Four Political Thoughts (2015Nov06)


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Thursday, November 05, 2015                                         3:41 PM

Can You Feel The Warming Now?   (2015Nov05)

Oil and Coal interests have been denying climate change for so long that they are now being investigated by the New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman. Since the world outside our borders has accepted climate change as real, there are a mounting number of international agreements on limiting carbon emissions. As the writing on the wall becomes more legible, a new legal strategy presents itself—by obfuscating the unstoppable tide of repression that fossil fuels face in the near future, Schneiderman posits, energy companies have been misleading their investors as to the value of energy stocks—in other words, financial fraud.20151106XD-Rijk_Lectern-Felix_Meritis_Society

Big Energy has been questioning scientists’ concerns over greenhouse gasses since the 1970s—and has been successful, domestically, in carrying the day, partly due to confusion raised by conflicting research—which they paid for. This was a successful strategy insofar as it focused on doubting the details and expanding the questions—difficulties with ‘absolute proof’ are inherent in scientific research, especially in a field as new as climate science. That is the whole point of ‘doubt factory’ lawyering.

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But we have reached a point where doubting climate science only works now in a court of law—finer points aside, only an idiot would question climate change as visible, and worsening. Plus, even if climate change is unprovable, in a legal sense, there is no question that people and businesses are now behaving as if it is true—and this changes the future potential value of energy stocks. In short, economic pressures pushed the energy companies to fight the inevitable—and now economic pressures are going to oppose their interests.

There is sometimes a subtle poetry to politics—if efforts like this new lawsuit can enhance America’s too-slow response to this issue, we may yet have a hope of retaining the polar ice-caps and avoiding sending most of the globe’s coastal real estate where Atlantis went. Of course, there’s still overfishing and rising acidity in the oceans, habitat-loss and species-loss on land, and plenty of other disasters-in-waiting to worry about—but clean-energy conversion would still be something we could all be proud of.

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Some Kind Of Crazy

What is the difference between Trump crazy and Ben Carson crazy? Trump’s brand of crazy comes from ego and avarice—a businessman who feels that defeating the competition is as valuable as succeeding, a boardroom warrior who would rather burn down the building than lose his standing, a financier who would gladly bankrupt his company to protect his personal fortune, regardless of the losses suffered by others. He respects strength and strategy—which is understandably attractive to Republicans, yet Trump doesn’t discard practical knowledge, math, or science because they are too useful—and far more common in business than they ever are in politics.

Ben Carson’s crazy is a whole other animal—Rachel Maddow recently described it as a war on epistemology, or the ‘theory of knowledge’. According to recent quotes, it appears that Carson’s ‘American History’ (as well as his personal history) are simply stories he makes up as he goes along. His fundamentalism makes for some outlandishly screwy quotes that would place most people firmly in the ‘crank’ category—but he is a GOP presidential candidate, so at least during the primary he gets a pass on that particular line of nutcake.

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Ben Carson is an iconoclast, i.e. ‘a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions’—but where traditional usage refers to those who attack religion and the establishment, Carson is an iconoclast who attacks the cherished ideas of humanism and science. More than that, he attacks many ideals that most of us consider core principles of the American spirit. His statements about barring Muslims from elected office are a direct contradiction of our Constitution. Moreover, I find any kind of fundamentalism or evangelical zealotry to be vaguely un-American—to accept pluralism requires us to be hard-headed about which of our faiths’ finer points should be debated as public policy.

On the surface, it would appear that anyone can believe anything—our thoughts don’t show, our religion doesn’t imprint on our foreheads. Our freedom of religion recognizes that fact—but it also implies that we have to be circumspect in any real-world manifestations of our chosen faith, particularly in public—especially in politics. There is a world of difference between believing that the Earth is only 6,000 years old—and deciding policy based on that belief. If your faith tells you that women have less status than men, you still have to recognize that, in the real world, the rest of us—and the law—don’t agree.

Today’s far-right has embraced the evangelical, ignoring the fact that theocracy by any other name is still anti-American. There are many faiths in this country—and there always will be. To pick just one, and incorporate it into a political platform, should by all rights be political suicide—that this is not true for the GOP is just one of its many dysfunctions. And it is also what makes a delusional nut-job like Ben Carson a viable candidate for their party.

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Why We (Choose To) Fight

I was shocked the other night watching “The Brain with David Eagleman” on PBS—it was the episode about how we make choices. Towards the end, he shows an experiment that measures a person’s ‘disgust’ threshold—that is, how easily they are grossed out. Then he follows that up with another experiment that measures a person’s political bent—conservative or liberal. What was shocking about this was his statement that the tests showed a virtually unanimous correlation between a low ‘disgust’ threshold and a preference for conservatism. Neuroscientist David Eagleman said that he could look at the results of just the first test—and tell a person’s political leanings without giving them the second test.

If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. What are the things conservatives often deride about liberals?—Gooey things, like long hair, quiche, yogurt, or tofu—just the kinds of things that, at first glance, are somewhat repulsive. There is a ‘disgust’ barrier around these things—and only certain kinds of people will push back long enough to give these things a try. Not all liberals enjoy yogurt, you understand—but liberals are more likely to give it a try.

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Being hawkish is a conservative trait—perhaps the male ego feels disgust for the idea of not fighting—even when fighting may be a bad idea. Poor people can be kind of gross—and women’s health certainly makes men squeamish—health issues in general can get pretty slimy, repulsing both men and women. Wouldn’t it be funny if conservatism turned out to be regressive—a sign of emotional childishness? Like kids who won’t even try their broccoli. Xenophobia is a form of disgust—perhaps that is what makes liberals more inclusive—they more easily look past the surface strangeness to the human being underneath.

I say we stop considering conservatism as merely another point of view—I say we start calling liberalism what it really is—intellectual maturity. Then again, I don’t need a scientist to convince me that conservatives are often childish—and being childish, nothing anyone says will convince them to change their minds. Only voting them out of office will do that.

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Suggestion Box

I have a couple of suggestions. First, we should consider the millions of Syrian refugees as a potential resource. European countries are already seeing the potential benefit of an influx of younger, more energetic citizens. But what about giving Syrians a chance to do something about their own country?

What say the UN offers all young adult Syrian refugees the opportunity for military training—we gear up a few divisions of native sons and daughters, give them the arms and equipment and support they’d need to retake their country, and point them at Assad and ISIL? That way, outsiders like the US don’t have to send troops into a foreign country. Young displaced Syrians have an opportunity to do something other than depend on the charity of the world—and they wouldn’t go anywhere after the fighting is over—they’ll set up a responsive government—maybe they’ll even send for their relatives, old and young, to rejoin them in their native land— a Syria finally free of endless fighting. It’s just a thought.

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My second suggestion is for Hillary Clinton’s campaign—hey, why don’t you guys rise above the media’s narrative and focus your platform entirely on infrastructure? You could come up with specific projects for most of the fifty states—smart highways, clean energy, bullet trains, wilderness bridges, dam tunnel, bridge and highway refurbishing, underground fiber-optic networks,–hell, I could go on and on—and I’m just one person. I’m sure a room full of people could produce quite a list.

And every one of those projects would make jobs, stimulate our economy, and put America’s infrastructure back to its former place as leader of the world. One of the most telling aspects of a developed country is its ease of transportation and communication—and these are the greatest lacks of underdeveloped countries. Lack of roads and barriers to communication contribute to poverty, hunger, and despotism in all the most bedeviled parts of the world—and those with a plethora of such resources are too busy doing business to have uprisings, insurgents, or to invite the chaos we find in the world’s worst trouble-spots.

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Eisenhower’s great post-war push to grow America’s highways was an essential element in our rise to wealth and power in the latter half of the twentieth century—but now we are losing roads, bridges and other key features through neglect and an assumed entitlement that often precedes a great empire’s slide into decline. This stuff won’t fix itself.

We spend a lot of time and money on what we call Defense—it’s more than half the federal budget. Shouldn’t we consider taking some defensive measures against the passage of time? If we don’t have the will, or the spirit, to improve our infrastructure, we should at least defend against the loss of what our forebears have already provided.

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All images are property of the Rijksmuseum—to whom all thanks are due:

Gazette du Bon Ton 1914, No. 8, Pl. 80: L’Arbre de science /Robe du soir de Doeuillet, Anonymous, George Doeuillet, Lucien Vogel, 1914

Mantle clock (pendule), Anonymous, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, c. 1802 – c. 1803

Allegory of the science, Jeremias of Chess, Henry Crown Velt, 1696

Portrait of Dr Gachet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Ferdinand Gachet, 1890

Invention of the compass, Philips Galle, c. 1589 – c. 1593

Mécanique de Vaisseau-volant, Anonymous, c. 1781 – c. 1784

Lectern of the Felix Meritis Society, Anonymous, c. 1778 – c. 1779

Artilleriewerkplaats, Philips Galle, c. 1589 – c. 1593

Book Printing, Philips Galle, c. 1589 – c. 1593

Windmolen, Philips Galle, c. 1598 – c. 1593

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