated at people who freak out when someone makes a racial slur. And sometimes these things are just a question of ignorance and don’t necessarily show any racism at all. I especially feel that when someone makes the mistake of talking about the “Jewish lobby” as opposed to the “Israel lobby.” Does this mean the speaker is antisemitic? Not this alone, that’s for sure. Israel is the only explicitly Jewish nation on the earth. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s come to mean a lot to people when it usually doesn’t. To me, the word “Zionism” throws up red flags, unless someone is explicitly talking about the history of Israel; when the word is used in a global sense, it is almost always antisemitic.

Regardless, all this focus on the words people use strikes me a way for public discourse to deny modern racism. The truth is that if some racist uses the n-word commonly in public, he’s going to be shunned by most people, and marginalized. That’s great. But when we are talking about politics, this kind of person doesn’t matter. What does matter is that David Duke can put away his Ku Klux Klan robes, not use any of the forbidden words, and fit easily within the Republican Party. And that brings us to Lee Atwater.

Atwater, of course, was the man who used Willie Horton so effectively for Bush the Elder against Michael Dukakis in 1988. And he is the man who explained how racism changes over time. He said (and I know most of you know the quote):

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is: blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

That’s why a couple of times I’ve gone ballistic on David Weigel, most notably in, Dave Weigel’s Racist Apologetics. The point is that politicians like Paul Ryan say things that are the newest form of racism, and Weigel is there to say, “No!” Because that’s what is so great about modern racism: you can always claim that you aren’t actually being racist.

But here’s the key: this has always been the case. When there were literacy tests, they were given with a nod and wink. The people promoting them would say, “This isn’t about race! This is just making sure that only ‘educated’ people vote.” And there were plenty of people who took that argument seriously at the time. But now, it retrospect, everyone sees it for the racist policy that it was. And people make the same kind of case about statements regarding young men in the inner city, but in another 40 years, that too will be seen as clearly racist as if the n-word had been used. And lest you think I’m reaching, what are Voter ID laws if not a new kind of poll tax? And Paul Ryan supports Voter ID laws.

David Weigel is not the problem, however. The problem is everywhere in the media. And this is why the media go crazy when someone uses an explicit racial slur. It doesn’t just indicate that there are still good old fashioned racists out there, it damages the pretense that we are post-racial. But it’s one big fiction. Racism still exists—it will probably always exist. And if Paul Ryan’s budget ever became the law of the land, it would have gotten popular support not because people were saying, “Let’s get those darkies off welfare!” It would have gotten popular support because in the minds of even many people who would be harmed by the budget (and not necessarily consciously), it was those minorities who were disproportionately being harmed. “And a byproduct of them is: blacks get hurt worse than white.”

That’s modern racism and that’s what we should be talking about. But instead, we go out of our way to deny it. And history will not look back fondly on us.