One Thing the Election Won’t Change
November 2, 2010

is the course towards a potential “undeclared war” in Yemen. The sad fact of the matter is that a Republican Congress will be far too busy investigating the Obama administration’s illusory ties to the New Black Panthers and whether or not the EPA is engaged in a conspiracy to blunt the impact of climate change for them to bother with trivial matters like the expansion of our national security apparatus and its heavily classified, intermittently monstrous activities.

Besides which, the GOP has no credibility on these things anyway. They got the ball rolling on both the unitary executive and the one percent doctrine, so it’s a little late for them to feel outrage at these things. Not like they would, anyway; for all of the Tea Party’s talk about liberty and small government, there’s no squaring that with the fact that Sarah Palin — Mama Grizzly herself — has taken most of the surviving neocons on as her own little bear cubs.

Happy election day, everybody!

(By the way: I’m going to continue linking to most of my posts over at the League, because I am shameless, but you would do well to follow them anyway. It’s a great stable of writers. Additionally, there’s my author-specific page and accompanying RSS feed.)

Peter Singer Asks If It’s Ethical to Reproduce
June 6, 2010

Cover of "The Life You Can Save: Acting N...
Cover via Amazon

Here’s a happy surprise: The New York Times’ series of philosophy columns, dubbed the Stone, finally includes one work of actual philosophy, courtesy of ethical philosopher and author of The Life You Can Save Peter Singer.

In the column, Singer asks whether, given the problems future generations would be sure to face—the fallout from climate change being chief among them—it is ethical to bring those future generations into the world. Would it just be better if we all universally agreed to stop having kids?

Unsurprisingly, he concludes that the answer is “no.” But he takes some interesting detours along the way, including a passage on Schopenhauer that serves as an intriguing contrast to some of the existentialist stuff about projecting towards ends we’ve been discussing:

The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer held that even the best life possible for humans is one in which we strive for ends that, once achieved, bring only fleeting satisfaction. New desires then lead us on to further futile struggle and the cycle repeats itself.

I think you can see the seeds of some existentialist thought in there, although the existentialist would argue that it’s not about achieving those goals—it’s about defining yourself and seeking fulfillment through the act of projecting towards them.

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On NYT’s Climate Change Coverage
March 17, 2010

The fact that a majority of the Times‘ science section’s editorial staff doesn’t think anthropogenic climate change is a threat is most certainly not good, although I think the graph is a little bit of an oversell. I’m not so much concerned with making sure the Times keeps their climate change article quota up to the mandatory minimum as I am worried what this whole thing might suggest about which way institutional pressures are pushing media coverage of the issue.

Think of it this way: climate change skeptics are inevitably going to get more coverage in the press because one lonely voice barking against the overwhelming scientific consensus is inevitably more newsworthy than another peer-reviewed paper confirming some version of what the vast majority of the author’s colleagues already agree on. Plus–although I don’t want to exaggerate the effect of this–there’s the whole thing about business incentives.

That story’s already been told. But this new info makes me think that it might be contributing to another problem: when you’ve got a staff of reporters who are not themselves experts in climate science forming their opinions from interviewing both sides–and when a disproportionate number of the people they’re interviewing happen to be skeptics who might themselves be pretty persuasive–it makes sense that the staff might find themselves brought around to that view.

I’m not sure what can be done about something like that. Except for to note, again, that it would be nice if the people reporting on specialized topics for major dailies all had some pretty extensive background knowledge in those topics.

Lindsey Graham Knows What Really Matters
February 28, 2010

The angle that anchors Tom Friedman’s latest column is profoundly weird. Just check out this lede:

It is early evening on Capitol Hill, and I am sitting with Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, who, along with John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, is trying to craft a new energy bill — one that could actually win 60 votes. What is interesting about Graham is that he has been willing — courageously in my view — to depart from the prevailing G.O.P. consensus that the only energy policy we need is “drill, baby, drill.”

What brought you around, I ask? Graham’s short answer: politics, jobs and legacy.

Anyone notice what’s missing there? Or think it’s a little nuts that Graham feels comfortable stating upfront that he’s pushing climate change legislation largely because he thinks it’ll be good for him and his party?

Okay, so it’s not really news to anyone that both Friedman and Graham are startlingly cynical in that curious, blinkered, DC cocktail party circuit kind of way. And while I spend as much time as anyone lamenting the omnipresence of that sort of mentality, I think it’s important to look on the bright side here. Graham sees a political advantage in positioning himself as the Climate Change Republican. Maybe others will follow.

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