Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The One Thing

How much is this you?

You must you have something to look forward to.
You are are always facining upstream, as the shark does: move or asphixiate.
You think you constantly hold near an idea of the one great thing or experience
that will make you happy, as if all else would waste your time.
Yet the little pleasure that is in reach does tide you over for now
and only later on shows itself to be just another among the litter of small "nows",
Blurring into a past that predicates as blurry a future.
But negotiation is always tainted with loss or dillution and
"Other" a synonym for the imperfections of existence?

How right, or off the mark, is this guy? Are the riposts of the bloggers that comment there definsiveness or observation?

Monday, January 29, 2007

The pleasures of print on paper

I have received my copy of Bora Zivkovic's compilation of first rate science blogging posts. I was not sure I'd be impressed by the physical book since the publication process is novel and requires damn quick turnarounds by the parties involved in the chain of publication. I am happy to report the LuLu binding of the blogs is as substantial and handsome as anything I pick up off the book racks in the airport or bookstores. Bora and Anton found ways to get a modicum of links into the hard copy, charts and diagrams came through clearly. His preface gracefully directs you to the blogs themselves since blogged writing really is a living thing, "conversational" as Bora puts it.

The book makes great reading in several ways. It is, as I think it was intended to be, an intro to on line science writing for those who have not caught on to blogs yet. It is great reading for both style and content, having been culled from the best of the best. For a person with a few minutes a day to read before dropping off to sleep, the shorter format of the blog post as compared to typical book chapters is ideal. And mostly, it will be a great time capsule of where science was getting traction in a very non-science-oriented society of 2006. 2006 being a good year for the vindication of Darwin's ideas despite the full court press against it by an ignorant but populous rabble, I am reading the posts from Panda's Thumb and Phyrangula with particular relish.

Maybe next year we get more clarity on what to keep and what to toss regarding string theory? In any event, I think this is a fine start to what would make a valuable series of yearbooks from on line science writing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


One should never permit themselves to confuse self with the props of self. My dictionary uses "yearning" as the verb to define nostalgia and that is apt. Yet when you read about nostalgia, too often it has been commandeered, like sex, as a marketing hook, a motive harnessed to commerce. The vintage car then and now the new car with a "retro" look, the oldies rock-n-roll, yearbooks, marriages and any number of other sometimes expensive aids to memory can be a delicious little rush. But they are of the past. If the past has not been used to make the present better, which seems much the case for our politics, why try to relive it? If what you think was lost with bygone days was youth and opportunity, you are only right if you also see that you are younger now than you will be later and possibilities lay open to you that have yet to vanish. The looking forward then and the looking back later all miss the now.

And like sex, when nostalgia is willfully employed for manipulation or advantage, the focus is diverted to the props, the objects of desire while the desire itself is abandoned for the poets to retune, reshape and recolor so that later, we may recall. The objects we lean upon to conjure up memory, to revivify dead moments, are empty. Their only art is that we can so readily pour out ourselves into them.

Nostalgia is for the sake of the nostalgic, not for the sake of the objects of nostalgia.

Monday, January 22, 2007

War on the marrying class

Not all marriages turn out to form families but that is still the best arrangement I know of. So I found this article in the NYTimes rather interesting. I will paste a few quotes but RTFA, all of it please because its an eye opener.
It’s worth repeating: the “marriage gap” isn’t about men and women. It’s about class and education.
The emerging gulf is instead one of class — what demographers, sociologists and those who study the often depressing statistics about the wedded state call a “marriage gap” between the well-off and the less so.
Why have things changed so much for women who don’t have the choices that educated women have? While marriage used to be something you did before launching a life or career, now it is seen as something you do after you’re financially stable — when you can buy a house, say. The same is true for all classes. But the less educated may not get there.
“The way we used to look at marriage was that if women were highly educated, they had higher earning power, they were more culturally liberal and people might have predicted less marriage among them,” Mr. Martin said. “What’s becoming more powerful is the idea that economic resources are conducive to stable marriages. Women who have more money or the potential for more money are married to men who have more stable income.”

This would not be much of a surprise to you if you understood the economics of a nation that has its tax laws written by the lawyers of corporations and the very wealthy.
As Thom Hartmann explains it in his book SCREWED the undeclared war against the middle class, the forces that presently have the upper hand in setting up and taking away legal and tax advantages could not care less about the middle class. Family values and middle class! Who in this administration would have thought they had anything to do with each other? Of course, for them "Family Values" doesn't mean "make it easy for people to stay in a relationship" but rather its an empty pass phrase to mollify fundamentalists.

Gay marriage won't destroy the institution. But not being able to afford marriage seems to be doing a pretty good job. The Republicans are the party that is "for" family? My ass they are!

Just because you are still screwing doesn't mean you aren't already screwed.

Yes a very interesting survey. And my little rant were better lodged at A Bomb A Nation except for one little sentence in the article. It had one passing assertion about why men put off marriage which, if accurate, reeks of an antique sexism: "They don’t trust women to tell the truth about past relationships,..." Really, I am aware there are men like that. Don't they know that if that is their worry, it comes from insecurity and they will never be free of it by virtue of which woman they choose? Nor does the poor woman particularly deserve to live with a man chasing such ghosts...he should never marry and thus spare two heartaches. [Lets just see if Amanda picks that up slaps me with it!]

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What do you really want?

In my unschooled mind, "burnout" and depression are not easily distinguished. Have I grown tired of blogging. Have I lost interest in reading others think or even the news? Can life itself let one down?

I think many such questions are faces of a very basic question that most of us have had to ask on some occasion: "What do I want...what do I really want?"

If you answered "I don't know what I want. Nothing seems to interest me..." then your friends and family would be on you in a flash with suggestions of good prescription drugs, or therapists who had been effective when they were depressed.

There are circumstances in which I see that question as a rational response to the situation rather than a response driven by unhealthy low levels of norepinephrine, serotonin, N-AcetylAspartate and high ratio of choline to creatine. The clearest but least pertinent case is havng two equally unpleasant options of which you must choose one. Far less clear and far more pertinent is having to choose between two lovers when underneath it all, the reason you ever had two lovers was that you don't know how or truly want to be in love with either of them or maybe with anyone at all. Perhaps your family has been asking you when you are going to settle down. Far more common but so vague that you really have to examine particular cases is when one is struck with boredom. You reach for food or for the remote out of reflex when a moment's reflection would tell you it will not satisfy. As we are wired, novel dross will sometimes trade even with familiar gems though only so long as the novelty has not worn off. We can careen, brainless as a pendulum swinging between the potential of dread and the kinetic of titilation, from attraction to attraction and never be distressed by it until we begin to notice the careening as much as the attractions.

Always consider the possibility that if you don't know what you want, it might be because you don't want anything. Its kinda like the perfect stillness of the deep woods when birds and insects are out of season and the wind has stopped. You might not notice silence if you aren't listening for it.

Who said you had to want something in order to be happy?

Would you believe the wanting of things, no matter how refined or primitive its form, is the seed of all enslavement?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

and now, a word from our unsponsor

This weeks post was withheld from you by...
Mt Moosilauke. Yep, another weekend, another ascent. This time junior picked an easy hike of ten miles and only about two thousand feet of climb, no crampons or ice axes this time around. And, oddly uncharacteristic of this so-called winter, snow. Ah but we got a lesson. The plantless rocky deserts above treeline are that way for a reason.

Only a few hundred feet below the summit and in protection of trees, its cold but calm.

On the summit, you can't see 100 yards, the temperature has dropped to the low twenties and the wind is a steady 50 mph, making the icy footing even more precarious.

Safely down from the summit, ice still clings to the brim of my hat and clouds cling to the peak, which never saw the sunshine that broke out elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"stay the curse" or "scourge", the policy still sucks

Sorry for not posting. Kinda working two jobs just now.

I simply could not let this go unnoted. It strains forbearance, it strains credulity that this embarrassing accident of a president, this disgraceful son of a Bush can, after sound political defeat and inevitable military stalemate of his hare brained plans for empire, still say things like this. I turned off the TV so I don't know what else he said. But why should I listen further? Either he is an idiot or he thinks we are idiots. What other sense can you make of this assertion from the speech he made in support of his call for a new "surge" plan, a call for 22 thousand new victims of patriotic folly :

"A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them,..."

Reality, which has been admitted to not be his base, quite literally is the opposite his assertion. The Bush/Cheney instigated war in Iraq has removed an ugly political power that had no trust and hardly any business with a rival like Al Qaida. Clumsily decapitating the Baath party only created a political vacuum and putting a 100 thousand of our soldiers in an Arab country with no clear purpose [what WMD?] just became a beacon cause to Islamist martyrs. We shall be decades undoing the damage. Damn this fool. Call your representative and tell them to vote not one nickel for more war. Bush is rich as hell, let him pay for this hell.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Things you can say to a wombat

I apologize for turning a comment into a post but something Davo wrote touched one of my more loquatious nerves and set me off:
Each seed is composed of cells. Each cell is composed of chemicals, molecules, atoms. An atom is a chunk of discrete energy. Combinations of chemicals form hormones. Hormones trigger recombinations of molecules. Recombinations of molecules form different cells. Different cells recombine to form the building blocks for the shape of stems and leaves. The “blueprint” for the eventual shape is controlled by genes.

But this is where it becomes difficult to comprehend. Yes, I have “seen” a cell – something denied previous generations prior to the discovery of glass; and how to shape it into a lens – but have never “seen” a molecule nor atom. Have to take that bit of information on “trust”. Do I “believe” it .. yes, much as “primitive” tribes “believed” what they were told by their local “medicine men” (or women).

Analysis and being analytical is almost our only mental tool, certainly our strongest. That post seemed to be expressing a love for the wholeness and a mistrust or perhaps a fear that in taking things to pieces, we loose too much because indeed, the world is more than the sum of its parts.

That perception that none of the "pieces" we know of properly account for growth and other kinds of goodness in this world leads many to posit a missing dimension or power to account for the orderly or at least pleasing assembly of parts that is [was ?] our world.

I would point out that however you decompose or analyse [I like decompose! its ambiguity suits me] and no matter how fine-grained the entities into which you divide the things of this life, there are always two aspects to each of the elements you arrive at:
  1. what the thing itself is in its own
  2. what its forms and capacities for interaction, connection and relation with other parts of its own kind and other kinds.
I submit that we never know that much about category #1 because the only handle our senses and our instrumentation can give us for understanding anything is the properties in category #2. For physicists, this dichotomy is as clear as a still winter morning in the desert because the only definitions and theories they can concoct and test for things like electrons, for instance, are its observables, its interactions in bulk or individually with stuff we can sense or measure. That is why physicists got good at tolerating the "is it a wave or is it a particle" conundrum while still making vast, application enabling, progress in understanding what it would do in various circumstances. I may be extrapolating my physics too far into metaphor but I think there is a fair analog here for how much we really know about ANYTHING via analysis.

We are only human. Most of us are pushed toward all these questions and answers by the big bang of all questions that echos, sometimes below consciousness, in the back of our minds: why?

The purposes of things we do arise from within our own thinking but don't we go too far to presume any event or existing thing outside our own making also ultimately came forth from some intention? But my post on How vs Why is ancient and I don't want to stray that far from the particular nut Davo is trying to crack in this post. I just want to warn that all the brilliant dissection in the world, if pursued honestly, won't find one damn word of "why" and only how. Does the dissatisfaction I sense in this observation about how questionable the "reality" of some of our more advanced dissecting may be stem from the weakness [I say absence] of "why" in the findings? The mention of deity prompts this question.

Though C.P. Snow's Two Cultures may have overstated a divide that none the less exists in some form between humanities and the so called "hard sciences", I think most of us do acknowledge the existance or actively suffer the friction of a more defininte and dramatic divide between the culture of science and the religions that are assumed to permeate so many of our national cultures. Plenty of people have come in Snow's footsteps to write the book that surveyed that gap fairly. But real chasms are hard to straddle. I hope some kind reader can point me to the book that shows a respectful insight into both perspectives and still really tells us something new or constructive for rejoining those drifting continents of thought. I probably should read more S.J. Gould...I hear one never reads enough Gould.

My two sense is that the divide will eventually be found to have much to do with the varying inclinations of individual psyches, tendencies both innnate and inculcated in youth. Else why do we find a scattering of skeptics and unbelievers even in cultures that punish unbelief in unbelievably harsh ways? Authors will search in vain for the philosophical bridge between two innately different attitudes and levels of trust in our own intelligence...its not a gap of two big ideas any more than it is a gap of two different personalities. The resistance to getting seriously analytic in spheres where religion has usually operated, regardless of the fruits of an analytical and experimental approach in engineering and laboratories, assuming retardation has been ruled out, might rest in our own natures as much as our institutions and cultures. There will be those who, though they understand pieces, long for wholes.
The holiness is in the wholeness.

BTW, regarding "seeing a thought": we are actually on the threshold of an era when "thinking" both conscious and unconscious, can be seen, quite literally. But Davo's objection is sustained: knowing exactly when, where and what chemical reaction or exchange of ions between synpses has taken place is not all like we know if the person was making a new connection about science and politics or just thinking "I could use a drink".

It would seem sadly ironic that the triumph of our mastery of the atomic finds its most significant application [in the public's mind and in the mind of our "leaders"] in weapons that could blight if not end the lives we have eked out upon this planet. Note however that the formost scientist [well, the project leader for the science], Robert Oppenheimer, was saddened and profoundly disquieted at the achievement...the McCarthyesque pols booted him from the establishment the minute they had their bomb and Oppenheimer's misgivings were known. Less visible to the public is the way the ideas of atomic physics have blossomed in thousands of minds like mine and left me shaking my head at only one thing: the sightlessness of massed humanity and its so-called leaders. What will we screw up next? Compared to the Manhattan project, we spend orders of magnitude more nowadays on medical and biological reasearch and most of that with the nominally benign purpose of improving our health. But once again, we invent tools we can't afford to acheive results with consequences we cannot predict.

[I hope Davo will forgive me. The planet needs more trees and fewer long winded blog posts but I can not make a tree.]

On the other hand, I think a pretty good case has been made for Seemer Ozmagic's Bosnian Pyramid being older than its Egyptian lookalikes. [just kidding...and checking to see if Cotrunix is reading this]

Sunday, January 07, 2007

file under my homework ate my blog

We made our fourth trek to the White mountains. We got three summits on the Franconia ridge: Haystack, Mt Lincon and Mt Lafayette

and some sunshine.

Friday, January 05, 2007

light philosophy

Disappointment is only visible if expectation provides the light by which to see.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Well connected

The term "well connected", more euphemistic than "has friends in high places" still connotes unfair advantage by way of unearned access to power. It might be an uncle on the board of selectman, a grandparent who made large donations to the college. The tie is not always familial. "They fought in the war together", "they were fraternity brothers", etc.

The connections themselves are often struck up naturally enough [though the socializing of real estate agents and insurance salesmen is a suspect thing to me]. Many connections are markers of a natural and not so unfair relationship: shared values , shared interests, old friendships forged in youth or a religious setting. All that really makes "well connected" dubious is how the connection is used in relation to power in public. Where one person is entrusted with power to differentially dispense opportunities and resources not personally his wealth to give out, all seekers should appeal purely on their merits. We know this standard has been broadly ignored in the Bush administration.

I am going to try to contrast this with the social obligation of maintaining links and blogrolls. The essence of the ethical improvement that web connection offers over conventional social ties is that even the greatest blogger or web personality has no power to do more than suggest. You can do little to promote junk because each visitor who clicks is a judge in their own right, and your own judgment in linking or recommending is itself on trial. Some domains may be excluded but income, race and other such matters are never a factor unless we want them to be. The segregation is mostly self imposed: progressives don't link conservatives very often and vice versa. The power we have over each other in connecting is therefore fundamentally more democratic than conventional old boy networks. But it does have a downside: the harm is to NOT connect the worthy and thus not to build up by word-of-link the renown some, probably many, deserve. Google will not rescue them.
Like desert societies learning where to find and how to share water, we whose egos or wallets live on the precious coin of hit traffic choose our link etiquette and blogroll partnerships much less casually then is generally mentioned...or at least we should.

I, for example, have a far too static set of links and no current associated guidance or categorization. This makes ET less useful to the random reader and ultimately has a slight negative impact on my own traffic.
That observation leads me to append to my new years resolution: I will blog more AND I will try to make my list of links more fun, more varied and more of a meritocractic nexus. No one can just RSS feed the whole blogosphere into their browser unless they trust, say, Techonrati to do the filtering. And yet, no fixed set of links stays fresh for long or is responsive to every user's surfing objectives. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to build a tool quite as powerful as this, but hopefully get something a bit less random.

News explorer instructions: You will need Flash apply the tool to other names in the news, just append "emm news explorer", including the quotes, to your google search terms. You will probably only get two hits and the secondary one [deeper hit] with the longer URL should have a funny looking graphic, actually a link to the animated web of connections for your topic person. Quite the little time waster really! The result linked above was found with this set of google terms:
"Michael Brown" katrina FEMA "emm news explorer"
and the Icon to click through to the web graphic will look like this:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

not by might

We just expedited a hanging. The hangee was by all accounts as well deserving of such a fate as anyone you could name. He was a defiant nuisance in court, audaciously claiming the court's illegitimacy while ignoring the recounting of the murders he committed or had others commit. Except a few of his tribesmen from Tikrit, not many wanted to hear his vile bluster.

Even so, when is a hanging the right way to silence a party line? Are the forces that made some people join the Baath party weakened or strengthened by this hanging? Are there any political positions or agendas so toxic that they fall outside the bounds not only of free speech but of the sanctity of life? As a common criminal, Saddam would have been guilty as hell anyway so this is not really the case in which to seek my answer. As a politcal criminal, would his tactics for maintaining stability in Iraq have killed more people than the Bush administration's tactics? Want to play a game of "surge roulette"?

In looking about for a better instance from which to answer the question of whether killing people is ever a legitimate political tool, I need not go as far as Iraq. We have, for instance, the wilted wonder of manufactured outrage-as-marketing-ploy: Ann Coulter. Talk about abusing freedom of speech! She variously hints or openly suggests that particular persons or categories of persons with whom she disagrees be killed. Well, I don't agree with her. Nor do I agree with most of what is said by most of the conservative talk radio personalities who gargle the same sewage as Ann. But I don't think it better to shoot Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh or Mike Savage when they can be discredited by holding their exagerations and mistakes, selfishness and self promotion in clear juxtaposition with the facts they omit and the norms of decency they violate. If we insist no government and no corporate media monopoly have the power to control what we can know, then a potent remedy is available far superior to inadvertantly proving the importance of an unimportant person by killing them: we just need to make sure that collectively, we have a long and detailed memory. Death is memorable so it is a favored tool of those who want to make their point stay in mind but don't want to spend a lot of time proving their point. Go back. Dig up the claims and the bogus inferences and out-of-context facts. Remind your friends and readers they were lied to or fed simplistic or biased interpretations that have served us ill. The instances are many and mounting. Yes, it is more work to check facts and refute the lies...and you don't listen to them anyway so why give yourself a headache honoring this nonsense with a rebuttal? But imagine what our democracy would be like if the average voter could recite the five most inaccurate things any prominent wingnut had fed their listeners. Far better than a corpse and a headline would be the laughter...and the anger. In some cases, the work has been done and you only need to read it. And it is not work done by hacks. And it can be fun. But in general, it is the business of anyone who wants to have an opinion to have done their homework. In your quest to be part of our society's long memory, you can just drop Reuters from your reading will not miss much truth that way.

Is it worth the trouble? We have some evidence that if you don't do the gruntwork citizenship of double checking your pundits and leaders, eventually there is a hanging.

UPDATE I: here is a particulary clear and tidy example of the discrediting work: we don't need to shoot Mr. Hitchens...but it would be nice if someone buried the stinking remains of his humanity.
UPDATE II: Not all these odious fools are the same but clearly, I could make a whole blog out of calling BS on these sycophants who must now find a food source to replace the son of a Bush.

Monday, January 01, 2007

modern problems with simple solutions

The more inefficient the supply chain is, the greater your positive impact on global resources will be when you just quit buying their crap.

Peak oil does not mean a literal shut-off of supply. It is not like you will hear a sucking noise as if your soda straw had finally and suddenly pulled the last of your drink out of the glass. The gradual and inevitable process, now in full swing, will be that the amount of oil that it takes to fetch a barrel of oil to your local pump will increase steadily. The efficiency of the supply chain is up against a hard and declining physical limit. The worst danger is the years-long gradualness of the process. That creeping change will let our over-adaptive brains revise the threshold of alarm. We tip-toed past the alarms of 1973 and then sped up again. We don't hear those alarms any more. We don't hear anything but advertisements for cars.