Friday, March 13, 2009

Watchmen: Watching out for bad premises (With spoilers)

I’ll have to admit to being excited about the Watchmen release because the previews looked so promising. Having seen the movie this Wednesday I’d call it a fine mess. Why? The movie features distinctive characters, stunning visual effects, and an innovative narrative flow. And it was based on an interesting idea: what if Richard Nixon had been re-elected five times and still was President in 1985? In this alternate history line a group of heroes called the Watchmen help the government maintain order and even with its military activities. I haven’t read the graphic novel upon which the movie is based but I gather that the movie closely follows the novel.

Without going into the details of the plot my biggest problem with Watchmen is it's philosophical premise. Basically it's "sacrifice a few to save many." In other words, utilitarianism. In the movie two of the "heroes" are sacrificed. In addition several large US cities are blown up in order to scare the US and USSR into pursuing peace. (The movie was set in an alternate 1985 in which Nixon is still President.) So millions are sacrificed to save billions. I guess this is what passes for “deep” thinking these days: how many people will be sacrificed to preserve the peace, not what it takes to ensure the freedom of individuals.

This approach is typical for collectivists. They talk a lot about saving humanity but little about individual humans. It also inverts conceptual relationships. In the movie peace becomes and end in itself and trumps the freedom (and lives) of individuals. People are used as cannon fodder in search of a “greater good.” As a result people are freely sacrificed to achieve this end. A philosophy that centers on the individual instead will put peace second if achieving this peace means threatening the freedom of citizens.

In addition to using an alternate history to set up the plot it seems the writer buys the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) theory posed by former Secretary of the Defense Robert McNamara. The problem is that the Soviets never bought into MAD. They thought they could win and survive a nuclear war. And, their goal wasn't peace but to eradicate "evil" capitalism. This reveals another flaw in the premise behind MAD and the movie. Searching for a truly peaceful solution assumes both sides share common values. What common values did we share with the Soviet Union? Our system, for all its faults, is based on the premise that the function of government is to protect the interests of the individuals. Communism on the other hand forces individuals to serve the government or the “greater good.” (By the way, exactly who defines what this greater good consists of?) The record for collectivist governments in the 20th century shows the futility of this approach: tens of millions of people died or were murdered yet the lives of the survivors were incredibly impoverished when compared to those living in freer countries.

This just goes to show that we all have to be “watchmen” against bad premises.

John Stossel 20/20 Special "Bailouts and Bull"

Just received this notice from regarding John Stossel special on the bailout. Here is an excerpt from Stossel's notice.


Please forgive the impersonal email, but I want to let you know about my bailout special! With the help of Drew Carey and Reason TV, we look at Big Government's promise to "fix" the economy and other bull.

You can find the outlets in your area on

Here's what ABC lets me say about it:

The Conceit of the Ruling Class 

Politicians and pundits say government must do "something." It sound like a Viagra ad: "Does your economy have performance issues? If it's hard to achieve and maintain growth, 'stimulus' is right for you!" But shouldn't "stimulus" come with a warning label? "Side effects may include hyper-inflation, dollar devaluation, horrible debt, growth of welfare state, and unrealized expectations. Stimulus has not been proven successful, so it should not be used in the hopes of achieving actual growth ..."

While politicians claim that "all" or a "consensus" of economists agree that something "big" must be done, more than 300 economists say that the government's action do more harm than good. I interview some, calculate the amount the stimulus costs per taxpayer (about $16,000) and ask lawmakers: Where will you get the money? If too much debt was a problem, why is more debt now a solution?

I confront House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer about his claim that "all economists agree."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Global Warming: Caused by the sun or CO2?

The March 5, 2009 version of ICECAP has an article, “It’s the Sun, stupid!” by Dr. Willie Soon, a solar and climate scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The subtitle indicates his position: “New direct evidence demonstrate that changes in solar activity influence climate” Below are some key quotes from his article.

Between 1645 and 1715, sunspots were very rare and temperatures were low. Then sunspot frequency grew until, between 1930 and 2000, the Sun was more active than at almost any time in the last 10,000 years. The oceans can cause up to several decades of delay before air temperatures respond fully to this solar “Grand Maximum.” Now that the Sun is becoming less active again, global temperatures have fallen for seven years.

The close relationships between the abrupt ups and downs of solar activity and of temperature that I have identified occur locally in coastal Greenland; regionally in the Arctic Pacific and north Atlantic; and hemispherically for the whole circum-Arctic, suggesting that changes in solar activity drive Arctic and perhaps even global climate.

There is no such match between the steady rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration and the often dramatic ups and downs of surface temperatures in and around the Arctic.

I recently discovered direct evidence that changes in solar activity have influenced what has been called the “conveyor-belt” circulation of the great Atlantic Ocean currents over the past 240 years. For instance, solar-driven changes in temperature, and in the volume of freshwater output from the Arctic, cause variations in sea surface temperature in the tropical Atlantic 5-20 years later.

These previously undocumented results have been published in the journal Physical Geography. They make it difficult to maintain that changes in solar activity play an insignificant role in climate change, especially over the Arctic.

The hallmark of good science is the testing of a plausible hypothesis that is then either supported or rejected by the evidence. The evidence in my paper is consistent with the hypothesis that the Sun causes climatic change in the Arctic.

It invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change – and raises serious questions about the wisdom of imposing cap-and-trade or other policies that would cripple energy production and economic activity, in the name of “preventing catastrophic climate change.

Bill Clinton used to sum up politics by saying, “It’s the economy, stupid!” Now we can fairly sum up climate change by saying, “It’s the Sun, stupid!”

To me the key statement is: “The hallmark of good science is the testing of a plausible hypothesis that is then either supported or rejected by the evidence.” Unfortunately, those who blame global warming on carbon dioxide released by human activities have politicized science to the point where discussion of plausible counter hypotheses like this is actively discouraged, even demonized.