Far Left

The left gets extreme in several different ways, but because it does not have backing from corporations and billionaires, it is far less dangerous. As discussed under Extreme Enviro, a leading climate-change journalist has claimed the ocean is rising a foot a year, when it's actually rising about 1/8 of an inch per year. [#That's extreme]. And, Al Gore has published a picture suggesting the same error, and I've never found a single environmentalist correcting this. And then there are the 9/11 truthers. But let's start with Jim Jones.

Jim Jones vs Obama

Let's start with a clear example. I have a friend who spent years thinking Jim Jones, the mass murderer of 908 progressives, was nearly Jesus Christ. He almost got himself killed. But, even before Obama's election he hated Obama with a passion, and loved Ralph Nader. That's extreme.

He's a very nice, calm, intelligent guy. How could he make a such mistake? And how could he learn so little from it?

I believe, he has a simplistic view of change — Change happens if we see the light and do what's right. So he will only trust a leader who reflects that simple vision, but not one who thinks change is an incremental process that requires compromise and dialog along the way.

He's also missing an understanding of the power of the constraints that keep status quo in place. He would read this and think I was arguing for the status quo. I'm not. I'm arguing that the system that protects it is powerful. To change it for the better requires hard work, and even then, positive changes come gradually.

Strategy vs Goal

Even more difficult for extremists to understand, is the need for strategy. Not only is positive change slow, but it must often be indirect. If people are sick of confrontational politics, and the opposition demands X which cuts entirely in the wrong direction, it may be best to offer to compromise on X/2, knowing they will reject it, look unreasonable, and fail to gain their demand.

But the extremist will see the offer of X/2 and a sellout and morally reprehensible. Of course politics is far more complex, and the strategies needed to accomplish anything are also far more complex then X/2. All of this escapes the extremist, and that is why the left splinters and turns on itself. For a brilliant 80-year look at this phenomenon, read Jonathan Chait, or watch Monte Python's The Life of Brian.




[=That's extreme] Climate Change Is Not a Hoax
The best science is telling us there's a huge risk from what we're doing. Since we can begin to address this risk very cheaply, it is completely irresponsible not to. Also, I am not saying that environmental exaggerations are nearly as bad as those paid for by Exxon and the Koch brothers, but this is no excuse. And the enviro extremism only serves to discredit environmentalists.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Jim Jones vs. Obama

From Jim Jones to Ralph Nader to hating Obama 

  This is a true story. Only the name has been changed. Although its details are extreme "Mark's" thought process is shared by most of the extreme left, and in a much attenuated version is widely distributed among Progressives. From what I know of the extreme right and conservatives, they are afflicted with exactly the same curse.

Mark is a kind and thoughtful person, genuinely concerned with the plight of others, which is how he became a follower of Jim Jones, who had helped integrate some schools, churches and hospitals in Indiana. Unfortunately, although very smart, Mark tends to see things in black and white. This made him an easy mark for deception, and Jim Jones, a 50's era communist turned preacher, was a great deceiver. Luckily for Mark, he eventually got close enough to Jones to see his dark side, and fearing for his life, he escaped and hid out while Jones took his cult followers to Jonestown, Guyana.

In November 1978 U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited the "Peoples Temple" in Jonestown to check on complaints and was murdered along with four others. This led to a coerced mass suicide by cyanide-laced "kool-aid" in which Jones and 908 followers died, 303 of them, children. This is the worst mass murder (excluding 9/11) in US history, and it targeted idealistic progressives like Mark.

Before Jonestown, Jim Jones had gained the public support of such progressive leaders as, George Moscone, Walter Mondale, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Willie Brown, Jerry Brown, and Harvey Milk. All of these people were nothing like Jones, but were deceived by him, and by lending him their support, they were, to some extent, discredited by him. In fact progressives have had to live with the epithet, "you drank the kool-aid," ever since.

Now you might think Mark, who was genuinely horrified by Jones, even before Jonestown, would have been chastened by this experience and become cautious about who he followed. But personalities don't change easily. Extremists tend to stay extreme even when they flip from one extreme to another. But Mark didn't flip and the last I heard, he was following Ralph Nader who has done just as much damage to the progressive cause. By taking 98,000 votes in Florida, he handed George Bush the [#election] (Gore only needed 538 votes). And this was no accident; Nader hates Clinton and Gore, but had pledged to stay out of close state races. In the end, however, he couldn't help himself and actively campaigned in Florida.

So Mark has remained an extremist. And, of course, seeing that Obama was anything but extreme, he hated him with a passion from the start. This is part of how I knew, even before the election, that the extreme "left" would turn on Obama if he were elected. These so-called-left extremists will likely join the right extremists and bring victory once again to the Republicans.


[=election] Yes a fair recount might have saved Gore. And a bit of charisma might have, and X might have and Y too. But none of that negates the fact that if Nader had not gotten in the way, Gore would have won easily, and we would not have had the Iraq war.
[=PopNotes] Just hover over green-underline links above to see the "pop" notes.


Strategy vs Goal

Two Causes of Extremism

Aside from personality disorders, hubris and the ends-means confusion are the two main sources of extremism. I  Let me explain.

Suppose a group of friends are driving to a restaurant and once says "turn right" and the other "turn left." Why did they disagree? There are only two generic answers: ends and means. It could be one doesn't actually want to go to that restaurant (disagrees on the ends) and is trying to disrupt the plan. Or it could be that they just have a disagreement about which route is best (means).

Normally, with friends, we assume the disagreement is about means — what's the best route, approach or strategy. Normally. But not with politics. Were the restaurant political, these "friends" would probably assume someone was a traitor to their cause, and forget that their can be honest differences over how to get there.

A Case In Point:

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation:

"And here's a no brainer: after a year of being knifed by the GOP at every turn, isn't it time to give up on faith in genteel postpartisanship?" (p. 26, The Change I believe In.)

Now she has not, in this case, assumed Obama has a different goal on issues, but she has assumed that he is trusting in "genteel postpartisanship" — that his intermediate goal is to have a friendly chat with the Republicans and work things out. So what's wrong with that analysis?

  1. She thinks her view is a "no brainer," which means his goal is brainless. That's hubris.
  2. She thinks that because he acting non-partisan he is expecting it to work. That bipartisanship is and one of his goals (ends) and not just a means.

Here's the alternative explanation she forgot to consider. By taking a bipartisan approach, he demonstrates the Republicans are the extremists. He may well believe, that only after this is revealed will he be able to win. And winning, is never just about the issue at hand, it's also about the 2012 election. Now I can't read Obama's mind much better than Katrina, although I have the advantage of knowing he has a brain and and thinks strategically, but it is clearly wrong to ignore the possibility that Obama is working a strategy. And even if she thinks it's a poor strategy, it is unhelpful at the least to pretend he is simply empty headed.

This Case Is the Rule, Not the Except;on

So far in Katrina's book, in spite of dozens of opportunities, I have no found one case in which she has said, "I can see that Obama is in a tough position and acting as he does for strategic reasons, which are clever, but it looks like he's misjudging factor X." That is what is called for in every case. Obama is not a no brainer, and he is not "malleable" as to his goals, as Katrina seems to believe.

Obama is, in an extremely difficult position, needing blue dogs for support, and up against a country whipped into an irrational frenzy over "ObamaCare." He is choosing strategies (means) after intense and prolonged debate. And, yes he's made a lot of mistakes — assuming you could do better as president is where hubris comes in again. But worse than hubris, is the assumption that Obama has gone back on his principles (ends) every time he takes an indirect approach for strategic reasons (means).

Extreme Enviro

Environmentalists tend toward simple strategies, such as locking in the next 40 years of carbon policy right now based on a magic number like 80% by 2050. That's a hard sell and they get frustrated. Then they try scare tactics and then they start believing their own rhetoric. Here's an example.

A hundred fold exaggeration 

Ross Gelbspan, one of the best known and most prolific popularizes of global warming has a chapter claiming that certain islands in the South Pacific are being flooded by the ocean rising a one foot per year. I found this a bit odd, since everywhere else it is rising about 1/10 of one inch per year. And since water seeks its one level, we can't very well have a big mound of water in the South Pacific. As it turns out, Gelbspan had simply misread the newspaper report he had posted on his own website. Hence the 100 fold exaggeration. (full story)

Al Gore too

Unfortunately, Al Gore fell for this story as well. He has a picture in his book of waves crashing over such an island, and there is no way to interpret his text except to mean that the photo is showing the actual effect of global warming that has already occurred. This is complete nonsense, as he could have found out by contacting James Hansen, the leading environmentalist climate scientist, who specializes in sea level rise.

Why this is disastrous

This and many other environmental exaggerations are disastrous not because they will scare us into taking un-needed drastic actions. Just he opposite. What environmentalist need more than anything is credibility, and such exaggerations destroy credibility. In the long run, it is completely counter productive, as is all of the left extremism.

Islands vs the Sea

This is an excerpt from my book Carbonomics. After documenting the deceptions perpetrated by the anti-science, warming-deniers funded by the oil industry, I turn to and example of gross exaggeration by one of the best known environmental reporters. (from chapter 4)

Of Islands and Sea Levels

Exxon is worth about half a trillion dollars. Ross Gelbspan, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, rather less. But he enjoys taking on the giant. Al Gore, for one, has commended him for his efforts, and he deserves the praise.

But page 2 of Gelbspan’s 2004 book Boiling Point begins with a curious statement: “The evidence [for global warming] is not subtle.” Gelbspan finds the case for global warming terrifyingly obvious. But if the evidence really is so obvious, why don’t the scientists notice? Why do they keep doing all these complicated studies and end up only 90 percent sure? Are they a bit dense? Perhaps they should read Gelbspan’s book.

Gelbspan’s certainty that global warming is obvious runs through his work as a reporter, making him incautious. Consider this excerpt from Boiling Point about a group of Pacific islands:

In November 2000, officials began the permanent evacuation of more than 40,000 people from their traditional home. As the British newspaper The Independent noted, “[this] could be the dress rehearsal for millions of people around the globe affected by risingsea levels.” … The islands are just 12 feet above sea level, and water levels are rising at 11.8 inches per year.

Gelbspan tells us—based on an article in The Independent—that the sea level is rising 11.8 inches per year due to global warming. But an experienced reporter writing his second book on global warming should have noticed something fishy about 11.8 inches per year. That really is awfully fast.

So how might an investigative reporter proceed? First, a close reading of the source newspaper article, which can be found on Gelbspan’s Web site, reveals it does not say the sea level was rising 11.8 inches per year. Instead it says “The islands … are sinking 11.8 inches a year.” That’s a little different.

To check further, a reporter might next try the IPCC’s 2001 report. Download the Summary for Policymakers from the group’s Web site, and search for “sea level.” The second hit reads, “Global mean sea level: Increased at an average annual rate of 1 to 2 mm during the 20th century.” That’s in Table 1. There are about 25 millimeters to an inch. Two millimeters annually is less than a tenth of an inch per year.

So 11.8 inches per year is about 100 times too fast to be caused by global
warming. The islands’ problem is not the tenth-of-an-inch per year rise in sea
level. The problem really is that the islands are sinking. Here’s a news report
from 2000 explaining why.

The move from the Duke of York group [of islands] is mostly due to a spectacular clashing of tectonic plates. The shift is extremely violent and this month saw a magnitude eight earthquake and several in the seven range. … The islands are sinking 30 centimetres (11.8 inches) a year. (Michael Field, Agence France Presse, November 28, 2000)

The problem really is that the islands are sinking, and they are sinking because of plate tectonics—that is, one part of the earth’s crust is sliding under another. This has nothing to do with global warming.

Unfortunately, Gelbspan’s misstatement of the facts appears to be part of a pattern in which Gelbspan and some other members of the press inadvertently undermine the credibility of the science of global warming by overstating its conclusions. For example, in the same book, Gelbspan says, “Were the Greenland Ice Sheet (or a substantial part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet) to slide into the oceans, it could cause a rapid rise in sea levels. Since about half the world’s population lives near coastlines, the consequences could be chaotic.”

“Slide,” “rapid,” “chaotic.” All possibly true on the centuries-long timescales that climate scientists normally consider. But when I read that passage, I formed an image like one in an old-time newsreel, in which someone breaks a bottle of champagne across a ship’s bow, and the ship slides into the water with a great splash. What Gelbspan and other reporters need to point out when they say “rapid” is that in a worst-case scenario—beyond anything the IPCC predicts—“rapid” means Greenland’s ice will take 100 years to slide into the sea and the sea level will rise about half an inch per year.

Warning of extreme possibilities is valuable so that people can consider the risks. But reporting extremes as if they are the likely outcome, and reporting them in misleading language, ends up making people more skeptical of the science—to the delight, I am sure, of the oil companies.