Friday, March 30, 2012

Civil Discourse

Walking out of the post office today, I was met with a very disturbing sight. Supporters of some fringe politician were tabling across the street near where I was parked, and displaying posters featuring Obama with a Hitler mustache and "Impeach Now" on them. I am as disappointed as anyone in Obama's collusion with corporate america, furthermore he is not even representative of my political party. This however was deeply offensive to even me.

The nature of political discourse in america has devolved into to grunts and arm waving that would embarrass a troglodyte. I am not Jewish nor a Obama supporter but anyone who is so blind to history as to equate the atrocities done by Hitler with someone like Obama, is degrading to the sensibilities of anyone with more than an elementary school education. It goes beyond a lack of tact into something akin to a heavy metal band using racial slurs to gain attention in the media.

I will not now, nor ever in the future lend support of any kind to any political entity who further degrades the civil discourse fundamental to a healthy political system.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Application for expatriation.

Dear world.
My name is Marcq. I am an American citizen in my early thirties. I am in college working towards a career in the biological sciences. I have no criminal record save a handful of speeding tickets years ago. I'll bet you are wondering why I am writing this. I feel compelled out of fear for my country.

Our political leadership is blindly driving us towards the cliff of complete collapse by clinging to ideals that are no longer feasible in a sustainable way. More frustrating; be it avarice or naivete, they seem to reinforce their bad decisions despite ample opportunity to correct the situation. They ignore the best interests of our majority while holding conference with a wealthy elite who will most likely only desert us once the going really gets tough. This wealthy elite keeps this power by the insidious methods; propaganda, leverage between segments of the populous, out right bribery of the officials that are meant to be our protectors, even the manipulation of capital and the price of consumer goods.

This stranglehold is so deeply entrenched I fear we will never overcome it. Much of our food comes from systems that resist regulation meant to protect us. Systems that were originally designed to provide opportunities; like lending institutions, have become predatory. Even education, the very bedrock of a successful society, is derided in our media and made increasingly difficult to finance. Environmental damage that will may take centuries to cease its impacts on ecosystems are ignored to protect the quarterly profit of a company. Nothing seems to be able convince the propagandized majority of our citizens let alone our political leadership that systemic changes need to take place and fast.

So here is my offer, I am hard working and I have many skills to draw upon. Furthermore, I feel I have the potential to achieve more as a scholar over my abilities in trades. I have no desire to be rich, just to have a fulfilling career and wage that is sufficient to make ends meet. I am kind, well meaning, honest, mindful of the wishes of others, and understand the cultural differences of collectivist and individualistic societies, I believe these traits will help me adjust to the cultural values and norms of almost any country. Please don't let me drown in debt encumbered slavery.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Book Review

What is going on in between your ears? For some of us who have left behind even the vestiges soft determinism  and feel a true ownership in our lives, there are still some decisions we make that at the time seem to be right, though proven wrong in retrospect. I don't turn to a theistic or ethereal explanation because it is not a part of my personal belief system. Instead I turn to modern cognitive science. "What was I thinking?" becomes, "What influences in my thought process led me to believe that was a good idea?".

A good first step in understanding the inner workings of our selves is to study the new research stemming from  fMRI. "Pictures of The Mind" by Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald should be included in this. What really is the difference between the waking, sleeping and coma states of the brain? What physically happens when we think about actions like playing tennis? fMRI focuses in the metabolic actions in the brain that are assumed to take place when neurons are activated. So we can now see what regions of the brain are doing what and when.

This book is a great introduction to what could make for a lifetime of study; as hobby or as profession on how the interactions of extraordinarily complex system of the human brain functions. Paired with books on behavior it is possible to paint a much clearer picture of how what was formerly separate fields interact. In other words, neuroscience has progressed to the point that it can no longer be ignored by psychology.

Most importantly, having a better understanding of 'how' in my opinion, can lead to the best explanations of 'why'. How do we: learn, interact locally, interact globally, associate with and interpret the actions of others. Humanity is often outstripped by its abilities and technologies. Maybe the next step for human potential lies in directing that intimidating force inwards for a change.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Urban density vs. Off the grid.

Over the last few years I have heard a number of compelling arguments from two opposing viewpoints of the ecological movement. While there are several shades of gray in between (probably where the best solutions are to be found) I want to look at the larger scale implementation of each. It is glaringly obvious to anyone not self deluded that the current standard of living based on petroleum dependence is precarious at best. But what other options are there?

There are two main camps in my experience; (if there are more please let me know) urban density proponents and off the grid proponents who I call islanders. Both concepts have their up sides and flaws. Lets explore some.

Urban density is a collectivist macro scale solution for sustainable living for our growing population. The basic concept is to build up instead of out, and make multi-use buildings the norm. Ideally having high rise buildings capable of thousands of  people all within walking distance of a single grocery and transit station would eliminate thousands of cars. A sense of community could be maintained. Centralized distribution of commodities eliminates further petroleum dependence. Imagine a dense city made up of dozens of the type of node described above surrounded by farm land (including solar and wind farms) all serviced by an electric transit system.

Islanders represent an individualistic micro scale solution for sustainable living for those who prefer natural settings. Stewardship of a pocket of land is carefully maintained for agriculture, water resources and energy generation. Independent of any outside influences, the micro-community is free to self direct it course and develop and maintain what ever resources it chooses. Autonomy grants protections from dependence to any form of larger infrastructure the island cannot maintain its self. If one island fails, others are much less likely to feel the impact. Opportunities for barter or economic relations with other islands in the vicinity can still be maintained to add over all stability to the system.

The pitfalls of urban density parallel the flaws of human nature. The more tightly packed a community is, the greater the need for collectivist modes of thought. Some americans would have a very hard time adjusting to such a life style. All of the attendant issues currently faced with urban dwelling would still be present or even amplified; crime, waste, governance, etc. Furthermore, infrastructure dependence is maximized, a natural disaster could impact millions of lives, such as the loss of farmland or water recycling system. Redundancy would have to be overbuilt systemically.

Island living also risks falling prey to the baser instinct of mankind. If one collective fails, refugees or worse pirates could flourish. Furthermore, a small community successfully maintained for several generations could drift to the fringes in cult like form. Once fanaticism of any kind takes root, with no greater system to rely on, those trapped into despotic situations would be no better off than slaves. More over, this is not a solution for earths current population. Millions of small communities would sprawl displacing even more natural habitat. Stewardship would be hard to enforce. Water resources could be exploited without thought for environmental conditions down stream. With a smaller labor pool to draw from, infrastructure development would be slow and costly.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dogma, Science and Religion continued.

In my last post, I explained my opinion of the intractable parties that make up the debate over science and religion. If you have read my book review over the last few months, it is obvious where my bias falls. But before anyone skips this fearing another soap box speech about how "science is an elite institution that religion has no place even approaching" let me say they are both social constructs and as such deserve an equal voice in directing the future of our world.

So I guess I am biting off a big chunk of what makes for so many disagreements in the world, lets see if I can start to chew.

To say religion has no providence over science is just as false as the juxtaposition. Religion played a very important part of the early development of society, it was the pool where morality was drawn and imbibed from. It was designed in the best possible way with as much foresight as possible for the time. Even though I personally am an atheist, I do not feel as though we have grown past the need for religion in society. I do feel that religion has lost its way as many of its ideals, no matter how important they might have been when they introduced to the doctrine, are simply antiquated and could use revision.

Like wise, a world completely under the control of the cold and rational arts, seems even less appealing. Maybe if the scientists who invented atomic weapons; for example, were forced to confront the morality of their actions before such an undertaking, they might have thought twice. Science's role in society is to educate inform and advance. Religion is a part of society, it has benefited from science as much as any social construct. Where would televangelists be with out television, or imagine crowding into a church once a week with out the antibiotics and hygiene advances that have come about through scientific inquiry.

On the whole, I believe neither could exist today without the other. It is time to reconcile. For those that are religious, I suggest you take the same approach to science that you would take to religious literature, pick and choose carefully both what you would embrace or fight, but be better informed on the whole of it. The Union of Concerned Scientists isn't inventing global climate change to force an agenda, they really do want the best for you too. (There might just be a chance the message from religious leaders has been co-opted by people who don't, but that is for you to decide.)

Science, when you are asked to question the morality of a course of scientific methodology, do so in earnest. Further more, we need to come off our tower a little, we need to cultivate an other tier between educators and journalism. A group of people who speak both science and english. People to help demystify and humanize research, in an effort to spread a greater understanding of intentions and values in both directions. Maybe stem cell research is a line we should look into not crossing despite its promise in medical science.

As always your comments, positive or negative are welcome and will not be deleted or edited.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Book Review

This weeks suggestion is not for casual reader, though it should be. Daniel C. Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" explores in depth the principals of Darwinian theory as well as its acceptance in society. Dennett is never one to for shallow thought, and this book's intellectual heft is felt from the opening paragraph.

I have heard people accuse science of robbing the meaning out of life. To some extent, once the scales of our skewed perceptions of our selves are lifted, it is hard to go back to imaging some higher calling or greater purpose. For that ailment, I offer this book. We have been given a wonderful gift as creatures; the ability to be self aware and aware of all manner of fantastic phenomena in the natural world. Take this book as a guide down the rabbit hole of science.

I find more comfort and peace knowing my role in the natural order of the world than any ethereal imaginings could ever hope to provide. I strive now to take my place as steward of an increasingly complex system I know I have no choice but to rely on.

Who knows where this book will take you? It is not a clean map to guide you down the rabbit hole, but rather a codex you can learn to use to find your own way. Dennett is arguably one of the greatest thinkers of our time. This book comes steeped in rich history and bulging with modern science. He makes cases for some of the most important and unusual theories of modern science, and does it with maddening ease and whimsy.

My advice, buy it. You will never be able to sort it all out in one read.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Science and Religion.

Einstein is quoted as saying "Science without religion is lame, religion with out science is blind". I do not intend on proffering another deconstruction of this statement. Rather, my take on the differences and their social implications of the entities involved. The scientific community often finds its self at loggerheads with the religious community. In the best situations this is an important balance for the dialectic, but zealotry (on both sides) has made what could be a healthy check and balance system into a prolonged intractable argument that is ultimately no longer a benefit to anyone.

Pure science for science sake can be seen as amoral. Biological principals and lifting the curtain to the very workings of the universe infringe on what was once only the providence of ethereal "creators". Furthermore, animal testing, the use of embryonic stem cells and genetic manipulation used to advance medical science seems to violate a religious moral code. Compounding these impressions are the barriers created by the rigors of academia. In other words, it changes a person on a fundamental level to achieve the level of expertise required so much so, that it gradually becomes harder for a layperson to relate or understand the complex issues being addressed.

Religious communities are also by their nature just as guilty of being elitist. They draw; hard, deep and wide lines in the sand that specify a mandatory belief system. I would argue similar to that of the education of a scientist. These beliefs are studied and discussed in theory and as practice. Religious texts are poured over and gleaned for meaning just as much as any on a topic in the sciences. Passion and resolve are created in its ardent followers with what I believe is not ill intended motivation. (I feel comfortable speaking about religions generally and all inclusively because I am also not specifying any scientific subset either, I can assure you that physicists and biologists are as different as Muslims and Catholics despite the similar backgrounds of both groupings.)

Where the similarities break down however, is change. Religion evolves as much as any social entity, I doubt any modern follower of a religion would even recognize the earliest incarnations of their faith. All things created by man are subject to mans own shortcomings. Religion is a creation of man. Society has changed significantly since the formation of most religions and as such, religion has been forced to keep up. Science on the other hand is willing to throw out its most deeply held "belief" if sufficient evidence to the contrary is presented in a; repeatable, testable, consistent, way and is replaced by a new "belief" with higher predictive power.

 My proof of this statement is easy, find four books, one scientific textbook from near the turn of the century, and a current text of the same discipline, likewise obtain two copies of a religious text from corresponding time periods and compare each set for any contrasting elements or concepts. The difference becomes stark. It is evolving interpretations of static data that allows religion to stay current, where science relies on consistent interpretations of evolving data as new methods and new technology sharpens our view of the world.

Next time: now that we have established the generalized modes of thinking, how do they interact?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Climate change: the realities we face.

It is becoming more and more obvious that maybe the majority of humanity doesn't need saving. In truth, the types of changes we can expect from our upsetting of the natural climate regulatory systems are going to strike much closer to home than people think. For instance, crop yields will be hit with the both less usable ground water and inhospitable conditions for growth (not to mention many major staple crops are highly petroleum dependent). That is just the tip of the ice burg.

The raw facts of it, there is no way to support earth's current population in a sustainable way. Let alone those who blindly cling to their high standard of living as though it was a fundamental right. Worse yet, chances are we have already past the point of no return on our environmental damage. I say we let those who refuse to give up their comfy deck chairs sink with the Titanic. "Saving the World" is no longer an option. Quite frankly, I wouldn't want to save much of humanity as it is currently anyway.

The ones closest to the best path are being told by the rest of us that they are wrong. Indigenous Californians practiced sustainable fishing long before they knew the Spanish existed. They practiced better stewardship than we can even think of legislating today. Other less universalizing inclined cultures share similar traits of long term successful co-existence with the ecosystems they have learned to cherish and rely on. Our "mastery" of nature is nothing more than a fleeting victory in the co-evolutionary arms race that characterizes so many bio-systems on our planet.

Mother nature always bats last, and always bats 1000.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Energy: a new paradigm.

There is no source of energy on the planet (besides an arguable case for geothermal) that doesn't ultimately come from the sun. Petroleum was once vast tracts of forest or swamp like land that over millions of years has been converted into other forms via geological processes. We should all be thankful it happened too. The earth at the time would be considered very inhospitable for us as we are today. By sequestering massive amounts of atmospheric carbon in subterranean deposits, we are bestowed with a climate where water can exist at all three phases at once (ice, liquid and vapor).

Furthermore, for us a species of innovators to move past the technological phase of firewood and stone tools, petroleum was instrumental. However, the more we consume this resource, the closer to those inhospitable conditions of early earth we will come. It is time for us to stop wanton consumption of these invaluable resources and begin the cycle of harvest closer to the source.

I propose that those who choose to harvest their energy either directly from the sun (solar) or from solar processes that only move the solar energy back a few days or months (wind, hydro), are choosing to attain the next higher order of evolution. Conversely those who are choosing to remain dependent on solar energy harvested millions of years ago, are stagnating and will ultimately be selected against by natural processes.

The implications of this concept are basically, we need as sentient beings adhere to the evolutionary process known as reinforcement. We should begin the process of segregating our selves from the "early harvesters" and begin putting in place measures to prevent sharing their collective demise. This will be a long and hard process. But rewarding in the long run, as it is painfully obvious that ours is the only long term strategy with any chance of success.

So let the earth rapers enjoy the instant gratification of their SUV's and central air conditioning, we must learn to adapt to a changing world, and face the hard work necessary if our offspring are to have any chance of surviving in the unfortunate future we all must share.

I welcome comments. I would suggest threads on "sustainable farming with an emphasis on the challenges of a changing climate" and "protecting water resources".

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sunday Book Review

I just picked up a copy of 'Botany of Desire' by Michael Pollan. Often in the world of science literature, there is a tenancy to to succumb to one of two fates. "This is the most important book you will ever read and you need to save the planet because of it" or "I am so wrapped up in the details and minutia of a very specific topic that it is practically impossible to glean any real meaning from this work". This book falls out side of both of those and into an entirely new realm.

So far the direction of the book has been to strip humanity of its exceptionalism and place it squarely where it belongs, as a part of a complex ecosystem, and done elegantly with out being condescending. The opening pages of the introduction had me hooked. The concept that we are not just eating inanimate objects when we stare down a plate full of potatoes but actual being still constrained by natural selection with a unique adaptive trait of inducing humans into protecting and spreading their young is truly fascinating.

I have heard about people who live entirely off foods that can be made with out harming the organism they came from, like fruits, nuts, and seeds. But when you consider the trade off of being harvested from time to time but with the advantage of having your young brought up in carefully protected conditions and literally doted over, it makes you wonder who is really domesticating who.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Book Review

Every once in a while I like to remind my self that there isn't simply a bumbling ineffective bureaucracy leading our nation, but a malice driven undercurrent disguised as such. With the system as it is today, so many of our calls ignored, letters and emails replied to by thinly disguised form letters with vaguely personalized responses, it is easy to forget that there is a group of people that have our political decision maker's nearly undivided attentions.

That is why I try to reread Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" at least once a year. It is part of what keeps the fire in my belly to work for change in our government, there are several authors I also look to for inspiration in this way, but Klein's work is one of the best. Very well researched and yet very readable. It is one of those rare works in the world that didn't sacrifice its legitimacy for accessibility.

The opening chapters shed a stunning light on the historical arc of free market capitalism. Once a person learns of its inauspicious roots and devious early proponents, it makes it hard not to see the modern salesmen of this deeply flawed concept as sinister characters. Not one to let an impression like that soil her work, Klein instead moves the spotlight onto the self delusional proponents and their propaganda in effect shifting the frame of reference for their modern counterparts from "sinister" to hapless dupes.

Spot on, is the over arching impression that anyone in this day and age who is still a ardent supporter of free market economics can not be much of a student of history. My final note however, is one of caution. This book can be a little hard on the soul. Learning the true role of american politics in the world can be more than a little upsetting. It is difficult to stay in the arm chair and switch back to monday night foot ball once the veil of "democracy restorer" has been lifted and we are forced to view the actions in the middle east for what they truly are.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Class warfare? Really.

I keep hearing 'entitlements' punted around by people who tend on the conservative side. Let me make clear first this is not a apologist rally cry for 'saving the poor from them selves'. I don't really see welfare as a permanent solution to the problems our nation faces. I do think there are people out that in situations that require assistance, disabled americans for example.

What I do take exemption to is this concept that ending these so called 'entitlement programs' will shore up our failing economy. This irks me for several reasons; first of all, it was not the poorest americans that caused this problem, so shifting the burden off on to them clearly sends a message that there is class warfare taking place, just not in the direction the media pundents are pointing.

Second with; a run away war debt, tax loop holes for "job creators" who are not creating any jobs, and austerity measures already in place in many of the most important sectors like education and civil engineering, I think it is high time we start pointing the finger back. We are already victims of class warfare. We have already suffered the opening volleys of economic violence in a battle to shit america towards becoming a stratified third world like country.

Political actors don't make much effort to hide their intentions any longer, they feel confident that the majority of americans take the news that comes down from consolidated media sources at face value. But like bad poker players, they have bluffed far too many times and assume it will work to win the game. It is time to call them on it.