Brooks be humble…

January 8, 2013

I hear David Brooks, the NYTimes conservative columnist, is teaching a course on humility at Yale.  There’s so much irony, I just won’t touch it.

I don’t read him these days unless something particular points me there, and I saw a reference to a column he wrote on his favorite topic these days, humility, mentioning Pauline Kael and how she didn’t “suffer fools gladly.”  Hah! I thought, who is she to suffer or not suffer fools?  (I don’t like her film reviews much.)  He dissects the meaning and use of the phrase, and I agree with him there. People who speak foolishly out of naivete, simple ignorance, and the like, should be treated with graciousness and respect.  We’ve all been in that situation, and will be again, but…

As with so much of Brook’s ‘deep’ commentary, I can’t help think that there’s something autobiographical here, some secret wound he’s nursing.  Heavens, did somebody not so nice maybe treat him shabbily, like a damn fool?  Maybe it was someone really smart, who knows a lot about something that Brooks was remarking on (and perhaps knew very little about.)  Maybe, could it be, somebody like Paul Krugman, or some other intellectual?

Let’s face it, people who treat badly the kind of fool I described here are not looked upon well by thoughtful people.  But there is also the other kind of fool, the kind who is ignorant, and prefers to remain so.  The kind who is quite arrogant in, even about his ignorance.  The kind who loves to hear him or herself talk, even when he or she knows nothing about the topic.  Yes, there’s that class, of which Brooks is a premier member, of the pundits, the pedants, and the talking-heads.  They often speak as fools, and you can hardly blame them; it’s their job to keep talking to fill up the air time.  Or to fill up those column inches.  And they do seem to get it into their heads after a while that they actually have powers of intellect which they consistently fail to display.

I’d put Brooks in this latter class of fool.  He’s also paid a huge amount for his chatter.  So if someone takes him down in print or on the air, I will not feel he’s been treated badly, despite his pleas for humility.  It just goes with the territory.


Surreal Times

June 15, 2011

Always happy to see surrealism plastered across the front page of mainstream media!  Whoddathunkit?  The debut of Un Chien Andalou was greeted with a near riot.  Luis Bunuel is laughing…

Quantitative deep freeze

January 12, 2010

“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be.”

William Thomson, created Lord Kelvin for his engineering work on transatlantic communications cables, had firm views on what was and was not scientific knowledge.  He was also interested in global temperature, but not they way we are today.  He put a monumental scare into Charles Darwin, whose ideas he did not accept, by calculating that the earth must be much younger than Darwin had believed it to be.  His conclusions were based on the rate at which the earth would cool from its initial molten state.  Since evolution takes a very long time, and Darwin knew that well, this was a serious blow to Darwin’s theory.  Eventually, Kelvin’s figures were shown to be wrong, and we now believe the earth is billions of years old, plenty for Darwin!

Kelvin also was interested in very low temperatures.  He created the temperature scale, now known as Kelvin, that has as its begining, Absolute Zero (no connection to the vodka) which is the point at which all molecular motion ceases – thermodynamic zero.

All this stuff about metrics and temperature got me thinking about the latest blast on global warming, this time related to a major IPCC scientist who has been quoted as implying that all the climate science of projected warming is wrong.  He writes that the warming in the recent decades, such as it is, is not the result of CO2, but of natural cycles.  The warming due to CO2 is now kicking in, and will continue unabated as long as we burn fossil fuel.  He laments that some journalists have “distorted” his views, describing him as a sort of crypto-denier, and asserts that “if my name was [sic] not Mojib Latif it would be global warming.”  Wow, there’s a believer!  (I guess he doesn’t believe in the subjunctive, but who does?)

I’m sure there have been reports in magazines and news shows that do distort Mr. Latif’s views – that’s to be expected in popular science journalism.  What is odd is that he doesn’t see that his views do contradict some of the AGW orthodoxy.  That is, a lot of people would deny that natural cycles have much, if anything, to do with the purported temperature rise over the last few decades.  They point to a clear “signal” of AGW.  His statements also raise the question of how he is so sure that the real AGW warming will begin soon – isn’t that just his … belief?  I mean, if it hasn’t been happening already, how can he be so sure?  Those computer models?

Finally, he weighs in with a strange observation about the ability of people to reason coherently:

 Nobody would discuss the problem of [Einstein’s theory of] relativity in the media. But because we all experience the weather, we all believe that we can assess the global warming problem.”

Actually, I have seen discussions of relativity in the media, and some of them were admirably clear.  They may be difficult to understand because the theory entails a profound challenge to our “common sense” notions, but that’s another story.  Latif seems to be claiming that only experts such as himself can assess AGW, presumably with the help of their digital crystal balls, but we can all assess the logic of their claims, and his seems rather tortured.

As Kelvin might have asked, let’s just look at the numbers…

Did ya hear the one about the war hero?

August 18, 2008

Did John McCain listen in on Obama as he was interviewed?  He was not in the “cone of silence.”  His aid had this to say:

“The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,” Ms. Wallace said.

Get ready for more of the same.  I foresee something like this:

Mr/Ms fill in name stated that it was

choose one: [outrageous, scurrilous, sickening]

to imply that John McCain, a FORMER PRISONER OF WAR AND A WAR HERO had

choose one: [lied, failed to fully disclose the truth, made a mistake, mispoke, voted for something he now opposes, opposed something he now supports, accepted money from rich people, insulted anyone, etc.]

La Recuperation

February 27, 2008

Strummer - The Clash:  London Calling

Next to me on the train in this morning, a woman had the Wall Street Journal open to a page with an article about London and whether its real estate development boom was cooling off. A color picture showed the skyline, with major skyscraper development sites called out. The headline? “London Stalling.