Sunday, July 27, 2014

Climate Sunday--Talking About Climate Isn't Easy

So, I want to bring up a lazy Bill Maher opinion for your purview:

No, I don't think it's true that The National Review writer Charles Cooke thinks Tyson is awful because he is black.  Not because I don't think that The National Review is capable of being totally racist. It's just that I know the work of Charles C. W. Cooke, who works the climate science beat, and I know that being anti-climate science is a thing that the publication is on about--as they would be. And I know Cooke has beat up on other climate science proponents like Michael Mann,  who is currently suing to get his good name back after the job right wing columnists like Mark Steyn have done on him.

I see this criticism as being part and parcel of the epistemic divide, where the left has taken up for science and the right...regrettably, sees being pro-science as problematic. It is true that a countervailing opinion to climate change as 97% of scientists in related fields know it exists. But it is very true that many of them are weirdos and shills.

So when I encounter a missive from the right that implies that people who take Tyson and Cosmos seriously are nerds--I'm a bit pissed. Aw, is somebody sad as an Alpha Beta that Tri-Lams are running Adams College now? Guess what--denying science is the new not cool. Deal with it.  Mad that knowing things is the new hotness? Well then learn a thing. NDT might teach you.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Know Your Class War: The Curse of the (Water) Drinking Class

Human bodies are something like 60-70 percent water.  We need it to live. It's a basic component of our survival, and access to proper water and sewerage systems is credited with the expansion of the human lifespan in the 20th century, or in any event, we should understand that poor sanitation and water access are not conducive to life--full stop.

Which is why I see water usage as a definite class war issue--for example, did you know that while Detroit is cutting off water to poorer citizens who can not pay their bills--business that are skating on their water bills are spared?

I find that damn interesting.

Not unlike the ability of Duke Energy to walk away from its responsibility to the people of North Carolina whose water was fouled, or the bloody paltry fine that Freedom Industries paid for fouling the water of West Virginia--it seems like a real double-standard exists when it comes to who we think should have use of water, as if it were a privilege or a luxury, and not a right for the survival of beings that depend upon it.

This is why the draining of aquifers in the mid-and southwest for use in farming and fracking and whatever else even as droughts are raging doesn't really shock me. Water is seen, not as essential to life, but as a commodity having a price tag. And if you can't afford the price, well, you can be thirsty. (Now, I'm not saying food production isn't essential--but let's be honest, there is a lot to be said for smaller-scale sustainable practices and more reliance on local food sourcing. Modern farming processes can spoil and waste tons of water. )

Since water is actually essential to human life, does that mean life is viewed as a privilege, not a right?  I do sorely wonder.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Telegenic Dead

Look, I usually add a graphic to my blog posts,
but this:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of cynically exploiting Palestinian deaths to create striking televised images that will garner international sympathy. 
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Sunday, Netanyahu said Palestinian members of Hamas “don’t care” about the casualties they have inflicted on their own people. 
“These people are the worst terrorists — genocidal terrorists,” he said. “They call for the destruction of Israel and they call for the killing of every Jew, wherever they can find them.” 
“They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can,” Netanyahu added. “They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.”

They aren't telegenic--they've been on my Twitter feed for the past more than a week. They aren't telegenic after what happened. Yes, Hamas raises money over these dead bodies.  But hey--how's about this? Why be willing to send a missile through a bedroom with children on the 3rd floor to hit Hamas in the basement?

No doubt Hamas raises money on dead kids. No doubt they gin up sympathy and stuff--but the real way to shut it down?

Don't add to their martyrs. Shut them down by proving them wrong. For once just say--ain't Hamas some shit?  Fuck them, and then don't actually fuck over Palestinians in Gaza. I dunno. I think it could work.

Summer Reading: A Pair of Books on Paradox

You may have noticed light posting of late around here, but this is just a thing I do--it seems like there's usually some handful of weeks in the summer when I just want to lay about and read. A lot of it just pure fantasy fun reading (I finally got around to reading some of Hamilton's Anita Blake series--so, that's a thing I did) and some of it is better than others (yay--there was another Laundry novel! and I think I have become a new Tim Powers fan).

But sometimes I try to chew over something with a little more weight, and this summer, I picked up two books that had pretty intriguing titles to me and which also seemed to fit my current state of mind: Brad Warner's There is No God and He is Always With You and Frank Schaeffer's Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God. Both titles have an internal paradox about the nature of the divine and the relation of the individual to it: How is a non-existent being always with one? Isn't believing in God kind of not the point of atheism?

Well, in keeping with the spirit of my reading--yes and no, to both.

This is the first book I've read from Warner--I will probably pick up a couple of his other titles based on this one. He tackles the question of God from the point of view of a Zen practitioner, in a tradition that really isn't concerned with God, as such. It's a book in part about the looking for transcendence (he describes books that describe transcendent experiences as "enlightenment porn", which I think is kind of spot-on) but also admitting the limitations of our ability to grasp or articulate what that exactly is. He explains that from an eastern perspective, the Hindu or Yogic tradition describes Brahman or the ultimate reality as "neti neti" or "not that, not that"--in other words, to drop one's preconceptions about what reality or the divine is.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Roko's Basilisk & Pascal's Wager

Slate Magazine gave me some Food for Thought with a "Downworthy"-ish title:

The Most Terrifying Thought Experiment of All Time.

Dare I click?  (Duh, of course I did.)

Was it terrifying? (Well, no, it's a cybernetic version of Pascal's Wager, which should occur to most well-read people.)

Here at Strangely Blogged, I try to be pretty cool about spooky thought-experiments. (Right now I'm reading a really chill book by Brad Warner titled There Is No God and He Is Always With You which is helping reambiguate my relationship with That in Which I do Not Believe, Whether it Exists or Not.) But when my reading makes me wonder if there is good cause for a full-on freaking-out, well--I don't. I'm not sure how I missed this discussion at Stross' blog, but I get the basic idea of why this might provoke a crisis of consciousness for the cyber-inclined: living with the idea for so long that an information Omega Point might create an equivalent of the Christian Heaven, long after liberal theology has dispensed with the concept of a literal Hell, getting back to the idea of a material Hell (or material-enough for a simulated You, which you don't have a choice about) created by a potential superintelligence , one might be shocked to think that consequences for Thought Crimes might be inescapable.

The best system of living, whether one is subject to a computer simulation, the whims of a deity outside of time and space, or nothing at all, seems to be to just do your best. You can't know yourself for sure if you're really pissing off some God, or some evil computer, because most people aren't even aware that they piss off customer service reps, retail clerks, their co-workers. Start with friends, family, and your waitstaff, if you want to know how to be "good". Do them right. Work your way out. Be aware.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Climate Thursday: Drilling for Lava? And "The End of the World"!

People are stubborn, which is I think one of the main arguments going for climate science denialism--people prefer not to be told what to do, even if what they are planning to do is probably dumb. Example--Smokey the Bear should not have to tell people to be careful not to set forests on fire. But people go halfway peeing out campfires and flicking cigars around during wildfire season anyway.

In other words, yes, people sometimes do need to be told. For example, we do need to have boundaries on where oil and gas drilling takes place. And I don't just mean being careful about draining aquifers from fracking or running the risk of contaminating wells--although those are pretty dumb things people are already doing. I mean things like deciding we need to drill for oil in Yellowstone Park.

There's a supervolcano under Yellowstone that hasn't gone off for some hundreds of thousands of years, but given that the area is geologically volatile, I'd say there's a good argument about avoiding making the land angry. Drilling for oil is bad enough without drilling for lava. (Although the gentleman from Wyoming isn't the first mook to suggest drilling in Yellowstone was perfectly viable, and I guess he won't be the last.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Climate Monday: Let's Go To Mars, Dude!

I know, I know, I'm a day late and this is a light post, but I genuinely think this comment from a KY lawmaker last week short-circuited my ability to get past denialism--because wow. Here's the definitive "shut your mouth" from State Senator Brandon Smith, who owns a coal plant:

“I won’t get into the debate about climate change,” Smith said. “But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”
It's a thing of unsurpassable beauty in all the wrong it has in it. He's not debating, but he's making a point. The point he's making isn't only not true, but very not true--Mars is farther away from the Sun and a lot colder. He isn't in academia, but there is no consensus in academia anyway that would even try to support his one, very wrong, point.  Which leads me to wonder if he is, in fact, hopelessly stupid and has lived as long as he has believing that Mars is like one of those planets from Star Trek that is just like Earth, but the people are just a slightly different hue with a ridge thingy on their foreheads or something. Or he kind of thought it might not be true, but he double-dog dares anyone to look that the hell up! Or, he genuinely believes that the people he is speaking to, the real folks, the ones who like his coal mines and jobs and stuff, really don't care what he says, so he will lie to them and treat them like idiots because they deserve it.

So, this is the extreme example, but most denialist arguments sound kind of like this to me--sort of dumb to begin with, but with an arrogance that no one will critique the stupid bits and the certainty no one who matters would really care.