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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Progress, of Sorts
on: July 27, 2015, 03:05:23 PM
Well at least some of the sky is falling types are being honest about their intentions:
One top Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change official bluntly says climate policy is no longer about environmental protection; instead, the next climate summit will negotiate “the distribution of the world’s resources.” UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres goes even further. UN bureaucrats, she says, are undertaking “probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the global economic development model.” [emphasis added]http://townhall.com/columnists/pauldriessen/2015/07/25/the-errant-environmental-encyclical-n2030191?newsletterad
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Big Oil Hit Squad
on: July 26, 2015, 08:10:03 PM
Over the years nefarious Big Oil funded denier efforts are often blamed as the reason AGW panic mongering has foundered where the general public is concerned, and indeed tangential relationships between some oil company organ and who paid for some researchers lunch and the like are often cited as the ad hominem reason this or that piece of research should be discounted, wholly ignoring the fact that Big Oil contributes directly to AGW research and those results are considered beyond reproach.
And when the undeniable links between AGW enchanted lawmakers citing stories of doom as reasons to increasingly encroach on American freedom (like your low flow toilet? Looking for a 100 watt lightbulb?) and those who ballyhoo the grim climate scenarios many lawmakers embrace--and provide one sided research funding for--as they ever expand the turf they legislate for putative environmental reasons are pointed out AGW adherents cry "conspiracy theory" despite the fact doomsayers and legislators clearly work hand in glove.
Well here's a little tale making the rounds about Big Oil funded hit squads engineering lighting strikes and such that take out AGW researchers. No doubt the panic mongers will fall all over themselves, uh, denying these conspiracy theories and making it clear they don't support these Big Oil libels, though I'd expect the sky is falling scenarios they keep hawking to actually occur first. http://joannenova.com.au/2015/07/climate-death-squads-funded-by-big-oil-strike-people-with-lightning-hows-that-for-an-ideated-conspiracy/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Embracing Abject Failure
on: July 21, 2015, 01:55:26 PM
Same tactics, different substances, outcomes remain the same. An institutionalized embrace of self-righteous folly:
It's Time We Learned from Sin Taxes' Impressive History of Failure
Reason Magazine by J.D. Tuccille
Samuel Johnson reportedly joked that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. But marriage at least has sex to recommend it. The screwing that politicians give us when they return to the same failed policies time and again are far less enjoyable. But return they do, most recently to sin taxes on cigarettes, booze and, now, junk food and sugary drinks. They promise that these taxes will both discourage disfavored behavior and stuff government coffers with proceeds mugged from ill-living sinners—mutually incompatible goals that such taxes have never fulfilled.
And, in their courting of false hope and spurning of actual experience, politicians ignore the unintended consequences that sin taxes always have delivered.
In budgets adopted last month, Connecticut, Kansas, and Nevada hiked state cigarette taxes amidst flurries of predictions of a new influx of cash nabbed from the nicotine-stained fingertips of smokers. Nutmeg State advocates predicted that a $1.50 hike in Connecticut "would yield more than $60 million annually while driving tens of thousands of state residents away from tobacco." (Connecticut ultimately boosted the take by $0.50 to $3.90 per pack.) Nevada's one dollar rise to $1.80 per pack would "prompt more than 15,400 adult smokers in Nevada to quit, all while raising more than $192 million in new revenue in the first two years," insisted Christopher W. Hansen, President of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. The Kansas City Star editorial board similarly called a cigarette tax hike ($0.50 to $1.29 per pack) "a victory for a healthier Kansas while generating a few more dollars to keep the state out of debtor's prison."
But legislators can only hope to reap cash rewards while punishing smoky pleasures by ignoring history. After Connecticut's recent sin tax victory dance, The Hartford Courant noted that cigarettes sales have dropped for years, not necessarily inspired by the tax rate. "From 2012 through the first few months of 2015, when there haven't been any tax increases, the average monthly consumption rate for the year as a whole has decreased by 7.4 percent from the prior year."
The cigarette tax take has similarly eroded, along with sales. The newspaper concluded that declining smoking rates doomed efforts to turn tobacco into a revenue bonanza. That may be true, but it's also true that cigarette taxes have become so punitive, and so disparate across jurisdictions, that the ranks of remaining smokers—dedicated to their vice and resistant to efforts to make them quit—are acquiring their smokes outside the usual channels, in defiance of efforts to empty their pockets or scrub their lungs.
It's "Prohibition by price," Michael LaFaive tells me. He's an economist with Michigan's Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which, among other things, studies the effects of skyrocketing cigarette taxes. And just as overt efforts to snatch booze from Americans spawned a dynamic and dangerous black market in smuggled liquor, his organization's research reveals that implicitly prohibitionist schemes to make tobacco unaffordable have already done the same.
In New York, where authorities boasted just weeks ago of busting a $3 million smuggling ring, 58 percent of all cigarettes sold in the state are smuggled. With state taxes at $4.35 per pack, and New York City imposing another $1.50 charge, it's a no-brainer to load trucks at Virginia's $0.30 per pack rate and illegally drive them up Interstate 95 to customers suffering the country's most onerous tax.
The recent tax hikes "are going to fuel additional smuggling," LaFaive warns.
Scott Drenkard, an economist with the Tax Foundation, which co-publishes cigarette tax studies with Mackinac agrees.
"I think it's very likely that cigarette tax increases in Kansas will contribute to new smuggling activity there, especially because bordering Missouri has the lowest cigarette excise tax in the country at $0.17 per pack," he says. Fifteen percent of Kansas's smokes are already purchased on the black market; that figure isn't going down.
Both economists expect Connecticut to see similarly increased smuggling, and Drenkard even fingers the likely source: New Hampshire, where cigarettes are taxed at a far cheaper $1.78 per pack.
LaFaive points out that the modern phenomenon of illicit "loosie" sales of single cigarettes are a direct descendant of Prohibition-era sales of single shots of whiskey outside factory gates. Even as we try to reinvent policy, we recreate old mistakes, and their unintended consequences.
Or maybe we just go back to the source and stupidly copy them over again.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) originally wanted to hike liquor taxes too, though that plan was shot down. Connecticut doubles down on the stupid by taxing consumers without profiting state coffers—the state sets minimum prices for retailers. These schemes are in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Community Preventive Services Task Force which "recommends increasing the unit price of alcohol by raising taxes based on strong evidence of effectiveness for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms."
So… how high is high enough?
The Tax Foundation helpfully reveals that excise taxes range across the country from zilch in Wyoming to $35 per gallon of liquor in Washington. That range of rates is an open invitation to fill the backs of trucks and haul loads of booze across borders, which is exactly what happens.
Mackinac's LaFaive points to the Michigan-Indiana border as a high-traffic area for liquor smugglers. Michigan's state government maintains a wholesale monopoly on spirits, and charges $11.90 per gallon in taxes. Indiana allows a competitive market with taxes at $2.68 per gallon.
The result, as the Michigan Liquor Control Commission complained (PDF) in 2007 is that alcohol smuggling contributed to a "conservative annual estimate of $14 million dollars in loss to the state" in revenues. Indiana and Wisconsin (PDF) were fingered as the major sources of the black market stuff.
But should prohibitionists at least give themselves a pat on the back for sacrificing a little revenue in the name of blessed sobriety?
Britain's Institute of Economic Affairs reported in 2012 that high alcohol taxes don't discourage drinking anywhere they looked on the planet. "[T]his research shows that the amount of drink consumed in high tax countries is exactly the same as in low tax countries."
Taxes just fuel black markets, including smuggling and illegal production.
The latest frontier in government efforts to tax us into a future of healthy virtue and budgetary black ink involves levies on sugary drinks and junk food. In April, the Navajo Nation became the first U.S. jurisdiction to impose a specific tax on chips, cakes, and other foods the experts say we're not supposed to eat. The tribal government adopted the measure shortly after Berkeley, California voters subjected themselves (and their unwilling neighbors) to a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas, sports drinks, sweet teas and other sugary beverages.
Learning from past experience, could we be in for the cakes and cokes Mafia?
Actually, maybe not. LaFaive and Drenkard say that these sorts of taxes are even more problematic than those on booze and smokes, since they target tastes rather than specific products. Junk food and sugary drinks have lots of substitutes, and it's impossible to chase them all down.
Chips can be replaced by popcorn that you salt and butter yourself, LaFaive points out.
"The health literature on soda taxes shows that they decrease soda consumption, yes, but people just increase their calorie intake from other sources to make up the difference," notes Drenkard. "A 2010 study showed that adolescents often switch to milk (which actually has more calories), and a 2012 study showed that older consumers switch to beer."
So people want what they want and aren't so easy to bully into preferred behavior—or be forced to pay for the privilege. You don't say. Maybe that's a lesson politicians should have gleaned from the historical evidence long ago.
And maybe we all should have learned by now, despite our hopes to the contrary, that politicians and their control freak friends don't acknowledge their failures.http://reason.com/archives/2015/07/21/its-time-we-learned-from-sin-taxes-impre
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Faith Based Jurisprudence
on: July 14, 2015, 08:52:40 PM
12 reasons to worry about our criminal justice system, from a prominent conservative federal judge
By Eugene Volokh July 14 at 5:50 PM
Judge Alex Kozinski — for whom I clerked 20 years ago, who is one of our nation’s most prominent appellate judges and who has long been seen as on balance a libertarianish conservative (appointed by President Reagan) — has recently published an article in the Georgetown Law Journal that says some pretty harsh things about our criminal justice system, and offers some (doubtless controversial) proposals for improving it. You can read the whole article, Criminal Law 2.0, but I also asked Judge Kozinski for permission to serialize the article here, and he graciously agreed. Here is the introduction, which gives 12 reasons to worry about our criminal justice system; I’ll post other parts of the article in the days to come. I’ve added some paragraph breaks and removed the footnotes (which are available in the PDF version), but otherwise this is as Judge Kozinski wrote it:
Although we pretend otherwise, much of what we do in the law is guesswork. For example, we like to boast that our criminal justice system is heavily tilted in favor of criminal defendants because we’d rather that ten guilty men go free than an innocent man be convicted. There is reason to doubt it, because very few criminal defendants actually go free after trial.
Does this mean that many guilty men are never charged because the prosecution is daunted by its heavy burden of proof? Or is it because jurors almost always start with a strong presumption that someone wouldn’t be charged with a crime unless the police and the prosecutor were firmly convinced of his guilt? We tell ourselves and the public that it’s the former and not the latter, but we have no way of knowing. They say that any prosecutor worth his salt can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. It may be that a decent prosecutor could get a petit jury to convict a eunuch of rape.
The “ten guilty men” aphorism is just one of many tropes we assimilate long before we become lawyers. How many of us, the author included, were inspired to go to law school after watching Juror #8 turn his colleagues around by sheer force of reason and careful dissection of the evidence? “If that’s what the law’s about, then I want to be a lawyer!” I thought to myself.
But is it? We know very little about this because very few judges, lawyers and law professors have spent significant time as jurors. In fact, much of the so-called wisdom that has been handed down to us about the workings of the legal system, and the criminal process in particular, has been undermined by experience, legal scholarship and common sense. Here are just a few examples:
1. Eyewitnesses are highly reliable. This belief is so much part of our culture that one often hears talk of a “mere” circumstantial case as contrasted to a solid case based on eyewitness testimony. In fact, research shows that eyewitness identifications are highly unreliable, especially where the witness and the perpetrator are of different races. Eyewitness reliability is further compromised when the identification occurs under the stress of a violent crime, an accident or catastrophic event — which pretty much covers all situations where identity is in dispute at trial. In fact, mistaken eyewitness testimony was a factor in more than a third of wrongful conviction cases. Yet, courts have been slow in allowing defendants to present expert evidence on the fallibility of eyewitnesses; many courts still don’t allow it. Few, if any, courts instruct juries on the pitfalls of eyewitness identification or caution them to be skeptical of eyewitness testimony.
2. Fingerprint evidence is foolproof. Not so. Identifying prints that are taken by police using fingerprinting equipment and proper technique may be a relatively simple process, but latent prints left in the field are often smudged and incomplete, and the identification process becomes more art than science. When tested by rigorous scientific methods, fingerprint examiners turn out to have a significant error rate. Perhaps the best-known example of such an error occurred in 2004 when the FBI announced that a latent print found on a plastic bag near a Madrid terrorist bombing was “a 100 percent match” to Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield. The FBI eventually conceded error when Spanish investigators linked the print to someone else.
3. Other types of forensic evidence are scientifically proven and therefore infallible. With the exception of DNA evidence (which has its own issues), what goes for fingerprints goes double and triple for other types of forensic evidence: “Spectrographic voice identification error rates are as high as 63%, depending on the type of voice sample tested. Handwriting error rates average around 40% and sometimes approach 100%. False-positive error rates for bite marks run as high as 64%. Those for microscopic hair comparisons are about 12% (using results of mitochondrial DNA testing as the criterion).”
Other fields of forensic expertise, long accepted by the courts as largely infallible, such as bloodstain pattern identification, foot and tire print identification and ballistics have been the subject of considerable doubt. Judge Nancy Gertner, for example, has expressed skepticism about admitting expert testimony on handwriting, canines, ballistics and arson. She has lamented that while “the Daubert-Kumho standard [for admitting expert witness testimony] does not require the illusory perfection of a television show (CSI, this wasn’t), when liberty hangs in the balance — and, in the case of the defendants facing the death penalty, life itself — the standards should be higher . . . than [those that] have been imposed across the country.”
Some fields of forensic expertise are built on nothing but guesswork and false common sense. Many defendants have been convicted and spent countless years in prison based on evidence by arson experts who were later shown to be little better than witch doctors. Cameron Todd Willingham may have lost his life over it.
4. DNA evidence is infallible. This is true to a point. DNA comparison, when properly conducted by an honest, trained professional will invariably reach the correct result. But the integrity of the result depends on a variety of factors that are, unfortunately, not nearly so foolproof: the evidence must be gathered and preserved so as to avoid contamination; the testing itself must be conducted so that the two samples being compared do not contaminate each other; the examiner must be competent and honest. As numerous scandals involving DNA testing labs have shown, these conditions cannot be taken for granted, and DNA evidence is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.
5. Human memories are reliable. Much of what we do in the courtroom relies on human memory. When a witness is asked to testify about past events, the accuracy of his account depends not only on his initial perception, but on the way the memories are recorded, stored and retrieved. For a very long time, it was believed that stored memories were much like video tape or film — an accurate copy of real-word experience that might fade with the passage of time or other factors, but could not be distorted or embellished.
Science now tells us that this view of human memory is fundamentally flawed. The mind not only distorts and embellishes memories, but a variety of external factors can affect how memories are retrieved and described. In an early study by cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, people were shown videos of car accidents and then questioned about what they saw. The group asked how fast the cars were going when they “smashed” into each other estimated 6.5 mph faster than the group asked how fast the cars were going when they “hit” each other. A week later, almost a third of those who were asked about the “smash” recalled seeing broken glass, even though there was none.
This finding has troubling implications for criminal trials where witnesses are questioned long and hard by police and prosecutors before the defense gets to do so — if ever. There is thus plenty of opportunity to shape and augment a witness’s memory to bring it into line with the prosecutor’s theory of what happened. Yet with rare exceptions, courts do not permit expert testimony on human memory.
For example, the district judge in the Scooter Libby case denied a defense motion for a memory expert, even though the key issue at trial was whose recollection of a 4-year-old telephone conversation should be believed. At least one member of the jury that convicted Libby lamented the lack of expert testimony on the subject. And a key witness in that case recently suggested in her memoirs that her memory may have been distorted by the prosecutor’s crafty questioning. Given the malleability of human memory, it should come as no surprise that many wrongful convictions have been the result of faulty witness memories, often manipulated by the police or the prosecution.
6. Confessions are infallible because innocent people never confess. We now know that this is not true. Innocent people do confess with surprising regularity. Harsh interrogation tactics, a variant of Stockholm syndrome, the desire to end the ordeal, emotional and financial exhaustion, family considerations and the youth or feeble-mindedness of the suspect can result in remarkably detailed confessions that are later shown to be utterly false.
7. Juries follow instructions. This is a presumption — actually more of a guess — that we’ve elevated to a rule of law. It is, of course, necessary that we do so because it links the jury’s fact-finding process to the law. In fact, however, we know very little about what juries actually do when they decide cases. Do they consider the instructions at all? Do they consider all of the instructions or focus on only some? Do they understand the instructions or are they confused?
We don’t really know. We get occasional glimpses into the operations of juries when they send out questions or someone discloses juror misconduct, and even then the information we get is limited. But we have no convincing reason to believe that jury instructions in fact constrain jury behavior in all or even most cases. And, because the information we get from inside the jury room is so limited and sporadic, experience does little to improve our knowledge. Looking at 100 black boxes is no more informative than looking at one.
8. Prosecutors play fair. The Supreme Court has told us in no uncertain terms that a prosecutor’s duty is to do justice, not merely to obtain a conviction. It has also laid down some specific rules about how prosecutors, and the people who work for them, must behave — principal among them that the prosecution turn over to the defense exculpatory evidence in the possession of the prosecution and the police.
There is reason to doubt that prosecutors comply with these obligations fully. The U.S. Justice Department, for example, takes the position that exculpatory evidence must be produced only if it is material. This puts prosecutors in the position of deciding whether tidbits that could be helpful to the defense are significant enough that a reviewing court will find it to be material, which runs contrary to the philosophy of the Brady/Giglio line of cases and increases the risk that highly exculpatory evidence will be suppressed. Beyond that, we have what I have described elsewhere as an “epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land,” a phrase that has caused much controversy but brought about little change in the way prosecutors operate in the United States.
9. The prosecution is at a substantial disadvantage because it must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Juries are routinely instructed that the defendant is presumed innocent and the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but we don’t really know whether either of these instructions has an effect on the average juror. Do jurors understand the concept of a presumption? If so, do they understand how a presumption is supposed to operate? Do they assume that the presumption remains in place until it is overcome by persuasive evidence or do they believe it disappears as soon as any actual evidence is presented? We don’t really know.
Nor do we know whether juries really draw a distinction between proof by a preponderance, proof by clear and convincing evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. These levels of proof, which lawyers and judges assume to be hermetically sealed categories, may mean nothing at all in the jury room. My own experience as a juror certainly did nothing to convince me that my fellow jurors understood and appreciated the difference. The issue, rather, seemed to be quite simply: Am I convinced that the defendant is guilty?
Even more troubling are doubts raised by psychological research showing that “whoever makes the first assertion about something has a large advantage over everyone who denies it later.” The tendency is more pronounced for older people than for younger ones, and increases the longer the time-lapse between assertion and denial. So is it better to stand mute rather than deny an accusation? Apparently not, because “when accusations or assertions are met with silence, they are more likely to feel true.”
To the extent this psychological research is applicable to trials, it tends to refute the notion that the prosecution pulls the heavy oar in criminal cases. We believe that it does because we assume juries go about deciding cases by accurately remembering all the testimony and weighing each piece of evidence in a linear fashion, selecting which to believe based on assessment of its credibility or plausibility. The reality may be quite different. It may be that jurors start forming a mental picture of the events in question as soon as they first hear about them from the prosecution witnesses. Later-introduced evidence, even if pointing in the opposite direction, may not be capable of fundamentally altering that picture and may, in fact, reinforce it.
And the effect may be worse the longer the prosecution’s case lasts and, thus, the longer it takes to bring the contrary evidence before the jury. Trials in general, and longer trials in particular, may be heavily loaded in favor of whichever party gets to present its case first — the prosecution in a criminal case and the plaintiff in a civil case.
If this is so, it substantially undermines the notion that we seldom convict an innocent man because guilt must be proven to a sufficient certainty. It may well be that, contrary to instructions, and contrary to their own best intentions, jurors are persuaded of whatever version of events is first presented to them and change their minds only if they are given very strong reasons to the contrary.
10. Police are objective in their investigations. In many ways, this is the bedrock assumption of our criminal justice process. Police investigators have vast discretion about what leads to pursue, which witnesses to interview, what forensic tests to conduct and countless other aspects of the investigation. Police also have a unique opportunity to manufacture or destroy evidence, influence witnesses, extract confessions and otherwise direct the investigation so as to stack the deck against people they believe should be convicted.
And not just small-town police in Podunk or Timbuktu. Just the other day, “[t]he Justice Department and FBI  formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all [of the 268] trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.” Do they offer a class at Quantico called “Fudging Your Results To Get A Conviction” or “Lying On The Stand 101”? How can you trust the professionalism and objectivity of police anywhere after an admission like that?
There are countless documented cases where innocent people have spent decades behind bars because the police manipulated or concealed evidence, but two examples will suffice:
In 2013, Debra Milke was released after 23 years on Arizona’s death row based entirely on a supposed oral confession she had made to one Detective Saldate who was much later shown to be a serial liar. And then there is the case of Ricky Jackson, who spent 39 years behind bars based entirely on the eyewitness identification of a 12-year-old boy who saw the crime from a distance and failed to pick Jackson out of a lineup. At that point, “the officers began to feed him information: the number of assailants, the weapon used, the make and model of the getaway car.” 39 years!
For some victims of police misconduct, exoneration comes too late: Mark Collin Sodersten died in prison while maintaining his innocence. After his death, a California appellate court determined that Sodersten had been denied a fair trial because police had failed to turn over exculpatory witness tapes. It posthumously set aside the conviction, which no doubt reduced Sodersten’s time in purgatory.
11. Guilty pleas are conclusive proof of guilt. Many people, including judges, take comfort in knowing that an overwhelming number of criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea rather than trial. Whatever imperfections there may be in the trial and criminal charging process, they believe, are washed away by the fact that the defendant ultimately consents to a conviction. But this fails to take into account the trend of bringing multiple counts for a single incident — thereby vastly increasing the risk of a life-shattering sentence in case of conviction — as well as the creativity of prosecutors in hatching up criminal cases where no crime exists and the overcriminalization of virtually every aspect of American life.
It also ignores that many defendants cannot, as a practical matter, tell their side of the story at trial because they fear being impeached with prior convictions or other misconduct. And, of course, if the trial process is perceived as highly uncertain, or even stacked in favor of the prosecution, the incentive to plead guilty to some charge that will allow the defendant to salvage a portion of his life, becomes immense. If the prosecution offers a take-it-or-leave-it plea bargain before disclosing exculpatory evidence, the defendant may cave to the pressure, throwing away a good chance of an acquittal.
12. Long sentences deter crime. In the United States, we have over 2.2 million people behind bars. Our rate of approximately 716 prisoners per 100,000 people is the highest in the world, over 5 times higher than that of other industrialized nations like Canada, England, Germany and Australia. Sentences for individual crimes are also far longer than in other developed countries. For example, an individual convicted of burglary in the United States serves an average of 16 months in prison, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England. And the average prison sentence for assault in the United States is 60 months, compared to under 20 months in England, Australia and Finland.
Incarceration is an immensely expensive enterprise. It is expensive for the taxpayers, as the average cost of housing a single prisoner for one year is approximately $30,000. A 20-year sentence runs into something like $600,000 in prison costs alone. Long sentences are also immensely hard on prisoners and cruel to their families, as it’s usually very difficult for a prisoner to re-integrate into his family and community after very long prison sentences.
We are committed to a system of harsh sentencing because we believe that long sentences deter crime and, in any event, incapacitate criminals from victimizing the general population while they are in prison. And, indeed, the United States is enjoying an all-time low in violent crime rates, which would seem to support this intuition.
But crime rates have been dropping steadily since the 1990s, and not merely in the United States but throughout the industrialized world. Our intuition about harsh sentences deterring crime may thus be misguided. We may be spending scarce taxpayer dollars maintaining the largest prison population in the industrialized world, shattering countless lives and families, for no good reason. As with much else in the law, the connection between punishment and deterrence remains mysterious. We make our decisions based on faith.
Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/07/14/12-reasons-to-worry-about-our-criminal-justice-system-from-a-prominent-conservative-federal-judge/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Documenting Documentarian Folly
on: July 10, 2015, 09:43:37 PM
Books and Culture
FRED SIEGEL AND SOL STERN
A brilliant satirist unmasks the Palestinian human-rights industry.
July 10, 2015
Catch The Jew!, by Tuvia Tenenbom (Gefen Publishing House, 484 pp., $24.95)
If you want to understand why there is no peace in the Holy Land despite the best efforts of the Obama administration and the billion-dollar European “peace and human rights” industry, you owe it to yourself to read Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom. This myth-shattering book became an instant bestseller in Israel last year, yet, Germany aside, it has largely been ignored in American and European media outlets and by the reigning Middle East punditocracy. Ostensibly, Tenenbom’s book is disdained because the author lacks the academic or journalistic credentials to be taken seriously as a commentator on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Though he speaks both Arabic and Hebrew, Tenenbom possesses no professional expertise on the modern Middle East, nor has he had any previous journalistic experience covering Israel and the Palestinian territories.
So much for academic and journalistic credentials, then. In this volume full of personal observations, revealing interviews, and Swiftian satire, Tenenbom offers deeper insights into the fundamental realities of the Middle East conflict and the pathologies of the Palestinian national movement than decades of reporting by media outlets such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Israel’s Haaretz. No fair-minded person can come away from this book without wondering why such citadels of contemporary liberal journalism have neglected to inform their readers of the scam being conducted in the region by self-styled human-rights activists and their taxpayer-funded European NGOs—not to mention that this massive international intervention actually makes it even more difficult to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict.
So what’s the secret of Tenenbom’s journalism? For starters, he disarms the anti-Israel activists and Palestinian officials he engages with by dissembling about his own identity and by playing the simpleton. The author was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Israel. As an adult, he broke with organized religion and moved to America, where he became a successful playwright and founder of the Jewish Theater of New York. In his travels around Israel and the Palestinian territories, however, Tenenbom presents himself as Tobi, a German gentile and unaffiliated journalist—an innocent abroad sincerely trying to understand why the Jews have chosen to oppress the poor Palestinians. Because many of Tenenbom’s Palestinian and pro-Palestinian interlocutors assume that this well-meaning German must be on their side—a reasonable assumption, since much of the financial support for the pro-Palestinian NGOs comes from the German government or political parties—the ruse works brilliantly. The activists are willing to open up to the apparently naïve German and express their true beliefs about Israel and Zionism—hateful views they might be more circumspect about sharing with, say, a New York Times reporter.
In his tour d’horizon of the Palestinian territories, Tenenbom uncovers the fact that there are almost 300 pro-Palestinian foreign NGOs working (that is, agitating) in the West Bank and another hundred in Gaza, most financed by German taxpayers. Moreover, aid to the Palestinians by the European Union and the United Nations is the highest, per capita, in the world. Which might explain why, as Tenenbom keeps noticing all over the West Bank, so many Palestinian officials and activists are driving Mercedes.
One may wonder why these beautiful European souls see their mission now as saving the Palestinians, while none dare venture to Qatar to protest the slave-labor conditions imposed on foreign workers building the 2020 World Cup facilities. That unprecedented human rights scandal perpetrated by an Arab apartheid regime has so far led to the deaths of more than 1,000 indentured contract workers. Were human rights activists truly looking for a great victory for their cause, they could easily mount a campaign to convince the major European soccer powers (Germany, England, France, and Spain) to threaten a boycott of the 2022 World Cup. That action would almost certainly convince the Qatar royal family to close down the slave labor camps. But then again, as Tenenbom caustically observes, “where else [but in Palestine] could one practice his or her darkest wish for Judenfrei territories and still be considered liberal?”
For the German-funded NGOs in particular, exposing the Jewish state’s perfidy—“catching the Jew,” in Tenenbom’s words—becomes a psychologically convenient way to repudiate the Nazi past. Anti-Zionism thus becomes a path to liberation from the burdens of Germany’s past, indeed from all of Western colonial history.
Regarding that colonial history, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was well aware of the political value of his spiritual and political mentor, the holy man Mohandas Gandhi. Nehru once famously remarked: “You can’t imagine what it costs to keep Gandhi in poverty.” Like Israel, India was founded shortly after World War II over the violent objections of its Muslim population. Despite Ghandian rhetoric about non-violence, India’s bloody separation from its predominately Muslim regions came about through a vindictive and massive transfer of populations—Muslims to Pakistan, Hindus to India. Today in the West, little is spoken of this nasty affair; not so with comparable developments in Israel. Thanks in part to the double moral bookkeeping practiced by the human-rights industry—captained by the Swiss Red Cross and German NGOs—a contrived narrative of unprecedented Israeli cruelty toward the people now known as Palestinians has taken hold in Europe and on the American left.
Relying on his unconventional journalistic techniques, Tenenbom elicits a string of unguarded comments from the activists who work so diligently to keep the narrative of Palestinian suffering in the news. He opens a unique window allowing us to see how the victims’ game works in Palestine. For example, the popular Palestinian leader Jibril Rajoub—with the help of willing European collaborators—succeeds in staging a series of morality plays that perpetuate the big lie about his people’s historical innocence and unique suffering. Rajoub lets Tobi the German in on one such full-scale operatic production in the West Bank village of Bi’lin. With compliant Western reporters told where and when to gather, Palestinian youths comes on stage and, on cue, begin stoning Israeli soldiers. The soldiers ignore the “youths,” but the stones get larger and they eventually respond. The self-righteous Western reporters now have their “story” of Israeli violence for the day. Moreover, the event is filmed for a documentary by an Israeli leftist financed by (what else?) a German NGO. Tenenbom knows something about theater, and his satirical account of this staged episode is as priceless as it is depressing.
Tenenbom’s method produces pure satiric gold, as when the wife of an American rabbi who heads a one-man organization called “Rabbis for Human Rights” (financed by a European NGO) can’t contain herself and admits to Tenenbom: “You can’t change him. Being a human rights activist in our time is to be a persona, not a philosophy; it’s a fad, it’s a fashion. A human rights activist does not look for facts or logic; it’s about a certain dress code, ‘cool’ clothing, about language, diction, expressions and certain manners. No facts will persuade him.”
Another highlight of the book is Tenenbom’s visit—arranged by a European NGO—to an inverted Potemkin village of Bedouin encampments in the Negev. In the original historical version of the Potemkin tall tale, the Russian Czar created a few model villages with false facades to convince Western visitors that all was well within the empire. In the twenty-first century version of the tale perfected by anti-Israel NGOs, the technique is to make Palestinian and Bedouin villages look as awful as possible on the outside even when they are relatively well off on the inside. After all, it can never be admitted that the Palestinian people, despite their suffering at the hands of the Jews, constitute the most prosperous Arab community (with the exception of the oil-rich Gulf monarchies) in the Middle East.
The visit to the Bedouin villages in the Negev is arranged by Adalah, a left-wing Israeli NGO financed by Europeans. Its director, Thabet Abu Rass, explains to Tenenbom that he is “representing the rights of the Palestinian people.” He then points to a map on his wall that says (in Arabic) “Map of Palestine before Nakbah [the Catastrophe] in 1948.” Dr. Rass soon makes it clear that the Nakbah is the source of the suffering, not just by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but also for the Bedouin who have always lived in Israel and enjoy all the rights of Israeli citizenship. Even as Adalah fights for the rights of the Bedouin in Israeli courts, its leader insists that the Bedouin are not really Israelis, but rather oppressed Palestinians who suffered the 1948 Nakbah.
During his visit to the Bedouin villages, Tenenbom runs into two more representatives of foreign NGOs—Michelle from France and Alessandra from Italy. Michelle, who is Jewish, has been hard at work pressing the Nakbah claim for all Palestinians, including Israel’s Arabs. She tells Tenenbom/Tobi that her NGO works with the Israeli leftist organization Zokhrot (meaning “remembrance”), which is dedicated to perpetuating the Nakbah myth and to compensating the dispossessed Palestinians by allowing millions of them to return to their ancestral homes in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem, thereby ending the Jewish state. Even in Tel Aviv, founded by Jews in 1909, Zokhrot (with Michelle’s help) is agitating to rename some streets according to their “original Palestinian names.”
Beyond its brilliant satire, Tenenbom’s book is ultimately outrageous and depressing. Outrageous, because thanks to the NGOs, so many otherwise rational, liberal people in Europe and the United States now believe some version of the Palestinian Nakbah narrative. Depressing, because as long as that destructive historical myth is believed in the West, it’s hard to imagine Palestinian leaders ever conceding that their disagreement with Israel is about the consequences of the 1967 war, which are entirely negotiable, rather than the consequences of the 1948 war, which are non-negotiable.
Fred Siegel is a City Journal contributing editor and author of The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred.http://www.city-journal.org/2015/bc0710fs.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Big Rip
on: July 02, 2015, 11:29:00 PM
New model of cosmic stickiness favors ‘Big Rip’ demise of universe
This is a time line of life of the universe that ends in a Big Rip. Credit Jeremy Teaford, Vanderbilt University
From Vanderbilt University:
The universe can be a very sticky place, but just how sticky is a matter of debate.
That is because for decades cosmologists have had trouble reconciling the classic notion of viscosity based on the laws of thermodynamics with Einstein’s general theory of relativity. However, a team from Vanderbilt University has come up with a fundamentally new mathematical formulation of the problem that appears to bridge this long-standing gap.
The new math has some significant implications for the ultimate fate of the universe. It tends to favor one of the more radical scenarios that cosmologists have come up with known as the “Big Rip.” It may also shed new light on the basic nature of dark energy.
The new approach was developed by Assistant Professor of Mathematics Marcelo Disconzi in collaboration with physics professors Thomas Kephart and Robert Scherrer and is described in a paper published earlier this year in the journal Physical Review D.
“Marcelo has come up with a simpler and more elegant formulation that is mathematically sound and obeys all the applicable physical laws,” said Scherrer.
The type of viscosity that has cosmological relevance is different from the familiar “ketchup” form of viscosity, which is called shear viscosity and is a measure of a fluid’s resistance to flowing through small openings like the neck of a ketchup bottle. Instead, cosmological viscosity is a form of bulk viscosity, which is the measure of a fluid’s resistance to expansion or contraction. The reason we don’t often deal with bulk viscosity in everyday life is because most liquids we encounter cannot be compressed or expanded very much.
Disconzi began by tackling the problem of relativistic fluids. Astronomical objects that produce this phenomenon include supernovae (exploding stars) and neutron stars (stars that have been crushed down to the size of planets).
Scientists have had considerable success modeling what happens when ideal fluids – those with no viscosity – are boosted to near-light speeds. But almost all fluids are viscous in nature and, despite decades of effort, no one has managed to come up with a generally accepted way to handle viscous fluids traveling at relativistic velocities. In the past, the models formulated to predict what happens when these more realistic fluids are accelerated to a fraction of the speed of light have been plagued with inconsistencies: the most glaring of which has been predicting certain conditions where these fluids could travel faster than the speed of light.
“This is disastrously wrong,” said Disconzi, “since it is well-proven experimentally that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.”
These problems inspired the mathematician to re-formulate the equations of relativistic fluid dynamics in a way that does not exhibit the flaw of allowing faster-than-light speeds. He based his approach on one that was advanced in the 1950s by French mathematician André Lichnerowicz.
Next, Disconzi teamed up with Kephart and Scherrer to apply his equations to broader cosmological theory. This produced a number of interesting results, including some potential new insights into the mysterious nature of dark energy.
In the 1990s, the physics community was shocked when astronomical measurements showed that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. To explain this unpredicted acceleration, they were forced to hypothesize the existence of an unknown form of repulsive energy that is spread throughout the universe. Because they knew so little about it, they labeled it “dark energy.”
Most dark energy theories to date have not taken cosmic viscosity into account, despite the fact that it has a repulsive effect strikingly similar to that of dark energy. “It is possible, but not very likely, that viscosity could account for all the acceleration that has been attributed to dark energy,” said Disconzi. “It is more likely that a significant fraction of the acceleration could be due to this more prosaic cause. As a result, viscosity may act as an important constraint on the properties of dark energy.”
Another interesting result involves the ultimate fate of the universe. Since the discovery of the universe’s run-away expansion, cosmologists have come up with a number of dramatic scenarios of what it could mean for the future.
One scenario, dubbed the “Big Freeze,” predicts that after 100 trillion years or so the universe will have grown so vast that the supplies of gas will become too thin for stars to form. As a result, existing stars will gradually burn out, leaving only black holes which, in turn, slowly evaporate away as space itself gets colder and colder.
An even more radical scenario is the “Big Rip.” It is predicated on a type of “phantom” dark energy that gets stronger over time. In this case, the expansion rate of the universe becomes so great that in 22 billion years or so material objects begin to fall apart and individual atoms disassemble themselves into unbound elementary particles and radiation.
The key value involved in this scenario is the ratio between dark energy’s pressure and density, what is called its equation of state parameter. If this value drops below -1 then the universe will eventually be pulled apart. Cosmologists have called this the “phantom barrier.” In previous models with viscosity the universe could not evolve beyond this limit.
In the Desconzi-Kephart-Scherrer formulation, however, this barrier does not exist. Instead, it provides a natural way for the equation of state parameter to fall below -1.
“In previous models with viscosity the Big Rip was not possible,” said Scherrer. “In this new model, viscosity actually drives the universe toward this extreme end state.”
According to the scientists, the results of their pen-and-paper analyses of this new formulation for relativistic viscosity are quite promising but a much deeper analysis must be carried out to determine its viability. The only way to do this is to use powerful computers to analyze the complex equations numerically. In this fashion the scientists can make predictions that can be compared with experiment and observation.
The research was supported by National Science Foundation grant 1305705 and Department of Energy grant DE-SC0011981.http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/07/02/claim-universe-to-end-with-a-big-rip-where-atoms-are-ripped-apart/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Tell Us how You Really Feel
on: June 30, 2015, 10:29:14 PM
Space and Science Research Corporation
P.O. Box 607841 * Orlando, FL 32860
(407) 667-4757 * www.spaceandscience.net
Government Climate Data Found Unreliable
Monday, June 29, 2015 Press Release 4-2015
9:00 AM EDT
Effective immediately, the Space and Science Research Corporation (SSRC), a leader in climate prediction, has dropped the US government's ground based global temperature data from its list of reliable sources.
This significant step has been made by the SSRC after extensive review of the US government's ground temperature data and its wide divergence from more reliable sources of climate data, namely satellite systems.
The SSRC has found multiple flaws that it says render the US government's climate data virtually unusable. The SSRC has further observed that the US government and specifically, President Barack Obama, have routinely deceived the people regarding the true status of the Earth's climate, its causes, and where the global climate is heading.
In the past, the SSRC has used five global temperature data sets, three ground based (NOAA, NASA and HADCRUT) and two satellite data sets (RSS, UAH). These data sets are analyzed and an integrated picture of all five allows the SSRC to produce its semi-annual Global Climate Status Report (GCSR). HADCRUT is a combined set from two UK science groups.
As of today, the SSRC will no longer use the ground based data sets of NASA and NOAA because of serious questions about their credibility and allegations of data manipulation to support President Obama's climate change policies. Use of HADCRUT will also be suspended on similar grounds.
According to SSRC President, Mr. John L. Casey, "It is clear that during the administration of President Barack Obama, there has developed a culture of scientific corruption permitting the alteration or modification of global temperature data in a way that supports the myth of manmade global warming. This situation has come about because of Presidential Executive Orders, science agencies producing unreliable and inaccurate climate reports, and also with statements by the President about the climate that are patently false.
For example, the President has said that global warming is not only a global threat but that it is "accelerating" (Georgetown Univ. June 2015). Further, he has said that "2014 was the planet's warmest year on record" (State of the Union Address, January 2015). Both these statements are simply not true. He has also publicly ridiculed those who have correctly stated that there has been no global warming for eighteen years therefore nullifying any need for US government actions to control greenhouse gas emissions for any reason. Climate mendacity seems to be the rule and not the exception in this administration.
"As a result, the US government's apparently politically manipulated ground based temperature data sets can no longer be regarded as credible from a climate analysis standpoint. Until scientific integrity is restored in the White House and the rest of the federal government, we will henceforth be forced to rely solely on satellite measurements.
"Most disturbing of course, is that the President has failed to prepare the country for the difficult times ahead as a result of the ominous changes taking place on the Sun. Not only is the Sun the primary agent of climate change, but it is now cutting back on life giving warmth, bringing a new cold climate period. We will all face a more difficult future, one which the President is ensuring we will be totally unprepared for."
Dr. Ole Humlum, a Professor of Physical Geology at the University of Oslo, Norway and an expert of global glacial activity, is the co-editor of the SSRC's Global Climate Status Report (GCSR). He adds to Mr. Casey's comment with, "It is regrettable to see the politically forced changing of temperature data which will of course lead to the wrong conclusions about the causes and effects of climate change. Recently, NOAA indicated that May 2015 was the warmest May since 1880. Yet, this cannot be verified by satellite measurements which show that May was in the average range for the month over the past ten years. Also, on page 41 of the June 10, 2015 GCSR, we noted that the temperature spread between ground based and satellite based data sets, has now widened to a point that is problematic. The average in degrees Centigrade among the three ground based sets shows a 0.45 C warming in temperature since 1979. For the more reliable satellite systems, it is only 0.17 C warming. This 264% (0.45/0.17) differential is scientifically unacceptable and warrants ending the reliance on the ground based data sets until some independent investigation of the variance resolves the matter. While the use of satellite data only, will limit the depth of quality of the Global Climate Status Report, it will at the same time allow us to still provide the best available climate assessment and climate predictions possible using only the most reliable data."http://www.spaceandscience.net/id16.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Other Side of the Scapegoat
on: June 25, 2015, 07:26:17 PM
Whose Fault is the OPM Hack Really?
Everyone's mad at the Office of Personnel Management, and I totally get why. The hack is awful, the magnitude staggering. The consequences will be big, both for the country and for lots of individuals. It's a very ugly situation, and OPM has certainly not handled it competently, let alone well. And the more we learn, the worse it gets.
But here's my question: Is this really OPM's fault?
OPM, after all, is not an intelligence agency or a counterintelligence agency. Even had it behaved competently, it had no chance of protecting data that a professional adversary intelligence service wanted to go after. It also does not have the expertise to identify which data it is holding that are—individually or collectively—likely of interest to foreign intelligence powers. To put the matter simply, protecting sensitive data from foreign spies is not within the wheelhouse of an agency whose job is "to recruit, retain, and honor a world-class workforce for the American people."
It is very much within the wheelhouse of some other federal agencies, however.
Let's start with the FBI, whose mission includes "Protect[ing] the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage" and "Protect[ing] the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes." I don't know whose job, if anyone's, it is to identify large aggregations of data outside the security sector that would be of foreign intelligence interest and to protect them from espionage, but it seems to me that the agency tasked with foreign counterintelligence would be the place to start. So here's a question: Did anyone at the bureau ever flag for OPM that this material might have a giant bullseye painted on it?
Then there's NSA, which has the government's Information Assurance portfolio, and also has a huge cybersecurity capacity. NSA describes its information assurance mission as follows: "NSA's Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) protects and defends National Security Information and Information Systems, in accordance with National Security Directive 42. National Security Systems are defined as systems that handle classified information or information otherwise critical to military or intelligence activities." The OPM systems were not classified, but any database that potentially exposes millions of federal workers—including defense and intelligence workers—to potential recruitment, blackmail, or other bad conduct at the hands of a foreign intelligence service could certainly be regarded as "critical to military or intelligence activities." So here's another question: Did anyone at NSA ever flag for OPM that this material might have a giant bullseye painted on it or offer to help secure it?
Or maybe the problem lies with DHS. DHS, after all, proudly boasts that it "has the lead for the federal government for securing civilian government computer systems"—something that clearly did not happen here. So here's a third question: Did anyone at DHS ever work with this civilian agency to security its government computer systems?
If this all sounds like an interagency mess of authorities, well, there are also agencies whose job is to work through those. What, one might ask, about what role the DNI has played in this area? His mission statement starts with the broad aim: to "lead Intelligence Integration." In other words, if it was someone's job to imagine that there are a lot of non-classified systems around the government that have extraordinarily sensitive data an intelligence service would want to steal, and that this data is being housed at agencies that probably don't understand that fact and don't have the capacity to defend that data, perhaps having that imagination was the DNI's job. And if it was some office's job to reach out across the government and assess what datasets would be catastrophic to lose and to set up programs to protect that material, perhaps that was the DNI's job too.
Taping Rational Security this morning, I mentioned all this to the Hoover Institution's Kori Schake—a defense analysts and former NSC staffer—who joked with gentle bitterness that it's a good thing this country does not have a National Security Council, whose job is to coordinate the activities of the various agencies engaged in national security activity to make sure questions like this get addressed. The NSC describes its mission as including "serv[ing] as the President's principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies." So here's a fourth question: Was anyone at the DNI's office or the NSC serving as the President's principal arm for securing data of intelligence value at OPM?
I'm sure it will make a lot of people feel good to beat up on OPM, and I'm sure some folks there probably deserve it. But after we've gone through the political ritual of extracting our pound of Washington flesh, let's ask the serious question: Whose job is this really? And whose do we want it to be?http://www.lawfareblog.com/whose-fault-opm-hack-really
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Myrmidons of Furious Defenders
on: June 19, 2015, 08:28:29 PM
Boom. Game, set, match.
The Climate Wars’ Damage to Science
The great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses tested -- or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I see bad ideas can persist for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they become intolerant dogmas
For much of my life I have been a science writer. That means I eavesdrop on what’s going on in laboratories so I can tell interesting stories. It’s analogous to the way art critics write about art, but with a difference: we “science critics” rarely criticise. If we think a scientific paper is dumb, we just ignore it. There’s too much good stuff coming out of science to waste time knocking the bad stuff.
Sure, we occasionally take a swipe at pseudoscience—homeopathy, astrology, claims that genetically modified food causes cancer, and so on. But the great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses put to the test. So a really bad idea cannot survive long in science.
Or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I have changed my mind. It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas.
This should have been obvious to me. Lysenkoism, a pseudo-biological theory that plants (and people) could be trained to change their heritable natures, helped starve millions and yet persisted for decades in the Soviet Union, reaching its zenith under Nikita Khrushchev. The theory that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease, based on a couple of terrible studies in the 1950s, became unchallenged orthodoxy and is only now fading slowly.
What these two ideas have in common is that they had political support, which enabled them to monopolise debate. Scientists are just as prone as anybody else to “confirmation bias”, the tendency we all have to seek evidence that supports our favoured hypothesis and dismiss evidence that contradicts it—as if we were counsel for the defence. It’s tosh that scientists always try to disprove their own theories, as they sometimes claim, and nor should they. But they do try to disprove each other’s. Science has always been decentralised, so Professor Smith challenges Professor Jones’s claims, and that’s what keeps science honest.
What went wrong with Lysenko and dietary fat was that in each case a monopoly was established. Lysenko’s opponents were imprisoned or killed. Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise shows in devastating detail how opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press.
Cheerleaders for alarm
This is precisely what has happened with the climate debate and it is at risk of damaging the whole reputation of science. The “bad idea” in this case is not that climate changes, nor that human beings influence climate change; but that the impending change is sufficiently dangerous to require urgent policy responses. In the 1970s, when global temperatures were cooling, some scientists could not resist the lure of press attention by arguing that a new ice age was imminent. Others called this nonsense and the World Meteorological Organisation rightly refused to endorse the alarm. That’s science working as it should. In the 1980s, as temperatures began to rise again, some of the same scientists dusted off the greenhouse effect and began to argue that runaway warming was now likely.
At first, the science establishment reacted sceptically and a diversity of views was aired. It’s hard to recall now just how much you were allowed to question the claims in those days. As Bernie Lewin reminds us in one chapter of a fascinating new book of essays called Climate Change: The Facts (hereafter The Facts), as late as 1995 when the second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its last-minute additional claim of a “discernible human influence” on climate, Nature magazine warned scientists against overheating the debate.
Since then, however, inch by inch, the huge green pressure groups have grown fat on a diet of constant but ever-changing alarm about the future. That these alarms—over population growth, pesticides, rain forests, acid rain, ozone holes, sperm counts, genetically modified crops—have often proved wildly exaggerated does not matter: the organisations that did the most exaggeration trousered the most money. In the case of climate, the alarm is always in the distant future, so can never be debunked.
These huge green multinationals, with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have now systematically infiltrated science, as well as industry and media, with the result that many high-profile climate scientists and the journalists who cover them have become one-sided cheerleaders for alarm, while a hit squad of increasingly vicious bloggers polices the debate to ensure that anybody who steps out of line is punished. They insist on stamping out all mention of the heresy that climate change might not be lethally dangerous.
Today’s climate science, as Ian Plimer points out in his chapter in The Facts, is based on a “pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored and analytical procedures are treated as evidence”. Funds are not available to investigate alternative theories. Those who express even the mildest doubts about dangerous climate change are ostracised, accused of being in the pay of fossil-fuel interests or starved of funds; those who take money from green pressure groups and make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.
Look what happened to a butterfly ecologist named Camille Parmesan when she published a paper on “Climate and Species Range” that blamed climate change for threatening the Edith checkerspot butterfly with extinction in California by driving its range northward. The paper was cited more than 500 times, she was invited to speak at the White House and she was asked to contribute to the IPCC’s third assessment report.
Unfortunately, a distinguished ecologist called Jim Steele found fault with her conclusion: there had been more local extinctions in the southern part of the butterfly’s range due to urban development than in the north, so only the statistical averages moved north, not the butterflies. There was no correlated local change in temperature anyway, and the butterflies have since recovered throughout their range. When Steele asked Parmesan for her data, she refused. Parmesan’s paper continues to be cited as evidence of climate change. Steele meanwhile is derided as a “denier”. No wonder a highly sceptical ecologist I know is very reluctant to break cover.
Jim Hansen, recently retired as head of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies at NASA, won over a million dollars in lucrative green prizes, regularly joined protests against coal plants and got himself arrested while at the same time he was in charge of adjusting and homogenising one of the supposedly objective data sets on global surface temperature. How would he be likely to react if told of evidence that climate change is not such a big problem?
Michael Oppenheimer, of Princeton University, who frequently testifies before Congress in favour of urgent action on climate change, was the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior scientist for nineteen years and continues to advise it. The EDF has assets of $209 million and since 2008 has had over $540 million from charitable foundations, plus $2.8 million in federal grants. In that time it has spent $11.3 million on lobbying, and has fifty-five people on thirty-two federal advisory committees. How likely is it that they or Oppenheimer would turn around and say global warming is not likely to be dangerous?
Why is it acceptable, asks the blogger Donna Laframboise, for the IPCC to “put a man who has spent his career cashing cheques from both the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace in charge of its latest chapter on the world’s oceans?” She’s referring to the University of Queensland’s Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.
These scientists and their guardians of the flame repeatedly insist that there are only two ways of thinking about climate change—that it’s real, man-made and dangerous (the right way), or that it’s not happening (the wrong way). But this is a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility: that it’s real, partly man-made and not dangerous. This is the “lukewarmer” school, and I am happy to put myself in this category. Lukewarmers do not think dangerous climate change is impossible; but they think it is unlikely.
I find that very few people even know of this. Most ordinary people who do not follow climate debates assume that either it’s not happening or it’s dangerous. This suits those with vested interests in renewable energy, since it implies that the only way you would be against their boondoggles is if you “didn’t believe” in climate change.
What consensus about the future?
Sceptics such as Plimer often complain that “consensus” has no place in science. Strictly they are right, but I think it is a red herring. I happily agree that you can have some degree of scientific consensus about the past and the present. The earth is a sphere; evolution is true; carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The IPCC claims in its most recent report that it is “95 per cent” sure that “more than half” of the (gentle) warming “since 1950” is man-made. I’ll drink to that, though it’s a pretty vague claim. But you really cannot have much of a consensus about the future. Scientists are terrible at making forecasts—indeed as Dan Gardner documents in his book Future Babble they are often worse than laymen. And the climate is a chaotic system with multiple influences of which human emissions are just one, which makes prediction even harder.
The IPCC actually admits the possibility of lukewarming within its consensus, because it gives a range of possible future temperatures: it thinks the world will be between about 1.5 and four degrees warmer on average by the end of the century. That’s a huge range, from marginally beneficial to terrifyingly harmful, so it is hardly a consensus of danger, and if you look at the “probability density functions” of climate sensitivity, they always cluster towards the lower end.
What is more, in the small print describing the assumptions of the “representative concentration pathways”, it admits that the top of the range will only be reached if sensitivity to carbon dioxide is high (which is doubtful); if world population growth re-accelerates (which is unlikely); if carbon dioxide absorption by the oceans slows down (which is improbable); and if the world economy goes in a very odd direction, giving up gas but increasing coal use tenfold (which is implausible).
But the commentators ignore all these caveats and babble on about warming of “up to” four degrees (or even more), then castigate as a “denier” anybody who says, as I do, the lower end of the scale looks much more likely given the actual data. This is a deliberate tactic. Following what the psychologist Philip Tetlock called the “psychology of taboo”, there has been a systematic and thorough campaign to rule out the middle ground as heretical: not just wrong, but mistaken, immoral and beyond the pale. That’s what the word denier with its deliberate connotations of Holocaust denial is intended to do. For reasons I do not fully understand, journalists have been shamefully happy to go along with this fundamentally religious project.
Politicians love this polarising because it means they can attack a straw man. It’s what they are good at. “Doubt has been eliminated,” said Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and UN Special Representative on Climate Change, in a speech in 2007: “It is irresponsible, reckless and deeply immoral to question the seriousness of the situation. The time for diagnosis is over. Now it is time to act.” John Kerry says we have no time for a meeting of the flat-earth society. Barack Obama says that 97 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is “real, man-made and dangerous”. That’s just a lie (or a very ignorant remark): as I point out above, there is no consensus that it’s dangerous.
So where’s the outrage from scientists at this presidential distortion? It’s worse than that, actually. The 97 per cent figure is derived from two pieces of pseudoscience that would have embarrassed a homeopath. The first was a poll that found that 97 per cent of just seventy-nine scientists thought climate change was man-made—not that it was dangerous. A more recent poll of 1854 members of the American Meteorological Society found the true number is 52 per cent.
The second source of the 97 per cent number was a survey of scientific papers, which has now been comprehensively demolished by Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University, who is probably the world’s leading climate economist. As the Australian blogger Joanne Nova summarised Tol’s findings, John Cook of the University of Queensland and his team used an unrepresentative sample, left out much useful data, used biased observers who disagreed with the authors of the papers they were classifying nearly two-thirds of the time, and collected and analysed the data in such a way as to allow the authors to adjust their preliminary conclusions as they went along, a scientific no-no if ever there was one. The data could not be replicated, and Cook himself threatened legal action to hide them. Yet neither the journal nor the university where Cook works has retracted the paper, and the scientific establishment refuses to stop citing it, let alone blow the whistle on it. Its conclusion is too useful.
This should be a huge scandal, not fodder for a tweet by the leader of the free world. Joanne Nova, incidentally, is an example of a new breed of science critic that the climate debate has spawned. With little backing, and facing ostracism for her heresy, this talented science journalist had abandoned any chance of a normal, lucrative career and systematically set out to expose the way the huge financial gravy train that is climate science has distorted the methods of science. In her chapter in The Facts, Nova points out that the entire trillion-dollar industry of climate change policy rests on a single hypothetical assumption, first advanced in 1896, for which to this day there is no evidence.
The assumption is that modest warming from carbon dioxide must be trebly amplified by extra water vapour—that as the air warms there will be an increase in absolute humidity providing “a positive feedback”. That assumption led to specific predictions that could be tested. And the tests come back negative again and again. The large positive feedback that can turn a mild warming into a dangerous one just is not there. There is no tropical troposphere hot-spot. Ice cores unambiguously show that temperature can fall while carbon dioxide stays high. Estimates of climate sensitivity, which should be high if positive feedbacks are strong, are instead getting lower and lower. Above all, the temperature has failed to rise as predicted by the models.
Scandal after scandal
The Cook paper is one of many scandals and blunders in climate science. There was the occasion in 2012 when the climate scientist Peter Gleick stole the identity of a member of the (sceptical) Heartland Institute’s board of directors, leaked confidential documents, and included also a “strategy memo” purporting to describe Heartland’s plans, which was a straight forgery. Gleick apologised but continues to be a respected climate scientist.
There was Stephan Lewandowsky, then at the University of Western Australia, who published a paper titled “NASA faked the moon landing therefore [climate] science is a hoax”, from which readers might have deduced, in the words of a Guardian headline, that “new research finds that sceptics also tend to support conspiracy theories such as the moon landing being faked”. Yet in fact in the survey for the paper, only ten respondents out of 1145 thought that the moon landing was a hoax, and seven of those did not think climate change was a hoax. A particular irony here is that two of the men who have actually been to the moon are vocal climate sceptics: Harrison Schmitt and Buzz Aldrin.
It took years of persistence before physicist Jonathan Jones and political scientist Ruth Dixon even managed to get into print (in March this year) a detailed and devastating critique of the Lewandowsky article’s methodological flaws and bizarre reasoning, with one journal allowing Lewandowsky himself to oppose the publication of their riposte. Lewandowsky published a later paper claiming that the reactions to his previous paper proved he was right, but it was so flawed it had to be retracted.
If these examples of odd scientific practice sound too obscure, try Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC for thirteen years and often described as the “world’s top climate scientist”. He once dismissed as “voodoo science” an official report by India’s leading glaciologist, Vijay Raina, because it had challenged a bizarre claim in an IPCC report (citing a WWF report which cited an article in New Scientist), that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. The claim originated with Syed Hasnain, who subsequently took a job at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the Delhi-based company of which Dr Pachauri is director-general, and there his glacier claim enabled TERI to win a share of a three-million-euro grant from the European Union. No wonder Dr Pachauri might well not have wanted the 2035 claim challenged.
Yet Raina was right, it proved to be the IPCC’s most high-profile blunder, and Dr Pachauri had to withdraw both it and his “voodoo” remark. The scandal led to a highly critical report into the IPCC by several of the world’s top science academics, which recommended among other things that the IPCC chair stand down after one term. Dr Pachauri ignored this, kept his job, toured the world while urging others not to, and published a novel, with steamy scenes of seduction of an older man by young women. (He resigned this year following criminal allegations of sexual misconduct with a twenty-nine-year-old female employee, which he denies, and which are subject to police investigation.)
Yet the climate bloggers who constantly smear sceptics managed to avoid even reporting most of this. If you want to follow Dr Pachauri’s career you have to rely on a tireless but self-funded investigative journalist: the Canadian Donna Laframboise. In her chapter in The Facts, Laframboise details how Dr Pachauri has managed to get the world to describe him as a Nobel laureate, even though this is simply not true.
Notice, by the way, how many of these fearless free-thinkers prepared to tell emperors they are naked are women. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist, has steadfastly exposed the myth-making that goes into polar bear alarmism, to the obvious discomfort of the doyens of that field. Jennifer Marohasy of Central Queensland University, by persistently asking why cooling trends recorded at Australian weather stations with no recorded moves were being altered to warming trends, has embarrassed the Bureau of Meteorology into a review of their procedures. Her chapter in The Facts underlines the failure of computer models to predict rainfall.
But male sceptics have scored successes too. There was the case of the paper the IPCC relied upon to show that urban heat islands (the fact that cities are generally warmer than the surrounding countryside, so urbanisation causes local, but not global, warming) had not exaggerated recent warming. This paper turned out—as the sceptic Doug Keenan proved—to be based partly on non-existent data on forty-nine weather stations in China. When corrected, it emerged that the urban heat island effect actually accounted for 40 per cent of the warming in China.
There was the Scandinavian lake sediment core that was cited as evidence of sudden recent warming, when it was actually being used “upside down”—the opposite way the authors of the study thought it should be used: so if anything it showed cooling.
There was the graph showing unprecedented recent warming that turned out to depend on just one larch tree in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia.
There was the southern hemisphere hockey-stick that had been created by the omission of inconvenient data series.
There was the infamous “hide the decline” incident when a tree-ring-derived graph had been truncated to disguise the fact that it seemed to show recent cooling.
And of course there was the mother of all scandals, the “hockey stick” itself: a graph that purported to show the warming of the last three decades of the twentieth century as unprecedented in a millennium, a graph that the IPCC was so thrilled with that it published it six times in its third assessment report and displayed it behind the IPCC chairman at his press conference. It was a graph that persuaded me to abandon my scepticism (until I found out about its flaws), because I thought Nature magazine would never have published it without checking. And it is a graph that was systematically shown by Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick to be wholly misleading, as McKitrick recounts in glorious detail in his chapter in The Facts.
Its hockey-stick shape depended heavily on one set of data from bristlecone pine trees in the American south-west, enhanced by a statistical approach to over-emphasise some 200 times any hockey-stick shaped graph. Yet bristlecone tree-rings do not, according to those who collected the data, reflect temperature at all. What is more, the scientist behind the original paper, Michael Mann, had known all along that his data depended heavily on these inappropriate trees and a few other series, because when finally prevailed upon to release his data he accidentally included a file called “censored” that proved as much: he had tested the effect of removing the bristlecone pine series and one other, and found that the hockey-stick shape disappeared.
In March this year Dr Mann published a paper claiming the Gulf Stream was slowing down. This garnered headlines all across the world. Astonishingly, his evidence that the Gulf Stream is slowing down came not from the Gulf Stream, but from “proxies” which included—yes—bristlecone pine trees in Arizona, upside-down lake sediments in Scandinavia and larch trees in Siberia.
The democratisation of science
Any one of these scandals in, say, medicine might result in suspensions, inquiries or retractions. Yet the climate scientific establishment repeatedly reacts as if nothing is wrong. It calls out any errors on the lukewarming end, but ignores those on the exaggeration end. That complacency has shocked me, and done more than anything else to weaken my long-standing support for science as an institution. I repeat that I am not a full sceptic of climate change, let alone a “denier”. I think carbon-dioxide-induced warming during this century is likely, though I think it is unlikely to prove rapid and dangerous. So I don’t agree with those who say the warming is all natural, or all driven by the sun, or only an artefact of bad measurement, but nor do I think anything excuses bad scientific practice in support of the carbon dioxide theory, and every time one of these scandals erupts and the scientific establishment asks us to ignore it, I wonder if the extreme sceptics are not on to something. I feel genuinely betrayed by the profession that I have spent so much of my career championing.
There is, however, one good thing that has happened to science as a result of the climate debate: the democratisation of science by sceptic bloggers. It is no accident that sceptic sites keep winning the “Bloggies” awards. There is nothing quite like them for massive traffic, rich debate and genuinely open peer review. Following Steven McIntyre on tree rings, Anthony Watts or Paul Homewood on temperature records, Judith Curry on uncertainty, Willis Eschenbach on clouds or ice cores, or Andrew Montford on media coverage has been one of the delights of recent years for those interested in science. Papers that had passed formal peer review and been published in journals have nonetheless been torn apart in minutes on the blogs. There was the time Steven McIntyre found that an Antarctic temperature trend arose “entirely from the impact of splicing the two data sets together”. Or when Willis Eschenbach showed a published chart had “cut the modern end of the ice core carbon dioxide record short, right at the time when carbon dioxide started to rise again” about 8000 years ago, thus omitting the startling but inconvenient fact that carbon dioxide levels rose while temperatures fell over the following millennia.
Scientists don’t like this lèse majesté, of course. But it’s the citizen science that the internet has long promised. This is what eavesdropping on science should be like—following the twists and turns of each story, the ripostes and counter-ripostes, making up your own mind based on the evidence. And that is precisely what the non-sceptical side just does not get. Its bloggers are almost universally wearily condescending. They are behaving like sixteenth-century priests who do not think the Bible should be translated into English.
Renegade heretics in science itself are especially targeted. The BBC was subjected to torrents of abuse for even interviewing Bob Carter, a distinguished geologist and climate science expert who does not toe the alarmed line and who is one of the editors of Climate Change Reconsidered, a serious and comprehensive survey of the state of climate science organised by the Non-governmental Panel on Climate Change and ignored by the mainstream media.
Judith Curry of Georgia Tech moved from alarm to mild scepticism and has endured vitriolic criticism for it. She recently wrote:
There is enormous pressure for climate scientists to conform to the so-called consensus. This pressure comes not only from politicians, but from federal funding agencies, universities and professional societies, and scientists themselves who are green activists and advocates. Reinforcing this consensus are strong monetary, reputational, and authority interests. The closing of minds on the climate change issue is a tragedy for both science and society.
The distinguished Swedish meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson was so frightened for his own family and his health after he announced last year that he was joining the advisory board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation that he withdrew, saying, “It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy.”
The astrophysicist Willie Soon was falsely accused by a Greenpeace activist of failing to disclose conflicts of interest to an academic journal, an accusation widely repeated by mainstream media.
Clearing the middle ground
Much of this climate war parallels what has happened with Islamism, and it is the result of a similar deliberate policy of polarisation and silencing of debate. Labelling opponents “Islamophobes” or “deniers” is in the vast majority of cases equally inaccurate and equally intended to polarise. As Asra Nomani wrote in the Washington Post recently, a community of anti-blasphemy police arose out of a deliberate policy decision by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation:
and began trying to control the debate on Islam. This wider corps throws the label of “Islamophobe” on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion … The insults may look similar to Internet trolling and vitriolic comments you can find on any blog or news site. But they’re more coordinated, frightening and persistent.
Compare that to what happened to Roger Pielke Jr, as recounted by James Delingpole in The Facts. Pielke is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado and a hugely respected expert on disasters. He is no denier, thinking man-made global warming is real. But in his own area of expertise he is very clear that the rise in insurance losses is because the world is getting wealthier and we have more stuff to lose, not because more storms are happening. This is incontrovertibly true, and the IPCC agrees with him. But when he said this on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website he and Silver were savaged by commenters, led by one Rob Honeycutt. Crushed by the fury he had unleashed, Silver apologised and dropped Pielke as a contributor.
Rob Honeycutt and his allies knew what they were doing. Delingpole points out that Honeycutt (on a different website) urged people to “send in the troops to hammer down” anything moderate or sceptical, and to “grow the team of crushers”. Those of us who have been on the end of this sort of stuff know it is exactly like what the blasphemy police do with Islamophobia. We get falsely labelled “deniers” and attacked for heresy in often the most ad-hominem way.
Even more shocking has been the bullying lynch mob assembled this year by alarmists to prevent the University of Western Australia, erstwhile employers of the serially debunked conspiracy theorist Stephan Lewandowsky, giving a job to the economist Bjorn Lomborg. The grounds were that Lomborg is a “denier”. But he’s not. He does not challenge the science at all. He challenges on economic grounds some climate change policies, and the skewed priorities that lead to the ineffective spending of money on the wrong environmental solutions. His approach has been repeatedly vindicated over many years in many different topics, by many of the world’s leading economists. Yet there was barely a squeak of protest from the academic establishment at the way he was howled down and defamed for having the temerity to try to set up a research group at a university.
Well, internet trolls are roaming the woods in every subject, so what am I complaining about? The difference is that in the climate debate they have the tacit or explicit support of the scientific establishment. Venerable bodies like the Royal Society almost never criticise journalists for being excessively alarmist, only for being too lukewarm, and increasingly behave like pseudoscientists, explaining away inconvenient facts.
Making excuses for failed predictions
For example, scientists predicted a retreat of Antarctic sea ice but it has expanded instead, and nowadays they are claiming, like any astrologer, that this is because of warming after all. “Please,” says Mark Steyn in The Facts:
No tittering, it’s so puerile—every professor of climatology knows that the thickest ice ever is a clear sign of thin ice, because as the oceans warm, glaciers break off the Himalayas and are carried by the El Ninja down the Gore Stream past the Cape of Good Horn where they merge into the melting ice sheet, named after the awareness-raising rapper Ice Sheet …
Or consider this example, from the Royal Society’s recent booklet on climate change:
Does the recent slowdown of warming mean that climate change is no longer happening? No. Since the very warm surface temperatures of 1998 which followed the strong 1997-98 El Niño, the increase in average surface temperature has slowed relative to the previous decade of rapid temperature increases, with more of the excess heat being stored in the oceans.
You would never know from this that the “it’s hiding in the oceans” excuse is just one unproven hypothesis—and one that implies that natural variation exaggerated the warming in the 1990s, so reinforcing the lukewarm argument. Nor would you know (as Andrew Bolt recounts in his chapter in The Facts) that the pause in global warming contradicts specific and explicit predictions such as this, from the UK Met Office: “by 2014 we’re predicting it will be 0.3 degrees warmer than in 2004”. Or that the length of the pause is now past the point where many scientists said it would disprove the hypothesis of rapid man-made warming. Dr Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said in 2009: “Bottom line: the ‘no upward trend’ has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.” It now has.
Excusing failed predictions is a staple of astrology; it’s the way pseudoscientists argue. In science, as Karl Popper long ago insisted, if you make predictions and they fail, you don’t just make excuses and insist you’re even more right than before. The Royal Society once used to promise “never to give their opinion, as a body, upon any subject”. Its very motto is “nullius in verba”: take nobody’s word for it. Now it puts out catechisms of what you must believe in. Surely, the handing down of dogmas is for churches, not science academies. Expertise, authority and leadership should count for nothing in science. The great Thomas Henry Huxley put it this way: “The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.” Richard Feynman was even pithier: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
The harm to science
I dread to think what harm this episode will have done to the reputation of science in general when the dust has settled. Science will need a reformation. Garth Paltridge is a distinguished Australian climate scientist, who, in The Facts, pens a wise paragraph that I fear will be the epitaph of climate science:
We have at least to consider the possibility that the scientific establishment behind the global warming issue has been drawn into the trap of seriously overstating the climate problem—or, what is much the same thing, of seriously understating the uncertainties associated with the climate problem—in its effort to promote the cause. It is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis for society’s respect for scientific endeavour.
And it’s not working anyway. Despite avalanches of money being spent on research to find evidence of rapid man-made warming, despite even more spent on propaganda and marketing and subsidising renewable energy, the public remains unconvinced. The most recent polling data from Gallup shows the number of Americans who worry “a great deal” about climate change is down slightly on thirty years ago, while the number who worry “not at all” has doubled from 12 per cent to 24 per cent—and now exceeds the number who worry “only a little” or “a fair amount”. All that fear-mongering has achieved less than nothing: if anything it has hardened scepticism.
None of this would matter if it was just scientific inquiry, though that rarely comes cheap in itself. The big difference is that these scientists who insist that we take their word for it, and who get cross if we don’t, are also asking us to make huge, expensive and risky changes to the world economy and to people’s livelihoods. They want us to spend a fortune getting emissions down as soon as possible. And they want us to do that even if it hurts poor people today, because, they say, their grandchildren (who, as Nigel Lawson points out, in The Facts, and their models assume, are going to be very wealthy) matter more.
Yet they are not prepared to debate the science behind their concern. That seems wrong to me.
Matt Ridley is an English science journalist whose books include The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. A member of the House of Lords, he has a website at www.mattridley.co.uk
. He declares an interest in coal through the leasing of land for mining.http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2015/06/climate-wars-done-science/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Perverse Incentives Create Perverse Results, Duh
on: May 22, 2015, 08:16:46 PM
I've encountered several pieces like this lately, all of which steer clear of including climate science in the mix. I suspect the subtexts, however, suggest that the most panic mongering of "sciences" is likely the one most guilty of the practices noted here:http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736%2815%2960696-1.pdf
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Author Conversation: "The War Well Lost"
on: April 10, 2015, 09:51:48 PM
A profound exploration of the folly and abject failure of the WOD.
Johann Hari is a British journalist who has written for many of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, The Nation, Slate, El Mundo, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He was an op-ed columnist for The Independent for nine years. He graduated from King’s College, Cambridge with a double first in social and political sciences in 2001.
Hari was twice named “National Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He was named “Environmental Commentator of the Year” at the Editorial Intelligence Awards, and “Gay Journalist of the Year” at the Stonewall Awards. He has also won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for political writing.
Hari’s latest book is the New York Times best seller Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. You can follow him on Twitter @johannhari101.
* * *
S. Harris: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Johann. You’ve written a wonderful book about the war on drugs—about its history and injustice—and I hope everyone will read it. The practice of making certain psychoactive compounds illegal raises some deep and difficult questions about how to create societies worth living in. I strongly suspect that you and I will agree about the ethics here: The drug war has been a travesty and a tragedy. But you’re much more knowledgeable about the history of this war, so I’d like to ask you a few questions before we begin staking out common ground.
The drug war started almost exactly 100 years ago. That means our great-grandparents could wander into any pharmacy and buy cocaine or heroin. Why did the drug war begin, and who started it?
J. Hari: It’s really fascinating, because when I realized we were coming up to this centenary, I thought of myself as someone who knew a good deal about the drug war. I’d written about it quite a lot, as you know, and I had drug addiction in my family. One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to.
And yet I just realized there were many basic questions I didn’t know the answer to, including exactly the one you’re asking: Why were drugs banned 100 years ago? Why do we continue banning them? What are the actual alternatives in practice? And what really causes drug use and drug addiction?
To find the answers, I went on this long journey—across nine countries, 30,000 miles—and I learned that almost everything I thought at the start was basically wrong. Drugs aren’t what we think they are. The drug war isn’t what we think it is. Drug addiction isn’t what we think it is. And the alternatives aren’t what we think they are.
If you had said to me, “Why were drugs banned?” I would have guessed that most people, if you stopped them in the street, would say, “We don’t want people to become addicted, we don’t want kids to use drugs,” that kind of thing.
What is fascinating when you go back and read the archives from the time is that that stuff barely comes up. Drugs were banned in the United States a century ago for a very different reason. They were banned in the middle of a huge race panic. After the Civil War, Reconstruction failed, and what you had were African Americans and Chinese Americans who—rightly—were pissed off. At various points they showed their anger—in fact, given how extreme their oppression was, it’s surprising they didn’t show a lot more anger. Many white Americans explained this growing rebelliousness at the start of the 20th century by saying that African Americans and Chinese Americans were forgetting their place, using drugs, and attacking white people. If this sounds bizarre, that’s because it was.
The official statements are extraordinary. A typical one said, “The cocaine nigger sure is hard to kill.” Sheriffs across certain parts of the United States increased the caliber of their bullets because they believed African American men were taking cocaine and ravaging and attacking white people. The main way I tell about that in the book is through the story of how the founder of the war on drugs, Harry Anslinger, played a crucial role in stalking and killing Billie Holiday, the great jazz singer, which blew my mind when I first learned it.
S. Harris: I’d like to underscore this background fact. Many people are aware that the war on drugs has caused disproportionate harm to the black community. But I think people don’t generally know that racism had anything to do with its origins. Can you say a bit more about what the link was?
J. Hari: I think a good illustration is that in California there was a really deep bigotry against Chinese Americans. There were actually mass lynchings of them in Los Angeles, for example. In San Francisco they tried to forcibly relocate Chinatown out of the city and into an area reserved for pig farming. Chinese Americans challenged it all the way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled that they couldn’t be forcibly evicted.
Very soon afterward, the white authorities shifted and said, in effect, “Oh, okay, well, these Chinese Americans brought opium dens with them. We’ll attack them for their opium dens.” They went in and burned large parts of Chinatown. The drug war provided a legal excuse to do what they wanted to do already—unleash real force against ethnic minorities.
One of the best places to start, when it comes to African Americans, is that story about Billie Holiday. Harry Anslinger was probably the most influential person that no one’s ever heard of. He took over the Department of Prohibition just as alcohol prohibition was ending, so he had this big government bureaucracy with very little to do. And he was driven by two intense hatreds: One was a hatred of addicts, and the other was a hatred of African Americans.
He was regarded as an extreme racist by the racists of the 1930s. This is a guy who used the “N” word in official memos so often that his own senator said he should have to resign. He found out at about the same time that three famous Americans were addicts, and he treated them very differently. I think that tells you something.
Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, and Joe McCarthy were all addicts. Judy Garland was told to take slightly longer vacations, and Anslinger reassured the studio she was going to be fine. Joe McCarthy was given a safe and legal prescription for opiates from a pharmacy in Washington, D.C. And Billie Holiday was stalked onto her deathbed, arrested, and completely destroyed.
In 1939 Billie Holiday first sang “Strange Fruit,” the famous anti-lynching song. That night the Federal Bureau of Narcotics told her to stop singing the song, because according to Anslinger, it represented everything that was wrong with America.
S. Harris: He had an incredible antipathy toward jazz as well. Didn’t he consider it a sign of some sort of moral failure?
J. Hari: He saw it as a sign of chaos and disorder. It’s really funny going through his files—bleakly funny—because he got these reports from his agents quoting jazz lyrics. They said things like (I’m paraphrasing) “The negro jazz singer sang, ‘When he gets the motion, he thinks he can walk across the ocean.’” And Anslinger writes, “He really does believe that.” He thought jazz was just crazed babble. At one point he said he was going to lead a crackdown on musicians. Then he said, “Not the good musicians, the jazz type.” He really wanted a kind of pogrom of all jazz musicians.
But a fascinating thing about the jazz world is that it had an extremely high degree of solidarity, and no one would snitch. The one exception was Billie Holiday’s scumbag pimp husband, who did, in fact, inform on her to Anslinger.
The Bureau gives this order to Holiday to stop singing her anti-lynching song. She had grown up in Baltimore when it was a segregated city, and she had promised herself as a little girl that she would never bow her head to any white man. So she said, in effect, “F*** you. I’m an American citizen and I’m going to sing my song.”
That’s the point at which Anslinger resolved to break her. He hated employing African Americans, but you couldn’t really send a white guy into Harlem to stalk Billie Holiday. So he employed this African American agent named Jimmy Fletcher.
Fletcher followed her around for two years, and Holiday was so amazing that Fletcher fell in love with her. For the rest of his life he was ashamed of what he did. He busted her, and she was put on trial. She said, “The trial was called ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday,’ and that’s how it felt.” And she went to prison.
But the cruelest thing is what happened next. She got out, and there was hardly anywhere she could sing anymore, because you needed a license to perform anywhere where alcohol was served. Her friend Yolande Bavan said to me, “How do you best act cruelly?...It’s to take something that’s the dearest thing to that person away from them.” That’s what we do to addicts in Britain and America every day—we give them criminal records that cut them off from any access to the legal workforce.
Billie Holiday relapsed on heroin and alcohol and fell back into a very bad addiction problem. In her early 40s she finally collapsed and was taken to the hospital. She was convinced that Anslinger’s men were going to come for her in the hospital, and she was right. She said to one of her friends, “They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them. They’re going to kill me.” I spoke to the last surviving person who had been in the room with her. Holiday was handcuffed to the bed. The police knew she had liver cancer by this point, but they handcuffed her to the bed and didn’t let her friends in to see her. They took away her record player, her candies, and everything else. One of her friends managed to insist that she be given methadone because she had gone into heroin withdrawal—which is very dangerous when you’re as weak as she was. Once on the methadone, she started to recover—but then they cut off the methadone and she died.
I think this story tells us so much about the origins of the drug war—the degree to which it was about race, then and now, and how they prefigure what we do to addicts today. People who are addicts are in terrible pain—Billie Holiday was raped and prostituted as a child—and we take these people and inflict more pain and suffering on them, and then we’re surprised they don’t stop taking drugs.
S. Harris: We’ll talk about the phenomenon of addiction, and discuss the novel understanding of it you arrive at in the book. But first I think we should acknowledge that drugs and alcohol can cause social harms that every society has an interest in preventing. It’s not hard to see why some people think that the appropriate response to the chaos these substances often cause is to prohibit them.
Consider alcohol. We know, of course, that Prohibition was a disaster. But when you consider what cities were like before the Women’s Christian Temperance Union got working—with men abandoning their jobs and families, spending all day in saloons, and winding up just hammered in the gutter—it’s not hard to see what people were worried about. Ken Burns’s documentary on Prohibition explains this history in a very colorful way. As you and I race to the conclusion that prohibition of all sorts is both unethical and doomed to fail, I think we should acknowledge that many drugs, alcohol included, have the potential to ruin people’s lives.
And it wasn’t completely crazy to think that banning the use of specific drugs might be a good way, ethically and practically, to mitigate their harms. But ever since Prohibition we’ve known that the cure is worse than the disease. When you ban substances that people enjoy using so much that they’ll break the law to do it, you create a black market with huge profits. And since purveyors of illicit drugs have no legal way to secure their investment, the trade will be run by increasingly violent criminals.
In a single stroke, therefore, prohibition creates organized crime and all the social ills attributable to the skyrocketing cost of drugs—addicts are forced to become thieves and prostitutes in order to afford their next fix. Why isn’t the stupidity of prohibition now obvious to everyone?
J. Hari: What’s fascinating is that it was obvious at the time. The drug war really began in the 1930s, when Harry Anslinger was the first person to use the phrase “warfare against drugs”—and it was massively resisted across the United States and across the world. This is a forgotten and suppressed history, and I was startled to uncover it.
I tell it mainly through the story of this extraordinary doctor, Henry Smith Williams, who at the birth of the drug war prophesied all of it. It’s worth remembering that when drugs were first banned, doctors resisted to such a degree that 17,000 of them had to be rounded up and arrested because they insisted on continuing to prescribe to drug addicts. The mayor of Los Angeles stood outside a heroin-prescribing clinic and said, effectively, “You will not close this down. It does a good job for the people of Los Angeles.” The early drug war was hugely contested, and many people rightly pointed out why it wouldn’t work. This is a really important thing to remember. And one of the most fascinating things for me was seeing how much the arguments at both the beginning of the drug war and in societies where they have finally end it have echoed each other.
I’ll give you an example that happened in California. When drugs were first banned, in 1914, a big and deliberate loophole was written into the law that said it did not apply to addicts. Addicts could go to a doctor and get a prescription for these drugs. So what happened was that in loads of places doctors just kept on prescribing drugs to basically anyone who wanted them, because they figured, “Well, it’s better you get it from me than from a gangster who’s going to f*** up the product and potentially kill you.”
So this carried on, and it was shut down state by state, mainly by Anslinger. One of the last states to shut it down was California, and we now know why. The Chinese drug gangs in California were really pissed off, because the authorities in Nevada had stopped doctors from prescribing opium, so addicts had to go to gangsters to get their drugs. But in California they could still go to a doctor—so the gangsters were losing that big, profitable chunk of business. So the Chinese drug gangs bribed the federal narcotics agents to introduce the drug war faster, because it worked so well for them.
It tells you something. The only people who have ever won from the drug war are the armed criminal gangs who are handed the whole industry.
In Colorado, I saw the same pattern playing out. For example, Steve Fox is a great guy who was one of the leaders of the legalization campaign in Colorado. He wanted to go on the radio during the campaign and say, “One of the great advantages of legalization is we’ll bankrupt the cartels.” A radio station in Colorado was too afraid that the cartels would come and hurt them in Colorado to let him say that on the air.
I think what you said a little bit before this is really important and true: It’s not inherently irrational to look at the harm caused by drugs and think the solution is to ban them. I think one of the reasons the debate about the drug war is so charged is that it runs through the hearts of each of us as individuals. There are times when I look at the addicts in my life and I think, “Someone should f***ing stop you, and someone should stop you by force.”
We all have a Harry Anslinger inside us. And if we’re decent people, we have a compassionate side to us as well. So I think that these emotions are very natural. And I also think this debate is slightly different from, say, the gay rights debate. People like you and me, who believe in the equality of gay people, are ultimately—when we clash with homophobes—arguing with people who simply have irreconcilably different beliefs from ours. Obviously, we should try to persuade them, we should try to win them round, but ultimately there’s a chasm between us and them on a fundamentally different moral value. We think gay love is equal to heterosexual love; they don’t. We have to prevail over them.
I actually don’t think that’s quite the case with the drug war. If you look at the reasons people give for supporting the drug war, one of the things that strikes me is that their goals drive me, too: They don’t want kids to use drugs, they don’t want people to become addicted, and they want to reduce the amount of criminality in the world. Actually, I’m passionate about every one of those goals.
The only disagreement is about how to achieve them. And I think we can prove—by looking at places that have pursued alternatives—that in fact those goals are better achieved by a very, very different approach. The drug war makes all the problems that all sides want to deal with far worse, for reasons I can talk about, if you like. But I think you’ve gone to a really important part of the debate, which is that this is actually a narrower disagreement than a lot of the political arguments that you and I engage in.
S. Harris: Yes, except I would say that some of the hostility toward drugs does resemble homophobia—and is, to a significant degree, inspired by religion. Homosexuality is anathema because it entails, by definition, a search for sexual pleasure independent of a desire to have children. And pleasure and piety have always had a very uneasy relationship. Many religious people will support unconscionable misuses of state power to prevent their neighbors from enjoying themselves in harmless but irreligious ways. As I wrote in my first book, The End of Faith, this is essentially a concern about idolatry—which is viewed as a distraction from the most important task of life, which is to love God and fully submit yourself to His will.
So I agree that many people are worried about dysfunction and the obvious waste of human life that one sees with certain forms of drug use. But that doesn’t account for all the opposition to drugs. If one were really concerned about harm, one would ban cigarettes long before banning drugs like MDMA and LSD.
J. Hari: I think that what you’ve just said is really important. But I would put it slightly differently. I would say that if you look at it historically, you see that what the religious tend to fear in drug use is a rival sense of transcendence.
For example—I talk in the book about this—at the Temple of Eleusis, every year for 2,000 years there was a kind of revelry, and many very famous people, such as Sophocles, Aristotle, and Cicero went there. It would look very familiar to somebody who has been to Burning Man. Huge numbers of people would attend, and what we now know was a hallucinogenic fungus would be passed around, and people would go into a kind of Dionysian frenzy, and anyone could go, and so on.
It shut down when Constantine converted to Christianity and imposed it as the official state religion. This 2,000-year party crashed into official Christianity and was shut down and never came back—although people have been building their own private Temples of Eleusis ever since, one way or another.
Another good example is the arrival of the Spanish settlers in Latin America—or, rather, their invasion of Latin America, as we should think of it. They discovered that the indigenous peoples had access to all these different psychoactive substances and hallucinogenic plants, and part of forcibly Christianizing them was stamping out their use of indigenous plants. What the Spanish said at the time really reeks of fear of a rival. These plants gave the indigenous peoples the sense they were getting close to God—but of course the only way they were allowed to get close to God under state-imposed Christiantity was through the official rituals.
So I think you’re totally right. It’s very dangerous for religious groups if people realize you can get all that ecstasy and transcendence and none of the f***ing religion and theology.
Harry Anslinger was fanatically religious. He loved Seventh-Day Adventists. They were his main supporters. He said he wanted his successor at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to be a Seventh-Day Adventist. There is definitely an element of puritanism there. Oscar Wilde defined puritanism as the fear that someone, somewhere, is having a good time.
But it’s worth thinking about how quickly puritanism can bleed away. Rightly, you referred earlier to alcohol prohibition, and the movement for that was one of the largest mass movements in American history. It’s quite hard to get our heads around how enormous the movement for Prohibition was, driven by exactly these motives. And then it just evaporated—Daniel Okrent’s history of Prohibition brilliantly details this. Once alcohol prohibition was over, virtually no one ever argued for it to come back. This entire mass movement, based on this puritan distaste for alcohol, was tested to destruction and evaporated.
You can say, “Oh, the puritanism transferred to other substances.” And there’s some truth in that. But actually I think it does tell you that that kind of puritanism is not immutable—it can be dissolved and discredited.
S. Harris: That’s very interesting. And it does seem that with respect to both drugs and gay marriage we’ve made considerable progress in the past few years. How hopeful are you that we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on these issues?
J. Hari: I am optimistic—for reasons I can give—but I don’t think the drug war is anything close to over. I think in the analogy of the gay rights movement we’re at 1970, which is a lot better than being at 1950, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get to 2015. I would say that it entirely depends on the size of the movement of ordinary citizens that forms to oppose the drug war.
The best way I can describe what needs to happen now is through a story I tell in the book about the most inspiring person I met—and that means something, because I met a lot of inspiring people in the process of researching the book.
In 2000 there was a homeless street addict in Vancouver named Bud Osborne, who was watching his friends die all around him. He was in the downtown east side of Vancouver, which was notorious for having the highest concentration of addicts in North America, quite possibly in the world.
Addicts there would shoot up behind Dumpsters so that the cops wouldn’t see them. But obviously if you’re hidden away and you start to overdose, no one can see you. You just die. Bud thought, “I can’t just watch this happen—I can’t just watch my friends die all around me—but what can I do? I’m just a homeless junkie.” Those are the terms he would have used. He had a really simple idea. Basically, he got together a lot of the addicts and said (I’m paraphrasing), “When we’re not using”—which even for hard-core addicts is most of the time—“why don’t we just draw up a timetable, and we’ll patrol the alleyways, and when we spot someone overdosing, we’ll just call an ambulance.”
The addicts started to do this. And within a few months the overdose rate started to plummet in Vancouver, which was an amazing thing in itself, because it meant people were living who would otherwise die. But it also meant the addicts started to think about themselves differently. They started to think, “Oh, maybe we’re not pieces of s**t. Maybe we can do something.”
They started to turn up at public meetings convened to discuss the menace of addicts. Bud and his friends would sit at the back, and after a little while they’d put up their hands and say (all this is paraphrasing; Bud’s exact words can be heard on the book’s website), “Oh, I think you’re talking about us. Is there anything we can do differently?” Sometimes people would be angry, and sometimes they’d ask for specific things, such as “Go and pick up your needles.” And Bud would say, “Fine, we’ll go and do that.”
But what’s really interesting is what happened next. I think it’s one of the keys to how we unlock this. Bud started reading about how in Frankfurt, in Germany, they had safe injecting rooms for addicts, and overdose had virtually ended in Frankfurt. And he thought, “Well, we’ve got to do that here.” But there had been nothing like that in America since Anslinger went to war against the doctors in the 1930s.
So the addicts, a very large and active group of addicts and their friends and families and supporters, decided to start stalking the mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen—a right-wing, very rich businessman who said the addicts should all be taken and detained at the local military base. If you picture Mitt Romney, you’ve got some idea of who Philip Owen was. For two years they stalked Philip Owen everywhere he went, and they carried a coffin, which said something like “Who will die next, Philip Owen, before you open a safe injecting room?”
For two years this went on, and they got really disheartened because nothing was changing. After two years, to his credit, Philip Owen one day just said, “Who the f*** are these people?” He went incognito to the downtown east side and met with addicts. And he was totally blown away. He had no idea their lives were like this.
Owen went to meet with Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize–winning economist, who was really good on this issue, partly because he had grown up in Chicago during Prohibition. When he came back, Owen held a press conference with the chief of police, the coroner, and some of the addicts. He said, “We’re going to open the first safe injecting room in North America. We’re going to have the most compassionate drug policy in North America. Just you wait and see.”
He opened the first safe injecting room in North America in 70 years. His right-wing party was so horrified that they de-selected him. But his party was then beaten by the left-wing candidate, who kept the injecting room open. When I went to the downtown east side, it was 10 years since it had opened. Overdose was down by 80%, and the average life expectancy of a downtown east sider had improved by 10 years, which is virtually unheard of in epidemiology. You only get that when wars end. Which is what this was.
Philip Owen told me it was the proudest thing he ever did, and that he would sacrifice his whole political career all over again. Bud died last year, after I got to know him—and when he died, they shut down the streets of the downtown east side where he had lived as a homeless person. They had this incredible memorial service, with loads of people in that crowd who knew they were alive because of what Bud had done.
What I would say about Bud’s story—I think it’s a really interesting model—is that it’s very like the gay movement. You had a movement of ordinary, deeply stigmatized citizens, and lots of good and decent people who had nothing to do with their struggle except that they recognized that they, too, were human beings. They didn’t wait for a leader, they didn’t wait for permission from the top, they just started. And you also had Philip Owen, not someone I would normally be politically sympathetic to, who had the decency to eventually listen to them.
I think we need both ends of that. We need citizens’ movements of people demanding this. Some will be marijuana users demanding liberty, and some will be heroin addicts demanding the right to life, and there will be all sorts of different people on the spectrum in between. But you need to start somewhere, and you need a movement of people demanding it. Virtually every civilizing improvement in the democratic world happens because ordinary citizens demand it, not because politicians decide to hand it down. What is it Frederick Douglass said? “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.”
So I think things are absolutely ripe for ordinary democratic citizens to demand this thing. The polling shows overwhelmingly that people know the drug war has failed. They know it doesn’t work. What they need is for our voices to be louder than the voices of the forces who support the drug war, like the private prison industry; the alcohol industry, which doesn’t want competitors; the prison guard unions, and so on and so on. We also need to persuade people that their totally legitimate fears about the alternatives are in fact not matched by the evidence in societies that have actually tried the alternatives.
S. Harris: Perhaps we should speak about that. What about Portugal? When we pass through the looking glass and invert all our drug laws, where do we arrive?
J. Hari: I think one of the most important things to say about this is that it’s not an abstract conversation. Too often when we talk about the alternatives to the drug war, people start using this slightly weird and arid philosophical tone of voice, where it’s all kind of hypothetical. There’s no excuse for hypothetical conversations on this subject. The alternatives have been tried, they are being tried across the world, and the results are in, and they are unambiguous.
So I could talk about a few places, and Portugal is one. In 2000 Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of extraordinary. Every year they tried the American way more and more: They arrested and imprisoned more people, and every year the problem got worse. One day the prime minister and the leader of the opposition got together and in effect said, “We can’t go on like this. We can’t have more and more people becoming heroin addicts. Let’s figure out what would genuinely solve the problem.”
They convened a panel of scientists and doctors and said to them (again I’m paraphrasing), “Go away and figure out what would solve this problem, and we will agree in advance to do whatever you recommend.” They just took it out of politics. It was very smart. It was as if Obama and Boehner agreed in advance to abide by whatever the panel on drug reform said. It’s hard to imagine Obama and Boehner agreeing on the time of day, but grant that thought for a moment.
The panel went away for a year and a half and came back and said: “Decriminalize everything from cannabis to crack. But”—and this is the crucial next stage—“take all the money we used to spend on arresting and harassing and imprisoning drug users, and spend it on reconnecting them with society and turning their lives around.”
Some of it was what we think of as treatment in America and Britain—they do do residential rehab, and they do therapy—but actually most of it wasn’t that. Most of it, the most successful part, was really very simple. It was making sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for in the morning. It consisted of subsidized jobs and microloans to set up small businesses.
Say you used to be a mechanic. When you’re ready, they’ll go to a garage and they’ll say, “If you employ Sam for a year, we’ll pay half his wages.” The microloans had extremely low interest rates, and many businesses were set up by addicts.
It’s been nearly 15 years since this experiment began, and the results are in. Drug use by injection is down by 50%, broader addiction is down, overdose is massively down, and HIV transmission among addicts is massively down.
Compare that with the results in the United States over the past few years. In Portugal I interviewed a guy named Joao Figueira, who was the leader of the opposition to decriminalization at the time—the country’s top drug cop. He said a lot of the things a lot of people reading this will totally reasonably be thinking. Surely if you decriminalize all drugs, you’ll have all sorts of disasters? Figueira told me that everything he had predicted would happen didn’t happen—and everything the other side predicted came to pass. And he talked about how ashamed he felt that he’d spent 20 years arresting and harassing drug users, and he hoped the whole world would follow Portugal’s example.
One thing that is most striking to me: Everywhere I went that had moved beyond the drug war, it was hard to find people who wanted to go back. It was like Prohibition when it was over and people saw the alternatives in practice. It’s very similar to what you see in the polling on marijuana legalization. I’m sure your readers know that Colorado and Washington both have legalized marijuana, by 53%. The polling in Colorado and Washington after they had seen it in practice showed much higher margins supporting legalization. Once people see these things in practice, they discover that it’s not the kind of scary anarchy they had imagined.
Switzerland, a very conservative country, legalized heroin for addicts, meaning you go to the doctor, the doctor assigns you to a clinic, you go to that clinic every day, and you inject your heroin. You can’t take it out with you. I went to that clinic—it looks like a fancy Manhattan hairdresser’s, and the addicts go out after injecting their heroin to their jobs and their lives.
I stress again—Switzerland is a very right-wing country, and after its citizens had seen this in practice, they voted by 70% in two referenda to keep heroin legal for addicts, because they could see that it works. They saw that crime massively fell, property crime massively fell, muggings and street prostitution declined enormously.
I think one of the really important things, particularly in winning the debate in America, is to look at what arguments won in these places and what arguments didn’t. We found that in the places that successfully decriminalized or legalized, liberty-based arguments for ending the drug war were very unpopular. I’m philosophically sympathetic to the argument that it’s your body and you’ve got a right to do what you want with it. But it turns out that’s a politically toxic argument—people really don’t like it, and it only works with people who already agree.
The arguments that work well in persuading the people we still want to reach are order-based arguments. I think the Swiss heroin referenda are good models for that. Basically, what they said was drug war means chaos. It means unknown criminals selling unknown chemicals to unknown users, all in the dark, in our public places, filled with disease and chaos. Legalization is a way of imposing regulation and order on this anarchy. It’s about taking it away from criminal gangs and giving it to doctors and pharmacists, and making sure it happens in nice clean clinics, and we get our nice parks back, and we reduce crime. That’s the argument that will win. And it’s not like it’s a rhetorical trick—it’s true. That is what happens.
S. Harris: And the virtue of that argument is that it separates the problem of drug dependency from all the associated criminality and chaos that isn’t intrinsic to the act of taking drugs, whatever one’s level of dependency. The fact that drugs are as expensive as they are, necessitating the desperate and dangerous efforts we see addicts making to obtain them, is entirely the result of their legal status. Once the laws change, and we have well-behaved people showing up at clinics to get legally prescribed medication, then we can talk about whatever medical, psychological, and social problems remain. We shouldn’t confuse the problem of taking the wrong drugs, or the right ones too often, with the problem of criminal gangs and their associated violence, or with the misbehavior of desperate addicts trying to get their fix.
I think it’s a great insight to emphasize the pragmatic case for legalization, as opposed to the ethical one. It is always tempting to try to lead people through the door of personal liberty, arguing that peaceful, honest adults should be free to seek any experiences they want, as long as they don’t harm others in the process. I still think that this is the deeper argument to make. But it is, as you point out, very often ineffective.
J. Hari: Yes. As you say that, I think of all the horrors that come from the drug war, and I saw many of them. I went out with a chain gang of women in Arizona who were forced to wear T-shirts saying “I was a drug addict” and dig graves. I spoke to survivors of the gulag that is built for drug addicts in Vietnam. I could give you a long list here—they are all told through human stories in my book. But of all the horrors, far and away the worst is what you are alluding to—the violence created by drug prohibition.
I learned that mainly from Chino Harden, a transsexual former crack dealer in Brownsville, Brooklyn, whom I got to know over three and a half years, and from Rosalio Reta, who was a hit man for the deadliest Mexican drug cartel. From the age of 13 to 17, Rosario killed—best estimate—about 70 people, butchered and beheaded them. I tell their stories in the book, and they really helped me to understand how drug prohibition drives this part.
The best way to explain it is this: If you and I go to your local liquor store and try to steal the beer or the vodka, they’ll call the cops, the cops will take us away, and that’s fine. That liquor store doesn’t need to be violent or intimidating. But if we go up to a local weed dealer or coke dealer and try to steal what they’ve got, obviously they can’t call the cops. The cops would arrest them. So they have to fight back. Now, obviously, as a dealer, you don’t want to be having a fight every day, so you establish a reputation for being so terrifying that no one will dare to f*** with you.
The sociologist Philippe Bourgois says that prohibition creates a culture of terror. These people have to be frightening. I really saw that with Chino. Chino is one of the wisest people I know, and one of the most empathetic people I know, and yet he committed heinous acts of violence to maintain his position in this drug war hierarchy on his block in Brownsville. It’s what the system we have created demanded of him.
And Rosalio, not a person I admire, was nonetheless forced into much more extreme acts of violence than he would have committed otherwise, as I learned when I interviewed him. Sometimes we look at the Mexican drug war violence, which is like something out of the Saw movies, and it just seems like psychosis. It seems like Jeffrey Dahmer–style madness. It’s not. It’s important for people to understand that. It is created by prohibition: In the culture of terror created by prohibition, if you are prepared to push the moral limit a little bit further than the other guys, you gain a brief market advantage, because people will back off when they’re scared.
If you’re the first person who says, “We’re not just going to kill our opponents. We’re going to kill our opponents’ pregnant wives,” you get a brief competitive advantage. If you’re the first person to say, “We’ll not only kill their pregnant wives, but we’ll film it and put it on YouTube,” you get a brief competitive advantage. If you’re the first person to say, “We won’t just do that, we’ll cut off their faces, sew their faces onto a football, and post it to their families”—and this is a real thing that happens—you gain a brief competitive advantage.
I tracked how this dynamic works through the story of Rosalio, who is in constant solitary confinement in Texas. It is insane violence. But it’s insane violence within the structure and demands of prohibition. It is caused by prohibition.
There’s a very interesting study by Professor Paul Goldstein that I cite in the book, because it looks at one of the big distortions, where people often talk about “drug-related violence.” They look at the violence associated with the drug war and they think that somehow it’s caused by drugs themselves.
S. Harris: Yes, people sometimes imagine that the perpetrators of this violence are actually on drugs while they’re committing it.
J. Hari: Exactly. It’s like thinking that Al Capone was drunk and that’s why he shot people. It’s an error of judgment, and we can measure it exactly. Professor Goldstein did a study of all the murders that were described as drug-related in New York City in 1986. What he found is that in 7.5% of the killings, somebody was on drugs. (That doesn’t necessarily mean the drugs made them kill, of course.) In a further 2% an addict was committing property crime in order to feed his habit and got caught or it went wrong, and he killed someone.
All the rest, the vast majority, were rival drug gangs killing each other to control their patch, or to gain control of a patch, or to fend off rivals, or somebody getting caught in the cross fire between them.
Well, none of that is drug-related. That’s drug war−caused. If we banned milk and people still wanted milk, the milk trade would work that way. We wouldn’t call it milk-related violence, but it would make as much sense. Milton Friedman calculated that there are 10,000 additional murders every year in the United States as a direct result of this drug war violence. That’s a figure from the 1980s; we expect it to be somewhat lower now, because overall murder rates are lower, but the underlying dynamic remains the same. Look at the news from Chicago any day of the week—it happened under alcohol prohibition, and it happens in the same place under drug prohibition. So I think what you’re saying is exactly right.
This is atrocious enough. But now apply that to Mexico. Imagine a housing project in Brownsville, where Chino is from. Let’s say 5% to 10% of that economy is in the hands of armed criminal gangs. That will be a miserable place to live. In Ciudad Juárez, where I went, on the Mexican side of the US border, 70% of the economy is in the hands of armed criminal gangs. That doesn’t just cause horrific violence—it means that these gangs can outbid the state.
One of the most chilling moments for me in the research for the book was being shown around by Julian Cardona, the Reuters correspondent in Juárez, who was my fixer. He kept telling me stories of people who had been killed by the police. At some point I said, “Well, Julian, this is important, but I’ve got to meet the families of people who have been killed by the cartels.” And Julian just laughed and said words to the effect of “No, you don’t understand, Johann—when the cartels want to kill someone, they pay the police to do it. They’re not separate forces.”
S. Harris: That’s very depressing.
J. Hari: The state works for the cartels. Michelle Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, was asked about the 60,000 civilian deaths in Mexico over the past seven years. That’s an underestimate, that figure. And she said—these were her exact words—that they were “a sign of success in the war on drugs.”
That should be a national scandal, that someone whose wages you pay describes the death of innocent civilians as a sign of success. She’s should be forced to explain—what do we gain for this mass slaughter of innocents? Are fewer drugs getting into the United States? No—we know that because the price hasn’t gone up.
S. Harris: What was it like to spend time in Juárez? How concerned were you for your own safety?
J. Hari: I’ve been to lots of dangerous places before, like Iraq, the occupied territories, the Congo, the Central African Republic, and various other places. Generally, I would stay overnight in El Paso and walk across the bridge every day into Juárez, which was itself a fascinating thing. That bridge is such a weird place. When you walk over it, the first thing you see is this sign to the left that says something like “Welcome to Historic Downtown Juárez” and shows the old tourist map. But the map is just covered with images of missing women. It’s a perfect symbol of what’s happened to Juárez.
I was with a journalist, Julian, whom I deeply respect, and who I knew would not take me into any situation that was needlessly dangerous. I think this is an important enough subject that people need to know about it. It was of course scary, but I knew there was no way I could get the story in full except by going in.
And that goes generally to what I wanted to do with the book, which is related to what we were saying before. I think part of the curse of how this subject is discussed is that it’s discussed in this abstract way, as if we were in a philosophy seminar. Now, as you know, I’ve spent a lot of time in philosophy seminars, and I love them, but that’s not a sensible way to talk about this subject.
I went into this because of the people I love who are addicts. What I wanted to do was sit with real people whose lives have been affected by this one way or another, all over the world, and listen to them about what has happened to their lives, and convey to readers who they are. They are an amazing range of people—from a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn searching for what happened to his mother, to a scientist feeding hallucinogens to a mongoose to see what would happen, to the president of Uruguay, who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years and emerged to end the drug war in his country. I did it this way because I think the drug war can continue only because we’ve dehumanized the people it’s harmed, whether they’re drug users, drug dealers, cops, or the people who live along the supply routes.
I think if we acknowledge that the people whose lives are being destroyed are in fact people with hopes, dreams, and fears just like ours, it’s much harder to support this war and the massive horror that it causes. I think if most people in America had met Chino, or Bud, or Leigh Maddox, the cop I met in Baltimore who very bravely came out against the drug war, or President Mujica of Uruguay, and had heard their stories, they couldn’t support the continuation of this war. I think the main job we have in ending the drug war is to re-humanize the people at its heart.
S. Harris: Part of the problem is that it has been happening in the dark, as far as most people are concerned. At one point people were being locked up for decades for marijuana possession. I’m talking not about hardened criminals but about paraplegics and cancer patients, and owners of garden supply stores whose customers were caught growing marijuana. And our property-seizure laws were just ruining people. A woman whose grandson was found to be growing pot in her basement would lose her home, with no recourse. It was just insane, and very few of us realized that peaceful people were having their lives destroyed in this way. In fact, I may be out of touch on this point myself, because I haven’t followed how our laws have changed nationwide in much detail. I can’t imagine anyone’s being locked up for years today for marijuana possession, but I could be wrong about that.
J. Hari: Oh, they are. A lot of that is still going on. The wonderful Drug Policy Alliance—which I urge anyone who cares about this to sign up with and support—has been doing some documentation on this. Some of these cases are absolutely outrageous. I saw this for myself when I went to Estrella Women’s Jail, better known as Tent City, in Arizona, where the women in chain gangs I mentioned were incarcerated.
S. Harris: Were they recently incarcerated, or had they been convicted years ago?
J. Hari: No one’s in Tent City for more than two years, and I was there a bit more than two years ago. These were recently incarcerated people. And for the prison system in the United States, some of the figures are extraordinary. I give this stat in the book: The United States has such an enormous prison population relative to any other human society there’s ever been, and rape is so endemic in its prisons, that the US today is almost certainly the only society in human history where more men have been raped than women. There’s a shining Tent City on a hill for you.
One of the things that blew me away when I was in Arizona was my interview with a woman named Donna Leone Hamm, an amazing woman who works for prisoners’ rights in Arizona. I asked her my standard question, “Tell me about something that shocked you.” She went down this long list, and somewhere down the list she said something like “There was the time they put that woman in a cage and cooked her. That was quite bad.” And then she carried on with her list. I said, “Sorry, Donna, could you go back a second?”
She told me about this woman named Marcia Powell, about whom very little was known when I started doing the research, who was a chronic meth addict. She kept being put in prison either for having meth or for prostituting herself to get meth. One day she woke up in prison and she was suicidal. The doctor refused to believe she was suicidal, but to shut her up they put her in a holding cage, which is literally a cage exposed to the desert, and left her there. She begged for water, and she shat herself, and in the end she collapsed. By the time they called an ambulance, she had been cooked.
No one was ever criminally prosecuted for what they did to Marcia Powell. To me, this tells you so much about how we’ve devalued addicts’ lives. There’s been a hashtag—#BlackLivesMatter—which I entirely endorse, and it’s made me think we need a #AddictsLivesMatter. We need to really absorb that truth, because what other minority group could you just brazenly murder a member of without there being any proper investigation? I think addicts are one of the most outlying of all minority groups.
S. Harris: This brings us to the topic of addiction. Is addiction an easily defined physiological state that is purely a matter of which substance a person takes and how regularly he takes it? Or is it largely the product of external variables? In your book, you make the latter case. And I think most people would be surprised to learn that in a context where drug use is more normalized, a heroin addict, for instance, can be a fully productive member of society. There’s nothing about regularly taking heroin that by definition renders a person unable to function. So let’s talk a bit about what addiction is and the various ways it changes with its social context.
J. Hari: This is the thing that most surprised me in the research for the book. I thought I knew quite a lot about addiction, not least because I’ve had it in my life since I was a child, with my relatives. But if you had said to me four years ago, “What causes, say, heroin addiction?” I would have looked at you as if you were a bit simpleminded, and I would have said, “Heroin causes heroin addiction.”
For 100 years we’ve been told a story about addiction that’s just become part of our common sense. It’s obvious to us. We think that if you, I, and the first 20 people to read this on your site all used heroin together for 20 days, on day 21 we would be heroin addicts, because there are chemical hooks in heroin that our bodies would start to physically need, and that’s what addiction is.
The first thing that alerted me to what’s not right about this story is when I learned that if you step out onto the street and are hit by a car and break your hip, you’ll be taken to a hospital where it’s quite likely that you’ll be given a lot of diamorphine. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s much more potent than what you get on the street, because it’s medically pure, not f***ed up by dealers. You’ll be given that diamorphine for quite a long period of time. Anywhere in the developed world, people near you are being giving loads of heroin in hospitals now.
If what we think about addiction is right, what will happen? Some of those people will leave the hospital as heroin addicts. That doesn’t happen. There have been very detailed studies of this. It doesn’t happen. You will have noticed that your grandmother was not turned into a junkie by her hip operation. We know that. I just didn’t know what to do with it.
I didn’t know until I went and interviewed Bruce Alexander, who’s a professor in Vancouver and, I think, one of the most important figures in addiction studies in the world today. He explained to me that our idea of addiction comes in part from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century. They’re really simple experiments, and your readers can do them at home if they’re feeling a bit sadistic. You get a rat, you put it in a cage, and you give it two water bottles: One is water, and the other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. The rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and will almost always kill itself. So there you go. That’s our theory of addiction. You might remember the famous Partnership for a Drug-Free America ad from the 1980s that depicted this.
But in the 1970s, Bruce Alexander came along and thought, “Hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do except use these drugs. Let’s try this differently.”
So he built a very different cage and called it Rat Park. Rat Park was like heaven for rats. They had everything a rat could possibly want: lovely food, colored balls, tunnels, loads of friends. They could have loads of sex. And they had both the water bottles—the normal water and the drugged water. What’s fascinating is that in Rat Park they didn’t like the drugged water. They hardly ever drank it. None of them ever drank it in a way that looked compulsive. None of them ever overdosed.
An interesting human example of this was happening at the same time; I’ll talk about it in a second. What Bruce says is that this shows that both the right-wing and left-wing theories of addiction are flawed. The right-wing theory is that it’s a moral failing—you’re a hedonist, you indulge yourself, all of that. The left-wing theory is that your brain gets hijacked, you get taken over, and you become a slave.
Bruce says it’s not your morality and it’s not your brain. To a much larger degree than we’ve ever before appreciated, it’s your cage. Addiction is an adaption to your environment.
The good human example I just mentioned was called the Vietnam War. In Vietnam 20% of American troops were using a lot of heroin. And if you look at the reports from the time, they were really sh***ing themselves, because they thought, “My God, we’re going to have hundreds of thousands of junkies on the streets of the United States when the war ends.”
Actually, this was studied very closely, and the overwhelming majority—95%—of the men who had been using lots of heroin in Vietnam came home and just stopped. They didn’t go to rehab, didn’t get any treatment. They just stopped. Because if you’re taken out of a hellish, pestilential jungle where you could die at any moment, and you go back to your nice life in Wichita, Kansas, with your friends and your family and your human connections, that’s the equivalent of being taken out of the first cage and put into Rat Park.
This has enormous implications for the drug war. What we do at the moment is take people who are addicted because they are isolated, distressed, and in pain, and inflict more isolation, distress, and pain on them in the hopes that it will make them stop. Think about what we did to Billie Holiday, and all those women I met in Arizona—they’re never going to work again in the legal economy.
When I went to that prison in Arizona, they took me to the segregation unit, which they call The Hole, and I saw these women who are addicts put in these tiny little stone cages for a month. I thought, “Wow, this is the closest you could possibly get to a literal human re-creation of the cages that guaranteed addiction in those rat experiments.” And we think this will stop addiction?
Gabor Mate, a doctor in Vancouver, said to me, “If you wanted to design a system that would make addiction worse, you would design the system that we have now.” We can understand why the Portuguese system works so well, because it’s all about reconnecting people with the collective, with the group, with the society, giving them a purpose. We can see why that works so much better than either prohibition or even residential rehab, which has a pretty poor success rate.
But this has much wider implications for the way we live—much wider than drug policy. We’ve created a society where life for a lot of our fellow citizens is more like that first cage and less like Rat Park. Bruce discusses how we talk a lot in addiction circles about individual recovery, and that’s really important, but we need to think much more about social recovery. Something’s gone wrong with us not just as individuals but as a group.
I’m interested in thinking about this in relation to religion and atheism—issues you and I obviously care about a lot. I haven’t thought about them in anything like as much detail as I’ve thought about stuff in my book, but I’d be interested to know if you think this frame would apply in some way to religion. I wonder if isolation and distress and pain drive people toward addiction and also play a crucial role in driving them toward religious belief. What do you think, Sam?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence, for example, that Scandinavia is the least religious society in the world, and Somalia is the most religious society in the world. Scandinavia looks a lot like Rat Park, and Somalia looks a lot like the worst rat cages you can imagine. Scandinavia has very low levels of insecurity and very high levels of social solidarity and social engagement. Somalia is obviously an anarchic nightmare. I wonder if there’s some connection there. I haven’t teased it out in my mind, but I suspect it has implications for how atheist campaigning and fighting should proceed. What do you think?
S. Harris: I’m worried that they’re not actually analogous. The one thing that jumps out at me immediately is that many people overcome their social isolation through religion—indeed, community is one of its main selling points. The most theocratic societies tend to engender profound social cohesion. In many places on this earth, one need only shout the words “She burned the holy Qur’an!” to summon a lynch mob. So a lack of social cohesion is the least of one’s problems here.
But the basic claim is that, in “Rat Park,” most people can have all drugs available to them without becoming addicts.
J. Hari: Yes, and that shouldn’t seem surprising to people if they relate it to their own lives. While we’re talking, I’ve got a bottle of water in front of me, and you’ve probably got a drink in front of you. Forget the drug laws for a second. You and I could both be drinking vodka now, right? You and I have probably got enough money in the bank that we could spend the next year drinking vodka and never stop. We could just be drunk all the time. But we don’t. And the reason we don’t is not because someone’s stopping us but because we want to be present in our lives. We’ve got relationships. We’ve got friends. We’ve got people we love. We’ve got books we want to read. We’ve got books we want to write. We’ve got things we want to do. Most of addiction is about not wanting to be present in your life.
And by the way, that’s true not just of drug addiction. If you’ve ever known a gambling addict, you see that the pleasure he’s getting is not the pleasure of the specific bet. It’s the pleasure of not being present in his own life. It’s the pleasure of being taken out of himself, even to what I regard as a very squalid and depressing world. It’s the same with sex addiction. There’s a continuity between drug addictions and other addictions that I think tells you something fundamental.
For the book I went—with the permission of the people present—to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Vegas, at a gambling addiction treatment center. It was just like a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous—it was really so analogous, I felt I was looking at the same thing. And yet no one thinks that you snort a roulette wheel or inject a game of craps. Most people now acknowledge that you can have all of the addiction and none of the chemicals. Well, that tells you something about the degree to which addiction is driven by things other than chemical components.
That’s not to say that there’s no chemical component. It’s important to stress that. The chemical component is real—and we can measure it. There’s no need, again, to have an abstract conversation about it. There’s a broad scientific consensus that one of the most physically addictive drugs available to us is tobacco. And we’ve isolated the part that’s chemically compelling—it’s nicotine. So when nicotine patches were invented in the early 1990s, there was this massive wave of optimism: Great, you can give smokers all the drugs they’re addicted to without the filthy carcinogenic smoke. Progress. You will see a huge fall in smoking.
Actually, the US surgeon general’s report found that only 17% of smokers stopped with nicotine patches. Now, it’s important to stress that 17% is a lot. It’s not nothing. That tells us that 17% of these addictions are chemically driven—or at least that 17% of people can stop when the chemical component is met. That’s huge. That tells us that the story we’ve been told up to now is not false. But it also tells us that it’s only 17% of the story, and that 83% has to be explained in some other way. These social and environmental factors should be a very big part of the conversation and the discussion.
S. Harris: Isn’t it also true that addiction to a drug like heroin, in a legal context, can still be compatible with living a decent life?
J. Hari: I guess there are two things to say about that. It will seem weird to people to hear that you can be an addict, you can take quite a lot of a drug, and you can carry on having a pretty functional life. But actually, that was the norm in the United States. There was a study, which I cite in the book, that was done by the US government before drug prohibition really kicked in—a study of addicts, not users. It found that heroin addicts prior to drug prohibition were no more likely to be poor than the rest of the population. They were spread throughout the population. They were no more likely to be criminal than the rest of the population. They were of course debilitated by their addiction to some degree, as a functional alcoholic today is. But they weren’t what we now associate with heroin addiction.
And yet, of course, as you were saying before, when it’s banned, instantly the price skyrockets. That’s because gangsters charge higher prices, because they’ve got to take the risk of going to prison in order to sell the product—so they demand a quite high risk premium. Everyone along the supply chain demands that risk premium, so the price goes way up. Therefore, you suddenly have two crime waves. One is the organized crime and all the violence that comes with it—as we were discussing. The other is the crimes that addicts have to commit in order to meet this massively inflated price—prostitution, property crimes, and so on.
So you’re totally right. One of the best ways to understand that is to look at the start of the drug war and then at places where the war has ended. In Switzerland, where they legalized heroin, when you start on the program, you set your own dose of heroin, and you can stay on it for as long as you want. There’s never any pressure to stop, which surprised me. I actually was taken aback by that.
So anyone on that program can just stay on it their whole life, right? You can just carry on. The program’s been running for 20 years. But it’s interesting—there’s almost nobody on the program now who was on it at the start.
I said, “Well, how come that happened?” And they said that the chaos of street use, of scrambling to pay this grossly inflated price, ended, because people were given heroin as a medical prescription. The people in the clinic support you, they help you get housing, and they help you look for a job. So the majority of the people there get jobs, get homes, so they choose entirely of their own will to gradually cut down their heroin use over time, and eventually they stop. Because their lives become more bearable. Because they want to be more present in their lives. Because their lives slowly im
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Khmer Crimes
on: April 06, 2015, 12:06:01 AM
Once upon a time—1975, actually, in Cambodia—there was a regime so evil that it created an antisociety where torture was currency and music, books, and love were abolished. This regime ruled for four years and murdered nearly 2 million of its citizens, a quarter of the population. The perversion was so extreme, the acts so savage, that three decades later, the country still finds itself reeling.
BY MICHAEL PATERNITI
THERE WAS A SAYING IN KHMER FROM THOSE TIMES. THE PEOPLE WOULD CAUTION THAT A BODY "WAS FADING AWAY." THEY WOULD SAY: "BE CAREFUL OR YOUR BODY MAY DISAPPEAR."
ON THE DAY THE MAN was reunited with his wife (thinking her already dead), how could he have known that she had just seventeen more hours before disappearing? They were prisoners of the Khmer Rouge, herded in different groups, in the last hours of the regime, chaotically fleeing the Vietnamese. Even now, he remembers first seeing her again, the heightened metabolic state of happiness, and though he revealed no emotion (even the act of smiling—something Cambodians do so readily—was thought by the Khmer Rouge to be unrevolutionary), he watched her carefully as she walked ahead with their small son, both dressed as he was: in black pajamas. When the guards were at a distance, he spoke to her once about the scenery.
They did not touch.
AT THAT TIME—during the nearly four-year reign of Angkar lasting from April 17, 1975, to January 7, 1979—the killing was so random and widespread across Cambodia that death became a near certainty, especially if you were sent to the prison camp known as S-21. While the odds were roughly one in four of dying—and worse depending on your demographic (for instance, adult men died in much higher percentages)—your chance of survival at S-21 was .04 percent.
Or put the opposite way, the odds of your death were 99.96 percent.
Before death, though, a prisoner confessed, over and over again, until he’d named sometimes hundreds of “traitors,” in order to stop the pain of torture. The man who would soon lose his wife and who, as it turned out, was a mechanic with dexterous hands, had been named and arrested, taken away blindfolded to the place where 15,000 others were sentenced and exterminated in nearby pastureland famously known as the Killing Fields. But then, as fate would have it, he would emerge as one of only seven survivors from the prison camp. He became living proof that somehow surviving the absolute certainty of your own death can be as horrific as murder itself. For in the end, you’re the only one left to carry the memory of 15,000 terrors.
THE MAN WAS 44 years old when the body of his wife disappeared, the same age as I am right now. There is no equivalence; this is only a fact.
And one other: At this same age, though I have three children, he’d already lost four.
FROM THE BOOK of Atrocities, the evil fable begins like this: Once upon a time, a group of men educated in Paris and steeped in communist ideology had a dream for their homeland. To create a Cambodian society that surpassed the greatness of Angkor, the kingdom that reached its pinnacle under the god-king Suryavarman II in the twelfth century with the construction of Angkor Wat. From the jungles—where their leaders had fled to escape the repressive measures of Prince Sihanouk in 1963—they fought a guerrilla war, led by a soft-spoken, enigmatic schoolteacher named Saloth Sar. These communists, however, did not believe in gods, kings, or culture, as it turned out, but they were good at biding their time. In the vacuum of power left after the eight-year American bombing of Cambodia, they swept east across the lowlands to the capital, Phnom Penh, finally wresting control from the corrupt U.S.-supported regime in 1975. (The premier, Lon Nol, had already fled to Hawaii.) Their first act was to evacuate the city, hurrying the populace under the pretense that the Americans were coming to bomb again, emptying hospitals, setting millions of people—including the elderly, lame, and pregnant—walking on the roads that led to the countryside, a scene of hunger and corpses straight out of Brueghel.
What the Khmer Rouge had in store was a radical agrarian revolution, one with the professed aim of completely renovating society while giving the peasants a better life, of evening the rewards and feeding the hungry, of bringing a rational and utilitarian nation-state into being. At first, without the world knowing their real intentions, they were partially applauded, even by American journalists and politicians. Prince Sihanouk assured Congress that the Khmer Rouge would establish “a Swedish type of kingdom,” and Senator George McGovern believed that the new regime would be “run by some of the best-educated, most able intellectuals in Cambodia.” But almost immediately the Khmer Rouge’s revolutionary pretenses gave way to the sickening irrationality of brutes. In that first spasm of violence, everyone wearing glasses was killed. Everyone who spoke a foreign language was killed. Everyone with a university education was killed. Word was sent to expats living abroad to come home and join the new Cambodia; when a thousand or so arrived on special flights from Beijing, they were killed. Monks, so revered in Cambodian society and long the voice of conscience there, were killed. Lawyers, doctors, and diplomats were killed. Bureaucrats, soldiers, and policemen, even factory workers (who in the minds of the Khmer Rouge were equivalent to industrialization itself), were killed.
In that first moment, the lucky ones were directed to keep walking to their home villages—some traveled for months this way—where they were sorted, sent to collectives, and worked from sunup to twilight. A person’s worth was eventually measured by his ability to move cubic yards of earth. “To keep you is no profit,” said the executioners to the unworthy before killing them, “to destroy you is no loss.”
THE MAN WHO would survive S-21 but lose his wife—the man named Chum Mey—realized that the troops first entering Phnom Penh were mostly lost boys from the jungle, dirty and ragged with blank expressions, who, within hours of being greeted as liberators by cheering crowds, turned on the masses with their AK-47’s. In the south of the city, they fired warning shots; in the northwest sector, they fired on people. Never having seen toilets before, the soldiers drank from them as if they were cisterns, shat on the floor, wiped themselves with sticks that they left strewn about abandoned houses.
It was April, the hottest month. Fires ringed the city, the roads were so packed you could only progress in baby steps, parents were separated from their children, the sick and old laid themselves down, moaning. The man had his wife and children. At night he went down to the river to get water for them and found himself standing on bodies, and then in the water surrounded by bodies, so thick in places you couldn’t drink.
Funny, a repugnant memory such as that clung with an almost humid fondness now, thirty-five years later, for as horrible as the moment was, his family was still gathered about him. When he carried the water back, there was still thirst to quench, voices calling for their father and husband: Here, Pa! Here! Terrible things gathered around them, but lying down for the night, he could whisper to his wife:
Is this really happening?
THE LEADERS of the revolution were designated as Brother Number One (Pol Pot), Brother Number Two (Nuon Chea), Brother Number Three (Ieng Sary), and so on. And they were nothing if not ambitious in trying to build a new society. The Brothers abolished courts and banks. They abolished money and holidays and love. They abolished time and history, setting everything back to Year Zero. And they abolished the four things Cambodians hold most dear: food, family, village, and Buddhism. Those who hailed from the city were branded with the designation “New People,” versus “Old People,” who were from the country. New People were those most often badly punished. The entire populace was forced to wear black pajamas, the women Maoist bobs. So secretive were the Brothers that for a year no one knew who was running the country. Until Saloth Sar emerged under his new revolutionary name of Pol Pot, it was as if the faceless godhead Angkar decided all.
When it came to song, workers were only occasionally allowed to sing from a menu of revolutionary anthems like “Struggling to Build Dam and Dig Canals” or “Bravery of Construction Revolutionary Soldiers” or “Best Wishes to People in Northwestern Zone.” But a jingle secretly murmured by workers at the time spoke the truth: “Angkar kills but does not explain.”
ON THE ROAD from Phnom Penh during those first days, a Khmer Rouge cadre said to the man with dexterous fingers, who would soon lose his wife: “See nothing, say nothing, do nothing against Angkar and you may survive.”
I FIRST WENT TO Cambodia in 2002, primarily, as it turned out, to change diapers. My wife had work in Phnom Penh, and thus left with her driver and translator early each morning and returned later each night, while I took care of our firstborn son, who was 2 at the time. Initially, I thought we’d have some cultural moments out in the city, but soon realized that we were destined to spend an abnormal amount of time eating grilled-cheese sandwiches by the pool.
When we ventured out of the hotel, I pushed him in a stroller along the Mekong River, drifting with the hordes to the center of town, to a park there, where under a brutal sun, in the sticky, soaking heat, one could ride an elephant for a dollar. With son in arms, I climbed a rickety metal ladder, sat warily on the huge beast (his legs were chained to each other), and one with the pachyderm now, we lumbered the circumference of the park while my son, in silent panic, clutched me like a snake-spooked chimpanzee. Everyone—the mothers clutching their own babies, the fathers hand in hand with their daughters—pointed and smiled at us.
Back at the hotel, we ate our sandwiches, swam in the pool, went to bed. We understood nothing, of course. Our ignorance was willful. We tried to sleep but couldn’t. I lay awake, remembering all the smiles in that park. Why had everyone been smiling? It made me suddenly paranoid. Was there something I hadn’t known about that elephant, that park, that set of operators? Was the joke on me? And if so, what was the joke?
Or had they merely smiled because they could?
I WAS TO HAVE one afternoon to myself in Phnom Penh, after my wife had completed her work. I scoured the guidebook—the Silver Pagoda, Wat Phnom, a drink at Le Royal—but got stuck on S-21, the famous prison camp located in a former school called Tuol Sleng. Even Lonely Planet couldn’t bring itself to recommend a visit to the site, which had been turned into a museum. Here’s what it said:
“Altogether, a visit to Tuol Sleng is a profoundly depressing experience. The sheer ordinariness of the place makes it even more horrific: the suburban setting, the plain school buildings, the grassy playing area where today children kick around balls, rusted beds, instruments of torture and wall after wall of harrowing black and white portraits conjure up images of humanity at its worst. Tuol Sleng is not for the squeamish.”
So that’s where I went.
IT WAS SILENT when I arrived, and I was trying to gauge that silence at the same time that I was guarding against it, with the same active ambivalence I’ve had visiting other holocaust museums and concentration camps. The mind glimmers with trepidation: How bad will this get? Which is another way of asking: Just how deep and dark goes the human animal? And: Am I willing to participate, even if just bearing witness? Which itself is a defense: bearing witness. After all, we are the animals, too, bearing witness to our accomplishment.
Tuol Sleng had all the Gulag charm of any nondescript cement-block three-story building complex blooming with mold, humidity stains, and the sickening presence of evil in the unwashable blood marked into the umber-and-white-tile-checked floor. People, tourists like me, moved through the old school in ghostly ministrations—as if the guards of yore—and in the background, seemingly far away, came the low rustle of the city.
S-21 had been directed by a man named Kaing Guek Eav, whose revolutionary name was Comrade Duch (pronounced “doik”). Once a teacher of mathematics, he’d first been conscripted by the Khmer Rouge to run a jungle prison camp, where he’d studiously refined his ideas about torture, and was then put in charge of S-21. It was here that he condoned “living autopsies” (the slicing and flaying of victims); that he demanded the extended use of torture to
obtain confessions (including near drownings, the removal of toe- and fingernails followed by a dousing of alcohol, electric shocks applied to genitals, suffocation with plastic bags, and forcing prisoners to eat human excrement); that he ordered the murder of at least 15,000 people, who were taken to the Killing Fields and shot or bludgeoned (with iron rods, shovels, and axes) and then dumped into mass graves.
Operating from 1975 to 1979, S-21 became the most infamous of 196 such prison camps the Khmer Rouge established throughout Cambodia, primarily because so many of its prisoners were the purged party loyal—and because Duch’s methods were so stunningly brutal. In 1979, when the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge from power, they happened upon Tuol Sleng because of the stench of rotting corpses.
Now Tuol Sleng was a museum—and perhaps the most potent symbol of the Khmer Rouge’s dystopia. As I crossed the courtyard, the leaves of the palm trees and banyans shifted benevolently in a breeze, and detaching the scene from its history, one might have imagined this courtyard at a swank hotel in Honolulu: pleasant, tropical, hushed. But instead of someone taking drink orders, there was a billboard posted with security regulations. They began with their own warm welcome:
1. You must answer accordingly to my questions. Don’t turn them away.
2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
FROM THE BOOK OF ATROCITIES: THE WAY THEY KILLED, PART ONE.
PRISONERS WERE HOOKED up to a pump and IV line and had all of their blood drained for use in the hospitals. According to witnesses, the breathing turned to gasps, then wheezing, until the victim’s eyes rolled back in his head, leaving only the whites. Bloodless, the corpses were then thrown in pits.
AT TUOL SLENG, you drift from room to empty room. Here stands that iconic rusted frame of a bed, used to bind prisoners. (6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.) Here the bolts that helped shackle up to fifty prisoners at a time, in holding cells, the bodies laid out on the floor like soon-to-be-gutted tuna. (7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders.…) In some rooms are photographs of the very same rooms, taken by the Vietnamese on the day they discovered the prison camp, a decomposed body left on the bed, a slit neck bled out in nearly black puddles. There are shackles and metal boxes that once held excrement for feeding. There’s a map of Cambodia on one wall, made from 300 skulls, and barbed wire on the upper balconies, put there, after a rash of suicides, to keep the prisoners from jumping. But it’s the empty eeriness of the rooms that fills the imagination; the tranquility that calls up the shrieking opposite. (8. Don’t make pretexts about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your jaw of traitor.)
Located on the first floor of the middle building are some of the most famous death masks in the world, those black-and-white photographs taken of living prisoners upon admission to Tuol Sleng. And yet the captured already know they’re dead. (10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.) The fear and resignation, the dark epiphany that the flashbulb brings—some have already been beaten, some have babies clinging to them, some stand unflinching, in their last moment of public dignity before Duch’s men have their way—is made more poignant by the fact that they are trapped inside an unsolvable koan. Their confusion is writ large beneath their defeat. What they’re about to confirm, during the hours and days of interrogation that will soon follow, is that there are no right answers. That they have become victims, as one visitor put it, of an “irrational radicalism” or, more plainly, of an absolutely absurd universe, one in which the sanctity of the body is torn down again and again to a diamond-hard point, void of ideals and emotion, where ultimately dying becomes less painful than living.”
AMONG THOSE WHO died under Duch were members of the Khmer Rouge’s own Standing Committee (caught in the spin cycle of Pol Pot’s ever increasing paranoia, more and more high-ranking officials were thought to be turncoats) and at least eleven Westerners: four Americans, three French, two Australians, a Brit, and a New Zealander. How any of them ended up at S-21 in the first place must be seen as a horrifically random act of cosmic bad luck. In the case of two American men who were sailing from Singapore to Hawaii, they mistakenly ended up in Cambodian waters and were apprehended by Khmer Rouge patrols.
Besides these special cases, the killing at S-21 was indiscriminate and nearly complete, including the equal-opportunity elimination of laborers, teachers, factory workers, artists, monks, diplomats, cyclo drivers, and on and on. When one thinks of the loss of life, one wonders again at those who made it out alive.
One way was this: The Party, in imitation of Mao’s cult of personality, decided it needed portraits of Pol Pot, and two of the prisoners happened to be painters. Thus they were offered the chance to paint for their lives. (On the list of those to die, next to the painter named Vann Nath, Duch had scribbled the words: Leave for using.) Meanwhile, the prison camp needed a good mechanic, and in the case of Chum Mey, the man who would lose his wife, he knew how to fix things, and his turn to die coincided with a broken sewing machine used for repairing the guards’ uniforms.
And so the spinning wheel’s needle landed on the sliver-wedge that bore their names—and that’s how they lived.
THE WAY THEY KILLED, PART TWO.
TO MAKE LOVE out of wedlock meant certain death, and a boy who had just reached puberty, who was confused and desperate, was caught in the act with a water buffalo. The next day everyone from his collective—from the youngest to the oldest—was gathered. The boy was paraded before the crowd, strung up, then taunted, tortured, and killed. As odd as the case sounds, survivors of the Khmer Rouge recall public executions—full of redress and mockery, disembowelment and cannibalism—as being a part of the daily schedule. “Better to destroy ten innocent people,” was another saying, “than to let one enemy go free.”
A VISIT TO S-21 leaves an inconsolable feeling. It rides with you in the taxi back to the unreality of the hotel, through the streets of Phnom Penh, buzzing with markets and families, with the ramshackle grandeur of golden stupas and crumbling colonial architecture. And yet somewhere still behind it, one rearrives at the skeleton: the images just after the Khmer Rouge took the capital, a city drained of all human life, the colonial buildings empty and echoing, the pagodas ransacked and used to hold grain, piles of television sets and radios, burnt cars and all other machines of modern life strewn in the streets, twisting columns of smoke rising from the wreckage. Behind the normalcy of today, even the veneer of progress, lurks that desolation (…it is still happening).
In my case, the aftermath of a visit to S-21 left me with (a) a suffusion of paranoia and (b) a feeling of utter futility. It was the futility that stuck with me, though, the gut-wrenching realization that somehow the Khmer Rouge had gotten away with their experiment and that they had razed a country of its lawyers and leaders, intellectuals and activists (all those who might have had the expertise and wherewithal to hold them accountable for their crimes). By “smashing” (their word) the populace, by pathologically replacing the individual with the collective (and making sure that the collective knew how to do only one thing: grow rice), they’d instilled a paralysis and fear that had so far, thirty years later, saved them from retribution. They’d effectively lobotomized their own country.
It was astonishing, really. In the annals of the century’s great crimes against humanity, the Nazi leadership had been tried—and many of them executed—in fairly short order, as had the Japanese war criminals. Guilty parties convicted of genocide in Rwanda, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia were imprisoned and in some cases executed. Those responsible for apartheid in South Africa were subjected to a truth commission, which at least demanded confession and supplication.
Meanwhile, after being forced from power, the Khmer Rouge leadership set up on the border of Thailand, in the jungle stronghold of Pailin. From there, Pol Pot and his minions carried on their killing (including taking the lives of Western backpackers visiting the Angkor Wat temple complex) and tried to muster a second revolution. (It was said that between ordering the murder of his top lieutenants, Pol Pot, who was never pursued as a criminal, enjoyed Cognac, Pringles, and reading Paris Match, a French celebrity rag.) During this time, the Khmer Rouge continued to occupy Cambodia’s seat at the U.N. and receive foreign delegations in the jungle. The regime was so deeply entrenched that even the United States couldn’t cut final ties until 1991, a decade after learning the worst about it. Meanwhile, a number of high-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders were invited back to Phnom Penh and given villas by the government.
The mystery to me, and many others, was also a pique: What was the exact purpose of all this accommodation? And more: When was someone going to pay?
NOT LONG AFTER returning from Cambodia that first time, I had coffee with an editor in Manhattan. As happens at such meetings, an air of false importance hovered over the proceedings as we discussed “big stories” that seemed to have been overlooked by the media, even though we were the media. When I brought up the untried Khmer Rouge leaders, pointing out the 1.7 million dead from nearly thirty years ago, his eyes glazed. Yes—but no: More than that, he wanted to talk about Hollywood. “What people tend to miss,” he said, “is that George Clooney’s much more than an actor.”
THEY DID NOT believe in gods, kings, or culture. In fact, it’s fair to say that in spite of their communist doctrine, they believed in very little at all except a very dark, dominating kind of nihilism. They abolished schools, sport, toys, free time. They banned words like beauty, colorful, and comfort from the radio. They forced all children 7 or older from their parents, placing them in packs called “mobile units” to help with the rice harvest. (It was a “vagrant life,” said one survivor, “like that of a plant floating in the ocean.”) They abolished happiness, as it was their supreme belief that in order to purge individuality, the people must be made to suffer, and having suffered, would be void of dreams and expectations. That is, without minds of their own, they’d be perfect revolutionaries.
THE KHMER ROUGE were so busy killing people, they didn’t mince words. Here are a few of their sayings:
“He who protests is an enemy; he who opposes is a corpse.”
“Angkar has [the many] eyes of the pineapple.”
“Hunger is the most effective disease.”
IT’S STILL HAPPENING, PA. You’re an old man now, and it is still happening. The thugs have turned out the nearly 2 million residents of Phnom Penh, and as you walk along that road with your whole family, and as others lie dying, as others are shot and beaten and literally steamrolled (one body you see has been mashed to the thickness of a pancake, oozing clear syrup and viscera), your youngest contracts a high fever, then diarrhea.
You bury her one night in a heavy rain and keep going.
Sometime during that death march, the soldiers demand that all the mechanics identify themselves. You are guileless and want to please in order to save your family. They assure you that your family will be safe, and when they pull you from the line, you look back once at them. Then you are sent to the city, where you begin that first month repairing the boats they use to transport Khmer Rouge soldiers up-country along the Mekong. Your next assignment is two years in the capital, scurrying through ghostly streets, going from abandoned house to abandoned house, retrieving and then fixing, by your count, 40,000 sewing machines—40,000 broken belts and bobbins—all of which go to the factories where the women work, making the same black pajamas that you will be wearing on the day your wife disappears.
THE WAY THEY KILLED, PART THREE.
IF SOMEONE required killing, it was common practice to kill their children. If a parent died of starvation or disease, the children might also be killed. At the Killing Fields, babies were held by their feet and smashed against a designated tree, the Baby-Smashing Tree.
Duch would later admit, while explaining why he ordered the death of so many children, that those that came to S-21 with their parents were seen as dangerous agents, potential enemies of the state who would ultimately seek revenge for the death of a parent. “You must pull the weed at the root” went the saying. Or: Kill now before you, too, are killed.
EVERYONE HAD A THEORY, real or half-baked, about why it had been nearly impossible to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice. For some, American guilt rode high on the list. That is, the Americans were loathe to reexamine the sordid details of their eight-year secret bombing of the country—which killed somewhere between 150,000 and 500,000 civilians—and were unwilling to accept their role in the destabilization of society that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. For others, the prime minister, Hun Sen, didn’t want his own Khmer Rouge résumé dredged up. (“We should dig a hole and bury the past,” he was quoted as saying in 1998, rejecting the idea of trials.) And then the international community didn’t seem to have much desire for it, either; being resource-poor and of no geopolitical advantage, Cambodia had nothing to offer. Meanwhile, the money that was earmarked for eventual trials, money that poured in through various NGOs and foreign governments, created a lucrative cottage industry for certain corrupt local officials who were motivated to drag out the process as long as possible.
And yet as time sludged forward, an agreement was finally forged in 2003 between the Cambodian government and the U.N. to inaugurate the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea, or the ECCC. A formal indictment followed in 2007, charging Duch with crimes against humanity as well as war crimes. In addition, the top Khmer Rouge leaders who remained alive were arrested and imprisoned, including Brother Number Two (Nuon Chea) and Brother Number Three (Ieng Sary). But up until Duch took the stand in March of this year to begin the first trial, there were still those who doubted such a day would ever come—and others, mostly those born after 1979, who didn’t understand why there should be a trial for these mythical old men at all. Why did it matter? Or: Was it better left forgotten?
In writing the introduction to the trials in a handbook distributed to the Cambodian people, Hun Sen put it most simply. “The crimes of the Khmer Rouge period were not just committed against the people of Cambodia,” he wrote, “but against all humanity.”
DECEMBER 9, 1970: Feeling frustrated by the changing tide of the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon calls his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, to discuss closing down North Vietnamese supply routes through Cambodia. “I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them,” says the president. “There is no limitation on mileage, and there is no limitation on budget.” Throughout the conversation, Nixon seems agitated, peeved. “The whole goddamn Air Force over there farting around,” he says. “It is a disgraceful performance.… Get them off their asses and get them to work now.”
Minutes later Kissinger is speaking to Alexander Haig: “I just talked to our little friend,” says Kissinger. “[H]e wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order; it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves. You got that?”
On the transcript, the response is described as follows: “Couldn’t hear but sounded like Haig laughing.”
OVER AND OVER and over, in past, present, and future, it’s happening, has happened, will happen again. Like this:
In 146 b.c., the Romans attacked Carthage, jealous of its wealth and refinement. After giving up their weapons to avoid war, the Carthaginians were asked to abandon their beloved city and, when they refused, were set upon, beaten, and burned alive. Over the course of a week, Roman soldiers employed all manner of killing—using swords for stabbing and spears for impaling. They lofted bodies from rooftops to the cobbles below and buried children and old people alive or stampeded them beneath their horses. According to one account, bodies were “torn asunder into all kinds of horrible shapes, crushed and mangled.” When the Carthaginian commander, Hasdrubal, finally surrendered, his wife appeared before him at a burning temple with their children and, reproaching him for his cowardice, she “slew her children, flung them into the fire, and plunged in after them.”
Witnessing it all, the Roman commander Scipio clasped the hand of one of his lieutenants. “A glorious moment, Polybius,” he said, “but I have a dread foreboding that someday the same doom will be pronounced upon my own country.”
Or in other words, our own genocide forever comes next.
BEFORE RETURNING TO Cambodia during the phase of Duch’s pretrial hearings, I was reading a lot. Books about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Books about torture and genocide. I sat in a room, in the middle of winter, ice shagging the windows, staring at pictures of the Brothers Khmer (oddly bloated while everyone else starved)—and some of their 1.7 million victims (fed on teaspoons of gruel; you could see their ribs). I read and took notes. By the time I recorded the details of one horrific happening, it was subsumed by the details of the next. It was hard to accept the incomprehensibility of the feat, the sheer creativity of Angkar’s sadism. But there it was, in the pictures taken at S-21, in the still-alive faces flashing with death.
During this time, I thought that perhaps if you applied logic (for instance, a syllogism) to something illogical (for instance, a genocide), you might reach, well, the beginning of understanding. One afternoon, poring over my notes, a couple of disparate lines unmended themselves, floated up, and spun down again. It was a beginning:
Language is the only means to reconciliation.
Pain destroys language.
For those in pain, there is no means to reconciliation.
MY FIRST MORNING in Phnom Penh, I met at the hotel with a defense attorney for Comrade Duch named François Roux. The ECCC was set up in such a way that for every Cambodian attorney, there was also a corresponding international attorney. Roux shared his defense duties with a Cambodian lawyer named Kar Savuth, who himself had lost two brothers and nearly his own life to the Khmer Rouge.
Roux had spent thirty years doing this work, traveling the world to defend the accused from Rwanda to French Polynesia. He’d defended José Bové, the man who tore down a McDonald’s in France protesting genetically modified crops. Here in the United States he’d helped save the so-called twentieth hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, from the death penalty. “I like being on the side of the accused,” he said. “I find it edifying."
At the hotel, he waved off the sumptuous five-star buffet, a cornucopia of pancakes and dumplings, pho and shrimp lo mein, and instead drank a single cup of orange-pekoe tea. He was a diminutive, impish man with quick, intelligent brown eyes, clad in a slightly ill-fitting black blazer and ironed white shirt. He’d spent so much time in Cambodia lately, he’d taken a little house to live in, and he found his life completely entwined with Duch, whom he met with every day. Yes, they had formed a bond, he said, a client-attorney bond, but a human bond nonetheless. “I wouldn’t say we are friends,” said Roux, “but we have an understanding, a very good understanding.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly. Was Roux here to act as an apologist for Duch, to report that he’d looked into the man’s soul and seen something that the rest of humanity had somehow missed? Somewhere along the way, Duch had converted to Christianity, but thirty years and 15,000 dead bodies later was it okay to say, “Oh yeah, that stuff back there, that was a big mistake”?
I’m sure it wasn’t the first time Roux had been mistaken for one of his clients, and he tried his best to explain, but for a moment I held tightly to my own syllogism:
Duch was evil.
Roux had a bond with Duch.
Roux had a bond with evil.
The Frenchman’s mouth kept moving—“due process…accepted responsibility…true justice…”—but I lost track of what he was saying. Only later, when I went back to the transcript, did I hear his voice again, almost plaintive in its individuation.
“I’m only here to try to make something fair out of something unfair,” he said.
AT S-21, when Duch had once been omnipotent, when it seemingly hadn’t occurred to him to question his own actions or seek expiation from his god for the sins he was committing, he preferred whips and electric shocks to waterboarding in order to keep his prisoners alive.
To an interrogator under his command, he gave these words of advice: “Beat [the prisoner] until he tells everything. Beat him to get at the deep things.”
AT OUR MEETING, Roux had spoken eloquently about how it could be that we might allow someone like Duch back into “our human community.” He went on to point out how the trial would allow his client to make his amends with the Cambodian people, how the criminal was always bigger than his crimes, that Duch had undergone a conversion. He was now a Christian, but more than that he was changed somehow.
Changed how? By sudden guilt? After the Vietnamese had poured into Phnom Penh in January of 1979, effectively ending the rule of the Khmer Rouge, Comrade Duch had stayed at S-21 until the final second in order to oversee the killing of the last of the prisoners (the ones photographed by the Vietnamese, bodies bound on the rusted metal bedframes, throats slashed, bled out on the umber-and-white floor); then he’d disappeared into the jungle, eventually making his way to China to teach Khmer. He returned to the jungle to work for Pol Pot as a bureaucrat and then taught school again in a small village, where he was regarded as a good teacher with a mean temper. Later, after his conversion, he became a lay minister and worked in the countryside with the Christian relief agency World Vision, which is where he was found in 1999, under an assumed name, by a young journalist whose own initial visit to Tuol Sleng had led him on a personal manhunt for Comrade Duch. Would he have ever come forward if he hadn’t been discovered?
I admit I had a hard time buying the tale of his full conversion, especially from the French defense attorney whose advantage it was to sell that particular narrative, however passionate and personable Roux was, however much I trusted Roux’s intentions and his absolute faith in the process of justice. “Every case needs someone to defend,” he had said. He implied that even someone like Duch could be saved.
But if, as Roux insisted, the criminal was always bigger than his crime, I wanted to know this: Wasn’t the victim much bigger than both?
ROUX, WHO WAS rushing to catch a plane to Rwanda, insisted that I speak to Kar Savuth, the other defense attorney. And so we set a meeting for a few nights later at the hotel bar. In 1994, Savuth had taken his oath as one of the first lawyers in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge, completing a dream that had been delayed twenty years: He’d been a law student when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. Instead of seeking revenge, a victim of the Khmer Rouge was defending them.
When he appeared, I would have guessed him to have been anywhere from 45 to 65 years old (he was 77), wearing a gray shirt and gray slacks, flashing a gold watch and diamond ring, and carrying three cell phones, which he laid out before him on the table. We took a seat in the far corner with my translator, a woman named Veasna, and beneath the rotating paddle fans that hung from the ceiling, drinking seltzer, Kar Savuth wanted to make something very clear. He saw himself as a medical doctor, with Duch as his patient. He understood his obligation to his client. But he was not willing to forget.
He was not willing to forget how they’d killed his brothers.
He was not willing to forget how they’d killed his cousin’s entire family. He could not forget his own feelings of survivor’s guilt. He could not forget watching a woman killed in front of him, her liver removed, cooked, and eaten by the soldiers…then her hip meat…then her breast.
Kar Savuth sat on the cushion edge of the rattan chair as he spoke, straight at attention, his face a mask. He said all of it without a trace of emotion. His strength seemed almost severe. When he himself had been interrogated, he told them he was a cyclo driver, and then they asked him the distance between two hospitals in the city. A month later, three months later, a year, and three years later, they asked him the same question over and over again. What is the distance between the two hospitals? If he’d changed his answer, they would have killed him.
And of course, he remembered nearly starving to death, being so sick that his hair had fallen out. He’d playacted that he was clumsy so they might take pity—and ever after, he’d been clumsy, unable to relearn how to ride a bike, for instance. He’d even unlearned how to read. “It took a long time to become a human being again,” he said.
And yet, he said, when he first met Duch, the former Khmer Rouge commandant had cried, overwhelmed by guilt, then gathered himself, pointing out that the first commandant of S-21 had been killed and that he knew it was only a matter of time before he himself would have been killed, too. Duch asked Kar Savuth a question: If they told you they were going to kill your family, what would you have done?
And Kar Savuth said, “I would have done exactly what you did.”
THERE HAVE BEEN many myths about the trials: one is that the Cambodians don’t want them, that the two-thirds of the population born after 1979 think of the Khmer Rouge as a scary bedtime story they’d rather not hear, while the other third would rather not recall the actual horrors they actually survived, suffering still as they are from PTSD and ungovernable fear. Another is that they won’t be able to handle the trials, that the idea of Western justice is foreign enough to the populace at large that a sentence other than life in prison (the death penalty is forbidden) will open the masses to spasms of violence. And yet these misreadings—or half readings (of course, a third of the population does live in fear, but their Buddhist faith prohibits revenge killing)—by outsiders are just a continuation of centuries of farang misapprehension.
Despite the constant whiff of Western condescension that has hung over the country since the French made it theirs in 1863, the years leading up to the trials, and now the first trial, the Duch trial, have forced an important if uneasy reckoning. And in large part that reckoning was begun for his people by Youk Chhang.
Chhang was 16 when the Khmer Rouge controlled the country and his sister was murdered before him. Accused of stealing rice, she had her stomach slit open to prove her treachery (there was no rice there) and died a slow, painful death. After that—after becoming a refugee and making his way to America, to Texas—all Chhang wanted was revenge, Buddhism be damned.
An English teacher who befriended him, and who couldn’t help but notice his anger, gave him a book about Cambodia by a man named Ben Kiernan with an inscription in her hand that read:
My friend Youk,
Happy birthday. May you understand your country’s history and may it help your dreams come true.…
As it turned out, Kiernan was a professor at Yale, Chhang sent him a letter, the two became friends, and when Kiernan received a half-million-dollar grant from the U.S. government to research the Khmer Rouge, he bought Chhang a plane ticket back to Cambodia—leaving Friday, January 13, 1995, a date Chhang will never forget—to begin compiling what became the largest archive of evidence chronicling the Pol Pot regime, and what became the foundation for the prosecution of its leaders. Without the two of them, it’s fair to say there might not have been any trials at all.
“He changed my life,” says Chhang of Kiernan today, sitting among the piles of books and folders, dossiers and files in his cluttered office on the third floor of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. Chhang, 48, wears a white pressed shirt and chinos. Before he had a staff and assistants, he worked virtually alone, going from village to village with a field recorder, interviewing victims but also interviewing the Khmer Rouge cadres (the farmers and shopkeepers, the teachers and laborers who executed, quite literally, the commands of their superiors). In the process, and as he collected letters, documents, ephemera of all sorts, he was able to map Angkar and its chains of command, the web of killing and unapologetic doctrine. In some villages, murderers and survivors lived across the street from each other, and he’d interview both—sometimes in each other’s presence. But of the more than 10,000 Khmer Rouge cadres he and his fellow researchers have interviewed to date, only one has ever admitted to killing anyone, and in that case, only “five or six people.”
“We haven’t begun to reintegrate ourselves with each other,” says Chhang. “And that won’t happen until the victims accept ownership of the atrocities—and the perpetrators claim responsibility.”
IN A RARE INTERVIEW at the end of Pol Pot’s life, he rejected the idea that he had ordered a genocide, that he had anything to do with the deaths of nearly 2 million people, claiming that it was the work of unhinged elements—radicals, the Khmer Krom, the Vietnamese, etc.—and that his conscience was clear. “When things get quiet, I go to bed at 6 p.m.,” he said. “I sleep under the mosquito net by myself. My wife and my daughter live apart from me. Sometimes I do nothing, putting up with mosquitoes and insect bites. I get bored, but I’m used to it.”
One mother, feeling herself being sucked away by Angkar, dying slowly in a work camp, turned to her daughter and said, “You will have to learn to live without me now.”
On the surface, Chum Mey had a typical story—if one measured such stories by torture endured, family members lost, atrocities witnessed, if one could ever accept the ingenious methods the Khmer Rouge had of robbing people of their dignity. Now he was an old man who no longer had the eyes or dexterity to repair sewing machines, and he walked slowly, carrying all of those invisible things bundled on his shoulders.
And yet he was almost natty, wearing a white watch cap, gray wool pants, a collared button-down short-sleeve shirt, and from the country that produced garments for some of the world’s best-known labels, a faux Versace belt. His face was open and almond-shaped, his eyes brown. He betrayed no hint of having been blindfolded for two straight weeks or stripped and hung like an animal from the crossbar as they’d whipped him with electric cords. I forced out the image of that metal bed and the pliers they’d used to remove his toenails or the electrodes they’d put to his ears until they’d shocked him unconscious. He’d begged a 20-year-old kid for another two weeks to let him live (the boy called him by the vulgar form of you, hein). He had no idea what CIA or KGB stood for, but they wanted him to confess to being an agent for one or the other. He prayed to the spirits of his mother and father to protect him. On the day the other mechanics, his friends, were taken to the Killing Fields, there’d been a broken sewing machine. And here he was, one of only seven to have survived S-21. Seven out of 15,000. How many times had he wondered why he’d been permitted to live?
As it was, he’d been too afraid to meet in a public place. He claimed his life had been in danger for years, all because he’d been willing to tell his story, and there were those, the relatives of those headed to trial, who wanted him silenced. Who could question his paranoia? Who could blame him for relaying the intimate details of his trauma as if he were watching himself from very far away? So there we sat in Veasna’s living room, in her new white house in a subdivision at the edge of the city as the land movers and bulldozers groaned outside, adding another walled ring to Phnom Penh as they excavated the skeletal past. Then, suddenly, the machines went silent. Lunch.
Chum Mey looked at his watch, worn on the wrist of the hand that the Khmer Rouge had broken when he raised it to block the bamboo stick whistling for his face. He looked blurrily at the frosted-glass window as if trying to see out, unsure perhaps if it was his eyes or the window itself that disallowed transparency.
“Eleven o’clock,” he said. “This was always the time of day when the screaming was worst of all.”
THE WAY THEY KILLED, PART FOUR.
DEATH BECAME a pestilence: arbitrary, ravaging, and contagious. And it became a strange performance, too, the killers trying to outdo each other: At S-21, living prisoners were cut open with knives and scorpions were let loose inside their bodies.
THE MAN PAINTING the same image over and over, feverishly, incessantly—green stroke, black stroke, the flesh-colored—his name was Vann Nath. He, too, had lost a wife and two children. He, too, had been shackled at S-21, until they released him (leave for using) and brought him downstairs to a room where there were two other painters and a sculptor. He was given paints and a canvas and three days to regain his strength. He was handed a photograph and asked to make a “realistic, clear, correct, and noble reproduction” of it. He did not know, at first, that it was Pol Pot. For weeks, he woke at dawn and worked until midnight. When Duch arrived to evaluate his first painting, Vann Nath knew quite well that his life hung in the balance. The commandant looked at it for a time, then asked the opinion of another, who said it didn’t exactly match the photograph.
“It’s all right,” responded Duch.
And that’s how he lived.
WE’D MET WITH Vann Nath at his art gallery, which was attached to a restaurant his family ran on a busy street. Clad in a dirty gray dress shirt and green pants, he was 63 years old now, with a head of snowy hair, baleful eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a caramel complexion. During his time at S-21, he’d produced eight portraits and one sculpture of Pol Pot. After surviving the Khmer Rouge, he’d kept painting, feverishly, incessantly, but this time he depicted the scenes of torture at S-21. He painted Pol Pot’s dystopia: the sweltering cell block with fifty bodies in shackles; a prisoner having his fingernails removed in a torrent of blood; the whippings and near drownings; the starvation and degradation; throats slit and babies taken.
He had remarried, as many of the survivors had. After the decimation, after the sudden disappearance of the Khmer Rouge (one S-21 survivor, Chim Math, said her first act after freedom had been to eat three bowls of rice and then to break down weeping), they’d clung to each other; they’d tried as hard as they could to put it all behind them. But Vann Nath still had nightmares about Duch.
“For me, it’s the wound that can’t be healed. I knew the meaning and deepest horror of the Khmer Rouge. I lost my wife and children. When I think about it, I lose all my energy, all my bearings. It’s only my grandchildren that can take away the deepest wound now.”
“HE WHO PROTESTS is an enemy; he who opposes is a corpse.” One starless night, late, I went out to the hotel pool after the lights had been shut off. While the courtyard was silent, I could hear the faint late-night noise of the city, like the distant breaking of glass. I lowered myself in the warm water and floated for what seemed like an hour, trying to process all the raw data of genocide as I did, and yet I felt nothing. No sense of agency or emergency. No point of connection. No language in the end to describe the fugue state that the country seemed to inhabit. Hyacinth and smoke mingled in the air. Cambodia kept passing me by in windows, but there was no way through. I felt utterly defeated: Who was I kidding, being here, as if to find a unified theory, practicing my own unknowing brand of exceptionalism—as if only I could figure it out? I floated like this for some time, letting it all stream out until I emptied my mind, until drifting off in the deep end, until Duch’s question came back: If you’d been threatened with the death of your family, what would you have done?
What would I have done?
THE WAY THEY KILLED, PART FIVE.
THERE WERE SO MANY ways they killed—it goes on and on—and none were ever tender. No method was somehow better than any other, more humane or considerate. This was murder, of course, but of the most heinous sort. Their acts came from the darkest part of the soul. In this instance, there was a soldier with a knife who cut the clothes off a pregnant woman. A deep incision was made in the flesh of the belly, there were screams and whispers and, finally, the stillness of death. That is, what came next, what was taken and hung by the neck, was as innocent as the act was unspeakable. They hung it with the others, in rows along the rafters, to ward off evil spirits. These were the Smoke Children.
CHUM MEY SAT in silence for a moment, looked up from his watch at 11:01 a.m., and began speaking again, at first in a dull monotone. He spoke directly to Veasna and only occasionally met my eye. When I asked him questions, he sat looking straight ahead at the window. Then he spoke.
As the Vietnamese approached Phnom Penh, you could hear bombs going off, locked in a room with twenty others, and then you were herded with the last group from S-21, up the same road that people had disastrously traveled when evacuating Phnom Penh nearly four years earlier. At about 7 a.m., your group met up with another group of prisoners being herded by the Khmer Rouge, and in that group, in one of those strange moments of fate, were your wife and son, whom you hadn’t seen in at least a year.
You watched her carefully as she walked ahead with your small son, both dressed as you were: in black pajamas. When the guards were at a distance, you spoke to her once about the scenery.
You did not touch.
By nightfall, it was clear you were being led to your deaths; members of the group were taken away, then gunfire erupted. When they took your wife and child, she screamed your name. She screamed it over and over and over again: They want to kill us! Chum Mey, run!
Her voice stopped when two reports filled the air. And then you ran.
THERE CAN ONLY be so much unmending of the body before one turns away.
In Long Beach, California, ten years after the war, at least 150 female Cambodian refugees were diagnosed with psychosomatic blindness, an otherwise incredibly rare occurrence. Doctors were perplexed: Their eyes were fine, yet they couldn’t see. According to the therapists who studied the group, their blindness was “linked to a dissociated cluster of primitive meanings, horrific images, and behavioral responses or muscular representations loosely organized around the incomprehensibility of the events and the desire or ‘need not to see.’”
As one survivor put it, “My family was killed in 1975, and I cried for four years. When I stopped crying, I was blind.”
ULTIMATELY, DUCH, TOO, disappeared: to the jungle, to China, back to the jungle again. And then, unlike those he ordered to be tortured and murdered, he reappeared. He became a Christian. He was haunted and repentant. In 1999 he was arrested and later given counsel; François Roux and Kar Savuth were chosen to defend him.
By the rules of the ECCC, the pretrial discovery phase called for the accused to return to the scene of his alleged crime and stand before his accusers. And so on a February day in 2008, amid the rusted bedframes and blood-stained floor, Duch had stood before Vann Nath and Chum Mey and a number of other guards and survivors. He seemed so small, said Vann Nath afterward. But the painter was still filled with so much fear, he couldn’t look him in the eye.
And yet however one chooses to look upon it, something remarkable happened that day. Duch tried to speak to them as human beings. “I ask for your forgiveness,” he said. “I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might,” he said before breaking down on the shoulder of one of his guards. And after everything that had transpired, after all the atrocity, one of those gathered said, “I’ve been waiting thirty years for those words.” But the other survivors said nothing.
WHEN THE ECCC officially commenced this past March and Duch took the stand to begin a trial that will likely last until the new year, he looked tired. His face was swollen, and his eyes were red. He sat at a raised podium while Kar Savuth and Roux sat slightly below in black robes and white-frilled kerchiefs. To hear Kar Savuth tell it, Duch has spent an awful lot of time crying over the past year.
So far, in the first phase of the trial, the defense’s strategy has seemed somewhat straightforward. Duch denies little, shares what he can, tries to set the record straight. He has discussed his reasons for employing torture (“I never believed the confessions I received told the truth,” he said. “At most they were 40 percent true”) and the killing of babies (“I didn’t remember it until I saw the pictures, but I am criminally responsible for killing babies, children, and teenagers”). He has discussed his beloved leader (“Pol Pot was a murderer. He was the greatest criminal father of Cambodia”) and the fact that, steeped in Khmer Rouge propaganda, he honestly never knew that torture was illegal, had never heard of the Geneva Conventions until he’d been charged.
And he continues to apologize. Discussing the fact that he tortured two prisoners himself but asked his minions “to smash” many others, killing them by cutting their throats, he has said, “The burden is still on me—it’s my responsibility. I would like to apologize to the souls of those who died.”
Meanwhile, Roux and Kar Savuth continue to insist that Duch is being scapegoated, that he should be released from prison, that it’s really Nuon Chea—Brother Number Two, the one from whom Duch ultimately took orders—who bears full responsibility for issuing the orders that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents. (His trial is slated to begin in 2010.) They claim their client faced execution if he didn’t follow instructions. They seem to ask the same question Duch asked Kar Savuth when they first met: What would you have done?
And yet if this is the beginning of Comrade Duch’s redemption, as Roux so insists, one wonders if he, the steely commandant of S-21, will finally have the stomach for it. Or if the ruination he sees in the mirror will finally crush him, too.
A FINAL SYLLOGISM:
For those in pain, there is no means to reconciliation.
For those in pain, there is no means to reconciliation.
For those in pain, there is no means to reconciliation.
FINALLY, IN VEASNA’S living room, Chum Mey needed money to get home. He said he’d moved six times since the start of the pretrial hearings and now lived quite far away. He put on his white watch cap. His once broken hand was crooked. His eyesight was going. Veasna offered him a ride, but when he refused, she gave him a few small bills.
Earlier I’d had a meeting with a top-level diplomat who’d said that the best Cambodians might hope for now was that this generation, both the perpetrators and the ones that had been so traumatized by the Khmer Rouge, might die off and with them gone, the country might start over again, afresh.
And here was one of the last of that generation, fading before me. The man who’d lost his wife and two children, Pa to his family, the one who’d gone house to house in the ghost town of Phnom Penh collecting sewing machines to fix, the one who’d lost virtually everything and now moved again from house to house in utter fear and paranoia to keep ahead of his supposed enemies—how could one ever reach this man?
Veasna had something upstairs that she needed to retrieve before we left, too. So I went to the door and waited for Chum Mey to catch up. The room was blinding white, and since I couldn’t speak Khmer, I kept smiling as he approached. And he kept smiling as he shuffled toward me until I realized he had no intention of stopping, until he had gently walked into me, and wrapped his arms around, and rested his head on my chest.
MICHAEL PATERNITI is a GQ correspondent.http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/200907/cambodia-khmer-rouge-michael-paterniti?printable=true
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Irrational Orthodoxy
on: January 23, 2015, 11:39:04 AM
Hot Stuff, Cold Logic
Politically correct climate change orthodoxy has completely destroyed our ability to think rationally about the environment.
Climate change is sometimes called humanity’s biggest problem. Ban Ki-moon, Christine Lagarde, and John Kerry have all said as much recently. The mainstream Western media often discuss climate change in catastrophic, or even apocalyptic, terms. Indeed, if you take newspaper headlines seriously, the Fifth Assessment Report of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came accompanied by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; predictions of famine, pestilence, war, and death proliferated hither and yon. Conversely, when, on November 11, 2014, the United States and China inked an agreement on climate whose actual consequences are at best liable to be indistinct, banner headlines broke out, as though messianic times were nigh.
Assuming it falls somewhat short of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, how serious will the impact of climate change be really? How much do we know about these impacts? What are the implications for policy?
It’s helpful to recall here that climate change means a lot more than just different temperatures. It means more or less rain, snow, wind, and clouds in various places. It means different outcomes for plants, whether direct or, since plants compete for resources, indirect. It means changes for the animals that eat those plants. And this includes changes for everything that hitches a ride on those plants and animals, and hence changes for all sorts of pathogens. Nature, agriculture, forestry, and health will all be different in the future. The seas will rise as water expands and glacial ice melts, affecting coastlines and everyone and everything that resides there. Water supplies will be affected by changing rainfall patterns, but water demand will also be altered by changing temperatures. Energy demands will change, too; there may be less need to heat houses in winter and perhaps greater need to cool them in summer. Traffic, transport, building, recreation, and tourism, too, will all feel the impact of a changing climate.
For some, the mere fact of these impacts is reason enough for governments, businesses, and individuals to exert themselves to reduce greenhouse gases to minimize the change. That is strange logic, however. Change, after all, can be for the better or the worse, and at any rate it is inevitable; there has never been a lengthy period of climate stasis.
Just as there is no logical or scientific basis for thinking that climate change is new, there is no self-evident reason to assume that the climate of the past is “better” than the climate of the future. With just as little logic, we might assume that women’s rights, health care, or education were necessarily better in the past. Any such judgment also contradicts Hume’s Law and, perhaps worse, is grounded in a fallacious appeal to nature understood in a very slanted way.
There is no prima facie reason to assume that any given past climate was better than the prospective one. The climate of the 21stcentury may well be unprecedented in the history of human civilization; the number of people living in countries with free and fair elections is unprecedented, too. So what? “Unprecedented” is not a synonym for “bad.”
Others argue that the impacts of climate change are largely unknown but may be catastrophic. The precautionary principle thus enjoins that we should work hard, if not do our utmost, to avoid even the slim possibility of catastrophe. This logic works fine for one-sided risks: We ban carcinogenic material in toys because we do not want our kids to get cancer. Safe materials are only slightly more expensive, and there is no likely or even imaginable “upside” to children having cancer. Climate policy, on the other hand, is about balancing risks, and there are risks to climate policies as well as risks caused by climate change. Sharp increases in energy prices have caused devastating economic recessions in the past, for example. Cheap energy fueled the industrial revolution, and lack of access to reliable energy is one factor holding back economic growth in most developing countries. In the short run, we rely on fossil fuels to keep us warm and keep the lights on, to grow our food, and to purify our drinking water. So there is a cost to human well-being in constraining fossil fuel use.
What this means is that, instead of assuming the worst, we should study the impacts of climate change and seek to balance them against the negative effects of climate policy. This is what climatologists and economists actually have done for years, but their efforts have been overshadowed by the hysteria of the Greens and the Left, and the more subtle lobbying of companies yearning for renewables subsidies and other government hand-outs. It is especially important to maintain an objective attitude toward the tradeoff between possible dangers and the costs of policy, because estimating the impacts of climate change has proven to be remarkably hard. Past climate change is not much of a guide. The climate supposedly changed much less over the previous century than it is projected to do over the current one, but global mean surface air temperature has barely moved over the past two decades—and this is the period with the best data, in which almost all climate change impact studies have been done.
Besides, the faint signal of past climate change is drowned out by all the other things that have changed. If one tries to study the impacts of climate change on crops, for example, one must factor in the impact of new seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and a host of other confounding variables such as air pollution and atmospheric deposition of nutrients. If one is interested in commercial agriculture, one needs to consider subsidies and international trade. If one studies the impacts of climate change on health, one needs to control for progress in medical technology, different diets, changes in work and leisure, aging, migration, and so on and so forth. If one studies the impacts of sea-level rise, one needs to cope with subsidence and tectonic movements, changing land use, shifting priorities in coastal zone management, eutrophication, and more besides. The same is true for all past climate change impacts: Many things are changing, often much faster than the climate, and in ways that confound all unifactoral explanations potentially relevant to policy.
The same is true for the impacts of future climate change. The confounding factors will not go away. In academic papers, we typically do the scientifically respectable thing and change one variable at a time. Controlled experiments make great science—even if done in silico—and since we cannot observe the future, experiments with computer models are the only option available to study the impacts of climate change. Controlled experiments make for poor predictions, however. The future is not ceteris paribus. It’s ceteris imparibus. Change happens, pretty much all the time.
We know a lot about some of the impacts of climate change, such as those on agriculture, human health, and coastal zones. Other impacts are not as well understood even to the point of opacity, such as those on transport, production, and water resources. This partly reflects the differences in the complexity of the impact. Projections of future sea-level rise agree on the direction of the change and its order of magnitude. Projections of future rainfall, however, are all over the place. But our differential knowledge also reflects variations in attention. Academic incentives do not help. It is much easier to publish a paper in a good journal if it improves on a previous one. It is much easier to get funding if you have a track record on a particular subject. Papers or proposals that are genuinely new are often ill-regarded. This implies that some impacts of climate change have been extensively studied whereas other impacts have been largely ignored.
Impacts of climate change are so many and so diverse, varying over space, over time, between impacts, and across scenarios, that it makes no sense to speak of “the” impact of climate change. People have tended to produce two solutions for this problem. Some just write about their favorite impact (or perhaps about the impact that supports their political position), pretending that this impact is somehow representative of all other impacts. Others add up impacts. This exercise is just as fraught as adding up all those proverbial apples and oranges, but it at least reflects the sum total of our knowledge, and the inescapably subjective elements in aggregation are well understood. (Below I use human welfare to add up impacts.)
Understanding what the science of climate does and does not enable us to do readily in a policy vein is hard enough for some people. If one adds to that a requirement to know some basic economics, a good number of deeply concerned people appear to be rendered completely incapable of anything we should wish to bless with the term “thought.” And indeed, many an otherwise intelligent economist has lost his marbles when confronted with global warming.
In a barter economy, one needs to know the price of everything relative to everything else. How many eggs for a liter of milk? How many slices of bread for a liter of beer? How many iPads for a yacht? In a monetary economy, however, one needs to know the price of everything in money only. In a barter economy, there are n2-2n prices (with n being the number of goods and services for sale). In a monetary economy, there are only n prices. That is why, at some time in the deep past, many human civilizations of diverse origins independently invented money.
If one knows the prices of the things one wishes to buy, and one knows one’s own budget, informed trade-offs become possible. Most of us have to make choices. We cannot go on expensive holidays, send our kids to posh schools, drive fancy cars, and quit work all at the same time. In our daily life, we constantly choose among things that are otherwise incomparable. We may choose to pay more for a product because it says on the tin that it is good for the environment. We may opt to buy products that we think are good for our health. The same is true in the public domain. We vote for politicians who promise to do more (or less) for environmental protection and health care. From this, we can deduce our willingness to pay for a better environment or a healthier life. We can then apply these “prices” to the impacts of climate change.
Studies, assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest report, that have used such methods find that the initial, net impacts of climate change are small (about 1 percent of income) and may even be positive. Many people, including supposedly objective academics, find it hard to admit that climate change can have positive impacts. But, as already noted, warmer winters mean less money spent on heating. They also mean fewer people dying prematurely of cold. Carbon dioxide makes plants grow, and makes them more drought-tolerant, a boon particularly to poorer countries. In the short run, these positive impacts may well be larger than the negative impacts.
In the long run, however, negative impacts may surge ahead of positive ones. The positive impacts saturate quickly; one cannot save more on winter heating than one spends. The negative impacts do not saturate quickly; air conditioning bills will keep rising as summers get hotter. The long-run impacts are what matter most for policy. The climate responds only slowly to changes in emissions, and emissions respond only slowly to changes in policy. The climate of the next few decades is therefore largely beyond our control. It is only in the longer term that our choices affect climate change, and by then its impacts are likely to be negative on net. This implies that climate change is an economic problem, and that if economics could be rid of politics, greenhouse gas emissions should be taxed.
The economic case for emission reduction is thus remarkably simple and robust. We only need to argue that in the long run unabated climate change will do more harm than good. If so, we need to start moving away from using fossil fuels. The question is therefore not whether there is an economic case for climate policy; it’s how much emission reduction can be justified at given losses to social welfare. To answer that question, we need to understand the size of the impacts of climate change. The current evidence, weak and incomplete as it may be, as summarized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggests that moderate warming—say, what we might expect around the year 2075—would make the average person feel as if she had lost 0.2 to 2.0 percent of her income.
In other words, a century worth of climate change is about as bad as losing a year of economic growth.
Larger climate change would have more profound impacts. Negative surprises are more likely than positive surprises. But even if we take this into account, a century of climate change is not worse than losing a decade of growth. So if, as Bjørn Lomborg has been at pains to point out, we “spend” the equivalent of a decade of growth or more trying to mitigate climate change, we will not have spent wisely.
Climate change is a problem, but at least as an economics problem, it is certainly not the biggest problem humankind faces. The euro crisis knocked off a third of the income of the people in Greece in five years’ time. Climate change does not even come close. And the people of Syria wish their problems were as trivial as those of the Greeks. Climate change is not even that large compared to other environmental problems. Urban air pollution kills millions of people per year in Asia. Indoor air pollution kills millions of people per year in Africa. The health problems related to climate change are unlikely to cause similar carnage before the end of the century.
The estimates of the total impact of climate change call for a modest tax on greenhouse gas emissions—or perhaps a cap-and-trade system with a generous allocation of emission permits. The best course of action is to slowly but surely move away from fossil fuels, and in that, as usual, both markets and the parameters governments invariably set for markets to function have roles to play.
Many disagree with this plan of action, of course, calling for a rapid retirement of fossil fuel use. Economically, their justification rests on assuming that we should care more about the future than we do in contexts other than climate change, that we should care more about small risks than we do, or that we should care more about poor people than we do. These justifications rest in politics or raw moral logic, not economics. Each of these arguments would affect not just climate policy but other areas, too. If one argues we should care more about the future, one argues not just for increased investment in greenhouse gas-emission reduction, but also, logically, in pensions, in education, in health care, and so on. If one argues we should be more wary of risk, one argues not only for increased investment in greenhouse gas-emission reduction, but also in road safety, in food safety, in meteorite detection, and whatnot. Ditto for concern about the poor.
Speaking of the poor: Poorer countries are notably more vulnerable to climate change than richer ones. They tend to have a larger share of their economic activity in areas that are directly exposed to the weather, particularly agriculture. Poorer countries often lack access to modern technology and institutions that can protect against the weather; for example, air conditioning, malaria medicine, crop insurance. Poorer countries may lack the ability, and sometimes the political will, to mobilize the resources for large-scale infrastructure—irrigation and coastal protection, for example.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands are two densely populated, low-lying countries at risk from flooding by river and sea. Bangladesh is generally seen to be very vulnerable to climate change, whereas most think that the Netherlands will be able to cope; the Netherlands is famous for thriving below sea level, after all. The Netherlands started its modern, large-scale dike building program only in 1850. Before that, dike building was local, primitive, and not very effective: The country was regularly plagued by devastating floods. In 1850, the Netherlands was only slightly richer than Bangladesh is now, but Bangladesh now of course has access to much better technology than the Netherlands did then.
However, the main difference between the Netherlands in 1850 and Bangladesh in 2014 is political. In response to the European Spring of 1848, the Netherlands adopted a new constitution in 1849 that introduced a powerful central government broadly representative of the population (or rather, the male Protestant part of the population). The new Dutch government promptly went after public enemy number one: floods.
Bangladesh is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and its political elite is more interested in partisan fights and self-enrichment than in the well-being of its citizens. Floods primarily hurt the poor, who live near the river and the coastal flats where land is cheap. There is no political reason to protect them; after all, floods are thought to be an act of Allah rather than a consequence of decisions made or not made by incompetent and indifferent politicians. As long as this is the case, Bangladesh will be vulnerable to climate change.
The disproportionate exposure to climate change of those most vulnerable is a good reason to be cautious about greenhouse gas emissions. The case has been exaggerated, however.
It is peculiar to express great concern about the plight of the poor when it comes to climate but not in other policy domains. Levels of charitable giving and official development aid suggest that we are actually not that bothered. Our trade and migration policies would even suggest that we like to see them suffer. More importantly, there are two ways to mitigate the excessive impact of climate change on the poor: Reduce climate change, and reduce poverty.
In the worst projections, climate change could cut crop yields in Africa by half. At present, subsistence farmers often get no more from their land than one-tenth of what is achieved at model farms working the same soil in the same climate. The immediate reason for the so-called yield gap is a lack of access to high-quality seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, tools, and things like that. The underlying causes include a lack of access to capital and product markets due to poor roads and insecure land tenure. Closing the yield gap would do more good sooner than climate change would do harm later. If one really wants to spend money to help farmers in Africa, one should invest in the land registry rather than in solar power.
Indeed, modernizing agriculture in Africa would also make it less vulnerable to climate change. African farming is particularly vulnerable, because isolated, undercapitalized farmers struggle to cope with any change, climatic or otherwise. Infectious diseases illustrate the same point. There were outbreaks of malaria in Murmansk until the 1920s. Sweden suffered malaria epidemics in the 1870s, and the disease was endemic in Stockholm. George Washington did not want the new capital to be built in the estuary of the Potomac because of the malaria risk. Nowadays, malaria only occasionally returns to these places by plane, and it rarely kills.
Largely as a consequence, malaria has become a tropical disease. Many fear that climate change would spread malaria because the parasite is more vigorous in hot weather and mosquitoes thrive in hotter and wetter places. However, in the rich world, habitat reduction, mosquito control, and medicine long ago tamed malaria. Mosquitoes need warm, still-standing water to breed. As we roofed houses, paved roads, and drained wetlands, their habitats disappeared. Clouds of DDT helped bring about the demise of the mosquito as well. Malaria medicine stops one from getting (seriously) ill, and from infecting others.
These things cost money. A dose of malaria medicine costs $100—small change in the United States but a fortune in South Sudan. Therefore, malaria is first and foremost a disease of poverty. We can spend our money on combatting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing malaria risks for future generations. We can also spend our money on insecticides and bed nets, reducing malaria risks today. We can also invest in medical research. A malaria vaccine holds the prospect of a world free of this awful disease, regardless of climate. If our resources were unlimited, we could do all things worthwhile. With a limited budget, we should focus on those investments with the greatest return.
These three examples—of coastal protection, agriculture, and malaria—show that development and vulnerability to climate change are closely intertwined. Slowing economic growth to reduce climate change may therefore do more harm than good. Concentrating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in rich countries will not solve the climate problem. And slower growth in rich countries means less export from and investment in poor countries.
There is an even more direct link between climate policy and development. Cheap and abundant energy fueled the industrial revolution. Sudden increases in the price of oil caused many of the economic recessions since World War II. Lack of (reliable) electricity retards growth in poor countries, not just today through its effect on production, but also in the future, as electric light allows kids to do their homework after sunset.
A fifth of official development aid is now diverted to climate policy. Money that used to be spent on strengthening the rule of law, better education for girls, and improved health care, for instance, is now used to plug methane leaks and destroy hydrofluorocarbons. Some donors no longer support the use of coal, by far the cheapest way to generate electricity. Instead, poor people are offered intermittent wind power and biomass energy, which drives up the price of food. But the self-satisfaction environmentalists derive from these programs does not put food on poor peoples’ tables.
In sum, while climate change is a problem that must be tackled, we should not lose our sense of proportion or advocate solutions that would do more harm than good. Unfortunately, common sense is sometimes hard to find in the climate debate. Desmond Tutu recently compared climate change to apartheid.1 Climate experts Michael Mann and Daniel Kammen compared it to the “gathering storm” of Nazism in Europe before World War II.2 That sort of nonsense just gets in the way of a rational discussion about what climate policy we should pursue, and how vigorously we should pursue it.
1Tutu, “We Fought Apartheid. Now Climate Change Is Our Global Enemy”, Guardian, September 20, 2014.
2Mann and Kammen, “The Gathering Storm”, Huffington Post, September 19, 2014.
Richard Tol teaches economics at the University of Sussex and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He is a veteran of four assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.http://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/12/10/hot-stuff-cold-logic/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Stupid Citizens need “Climate Grubering”
on: November 16, 2014, 10:31:03 AM
New term: ‘Grubering’ and how it applies to Climate Alarmism
Guest Blogger / 4 hours ago November 16, 2014
WUWT reader M. Paul writes: Sometimes a new word emerges that neatly encapsulates a set of complex ideas. We have recently seen such a word enter the lexicon: Grubering.
For those of you who missed it, an MIT Professor named Jonathan Gruber has been caught on video describing all the various ways that he helped the Obama Administration to deceive the public regarding the true nature of Obamacare.
People are now referring to what the Obamacare campaigners did as “Grubering”. Grubering is when politicians or their segregates engage in a campaign of exaggeration and outright lies in order to “sell” the public on a particular policy initiative. The justification for Grubering is that the public is too “stupid” to understand the topic and, should they be exposed to the true facts, would likely come to the “wrong” conclusion. Grubering is based on the idea that only the erudite academics can possibly know what’s best of the little people. Jefferson would be turning in his grave.
I think that no other word describes what we have seen in the climate debate quite as well as Grubering. The Climategate emails are full of discussions about how to “sell” the public on CAGW through a campaign of lies and exaggerations. There are many discussion about how the public could not possibly understand such a complex subject.
The late Steven Schneider puts it succinctly:
"On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."
Our critics sometimes dismiss skeptics as “conspiracy theorists” noting how unlikely it would be that thousands of scientists would collude. They miss the point. We now know that Grubering takes place — we see it laid bare in the Obamacare campaign. It was not strictly a “conspiracy”. Rather it was an arrogant belief that lying was necessary to persuade a “stupid” public to adopt the policy preferences of the politicians and the academics in their employ. Its Noble Cause Corruption, not conspiracy, that is at the root of this behavior.
“Climate Grubering” — its a powerful new word that can help us to describe what’s been going on.http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/16/new-term-grubering-and-how-it-applies-to-climate-alarmism/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Not the Sort of Trials the Founders Foresaw
on: November 13, 2014, 02:28:31 PM
Why Innocent People Plead Guilty
Jed S. Rakoff
NOVEMBER 20, 2014 ISSUE
The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.
To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” The Constitution further guarantees that at the trial, the accused will have the assistance of counsel, who can confront and cross-examine his accusers and present evidence on the accused’s behalf. He may be convicted only if an impartial jury of his peers is unanimously of the view that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so states, publicly, in its verdict.
The drama inherent in these guarantees is regularly portrayed in movies and television programs as an open battle played out in public before a judge and jury. But this is all a mirage. In actuality, our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.
In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.
While corresponding statistics for the fifty states combined are not available, it is a rare state where plea bargains do not similarly account for the resolution of at least 95 percent of the felony cases that are not dismissed; and again, the plea bargains usually determine the sentences, sometimes as a matter of law and otherwise as a matter of practice. Furthermore, in both the state and federal systems, the power to determine the terms of the plea bargain is, as a practical matter, lodged largely in the prosecutor, with the defense counsel having little say and the judge even less.
It was not always so. Until roughly the end of the Civil War, plea bargains were exceedingly rare. A criminal defendant would either go to trial or confess and plead guilty. If the defendant was convicted, the judge would have wide discretion to impose sentence; and that decision, made with little input from the parties, was subject only to the most modest appellate review.
After the Civil War, this began to change, chiefly because, as a result of the disruptions and dislocations that followed the war, as well as greatly increased immigration, crime rates rose considerably, and a way had to be found to dispose of cases without imposing an impossible burden on the criminal justice system. Plea bargains offered a way out: by pleading guilty to lesser charges in return for dismissal of the more serious charges, defendants could reduce their prison time, while the prosecution could resolve the case without burdening the system with more trials.
The practice of plea bargaining never really took hold in most other countries, where it was viewed as a kind of “devil’s pact” that allowed guilty defendants to avoid the full force of the law. But in the United States it became commonplace. And while the Supreme Court initially expressed reservations about the system of plea bargaining, eventually the Court came to approve of it, as an exercise in contractual negotiation between independent agents (the prosecutor and the defense counsel) that was helpful in making the system work. Similarly, academics, though somewhat bothered by the reduced role of judges, came to approve of plea bargaining as a system somewhat akin to a regulatory regime.
Thus, plea bargains came to account, in the years immediately following World War II, for the resolution of over 80 percent of all criminal cases. But even then, perhaps, there were enough cases still going to trial, and enough power remaining with defense counsel and with judges, to “keep the system honest.” By this I mean that a genuinely innocent defendant could still choose to go to trial without fearing that she might thereby subject herself to an extremely long prison term effectively dictated by the prosecutor.
All this changed in the 1970s and 1980s, and once again it was in reaction to rising crime rates. While the 1950s were a period of relatively low crime rates in the US, rates began to rise substantially in the 1960s, and by 1980 or so, serious crime in the US, much of it drug-related, was occurring at a frequency not seen for many decades. As a result, state and federal legislatures hugely increased the penalties for criminal violations. In New York, for example, the so-called “Rockefeller Laws,” enacted in 1973, dictated a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment for selling just two ounces (or possessing four ounces) of heroin, cocaine, or marijuana. In addition, in response to what was perceived as a tendency of too many judges to impose too lenient sentences, the new, enhanced sentences were frequently made mandatory and, in those thirty-seven states where judges were elected, many “soft” judges were defeated and “tough on crime” judges elected in their place.
At the federal level, Congress imposed mandatory minimum sentences for narcotics offenses, gun offenses, child pornography offenses, and much else besides. Sometimes, moreover, these mandatory sentences were required to be imposed consecutively. For example, federal law prescribes a mandatory minimum of ten years’ imprisonment, and a maximum of life imprisonment, for participating in a conspiracy that distributes five kilograms or more of cocaine. But if the use of a weapon is involved in the conspiracy, the defendant, even if she had a low-level role in the conspiracy, must be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of fifteen years’ imprisonment, i.e., ten years on the drug count and five years on the weapons count. And if two weapons are involved, the mandatory minimum rises to forty years, i.e., ten years on the drug count, five years on the first weapons count, and twenty-five years on the second weapons count—all of these sentences being mandatory, with the judge having no power to reduce them.
In addition to mandatory minimums, Congress in 1984 introduced—with bipartisan support—a regime of mandatory sentencing guidelines designed to avoid “irrational” sentencing disparities. Since these guidelines were not as draconian as the mandatory minimum sentences, and since they left judges with some limited discretion, it was not perceived at first how, perhaps even more than mandatory minimums, such a guidelines regime (which was enacted in many states as well) transferred power over sentencing away from judges and into the hands of prosecutors.
One thing that did become quickly apparent, however, was that these guidelines, along with mandatory minimums, were causing the virtual extinction of jury trials in federal criminal cases. Thus, whereas in 1980, 19 percent of all federal defendants went to trial, by 2000 the number had decreased to less than 6 percent and by 2010 to less than 3 percent, where it has remained ever since.
The reason for this is that the guidelines, like the mandatory minimums, provide prosecutors with weapons to bludgeon defendants into effectively coerced plea bargains. In the majority of criminal cases, a defense lawyer only meets her client when or shortly after the client is arrested, so that, at the outset, she is at a considerable informational disadvantage to the prosecutor. If, as is very often the case (despite the constitutional prohibition of “excessive bail”), bail is set so high that the client is detained, the defense lawyer has only modest opportunities, within the limited visiting hours and other arduous restrictions imposed by most jails, to interview her client and find out his version of the facts.
The prosecutor, by contrast, will typically have a full police report, complete with witness interviews and other evidence, shortly followed by grand jury testimony, forensic test reports, and follow-up investigations. While much of this may be one-sided and inaccurate—the National Academy of Science’s recently released report on the unreliability of eyewitness identification well illustrates the danger—it not only gives the prosecutor a huge advantage over the defense counsel but also makes the prosecutor confident, maybe overconfident, of the strength of his case.
Against this background, the information-deprived defense lawyer, typically within a few days after the arrest, meets with the overconfident prosecutor, who makes clear that, unless the case can be promptly resolved by a plea bargain, he intends to charge the defendant with the most severe offenses he can prove. Indeed, until late last year, federal prosecutors were under orders from a series of attorney generals to charge the defendant with the most serious charges that could be proved—unless, of course, the defendant was willing to enter into a plea bargain. If, however, the defendant wants to plead guilty, the prosecutor will offer him a considerably reduced charge—but only if the plea is agreed to promptly (thus saving the prosecutor valuable resources). Otherwise, he will charge the maximum, and, while he will not close the door to any later plea bargain, it will be to a higher-level offense than the one offered at the outset of the case.
In this typical situation, the prosecutor has all the advantages. He knows a lot about the case (and, as noted, probably feels more confident about it than he should, since he has only heard from one side), whereas the defense lawyer knows very little. Furthermore, the prosecutor controls the decision to charge the defendant with a crime. Indeed, the law of every US jurisdiction leaves this to the prosecutor’s unfettered discretion; and both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer know that the grand jury, which typically will hear from one side only, is highly likely to approve any charge the prosecutor recommends.
But what really puts the prosecutor in the driver’s seat is the fact that he—because of mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines (which, though no longer mandatory in the federal system, are still widely followed by most judges), and simply his ability to shape whatever charges are brought—can effectively dictate the sentence by how he publicly describes the offense. For example, the prosecutor can agree with the defense counsel in a federal narcotics case that, if there is a plea bargain, the defendant will only have to plead guilty to the personal sale of a few ounces of heroin, which carries no mandatory minimum and a guidelines range of less than two years; but if the defendant does not plead guilty, he will be charged with the drug conspiracy of which his sale was a small part, a conspiracy involving many kilograms of heroin, which could mean a ten-year mandatory minimum and a guidelines range of twenty years or more. Put another way, it is the prosecutor, not the judge, who effectively exercises the sentencing power, albeit cloaked as a charging decision.
Brittany Murray/Long Beach Press-Telegram/AP Images
Brian Banks and his lawyer from the Innocence Project at the dismissal of his wrongful conviction on rape and kidnapping charges, Long Beach, California, May 2012. Banks, who had been a high school football star with a scholarship to USC at the time of his arrest, served five years in prison for a crime he never committed after accepting a plea bargain under the advisement of his original lawyer.
The defense lawyer understands this fully, and so she recognizes that the best outcome for her client is likely to be an early plea bargain, while the prosecutor is still willing to accept a plea to a relatively low-level offense. Indeed, in 2012, the average sentence for federal narcotics defendants who entered into any kind of plea bargain was five years and four months, while the average sentence for defendants who went to trial was sixteen years.
Although under pressure to agree to the first plea bargain offered, prudent defense counsel will try to convince the prosecutor to give her some time to explore legal and factual defenses; but the prosecutor, often overworked and understaffed, may not agree. Defense counsel, moreover, is in no position to abruptly refuse the prosecutor’s proposal, since, under recent Supreme Court decisions, she will face a claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel” if, without consulting her client, she summarily rejects a plea bargain simply as a negotiating ploy.
Defense counsel also recognizes that, even if she thinks the plea bargain being offered is unfair compared to those offered by other, similarly situated prosecutors, she has little or no recourse. An appeal to the prosecutor’s superior will rarely succeed, since the superiors feel the need to support their troops and since, once again, the prosecutor can shape the facts so as to make his superior find his proposed plea acceptable. And there is no way defense counsel can appeal to a neutral third party, the judge, since in all but a few jurisdictions, the judiciary is precluded from participating in plea bargain negotiations. In a word, she and her client are stuck.
Though there are many variations on this theme, they all prove the same basic point: the prosecutor has all the power. The Supreme Court’s suggestion that a plea bargain is a fair and voluntary contractual arrangement between two relatively equal parties is a total myth: it is much more like a “contract of adhesion” in which one party can effectively force its will on the other party.
As for the suggestion from some academics that this is the equivalent of a regulatory process, that too is a myth: for, quite aside from the imbalance of power, there are no written regulations controlling the prosecutor’s exercise of his charging power and no established or meaningful process for appealing his exercise of that power. The result is that, of the 2.2 million Americans now in prison—an appalling number in its own right—well over two million are there as a result of plea bargains dictated by the government’s prosecutors, who effectively dictate the sentences as well.
A cynic might ask: What’s wrong with that? After all, crime rates have declined over the past twenty years to levels not seen since the early 1960s, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that our criminal justice system, by giving prosecutors the power to force criminals to accept significant jail terms, has played a major part in this reduction. Most Americans feel a lot safer today than they did just a few decades ago, and that feeling has contributed substantially to their enjoyment of life. Why should we cavil at the empowering of prosecutors that has brought us this result?
The answer may be found in Jefferson’s perception that a criminal justice system that is secret and government-dictated ultimately invites abuse and even tyranny. Specifically, I would suggest that the current system of prosecutor-determined plea bargaining invites the following objections.
First, it is one-sided. Our criminal justice system is premised on the notion that, before we deprive a person of his liberty, he will have his “day in court,” i.e., he will be able to put the government to its proof and present his own facts and arguments, following which a jury of his peers will determine whether or not he is guilty of a crime and a neutral judge will, if he is found guilty, determine his sentence. As noted, numerous guarantees of this fair-minded approach are embodied in our Constitution, and were put there because of the Founding Fathers’ experience with the rigged British system of colonial justice. Is not the plea bargain system we have now substituted for our constitutional ideal similarly rigged?
Second, and closely related, the system of plea bargains dictated by prosecutors is the product of largely secret negotiations behind closed doors in the prosecutor’s office, and is subject to almost no review, either internally or by the courts. Such a secretive system inevitably invites arbitrary results. Indeed, there is a great irony in the fact that legislative measures that were designed to rectify the perceived evils of disparity and arbitrariness in sentencing have empowered prosecutors to preside over a plea-bargaining system that is so secretive and without rules that we do not even know whether or not it operates in an arbitrary manner.
Third, and possibly the gravest objection of all, the prosecutor-dictated plea bargain system, by creating such inordinate pressures to enter into plea bargains, appears to have led a significant number of defendants to plead guilty to crimes they never actually committed. For example, of the approximately three hundred people that the Innocence Project and its affiliated lawyers have proven were wrongfully convicted of crimes of rape or murder that they did not in fact commit, at least thirty, or about 10 percent, pleaded guilty to those crimes. Presumably they did so because, even though they were innocent, they faced the likelihood of being convicted of capital offenses and sought to avoid the death penalty, even at the price of life imprisonment. But other publicized cases, arising with disturbing frequency, suggest that this self-protective psychology operates in noncapital cases as well, and recent studies suggest that this is a widespread problem. For example, the National Registry of Exonerations (a joint project of Michigan Law School and Northwestern Law School) records that of 1,428 legally acknowledged exonerations that have occurred since 1989 involving the full range of felony charges, 151 (or, again, about 10 percent) involved false guilty pleas.
It is not difficult to perceive why this should be so. After all, the typical person accused of a crime combines a troubled past with limited resources: he thus recognizes that, even if he is innocent, his chances of mounting an effective defense at trial may be modest at best. If his lawyer can obtain a plea bargain that will reduce his likely time in prison, he may find it “rational” to take the plea.
Every criminal defense lawyer (and I was both a federal prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer before going on the bench) has had the experience of a client who first tells his lawyer he is innocent and then, when confronted with a preview of the government’s proof, says he is guilty. Usually, he is in fact guilty and was previously lying to his lawyer (despite the protections of the attorney–client privilege, which many defendants, suspicious even of their court-appointed lawyers, do not appreciate). But sometimes the situation is reversed, and the client now lies to his lawyer by saying he is guilty when in fact he is not, because he has decided to “take the fall.”
In theory, this charade should be exposed at the time the defendant enters his plea, since the judge is supposed to question the defendant about the facts underlying his confession of guilt. But in practice, most judges, happy for their own reasons to avoid a time-consuming trial, will barely question the defendant beyond the bare bones of his assertion of guilt, relying instead on the prosecutor’s statement (untested by any cross-examination) of what the underlying facts are. Indeed, in situations in which the prosecutor and defense counsel themselves recognize that the guilty plea is somewhat artificial, they will have jointly arrived at a written statement of guilt for the defendant to read that cleverly covers all the bases without providing much detail. The Supreme Court, for its part, has gone so far (with the Alford plea of 1970) as to allow a defendant to enter a guilty plea while factually maintaining his innocence.
While, moreover, a defendant’s decision to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit may represent a “rational,” if cynical, cost-benefit analysis of his situation, in fact there is some evidence that the pressure of the situation may cause an innocent defendant to make a less-than-rational appraisal of his chances for acquittal and thus decide to plead guilty when he not only is actually innocent but also could be proven so. Research indicates that young, unintelligent, or risk-averse defendants will often provide false confessions just because they cannot “take the heat” of an interrogation. Although research into false guilty pleas is far less developed, it may be hypothesized that similar pressures, less immediate but more prolonged, may be in effect when a defendant is told, often by his own lawyer, that there is a strong case against him, that his likelihood of acquittal is low, and that he faces a mandatory minimum of five or ten years in prison if convicted and a guidelines range of considerably more—but that, if he acts swiftly, he can get a plea bargain to a lesser offense that will reduce his prison time by many years.
How prevalent is the phenomenon of innocent people pleading guilty? The few criminologists who have thus far investigated the phenomenon estimate that the overall rate for convicted felons as a whole is between 2 percent and 8 percent. The size of that range suggests the imperfection of the data; but let us suppose that it is even lower, say, no more than 1 percent. When you recall that, of the 2.2 million Americans in prison, over 2 million are there because of plea bargains, we are then talking about an estimated 20,000 persons, or more, who are in prison for crimes to which they pleaded guilty but did not in fact commit.
What can we do about it? If there were the political will to do so, we could eliminate mandatory minimums, eliminate sentencing guidelines, and dramatically reduce the severity of our sentencing regimes in general. But even during the second Obama administration, the very modest steps taken by Attorney General Eric Holder to moderate sentences have been met by stiff opposition, some from within his own department. For example, the attorney general’s public support for a bipartisan bill that would reduce mandatory minimums for certain narcotics offenses prompted the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys to send an “open letter” of opposition, while a similar letter denouncing the bill was signed by two former attorney generals, three former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and eighteen former US attorneys.
Reflecting, perhaps, the religious origins of our country, Americans are notoriously prone to making moral judgments. Often this serves salutary purposes; but a by-product of this moralizing tendency is a punitiveness that I think is not likely to change in the near future. Indeed, on those occasions when Americans read that someone accused of a very serious crime has been permitted to plea bargain to a considerably reduced offense, their typical reaction is one of suspicion or outrage, and sometimes not without reason. Rarely, however, do they contemplate the possibility that the defendant may be totally innocent of any charge but is being coerced into pleading to a lesser offense because the consequences of going to trial and losing are too severe to take the risk.
I am driven, in the end, to advocate what a few jurisdictions, notably Connecticut and Florida, have begun experimenting with: involving judges in the plea-bargaining process. At present, this is forbidden in the federal courts, and with good reason: for a judge to involve herself runs the risk of compromising her objectivity if no bargain is reached. For similar reasons, many federal judges (including this one) refuse to involve themselves in settlement negotiations in civil cases, even though, unlike the criminal plea bargain situation, there is no legal impediment to doing so. But the problem is solved in civil cases by referring the settlement negotiations to magistrates or special masters who do not report the results to the judges who handle the subsequent proceedings. If the federal rule were changed, the same could be done in the criminal plea bargain situation.
As I envision it, shortly after an indictment is returned (or perhaps even earlier if an arrest has occurred and the defendant is jailed), a magistrate would meet separately with the prosecutor and the defense counsel, in proceedings that would be recorded but placed under seal, and all present would be provided with the particulars regarding the evidence and issues in the case. In certain circumstances, the magistrate might interview witnesses or examine other evidence, again under seal so as not to compromise any party’s strategy. He might even interview the defendant, under an arrangement where it would not constitute a waiver of the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
The prosecutor would, in the meantime, be precluded from making any plea bargain offer (or threat) while the magistrate was studying the case. Once the magistrate was ready, he would then meet separately with both sides and, if appropriate, make a recommendation, such as to dismiss the case (if he thought the proof was weak), to proceed to trial (if he thought there was no reasonable plea bargain available), or to enter into a plea bargain along lines the magistrate might suggest. No party would be required to follow the magistrate’s suggestions. Their force, if any, would come from the fact that they were being suggested by a neutral third party, who, moreover, was a judicial officer that the prosecutors and the defense lawyers would have to appear before in many other cases.
Would a plan structured along these lines wholly eliminate false guilty pleas? Probably not, but it likely would reduce their number. Would it present new, unforeseeable problems of its own? Undoubtedly, which is why I would recommend that it first be tried as a pilot program. Even given the current federal rules prohibiting judges from involving themselves in the plea-bargaining process, I think something like this could be undertaken, since most such rules can be waived and the relevant parties could here agree to waive them for the limited purposes of a pilot program.
I am under no illusions that this suggested involvement of judges in the plea-bargaining process is a panacea. But would not any program that helps to reduce the shame of sending innocent people to prison be worth trying?http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/20/why-innocent-people-plead-guilty/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / A Powerful Screed
on: September 26, 2014, 07:25:13 PM
Watts up with Mann?
Sep 26, 2014
This is a guest post by Katabasis.
It’s been an interesting few days, having attended both the Cook and Mann talks and have some valuable meetings (many for the first time) with other climate sceptics. I wanted to share a perspective that deviates somewhat from what appears to be an emerging – er – ‘consensus’ among a number of the people I had the pleasure to spend time with over the last week or so. There has been discussion in person, here and over at WUWT regarding the pursuit of some kind of rapprochement with the mainstream of climate science and climate scientists. A significant feature of the conversation thus far appears to be concern over the fractious nature of the debate, especially online. In particular there have been concerns raised regarding the effect on, and perception of, sceptics more generally as a result of the more angry and impassioned amongst us.
I want to offer something of a counterpoint. I want to, instead, make a few points in defence of angry sceptics.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sympathetic to the arguments made thus far in favour of maintaining calm, polite discourse. However, I think it’s important to remember that you can’t control other people’s reactions – and that’s where most of the anger resides, anger in response to perceived provocations. Moreover I don’t think the anger is going to let up any time soon, even if some of us ‘angry sceptics’ mellow somewhat – new sceptics are joining the fold every day, and many of them are pissed off from the moment they’ve ‘turned’ to climate realism.
Let’s review the two Cabot Institute talks. First we had Cook repackaging his “97% consensus” propaganda for the hapless Bristol audience. I say ‘hapless’ because at no point in his presentation was there even the slightest acknowledgement that his work – and the prior efforts that had inspired it – had come under such severe and comprehensive criticism that it was holed below the waterline. If one of my papers had received that kind of criticism I think I would have been embarrassed to even mention it in public, never mind carry out high profile presentations of it, hoping that mere repetition of memes would carry me through.
As I mentioned over at WUWT, I found the whole presentation highly offensive. Cook continues the proud tradition of the ‘team’ where they paint a cartoon image of a sceptic in crayon on the wall and then go through a clown-dancing performance of `dialogue' with the gurning visage of primary colours they’ve splattered in front of them. Just the criticisms and points Cook received in the Q & A afterwards should have shattered that image of ‘sceptics’ as defined by the Skeptical Séance team for the undecided in the audience. Or at least one would hope. His presentation was largely fact free drivel and assertion that his research was right. It was the classic ‘team’ bait and switch of asserting an authoritative consensus over a modest area (the ‘basic physics’ of CO2) and then arguing through direct implication that this applied to an astronomically wider domain (catastrophic outcomes). This is despite his work having been comprehensively monstered by José Duarte and many others. I even cited Duarte’s work in my own question to Cook, highlighting the inclusion of numerous, ridiculously inappropriate, papers in the measure of the ‘consensus’. A point which, like all of the others, he airily dismissed whilst going on to trail the politician’s path of answering the question he would have preferred you had asked.
Then there was Mann. There has already been significant commenting here and elsewhere regarding the bizarrely short Q and A at the end. James Delingpole has noted that Mann even posted about it on Facebook. As I noted in the comments, Mann and his sychophants are backslapping eachother over how it `speaks volumes', that `there were no questions at all from the climate change denier contingent that supposedly had come out in force'. There weren’t many hands up it is true, but I know for sure that mine and Barry’s were two of them. I noticed that Mann had also taken the liberty of deleting Barry’s perfectly polite and reasonable replies on that thread.
The primary thrust of Mann’s talk, prior to slating as many perceived enemies as he could, was ‘going large’ on the bait and switch I mentioned above. He even used an identical slide to Cook on the `many lines of evidence' that support AGW. He emphasised the venerability of the ‘basic science’ and then machine gunned the audience with imagery of extreme weather. Every single damn point he made about extreme weather from then on in, as far as I can tell, is unsupported by AR5. And yet the audience lapped it up. There must have been dozens of academics in the audience who just swallowed it uncritically. There was no mention of the ‘hiatus’ (his x axis stopped shortly after the year 2000 on temperature graphs); Cook on the other hand explicitly denied it using the famous Sceptical Séance ‘escalator graph'.. This is despite the fact that the ‘hiatus’ is now a major topic of discussion in the ‘mainstream’ of climate science – I can verify this personally as it was brought up regularly by the IPCC scientists present at the ‘RSclimate’ event last year.
Cook, Mann and many of the other members of ‘the team’ are wilfully deceptive. They should have been laughed off the stage, not applauded. I’m not willing to accept the ‘Noble cause corruption’ narrative and neither, it seems, are some others. This isn’t just individual failure, it’s institutional. And that’s where it really sticks in the craw for me. And it drives much of my anger, as well as that of the people who I have successfully introduced to climate scepticism/realism.
The wellspring of that anger deserves proper articulation. There’s a quote attributed to Martin Luther King that I have always liked that is apposite:
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
If any of those reading consider themselves part of the ‘climate mainstream’, then I urge you to meditate on the above carefully when reading what follows as it applies to you on several levels.
When I am introducing someone to the sceptical range of views an exercise I often use is to give them a link to the IPCC WG1 report (now AR5, previously I linked them to AR4). I then invite them to pick three chapters at random – any three whatsoever (other than the Summary for Policymakers (SPM)) – and skim them (or read them in full if they have the time) and come back to me with their impressions. I experience the same response every time and indeed, it matches my own. Reading the report’s individual chapters (sans the SPM), one comes away with the impression of a scholarly, ponderous document. Lots of caveats, uncertainties, doubts, gaps and so on are clearly articulated. In short, it is what one generally expects from academic output. Then the anger flows in. It is a painfully sharp contrast to the mainstream narratives. Within those there’s disaster lurking at any moment, around every corner. It’s always ‘worse than we thought’. The climate science establishment are unanimous in agreeing that thermageddon is imminent – they’re 95% certain, in fact! About every aspect of the topic!
At this point the brakes screech. The red lights start flashing. As I get older each year, the people I introduce to sceptical books, blogs and insights become ever younger. They move ever closer to that group of young men and women just entering adulthood who have not seen global warming for their entire lives. Yet they’ve been indoctrinated right from the very start. Many come out of our education fearful for the future, as our host has amply demonstrated.
They are told incessantly that the world is dying, there isn’t much hope without urgent and extreme action, and it’s all their fault for living with some creature comforts. We’re drowning in something, but it isn’t rising sea levels. It’s prognostications of doom in a legion of screaming litanies that continually fail to occur as advertised. Why hasn’t action been taken? It’s those evil ‘deniers’ and their tobacco/oil/[insert idiocy] industry backing spreading doubt and preventing action. Except it isn’t. The ‘mainstream’ of climate science is chock full of doubts, including about the hysterical prophecies of the reverend Al Gore and sychophants. The heart rate rises, respiration increases. A state of low level adrenal emergency is entered. Why didn’t they tell us? Why have our school teachers, our media, our parents, our climate science establishment not reined in the irresponsible activist-scientists and their supporters in advocate groups? Angry? You bet.
And that’s just among the general public. What of those of us who have, or have had, a continuing relationship with academia? Some of the reactions I’ve witnessed there have eclipsed even my white hot reaction.
Of my friends and family who take an interest in sincere discussion on these issues, those with a more political bent I sent to Pointman’s blog. Those of a more philosophical to Ben Pile’s. For those of my friends pursuing academic careers however, I sent them to Duarte’s holdout. Duarte does two things particularly well – he provides a comprehensive and scholarly critique of recent Cook and Lewandowsky offerings. He also proffers a very particular kind of outrage. That of the academic betrayed.
I felt exactly the same when I turned fully to climate scepticism/realism. As I discussed this week with Barry Woods and Richard Drake, I was working in a lab at the time. I still regarded the scientific and academic establishments as the last hold out for hope. It didn’t matter that political and economic wrangling was hopelessly fragged. Science and the quest for an ever clearer insight into the ways of the world, led by paragons of integrity, would see us through. Or so I naively believed. Discovering that a substantive area of science had let itself be presented in such a monstrous form in the public eye was an extremely bitter pill to swallow indeed.
I discovered that being a climate sceptic in the ivory towers was dangerous. It’s why I maintain a veneer of pseudonymity still. I can’t express the anger or bitterness at the sense of extreme betrayal in the written word, though I’ve often burst my top with expletives on the subject online and off. To find that the bladder bursting conniptions of our literati concerning our imminent doom as a result of our carbon sins is in fact an exaggeration of the facts off the scale even when compared to the famous UK ‘dodgy dossier’ on Iraq was, for a budding academic, the worst betrayal.
I didn’t sign up for this. Duarte didn’t sign up for this. Nor did any of my friends and colleagues in my age group who planned a career either in, or closely related to academia. The covenant has been broken. It’s precisely this kind of hyperbole that they should exist in order to rein in, to let cooler heads prevail. But there’s no ponderous pontification here, the overheated chicken littles run the roost whilst the ‘mainstream’ of climate science appears to sit comfortably, keeping eggs warm for the future. I’ve met a few of you in person now. You tell me, quietly, that you don’t agree with the hysteria at all, and that it’s clear from your published work.
Not good enough.
Some of you may remember from my report on the ‘RSclimate’ event that I challenged Mat Collins on this issue. That’s the same Mat Collins who is the Joint Met Office Chair in Climate Change. When I asked why he and others didn’t attempt to rein in the hysterics, who do not represent what the IPCC actually says, he said it wasn’t his responsibility. More recently, at the Walker Institute annual lecture, on climate change communication, myself and Barry Woods questioned none other than the government’s chief scientific adviser himself, Mark Walport. I put it to him that AR5 did not support catastrophic conclusions with any certainty. He responded that when he said climate change was going to be ‘bad’ he did not mean ‘catastrophic’. He failed to provide a definition of ‘bad’. This was the keynote lecture for a climate change communication outfit. If he can’t communicate something so important that is so very easily misconstrued into the worst case scenario to someone like myself who is relatively well informed on the topic, what hope the general public?
In short, there seems to be no stomach amongst the ‘mainstream’ climate establishment to do anything very much to counter the incredibly pernicious effect of our Cooks, Manns, Lewandowskys and Hansens. You don’t seem to realise that the public already lumps all of you together and some of us who know better are at the end of their tether in trying to maintain that distinction. The effort is a law of diminishing returns – why should we attempt to lift you out of a hole you continue to keep digging deeper? History won’t care what your inscrutable paywalled article actually said. Neither will the general public. They’ll care that you didn’t speak out when you should have. That you allowed everyone who raised objections be painted as part of some shady conspiracy funded by billions in filthy lucre. That you allowed their children to be terrified by a vision of monstrous and hopeless futures. The anger is going to continue to grow until a significant portion of the climate mainstream steps up to the plate, and would be well advised to do so before the leash well and truly snaps.
Whilst I’m loathe to use a Socialist Worker Party slogan here, this one is entirely apt:
If not us, then who? If not now, then when?
Original URL: http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2014/9/26/watts-up-with-mann.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs
on: March 04, 2014, 01:22:57 AM
Breaking not-so-bad? I guess all the really horrific things I've seen from meth never really happened.
Yes because anecdote justifies a war on drugs that has utterly failed by any sane measure. Let us double down on failed methods using the same propaganda techniques over and over that always prove grossly inflated in hindsight. For the children.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Meth Myths & Misinformation
on: February 23, 2014, 10:55:13 AM
Meth Mouth and Other Meth Myths
Jacob Sullum|Feb. 23, 2014 8:00 am
Alberto Gonzales, George W. Bush's attorney general, called it "the most dangerous drug in America." A physician quoted by The New York Times described it as "the most malignant, addictive drug known to mankind." A police captain told the Times it "makes crack look like child's play, both in terms of what it does to the body and how hard it is to get off."
Meanwhile, doctors routinely prescribe this drug and others very similar to it for conditions such as narcolepsy, obesity, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If these drugs are as dangerous as Gonzales et al. claim, how can millions of Americans—including schoolchildren—safely consume them on a regular basis?
Columbia neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart explores that puzzle in a new report that aims to separate fact from fiction on the subject of methamphetamine. Hart and his two co-authors—University of North Carolina at Wilmington philosopher Don Habibi and Joanne Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program—argue that hyping the hazards posed by meth fosters a punitive and counterproductive overreaction similar to the one triggered by the crack cocaine panic of the 1980s, the consequences of which still afflict our criminal justice system. "The data show that many of the immediate and long-term harmful effects caused by methamphetamine use have been greatly exaggerated," Hart et al. write, "just as the dangers of crack cocaine were overstated nearly three decades ago."
The report, published by the Open Society Foundations, begins by considering the addictive potential of methamphetamine. Despite all the talk of a "meth epidemic," the drug has never been very popular. "At the height of methamphetamine's popularity," Hart et al. write, "there were never more than a million current users of the drug in the United States. This number is considerably lower than the 2.5 million cocaine users, the 4.4 million illegal prescription opioid users, or the 15 million marijuana smokers during the same period." Furthermore, illicit methamphetamine use had been waning for years at the point when Newsweek identified "The Meth Epidemic" as "America's New Drug Crisis."
Although methamphetamine is commonly portrayed as irresistible and inescapable, it does not look that way when you examine data on patterns of use. Of the 12.3 million or so Americans who have tried it, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 1.2 million (9.4 percent) have consumed it in the last year, while less than half a million (3.6 percent) have consumed it in the last month (the standard definition of "current" use). In other words, more than 96 percent of the people who have tried "the most addictive drug known to mankind" are not currently using it even as often as once a month. A 2009 study based on NSDUH data found that 5 percent of nonmedical methamphetamine consumers become "dependent" within two years. Over a lifetime, Hart et al. say, "less than 15 percent" do.
Even heavy methamphetamine users have more self-control than is commonly thought, as Hart's own research shows:
Under one condition, methamphetamine-dependent individuals were given a choice between taking a big hit of methamphetamine (50 mg) or $5 in cash. They chose the drug on about half of the opportunities. But when we increased the amount of money to $20, they almost never chose the drug.
Laboratory research also has found that "d-amphetamine and methamphetamine produce nearly identical physiological and behavioral effects," Hart et al. write. "They both increase blood pressure, pulse, euphoria, and desire to take the drug in a dose-dependent manner. Essentially, they are the same drug." That observation helps put methamphetamine's risks in perspective, since d-amphetamine, a.k.a. dextroamphetamine, is one of the main ingredients in Adderall, a stimulant widely prescribed for ADHD. Hart et al. note that methamphetamine, like dextroamphetamine, increases heart rate and blood pressure, but "well below levels obtained when engaged in a rigorous physical exercise."
When given to research subjects, "the drug didn't keep people up for consecutive days, it didn't dangerously elevate their vital signs, nor did it impair their judgment." Contrary to tales of meth-induced murder and mayhem, "There is no empirical evidence that suggests that even long-term users of methamphetamine pose a threat to those around them." Hart et al. note that "incredible anecdotes are usually disseminated uncritically by the popular press and accepted as sound evidence by an undiscerning public." One example from my book Saying Yes: In 1994 Reader's Digest described the rape and murder of an 18-month-old girl in California as a "meth-related child killing." Yet neither newspaper coverage of the case nor the California Supreme Court's 87-page decision rejecting the murderer's appeal made any mention of the drug.
What about long-term effects? Shocking as it may be to anyone who has accepted at face value the gruesome images featured in anti-meth propaganda, the drug does not make you ugly. "Meth mouth"—the extreme tooth decay supposedly characteristic of heavy users—is said to be caused by meth-induced dry mouth. Yet widely consumed prescription stimulants such as Adderall produce the same side effect, Hart et al. note, and "there are no published reports of unattractiveness or dental problems associated with their use." Allegedly meth-related physical characteristics such as rotten teeth, thinning hair, and bad complexions, they say, "are more likely related to poor sleep habits, poor dental hygiene, poor nutrition and dietary practices."
Hart also questions research linking heavy methamphetamine use to brain damage. He argues that studies in which large doses are repeatedly given to animals that have never been exposed to the drug before bear little resemblance to human consumption patterns, which feature gradual escalation. "This difference is not trivial," Hart et al. write, "because the harmful neurobiological and behavioral changes that occur in response to repeated large doses of methamphetamine can be prevented with prior exposure to several days of escalating doses."
In studies of people, Hart says, researchers exaggerate the practical significance of their findings and fail to properly control for pre-existing difference between meth users and the general population. "The brain imaging literature is replete with a general tendency to characterize any brain differences as dysfunction caused by methamphetamine," Hart et al. write, "even if differences are within the normal range of human variability."
Over-the-top warnings about methamphetamine—encapsulated in the slogan "Meth: Not Even Once"—aim to scare people away from a drug that might harm them (but probably won't). By contrast, Hart argues, exaggerating the hazards posed by methamphetamine causes definite damage by encouraging harsh criminal penalties (such as a five-year mandatory minimum for five grams), fostering distrust of accurate warnings about drugs, suppressing useful information that could reduce drug-related harm, driving users toward more dangerous routes of administration (as efforts to reduce meth purity, if successful, predictably would do), and justifying ineffective policies that impose substantial costs on large numbers of people for little or no benefit (such as restrictions on the methamphetamine precursor pseudoephedrine, a cheap, safe, and effective decongestant that is now absurdly difficult to obtain). In other words, hyperbole hurts.
This article was originally published by Forbes.http://reason.com/archives/2014/02/23/meth-myths-exposed
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / I've got yer "Replicable" Right Here
on: December 21, 2013, 03:25:23 PM
The Vast Majority of Raw Data From Old Scientific Studies May Now Be Missing
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Image via Flickr user dabblelicious
One of the foundations of the scientific method is the reproducibility of results. In a lab anywhere around the world, a researcher should be able to study the same subject as another scientist and reproduce the same data, or analyze the same data and notice the same patterns.
This is why the findings of a study published today in Current Biology are so concerning. When a group of researchers tried to email the authors of 516 biological studies published between 1991 and 2011 and ask for the raw data, they were dismayed to find that more 90 percent of the oldest data (from papers written more than 20 years ago) were inaccessible. In total, even including papers published as recently as 2011, they were only able to track down the data for 23 percent.
“Everybody kind of knows that if you ask a researcher for data from old studies, they’ll hem and haw, because they don’t know where it is,” says Timothy Vines, a zoologist at the University of British Columbia, who led the effort. “But there really hadn’t ever been systematic estimates of how quickly the data held by authors actually disappears.”
To make their estimate, his group chose a type of data that’s been relatively consistent over time—anatomical measurements of plants and animals—and dug up between 25 and 40 papers for each odd year during the period that used this sort of data, to see if they could hunt down the raw numbers.
A surprising amount of their inquiries were halted at the very first step: for 25 percent of the studies, active email addresses couldn’t be found, with defunct addresses listed on the paper itself and web searches not turning up any current ones. For another 38 percent of studies, their queries led to no response. Another 7 percent of the data sets were lost or inaccessible.
“Some of the time, for instance, it was saved on three-and-a-half inch floppy disks, so no one could access it, because they no longer had the proper drives,” Vines says. Because the basic idea of keeping data is so that it can be used by others in future research, this sort of obsolescence essentially renders the data useless.
These might seem like mundane obstacles, but scientists are just like the rest of us—they change email addresses, they get new computers with different drives, they lose their file backups—so these trends reflect serious, systemic problems in science.
And preserving data is so important, it’s worth remembering, because it’s impossible to predict in which directions research will move in the future. Vines, for instance, has been conducting his own research on a pair of toad species native to Eastern Europe that seem to be in the process of hybridizing. In the 1980s, he says, a separate team of researchers was working on the same topic, and came across an old paper that documented the distribution of these toads in the 1930s. Knowing that their distribution had changed relatively little over the intervening decades allowed the scientists to make all sorts of calculations that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. “That original data being available, from a very small old study written in Polish, was incredibly useful to researchers that came along 70 years later,” he says.
There’s also the fact that so much of this research is paid for with public funding, much of it coming through grants that stipulate that resulting data be made freely available to the public. Additionally, field data is affected by the circumstances of the environment in which it’s collected—thus, it’s impossible to perfectly replicate later on, when conditions have changed.
What’s the solution? Some journals—including Molecular Ecology, of which Vines is a managing editor—have adopted policies that require authors to submit raw data along with their papers, allowing the journal itself to archive the data in perpetuity. Although journals, like people, are susceptible to changing email addresses and technological obsolescence, these problems can be much more easily managed at the institutional scale.http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/12/the-vast-majority-of-raw-data-from-old-scientific-studies-may-now-be-missing/#ixzz2o3hpgpPk
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / More Likely to Die of Old Age if you Live to be Old
on: October 21, 2013, 05:15:37 PM
This takedown made me laugh:
Vitamin D And Cancer
Posted on 21 October 2013 by Briggs
This is our second big week focusing on colorectual cancer. Three weeks makes a streak. We’ll see.
Our paper is Mapping Vitamin D Deficiency, Breast Cancer, and Colorectal Cancer by Sharif Mohr, including four authors whose surnames suspiciously begin with G.
Paper is making the rounds with people concerned that they ought to be popping Vitamin D (VD for short?) pills to stave off the big C (today’s post sponsored by the letters C, D, G, and V).
Idea is that there’s more sun the closer to the equator you get, therefore the more opportunity there is for your body to produce VD. Why is this important? Because statistics appear to show that people who live in equatorial lands have lower rates of breast and colorectal cancer.
Rates of colorectual cancer countries classed by latitude.
This picture from their paper gives you the idea. Shows the rates of colorectal cancer (found in various and variable public data sources) by about 200 different countries classed by latitude (not all countries are labeled). Paper has a similar picture for breast cancer.
Seems plausible that the further from the sun you get the more at risk you are of cancer, no?
No. Those equatorial countries are places like the Democratic (don’t laugh) Republic of Congo, life expectancy 45; Equatorial Guinea, life expectancy 48, and so on and such forth (data source; from 2000).
This is versus sunlight depraved countries like Finland, life expectancy 78; Denmark, life expectancy 78; and on and on.
Now the longer you live the higher the chance you’ll develop one of these “old age” cancers (you have to die of something, after all). Most people are diagnosed north of 50. So if you die before 50, you don’t have much chance of getting these cancers. This is my “theory”, which has the benefit of parsimoniously explaining the observed data.
This explanation was much too simple for Mohr and the Four Gs, who show no sign of having thought of it. They instead developed complicated regression models of solar irradiance, optical depth, population density and, oh, I don’t know what all else. They got the wee p-values they sought, which was all the proof they needed.
And, hey, it could be that their vastly more complicated hypothesis is true and mine false. Plus, they have a wee p-value and I don’t. I can’t even get one! So, as the authors say (as they always say), “More research is clearly needed.”http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=9612