Monday, August 8, 2016

Swedish in Milwaukee: My Life as a Writer: We have some things to talk about, yes?

         This short article - an appeal - shows the frustration of the activist artist (writer, creative person..) in contemporary neo-conservative society. Such people often feel isolated, powerless and frustrated, angry, despondant.. As I pointed out in a comment to the article, we don't have much time to get viable sustainable communities off the ground before the lash of climate change and societal breakdown comes down hard.

Swedish in Milwaukee: My Life as a Writer: We have some things to talk about, yes?

          Recent political events are showing that instability is now settling into political and social structures. In our air-conditioned urban comfort we can ignore arctic meltdown a few years longer. But Black Lives Matter and the European refugee crisis are up front, in your face, can't be ignored any longer.

          How does the "creative" person (who does not have some taint of creativity..) act in a bankrupt society? What values should they follow? Should they engage with others to create viable local / regional communities - "Cultural Refugia" - to sustain and preserve our culture's best values and the knowledge our civilization has accumulated? What would such an engagement look like? How does one begin..

          Many questions! Few answers..

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Update: What has Justin Trudeau done so far?

 Time for a six month report card on the performance of the Trudeau team in Ottawa. 

        One of nastier sides of the Harper Conservative government was the mean spirited way they went after programs which leveled the playing field for the less advantaged members of society: legal aid assistance, immigrant language programs and integration services.. 

        One of the nicer programs these mean-spirited bâtards et bâtardes cut was Kitimavik, the Canadian "domestic Peace Corps" program. 

          Justin Trudeau in his election campagin last fall, suggested - if not promised, restoring Kitimavik. To date, funding is not comfirmed but the folks at Kitimavik seem optimistic. They are even hiring people for both the Board of Directors and public relations posts - which is a good sign..

Posted July 29 on, 2016:

"The federal government budget for 2016 earmarked $105 million (over five years) “in support of youth service,” plus an additional $25 million per year after that. The budget said further details about the recipients of these funds would be announced.
Though the budget did not mention Katimavik by name, alumni are hopeful about the future of the program and confident that they have an ally in Justin Trudeau."

           The Court Challenges Program, while modest ($12 million for five years), is considered an important piece of empowering legislation, helping marginalized groups to challenge provincial and federal governments in civil rights legislation cases. This program was cut by Harper in his first term and has been re-instored by Trudeau. Bravo! 

           Playing up to his redneck, anti-intellectual and reactionary core, Haper and his government took aim at funding of the arts arguing that "ordinary" folk don't understand that artsy cr%p which is all a lot of leftwing propaganda anyway. In this case, despite their mantra of "economy - economy - economy..", the Harperites showed themselves bad economist as well as louts. Due to "multiplier factors", the arts inject surprising amounts of money into exactly the places it's needed: local economies. The much vaunted multinationals, which profit from massive federal and provincial subsidies - welfare for the rich, tend to ship their profits overseas. Art festivals, however, employ local people but also draw in people from outside to spend in local communites: hotels, restaurants, stores, local travel and tourism..

            In a virogous policy reversal, Trudeau's first budget has restored funding for the arts, the Arts Council and for the long beleaguered Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (lest anyone forget: the contemporary, neo-conservative inspired, round of CBC cuts actually began with an earlier Liberal government, that of Jean Chrétien).

Trudeau and his finance minister have taken a starkly different approach. The budget unveiled $1.9 billion in new arts spending, including $550 million over five years for the Canada Council for the Arts, millions for Canada's national museums and $675 million for CBC."


On the Science front: The Harper government was notorious for its war on evidence based science especially any science that could be construed as relating to global warming, climate change, pollution effects, habitat destruction or renewable resource overexploitation. In addition, science funding was shifted from basic science research (which is a gamble but may generate major innovations) to applied science (which benefits the industrial bottom line in the short term). At its worst, scientists doing "suspect" research for federal agencies were subjected to an utterly bizarre, North Korean style vetting procedure, actually having to obtain permission to speak with journalists (!sic! - this, in a modern Western "democracy") 

             Some of this stuff is too bizarre! Fit for a mid-twentieth century totalitarian regime. Here's a tidbit:

"In 2010, Natural Resources Canada scientist Scott Dallimore was not allowed to talk about research into a flood in northern Canada 13,000 years ago without getting pre-approval from political staff in the office of then-Natural Resources minister Christian Paradis. Postmedia News said requests were only approved after reporters' deadlines had already passed." 

               I supose this could be construed as climate change research, hence suspect (of linkages with leftwing, "foreign controlled environmental radicals"). The fact it happened 13,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice ages seems irrelevant..

                                 brainscan: Ministry of Censorship bureaucrat

              The Trudeau government has signaled a new era for Canadian Science in its first budget. An immediate 72.8 million dollars per annum will be injected into science funding, following years of stagnant or declining budgets. Specifically, the world class, Experimental Lakes Projects (to study long term water pollution), will once again receive funding by the feds. The Harper (fossil fuel puppet) government discontinued  funding, forcing the Experimental Lakes Project (Ontario) to seek private, foreign intitutional funding sources for the last few years.

               Under the Trudeau government, scientists are now free, once again, to speak of their research openly to whom they want (except, of course, for classified military work). 

                Research into Sustainable Development has been given annual funding by Ottawa. 

                Finally, a fund to assist provinces to reach their greenhouse gas emission goals has been established at $2 billion.

              So the scientists are happy. However, one should not expect major outlays of cash to start flowing before 2017 - 18. The longterm change in trajectory is welcome, nonetheless.

              The mills of government grind exceedingly slowly. Trudeau has already fufilled a few of his promises, the easy ones: increasing the number of Syrian refugees accepted by Canada, for example. Other important promises made by Trudeau during the campaign are just getting off the ground, for example, the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. 

               This commission may turn out to be the moral make-or-break point for Canadian society (at least for many generations). First Nations people, like blacks in the States have "traditional greviences" against the society they live in: they were, after all, victims of colonization and all that implies. They are under-scholarized but over-represented in prision. First nation women run a higher risk of being murdered or going missing and, worse, there is fear that police are not taking these cases seriously enough. Now, as seems to be the case in the States with blacks, our country has reached a make-or-break point. We are at a fork in the road. The Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women may be our last chance to set things right, to turn a new - and brighter - page of the checkered history between European settlers and the indigenous founding peoples. However, even at its inception, we see a tendancy to waffle, to water things down, to not ask the questions that really must be asked. For example, there is concern that families of missing and murdered indigenous women may not be allowed to re-open investigations of murdered and missing relatives. This one is most definitely a "work in progress". Good luck with this one Mr Trudeau - you'll need it!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Dodging Extinction: Part 3 - What can we do?

           Before delving into things we can do that might be effective in avoiding "the end of the world", I like to look as some ideas that have been proposed:

1- Intervention by Superior Powers will save humanity in just the nick of time (just like the Holywood movies..) Such beings could be God, the Space Brothers (maybe even friendly time travellers, who knows.. )

comment: Highly speculative! The Real Question here, for me, is: would the gods - or extraterrestrials - be so mind-boggingly stupid to intervene and "save us from ourselves". Would any self-respecting God or Space Brother attempt to save us from the "programming" of our genes and minds resulting by 3.5 billion years of Darwinian evolution? Darwinian logic itself suggests letting "unfit" - uncivilizable - species destroy themselves. By "saving us from ourselves" they could be turning a bunch of high tech barbarians on the rest of the Galaxy. Definitely not a bright move.. not bright..

2- Technology will save us! This can be seen as a blend of Post-modern / Post-christian messianism with the Ideology of Progress which arose during the European Enlightenment (18th century). It also incorporates the reactionary postion called "business-as-usual". It is a comforting faith: we don't have to change our ways of living and thinking in any essential fashion. All we need is a little technological tweak or fix, here and there.

problem: GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out. Technology (and Culture) are programmed by society. But society is then programmed by technology and culture. It's the old "chicken or egg" problem: which can first? Neither, of course! chickens and eggs cyclically (recursively) reproduce themselves. Chickens lay eggs, eggs hatch into new chickens.. The problem here is that, currently, the productive loop, Technology--> Society / Society--> Technology is self-destructive. As currently constucted this cycle generates human overpopulation, resource depletion, destructive climate change, the 6th mass extinction of biological species.. What is really needed is a new "program" for the Technology / Culture "computer": a new vision of our place in nature, a new set of values (ethics) to guide our behviors in the real world. 

In short, technology itself, is not - cannot be - either the problem or the solution. We need a human spiritual (ethical) revolution and I don't see that on the horizon. (Must I then make myself one of the initiators..

                          The City of Light - Technotopia (or Technofraud?)

3- Historical Determinism, fatalism. Karl Marx was into this and look what it got him: the Communist fiasco! Back in the 18th century, Enlightenment philosophers and early modern science perceived the world as run by rigid mathematical laws. They were inspired by the stunning recent successes of mathematical physics: Isaac Newton's New Mechanics for example. Today, the modern study of Self-Organization in nature and human societies reveals that such deterministic views apply, legitimately, only to very simple and highly constrained systems. "Real world" systems of interest: biological evolution, ecosystems, organisms, societies,cultures, branches of knowlege.. these are complex, interconnected, unconstrained and in their detailed operation functionally unpredictable.

                                                 a good man but he led many astray

comment: whether or not, determinism is philosophically false, it is psychologically irresistable for some people. Consider conspiracy theorists. They do not, or cannot, take ownership, as members of the "consumer society", for the environmental and moral condition of the world. In reality, they cannot admit that the world is spinning out of control. They seemed impelled to believe that there must be some humans controlling things - even if these people represent an evil World Conspiracy. The image of chaos must be truly terrifying to these people!

4- Mobilizing the masses. For me, perhaps the most sympathetic. But how?
Unlike Anthony Barnosky: Dodging Extinction, E. O. Wilson: The Future of Life  and Seth Reice: The Silver Lining, who write from a conservation biologist perspective, I see "mobilization of the masses" as occuring locally and regionally (not globally). Furthermore they see mobilization as a pro-active, pre-emptive act design to avoid catastrophe. I believe we have waited to long to make a smooth transition to a renewable energy economy. For me, mobilization is seen primarily as a response to ongoing crisis. See note 1.

            At present, the "masses" are on autopilot: duped, deluded, dumbed down - states of being which maximize profits for multinational corporations and hence are powerfully reinforced socially. Let us never forget! Big Biz, not the People, is the real ruling class in modern "democracies". 

          Given that I see little hope from any of these quarters (the options discussed above), I believe that mass human die-off in this century is the most probable outcome. I thus opt for option 4 above, mobilizing the masses during a time of crisis. In this context technology (primitive to modern, simple to complex) is important as a collection of tools (but not as a Savior or Master). The highly speculative option 1, above, has its utility since individual and group prayer, ritual, meditation,.. can be socially integrative, allowing "therapeutic empowerment" of individuals and small groups. I guess the best attitude to adopt is "God/dess helps those who help themselves"..

            The goal here, of course, is to minimize the losses of societal collapse and exploit whatever opportunities the current set of interlocking, mutually reinforcing crises present in the way of new evolutionary trajectories. Consider biological evolution: life on earth has always managed to bounce back - stronger (more biologically diverse) - after each mass extinction crisis. This has been the pattern for 5 major extinction events with a 6th extinction - human caused - now under way. The greatest of these, the late Permian Mass Extinction, 252 million years ago, wiped out about 95% of life in the sea and 90 - 95% on land. Recovery - and rediversification - took some 20 million years after this Mother of All Extinctions, but it occurred nevertheless. Life is resilient.

            It is arguable that human civilizations - and especially Civilization, in its globality - follow a similar pattern of crisis, die back, renaissance, flourishing, stagnation and decay, followed by a new crisis. Civilizations may indeed come and go, but the stock of human knowledge has, on the whole, increased over time: the Romans did not have the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, for example.

             At this time of planetary crisis, I propose we should take a page from those great survivalists of Late Antiquity, the early Christians. Christian monasteries preserved a good part of the philosophy, law, science and mathematics of antiquity during the Dark Ages which followed the breakup of the Roman Empire. These preserved teachings served a vital role in the Renaissance of Western civilization and the birth of Modernity (12th through 17th centuries). 

            We need to think of doing something similar today, to preserve what is worth saving in our civilization so that the survivors won't have to start from scratch, so they will have the best seed from which to grow a new civilizational cycle. I call communities designed to preserve and pass on our civilization's knowledge and our best values, Cultural Refugia (note 2). We have payed a high price for our science, we should not throw it away lightly (very bad karma!) We need to preserve the Periodic Table, Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, Ecology... We need to preserve essential technologies to kick start a new cycle of civilization. Ideally, the larger Refugia would maintain 19th century metalurgy and electrical technology, early 20th century vacuum tube technology (intergrated circuitry is probably too high tech to survive the social chaos I see coming. Ditto for nuclear reactors: too complex, too demanding of infrastructure and capital). To the degree possible, we should attempt to maintain mid-20th century medicine (note 3). Above all, we need to preserve our most precious spiritual acquisitions like Civil or Human Rights: liberty, equality, fraternity; the belief in the dignity of the human person and the Universality of human nature; the gains of modern feminism,..

The two, previously posted, parts of this series are:


1- internal blog links: keyword: book review 

2- The term "Cultural Refugia" was chosen, by analogy, with reference to ecological refugia.

Refugium (plural: refugia): (Latin) An area in which a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions 

 3- bacteriophage therapy: bacteriophages are "bacteria eating" viruses. They were used in the Soviet Republic of Georgia instead of Western style antibiotics to treat infectious diseases. This is a potentially useful technology for our Cultural Refugia. It is simpler and less costly than standard antibiotic development and production, works about as well, and bacterial resistance is less of a problem. As the virologists say: every bacteria has 50 (if not a hundred) phages. Thus if an infectious bacteria begins to develop resistance to a particular phange in a given community, go and get another one of those 50 - 100 phages. By the time you get to # 50 (or 100), the bacteria will have lost all or most of the resistance it had acquired to phage # 1 and you start the cycle all over again. The result: the bacteria is always kept on its toes, never has the chance to develop full antibiotic resistance as is, increasingly, the case with more and more infectious bacteria today.