Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The personal and the political

When we engage in political discourse in the United States, we confront a fundamental problem. I will outsource much of this discussion to Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, which as you may know is a conservative think tank. First:

[H]owever awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the center of American politics, it is extremely difficult to enact policies responsive to the country’s most pressing challenges.
I might add -- as Ornstein does elsewhere -- that the party mobilizes racism, homophobia, misogyny, and other forms of prejudice as a fundamental electoral strategy. Here's Gilad Edelman:

[R]ecognizing the rising tide of white extremism means grappling with its origins, and that in turn would require American conservatives to deal with their own complicity. The Republican Party is now run by people, including the President and members of Congress, who endorse conspiracy theories about, for example, George Soros paying Central American migrants to “storm” the United States border and vote in our elections. The party’s full-time propaganda network, Fox News, devotes its primetime programming to whipping up its viewers’ fears of a migrant “invasion” stoked by Democrats.
And, one might well add, the current occupant of the office of president of the United States got his start promoting the racist lie that Barack Obama was ineligible to be president because he was born in Kenya, and then announced his candidacy with a racist screed about Mexicans.
So, here is the difficulty. People don't like to be accused of racism, even when they are in fact racist. People don't like to be accused of ignorance, even when they are in fact ignorant. So what are we to do?  I do not denigrate the personhood of people with whom I disagree. However, I do have to tell it like I see it. Nobody can approve of Donald Trump's performance in office without implicitly endorsing racism, ignorance, lies, authoritarianism, extremism, misogyny, and incitement to violence. If you don't want to be called a racist, don't be a racist. If you don't want to be called ignorant, learn something. If you don't want to be accused of condoning violence, don't condone violence.

Sorry, but Donald J. Trump is an evil, repulsive, profoundly sick human being, who represents what the Republican Party and the conservative movement have become. Anybody who can't see that has a problem that I will not refrain from identifying.

Update: I'm not going to publish comments that completely ignore what I actually wrote and make irrelevant, straw man arguments (which are in themselves idiotic). If you want to respond to anything I have ever actually said, go ahead.

Update II: I've said it many times but I will now add it to the side bar. Comments under the name "anonymous" or "unknown" will not be published, no matter how cogent or wise. Choose a unique handle and stick to it if you want your comments published.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Long Emergency: You are what you eat

I'm two days late this week because of Memorial Day, and a very busy day yesterday, but we're here now. Last week we briefly reviewed the carrying capacity of the planet regarding getting protein and calories into humans, and concluded that we've already exceeded it. I guess we're screwed, right?

Actually no. There is a solution. But whenever I comment on a progressive blog where somebody has posted a recipe for beef Wellington of leg of lamb, I incite a hysterical mob accusing me of gratuitously insulting the host, ideological fanaticism, and trolling. This is something most people really, really, really do not want to hear. Well hear it now.

"Pulses," in case you didn't know, means beans and peas. Eat pulses instead of beef and we multiply the carrying capacity of the planet by 100. It's actually better than that because legumes (of which pulses are an example) pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere and put it into the soil, so we don't need the fossil-fueled Haber process. Unfortunately, people in affluent countries are accustomed to eating a lot of meat, and poor people aspire to it as a symbol of attainment of the middle class. They get very offended by suggestions that they should adopt a more plant-based diet. I'm not entirely sure why, maybe it's consciousness of guilt? Anyway what we're doing now is growing a lot of soybeans and maize* and feeding it to cattle, in the process diluting it by 100 times. That's just idiotic.

There is another important element of the solution, which is obviously limiting the human population. Ultimately it will have to be reduced, and that's generally regarded as difficult or even impossible because it means a higher ratio of relatively dependent old people to young people, and that would purportedly place an intolerable burden on the work force to support  all of us geezers. Guess what! It isn't so. Here's the relationship at the national level between women's educational attainment and fertility.

If women are educated, they have fewer children. The linearity of the relationship is as strong as it ever gets. And educated women are much more likely to be in the work force, and are more productive. In other words, if we make full use of the talents and energy of half of humanity, we have fewer children but we don't have to end up with less productivity as a result.

So raise the status of women around the world, eat your pulses, fruits and vegetables, and you give humanity a shot at a future. There's a lot more to do, obviously, but this means there is hope.

*Americans call maize corn, but that word means any species of grain in the rest of the English-speaking world.

Update: A reminder, if you want your comments published, you cannot comment as "anonymous." If you just want to communicate with me without being published, okay, but it's going to be fairly uncommon that I make use of the input directly on the blog. It might happen, but don't expect it. Otherwise, choose a handle.