Forward or Backward?

I spent the day at a zazenkai, or short meditation retreat, instead of at the climate march in NYC. I think about half of our sangha must have been in the march, though. Just as we were ending the retreat a couple of people who had been in the march walked in and said it was fantastic, with an estimated 310,000 participants. (See also.)

There really are people who give a damn, you know.

If you didn’t watch the PBS Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts you missed out; it was really good. You can probably watch it on the PBS website. It was a bit depressing, though, to consider how un-progressive the country has grown since then. The great presidents, the great leaders, always left the country with the sense that progress is possible; that the nation could do whatever it needed to do. Those days are sure gone.

In my lifetime I think the last President who made me feel that way was Kennedy, and he didn’t live long enough to accomplish much. I know that conservatives got that feeling from Reagan, but Reagan was leading the nation backward, not forward. For all his economic accomplishments Clinton more or less seemed like a placeholder to me. His motto might have been He Managed to Keep the Right From Screwing Us Even Worse. But I also suspect that if FDR came back to the White House today, he wouldn’t be much more effective than President Obama. There’s just way too much retrograde energy in Washington for anything genuinely progressive to happen.

At Salon, Thomas Franks writes that Gov. Sam Brownback has been so ineffective even the people of Kansas have noticed. Kansas is a state in which the governor and the legislature ran everything according to the Tea Parety/Koch Brothers book, and the results are more than pitiful. They are damn near catastrophic.

“What is going on here is so freakishly self-damaging, so bizarrely self-contradicting that it makes you think of a man trying out his new shotgun on his own foot, or of a president putting a meth addict in charge of the nuclear football.” Brownback is trailing his Democratic opponent, although narrowly. How incompetent does a Republican have to be to be voted out of office? I guess we’re about to find out.

Dark Money, Dark Science

Resolved: Every time someone uses the phrase “settled science” we should all throw a penalty flag. And if this is said by an actual scientist, he should be locked in stocks so that we may pelt him with genetically altered tomatoes. It is not the nature of science to “settle”; there is always doubt; there is always something more to know.

Most non-scientists don’t appreciate this, which makes the myth of “settled science” an easy way to bamboozle the rubes whenever science starts to step on monied toes. The Masters of the Universe don’t have to disprove science when it threatens to cost them money. All they need to do is discredit it enough so that government hesitates to act on it.

A “leading scientist” named Steven Koonin writes in the Wall Street Journal that climate change is not “settled science.” He acknowledges that it is “settled” that climate change is happening, but that since we don’t know precisely how in all details it’s too soon to actually do anything about it.

Let me add that Koonin is a physicist, not a climate guy, who was once chief scientist for BP.

David Atkins writes,

The argument sounds reasonable at first, but it’s absurd on its face. It would be like a doctor refusing to treat a strange new disease because we don’t fully understand all of the effects it might have on the body. It might cause kidney failure and heart failure, or maybe just one, or neither! We just don’t have enough information to treat, so let’s do nothing! Of course, by the time kidney failure occurs it will be too late to save the patient, but oh well.

Of all the cynical arguments against action on climate change, Koonin’s ranks among the most disturbing because it’s so obviously calculated by a very smart person to make a radically irresponsible conclusion just to protect a few entrenched economic elites.

Note also that 2014 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record.

Since Koonin is a physicist I wish someone would ask him about gravity. Science has not settled on an explanation of how gravity works. Until it does, can we walk off cliffs? You first, Steve Koonin.