In the fifty years stretching from 1970 to 2020, the conviction that the people of the United States of America were divided into two bitterly-opposed political camps had become more and more widely and deeply entrenched. The fundamental issues underlying this division are race, immigration, economic inequality, and the politicization of morality. For both sides it seemed that this division had grown sharper and more fundamental with each passing year. Even worse, each side had become convinced that the other represented, not merely an honest difference of opinion, but rather a betrayal of the founding principles of the republic, something that was characteristic of the decade of the 1850s. Now it is time for the citizens of the United States to begin considering whether a peaceful breakup of their own far larger and richer nation would be much more preferable in comparison with the possible alternatives. This essay tries to imagine what kinds of political negotiations and constitutional revisions might take place in the second half of the decade of the 2020s in order to bring about a peaceful dissolution of the United States and the creation of four new independent sovereign countries on its territory.
There is good reason to believe that the statements and actions of President Trump and the Republican Party, before and after the election on 3 November 2020, will cause lasting damage to American democracy. Almost certainly, further damage will be inflicted between now and the 2024 election, which may turn out to be the last “free and fair” presidential election in the United States of America for some time to come. If this outcome is to be avoided, efforts to forestall it must begin now and not let up.
The opinion piece by Michelle Goldberg, “How Republicans could steal the 2024 Election,” is a must-read. It was published in The New York Times on May 13, 2021: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/opinion/cheney-2024-election.html?searchResultPosition=1
The article refers to very important work being done by the organization “Protect Democracy” (https://protectdemocracy.org/ ).
We have been warned.
Just how close was the 2020 presidential election? To see how this fits in with earlier elections, read “The Blue/Red Divide.”
How to interpret this? Mainly, just how close-run a thing it was: 21,500 votes out of more than 105 million could have changed the election outcome. It does also mean that if one-half of Jill Stein’s (Green Party) voters had voted for Clinton instead of her, in just those three states in 2016, Clinton would have won the national election; and if one-half of Jo Jorgensen’s (Libertarian) voters had voted for Trump instead of her, in just those 3 states in 2020, Trump would have won the national election. (And if one-half of the people in Florida who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 had voted for Gore instead, he would have been president.) Go figure.
Those are the words spoken in the first line of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to the nation on December 8, 1941, referring to the previous day’s attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor. November 21, 2020 may well come to be recognized as another such day, a day on which the nation’s Commander-in-Chief left his office to go golfing just at the time when the world leaders of the G20, meeting in a virtual conference, were discussing the global pandemic, a day on which the coronavirus death toll ravaging his own country approached the number of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor.
The golfing man in the red jacket (appropriately enough), playing on his own course in Virginia, had spent his morning, as usual, tweeting about his election victory and the blizzard of lawsuits being filed to confirm it. More recently, he had been putting pressure on local officials to have Republican-controlled state legislatures halt certifications of Joe Biden’s vote totals and instead certify electors who would vote for Trump on December 14 in a number of states where he had lost the popular vote. The strategy was meant to deny Biden enough votes to reduce his Electoral College count below 270, thus throwing the choice for president into the House of Representatives, where each state delegation has one vote, in a context where Republicans control the governorship and legislatures in a majority of states.
Let us not mince words: Should this strategy succeed, this would be a coup d’état. So far as I know, no prominent commentator has used this phrase to describe what this nation’s sitting President has been seeking to do since November 3. But if such a scenario were unfolding anywhere else, it would be called by its name, a coup d’état.
Full article available here:
Climate change debates: a new way of looking at the issue
ONE: GEOCENTRIC HOME
TWO: HELIOCENTRIC HOME
THREE: COSMIC / GEOLOGICAL HOME
FOUR: EVOLUTIONARY HOME
FIVE: CHEMICAL HOME
SIX: RADIOACTIVE & QUANTUM HOME
SEVEN: A MODELLED HOME
EIGHT: THE EARTH WE NOW INHABIT
NINE: HOTHOUSE EARTH
TEN: A DAMAGED EARTH
GUIDE TO FURTHER STUDY
Eons of past time and ceaseless change, embedded in earth’s geology and in the evolutionary biology of species, are the twin factors which provide the best guide to the major risks facing humanity in the present day. The current state of the planetary surface on which we all reside, as well as the many steps in the emergence of homo sapiensfrom its ancestral origins in the hominin tribe, are the results of specific stages during prior times and of new developments. The history of our planet is a 4.5–billion–year record of violent upheaval, driven by forces deep below its surface, such as volcanic eruptions and marked most dramatically by the push and pull of gigantic continental masses against each other. Its atmosphere too, as well as climatic conditions, have likewise been repeatedly altered, a function of the interaction between the earth’s crust and external factors such as solar radiation, strikes of massive asteroids, the planet’s orbit, the tilt of its axis, and others. Geologists have named the stages in this record: The current one is known as the Quaternary, which has featured the growth and decay of continental ice sheets in 100,000-year cycles. The most recent episode, beginning roughly about 12,000 years ago, is called the Holocene.
The human counterpart to the first phase of the Quaternary, known as the Pleistocene, was the migration of our hominin ancestors (such as homo erectus) out of their African homeland, which is thought to have begun as much as 1.8 million years ago. We ourselves have been baptized with the term “anatomically modern humans”; we originated in Africa between 300,000 and 250,000 years ago and began to disperse about 70,000 years ago. Because these later treks occurred in the most recent cold glacial cycle, climatic conditions were not conducive to rapid human population growth – until the arrival of the Holocene, the warm interglacial, when temperatures were about 6°C (11°F) warmer than they had been just 7,000 years earlier. And then, in the geologically-brief period of less than 10,000 years, the population of modern humans literally exploded, by which time wandering hunter–gatherers had become settled farmers and herders, and the first civilizations had been born.
The recent evolutionary success of homo sapiens, therefore, resulted wholly from the fortuitous confluence between the modern geological history of the planet’s land surface, on the one hand, and the formation of a relatively new hominin species, equipped with a large brain and upright gait, prepared to exploit its new environmental opportunities, on the other.
And exploit them we did: Around 3000 BCE there were an estimated 45 million of us worldwide, and the number reached 1 billion for the first time around 1800 CE. But at that point most people were still living on primitive agricultural holdings, beset by backbreaking manual labor, impoverishment, and the endemic threat of famine and infectious disease. Then the Industrial Revolution marked another decisive turn, at least as dramatic as the one from hunter–gatherers to farmer–herders more than ten millennia earlier. Arguably, humans were thereby propelled into a new epoch, called the Anthropocene, where we have become so dominant on the planet that we are now influencing the future stages of global climate. And if this is the case, we humans collectively have become responsibile, for the first time in the evolution of our species, for the next stages in our climate history.
The scientific argument that human-caused factors are forcing the global climate along a new pathway – one that could bring great harms to human settlements around the turn of the next century – is contested by some who attack the theory and the evidence marshalled in order to support it. But that argument is also resisted by many others who point to the lack of full certainty in the scientists’ predictions, or who refuse to accept the idea that humans could exert much influence on the climate, or who profess to believe that climate scientists are perpetrating a hoax on the public, or who aver that God will decide the outcome. Since 100% certainty is impossible to achieve in predictions of this kind, we are left with a throw of the dice: Does one accept the contentions of climate scientists or not? If it is expected to be costly to say yes, as it probably will be, then why not just wait and see what happens?
In the pages that follow I have tried to frame the debate over the credibility of climate science in a new way, by putting the issue in the double-perspective of the earth’s geological history and the evolution of species, culminating in the fortunate nexus of the Holocene and modern humanity.
Nathaniel Rich’s Losing Earth and the Role of William Nierenberg and Other Science Advisors: Why didn’t we act on climate change in the 1980s?
The entire New York Times Magazine of August 5, 2018 was devoted to an important article by Nathaniel Rich, Losing Earth: The Decade we almost stopped climate Change. In Rich’s account from 1979 to 1989 the United States came close to “breaking our suicide pact with fossil fuels.”1 Rich shows that at the beginning of that decade a broad international consensus had developed favoring action in the form of a global treaty to curb emissions and that U.S. leadership was required and possibly forthcoming. Yet at the end of the decade it was clear that these efforts had failed. Rich sets as his primary task answering the question, “Why didn’t we act?” He does not provide a satisfactory answer.
However, Rich’s informative and nuanced accounts convey well the shifting positions about climate change in the US during the decade. At the beginning it was difficult to get widespread attention, later it looked as though linking global warming to other issues such as ozone depletion and CFCs could result in action.
These accounts are based on a large number of interviews and extensive research, but the story is told primarily through the eyes of two significant players, Rafe Pomerance and James Hansen, “a hyperkinetic lobbyist and a guileless atmospheric physicist who, at great personal cost, tried to warn humanity of what was coming.”
Still, Rich barely addresses the central question explicitly and does not come close to providing a convincing answer. I don’t have a definitive answer either, but in this piece I will argue that key U.S. science advisors should at least be part of the answer, especially when conjoined with candidate answers Rich rejects. I will show that the role of highly influential advisors would have been more apparent if Rich had more accurately characterized their roles and the views they advocated.
1 Rich, Nathaniel, “Losing Earth: The Decade we almost stopped climate Change, New York Times Magazine, August 5, 2018. (All quotations not attributed otherwise are from Rich’s article.)
In the Prologue Rich quickly dismisses conventional explanations that the failure to act was due to the fossil-fuel industry and/or to the Republican Party. He supports the latter contention mainly by citing a number of Republicans, even prominent ones such as George H.W. Bush during his initial campaign for President, who expressed concern about climate change. I have doubts that this positive evidence in itself is sufficient to absolve the Republican establishment.
As for the fossil-fuel industry, Rich points out that there is substantial literature documenting the operations of the industry’s lobbyists and
… the corruption of scientists and the propaganda campaigns that even now continue to debase the political debate, long after the largest oil-and-gas companies have abandoned the dumb show of denialism.
However, in his view these machinations did not begin in earnest until the end of 1989. Instead, during the preceding decade “some of the largest oil companies, including Exxon and Shell, made good-faith efforts to understand the scope of the crisis and grapple with possible solutions.” In the main body of the article he supports these claims by pointing out numerous instances in which representatives of the fossil-fuel industry voiced concern about climate change, participated in conferences on the subject, and even initiated research and policy considerations about it.
One can grant that all of that is accurately reported and yet still have reservations about the conclusion that the fossil-fuel industry did not contribute significantly to the position of take-no-action-now between 1979 and 1989. For me those reservations stem from Rich’s somewhat misleading accounts about one of the major reports of the decade, the 500-page Changing Climate (“CC” hereafter) and the role that its lead author, William A. Nierenberg, subsequently played.2,3
3 The most thorough accounts of Nierenberg’s role in CC can be found in the works of Naomi Oreskes and colleagues.
National Research Council, and Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee. Changing climate:
Report of the carbon dioxide assessment committee. National Academies, 1983.
Oreskes, Naomi, Erik M. Conway, and Matthew Shindell, “From Chicken
Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, global warming, and the social deconstruction of
scientific knowledge,” Hist Stud Nat Sci 38.1 (2008): 109-152.
Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M.
Conway. Merchants of doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from
tobacco smoke to global warming. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2011.
In 1980 Congress mandated the National Academy of Sciences to produce a major scientific assessment of climate science. The person chosen to Chair the committee that produced CC was William Nierenberg, a physicist, presidential advisor, director of the Scripps Institute, and chair of JASON – the latter was formed in 1960 and consisted of a self-selected group of eminent scientists, mainly physicists who either were participants in the Manhattan Project or their students.4 When Rich discusses CC in the main body of the paper he says that it “argued that action had to be taken immediately, before all the details could be known with certainty, or else it would be too late.” He also says that CC “urged an accelerated transition to renewable fuels.” Rich points out, however, that in press interviews following the publication of CC in 1983 Nierenberg said “the opposite.” And in the conclusion of the article Rich underscores his claim that “Everybody knew” that significant policy adjustments need to be made to deal with climate change, by saying that Ronald Reagan knew because he “had Changing Climate.”
I think the thrust of these comments misses the mark: CC did not urge immediate, significant action on climate change except in the area of scientific research funding. As Spencer Weart remarks in his respected history of the science of global warming, the science in CC did not differ markedly from other prior and contemporary reports such as two issued in 1979, Gordon Macdonald’s JASON assessment, and the Charney report, but CC’s tone was quite different.5,6 And even more importantly, unlike almost all other assessments produced by scientists before CC, CC made specific recommendations not to take action until more research was done. These recommendations were based
4 Rich compares JASON to “teams of superheroes with complementary powers that join forces in times of galactic crisis.” JASON was created because the founders thought the government should get independent advice. Much of JASON’s work was contracted by government military and defense agencies and was classified. See Finkbeiner, Ann. The Jasons: The secret history of science’s postwar elite. Penguin, 2006.
5 Weart, Spencer R. The discovery of global warming. Harvard University Press, 2008 and the
hypertext of that book at
MacDonald, Gordon. The long term impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide on climate. Vol. 136.
No. 2. SRI International, 1979.
Charney, Jule G., et al. Carbon dioxide and climate: a
scientific assessment. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 1979.
primarily on the claims that currently we did not know enough to make changes and that we had time for science to reduce uncertainties.7
That CC made policy recommendations at all was a departure. Here for example is what Gordon Macdonald, a scientist Rich mentions several times, says in an earlier report explaining that a scientific assessment was not the place to endorse policies: “We have a massive report on acid rain, that says all sorts of things are happening, but it doesn’t say, ‘You’d better cut back on sulfur emission’.”8 In contrast CC says that alternative energy options might be needed sometimes in the future but for now should only be the subject of research: “We do not believe … that the evidence at hand about CO2-induced
climate change would support steps to change current fuel-use patterns away from fossil fuels.”9 In other words unlike almost all previous assessments of global climate by scientists, CC advocated a policy and that was one of inaction.
I said that CC differed from almost all other assessments by scientists. A notable exception was advice in the form of a letter report requested by Philip Handler, the President of the National Academy of Sciences. This was produced in 1980 by a committee that included Nierenberg and that was chaired by Thomas Schelling, a distinguished economist and future Nobel Laureate.10 The report, which was not widely circulated, highlighted the uncertainties of climate science and urged that the emphasis be placed on reducing uncertainties over the next decade rather than on measures designed to address climate change. And notably the Schelling committee acknowledged that they were making both technical and political judgments and that not all members of the committee embraced the argument for inaction:
Most of what we report must therefore be recognized as a collective judgment rather than as a scientific finding …
7 Rich also reports that in press interviews Nierenberg said that it is “Better to bet on American ingenuity to save the day.” More broadly, I believe that faith in science and technology to solve any problem underlay the views of many arguing to postpone action.
8 Interview of Gordon MacDonald by Finn Aaserud on April 16, 1986, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD, USA.http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4754.html
9 Nierenberg op. cit., p. 4.
10 Schelling, Thomas, et al. to Philip Handler, Ad hoc Study Panel on Economic and Social Aspects of Carbon Dioxide Increase, 18 Apr 1980.
In view of the uncertainties, controversies, and complex linkages surrounding the carbon dioxide issue, and the possibility that some of the greatest uncertainties will be reduced within the decade, it seems to most of us that the near-term emphasis should be on research, with as low political profile as possible. We should emphasize that this is both a technical and a political judgment. Another point of view represented on the panel is that further research will not fundamentally change our perception of the issue; in this view, the need for preventive measures is already apparent and urgent.11 [Emphasis in the original.]
At about the time the Schelling letter was issued, Nierenberg was tapped to lead the development of CC and Schelling was invited to become a contributor. Schelling’s chapter in CC is essentially an expanded version of his letter report and is the main source of policy recommendations.12 Those recommendations were repeated in the overview section of CC called “Synthesis”.13 It was as though the inclusion of social scientists in what had previously been assessments by physical scientists constituted a license to move into the realm of policy.14
CC, Nirenberg and Contrarianism
As Rich indicates, in Nierenberg’s press interviews following the publication of CC he took a more aggressive stance in favor of take-no-action-now. That’s as far as Rich goes with respect to Nierenberg, but that was hardly the end of the matter. In 1984 Nierenberg joined two distinguished colleagues who also served as senior scientific advisors to government, Frederick Seitz and Robert Jastrow, in founding the George
11 Schelling, op. cit.
12 It is one of the few chapters in CC that has a single author and the only one without references.
13 One other chapter of CC was written by economists, including, William D. Nordhaus, who was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize. His chapter in CC is focused on models for quantifying uncertainties and effects of adopting particular policies rather than recommending policies.
14 I do not believe that in general there is a hard and fast distinction between the realms of science and policy. Almost always scientific accounts employed in policy relevant science are shot through with policy assumptions. However, there are instances such as the one under discussion where statements about what should-be-done can be distinguished from best estimates about what is or will be the case.
Marshall Institute (GMI), a think-tank that later became one of the mainstays of the contrarian movement.
It was not until 1989 that GMI issued its first report on climate change. Accounts inScience of that report sparked a heated exchange including letters from the GMI authors. In his letter Nierenberg characterizes CC as “… the most complete [report] that has been published and is still being widely referenced.”15 In fact he links CC and the GMI Report by pointing out that CC “… was put forward during the discussions at the same White House meeting where the  Marshall Institute report was summarized.”
So it is clear that far from providing a foundation for those urging immediate action on global warming, CC was used by very senior science advisors to counsel inaction. And in doing so, those advisors were not bending the message of CC. However, there were differences between CC and the use made of it by GMI and others. Unlike in CC, the contrarians’ defense of their take-no-action-now policy was to mount ferocious attacks on the substance of climate science. Added to the views that we didn’t know enough and that we had time to respond later was the claim that we didn’t even know as much as we thought we did.
So why did the U.S. take no action between 1979 and 1989 and then become even less inclined to take action thereafter?
As I said above, I do not have a definitive answer to that question. In Rich’s article he focuses on the profound influence that John H. Sununu had as George H. W. Bush’s first Chief of Staff beginning in 1989. And in so doing Rich seems to imply that Sununu’s policy position was part of the answer to the question. I have no grounds for disputing that in November of that year Sununu played a crucial role in preventing the U.S. from signing a major international treaty aimed at freezing carbon dioxide emissions. The same for other actions and positions Rich attributes to Sununu. But the question remains: Why no action from 1979 to 1989?
It seems to me that the answer has to include the influence of the Changing Climatebeginning in 1983, and the positions subsequently taken by Nierenberg, by some other
15 L. Roberts, “Global Warming: Blaming the Sun A Report that Essentially Wishes Away Greenhouse Warming is Said to be having a Major Influence on White House Policy,” Science246, no. 4933 (1989): 992-993.
JASONS, and then by The George Marshall Institute and other think-tanks partially underwritten by the fossil-fuels industry.16 It is of course true that GMI did not issue its first position paper on climate change until 1989, but there is no reason to believe that Nierenberg and colleagues kept their own counsel from 1983 to 1989. And it is important to take account of the prestige and power of Nierenberg and his associates.
These were not occasional or incidental governmental advisors; they were among the most highly respected spokespeople for the scientific establishment. As noted in Rich’s text Nierenberg was a member of Ronald Reagan’s transition team in 1980 and he was a JASON. Combine that with the fact that the George Marshall Institute was one of the key groups of scientists in the 1980s that strongly supported Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”). Given Nierenberg’s role in CC and his public statements upon its publication, the position publicly taken by GMI in 1989, and the fact that Nierenberg had access to the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, it is clear that science advisors at the very highest governmental level helped to forestall action on climate change.
In saying all of this I certainly agree with Rich that the U.S. government underwent a sea change in its public position on climate change beginning in 1989. That shift to militant contrarianism happened for a number of reasons including the fact that the international community created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1989. It became obvious that the international scientific community, and possibly governments, were going to urge action. Nevertheless, the ground for the commitment to no action in the U.S. had been prepared since the issuance of CC in 1983. Although scientists are certainly entitled to advocate for particular policies, it is another matter for a major scientific assessment to slide into the realm of policy without even acknowledging that it is not simply a matter of science whether or not more science is needed on which to build policy. There were no doubt other factors promoting inaction in the decade 1979-1989, but a complete answer will certainly include the mutually supportive influences of some senior scientific advisors and elements of the fossil-fuels industry and of influential leaders of the Republican Party.
16 Not all Jasons shared Nierenberg’s view about climate change. For example Gordon J. F. Macdonald, who is cited in Rich’s article, did not and neither did Henry W. Kendall, who founded the Union of Concerned Scientists after resigning from Jason.
Ed Levy obtained a BS in Physics from the University of North Carolina and a PHD in History and Philosophy of Science from Indiana University. He became a member of the Philosophy Department at the University of British Columbia in 1967. In 1988 he joined the biotech company QLT Inc., a company that developed the first worldwide medical treatment for age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among the elderly. His position at QLT enabled him to work actively in one of his prior main areas of research interest, namely in the intersection of science and policy issues.
Ed’s interests in the interactions among science and policy institutions in the fields of law, ethics, economics, and government were honed on multi-disciplinary research projects including one studying the Green Revolution in Asia and another investigatingMandated Science, which involves situations such as standard setting and health regulations where scientists have a mandate to make policy recommendations in contested fields.
Upon retiring from QLT in 2002 Ed became an adjunct professor at UBC’s W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics and worked on several projects funded by Genome Canada.
He has served on a number of not-for-profit and other boards including Tides Canada, B.C. Civil Liberties Association, WelTel, Oncolytics Biotech, BIOTECanada, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, and PIVOT Foundation.
I welcome feedback from readers: email@example.com
Who Speaks for the People of Ontario?
Published in part in The Hamilton Spectator, 13 September 2018
Recently, speaking of the judicial ruling that found his government’s actions in reducing the size of Toronto’s city council to be unconstitutional, Premier Ford said: “I believe the judge’s decision is deeply concerning and the result is unacceptable to the people of Ontario.” He went on to point out that he was elected while the judge was appointed.
Let us leave aside, for the time being, the premier’s questioning of the authority wielded by a Superior Court justice in interpreting the Charter of Rights in the Constitution of Canada. Instead, let us focus on the matter of who speaks for the people of Ontario. At least one commentator on yesterday’s events suggested that, in making the claim that it is he who does, Premier Ford was acting according to a “populist” political stance. “Populism” is often said to refer to those who believe they represent so-called “ordinary people” as opposed to the members of “elite” groups, whoever they may be.
So let us ask: Who are these ordinary people? On whose behalf does the current premier of Ontario have a legitimate right to speak?
First, as an elected politician, he has an undoubted right to speak on behalf of the constituents in his riding who voted for him. Second, as premier of a government holding a majority of seats in the provincial legislature, he has a right to speak on behalf of that government as a whole. By extension, he may speak on behalf of all the voters in Ontario who elected all of the MPPs in that government party.
But those electors make up, in point of fact, a rather small proportion of all of “the people of Ontario.” How small? The calculation runs as follows. First, exclude all those who cannot vote, by reason of age, lack of Canadian citizenship, illness, or anything else. The voting age population in Canada is about 79% of the total population. Then, exclude from the 79% all those eligible to vote who did not do so in the last Ontario election, that is, 42%, leaving us with 58% of 79%, or 46%. Then exclude all those who did not vote for the Conservative Party in that same election, that is, 59.4%, which yields the final figure of 19%. To sum up, the Premier and his party actually have a legitimate right to claim to represent, and thus to speak on behalf of, 19% of the people of Ontario. I invite others to check these calculations and to improve them.
With respect to any specific question of law or policy, such as the law reducing the size of Toronto’s city council, it is reasonable to suppose that at least some of the electors who voted for the Conservative Party in the 2018 election might not support that particular law, making it likely that, on this issue, Premier Ford is entitled to speak on behalf of something less than 19% of the people of Ontario.
This strikes me as being a very peculiar form of “populism,” if that is indeed what it is, in today’s Ontario. Nevertheless, it has become common to refer to an entire group of current political leaders around the world, particularly certain of those in the United States and Europe, as being “populists.” It is time for us to have a wider debate in Canada about how well the term populism describes the reality of political formations, and how the term might relate to other characterizations, especially demagoguery.
For example, those who used the term populism approvingly often claim that it reflects the alleged distinction between “ordinary people” as opposed to “élites.” The most charitable comment one can make on this word usage is that it is woefully imprecise. The word élite, its proper spelling indicating its French origins, means a part of a larger group that is superior to the rest; the word ordinary, from the Latin and French, and meaning “orderly,” carries the following connotations or synonyms: unremarkable, unexceptional, undistinguished, nondescript, colorless, commonplace, humdrum, mundane, and unmemorable. One wonders why the ideological champions of populism would think that this way of characterizing the great majority of people in any society would be regarded as being flattering? How does denigrating the many admirable qualities of people qualify as an indicator of one’s support for their alleged political interests? And what is supposed to be derisory about being above-average in terms of quite specific categories such as talent or abilities? It seems that occasional recourse to a dictionary might have been helpful here.
William Leiss*, Margit Westphal, Michael G. Tyshenko and Maxine C. Croteau
McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment, University of Ottawa,
600 Peter Morand, Ottawa, ON, K1G 3Z7, Canada
Department of Mathematics, University of Texas – Pan American, 1201 W University Dr.,
Edinburg, TX 78539, USA
Wiktor Adamowicz and Ellen Goddard
Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta,
Neil R. Cashman
Department of Neurology, Faculty of Medicine, Vancouver Coastal Health, University of British Columbia, Canada
Abstract: This article summarises efforts at disease surveillance and risk management of chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of cervids and is considered to be one of the most contagious of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Evidence has demonstrated a strong species barrier to CWD for both human and farm animals other than cervids. CWD is now endemic in many US states and two Canadian provinces. Past management strategies of selective culling, herd reduction, and hunter surveillance have shown limited effectiveness. The initial strategy of disease eradication has been abandoned in favour of disease control. CWD continues to spread geographically in North American and risk management is complicated by the presence of the disease in both wild (free-ranging) and captive (farmed) cervid populations. The article concludes that further evaluation by risk managers is required for optimal, cost-effective strategies for aggressive disease control.
A Modest Proposal on
Immigration and Denaturalization
30 July 2018
It is perhaps understandable that many citizens have become very concerned with the continued arrival of new immigrants to the United States. There is, they fear, a real chance that in their midst there may lurk murderers, rapists, and drug dealers, among other criminals. More broadly, however, they are uneasy about the prospect that millions of people who may be, as they report, simply fleeing poverty, gang war, everyday violence, and injustice will become an intolerable burden on established citizens who are already hard-pressed to provide for their families.
In this regard it was inevitable, surely, that the debate about dealing with new immigrants would shift to the process of denaturalization of recent immigrants. There are some 20 million naturalized citizens now residing in the United States. A number of federal government agencies, we are told, are charged with ferreting out cases of fraud among those arrivals who have already been granted full citizenship. Cases of fraud involves concealing, on the application for citizenship, everything from war crimes and terrorism to minor criminal offences, phony marriages and false identities. When fraud of this type is proved, citizenship is revoked and the offender is deported.
However, it is easy to imagine that this case-by-case, retrospective review of suspected fraud must represent an administrative nightmare. Each charge must be proved before a judge, and this involves digging up obscure paperwork in foreign countries that itself may be of dubious providence. Yet the suspicions remain: How many naturalized citizens in the recent past might have lied or dissembled in a desperate attempt to stay permanently in this country? But perhaps our fears about being overwhelmed by dangerous elements among the prospective new immigrants have made us blind to a greater threat: What if we are already surrounded by such elements, in vast numbers of those now permanently resident here? What if it is already too late to protect ourselves against this danger?
There is a simple solution available to address these fears. It is based on the recognition that the case-by-case, elaborate administrative review of suspected fraud among the newest naturalized citizens will never be adequate to the task. The solution to this dilemma is both straightforward and elegant: Since all citizens of this country are descendants of people who were once naturalized citizens, then all must be subjected to the process of being examined for denaturalization and deportation to country of origin.
For who among us can prove, to the satisfaction of a judge, that the statements made by our ancestors, upon landing at Plymouth Rock or Ellis Island, were “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”? What crimes great and small, false identities, and phony marriages did they fail to mention? What enormous pile of immigration fraud lies forever concealed among the desperate tales of the “wretched refuse” that has been cast upon these shores since time immemorial? Those facing denaturalization proceedings today must say to the rest: “You were, every one, all immigrants at one time or another. All of you should be sent back to your ultimate country of origin, until all of the paperwork can be sorted out.”
The logic and reasonableness of this position undoubtedly will appear to many to be inescapable. There will surely arise a swelling tide of citizens who will choose to self-deport themselves back to their ancestors’ countries of origin. Only the present descendants of aboriginal peoples will be exempt. But wait! They too were immigrants, starting about 14,000 years ago. Given the age of the universe, what difference does a few thousand years make? They too must choose to go. And every one of the self-deportees will have to take with them their household pets and farm animals, most of which are non-native species.
On a personal note, all four of my grandparents emigrated from Germany to New York, through the port of Hamburg, around the end of the nineteenth century. We should, by all rights, return to the Fatherland until all this is sorted out. There will be a few awkward cases among the tens of millions of returnees. The grandfather of the current president of the United States sought to do the right and proper thing, by returning to his country of origin after making a small fortune in some interesting enterprises in the Pacific Northwest; however, German officials refused to allow him to take up his German citizenship again. This was obviously a simple bureaucratic error that could be rectified with a bit of good will on all sides, and indeed it was.
Once the United States is emptied out, for which the resident wildlife will be grateful, Canada and the whole of Central and South America must follow suit. But when Europe is filled to bursting with these inhabitants of temporary detention centers, will not those detainees cry out: “What right do the rest of you have to your comfortable squatting on occupied land? Whence came the Angles and the Saxons, whence the Goths and Visigoths, the Vandals and the Huns? Not to mention the Han Chinese.”
Out of Africa, and back again.
William Leiss was born in Long Island, New York; he is professor emeritus, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada, and a Fellow and Past-President of The Royal Society of Canada: Go to www.leiss.ca.
- Do not use invidious comparisons between your views and anyone else’s.
- Avoid either explicit or implicit ‘fights’ with those holding opposing views.
- Maintain a tone of sweet reasonableness throughout any document.
- Admit that there is some risk (where scientifically appropriate).
- Use some technical terminology to make your explanations understandable, but always give brief explanations in nontechnical language (exposure, dose, likelihood, etc.).
- Be bold in asserting that the only reasonable basis for understanding risks is the accumulated weight of scientific evidence, not single published studies, older studies that have been superseded by newer ones, or outlier studies. Say something like: “We strongly recommend that people do not rely on the other types of studies mentioned” [i.e., single published studies, etc.]
- Be bold in recommending to the public that they exercise caution when making up their minds as to what to believe about any risk, including asking themselves what is the source of any piece of information which they have read or heard about from a friend, and whether that source is likely to have the expertise needed to make a reliable judgment on the risk in question.
- Don’t hesitate to advise your audience that, if it is possible for them to do so, it is fine to seek to minimize personal risks (usually by limiting exposure) when it is relatively easy to do so and does not otherwise inadvertently create or increase another risk.
- It is perfectly acceptable to advise people who are preoccupied with certain risks that alternatives they might choose almost always carry their own risks, sometimes higher ones.
- Brevity is the soul of communicative effectiveness when it comes to key messages.
The Need for Utopia [PDF]
(First Draft December 2017)
A Contribution to the Future of Critical Theory
Dedicated to Herbert Marcuse
©William Leiss 2017. All Rights Reserved. (firstname.lastname@example.org / www.leiss.ca )
∗∗∗TABLE OF CONTENTS∗∗∗
INTRODUCTION…………………………………………………. 1 THEUTOPIANVISIONINTHEMODERNWEST……………. 3 SOCIALISM, ANARCHISM, COMMUNISM……………………. 7 THE END OF UTOPIA?………………………………………… 10 TRANSITION……………………………………………………… 12 EMPOWERMENTOFWOMEN………………………………… 18
WHAT IS EMPOWERMENT? 19 RELEVANT SOCIAL INDICATORS 20 MARY BEARD’S MANIFESTO 21
WHAT DIFFERENCE MAY IT MAKE?…………………………….. 22 MALE VIOLENCE 24
TWO SCENARIOS………………………………………………….. 29 ROUTES…………………………………………………………… 32 CONCLUSIONS……………………………………………………. 33
I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 6.
“Superintelligence” refers to the idea that an advanced form of machine (computer-based) intelligence, programmed using Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques, will in the future greatly exceed the intellectual capacities of human beings. According to some experts, this gives rise to the threat that such a machine would seek to dominate or displace humans. This threat has given rise to a great deal of academic and industry interest in the area now known as “AI safety.”
I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 4.
In a truly remarkable historical development, seven men and women, all born in small Jewish communities in a narrow band of territory running through Western and Central Europe in the nineteenth century, made extraordinary contributions to the “Second Enlightenment” in the modern West. They were Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Edmund Husserl, Gustav Mahler, Albert Einstein, Emmy Noether, and Franz Kafka. But a mere fifty years after the youngest among them was born (Kafka, in 1883), all of the communities from which they came, and so many other similar ones, were wiped out entirely in Nazi Germany’s Holocaust.
I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 3.
A key feature of the eighteenth-century French Enlightenment was its war against religion, which it called “superstition,” and its advocacy of the “new science” – that is, experimental science, as defined first by Francis Bacon and Galileo in the preceding century and practiced by the first modern chemists. But in his great book on “the progress of the human mind,” Condorcet added an important corollary: that the evidence-based method of science should also spread throughout social practices, leading to a more humane society. But contemporary science can no longer fulfill this role, since its concepts and methods stray far from the common-sense understanding of the world.
I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 2.
The introduction of large-scale machinery into factories in the nineteenth-century, and (with railroads) into the public sphere, was a great shock to the artistic imagination. In such imaginative works as the short stories by Herman Melville, “The Bell-Tower” (1855), and E. M. Forster, “The Machine Stops” (1909), this development was portrayed as presenting deep challenges to humanity’s sense of self, leading to the possibility that humankind could wind up as the passive and uncomprehending victims of the triumph of the machine.
I am posting selections from Book 3 of the Herasaga, along with a short introduction for each chapter. I will post one each week for the next month or so. Here is the intro to Chapter 1.
What is “modernity”? In what essential, unique way does modern Western civilization differ from all of its predecessors, stretching back to the ancient Greeks, and all other major world civilizations (Chinese, Islamic, Japanese, Russian, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and African Kingdoms)? I argue that the unique element is both modern science itself and its historical characteristics – its close bond with technology, and its influence on the social sphere. To be sure, this results in a highly problematic situation, since this science confers great operational power on humans, and thus it demands that this power be used prudently, a demand that has not yet been met.
Washington, DC might be wildly disfunctional, but the good news is that, at least for now, U.S. government science is still alive and well.
The Learning Experience with Herbert Marcuse [PDF] – International Herbert Marcuse Conference, York University, Toronto, October 2017
The Priesthood of Science, Second Edition (2017)
(Book Two of The Herasaga)
Pages xxxii, 350
Pictures and Illustrations
Publisher: Magnus & Associates Ltd.
The second edition features a new concluding chapter, entitled “Such Clever Microbes!” which deals with the implications of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique.
The work originally published in 2008 had two components that were central to its purpose as a work belonging to a specific genre, namely, science-based utopian fiction: First, a collection of essays, grounded in scientific literature, on the history of science, social impacts of science and technology, and mammalian reproductive biology. Second, a series of dialogues, involving different combinations of characters, that are philosophical in nature, largely concerned with exploring the social and ethical implications of the technologies associated with modern science. Works of utopian fiction in modern times have always been “novels of ideas,” and the present work seeks to remain faithful to that tradition. This edition has had minor changes to the text throughout, as well as the addition of an entirely new chapter on genome editing at the end, Chapter 17: “Such Clever Microbes!” focusing on the CRISPR-Cas9 technique.
I read in the paper recently that you are supposed to have said: “If I were to be born a second time, I would become not a physicist, but an artisan.” These words were a great comfort to me, for similar thoughts are going through my mind as well, in view of the evil which our once so beautiful science has brought upon the world.
Max Born, Letter to Albert Einstein (1954)
Hera and her sisters are now sealed off from the rest of the world in their private enclave at Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada. She is still tormented by the decision of her parents, two neuroscientists, to make genetic modifications in the brains of their twelve daughters—and by her own agreement to allow a similar procedure to be used later on a much larger group of human embryos.
Her doubts now spill over into a series of debates with a molecular biologist, Abdullah al-Dini, about whether scientists have the right to hand over the vast new powers they have discovered to a world still riddled with religious fanaticism, ethnic hatred, and a longing to see the prophecy of the “end of days” be fulfilled. These debates refer back to what happened during the Second World War, when physicists were unveiling the secrets of nuclear power, and the possibility of the atom bomb, just as the time when Nazi Germany and its allies were launching their terrifying bid for world domination.
Meanwhile, that group of engineered embryos has become one thousand young people, just turning eighteen, and the gender politics among them is threatening to bring down in ruins her own little experiment in redesigning human society.
The first (2008) edition is available from the University of Ottawa Press in three formats:
- Paperback (a beautiful book!)
- ePub & ePDF