Monday, November 28, 2005

Either we are all just a bit autistic or...

One part of being human is knowing what the other human is thinking. Another part is knowing that what the other person is feeling has something to do with the difference between what they are saying and what they are thinking. Good salesmen have a pragmatic if sometimes unscrupulous command of those parts. But these parts just fall apart and do not yield the potential of humans to relate and communicate with one another unless the most important part is missing: one's self. Not being attached to what points you are scoring in a conversation, not losing sight of the distinction between "you" and "what you are saying" in a conversation is quite different from not being present or being disinterested in the conversation. It is a gift to forgo projection of self in conversation and that is not the same as a loss of self. Good therapists have a pragmatic and usually scrupulous grasp of letting that part go missing. It would strike many that entering a conversation with that mindset is a disadvantage and they would undertake it only if they had some faith in the kindness of their interlocutor. Training would help, faith is not needed. I used to think that caring what the other person feels was a third part but that is draining when it is possible at all. By not pushing yourself into the conversation you will often be seen as caring .

You can give the other person more opportunities change their own mind than you will ever be given to change it for them.

What's not in Kansas anymore

A mind that has not reflected on nature is not a reflection of nature and is not healthy. The objective study of nature and natural systems of organisms reveals repeatedly that competing and cooperating can be in near balance and complement each other in getting not just the most but the most abiding life out of the mineral substrates of the living. Absence of that balance is the least natural and will eventually prove the most destructive effect of humans upon this earth. To knowingly dismiss the maintenance of that balance is an evil of which the evildoer will some day be the last victim. To believe in a creator and yet demote, denigrate and obscure the power of mere observation and logic to reveal the operation of the fantastic machine we have been given is to ignore the handiwork of that creator and the intellect we were given.
To suppose the writings of some tribe of men could tell you more about how to keep the natural world running than direct study of the machinery is an arrogance pregnant with the cruel consequences it deserves. To claim we are other than animals and above nature is stupid pride.

If you divorce yourself from nature you will find there is no alimony.

We must not suppose that nature still has some place else to go because a few species have mobility. We truely have become the masters of nature that Genesis envisioned and we are ignorant, selfish masters. Nature will not leave Kansas because open minded study of nature has become legally questionable. Nature just is, standing its ground and living or dying as conditions permit. Legally mandated ignorance of the fate of unbalanced nature leads to far worse things than a crop of slightly backward science students. Darwin's contribution is but one jewel in a treasury of understandings and it is the entire enterprise of understanding that is under assault by fundamentalists, not just one of its prizes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

How receptive to change are you?

Once I die, I expect I'll quit fretting about the loss rather promptly. I hope those I leave will do the same.

It is one thing to cope with untoward changes in your world brought on by some event or loss but quite another to revisit the event itself in a mind full of upset thoughts. The happiest people I know are not the richest or the ones who have had the fewest misfortunes but the ones who have the healthiest attachment to the props of their lives; the ones who are best at saying "what can you do?" with a dismissive shrug.

The only losses and events one ought to obsess over are those they can go back and make right.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

When they choke, there's ire.

It is not possible to rewrite history while it is still happening, while you are still suffering from its gruesome and stupid twists and turns and most witnesses to the facts are inconveniently still alive.

While politics is rife with parties claiming the other side's facts are faulty,

the ANGER with which someone accuses you of rewriting history is directly proportional to the presumption of that person that THEY were the intended author of history.

Had we wanted an historically illiterate author, we'd have elected one.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What friends are for and when.

My inner monk was talking to my inner scientist. "Before you lose your mind, go some place where the person who finds it is likely to return it to you."

My inner scientist replied: "But you can never be sure you are sane and many never recognize when sanity has slipped away! How would you know when to seek such helpful companions?"

Replied the monk: "Exactly the problem! You can not wait."

Do not wait for good company. Go find it, preferably, in the company on hand.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

ISO 9000

For over a decade, manufacturing corporations of any consequence and in particular, companies that expect to compete outside the borders of their home country or world headquarters, have subscribed to a series of international standards that heuristically govern the quality of their products by dictating a minimal and standardized set of guidelines for self improvement of the processes by which they make their products.

I have actually worked for some of these companies and it has been alternately amusing and disgusting to watch "business as usual" collide with what is the radical spirit buried in the mind numbing prose of those standards: humility and objectivity. Though presented to employees in evangelical tones when the company brass finally buys in, the metamethods prescribed are really more akin to science. One metric of its being more a science than a belief, is the curricula in which it is taught.

I am always trying to figure out why nations, factions, some political parties and religiously affiliated political movements are so hopelessly, often destructively, rigid. The reason for mentioning ISO9000 is to try and free up my own thinking: to get away from the stick of castigating the fear, inertia and unreasoning preference for simplicity that frustrates change.
I'd like to get away from the presentation of change as an emotional challenge and try instead for the carrot of advantage and adaptation. But this seems a doomed course: as citizens, businesses tend, by design, to be sick and soulless but generally a bit more rational than the rest of the stuck-in-the-muds I listed. Corporations govern themselves by hard cold numbers of profit and are perforce that much more objective than those of us who don't so govern ourselves. And that objectivity leads, or forces corporations to subject their processes to scrutiny and change in a depth simply unacceptable to persons who have an identity to protect and a myth about their place in the world which they fear is in need of defense.

There is no perfect world, no upbringing untouched by hurt and deceit, no psyche unhaunted by truths that were thought best left unsaid. In so many turning moments, we made what sense we could without a teacher. None of us faces any situation or relationship knowing every thing we should about others or even ourselves. All that can help us in such a world is to open our eyes neither demanding or rejecting change when life would teach it again.

We are born simple but we become foolish. Every thought is tainted with mistakes except the barest awareness, the watcher silent in judgement, silent in praise.

Friday, November 11, 2005

1st Rate Lobbying or 2nd Rate Research

Pardon a little dramatization but you may be thinking already of relaxing this holiday weekend and I want to stir you up a bit.

It could be like this:
Within a decade, the modernity and efficacy of genetics-based medicine available to citizens of the Christian Republic of America will be inferior to what any citizen of south east asia takes for granted. We will not do the science, we will not make the profits, we will not own the pharmacies we will not have the cures. Going to an American doctor in 2015 will be comparable to going to an Iranian doctor in 1964. Only quacks will promise you the same results you will get abroad. Most will sigh and tell you they have read in a medical journal that a clinic in Singapore can tailor an antibody to your particular tumor with a 95% chance of complete remission. Maybe they can give you a phone number to call there but your CRA health insurance will be so written as to forbid any payment for procedures that play with the genes god gave you. Sorry.

The Womens Bioethics Institute has just published its findings on the impact of conservatives on biomedical research and the lack of impact on the part of progressives. Please READ THIS, it may leave you sober no matter how much you drink this weekend.

There is a big difference between having a general impression that backward ideologues are just making a lot of noise about a few hot button issues and knowing about the certain if slow damage being wrought by well organized, well funded fundies who have gravitated to the policy making bodies which fund and enable practically all research that takes any government money.

I am sure a few exerpts from a document you were meant to read won't violate fair use: 5
Key Findings
  • Conservatives have well-established bioethics centers with strong advocacy outreach programs that are interlocking and supportive of each other.
  • Conservatives are using an existing infrastructure of think tank and religious organizations to drive awareness, energize their constituencies, and support a unified bioethics agenda.
  • Conservative foundations are strategically funding high-profile cases with a broad bioethics agenda in mind.
  • Conservatives see driving bioethical debate as critical to building a society based on their values and worldview.
  • That progressive activities there are in the area of bioethics are under funded, narrowly focused, and lacking in a unified philosophical framework.
  • The progressive organizations that have added bioethics to their agenda are the reproductive rights groups that are ill-equipped to carry a broader “progressive bioethics agenda” because of their ties to the abortion debate.
  • Athough progressives dominate academic bioethics, the scholars are not trained and in many cases are disinclined to work from an explicit ideological framework.
  • Pogressives will need to do more than throw money at the problem; it will require a major rethinking of the issues.
Conservatives and Bioethics
Conservatives see bioethics as a way to extend their anti-reproductive freedom, anti-science, pro-religion political agenda. They use bioethics as way to galvanize their base, gear up the troops for battle, divide progressives, and polish their image as protectors of society’s values.

At the core of bioethics is the ultimate power struggle for the control of life (and death) and our sense of ourselves as human beings. One of the best synopses of the conservative’s perspective on bioethical issues was captured by R. Atla Charo1 in her observations of the President’s Commission on Bioethics:

…In its widespread attachment to a neo-conservative world view that is suspicious of technological advance, opposed to moral relativism and moral pluralism, determined to identify moral absolutes, and open to an increased permeation of religious values into public policy and bioethics analysis, this council and its leadership appear to reflexivelyendorse the view that science is a threat to both society and government…” 10
Progressive Response
The five progressive organizations analyzed are trying to get some purchase against the onslaught of conservative resources. Unfortunately, their work is severely under funded; three of the top five groups have annual incomes of less than $150,000 and are run mostly by volunteer staff. The agendas of the two best funded organizations are narrowly focused on genetic technologies and, while they are doing important work in that area, they miss the opportunity to present a unified philosophical progressive framework.

If you wait too long to bite the bullet, the bullet bites you.

To me, the reticence of practicing scientists and academics to dirty themselves with ideology seems to reflect well on the character and discipline of scientists and science education but it will be fatal to the funding of many promising areas of research. All of us who are not afraid of the future should be more organized and more alarmed to prevent that future from being retarded.

To those who serve and served this country, Thanks

There is no turning away from the facts. Men and women have believed strongly enough that they were needed that they would chance death serving their nation. From a simple need of work to a life long sense of duty, they may be drawn to battle for any number of reasons or beliefs.

But after the shots are fired and the shooters burried or retired,
They share a common character that has to be admired.
They stood up and fought because they thought
They stood for something bigger than themselves, the selves they put at risk.
They faced the fire that makes men crazy in a hell they had not made.
Unfair to ask them whose mistake it was when thats the price they paid.

Bitterly disappointed as I am with my country's stupid adventure in Iraq, I am grateful our country has the one military resource that ever carries the battle: men and women who are willing to die for the protection of their fellow countrymen, for the advantages they believe our way of life holds. If we spend that resource cheaply in a war based on a lie, we lose the resource first, a majority turns against the stupid enterprise and then the war itself ends badly, another Viet Nam. If we spend it appropriately on a war against a manifestly evil regime that was not going to leave us in peace [WWII Axis] we lose lives but not honor. Though I distrust the word honor for all the misuse it gets, there is such a thing and it is an abiding substance if intangible. John McCain has more of it than Dubya, whatever it is. The nation may be led into dishonor, but rarely by the man who will die for what he believes.

How much better it is to LIVE for what you believe!*

[Thats the way I heard it from Deirdre, and thats the way I like it]

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why be clever if you know how to be kind?

Jeb really makes me think, or try to think.

"Why" is a word with which we, too often unwittingly, anthropomorphize the universe. In human activities [and what others could we really know very well] there is generally a motive and isn't the universe operating just as our own minds operate;?) Introducing motives, we gain room to ascribe "good" or "bad". The only "why" worth pondering is why anything exists at all. And that gets back to 42 in Doug Adams' Guide to the Universe. When I was an undergrad in physics I fancied I had even backed that matter into a corner: If you change one decimal place in any of the fundamental constants, the entire universe winks out in a puff of illogic. i.e. things are as they are because there is no other way they could be: we could never get to the point of asking these questions in any other universe so why ask. But thats a tautology and neither answers nor satisfies.

I'm not 20 years old any more. A dear and saintly teacher gave me this to chew on:
"When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people."
[Abraham Joshua Heschel]

Cleverness can wrestle with why until the cows come home, meanwhile kindness knows how to get us through life as easily as possible.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Bus Fare or an Indictment

Not much news in the world today. No juicy indictments. All that may be changing is my own perspective...

Sunday evening a piece by Michael Janofsky in the NYTimes reported that some evangelical Christians are in the process of publicly calling for the american government to take steps to curb the degradation of the environment. In particular, their declaration, still in draft, would call for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions...a domestic Kyoto accord if you will. It is more than a splinter movement.

Just as has he has downplayed or outright denied every other inconvenient bit of reality, Sen. Inhofe, who arrogates that he speaks for the "vast majority of evangelical groups", discounts this development of yet another constituency for the environment as "very strange", and based on a misquotation of scriptures. His ignorance, to put this as kindly and euphemisticaly as I can bare, has exactly the impact of grave and menacing evil. Inhofe's in league with anyone who prefer's profits to a healthy climate. Struggling to keep up the impression that he draws power from a monolith of theocratic crackpots, this pernicious poser links resistance to environmental protection in with resistance to gay rights and abortions. Shame on the man, shame on the people who voted for him. He has not only done the environment a damaging disservice, he has in effect portrayed all evangelicals as being of one mind, having one program of blindness to facts in deference to an industry-friendly assertion of how god wants us to vote. But the worst thing he has done is play up to the moral laziness of all the interested factions, both those he claims to represent and those he opposes: he exacerbates everyone's tendency not to see the people on the other side of the argument as people and not to see any diversity of sources for their point of view. I was guilty of not knowing that there are, though for reasons I may not subscribe to, growing numbers of Christian fundamentalists who have come to an understanding of human responsibility for the environment that is, in practical effect, much like my own. I can't blame Inhofe for my ignorance, only for capitalizing on my and other's ignorance.

I do not share any part of C. S. Lewis' theology but I think his take on the devil as willful exploitation of the weaknesses people don't even notice in themselves is an apt metaphore.

The devil feeds on stereotypes.

The group Inhofe is trying to pronounce into insignificance is the National Evangelical Association.
He said the National Evangelical Association had been "led down a liberal path" by environmentalists and others who have convinced the group that issues like poverty and the environment are worth their efforts

It is more than a splinter movement. Evangelical concerns for environment have a record of political action going back to at least 1996. It has been part of a growing consciousness on the part of Evangelicals that if our world is physically any less healthful and delightful than the garden of eden it is because humans have abused and neglected it in contradiction of scripture. I am familiar with the genesis verses they point to as proof text. Liberal Jews cite exactly the same genesis verses as proof text for including environmental activism in their definition of "Tikkun Olam" [literally "repairing the world", more vague than some commandments but having no less force].

For his backing Inhofe is confined to ICES. I went to their site and read a bit.
ICES chartered itself around a "truth" it already accepted and only had to find enough mealymouthed reactionaries to write up the "proof". They have nothing more to say than god is in his heaven and all is right with the world if you don't listen to those damned liberal ecology kooks:
"Soon, they [ICES essayists] will provide a credible alternative to liberal environmental advocacy for people in congregations, schools, government, and the religious and secular media."

Janofsky however finds a hint that current thinking inside ICES may have moved past the published denial of environmental problems to the acceptance tacit in questions of what to do about the problem:
A member of the original group's advisory committee, Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative group that studies moral issues and public policy, said more recent disputes among conservatives over global warming focused not on the science behind it but on ways to address it.
When he has no leg left to stand on, perhaps Inhofe can rest on his tail.

Not that there is cause for wild euphoria. No hugs and champagne exchanged between the Sierra Club and the NEA who are quoted in the article as still seeing each other as working for the right effect but the wrong reason or with unknown impact.

I can't afford to be so doctrinaire. Another bozo has gotten on the environmental bus and I am not one to ask them to sit at the back. The bus is pulling away with Bush, Inhofe and such like standing on the curb to hail their stretch Hummer limo.

For me at least, the Janofsky article is an indictment of sorts. Inhofe is charged with shamelessly playing the religion card. I knew that. But the faithul, struggling toward that realizaiton, can liberate the good in church-going folk from the evil of political power grabbing by conservative and wealthy corporations. If nothing else, its another data point that prys me loose from my harmful habit of seeing religous conservatives and political lackies of the big businesses as one monolithic block of evil.

While I cannot see others as they are, I can't help them.
When I can see why I wanted to see them as they are not, I can help everyone.

POSTLOG: I see Andrew Sullivan has his usual conflicted notions on display. He thinks of calls for environmental protection legislation as "big goverment" interference. No Andrew, it is NOT a convergence of left and right who want big government. It is a belated recognition that could occur to any person who was not allergic to basic geophysics observations: we are cooking our own planet and neither self interest nor corporate greed can be harnessed to get us out of the mess they have got us into. When you have made up your mind whether you want a government that does less [for the environment] or a government that does more [to buy you a tamiflu shot], come make a comment here...I can't comment on your dish.

Friday, November 04, 2005

hoist by my own proposition

Both my inner poet and my inner scientist were completely unprepared to deal with the fragile, frequently fraudulent, fluid and , honestly, weird interplay of the abstract and the particular in the language of american politics. While they are arguing on how to wrest the truth from that interplay, little gets written. My inner monk staggers by once in a while, leaving the impression that he is either drunk or stunned by the loosey goosey acrobatics and alchemy by which the general and the specific are transmuted one into the other and back in newspapers, in blogs, on TV or from the lecterns and edicts of appointed, elected or more-or-less-elected persons in our government but most of all, in the arguments between my poet and my scientist. My poet loves the generalizations and feels nothing else will span the gaps between where we are and truth. My scientist accepts no coin but fact. Little facts to be amassed and sorted and finally linked like the pearls on a strand to produce a necklace of truth. Today the monk interrupted the bickering:

"How did you two ever agree to issue only communiques with no references to real persons and events? Can you know nothing and still tell the truth?"

"No way! " they shouted in unison.

And then he shuffled off mumbling "weigh, weigh, weigh..."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Cursed with imagination

We can feel want when we already possess the bare necessities...then we shall necessarily be cursed with a bare and barren earth.