Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time and Experience

From time to time, regular commenter Formerly Amherst and I go a little off-topic from my usual politics commentary due to our shared interests in religion and folklore. Sometimes these conversations get pretty deep in the esoteric, but I admit, for my part, I think there's educational value for anyone, spiritualist or not. In an earlier post, the subject of time and evil came up. The topic of evil as such isn't out of place on a blog that occasionally deals with human miseries like war, murder, torture, and rape. The relationship of the moral concept of evil is entirely necessary in some ways to making sense of history. I think that different cultures have had different perspectives on the externality of the existence of evil versus the "devil within", but a common strand is causality: people beget actions that beget consequences that produce suffering.

This is a linear way of looking at the experience of time. Wrongs accumulate. Historically, we sit astride a mount of blame and are headed for a wall of guilt.

There's another way of looking at it, though. Satayana said those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it; Faulkner said that "the past is never dead--it's not even past." In some ways, the perception of linear time, both as an individual, and as to the accretions of history, aren't really valid. Humans seem to make the same mistakes over and over because our perceptions are very limited. And our perception of linear time itself? 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Weird Nihilism of ISIL

Maybe I have a bad habit of trying to read what messages are being sent when people do horrific things--as if there had to be a logic behind why they do what they do. Sometimes people might just do evil things because they can.  But take ISIL--

They sometimes refer to westerners as "crusaders", but they are the ones taking territory and purging people they find insufficiently faithful and behaving as if they have a goal to spread their banner far and wide. These seem like a kind of crusade, to me. And people sometimes look at their propaganda arm as being "sophisticated". They do post videos and have recruited even from people living in a more westernized or cosmopolitan milieu. But then there's the beheading thing.

Today we learned of the fate of another American at their hands, one Peter Kassig, an aid worker. He took on the name Abdul-Rahman in captivity having been "converted". I have a hard time viewing that to be his legitimate name because I am morally opposed to torture and Stockholm syndrome isn't the same as a purely voluntary commitment of faith. I have a feeling that what Mr. Kassig experienced was not pleasant.

The BBC article explains:

Unlike earlier videos, this one revels in gore. Amongst the boiler-suited captives murdered in cold blood is a man IS says is the former US soldier Peter Kassig, who converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdul-Rahman.

Neither his conversion, nor the fact that he was helping refugees when he was captured a year ago, appear to have saved him.

The G20 Summit Summed Up

Right about now, I'm thinking I might like to be a world leader of some kind if it means I get to cuddle actual koalas. They are, in a word, adorable. But then there's Putin.

His koala looks a bit skeert.

I don't think his struggling koala is why he left early though. There was some world leader drama, there, people.  The UK's David Cameron particularly got up in Putin's grill.

I sort of would have wanted to be a fly on the wall.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Climate Round-up: This US/China Deal is A Big Thing!



This supercut of politicians using China as a boogeyman to chase away the specter of doing something about cutting GHG emissions is something to keep in mind as Republicans are spoiling for a fight against the recent US/China deal to cut emissions.  One important thing to know about the deal, though, is that China has pledged a greater curtailment in their activities than we have.  There may be some room to be skeptical of their ability to see it through, but coal is unsustainable for them, and the effects of pollution in China are readily apparent in the sightings of people wearing air quality masks on the street.  The effects of the kind of air quality seen in congested areas of China are an obvious health hazard that nation has every reason to find concerning.

In other news, the Obama Administration is coming to the G20 in Brisbane with a pledge of $3 billion to assist developing nations with adapting to climate change and transitioning to renewable energy. There's a terrible inequality to the issue--the countries most responsible for carbon outputs aren't the ones who will experience the worst of it. This will be the most any developed nation has put in the kitty to help equalize things.

As Congress continues to discuss the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (the House has already voted to authorize it, the current whip count looks like it might fall short in the Senate), here's a useful backgrounder on what the pipeline is and the arguments for and against. It is true that most Americans kinda-sorta support it, but here's one neat thing--

Public support is dropping for fracking. I'm kind of very anti "shit where one eats", so I look at people being utter NIMBY's over fracking as a terrifically sensible thing. It's good to know that spoiled groundwater and the possibility of earthquakes and sinkholes are enough to make people have second thoughts. So maybe showing people what happens when a dilbit pipeline goes pear-shaped can be useful for people who want to know whether this thing could be very bad for the groundwater in just the area it is very needed.

On the tech horizon, solar cells are getting mighty flexible and car companies are trying to get mileage out of frankenfuels.

I'll probably actually even have more for a Climate Sunday post. We will see.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Frankly, Sen. Landrieu, I'd Rather Not Have the Pipeline

So, I guess we all understand that the White House (Obama) gambit to delay a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline was, in part (okay, mostly) political, because the decision was being delayed until after the midterms, so blue dogs could get out there and pretend they were as copacetic with fossil fuels as they thought their homefolks needed them to be.

But now that the midterms have come and gone, and the GOP will have control of both the House and the Senate, well...

LA Senator Mary Landrieu (D) would now like there to be no more delay. This is because she believes she hasn't lost yet. The Democratic Party, however, has a clear opinion. And if she thought that this would tip the president to authorizing the pipeline so she can get a little credit, well, it's likely Obama will actually veto such a bill if it lands on his desk.  And maybe it would be a little unpopular.

But fuck it, Obama is not running for another term, and the pipeline is kind of dumb. To recap, as I always will--it sends tar sands oil, which is the dirtiest fuel Canada has to offer, through the heartland--the breadbasket! of the US, so it can be easily shipped to China and who knows who. It will create temporary jobs while being built--but the US jobs for maintaining and monitoring the thing--do not exist as such, because what oil companies even do that stuff? (See--Enbridge. Or check out this list.)

Since Democrats already don't have the majority in the Senate, feh. I'd rather not have the pipeline, all things considered. Sure, Bill Cassidy would be an opponent of reproductive choice and a vocal opponent of the PPACA. But he isn't a total weirdo and his record on fossil fuels is...pretty much what we're getting from Landrieu anyway.  I really can't support the pipeline to save one Senate seat.

I almost want this to backfire on her for going for it. (Although if Obama could veto the damn thing and Landrieu could win a run-off anyway, I wouldn't be opposed. I'm just saying--priorities. And that's a longshot.)

Don Blankenship Indicted Regarding Upper Big Branch Mine Violations

It's good to hear that Don Blankenship, who was CEO of Massey Energy when the Upper Big Branch Mine blast killed 29 workers, has been indicted for what really always looked to me like a criminal disregard for the lives of his employees. His poor ability to separate regard for  profit from duty to ensure mine safety seemed to me of a piece with a sense that employees were property--owned by the company. So why did it matter if some got killed here and there? He didn't just cost the company millions in fines and settlements--he's possibly cost himself his freedom.

Since the disaster never did cost him a place in the industry, maybe this is the message that was required that miners' safety matters.