Thursday, August 21, 2008

UK Scientist: As Earth faces cooling, media exhibits 'cognitive dissonance'
"Un experto de la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico pronostico que en alrededor de diez anos la Tierra entrara  a una `pequena era de hielo' que durara  de 60 a 80 anos y sera  causada por la disminucion de la actividad solar." [Milenio, August 16]

I must ask a very serious and urgent question of our media. Why do you continue to talk glibly about current climate `warming' when it is now widely acknowledged that there has been no `global warming' for the last ten years, a cooling trend that many think may continue for at least another ten years? How can you talk of the climate `warming' when, on the key measures, it isn't? And now a leading Mexican scientist is even predicting that we may enter another `Little Ice Age' - a `pequena era de hielo'.

Such media behaviour exhibits a classic condition known as `cognitive dissonance'. This is experienced when belief in a grand narrative persists blindly even when the facts in the real world begin to contradict what the narrative is saying. Sadly, our media have come to have a vested interest in `global warming', as have so many politicians and activists. They are terrified that the public may begin to question everything if climate is acknowledged, on air and in the press, not to be playing ball with their pet trope.

But that is precisely what is happening. Since 1998, according to all the main world temperature records, including the UK Met Office's `HadCRUT3' data set [a globally-gridded product of near-surface temperatures consisting of annual differences from 1961-90 normals], the world average surface temperature has exhibited no warming whatsoever. Indeed, the trend has been a combination of flat-lining and cooling, with a particularly marked plunge over the last few months. Many parts of the world, including Canada, China, and the US, have just experienced their worst winter in years (as is currently Australia), while skiing in Scotland has benefited from the trend, and the summit of Snowdon carried snow even up to the end of April.

To put it simply, since 1998, there has been no `global warming', despite the fact that, during this same period, atmospheric CO2 has continued to rise, from c. 368 ppm by volume in 1998 to c. 384 ppmv in November, 2007. Moreover, another `greenhouse gas', methane, has also been rising, following a period of relative stability, by about 0.5% between 2006 and 2007.

Of course, little can be gleaned from a short data run of only 10-years, a fact, I might add, which `global warming' fanatics have too often failed to stress. Nevertheless, recent work demonstrates that the Earth's temperature may stay roughly the same for at least a further decade through the workings of a phenomenon known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). The cause of this oscillation, which is related to the currents that bring warmth from the tropics to Europe, is not well understood, but the cycle appears to have an effect every 60 to 70 years. It may well prove to be part of the explanation as to why global mean temperatures rose in the early years of the 20th Century, before then starting to cool again in the late-1940s. Thus, according to the new model, cooling remains on the cards for another ten years at least, making a potential 20 years of cooling in all.

But the sun isn't playing ball either. The big question is: "What has happened to Solar Cycle 24?" Solar-cycle intensity is measured by the maximum number of sunspots. These are dark blotches on the Sun that mark areas of heightened magnetic activity. The more sunspots there are, the more likely it is that major solar storms will occur, and these are related to warming on Earth; the fewer the sunspots, the more likely there is to be cooling. The next 11-year cycle of solar storms [Solar Cycle 24] was predicted to have begun in autumn, 2006, but it appears to have been delayed. It was then expected to take off in March last year, and to peak in late-2011, or mid-2012. But the Sun remains largely spotless, except for an odd fading spot. This delayed onset has somewhat confused the official Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel, leaving them evenly split as to whether a weak or a strong period of solar storms now lies ahead.

However, some other scientists are deeply concerned, including Phil Chapman, the first Australian to become a NASA astronaut, who comments: "Disconcerting as it may be to true believers in global warming, the average temperature on Earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and now the global temperature is falling precipitously."

Chapman then explains why the absence of sunspots might exacerbate this cooling trend: "The reason this matters is that there is a close correlation between variations in the sunspot cycle and Earth's climate. The previous time a cycle was delayed like this was in the Dalton Minimum, an especially cold period that lasted several decades from 1790. Northern winters became ferocious: in particular, the rout of Napoleon's Grand Army during the retreat from Moscow in 1812 was at least partly due to the lack of sunspots." Thus, all the immediate signs and portents are pointing in the direction of a cooling period, not a warming one.

So, why are newspapers, magazines, radio, and television not telling us all this? Because they have invested so much effort over the last ten years in hyping up the exact opposite. Moreover, it is especially pathetic sophistry to claim, as dedicated `global warmers' are wont to do, that `natural forces' are having the temerity to "suppress" `global warming'. The fundamental point has always been this: climate change is governed by hundreds of factors, or variables, and the very idea that we can manage climate change predictably by understanding and manipulating at the margins one politically-selected factor is as misguided as it gets.

And now a Mexican expert, Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera (National Autonomous University of Mexico), is warning that the Earth will enter a new `Little Ice Age' for up to 80 years due to decreases in solar activity [see: `Auguran breve era del hielo en 2010', Milenio, August 16]. He describes the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as "erroneous".

If this cooling phase really does persist, it will be illuminating to observe how long our media can maintain its befuddled state of `cognitive dissonance'. Mind you, I jolly well hope that we aren't entering a cooling period - it's the very last thing we need! Give me warming any time. Brrrr!


Why haven't the Left got Georgia on their minds?

Comment from Britain

Pity I was away last week. I must have missed the march through London against the Russian invasion of Georgia. What a magnificent sight it must have been - half a million protesters standing firm against tyranny and supporting freedom and democracy. I'd have loved to have heard Red Ken denouncing the bloodthirsty gangster regime in Moscow, George Galloway comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler and Tony Benn declaring it was all about oil.

What's that you say? There was no such rally? I suppose they must all have been too busy demonstrating against Chinese oppression in Tibet and demanding a boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Or perhaps not. Funny how the Not In My Name crowd always overlooks aggression by Communist or 'former' Communist regimes.

There's no such reticence when it comes to portraying George W. Bush as the new Hitler or daubing swastikas on the Israeli flag. Look at the protests against the wars in Iraq and Lebanon. The same people who can't wait to burn the American flag in Trafalgar Square are only too happy to ignore Russian, Chinese and Iraqi genocide.

Where were all the marchers when the Russians were crushing Chechnya? Why so silent on Tibet? They must have been looking the other way when Saddam slaughtered the Kurds.

It hasn't been difficult to find apologists for the invasion of Georgia. We're told that the 'American-educated' Mikhail Saakashvili provoked the Russians beyond all reason. What did we expect encouraging the spread of democracy in former Soviet satellite states? No wonder Moscow feels threatened when independent countries it once ruled by military might become members of the European Union and apply to join Nato. Putting a Western missile defence system in Poland is like waving a red rag at a bull, the sophisticates say. Putin has no option but to retaliate. I don't remember them demanding the withdrawal of Soviet nukes pointing at Western capitals from East Germany. Back then, the Guardianistas were all for one-sided disarmament on our part.

The Left has always been picky about their protests. While they rightly denounce white racism in South Africa, they stay silent on black racism in Zimbabwe. They bang on about American cultural imperialism, but have nothing to say about Russian or Chinese military imperialism. America is constantly denounced for its 'yuman rites' abuses, but you never hear a dicky bird about the denial of basic freedoms in China or throughout the Muslim world.

Europe's Leftists define themselves by their hatred of the U.S., yet cheerfully tolerate all kinds of tyranny elsewhere. They're against 'torture' at Guantanamo Bay, but take a relaxed view of Chinese and Russian death squads. There are still plenty of 'comrades' in the Labour Party and the trades union movement who regret the day the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. They're only too willing to give succour to the enemies of freedom and democracy around the world.


Labour's 'open-door' policy sees immigration soar eight-fold compared to last Tory decade

Immigration under Labour has soared eight-fold compared with the last decade of Tory rule, it emerged last night. The astonishing impact of the Government's controversial 'open door' policy is revealed for the first time in a study by the independent House of Commons Library. Between 1997 and 2006, the population increased by 1,196,000 as a direct result of immigration - the equivalent of almost 330 extra people arriving each day. In the preceding decade of Conservative rule, from 1987 to 1996, the increase was only 141,000.

The study, compiled by Parliamentary researchers earlier this month, also found that between 1980 and 1986 at the start of Margaret Thatcher's term in office the number of arrivals from overseas was outstripped by those leaving, with the population falling by 40,000. MPs said the study - which is based on official figures only and does not include any migrants who have sneaked into the country illegally - gave the clearest indication yet that Labour had deliberately presided over mass migration.

Tory MP James Clappison, who uncovered the research, said: 'This shows an historically unprecedented level of immigration has taken place under the Labour Government, as a direct result of its economic policies.' Separate figures obtained by Mr Clappison show that, over the course of the last decade, the vast majority of arrivals have been from outside the EU.

Between 1997 and 2006, there were more than three times as many arrivals from the rest of the world as from within Europe. According to research released by the Cabinet Office, the trend even continued in the wake of the EU being extended to eastern Europe in 2004, sparking a massive influx to the UK from countries such as Poland. In 2004, there were 150,000 arrivals from within the EU, making up 26 per cent of the total. This rose to 182,000 in 2005, and 205,000 in 2006. But even the 2006 figure constituted only 35 per cent of the total, with 386,000 people - or 65 per cent - pouring in from the rest of the world.

It will raise questions why ministers - faced with such large numbers of arrivals from eastern Europe - did not seek to limit the numbers coming in from elsewhere to ease the pressure on schools, hospitals and other public services. They have no control over arrivals from within the EU, due to free movement regulations, but can deny work permits and visas to migrants from the rest of the world.

Tories say the research is clear proof ministers took a deliberate decision not to do so. Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'Immigration can be of real benefit to the country but only if it is properly controlled. These figures show that Labour patently does not have control of immigration in this country. 'These stats put pay to ( Immigration Minister) Liam Byrne's spin that an annual limit on non-EU immigration would be ineffective.'

The figures emerged as ministers confirmed plans for 'no fly' lists of foreign nationals such as criminals, suspected extremists and immigration offenders who will be banned from flying with airlines into the UK. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith also restated a promise to electronically count all passengers in and out of the country by 2014. A Home Office spokesman said: 'We're delivering the biggest shakeup to Britain's border security for 40 years. 'This includes an Australian-style points based system which will cover close to six in ten of all migrants to ensure only those we want and no more can come here.


Alexander Technique effective for back pain

An alternative therapy used to improve posture and to help women to cope with labour pain can be more effective at treating backache than conventional treatments, a study suggests. Combining exercise with practising the Alexander Technique could significantly reduce back pain and improve mobility, researchers found.

The technique was developed by the actor Frederick Alexander (1869-1955) to help his vocal and breathing problems. It is designed to change the way people move their bodies, with an emphasis on balance, posture and co-ordination. A team from the universities of Bristol and Southampton compared the effectiveness of massage, exercise and the Alexander Technique in 579 patients with back pain. Those who had received 24 lessons in the Alexander Technique reported 18 fewer days of back pain over four weeks compared with those who had been taking exercise alone, according to the study published online by the British Medical Journal today.


Childhood's End

By Theodore Dalrymple

Britain is the worst country in the Western world in which to be a child, according to a recent UNICEF report. Ordinarily, I would not set much store by such a report; but in this case, I think it must be right--not because I know so much about childhood in all the other 20 countries examined but because the childhood that many British parents give to their offspring is so awful that it is hard to conceive of worse, at least on a mass scale. The two poles of contemporary British child rearing are neglect and overindulgence.

Consider one British parent, Fiona MacKeown, who in November 2007 went on a six-month vacation to Goa, India, with her boyfriend and eight of her nine children by five different fathers, none of whom ever contributed financially for long to the children's upkeep. (The child left behind--her eldest, at 19--was a drug addict.) She received $50,000 in welfare benefits a year, and doubtless decided--quite rationally, under the circumstances--that the money would go further, and that life would thus be more agreeable, in Goa than in her native Devon.

Reaching Goa, MacKeown soon decided to travel with seven of her children to Kerala, leaving behind one of them, 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling, to live with a tour guide ten years her elder, whom the mother had known for only a short time. Scarlett reportedly claimed to have had sex with this man only because she needed a roof over her head. According to a witness, she was constantly on drugs; and one night, she went to a bar where she drank a lot and took several different illicit drugs, including LSD, cocaine, and pot. She was seen leaving the bar late, almost certainly intoxicated.

The next morning, her body turned up on a beach. At first, the local police maintained that she had drowned while high, but further examination proved that someone had raped and then forcibly drowned her. So far, three people have been arrested in the investigation, which is continuing.

About a month later, Scarlett's mother, interviewed by the liberal Sunday newspaper the Observer, expressed surprise at the level of public vituperation aimed at her and her lifestyle in the aftermath of the murder. She agreed that she and her children lived on welfare, but "not by conscious choice," and she couldn't see anything wrong with her actions in India apart from a certain naivety in trusting the man in whose care she had left her daughter. Scarlett was always an independent girl, and if she, the mother, could turn the clock back, she would behave exactly the same way again.

It is not surprising that someone in Fiona MacKeown's position would deny negligence; to acknowledge it would be too painful. But--and this is what is truly disturbing--when the newspaper asked four supposed child-rearing experts for their opinions, only one saw anything wrong with the mother's behavior, and even she offered only muted criticism. It was always difficult to know how much independence to grant an adolescent, the expert said; but in her view, the mother had granted too much too quickly to Scarlett.

Even that seemed excessively harsh to the Observer's Barbara Ellen. We should not criticize the mother's way of life, she wrote, since it had nothing to do with her daughter's death: "Scarlett died for the simple fact that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, as well as being blitzed with drugs, late at night, in a foreign country." On this view, being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people is a raw fact of nature, not the result of human agency, decision, education, or taste. It could happen to anybody, and it just happened to happen to Scarlett. As for drugs, they emerge from the ether and blitz people completely at random. It all seems very unfair. A columnist for the left-wing Guardian took a similarly exculpatory line:
Anyone taking even a fleeting glance at recent news will have picked up a crucial message: women with children by more than one partner are apparently hussies, who deserve everything they get. The opprobrium . . . served up to Fiona MacKeown, mother of murdered 15-year-old, Scarlett Keeling . . . has been hideous to behold. The spitting criticism is particularly interesting when you compare it to attitudes to men in the public eye. Rod Stewart (seven children by five women), Jack Nicholson (five children by four women), and Mick Jagger (seven children by four women) are painted as great, swinging studs. Anyone else smell a vile double standard?

No one criticizes Rod Stewart, Jack Nicholson, or Mick Jagger for how they behave; therefore, apparently, there was nothing wrong with how Fiona MacKeown behaved.

It is worth remembering that the Observer and the Guardian are not the publications of a lunatic fringe but the preferred newspapers of the British intelligentsia, of those who work in the educational and social services, and of broadcasting elites (the BBC advertises vacancies almost exclusively in the Guardian). Not every person who reads these newspapers agrees with everything written in them--and both, commendably, offer a little space to writers whose worldview differs from their own--but the general moral tone must be one with which most readers agree. In other words, it is likely that a large part of the educated elite sees nothing wrong, or at least affects to see nothing wrong, with MacKeown's conduct.

This nonjudgmentalism surely helps explain why British youth are among the Western world's leaders in such indicators of social pathology as teenage pregnancy, violence, criminality, underage drinking, and consumption of illicit drugs. Britain has the third-highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the industrialized world, according to the UNICEF report (only the United States and New Zealand are higher)--a startling case recently made headlines of 16-, 14-, and 12-year-old sisters, all of whom gave birth within a year of one another. British children have the earliest and highest consumption of cocaine of any young people in Europe, are ten times more likely to sniff solvents than are Greek children, and are six to seven times more likely to smoke pot than are Swedish children. Almost a third of British young people aged 11, 13, and 15 say they have been drunk at least twice.

What explains the nonjudgmental attitude among elites? The reluctance to criticize Fiona MacKeown might be an expression of sympathy for someone in the throes of grief: however foolishly (or worse) she behaved, she certainly did not deserve the murder of her daughter. Furthermore, the Guardian and Observer journalists might argue, we do not know enough about the details of her life to criticize her fairly. Perhaps she is a good mother in most respects; perhaps her children, apart from the drug addict and the murdered Scarlett, are happy, and will lead lives of fulfillment and achievement. After all, no style of upbringing guarantees success or, for that matter, failure; and therefore we should suspend judgment about her.

I suspect, however, that the main consideration inhibiting elite criticism of MacKeown is that passing judgment would call into question the shibboleths of liberal social policy for the last 50 or 60 years--beliefs that give their proponents a strong sense of moral superiority. It would be to entertain the heretical thought that family structure might matter after all, along with such qualities as self-restraint and self-respect; and that welfare dependency is unjust to those who pay for it and disastrous for those who wind up trapped in it.

One day after Scarlett Keeling's murder, a nine-year-old girl, Shannon Matthews, went missing from her home in Dewsbury, in northern England. Twenty-four days later, after an extensive police search, she was found alive, locked in a drawer under a bed in her stepfather's uncle's house. Police soon arrested the stepfather, 22-year-old Craig Meehan, for possession of 140 pornographic pictures of children, and charged the uncle, Michael Donovan, with kidnapping. Shannon's mother, Karen Matthews, 32, was also arrested, for child cruelty, neglect, and obstructing the police by lying during the search for her daughter.

Karen Matthews, who received welfare payments of $40,000 a year, had borne seven children to five different men. She called two of her children with the same father "the twins," thus transferring the meaning of "twin" from the relatively unusual biological occurrence of double birth to what she clearly thought the equally unusual social circumstance of full siblinghood. Three of her children lived with their fathers, and four lived with her and Meehan, whom Shannon reportedly regarded as her father. Shannon's true father--one Leon Rose, who has since "moved on" to live with another "partner"--apparently was happy to find himself usurped by the young Meehan; but Karen Matthews's brother reported that Shannon often spoke of Meehan's violence to her and of her deep unhappiness at home.

The reasons for Shannon's abduction have not yet emerged, but again the Guardian managed to distract the reader's attention from less than optimal family arrangements. Instead, it ran an upbeat story on the housing project where the Matthews family lived; that way, the obvious could be ignored rather than denied. The Sun, a tabloid newspaper whose readership is virtually entirely working-class, had described the project as "like Beirut--only worse." But the Guardian, whose readership is largely middle-class and employed in the public sector, drew attention to the improvements that had taken place in the project, thanks to the local council's having spent $8 million on it over the last three years--supplying traffic bollards shaped like penguins, for example. Before the improvements, one resident said, "We'd houses burgled, sheds burned, caravans blown up." Now, only one house in 90 is robbed per year; and, thanks to the penguins, joy-riding by youths ! in stolen cars is presumably much reduced. The implication is clear: with more public spending of this kind everywhere in the country, administered by Guardian readers and their peers, everything will be all right. It won't matter in the slightest if children either have no fathers, or different fathers every few years.

One might dismiss the stories of Scarlett Keeling and Shannon Matthews as the kind of horrific things that can take place in any society from time to time. But I think that they are the tip of an iceberg. As the liberal newspapers' response shows, the problem with British childhood is by no means confined to the underclass. Our society has lost the most elementary common sense about what children need.

More than four out of ten British children are born out of wedlock; the unions of which they are the issue are notoriously unstable. Even marriage has lost much of its meaning. In a post-religious society, it is no longer a sacrament. The government has ensured that marriage brings no fiscal advantages and, indeed, for those at the lower end of the social scale, that it has only disadvantages. Easy divorce means that a quarter of all marriages break up within a decade.

The results of this social dysfunction are grim for children. Eighty percent of British children have televisions in their bedrooms, more than have their biological fathers at home. Fifty-eight percent of British children eat their evening meal in front of the television (a British child spends more than five hours per day watching a screen); 36 percent never eat any meals together with other family members; and 34 percent of households do not even own dining tables. In the prison where I once worked, I discovered that many inmates had never eaten at a table together with someone else.

Let me speculate briefly on the implications of these startling facts. They mean that children never learn, from a sense of social obligation, to eat when not hungry, or not to eat when they are. Appetite is all they need consult in deciding whether to eat--a purely egotistical outlook. Hence anything that interferes with the satisfaction of appetite will seem oppressive. They do not learn such elementary social practices as sharing or letting others go first. Since mealtimes are usually when families get to converse, the children do not learn the art of conversation, either; listening to what others say becomes a challenge. There is a time and place for everything: if I feel like it, the time is now, and the place is here.

If children are not taught self-control, they do not learn it. Violence against teachers is increasing: injuries suffered by teachers at the hands of pupils rose 20 percent between 2000 and 2006, and in one survey, which may or may not be representative, 53 percent of teachers had objects thrown at them, 26 percent had been attacked with furniture or equipment, 2 percent had been threatened with a knife, and 1 percent with a gun. Nearly 40 percent of teachers have taken time off to recover from violent incidents at students' hands. About a quarter of British teachers have been assaulted by their students over the last year.

The British, never fond of children, have lost all knowledge or intuition about how to raise them; as a consequence, they now fear them, perhaps the most terrible augury possible for a society. The signs of this fear are unmistakable on the faces of the elderly in public places. An involuntary look of distaste, even barely controlled terror, crosses their faces if a group of young teens approaches; then they try to look as if they are not really there, hoping to avoid trouble. And the children themselves are afraid. The police say that many children as young as eight are carrying knives for protection. Violent attacks by the young between ten and 17, usually on other children, have risen by 35 percent in the last four years.

The police, assuming that badly behaved children will become future criminals, have established probably the largest database of DNA profiles in the world: 1.1 million samples from children aged ten to 18, taken over the last decade, and at an accelerating rate (some law enforcement officials have advocated that every child should have a DNA profile on record). Since the criminal-justice system reacts to the commission of serious crimes hardly at all, however, British youth do not object to the gathering of the samples: they know that they largely act with impunity, profiles or no profiles.

The British may have always inclined toward harshness or neglect (or both) in dealing with children; but never before have they combined such attitudes with an undiscriminating material indulgence. My patients would sometimes ask me how it was that their children had turned out so bad when they had done everything for them. When I asked them what they meant by "everything," it invariably meant the latest televisions in their bedrooms or the latest fashionable footwear--to which modern British youth attaches far more importance than Imelda Marcos ever did.

Needless to say, the British state's response to the situation that it has in part created is simultaneously authoritarian and counterproductive. The government pretends, for example, that the problem of child welfare is one of raw poverty. Britain does have the highest rate of child poverty, bar the United States, in the West, as defined (as it usually is) by the percentage of children living in households with an income of less than 50 percent of the median. (Whether this is a sensible definition of poverty is a subject rarely broached.) But after many years of various redistributive measures and billions spent to reduce it, child poverty is, if anything, more widespread.

The British government thus pursues social welfare policies that encourage the creation of households like the Matthews', and then seeks, via yet more welfare spending, to reduce the harm done to children in them. But was the Matthews household poor, in any but an artificial sense? At the time of Shannon's current stepfather's arrest, the household income was $72,000; it lived free of rent and local taxes, and it boasted three computers and a large plasma-screen television. Would another $5,000 or $10,000 or $20,000 have made any difference?

A system of perverse incentives in a culture of undiscriminating materialism, where the main freedom is freedom from legal, financial, ethical, or social consequences, makes childhood in Britain a torment both for many of those who live it and those who observe it. Yet the British government will do anything but address the problem, or that part of the problem that is its duty to address: the state-encouraged breakdown of the family. If one were a Marxist, one might see in this refusal the self-interest of the state-employee class: social problems, after all, are their raison d'etre.


No comments: