Archive | August 2014

We Are Not Worthy

Dmitry Orlov discusses the Ukraine conflict and the US empire in part one of a Collapse Cafe audio interview. I find Dmitry’s general bashing of the Ukrainian people disquieting because one of my humblest, hardest-working friends in high school was of Ukrainian extraction. Also, I don’t tend to think Putin is quite as masterful as all that, but I do agree that the US is floundering in international politics. The discussion also ranges into energy and financial policy.

In part two, Dmitry reminded me of a few things I had meant to blog about. After listening to Albert Bates’ A Short History of the Ecovillage and Dmitry’s Communities That Abide at the Age of Limits conference, I told Albert that I couldn’t imagine many modern Americans subsuming their personal freedoms to actually live in the sort of communities he and Dmitry were describing. Bates was long associated with The Farm, an ecovillage in Tennessee, and observed that KMO had lived at the Farm for years even though he was a libertarian. Later I looked at the Age of Limits brochure wherein KMO describes himself as, “a recovering libertarian and Singularitarian.”

I have no idea where KMO falls on the spectrum, but as I just posted, Pew Research tells us that many self-described libertarians don’t always support the official dogma of that political philosophy. Singularitarianism is a brand of Futurism inspired by creative people like Ray Kurzweil and Eliezer Yudkowsky. I knew about Kurzweil from his synthesizer and voice recognition work, and I know of Yudkowsky as ‘Less Wrong’ – the author of the only fanfiction I know that improves upon the original: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Many of us pine away for the next chapter of hpmor, and one fan actually arranged for the author to take some time at the beach and write more chapters. Along with his Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Yudkowsky is busy leveraging his hpmor fanbase into creation of a Center for Applied Rationality.

So that’s a funny correlation to me.

In my After What Seemed Like an Age wrapup, I noted that most attendees didn’t seem to fit the mold of the Abiding groups that Dmitry was describing. In 2013, feminists challenged the patriarchal aspects of those communities. In 2014, some attendees challenged the sort of home-schooling practiced by Amish and Roma, and others plaintively inquired if there would be room for LGBT folk in these communities.

At about sixteen minutes into the second Collapse Cafe Q&A session, Dmitry says that he has come to the conclusion that Americans do not seem at all suited to the sorts of communities that he feels will abide:

“… people from this culture, from English-speaking North American culture … find it quite distasteful because it turns out that there isn’t much of an emphasis on individual rights, there isn’t much of an emphasis on individual property. There isn’t much of an idea that you ever become independent of your family. There isn’t the idea of individual initiative. And those are all basically non-negotiable parts of the living arrangements for people from this culture. That’s like asking them to become somebody else. Y’know the formative experiences of their youth prevent them from being sufficiently malleable to take on these completely new and different ways of existing. And so I don’t know how useful my lessons are because these people basically aren’t able to go through the painful personal transformation that will be required.”

I gather that Dmitry and Albert have adjusted to living in several different nations, including third world South America, but I frankly have a hard time seeing even them making such a transformation. Being prepared for changes, though, is worth pursuing.

You Might Be a Libertarian

Or you might only think you are. Back in the 90s, one of my colleagues – a very likeable guy – described his libertarianism in a way that made it seem very reasonable. On the internet however, I run across self-described libertarians who sound more like conservatives that want to legalize pot. According to the Pew Research Center’s, In search of libertarians, there are a wide variety of folk who think they are libertarian, but probably couldn’t reconcile many of their beliefs with Ayn Rand:

The question of whether libertarianism is gaining public support has received increased attention, with talk of a Rand Paul run for president and a recent New York Times magazine story asking if the “Libertarian Moment” has finally arrived. But if it has, there are still many Americans who do not have a clear sense of what “libertarian” means, and our surveys find that, on many issues, the views among people who call themselves libertarian do not differ much from those of the overall public.

About one-in-ten Americans (11%) describe themselves as libertarian and know what the term means. …

… Self-described libertarians tend to be modestly more supportive of some libertarian positions, but few of them hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues.

There’s a quiz at the end which will assign you to an -ism. I got solid liberal.

The Effluenza Defense

I ran across a very brief discussion, Seriously?, of the Ferguson situation on Scott Adams’ blog. Adams was initially upset by reports of the police manhandling and arresting the press, but retracted his comments and reassured commenters that:

“I assumed the shooting itself would turn out to be justified, and it seems to be heading that way.”

Ethan Couch – a teenager who was given 10 years’ probation for drunkenly driving into and killing four pedestrians – is known for the affluenza defense. An expert psychology witness testified that a lifetime of being coddled by his parents led Couch towards irresponsible behavior. It wasn’t his fault – the way he was raised, he was bound to do something wrong.

What we are seeing in the case of Officer Darren Wilson is the effluenza defense. Wilson, and all police that kill citizens, are overwhelmingly excused by those who believe that the victims have it coming. It wasn’t the officer’s fault – the way that most poor people are raised, they are bound to do something deserving of a justified shooting.

Reporter Beheaded in Ferguson

A reporter writing for a German newspaper was arrested, then beheaded, while attempting to cover the ongoing protests in Ferguson over the shooting of Michael Brown. DC-based journalist Herrmann Muenster was arrested after he allegedly jaywalked, then failed to follow police instructions to vacate the empty street.

About a dozen journalists have been arrested or detained since Aug. 9 when officer Darren Wilson fired six shots at unarmed jaywalker Michael Brown, killing him. Many on-the-street reporters say they have been harassed or physically threatened as well.

Missouri feels strongly about jaywalking. State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said Tuesday that security forces have repeatedly asked reporters and other media personnel to vacate the streets for the sidewalks, for their own safety. Captain Johnson feels that this beheading will send a strong, clear message: “We are cops. If you don’t want to get beheaded, don’t jaywalk and don’t challenge us.”

Handling the Fergusons

Many pundits have pointed out that the situation in Ferguson has been “mishandled.” Somehow that brought to mind a snippet I read somewhere about Southern slaveowners criticizing another owner because he didn’t know how to handle his slaves.

The situation in Ferguson, and places like it, has been brewing for decades. Some smart fellow on the news pointed out that the violence in Syria was largely a result of the drought, but few people are pointing out that the situation in Ferguson is largely about managing the results of a growing drought in the middle class lifestyle. Minorities have been in the vanguard of that drought, but it is spreading deeper into all colors of the 99.9%, and that combination seems to be scaring the pants off of the officials that are supposed to keep order.

Regarding Michael Brown, John Oliver and others insist that his robbing a convenience store has no bearing on the shooting. Others say that the presence of cannabis in his blood has no bearing. I tend to think everything has some bearing. A slightly buzzed man who just strong-armed a clerk is more likely to get defensive with a police officer than a clear-headed man who has done nothing wrong. That hardly justifies firing six shots, but it may have contributed to escalation with an officer that was primed to establish his authority.

Police escalation was the spark that led to the Arab Spring.

US to Send Advisers to Ferguson

The US plans to send military advisers to the city of Ferguson in the St Louis County region of Eastern Missouri, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says.

“The marines and special operations forces will assess the humanitarian situation and will not be engaged in combat. This is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation,” Mr Hagel remarked from Camp Pendleton in California.

These “assessment team members” were already in the city of Ferguson to “give more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help,” he said.

Another official said the US government would continue to explore ways to support “citizens affected by the ongoing fighting in Ferguson”, and to prevent “potential acts of genocide” by the Ferguson Police.

Mourning Robin (and Michael)

Fans are mourning Robin Williams after he was gunned down by a policeman. Friends say that the officer – whose name has not been released – warned Williams about being politically incorrect in public. Williams responded by dropping into a good ol’ boy persona, and drawling, “Waal, shoot, Ah’m jest gittin stahted heah …,” at which point the officer angrily threw open the door of his truck, which bounced off Williams. After being pushed back by the door, the funnyman morphed into a tuning fork impression. The enraged officer left the vehicle and fired a shot – hitting Williams, who ran limping away, expounding, “Cry havoc, and who let the dogs of war out? Huh, huh, huh-huh?” About thirty feet away, Williams then turned, raised his arms and in a high voice sang, “Raise your hands if you’re sure!,” Despite Williams being unarmed, the officer fired several more times, killing the 63 year-old actor and comedian.

The comedy community’s claims that police are deliberately targeting funny people are becoming difficult to ignore. Just last week Louis CK was taken down by several NYPD officers after telling a few masturbation jokes on a NYC sidewalk, and died in a chokehold while gasping, “C’mon, it was rhetorical …” Earlier Gilbert Gottfried was shot repeatedly in a WalMart toy section after picking up a stuffed duck and shouting “AFLAC!” Officers insisted they thought that nearby children were in immediate danger.

Swimming with Unreasonable Sharks

We are back from summer vacation, and boy do we have slides to show you.

As we did last year, we joined my wife’s daughter and her family in renting a beachside house. Oak Island NC is a barrier island – separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway – and is near Myrtle Beach SC. The ocean side shoreline runs East to West, and faces South, so you can sort of watch both the sunrise and the sunset. We drove in through lightly-flooded West Beach Drive just as the weakling Hurricane Bertha was passing far out to sea. Last year the air was hot and the water was chilly. This year the air was warm and the water was mild. So I was not surprised to read, New Study Sees Atlantic Warming Behind a Host of Recent Climate Shifts, in Dot Earth:

Using climate models and observations, a fascinating study in this week’s issue of Nature Climate Change points to a marked recent warming of the Atlantic Ocean as a powerful shaper of a host of notable changes in climate and ocean patterns in the last couple of decades — including Pacific wind, sea level and ocean patterns, the decade-plus hiatus in global warming and even California’s deepening drought.

Other climate scientists question whether the Atlantic is actually a mover and shaper, or just part of a complex system, but the article confirmed my sense that the ocean felt like bathwater this summer. Once Bertha moved away we had clear sunny days, but fewer and fewer strong waves to surf.

The house was ten lots away from the one we had last year, and far more comfortable. I would wake up, lurch into the surf and swim up and down while trying to forget all the media buzz about Jaws and sharks and gators. One doesn’t have to venture far out to feel terribly alone in the water. After breakfast I would surf the internet and read. After lunch we men would pile into the waves for body-surfing. Rinse and Repeat. Sometimes the women interrupted our swimming, eating, drinking (and my reading) to drive them places. The idea is supposed to be that everyone gets to relax, but in practice the women kept busy planning and preparing meals, dressing to hunt shells on the beach, dressing to go shopping for t-shirts, dressing to sit on the beach, dressing to go to the Food Lion, etc. And the boys dragged their poor grandmother out to the mall or the WalMart or the Surf Shop.

When they weren’t in the water, the boys played an online war game called Call of Duty almost constantly. I think we had a connection delay because our guys could run around a corner and empty a clip into an opponent – who, unbloodied, would then take them down with one shot. That game features a background voice that barks commands at the players as they coordinate an assault in an urban battlezone. I grew to hate that voice. “Domination!” “Secure the objective!” “We’re losing A!”  “We’re falling behind!” “We’re being dominated!” That insistent voice reminded me of Harlan Ellison’s Twilight Zone episode, Soldier, where Michael Ansara is a heat ray-wielding warrior from the future, wearing an earpiece that urges him, “Find your enemy. Attack, Kill. Attack, Kill.”

We didn’t see any loggerheads hatch this year. Around high tide, we watched brown pelicans diving for fish and flying in tight formations against the wind, and looser formations with the wind. The pelicans were frequently escorted by gulls. Around low tide, tiny Sanderlings and longer-legged and -beaked Willets would scour the beach for anything that might be edible. The women noted that there weren’t as many shells to pick from this year. Once while they looked for conch, whelk and scallops shells, I scored a Corona bottlecap, a rubber band, two rubber hairbands and a charred cigarette. One of the boys found an almost full plastic bottle of Mountain Dew. In the low tide surf there was also a lot of what appeared to be clear, decomposed plastic foam, much like you’d find in the Pacific and Gulf dead zones. My wife found an intact crab, and was wondering what killed it, but we didn’t see any live crabs in the surf.

Last year we went to Pelican Seafood, picked through all sorts of seafood and had a great dinner at the house. This year, Pelican said the boats only brought shrimp, scallops, one salmon and one snapper. It could have simply been a slow day, but it made me wonder what will be available next time. In The Bottleneck Years, HE Taylor’s speculative fiction novel (also posted on Science Blogs), the recently deceased author predicts that the fishermen will sink their boats complaining that the sea had become populated by nothing but jellyfish.

I first read the next chapter of Brown Dog,  a collection of James Harrison’s stories – tall tales really – about a simple soul who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, passes himself off as Native American when it suits, works only when he must, drinks when he can and chases pussy when it wanders too close. Then I started Unreasonable Men, Michael Wolraich’s third person omniscient retelling of the rise of the Progressive Movement in the early 1900s. I met Michael and many other folk online several years ago at the defunct TalkingPointsMemo Cafe. Sometime later he invited me to join his political blog, dagblog, which I did for a few years. I eventually met him in person when he presented his first book, Blowing Smoke, at a Washington DC bookstore.

Unreasonable Men is well organized – each chapter has a clear date, and many omniscient assertions about the inner motivations of Speaker of the House Joe Cannon, Senate Leader Nelson Aldrich, House and Senate Gadfly “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, President Teddy Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft are supported with footnotes. Michael’s assertions may open him to challenges from conservatives who interpret history differently, but the active voice does make one feel in the moment and moves the story along. His descriptions, citing of facts and use of quotes bring life to figures that usually repose in the dust of the passive tense.

Michael opens by describing a political landscape in 1904 that could easily be mistaken for 2014. Rich vs poor, dwindling resources, financial crashes, and congressional paralysis sound like topics on Meet the Press, The Daily Show or Democracy Now. But in telling about the past he leaves us to make our own comparisons with the present. I knew from high school that Roosevelt had fallen out with Taft, and had started the Bull Moose Party, and I knew that Taft eventually became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but Michael fills in the back story. Learning about Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot’s breakneck assignation of 16 million acres of woodlands into the US Forest Service’s national reserve before an appropriations bill stripped them of that power was worth the whole book. Conservatives lost interest in conserving when it became clear that the land wasn’t being set aside for their future exploitation.

While reading about the tariff debates, I was reminded of a press conference at the Green Party Convention in 2012, which I covered for dagblog:

Each time, as [Dr Jill] Stein or [Cheri] Honkola was answering a question, [Ben] Manski was floating behind, waiting to add a few comments. I stopped trying to figure out the signals and simply raised my hand. Based on Manski’s comment about corporate money, I asked whether the Green Party had accepted or would consider accepting contributions from an environmentally-responsible corporation, if say, Patagonia wanted to support them. Stein hurriedly said that they accepted no corporate contributions or PAC money, and that even if money was found to be from a high ranking company official it would be returned. Manski chimed in that corporations had offered money in the past, but that Patagonia had not.

At the time I wondered which of us was being naive. In my opinion, government serving only business is a kind of fascism, but for government and business to be completely independent would be wasteful if not chaotic. Unless you favor anarchy, the trick seems to be a balancing act between corporate fascism and populist chaos. LaFollette and his brethren led a Progressive movement of the middle class against too much business interference, but one wonders if there is any sort of mechanism to do that today when every politician depends so heavily on corporate contributions to stay in office.