Friday, March 24, 2006

Exemplary Stuff.

I don't want to forget what I came here to do. My blog is supposed to deal, sometimes gently and sometimes shrilly with "values". Conservatives tout their values and beat us at the polls, liberals live their values and get beaten.

I guess writing sayings about values doesn't engage anybody so I am going to resort to examples.

I posted a couple of times about STUFF, about possessions and what a false self they provide. What has that got to do with anything we should, as voters or as liberals, pay any attention too? Just look at where the stuff winds up when you are bent on getting stuff. Could a picture like this one from the Times article also be the summary residue of your life?

How empty should a politician be before you just can't stand to vote for him? The NYTimes titles the article "..Ex-Congressman's Ruined Life on Auction". The times is a news paper and not a blog so they don't have the luxury of getting it. They speak as if the "ruin" of this man's life lay in his getting caught and humiliated and shorn of his booty. I say his life was ruined before and all the money lust was but a symptom.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Suck Butts and Die

Exectioners don't like corpses, they make corpses. So I hate it when tobacco companies horn in on my work.

I went to see "Thank you for smoking" last night and it was sold out. Good ol' Kendall Square Cinima.

Won't surprise anyone to hear I am in-your-face unpleasant company when someone lights up around me. I heard on the radio yesterday that widespread smoking bans in NZ have been accounted a sucess. Last year, pro industy and conservative comment claimed the ban would be a disaster. And today, a bit of science news: "Light it up or get it up: choose one". Now a man like Rush Limbaugh, fond of being pictured with a stogy, might get different results but I am not going to ask him.

And he's not going to tell me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Gift of Otherness

That we can fall in love with with a person of another race or religion, far from being the disaster parents and clergy make of it, is clearly a gift.
In my reading, I sometimes come across the observation that we are an outbreeding species by habit. Even if, like me, you tend to look at gifts as invitations to feel some obligation, then at least allow that our wandering lust is nature's plan.

Note: the Times reports
"The findings on Mendelian disease could be used by the major Bedouin populations in neighboring Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia with similar gene mutations. But so far, Dr. Birk said, scientists in those countries have refused offers to collaborate."
but in fact, other Arab countries know they have the same problem and are doing something about it. The reported non-cooperation has to be viewed in the light of who is saying it about whom and chalked up to another interferance of politics or religion in the mission of medicine. That the helpful work now afoot is a cooperative effort of an Israeli, a Palestinian and a Bedouin is tesitmony to what is possible even in that troubled region.

Friday, March 17, 2006

If (approval < 20%) print "WMD Found";

There, I just saved Karl Rove a bundle. That line of code can be his whole program at this point.

Here is the trickle up of factoids gleaned from real authentic pre-invasion Iraqi secret documents as it moves up the food chain of right wing blogs. The last time ANYONE was that uncritical of a document was when Dan Rather took Bush's national guard records at face value and ran with it. Considering that our government possessed these documents for nearly three years, many of us find it curious that no one saw a need to disclose these "smoking guns" until bush approval ratings dip into mid thirties. Even the pros get burned. Now that its the blogger's turn to tell their hope from the straight dope, we'll see who gets it right. Glenn Reynolds was wondering why MSM hasn't made more of this pile of papers.

Seems clear to me why not. The for-profit press, for all the compromises it has made with this administration, still employs some able reporters and fact finders. If by now they haven't dug up this information in the normal course of their snooping its likely because this was never regarded as substantial. The public esteem for dear leader and his gang and their adgendas dwindle. He has already done the neocon causes much of the serious damage and discrediting they deserve. I would imagine he flips back and forth between staying the curse and writhing about looking for a way to cut losses and get out of Iraq while he can still hang "mission accomplished" on this abortion. It must be appealing to the bush league to find a few left over crumbs from that cardboard feast of "information" that was so useful in getting us into the war. What a clear sign of desperation that after two years of discediting for each claimed cause for war, they are still trying to sell Saddam's Scary War Machine to us. Or maybe they need to convince themselves that somehow the "facts" that justify war are true because they can't voice an unconsious fear of something the anti-war souls have known all along:

What true victory could come of a war based on lies? What if you couldn't repeat a lie often enough to make it true?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How often the prosecution coaches the witness!

I collect these little findings because I don't think even I ever quite plumb the depths of my capacity to fool myself. I have mentioned how contrary facts barely touch a properly primed sense of trust we place in some who actually betrays that trust. Now comes a study that obsereves a corollary: If you are primed to regard a person as having poor moral character, you are apt to start misremembering facts about the person to their detriment. If that really is how our minds operate, it would at least make you wonder how many innocent people get convicted on the testimony of such "memory".

Study how not to constantly be the judge lest you find yourself surrounded by the guilty.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gipper by the Dozen

Today, a goodly number of blogs took up the challenge to find some silver lining in Phill Longman's cloudy prediction that the fecundamentalists will swamp us liberals with their teeming spawn.

I imagine that this whole line of inquiry is offensive to parents who have chosen to have large families. For those whose motives or calculations in filling the bedrooms and classrooms includes a conscious attempt to out-produce other sects or ethnic groups, the topic, discussed as we have been discussing it, may be both threatening and justifying their progeny program. To the latter I offer no apology: share the damned planet or damn the shared planet...your move!
To others who just wound up driving a van to take the kids to the library because thats what your people always did and you love it, I offer faint apology. We oughta talk because I want to make sure you are holding up your end of the bargain as far as natural resouces.

Longman's scenario may have circumstantial evidence to back it. But based on what I have observed about the dynamics of sibling resource sharing in large families the bigger issue than how the children vote will be how adept individuals in this cohort will be at fighting or conniving for more than their share of the pie. Large families with meager resources foster such calloused skill even in the midst of clear demonstration of the need to share. That is to say, I fear that psychology more than any explicitly communicated "values" will make natural born republicans because people who weaned by "sucking the hind tit", as we farmers used to say, are as bent by that experience as they are by a "stern father".

Against that speculation, we can weigh some realities. If Krugman has reported the numbers accurately, only the affluent few have enjoyed the income gains that make educating and providing health care for a large brood a non-issue. The rest of US society can , if anything, afford fewer children, considering what a huge outlay of cash is needed to successfully launch a prosperous and productive human life in the US in 2006. Most people understand that division by a larger number produces a smaller quotient. I would like to think no parents say to themselves "NO, we don't want no college learnin' in our family...we're upright folks and don't want no corruptin'". We are not a 3rd world economy yet but Bush is working hard to get us there. While the 80% of the families that are sliding back toward poverty under the Bush and Reagan economics contain the lion's share of the putative fecundamentalist population explosion, their plight can not continue to worsen and still leave them in the grip of neocon/fundy rhetoric. That ill considered alliance will crack if not explode. The evangelicals who take their stewardship of the earth seriously ,of whom I have written before, will have increasing incentive to distance themselves from "conservatives" while that word means the mindless herds that voted for Bush and acquiesce to his policies. It is only a matter of what threshold of misery is required to trigger a realization that "be fruitful and multiply" was drafted before there were even a billion people and long before we burnt coal and oil at the rate of tons per person per year. Liberals just reach that threshold sooner. And I hardly need point out that a woman in complete and uncoerced control of her reproductive activity is a powerful force for stopping fecundamental madness.

Remember that eastern European immigrants arrived poor, often with large families as was the norm in the societies they left in the late 1800s. They moved to the cities of a nation that already trended away from large families except for farming. Remember that they staffed the settlement houses and aid societies and were in the front lines of the labor organizers once they found out that the American dream meant sweat shops for them and their children.

Eager though it is to do so, there is only so much reality that conservatism can hide from children.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Is blogger burnout the silent killer? There is no lack of material if one fuels a blog with facts and opinions about outrageous doings of political-religious-business leaders. The blog as media and the stream of sewage flowing from the whitehouse seem made for each other. And we each have a life and fewer and fewer of our lives are on high enough ground to not have that sewage lapping at our feet.
But I can't talk in very specific ways about the people and minutes of my life...I blog anonymously and for now, that serves my needs and purposes better than being either who I am or someone I want to appear to be. If that is unengaging to many, too bad.
Yet I grew so attached to having a presence and sparking the occasional comment that I start to feel guilty or distracted about leaving the shelf bare and letting ET wither. I assume that the few who return to this page do so because its ostensible message and method suited them and they would like more writing done in that style and character. So if I change voice to encompass more easily written posts, I might be able to post more regularly but I also water down the drinks as it were.
I'd probably have more traffic if I posted at a steady one-a-day pace. I don't have that much original material or I don't have the time to devote to creating it. As a matter of pride, I try to put up my own content. We all have access to the papers, the news websites and each other's blogs so why repeat anything or even point to it?
For now, here's why:
  • To form community by informing the community about my causes.
  • To stand at my little spot on the political and other spectrums, holding my little candle like all the rest of you so even the myopic can guage our numbers though they may never "get it" about our causes.
  • To exemplify the enterprise of understanding our world and when I haven't the bandwidth for that,
  • To point to sources saying what I wish I had said or finding what I had hoped to find.

Today, I'd like to point you to Dennis Overbye's essay in the NYTimes. Overbye covers a few of my favorite themes about the uses and misuses of "science". Too many people don't seem to actually have done any of their homework in advanced physics and ought to have their license to apply physics as metaphor yanked.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

some more differentiating

What is your reaction, your gut feeling, when a person or a group who you know have a different culture pass through your usual haunts?

Do you feel threatened?

Do you feel affirmation that our lives are, after all, lives of choice and individuality?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

On Purpose, Naturally

What kind of god would make a mortal creature and build into them the nagging angst of being able to simultaneously imagine immortality and recognize their own mortality?

We use "god" as explanation when we hope to see purpose in the world, that is, purpose beyond our own suspect intentions, tainted as those intentions are with all sorts of low and passing hungers. Those who are more satisfied with the explanatory power of evolution and other analyses of our lives and our world that rely on observables and what may be deduced from them are accused by some of finding life purposeless. So many subtle possibilities of benign supernatural interference in the world's course can be [and are] imagined, none with clearly superior claims, that arguing amongst ourselves about "higher purposes" seems to me quite suspect. The animus in such debates oozes up from ego as we fumble for ways to fit the awkward boulders of experience into the skimpy mold that is our own purposes projected on a world we hardly understand. But neither should we cease looking for purpose.

Purpose is natural. While I share Dennett's intuition that consciousness is an emergent and perhaps inevitable capacity, I find his wisps of possible beginnings for religious notions almost silly..he has no more access to the minds of haunted cave men than Jerry Falwell has to the mind of Mother Teresa ...they make it up folks! The problem is that purpose, like consciousness, emerges given a sufficiently rich substrate of life tumbling through the ages of our biosphere. Purpose should not be imposed on all creation by minds that, in the last hundred millennia got the ability to transfer, in words, intentions and symbolic causes from private experience to cultural practice. Not one of us, even the author of the book of Job suspected, is in a position to judge whether the vast four billion year unfolding that went on without the benefit of conscious reflection, let alone oversight, had any purpose at all other than the default of being the path that happened to bring us to this moment of awareness. Only now can we ask "why" and only we can answer. The worst answer we could come up with is dumbly curtailing many other branches of evolution and clogging or poisoning the self cleaning machinery of earth's support for this experiment. Such ruin betrays the implicit answer: all the more purpose we could envision is our next meal. The observed effect of humans on earth shows without need of something as fancy as language, nor even consciousness, no wider purpose than the life plan of a bacteria.

If mortality is too harsh, consider another great teacher: pain. "Why must I suffer like this? Give me some morphine!" Millions go out of the world with such a thought on their mind. I cannot say if I may have such a departure myself so must only have sympathy for those who suffer thus. It is not for the dying that pain evolved. Pain is a corrective signal for those who have longer to live. When it does its job well, pain experienced or in prospect, will guide you in some way to live longer than if you didn't know something was harming or threatening you. Could it be that death might be doing its job well if it too turned us each toward our neighbor with a softened heart, showing us that whatever their mistakes, they too raced against the descending dusk of nonexistence?

Why can we not gracefully accept that our awareness of mortality is just to sensitize us to the value of life while we have it? We can see more purpose in life when we quit making too much of the purpose of death.

I don't think we can cease looking for purpose...that exclusively human penchant being the latest step evolution has taken, we can only honor the progress of the world that gave our minds birth by not hobbling its next step.

When we succumb so much to arrogance as to think we have our own purpose for pain and death, it is the lowest ebb of humanity. A mortal who fancies a purpose for death only devalues life.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Autoimmune diseases

I could be accused of blurring the distinction between individuals and the various levels of community of which those individuals are part or to which they have some affiliation or connection. I also think much of the plague of organized mistrtust, hatred and militarized response that threatens to swallow humanity can be laid to a common tendency, much exploited by politicians, to view the world through a false form of that distinction: a divorce of the personal well being from that of the layers and levels of community.

Wars have been with us for as long as there has been any social unit the size of a tribe or greater. They must, in spite of all the protest songs and pacifistic sermons, seem somehow natural or inevitable to the minorities that lead them and the majorities that support them. They would not have to be seen as anything but good business to explain the participation of some corporations in these sick paroxysms of history.

This may be too weak a metaphore to lend itself to any redress of this mess but I find in this behavior of bodies politic an analogue to a mechanism of our physical bodies: overzealous immune reactions. Doctors categorize quite a few types of disease that we might lump under the heading "overzealous immune reaction", but that describes a number of ways in which the cellular and systemic mechanisms that are supposed to ward off infection can do more harm than good by going awry. Under my general category I would put anaphylactic shock, autoimmune diseases such as lupus, arthritis, MS and others. One of the categories that medical science sets apart is hypersenstitivities. I, like many, suffer awfully from poison ivy, a type IV hypersensitivity:

Type IV reactions are not abnormal. Rather, they serve a very important purpose, which is to defend the body against bacteria and fungi that live within cells (e.g., Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Pneumocystis carinii). Unlike viruses, these intracellular pathogens do not use a cell’s machinery to manufacture their proteins. These bugs have everything that they need to replicate on their own; they are just using the cell as a cozy place in which to hide from the immune system. Therefore, the cell’s quality control mechanism does not sample pieces of proteins from these invaders and display them on the cell surface. As a consequence, T cytotoxic cells are not signaled that these cells are infected, as they would be if the invader were a virus. The only way that the body knows that these intracellular pathogens are present is when they are released from an infected cell to spread to new host cells. At this point, T lymphocytes that recognize antigens from these bugs are activated. These specialized T cells begin to secrete factors that call macrophages into the area. The macrophages, in turn, secrete toxic factors that kill the surrounding cells. Since the macrophages have no way of knowing precisely which cells are infected, they just destroy everything in the area indiscriminately. Think of the macrophages as bombardiers, destroying everything in a village in the hopes of routing out the unseen enemy. T cytotoxic cells, on the other hand, are sharpshooters that can pick off an enemy soldier when they spy a glimpse of him in a window. Delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions can be drastic and destructive, but it is the only way that the body can deal with microorganisms that shield themselves from attack by hiding in the body’s own cells.

What cruel mind fashioned such a defense? Why wouldn't something as pointlessly unpleasant as that fade away under the pressures that select the fitest? The answer is that my personal agonies mean nothing, and I don't die of poison ivy. In fact I probably live because my immune system is so damn vigilant.

The body's complex system of cell types and their many interactions rivals the complexity of human societies and maps on to the specialized division of labor that characterize even social units as small as the family. There being things that would like to make a meal of us, specialization for defense is needed. The imbalanced or mistargeted action of some functions within the body or the body politic leads to disease and dysfunction. Cells have no choice but to execute their programs however miswired. But we should not use emotion or trust instinct: relying on behavior evolved in simple times is a way to be eliminated as unfit in complex times. The balance is too hard, maybe impossible, to evolve to perfection because the range of environments from hostile scarcity to peaceful abundance is too variable for one adaptation. Only the flexible adaptation we call intelligence could potentially save us from cycles of over reaction and retaliation...but we, as crowds or states, seldom avail ourselves of that.

I find this overzealousness in the body politic too. Some minds are disposed to sense threat and buy all hints or claims that we are under attack. That sort of zeal is usually bull. Turning against your own fellow citizens when you are of that mind and they are not is common in the worst moments of history and is a mechanism quite analgous to the sloppy slaughtering by T lymphocytes.

If the greatest democracy in history is morphing into a fascist state with all the parallels to the worst dictatorship in history, why should I not look for what common influence might be at work in both of these cases? I need look no farther than human nature. Get well soon america

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I'm gonna miss Jeb

He's planning to quit Wandering. His posts are often gently illuminating.

If you feel good about knowing the difference between feeling and knowing, you know nothing.