Sunday, 2 January 2005

The Gitmo Detainees

We’re in a bit of a box with the Gitmo detainees. [Their ambiguous status is] [n]ot of our own making, to be sure, but we are left to deal with it. Jeralyn wants to see all of them released, though given the recidivism rates of the others that have been released, it seems like a bad idea. We release these guys, they perpetrate acts of terror and we send the military after them. These guys are a bunch of fucking skulkers to begin with—they don’t wear unforms and hide among civilians—which will result in further civilian deaths either from their acts or our response to their acts. Probably both. I doubt this is what Jeralyn really wants. And no, sitting back and taking it, or making excuses for future acts of violence, is not an option.

Sean is less sympathetic to their ordeal. He suggests we definitely hold them, and if the title to his post can be believed, summary executions would be OK as well.

There could be a middle ground. We could simply concede that they are POWs—even though they are in violation of the Geneva Conventions—and tell them that they will be released when hostilities have ceased in Afghanistan. That alone will take a decade or more and, once the entire country has been secured, we can turn them over to the government of Afghanistan. Fewer civilians will die—ours and theirs—and we’ve stuck to the letter of the conventions, even if it ambiguous.

Global Warming, The Issue of 2005

Apparently, the reason global warming has been all over the news is that Tony Blair will be heading the G8 for 2005, and he’s decided to make it an issue. The Financial Times has a pretty balanced write-up on the issue:

Polar bears could be extinct by the end of this century, scientists predict, if nothing is done to halt global climate change. Already, the Arctic ice sheet is half the thickness of 30 years ago and 10 per cent less extensive, according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the work of more than 250 scientists over four years. They blame global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and warn of consequences all over the world if ice covering solid ground melts and sea levels rise.

Warnings such as these and fears that the heat waves, floods and hurricanes of last year could have been early consequences of global warming have prompted Tony Blair, the British prime minister, to make tackling climate change a priority for world leaders in the coming year.

“Our effect on the environment, and in particular on climate change, is large and growing . . . We cannot afford to ignore the warnings,” Mr Blair told business leaders in September when he announced plans to put climate change high on the agenda during Britain’s tenure as chair of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations from January. Mr Blair will also make the issue one of the main themes of the UK’s six-month presidency of the European Union from July 2005.


But the science behind predictions of global warming has come under fierce attack. Sceptical scientists have brought out their own reports to show that though some regions are warming, others appear to be cooling. They also argue that the world experienced many periods of warming in the past much greater than those we are witnessing today. Such warming allowed vineyards to flourish in England in the Middle Ages. Malaria affected northern Europe and cattle grazed in Viking settlements in Greenland that were subsequently abandoned as the “little ice age” took effect in the 14th century, lasting until the 19th. Any increase in global temperatures could therefore be the result of a natural variation in the earth’s climate, rather than the effect of any human activity. Sceptics also attack the scientists whose computer models predict dangerous levels of global warming. Others contend that although global warming is happening, and will be costly, there is little we can do about it and therefore we should concentrate our efforts instead on more pressing issues, such as the HIV epidemic and poverty. The champions of this view are the Copenhagen Consensus, a group of economists led by Bjorn Lomborg, professor of political science at Aarhus University in Denmark. He says: “We can only do very little about global warming, very far out into the future, and at a very high cost. If we spend a large amount of money on global warming, we are taking away money that could be spent elsewhere to do much more good.”

I’ve mentioned using carbon sequestration, the Geritol Solution, and so forth, and it hasn’t been well received. There’s almost no chance of the U.S. actually implementing Kyoto, so I have another proposal taken shamelessly from Gregg Easterbrook:
Methane isn’t the only substance to which global-warming policymakers should pay more attention. Hansen’s work suggests that strict regulation of a few rare industrial gases, whose emissions have no economic utility, would also be more cost-effective than carbon dioxide rules. Short-term reform, he also suggests, should focus on heat-absorbing industrial particulates, or “black soot,” which has been nearly eliminated in the West (which boomed during the elimination, evidence that economic growth and soot regulation are fully compatible), but which spews from the factories and power plants of developing nations by the millions of tons. The resulting pollution-caused diseases annually kill more children under age five in the developing world than all deaths from all causes at all ages in the United States and the European Union combined. Any money the West spends on global warming would be far better invested in reducing industrial soot in the developing world than in the carbon crash programs environmental orthodoxy demands.
In this country we could focus on reducing methane and use our dissolving soft power to get countries like China and India to focus on industrial soot. It will help with global warming and will provide an unambiguous benefit to both countries since it is so heavily tied to human illness.

I suspect that’s about the most Mr. Blair can hope for in the coming year. Joe Gandelman has more.


I’m not dead, I just have nothing much to say—particularly on the wrong end of a 56k dialup line. Happy New Year to all our readers; I expect to have some things to say in a few days, probably including a review of one of my Christmas presents, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, by Economist writers John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge.

In the meantime I’m trying to relax my brain—and my separated shoulder—so I won’t look like a babbling fool when I try to teach three new courses (public opinion, civil liberties, and an independent study course in southern politics) in addition to a revamped Introduction to American Politics class in the spring.

Jefferson on treaties

I’ve raised the issue of the power of treaties in the past, and it appears that at least one of our founders thought they were bound by the Constitution:

“I say… to the opinion of those who consider the grant of the treaty-making power as boundless: If it is, then we have no Constitution. If it has bounds, they can be no others than the definitions of the powers which that instrument gives.”—Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Nicholas, 1803. ME 10:419
Others agreed as well. See this post by Donald Sensing from back at the start of the Iraq War.

New year's resolutions

I like the New Year’s resolutions for others over at IMAO, but I liked it even better when Spoons did it two years ago. For one thing, Spoons knows that bloggers are a self-regarding bunch (he included me, right?) and used it to great effect. After all, it’s two years later and I’m still talking about it. His entry this year is here.

Global Warming

And this is different than The Day After Tomorrow in what way?:

Killer hurricanes, towering tidal waves and destructive lightning storms are all meant to prove the scientists’ point about the deadly effects of global warming. The environmentalists are the villains. The corporate shills who have been paid big bucks to debunk the global warming community are the good guys. According to Crichton, global warming is a myth.

In today’s world of increasing corporate control of almost every facet of our public and private lives, Crichton’s screed against the environmental movement should come as no great surprise.

After all, the publisher of “State of Fear” is Harper Collins, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the same people who feed Americans and people around the world a daily dosage of right-wing propaganda billed as 24-hour news.

Murdoch can wave his big money around and always expect to find some novelist; screenwriter; movie director; journalist; left, center, or right-wing magazine editor; cartoonist; or research institute fellow to allow himself or herself to become human versions of coin-operated nickelodeons or Laundromats.

I’ve mentioned my own concerns with Crichton’s book before, but I don’t see how it’s any different than other propaganda coming out of Hollywood. Being swayed by Crichton’s book makes about as much sense to me as being swayed by a cheesy film that supports global warming. The Crichton book at least has the virtue of footnotes to actual science. Why is the author of the column willing to overlook its failings, while fixating on Crichton’s?

Crichton made a speech last year that addressed many of my concerns on politicizing science. The speech is referenced here, and here’s an excerpt from another column:

“Several thousand of the earth’s scientists,” it says at one point, “agree that global warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution from human activities represents a profoundly serious threat to human civilization and to even the most robust and insulated natural ecosystems. Their comments are echoed in the Draft Scientific Consensus Statement on the Likely Impact of Climate Change on the Pacific Northwest prepared by scientists at Oregon and Washington universities in the fall of 2004.”

The red flag is the reference to thousands of scientists and “consensus.”

The factual truth of anything never depends on how many people agree with it.

Michael Crichton, the author, made that point in a lecture last year.

“I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks,” he wrote. “Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.”