Global warming-8: The danger of complacency

The documentary An Inconvenient Truth provides a good introduction to the problem of global warming. The film has three interwoven threads: (1) a documentary showing a slide-show talk that former Vice-President Al Gore gives around the world on the facts of global warming, mixed with film footage of the impact of warming on the environment; (2) the story of Gore’s own interest in this topic; and (3) some self-promotion by Gore.

While I could have done without the last and was not particularly interested in the second, the first part was done very well. It captured most of the state of the science accurately and presented it in a visually captivating way. The film is sobering and well worth seeing to get an introduction to the science behind the problem and a sense of the gravity of the situation we are facing.
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Intelligent Design Creationism movement loses support in Kansas

Back in November 2005, a 6-4 majority of Republicans on the Kansas State Board of Education inserted pro-IDC language into the state’s science standards, going so far as to even write a definition of science to include supernatural explanations for phenomena. (For some background, I wrote earlier about this when I was asked to testify at hearings in Kansas in May 2005 that were being boycotted by the scientific community.)

The standards state that high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that some concepts have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology.

The challenged concepts cited include the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and the theory that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life.

In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

But yesterday, that policy received a setback in primary elections when two seats of that six-person majority group went to Republicans who opposed what their party colleagues had done.

Moderate Republicans scored key primary victories in State Board of education races, wrestling control from conservatives in a battle shaped by the debate over the teaching of evolution.

Conservative Republicans began Tuesday with a 6-4 board majority. However, one of their incumbents lost, and a pro-evolution moderate won the GOP nomination for a seat held by a retiring conservative.

The results left only four board members who voted last year to adopt science standards that questioned the validity of evolutionary theory.

In one of the most watched races on the ballot, Sally Cauble, of Liberal, defeated anti-evolution incumbent Connie Morris, of St. Francis. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting early Wednesday, Cauble held a 54 percent to 46 percent lead in the 5th District, which covers 41 western counties.

Morris, a former teacher, has described evolution as “an age-old fairy tale” and “a nice bedtime story” unsupported by science. She also had drawn criticism for her outspokenness on teaching children of immigrants and sex education. [For more on the colorful Morris, see here.]

Pro-evolution candidate Jana Shaver, an Independence Republican, defeated conservative Brad Patzer of Neodesha, who supported the new standards. Patzer is the son-in-law of incumbent Iris Van Meter, of Thayer, who is not seeking re-election. Shaver won 58 percent of the vote, to 42 percent for Patzer.

Two other conservatives fared better, but face challenges in November, where victories by Democrats could leave the conservative bloc with just two members.

This is the latest domino that has fallen since the Dover, PA court decision, driving the IDC forces back even more. I wrote about these Dover dominoes back in May 2006.

I had thought that the Kansas issue would also end up in the courts. But it seems like the voters have decided to pull the plug first. If the new board in November reverses itself and removes the pro-IDC language, then the people of Kansas will have saved themselves a long and probably losing court battle. I am not sure what the IDC forces will do now. One of their chief architects, law Professor Phillip Johnson of Berkeley, in an interview given after the Dover decision, sounded discouraged:

“I think the fat lady has sung for any efforts to change the approach in the public schools. . .the courts are just not going to allow it. They never have. The efforts to change things in the public schools generate more powerful opposition than accomplish anything. . .I don’t think that means the end of the issue at all.” “In some respects,” he later goes on, “I’m almost relieved, and glad. I think the issue is properly settled. It’s clear to me now that the public schools are not going to change their line in my lifetime.”

It is clear that he thinks the battle had a better chance of being won in the court of public opinion, rather than in the courts of law. But the Kansas primary results are an ominous sign that the tide may be turning there too.

POST SCRIPT: The terrorists have won

The congressional cafeterias on Capitol Hill have quietly gone back to calling them “French fries” and “French toast.” Those congressional superpatriots who felt that they had struck a decisive blow against Islamojihadifascistiterrorism by renaming them “Freedom fries” and “freedom toast” were strangely unavailable to comment on why they had made such a major retreat.

Global warming-7: The current status of the scientific consensus

So what is the scientific consensus about the answers to the key questions concerning global warming?

The British magazine New Scientist gives a review of the state of affairs concerning climate change, along with a handy summary sheet of the main points, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (thanks to Brian Gray of the Kelvin Smith Library who runs the blog e3 Information Overload for the link) provides more detailed information. Here are some tentative answers to the five key questions I raised in a previous post.

1. Is warming occurring? In other words, are average temperatures rising with time?

Here we have to distinguish between the more recent period (starting in 1861) when we have direct measurements of temperature and the prior periods, for which we have to infer temperatures using proxy measures such as using tree rings or bubbles trapped in ice cores that date back 750,000 years.

For the recent past, the IPCC report says that “The global average surface temperature has increased by 0.6 ± 0.2°C since the late 19th century”.

For the period prior to that, the report says “It is likely that the rate and duration of the warming of the 20th century is larger than any other time during the last 1,000 years. The 1990s are likely to have been the warmest decade of the millennium in the Northern Hemisphere, and 1998 is likely to have been the warmest year.”
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Global warming-6: The public and the paradigm

In the previous post, I discussed how after a paradigm is adopted, scientists tend to communicate only with each other. They are now freed from the need to explain and justify the basic premises of the field to a lay public, and no longer have to make a political case to justify what they are doing. This results in them developing a more technical, insider language and jargon that is opaque to nonscientists, and the technical paper addressed to similarly trained scientists and published in specialized journals becomes the chief means of communication.
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Global warming-5: The emergence of a paradigm

The need to take global warming seriously is not slam-dunk obvious to most people. In my own case, over time I have slowly became convinced that there was an emerging consensus among scientists studying the issue that planetary warming was a serious matter. Like most people, I do not have the time or the expertise to have studied the question in detail, but I have enough respect for the scientific process and the way that scientists make collective judgments as a community that when I see a scientific consensus emerging on anything, I tend to take it seriously. In fact the global warming issue is a great example of seeing, before our very eyes, a transition in science from a pre-paradigmatic state to a paradigmatic state.
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Global warming-4: Is there a scientific consensus on global warming?

Is there a scientific consensus on global warming? Naomi Oreskes from the Department of History and Science Studies Program, University of California at San Diego, thinks so. She published a study in the journal Science (December 3, 2004, volume 306, p. 1686) which argued that the scientific community had arrived at a consensus position on “anthropogenic climate change.” i.e. that global warming was occurring, and that “Human activities . . . are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents . . . that absorb or scatter radiant energy. . . . [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”.
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Global warming-3: The science behind global warming

To understand the science behind global warming, it may be helpful to look at a simplified version of the science behind it.

Consider two objects, one that is luminous (i.e., an object that we can see without the aid of a light source) and another that is not luminous. Examples of luminous objects are the Sun (which generates energy due to nuclear reactions within it and sends a lot of that energy out as light) or a light bulb (that converts electrical energy into light energy). Examples of non-luminous objects are the Earth or a person in a room. The energy radiated by the luminous source spreads out in all directions and some of it will fall on the non-luminous object.

What is important to understand is that even what looks like a non-luminous object also radiates energy into space. In fact every object radiates energy. So in a sense, every object is ‘luminous’ in the sense that it sends out energy, but we usually reserve that term for objects that emit visible light. Not all radiated energy is visible. A human being radiates energy at a rate of about 500 watts, or the equivalent of five 100 watt bulbs, but the reason we do not “see” the radiation energy emitted by people is due to it being outside the visible range

The rate of energy emission of an object radiates depends to a large extent on its temperature (it actually goes as the fourth power of the temperature) and the nature of its surface (such as color, texture, material). So just as the Sun radiates energy into space, so does the Earth, except that the Sun’s radiation is much greater since it is at a much higher temperature.

The important thing about global warming is understanding what happens when the energy radiated by a luminous source (say the Sun) falls upon a non-luminous object (say the Earth). Part of it is immediately reflected back into space, and does not affect the temperature of the Earth. But the rest is absorbed by the Earth and, in the absence of anything else happening, will tend to cause the Earth’s temperature to rise. The relative amounts of the Sun’s energy that are absorbed and reflected by the Earth depends on the nature of the Earth’s surface. (As an example, a person in a room absorbs energy from the surroundings at a rate of about 400 watts, thus adding a person to a room is the net heat equivalent of turning on a 100 watt bulb.)

But as the temperature of the object rises due to it absorbing energy, the amount it radiates out again also increases, and at some point the object reaches equilibrium, which occurs when the energy absorbed by it from outside equals the energy it radiates away. Once an object reaches this state of thermal equilibrium, its temperature stays steady.

If for some reason we alter the ratio of energy absorbed by the Earth to the energy reflected, then the state of equilibrium is disturbed and the Earth’s temperature will shift to a new equilibrium temperature. If relatively more energy gets absorbed, then the equilibrium temperature will rise until the energy radiated again becomes equal to the energy absorbed. Conversely, if relatively more energy now gets reflected, then the equilibrium temperature will drop, i.e., the Earth will cool. The people warning of global warming argue that human activity is causing the former situation and they say that the reason for this is that we are changing the nature of the Earth’s surface, especially its atmosphere.

To understand what is happening at the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, we need to understand something about the energy radiated by the Sun. This comes largely in the form of “electromagnetic energy.” This is an umbrella term that encompasses X-rays, ultraviolet, light waves, infrared, microwaves, radio waves, etc. All these types of radiation are identical except for one single factor, which is called the wavelength of the radiation. The items in the list differ only in their wavelengths, with X-rays having the smallest wavelength and radio waves having the longest. (Similarly, all colors of visible light are also identical except for the wavelength, which increases as you go from blue to green to yellow to red.)

When this broad range of electromagnetic radiation from the Sun hits the Earth’s atmosphere, almost all of it, except the visible light portion, gets absorbed by the atoms and molecules in the atmosphere and does not reach us on the ground. Of the portion that does reach the ground, some of it gets directly reflected unchanged and escapes back into space. The remainder gets absorbed by the ground. It is the energy that is absorbed by the ground that is the source of concern.

Recall that the Earth, like any object, also radiates energy away. But since the temperature of the Earth is different from the temperature of the Sun, the distribution of the wavelengths in the energy radiated by the Earth is different from the distribution that we receive from the Sun (although the total energy involved is the same in both cases for an object in equilibrium). This affects how much is absorbed by the atmosphere as it passes through it. Some of the Earth’s radiation will get absorbed by the gases in the atmosphere (i.e., is trapped), while the rest passes through and goes off into space.

This is a crucial point. If the gases in the atmosphere change significantly, then you can change the relative amounts of the Earth’s radiated energy that escapes into space and the amount that is trapped by the atmosphere . The so-called ‘greenhouse gases’ (carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and others) are those that are very good at absorbing the energy at the wavelengths radiated by the Earth, preventing them from escaping into space.

Global warming scientists argue that human activity is increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. Hence more of the energy radiated by the Earth is being absorbed and less of the energy is escaping into space. Note that the incoming visible light from the Sun is not affected much by the concentrations of greenhouse gases since they are at a different wavelength, and the greenhouse gases do not absorb them as much. As a result of this increase in the absorption levels of the outbound radiation, the equilibrium temperature of the Earth will rise.

At this point, there are various scenarios that can unfold. One is that we arrive at a new and higher but stable equilibrium temperature. If the change in equilibrium temperature is small, the consequences might not be too disastrous, although there will be some adverse effects such as some temperature-sensitive organisms (such as coral reefs) becoming destroyed or some species going extinct if they cannot evolve mechanisms to cope. If the change is large, then there could be massive floods and droughts and other catastrophes.

The worst case scenario is a kind of runaway effect, where a rise in temperature results in effects that cause an even more rapid rise in temperature and so on, in a series of cascading effects.

Some argue that we are already seeing some signs of runaway effects, and point to the melting of the polar ice caps and the general decrease in glaciers and snow coverage worldwide. Snow is white and thus reflects back unchanged into space almost all the sunlight that hits it at the Earth’s surface. When this snow melts and becomes water, not only is the amount of reflected energy decreased but water absorbs light energy. Hence the major loss of snow cover (apart from adverse environmental and ecological consequences) has a major effect on the reflection/absorption balance of the Earth, shifting it towards greater absorption. So more energy is absorbed by the Earth, resulting in even greater warming, resulting in further snow loss, and so on.

Another possible runaway factor is the amount of green cover. On balance, plants, because of photosynthesis, tend on average to be net absorbers of carbon dioxide and emitters of oxygen. Thus they reduce one of the greenhouse gases. If global warming results in less green cover of the Earth (say caused by prolonged droughts), then that would result in more greenhouse gases remaining in the atmosphere and causing yet more warming and more droughts. Human activity such as deforestation can accelerate this process.

Those are the basic elements of the science underlying global warming and the factors that go into building the models that try to predict long term climate change.

Next: The emerging scientific consensus over global warming.

POST SCRIPT: Colbert takes media apart again

As you may recall, the mainstream media did not take kindly to Stephen Colbert’s demolishing them at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Now he takes them apart again.

Global warming-2: Understanding the problem

Understanding global climate concerns is not easy because it is a complex issue which involves many factors and theories, is based on data that span millennia and is not easy to extract, involves sophisticated theories and computer modeling, and requires long chains of inferential reasoning to arrive at conclusions. Compared to it, evolution, that other anathema of Bush and his anti-science Christian base, is a model of clarity.

At least with evolution, the progression shows a clear pattern, with life evolving from simple single cell organisms to the wide array of complex multi-cell systems we see today. If we started discovering anomalous organisms that seem to violate that temporal ordering, that would require a major restructuring of evolutionary theory.
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Global warming

It is undoubtedly true that, while the increasing level of warfare in the Middle East in the immediate issue of concern, the question of global warning is the preeminent long term issue facing the planet today. It represents one of the rare situations when the health of the entire planet is at stake. The only other thing that has similar global consequences is an all-out nuclear war between major nuclear powers since that could also unleash an atmospheric catastrophe that could destroy the planet.

But while we can avoid a nuclear winter by simply doing nothing, i.e. not using the weapons, global warming is an issue where doing nothing is the problem. A strong case has been made that if we continue on the present course, the planet is going to suffer irrevocable harm, changing its climate and weather patterns in ways that will dramatically affect our lives, if not actually destroy them.

One would think that global warming is one scientific question where politics would play a minor role, and where the debate would be based on purely scientific evidence and judgments. Unlike issues like stem cell research and cloning where the scientific questions have to contend with religion-based arguments, as near as I can tell the Bible, Koran, and other religious texts are pretty much agnostic (so to speak) on the issue of whether global warming is something that god has strong views on. While god has a lot to say about things like the proper ways to sacrifice animals or how sinners should be put to death, he seems to not be concerned about the weather, expect for using it as a tactical weapon, like unleashing the occasional deluge to drown everyone but Noah and his family or creating a storm to chastise his prophet Jonah.

Hence it is surprising that some people (including the Bush administration) perceive the case being made that global warming is a serious problem as some kind of ‘liberal’ plot, tarring the proponents of the idea that global warming is real and serious as political enemies, seeking to somehow destroy truth, justice, and the American way. Glenn Greenwald argues that this is the standard mode of operation of the Bush administration, saying “What excites, enlivens, and drives Bush followers is the identification of the Enemy followed by swarming, rabid attacks on it.”

Once that bugle call of politics sounded, Bush devotees dutifully fell into line. They know the script and exactly what they must do and have rallied to the cause, trying to discredit the scientific case and the scientists behind it, arguing that the whole global warming thing is a fabricated crisis, with nothing more to be worried about than if we were encountering just a warm summer’s day. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) says “With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.” And this man is the Chair of the Senate’s Committee on 
Environment and Public Works.

The administration and its supporters have gone to surprisingly extreme methods to suppress alarms about climate change, such as changing the wording of reports by government scientists in order to play down the threat of global warming and muzzling government climate experts, in order to prevent information from getting to the public.

Take another example in which the administration has sought to divert government’s scientist’s focus from global warming:

From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers. . .as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”

David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

“We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings,” said Philip B. Russell, a 25-year NASA veteran who is an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.”

Several NASA researchers said they were upset that the change was made at NASA headquarters without consulting the agency’s 19,000 employees or informing them ahead of time.
. . .
The “understand and protect” phrase was cited repeatedly by James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA who said publicly last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

The attempts to downplay the extent of the problem, divert attention away from actions to study and remedy it, and distort the science behind the global warming issue has been helped by the fact that although the consensus conclusions of the scientific community are pretty straightforward (that global warming is occurring, it is largely caused by human activity, and that we need to take steps to reverse it or face disastrous consequences), the actual science behind it is complicated. This enables those who wish to blur the issue to find ways to cast doubt on that scientific consensus.

Next: Understanding the problem

Killing Lebanon

I had thought of moving on to other topics this week, away from the depressing news of the violence in the Middle East to the other depressing (but at least science-related) topic of global warming. But I simply could not ignore the news over the weekend about the destruction of Lebanon and its capital Beirut and have postponed global warming until tomorrow.

Lebanon is a country that was rebuilding itself after many, many years of civil war that killed over 150,000 people. What we see now is that the Israeli barrage of that country is destroying everything that was so painstakingly created. Veteran British journalist Robert Fisk who has made Lebanon his home and seen it go through good times and bad, walked through the now-deserted streets of this once-vibrant city that had been built from the ashes.

And now it is being un-built. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its glistening halls and shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri’s wonderful transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been levelled and “rubble-ised” and pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shia Muslims to seek sanctuary in schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hizbollah, another of those “centres of world terror” which the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands. Here lived Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God’s leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man; and Sayad Mohamed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics; and many of Hizbollah’s top military planners – including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pin-point accuracy – a doubtful notion in any case, but that’s not the issue – what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?

Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor, fresh from his earlier attempts to provide mechanisms to justify torture, now turns his talents to justify the killing of Lebanese civilians, arguing that many of those “tens of thousands of poor” did in fact deserve this punishment. Following his usual methods, Dershowitz carefully fine-tunes and calibrates his definitions and arguments so as to exonerate the actions of the US and Israel against others, while similar actions taken against the people of the US and Israel are treated as horrendous crimes. Dershowitz always provides fine examples of how to start with a desired conclusion and work back to the required premises, showing that there is no proposition, however execrable, that some people will not attempt to rationalize.

The BBC website has pictures of Beirut after the shelling began. These pictures are shocking in showing the level of destruction, but are not gruesome. Other sites (which I will not link to) are showing pictures of dead and mutilated bodies, many of them children, that are appalling and stomach churning, and these pictures are being seen all over the world. For those who are consoling themselves that what is happening is “precision bombing” that is not targeting civilians, it has to be realized that there can be no such thing in densely populated, highly built up areas. When you hit a high rise building in a city, you are targeting everything and everyone around it as well.

According to the BBC again, “The UN’s Jan Egeland has condemned the devastation caused by Israeli air strikes in Beirut, saying it is a violation of humanitarian law. Mr Egeland, the UN’s emergency relief chief, described the destruction as “horrific” as he toured the city.” The scale of the destruction of Lebanon has even caused “Bush’s poodle” Tony Blair’s government to break with the US. The British Foreign Office minister Kim Howell on a visit to Lebanon said “The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people: these have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation.”

Meanwhile, the Bush government is “rushing” a delivery of more missiles to Israel, which requested them after the bombing of Lebanon began, suggesting that even more of Lebanon is going to be devastated. The administration seems to see no irony in doing this while at the same time alleging that Syria and Iran are supplying Hamas and Hezbollah forces and condemning that support.

When this action is coupled with the US not calling for an immediate ceasefire and Condoleeza Rice’s lack of urgency in trying to find a solution or ceasefire, the rest of the world will simply take this as a sign that the US is doing Israel’s bidding, giving Israel all the time to wants to pummel Lebanon.

Glenn Greenwald argues that all these are signs that the neoconservative stranglehold on American foreign policy is not only complete, but it has lost all semblance of restraint, supporting reckless policies and cheering on further destruction and death with an abandon that should send chills down every person’s spine.

Apparently, it isn’t enough that the U.S. has been defending without reservation the wisdom of the Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon. Nor is it enough that we have been unilaterally blocking a cease-fire and other diplomatic solutions. Nor is it enough that the American taxpayer pays for enormous amounts of Israel’s military equipment — from the planes flying over Lebanon to the tanks entering it. Now we are handing Israel the very bombs that they drop in order to flatten more and more of Lebanon, on a bomb-by-bomb basis.
. . .
The terms they [i.e., neoconservatives] are using to describe their grand war visions are “annihilation” and “cleaning out.” They have had enough with restraint and limited strikes and a war that has been depressingly and weakly confined just to Iraq and Afghanistan. They want full-scale, unrestrained Middle Eastern war — they always have — and they see this as their big chance to have it.

And the more one reads and listens to neoconservatives in their full-throated war calls, the more disturbing and repellent these ideas become. So many of them seem to be driven not even any longer by a pretense of a strategic goal, but by a naked, bloodthirsty craving for destruction and killing itself, almost as the end in itself. They urge massive military attacks on Lebanon, Syria, Iran — and before that, Iraq — knowing that it will kill huge numbers of innocent people, but never knowing, or seemingly caring, what comes after that. And the disregard for the lives of innocent people in those countries is so cavalier and even scornful that it is truly unfathomable, at times just plain disgusting. From a safe distance, they continuously call for — and casually dismiss the importance of — the deaths of enormous numbers of people without batting an eye. And for what?

What is Lebanon going to look like — let alone Syria and Iran — once we decimate large parts of their infrastructure, kill, maim and render homeless thousands upon thousands of their citizens, and bring down their governments? Who cares. Let’s just stop whining and appeasing and get on with the action.
. . .
One can easily lose sight of how bizarre it is that we now so frequently debate whether we should attack countries who have not attacked us nor pose any real threat to attack us. As was true for the “debates” over whether we should use torture (or even “debates” over whether the President can break the law), when something is advocated openly and frequently enough, even the most reprehensible and previously insane ideas can become acceptable and mainstream. We have become a country that now casually and without much trauma debates which countries we should preemptively invade next.

Veteran Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery argues that if the goal of punishment the entire nation of Lebanon is to weaken support for Hezbollah, then Israel has gravely miscalculated, which agrees with what I wrote last week.

Further support for this view comes from a CNN interview with the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. The interviewer Nic Robertson kept pressing the prime minister to condemn Hezbollah and distance himself from them, and even suggested that he should order the Lebanese army to move against them. But Lahoud was having none of it and said that the Israeli invasion of his country is only going to unite the people of Lebanon. Here are some excerpts of the interview:

LAHOUD: Well, if you knew the interior politics of Lebanon, you will understand that in 2000 Hezbollah was the main liberator of our land. And at the time, the Lebanese army was and still is with what is happening on the frontier. Because, you see, what was happening was Israel with airplanes. . . but having the resistance, they think twice. And because of that there is no animosity between the army and the resistance [i.e., Hezbollah]. . . The resistance are Lebanese.
. . .
So our thanks comes when we are united, and we are really united, and the national army is doing its work according to the government, and the resistance is respected in the whole Arab world from the population point of view. And very highly respected in Lebanon as well.
. . .
Believe me, Hezbollah has done a lot for Lebanon in liberating this land. . . Hezbollah is part of the government.
. . .
ROBERTSON: Not everyone supports Hezbollah, and there are divisions in this community. And this country fought a 15-year civil war over those divisions. Those divisions are re-emerging below the surface of support of the attacks that are going on. Those figures could realistically grow bigger.

LAHOUD: Yes, but we’re not going to let them. Because the Lebanese have learned the lesson. Because when they fight between themselves it’s much worse than having someone come from outside. Because we’ve seen what happened in ’75 because we paid a very high price. Now, being united, whatever Israel can do we stay strong, because this makes the morale of the Lebanese stronger when they are united and no one can beat them.
. . .
But children are being killed, massacred. And we don’t see these pictures of these children in the international media because of political reasons. If you see them, well you can’t wait to talk about it and wait for these children and women with nowhere to go and live under bombs and shells. They just live outside. They don’t have a shelter. We can’t wait for the talks to go on. Meanwhile the aircrafts are bombing whatever they want in Lebanon. It never happened. . . I don’t see anything in history that has happened like what is happening now. Airplanes are hitting civilians all over the country and [there is no] retaliation on these airplanes because they are civilians.
. . .
Believe me, violence brings violence, and it will be a cycle that no one will be able to get out of and everybody will lose. If Israel thinks it’s going to win, it’s very mistaken. You cannot solve things and have peace in the region with violence. It might be now they have all this weaponry. But what about the children and the people who have brothers and sisters now dying? Well, they’re pushing them to, really, well, they don’t have anything to lose. For them, their life is nothing, so whatever will do to them. In the future they will seek revenge. So the only way [is] to stop the firing right now for the good of everybody.
. . .
ROBERTSON: How do you get the cease-fire? The Israelis want their soldiers back.

LAHOUD: There were three in Lebanon that have been in prison since 30 years. And there were many, and there was an exchange. So why now, suddenly, after taking two soldiers they have done such a retaliation? Because I believe all was planned from before and, unfortunately, they were waiting for the moment. And when the moment came and these two soldiers were taken, they had the plan of attack. It’s not for the reason that the soldiers were taken, it’s for other reasons. Because since 2000 they have wanted to take their revenge because they had to leave Lebanon.
. . .
Because they have a previous plan and they are executing that plan in that way thinking they will do what they did in ’82. But things have changed since ’82.

ROBERTSON: How?

LAHOUD: Because it’s not like ’82 that they can come in Lebanon and make a promenade until they reach Beirut. These people, underground Lebanese, are ready to die for their land.

ROBERTSON: Hezbollah?

LAHOUD: Not only Hezbollah, many people are ready to die for their land. Wouldn’t you do that if they go inside your country? You’d do the same. And the Lebanese army as well. We’re not going to let anyone take our land. We’ve done it in the past, we liberated our land. We’re not going to let them come back and take it from us. (my italics)

While much of Lahoud’s rhetoric may be just bluster and defiance (because the Lebanese army is no match for the US-supplied Israeli forces), Lahoud’s remarks are a sign that politically, Hezbollah has gained by this action, not only in Lebanon but around the region.

Larry Johnson, formerly with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism says much along the same lines as Lahoud. Meanwhile Paul Craig Roberts argues that Americans should be concerned about allying themselves with neoconservative policies of “tooth and claw,” where might makes right, and Palestinians are treated as expendable. And Juan Cole also debunks the notion that this attack had much to do with the capture of two Israeli soldiers. He says “That this war was pre-planned was obvious to me from the moment it began. The Israeli military proceeded methodically and systematically to destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure, and clearly had been casing targets for some time.” Support for this view also comes from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It all comes back to the problem of Palestinian statelessness. That is the key problem that must be solved if any progress is to be made on any of the other fronts. But it keeps getting deliberately ignored.