Saturday, April 29, 2006


I recall a science fiction story in which an astronaut freezes to death in his malfunctioning spacesuit during an expedition to sample the blazing surface of the Sun. That particular prefabricated irony is fictional. Another paradoxical misfortune, claustrophobia in the middle of a mostly deserted agora, is apparently all too real. I suffer it whenever I visit the comment’s sections of various blogs and find the participants in desperate rhetorical combat like maniacs with fire axes locked in a closet. Or maybe the better analogy would be an arm wrestling tournament in view of the limited number of strategic options available to the contestants. Granted the enormous number of points of view that can reasonably be taken about almost any public issue, it ought to be amazing that strangers have no trouble getting close enough to disagree. It ought to be amazing, but of course it isn’t. The meeting of minds, the butting of heads, is not a miracle. It’s an illusion. Which is also why the sands of the electronic arena are not soaked with even metaphorical blood, except by the rarest of accidents, because each combatant aims his blows not at the ideas of another person but at his idea of those ideas.

Looking up at the night sky, we often see a star near the moon; but we don’t brace for the shock of their imminent collision because we know that the objects never actually approach one another since the moon is next door to us while the star is hundreds of light years away. By the same token, we eventually learn that the protozoans or organelles that appear to be adjacent on the slide may not be in the same plane: the microscope’s shallowness of field squashes everything together. In these instances, a three-dimensional array is projected onto two dimensions. Discourse is like that. What’s called the public sphere is really a flat screen, a surface that distorts the proportions of the represented objects and creates shadow constellations on the walls of the cave.
The Few, the Proud, the Blogsites

I’ve added a few new links. Real Climate is a clearinghouse for climate research. It appears to me managed by climatologists for climatologists. The Oil Drum is the best site I know for information and debate about liquid fuels issues—it reflects a range of views and in this respect is very different than Peak Oil rant venues like Clusterfuck Nation (shorter James Kunstler: “Suburbia delinda est.”) Arms and Influence covers military affairs. I’ve also added Economist’s View, mostly because it somehow gets away with reprinting Paul Krugman’s columns from the New York Times.

Daily Kos replaces Eschaton, which has become increasingly perfunctory and predictable over the years.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Gas Attack

Nonpartisanship lives. For example, both Democrats and the Republicans are supporting investigations into price gouging at the pump. Even Bush, who is an oilman himself, found it impossible to resist the urge to deflect criticism onto the traditional villains. Just as every candidate, of every party, ideology, and hairdo, eventually calls for an end to government waste as an answer to the deficit, they all automatically blame market crises on unscrupulous manipulators—the term used to be “malefactors of great wealth”—as if unnamed sheiks and Texans had suddenly decided to cut off the spigot to run up prices. Now it’s not that the aforementioned sheiks and Texans don’t bear considerable responsibility for the current energy problem. They do. The trouble is that the relevant bad behavior isn’t price fixing in the present. Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer understand this fact as well as any economist—it’s not exactly a nuance—but they can’t resist the political advantage of rounding up the usual suspects. The trick is to get the upper hand without actually putting into effect the really stupid policies implied by the rhetoric—the very last thing we need, after all, is a cut in gasoline taxes at a time when government finances are shaky and there is an obvious need to allow higher prices to restrain demand.

Only the most gifted of politicians are able to persuade the general public with arguments that are relevant and valid. In the intervals between these miracles, it’s the bad arguments that win the debates. Insisting on straight talk and good logic is suicidal. Which is why I try not to be upset as I watch the Democrats winning through the use of tactics similar in kind, if not degree, to those used by the Republicans in the previous cycle. There is simply no reason to be surprised at a disconnect between the means and the ends, even if the perils of even a virtuous Machievellianism are obvious.