29 November 2014

Shale Oil Fracking is insane

This piece in the WaMo Political Animal blog does a good job of illustrating why shale oil fracking may seem like good short term geopolitics, but in reality, it's flat out INSANE. Ensuring that our world will become uninhabitable in the lifetime of its youngest citizens has to fit that definition. 


25 November 2014

The Failure to Indict Darren Wilson

Look, I don't pretend to know all the details of this case, but I do know from thirty years working in the legal field that there are ALWAYS discrepancies in what witnesses say, so that's not in itself a reason not to prosecute so clear a case of apparent manslaughter (at least) as this one.

In an empassioned but thoughtful piece on the Washington Monthly Political Animal blog today, Martin Longman does a great job of running down why the "thrown case" decision by the Grand Jury in St. Louis County not to prosecute this case of murder-by-cop constitutes a "Grave Injustice."


Justice isn't a superfluous option in a free society. Without it, the foundations of anything remotely resembling a democratic form of government inexorably crumble and fail.

22 November 2014

Stenger on the place of Humanity in the Cosmos

Since Copernicus, humanity's conception of its place in the universe has steadily diminished from the biblical teaching that we are the center of the universe to one in which we are but a minuscule speck in space and time. Once we had telescopes with which to peer into the sky, our view of the universe grew from originally that of a single star system and its planets to a galaxy of 100 billion stars and on to a visible universe of 100 billion galaxies. And that was not the end of it. As we have seen, since the 1980s we have found good reasons to think that our visible universe is but a drop of water in an ocean of galaxies lying beyond our light horizon, perhaps 100 orders of magnitude larger, that all resulted from the same Big Bang. Furthermore, this universe may be just one of countless others just as big [in the Multiverse].
  While a god might still preside over all this, it becomes incredible to believe that he, she, or it put his, her, or its favorite creatures on this tiny planet and left the rest of this vast multiverse inaccessible to them.
   --Victor Stenger (d. 2014), God and the Folly of Faith, 2012

17 November 2014

Fear not death, but the Transporter, well, yeah, fear that.

The following, from John Dryden’s 17th century translation of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, is as succinct and cogent an explanation as you could want as to why we should not fear death — (as opposed to the pain of dying). It also happens to function as a really good explanation  (especially the second stanza) for why, even if such a thing were invented, I would not get into the Star Trek transporter for all the wealth in the world.

So when our mortal frame shall be disjoined
the lifeless lump uncoupled from the mind,
From sense of grief and pain we shall be free;
We shall not feel, because we will not be.

Nay, though our atoms should revolve by chance,
and matter leap into the former dance;
though time our life and motion could restore,
And make our bodies what they were before,
What gain to us would all this bustle bring?
The new-made man would be another thing.

Bernie Sanders for President

I declare my support for and intention to work for the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for President in 2016. We need an open debate in the Democratic Party about the essential Progressive policy positions which should be the core message of any Democratic candidate.


15 November 2014

A.C. Grayling on the immorality of (Fundamentalist) Religion

Not intending to offend my religious friends, I find the following from humanist philosopher A. C. Grayling's The God Argument: the Case Against Religion and for Humanism interesting and provocative, if a bit tendentious:

[R]eligion is a bad source of moral insight. This is not least because it is in fact either irrelevant to questions of morality, or it is positively immoral. This claim undoubtedly seems contradictory or merely polemical at first, but reflection shows otherwise.
   Consider the primitive form of Christian morality as set down in the New Testament, which collects the religion's foundational documents. In a few respects it is the same as all other moral systems, in enjoining brotherly love and charity: that is a commonplace of any reflection on what would make for good lives and societies. But then it differs, with its own particular set of injunctions: give away all your possessions, take no thought for tomorrow (consider the lilies of the field), do not resist anyone or anything evil (turn the other cheek), obey the authorities (render unto Caesar), turn your back on your family if they disagree with you, do not marry unless you cannot contain yourself sexually. This is the morality of people who genuinely believe that next week or next month the world was to end, that this world does not matter — indeed, is ripe for the furnace — and that one should ignore its demands and realities.
   This is not a livable morality. The additions of the church, claiming to have continuing authority in revealing the deity's requirements, and further irrelevancies and distractions. To live as a serious person in a world of many difficulties and demands, one needs something vastly richer and deeper than these anchoritic nostrums, hence the irrelevance claim.
   The immorality comes hard on its heels. When fundamentalists of one or another religious tradition deny rights to gays, deny education and health care to women, practice genital mutilation, amputate limbs as a punishment, stone adulterers to death, use murder against those they oppose, extol suicide bombing in acts of terrorism in the name of their faith, religion becomes positively immoral.
  Much religious energy is devoted to interfering in and controlling sexual behavior, either by prohibiting most forms of it, together with representations and even thoughts of it, or by preventing sensible management of its consequences as in the case of abortion. In countries where the religious cannot stone or imprison those they regard as sexual malefactors, they send the press complaining letters about nudity on the cinema screen and teenagers buying the morning-after pill while ignoring the fact that automatic rifles, handguns, shells, cluster bombs and rocket launchers are being exported from the country they live in to regions of the world gripped by poverty and Civil War. With such examples in contrast, religion has little to offer moral debate.

    My only argument with this is that by using the word "religion" to essentially mean fundamentalist monotheism, he is conflating things that are not in fact equivalent. Many people find consolation in religion without believing it to be the sole source of what is good and moral. But the point as to those who insist that all morality must derive from revealed religion is, I think, quite right.

07 November 2014

Democrats must fight, and stand for something, if we are going to be the winners in 2016 and beyond

This post in TPM, purporting to show that gerrymandering has locked up the House until at least the next Census/Redistricting for the Republicans, is defeatism. I deplore it.

Democrats have developed a terrible tendency to just remain static and defensive, trying desperately to "hold on" in the face of Republican onslaughts and stratagems on all fronts.

This is just the wrong way to go about politics in a Republic (however flawed its systems), entirely.  I read where the usual Centrist and Clintonista pols and political operatives now say we have to squelch the Progressives if we are to win elections, blah blah. We've heard all this before, and it's totally wrong.

If there is ANY lesson to be learned from these disastrous elections of 2014 it is this: Running away from Democratic principles and accomplishments is a sure recipe for disaster. 

Reid, Obama, Pelosi, and Democratic governors and other important members of Congress should powwow at a retreat somewhere (somewhere Democratic... how about California?) and come up with an agreed set of principles that Democrats will run towards, will aggressively campaign for, and will present as a better deal for Americans. 

Americans, even in red states, by and large favor Progressive policies. Higher minimum wages. Portable Pensions. Expanded, not cut, Social Security. Better Medicare benefits, and making them available as an option to younger people in lieu of private health insurance. Infrastructure investment (this has to be sold, but it can be sold). Financial reform with teeth. Environmental Protection, including serious action on Climate Change (this too, needs some selling, but it can be done). Rethinking the neocon agenda in the Middle East, for example: moving forward with detente with Iran. Rethinking trade policy, to make sure that it doesn't constitute a cession of Sovereignty by Corporate lawyers for corporate interests, which is exactly what NAFTA and the proposed Trans Pacific treaty being pushed by this administration (against the best interests of the Democratic base, namely the 99%) are. We must change 180 degrees on that policy and embrace a more populist agenda. Not only because that will be what wins, but because that is what we should stand for. We cannot win by being all things to all people. We cannot be both the party of Wall Street and Main Street. We must choose Main Street and push, push, push for victory on the strength of our principles and the ability to organize people, no matter that the Republicans have made it possible for money to buy political influence wholesale. We just have to fight harder, organize better, and, especially, stand for something the American people want!

We must not just give up and continue the disastrous defensiveness displayed in both 2010 and 2014. These defeats are our own fault: we have not clearly stood, as a party with national leadership, for something that all Democrats broadly support and that the American people will buy. As Tom Ferguson recently put it, in Politics, if you are playing defense, you are losing.

This means, I think obviously, that the Democratic Party must stop trying to be Republican Lite. We need to clearly present a case to the American people that in the present environment, deficits are not a significant concern. Progress and development, jobs, education, health care, the environment, and economic fairness are the concerns that our party must put front and center. And we must have the courage of our convictions to be able to win over people, in the South and West especially, who have been successfully propagandized on the Right to vote against their own interests for way, way too long already.

We Democrats have just not been doing a good enough job, but retreat and more defensiveness will just make matters worse, and could even lead to loss of the White House in 2016.

If you are a Democrat who agrees with what I've just said here, please. We need to reach out to those who control our party and make clear to them that this is how it's gotta be, or we will lose again, and, here's the scary part: can there be any doubt that at this juncture the future of our nation is indeed at stake?  This is important, as important as any political issues in my lifetime, and we just cannot allow the supine and weak positions our party has taken in the last few years to continue another day.

Waldman in Prospect: No compromise feasible

Paul Waldman at the New American Prospect EXPLAINS CLEARLY just why any notion that Obama needs to become more "bipartisan" and "compromise" with Republicans is absurd: these people have no intention of offering ANYTHING to move towards. "Compromise," to them just means surrender, and Obama MUST NOT do that.

01 November 2014

Space Plane Crash October 31, 2014

I encountered the view that the Virgin Galactic crash here in Southern California is exemplary of the rapacious profiteering to offer rich sons of bitches expensive rides, and what a waste of resources, etc. etc.

I confess to being unsympathetic with this view. Sure, there is an element of pandering to celebrities, etc. But the test pilot who was killed, and even Branson's entire enterprise, are not, primarily, doing this as a way of pandering to celebrities or just as a way to make money. They are, in fact, motivated by the desire to promote development of space access technology. Access to space will eventually be crucial to the progress of human civilization, and we should not be so short sighted as to dismiss it because at times it serves purposes less noble.

Consciousness, and Dennet's Kinds of Minds

Just read Daniel Dennett's Kinds of Minds/ Toward and Understanding of Consciousness. To be fair, he does say, as a philosopher, he is posing questions not delivering answers. But I think I grasped his points reasonably well, and I remain more than skeptical. He attempts to demonstrate that mental activity is the aggregate of intentional (but not aware; this is philosophical jargon) processes, and that language, both internal and external, is essential to human self-awareness. 

Sure, I get that, and that seems relatively obvious to me, but I still find his entire commentary goes almost nowhere down the road of explaining either the how or the why (if why even means anything in this context) of awareness itself. Why should a brain or mind evolve that has inner experience, and how is it that that inner experience exists uniquely as "my experience" as opposed to some "other experience?"  He ridicules this very question, but he doesn't answer it or, to me, satisfactorily explain why it isn't a valid question. 

I still find the very existence of internal awareness almost a complete mystery. Religion, including the meditative kind, can offer a great deal of insight into the experience of consciousness, but it isn't any more successful at explaining it than science.