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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 07, 2003

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Yow, Alston, Global Warming, and the Ice Age

Over the year and a half that I've written columns for the Rhinoceros Times, I've received letters from conservatives saying, "How can you call yourself a Democrat when you detest Bill Clinton, support an active strategy against terrorist states, believe that the U.S. Supreme Court saved us from a stolen election in Florida, and support strong traditional family values?"

It's an easy question to answer.

When we first moved to Greensboro in 1983, as Senator Helms and Governor Hunt were jockeying for position in the 1984 senatorial election, we found a tabloid-sized flier on our front doorstep.

Jesse Helms was never mentioned in this political ad. It was all about Governor Hunt. He was called "Liberal Jim Hunt" as if Liberal were his first name.

There were lots of pictures, too. And in every picture, Governor Hunt was shown shaking hands with, hugging, or with his arm across the shoulder of one or more black people.

It took about two seconds to realize what I was looking at. The word "liberal" had replaced the old term "n------lover" in North Carolina politics. And I knew then and there that whatever else he might stand for, Jesse Helms was regarded by the die-hard white racists of North Carolina as their boy.

So for years I used to tell people I was a Democrat because of Jesse Helms.

Then, for a few months last fall, I told people I was a Democrat because of Trent Lott.

And now, in case anyone cares, I'm a Democrat because of Billy Yow.

When he said that a black candidate for County Manager would have to be "overly qualified" to get the job, it filled me with disgust.

I've got a friend -- let's call him Bob -- a wise, spiritual, loyal, hard-working, generous man beloved by all who know him. Bob graduated from college back in the early seventies with a degree in computer programming. Naturally, he tried to get a job in computers in the Greensboro area.

Everywhere he went, he was told, "Your grades look very good, but unfortunately, we're only looking to hire people with at least two years' experience."

Because Bob is an honest man, he took them at their word, until finally, about the seventh or eighth time he heard this, he had to blurt out the obvious question: If nobody will hire me till I've got two years' experience, how am I going to get that experience?

The guy he asked looked really embarrassed. After a long pause, he said, "Bob, I just don't know."

With that, Bob got the message. It was only a black man who needed two years' experience before he could get hired.

And if Bob had had two years' experience, you can bet they would have insisted that he needed four.

So Bob got a much less fulfilling -- and much lower-paying -- job. With no practical way to keep up in the field (this was before home computers), he became less qualified for computer work with each passing year.

In essence, the time and money he had invested in his college education was stolen from him, because a black man simply need not apply.

Do you think he was the only African-American who had this experience in Greensboro, North Carolina? I know for a fact that he is not.

But times have changed, right? Black people don't face barriers like that, right?

Things have improved. In fact, when my wife and I were choosing between two job offers back in 1983, one in Hartford, Connecticut, and the other here in Greensboro, the reason we chose Greensboro was in large part because of race relations here.

Two years before, in starting a Ph.D. program, I hadn't even applied to a school west of the Mississippi, specifically because we wanted our children to grow up in a place where there were people of different races and cultures. But we were disappointed in the northern industrial city where I went to graduate school. Segregation there was almost complete. The only time blacks and whites met there was at McDonald's -- with a counter between them.

So it was refreshing to sit down to our first dinner in Greensboro, at the old downtown Hilton, and have two waiters approach us, one white, one black. The white guy said, "Hi, I'm Ted, your white waiter for this evening, and your black waiter will be John."

Then they both broke up laughing.

You have no idea what a delightful surprise that was. It was obvious that a white guy and a black guy had (a) the same job and (b) a relaxed friendship.

We observed that in Greensboro, blue-collar and white-collar workers of both races would come in to fast-food restaurants and sit down and eat together. This never happened in the north, as far as we had seen.

Whites and blacks in Greensboro might yell at each other, but whites and blacks here also talk to each other, and there's a lot more talking than yelling.

Blacks and whites here have definite community and cultural differences, but the boundary is permeable, a low hedge rather than a high wall. Friendships and families can cross the line.

And over the years, we've seen things get better and better.

For instance, take Skip Alston. I've watched him grow from being an angry advocate of the interests of the black community to being the sort of leader who governs for the benefit of all.

Look at his response to Yow's paranoid racial fears. With Alston's current political power, he could have stuck it to Yow, deliberately making sure that his worst fears were fulfilled.

Instead, in a very statesmanlike way, he moved the selection process away from the county commission and put it in more "impartial" hands.

Contrast Alston's conciliatory words and actions with Yow's, and you'll understand why I see hope for our future in Alston, while Yow causes me nothing but dread.

Yow smugly proclaims that some people might not like him, but his constituents are right behind him, and he's going to be reelected.

I wonder. I'm sure Yow has heard from lots of the same people who call in their beeps to the Rhino, saying, "Right on, Yow! You tell them uppity black people to keep in their place."

But how many of these cave people are there?

I'll bet there are a lot more white people in Yow's district who see the truth about him.

Yow stands for the old way. And they're tired of it. Ashamed of it. Determined to reject it.

There is room for reasonable debate about affirmative action. For instance, I believe that affirmative action that promotes minority schoolkids or gets them into college without insisting that they meet the same academic standards as everyone else actually does them considerably more harm than good.

But once they are qualified, when it comes to the workplace, I think affirmative action in hiring is still needed -- and if anyone has any doubts about that, they have only to read what Yow has said and realize that he probably represents the hiring philosophy of many another white man.

"Overly qualified." Just like my friend Bob had to be impossibly overqualified in order to get a job in his chosen field.

Here's a clue, Mr. Yow. Skip Alston was elected by voters in a democracy, just like you. He got to be chair of the county commission by a democratic process, too. And just like anyone else, he has a right to make sure that his constituency gets fairly represented in the selection process for the new county manager.

What are you afraid of, Mr. Yow? Have there been too many black county managers in Guilford County? Have they done such a terrible job?

Or has there, in fact, never been a black county manager?

Why are you so determined to make sure there is never a black county manager in the future?

After your display of rank racism, Mr. Yow, I think Skip Alston would have been perfectly justified in doing his best to assure that only black candidates were considered for the job.

But Alston is a bigger and better man than you, Mr. Yow, and is more fit to govern in a democracy.

And I hope that the voters of your district are so ashamed of your embarrassing display of good old fashioned racial prejudice that they vote you down resoundingly in the next election.

But if they don't, and you return, I suppose it will do little harm. You'll serve, Mr. Yow, as the benchmark. No matter how stupid or narrow-minded or selfishly short-sighted any other county commissioner is, they can always say, "Well, heck, at least I'm not Billy Yow."

Kind of the same way Bill Clinton makes all presidents before and after him look pretty good by contrast.


I'm tired of the empty testimonials for global warming. Like the statement I recently read: "You won't find a serious scientist who doesn't believe in global warming."

Yeah, right. Especially if you define "serious scientist" as "scientist who believes in global warming."

There are a few scientists -- serious ones, too -- who have their doubts. After all, there's still no reliable evidence that it's happening.

And if it is happening, there is no serious evidence that it is happening because of human intervention rather than as a part of natural weather cycles.

And if it is being caused by human intervention, there's no serious evidence that this global warming is actually going to have deleterious effects -- or at least worse effects than if we had no such human intervention.

One of the more amusing theories about global warming is that it might trigger an ice age. The mechanism for this is that a heavy melt-off of arctic ice would block or even reverse the climatic conveyor belt of warm Gulf Stream water that keeps Europe warmer than its latitude would normally allow.

The trouble with this theory is that we know that melt-offs have already blocked the Gulf Stream in past centuries, and the result is not a full-fledged ice age, but rather the "little ice age" that ended the Norse settlements in Greenland.

In other words, these things already happen in the normal cycles of climate, and when they do, humans adapt.

Meanwhile, the global warming theory still depends on nothing more than localized temperature measurements over too short a period of time to be interpretable, combined with fanciful computer models that, not surprisingly, return the desired results.

The very fact that the global warming advocates are constantly asserting, not their evidence, but rather the fact that "most scientists agree with us," is proof that they are not acting as scientists. Rather they're junior high students, insisting you dress and talk like them because "all the cool kids do."

The worst thing about their insistence that everyone think and talk alike about an unproven hypothesis is that if they ever do get proof of global warming, and that it is caused by human intervention, and that it will have bad effects that overbalance the good effects -- who will care?

It's nice when a little real science occasionally gets injected into the discussion.

John and Mary Gribbin's book Ice Age is not about global warming. But the science it reports on should put to rest the idea that global warming, if it's happening, will cause a full-blown Ice Age.

This slim book tracks the history of the discovery that there was an ice age, then the realization that there were several of them, and finally the news that we are in the midst of a single long ice age hundreds of thousands of years old, in which there are relatively brief periods of ... er ... global warming, like the interglacial period we're in right now.

The book chronicles the efforts of the lone (and often unpopular) scientists who tracked the pattern of the ice ages and linked them to astronomical cycles that affect the amount of sunlight that falls on the northern hemisphere.

(For various complicated and surprising reasons, the southern hemisphere, instead of having the opposite pattern and balancing the northern hemisphere, instead echoes it. So ... as the northern hemisphere goes, so goes the Earth, at least with this configuration of continents.)

There are three astronomical cycles that drastically affect the global climate: the precession of the equinoxes, the eccentricity of Earth's orbit, and the changing tilt of the Earth's axis -- with a periodicity of 100,000, 41,000, and alternately 23,000 or 19,000 years, respectively.

When they coincide at a minimum you get deep ice ages, and when they coincide at a maximum temperature you get interglacial warm spells.

In all our talk of global warming it's worth pointing out that the Earth is 18,000 years into our current brief "summer," or interglacial. During that time the sea level has risen and fallen noticeably several times -- we survive just fine when it does.

And for all we know, the greenhouse gases we release might actually be the only thing that might prevent the onset of the next Ice Age, when the astronomical cycles once again cut back drastically on the number of solar calories reaching Earth.

Reading Ice Age won't make you a scientist. But it will at least show you what science looks like, so you'll be better prepared to recognize a counterfeit when you see it.

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