Is Dennis the menace?


Read Dennis Prager’s response: A reasoned skeptic’s response

Dennis Prager reminds me of Harry Truman. No, not Harry Truman the president. I’m talking about the Harry Truman who, in 1980, refused to evacuate his Mount St. Helens Lodge, located less than two miles from the crater of the volcano threatening to erupt. The government evacuated 300 loggers, 50 forest rangers and their families, and 60 residents of the tiny village of Spirit Lake, but Truman remained defiant. “That mountain just doesn’t dare blow up on me,” declared Truman. The volcano erupted on May 18, 1980, with a blast 500 times more powerful than the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, blowing the entire top off Mount Saint Helens and killing 60 people, including Harry Truman, who was buried under 3 feet of muddy ash.

Now please don’t get me wrong. When politicians tell us the sky is falling, we need to be skeptical, but Dennis comes across like an ostrich burying his head deeply in the sand. (In truth, ostriches don’t really bury their heads in the sand. When frightened, an ostrich lowers its head and neck to the ground, creating the illusion that its head is buried in the ground. But correcting misinformation, as you’ll soon see, is what this rebuttal is all about.)

In his two-part article on global warming in The Jewish Journal, Dennis explained the main reason why he and “many thoughtful people” remain skeptical that human activity produced global warming: The left wing lies to create hysteria. By “thoughtful people,” I gather Dennis is referring to people who are kind and considerate, not people who are great thinkers. If they were using their brains, Dennis and the thoughtful people he claims to represent would not see man-made global warming as a left-wing conspiracy. I don’t use my brain much either, but I’m pretty sure climatology is some sort of science, not something we get to vote on — although, if science was on the ballot, I would definitely vote to repeal Newton’s third law of motion.

Dennis points out that thousands of scientists disagree that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are causing global warming, most notably MIT professor Richard Lindzen and renowned physicist Freeman Dyson. Dennis wisely neglected to mention that a paper Lindzen delivered in 1992, titled “Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus,” was underwritten by OPEC, and that Dyson proposed that soaring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be offset by his cockamamie scheme to mass cultivate specially bred “carbon-eating trees.”

According to NASA’s Web site, “The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.” Of course, it’s very possible that NASA is a left-wing organization trying to dupe us all. After all, it did reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet — which a lot of people considered just downright un-American.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states on its Web site, “The earth is warming and human activity is the primary cause.” However, I’m quite sure the Union of Concerned Scientists is also a left-wing association. A right-wing group would have named itself the Union of Unconcerned Scientists.

Cover, The Jewish Journal (Dec. 9)

The National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science all have stated that climate change is likely caused by human activity. Obviously, the members of these organizations are all card-carrying members of the communist party as well.

Then again, Dennis does make an excellent point. Why discuss a scientific issue scientifically when you can turn it into an illogical and irrational partisan argument for your own self-aggrandizement? Well, I’m certainly willing to go down that road, too.

Dennis says he is not prepared to wreck the Western world’s economy to combat the threat posed by global warming unless he’s absolutely sure humans are responsible. I agree. If methane gas emitted by livestock is ultimately responsible for melting the polar ice caps, then we should make those flatulent cows mop up the mess.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure why Dennis is unwilling to wreck the economy to save humanity from the threat posed by global warming. A few years back, he was completely willing to the wreck the economy by going to war in Iraq to combat the threat posed by nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Maybe he learned something from that mistake. So, perhaps there is hope after all.

Of course, fear of destroying the economy was one of the same reasons given by those who opposed abolishing slavery in the United States. Personally, I believe we Americans are perfectly capable of wrecking the economy without having to free slaves or abandon our reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels.

Frankly, I’m a bit puzzled by Dennis’ insistence that our attempts to stop global warming will wreck the Western world’s economy. Isn’t that the same fear-mongering that Dennis so vehemently denounces? Or is my logic as convoluted as his?

While I can’t really understand how anyone could seriously equate the threat posed by global warming with the dangers of silicone implants, secondhand smoke, baby formula and peanut allergies, Dennis also claims that the left wing has exaggerated the dangers of nuclear power because the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl resulted in only 56 direct deaths. Well, sure, there’s really no reason to take into account the 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer that were diagnosed from 1992 to 2002 in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, among those who were under 19 years old at the time of the Chernobyl accident. I think we can safely dismiss the 60,000 people who were driven from their homes in Ukraine, the hundreds of animals that were born with gross deformities, the uninhabitable 2,826-square-kilometer Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and the incidences of leukemia and other cancers that there is no reliable way to statistically evaluate.

Even if every example Dennis gave of the left wing’s attempts to incite hysteria had not contained misleading half-truths, the left wing does not hold a monopoly on idiocy. The right wing spouts its fair share of lies to unnecessarily alarm the American public. I seem to remember President George W. Bush insisting that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction to justify the United States’ invasion of Iraq; Vice President Dick Cheney asserting that al-Qaeda had a relationship with Saddam Hussein’s regime; Sarah Palin alleging that President Barack Obama’s health-care reform bill would sanction “death panels”; Michele Bachmann claiming that the human papillomavirus vaccine leads to “mental retardation”; and Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Alan Keyes falsely proclaiming that President Obama was not a natural-born citizen and was not constitutionally eligible to serve as president of the United States — until he produced his birth certificate.

In keeping with Dennis’ twisted logic, I prefer to argue with equal preposterousness that the main reason I believe human activity is responsible for global warming is because the right wing repeatedly fails to see the writing on the wall. (I just threw in that oblique reference to the apocalyptic Book of Daniel to add some sorely needed Jewish content to this column.) Here, then, are 10 impending calamities that the right wing ignored:

1. Hurricane Katrina: On Sept. 2, 2005, in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the widely reported failures and incompetence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide adequate relief to the victims in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, President George W. Bush lauded FEMA director Michael D. Brown on national television. “Brownie,” he said, “you’re doing a heck of a job.” Ten days later, after continued media coverage revealed that Brown was indeed doing a heck of a job bungling the disaster response, Brown resigned in disgrace — although Bush kept his inept crony on salary, at $148,000 a year.

2. The 9/11 terrorist attacks: The confidential President’s Daily Brief given to President George W. Bush on Aug. 6, 2001 (weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks) contained a two-page section titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” and referred to possible hijacking attempts by Osama bin Laden disciples and the existence of about 70 FBI investigations into alleged al-Qaeda cells operating within the United States. Bush failed to read the document.

3. The Iran insurgency: On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush, wearing full flight gear, landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, received an enthusiastic reception and delivered a triumphant speech in front of a banner reading “Mission Accomplished,” signaling the end to “major combat operations” in the Iraq invasion. The insurgent war dragged on for another eight years.

4. Bernie Madoff: On Nov. 7, 2005, Boston derivatives expert Harry Markopolos submitted a 21-page memo to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) titled “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund Is a Fraud,” alleging that hedge fund investor Bernie Madoff was operating a Ponzi scheme. Markopolos identified 20 red flags showing that Madoff’s steady returns were not possible. The SEC, chaired by Republican Christopher Cox, ignored Markopolos’ detailed memo and follow-up reports. Three years later, on Dec. 10, 2008, Bernie Madoff freely admitted the fraud to his two sons, who promptly reported him to investigators; the next day, the FBI arrested Madoff for bilking $50 billion from school endowments, pension funds and retirement accounts.

5. Soviet domination: On Oct. 6, 1976, during a televised debate with Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, President Gerald Ford claimed, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration. … I don’t believe … that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don’t believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don’t believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of these countries is independent, autonomous, it has its own territorial integrity, and the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union.” At the time, the Soviet Union controlled Yugoslavia, Romania and Poland.

6. The Los Angeles riots: On May 19, 1992, in a San Francisco speech, Vice President Dan Quayle blamed the violence of the Los Angeles riots on the decay of family values, citing Murphy Brown’s decision to give birth out of wedlock and raise the child without a father. Murphy Brown was a fictional character on the television sitcom “Murphy Brown.”

7. Nuclear waste: On Feb. 15, 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said, “All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” Well, yes, if it’s a massively large desk. “Over the past four decades, the entire industry has produced about 65,200 metric tons of used nuclear fuel,” says the Web site of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “If used fuel assemblies were stacked end-to-end and side-by-side, this would cover a football field about seven yards deep.”

8. AIDS: In October 1988, Republican Sen. Jesse Helms said, “Let me tell you something about this AIDS epidemic. There is not one single case of AIDS reported in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy.” By March 31, 1989, of the 89,501 AIDS cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,962 were attributed to heterosexual transmission.

9. The Depression: In June 1930, Republican President Herbert Hoover greeted a group of representatives from various charitable organizations who urged him to start a federal public works program. “Gentlemen, you have come 60 days too late,” replied Hoover. “The depression is over.” Over the next 18 months, the Dow Jones Industrial average dropped 70 percent.

10. Watergate: At a press conference on Aug. 22, 1973, President Richard Nixon declared, “Watergate is water under the bridge.” Less than one year later, Nixon resigned from office due to his cover-up of the Watergate scandal.

Just as my deeply flawed examples of right-wing negligence do nothing to prove that global warming is man-made, the examples Dennis gave that the left wing repeatedly has cried wolf about impending catastrophes equally fail to prove that mankind’s responsibility for global warming is an alarmist fiction. Had Dennis wished to make a more convincing argument, he should have shared this amusing piece of history:

In the 1890s, more than 150,000 horses drew buggies and streetcars in New York City. Each horse expelled an average of 22 pounds of manure daily, prompting one commentator to predict that by 1930 horse manure would bury the streets and reach the level of Manhattan’s third-story windows. That frightening scenario never happened because the advent of the automobile ended reliance on horses. Unfortunately, those fossil fuel-burning automobiles have been spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere ever since. Dennis could have argued that, eventually, something unexpected may come along that solves the entire global warming quandary in one fell swoop.

Still, one question remains: How long would Dennis wait for the invention of the automobile before he picked up a shovel? On second thought, never mind. He seems to be shoveling plenty already.

Joey Green is the author of more than 45 books, including “Contrary to Popular Belief.” His newest book, “Dumb History: The Stupidest Mistakes Ever Made,” comes to bookstores in April. Visit him at joeygreen.com.

Beyond Despair


Last September, in Khartoum, Sudan, a rumor surfaced that Westerners were going about town, shaking the hands of Muslims, and thereby causing the Muslim’s penises to disappear. Really. This was reported in the Arabic language Al-Quds Al-Arabi and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (memri.org).

The rumor spread, mass hysteria ensued, hospital rooms filled with nervous men and police arrested some 40 foreigners on suspicion of sorcery. Only when the health minister publicly discredited the claims did quiet return to Khartoum, but not before a Sudanese columnist blamed the sorcery on “an imperialist Zionist agent that was sent to prevent our people from procreating and multiplying.”

I thought of the Great Penis Panic of 2003 when I heard the now-infamous remarks of outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. In a keynote speech to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, he called for the world’s 1 billion Muslims to take on the several million Jews who he says, “rule the world by proxy.”

Mohamad’s speech earned a standing ovation from the Arab and Muslim potentates, but that’s hardly surprising. In societies where rumors of a Zionist genital-wasting disease gain instant traction, tirades like Mohamad’s must seem positively Churchillian.

My reaction to the speech teetered from outrage to fear. The outrage was tempered by the fact that Mohamad’s speech was actually an articulate critique of Muslim rulers that stand in the way of reform and modernity. And my fear was tempered by the thought that not every anti-Semitic statement presages Shoah II. As Norman Mailer has written, “How splendid it will be in the next century if we are rid finally of Hitler’s curse, and begin to see ourselves as a strong people who need not mistake every passing anti-Semite for the Angel of Death.”

But I, like so many other Jews I know, harbor an uneasy sense that what’s passing before us is not a random anti-Semite, but an entire parade. Consider the results of a new Gallup Poll conducted for the European Commission, which shows that more Europeans consider Israel a threat to world peace than any other country.

There is no question that some of Israel’s policies contribute to instability in the Middle East, but to say, as 59 percent of Europeans surveyed did, that Israel is more of a threat than Iraq, Syria, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea is to look upon a complex and dangerous world and find solace in the simplicity of “Blame the Jews.”

“There is a sense the world will not accept us and will continue to reject us,” said Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Mideast Peace and Development. “There is hostility in the Islamic world and anti-Semitism in Europe.”

Cohen was speaking at a Beverly Hills parlor meeting hosted this week by the Israel Policy Forum. But as much as Cohen understands our fears, he counseled against our despondency. The perception that we are under siege, he said, “is in fact becoming our mood.” And that is very bad for the Jews.

Malaysia’s Mohamad disguised his spot-on critique of Muslim rulers as an attack on Jews. Those in Europe and elsewhere who refused to condemn Mohamad, or who say Israel is more of a threat than, say, North Korea, are in some ways using criticism of Israel as away to attack the Unites States. What this pas de deux-plicity illustrates, Cohen said, is a “new linkage between Jews and the United States. The hostility toward one and toward the other are linked together.”

In every Muslim land he has visited, Cohen has seen that one issue — Israel — was poisoning the attitude of elites and people to the United States. You begin to wonder, he said, whether there’s an emerging theory linking the old resentment over the idea of Jews as a Chosen people to the new resentment of America as a modern world power.

“Ancient chosenness and modern chosenness are the objects of a joint hostility that is widely spread,” he said.

Standing at the crossroads of this hate is American Jewry: strong and scared, powerful and paranoid, secure and anxious. We read of the Gallup Poll, Mohamad, The New Republic fracas, the anti-Israel hate fest at Ohio State University, and we can’t be sure if the writing on the wall is in pencil or ink.

Cohen’s concern is that, in our fear, too many of us have turned to what he calls, “cognitive self-ghettoization.” We hold conferences, collect evidence and point fingers, but do little that is positive other than calling attention to our dilemma. In the beginning of the last century, Jews answered their enemies with two energetic and brilliant ideas: the creation of American Jewish culture and of Zionism itself. At the beginning of this century, we are all but bereft of ideas when confronting new threats. American Jewry, at the crossroads of the animus toward Israel, Jews and America, has both an obligation and opportunity to do something beyond crying, “Oy.”

I asked Cohen to name one thing we could do that could possibly make a difference. His immediate answer: education. A younger generation of Muslims is starved for American education. We need to enable more Muslim youth to study here, and open more American campuses in Muslim lands. We need to bring ourselves into an “effective relationship” with the troubled world beyond our borders. Instead of withdrawing, we need to reach out. We need to shake hands, so to speak, and let things fall where they may.

+