Broom of the System

Contrarianism as Dogma

October 27, 2009

Social-science superstars Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner and Slate music critic Jonah Weiner all triggered firestorms in the past week by endorsing propositions most sensible people would find absurd. Levitt and Dubner’s sequel to “Freakonomics,” the ever-creatively titled “Superfreakonomics,” included a chapter on global warming urging complacency and riddled with inaccuracies, from its assertion that curbing carbon emissions cannot prevent catastrophic climate change (it can) to its argument that solar panels contribute to global warming because they are black and radiate heat (they don’t, and in fact most are blue). Weiner, meanwhile, argued that the late-’90s atrocity of a band—Creed—is underrated.

As one would expect, each piece of nonsense triggered a strong counter reaction. Environmental bloggers and advocacy groups jumped on Levitt and Dubner, picking apart each and every piece of misinformation that they are using their fame to spread. Criticism of Weiner was centered on Twitter, where users offered satirical “Slate pitches” with theses as ridiculous as the notion that Creed has any redeeming value, like “Suicide: Why it might not actually kill you” or “Bank of America: Too awesome to fail.”

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A Federation of the Whole World

September 29, 2009

It is a shame that Libyan despot Muammar al-Qaddafi, while pontificating in front of the General Assembly this past week about how swine flu originated in a weapons lab, how the Kennedy assassination should be reinvestigated, and how Israel and Palestine should merge to become the nation of “Isratine,” also proposed reforming the United Nations Security Council—not because the concern was unwarranted, but exactly because it deserves attention. The fact that the world’s most powerful security body leaves billions under its purview without real representation is not just fodder for a madman’s ramblings. It is a true scandal, one that the body’s current members should feel an obligation to address.

Upon the UN’s founding, selection of the council’s five permanent members seemed straightforward. Ultimate control would rest with the nations that collectively won the war leading to the body’s creation—to wit, the U.S., U.K., France, the Chinese nationalists, and the Soviet Union. Historically speaking, this was to be expected. Traditionally, the victors of a conflict claim a key stake in any postwar order, a major spoil of victory. As a matter of justice, the legitimacy of this norm certainly warrants debate, but it at least made historical sense.

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