Friday, November 28, 2014

#333 / There Is A Lion Beyond

On the website maintained by Friends of Arana Gulch, I found this picture. I also found the poem reprinted below, which is actually an excerpted part of a more extensive dramatic work. I was alerted to the existence of this poem by a commentary by Michael A. Lewis, and I was very pleased to get the reference. This is one of Robinson Jeffers' best, I'd say. It provides a very fitting "Two Worlds" warning:

The Cretan Woman 
Aphrodite speaks on behalf of the gods: 
We are not extremely sorry for the woes of men.  
We laugh in heaven. 
We that walk on Olympus and the steep sky, 
And under our feet the lightning barks like a dog: 
What we desire, we do. I am the power of Love. 
In future days men will become so powerful   
That they seem to control the heavens and the earth, 
They seem to understand the stars and all science -- 
Let them beware. Something is lurking hidden. 
There is always a knife in the flowers.  
There is always a lion just beyond the firelight. 

  • Robinson Jeffers [1954]
Image Credit: 
Jean Brocklebank /

Thursday, November 27, 2014

#332 / Two, Four, Six, Eight

I am recommending the film Citizenfour. It is playing in downtown Santa Cruz, at the Nickelodeon Theatre, until December 4th. People in other places can track it down in their own communities.

Citizenfour is a "Thanksgiving Day" kind of film. At least, that's my opinion. Our family practice, each Thanksgiving, is for each one of us to say one thing we are thankful for, around the table, before we start gorging on the food.

Two, Four, Six, Eight: Who do we appreciate?

I appreciate Edward Snowden. 

I give thanks for Edward Snowden. 

See the film. You'll agree. 

Now: the ball is in our court!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

#331 / Unit Of Analysis

Each weekend, I get a bulletin from the Hannah Arendt Center For Politics And Humanities At Bard College. Last weekend's bulletin included a reflection on what Arendt said about loneliness: 

In her most pregnant attempt at a definition of totalitarianism, published in 1950, Arendt writes: "Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated, individuals." Totalitarianism depends upon "the masses [who] grew out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness of the individual had been held in check only through membership in a class."

In her book On Revolution, Arendt points out that the fundamental changes that occur, almost by surprise, in the various revolutions that she analyzes are invariably linked to the spontaneous organization of previously isolated and lonely individuals into various collective entities: the "committees of correspondence" in the colonies that were to become the United States, the "communes" in France, and the "soviets" in Russia.  

Who are we? If we are simply a collection of individuals, and nothing more, then totalitarianism is our end point. But if we are "together in this," if we define ourselves by our membership in the small-scale organizations to which we have a group allegiance, then we will have, always, a "revolutionary" option and opportunity. We have the ability to change our world, but we can only change it together.

As it turns out, when we think about who we "are," the "unit of analysis" we employ to reach an understanding and an answer is of critical importance. 

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#330 / An Attack On Me

Colony collapse disorder is a serious threat to the health of honey bees. And any serious threat to honey bees is a threat to me. And to you, for that matter. 

There is very significant evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are directly implicated in colony collapse disorder, and you should know that the United States Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing an official petition from a Swiss chemical company, Syngenta, asking for approval to allow their neonicotinoid chemical, thiamethoxam, to be used in new ways that would vastly increase residues of this chemical on a wide variety of food crops. An excerpt from the official Federal Register notice is below. 

Most people, reading the official "notice," wouldn't immediately understand what is at stake (and that includes yours truly). However, the League of Conservation Voters put out an alert about this notice, to try to get the public involved. What the notice below means is that Syngenta wants to sell its stocks of thiamethoxam, currently banned in Europe, right here in our country. If this petition is approved, there are likely to be massive bee colony die offs in every region where the pesticide is used. 

LCV is giving you an opportunity to take action, and to urge the EPA to deny the Syngenta petition. I encourage you to do that, by clicking the link. 

I also encourage you to think about whether we should continue to allow synthetic chemicals of any kind to be introduced into the World of Nature, the world that sustains all life. For the most part, we don't actually know what the synthetic chemicals introduced into our environment are doing, but in the case of one of them, thiamethoxam, it's pretty clear to me that the chemical attacks honey bees.

My position on this is very clear: any attack on honey bees is an attack on me. 

And on you, too, for that matter!

Here's that Federal Register Notice
Vol. 79, No. 172 / Friday, September 5, 2014: 

Amended Tolerances 1. PP 3F8205. (EPA–HQ–OPP–2013– 0758). Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC., P.O. Box 18300, Greensboro, NC 27419, requests to amend the tolerances in 40 CFR 180.565 for residues of the insecticide, thiamethoxam (3-[(2-chloro- 5-thiazolyl)methyl]tetrahydro-5-methylN-nitro-4H-1,3,5-oxadiazin-4-imine) and its metabolite[N-(2-chloro-thiazol-5- ylmethyl)-N′-methyl-N′-nitro-guanidine, by increasing the existing tolerances in or on alfalfa, forage from 0.05 to 10 parts per million (ppm); alfalfa, hay from 0.12 to 8 ppm; barley, hay from 0.40 to 1.5 ppm; barley, straw from 0.40 to 3 ppm; barley, grain from 0.4 to 0.9 ppm; corn, field, forage from 0.10 to 4 ppm; corn, field, stover from 0.05 to 4 ppm; corn, sweet forage from 0.10 to 5 ppm; corn, sweet, kernel plus cob with husks removed from 0.02 to 0.03 ppm; corn, sweet, stover from 0.05 to 4 ppm; wheat, forage from 0.50 to 3 ppm; wheat, hay from 0.02 to 8 ppm; wheat, straw from 0.02 to 6 ppm. Concurrently, Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC., requests to amend the tolerances in 40 CFR 180.565 by removing tolerances for residues of the insecticide, thiamethoxam (3-[(2- chloro-5-thiazolyl)methyl]tetrahydro-5- methyl-N-nitro-4H-1,3,5-oxadiazin-4- imine) in or on grain, cereal, group 15, except barley at 0.02 ppm; sunflower at 0.02 ppm; and vegetable, legume, group 6 at 0.02 ppm, upon approval of the tolerances listed under ‘‘New Tolerances’’ for PP 3F8205. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC., has submitted practical analytical methodology for detecting and measuring levels of thiamethoxam in or on raw agricultural commodities. This method is based on crop specific cleanup procedures and determination by liquid chromatography with either ultra-violet (UV) or mass spectrometry (MS) detections. The limit of detection (LOC) for each analyte of this method is 1.25 nanogram (ng) injected for samples analyzed by UV and 0.25 ng injected for samples analyzed by MS, and the limit quantification (LOQ) is 0.005 ppm for milk and juices, and 0.01 ppm for all other substrates. (RD) 2. PP 4E8236. (EPA–HQ–OPP–201

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Monday, November 24, 2014

#329 / I Missed Mander

Jerry Mander (pictured) is an American activist and author, perhaps best known for his 1977 book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. Mander's most recent book is called The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System. He focuses in that book on various environmental and social problems that he associates with capitalism, and it is fair to say that he is a critic of our current social and economic reality. 

Last Thursday, Mander was was scheduled to speak at the UCSC Kresge Town Hall, and I went up to campus to hear him. To my dismay, I missed Mander! He had cancelled at the last moment, and I had failed to read an advance advisory, alerting me to the fact that his appearance had been cancelled. Reportedly, he will be rescheduling that campus visit soon.

Mander’s talk was going to be based on a conference he recently hosted in New York, titled ”Techno-Utopianism and The Fate of The Earth.” He planned to contrast efforts to build a “Techno-Utopia” with an opposing, nature based approach, as illuminated in Ecotopia, the novel by Ernest Callenbach. Thinking about "Utopia" is where my intellectual life began, during a special Honors Program in Social Thought and Institutions, at Stanford University. I hated to miss Mander, speaking about utopia. 

Despite my disappointment, I did hear from a friend about one of Mander's books that I knew nothing about, which is maybe some compensation. My friend says it is great. Now I have a new book on my reading list: In The Absence of the Sacred, by Jerry Mander. Here is a brief review:

In his critically acclaimed Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, author and social critic Jerry Mander proclaimed that television, by its fundamental nature, is dangerous—to personal health and sanity, to the environment, and to the democratic process. With In the Absence of the Sacred, he goes beyond television to critique our technological society as a whole. 
In this provocative work, Mander challenges the utopian promise of technological society and tracks its devastating impact on native cultures worldwide. The Western world’s loss of a sense of the sacred in the natural world, he says, has led us toward global environmental disaster and social disorder—and worse lies ahead. Yet models for restoring our relationship with the Earth exist in the cultures of native peoples, whose values and skills have enabled them to survive centuries of invasion and exploitation. 
Far from creating paradise on Earth, technology has instead produced an unsustainable contest for resources. Mander surveys the major technologies shaping the “new world order”—computers, telecommunications, space exploration, genetic engineering, robotics, and the corporation itself—and warns that they are merging into a global mega-technology, with dire environmental and political results.

In The Absence of the Sacred sounds like something I could have written myself, at least if that mini-review is on target. Don't I wish!

Those who can't write, read.

Or something like that.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

#328 / Does High Tech Map An Escape From Doom?

Last week, Scientific American suggested that technology might very well provide an escape from doom (though maybe not from the kind of doom listed in the Universal Map of Doom that I highlighted yesterday): 

In a few years manufacturing and resource exploitation might be highly localized, services automated, employee productivity and consumer sentiment highly transparent and predictable, and human enhancement widespread.
You can click this link to check out the article, which was entitled "5 Hard Questions about Emerging Technologies We Can't Afford Not to Ask."

The focus in the Scientific American article was on "human enhancement," and the magazine opines that technology can do an awful lot to make human enhancement more "widespread."

The supposedly "hard questions" posed by Scientific American, however, are really just inquiries into the details of how technology will be deployed. The article does not ask whether the World of Nature, upon which our world is completely dependent, is going to continue to support the demands that humans are making on it, and whether new and emerging technologies are going to address this problem.

The "dooms" mapped out in the Universal Map of Doom are ones that derive from our human efforts to ignore the laws and limits of the Natural World. Our technologies, in fact, often convince us that these laws and limits don't apply to us.

If we don't pay attention to the laws and limits of the World of Nature, no "technology" is going to save us from doom, or lead us towards any "human enhancement." 

Our "enhancement," in the end, cannot come at the expense of Nature. That's because, as Conservation International is right to keep reminding us, Nature doesn't need us. We need Nature

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

#327 / Map Of Doom

I am told by some that I have an entirely too negative view of the world. According to these friends, I am always looking for "gloom and doom." There is some truth to that, I will have to admit. My interaction with the online universe, for instance, usually spotlights resource tragedies, not playful kittens. Fracking is featured. Comely comestibles are hardly ever pictured. 

For any readers of a similar mind, here is a resource library designed for you. It's called "Doom For Dummies," or "Universal Map of Doom." It also goes by the name "The Apocalypsi Library at the End of the World."

Doom For Dummies has a concise list of major impending disasters, plus a brief commentary that is worthy of note: 

7 major scourges of Doom (and why their adherents squabble over the scraps rather than accomplish anything useful together whatsoever).

  • Peak Oil (rarely recognizes peak anything else, generally fixated on doomsteading) 
  • Ecosystem Collapse (an ecological perspective about pollution, whole systems destruction) 
  • Climate Change (yes, it's real, it's caused by humans, and it's an existential threat) 
  • Overpopulation (no, the world doesn't need your offspring because you're "special") 
  • Habitat Destruction (deforestation, mining, fracking, drilling, paving, etc) 
  • Economic - (includes debt Ponzi schemes and inequality, social justice issues) 
  • The death of the Oceans (from agricultural runoff, warming, overfishing and acidification)

Here's why none of the activists, scientists, and followers of these disparate but interconnected sources of potential doom can work together - Everyone who discovers that we are on an unstoppable trend towards global collapse becomes instantly enamored of two overpowering, egotistical (and often remunerative) convictions...first, they are sure they have defined the precise problem (which usually has to do with how they came about to notice) and second, they are sure they, and they alone, know the solution (ditto). Nobody will ever cooperate to fix the problems, because their ego won't let them.

Despite my propensity for "gloom and doom" thinking, I would like to believe that I am not one who puts myself forward as having a unique understanding of just how doomed we are, and I am certainly not advertising myself as someone who knows the solution!

I do have this to offer, by way of a commentary on the Universal Map of Doom. None of the incipient dooms listed above are inevitable. In every case, human activities are causing the problem. Our "doom," if doom it's going to be, is not coming by way of an asteroid from outer space that we can do nothing to avoid

Our dooms are avoidable.

The way I see it, that's actually pretty good news!

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