The Road: A Bleak Panegyric to Civilization

The Road, a novel by Cormac McCarthy, Vintage International, 2006, 256 pages.

It’s hard to recommend this incredible book. Though gripping, moving, and beautifully written, it is not easy to read. I had to put it down every so often just for the relief of reconnecting with the living world we take for granted. The end credits of the film based on the novel are accompanied not by music, but by the mundane ambience of a suburban neighborhood: people talking, lawnmowers, barking dogs, planes passing overhead — sounds forever lost in the post-apocalyptic world in which McCarthy’s characters struggle — a world so well rendered it is painful to contemplate.

McCarthy’s style is an acquired taste. He never met a metaphor he didn’t like and his Westerns have so much weather one can easily lose track of the plot. This novel is written in a kind of blank verse, with paragraphs structured as stanzas.  My initial reaction was to return the book to the shelf in disgust at what seemed an artsy affectation, but the words captured me. In truth, the abstract style helps make the horrific events in the story bearable. Quotation marks are neither used nor required, since, for the most part, there are only two characters – The Man and his son, The Boy –  and one always knows who is speaking. Potential readers who believe the style might be off-putting are encouraged to listen to the audio book, performed wonderfully by Rupert Degas. Listening to it, one has no idea the printed version is not written as a conventional novel.

An unspecified calamity has devastated the world. Inaugurated by a “long shear of light and then a series of low concussions,” the Apocalypse might well be the aftermath of an asteroid impact like the one that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Years later, ash continues to fall from the perpetually overcast sky and the earth trembles with aftershocks. The man and boy push a shopping cart filled with their meager provisions through a nightmare landscape of dead forests and looted cities. Hiding in terror from roving gangs of cannibals, they trudge south, where it might be warmer; where there might be…something. The man’s tattered road map taunts them with the names of places that no longer exist. They carry a pistol with two bullets: one for each of them, should they be captured by cannibals. The man drills his son, who is, perhaps, ten, in the art of effective suicide.

The bleak tone is reminiscent of Nevil Shute’s 1957 post nuclear war novel On the Beach, but while Shute’s characters wallow in well-fed self-pity, McCarthy’s man and boy, although starving and freezing, reassure one another that they are “carrying the fire,” that they must not merely survive but remain the good guys. A physician before his world ended, the man has tried to plant the spark of civilization within his son, to teach him a code of ethics that makes him more than a starving animal. The boy takes the lesson to heart and pleads with his father to show kindness to those even more wretched than they. Shaped by his father’s fierce love, the boy radiates angelic goodness even when they are both at death’s door. It sounds corny but McCarthy pulls it off. At the end the reader is convinced that as long as such a child can exist, there is hope, even in the midst of horror.

McCarthy’s subtext is that civilization is as fragile as a soap bubble. We are bound together by an intricate web of trust and cooperation. Snap one strand of that web, and things fall apart with surprising suddenness. Cosmic calamities are not required to end civilization. Something that merely prevented grocery trucks from making their scheduled deliveries for a couple of weeks would do the job. Admirers of the recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations might do well to consider this. The roadside reenactment of the Paleolithic Era stopped short of offering a practical demonstration of the sustainability of the socio-economic scheme being advocated, which is, in essence, cannibalism.

 

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The Oddball Club

I resonated to this essay by classicist Victor David Hanson. Dr. Hanson expresses eloquently the angst of wandering the world feeling as if one’s head is about to explode into a vacuum of stupidity.

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The Tyranny of the Majority

On Sunday, March 21, 2010, on the 245th anniversary of the Stamp Act that triggered the American Revolution, the Democratic Party, in a stunning display of self-righteous arrogance, fiscal irresponsibility, and contempt for the democratic process and for the liberty of their fellow citizens, decreed that Americans shall be forced to purchase health insurance from state approved businesses. This ill-conceived legislation, bloated with pork, unfunded by any honest estimate of potential future revenues, passed without a single supportive vote from the party ostensibly representing half the population, establishes dozens of new bureaucracies and will likely throw the medical insurance industry into chaos and bankruptcy. The kluged-together bill, unread by most who voted for it, is 2,400 pages long. That’s the equivalent of six novels, written in turgid legalese. It is inevitably full of unintended consequences on issues affecting the lives of 300 million people.

The new law’s proponents claim — and probably believe — they are acting in a spirit of liberalism for the greatest good, but this approach to legislation is not liberal. Liberals value freedom and the rule of law. Most Americans share those values and prefer a divided government in which one faction cannot run roughshod over the other. The Democrats have established a terrible precedent, paving the way for any political party with a President and 51 percent and no scruples to ram any piece of garbage legislation down the country’s throat.

The mid-term election that will be held on Tuesday, November 2, 2010, may be the last chance to stop the statist juggernaut and to restore balance to our government.

 

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Climategate

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.Leo Tolstoy

It’s been almost a year since I wrote anything here, but the recent “climategate” scandal is so disturbing on so many levels that a comment seems appropriate. It’s a sad time for science. The very institutions charged to keep it honest are now revealed to be steeped in corruption. In the interest of adding another Google hit to the more than 30,000,000 that the mainstream media choose to ignore, here’s mine.

In November, either a hacker or whistleblower liberated a document  from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. , which is one of the major sources of data used by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change whose reports have guided politicians. The document appears to be an archive prepared in answer to a British Freedom of Information Act request and includes ten years of emails between leading scientists at CRU and elsewhere, program code that was used to normalize data, and a plaintive commentary by a programmer who struggled to beat the data into submission so it would conform to expectations. The emails are characterized by the smug arrogance typical of those who dwell in The Land of Unchallenged Assumptions — aka academia — in this case, scientists who “know” that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are changing Earth’s climate in potentially disastrous ways. This is certainly an interesting theory and it might even be true, but support for it is based on an extremely weak signal that has been teased from very noisy data. The Climategate files reveal efforts to fudge this data to amplify the signal —  a scientific sin — and systematic efforts to suppress information that might “dilute the message,” meaning the political message that CRU’s confabulations were designed to support. This isn’t science. It is activism.

Almost more distressing than the scientific malfeasance is the “nothing to see here” attitude of the mainstream media, who were quick to report rumors that the Bush Administration pressured NASA’s James Hansen to cool it with regard to global warming, but when fraudulent science that serves as the basis for trillion dollar policies comes to light we hear crickets chirping. Because the alleged remedies for the alleged climate crisis dovetail so neatly with their politics, these people have checked not only their BS detectors at the door, but also their journalistic integrity. Despite overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing by so-called consensus climatologists,  their journalistic enablers continue to characterize skeptics as not merely mistaken, but evil and venal (no matter that far more grant money is awarded to the alarmists). Two years ago, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman put skeptics on a par with Holocaust deniers. The prestigious journal Nature repeatedly used the epithet “deniers” in its December 3 apologia for the CRU’s data distorters. We expect such silly language from religious fanatics, not scientists and journalists, but environmentalism has indeed become a religion and it has created a kind of faith-based science that is on a par with Creationism. With their monomaniacal fixation on greenhouse warming, the Gaia worshippers have set sane environmentalism back decades. Kyoto alone has already caused more than $300 billion to change hands, yet even its proponents concede that if it were in effect for 50 years with perfect compliance it might have a theoretical mitigation of only half a degree. It expires in three years and compliance has been wretched, but delegates to the Copenhagen conference will unconscionably propose more of the same.  $300 billion would buy a lot of clean water — the most pressing environmental issue for most people in the developing world.

Stephen F. Hayward has summarized the science and shenanigans very concisely in his article “Scientists Behaving Badly.” Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal brilliantly examines the “Warmist” mind and asks: Why did the scientists at the heart of Climategate go to such lengths to hide or massage the data if truth needs no defense? Why launch campaigns of obstruction and vilification against gadfly Canadian researchers Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick if they were such intellectual laughingstocks? It is the unvarying habit of the totalitarian mind to treat any manner of disagreement as prima facie evidence of bad faith and treason. The rest of his essay may be read here:

For those who want to  understand  better what the fuss is about, David Burge sets aside his Iowahawk satire hat and shows us how to build our own paleoclimate hockey sticks in Fables of the Reconstruction.  With off-the-shelf spreadsheet software and a bit of statistical legerdemain, you too can join The Team.

Lord Christopher Monkton summarizes the Climategate situation with his inimitable verve in this video.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for my check from Exxon-Mobil.

(Addendum, January 12, 2010 — a concise and fascinating history of Climategate can be found at these links: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

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A Darwin Award for Greens?

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, obstetrician Barry Walters has proposed a $5,000 carbon tax on the birth of each baby, plus an $800 annual tax. “Far from showering financial booty on new mothers and thereby rewarding greenhouse-unfriendly behavior, a baby levy in the form of a carbon tax should apply in line with the polluter pays principle,” says Walters. He also suggests that contraceptives and sterilization procedures be offered to attract carbon credits that would offset income taxes for the user.

One cannot gainsay the sincerity of Dr. Walters. He is so devoted to protecting the environment that he advocates policies likely to harm his livelihood.

Making an even more personal sacrifice, forward-thinking Toni Vernelli in Brighton, England, arranged to have herself sterilized at age 27. “Having children is selfish. It’s all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet,” says Vernelli, now 35.

The draconian birth control policies advocated by extreme environmentalists could have interesting political consequences. There is a strong correlation between genes and memes; eighty-percent of children adopt the political and religious views of their parents. Conservative pundits who compare left-wingers to dinosaurs may be more prescient than they know: there are only about two liberal babies born for every three conservative children. Like coastal cities in Vice President Gore’s apocalyptic visions, the Blue States will be inundated eventually by a Red tide. The earth will be inherited not by the environmentally devout but by proliferant non-progressives.

Environmentalism is not the first religion to proscribe procreation. Shakers also were forbidden to breed and had to rely on conversion to sustain their numbers. Note the past tense. Given current demographic trends in North America and western Europe, it is only a matter of time before liberals are declared endangered. Heroic efforts may be required to herd sufficient numbers of these scarce creatures into protected habitats to create a breeding population, lest they die out completely. Biosphere II may come in handy then.

Mother Nature tends to correct her own mistakes, but it is gratifying to see so many people eager to help. Godspeed, I say.

[The possibly cryptic title refers to the tongue-in-cheek Darwin Awards commemorating folks who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it in spectacularly stupid ways.
Mark Steyn, who has often discussed the link between societal values and demographics, also noticed the two stories referred to above. You can read his take on the issue here.]

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R.I.P. Oriana Fallaci

One of the most passionate and eloquent defenders of Western civilization has died. She fought against the dhimmitude of her fellow Europeans until the very end. She was a great lady and will be missed.

Oriana Fallaci 1929-2006

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Reading Between the Lines on 9/11/2006

There are 1.3 billion Muslims. The fellow holding the sign, we are assured, is not typical. More likely, he illustrates the downside of encouraging cousins to marry for a few dozen generations. Polls suggest that only about 100 million Muslims are medieval fanatics. The remaining 1.2 billion are ordinary folks who want to live and let live— right?

They’ve been so quiet about the atrocities committed by their co-religionists because, well…they’re busy, you know? They’ve got lives. It’s not like they’ve just been standing on the sidelines waiting to see who wins, is it?If Catholic fanatics were blowing up innocent people we wouldn’t expect the average Catholic to protest, would we? It isn’t as if Catholics have reacted to Church leaders’ complicity in protecting pederasts with a significant drop in church attendance. Oh, wait…they have. Must be a cultural thing. Catholics get upset when innocent people are victimized. Muslims don’t, apparently, although groups like CAIR get terribly upset if anyone dares criticize Muslims for shrugging off evil. That’s a kind of empathy, I guess. They do have feelings, after all. God forbid that anyone should publish a cartoon featuring Mohammed. You’ll see some serious umbrage then.

Right-thinking folks are careful to remind us that not all Muslims are terrorists, even if nearly all terrorists are Muslim. But the hard reality is that the global jihad will end only when moderate Muslims become sufficiently inconvenienced. Pogroms. Mosque burnings. Daily Muslim-only flights — that sort of thing. Then they might be motivated to rein in their more impetuous brethren. Such a sea change would require a truly hideous provocation and an even more horrific response. Nobody (except perhaps the 100 million nutjobs) wants that.

After five years, it’s hard to find cause for optimism. The crazies still bomb and behead. The Islamic majority shrug. The few remaining defenders of Western civilization half-heartedly prosecute the Warn Terr without ever quite daring to name the real enemy (although President Bush has of late used the remarkably un-PC term “Islamic fascists”). The press barely mentions a terrorist attack in Seattle but spends days analyzing Mel Gibson’s drunken rantings, and utterly ignores the discovery of two improperly-assembled suitcase bombs on trains in Germany — a country one would think an unlikely object of Islamic ire. We’re maybe one more exploding shampoo scare away from having to fly everywhere in our skivvies.

And the Left sits up nights worrying about the weather and George Bush.

God help us. Or Allah. These days, one can’t be picky.

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Al Gore, Chicken Little, and Other Famous Hysterics

Dennis Prager explains why liberals fear global warming more than conservatives do…

…After all, if the science is as conclusive as Al Gore, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and virtually every other spokesman of the Left says it is, conservatives are just as likely to be scorched and drowned and otherwise done in by global warming as liberals will. So why aren’t non-leftists nearly as exercised as leftists are? Do conservatives handle heat better? Are libertarians better swimmers? Do religious people love their children less? (more)

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Another Reason to Avoid Movie Theaters

Victor Davis Hanson has some comments about Hollywood’s chronic infatuation with moral relativism…

Actors, producers, screenwriters and directors of Southern California live in a bubble, where coast, climate and plentiful capital shield the film industry from the harsh world. In their good intentions, these tanned utopians can afford to dream away fascist killers and instead rail at Western bogeymen — even in the midst of a global war against Middle East jihadists who wish to trump what they wrought at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

If Hollywood wants to know why attendance is down, it is not just the misdemeanor sin of warping reality, but the artistic felony that it does so in such a predictable manner. (more)

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Defenders of the Faith

Paul Campos offers some interesting observations on the latest skirmish between religious and secular fundamentalists…

A sure sign that a belief system has triumphed over its opponents is that it stops thinking of itself as a belief system at all. Instead it becomes “what every rational person knows to be the case,” or “simple common sense,” or, more concisely still, “the truth.” (more)

Given the politically-correct camels that school boards swallow routinely, the mild incarnation of Intelligent Design that proponents tried to introduce in Pennsylvania seems a fairly harmless gnat to strain from the curriculum. Although there is immense evidence that evolution happens, it is not obviously absurd to suggest that it may not be the only thing that happens. Just as physicists may invoke a strong or weak Anthropic Principle to explain the apparent fine-tuning of nature’s laws, a weak Intelligent Design principle at least addresses — if it doesn’t explain — the fact that the universe seems to be amazingly self-organizing and that we don’t have the remotest idea how a birdsong, let alone a symphony, can be “emergently” encoded in DNA molecules. If nothing else, I.D. may serve as a challenging memetic placeholder to remind us that we don’t have all the answers.

Contrary to the assertions of the scientific establishment, I.D. is a falsifiable theory; its opposite —the quest for a Theory of Everything — is a de facto attempt to falsify the notion that any natural process may be the result of unknown, and perhaps unknowable, forces. Darwinian evolution may indeed be able to build brains from quarks in a mere 14 billion years, but physicists who assert that we inhabit a universe capable of such feats because — (A) that is the only kind of universe we could live in, or (B) that we just happen to inhabit one of the few perfectly-adjusted universes in an infinitude of parallel universes — might reasonably be accused of embracing non-falsifiable hypotheses themselves, particularly when the most promising new physics models postulate the existence of entities and events of such microscopic size and duration that they cannot ever be observed, even in theory. The scientific establishment has constructed its own glass house. Its occupants should be reticent to throw stones.

Quashing unfashionable theories by government fiat is hardly an effective way to sort out the truth. Chemistry texts have been able to mention the abandoned theory of phlogiston without producing a glut of alchemists. Medical students learn that disease was once thought to have been produced by imbalanced bodily humours. Economics majors are even exposed to Marxism. Why can’t biology students be advised that some people find evolution far-fetched, even today? How would students be harmed by exposure to, for example, competing textbook sidebars excerpting essays by Fred Hoyle and Richard Dawkins; the former arguing evolution’s improbability and the latter its inevitability? The few students in each class capable of creative thought might actually be inspired to ponder the issue and learn more.

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