Tuesday, April 22, 2008

SNAKE OIL. Let's suppose you're an educated man, a Perfesser even, who sometimes likes to wax anti-intellectual -- whether out of self-disgust, philosophical confusion, or just for funsies, we'll leave for another hypothetical. These bagatelles attract hordes of winger yahoos, delighted that a college man is saying, or quoting, the sort of things they normal hear only on Fox News and from that guy who lives under the bridge.

This makes you a few dollars and a big name. And the elusiveness of your style -- usually just a link and a simple interjection -- prevents you from looking like too much of a yahoo yourself to casual observers or Perfessorial colleagues.

By and large, you've got it made. But like all sinecures, yours presents opportunities for comic dilemmas. Sometimes, despite the grand claims made for blogging, you have to go to long-form political blather in the MSM -- you are not yet as well-known or well-compensated as Katie Couric, or even Heather Nauert, so your pool of prospective suckers must be expanded if you and your family are to afford the robot bunker of your dreams.

So, good news, you have an assignment from New York Post, where the suckers are plentiful. Bad news: it's Earth Day Week, and the topic is global warming. As your rare substantive comments on the subject reveal, you are not totally insane about it. But your yahoo followers are; so, over and over and over you have portrayed global warming as a fraud and a joke. Now you have to appear outside your comfort zone, minus the protective cover of your usual fortune-cookie style, and try to avoid looking like a sell-out to your usual dopes and a lunatic to big-paper readers.

The result is comedy gold from the first paragraph, which sort of contains its quintessence:
I HAVEN'T been able to get very excited about the big global-warming debate - but I am excited about some solutions to global warming. These are just as worthwhile even if you don't believe that human-created climate change is a big problem, or even a reality.
The charitable explanation for this would be that the Perfesser so loves science that he would like to see it tackle non-existent problems just for grins, much as a young WWE enthusiast might like to know whether The Undertaker could beat up Batman. Alas, the Perfesser's quick reference to the "religious wars" between the "Church of Green" and the "Church of Carbon" -- suggesting that the scientific community is just being as silly as those lovable scamps in the PR firms of the oil and gas industries -- does little to win our charity.

The Perfesser comes out loud and proud against "hair-shirt" scientists with their demands of "impossible sacrifice," but picks an unfortunate example of the more realistic view:
Just ask people in China - now the world's No. 1 carbon emitter - how interested they are in returning to the economic conditions they suffered a few decades ago when their carbon emissions were lower.
Just ask people in China how they feel about Tibet, while you're at it. You'll probably get a similar answer -- that is to say, muffled screams. They're giving us a nice, protest-free Olympics, what more do you want?

Meanwhile, "many scientific champions of global-warming theory" are proclaimed to be on the Perfesser's side because they're against "impoverishing the world" to appease Gaia. Plus which "some environmentalists" are for nuclear power. It's a coalition of unnamed, innumerable exceptions! The problem, non-existent as it is, is half solved.

All that's needed for a big finish is the 21st Century version of the last refuge of a scoundrel: technology. If the solar power cited by the Perfesser sets his homeboys to grumbling, "nanotech" ought to shut them up, as it is new, highly speculative, and not yet associated with hippies. Plus it can be explained in consumerist terms -- "Imagine how much more efficient a family car could be if you cut the weight in half" -- offering further proof that the Perfesser offers hope and cool cars, while all the stupid scientists (or "some" of them, or "many" of them, depending) want to do is make us and our friends in Red China go to their Church, eat flavorless health food, and generally bum out.

It may be said that the Perfesser's dilemma is solved, too: neither his customary blog readers nor his new MSM ones will find much fault with his column, because they'll never be able to figure out what he's saying. He who heh's last heh's best!

UPDATE. Commenter Craig points out that the "not totally insane" global warming post mentioned above wasn't written by the Perfesser, but by his guest-blogger Megan McArdle, so the credit for marginal sanity goes in that instance to her. This is a better example of Reynolds' grudging global warning acceptance.

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