Celebrating Morons

From time to time, I feel a little guilty about picking on some of the most vulnerable people in society – the intellectually challenged – and feel I should give something back to their community, which has provided me with so much material. Moron culture, although apparently still buoyant worldwide, has actually been in decline ever since Copernicus disgracefully suggested that the universe may not be exactly as described in the Bible.

In recent years, political correctness has made life harder still for our moron cousins; not only is it considered “bad form” to lynch people, but even suggesting that it might be a good idea is frowned upon. The poor people are reduced to celebrating the execution of a (quite possibly innocent) black man in Georgia. What a sorry position for a once-proud group; the grandchildren of those who unashamedly strung black men from trees now spend their time tweeting that Troy Davis “got what he deserved”.
Likewise, these poor creatures have found themselves enduring all kinds of stress-related disorders while watching a black man become president and not being able to voice their true feelings. Indeed, many have fallen so low as to back a complete moron – Herman Cain – for President, simply on the basis that he’s black, in order to prove that they hate Obama for non-racial reasons.
On this side of the pond too, morons are prevented from celebrating their history and traditions. The ideological descendants of Mussolini, Hitler and Pétain have found a new scapegoat in Muslims, but in order to make themselves more palatable to the average moron-in-the-street, they’ve also had to pretend they don’t mind Jews or homosexuals. Imagine the frustration and humiliation they must experience daily.
No longer is it acceptable to hate immigrants for taking our women, playing rhythmic music or cooking food that actually tastes of something. In these politically-correct times, the socially-aware moron has to find a better reason for disliking immigrants, such as inventing the discovery of headless bodies, for example.
I know many of you think that morons are dangerous and worthless. Remember, African elephants were once so numerous that they seriously undermined attempts at agriculture and were seen as a pest. And now look. Do you really want your grandchildren to spend their holidays on safari so they can see the last few morons in their only remaining natural habitat (Georgia)?

At an accelerating pace, morons are in terminal decline. Literacy, education, automatic weaponry – these things are all eroding mankind’s proud moronic legacy. Before we dismiss and ridicule these people, remember: we were them, once. I too had a great-grandfather who objected to being operated on by an Indian doctor. No doubt one of my long-distant ancestors killed a fellow tribesman for believing in the wrong shape of god. In my time of extended exposure to moronkind, I’ve found myself touched, even charmed by these simple folk. It may not be a fashionable cause, but I ask you to join me in celebrating the semi-evolved who still live among us, struggling to maintain their moronic traditions in the modern, connected world. Value them, while you still can.

Three Types Of Global Warming Moron

This article isn’t here to convince people that man made global warming is a reality. The evidence for that is abundant and overwhelming, but… well, you can lead a moron to knowledge, but you can’t make him read. If you are still unsure about the strength of evidence available, you should have a look at New Scientist’s Guide For The Perplexed.

Arguing with climate change deniers is exhausting and generally a waste of time. Having somehow managed to avoid absorbing any independent information on the subject for the past two to three decades, they’re hardly likely to change their minds now. However, I’ve noticed there are different types of denialist morons, and here I try to classify them into various groups.

Denialist Morons Type One: “There Is No Warming”


This is proper, old-school denial of the simplest kind. After losing some ground in the 80s and early-90s, the fossil fuel industries created a powerful lie machine, and simple denial was the first tool to appear out of their box of tricks. Step one was to simply deny that there were any data to demonstrate warming. Once that was exposed as nonsense, step two was to discredit the data as mistaken in some way. One of the tools for this was the “heat island effect” – claiming that temperature readings had increased over several decades because cities had grown to encompass the stations where temperature readings were made. However, satellite readings then came on-stream, also showing global warming, and negating the “heat island” myth.

But the morons in this category can happily dismiss graphs and melting glaciers and persist that it’s all made up. Ignorance indeed is bliss.

Denialist Morons Type Two: “There Is Warming, But It’s Not Man-Made”


Having seen type-one denial defeated with overwhelming evidence, the more sophisticated moron then moves to stage two: admit warming, but say it’s not man-made. This class of moron will generally use the argument that “the climate has always been changing”, somehow believing that this proves their case. Of course it’s true that the climate has always been changing. Climate scientists have told us that. So type two morons are prepared to believe scientists about past reasons for climate change but not present reasons. It’s a strange thought process, but don’t forget, these are morons we’re dealing with here. Bizarrely, if you follow this reasoning process through carefully enough, morons may accept that the fossilisation of carbon led to global cooling in past geological eras, but that the freeing of that same carbon into the atmosphere (by burning petrol in your car for example) won’t result in warming. Go figure.

It’s pretty easy to demonstrate that CO2 levels have increased since the industrial revolution, so the link between these and the rise in temperature becomes harder to deny, though of course morons do try. Eventually, this argument collapses under its own weight, and the less-moronic type-two morons then evolve to the next stage.

Denialist Morons Type Three: “There Is Man-Made Warming, But There’s No Point Reducing CO2 Emissions”


So having belatedly accepted what’s been generally known for almost 30 years, morons fall back on claiming that there’s no point doing anything. Note that the power of the denial movement comes from generous funding by the fossil fuels industry. The oil business doesn’t particularly care whether people believe in climate change or not – just so long as governments are prevented from taking action (which would result in large drops in revenue for their industry, and which industry wouldn’t fight against that?).

These arguments are far more subtle, and tend to come from economists. They come in two flavours: optimistic and pessimistic.

The Optimists say, “mankind will find a fix to this problem as we’ve fixed problems in the past”. The flaw in this argument is that we often haven’t fixed problems in the past. Many a civilisation has collapsed under problems of its own making or as a result of natural disasters (including natural climate change); the only difference this time is that we’re looking at the first truly global collapse. I’m sad to say that the Freakonomics guys fall into this category, making the “something will turn up” case in their book, Superfreakonomics. I have huge admiration for Levitt and Dubner, and strongly recommend their fascinating podcasts, but sometimes economists need to look at history and science as well as economic theory. The reality is, perhaps something will turn up; that “something” will need enormous funding by someone; it needs to happen in a very short time-space; and if we’re lucky, it may even work and not produce unexpected side-effects. But the history of engineering says that every right answer comes after many wrong answers have been tried, and we don’t have too much room for manoeuvre here.

The Pessimists say, “OK, things are going to get nasty, but it’s probably cheaper and smarter to just let mankind adapt as the change happens – after all, we’ve adapted before”. I looked at a specific case of this type of argument by economist David Friedman in a recent article. There are many problems with this argument; from a simple economics point of view, arguing that a huge unknown cost may be smaller than a known cost is moronic. Factoring in risk means that action must be taken, unless the cost of not doing so can be proven to be lower than the cost of acting. It’s also completely false to say that mankind has comfortably adapted to huge change in the past. In previous ages, the population of the planet has been so much lower that there has always been space for migrations to take place. This time, the change will affect everyone, everywhere. This argument is basically a call to allow people to die in huge numbers – given the existing squeamishness about migration at its current low levels, can anyone envisage that hundreds of millions (or billions) of people will be allowed to successfully migrate and begin life elsewhere?

We’re watching a slow-motion train crash unfold, and yet morons still persist in their endless denial. The tipping point will only come when the US accepts the need for change, and that needs the Republican Party to accept it. But with their moronic, science-denying ways, and endless millions of dollars being sent their way by the oil business, that doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

Troy Davis: Shame On Georgia

Tonight at 7pm local time (midnight in the UK), Troy Davis is set to be executed by the US state of Georgia. Executions in the US and elsewhere are still common, but this one has resonated around the globe more than most. Davis has been on death row for over 20 years for the murder of a policeman. He’s always protested his innocence, and no evidence exists to link him with the killing; but nine supposed witnesses did appear in court to point the finger at Davis.

Of those nine, seven have now modified or retracted their testimony; three of those have said they were coerced by police to name Davis as the killer. Four of the witnesses have admitted lying in court. Quite simply, the case rests on almost nothing. There isn’t enough to imprison him under a civilised system, let alone execute him.

The outcry against Davis’ execution extends way beyond Georgia or the US. BBC TV news is carrying the story as a main item in the UK. Indeed, Google News shows over 2,500 current articles, in publications worldwide.

But Georgia’s parole board is apparently unswayed. In a state that was among the most enthusiastic participants in the epidemic of lynching that swept America  in the late-19th and early-20th century, lynching has never gone away; it’s just taken on a sterile, bureaucratic new form.

While America still believes it has the right “spread its values” around the world (usually by direct military force or more covert terrorism), the US – or at least large parts of it – seems to have missed an important development. The civilised world has overwhelmingly rejected use of the death penalty for any purpose whatsoever. The values of the US no longer represent the leading edge of freedom and democracy. Indeed, fully 71% of nations have abandoned the death penalty either in law or at least in practise. Only 29% still make use of it. In 2010, only 23  countries out of 197 were known to have executed people. The top 10 users of the death penalty in 2010 were:

  1. China
  2. Iran
  3. North Korea
  4. Yemen
  5. USA
  6. Saudi Arabia
  7. Libya
  8. Syria
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Somalia
Only two of the above nations can call themselves democracies – the USA and Bangladesh. Does any thinking American feel proud to belong to this club, sandwiched between Yemen and Saudi Arabia? Two places above the supposedly “tyrannical” regime just overthrown in Libya, and three above Syria? To visualise this, here’s a map showing the worst judicial killers on the planet.

Red-brown identifies those states still using the death penalty in practise

 

To be fair, the US has a federal system which is starkly divided in two parts: the states that can consider themselves part of the modern world, and those that still feel proud to be listed among the worst human rights abusers on the planet.There’s still a chance to save Troy Davis. Facebook and Twitter users can spread the message as wide as possible this afternoon (Twitter users should use the hashtag #TroyDavis, and I suggest also #ShameOnGeorgia). Amnesty International provides details on how to mail the Georgia Parole Board.

Scrutiny is a powerful thing. Places like Georgia (at least, those parts away from urban centres like Atlanta) have been slow to appreciate that they are now being watched by millions around the world. When the lynchings were happening, almost nobody outside the local areas knew about them. This time it’s different; we can help embarrass Georgia into leaving the China, Iran, North Korea club, abandoning the death penalty, and joining civilisation. Until then: Shame On You, Georgia!

Why Is America My Business?

As you might have noted, I’m in London, UK, but I devote a good part of my blogging and tweeting activity to the US. Indeed, my blog stats show that I get most of my traffic from these two countries, split almost exactly evenly, with the remainder coming largely from Canada, Australia, Brazil, EU countries and India.

I’ve rarely been accused of being “anti-American” (it would be hard to make that stick), but understandably, I’ve been asked by Americans why I take such an interest in their country (or sometimes, simply told to to mind my own business).

There’s no quick, tweetable answer, so I decided to write this post.

Global View

One reason Americans even ask this question is that the American view of the world is a more insular one than the view from many other countries. Americans wonder why a Brit would be interested in their politics when they (understandably) have no interest in ours. I’m not only interested in America – my interests are global, in common with many people around the world today. I have a near-equal fascination with Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

The Empire View


After the second world war, the US Empire became the biggest game in town here in Western Europe, as well as across much of the planet. Ironically, America, which had opposed European imperialism since its inception, took advantage of Europe’s weakness and “took over” some of the old European colonies, most notably those with known oil reserves. British policy in the Middle East became American policy in the Middle East. After 1990, the US became the only game in town. Anyone with an interest in global politics can’t fail but notice the American influence almost everywhere – and hence become increasingly interested in US politics. The US has military bases in over 150 countries (well over half of all world states) with more than 369,000 personnel. Again, this makes America pretty hard to ignore.

The British View


Both Britain and America made big strategic shifts after WW2. Britain, an imperial nation for centuries, was forced to give up the bulk of its Empire. At that point Britain was presented with two blocs it could ally itself with: the United States or (what was to become) the European Union – it chose to straddle both, a position it holds to this day. American troops arrived in Britain in 1942 and never left. US bases in Britain are considered sovereign US territory, and yet the British people were never consulted over this  loss of sovereignty. We have semi-jokingly been referred to as the 51st state, and there’s more than a hint of truth in that, as has been demonstrated during the “war on terror”. Quite simply, decisions made in Washington affect the British people – so it’s unsurprising that we take an interest in US politics.

The Tribal View

I’m not personally Anglo Saxon (I’m of Jewish descent) but as a British citizen I’m a member of the Anglo Saxon world – and the Anglo Saxons are among the world’s most successful tribes. They dominate the UK, the US, Canada, Australia  and New Zealand, as well as having a powerful voice in South Africa. There is undoubtedly an unspoken tribal fraternity among these countries, based on a 1,500-year common racial and cultural history, and therefore it’s not surprising that UK and Australian troops tend to be the first to join US wars and occupations, or that cultural attitudes across the Anglo Saxon world tend to closely mirror each other. And of course, we (almost) share a language.

The Personal View

I was born in the 60s, and so my upbringing was immersed in US culture. Britain today is a great producer of TV content, and to a lesser extent, film. While a good deal of our best TV and film still comes from the US, that was even more the case in the 70s. As I came of age and took an interest in politics, Reagan came to power, and my view of America became darker as US-sponsored terrorism trampled the globe. Still the fascination remained just as strong. In the late-80s, I visited the US for the first time, and have been back many times since – the US is a far more varied, intelligent and fascinating place than it tends to project internationally. I grew up in a US-centric world, and even as that visibly shifts, I’m still a child of the 60s.

The WTF View

Let’s try to say this nicely: America does a great line in morons. While we in Britain now have a government that’s at least as radically right-wing as the Thatcher one was, our conservative politicians are decidedly centrist compared to those in America. The US has been on an endless political trajectory to the right, with the result that (from a European perspective) Americans now have two political choices at election time: right of centre, or extreme right. The American political and media scene are so corrupted with corporate money that extremism is routinely presented as common sense. While we do have extremists in Europe, few of them find a place in mainstream parties, whereas the Republican Party has become a home of extremism. The European far-right often scores worryingly well in elections, gaining from 5% to 20% of national votes, but the American far-right is routinely elected to power. We don’t have local equivalents of George W Bush, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry or the Tea Party. Perhaps the most bizarre spectacle, looking in from Europe, is the moronic – not to say frightening – mass rejection of science, from evolution through stem-cell research to climate change. The downfall of former Empires – the Arabic and Ottoman ones, for example, began when religious orthodoxy was taken more seriously by leaders than scientific thought.

But…

200 years ago, America helped set the tone for freedom and democracy in the Western World. Let’s not pretend it led in every field – take slavery, just as one example – but the US founding fathers did represent some of the most progressive thinkers of the day. Whatever its problems, America’s delivered at least one great contribution to mankind: the first amendment to the constitution, protecting freedom of speech, religion and assembly. Since it’s so small and neat, here’s the full text:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

However moronic America’s leaders may get, that short piece of prose will prove a huge obstacle to the imposition of an American dictatorship or theocracy (though it won’t stop people from trying). For the first amendment alone, America deserves recognition for advancing the cause of freedom – even if some of its more recent contributions to that cause have been a little less helpful.

A Tale Of Two Terrorist Attacks

Moronic Response To 9/11

The First Attack

Like most people aged over 20 in the Western World, my memories of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks are strong. It was obvious from the day of the attacks that America’s retaliation would be huge and violent; my memory of the carnage inflicted globally by the Reagan regime had taught me the lesson of what savagery a Republican government with an excuse for war could be capable of. As a user of Usenet (a collection of early global discussion groups pre-dating web forums or Twitter), I could take the US pulse and watch the rage grow. The near-unanimous response – at least, the one that was heard internationally – was a scream demanding revenge. Almost no American I encountered tried to understand bin Laden’s motivations, and none cared anyway. Those who wanted to understand were called “appeasers”. The Bush regime fed the climate of hate-filled ignorance by providing a moronic non-explanation that satisfied morons: “They hate our way of life.”

The American moron already knew everything he needed to know: America had been attacked; the attacker was a brown-skinned Muslim currently believed to be resident in a country of brown-skinned Muslims. Afghan? Saudi? What’s the difference? And who cares? Donald Rumsfeld provided the final required piece by claiming that Al Qaida had 100,000 followers around the world and constituted a declaration of war. Morons didn’t pause to consider that they hadn’t heard of Al Qaida prior to the attack. It didn’t dawn on them that Rumsfeld may have inflated the size of the “enemy” by well over a hundred-fold. They didn’t stop to question when the religious-conservative Pashtun Taliban was conflated with the dissident terrorist Saudi group Al Qaida. Never did they ask why thousands of US troops were already resident in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, or how Arabs might feel about that presence.

The online response was tragic but predictable. People wanted Afghanistan “bombed to a sheet of glass” (never minding that it already had been, by American and Soviet weaponry). Maps circulated showing “Lake Afghanistan” in place of the country. The rage allowed the attack on Afghanistan in 2001, and continued into 2003 to allow the attack on Iraq. It was still present in 2004 when Bush was re-elected. Only in 2005 did the American mainstream begin to question the slaughter being conducted in their name – or more accurately in the names of the almost 3,000 people who had died on September 11.

The Second Attack

I’d been on the huge anti-war demo in London in February 2003: the largest demonstration ever seen in the UK. I knew that the UK mood was angrily against the Iraq war, and was turning against Tony Blair, who had committed support to Bush without the backing of the British people. I also spent a few days in Barcelona in April 2003, during the initial Iraq invasion, and the Spanish anti-war mood was even more militant – there were several protests per day around the city, including, every evening, the Argentine-style beating of pots and pans to make noise that echoed across Barcelona. While over 60% of Brits opposed the Iraq War, in Spain opposition topped 90% (but José María Aznar, the Prime Minister, had also committed his support to Bush).

On March 11 2004, 10 bombs exploded on four trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring almost 2,000. As with America’s attacks, the initial response was shock and outrage. But from there, the two cultures couldn’t have behaved more differently. In the following two days, an estimated 11.4m people (28% of Spain’s population) came out onto the streets to demonstrate not just against terrorism but against war as well. This was the striking contrast between the US attacks and the Spanish attacks: Americans shouted for vengeance, the Spanish called for peace.

The war party have smeared the Spanish people as cowards for voting Aznar out of office a few days after the Madrid bombings, but this doesn’t reflect reality. The Spanish people didn’t turn on Aznar immediately after the bombings, but after he was caught lying about the perpetrators; he had blamed the domestic terrorist group ETA, thinking that would aid his electoral chances, although he’d already been informed that the attacks had most likely been committed by Al Qaida.

As someone who has visited both Spain and the US many times, the difference in responses isn’t a surprise. The US is quite obviously an overall more frightened and more violent society than Spain. As to why the two cultures are so different? My guess is that Spain is more advanced in terms of its relationships with the rest of the world. The Spanish Empire had mostly died by 1900. The British Empire faded in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2001, the US Empire was at the height of its powers (though in 2011 it appears to be in the early stages of decline). Post-imperial societies seem to have stronger belief in fairness and the rule of law, while imperial societies clearly have much to gain by ignoring it. The US, perhaps, will go through a re-evaluation of its role in the world as it loses the impulse to control everything, everywhere. And if Spain and the UK are anything to go by, this will create a better America.

Moron Economists and Global Warming

There are many different takes on global warming, many of them moronic. At the high end of the moronitude scale come the straightforward denialists. Never mind that all warming predictions so far have come true, or that glaciers and ice caps are visibly receding, or that extreme weather conditions have increased (as predicted) or that computer models based on different methods all predict warming; the true denialist doesn’t need facts, because there’s always an oil-funded pundit to reassure him that it’s still OK to drive a Hummer.But denialists still have a problem: despite large amounts of funding for their cause, there’s a distinct shortage of experts they can call on. Climate scientists themselves have reached a near-unanimous consensus on the issue, as have scientific bodies around the world. Favourite spokespeople of the denial movement such as Christopher Monckton have been caught lying so many times that they have no remaining credibility beyond their hardcore base of believers.

Enter the Economists. Now don’t get me wrong – I think Economics is a wonderful field with some of the world’s brightest people finding elegant explanations and proposed solutions for a plethora of issues. On the other hand, while blue-sky thinking is valuable, it tends to create far more dead-ends than real answers. Then bring in the denialists, and the combined result is a recipe for inaction: “No need to cut carbon usage because Doctor Fred Smith of Hastings University says we’ll find a solution”.

Today’s example of nicely-argued economical moronitude comes from David Friedman, and is provocatively-titled What is Wrong With Global Warming Anyway? In a nutshell, he argues that while warming has obvious downsides, it also has obvious upsides (primarily the ability to grow crops and live further away from the equator). He then states (erroneously) that it’s not possible to estimate the costs or the benefits, and so decides (erroneously again) that we can’t say whether the net effect of global warming is good or bad for humans. He is therefore led to the conclusion that there’s no point investing in CO2 reduction, as we can’t provide a cost/benefit analysis to justify the spending.

You may have already spotted that this argument is moronic, pretty much from start to end. His base assumption (that we can’t try to cost the pros and cons) is clearly wrong, and would have many of his fellow economists up in arms – after all, costing such things is how they earn their living – and we’re approaching the fifth anniversary of the review by the economist Nicholas Stern which did exactly this.

Friedman points out that warming will lead to more habitable areas in places such as Siberia and Canada, which could lead to economic gains – as could the opening of new sea routes previously blocked by ice. This is of course true. Let’s assume for a moment that as much new fertile and habitable land appears as vanishes elsewhere (this assumption is highly unlikely to be true anyway, but bear with me). So we end up with large parts of Africa, Asia, the Southern US and other places less fertile and habitable, while equivalent areas of northern Canada, Greenland and Siberia open up to human habitation.

That’s great, problem solved! The only minor problem is how to relocate several billion people several thousand miles from the world’s poorest regions, replace cities, electricity and water infrastructure, road and rail, deal with the huge social upheavals and wars that would inevitably result, and hey presto! A brand new, stable and happy (not to mention warmer) world.

Now, given that our societies have taken around 13,000 years to reach their current states, forgive me for being a little cynical that this may all be achievable in a few decades. Oh, and let’s not forget that warming can only help the spread of disease, with associated costs – there’s no loss/gain trade-off when it comes to more malaria. And let’s also remember that with rising sea levels, there is a net loss of land; and low-lying coastal land just happens to accommodate a large part of the global population, along with the greatest cities.

Friedman’s “don’t worry, we’ll find a solution” attitude is hilarious when contrasted with recent events. If you consider the pain caused by sub-prime mortgage disaster, does anyone believe a global evacuation and resettlement could be achieved? Friedman’s solution only works if a genocidal approach is taken (assumed but unmentioned by Friedman) – allow people in the Horn of Africa (for example) to die from famine, while allowing the Europeans and North Americans to expand and relocate northwards.

I have little doubt homo sapiens will survive this century of warming, and the centuries of disruption that will follow. But can we survive in our current numbers, and maintain the complex societies we live in today? That seems unlikely. We’re inevitably entering the greatest period of instability our civilisation has been through in its 13,000-year history. The next few decades (or more likely centuries) will be tough – and the last thing we need is more complacency brought on by moronic arguments like Friedman’s.