Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trudeau and Putin: Ideology vs Interest

Warmth is, on the whole, a good thing when you are cold, a bad thing when you are hot. Generalizing to nations, the countries most likely to benefit by global warming are ones close to the poles. The habitable area of Canada, for example, is a narrow strip several thousand miles long bordered by the United States on one side, snow and ice on the other. A few degrees of warming would make it substantially wider, as well as making the currently inhabited parts a little more habitable. 

Along similar lines, the countries most likely to lose by global warming are those where it is already too hot. India, for example. Which is why I was struck by a news story about the Prime Minister of Canada's plans to lecture the Prime Minister of India on the dangers of global warming.

Meanwhile, Putin has announced that he does not believe in AGW. My guess is that what that really means is that he is in favor of it. Russia is, after all, the only country in the world with a longer arctic boundary than Canada.

(Very low lying countries are also at risk from warming, but there are not many low enough to be seriously threatened by a meter of sea level rise, which is the upper bound of the current IPCC high emissions projection for 2100.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is the Chicago Police Department an Accessory After the Fact?

A Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke, has been charged with first degree murder for shooting and killing a black teenager. The killing occurred more than a year ago. If the accounts appearing in the news are correct, the reason the indictment took so long is that other officers covered up the facts of the case.

If that is true—we will know more after the trial is complete—then other officers, probably quite a lot of other officers, were accessories after the fact to murder. Under Illinois law, an accessory after the fact to a felony is liable to the same punishment as the felon.

It will be interesting to see if any of them are ever charged

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Security Theater

In all the talk about whether to admit Syrian refugees, nobody I have seen has made what seems to me the most obvious argument. The U.S. hosts about sixty million tourists a year from all over the world. Does anyone seriously believe that any terrorist organization competent enough to buy or produce passports would find it difficult to get a dozen of their people in? That's about what a terrorist attack like the recent one in Paris requires.

As best I can tell, there simply is no practical way of preventing terrorists willing to die from killing Americans while doing so. Which makes the present antics of a majority of the House security theater.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Barack Obama, Supervillain

My younger son is an aspiring novelist; most of what he has been writing is set in a fictional world of superheroes and supervillains. Some of the villains are likable characters, which raises the question of in what sense they are evil. When I put the question to him in the context of the central character of his first novel, The Titanium Tyrant, who is both superintelligent and honorable, his response was that he was a villain because he did not mind killing innocent people in the process of his crimes.

It occurred to me that, by that definition, there are a lot of villains. Churchill and FDR were prepared to murder very large numbers of German civilians by mass bombing campaigns designed to kill as many, not as few, as possible. Obama has taken responsibility for drone strikes which, in the process of trying to kill terrorists, have clearly killed quite a lot of innocent civilians. In theory, we all believe that all lives matter, but in practice we divide people into our ingroup and everyone else and mostly ignore costs imposed on the latter. In the modern world, that largely means the division between our fellow citizens and foreigners.

It is not limited to national governments and warfare, although that’s the clearest example. U.S. immigration restrictions impose enormous costs on people who would like to come and are not allowed to. Most of those people are much poorer than most Americans. Yet Americans who regard themselves as favoring the poor, most obviously at the moment Bernie Sanders, feel no guilt at keeping foreigners desperately poor in order to keep American poor from getting, by world standards, a little less rich.

In the year 1000, Iceland faced a conflict between pagans and Christians. Before it was resolved by peaceful arbitration, there was a brief period when the two sides declared themselves out of law with each other. Put in modern terms, they were declaring Iceland two countries located on the same territory, each viewing the other as foreigners.

The Titanium Tyrant is out of law with the rest of us, loyal to his own people. By some standards that makes him a villain—but not obviously more of a villain than a lot of the people who many of us approve of.