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(if I were) King of (the) Forest Posts

The Nigel Tufnel of American Presidential Politics

I finally figured out what Vivek Ramaswamy reminds me of:

Lick My Love Pump

Anyone who is a fan of This is Spinal Tap will understand.  To those who aren’t — it’s too hard to explain.  You just have to watch it.

Vivek is like Nigel Tufnel…

He has these brief lucid intervals where he seems genuinely smart, thoughtful, and insightful, speaking intelligently and clearly about some complex issue.  You nod your head at his sagacity.  You find yourself listening, despite your doubts.  You want to believe in someone with that kind of honesty, directness, clarity, and courage…

And then, suddenly and without warning, he’s…   not!  He has reverted to type, to someone else entirely: an emotionally and morally stunted, intellectually challenged, self-aggrandizing metal-head (or tech bro) spouting simplistic and dangerous adolescent nonsense…

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An Israeli Cease-Fire?

The toll on civilian bystanders in Gaza shocks the conscience, so the heart cries out for it.

My heart cries out for it.

And, yet, my head also cries out: What is the alternative?

Because, in the absence of an alternative, a demand for a unilateral and permanent cease-fire is, in effect, a demand for preservation of the status quo.

And the status quo is unacceptable!

The status quo is more October 7ths — or worse — again and again and on into the indefinite future.  Israel cannot and will not accept living with such a continuing threat.  Nor should it be expected to.  No rational and moral government could.

So, to all those demanding an Israeli cease-fire: where are your corresponding demands on Hamas?  Have I missed them?  Where are the calls for Hamas to:

  • Stop their ongoing war-crimes by immediately and unconditionally releasing all the hostages they are holding?
  • Stop their ongoing war-crimes by immediately and unconditionally disentangling their military forces and equipment from the civilian populations and sanctuaries they are using as human shields?
  • Surrender the war criminals who planned and carried out the rape, maiming, and butchering of civilians in an unprovoked attack to face justice, either in the Israeli courts or at the Hague?
  • Turn control of governance in Gaza over to some organization whose goal is the well-being of the Gazan people rather than conquest and destruction of a neighboring country and its citizens?

And how do you plan to make sure all those things happen?  I suspect asking nicely won’t be quite enough…

Yes, I want Israel to stop waging war on Gazans.  But…I also want Hamas to stop waging war on Israel!  And, when it comes down to it, the reality is that Hamas will never do that.  As long as they are left in charge in Gaza, the status quo — constant low-level warfare occasionally erupting into high-level warfare — is going to continue on and on and into the indefinite future.

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Should advocating for genocide against the Jews constitute a violation of campus codes of conduct?

It is only reasonable to defend repugnant proclamations as the unfortunate but unavoidable result of a principled policy of support for “free speech” if you actually and consistently have such a policy.

Defending repugnant proclamations on that basis when you, instead, have a well documented history of suppressing free speech to assuage the feelings of a panoply of highly offendable favored constituencies sounds exactly like what everyone is seeing it for: a defensive self-justification for treating one particular disfavored constituency with contempt.

When faced with situations that are murky or difficult or fraught with contradictions — when our own knowledge and experience seem inadequate, when we are simply ignorant or when our hearts and our heads seem to pull us in different directions and we are unsure of which to follow — we often look to “established experts” and “leaders” of various types to guide us. We accept that guidance not merely because of some perceived expertise but because of a perceived moral authority — an authority to guide us not merely on what is “true” or “effective” but on what is “good” and “proper”.

In some other world, the Presidents of three of our most prestigious centers of academic excellence, institutions nominally dedicated to the extension, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge, to the pursuit of truth and wisdom, would seem to be exactly the kinds of “leaders” and “experts” we might call upon for guidance.

Yet, the fact is, because of what has been happening on their campuses on their watch, those three had no moral authority to lecture us on the value of “freedom of speech”.

Their testimony was akin to Donald Trump asserting the moral authority to lecture us on the value of honesty…

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FWIW: How is the U.S. actually doing on reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions?

Per the EPA (emphasis added):

Greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 (after accounting for sequestration from the land sector) were 17 percent below 2005 levels

from “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks” (data through 2021, published in 2023)

Further, that 17% decrease in emissions happened while the American population increased by ~12.3% (from 295.5M to 331.9M per the U.S. Census Bureau).  So, under the same assumption, the rate of greenhouse gas emissions per capita has been decreasing at an even faster average rate: more like 2%/year, nearly twice as fast as the rate of decrease in the actual emissions.  Demographic projections by the U.S. Census Bureau predict a declining rate of population growth (and even the beginning of a decline in actual population) over the next century (to something like 350M by 2050 and to 366M (and decreasing) by 2100).  Under the same assumption about per capita emissions that we made about overall emissions — that the average percentage rate of change will remain consistent —  we might then expect the net effect, taking slowing population growth into account, to be an overall reduction in emissions (again, below 2005 levels) of more like ~57% by 2050 and ~83% by 2100.

Those numbers are not, perhaps, what climate activists want or what climate scientists would say we should target.  They are certainly not “net zero”.  But, they represent real, measurable, and steady progress.

So they are also not, perhaps, what the most alarmist headlines would lead you to believe about how we are doing.

It may well be that we are not doing quite enough.  But, we are far from doing nothing…

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Protecting Civilians in Gaza

What if Israel’s warning had come with another option? What if they had said:

We recommend civilians in Northern Gaza evacuate.

OR, as an alternative…

We request that the military units of Hamas do the honorable and civilized thing  — evacuate Northern Gaza, and clear it of all military facilities and supplies, so that they are no longer using their civilians as human shields.

It is doubtful it would have made any difference in the end — Hamas’ use of civilians as shields appears to be an inherent part of their strategy; it seems wholly unlikely that they would give that up.

But, it is important to remind people of something fundamental: the reason the civilians of Gaza are in danger is specifically because their own government’s military uses them in that way.

That should be obvious.  Alas, to far too many people in the Arab world and on the self-described Western “Progressive” far left, it appears that it is not.

Hamas could spare their own civilians all the upcoming misery by doing the honorable and civilized thing.

That they won’t do so should make the distinction between them and the Israelis clear.

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Should we be held accountable for following ambiguous laws?

It has always been my contention that, if two different judges have come down on opposite sides of the question of what the law means and whether it applies to a particular defendant, then said defendant ought to be held at that point, by definition, not responsible for having followed the law. A disagreement among judges — our designated experts on the meaning of law — makes it inarguably obvious that the defendent had no clear way of knowing what the law actually required: if two judges, whose primary and formal function is to know what the law requires, can’t agree, then how is some random citizen supposed to know?

I would also extend that beyond judges to other actors within the legal system whose responsibility it is to know what the law says and requires.  I would not include individual policemen in that, since they operate in the field without direct access to the law books (and typically without formal training on the content of law) and often on an emergency time-frame.  But  prosecutors — who are making their decisions with direct reference to the statute books and prior precedents, and with plenty of time in which to ponder the nuances — and executive branch regulators who have been given authority to enforce regulatory rules, rather than statutory ones — but with the same time for reflection and the same ability to examine the text of the regulation and any applicable precedents — have the same formal responsibilities as judges do: to know what the law requires so that they may apply it.  As with judges, if different prosecutors and/or regulators can’t agree on what the law requires, then why is it reasonable to expect some random citizen to know?

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American Malaise…?

In the interest of completing the set — not to be the curmudgeon who laments about “…in my day…” or “…you don’t know how good you have it!”, but merely to remind people that this, too, shall pass — I have been thinking about what things were like in 1980, the year I graduated from high-school and began my journey into adulthood.  We were, for example, the last generation for whom the moon landing, Watergate, and Vietnam were all memories of experience rather than history learned from books. But, we were also a generation who came of age in what was widely described, at the time, as a period of malaise…

In 1980…

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First, Do No Harm

What is it that makes someone “worth” voting for?  Or not?

My primary answer — where I place the essential boundary — comes from the formal ethics developed for the practice of medicine — another discipline that, like democratic government, is supposed to be all about improving things for people subject to its practice:

First, do no harm!

A huge number of people — essentially everyone on the left, but also all the “never Trumpers” (count me among them) and, now, many “used-to-be Trumpers” — see Trump as immutably harmful.  Their common argument is, “You must vote against Trump (and against his Trump-lite Republican acolytes) because he is actively dangerous.  Anything is better than that!

And, there is a lot of truth in that position — but, only a lot of truth, not complete truth.  It may be conditionally true, but it is not fundamentally true. It does not represent The Truth.

For, many people — not only ‘conservatives’ but, also, those on the ‘center right’ (like me) and on much of the ‘center’ left — would say that there are plenty of Democrats who could and would, in their own fashions, also actively cause a ruinous harm if we were to hand them the reins of power.

I want a candidate to vote for that won’t actually actively harm me!

Alas, all too often, I’m merely offered a choice of which harm seems less immediate and/or less painful.

Faced with that choice, I really would rather abstain…

And, faced with that choice, I refuse to accept the notion that I have an obligation — nay, a moral duty — to affirmatively participate in my own destruction by validating one form of harm or the other with my vote.  To the contrary: I stubbornly reserve the right to reject both as intolerable.

Upon reflection, I realize — in the context of the heart attack vs. cancer metaphor — that the fundamental question is this: What if treating the heart attack makes the cancer more virulent?  What if the actions required to save myself from the heart attack today cause the cancer to kill me tomorrow, instead of next week or next year?

The populist Progressive left treated Biden’s victory as if it were a mandate to go for broke, in the same way that, four years earlier, the populist Fascist right treated Trump’s victory as if it were a mandate to go for broke. No doubt, they will treat another Biden victory the same way. Although the Democrats (unlike the Republicans) are, at least for now, still occasionally grounded by some members who call out desperately from the reasonable middle, both parties are, in large measure, allowing their agendas, and especially their rhetoric, to be set and controlled from the extremes.

Alas, no matter how narrow the victory nor how broad the defeat in any given election, the lesson both parties insist on learning from it is not, “We seem to be out of step with the electorate,” but rather, “The problem was we were not extreme enough!“.

It occurs to me that what I really long for in the upcoming election is a way to definitively reject Trump and Trumpism — which will, it appears in practice, mean accepting Biden/Harris — while simultaneously definitively rejecting the most extreme variants of the “progressive” (and “socialist”, democratic or otherwise) program for American transformation.

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