Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4: Lord love a duck.....

....Norbert's read another book. Two, actually. And once again, they are books that have revealed the secrets of the ages to him and they foretell the future; and so Norbert has come down like Moses from the mount to enlighten us simple people.

Well, maybe not like Moses. It might be truer to say that Norbert is one of those people whose faces, like cushions, always bear the imprint of the last person who sat on them.

Some months ago, I remember he read a book on the environment, and told how serious the environmental issue is. Now, he's read a book that says evironmentalists are just poorly informed. There is no problem. Scientists will do -----something. Nothing to worry about.

Energy problem? No sweat. We just put solar panels all over the Sahara desert. problem solved.

Norbert, did it occur to you that solar panels on the desert will not stop ocean warming or ice cap melting - both of which present pretty serious problems? Nor is it clear to me how the solar panels will help with climate change - except in helping camels get out of the rain as climate changes over the Sahara.

It's silly, says Norbert,  to waste time looking for world cooperation on climate change. Well, some measure of cooperation is the only way. And it's not made easier when people like Harper not only refuse to do anything, but even actively make things worse. And it's not made easier when retired editors insist on writing columns on subjects they know nothing about based on books they don't know how to read.

That's right. They don't know how to read.

Not long ago, he reported on a book by a Stephen Pinker who said that violence in the world is at its lowest level in history.Norbert announced this was a wonderful book.

Now, Stephen Pinker is a psychologist. That makes  him an expert on the history of the whole world?
Where would he even get the statistics? They don't exist for history. They don't even exist for the present day. How many Vietnamese were killed in their war with the US? I can find guesses all the way from 2 and an half million to 6 million, and even 9 million.  And Iraq? The "official" figures range from 120,000 to almost two million.

What's the murder rate n Africa?  You can't even find guesses on that. And when western pharmaceutical companies insist that all aids medication sent to Africa must be paid for at inflated brand name prices and when that insistence on their profits causes a shortage of drugs that means millions die needlessly every year, does that count as violence?

Nor would it matter if violence in the world came to a screeching stop. Unlike the ancient world, we have chemcial weapons and nuclear stockpiles that have to be used only once.

Y'see, Norbert, editors, even retired ones, are not experts on everything, and they have very little ability to judge books. That's why good newspapers have book review sections, with reviews written by experts in the field. Can you get free copies of The Globe at your office? The New York Times? The Literary Review of Canada? They're all pretty good.

If you had checked the latter, for example, you would have learned there are many questions to be asked about Pinker's history. You would also have learned he as a reputation for being a sensationalist - that is, to make himself famous for being famous. The academic world is full of such people.

If he had taken the trouble to find out something about Michio Kaku, he would have learned that Michio Kaku is pretty smart - smart enough so that he does DOES not attempt to tell the future and say that everthing is going to be fine and environmentalists don't know what they're talking about.

First, he is smart enough to know that nobody can tell the future. Secondly, he has often and publicly said scientists commonly make disastrous use of their training, and have created enormous problems for our survival.

Editors are encouraged to believe they have a right not only to express opinions, but to hand those opinions down as judgements. Read any editorial for examples. If Norbert were to tell us that he has read an interesting book, that would be fine. He would tell us what's in it, and might add that it's worth reading it or thinking about it. That's it. That's the limit of Norbert's ability.

But Norbert has the terminal disease of every editor I have ever met. They all think they're qualified to pronounce judgement on every topic under the sun. Elderly drunks have the same problem.

When you are going to read a book, check first to see what the reviews say. (They can be misleading, too. But they are at least some evidence that you should think about while reading the book.) Check the author on Google. If Norbert had done that, he would have learned that Kuku has a much wider range of opinion than Norbert got from that one book.

And when you have done all that, remember - you still don't have The Truth. You have an opinion - sometimes intelligent, sometimes not. But, in either caase, just an opinion no matter how brilliant the human who wrote it might be.

There's a book that's a best-seller, written by distinguished authors. and very well reviewed by experts. But I still don't buy its opening chapter about how the universe was created in six days, and how Adam got sexually arounsed by eating an apple. I don't know how many bushels of apples I've fed to women. It doesn't work.

Remember that next time you read a book, Norbert.

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