Friday, April 28, 2006

 

Good Idea from George W. Bush

President Bush says he wants to raise fuel-efficiency standards on automobiles, as members of both parties jockeyed for political position on the issue of rising gas prices. "I encourage them to give me that authority," Bush told reporters during a visit to a service station in Biloxi, Mississippi. "It's an authority I used for light trucks, and I intend to use it wisely if Congress will give me that authority."

Increasing the fuel economy of light duty vehicles is the single most effective energy-saving policy the federal government could adopt.





Thursday, April 27, 2006

 

Energy - Solar

BLOG Energy - Solar

Solar power is one of the "alternative" energy sources that someone living in a sunny place like San Diego can make the most headway with. (I put it in quotes because to me, it's just an energy source. There's nothing scurrilously or dangerously or seductively alternative about it at all.)

Here are some construction photos, and a shot from the street.

P1010022

P1010049

P1010047



The solar panels on my house cover most of the southern-facing roofline. You can't really see them from the street unless you stand at a particular angle on your tiptoes. You can see a brief flash of them as you drive by. The neighbors don't really have much of a view of the panels, either, just due to the layout of the nearby houses. The first photo was taken during the worst of the smoke of the October 2003 San Diego County fires. That's why it's orange.

The angle of the roofline almost exactly approximates the ideal angle for catching the most perpendicular of the sun's rays. This was a conscious part of the house-buying process and not a happy accident. Relatively few homes in this particular neighborhood have as good a roofline for solar, but I drive by hundreds and hundreds of homes and businesses every time I'm out that have "wasted" space perfectly aligned to the sun. What a great sight it would be if there were solar panels on rooftops as a matter of course, and not as a rare exception.

The system here is of a "grid-tie" type. That means it's tied to the power grid, as opposed to being "stand alone". Grid-tie means that when we're using less than we generate, the electricity is fed back into the power grid for others to use. It also means that when the electrical grid goes down, so do we. There is a large safety switch that disconnects the solar panels from the system in order to prevent backfeeding.

With the addition of a bank of batteries or a generator to "fake" the grid, then we could convert to stand-alone. However, the reason I didn't choose this option when specifying the system is three-fold.

First, battery banks take up a lot of space and are a cost-adder. Since the power in this neighborhood is extremely reliable, there is little need to incur the space and monetary cost for producing our own night-time power every night. In the case of an emergency (72 hours of no power) then we'd be no better off than anyone else. However, if the power is off for more than three days, the odds of us staying here in Carmel Valley, as opposed to evacuating someplace else, are actually pretty low.

The second reason is that a portable generator is more useful to me than a bank of batteries. The generator can enable stand-alone operation, with the addition of a transfer safety switch behind the generator. The generator power would then be applied at the point where the grid would be if it wasn't down (I haven't tested the whole idea quite yet, so don't go off and do anything drastic without convincing yourself you won't do something epicly dumb first) and can also be taken places (like Field Day) and pressed into service.

The third reason was some concern over maintaining a large bank of batteries for the lifetime of the system. The solar panels have an expected useful lifetime of about 30 years. Some people explain that this is conservative - that many panels in current production may end up with even longer lifetimes. Some of the first solar systems installed in residential places are already over 35 years in use and are still humming along. In stand-alone systems, Batteries are the components with the shortest life expectancy. Most of the companies I talked with said 15 years would be the maximum, but the residential systems I've surveyed required battery bank replacement in 10 years or less.

We did have a failure with one of the two inverters, but it was a quick warrenty replacement. The inverters are under warrenty for 5 years, and are from Sunny Boy. They're old-school big-iron boring old inverters. Batteries (optional), wiring, solar panels, inverters, safety switches comprise the components of a solar system (or photovoltaic system "PV" system for short). There are no moving parts. Electrically, it's quite simple.

The system here at the house was designed for something less than 100 percent of our electric bill. This is commonly done because you're not going to get easily compensated for trying to become a power generation station by the power company, and because of diminishing returns in tiered-power situations. This means that a small system can have more ROI due to the fact that you're knocking your bill down from perhaps a high-cost high-tier power consumption range to a lower-tier lower-cost power consumption range. Getting the power consumption range down to the bottom of the lowest basic tier (e.g. SDG&E basic allotment of the first 300 or so killowatt-hours is only $20 bucks or so) means you're spending a lot on hardware that doesn't really buy you much in terms of financial savings.

Some people design their systems this way, and have relatively small "assist" systems that are very finanically effective, especially if they have high energy consumption due to air conditioning, etc.

I went for a larger system in order to "do environmental good" as well as reduce the electrical bill. The target was 85% of the average consumption over the previous 16 months, as of summer 2003.

The system will pay for itself at a later date due to the higher initial cost, but it sure is nice to get an energy bill of "zero" for 6 months out of the year.

Energy production is lowest in January. Considering that the winter solstice is in late December, it's interesting to see that January, then February, then December are the months where the panels are least effective, at least in terms of energy consumed from the point of view of the power company. This oddity makes sense in light of the fact that grid-tie systems are usually billed by net power.

In other words, in the months where I produce more than I consume, the net "owed" to me is shoved forward to the next month. I get a headstart. This has shifted the entire graph of yearly energy consumption forward a bit. For example, September was a zero consumption month, but March was not. If March and September are both equinox months, then they should have similar energy patterns by the end of the month. But, due to net metering, and the fact that the billing month doesn't exactly line up with the equinox crossover, I guess they don't.

If I was less lazy, I'd take it as an action item to verify this. However, I didn't spring for the expensive frivolous wireless poor-industrial-design data logger (yeah ok I'm a codger), and I don't manually write down how much exactly I generate every month (something the equipment dutififully reports).

I guess I've talked myself into starting to monitor it. Or, I could build my own data logger! Yes, yes, I need another project to do.

That's my experience with solar grid-tie systems.

The state of California, at the time of installation and at the present time, gives tax incentives and subsidies on each kilowatt-hour that your system is rated at. These incentives are not widely publicized. Grid tie systems are offered as an option by at least one developer, but the promotion is somewhat muted, and "energy star appliances" are given higher billing than the solar systems and solar water heating systems that also come with the package.

MY feeling is that once again consumerism has lead to form (appearance) being valued way more than function (clean energy). Solar panels and the equipment necessary to have either a grid-tie or stand-alone system do NOT have to be ugly or obtrusive. There is a false dichotomy at work here that people have totally bought into. Somehow, solar panels are dorky, or ugly. How many times do you actually ponder the south-facing roofline of your house? Do you live on the south-facing roof of your house? Since most installations can in many cases be installed unobtrusively with a bit of intelligent exterior design, and since there are solar panels that look like roof tiles or roof material on the market now, any snobbishness about looks resolves into irrationality.

Yes, the systems add cost to a house. Yes, they can and do pay for themselves directly. They pay for themselves indirectly too, by reducing the need for energy generation at polluting stations, therefore reducing the costs to society of energy production. We don't have a whole lot of natural gas left, either. So the more people that employ solar systems now, the longer the supply will last.

Even the cleanest natural gas burning power generation station still produces pollution that will not be produced by the solar panels. Yes, there is pollution produced in manufacturing solar panels, but that is greatly outweighed by the clean solar power produced by the panels over the course of their lifetime. For each panel, it takes (at the current time) from 2 to 5 years for the electricity produced by the panel to equal the energy that was necessary to produce it. Some people count this energy in their evaluations, and some do not.

There are justifications either way, depending on whether you do a straight household ROI (since everything used in a household is manufactured, and the energy costs of manufacturing are assumed to be in the price to the consumer, adding additional costs is double-billing the item) or you actually want to know whether or not you are making a positive environmental effect (which, in the case of grid tie solar systems, you undoubtedly are, especially after the first few years where the energy required to make the items is paid back by the items themselves. Can you say this about most any other manufactured good?)

Solar systems aren't useful only in the southwest, even though they're most useful here. A photovoltaic system can go in almost anywhere that the sun shines. You may get better performance in a sunny place, and that's where the most activity seems to be, but I've seen systems profiled in places like Connecticut and New York and the UK on television programs, and they seem to work just fine.

The efficiency goes down with clouding, dust on the panels, and lower angle of the sun, but even with these challenges, solar co-generation stations on commercial and residential buildings are a great energy solution. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, these systems are simple, available now, and easily understood by almost anyone. If you can operate an oven in your kitchen, you are overqualified for operating a solar system on your roof.

Speaking of kitchen ovens, mine is broken yet again.




Tuesday, April 25, 2006

 

Socialism, Capitalism - economic truth, ecologic truth

From an article from Wired.com

There's a quote by Oystein Dahle close to a decade ago now, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was for many years Exxon's vice president for Norway and the North Sea. He said, "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth." That's a lot of wisdom distilled into those two sentences.

Equating the blind spots of socialism and capitalism is something I found to be quite interesting.

In the presence of a shared ethical framework which values the environment we depend on, then capitalism can potentially work well in the long term.  There is of course the other unsolved issue of what "enough" wealth is in terms of creating it. This is a conundrum that has existed from the beginning of capitalism ( as defined in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations).

This shared ethical framework with respect to the environment does not currently exist in the United States capitalist community for any number of reasons. American capitalism has been allowed to simply pillage the environment instead of preserving it, with some regulations having some effect from time to time.

This unrestricted wealth creation at high cost to both workers and the environment has been going on for a long time. It's gone on so long that being a good consumer is now the equivalent of being a good citizen, with predictable results to culture, the environment, and - oddly enough - the economy itself.

A professor at UALR told me that the Roman Empire collapsed for several interrelated reasons. One of which was the habit of farmers to grow cash crops instead of sustainable mixes. The cash crops were exported for, of course, cash. Cash allowed the Romans to buy whatever they wanted. The economic system was advanced and worked pretty well.

When unrest due to some sustained external raiding made it impossible for the cash crops to be exported, then the internal economy of the Roman Empire started to experience hyperinflation and moved from healthy to crumbling in a relatively short time.

The economy can indeed be killed by that which makes it strong, if enough positive feedback is applied. But enough of ancient history. We're seeing history in the making at the present time.

The destabilization of the world oil economy (or, as I would rather see it put, the recognition that it is inherently unstable to begin with) may have some parallels with the Roman experience. Inflation is kept low here due to the fact that we've shifted labor costs to places where labor is shockingly cheap, while at the same time selling debt.

By giving up the ability to manufacture consumer goods, while continuing to borrow money from the same economies that sell us those manufactured goods, we either have a mutually-assured-destruction Economic Death Embrace (and the US and, say, China continue on as we have been continuing on), or we'll have a situation where the dollar will devalue greatly, and we will suffer widespread economic damage as the dollar slowly (or quickly) becomes incapable of buying what we, or our parents, used to buy.

Since mutually-assured-destruction didn't prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union. I'm not inclined to think of it as a stable or preferable economic partnership. Destabilization of the trade routes made the Roman experience of the third century quite challenging. Continued destabilization of our trade routes could make our own third century, of existence as a country, quite challenging.

So, if someone like me can maintain an understanding of the basics, you'd figure that our government, with all sorts of smart people as resources, would come up with solid solutions for the precarious position that we find ourselves uncomfortably sliding towards. After all, with a republican president and a republican congress, I'd expect to see some smart economic action - some wicked-mean sharp-shooting monetary policy acumen. After all, these are the guys that are supposed to be the experts of the financial side of the house.

It's unfortunately revealing, then, that it took only a modest rise in gasoline prices for President Bush to do nothing more than simply waive environmental rules for gasoline.

This is supposedly to help lower prices. I'm not exactly sure how this will help lower prices. Why are we trying to manipulate prices (thinking as a Republican), instead of solving the underlying problems anyway?

A free market means a free market. Prices are high for specific reasons, none of which can be solved by rolling back environmental laws. A real republican answer would be to allow the market to shape society, not use the machinery of government to shape the market, while allowing society to do whatever it is that it's doing. This primarily means driving a lot more than necessary and buying record amounts of fuel.

It sounds, from the brief article, that refineries are generally already done with their summer blending plans anyway. The connection between not complying with regulations and a reduction in price to the consumer is therefore negligible at best. I of course fully expect to see someone at some point claim that the Bush Administration "saved summer vacations for patriotic Americans" by rolling back environmental laws.

Any cost decreases will be largely taken as profits by the refineries. A cynic would see this (profits for oil companies) as the real reason for waiving of a regulatory law that has far less impact on the value (as opposed to price) of gasoline than drivers actually driving intelligently or maintaining correct air pressure in their car tires. If you want to tinker with regulations, then require higher gas mileages for new cars. It's not like the technology isn't there, and would actually increase fuel value to the consumer.

There is a long list of other things that could actually help consumer costs. Some of which have been repeatedly and publicly suggested by people a lot smarter than me. I can't recall anyone outside of maybe a few refinery industry lobbyists that has ever called for the removal of clean air related environmental regulations. There has never been any sort of suggestion that it would actually lower prices at the pump.

The reason for this is simple. Dirty air and climate change cost society much much more than any small break at the pump from refining regulations going away.








Wednesday, April 19, 2006

 

Freedom Quote, Rise of Soft Paternalism, Libertarian Response?

Unless men are free to be vicious they cannot be virtuous.
by Frank Meyer, "In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Manifesto"

Much has been made of freedom and liberty in this country. It's a neverending source of inspiration to both real and imaginary politics.

The struggle over privacy, freedom, choice, and liberty is the most important political question we face. It's more important than the War on Whatever, more important than the level of taxation, more important than the state of the electoral college or immigration reform. The only thing it's not more important than is the survival of the environment. I.e., the health of the planet itself, without which everyone slowly dies, which is, perhaps, the ultimate in privacy, since the government can no longer badger, guide, legislate to, or tax you.

In reading the cover story from the April 6th Economist magazine, you can see this questions of privacy, freedom, choice, and liberty in action.

The Rise of Soft Paternalism

April 6th, Economist

Liberals sometimes dream of a night-watchman state, securing property and person, but no more. They fret that societies have instead submitted to the nanny state, a protective but intrusive matriarch, coddling citizens for their own good. Economists, with their strong faith in rationality and liberty, have tended to agree. As many decisions as possible should be left in the individual's lap, because no one knows your interests better than you do. Most of us have gained from this freedom.

But a new breed of policy wonk is having second thoughts. On some of the biggest decisions in their lives, people succumb to inertia, ignorance or irresolution. Their private failings—obesity, smoking, boozing, profligacy—are now big political questions. And the wonks think they have an ingenious new answer—a guiding but not illiberal state.What they propose is “soft paternalism”.

Thanks to years of patient observation of people's behaviour, they have come to understand your weaknesses and blindspots better than you might know them yourself. Now they hope to turn them to your advantage. They are paternalists, because they want to help you make the choices you would make for yourself—if only you had the strength of will and the sharpness of mind. But unlike “hard” paternalists, who ban some things and mandate others, the softer kind aim only to skew your decisions, without infringing greatly on your freedom of choice. Technocrats, itching to perfect society, find it irresistible. What should the supposed beneficiaries think?

Most people would accept that a healthy diet is hard to achieve, financial matters are confusing and cigarettes kill too many. The state is tempted to step in, not only because of the harm that smokers, lushes, spendthrifts and gluttons may do to others, but because of the harm they are doing to themselves. In Scotland last month the government banned smoking in offices, restaurants and pubs. In Massachusetts, the state legislature has passed a bill requiring everyone who can afford to buy health insurance to do so, on pain of higher taxes.

This is hard paternalism. The softer sort is about nudging people to do things that are in their best interests. The purest form involves setting up systems for sinners to reform themselves: in Missouri for instance, some 10,000 compulsive gamblers have banned themselves from riverboat casinos; if they succumb to their habit (and are caught) they face tough punishments. In most cases, though, soft paternalism means the government giving people a choice, but skewing the choice towards the one their better selves would like to make.

For instance, in many countries plenty of workers fail to enrol in pension schemes and suffer as a result. The reason is not that they have decided against joining, but that they haven't decided at all—and enrolling is cumbersome. So why not make enrolling in the scheme the default option, still leaving them the choice to opt out? Studies have shown this can nearly double the enrolment rate. Lord Turner, head of Britain's Pensions Commission, is the latest soft paternalist to recommend such a scheme

Soft paternalists also want to give people more room to rethink “hot and hasty” decisions. They favour cooling-off periods before big decisions, such as marriage, divorce or even buying cigarettes. Some of them toy with elaborate “sin licences”, which would entitle the holder to buy cigarettes, alcohol or even perhaps fatty foods, but only at times and in amounts the licenceholder himself signed up to in advance.

If people want this kind of customised paternalism, why can't the market, in the shape of rehab clinics and personal trainers, provide it? Soft paternalists argue that, without the power of the state behind such schemes, they will often break down: the sovereign consumer can always veto his own decisions. He can fire his personal trainer or check out of the clinic. Long before the government took it upon itself to ban opium from general sale, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a Romantic poet and drug addict, used to hire porters to bar his entry to apothecaries. But he would later threaten to have them arrested if they did not let him pass.

Soft paternalism has much in its favour. First, it is certainly better than hard paternalism. Second, a government has to provide information to citizens in order for them to make rational decisions on everything from smoking to breastfeeding to organ donation. Even a government reluctant to second-guess its citizens ends up advising them in one way or another. What people decide they want is often a product of the way a choice is framed for them—they take the first thing on the menu, or a bit of everything. Even a truly liberal government would find itself shaping the wishes and choices to which it earnestly wants to defer. It's surely better to lure people into pension schemes than out of them.

Yet from the point of view of liberty, there is a serious danger of overreach, and therefore grounds for caution. Politicians, after all, are hardly strangers to the art of framing the public's choices and rigging its decisions for partisan ends. And what is to stop lobbyists, axe-grinders and busybodies of all kinds hijacking the whole effort? There is, admittedly, a safety valve. People remain free to reject the choices soft paternalism tries to guide them into—that is what is distinctive about it. But though people will still have this freedom, most won't bother to use it—that is what makes soft paternalism work. For all its potential, and its advantage over paternalism of the hard sort, this is a tool that transfers power from the individual to the state, which only sometimes knows best.

Its champions will say that soft paternalism should only be used for ends that are unarguably good: on the side of sobriety, prudence and restraint. But private virtues such as these are as likely to wither as to flourish when public bodies take charge of them. And life would be duller if every reckless spirit could outsource self-discipline to the state. Had the government deprived Coleridge of opium, he might have been happier. Then again, there might have been no “Kubla Khan”.

So, the challenge to Americans, many of which believe that the government has "no business telling us how to live", is what to do about the rise of soft paternalism.

If defaults are changed to where you have to opt out, instead of opting in, then many things would indeed go much better. Retirement savings, for example, which is something Americans seem to have some problems with, would probably be the first thing that many people would choose to make opt out instead of opt in.

Waiting periods can affect sales and decisions. If things like divorce, gun-purchases, medical procedures, cigarette purchases, and whatever other vice the government and/or society wants to see reduced had waiting periods, then this too would most likely be widely tolerated. We already tolerate the legislation of waiting periods for many things in the US. Why not more?

At first, this seems to fly in the face of libertarianism, which stresses that allowing people to make their own choices, even if they are bad ones, is better than someone else making the choice for you, even if that someone else is making a very good choice for you.

However, Libertarianism works well only when everyone chooses within a framework of responsible freedom. Libertarianism works exceedingly well for responsible people who tend to be altruistic, well-educated, and believe - either consciously or unconsciously - in a moral or ethical framework behind and beneath law and choice.

This is why I both vote libertarian, am proud to be libertarian, and yet also concede how improbable it is for more than perhaps a small fraction of the population to ever be truly able to embrace what is, at heart, a very disciplined and responsible form of government. Like any ideal, the reflection in reality is somewhat fractured, faceted, or corrupted. The (alleged) fiscal conservatism of the Republicans, the dedication to doing the right thing by the environment of the Greens, the compassion for equality of the Democrats - all these things are facets of Libertarianism, scattered amongst parties that have other fatal flaws that render them incapable of winning a libertarian vote. Bringing all these ideas together under the banner of one party happened in 1972, but no one seemed to notice.

Libertarianism is abused and society is disserved by people who make selfish short-sighted choices, who then are left to die in a ditch due to accident or addiction or other repercussions of their choices.

The Democrat would try to save the person in the ditch. A Republican would punish them. A Green might secretly rejoice in the darwinian reduction of population that irresponsible behaviour produces from time to time. It takes courage to confront the underlying reasons for irresponsibility before individual choices lead to social loss.

In a morally relativistic society, how often do you actually hear someone making a value judgement about the choices of another person? It's quite rare.

It also takes courage to let the person continue to make those choices and allow them to suffer the consequences. This is never fun when the consequences are negative.

So, the question is:

Is soft paternalism a preservation of the ideals of Libertarianism, or is it a perversion of those ideals?




Tuesday, April 18, 2006

 

Energy - Hydrogen

Hydrogen cars cannot replace the current transportation demands that gasoline-powered cars provide. The energy density just isn't there. Even if the storage, transportation, energy return on energy invested, and tank size problems can be solved, then ranges and required energies to create the hydrogen result in a greatly reduced energy capacity.

To create hydrogen from methane, use the following recipe.

CH4 (g) + H2O + e > 3H2(g) + CO(g)

Greenhouse gases are still created. The energy used to make the steam (the H2O) is usually produced by burning fossil fuels. Essentially, the pollution has been moved around a bit. Using nuclear power to heat the steam might work, but more plants would need to be built or else diverted from electricity production.

To create hydrogen from water, use the following recipe.

2H2O + e = 2H2(g) + O2(g)

This requires 286kJ per mole. This energy is required by the chemistry of reaction and can never be reduced.

It can be somewhat difficult to get a real picture of hydrogen due to the politicization of this particular technology and the constant rah-rah positive pep talks from the government. The "roadmap" from the DOE reads like a real estate newsletter, with occasional dips into reality.

Hydrogen as a replacement for electricity production will probably be a component of future energy technologies, but declaring it a replacement for gasoline in cars, at this point, is really not believable.


Monday, April 17, 2006

 

Bisexuality is Superior?

Bisexuals are Superior?

I used to believe in the superiority of bisexuality with a special sort of zeal. The arc of my thinking was grounded in a foundation of being fundamentally different from those monosexuals out there - those gay and straight people that were incapable of truly loving people because they couldn't form significantly deep or romantic feelings about people of a particular gender.

I considered myself truly free, advanced, progressive, and somehow unencumbered by whatever psychological or biological failings that monosexuals had. This feeling of superiority was usually passively expressed. I didn't go around snickering at others or making snide comments or wearing T-Shirts declaring my superiority. However, I certainly believed it.

I felt sorry for everyone else. The very few bisexual people that I knew very well seemed to only confirm my prejudice. They were really quite similar to me in behaviour and worldview. We were the Chosen Few.

Of course, anecdote doesn't equal proof. The other bisexual people in my life were people that I got along with really well. The shared values and interests were probably the reason we got along, and not because of a particular orientation.

Identity politics, the idea that a part of your identity then determines your politics, and that some sort of political change needs to happen based on group identity, has been around for a long time, and greatly affected my attitude.

The gay rights movement can be described in terms of identity politics. Politically active gay people were agitated, motivated, organized, and had "whips", to keep the message coherent and focused. Members of the group that fell outside the majority identity had to form their own smaller groups, or go it alone. The US "gay rights movement" is largely one that identifies with the left. As a politically active gay person, you were (are?) assumed to be an unchurched Democrat. Queer people that were politically right-wing formed the Log Cabin Republicans.

In popular culture, Gay Republicans are viewed as a bit weird. The Republicans largely ignore them and many left-leaning politically active gay people seem to be embarrassed about them. The belief that a part of your identity should determine a leftist vote is directly challenged by groups like the Log Cabin Republicans.

Two other groups that have suffered a similar sort of identity politics (called Values Politics) are pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans. This litmus test issue in the US has made it impossible for these candidates to get anywhere within either party. Conform or leave.

All of these realities work at cross-purposes to political progress. Being political definitely requires compromise, but when compromise isn't possible, your effectivity as a political agent is very much reduced. In many cases, it's nullified.

In contrast, leveraging certain issues can greatly enhance an otherwise incompetent candidate or voting bloc.

So, for a while, I bought into the identity politics belief structure. My identity meant that I should be political as well as politically active in certain specific ways.

I did not see the gay rights movement demanding "special" privileges or asking for anything that anyone else didn't already have. However, for me, the identity extended well beyond the basic political rights questions (e.g. equal access under the law means equal access under the law, so civial unions or civil marriage licenses should be available to any two people above the age of majority that want to enter into a marriage contract).

Then, I extended the identity politics to identity religion, identity socialization, and identity entertainment. Once I did this, I began to feel the full power of conformity, all within a community that placed high value on diversity. However, the message became clear. You can be diverse, as long as you are diverse the same way we are. In other words, you could be catholic, as long as you were an ex-catholic, or hopelessly guilty about it. You could be middle or high income, as long as you apologized for it or didn't talk about it or show it in any way, since to be financially successful meant that you weren't suffering any discrimination, unlike the other "authentic" queers, who were unfairly kept down and ghettoized by "the mainstream community".

You could live outside the accepted neighborhoods, but you had to drive to the acceptable neighborhoods for any event or to meet friends. You could go to the movies, or out dancing, or out to eat, but if you went to mainstream locations, the lack of enthusiasm for others to go with you was palpable.

Therefore I went to a lot of small shabby theaters, small dingy nightclubs, overpriced no-parking mediocre restaurants, and went to lots of meetings in university meeting rooms, where lots of talk occurred about equality and rights and petitions and parades. During parades in California, I twice got a close-up view of Phelps, who was protesting the parade. One of the parades I was in was tear-gassed right before it was supposed to start. Although we were too far back to tell what was going on, the word about the source of the delay spread down the line quickly enough. This only reinforced my belief that straights (and gays) were inferior in thought, word, and deed.

During this time I wasn't just a member, acting in a way I was expected to act. I did actually help organize a GLBT university group from scratch. I did experience what was undoubtedly two different hate or bias related violent crimes during the organization of this group.

The group that we formed was for social support, and not for political action, but the identity politics at the time created the environment where the assumption existed that we were just a campus version of ACT UP or Queer Nation, and not really there to provide GLBT people a club to join where they could then talk about identity issues, goof off, and eat out as a group. This was in the US South, so the predictable collision between what I tend to think of as fundamentalist christians and our hodgepodge of mostly ex-believers happened on a regular basis. We viewed ourselves as the modern version of lepers, exiled by the "pure" folk and regularly despised by the hysterical religious right.

Although there were several gay-friendly leftist church groups that welcomed people like us, no one I knew admitted to being a member. The prevalence of organized religion in the south is high (smothering, glittering, constant, ubiquitous). It's both resplendant and burdensome.

I think most of us were either too busy studying, or occupied with being hip and cool to really delve into any religious life with any amount of energy. Besides, the message was mostly negative, so why bother when you could insulate yourself from any moral or ethical or bigottedconfrontation by sticking with your own kind in a close-knit community.

We pitied the people in the rural areas just as the larger cities pitied people like us in the smaller ones. The pity flowed like a river, with imagined headwaters in San Francisco, picking up speed in New York and LA. The river churned through the south and finally curled inward to drench the rural midwest in a muddy blanket of pity from all the rest of the land.

"At least I don't live in the midwest", we'd say to each other. "Our city might not be the most progressive, but we have it better here than they do out in the backwards sticks."

The pity turned to horror when Matthew Sheppard was beaten to death in 1998, something universally assumed to be a hate crime within my community.

That more than anything proved in my mind that straight people were one cut above animals.

Of course I made exceptions. When I met a straight person that accepted either the equality of or the obvious superiority of bisexuality, or if they never gave me a reason to doubt them on these assumptions, then we got along famously. People expressing other beliefs were strictly limited to aquaintanceship at best.

In general, I believed that being bisexual in orientation meant the following.

I was more open-minded, accepting, and tolerant of others.
I was intellectually superior because I could handle ambiguity and was unafraid of conflicting ideologies. I could see paths out of most any intractable conflict.
I was a living symbol the shortcomings of monosexuality since I was capable of fully loving all people, not just those of a certain body type.
I was better at negotiation and communication.
I was more forgiving.

At some point, I realized that the cause and effect could not truly be proven. I could easily have become bisexual at some point in my life BECAUSE of a very strong training in communication, tolerance, and empathy, and not necessarily a better person DUE to being bisexual.

I got this message of communication, tolerance, and empathy from several sources and tried to run with it as best I could. But if I couldn't really prove a causality, then my snobbish attitude wasn't really valid.

This created the opportunity to be willing to move beyond identity politics. After meeting many more people that also felt a bit cramped by being defined by (and therefore marketed to, or politicized by) their orientation, it started to feel like a necessary political phase, and not an end condition. After meeting people who simply rejected labels on their orientation, which at the time seemed inexplicable (reject a label that important? when there is so much at stake? are you kidding? Don't you have any idea how bad the situation is! you're abandoning the cause!), I started to really think about the disadvantages as well as the advantages of allowing an identity to be defined by orientation.

What were we all working towards, if not to make sexual orientation largely meaningless as a predictor of value? I could no more argue that being bisexual makes someone better as a person, than the rest of mainstream america could argue that being bisexual makes someone worse as a person, although that attitude is still widely held (referencing the study "Heterosexuals' attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the United States" by Gregory M. Herek)

It would be nice if being bisexual made you a more advanced human. Then the recipe would be clear for a big step forward in human progress. To be honest, I still somewhat ascribe to that belief, but it's now more along the lines of self-affirmation or fuzzy daydream (sort of like my continuing happy dream of operating a small hardware store) instead of a prejudice.

Still to this day, however, I have the most trouble getting along with, understanding, and being friends with straight women. I can count the number of straight women friends that I have had in my life on one hand and not use all five fingers. Is this odd, considering that I'm a raving extrovert, and meet new people all the time? It can't be explained entirely by my hobbies and career, which are mostly male-oriented but not exclusively so. How male-oriented is knitting, sewing, quilting, and rose gardening? How come I can't seem to click with the large numbers of women I meet as a parent? I'm at home with little kids, and go days and days without meeting any men, especially if I just go to the play groups and school functions.

After all these meetings and groups and activities, the only person that I have clicked with in recent memory was someone's husband, mainly because he asked about the GPS receiver on the dash of my truck, and we talked enthusiastically about geocaching and hiking with our kids, and camping, and cars, and bear attacks, and random juvenile humor. His wife joined the conversation only haltingly, and didn't bother to maintain eye contact past the first few seconds.

The answer to the question of why conversations with men and queer women go so much better than with straight women is probably found more in my behaviour than theirs, but even deliberate attempts to include straight women in conversations either one-on-one or with men/boyfriends/husbands/queer women seems to fail regularly. Even if I devote all my attention to the particular assumed-to-be-straight woman, they tend to sidle off or appear uncomfortable or noncommittal.

Maybe the problem is that most straight women seem very boring to me. My assumptions about them have been that they care about their looks and status more than ideas and issues, that they tend to make decisions emotionally first and logically a distant second, that they expect both paternalism and feminism to coexist in their lives with no conflict, they tend to be mean-spirited and competitive about silly things, and that they don't have much of a sense of humor about life in general.

These are really negative assumptions, once you write them down and look at them. It takes effort to bash them back down beneath the noise of life. Negative assumptions create anxiety, which is easily apprehended as hostility, even when the anxious person doesn't really intend to project anything negative at all.

In the continuing process of trying to be an individual, which means you are composed of a lot of different facets of developing and sometimes conflicting identity, confronting assumptions like unsubstantiated feelings of superiority or the belief in negative group qualities about others almost seems like a requirement.

So that's a bit of my personal story on some of my experiences with identity politics and the belief that bisexuality is superior to monosexuality. I wonder what will happen going forward with the political and social scene in the US, when it comes to social science, philosophical and political developments, and identity politics, and whether or not it will continue to affect and shape how and what I think. I look forward to finding out.







Saturday, April 15, 2006

 

Bisexuality Missing in Action as Academic Study Area? Not Exactly, But Then News Wasn't Good

It's been about 10 years since I really dug into gender studies. I'm definitely not an expert in the field. I never took any advanced coursework in it at the college level. I developed a working knowledge of the field through asking professors who teach gender studies courses if I could have a copy of their syllabus and book lists. Then I went and bought these books and talked about the things I learned with whoever would bother to talk back with me. So, given those disclaimers, here's what I recently noticed.

In the mid-1990s, a variety of books were published about bisexuality. The pace seemed, to me, to have slowed in the current decade. So, I thought either something good has happened over the past 10-15 years (bisexuality isn't that big of a deal anymore) or something bad has happened (bisexuality isn't that big of a deal anymore).

"Anything That Moves", a magazine about bisexuality, started publication in 1996 and ended publication in 2004. If magazines start somewhat coterminous with a rise in interest, and hang on for a bit after the decline of a supporting base, then the window seems to follow the rise and either decline or leveling off of books published about the subject.

So, I did an informal survey of books published from 1989 to the present to see if the reality fit my impression. Here's the books I know about, have, or have read and when they were published.

Needless to say, the amount of porn that one gets when trying to find blogs, web pages, or anything on the internet about bisexuality is immense. However, I did my scholarly duty of examining each bit to make sure it wasn't a book.

When Husbands Come Out of the Closet (Haworth Series on Women: No. 1) (Paperback)
by Jean S. Gochros 1989

Bi Any Other Name Edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu 1991
Anthology of coming-out stories.

Closer to Home: Bisexuality & Feminism (Women's Studies/Gay Studies) by Elizabeth Reba Weise 1992
Feminism linked with bisexuality.

Women and Bisexuality by Sue George (Paperback - Aug 1993)

The Other Side of the Closet by Amity Buxton 1994
This is the only book I ever reviewed on amazon.com. It portrays coming out as a portent of an inevitable end to a marriage. There are no positive depictions in this book for gay, lesbian, and bi people. The only way to happiness is divorce.

Dual Attraction : Understanding Bisexuality by by Martin S. Weinberg, Colin J. Williams, Douglas W. Pryor 1995

Vice Versa by Marjorie Garber 1995

Bisexuality and the Challenge to Lesbian Politics by Paula Rust 1995
Biphobia and identify politics. Why bisexuality appears to function as such a divisive issue for the lesbian community

Representing Bisexualities: Subjects and Cultures of Fluid Desire by Donald E. Hall 1996
Thoroughly postmodern, scholarly to the point of, well, it's hard to tell.

Identity without Selfhood : Simone de Beauvoir and Bisexuality by Mariam Fraser 1999

Bisexuality: A Critical Reader Edited by Merl Storr 1999

Bisexuality in the United States by Paula C. Rodriguez Rust 1999
Review of academic work through 1999. Leads off with a quote by Thomas Kuhn, which always warms the cockles of my heart. Quite good.


Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life by Marjorie Garber (Paperback - Feb 2000)
A republication of Vice Versa.

Bisexuality in the Lives of Men: Facts and Fictions by Brett Beemyn and Erich W. Steinman (Paperback - Jan 2001)

A History of Bisexuality (The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society) (Paperback)
by Steven Angelides 2001
Bisexuals are invisible. Duh.

Bisexuality (Pocket Essentials) by Angie Bowie (Paperback - May 2002)
Light fun and frothy.

Bisexual and Gay Husbands: Their Stories, Their Words (Paperback)
by Fritz Klein (Editor), Thomas Schwartz (Editor) 2002

Current Research on Bisexuality (Paperback) 2004
by Ronald C. Fox (Editor) This study examined how bisexually-identified individuals experience cultural attitudes toward bisexuality, how they establish a sense of community for themselves, and how their experience has affected their self-concept."

The Sex And Love Handbook: Polyamory! Bisexuality! Swingers! Spirituality! & Even Monogamy! A Practical Optimistic Relationship Guide by Kris A. Heinlein and Rozz M. Heinlein (Paperback - Jul 31, 2004)
Yes, it really does have all those exclamation marks in the title. This is mainly a book about non-monogamy and lifestyle choices, heavily supported with anecdotes. It's therefore primarily a "self-help" book for enhancing communication between people that have already chosen to be non-monogamous. It seems to include bisexual people as an afterthought. Non-academic.

Is He Straight : A Checklist for Women Who Wonder (Paperback) 2000 and 2004
A book purporting to provide a checklist to make sure you don't marry a gay guy. Not especially positive portrayals of gay or bi men.

Bi America: Myths, Truths, And Struggles Of An Invisible Community by William E. Burleson 2005

Essentially the same definitions established by earlier work, and the same assertion of invisibility. A history of the "movement" is included with the somewhat more useful examination of 13 myths about bisexuality from a focus group.

Bisexuals are easy, indiscriminate about who they have sex with
all bisexuals are swingers
Bisexuals have the best of both worlds, twice as likely to get a date
Bisexuals are unable to commit to either gender
Bisexuals are wives just trying to please their husbands, husbands justifying cheating
Bisexuality is just a phase on the way to being lesbian or gay
Bisexuals are unable to be happy, have low self-esteem, or are mentally ill
Bisexuals are disease carriers
Bisexuals are a very small part of the population
Bisexuals are just trying to maintain het privilege
Bisexuals can't be feminists
Bisexuals just want to be trendy
Bisexuality is a choice


Although the rate of publication seems approximately the same (no real decline like I thought), you can see a trend away from the political towards the academic and the practical. Anthologies are mostly about coming-out stories and are positive, but there are some very negative portrayals in anthologies such as The Other Side of the Closet and some silly checklist "make sure you have a real man" self-help books. However, real progress in the gender/orientation studies arena seemed to be happening.

Then I came across this study.

There was a Journal of Sex Research article in 2002 that concluded "heterosexuals dislike bisexuals more than gays, lesbians and most religous or enthnic groups."

Here is part of the article.

Heterosexuals' attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the United States.

by Gregory M. Herek

Although patterns of bisexual behavior have been documented throughout history and across cultures (e.g., Carrier, 1985; Ford & Beach, 1951; Fox, 1996; Herdt, 1990), bisexual men and women in the United States have gained recognition as a distinct sexual minority only recently. Bisexuals began to form social and political groups in the 1970s (Donaldson, 1995; Weinberg, Williams, & Pryor, 1994), but it was not until the late 1980s that an organized bisexual movement began to achieve widespread visibility in the United States (Herdt, 2001; Paul, 1983; Rust, 1995; Udis-Kessler, 1995). Around the same time, the heterosexual public became more aware of bisexual men as a group at heightened risk for HIV infection (Gelman, 1987). By the early 1990s, bisexuals were becoming an established presence in the organized gay movement, as reflected in discussions of bisexuality in the gay and lesbian press and the addition of "bisexual" to the names of many gay and lesbian organizations and events (Rust, 1995). Throughout the 1990s, the mass media frequently featured images of bisexuals (Hutchins, 1996; Leland, 1995).

Given the culture's relatively recent recognition of "the bisexual" as a category of sexual identity, it is not surprising that empirical research on heterosexuals' attitudes toward bisexuality and bisexual persons is scant. Like lesbians and gay men, bisexual women and men experience hostility, discrimination, and violence because of their sexual orientation (Ochs, 1996; Paul & Nichols, 1988; Weinberg et al., 1994). Unfortunately, the prevalence of such experiences is difficult to gauge because empirical studies of sexual minorities generally have not included bisexuals in their samples or they have combined data from bisexual and homosexual respondents in their published reports.


That's the introduction - skipping down to the definitions of measurement:

Measures

Attitudes Toward Bisexual Men and Women

Attitudes toward bisexual men and women were measured with 101-point feeling thermometers, which have been widely used in survey research (e.g., Herek & Capitanio, 1999b; Sapiro, Rosenstone, Miller, & the National Election Studies, 1998). Higher ratings (maximum = 100) indicate warmer, more favorable feelings toward the target whereas lower ratings (minimum = 0) indicate colder, more negative feelings. The instructions for the feeling thermometers were: "These next questions are about some of the different groups in the United States. I'll read the name of a group and ask you to rate the group on a thermometer that runs from zero (0) to one hundred (100). The higher the number, the warmer or more favorable you feel toward that group. The lower the number, the colder or less favorable you feel. If you feel neither warm nor cold toward them, rate that group a fifty (50)."

Attitudes Toward Other Groups

The thermometers for bisexuals were embedded in a longer series of feeling thermometers that were grouped by topic in the following order: (a) religious groups ("Protestants," "Catholics," "Jews"); (b) gay people ("men who are homosexual," "women who are lesbian or homosexual"); (c) "people who inject illegal drugs"; (d) "people with AIDS"; (e) racial, ethnic, and national groups ("Blacks," "Mexican Americans," "Puerto Ricans," "Whites," "Haitians"); (f) bisexuals ("bisexual men," "bisexual women"); and (g) groups defined by their stance on abortion rights ("people who call themselves pro-life and are opposed to abortion," "people who call themselves pro-choice and support abortion rights").

For the racial-ethnic thermometers, respondents rated their own group after they rated the other racial and ethnic groups. Within the gay, bisexual, and abortion thermometer groups, item order was randomized (e.g., one half of respondents rated "bisexual women" first and the remainder rated "bisexual men" first). Randomization was independent across groups (e.g., the order of thermometers in the gay series was unrelated to the order of the bisexual series). Responses to the bisexual thermometers did not vary by order of administration.


And then finally part of the results section of this study

"Mean thermometer scores for bisexual men and women were 43.4 and 45.8, respectively, and were strongly correlated, r (1273) = .90, p < .001. As shown in Table 1, feelings toward bisexuals were colder (less favorable) than toward any other group except injecting drug users." The sample's generally negative attitudes toward bisexuals were also evident in the number of respondents giving the lowest and highest possible ratings. Compared to most other groups, bisexual men and women received a rating of zero more often and a rating of 100 less often. Approximately 11% of respondents (n = 140) gave the lowest possible thermometer score for bisexual men, and 9% (n = 116) gave a zero rating for bisexual women. All but one of the respondents who gave a zero rating for bisexual women also gave a zero rating for bisexual men.


Whew.

So... whatever "trendiness" is associated with being bisexual, as mentioned in several national news magazines over the previous decade, must not have translated into a positive perception on the part of the surveyed heterosexuals. Despite almost two decades of anthologies of coming out stories, surveys of bisexuality, bisexuality in popular culture, and academic works that are pretty good, the negative waves are still rolling into shore.

I think that the identity politics that lead to the marginalization of bisexuality from the gay community seem to have lessened as a point of discussion. I can understand the reasons, up to a point, for "queer political purity". Dilution of the lobby means less political capital. Bisexuals were "encouraged" to be counted with gays and lesbians. There was a conscious effort to include us in the names of organizations, if not necessarily in the community.

I can see where heterosexual angst about bisexuals may have spread. Being blamed for being the conduit of HIV infection from the "dirty" homosexual population to the "clean" straight population early on in the pandemic wasn't an unusual thing. With the stereotype of being sex-crazed, bisexuals made good boogeymen.

Maybe the overall concept of identity politics with respect to sexual orientation is fading. This might be due to the influence of postmodernism, or might be due to some sort of natural plateau that successful activists have achieved.

The more accepted and normal an identity (gay, straight, bi) is, then the less need for a separate community. The separation, agitation, and activist process eventually makes enough progress to where the people that take action feel that they've "changed" society enough to "rejoin" it. Or, at least, it's "good enough" for them. That doesn't mean that people coming after them, upon evaluating the same society, won't separate, agitate, and activate for further change.

Prejudice to tolerance to respect to full membership in the community is a very long process for certain groups. "Separate but equal" and "Don't ask, don't tell" and "you can keep your kids as long as you don't act in certain ways in front of them" are all stages in that process.

When the subject comes up, I am still told by some that I don't exist, that it's just a phase, or am immediately invited to swinger parties. With the exception of the assumption that I'm a swinger, the other two types of communication have certainly lessened through time.

This last issue - the "hot bi babe" phenomenon (regardless of the total lack of hotness that would be me) is the one thing that seems to be the most persistent. With the increasing awareness of polyamory, non-monogamy, acceptability of the discussion of adultery, swinging, and so on, this seems to be the natural course of many discussions about being bisexual.

The assumption that bisexuals are inherently non-monogamous seems to be a widely held one.

The assumption that bisexuals "have" to have partners of both genders to be "real" bisexuals is as silly as defining all virgins as having no sexual orientation at all until they have sex with someone.

The invisibility issue is quite intractable. Unless an effort it deliberately made, over the course of each friendship, relationship, acquaintanceship, or contact, to express your "identity", then people will simply assume according to whatever context they meet you in. Some people simply don't see their sexual orientation as a part of their identity in any way that requires them to "confess" it or make a point of it. It takes more effort to explain that you're bisexual if you appear to be heterosexual or homosexual by the relationship you're in. Many bisexual people prefer it this way. Not making waves lets you fit in. Fitting in has inherent social value. Why quibble over a silly label?

In the end, all of these issues and the seemingly successful progress, when reflected against the 2003 survey quoted above, seem to indicate that there is still a lot more work ahead for those that want to eliminate the negative stereotypes surrounding bisexuality.




Friday, April 14, 2006

 

A Letter Home

Dear Mentor,

A while back (10 years ago now) you asked me to think about why scientists should study humanities and the arts.

I took this seriously, and have done a lot of reading and writing in the meantime. Im sorry about my progress being really slow, but the more you find out, the more you find out you really have no clue about what you just thought you had figured out, and that the entire thing is a whole lot more interesting than it first appeared.

Anyway, so far this is what I have.

If a scientist or engineer (or any technologist) makes a good faith effort to study the humanities, then they will not end up like, for example, Richard Dawkins. Thats pretty much it. Its really that simple. But, since you've already read this far, and hopefully dont feel like the idea is a waste of your time to read a page or two about, Ill go on.

Reading certain authors, whether they be Richard Dawkins, or Carl Sagan, or any one of a number of those permanently blinded by what-they-think-the-Enlightenment-is types, is like embracing a supermodel.

First, you run your hand down her very reasonable shoulder, past her sculpted upper arm, through the lovely enlightened inner elbow, letting your fingers massage the velvety soft skin of her perfect forearm. You long to hold her hand and run off into the sunset with her, feeling like you can understand your world with her, and that you will live happily ever after, secure in the knowledge that youre better than everyone else because youre a smarty-pants. Your life is truly better because youve been introduced to the supermodel. This is beyond question. Youre head and shoulders above where you were before.

Then, you come abruptly to the bloody stump of an amputation.

All the while the supermodel smiles at you, beckoning you to continue following her past the scientific method to empiricism or rationalism or secular humanism or atheism or pretty-much-any-ism. She reassures you that all is well, that all that mysticism and philosophical liberal arts mumbo-jumbo doesnt mean anything anyway, and is just a bunch of ignorant claptrap.

But she's bleeding to death, there on the couch.

The challenge to scientists is manifold. Scientific people have had a heck of a time this century. To go from the heady days of the 1920s, where science seemed to be on the verge of conquering all problems and would usher in a new modernity, free of toil and disease, to the Depression, where technological unemployment was (rightly or wrongly) blamed for much of the misery, to World War II, where scientists became associated with bombs, and weapons, and entered into an enduring symbiosis with the government, never to truly emerge as an independent class again, through decades of being portrayed as people who only memorize formulas, lack creativity, and have no fun, and finally to the present where they are all of the above and less - to go through all of this perhaps narrows the mind, creates a defensiveness, an over-reliance on empiricism, a replacement of a healthy worldview with nothing more than Occam's Razor as your weapon. Speaking as a technologist, its quite a tempting worldview.

At the very least, an effort made to study the humanities arms the scientist with a tourniquet to go with the razor.

As I remember, for the razor to cut, there must be some real solutions, and there must be some truly extraneous explanations. However, too often, I see surgery where none is required on the part of the scientist. This leads directly to bad science, not to mention the tendency to then liberally apply Occam's Razor to people, their identities, interests, orientations, beliefs, arts, and practices.

This can result in a world that not even the most hardcore scientist would truly want to live in.

Specifically, in the case of bad science - to pathologize something such as culture, homosexuality, religion, certain observable scientific realities, and then hack them off with your razor, to the delight of you or your audience, often results in a delay of discovery.

Who would have predicted that there would be thousands of studies showing the health benefits of religiosity, if everyone had believed Freud or if everyone went along with Dawkins? Surprise, being religious may be hard-wired into our DNA. Religiosity may actually have enhanced our evolutionary progress as humans, instead of hampering it.

The values of certain things wax and wane. There are as many fads in scientific thinking as there are in philosophy, or music, or fashion. If this is appreciated, a scientist becomes that much more powerful.

Scientific progress does not equate with or ensure social progress. It would be so nice if it did, but we can clearly see otherwise. The tendency of many scientists to take credit for the good while denying any culpability for the bad is something that can often be addressed through a study of humanities.

For all the attention paid to a separation between church and state - arguably a separation that has benefited US churches far more than the US government - precious little attention is ever given to a separation between science and state.


Government funds a lot of science. Government uses a lot of science. Money always comes with strings. Governmental motives are, I would argue, largely incompatible with pure research. It's worth asking whether or not tremendous distortions in the achievements of science have occurred with a lack of separation between science and government. Without an appreciation for political and social history, without an introduction to some of the basic philosophical concepts that lead to classical liberalism and the roots of our own Constitution, is it probable that the average scientist would see anything wrong with the current situation that they are ensconced within?

The great power of a scientist or engineer is often the sharpened curiosity and the years (or decades) spent becoming a better problem solver. Due to the realities of the division of labor, sometimes something has to be given up in order to allow the engineer or scientist to be an engineer or scientist. At some point, however, an integration and optimization has to occur at the grand systems level.

This is a fancy way of saying that at some point scientists (I'm speaking both of scientists in general and as a scientific person myself) really need to get a clue about what it means to be human. Otherwise, incurvatus est is their (our) destiny, and they (we) end up doubting every truth but their (our) own.

Hence, you have people like Richard Dawkins, who traversed the sky of his adult life from the rosy dawn of productive and positive pro-science writing to the smoggy sunset of anti-religious polemic, thus wasting years of his life expressing hatred at and for something that he claims is meaningless. Incurvatus est.

This is a great failing of intellect, not a triumph of it. Fundamentalism follows, and then fossilization sets in, only to be ruptured later by some sort of tectonic intellectual groundswell. A study of the humanities won't change the reality of the structure of scientific revolution, but my feeling is that it directly improves both the quality of the scientific work done as well as empowering the scientist to take a more active and more productive role in society.

Yours always,

-Mitch



Wednesday, April 12, 2006

 

Don't make me YAQ - Yet Another Quiz (religious humor)

Section 2: Short Answer

1. Define reality. Give two (2) examples.
2. Using only basic first order logic, develop a rational foundation from which to prove the truth of radical relativism.
3. Analyze the fundamental nature of being. Introduce new distinctions and obfuscatory neologisms.
4. Escape the hermeneutic circle with only fishing line and a Swiss Army knife.
5. Demonstrate the validity of the fallacy of composition.
6. Evaluate the following argument: "If conventionalism is true, it must be true by convention. We do not believe in conventionalism. Therefore, we should change our beliefs because conventionalism is self-evident."
7. Translate Heidegger's Being and Time into Latin and Aramaic. Provide an analysis of the nature of translation which explains why neither translation makes sense.
8. Assume solipsism to be correct. Explain why more people aren't solipsists.
9. Explain the Cartesian distinction between res cogitans and res extensa without going into any intentional states, e.g. thinking of Descartes.
10. List three beliefs held by eliminative materialists.

See the rest of the quiz here.


 

Six Saints of Separation

Most days, the conversations with my dad go something like this (my apologies to anyone offended by any perceived irreverence, please direct your complaint here ).

Roger Thompson says:
Hi!
Michelle says:
hi there! how's it going?
Roger Thompson says:
Tired, long day in meetings, 3 hours, 27 minutes drive home.
Michelle says:
you're home? excellent!
Michelle says:
welcome back
Roger Thompson says:
Thank you, we escaped Jackson.
Roger Thompson says:
What is going on there?
Michelle says:
lots of reading, plenty of nothing else
Roger Thompson says:
Not much to read here! Guess I'll have to do some lawn work tomorrow after work and Rotary.
Michelle says:
yay for rotary! you probably are going to take it easy tonight I bet
Roger Thompson says:
We get lots of church this week.
Michelle says:
we do too
Michelle says:
funny that
Michelle says:
we had palm sunday, holy monday-wednesday, tomorrow is chrism mass, holy thursday, vigil mass, then Good Friday 12-step-program through the stations of the cross, then Good Friday mass at night...
Michelle says:
I forget what saturday is... oh yes! Easter Vigil. The big one. Then Easter Sunday, the relaxed one.
Roger Thompson says:
I meant to say earlier, "Some people get lots of church this week."
Roger Thompson says:
We have it easy.
Michelle says:
you guys are busy too!
Michelle says:
you got some of this stuff
Michelle says:
"catholicism: every day is a feast day!"
Roger Thompson says:
Yes?
Roger Thompson says:
Catholics eat a lot?
Michelle says:
oh yeah
Michelle says:
I think "feast" is a great term...
Roger Thompson says:
We have some sort of dinner tomorrow night....
Michelle says:
some days are triple booked for feasts for various long-dead important people
Michelle says:
yum! food!
Michelle says:
i love feasts
Roger Thompson says:
Just think. Given no removal process for saints, etc., then you will have every day oversubscribed.
Michelle says:
totally. then jp2 added a whole bunch more.
Michelle says:
I heard a rumor that St. Christopher was getting removed because of some sort of problem proving he really lived.
Roger Thompson says:
Obviously a case for class definitions and modular techniques.
Michelle says:
hey! you are right!
Michelle says:
we have saints for both
Roger Thompson says:
Probably a saint for MSM.
Michelle says:
plus, don't forget the PASCAL sacrifice.
Michelle says:
I bet you thought that was something about lambs
Roger Thompson says:
Or doors or something.
Michelle says:
<checks for church survelliance>
Roger Thompson says:
What's that light in the western sky....
Roger Thompson says:
login:
Michelle says:
St. Isidore of Seville is the patron saint of the internet
Roger Thompson says:
ybkm!
Michelle says:
really!
Roger Thompson says:
What about Al Gore?
Michelle says:
he's the Patron Faint of the internet
Roger Thompson says:
snicker
Roger Thompson says:
I had no idea....
Roger Thompson says:
So, who is the patron saint of yagi antennas? Need info before next contest.
Michelle says:
I've always liked how Catherine of Bologna is the patron saint of the liberal arts.
Roger Thompson says:
Better yet, what about lotteries?
Michelle says:
"It's all balony"
Michelle says:
St. Notkar Balbulus is the patron saint of Stammering Children
Michelle says:
I'm not making this up, either
Roger Thompson says:
You must be.
Roger Thompson says:
Is there a saint reference book?
Michelle says:
there are four DIFFERENT patron saints of "disappointing children"
Michelle says:
* Clotilde
* Louise de Marillac
* Matilda
* Monica

Michelle says:
yes, there sure is. catholics create references for everything.
Michelle says:
http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/indexsnt.htm
Michelle says:
see, that's why children are so difficult. They have FOUR different saints on their side
Michelle says:
FOUR!
Roger Thompson says:
I'm overcome.
Michelle says:
wait, how many do "parents" have.
Roger Thompson says:
I was checking migraine sufferers, should be the same.
Michelle says:
Great. Gerard Majella. A man is the patron saint of motherhood.
Michelle says:
I guess this is payback for Mary being the mother of the church.
Roger Thompson says:
Peoria has a saint, but not Mississippi. This could be serious.
Michelle says:
wait! Gerard is just for expectant mothers!
Michelle says:
moms are totally unguarded by patron saints
Michelle says:
unless they're expectant. This is obviously a conspiracy.
Michelle says:
Mississippi is saintless?
Michelle says:
this could definitely be serious
Roger Thompson says:
mothers
Anne
Gerard Majella
Monica

Michelle says:
whew!
Michelle says:
ok 3 against 4, that's more like it
Michelle says:
Is there a patron saint of triangles? maybe that could cover the Mississippi delta.
Roger Thompson says:
accountants
Matthew the Apostle
Roger Thompson says:
Cannot be . Check lawyers.
Michelle says:
ok, that makes sense. make the guy that gave away all earthly possessions to follow some carpenter the patron saint of accountants.
Roger Thompson says:
The record is incomplete as to the receiver of the possessions.....
Michelle says:
PATRON SAINT INDEX TOPIC

attorneys, lawyers, barristers

* Catherine of Alexandria
* Genesius
* Ivo of Kermartin
* Mark the Evangelist
* Raymond of Penyafort
* Thomas More
Michelle says:
SIX!
Roger Thompson says:
Needed.
Michelle says:
and they need all the help they can get
Roger Thompson says:
diocese of San Diego, California
St. Diego

Michelle says:
San Diego... St. Diego - how original.
Michelle says:
Saint Nicholas of Myra - Patron Saint of Pawnbrokers
Michelle says:
Saint Blandina - Patron Saint of those Falsely Accused of Cannibalism
Michelle says:
Saint Drogo and Saint Germaine - Patron Saints of the Really Ugly
Michelle says:
There are 16 Patron Saints for Bachelors. 16.
Roger Thompson says:
No patron for beer.
Michelle says:
Four Patron Saints for those Rejected by Monks and Nuns

Believe it or not, there was once a time in which there was a surplus of people wanting to be monks and nuns. People actually gave up everything they owned, left their families, trudged off to convents or monasteries, and were turned down. Not only that, this apparently happened often enough that there are four patron saints, just for these
Michelle says:
well, there is one for alcoholics
Michelle says:
Saint Monica - Patron Saint of Alcoholics
Michelle says:
Saint Clare of Assisi - Patron Saint of Television
Michelle says:
television sort of goes along with beer
Roger Thompson says:
Well, I hope the tests on this are easy.
Michelle says:
there's only about 5000 saints.
Michelle says:
it was fairly easy to memorize <twitch>
Roger Thompson says:
Yes........I guess.
Roger Thompson says:
I can see there was too much time on someone's hands.
Roger Thompson says:
So who got the nod on the elections?
Michelle says:
ah HA
Michelle says:
PATRON SAINT INDEX TOPIC

brewers

* Amand
* Arnulf of Soissons
* Augustine of Hippo
* Barbara
* Boniface
* Dorothy of Caesarea
* Florian
* Lawrence
* Luke the Apostle
* Medard
* Nicholas of Myra
* Wenceslas

Michelle says:
12!
Michelle says:
two six-packs of patron saints for BREWING!
Michelle says:
no one won a plurality in the election.
Roger Thompson says:
Luke?
Michelle says:
so, we have a run-off election on June 6th between the top demopub and the top republicrat.
Michelle says:
Now, this election will elect someone for the remaining 7 months of Duke's term.
Michelle says:
it will also be the same election for the next term.
Roger Thompson says:
So the winner could get two boats?
Michelle says:
so we're electing the replacement, and the replacement for the replacement, in the same election, on the same day.
Michelle says:
yes! the winner could get TWO boats!
Michelle says:
plus a 7-month headstart on the antiques
Roger Thompson says:
Only in California.
Michelle says:
only here!
Michelle says:
Gabriel the Archangel is the patron saint of radio
Roger Thompson says:
Well, Duke had airplanes, too.
Michelle says:
maybe save that for the third term
Roger Thompson says:
I shall name my next radio computer Gabriel.
Michelle says:
St. Roch is the patron saint of dogs
Michelle says:
St. Patrick is the patron saint of engineers. Patrick Gabriel has a nice ring to it
Roger Thompson says:
Yes.
Michelle says:
St. Zita is the patron saint of lost keys
Michelle says:
Ken is quite familiar with her.
Roger Thompson says:
Hattie, at the doggie day camp tonight, wishes for a patron.
Roger Thompson says:
So what about the pasta?
Michelle says:
St. Amand is for vintners. Apparently, they need a little extra help over and above the 12 brewer saints.
Roger Thompson says:
Isn't zita a pasta?
Michelle says:
I think it is!!
Michelle says:
the keys are obviously related to the pasta
Roger Thompson says:
Keys lost in attempt to recover lost pasta...
Michelle says:
ok here's a good combo
Roger Thompson says:
Well, perhaps we should return to discussions of immigration or national defense.
Michelle says:
St. Elmo is the patron saint of ammunition, explosive workers, ordnance, sailors, women in labor
Michelle says:
somehow, all of these things go together...
Roger Thompson says:
Hmmm.
Roger Thompson says:
Is this a joke book?
Michelle says:
nope!
Michelle says:
all real
Michelle says:
St. Genevieve is the patron saint of both paris AND disasters.
Roger Thompson says:
Same.
Roger Thompson says:
Makes perfect sense.
Michelle says:
it does make a strange sort of sense!
Michelle says:
St. Vitus is the patron saint of comedians, dancers, and epilepsy
Michelle says:
St. Willirbrord is the patron saint of epilepsy, Netherlands
Michelle says:
thus linking dancing with the Netherlands
Michelle says:
and comedy
Michelle says:
this is like the six saints of separation

And so we bid each other good night.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

 

Iraq War Costs Too Much and is Fundamentally Wrong

The Iraq war will have cost $315 billion by September 30, 2006, the end of fiscal year 2006.

From
http://www.whitehouse.gov/homeland/book/sect5.pdf

"The United States spends roughly $100 billion per year on homeland security. This includes the services of federal, state, and local law enforcement and emergency services but excludes most spending for the armed forces. The cost is great, and we will strive to minimize the sacrifices asked of Americans, but as a Nation we will spend whatever is necessary to secure the homeland.

In recent years, the federal government has allocated considerable resources to homeland security. Including supplemental funding, the federal budget allocated $17 billion to homeland security in Fiscal Year 2001. This amount increased to $29 billion in Fiscal Year 2002. In Fiscal Year 2003, the President budgeted $38 billion for homeland security activities. These budget allocations must be viewed as down payments to cover the most immediate security vulnerabilities."


2006 budget proposal for DHS is $41 billion.

Spending "whatever is necesary to secure the homeland" is exactly the sort of thinking a traditional Republican opposes. "Whatever is necessary" is hardly ever "what is truly needed".

Spending "Whatever is necessary to educate our children" or spending "whatever is necessary to defeat poverty" or spending "whatever is necessary to win the war on drugs" or spending "whatever is necessary to defeat the North Vietnamese" should all sound really familiar by now. All have resulted in massive cost overruns, high and continuing tax burdens, extensive collateral damage, earmarking and interest-group hijacking, and have delivered minimal positive effects. Good intentions are really difficult to implement correctly when it's all someone else's money.

In reality, there is no way to spend ourselves into security. It's a charade of security addiction. In fact, real security improvements can be purchased with a whole lot less money that what we're spending to continue to occupy Iraq.

From
http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2004/09/08_402.html

Bush administration officials used to say that the war on terrorism had to be fought "in Baghdad, not Boston." You don't hear that line much anymore, yet it's clearly reflected in the administration's spending priorities. The war in Iraq so far has cost $150 billion; for the Department of Homeland Security, the administration has allocated $27 billion this year, with the bulk of that going to the routine operations of agencies like the Customs Service. When it comes to new programs to make planes, trains, ports, and urban centers safer, there's precious little left over—which is why a range of critics, from local firefighters to Republican members of Congress, have lambasted Bush for shortchanging the nation's true homeland security needs. Below, a sample of those needs, along with Bush's budget allocations, compared with the time it takes to burn through the same amount in Iraq.

Amount needed for basic security upgrades for subway and commuter trains in large cities: $6 BILLION
(Iraq spending equivalent: 20 days)

Bush budget allocation for train security: $100 MILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 8 hours)

Amount needed to equip all U.S. airports with machines that screen baggage for explosives: $3 BILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 10 days)

Bush budget allocation for baggage-screening machines: $400 MILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 32 hours)

Amount needed for security upgrades at 361 U.S. ports: $1.1 BILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 4 days)

Bush budget allocation for port security: $210 MILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 17 hours)

Amount needed to buy radiation portals for U.S. ports to detect dirty bombs in cargo: $290 MILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 23 hours)

Bush budget allocation for radiation portals: $43 MILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 3 hours)

Amount needed to help local firefighters preparefor terrorist attacks: $36.8 BILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 122 days)

Bush budget allocation for firefighter grants: $500 MILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 40 hours)

Amount needed to get local emergency medical crews ready for terrorist atttacks: $1.4 BILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 5 days)

Bush budget allocation for emergency medical training grants prior to eliminating program altogether: $50 MILLION
(Iraq equivalent: 4 hours)

Sources:

All Bush allocation figures taken from administration estimates of FY 2005 budget

Subway and rail security upgrades
Amount needed: Statement by William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, 5/20/04

Baggage screening
Amount needed: Government Accountability Office, "Aviation Security: Challenges Exist in Stabilizing and Enhancing Passenger and Baggage Screening Operations" [PDF], 2/12/04, p. 28

Port security upgrades
American Association of Port Authorities, "AAPA Concerned FY '05 Lacks Funds For Port Facility Security", 2/2/04

Radiation portals
Amount needed: Calculation based on figures from House Committee on Appropriations (Total cost of radiation portals: $495.5 million. Amount already spent: $205.5 million. Remaining amount: $290 million)

Firefighter preparedness
Amount needed: Council on Foreign Relations, "Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Underprepared", p. 34

Emergency medical preparedness
Amount needed: Council on Foreign Relations, "Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Underprepared", p. 37



Being categorically opposed to pre-emptive laws - let alone pre-emptive war - it should be no surprise to anyone that I completely oppose the occupation of Iraq, which was presented by the Bush Administration as a pre-emptive war. This unmitigated disaster of a decision will have long-term consequences for the nation, none of which can be easily rectified.

Yes, some good has been done in the process. However, from where I sit, the good does not and can not balance out the bad. It's not simply that the ends doesn't justify the means, it's the fact that the means naturally causes more evil than the good that happens to come from the means. Pre-emptive wars never liberate, they only enslave. They enslave the warring nation to a degree that is equal to or greater than the resulting enslavement of a population to a foreign occupier. People simply don't like being occupied, regardless of the reason. Occupation never results in a society flourishing. To expect otherwise is be in the grip of a special kind of egoistic denial.

Perhaps, relatively improbably, democracy will take root in Iraq and then spread around to other nation-states in the region. Recently, The Economist magazine declared this to be about the only thing that Bush got right in Iraq - the need for democracy in the Middle East as a way of solving global tension and conflict.

This would require a heretofore unknown process of externally forced culture-to-government creation.

Democracy at gunpoint has worked in what other situation? None that I can find. In fact, there are plenty of examples of failure of trying to force democracy along with violence.

The war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, interventions in Panama, Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia, and the invasion of Grenada are all sobering examples of what happens when you try to either institute democracy by force, or pre-empt another nation's politics. In the case of each of these examples, the "democracy excuse" was in hindsight either remarkably and unjustifiably idealistic, or a relatively weak public relations excuse for military action. If there is a situation where a pre-emptive war created a democratic system of government where it didn't exist before, I'd like to know about it.

From
http://www.cato.org/dailys/11-30-03.html

"British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who declared in his famous 1946 Iron Curtain speech that "we must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man," but that "it is not our duty ... to interfere forcibly in the internal affairs of countries."

Churchill urged the Free World to lead by principled example, not to impose such principles by force; adopting the latter course risks subverting these principles from within, and thus eroding the foundations of our own democracy as we propose to build new democratic foundations abroad. The reality is that the ingredients for successful democracy are found in domestic political kitchens. Democracy is a dish that Iraqis and others throughout the Middle East must prepare for themselves."


This war costs too much and is fundamentally wrong.






Sunday, April 09, 2006

 

Is Economic Growth Bad?

Is Economic Growth Bad?

No. But if economic growth depends on the conversion of natural resources through a manufacturing process into products that are then used by people or businesses, and if those natural resources are finite, then the faster we grow, the sooner we run out.

Since there is no end-state, no winning condition, of capitalism, and since there are conditions where productivity gains can ratchet upwards without much in the way of control, it would make sense to actually start thinking about what "winning" or "success" in capitalism means.

A long list of people have tried to answer this question. Everyone's version of a sucessful life is different. Behaviour of people in aggregate, however, shows little to no possibility of ending the consumerism without some sort of external or internal intervention. So, what to do?

If defined only in relative terms (standard of living compared to a baseline, or how much more money you make than average) then the ratcheting continues unabated. If everyone strives to make more money than average, and then succeeds, then inflation follows. Everyone would like more for less.Capitalism very often delivers exactly that - more for less.

The barbed hooks hidden in the velvet pillow are the depletion of finite resources, exploitation of the less powerful leading to amazing amounts of wealth disparity, and epic greed crimes.

What about a separation of business and state? A real one, modeled after the separation of church and state, which has served both spheres quite well in the US. Would it work?


 

Evolution Debate as Red Herring?

My take on the creation science debate being a red herring is actually not entirely original. I’ve long considered the creation vs. evolution debate it to be a solved legal problem that requires maintenance, sort of like weeding a garden after you’ve done all the work planning, and planting, and pruning. What do you do when you have weeds? You pull them, of course.

However, once you start pulling up these particular weeds in the garden you realize that the weed is actually not the problem.

Being from a state with quite the history of dealing with the controversy (Arkansas) is both an advantage and a disadvantage here.

It’s a disadvantage because it can polarize to the point of paralysis and the extremists get most of the press. The debate monopolizes your attention to the point that you think the debate is the issue. Constantly being made fun of by people from other states or regions gets old fast. You can start to fall for the inferiority complex. You begin to self-flagellate. You go on crusades. You get taken advantage of, which is what this essay ends up being about.

It’s an advantage because of the opportunity, if you made the effort, of being able to observe something truly devious, elegant, and deceptively complex in practice. And you also get to practice debating. A lot.

I’m going to start with a political assertion from Thomas Frank (“What’s the Matter with Kansas”). This expands the creation science debate by quite a bit. Instead of it being simply a conflict of ideology (“defend science against those in-denial bible-thumpers!” or “defend our faith from the heresy of the dogma of atheism!”), the debate can be explained as a conflict that exploits the emotions of both sides for tremendous political capital, which is then spent in an entirely different direction. Frank identifies three issues that are most likely to be used in this manner. Abortion, Homosexuality, and Evolution. I’d add Flag Burning and English as the Official Language as supporting case members.

The recipe for Applied Republicanism that follows is from the point of view that capitalism is the most important activity that government can support, and that capitalism solves all problems. Capitalism and free markets are more efficient for solving social problems than government. Government is the problem, not the solution, unless you are rich, and then it is the solution.

People that aren’t participating in capitalism are not generally good consumers. People that aren’t good consumers are not patriotic because they are not supporting capitalism. People that are not patriotic are dangerous. Dangerous people must be neutralized.

This is the dominant view of the Republican Party in America. There are exceptions and modifications to this general attitude, e.g. moderate Republicans that understand regulation of industry is of huge social value. However, a tenet of the Republican faith is the primacy of capitalism. Capitalism made the country great. Opposing capitalism, in whole or in part, means you oppose Republicans. Or worse, you’re defined as opposing Freedom.

“In the book Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman presents his view of the proper role of competitive capitalism - the organization of the bulk of economic activity through private enterprise operating in a free market - as both a device for achieving economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom.” -from the Book jacket.

The equation of free markets to democracy and national security is clear, even from the most deliberately inoffensive, blandest of the bland document in politics. The Party Platform.

2004 Republican Party Platform excerpts:

“Republicans applaud President Bush for launching groundbreaking efforts to address the needs and hopes of the world’s poor, cutting across traditional boundaries to focus on what works. We agree with President Bush that the United States must use this moment of opportunity to extend the benefits of freedom across the globe – by actively working to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.”

“Republicans know that a strong world economy enhances our national security by advancing prosperity and freedom in the rest of the world. Economic growth supported by free trade and free markets creates new jobs and higher incomes. It allows people to lift their lives out of poverty, spurs economic and legal reform, enhances the fight against corruption, and reinforces the habits of liberty.”

“Republicans support efforts by the President, Vice President, and Republican Congress to ensure that America takes the side of reformers who are committed to democratic change. We support doubling the budget for the National Endowment for Democracy and focusing its new work on bringing free elections, free markets, free speech, and free labor unions to the Middle East. We support the President’s expansion of America’s public diplomacy efforts, including the use of radio and television to broadcast uncensored information and a message of tolerance in Arabic and Persian to tens of millions of people.”


See also “The Anti-Capitalism Virus” for a particularly strong screed.
http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA536AntiCapitalism.html

Is freedom necessarily dependent on free markets? Perhaps, in certain cases, it can be a powerful tool for enabling freedoms. However, the application is far from universal. In other words, not every culture, not every country, and not even our own country derives universal freedom from free markets.

Free markets (especially unregulated ones but even regulated ones in a world with non-homogenous ethical behaviour) can indeed reduce freedoms and reduce standards of living for some while ensuring freedom and a higher standard of living for others. Free markets require certain things in order for them to not be destructive. The original concept of Capitalism is based on progress, defined as the production of wealth through economic growth. Economic growth has no end state. Government should support capitalism because the creation of wealth is assumed to benefit all citizens, and this benefit is assumed to continue linearly with wealth creation.

The person to elucidate this the best was the person most often credited with the codification of capitalist ideas, Adam Smith (who wrote Wealth of Nations).

Is the US Republican version of free-market Capitalism entirely authentic? To me, Republicans seem to currently champion a flavor of capitalism that benefits the most powerful entities in the country at the expense of both the worker and the environment. Instead of benefiting all, we clearly have a problem with government benefiting particular groups at the expense of others. In the case of the environment, this type of wealth creation harms everyone, even the very wealthiest. While the very wealthy can delay drinking the same water, breathing the same air, and suffering health effects from pollution and climate change that the “rest of us” suffer from, there isn’t enough money in the world to put off the inevitable economic damage from degenerated capitalism, which I’ll call consumerism.

Republicans Don't Understand Capitalism
http://www.buzzflash.com/contributors/04/11/con04501.html

“It's clear that Bush's idea of "capitalism" consists of socialism for the rich, and brutal, dog-eat-dog capitalism for the rest of us. As a result, in Bush's America, U.S. corporations pocket over $300 billion a year in corporate welfare. And over 60 percent of corporations pay zero income taxes.
Meanwhile, small mom-and-pop businesses across the land are struggling to compete with the likes of corporate-welfare-collecting giants like Wal-Mart. As a result, Wal-Mart's success in crushing its smaller rivals has nothing to do with "the free market" or "capitalism."

Republicans know nothing about capitalism. And the fact that they control all the levers of power in this country at the moment is worrying for anyone who's concerned about America's economic health.”


The wealthy are a minority. Most people do not benefit from the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer or the middle class declining in relative wealth and number. Claiming that the poorest of the poor are better off now than hundreds of years ago is not real progress. It might even be true, but is not a justification for the disparity in economic progress across society, or the damage incurred so that a few can have most.

Obviously, Capitalist Republicans controlling all levers in the country requires a large number of people voting against their economic self-interest.

These large numbers of ordinary people that voted in their economic self-interest (gee, no thanks, I don’t want my standard of living lowered or environment trashed to make a few people even wealthier, but thanks anyway) kept the Capitalist Republicans at bay, by the way, for decades.

Democrats firmly controlled Congress and routinely, if not entirely effectively, identified with and represented the much more numerous workers rather than the much more prosperous owners.

So, how do you get people to vote against their economic self-interest? After all, with all that time on their hands, and Democrats becoming used to the status quo, you have a lot of time to come up with political strategies. The winner? Classic bait and switch.

1. Deliberately choose an emotional, already-lost culture war issue. Don’t pick a real issue. If you do, then the electorate will expect progress to be made on it once you are in office. The issue selected has to be a loser, previously settled, but emotionally powerful, and complex enough to generate “new” developments that will soak up the energies of people that would otherwise be standing in the way of capitalism.

2. Fuel it with funding, prop it up with legal teams, and encourage activity by leveraging particular (usually protestant literalist) religious beliefs at the expense of others (catholic, Unitarian, Judaic, eastern, other).

3. Wait for Defenders of the Ideological Faith to show up and protest. They will find it irresistible to swoop in and fight a can’t-lose battle like going to bat for evolution against intelligent design. This is so clearly a separation of church and state issue that it seems like a waste of time. But, the feeling of being obligated to defend what is clearly the right path is just too strong to resist.

4. Denigrate the Defenders of the Ideological Faith as “liberal elite”. They are the perfect foil.

5. Capitalize on the latent anti-intellectual bias that links “liberal” with “intellectual”.
Since the “liberal elite” and “intellectuals” are poorly defined but ubiquitous and possessing of a negative connotation in political language, and it’s been this way for quite a while, otherwise moderate voters begin to trend towards the right. And they keep going to the right.

6. Win elections due to the fact that you’ve successfully captured moderates.

7. Get back to work promoting capitalism, especially the military-industrial complex, because national defense is a priority.

8. Dismantle regulatory laws that impede capitalism.


What should be an obvious question is where American anti-intellectualism comes from. Especially since anti-intellectualism allows the recipe to work so well against the scientists defending evolution.

The golden age of the social status of science and scientists in the United States was the 1920s. Tennessee vs. John Scopes (aka The Scopes Monkey Trial) occurred in 1925. To call the trial anything but a circus in atmosphere would be the understatement of the century. Public attention was riveted, famous people traveled from far away to participate. It was cast as a battle royale between the forces of the archaic and the ignorantly hidebound, and the forces of progress and the scientifically knowledgeable.

From
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/evolut.htm

“The Scopes Trial had its origins in a conspiracy at Fred Robinson's drugstore in Dayton. George Rappalyea, a 31-year-old transplanted New Yorker and local coal company manager, arrived at the drugstore with a copy of a paper containing an American Civil Liberties Union announcement that it was willing to offer its services to anyone challenging the new Tennessee anti-evolution statute. Rappalyea, a modernist Methodist with contempt for the new law, argued to other town leaders that a trial would be a way of putting Dayton on the map. Listening to Rappalyea, the others--including School Superintendent Walter White--became convinced that publicity generated by a controversial trial might help their town, whose population had fallen from 3,000 in the 1890's to 1,800 in 1925.

The conspirators summoned John Scopes, a twenty-four-year old general science teacher and part-time football coach, to the drugstore. As Scopes later described the meeting, Rappalyea said, "John, we've been arguing and I said nobody could teach biology without teaching evolution." Scopes agreed. "That's right," he said, pulling a copy of Hunter's Civic Biology--the state-approved textbook--from one of the shelves of the drugstore (the store also sold school textbooks). "You've been teaching 'em this book?" Rappalyea asked. Scopes replied that while filling in for the regular biology teacher during an illness, he had assigned readings on evolution from the book for review purposes. "Then you've been violating the law," Rappalyea concluded. "Would you be willing to stand for a test case?" he asked. Scopes agreed. He later explained his decision: "the best time to scotch the snake is when it starts to wiggle." Herbert and Sue Hicks, two local attorneys and friends of Scopes, agreed to prosecute.”



The trial opened with drama. The transcript is on the web, of course. After opening statements, the defense moved to cancel the indictment on both state and federal constitutional grounds. The goal was not to win, but rather to get the issue before a higher court, like the U.S. Supreme Court that would once and for all clearly state that laws censoring the teaching of evolution were flatly unconstitutional.

At the end of the trial, Darrow, representing John Scopes, asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty in order that the case might be appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Under Tennessee law, Bryan was thereby denied the opportunity to deliver a closing speech he had labored over for weeks. The jury complied with Darrow's request, and Judge Raulston fined him $100.

A year later, the Tennessee Supreme Court did indeed reverse the decision. However, it was over a technicality regarding who set the fine!

The case was not sent back for further action. Instead, the Tennessee Supreme Court dismissed the case and stated "Nothing is to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case." Bummer.

Forty years after the trial, John Scopes wrote an essay about his impressions of it all. Here is the end of his essay. The writing of the essay occurred at about the same time of Epperson v. Arkansas - Supreme Court of the United States (1968), which did indeed settle the constitutionality questions that the Scopes trial was aiming for.

“The defense had hoped to call a number of scientists as witnesses. They were to testify in regard to the erroneous belief that there was an irreconcilable conflict between the theory of evolution and the Genesis account.

One scientist made it to the stand, but Judge Raulston shortly ruled that scientific testimony was not admissible. I think that was a defeat for us, but only in the terms of our legal goals. The material sent out from Dayton through the news media included the interviews and the affidavits of the scientific witnesses; these made a tremendous impact on the science education of the country and the world.

A second accomplishment was the limiting of the passing of anti-evolution bills in other states. This was achieved through the activities of six groups of people; the defense team and their aids who organized and presented our case; scientists; theologians; educators who worked then and are continuing to work for a better concept of education and the freedom of inquiry; the large numbers of ordinary citizens who thought or were capable of learning to think by the simple process of reasoning from cause to effect; and last, buy by no means least, the news media. The efforts of these groups, I think were responsible for limiting the passing of anti-evolution bills to only two additional states, Mississippi and Arkansas.

The trial created a better climate for understanding divergent points of view. The intermingling of a great number of people from all over our country (where did they find accommodations?) and the news gathered and sent out by reporters from the North, East, South, and West lowered to some extent the barriers of misunderstanding that separated the different sections of our country. By no means were these barriers demolished but the top rails were removed or splintered.

The trial marked a beginning of the development of a national consciousness of the roles played by religion, science, and education. I think the importance of communicating the thinking of the professionals in these fields to the general public was first generally appreciated during and immediately after the trial.

I believe that the Dayton trial marked the beginning of the decline of fundamentalism. Each year—as the result of someone’s efforts to better interpret what the defense was trying to do—more and more people are reached. This, in conjunction with the labor of scientists, educators, ministers and with the dissemination of the results of their efforts through books and news media, has retarded the spread of fundamentalism.

But most importantly, I feel that restrictive legislation on academic freedom is forever a thing of the past, that religion and science may now address one another in an atmosphere of mutual respect and of a common quest for truth. I like to think that the Dayton trial had some part in bringing to birth this new era.

I have had a continuing interest in the issues of the trial but never as a participant. Many times I have been asked why I have had no further role to play relative to the issues—even why I did not at least capitalize on my publicity and reap the monetary harvest that was close at hand. Perhaps my best answer is to paraphrase Calvin Coolidge’s “I do not choose to run”, for me it would be, “I did not choose to do so.”

Thus, 1926 was most likely the year of greatest positive momentum for science.

However, the first few signs of a developing economic disaster were being reported. The phrase “technological unemployment” and evaluations of the rate of it happening. Technological unemployment at this time meant that machines were replacing men. This by itself is not bad. Machines free us from dangerous, repetitive, dirty work and allow great increases in productivity.

However, the rate of technological unemployment had never been this high, for this long, and in this many industries.

As many as 200,000 workers a year are replaced by automatic or semi-automatic machinery during the decade, and it wasn’t just one field, it was almost all fields, except those that couldn’t be easily automated. Like, scientists and engineers.

In the pre-computer era, anyone that did “computer” work, or was a knowledge worker, was largely immune. The good times rolled for the capitalists at the top of the food chain, who directly and hugely benefited from the productivity gains, and the people coming up with the ideas for the machines. Protests from the proletariat were ignored, even as creative and highly-skilled people were summarily thrown out of work on an ever-widening basis.

Not even farming, the ultimate generalist activity, was immune from mechanization.

From
"Recent Social Trends," by O. E. Baker of the United States Department of Agriculture:

“The five years from 1922 to 1926 [he writes] are in several ways the most remarkable in the history of American agriculture. Agricultural production increased about 27 per cent, while crop acreage remained practically stationary and labor engaged in agriculture declined.”


The causes of the Depression are of course several and complicated. However, the primary reason most often given is due to grossly inequal distribution of wealth throughout the 1920's followed by stock market speculation.

From The Technological Unemployment and Structural Unemployment Debates by Gregory R. Woirol

From 1923 to 1929, corporate profits increased 62%, this wealth went mostly to upper brackets. Tax policies of government favored wealthy; workers real income increased by 11%, and most of this increase in purchasing power was caused by the lowered price of food--paid for by poverty of farmers. The top 5% of wealthy took one third of all increased wealth.

A major reason for this large and growing gap between the rich and the working-class person was the afore-mentioned increase in productivity that allowed manufacturing to dramatically increase output.

Scientists both took credit and allowed credit to be given to them, as this increased output was directly enabled by huge technological advancements. A cursory reading of any archived newspaper or magazine of the decade reveals article after article reflecting this positive glow.

The promise of science and technology was ubiquitous in advertisements, articles, editorials, dinner-table conversations, and in real life. Real changes were taking place and they were not just modernizations. The promise of science, as the swirl around the Scopes Trial shows, was of a new golden era enabled by science.

The absolute enormity of the unemployment during the 1930s soon turned the aura of science from gold to lead, in a weird sort of anti-alchemical process. Rapidly, even scientists were out of work. Shocked, they had to form or join relief societies of their own, or take whatever work they could find. A 33% unemployment rate for engineers and scientists was not unusual.

The accusation that technological unemployment, foisted on the country by scientists, was made by many people, at many levels. Scientists defended themselves publicly, often denying any negative effects from scientific advancements, and generally sticking to a very unapologetic stance. Many of the speeches at the time made from conventions and meetings are excerpted in “Beyond the Laboratory” by Peter Kuznick, as well as in The New Republic’s archives, and archives of other newspapers. There was an active science media service at the time that promoted scientific news.

Debates definitely raged. Whether true or not, there was definitely a shift in public opinion concerning science and technology. On the heels of (or perhaps solving) the Great Depression, came World War II.

Scientists were gainfully employed to make better weapons. The government hired wholesale the services of thousands of scientists and engineers who, virtually to a man, went along with the idea of making and dropping an atomic bomb on Japan, or whatever else they were tasked with doing.

The resulting atomic age was not an optimistic one, nor did the social status or trust in science return to anything like the pre-war, pre-depression era. There was a stigma associated with science. My grandmother, for example, doesn’t trust scientists because she doesn’t believe that they care about the results of their work. Hers is not an unusual sentiment. She also is not a fan of space travel or astronomy due to the space race with Russia that had definite threatening military overtones. People don’t like feeling threatened.

Reading through many memoirs of the many famous wartime scientists, you get a feel for the nostalgia of a simpler time, when they were more respected, less “used”, and had a clearer conscience.

Scientists, through Roosevelt’s adroit playing of the Blue Ribbon Panel tactic and wartime activities, were now cemented to the government. In the 1920s, industry and academia employed them. Industry rapidly figured out that pure science was a relative waste of time and started paying only for targeted research, but in a post-war US, things would only get worse.

One of the only standouts of pure research was Bell Labs, for a time. The existence of this group was most likely due to the luxury that a monopoly has, instead of any altruistic industrial reasoning.

Therefore, it’s my feeling that the anti-intellectualism is really anti-scientism leftover from the Depression and WWII, and it’s due to the perception that scientific optimism is naïve, and that scientists are arrogant about their work being primarily good. The application of knowledge can never be assumed to be good by its discoverers. In fact, the scientist doesn’t have much control over what other people do at all with their findings.

The scientist may not be able to imagine how their particular chemistry oddity ends up – they may assume it has application as a new medication that dramatically improves the very ill, but instead it ends up being used in a weapon that renders soldiers permanently blind. Who gets the blame? Should scientists deny all culpability or not?

The pendulum definitely swung against science for a while. It didn’t help much for the major representatives of science to publicly ask for special government assistance at the start of the Depression because they were somehow more special than others. Nor did it help for them to publicly deny any responsibility for technological unemployment right after claiming so much credit for technological advancements. As is the case in most of reality, it is probably somewhere in between. You cannot eat your cake and have it too. Either share the blame, or share the credit.

Hence, American anti-scientism or anti-intellectualism, ripe for the picking, as it’s filtered through several decades of political and social progress, and the hopes that John Scopes expressed are again a bit delayed by opportunism.

The moral of the story according to Michelle? Resist the temptation to be played like a drum. You may not simply be pulling weeds. You may be playing a part scripted for you by people much more manipulative than you’d expect. Play your part in civil discourse and support efforts to get the issue resolved in court. Other than that, how about fixing American capitalism?






This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?