The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Wasting Time

For your typical off the shelf political conservative, there are a number of issues that really get their heart rate up and make them red in the face. Some of them are obvious, abortion, the “vast left wing media conspiracy”, national defense; others are not as prominent but continue to have a vocal backing that will make your head spin if you even begin to argue to the contrary. We have such an issue in global warming.

Why are members of the conservative movement so adamant that global warming does not exist? When I have written about global warming in the past, amongst the negative replies there is a common theme, the costs we would incur pursuing an imaginary specter are wasteful. Such environmental causes are said to be political scare tactics to drum up support for the base during election years and the factual basis of events like global warming are proclaimed by these online experts as being non-existent. As there are a number of issues that we can safely say are conservatives’ bread and butter issues, similarly there are groups of people and their causes that result in a knee jerk reaction. Conservative claims that global warming warnings are counter-factual seems to me to be a result of not an analysis of fact, but a reaction to environmentalism. No doubt there are many conservatives that are interested in the preservation of the environment, but there is no doubt that the large part of American legislation that is decidedly not pro-environment has been a product of the Bush administration. Perhaps when I pigeon hole global warming as a conservative hot button topic, I should clarify it as a conservative, Bush administration supporter topic. It is telling that even magazines like Field and Stream, have published an increasing number of editorials critical of the Bush administration’s environmental policy. It is difficult to avoid cringing at the environmental record, especially when the President attempts to end the Clean Water Act and touts a net wetland loss of zero (a 523,000 acre loss of natural wetland is offset by golf course water hazards).

“Rod and gun in hand, and backing the Second Amendment right to own firearms, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have won the hearts of America’s sportsmen. Yet the two men have failed to protect outdoor sports on the nation’s public lands.”- October 2003

College Republican leaders such as Columbia University’s Chris Kulawik note that global warming is “a great debate for our generation”; a debate that once it finally begins may be too late. My sort of thinking is often dismissed as “alarmist”, but when one is confronted by fact it is hard to react like former Vice-President Gore and demand immediate change. Fact however is a funny thing; while fact exists, it can be interpreted to serve either side of the argument. Since the 19th century, the earth has experienced a 0.6º C increase (a little over 1º F). This amount may seem inconsequential, but as you can observe in the environment around you, there have been profound effects including an exponential decrease in glacial thickness, increased droughts in Africa, and increases in natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Critics are quick to point out that our current temperature increase is part of a natural cycle of heating and cooling. However the point that they fail to miss is that, although they are correct in saying that historically earth has experienced a cyclical hundred thousand year period of rising and falling temperature, that data was based on a static amount of CO2 that varied between 200 and 270 ppmv during the low and high temperature variation periods, respectively.

We are not living in a time when we can use prehistoric carbon dioxide levels to predict climate change for we are not living in the same conditions. Since the Industrial Revolution we have been steadily increasing our CO2 output to the point where we stand at ~ 370 ppmv which is a 137% increase. Do we have data that we can rely on that will predict climate change with such an increase in CO2? Unfortunately we do not.

Earth’s orbit is not circular but elliptical. The eccentricity of orbit causes a variation of the sunlight that reaches earth; this event known as Milankovitch Cycles has a period of about 100,000 years. This seems to match up very well with the earth’s heating and cooling cycles. As we will undoubtedly encounter another cold period, where presumably the glaciers will begin to reform, the burning questions exist in the immediacy of now. Glacial observations have shown us that every year our glaciers are melting and breaking off at a rate far greater than we had predicted; large chunks of Greenland have disappeared and Antarctica is showing similar behavior. It is indisputable that glacial melting will create an increase in the amount of water in our oceans as well as a change in the composition of it (fresh water vs. salt water). The effects of increased freshwater is hypothetical as of now, but the predicted effects are not for the best.

Human beings are quite obviously the cause of carbon dioxide increases and we are quite obviously experiencing increases in temperature. It is irrelevant that temperature change and climate are affected by Milankovitch Cycles, as the earth will operate on its own scale of time. Earth will eventually cool itself as its orbit pushes it farther from the sun, but that cooling period is hundreds if not thousands of years in the distance. However earth is currently heating up and our topography is being radically altered. If Hurricane Katrina showed us anything, it was that we need to be prepared for the worst. Without a global effort, one that includes the United States, advancements in technology and society will continue to drive the demand for fossil fuels; CO2 output will continue to increase, temperatures will continue to increase. While one degree Fahrenheit seems insignificant, one degree could dictate whether a glacier stays frozen or melts into the ocean.

Refusal to take action now jeopardizes the human race. There is no reason why we should not take preventative measures to ensure that global warming does not become the reality that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth foresees. In another ten thousand years the earth will return to normalcy, who will be the one accountable for allowing the human population to be engulfed by a statistical deviation in temperature?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Officium Honor Et Patria

As I embark upon my chosen path of military service I can't help but reflect upon the immense potential demonstrated by my colleagues and classmates at Columbia, on whose shoulders lay the hopes and dreams, indeed the very future, of this nation. And yet, while potential I see, I also note a supreme lack of vigor and ambition for national service, military service in particular. I have worked as an active duty military officer in New York City for just a few months now, and have been doing my best to interest students in something that shouldn't need to be sold, something that should be looked upon as an honor and a privilege: the chance to lead our nation's servicemen and women as military officers. It wasn't so long ago, less than half a century in fact, that Columbia was known throughout as a source of great military leadership, an institution that honed the knowledge and skills of officers in the arts and sciences and informed them upon the very philosphical and ethical foundations of the free and democratic society of which they stood in defense. As one learned sociology professor has noted to me, the societal and political expectations of today and indeed the very abandonment of national conscription in favor of a small volunteer military have changed the equation and removed much of the impetus for university graduates to enter into service as commisioned military officers. Others have observed the expansion of opportunities for service into other realms, as exemplified by the success of Teach for America or the Peace Corps, and the desire of students to use their talents for the 'good of humanity' rather than in the service of what they view as an immoral or barbaric institution. These other forms of service are quite admirable and immensely beneficial to society, but the contrary view of military service and leadership as an immoral venture to be shunned or castigated illustrates a thorough lack of understanding and foresight. Wars may come and go but the necessity to protect and defend our constitution as well as our lives, liberties, and persuit of happiness will always remain. This is your military. And for you, the best and brightest of this nation, the charge to serve has always been greater, for you have been vested with the immense responsibilities that arise out of great intelligence, knowledge, and influence. Recall that our constitution and the political and moral philosophy upon which it is grounded was forged and remunerated by Columbians. That among the great officers who fought for these rights and civil liberties we today enjoy were the likes of John Jay, Gouvernor Morris, and a certain Army Colonel by the name of Hamilton. War, politics, and governments change. What remains, however, is the continued need for great military leadership, tempered by a broad liberal education in philosophy, history, science and economics, and a worldly understanding of global affairs. I entreat you, my fellow Columbians, to take up the torch of leadership and bring to our armed forces the values of leadership, knowledge, and understanding that Columbia has imparted to you. Remember well the words of Lt. Gen. Sir William E. Butler, "The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I parked my car in our dusty unpaved school parking lot and walked through the field to pre-calculus. After I stepped into the door of my first period class and sat down, none of us moved for the rest of the day. I sat on the floor for the next three, it seemed like forever, hours; unable to look away from the television. Nobody could have imagined planes colliding with the World Trade Center towers, the horror of desperate men and women hurling themselves out of windows hoping for a miracle or a quicker means to an inevitable finale. Even then it hadn't sunk in that that day would be a day I would remember forever.

Earlier in my highschool career we were tasked with writing a history essay employing only primary sources. I had interviewed one of my mom's co-workers who recounted to me living through World War II and the fear they had felt as his family had gathered around the tv watching and waiting as President Kennedy navigated the Bay of Pigs invasion. I didn't occur to me until a few years ago that those were defining moments in history, events that shaped modern society, events that a generation had the tragic privilege of living through. At this point, I think there are very few people who do not have a story about where they were on September 11th, 2001. It is not because the Bush administration repeats that that was the date where his outlook on the presidency changed, admonishes those who haven't "adjusted to a new paradigm of the world", but simply because it was a national tragedy that reached everyone's heart from the left coast to the Atlantic.

That following year I made the decision to accept my enrollment to Columbia University in New York City. At our commencement address only four months ago, President Bollinger said of our enrollment decision as being, "difficult not just because picking a college is a big decision, but for a far more momentous reason: you were among the first group of college students to arrive in New York after September 11. Your choice, in the aftermath of the attacks, must have seemed risky. But in choosing this city, at a time of such upheaval, you sent a very clear message. You said, in effect, "I want my education to be in and of the world."

In a way it was terrifying to be away from home in the most important city in the world. It was a city that was known for indifference to its inhabitants, a city where everyone could be somebody and everyone could be nobody; it was a city in which I knew no one (I do believe now that New Yorkers are amongst the best people I have ever met in my life, in no way deserving the cold reputation that they are attributed with). At the end of my stay at Columbia, I left with a sense that there is much to be done in the world and many injustices to be fought against. I had my eyes opened to the best that the world had to offer and the very worst that is at times present in the best. September 11, 2001 did not fundamentally change me as a person, I had no shining light moment telling me to live each day like my last or to dedicate myself to humanitarian causes, or even that the Apocalypse was approaching. It did hasten my realization that we as inhabitants of this planet can do much better and that accountability always comes full circle.

"When we look at the modern man we have to face the fact that the modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to his scientific and technological abundance, we have learned to fly the air like birds, we have learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we have not learned to walk the earth as brothers and sisters." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Path to 9/11

Tonight ABC began it's 2-part mini series looking back at 9/11, bringing viewers "behind closed doors at the CIA, the FBI and the White House and into the world of Richard Clarke, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Sandy Berger and CIA Director Richard Tenet". This is however not a documentary and has been filed under "docu-drama". "Docu-drama" apparently is another termed used to describe a historically based film where the writer and producers were able to take liberties fabricating history.

Now "The Path to 9/11" is advertised as having Governor Thomas Kean, Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, as the senior consultant. One would expect that such a film would be honest and try to represent the facts as clearly and undistorted as possible; writer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, even said that he was trying to preserve the tone of the 9/11 Commission's report. What then do Governor Kean and Nowrasteh know that the rest of us do not? ABC's series frames the path to 9/11 as centering around the failings on the Clinton administration, claiming that the administration and intelligence agencies had numerous opportunities to capture/kill Osama Bin Laden but failed to do so for reasons of politics and logistics.

The Clinton administration did not have superior intelligence agencies to that which was on hand for President George W. Bush, the problems existing with inter-agency communication was then as much of a problem as it is now, but to frame the blame on President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Sandy Berger is ridiculous. By not labeling the series as a documentary, they are able to get away with a lot while still delivering a powerful message to the American public. There is and never has been any evidence that our military, covert agents, etc. were ever in a position to get Bin Laden. "CIA agents weren't on the ground, they weren't with Massoud, nobody had bin Laden in their grasp, and Berger never refused to give the order to get the guy."

The outrage over this film is extremely vocal. Inaccuracies from this film are tantamount to libel, it is outrageous how much blame is placed upon Berger and Albright. It is one thing if it was historically accurate, it is another to fabricate it for dramatic effect; however this is not just for dramatic effect as hesitation on Clinton's national security team's part is the crux of the plot.

Many have spoken out, including Albright and Berger, 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben Veniste (Chief of Watergate Task Force), a slew of top university historians, friends of agent John O'Neill, the FBI agents who left their advisory positions on the series citing gross inaccuracies and unwillingness of the producers to alter the script, a lot of conservative pundits including (suprisingly) Chris Wallace and Bill O'Reilly. What do Keane and Nowrasteh know that everyone else does not?

This film is particularly outrageous because of the position that 9/11 holds in the American psyche. Many events are still unclear and many widows, friends and family are still seeking closure and for ABC to air a "docu-drama" that is riddled with inaccuracy is hurtful to everyone. It is entirely possible that this film be taken as a factual reference point that serves as the majority of America's recollection of the September 11, 2001. For that reason it should have been important to the producers, writer, and ABC that historical accuracy be well maintained and that fictional dramatic liberty be held to areas of the inconsequential. However, it is not surprising that this has occurred as writer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, was a member of the panel: "How Conservatives Can Lead Hollywood'’s Next Paradigm Shift". I hope America pays attention and does not let the wool cover their eyes to what is the truth and what is not.