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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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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Monday, July 21, 2014

#203 / A Two Worlds Analysis

My "Two Worlds" idea is, in essence, a prescription for thinking. It is probably not a prescription that fits every circumstance, but I believe that it is often very helpful to analyze the specifics of our human situation by hypothesizing that we live, simultaneously, in "Two Worlds," a human world, which we create, and which is our immediate home, and the World of Nature (which we have not created), the world upon which we ultimately depend. 

Pictured above: one reality within our human world (an energy facility dependent on hydrocarbon fuels). Pictured below: the World of Nature (the world upon which we ultimately depend for life itself).

On July 5th, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial it titled "Climate of Conformity." The editorial discussed the dismissal of Caleb Rossiter from the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, DC based "think tank." According to The Journal, Rossiter is a "loyal left-winger."  While The Journal doesn't say so, it clearly believes that the Institute for Policy Studies is "left wing," too. Wikipedia confirms that this is a designation frequently applied to the Institute for Policy Studies. 

As it turns out, the "left-wing" Rossiter was discharged from the "left-wing" Institute just five days after writing an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in which Rossiter argued that "the computer modeling used to support claims that the earth is headed for a climate catastrophe is far from definitive." The Journal's editorial denounced what it regarded as a left-wing demand for "intellectual conformity." 

Rossiter's article was called "Sacrificing Africa for Climate Change." I do not presume to comment on whether Rossiter's views about climate change modeling are correct, and I also don't want to comment on whether or not the Institute for Policy Studies was seeking to stifle legitimate debate about an important issue, which is what The Journal obviously believes to be the case. 

I want to cite to The Journal's July 5th editorial to illuminate how a "Two Worlds" analysis can be applied to statements about the human situation. Here is the quotation from the editorial that grabbed my attention: 

Mr. Rossiter ... an American University adjunct professor of math and statistics, argued that the computer modeling used to support claims that the earth is headed for a climate catastrophe is far from definitive. But more important from a moral point of view, he wrote that limiting fossil fuels would make it harder for Africa to escape poverty.

The two aspects of the debate mentioned above are incommensurable, and The Journal is arguing that decisions affecting the World of Nature can legitimately be based on what humans want to do in their human-created world. Whether or not Earth is headed for a climate catastrophe is essentially a question directed to the realities of the World of Nature. Complex interactions involving physics, biology, and chemistry will determine what will happen to the World of Nature, as humans continue to add carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. 

"Poverty" is a category applicable to the human world. "Politics" will determine whether or not Africa remains in poverty or moves from it.

As we make decisions that impact the World of Nature, we should pay attention to the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology that govern that World of Nature. Ultimately, all life on Earth, and our human civilizations, depend on conditions within the World of Nature. Rich or poor, we will all perish if the World of Nature is so damaged that it will no longer support the human "world" we have constructed within it. 

If it is true that our "human world" is dependent on the World of Nature (and that is the basic premise in my "Two Worlds" hypothesis), then we need to address the issue of poverty, in Africa and elsewhere, in terms of the "political" decisions that can eliminate that poverty, without undermining the conditions in the World of Nature that support our civilization.

If continued global warming might (or will) destroy the foundations of our human world, it becomes obvious that eliminating poverty within that human world is not a justification for continuing to destroy the World of Nature. We need to address poverty another way. There is nothing "moral" about destroying the World of Nature to solve a human problem. In fact, it's a misguided attempt. 

My own belief is that global warming is "real," and is caused by human activity, and that global warming poses a major threat to human civilization. That view is regularly contested by others who comment on the assertions about global warming that I make in this blog. I am happy for the debate! If I am right, though, about the dependence of our human world on the natural systems that support it, it becomes clear that our human "politics" must protect Earth First. That is a "precautionary" approach. 

It is the only "right" approach, in my opinion.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

#202 / No Fly

Pictured above is Imam Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye, one of fifteen American Muslims who brought a lawsuit challenging the government's "No Fly" list. The "No Fly" list was established in 2003. If you are on the "No Fly" list, you are not allowed to fly in an airplane. Period. And there is no way to get "off" the list, either. Currently, there are something like 21,000 people on the list.

On June 24th, U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown, based in Portland, Oregon, ruled that the government's "No-Fly" list violates the right to due process and travel by air. Read this article, from the Common Dreams website, to find out more about the decision. Read this article, from 2012, for information on the procedural background of the case. Brown's decision, as quoted in the Common Dreams article, says this: 

[W]ithout proper notice and an opportunity to be heard, an individual could be doomed to indefinite placement on the No-Fly List. … [T]he absence of any meaningful procedures to afford Plaintiffs the opportunity to contest their placement on the No-Fly List violates Plaintiffs’ rights to procedural due process.

The premise of the "No Fly" list is that terrorists shouldn't be allowed to fly in airplanes. That seems to be a reasonable rule. We have had some examples of what can happen when terrorists do fly in airplanes, and the results have not been good. 

However, establishing a "No Fly" rule for terrorists is something different from saying that the government can decide, in private, who is enough of a "terrorist" to be put on that "No Fly" list, and that once the government has made that decision it's final, with no avenue of appeal or review. It was this feature that the court struck down. No problem with a "No Fly" list. But if you are on it, you have a right to demand an explanation of "why," and to show that you shouldn't be on it. 

Due process is what secures the freedoms that define our democracy. That's what our Bill of Rights demands. 

Not even a legitimate fear of terrorists, flying, should trump the Bill of Rights. 

Hats off to Judge Anna J. Brown!

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

#201 / This Is What It Looks Like

Cor Pan (pictured below) was a passenger on the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down over the Ukraine on Thursday. He was reportedly heading for a beach holiday in Malaysia. 

Just minutes before he boarded the plane, Cor Pan posted a picture of the downed Malaysian airliner on his Facebook page, saying: "If it should disappear, this is what it looks like." 

ln view of what happened to the plane, and to Cor Pan, and to all the others aboard the airliner, this is surely one of the most poignant communications one could possibly imagine. 

It struck me, when I read the story about Cor Pan's posting, that we are all of us, in many ways, and throughout our entire lives, essentially "posting" messages that are the equivalent of what Cor Pan said in his final Facebook entry.

Life is very brief. We are privileged to be alive, and we never know, from one moment to the next, how long that privilege will be granted to us. 

So... every work of art, short story, novel, song, play, instagram photo, Facebook posting, blog entry, farewell to someone as you leave for home, or a love letter sent to someone special is a way of saying about our life (it really is) "if this should disappear, this is what it looks like."

Our beautiful lives are poignant, every one, and in every moment, as Cor Pan's posting showed.

Peace be to Cor Pan, and to the other passengers on Flight 17, and to their families and loved ones, and to us all.

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