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Dumbing It Down

You know there's a huge climate change report coming from the IPCC on Friday. Last night on Larry King, senators Boxer and Inhofe squared off to debate global warming, as did four panelists, only one of whom was an actual climate scientist [two of whom, actually -- JA]. The show carried a hyperventilative headline along the lines of "Will Global Warming Destroy the Earth?" It was the kind of TV that lowers your IQ as surely as being brained with a club.

Inhofe is the guy who has gone around for years saying that global warming is the greatest hoax of all time. He said the climate will cool again in a few years, and contended that scientists were worried about an Ice Age just a couple of decades ago. He was, in other words, channeling Bill Gray. The fact is, there were a couple of folks circa 1975 who raised the Ice Age concern, and a couple of journalistic publications decided that would make a nifty story, but it was never a mainstream idea and certainly does not counterbalance the conclusions today of many thousands of climate scientists who say that global warming is real and significant. Why give Inhofe a platform? Why not let the fringe characters remain on the fringe?

Speaking for the mainstream were Bill Nye the Science Guy (an excellent popularizer but not the right person for this particular debate) and a climate reporter for The Weather Channel, Heidi Cullen [since posting this I've seen this showing that she has a doctorate in climatology and worked at NCAR in Boulder]. The only climate scientist on hand was the famed maverick Richard Lindzen of M.I.T., who said the temperature hasn't risen in the past 8 years (but check the baseline: 1998 rode a super El Nino to become the hottest year on record). There was also some cat from the UK who said we can't afford to do anything about it. Read the transcript here. It was a classic example of giving the naysayers far more time and credibility than they deserve.

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So Joe Biden announces for president and releases on his website his multi-pronged plan to deal with the war in Iraq. You can read it here.

But of course the only thing anyone's talking about is his incredibly stupid remark about Sen. Obama. A professional politician who talks for a living ought to be able to find a way to praise a rising star in his party without offending every African American in the country. But I doubt Biden meant for the line to come out the way it did (he said on the Daily Show that he was trying to be complimentary but wasn't very "artful"), and a country is healthier when it has a little generosity of spirit and doesn't decide to throw a guy under a bus because of a gaffe. Those on the Left who attacked Biden might recall that just a few months ago the Right did everything it could to turn Kerry's mangled joke about Bush into an alleged attack on our troops in Iraq. A few commentators concede that a more charitable view of Biden's comments might be possible. But why not go all the way and actually BE charitable? Otherwise we take another step into dumbed-down politics in which no one is willing to say anything that hasn't been screened by a focus group.

Here's Biden on the Daily Show.

Jon Stewart showed how he could have punctuated his line better, with a period after "African American." Biden said, "That's what I meant to say."

And of the controversy: "It reminded me, welcome back to presidential politics."

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According to DCist, GWU costs nearly 50K a year. Not that such things worry me at this stage of my life.

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Google is taking over the world:

'No one really knows how many books there are. The most volumes listed in any catalogue is thirty-two million, the number in WorldCat, a database of titles from more than twenty-five thousand libraries around the world. Google aims to scan at least that many. "We think that we can do it all inside of ten years," Marissa Mayer, a vice-president at Google who is in charge of the books project, said recently, at the company's headquarters, in Mountain View, California. "It's mind-boggling to me, how close it is. I think of Google Books as our moon shot."'

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 1, 2007; 8:30 AM ET
 
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