Monday, October 29, 2007

regarding the recent paucity of posts

Sometimes you can't hear yourself think.
Sometimes you don't want to hear yourself think.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

FCC asks to ratify media monopolies.

I am just mailing this in, sorry.

There are a few problems that are the seeds of many problems. Campaign finance reform is also a huge problem. But we need to concentrate on those about which we can the most.

In my book, media content dictated by a handful of conservatives with more interest in promoting a view of the world that favors the growth of their wealth than they have ever had in fair and balanced news is one of the worst problems. But it is not on the verge of a leap in severity. Today's reason to get up and call you congressman TODAY, and to write the FCC is that the media moguls want to shut out the liberal and honest voices before they can do harm to any elections...this is a seed problem about to be sewn and fertilized. You didn't find your protests effective when congress had a chance to do the right thing about children's health care. It would be easy to give up in disgust...I nearly did. That is just what the Ruperts of the world want and expect of us.

As you will note in the Times article and as Ian Welsh spells out at Agonist, this time around its more desperate than last because the supreme court was all that saved open access to media from monopoly...and Bush has altered that court. Whatever is to be done, you and I are going to have to do it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One of my value judgements is shifting

Given a choice between ending selfishness and ending stupidity, I always used to prefer and sometimes brashly spoke for ending stupidity. In my arrogance, I considered intelligence the master of reflex and emotion: a proper amount of reflection should lead anyone to adjust their grabbing and self gratifying ways toward the more sustainable relationship with friends and fellow citizens. Thought alone is one tool available to poorest human, I reasoned. The benefits of a yielding consideration of others seemed to me almost as evident as the shorter term benefit of taking for number one whatever was not nailed down and a little meditation would pull you over to the benign.

Now I see selfishness more often as betraying fear: it is the constant practice and the general response of those who think, or more accurately: feel, they won't have enough to get by sooner or later. And while there is a bit of theory to the effect that we may have inborn inclinations toward or away from altruism that vary from person to person, I know it is experience, especially in childhood, that determines our expectations of want. Those experiences are compounded later in life by acquisition of goods and power: having "something to lose" often exacerbates the hostility toward the welfare of others when the sense of insecurity is falsely equated to possessions. And they are determined in ways that won't be changed, not even by a life of wealth and surplus. Surplus, in fact, is rarely defined in our society as having more than the minimum you need to get by, a minimum most of us above poverty cannot and do not want to reckon.

Working counter to that dynamic is the instilled sense of security or adequacy. And that sense can be as irrationally disconnected from one's finances and physical jeopardy as can its opposite fears. And it can be as unacknowledged even as it determines daily choices. That sense that one need not be overly worried about how they will fare next year may come from a constructive childhood where one was guided to experience their own adequacies or from a belief in a deity who watches out for us and imbues us with confidence and hope when we muster faith. Generosity is not so much a matter of having the material wherewithal to give.

I also used to believe that of those two choices, stupidity was more realistically vulnerable to education and exercise of the mind whereas "curing" selfishness seemed to require some unattainable magic. I do not feel so sure of these things now.

Adam Smith viewed the rules of commerce and the freedom to set prices and sell to the highest bidder as "the invisible hand", a benign and almost divine force inherent in the simple rules of the market. To this day, hundreds of years later, many hold with that incomplete vision and think it is all that is needed to account for the increase of wealth since the idea was set to paper. I say "incomplete" because we logged and mined and burnt the world to reach our present state of abundance. Do you deny that it is at best pockets of abundance amid fields of want...and getting more lopsided by the year? Smith was quite right in one thing: The simplest rules and the particular definition of fairness ["honesty in commerce", perhaps?] are all it takes to structure a social order in an economy. I look upon the divisions of wealth and their sick trend and upon the catastrophic one-sided way we share nothing with the earth that has so long given us whatever we wanted and I am certain the invisible hand is the right hand. It is time to change the rules so that the invisible hand is the left hand. Our present state of degradation and poverty in the shadow of towering wealth is not accidental or temporary. And unfortunately because selfishness is the prevailing spirit of the rules that structure humanity's dealings with itself, intelligence is the subservient trait, applied to devising efficiencies that benefit the well to do far more often than those who couldn't or didn't grab a bigger share for themselves.

I have no solution. The choice is a rhetorical device and actual accomplishment of either improvement seems to require magic. There is no magic.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

does every president have one of these?

Maybe I should put Phil Nugent on my reading list. There are lots of little things someone else notes and nails in a way you not only agree with but would have written up yourself if you hadn't been busy saving the world and raking the lawn. Crooked Timber points me to a post of Phil's from which I fashion:

  • Nixon: "I am not a crook"
  • Clinton: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"
  • Bush: "We do not torture"

[And of course, I would think it fair to ask, which insistent prevarication was in denial of the greatest evil?]

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobel Committee gets one right

Good morning!

Nobel Peace prizes are generally given to someone who has worked to inspire or broker more peaceful relations between waring factions of humans. I think the Nobel committee's choice of awarding the prize to the most salient and influential [but hardly the only] parties working to end a war heedless humanity has waged against their own environment is long overdue.

Many wars are ultimately fought because that seems more logical to the waring groups than trying to share the dwindling resources for which they are contending. How much more sensible it is to work instead against wasting those resources in the first place. We have a long way to go before Planned Parenthood or any ZPG/NPG activists get the peace prize but at least we see here a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A well trodden way

Not surprised, I find that when some insight life beat into me finally sharpens to a statement in a terse tart phrase, I am the 10 millionth person to have reached that bit of wit.

I meant by that that evidence is miraculously abundant for someone with a preconception to support. In one way or another, so imply thousands of others to whom the expression occurs spontaneously. No wonder science is such an unfamiliar and even hostile profession to the average American. Getting anything less than just what you want appears to be a substantially repellent feature of reality when encountered by minds conditioned by advertising as much as by experience.

The perplexing thing, the fact that puts all our endeavors under a cloud is that despite the insight being well documented, its violations are virtually the main content of MSM. I am fond of Krishnamurti's very deep expression that truth is a pathless land. But it seems that truth is at hand constantly and not far from the most well worn paths. It is just that those paths are circles on which our peculiar species repeatedly approaches the truth and then just passes it by to be rediscovered and re-ignored in endless repetition.

When you watch the news, just remember, you are not so much watching history's telling or an unfolding of a causal chain. You are hearing foolish humans picking and choosing things to say about other foolish humans. The real import of the news will be more the display of the disturbed processes of our collective and individual minds than it will be a coherent narrative or a tale with any meaning or end.

This ape is not ready for anything. He leadeth me beside black waters.


Political leaders or the populations that either choose or tolerate them: of whom is this observation more critical?:

It is easier to mislead than to lead.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Its not safe

The hidden persuader, the low brow half truth that has propelled the Republicans even before some sons of Saudi Arabia had their egotistical triumph of death in lower Manhattan, was the miasmatic insinuation that you should be worried. Yes, YOU should be afraid. Yep, there's tax wasters out there and there's bad people and you gotta trust a tough decision maker to stomp 'em out. Tough did not mean personally courageous either, just callous about the disposition of the lives and well being of others...none of that bleeding heart empathetic humanity crap.

Well, the chicken hawks have come home to roost, and the Republicans are increasingly characterized as out of touch with reality and even with the electorate. And, as this slightly modified logo for the Republican 2008 convention may imply, they have become a bit of a laughing stock. While they want you to remain dazed and seized with amorphous fear, they now have the problem that getting hit on in the men's room by a stuck-in-the-closet Republican is a more common fear among Americans than the dread of a bomba from Osama. Thanks to the ever-readable Dark Wraith for relaying that hackery from BrassBlog

But now its my turn to say it: It is not safe.
Safety is never more than relative. The worst thing about it is that it is more likely to be smugness than any reliable guarantee which lends that feeling of security. Knowledge is the one sure possession that is always safe once you have it at all. Seeing the low poll numbers of Republicans may comfort you. And the growing economic strain of selfishly stupid policies eroding and fragmenting the Republican "base" patched together by Rove may delight you. But do not be complacent. Just as the minority of American people who still support the neoconservative's war to gain a foothold in the oiliest part of the world cannot keep clear in their minds the vast difference between the correct meanings of "Arab", "Muslim" and "Al-Qaeda", so too, the rest of us need to remain vigilantly clear on the distinction between Neoconservative, Republican and Conservative. While the Republicans should lose elections based on their abysmal morality, their pathetic polling numbers and their disdain for the constitution, they are just a political party, a label. Conservatives are not all identified with that party and some of the richest of them are better identified as corporatists or some other label that says wealth can be concentrated to give pathologically disproportionate political power to a small clique of people. As free as conservative media moguls are from taint of oil, blood, cash and cum the Republicans have smeared on themselves, they burrow on through the timbers of the republic unchecked. As long as this "money buys truth" paradigm holds sway in American political discourse, we will be continually surprised at how a dumb party with a disgraceful and at many points murderous record will still do well on election day.

Like the militantly pious and intolerant Islam of Al Quaeda, the base of the republican party is not single minded. It exists in pockets wherever insecurity and ignorance in its many forms are found: the uneducated fear of foreigners, militantly pious Christian intolerance, the fear of losing power that afflicts the wealthy etc. Only their inclination to fear really binds them and when the media owners blow the dog whistle, you will be surprised how they assemble and vote as one. (And to whomever gave Mr. Rove's handiwork the name "the Republican base", my eternal gratitude. I wonder what it sounds like in Arabic;)

And do not celebrate any victory over mere Republicans that may turn up in November...At that point in time when the advertisements and editorials have exhausted the vocabulary of mistrust and marred every meaning words ever had, you will tend to forget the names of any but the immediate victims. Don't. Rove, Cheney and a handful of advisers to this administration threw the switch that put an erstwhile democracy on a collision course with world political and economic forces which a more realistic government might have adapted or averted. The messes made will not be restored to order by a change of leaders and the parties responsible should not enjoy the kindness of belated tongue wagging. We are bled, we are haggard and we will be worse off later but oh so much worse off if we forget why mistakes were made: politics of fear are really spoiling the party and not just the Republican party.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Starts with an "F", ends with "CK"

And we are.

The long periods of stability and the generally very gradual changes of earth's thermal profiles argue that in all eras prior to human pollution, nature had found the balance points at which small perturbations were damped by negative feedbacks. This gave rise to mild oscillation in the short term and only in very long term could larger effects such as ice ages play out the more extreme oscillations. And even those were still oscillations, periodic departures from some normal for which there was always a gradual return.

While nature has never given us dead calm stasis, it is not possible for her to tarry around conditions in which positive feedback is at work...instability is always necessarily transient. But if you screw up badly enough, positive feedbacks nature has never shown us come out of the woodwork. It had been realized in the last few years that a thawing arctic could release trapped CO2 from tundra ice and hasten the rising levels of green house gases now that we pushed them above a threshold that could start the thaw. That added carbon in the air sped up models for global warming. It has been suggested that if the warming goes on long enough to affect temps at ocean depths of a few thousand feet, there might be rapid release of CH4 from methane hydrate ice that is known to blanket some slopes at the margins of continental shelfs. That would be a monster positive feedback both because of the enormous amount of methane now sequestered in the deeps and because methane is 20 times better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than is carbon dioxide. The first positive feedback was more obvious and postulated decades ago: ice reflects the warming rays better than dirt and vegetation so a shrinking ice cap meant yet more heat piled on to, you guessed it, melt yet more frost. That is positive feedback and, as predicted, that particular effect is here already and hard at work dismantling our notions of seasonal variation and agriculture's geographic limits. Another positive feedback that is in operation in temperate climates that used to get enough rain: wildfires. Obviously, wholesale combustion of vast forests puts millions of tons of carbon in air, pronto. Only slightly less obvious [unless you are Senator Inhofe] is the connection that a warmer atmosphere dries or outright drives out the rain that fell in a cooler climate: some may get more rain, most will get less ... and that will increase the likelihood and severity of wildfires. Just ask the Australians.

And now comes yet another curve ball: enough melting to break the ice free is all you need to let the winds push the unmelted remnants to warmer latitudes where water temperatures and less glancing solar radiation finish the job well ahead of the schedule a simple model would predict. Another positive feedback.

If you haven't studied engineering or physics and don't have a feeling for what the difference of behavior is between a system in the grip of negative feedbacks vs one in the grip of positive feedbacks then just think of something like a runaway freight train that is approaching a long downhill grade...its present uncontrolled excess of energy is about to yield an even greater excess of uncontrollable energy. Or think of positive feedback as the simplified physical example of the "vicious circle".