Friday, December 30, 2011

The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction / P.M. Forni -- N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 2011

A number of books have been published recently that warn of possible damaging effects of the internet and other digital communication technologies. Among them are Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget, Nicholas Carr's The Shallows, and John Miedema's Slow Reading. Lanier warns that social media are turning us into willing tools of database developers, coarsening our personalities, and diverting us from exploring the rich, multi-dimensional and nuanced life of the real world of people and tangible things. Nicholas Carr warns that the internet is a massive distraction machine that is shortening our attention spans and possibly changing the structure of our brains making us less able to engage in deep thought. Medeima exhalts the pleasures of combating these tendencies through the practice of reading extended, artfully written texts, slowly and deliberately.

P.M. Forni's new book The Thinking Life fits into this new and developing genera. It is less analytical and more practical than the others. While a good, practical guide would be of value, Forni's book too often lapses into the realm of the trite self-help book, making it of limited use to any reasonably thoughtful adult, i.e., someone thoughtful enough to read a book about thinking. It might, however, offer valuable lessons to an adolescent who over-values the ready information and profusion of content available on the internet.

In the early chapters, Forni describes two elements that are essential to serious thought: time and attention. He rightly observes that both are threatened by our contemporary fixation on the inconsequential trivia that is communicated via the internet and cell phone communication. He then describes two important forms of thought: reflection and introspection, the bane of which is distraction.

Following these chapters, the work begins to read more like an extended monologue in Hamlet by Polonius to his son Laertes. The advice Forni offers is largely commonplace and uncontroversial: how to be a good student, employee, or manager. There are, however, usually valuable kernels embedded within the advice. For example, Forni rightly observes (quoting the Buddha) that "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world." However, his elaboration of this truth becomes little more than a rehash of the power of positive thinking. Elsewhere, he rightly recognizes the importance of cultivating self-control. This is followed by his trademark bulleted list of recommendations. The work becomes of a piece with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends and Influence People, both of which he cites favorably.

The superficiality of the work cannot, however, vitiate its core idea: deep, serious thought has significant benefits: it is intrinsically pleasurable, conducive to good decision making, and essential to a truly happy life in the Aristotelian sense. Furthermore, our ability to engage in deep, serious thought is being challenged by the explosion of the seductive, on line trivia that increasingly intrudes on our time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy / Bryan W. Van Norden -- Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2011

In the preface to Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy Bryan Van Norden warns his more scholarly readers that he has "greatly simplified many aspects of both Chinese and Western history and culture." His reason for doing so is to avoid overwhelming the beginner with too many nuances and controversies. It is noteworthy that while his work is an introduction to Chinese philosophy, he makes frequent mention of Western philosophical ideas. His hope is to both inspire a more in depth study of Chinese philosophy, while also prompting readers to study Western philosophy. As such, his book will make an excellent text for any introductory Western philosophy course that hopes to take a multi-cultural perspective.

The time period that Norden explores runs from the sixth century B.C.E. to through the third century B.C.E., though a final chapter races through the remainder of the history of Chinese philosophy. Figures given the most attention are Kongzi (Confucius), Mengzi (Mencius), Mozi, Yang Zhu, Laozi (Lao Tzu), Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and Han Feizi. The central ideas that are used to distinguish these figures are their theories about ethics, e.g., cultivating virtues, promoting beneficial consequences, or promoting one's own well being, the nature and value of rites, the foundations of a good society, and human nature.

The work also contains three appendices on how to read a text, particularly a philosophical text, an explanation of the Chinese language and writing, and three alternate readings of Kongzi's philosophy. Each are not without value, but with the exception of the third appendix, they add little to the work. The alternate readings of Kongzi comprise only six and a half pages and as such, might well have been easily incorporated into the main text.

More valuable appendices might have included annotated philosophical and political time lines and a glossary of terms. Norden appears to have consciously decided to avoid using Chinese terminology, probably in an effort to keep the text accessible for beginners, but introducing students to the terms and characters actually used by the philosophers in question would not only make the appendices more valuable, they would be a clear reminder to Westerners that, as much as possible, one needs to place one's preconceptions in abeyance when trying to understand Chinese philosophy. One can only begin to understand it after becoming familiar with a great deal of the history, culture, and intellectual heritage of China.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth about the "Real" America / Dante Chinni and James Gimpel -- N.Y.: Gotham Books, 2010

During the past ten or twelve years, political pundits often have repeated that the U.S. is "deeply divided" between "red" and "blue" states. It is, of course, an easy and dramatic shorthand that belies the real state of our society. I suspect that most of those same pundits would recognize this, but few people have offered any alternative description of the natural breaks in the body politic, except perhaps to describe congressional districts or counties as "red" or "blue." While offering a more fine grained analysis of the red-blue divide, these descriptions still fall prey to the deficiency of the basic distinction: geographic regions in the U.S. are categorized merely on the outcomes of a two-party, plurality-take-all electoral system. This system ignores nonvoters and voters who vote for losing candidates; furthermore, it lumps heterogeneous local voting coalitions into two heterogeneous national coalitions. Indeed, most often the only fact revealed by the distinction on a national scale is which party won a majority of electoral college votes.

In Our Patchwork Nation, journalist Dante Chinni and political scientist James Gimpel provide a more nuanced portrait of the country. Chinni and Gimpel analysed data for each of the 3,141 counties that make up the country and postulate that the country can be understood to be composed of twelve distinct kinds of communities, calling them boom towns, campus and careers, emptying nests, evangelical epicenters, immigration nation, industrial metropolis, military bastions, minority central, monied burbs, Morman outposts, service worker centers, and tractor country.

Some of these communities fit squarely into "red America" or "blue America," but others are up for grabs and it isn't always clear why this is. In some instances, the economic interests of the community and/or its dominant social values are directly supported by one or another party, but in other instances, the population of the community is not so homogeneous as to place it squarely in the Democratic or Republican column. For example, the hallmark of minority central is a large African American (or Native American) population; however, in most of these counties European Americans still make up a majority of the population. Moreover, any particular county can and will fit more or less well into one or more community categories, sometimes making it difficult to know what the dominant political motive is for that community on election day.

Dividing the country into twelve categories is, no doubt, an improvement over the simple red-blue distinction, but whether Chinni and Gimpel's twelve categories are a good reflection of the population is questionable. Their method for creating these categories is revealed in the book's appendix. The authors collected a large body of data describing specific "socioeconomic and religious indicators" applicable to every U.S. county. By comparing them, the authors discovered common intersections among the indicators that allowed them to reduce these indicators to an underlying structure of twelve "basic factors." These factors defined the twelve communities. Each county could then be scored for how well it embodied each of the twelve basic factors and histograms were created to show which counties scored highest in those twelve factors. Finally, the authors sorted the counties based upon which basic factor a county most embodied. Some counties scored similarly high on more than one basic factor. In those cases, the authors made judgement calls to complete the sorting.

The results of their work is not particularly surprising, if one has a general understanding of the human geography of the country. Mormons live in Utah, the Great Plains are sparsely populated and dominated by agribusiness, major cities are diverse and densely populated, there are large populations of African Americans in the South living very close to European American who are Evangelical Christians, many people retire to Florida, etc. To get a deeper understanding of these communities, one needs to expose their less dominant characteristics and understand how they qualify the dominant character. Unfortunately Our Patchwork Nation does not do this. Presumably because it is meant for a popular audience, the appendix does not give detailed descriptions of the actual data used in sorting the communities.

The validity of the twelve-fold division is said to have been tested against additional data sets, but it's hard to know how valid it really is. The mere fact that the total population of Mormon outposts is less than two million people makes one wonder if this is worthy of a category at all or if it should be folded into evangelical epicenters or divided among the other eleven communities. The answer depends on one's views about comparative religion. Emptying nests poses a different problem: are the Florida retirees sufficiently like the retirees who remain in the Upper Midwest to consider them part of the same community? It is an open question as to how the various socioeconomic and religious indicators should be weighted in determining the basic factors. If one's economic condition is weighted heavily and one's age is weighted less heavily, the retirees in Florida would make up a separate group from those in the Upper Midwest. Chinni and Gimpel give no indication as to how they choose to weight their indicators.

As vexing as these problems are, Our Patchwork Nation invites the reader to consider the variegated character of our nation and its communities. One conclusion that easily might be drawn from this is that our two-party system cannot possibly be sufficient to represent the interests of such varied communities and their numerous shadings. A more adequate political system would allow these communities (or more precisely, voters) to gather together in numerous politic parties that could express clearly the voter's primary interests and not be subsumed (and often lost) within a heterogeneous big-tent party. Our "patchwork nation," no matter how you slice it, cries out for a multi-party democracy in which our legislatures represent us proportionally. Were we to adopt such a system, many political question that are currently held hostage to our two party gridlock could be separated from the bi-polar power struggle and resolved to the satisfaction of an issue-specific majority.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate / George Lakoff -- White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green, 2004

In 1996, linguist George Lakoff published Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think in which he presented his theory that American politics is driven by two models of the family: the Strict Father Model and the Nurturing Parent Model. These models serve as frames for how conservatives and liberals respectively think, not just about family life, but also politics and other spheres of life. Lakoff argues that conservatives have implicitly recognized that emphasizing the values inherent in the Strict Father Model reinforces voters' tendency to employ these values when thinking about politics. After following this strategy for four decades, conservatives have established in the electorate a way of thinking about politics that prevents voters from accepting (and sometimes even understanding) the policies advanced by liberals.

Following the election of George W. Bush in 2000, a number of liberal activists began taking Lakoff seriously, helping him travel the country to talk about "framing" issues inside a liberal value system. By 2004, Lakoff published Don't Think of an Elephant to serve as "short and informal...practical guide both for citizen activists and for anyone with a serious interest in politics." Lakeoff hoped to equip liberals with an understanding of how to change the way in which political discourse is framed and thereby create a resurgent progressive movement. His book quickly showed up on best seller lists around the country.

On the surface, the basic thesis seems interesting and perhaps reasonable. Furthermore, Lakoff's ability to connect the values he identifies in the two family models to politics and public policy issues deepens his thesis. The values residing in the two family models have strong affinity to values that can be identified in various policy positions and they seem to bring together exactly those issues that constitute the constellations of conservative and liberal views. Finally, it is quite reasonable to think that our upbringing is central to our way of thinking and that specific values about families -- learned at an early age -- will play a dominant role in our thinking. No doubt there is very much to Lakoff's thesis; however, closer examination indicates that he is likely overstating the causative role that the family model plays in determining how Americans vote.

Lakoff's thesis could be tested were we able to replace our two-party system with a multi-party democracy. Currently, our political system nearly ensures that voters will only have two choices on the ballot, particularly because which ever candidate wins a plurality usually is elected to office. Moreover, restrictive ballot access laws frequently prevent independents and third parties from appearing on the ballot at all. This makes voting for anyone but a member of one of two major parties seem fruitless. Under these circumstances, voters, motivated by very different values and ideologies, are forced to join into a heterogeneous coalition to elect the candidate they find least objectionable. If there were more candidates on the ballot and if we had proportional representation in our legislatures, then these forced coalitions would quickly break up and the real factors motivating various voters would be more apparent.

Lakoff does not test his theory with this thought experiment. Instead, he looks at the two political coalitions and constructs a theory that best connects their various ideological elements and then declares that his theory explains the driving force behind the coalitions. It is more likely that the values making up the two family models are a rhetorical intersection views -- a least common denominator that appeals to a large percentage of the disparate members of the conservative or liberal coalitions. Without the need to motivate the disparate elements of the coalitions, these values would not stand out and many of them would be disregarded, if not openly attacked, by the various partners in the coalition as they go their separate ways.

Perhaps the most significant divide within the Republican Party is, of course, between social conservatives and libertarians. The idea that their views grow out of the same set of values is almost preposterous. Within the Democratic Party, the labor elements and the environmentalist elements would hardly seem to be natural partners, except that they both oppose capitalist drive to make large profits for shareholders at the expense of all else. It is much easier to explain the motives of the elements in the two major political coalitions by appealing to more obvious interests that they do not share.

To be fair, the foregoing criticism perhaps assumes that Lakoff's thesis is more ambitious than it is. A more charitable reading of his thesis is not that the values of the two model families explain the current political coalitions, but that given the legal framework ensuring two parties, appealing to values of the model families are the most effective way of mobilizing the coalitions. Certainly Lakoff has recognized a powerful rhetorical tool used by the Republican coalition. The values described in Strict Father Model of the family clearly resonate across many segments of the political right and Lakoff explicitly is calling on liberals to employ similar countervailing tactics. The "guidebook" features of Lakoff's work show striking similarities to memos by Republican framing strategist Frank Luntz.

The material in Don't Think of an Elephant appears in a more expanded form on the Web site of Lakoff's think tank, the Rockridge Institute; however, while still maintaining the Web site, Rockridge has folded for lack of funding. This is very telling. Lakoff's argues that framing issues in a progressive way is essential to a liberal renaissance in politics and while he recognizes the advantage that rich funding sources give to conservatives, he doesn't seem to acknowledge their overwhelming importance. This, along with is failure to recognize the true motivating forces behind the conservative and liberal agendas shows that his perspective on politics is overly ideological. A more accurate analysis will explore the material and economic forces at work in American politics.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America / Thomas Frank -- N.Y.: Henry Holt, 2004

It's been seven years since Thomas Frank published What's the Matter with Kansas?, so the media frenzy -- if you can call it that -- is over, but the basic political relations described in the book remain; indeed, they may have become more pronounced. Frank provides us with a careful examination of conservative politics in Kansas and he suggests that it reflects -- in an exaggerated way -- conservative politics throughout the U.S. Roughly stated, Frank's thesis is that the working class population of Kansas has become hopelessly distracted by hot button social issues and have been fooled into voting for politicians who are undermining their economic interests. The thesis is not without merit; however, Frank's working class Kansans may not be so unaware as he suggests.

What's the Matter with Kansas describes the peculiarities of the state's politics starting from its founding in the 1850s up through the progressive era, but only as background for a description of how it changed from the 1970s to the present. According to Frank the critical juncture was in the early 1990s, when the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) took over the national Democratic Party. The DLC abandoned any pretense of acting on behalf of the working class and openly sought support from business. At the same time, conservatives pundits began a relentless attack on liberals through print and radio broadcasts, portraying them as effete snobs who hated the working class and sought to destroy everything that is good about America. Furthermore, capitalizing on a population already disposed in favor of the pro-life movement, Operation Rescue selected Wichita as the epicenter of its protests against legal abortions. Operation Rescue mounted an extremely effective grassroots organizing campaign in Wichita and through out the state. All of this sparked a massive wave of political activity inside the Kansas Republican party, sweeping out the more moderate business class Republicans and installing a new generation of conservative Republicans in political posts from Senator on down to the lowest Republican party offices.

The political struggle, however, was not really between conservative Republicans and Democrats, but between conservative Republicans (the "Cons") and more moderate republics (the "Mods"). Frank describes at length the hostility that the Cons had toward the Mods, but is amazed by the Cons' inability to recognize that the policies that they were endorsing increased the economic strength of the Mods and were economically disastrous for the Cons. Frank's amazement is the weakest element of his analysis. While he makes occasional gestures toward explaining the Cons' disregard for their economic situation, he more often simply finds the Cons' behavior foolish and irrational. Despite growing up in Kansas, Frank seems unable to genuinely think about politics from within the world view of the Cons. This may be due to his own upbringing in a Mod suburb of Kansas City or simply to his inability to think sympathetically about with the people he is describing. He makes very little effort to consider the Cons as rational people acting on principles that he does not share.

Republican doctrine has long opposed taxes and regulation. They are seen as alien impositions on the main business of America which is, of course, business. Taxes and regulations are merely ways by which the productive elements of society are made to support and defend the politically powerful, but unproductive, elements. If one sees the main activity of life as making a living within the constraints of a system of fair rules, then such a point of view is reasonable. Surely, many if not most working class people in Kansas find making a living an all consuming activity, this is particularly true of people who are self-employed or sell their labor job to job. For them, taxes (no matter how progressive) are an obstacle to getting ahead and regulations limit the kind of economic activity that they find necessary to remain employed or in business.

In addition to this, the ideology of individualism and fair play trump any appeal that government assistance for the disadvantaged might hold. Material well-being may certainly be an important value for the conservative working class, but if earning what you acquire is a greater value, then taxation, regulation, and social programs are likely to be seen as undermining that more important value. What may be missing in this analysis is the importance of equal opportunity and in the case of Kansas working class, they may feel that the degree of inequality of opportunity is not so great as to justify liberal programs like affirmative action, housing assistance, and food stamps.

There is quite a lot in What's the Matter with Kansas that deserves careful attention, but working class Kansans deserve a more sympathetic and deeper analysis of their behavior.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Conservative Thought / Karl Mannheim in From Karl Mannheim -- London: Transaction Publishers, 1993

Political labels get thrown around as though they mean something, but when pressed, it's not particularly easy to say what it means to be "liberal" or "conservative." Add to that "neoliberal," "neoconservative," "progressive," "socialist," "libertarian, "communist," "green," "leftist," "right-winger," and any number of other labels, and defining any of them seems pointless. Still, the political landscape is not without some noticeable groupings. In 1925, the sociologist Karl Mannheim published an essay entitled, "Conservative Thought" in which he argued that political groupings of this sort can be distinguished by specific "styles of thought" (though a style of thought will not be limited to politics). Styles of thought characterize more than just the subjective thinking of individuals. At the same time, they are not entirely objective. Individuals participate in a style of thought which will survive their coming and going, but it does not exist apart from the individuals.

To illustrate this theory, he examines conservatism during the first half of the 19th century in Germany. As he believes that styles of thought are highly nuanced, it is necessary to limit his claims to a small temporal and geographic range; however, he acknowledges that some similarities exist between temporally and spatially related populations. It may be more accurate to say that similarities exist between styles of thought in population that are in significant communication with each other or descend from the same ancestal style of thought.

In general, early 19th century German conservativism was a reaction to enlightenment rationalism, the central elements of which were constructed deductively from logical principles and embraced a theory of natural law in moral and political philosophy. This theory included the doctrine of popular sovereignty, the inalienable rights of man expressed in terms of negative freedom, and the justification of the state based on a social contract emerging from the state of nature. Enlightenment rationalism extolled constitutions and contracts and was prevalent among the new capitalist bourgeoisie and to some extent the proletariat. Above all, the enlightenment saw existing social arrangements as defective -- to be rectified by bringing about more just arrangements. This required enlightenment thinkers to step away from what is actual and image abstract, non-existing states of society that would be preferable to the present.

In contrast, German conservativism was firmly rooted in the actual world and saw the present as a culmination and continuation of the past which evolved as it did for good reason. Any change would need to be gradual. Conservativism employed a number of ideas or methods that are found in Hegel: dialectical, historicist logic; property, not as an alienable commodity, but as necessarily bound to its owner; and a positive concept of freedom. Persons where essentially unequal and their liberty was vested in their estate, not in themselves as individuals. In many respects, German conservativism romanticized medieval relations and employed the writers of the romantic movement to articulate their style of thinking.

Mannheim's effort to capture the essence of a socio-political movement in its style of thought is quite valuable. It goes beyond thinking of the social group as a collection of people adhering to a set of public policy positions, and provides some understanding of why those policy positions hang together. However, any effort to distill a complex socio-political phenomenon into a crisp, coherent theory is surely going to miss much of what is really happening in the world. Anomalies and counter-examples are sure to be readily found, but insofar as they can be incorporated into the social theory, one can conclude that a consistent socio-political current has been discovered at a specific time and place. Without knowing more about the place, period, and people that Mannheim studies, it is difficult to know how accurately he has captured the essentials of 19th century German conservatives, but no doubt he is not completely off the mark, and from my perspective, quite close to the mark.

Only a little of Mannheim's picture of 19th century German conservativism has survived to to become contemporary conservativism in Germany and elsewhere. Today, ethnic, religious, educational, and linguistic diversity, along with gender and sexual orientation differences complicate any analysis based on the early 19th century style of thought. One also wonders if Mannheim's analysis sufficiently includes class interests in understanding socio-political groupings. In many respects, contemporary conservativism is a descendant of the bourgeois capitalism of the enlightenment and only opportunistically inherits some of the attachment to the past that the older form of conservativism manifested. This suggests that was really motivates the style of thought that is conservativism, is a commitment to the interests of the dominant class, just as the 19th century's conservativism was a motivated by a commitment to the fading dominant class of the 18th century.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Slow Reading / John Miedema -- Duluth, Minn.: Litwin Books, 2009

In 1986 Carlo Petrini formed an organization in Rome called "Slow Food" in reaction to the opening of a MacDonald's restaurant. He hoped to promote the pleasures that come from the consumption of fresh, locally grown food, produced from sustainable farming practices. His organization quickly turned into a world-wide movement as there were people everywhere who were fed up with the food-like products being churned out by multinational agribusiness companies and served up as "convenience foods." These foods are lacking in both nutrition and flavor, unless, of course, you include such flavorings as sugar, salt, and oil. The toll these food-like products are taking on our health and well being is incalculable. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments of over consumption plague us as never before.

John Miedema's book Slow Reading transfers the sentiment behind the slow food movement to our reading practices. The parallels are striking. One merely needs to substitute digital technology and the computer industry for agribusiness and one can see that the rush to make money from our consumption of information is doing to our mental lives what junk food is doing to our bodies; and just as the slow food movement seeks to recover the benefits of pre-industrial food production, a potential slow reading movement might recover the benefits of our pre-internet reading habits.

Many of Miedema's observations about reading digital texts versus books are obvious and uncontroversial. Any text that cannot be displayed in a few computer screens is unlikely to be read by anyone. Reading longer texts virtually requires a print copy. Print allows for a degree of concentration and reading comprehension that is nearly unobtainable from electronic texts. This may be due in part to the fact that reading a book involves more of one's body than reading a computer screen. One's hands, arms, and posture are involved in a way that they normally are not when reading a computer screen. Looking directly into the light of a computer screen is far more tiring than reading print on a page.

Then there are the intentional efforts to distract the reader that are built into most Web pages. Advertisement tempt us to abandon our reading and hyperlinks encourage us to follow tangent upon tangent until we lose track of what we originally set out to read. Even electronic texts that take up the full computer screen without hyperlinks are normally embedded in a browser that has scroll bars, "favorites" links, tabs, a clock, date, a search box, and sundry other icons that have nothing to do with the text. All of these distractions are absent from a printed book.

On the other hand, the very disadvantages of a digital text are its advantages. Digital texts are easily searched by computer algorithms and can be connected easily to any number of related texts. They often can be quickly copied and pasted into a new document, enlarged, reduced, tagged, annotated without damage to the original text. The benefits of electronic texts go on and on. Whether the printed text or the electronic text is superior depends on one's needs and intentions, but one important fact stands out: print encourages us to read slowly and carefully, allowing us to find more meaning in the text. That is, we are able to better understand what the author intended by writing the text in the first place. This leads to an important question that Miedema raises about how meaning is related to a text. Do we find meaning or create meaning when reading a text?

Slow Reading offers only sketchy answers to this question, but it does provide an admirable starting point. Finding meaning in a text can be contrasted with creating the meaning of the text, though certainly both are involved in any act of reading. Printed books guide us through the author's train of thought in the order and pace that the author intended. Each paragraph is present in the context of the book as a whole and this context refines and helps to disambiguate the meaning of any individual paragraph. We mostly are finding the meaning in the text. In contrast, an electronic text allow us to create meaning in a way that printed texts do not. This is a function of the ambiguous character of the snippets of electronic texts often displayed without significant context. We are free to draw our own original insight from an author's words, even to reverse the author's meaning completely. We can read the texts in any number of contexts which we create by navigating away from the text to other Web sites that strike us as related to the meaning we are constructing.

These two different reading activities are paradoxically both individual and communitarian. Reading a printed text to understand the author's meaning places the reader in a relatively solitary situation. One is usually reading alone in a room and is directly connected to a single text. At the same time, the print book reader is deeply engaged with a specific contribution by an author who is normally making a contribution to a larger and longer conversation of a community of authors. This links the reader to the larger, longer conversation. Any response the reader might have will be bounded to a great extent by the logic of that conversation. The reader becomes part of the community engaged in the conversation.

In contrast, the reader of an e-text is, of course, more immediately connected to an almost unlimited community of Web authors through sophisticated search tools that browse billions of texts, but the reader of an e-text is not deeply connected to anyone in this community. Search tools encourage the reader pick and choose short passages and construct an entirely new text that is built out of often unrelated or idiosyncratically related texts. The context of what one is reading may be an amalgam of statements in numerous unrelated conversations. The reader is not engaged in discovering the meaning of ideas in a specific on-going conversation within a community. The reader is acting more like a scientific investigator, searching the natural world (or in this case the world of Web texts) for observations that will allow the creation of a novel theory of the reader's own. In an important sense, reading on the Web often involves not engaging with others in a conversation, not listening to the author's full expression of an idea, but listening for what one wants to hear and appropriating the snippet of text for one's own solitary purposes.

Miedema notes numerous advantages that come from "slow," "deep," or "close" reading, including educational and psychological benefits, but Slow Reading is most of all a paean to the pleasures of settling into a comfortable chair and losing oneself in a book. In this age of ubiquitous data smog, that's a very fine thing.

The Politics of Climate Change / Anthony Giddens -- Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 2009

The evidence is now quite clear: the global climate is changing rapidly and the consequences will be dire for vulnerable populations around the world. The younger members of our society may even live to see the complete collapse of civilization if the worst case scenarios pan out. In light of this, it is amazing that the political will to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change is so weak. According to Anthony Giddens, this is because the dangers of climate change remain a "back of the mind" issue, easily displaced by other more immediate concerns. Consequently, in The Politics of Climate Change, Giddens hopes to present a blueprint for creating "a politics of climate change" which will be capable of addressing the dangers we face.

Broadly speaking, Giddens's political programme relies on mobilizing existing social, political, and economic institutions. He is critical of the "Green movement" as exemplified by various Green Parties. Giddens complains that they have adopted an oppositional stance which will merely alienate the leaders of the institutions that need to be brought around to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This criticism makes the reasonable assumption that existing institutions will remain the governing force through the next century and will need to be brought into our efforts to address climate change.

Giddens's dismissal of the Green movement, however, gives too little weight to the view that the Green movement is the only social force that will consistently recognize the full dangers of climate change and keep the issue on the public agenda. This highlights the greatest weakness in The Politics of Climate Change: Giddens's politics of climate change are too divorced from a sociology of climate change which is the contribution that the Green movement makes to the discussion.

Giddens's work is nonetheless an important element in the discussion. Reading his work in conjunction with John Urry's Climate Change and Society and Pat Murphy's Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change provides a more holistic picture of how we might be able to address the dangers of climate change. Oppositional politics and the creation of low carbon alternative communities that model new, more benign institutions, have an important place in the politics of climate change; but Gidden's is correct that these new political and social institutions would do well not to completely alienate existing power structures. Opposition politics must still create ways that existing institutions can participate in the effort to move to a low carbon society.

Giddens's main prescription for building acceptance within existing institutions is to seek "political and economic convergence" between climate change mitigation and adaptation goals and other values held by the existing sources of political power. A prime example of this is energy independence. Giddens recognizes that it behooves the environmentalist movement to emphasize the importance of generating renewable (low carbon) domestic energy, not simple for the purpose of mitigating climate change, but to free the country from dependence of foreign oil. Institutions unconcerned about climate change can then be enlisted in the effort for reasons other than mitigating climate change.

The strongest element of Giddens's work is his treatment of economic strategies for reducing carbon emissions. Beginning with the principle that the polluter should pay for the costs of pollution, he makes a case for implementing a carbon tax. This is, according to Giddens, preferable to a cap and trade system or carbon rationing. These other methods are not without merit, but Giddens finds that cap and trade systems have not really achieved their purpose. A more rigorous system will be required to reduce emissions. Carbon rationing, while more rigorous, is, in Giddens's view, "impractical and unfeasible."

Giddens's attempt to directly address the requirements for creating a political consensus in favor of addressing climate change is most admirable and most of his observations and arguments are weighty and cogent. It is especially important that voices like his, which are firmly within the social and political establishment, be heard. He gives great legitimacy to positions and policies that otherwise would be dismissed as coming from the fringe. At the same time, his call to work with and from within existing institutions needlessly narrows the sphere of action. There will always be a tension between forces for change from within and from without existing institutions, but limiting the political programme to one or the other is not likely to yield the urgent and drastic change that is now required.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet / Mark Lynas -- Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2008

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is composed of three working groups. The second group is responsible for reporting on the impacts of climate change on the natural and human environment. Its most recent report (the fourth assessment report) makes for difficult reading and not simply because of its disturbing predictions. The prose is at best terse, sometimes to the point of being cryptic. Futhermore, while it describes the probable impacts of climate change, it does not clearly identify when these impacts will come about, neither on a temporal scale nor on a thermal scale. Thankfully, Mark Lynas has done an admirable job of partly filling this gap in his book Six Degrees.

The basis of Lynas's book is scholarship done at the Earth Sciences Library at Oxford University. Lynas systematically scoured articles in peer reviewed journals and classified their predictions of impacts according to temperature increases degree by degree. The literature estimates impacts for temperature increases ranging from less than one degree Celsius to five degrees Celsius. Occasionally impacts are discussed for more than five degrees. This provided a convenient structure for Lynas's book: each of his six substantive chapters describes the effects of progressively greater temperature increases. Lynas makes no attempt to predict when these increases might occur as this depends on the public policies we adopt.

Broadly speaking, the impacts of increases up to two degrees Celsius are in the manageable range, though they will certainly be extremely problematic for regions most vulnerable to climate change. Indeed, we have already experienced enough unusual weather events consistent with climate change to say that the impacts of climate change are upon us. The 2003 heat wave that dominated Europe for three months, for example, is estimated to have killed 22,000 to 35,000 people. Lynas describes this event in his "Two Degrees" chapter, suggesting that such heat waves would become common in such a world. It is noteworthy, that reasonable assumptions about our future carbon emissions would make a two or three degree increase likely.

As the temperature rises into the third degree, predictions of cataclysmic consequences become common in the scientific literature. Dangerous feedbacks will begin to play an important role in increasing the Earth's surface temperature. For example, the Amazon and other rain forests are likely to begin burning away, causing a loss of moisture. As the forest floor dries out, it will begin releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gasses locked in the peat and soil. The permanent ice covering Greenland is also likely to begin melting at an accelerated pace. This will raise sea level, of course, but it will also lower the elevation of the ice pack and dump increasing quantities of ice into the surrounding water, thus raising the local temperature in Greenland and accelerating the melting process in another dangerous feedback. Food production will be severely disrupted by flooding and droughts around the world.

By the fourth degree increase, the nightmare truly begins. Both the Ross and Ronne ice shelves of the Antarctic could become unstable. Were one or both to collapse (as did the Wordie, Larsen A, and Larsen B ice shelves) the rate of glacier melt from the Antarctic mainland would increase dramatically leading to a rapid rise in sea level. By the fifth degree increase "an entirely new planet is coming into being....The remaining ice sheets are eventually eliminated from both poles. Rain forests have already burned up and disappeared, rising sea levels have inundated coastal cities and are beginning to penetrate far inland into continental interiors. Humans are herded into shrinking 'zones of habitability' by the twin crises of drought and flood."

As early as the third degree of warming, methane hydrates will begin to be released from the Arctic Ocean floor and from melting permafrost. Methane hydrates are greenhouse gasses that are far more potent than carbon dioxide. By the fifth degree of increase, the quantities of methane hydrates released into the atmosphere are likely to be staggering and will trigger a feedback that might make the planet entirely uninhabitable.

Lynas does not find many predictions in the scientific literature about the consequences of a sixth degree of warming; however, it is recognized as a possibility, particularly if there are enough strong feedbacks to push the planet to an new equilibrium that is far warmer than what we now experience. In Storms of My Grandchildren, NASA climatologist James Hansen raises the possibility of "the Venus Syndrome" in which the greenhouse effect extinguishes all life on Earth. Lynas thinks it is unlikely that the changes to the climate will extinguish human life, but were the planet to reach the high end of the range of warming predictions, such a possibility is not negligible.

The methodology behind Lynas's book is sound and the presentation of his scholarship is illuminating. I doubt that there is a better general summation of the scientific literature as it pertains to the effects of climate change. Six Degrees is a cogent account of the future we likely face. Despite its dispassionate tone, it is a clarion call for action to mitigate the disaster that is likely to unfold during the lifetimes of the younger members of our world.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Scientists / Roy W. Spencer -- N.Y.: Encounter Books, 2010

Lately, I've read several books by authors who deny either the reality, the causes, or the dangers of climate change. I have sought out the most well-respected denial authors to be sure that I have seen the best arguments. They run the gamut from patently false to cleverly specious. Several climate deniers clearly seem intent on disregarding science and promoting confusion in an effort to advance their economic or political goals. It is not clear to me that these are Roy Spencer's motives. He seems quite sincere, if perhaps a little over confident; however, there is circumstantial evidence that his scientific judgement is clouded by other motives. In any case, his scientific research is highly suspect.

In The Great Global Warming Blunder Spencer writes, "I find it difficult to believe that I am the first researcher to figure out what I describe in this book. Either I'm smarter than the rest of the world's climate scientists -- which seems unlikely -- or there are other scientists who also have evidence that global warming could be mostly natural, but have been hiding it." What escapes Spencer is that he simply may be wrong and that the rest of the world's climate scientists understand that he is wrong.

To his credit, Spencer addresses the most important questions for the science of climate change: what temperature feedbacks exist and are they on balance positive or negative? Spencer's answers depend on his assessment of the effects of clouds and cloud formation. It is in "Chapter 5: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Scientists" that he presents his case. While his book is written for a lay audience, Chapter 5 necessarily becomes a bit more technical. It is not, however, by any stretch of the imagination, of the quality of professional peer reviewed science. As such, Spencer fails to make a clear case for his lay audience and provides insufficient detail to withstand scientific scrutiny.

The chapter is of a piece with a number of articles by Spencer which the scientific community has panned. Most recently, Spencer published an article in the journal Remote Sensing which was trumpeted by him, his University, the right-wing blogosphere, and the traditional media. Forbes Magazine wrote that Spencer's data "blow a gaping hole in global warming alarmism." In contrast, Spencer's article was soundly refuted by climate scientists. The certainty of the refutation prompted Wolfgang Wagner, the editor-in-chief of Remote Sensing, to revisit his decision to publish it. Upon review, he determined that it was not of publishable quality and, taking responsibility for his lapse in editorial rigor, Wagner resigned his editorship.

In his resignation announcement, Wagner wrote that there were "fundamental methodological errors" and "false claims" in Spencer's paper, and that "comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extent also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper." He concluded, "I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal." While it is not unusual that scientific papers meet criticism after publication, the resignation of an editor-in-chief is quite unusual. This underscores the weakness of Spencer's research.

There is, however, much in The Great Global Warming Blunder that has little to do with climate science and a lot to do with economics and politics. The views that Spencer presents are familiar: (1) free market economic policies will produce sufficient wealth to deal with whatever future problems climate change might pose and (2) regulation of greenhouse gas emissions will cripple economies and prevent us from alleviating more pressing humanitarian problems. These arguments fail for two reasons.

First, they are predicated on an economic theory that is controversial in the best of times. Since the onset of the 2008 depression, the prospect of economic growth under any economic regime appears doubtful, particularly as the era of cheap energy is over. Employing the world's current wealth to mitigate the effects of global warming may be our first and last chance to escape disaster.

Second, the arguments against addressing global warming now require that the effects of climate change will not be as damaging as the scientists believes. If the widely-reviewed scientific research is correct, then no amount of accumulated wealth will be able to reverse the disastrous feedbacks that are expected from a 3 degree centigrade increase in the world's surface temperature. (For an excellent, well-researched description of the consequences we can expect from rising temperatures, degree by degree, see Mark Lynas's Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.)

Spencer asks us to risk everything on his faith in free markets and his widely criticized research. The real "great global warming blunder" would be if we were to listen to Spencer and delay action to mitigate global warming.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years / S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery -- Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007

Over the past 25 years, nearly all working climate scientists arrived at the conclusion that the Earth is warming and that human activity is largely responsible for it. The method for reaching these conclusions involved amassing a wide range of direct temperature readings, including surface thermometers, weather balloons, satellite measurements, and numerous proxy measures. The proxy measurements included tree ring data and ice core samples. By joining these data with our knowledge of various climate forcing factors (e.g., greenhouse gases, particulate matter from volcanoes, variations in solar radiation, periodic weather cycles), computer models explain not only past temperature changes, but also can make predictions about future temperatures. The most recent IPCC report examined the results from 24 computer models to arrive at their conclusions: again, the Earth is warming and human activity is largely responsible for it.

Just one year following the publication of the IPCC report, S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery published a book directly contradicting these conclusions. They asserted that "the only explanation for modern warming that is supported by physical evidence" is a 1,500 year climate cycle known as the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle. The conclusion they draw from this is that we must concentrate our efforts in adapting to climate change and not trying to mitigate it through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Above all, we must not regulate carbon emissions.

The notion that the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle is primarily responsible for the recent global warming is puzzling; after all, research conducted even before Singer and Avery's assertion indicates that the Dansgaard-Oescher cycle is part of a periodic heat transfer between the southern and northern hemisphere. It is not evidence of or responsible for overall global warming. The Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle is based on an ice core taken from Greenland and as such is evidence of local temperature changes. It is, however, properly generalized to the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere and is believed to be connected to temperature changes in the southern hemisphere by the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation.

Why Singer and Avery would advance such a flimsy argument might be understood by noting the past and current role that Singer and Avery play in scientific debates. Singer began his career in physics studying the atmosphere, but eventually became more prominent as a government adviser, producing relatively little primary research. He is among a handful of scientists that have been involved in campaigns to sew doubt about scientific results that might lead to the regulation of harmful substances. Singer sought to discredit the science showing the link between CFCs and ozone depletion, the dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke, and now the role of carbon dioxide in warming the planet. His work has been supported by the George C. Marshall Institute and the Heartland Institute (two libertarian think tanks), the tobacco industry's public relations firm APCO, and several major oil companies. Perhaps the one unifying theme in his scientific assertions is that any scientific result that might compromise the freedom of corporations to do as they please is, according to Singer, suspect.

Dennis Avery's climate science expertise is highly dubious. He is neither a climate scientist nor a meteorologists. He is an environmental economist specializing in agriculture. Currently, he is the director of the libertarian Hudson Institution's Center for Global Food Issues. His blog posts indicate that he is primarily concerned with promoting free market government policies against environmental regulation.

Unstoppable Global Warming should be added to the growing list of faux science monographs cluttering up the literature on climate change. There are certainly important controversies within climate science. It's unfortunately that they are not receiving greater public attention, while groundless, frivolous, and most likely disingenuous critiques of science are getting published by climate change deniers.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Heaven and Earth / Ian Plimer -- Lanham, Md.: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2009

A propaganda war is in full swing over the facts of, effects of, and responses to climate change. Anyone interested in how the public understanding of any topic, particularly scientific topics, can hardly witness the struggle dispassionately. Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth stands as a major offensive by the "skeptical" forces. Close analysis reveals that it is, however, a paper tiger, but in a propaganda war, a paper tiger can be just as dangerous as a real one, if it is not effectively countered.

Heaven and Earth is ostensibly a well-referenced tome packed with scientific observations and conclusion, but upon closer examination, its credibility becomes suspect. Most obvious of all is Plimer's numerous graphs and illustration. They are poorly presented, often unintelligible, unreferenced, and unexplained by the surrounding text. Next most obvious is the lack of references for important claims. One frequently is provided with supporting references for tangential and uncontroversial claims, but when a claim that is critical to Plimer's argument is presented, it usually rests only on Plimer's authority. In the rare instances when it does receive a citation, it often refers to studies that have been discredited by subsequent research.

As early as the third chapter, one gets the general picture: Heaven and Earth is faux research. It has all the trappings of a scientific monograph, without any real substance. It is a blizzard of unrelated facts about earth science, some of which can be employed to give the appearance of an argument against one or another conclusion that has been established by legitimate scientific research. One might be tempted to do more than sample the remaining chapters to look for a change in the tone or substance, but fortunately others have provided a detailed critical examination of the work. This can be found at The critique is edited by Ian G. Enting of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems at the University of Melbourne. Conscientiously sampling the remaining chapters of Heaven and Earth and cross checking the criticism assembled by Ian Enting is enough to verify that the first three chapters are fully representative of the whole of the book.

The main question one is left with is why such a work would be written and published in the first place. Simply examining the source of and seeking the motives for the work is, of course, not enough to credit or discredit it, but once it has been discredited on scientific grounds, an examination of its source and motives provides insight into its role in the propaganda war.

Plimer is a geologist closely associated with the mining and energy industry, working for or sitting on the board of directors for at least four companies. He is also promoted by the Heartland Institute, the mission of which is "to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Such solutions include parental choice in education, choice and personal responsibility in health care, market-based approaches to environmental protection, privatization of public services, and deregulation in areas where property rights and markets do a better job than government bureaucracies."

While it is not immediately evident that these are Plimer's motives in publishing Heaven and Earth, Plimer's perspectives on economics and government are made clear enough and are in line with the Heartland Institute. Plimer appears to be a willing spokesperson for politically and economically motivated interest groups that need someone to give the appearance of scientific support for claims that have been discredited among the vast majority of working scientists. The shoddiness of Plimer's Heaven and Earth is clear enough to any mildly skeptical reader. It naturally leads one to question the motives of its author and anyone promoting it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand / Haydn Washington and John Cook -- London: Earthscan, 2011

In recent years, a number of books have been published exposing the corporate-sponsored cottage industry that is challenging the conclusions of climate science. See, for example, James Hoggan's Climate Cover Up and Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway's Merchants of Doubt. Haydn Washington and John Cook's Climate Change Denial is clearly within this genre. Indeed, much of its research relies on the work of these other books. It does, however, take an important step beyond the critiques of the denial industry by inquiring into the psychology of denial and by noting the extent to which our entire culture is in denial about the consequences of climate change.

The first chapter distinguishes denial from skepticism and attributes the former to those who reject the fact or significance of climate change. It attributes the latter to the scientific community which increasingly is warning us about the dangers of climate change. The second chapter provides the mandatory outline of the conclusions of climate science. Chapters three and four recount various forms of denial and the history of the denial industry. The work is fine, but the two books mentioned above provide greater detail. A great deal of space is devoted to criticizing Ian Plimer's 2009 book Heaven and Earth. Washington and Cook begin by noting that it is tempting to dismiss Plimer's book out of hand, and after a cursory examination of it, this option does not seem unreasonable; however, Washington and Cook believe the work has become too important within the denial industry to ignore. Their critique is trenchant, without becoming mired in detail.

Chapters five through seven are, however, the most important of the book, though not necessarily the most well-written. In these chapters, Washington and Cook take up the social, political, and psychological questions as to why the denial industry's public relations efforts have been so successful in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary. The answers, roughly put, are that we have allowed the denial industry to get away with too many distortions and falsehoods and that we ourselves have fallen prey to a form of denial they call "implicatory denial."

The necessary response is to recognize that we are all -- to some extent -- in denial about the consequences of climate change. Washington and Cook exhort us to "Accept reality!" and begin acting to transform our lifestyles in ways that will reduce our carbon footprint. Furthermore, we need to acknowledge that our politicians will do nothing about the pending catastrophe until we force them to act. We must not be content with nice sounding policy statements and instead demand concrete actions that will reduce the world's carbon emissions. In particular, we must find a way to put a price on carbon so that there is an incentive to conserve and so that alternative energies can become more competitive.

In chapter seven, Washington and Cook discuss six alternative energy sources that don't emit significant amounts of carbon. They make valuable references to other books that discuss these alternatives in greater detail. They go on to discuss two more very controversial non-carbon alternatives: nuclear power and the technology to capture and sequester the carbon that results from coal fired power plants. Washington and Cook are critical of both, claiming that they will not quickly and significantly reduce carbon emissions. They also note the dangers that these technologies pose. In the same vein, they warn against geoengineering.

If we take Washington and Cook's advice and accept that the pending climate catastrophe requires action, we still need to be careful about assessing the extent of the danger and the consequences of our actions to address the problems of climate change. It is here that the environmentalist community must come to terms with the role of nuclear power, carbon capture and sequestration, and geoengineering projects. A number of writers concerned about climate change, particularly, James Hansen and George Monbiot, look favorably on some of these options which probably reflects their concerns about reaching a "tipping point" with regard to climate change. As such a future is not at all impossible, it seems prudent not to summarily reject options for reducing carbon emissions; however, Washington and Cook correctly recognize that the dangers these options pose are extreme. If it is prudent not to rule out extremely dangerous measures, then it is even more prudent to re-double our efforts to bring about not just a low carbon society, but a low energy society. Much can be gained by returning to lifestyles where the quality of life is not dependent upon the profligate energy consumption of the last one hundred years.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Climate Change and Society / John Urry -- Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 2011

The discussion of climate change has largely been carried on among Earth scientists, economists, and political activists. John Urry, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, believes that as long as our discourse is limited to these domains, we will not be able to adequately address the threats of climate change. Instead, we must make sociology central to the discussion and we must understand the social forces and institutions behind our "high carbon lives." Climate Change and Society is his attempt to do just this.

Early on, Urry describes three major "discourses" contesting how people commonly think about climate change: skepticism, gradualism, and catastrophism. There are three main strands within the skeptical discourse: one denies that the planet is warming, one denies that human beings are significantly responsible for the warming, and one asserts that the effects of climate change will be either beneficial, benign, or mild enough that we can adapt to the changes. Over the past twenty years, the first two strands have become less prominent. As the evidence for anthropogenic climate change has mounted, it has become harder and harder to persuade anyone that we are not changing our climate.

The third strand of skepticism, however, still manages to maintain some support. Bjorn Lomborg is among its most prominent proponents. Lomborg has argued that resources invested now in economic growth will accumulate value faster than the harms of climate change will develop. Consequently, future generations will be better protected from climate change if we do nothing about it now and instead concentrate on economic growth. Urry does not bother to refute this claim. The recent uncertainty about the future of economic growth, the peaking of world oil production, and the mounting evidence that climate change will cause significant problems makes doing nothing seem irresponsible.

The gradualist view of climate change argues that a dire future lies ahead if we continue with business as usual, but it will come about in a smooth, incremental transformation. This is the view expressed in reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Two facts about these reports make Urry believe they may be too conservative. First, the reports are the product of numerous scientists, many of whom are reluctant to accept anything but the most clearly established claims. Furthermore, the reports must be approved by political delegations from numerous countries around the world, including nations that are reluctant to accept the facts and dangers of climate change, e.g., OPEC countries, China, and the United States among others. These structural forces within the IPCC mean that the reports will understate the facts and dangers.

Second, feedback loops are not considered in the conclusions coming out of the IPCC. Since the feedback loops that exacerbate climate change are more numerous and significant than the feedback loops that mitigate climate change, reports that don't include feedback loops will likely show less warming and fewer bad consequences.

As opposed to the gradualist view, the catastrophic view holds that changes to the climate can occur suddenly and drastically when a "tipping point" is reached, causing the climate to shift to a new stable condition. As life has become adapted to current condition over eon's of evolution, a sudden dramatic shift in climate conditions will threaten the fabric of the ecosystem. The result will be significant and irreversible changes that will wipe out species and make civilization as we know it difficult, if not impossible. A number of prominent scientists accept this view. James Hansen, in particular, warns that a "Venus syndrome" might be our future, where greenhouse gases create an entirely uninhabitable planet.

Urry takes both the gradualist and catastrophic views seriously and argues that to escape our fate we first must understand that we live "high carbon lives" and understand how our social institutions lock us into these lives. Second, we must seek ways to transform our social institutions to relieve us from our dependency on fossil fuels. This is Urry's most important observation. Many authors write about how we must abandon "business as usual" if we are to avoid disaster, but while this is certainly a metaphor for many things other than business, it unintentionally implicates our economic institutions. Much more needs to be changed than business and commerce. We must abandon not "business as usual," but "life as usual." This is a far taller order. Without doing so, no legal regulation likely will be sufficient to make the profound changes that are needed. In a chapter on politics, Urry warns that without quickly changing our social institutions, only an authoritarian state may be capable of mitigating disaster. Urry calls on us to find numerous ways to lead "low carbon lives," which could create opportunities to transform fundamentally our suicidal institutions.

Urry's book ends by projecting four different possible futures. The first is the "Star Trek" future in which technological developments make it possible find low carbon energy sources in time to avoid disaster and continue and expand our current lifestyles. The second is the "warlords" future in which global and national community breaks down and regions are dominated by petty warlords competing for the remnants of a collapsing society. The third is the "local sustainability" future in which a transition takes place from a neo-liberal global society to self-sufficient local economies that establish sustainable social institutions. The fourth is the "Futurama III" future in which social needs are met virtually. Urry makes no unambiguous prediction about which of these futures will come about, but argues that the more preferable future is the local sustainability future and that we ought to examine how we can transform our current institutions to support a transition to it.

The primary value of Climate Change and Society is that it underscores how, over the course of the twentieth century, we have "locked in" a high carbon lifestyle. Everything from our energy production systems, housing patterns, HVAC infrastructure, transportation systems, food production systems, etc., relies on fossil fuels. "Addiction" is probably not the right word to describe our relationship to oil in that addiction is a pathology that usually deviates from the norm. A more apt metaphor might be that we have constructed a skyscraper on a faulty foundation and we must rebuild it in place.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Climate Coup: Global Warming's Invasion of Our Government and Our Lives / Patrick J. Michaels, ed. -- Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2011

In the Introduction to Climate Coup, the volume's editor Patrick Michaels describes how he leads his students through an dialog in which he links climate change to any subject of public significance that his students can name. Furthermore, he claims that the effects that it is having are in general deleterious. He writes that this "game" is enjoyable, but rather than giving "glib answers to insouciant students," Michaels decided "to consult some experts" regarding his views. The result is Climate Coup, a volume containing eight papers discussing law, politics, defense, peer-review, trade, economic development, health, and education and their relationship to climate change.

Of Michaels's eight experts, five have positions (along with Michaels) with the Cato Institute, a sixth has been frequently published by the Cato Institute, a seventh works (along with Michaels) at the University of Virginia, and an eighth is a co-author with Michaels. This is not to say that none of the authors is well-regarded or does not have views worth serious consideration, but merely that by selecting these authors, Michaels is not really testing his hypothesis. The volume is, instead, an effort to make his case by employing his ideological allies, In general, the wider community of experts does not support his case.

Broadly put, Michaels and his co-authors argue that the dangers posed by climate change are overstated and that continued economic development is our best remedy for the harms it poses, even if that means continuing to emit carbon into the atmosphere.

The first chapter on law by Roger Pilon and Evan Turgeon is among the best. It lays out the legislative and legal history of environmental regulation, arguing that the executive branch is relatively free to implement whatever regulations it deems appropriate to protect us from climate change. This is judged to be overweening state power that is in conflict with the principles of limited government established by the Constitution. The value of this chapter lies in its legal brief related to the executive's regulatory power. It does not, however, make a particularly strong case that these powers are unconstitutional nor does it address the argument that the Constitution is an evolving document to be interpreted differently by different generations. In the late 18th century, limiting the power of the Crown may well have been a necessary political goal to provide the benefits described in the Constitution's Preamble, but limiting the power of a more democratic government may not be so critical in the early 21st century, particularly as we now understand how common market failures are and how disasterous they can be.

The second chapter is written by Michaels himself. It is among the weakest. He attempts to describe the recent political circumstance related to climate change policies and regulations, but fails to provide any coherent story that sheds light on our politics. It is instead, a hodge podge of disjointed observations related to cap and trade legislation, the "climategate" emails, the 2009 Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The third chapter, by Ross McKitrick, is a critique of the peer review process used by scientific journals. This is something that climate change "skeptics" have been complaining about for quite some time. They argue that the peer review process is controlled by a small group of editors who dismiss any findings that contradict the editors' views about climate change. Consequently, the appearance of a consensus has formed around specific climate change hypotheses, when in fact many scientists disagree with the received opinions.

It is interesting to note that the hypotheses that journal editors have been said to have summarily dismissed have changed. At first, the skeptics asserted that there was no real consensus that the planet is warming, but such views could not be published. Eventually, they began accepting that the planet is warming, but that the warming was not a product of human actions. Today, they appear to be coming around to accepting that human actions -- at least in part -- is warming the planet, but that the consequences of this are not as grave as is being asserted by the experts. The only consistency in the skeptics' position is that we shouldn't worry about climate change and that we should continue to emit carbon at the rates we have been, lest our economy suffer.

It is hard not to read McKitrick's complaints about the peer review process as so much sour grapes for not seeing his and his ideological friends' papers accepted for publication. If their arguments were genuinely strong, a cabal of editors could not keep them from the scientific community. Today, science employs "pre-publication" databases; the most prominent of which is arXiv (see which permits any academic or person sponsored by someone with posting privileges to post papers to the arXiv database. In many fields, particularly physics, publication in a peer reviewed journal will only occur after the paper has been posted to arXiv and has been favorably cited in arXiv by other researchers. Publication in a peer reviewed journal is becoming a way of archiving a finalized version of already well-received research. Pre-publication databases and other open source venues are eroding, if not destroying, the power of journal editors as gatekeepers of scientific research.

Ivan Eland's chapter is on U.S. security. Eland argues that the recent evaluations by the Defense Department overstate the dangers that climate change poses to U.S. strategic interests. His arguments are better than most in Climate Coup. Eland acknowledges that the most egregious effects of climate change are likely to affect Africa and southern Asia, but these regions historically have not been seen to be vital to US interests and, according to Eland, are not likely to be so in the future. More realistic threats to U.S. interests stem from the stationing of U.S. forces around the world. If these forces were brought home, the U.S. would not be blamed for the suffering that climate change might cause. Furthermore, the oceanic barriers that the U.S. enjoys will be sufficient to insulate the country from social and political upheavals in the rest of the world.

Eland's analysis is consistent with the growing isolationist tendency among libertarians and is compatible with the views of the peace movement of the American left. Furthermore, he indicts the Pentagon for exaggerating the security threat posed by climate change. Its motive is to justify continued or increased defense appropriations.

Among the better chapters in Climate Coup is Sallie James's article on international trade. James argues that any country that would unilaterally implement a policy to reduce carbon emissions will place itself in a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis countries that do not implement comparable policies. In this respect, she particularly criticizes cap and trade policies. In principle, this sounds right; however, it isn't clear how significant the disadvantage would be nor whether a cap and trade policy might not stimulate the creation of alternative industries that would in the long run provide an economic advantage to a carbon regulating country. Furthermore, she does not entertain the possibility that were the United States to show international leadership by passing a meaningful carbon tax, this would create an economic climate that would allow others to follow suit without economic disadvantage.

James also considers the possible equalizing effective of a tariff placed on goods coming from countries that do not take measures to reduce their carbon emissions. She concludes that either these countries would merely take their business elsewhere or the tariffs would ignite retaliatory measure that would destroy the possibility for international cooperation which is necessary to tackle a global problem like climate change.

While one might take issue with some of James's conclusions, one must acknowledge the expertise of neo-liberals regarding the dynamics of international trade. The dangers, however, must be weighed against the costs (often externalized) of continuing to emit carbon.

In the sixth chapter, Indur M. Goklony addresses the consequences of climate change on developing nations. It is widely believed that developing nations are most vulnerable to the harms that climate change threatens, both because of their geographies and their poverty. Goklony argues that imposing emission controls on developing nations will cripple their economic growth which will be necessary for mitigating or adapting to the harms of climate change.

Goklony's arguments are reprised in Robert E. Davis's chapter on health. Davis challenges the claim that climate change has caused significant health problems and will in the future cause significant health problems; however, the claim about the interaction of climate change and health in the past is of little consequence as few people argue that climate change has yet had a significant effect on public health. Regarding future health threats, it is hard to believe that the dislocation of coastal populations, droughts, floods, wildfires, and transformed ecosystems will not have significant effects on human health. Davis argues that populations have dealt with all of these kinds of problems in the past and with continued economic growth, health indicators will continue to improve even in the face of climate change.

The final chapter by Neal McCluskey examines how climate change is portrayed in primary and secondary schools. It is so riddled with elementary fallacies that it is not really worth reviewing.

The recurrent appeal to the importance of economic growth for addressing climate change is at the heart of Climate Coup. As climate skeptics have progressively abandoned positions that they have held previously, their arguments are crystallizing around the view that the dangers of climate change are too slight to justify public regulation of the industry. This should come as no surprise as the skeptics rarely are climate scientists, but are more often economists, businessmen, and politicians. Their stake in the carbon industry has been revealed by many including Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their excellent book, Merchants of Doubt, reviewed in this blog.

What is most worrying about the skeptics' public relations campaigns to stave off action to protect the planet is that as green house gases accumulate in the atmosphere, we genuinely risk reaching a tipping point that will propel the planet into a new stable state that makes civilization as we know it or even life itself impossible on the planet. To argue that we must continue down this path as the most effective way of escaping its dangers is a kind of brinksmanship that risks everything and it is based on scientific heterodoxy and a dubious economic theory.

At the same time, it is important to accurately assess the genuine dangers that climate change possess and not to overstate them, particularly as geo-engineering proposals are being seriously discussed. Geo-engineering would be enormously risky in that the unintended consequences of deliberately modifying the ecosystem to the extent that unprecedented climate change might be halted may cause greater problems still.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity / James Hansen -- NY: Bloomsbury, 2009

1988 was a significant year for the study and understanding of climate change. It was the year that the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was also the year the James Hansen testified before Congress, warning of the coming climate disaster. Since then, Hansen has been one of the leading scientists investigating the progress of our changing climate. He has, however, shied away from high-profile advocacy for changes to public policy -- that is until recently. In this respect, Storms of My Grandchildren is a landmark in his scientific and public profile. In it, Hansen attempts to make a clear case for specific policy actions that he believes are needed to avert the pending climate disaster.

His writing style is not always the greatest. He alternates between the breezy style of informal correspondences that describes his personal experiences and the objective style of scientific (though popular) explanations. Later in the book, he adopts a third style of policy advocacy. None of these sections of the book seem especially good examples of their genera, but setting this aside, the substance of the book is interesting and very important.

The early chapters of the book deal with his conflicting feelings about simply doing science and leaving policy questions to others as against stepping outside of the scientific enterprise to make a conscious political impact. His initial approach to this was simply to present his conclusions to policy makers and trust in the force of reason to motivate their actions; however, after successive disappointments, he has come to believe that scientists must not only make the science clear to politicians and the public, but they must explain the consequences of the facts for policy decisions.

Among the events that most drove him to this conclusion was the efforts on the part of the George W. Bush administration to prevent him from speaking freely about his scientific conclusions. As a public employee working for the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he was subject to orders from both NASA's Public Affairs office and the White House. Fortunately for all of us, his high profile prevented the efforts to censor him from being too successful. His own account of the machinations of the Bush White House is limited, but he makes reference to the investigative work of Mark Bowen, published in Censoring Science to fill out the story.

Hansen's views on climate change are more pessimistic than the conclusions of the IPCC. The IPCC has been criticized by climate skeptics as over-stating the danger of climate change. They often criticize climate models that go into predicting the future of the climate. Interestingly, Hansen agrees that the climate models are not especially reliable, but he points to paleological climate research to demonstrate that the probability of disastrous consequences of the "business-as-usual" emission of greenhouse gases is far greater than the climate models predict. In his penultimate chapter, he suggests that it is not impossible that business-as-usual will transform the Earth's atmosphere into something like that of Venus. Currently, there are nearly 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Hansen suggests that the "Venus syndrome" might be triggered if that rises to levels even less than 1000 ppm, i.e., a level that is not out of the range of possibility.

The policy decisions that Hansen advocates include the construction of more nuclear power plants, including "fourth generation" power plants known as "breeder reactors." According to Hansen, breeder reactors would serve two important purposes, (1) they could produce significant amounts of energy without carbon emissions while producing nearly no fissionable waste, and (2) they could use the nuclear waste we currently have generated as a fuel source. Given the dangers of carbon emissions and the unlikelihood that other non-carbon energy sources will satisfy industry's appetite for power, Hanson's suggestion seems worth considering; however, Hansen's assertions about the consequences of the construction of numerous breeder reactors need more argument than he presents in his book.

Hansen also argues that the most dangerous threat to the environment is the prospect that coal will be used to sate industry's appetite for power. Carbon capture and sequestration has, for Hansen, genuine potential for coal exploitation. At the same time, he recognizes the costs and dangers involved. His preference simply is to "leave the coal in the ground." This could be largely accomplished by establishing a "fee and dividend" system of carbon energy production. Hansen is critical of the cap and trade proposals that are popular among many environmentalist politicians. He believes they will be ineffective and are ripe for corruption, comparing emissions permits to indulgences sold by the Catholic church in the Middle Ages. Sinners were allowed to continue sinning while the church made money. In this instance, polluters are allowed to continue polluting while the government makes money.

In contrast to this, Hansen's fee and dividend system would place a fee on carbon-based energy production at its source (the well or mine). The fee would then be divided equally as an annual dividend to all legal residents of the US. The fee would be increased annually so that the consumption of carbon-dependent goods and services would rise gradually, reducing their viability in the market, until finally carbon-based energy would be replaced by other forms of energy. Meanwhile, the annual dividend would make the program popular. Those who consume carbon-dependent goods and services would pay the price and those who do not would reap the benefits.

One hitch in Hansen's system is regulating imported goods and services. Here, he suggests a carbon tariff on goods coming from countries that are not reducing their carbon emissions. Initially, the tariff seems workable, but it might fall victim to World Trade Organization requirements prohibiting such tariffs; furthermore, it might not actually succeed in reducing emissions, but instead destroy the very international cooperation and agreements necessary to tackle the emissions problem. These are points made by Sallie James of the Cato Institute in her essay "Climate Change and Trade" in Climate Coup, edited by Patrick Michaels.

Among the most significant chapters linking science and public policy is Chapter 8,"Target Carbon Dioxide: Where Should Humanity Aim?" which deals with estimating the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide that the planet can tolerate without triggering truly disastrous consequences. Hansen initially thought that 450 ppm was the tipping point, but after more careful study, he now believes 350 ppm is the maximum that can be tolerated. This means we have already surpassed dangerous levels which explains Hansen's urgency and his desire to "leave the coal in the ground." Based on Hansen's estimates, Bill McKibben has set up the Web site to publicize efforts to bring our emission down to this level.

Periodically, Hansen points out one important driving factor in our race to climate catastrophe: our system of campaign financing. Hansen argues that because our elections are privately funded with now unlimited corporate dollars, carbon energy-based industries largely are able to determine public policy related to environmental protection. An indication of this is that a carbon tax (or fee) is hardly discussed by politicians. Our options are limited to no regulation or an ineffective cap and trade system that will allow business-as-usual emissions and corporate profits.

Hansen is certainly right about the influence of corporate money on elections and in turn public policy. As it is unlikely that the current campaign finance regime will change, anyone who is concerned about the climate has few options for change within the electoral system. On occasion, Hansen acknowledges this and even flirts with calling for civil resistance against carbon emission. In general, his Storms of My Grandchildren makes a strong case for just such action.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hindu Mysticism / S. N. Dasgupta -- Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1927, 1983

Hindu Mysticism is a collection of six lectures presented by S. N. Dasgupta at Northwestern University in 1926. The lectures cover six types of mysticism that grew up in India during the course of its history. Dasgupta defines "mysticism" as "the belief that the highest reality or the ultimate realisation and fulfilment...cannot be attained by reason alone, but...[by] the firm and steady control of will, the development of right emotions, or both combined, or by them both along with the highest functioning of reason....It is directed to the liberation of the spirit and the attainment of the highest bliss." This is distinct from what Dasgupta calls the popular notion that mysticism is "some kind of superstitious awe or reverence." Mysticism "is fundamentally an active, formative, creative, elevating and ennobling principle of life." It is "a spiritual grasp of the aims and problems of life in a much more real and ultimate manner than is possible to mere reason."

With this definition, most everything that can be understood as religion in India would be mystical and indeed that pretty closely describes the scope of Dasgupta's book. Its six chapters cover sacrificial mysticism, the mysticism of the Upanishads, Yoga mysticism, Buddhistic mysticism, classical devotional mysticism, and popular devotional mysticism.

Sacrificial mysticism is expressed in the ancient Vedas which describe how rituals can be performed that will prompt the gods to bestow benefits on those conducting the ritual. It is critical that the ritual be performed in exactly the right way or it will not be effective. Furthermore, if it is performed effectively, the gods have no choice but to bestow the benefit; that is, in response to a properly conducted sacrifice, the god's actions are not free. The Vedas are not seen to be true or effective because of a sagacious author or even as revelations from a god, but are "eternal truths, beginningless and immortal" and importantly, they cannot be challenged or justified by reason.

Upanishadic mysticism seems a bit more consistent with a European notion of mysticism, namely, a recognition of a monistic reality that lies behind the pluralistic appearances of the phenomenal world, which can be understood neither rationally nor empirically. Yogic mysticism, while it may in some practices deny the monism of the Upanishads, is a practical development of the Upanishadic mysticism. It clearly falls within Dasgupta's definition in that it is a practice that involves controlling one's will and actions, and ultimately one's mind to achieve an understanding of the ultimate reality that is not accessible through experience or reason alone.

Of all of the forms of mysticism described in Hindu Mysticism, Buddhistic mysticism might least fit with Dasgupta's definition. While it is true that achieving the highest understanding involves a practice rather like Yoga, Buddhism is a highly rational and practical system of thought. The fundamental principles of Buddhism should be apparent to anyone who follows the reasoning of the Four Noble Truths. The practice that is involved in following the Eightfold Path merely confirms those truths in one's experience. Nonetheless, it does not seem inappropriate to describe Buddhism as a mystical philosophy in that by following the Eightfold Path, one arrives at a state of consciousness that transcends normal experience.

The final two forms of mysticism, classical and popular devotional mysticism are closely related. Both embrace bhakti or devotion to God and in both cases one is not expected to denounce one's desires. Instead, one embraces the euphoria that comes in one's surrender to God. In the classical version, God is conceived of abstractly. The ecstasy that comes to the worshiper is similar to that experienced by Moslems, particularly, Sufis. In the popular version, one conceives of God in the form of an individual, e.g., Krishna, and the ecstasy is similar to that experienced in a human love relationship. As Dasgupta describes it, it seems similar to the mysticism of medieval Carmelites in their relationship to Jesus.

If there is a shortcoming to Hindu Mysticism it is its title. While there is nothing wrong with establishing definitions for the purpose of describing a conceptual realm, Dasgupta's definition appears contrived to capture every religious movement that ever came out of India and may capture most every religion there ever was. Had Dasgupta placed greater stress on the concept of gaining knowledge or understanding apart from experience or reason, the title would have been better justified. As it is Hindu Mysticism is simply a serviceable introduction to six religious traditions in India.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry) / Siva Vaidhyanathan -- Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011

Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia prefaces his book The Googlization of Everything with a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville that perfectly captures his darker attitudes toward Google: "It does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one's acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from coming into being; it does not tyrannize, it hinders." Vaidhyanathan is particularly concerned that Google's explosive success is placing too much power over (or perhaps responsibility for) the world's treasure-store of knowledge in the hands of one private company. His concerns are not without merit.

Vaidhyanathan is quick to admit that Google's success is based on the clear benefits that it has given the world. More than any other search engine, Google has "organized and made universally accessible the world's knowledge" and it has done so in a manner that has been comfortable and appealing to most internet users. It has also behaved more or less consistently with its informal motto: "Don't be evil." Having given Google its due, Vaidhyanathan describes practices that Google has adopted that raise important questions.

In general, Google's success depends on the "PageRank system" that they employ in displaying search results. Search results generally appear in descending order based on the number of pages that link to a page that is captured by Google's Web crawlers. This seemingly surrenders any editorial decision-making that Google might otherwise employ in displaying results and makes use of the decisions by a myriad anonymous Web designers to evaluate the merits of Web pages. There are, however, instances in which some filtering is employed by Google, most obviously is Google's willingness to consider blocking a site if they receive complaints about it.

More worrisome consequences of Google's practices stem from their standard practices. While the PageRank system will generally provide an effective quality screen, it also privileges mainstream sites. Popularity among Web designers will lead to a site appearing on Google's first page of results, which in turn will reinforce the popularity of the site. It is not easy for a new or unusual site to break onto the first page of results.

Vaidhyanathan also takes Google to task for their collaboration with the Chinese government in censoring search results. At first Google argued that providing censored information was better for democracy movements than providing no information at all; however, when Google's servers were hacked (presumably by the Chinese government) and information about Chinese dissidents and critics of the government were compromised, Google "pulled out of China." The pull out was less impressive than it appeared, though. Google simply offered its Mandarin-language search service through Hong Kong, and since all traffic between Hong Kong and China is censored by China, China continues to receive Google services, but they are censored by China and not Google directly.

Vaidyanathan also provides an very interesting exploration of the privacy issues that Google's practices raises. Two levels of concern can be identified here: first, Google is amassing a huge amount of information about individual internet users that conceivably could be used against the user. More broadly, though, Google's store of data about users could easily be used by whomever owns the information to understand the demographics of internet users in a manner that could be politically significant. It is already showing itself to be economically significant.

Perhaps Vaidyhanathan's most salient concern is Google's growing dominance in the digitization of our written (and graphic) cultural heritage and here he indicts our research libraries as complicit in a massive, historic act of privatization of a public good. The Google Books project has resulted in the digitization of nearly all of the out of copyright books at Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Oxford, and the New York Public Library. Disregarding copyright concerns, Google has also digitized massive numbers of "orphan" works, i.e., books that are not out of copyright, but for which the copyright holder is unknown. This turns normal publishing practices on their head: instead of requiring permission before publication, Google sought to publish until permission was denied by individual copyright holders. While it is true that a massive digitizing project of the sort that Google seeks to undertake would be impossible any other way, their actions are a direct challenge to long-settle copyright law. These actions resulted in a now-famous law suit, that has pitted publishers and authors against Google. The parties to the dispute have been trying to come to a legally acceptable out of court settlement, but have thus far been unable to do so.

Vaidhyanathan appears less concerned about the integrity of the traditional copyright regime than he is about what he calls "public failure," or the failure of public institutions to take responsibility of preserving and making freely accessible the world's cultural heritage and this is certainly the most significant concern that Google's activities have raised. While it is true that Google has not prevented others from creating competing digital archives, the head start that they have gained makes competition highly unlikely. This means that the access to the world's cultural heritage is likely to be -- at least for the foreseeable future -- in the hands of a single private company, unless, of course, public institutions take up the challenge of digitizing the resources for which they ostensibly are responsible and this is Vaidhyanathan's call to action. He proposes a "Human Knowledge Project" on the order of the Human Genome project, where governments around the world allocate the resources necessary to create a cultural digital repository that will ensure that our patrimony remains a public good accessible to all.

The Googlization of Everything is not always the most well organized book. Despite improvements from a pre-publication version, the book continues to read too much like a series of related blog postings; however, by the final chapter, the overall concerns do become clear and seem well argued, though one would be hard pressed to point to how and exactly where the argument was made.