This is part personal highlights of 2016, and the first few days of 2017, part leftovers of my narrower Christmas Eve post. It looks back, just a little, in the hope of historical perspective. It also covers one foreign policy issue with profound links to so-called climate policy. Whatever else, there’s some recommended reading. It would be great if others did the same, as well as adding their own big moments and commentary.
There are two recommended reads that for me tower over the myriads of others on Brexit: Tim Shipman’s All Out War and Dominic Cummings’ long blog post two days ago, with its intriguing reference to Tolstoy, Branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’.
Being highly selective, here’s the moment from Shipman’s account I want to highlight, describing the situation in 10 Downing Street as the votes were being announced:
‘Hope was abandoned at 3.30 a.m.,’ said one of those present. ‘I went to the loo and when I got back Ed and Kate and George and Dave weren’t there. I thought I’d better go home.’ Samantha Cameron had disappeared too. The quad, plus Andrew Feldman, were in the PM’s study. They picked over the arguments again, but Cameron had made his mind up. The party would be uncontrollable if he stayed. ‘All political lives end in failure,’ he said. Enoch Powell, whose phrase it was, had been a Brexiteer in 1975.
As anachronisms go those last two sentences take some beating. By the end of 2016 Oxford Dictionaries had declared ‘post-truth’ word of the year, with ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘alt-right’ close runners-up. But the greater irony is that Cameron in quoting Powell was pointing to someone of far greater ‘disloyalty’ to his party than his own erstwhile friend and colleague Michael Gove, of whom it’s said Samantha has vowed he and family will never again darken the Camerons’ door, despite Sarah Vine being godparent to one of her children.
When Enoch Powell argued for coming out of the EEC in 1975 he was going against not just Edward Heath and Harold Wilson but new Tory leader Margaret Thatcher, Nigel Lawson, Norman Tebbit and all. And he was completely right, for all the right reasons, in my humble view. I only began to think about it on reaching eighteen and leaving school, which was too late in 1975 to vote. But I would have opted for Leave in every year since.
‘Brexiteer’ turned into a rather effective, swashbuckling moniker for Leavers, of which Dominic Cummings was initially suspicious. ‘Take back control’ was of course his. The Vote Leave campaign manager made many mistakes, according to his refreshingly honest account this week. He also proved himself to be an outstanding team leader, with a relentless focus, based on data science, on what would convince those largely uninterested – quite rightly he argues – in politics as defined by the SW1 bubble. His contempt for those without that focus, but oodles of vanity as its ready replacement, is a joy to read – though perhaps not for them! And, as I said on his blog yesterday, this really struck me:
The foundation problem with the EU was best summarised by the brilliant physicist David Deutsch, the man who extended Alan Turing’s 1936 paper on computation into the realm of quantum mechanics. Deutsch said:
‘The EU is incompatible with Britain’s more advanced political culture. I’m voting Leave… [E]rror correction is the basic issue, and I can’t foresee the EU improving much in this respect… [P]reserving the institutions of error correction is more important than any policy… Whether errors can be corrected without violence is not a “concern” but a condition for successfully addressing concerns.’
Healthy and effective systems like our immune system and the English common law allow constant and rapid error-correction. Unhealthy and ineffective systems like the EU and modern Whitehall departments block error-correction. They are extremely centralised and hierarchical therefore information processing is blocked and problems are not solved. In politics this often leads to disasters when more and more resources are devoted to reinforcing failure. NB. This most fundamental question played effectively no role in the debate.
Let me repeat that. “This most fundamental question played effectively no role in the debate.” Isn’t that terrible? Many have blamed Cummings for such dumbing down. Try reading his full account before you join them. I only felt to say this:
In 2003, when I was unknown to anyone other than my friends and family, I had been posting comments on climate reconstructions at a chatline. Bob emailed me out of the blue with encouragement, saying that I was looking at the data differently than anyone else and that I should definitely follow it through. Without his specific encouragement, it is not for sure that I ever would have bothered trying to write up what became McIntyre and McKitrick (2003) or anything else.
As with Enoch Powell we do well to honour the pioneers who lit fires for others. There can hardly be a more powerful example in the annals of climate scepticism.
Then there was Nic Lewis’ shocking piece at Judith Curry’s in August: Abnormal climate response of the DICE IAM – a trillion dollar error? How many mentions have you seen of this since? Led by the nose by the climate trolls we tend to be obsessed with other, much more borderline issues. I’ve long felt it’s deliberate misdirection. As Robin Guenier has frequently said our strongest arguments never get mentioned, let alone debunked. Richard Tol was at least honest in response, on behalf of the select company of builders of Integrated Assessment Models – which is of course what IAM stands for. A crucial, deeply flawed step in the argument for coercive emission reduction from the IPCC fed through to the EU and national governments. We do well to pay more attention in 2017.
Lastly there was Matt Ridley’s magisterial annual lecture for the GWPF in October – as stand-in, he explained, for an unnamed head of state who couldn’t make it! I’ve heard most of these things and this was easily the best – despite Matt’s extraordinary claim that the scientific method was mankind’s greatest achievement. Try that one out on the scientist and atheist Jonathan Miller, whose production of Bach’s St Matthew Passion I had the privilege of experiencing in New York in 2006. There is more to life than the scientific method! But, aside from that, which may be considered a quibble for the purpose of continued Cliscep cooperation, we’ve been given the most intelligent summary of Climate Scepticism we’ve had for years. A precious resource.
Before Trump there was Twitter, at least in my telling. Three incidents, or interactions, here too, in which I found myself involved, though I have no links for the first. We’ll have to make do.
In the lead up to Brexit two conversations stand out, the second with someone a good deal younger than me that I know and have worked with. But the first was perhaps most shocking, also involving a young person passionately against Leave who felt she might well be about to be outvoted by a phalanx of much older reactionaries, if not out-and-out racists. In a gentle way I tried to talk about the history, about the vote in 1975, about how many of my generation and older felt as if we’d been misled by promises that this was in no way ever going to be a political union – and that this was a key factor in how we were going to vote this time. The reaction? I couldn’t give a fuck about the history.
The generation gap that many have commented on in Brexit voting is of course the fault of the bigoted elders not their younger betters, as this incident clearly shows.
Three days before the vote Paul Battley, a younger gun I have considerable respect for as a coder, was by contrast the model of discretion in making a key link, with the help of the Guardian, that might explain to another tweeter why it would not be a game-changer for Richard Drake to learn that Martin Durkin, maker of Brexit the Movie, was also a ‘“Deeply Deceptive” climate change denier’:
Despite Paul’s intelligence in other areas it’s typical that I needed to add that little qualifier, just as Matt Ridley had to insert it for the upteenth time in his GWPF lecture. Or else, as Richard Lindzen quipped long ago, “If you say you believe in the greenhouse effect, you agree that the world is going to end next Tuesday.” A key distinction that even our best young people have been allowed never to think about, before they pour their scorn, often on the same oldies who were, to their disgust and astonishment, about to emerge triumphant on 23rd June.
Cliscep readers may find the rest of that thread of interest or at least amusement. I try to maintain both my cool and politeness in such corners but I did end like this:
Demagogue? Who could I have been thinking of?
In October I began to promote Ridley’s GWPF lecture, now online with YouTube video (thanks Ben Pile), as a support in making the same old distinction:
The next day someone else I follow, one of the key programmers at the heart of the well-regarded Django open source framework for Python, often compared to Rails for Ruby (for those who frequent such jargon), and someone who’s moved on from working for the Guardian’s web development team in London to a startup in California, made both a humble and insightful comment on the ‘filter bubble’ problem raised in my Cliscep post in November:
I wouldn’t have stepped in to the resulting conversation if another tweeter, from Brighton, hadn’t used the phrase anti-science. Matt Ridley was deployed again:
And Simon ‘liked’ my original tweet with the link to Matt’s talk. That would not have been visible to anyone else. Perhaps working for a startup with venture capital from Peter Thiel is making him ask some questions. Whether or not this is true I think the emphasis on filter bubbles post-Trump is an opportunity to challenge people, politely, if they haven’t set up just the same thing with the climate conversation.
My two favourite articles of 2016 that didn’t mention Brexit or climate now come into play. This also means of course that you should feel free to do the same in comments. (Where C++ means Climate plus plus. Or something.) These two also barely mention Trump. But the mystery of the section title should be easy enough to discern before long.
Peter Hitchens’ The Cold War Is Over in First Things in October I consider a masterpiece. Here’s his key theme in a nutshell:
… the experience of living in that sad and handsome place brought me to love Russia and its stoical people, to learn some of what they had suffered and see what they had regained. And so, as all around me rage against the supposed aggression and wickedness of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I cannot join in. Despite the fact that Moscow has abandoned control of immense areas of Europe and Asia, self-appointed experts insist that Russia is an expansionist power.
Here I risk being classified as an apologist for Vladimir Putin. I am not. I view him as a sinister tyrant. The rule of law is more or less absent under his rule. He operates a cunning and cynical policy toward the press. Criticism of the government is perfectly possible in small-circulation magazines and obscure radio stations, but quashed whenever it threatens the state and its controlled media. Several of the most serious allegations against Putin—alleged murders of journalists and politicians—have not been proven. Yet crimes like the death in prison (from horrible neglect) of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who charged Russian officials with corruption, can be traced directly to Putin’s government, and are appalling enough by themselves.
The second article doesn’t mention Russia at all but its subject may soon become highly relevant: I Served With James Mattis. Here’s What I Learned From Him by Stanton S. Coerr in The Federalist last month. A very UK-centric excerpt will do:
At the end of the drill, questions were answered and then Mattis dismissed everyone. No messing around with this guy. Mike Murdoch, one of the British company commanders, leaned over to me, his eyes wide. “Mate, are all your generals that good?”
I looked at him.
“No. He is the best we have.”
As stern neocon critic of Trump John Podhoretz said on Twitter on reading it, “Wow!”
Thomas Sowell has just said farewell to those like me who have read his syndicated column avidly for over eight years (and for some readers it could almost have been back to 1975) but before he signed off he wrote this:
What do we know, at this point, about the people being tapped as nominees for key positions in the incoming Trump administration? By and large, they are of a higher caliber than usual, especially General James N. Mattis who has been selected to become Secretary of Defense.
The love of rhetoric by both the media and Donald Trump has caused General Mattis’ nickname of “Mad Dog Mattis” to become a distraction from the facts about a man of both high intellect and a great concern for the troops he commanded. He has, for example, taken it upon himself to personally visit many families of those who died fighting in the battles he led.
As a personal note, I have had the privilege of having discussions with many military people who have visited the Hoover Institution over the years, and have been impressed with officers of many ranks, including General Mattis. The young officers I have encountered are head and shoulders above so many young people of similar ages who are graduates of even our most prestigious colleges and universities.
The liberal media are already expressing worry about the number of military people being considered for key positions in the new administration. They would be worried about anyone who has not been brainwashed in the political correctness that reigns among the intelligentsia.
The key individual in any administration, however, is the President — and that remains the key mystery in the new administration.
Sowell has been a trenchant critic of the president elect so this has to be read as a definite maybe to the idea that Trump is looking as if he may turn out better than expected. On the other hand Dominic Cummings writes:
Western liberals (like Clinton and many pro-euro campaigners) and conservatives (like Bush) talked of relations with Putin as if he is a normal western politician rather than an ex-KGB mafia overlord with views very far from western liberals. They tell each other ‘I can’t imagine President Trump, it just can’t happen’. Many conservatives are now telling themselves that they should not take Trump too literally but that too is a failure of imagination – his character is clear to those unblinded by gang mentality and he will govern in character.
None of this is meant as hopeful commentary. And Cummings knows Russia well from first-hand experience. The guy gets about.
Four days ago Rivalry brewing on Trump team from The Hill suggested that General Mattis is unlikely to overcome the ‘doves’ towards Russia within Trump’s team.
Whatever, I’m broadly with Hitchens. Russia is nothing like the threat it once was. This means I’m also broadly with Steve McIntyre in his recent series of tweets. But that will have to wait.
There was another reason for me to point to the Hitchens though and that is my incredulity about how the yoof, especially those on Twitter I follow in tech, have moved left, without it seems to me any concept of learning from tragic history since 1917. This feeds into the climate debate but runs much deeper. Academics have a great deal to answer for. But this one article could be a massive corrective.
All comments welcome, especially those that go to the trouble of pointing to alternative sources for our reflections.