Monday, July 28, 2014

#210 / Pessimism

Pessimism has no place in a democracy. 
      - Ralph Nader

Bill Curry, a former aide to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for Governor of Connecticut, has written an article in Salon entitled, "My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats."

The article is filled with praise for Ralph Nader, who promptly flagged it for his Facebook followers. As I followed up on Nader's Facebook page and website, I found him saying things I agree with. For instance: "Turn on to politics, or politics will turn on you." Or: "There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship."

I like the quote about "pessimism" best, though. That was a quote taken from Curry's article, and I gather taken originally from Nader's most recent book, Unstoppable. I like that quote because it is based on what I think of as the basic reality of "politics." 

We live most immediately in a "political world," a world we create by our choices and actions. And in that world, literally anything is possible. There are no "laws" that govern our actions in a way that results in a predetermined result. In our world, the "political world," WE make the laws. In fact, we create and govern the world through the laws we make:

Politics > Law > Government
Given this truth, "pessimism," indeed, has no place in a democracy, because to doubt that we can change the world is one of the major reasons that we don't.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

#209 / Less Exceptional

The Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College is hosting a conference this coming October, and is posing the question: "Are there still American values worth fighting for?" Click on the image for more information. 

It seems to me that the question posed is a timely one. The online advertisement for the conference offers this perspective: 

Today, the country that for 200 years saw itself confidently as the "New World"—the Novus Ordo Saeculorum—is shedding its missionary zeal. In opinion surveys, younger Americans are significantly less likely to be “extremely proud to be American” or to believe that American possesses a special virtue as a force for good in the world. Upward income mobility, the heart of the American dream, is more rare in the United States than in most of Europe. And the American tradition of local self-government—what Hannah Arendt saw as the true innovation of American freedom—has been superseded by the rise of centralized power in the service of national security. It is hard to deny the truth that America is, today, increasingly less exceptional than in the past.

I particularly liked the reference to what Hannah Arendt says about local self-government. My sentiments, exactly!

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

#208 / Killer Robots In Our Future?

Here is Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, inspecting the latest model of an Atlas "killer robot," developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boston Dynamics. I saw the picture in an opinion piece by Erik Schechter, published in the July 11, 2014 edition of The Wall Street Journal

Schechter is the author of The Security Guy's Weblog, covering war, terrorism and the military-industrial complex. In The Journal article, Schechter reports that the Pentagon decided in 2012 to "set a five- to 10-year moratorium on developing autonomous weapons systems." He further says that "the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions has likewise called on other states to put their research on hold."

It seems that Schechter questions this decision to "stand down" on killer robots. His article in The Wall Street Journal is titled "In Defense of Killer Robots." Schechter's thinking goes like this: 

Disarmament activists contend that, real-life consequences aside, it is inherently wrong to give a machine the power of life or death over a human being. Killing people with such a self-propelled contraption is to treat them like "vermin," as one activist put it. But why is raining bombs down on someone from 20,000 feet any better? 

My answer: "raining down bombs on someone from 20,000 feet" is NOT any better than decimating them at close quarters with a killer robot. However, this fact is NOT an argument for killer robots. It is an argument against drone killings. 

Could we all stop thinking that perpetual war is the "base case," and start moving in some different direction? 

Just saying.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

#207 / Hair, Hair

I get a lot of ideas and do a lot of thinking in the shower. I may even get some of my best ideas in the shower, though I wouldn't actually make that claim in any serious way. This blog posting, today, deriving from something I thought about in the shower, a few days ago, is one example of why such a claim would be suspect. Let me also report that even though my showers, nowadays, are much truncated, in response to our current drought, the showers = ideas equation still seems to work, even at a radically reduced water to time in the shower ratio. 

At any rate, a few days ago, as I was washing my hair in the shower (with the water off as I did that, incidentally - not actually the way I like to do it), it struck me that my now mostly white hair was different, somehow, from my father's white hair. My father (and his hair) are pictured above when my dad was about 55 years old. His hair was jet black when my dad was younger, but he aged into the white haired guy above. 

My mother's hair when she was young (to digress just a bit, but not much) was not nearly as dark as my dad's hair. Her hair was more of a dark brown, and my dad's was really black. As my mother got older, her hair turned white, too, but my mom founded (and was probably the only member of) the "Never Say Dye Club," and I think she adhered to the admonition. Up to the time of her death, there was always brown among the gray.

My dad was different. His "white" hair would actually be a rather unattractive shade of "yellow," except for the fact that he had that color treated at a hairdresser's shop. I am, personally, in the "Never Say Dye" contingent, and so why isn't my hair yellowish, too? That's what I started thinking about in the shower!

Here is my thought from the shower about this question: my dad smoked pretty consistently from the age of probably 16 or so till he was nearing 60. I think that accumulated nicotine, cached other places in his body, must have leached into his hair. I bet that is what produced that yellowish tint.

I have never smoked. No yellowish coloration!

Not a great thought, I'll admit, but just one more good reason never to start smoking, and to quit if you are currently addicted. 

Dying and dyeing: neither is desirable. Both related to tobacco use!

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Personal Photo

Thursday, July 24, 2014

#206 / Two Realities

Richard Heinberg is the author of eleven books, including The Party's Over, The End of Growth, and Snake Oil. He is a Senior Fellow-in-Residence at the Post Carbon Institute.

Heinberg has written a "Two Worlds" kind of essay published on July 22, 2014 on the Resilience website. He calls it "Two Realities." 

Our contemporary world is host to two coexisting but fundamentally different—and, in at least one crucial respect, contradictory—realities. One of these might be termed Political Reality, though it extends far beyond formal politics and pervades conventional economic thinking. It is the bounded universe of what is acceptable in public economic-social-political discourse. The other is Physical Reality: i.e., what exists in terms of energy and materials, and what is possible given the laws of thermodynamics.

Heinberg is worth reading, and his latest essay is illustrated by the lovely picture, above, of those fabled "two roads diverging in a wood." 

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#205 / Primarily A Political Fight

Nathanael Johnson is a writer who lives in San Francisco. He has written a book called All Natural. He apparently started thinking about the "Anthropocene" as he wrote this book. As Wikipedia defines it, "the Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term that marks the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems." I actually recommend that you get Elizabeth Kolbert's take on the term, if you are not familiar with it.

Johnson became aware, as he explored the topic, that there is a kind of debate about whether there could ever be a "good" Anthropocene. He decided to do an article, recently published in Grist, that explores this topic by way of a dialogue between ethicist Clive Hamilton ("The New Environmentalism Will Lead Us To Disaster" and Requiem For A Species) and journalist Andrew Revkin ("Paths To A Good Anthropocene").

Johnson's article is titled "Is the Anthropocene a world of hope or a world of hurt?" The article is worth reading, though it doesn't actually resolve the question presented, at least in my opinion. 

I am citing to Johnson's article for one reason. About halfway through the dialogue, as Johnson is summarizing the points of view being expressed, he says this: 

NJ Just to sum up, clearly we have giant cultural issues to work out. I don't see a revolution coming with humans ascending to a higher ethical state anytime soon, though I would certainly welcome and work for it. But it seems like in the meantime it doesn't hurt to be working on incremental, pragmatic measures, with the full awareness that it is primarily a political fight, with entrenched interests working against us. At least that gives us the option, if there are less bad alternatives out there, of making our way toward them.

Johnson's statement that the the future of the Earth is "primarily a political fight" is really a way to say that we will live, inevitably, in the world we create as humans, and that even as the challenges for our world come to us from the World of Nature, which is now being altered by the actions we have taken, and are taking, within our human world, the "fate" of our world is dependent on our political choices. 

This understanding is exactly the point of this Two Worlds blog. It is politics, in the end, that creates the world in which we most immediately live.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#204 / A Different Kind Of Gun Control

Pictured above is a surface to air missile like the kind of missile believed to have blown Malaysia Airlines Flight #17 out of the sky over the Ukraine. Shown below is one of the "Iron Dome" missiles being used in the current fighting between Israel and Hamas. 

I started thinking about modern weaponry when I read an article in yesterday's edition of The Wall Street Journal. The article was titled "Japan Inc. Now Exporting Weapons." Appearing in the "Marketplace" section of The Journal, the article was presented as "news," and not as an "editorial" statement. However, there was a fairly censorious tone to the article; at least I thought so. The article stated that Japan is "a nation that [has] long hesitated to turn its technology prowess into arms-sales profits." Maybe I am wrong, but I read into that statement a kind of "disapproval" of the apparent change in what has been Japan's official policy since the end of World War II.

If that tone of "disapproval" in the article is not just my imagination, it would make sense that the story appeared in the "Marketplace" section of The Wall Street Journal. I do not recall The Journal ever bemoaning the fact that the United States has turned its "technology prowess" into arms-sales profits; what might be rankling The Journal about the change in Japan's policy is that United States arms exporters are now going to be facing some competition from Japan. Isn't that what a "marketplace" is supposed to be all about? Maybe, theoretically! As Noam Chomsky has recently said, however, in an excellent interview with Chris Hedges, "business hates markets."

Apparently, arms sales add up to a $400 billion dollar per year business, and U.S. companies are the biggest "winners" in this sector of the global economy. The "losers" are the ordinary men and women inhabiting this most non-peaceful planet, who are dying daily as the result of the deployment of weapons that demonstrate the "technology prowess" of the United States.

You know, there is absolutely NOTHING in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution that would prevent us from deciding that this nation's "technology prowess" should not be used to kill innocent men, women, and children.

We could adopt a rule that would make Japan's historic policy the policy we follow ourselves: no exports of military weaponry, period.

As John Lennon might have said: "Imagine that!"

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