Archive for November, 2013

My blogroll is curated, meaning that I link only to what I can recommend according to my own standards and values. Links have changed over the nearly eight years I’ve been blogging, the same as my blogging focus. I started out wanting to write a culture blog and unexpectedly careened toward writing more about doom once I became more fully awake and aware of just how horrific the future will be. There is no bigger story out there, and many people like me are telling it. Most adopt perspectives based on science or news (chronicling), transition and/or survival (prepping), or merely facing down what’s left of the future (coping). A few write dystopian fiction or conjecture about what will unfold (prediction). I try to explore some of the cultural story, which aims at understanding but arguably fits just as well under coping.

What really bums me out, though, is the number of writers who begin by telling and then end up selling, typically books or memberships. Maybe the intention behind writing books is to share what one has worked out and learned. A simple statement to that effect would calm me down, as I recognize books don’t get written and produced without some costs involved. But when a writer (best intentions not always assumed) shoves his or her book(s) in everyone’s face and implores them to buy multiple copies for family and friends (like, say, Morris Berman), well, let me just say I won’t be doing any holiday shopping that way.

Dave Pollard’s website has never been on my blogroll, though I’ve quoted him numerous times. Carolyn Baker’s website only recently came to my attention. They appear together in a conversation hosted by Peak Moment TV, which appears to be earnest in its reports on “people creating resilient communities for a more sustainable, lower-energy future in the face of energy, climate and economic uncertainty.” Content is offered for free, but there are the ubiquitous donate and support buttons if one wishes to contribute.

At the end, Baker’s desperation to position her book cover inside the video frame is appalling in its tackiness and clumsiness. I was so put off by her obvious selling that I couldn’t attend to whatever it was she said. Actually, I gave up listening to her long before then, but not because her message is poor (it’s okay, just not especially helpful). Pollard, on the other hand, doesn’t push his books. He tells that he’s already quite over his former objectives (the subjects of his books I suspect) because nothing worked or ever will work. Instead, he’s trying to help others cope, in part by preparing and positioning himself for when others have achieved readiness to face the truth. So, too, is Baker. Both seem to believe a remnant will manage somehow to survive. I’m less optimistic.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of the intentional fallacy: guessing the minds of others by their actions, words, and behaviors. But I’m a little weirded out by the notion that despite having missed the moving target repeatedly and revised his objectives (speaking here of Pollard — I lack familiarity with Baker to know her trajectory), he can now offer consolation and wisdom as we race toward the end. There is no lack of self-appointed gurus out there who attract followings, though I can’t imagine why anyone would seek that sort of prison except maybe for the self-aggrandizement factor. Even short of that, punditry makes most people look like fools. Someone stop me if ever I veer too close to believing that whatever I’m sharing here in this public venue and elsewhere will amount to more than one small voice calling out feebly into the cavern.

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Cockfight

Posted: November 19, 2013 in Culture, Debate, Idle Nonsense, Skyscrapers

The tallest building in the U.S. is officially, according to the the Height Committee of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the Freedom Tower in New York City, replacing the Willis Tower (a/k/a Sears Tower) in Chicago. Who knew there is a Council on Tall Buildings, or for that matter, a Height Committee? All kinds of criteria go into determining the height of a building, including highest roof, highest occupied floor, most storeys, highest fixed object, etc. The Freedom Tower edges out the Willis Tower because the former’s antenna counts as (ahem) a spire.

I’ve blogged about skyscrapers, particularly the tallest building sweepstakes, but controversy as to what counts as the tallest bit of building falls below my threshold of argument. (Besides, the Burj Khalifa won that global contest without even an inking of doubt.) Not so with Chicago’s major, Rahm Emanuel, who is comparing the size of his city’s erection (as buildings are sometimes called, especially newly erected ones) against that of NYC with an immediate rebuke of the council’s decision. But because NYC leadership is in transition, having just elected a new major who is not yet installed in office, Mayor Emanuel is called to issue instead by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, payback for an earlier controversy surrounding competing pizza styles. Whereas Stewart is absolutely having fun in this cockfight, Emanuel seems to be a humorless fool. Nothing about this episode of dick measuring makes him look good, but his reputation in the media is already about as bad as it gets, so what does he care?

/rant on

The Pew Research Center offers what it calls a News IQ Quiz with the following blurb:

Test your knowledge of prominent people and major events in the news by taking our short 13-question quiz. Then see how you did in comparison with 1,052 randomly sampled adults asked the same questions in a national survey conducted online August 7-14 by the Pew Research Center. The new survey includes a mixture of multiple-choice questions using photographs, maps, charts, and text.

When you finish, you will be able to compare your News IQ with the average American, as well as with the scores of college graduates and those who didn’t attend college; with men and women; and with people your age as well as other ages.

First, there is no such thing as a news IQ. The presumption that awareness of news equates in any fashion to IQ is scurrilous. I scored 75%, which surprises me considering how much of the mainstream media (MSM) I ignore. Second, most of the “prominent people and major events” and hot issues filter down to me in time, but without the editorial spin that brands news organs. Third, I contend that attending to the news is essentially asking to be brainwashed and conned incessantly with respect to the truth (which we rarely glimpse except in the most banal sense) and what constitutes suitable expectations for life and living (which judging from the news are wildly distorted toward the tacky and salacious).

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Saw a curious YouTube video, courtesy of Slipped Disc, Norman Lebrecht’s blog at Arts Journal:

I puzzled for a short while about how independent mechanical devices could sync up. The first commentator at Slipped Disc identifies the phenomenon as entrainment, which is accurate except that the comment refers to music therapy. With metronomes, however, there is no nervous system at work as with entrainment in humans. Rather, this video merely demonstrates a property of physics, also called entrainment, whereby interacting oscillating systems achieve mode lock or sync to the same period. In fact, the Wikipedia link in the previous sentence includes a CBS News report assuring everyone that it’s merely physics. This property was observed 350 years ago. Let me draw attention to the fact that the floating tray on which the metronomes sit moves sufficiently (left and right in the video) to allow the devices to interact. In truth, it took me only a little poking around to uncover the physics of it.

I mentioned entrainment in a previous blog about mirror neurons, but for the phenomenon to be psychological in origin, there must be a biological substrate. I’ve made similar points that human-style consciousness cannot be present without human physiology. Perhaps other styles of consciousness are present in dolphins, pigs, elephants, insect hives and colonies, trees, and other living things, but to suggest that there is a cosmic consciousness seems to me a leap made by the credulous. Similarly, some comments at the YouTube site(s) for the above video say that metronome entrainment is evidence of god at work or some other cosmic woo woo. What is a relatively simple scientific demonstration to some cannot dislodge the conviction of others that something mystical is happening. But then, I’ve already admitted my mind is influenced more by sober evidence (or lack thereof) than leaps of faith mistakenly described as evidence.

One of the arguments I never see trotted out in the debate over gun control is that guns represent an unwholesome extension of power that ought to be relinquished. This brings to mind how the Japan Shogunate restricted guns and swords in 1587 to samurais because of the recognition that arms destabilize society, granting undue power to better-armed factions. (This lesson was completely lost on the architects of the Cold War.) Even today, Japanese legal restrictions on gun ownership make it so that almost no one owns one. What Japanese society has instead might be interpreted as a level playing field, where everyone is limited to whatever harm they can do through small-scale violence and force. No doubt Japan is better equipped to enforce and accept such restriction because it’s a homogeneous society, whereas most of the rest of the world is heterogeneous and thrives on power imbalance.

If one adopts a slightly different lens, the ability to accomplish work through the focused application of energy (power) provides considerable advantages in productivity and efficiency, such as moving more earth to plant and harvest crops. Large structures can now be built with less manpower and with far greater speed than, say, medieval castles and cathedrals that took generations to complete. Mining can now be done above ground and across huge swaths of land compared to the past, though damaging overburden has grown exponentially. And commercial fishing is now characterized by quite literally vacuuming up the ocean floor without regard for bycatch or ecological degradation.

Over time, all of humanity’s collective effort at increased production and efficiency has proven to be a boon in terms of standard of living and sheer population growth. Pockets of difficulty may have slowed this trend but have not altered its basic trajectory. Now that we possess so much power to engineer and transform the world to suit our singular demands, however, we are caught in a trap: the power tools we created will be the instruments of our own destruction. It’s as if the Frankenstein monster (Mary Shelley’s warning of the peril of science run amok) became Icarus (the mythological admonition against hubris), acquiring too much power and flying too near the sun (mythologically becoming gods ourselves). But for a time, dull Frankarus did soar awfully high, and maybe gloriously, too, before being foiled.

It takes considerable restraint to forswear power-granting tools such as guns or nuclear energy. If only the Japanese (and the rest of us) had been so prescient with regard to the latter. The U.S. and Russia suffered their own nuclear catastrophes before Fukushima blew two years ago, but they were limited in comparison. Fukushima has not yet been contained and faces extremely dangerous clean-up later this month. I cannot referee the veracity of alarmist reports, but credible claims that the Pacific Ocean and West Coast of North America are slowly being fried have me spooked that we may have killed ourselves even sooner than thought. It may not even require things to go badly in the clean-up effort if we’re already the proverbial frog being boiled alive. Yet the mainstream media distracts us with frivolous reports of the early kick-off of the Xmas shopping season because, ya know, Thanksgiving comes late this year and we hardly have time to fit in our annual engorgement.