The Stupid Way We Report on Global Warming

Climate Change Is a HoaxMany outlets are reporting, Scientists Reveal There Are 3 Trillion Trees in the World in Latest Count. This is important because it is over seven times higher than the last global count (or estimate). It’s interesting and it is an indication of just how hard it is to study and understand the entire Earth. My PhD dissertation was focused on a really complicated model of the atmosphere that was 2.5 dimensions. It had height and latitude, but longitudinally, it just had land or ocean — that was the half-dimension. But what I’m interested in here is how the news was reported.

I was listening to NPR — the show The World. They are partly a production of the BBC, and so they get their news updates from the BBC. The little 30 second story said (more or less — I can’t find the transcript online), “This doesn’t affect global warming, but it does give policy makers more information.” I was impressed because it simply presented global warming as a fact. And I wondered how it would be presented in the mainstream American media. Some outlets, like The Los Angeles Times have taken a stand on the issue. But for most, it is still just a “matter of opinion.” Pretty much the entire scientific community thinks one thing and some oil companies with billions of dollars of profits on the line say another. Who can determine which side is right?!

I expect that mainstream American media outlets would have reported this story differently, “This new estimate will cause those on both sides of the global warming debate to claim that they are right.” Note the total equivalence there. If the two sides were equally valid, that would absolutely show no bias either way. It would also be a vacuous statement, because it isn’t really true. But the main point is that it would be presented in a way that highlighted the two sides as somehow equal.

The conservative press will look at it differently, I suspect. It will claim that it shows that scientists don’t really know what is going on in the world. “They can’t even count trees, how can they know that the Earth is getting hotter?!” Of course, determining the number of trees is actually a hell of a lot harder than measuring the temperature all over the world. Temperature is a contiguous distribution. Trees and treed areas are discrete. So you can look at two temperatures separated a mile apart and have a very good idea of what the temperature is at every spot between them. That’s not at all true of trees.

But this isn’t about science. And it isn’t really about what the global warming deniers say. The issue is that our media — with notable exceptions — treats the global warming deniers as if they were just one side of the debate. The BBC story showed that it doesn’t need to be that way. The truth is that fewer people accept global warming now than when I was activity studying it 20 years ago. And the reason for that is that the oil companies and other moneyed interests got together and produced a bunch of science-like nonsense that we see constantly coming out of The Heartland Institute. But they could have done that forever and no one would have cared, if the media had treated their “propaganda as science” with the derision that it deserved. But they didn’t.

On one hand, it is cheering to know that coverage of global warming in other countries is more reasonable. But on the other hand, it is depressing to know that if the power elite can twist the truth into knots here, it can do it anywhere. And most concerning of all: it can do it wherever it is most important to do it.

Eric Loomis on Unions and Solidarity

Erik LoomisI was lucky enough to be sent a copy of The Enemy Within (in Britain it is going by Still the Enemy Within). This is a powerful documentary on how Margaret Thatcher busted the coal miners’ unions in the 1980s. If this is of interest to you, I highly recommend hunting down a copy, perhaps through getting your library to purchase one if possible. Told strictly through the eyes of the miners and their wives, along with video clips of Thatcher and other conservatives, the film is a very useful document for understanding the decline of the postwar labor movement, which was far more than just an American phenomenon. I am far from a scholar of Europe so I can’t speak with any real authority about the claims the workers make, but they certainly believe they were really very close to winning what turned out to be a catastrophic loss to a government seeking to destroy their union, which was the backbone of the British left. But the workers claim that had the other unions shown solidarity and walked off the job in support, as opposed to empty words and some money or if all the British mines had joined the strike (Thatcher intended to split the miners by giving a few choice mines some extra money while seeking to bust the other unions) that they could have defeated the government and perhaps the worst parts of Thatcherism broadly. Even though this is a depressing story, the film also shows how solidarity between groups with little in common with miners (elite students, gay and lesbian activists) was created, how women stepped out of traditional gender roles during the strike, and how personally empowering the strike was for at least some workers.

—Erik Loomis
The Enemy Within


Note: the Amazon link above is not for Region 1 (US and Canada). It hasn’t been released here. But if you bought it, you could still watch it using VLC.

The Brave New World of Conservative Media

Brave New WorldI’ve been away, meeting with an editor of mine. She is a very colorful character — and one of the best storytellers ever — and brilliant. She’s even a life coach of sorts for me, because she is the one who rushes in while I cower in the corner. But over the past couple of years, she has really gotten into listening to conservative hate radio. In fact, as I was having coffee with her yesterday morning, Rush Limbaugh was playing on the radio. She is aware that I am not a conservative. But as with most extreme conservatives, there are a number of things we agree about. But I’m not not going to discuss those here.

She related to me her concern — which I have seen floating around conservative media — that Obama wants to start a race war. And she presented him as this major Machiavellian character, determined to destroy the United States. Now this is clearly nonsense. The one thing I’ve never understood about this theory is why the most powerful man in the world would want to destroy it. If these people were saying that Obama would change the Constitution and become president forever, that would make a bit of sense. And indeed, I do hear that mixed in with the conservative ranting: the very same people will claim that Obama wants to destroy America and to become its dictator.

It isn’t surprising that none of it makes sense. It isn’t about reason. In my editor’s case, as I said, we are talking about a prodigious intellect — one of the most remarkable people that I’ve ever known. But none of us is perfect. And conservative broadcasting has hocked into something inside her. Part of it is a fairly common paranoia that comes from area and time. I’ve known a lot of people from the late 1960s Berkeley scene who mix a kind of liberalism — Can’t we all just get along? — with a profound distrust for authority.

But in her case, she’s done a lot of work with police and generally has a high opinion of them. In fact, when I sent my first book to her to consider for publication, her main complaint was that I had been so nasty (and inaccurate, she incorrectly claimed) in my depictions of the police. But in our conversation about race wars and Obama declaring martial law, she claimed that she was for small government — just things like police, fire, military. And this is the kind of nonsense that really blows my mind. This is the same old, “The government shouldn’t waste money on public libraries, but it should hire millions of cops and army men!” Well, in the history of the world it is the military and cops who governments used to oppress their people — not public libraries.

But the whole thing reminded me so much of Paul Bibeau’s recent article, What If They NEVER Come For Our Guns? I wrote about it at the time, Oath Keepers As Protectors of the Power Elite. The conceit of Paul’s article was that an Oath Keeper was starting to have doubts that Obama was coming for our guns. After all, it’s almost seven years now. What’s he going to do, wait until 19 January 2017 just to confuse us all?

I know that my editor (who I won’t name — and I have several) would be able to come up with justifications for all these obvious inconsistencies. And she will be able to justify her beliefs in a year and half when there has been no race war and we have a new president. As I said, she’s really smart. And even I can fill in most of the gaps. For example: Obama could destroy America becoming dictator, because then America wouldn’t be America anymore. Blah, blah, blah. But really, I think the takeaway here is that people like Rush Limbaugh present the appearance of informed commentary. So my editor accepts it as such — and effectively turns her mind off.

It is literally a Brave New World.

GOP Only Tactic: “Other” Demagoguery

Muslim ObamaLast night, I was reading Job’s Anger (as I do every night), and I came upon, Many of GOP Are Unconnected to Reality. It’s one of the great things that Ted does on the site: present and analyze polling data in a really accessible way. But these polling results were a little odd. Public Policy Polling asked Republicans if they thought that President Obama was born in the United States. But they also asked if Ted Cruz was born in the US. Before digging in, let’s remember that Obama was, in fact, born in the US — this is an undeniable fact. Also: Ted Cruz was born in Canada — this too is an undeniable fact. (All you have to do is ask him.)

Now regardless of this, Ted Cruz is still qualified to be president of the United States. His mother was a citizen of the US and thus, by legal precedent, Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen. But forget the courts. Think about it. Both sides of your family have been American citizens for generations. Your mother is pregnant with you but is visiting Tijuana when she goes into labor and gives birth to you in a taxi. Does it make any sense that you would not be considered a natural born US citizen? Of course not. And I know I’m right on this because I hate Ted Cruz and if I could find a rationalization to deny him the presidency, I would.

Of course, the whole thing takes me back to Obama’s early years when people were claiming that he was an invalid president because he wasn’t born here. But even if that had been the case, he still would have been a natural born citizen. It’s funny to see how the conservative media pushed this whole thing for years without ever mentioning that it didn’t matter. When people on the left started saying much the same thing about Cruz — who clearly was not born in the US, the liberal media just pointed out the truth that he was perfectly qualified to be president because he was still a “natural born citizen” even though he was born in Canada.

But the numbers are shocking. Republicans overall think Obama was not born in the US by a factor of 44% to 29%. Less than one-third of Republicans are sure that Obama was born in the United States. It gets even worse when you move out to the Tea Party types. They think Obama was not born in the US by a factor of 64% to 15%. That’s just crazy. When it comes to Ted Cruz — who again, was not born in the US — the numbers are reversed. For Republicans generally, they think Ted Cruz was born in the US by a factor of 40% to 22%. And for the Tea Party types, it is 55% to 22%.

Now Ted McLaughlin (of Job’s Anger) thinks, “A significant portion of the Republican base have no use for reason or logic.” That’s true. But I doubt that’s what’s going on here. Instead, I think Martin Longman nails it in his article, How the Stupid Party Was Made. He focused on another part of that same poll. Republicans also think that Obama is a Muslim: 54% think so, compared to just 14% who think that he is Christian — which is what he actually is. Longman compared this to a hypothetical poll question, “If you ask Republicans if Bobby Jindal is Hindu, Muslim or Christian (all real possibilities given his ethnicity), they’re going to do much better at identifying him as a Christian.”

So why is that? Obviously, it is because conservative media consumers have been fed a steady diet of “Obama the foreign born Muslim usurper.” But as Longman points out, if Democratic operatives and media types tried to do the same thing (“Chris Christie is a Christian Scientist!”), it wouldn’t work nearly as well. “So part of this is about differential gullibility in the bases of the two main political parties.” But that’s not all. Longman also thinks that this is a way for the Republican Party to solidify its base by creating a kind of identity of “whiteness.”

But I think it is even more fundamental than that. The primary political tactic of the Republican Party — going back decades — is to define the good people and the “other.” That’s certainly what the Welfare Queen was all about. The Democratic Party has lots of proplems, but it isn’t based on the idea that “those people” are getting over on you — unless you define “those people” as the billionaire class. But the “why” of the matter doesn’t ultimately mean all that much. As the traditional white identity becomes more of a minority, it will naturally go in this direction.

Still, these results are shocking. Obama is at the end of his term. In ten years, these very same Republicans will not admit that they ever believed he was a Muslim Kenyan Socialist bent on destroying America. It will be like Bill Clinton, where they can’t quite remember why they thought he was so bad. But I guess as long as any Democrat is still in the White House, they will think the worst. Clearly, that overt racism will go away with Obama’s presidency. But don’t be surprised if conservatives under a Hillary Clinton administration start claiming — and believing — that she has a secret plan to castrate all men or make it illegal for men to run companies. Because Ted is right, “Many of GOP Are Unconnected to Reality.” And that will always be the case.

Morning Music: Sundown

Sundown - Gordon LightfootI’ve done Gordon Lightfoot before for Morning Music, Don Quixote. In that one, I mostly complained that Lightfoot clearly had never read Don Quixote. But my mother was a big fan of Lightfoot, and I remember that she loved the song “Sundown” off the album of the same name. It’s a song about a troubled relationship — something my mother knew a lot about.

What I never knew was that the song is most likely about Lightfoot’s ex-girlfriend Cathy Smith. You may know her for having given John Belushi the speedball (heroin and cocaine mixture) that killed him. For that, she spent 15 months in a California state prison. Personally, I think if Belushi hadn’t allowed his health to get so bad, he wouldn’t have died. Regardless, I hate this habit we have of blaming (mostly) women for getting (mostly) men drugs that end up killing them. They made their choices.

Anyway, it’s a good song:

Anniversary Post: San Marino

San MarinoThis will be short. I just think it’s kind of interesting, but not really worth diving into. On this day in 301, San Marino was founded. It claims to be the earliest republic still in existence. It was founded by Saint Marinus, supposedly fleeing the Diocletianic Persecution. But the fact that he could get away from it with only fleeing to modern day San Marino shows just how extensive the persecution was. Anyway, he founded a church there and thus a city and it still exists today.

But who knows? Really, Marinus is said to have died in 366, so he would have had to have been very young when he founded the place, or very old when he died. It’s possible, certainly. It wasn’t until 1631 that the Catholic Church officially recognized it as independent. The Sammarinese Fascist Party did lead the nation from 1923 through 1943. But it didn’t adopt anti-Jewish laws like Italy and Germany. And it managed to stay neutral throughout both World Wars. Generally, I think San Marino has managed to avoid conflict because it is so small, and powerful nations always figured that they could grab it when the need arose.

Anyway, it is now a wealthy European nation that has more cars than people. It could be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t especially want to live there. Still, it has an interesting history. But I don’t like places where you need a car to get around.