21 Jun 2012

Mystery Of The Missing Clocks

From a thought-provoking blog on Truth by David Edwards of Media Lens:
"The truth peeks out at us from the most unexpected places. It can be seen, for example, in the empty spaces where one might otherwise hope to find a clock in shops. The average retailer doesn’t approve of customers clock-watching - they might realise they have something more important to do and cut short their shopping trips."

Edwards goes on to explore the importance of self-awareness and meditation later in the Cogitation, a refreshingly spiritual tack in what is normally an entirely political blog.  Or maybe it's just an example of how the personal is political.

Elsewhere Edwards refers to Chomsky's point that Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 would not have become literary classics if they'd criticised our society, rather than that 'reviled enemy', the Soviet Union. On the subject of literary classics, I'm just re-reading Jack London's White Fang and The Call Of The Wild in a Penguin Popular Classics edition which features a two-page bio of the author that makes no mention of his revolutionary socialist politics nor his third most important novel, The Iron Heel. That is the kind of airbrushing out of history that Chomsky and Edwards are talking about.

15 Jun 2012

FoE UK abandoning opposition to nuclear power?

Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees, has published a revelation that Friends of the Earth is seriously considering abandoning its decades-long opposition to nuclear power, according to FoE’s head of policy, science and research Mike Childs. Now that George Monbiot and James Lovelock have gone pro-nuclear, I was worried that this was another anti-nuclear stalwart doing an about-face. On closer reading, however, the interview does not reveal anything like what Lynas claims. Moreover, on the same day, FoE announced that Britain’s energy future lies in renewables and energy saving, not nuclear power.

Lynas was high in my estimation, as I'd just read Six Degrees, and found it readable and well-argued, well-informed but not too technical. Not any more.

Still, technical confusion abounds: comments on Lynas' blog and elsewhere refer to Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) technology and how it may provide a solution to the problem of existing nuclear waste.

5 Jun 2012

Cultural and atmospheric pressure

Culture is a collective force that presses down on the individual from all sides. In that way it is like atmospheric pressure. The key features of atmospheric pressure that I want to compare with cultural pressure are that it is very heavy but you don’t notice it and that it is crucial to life. The key contrast is that cultural pressure is entirely man-made and can therefore be changed.

  1. Atmospheric pressure is 15 pounds per square inch at sea level but as it’s just normal you don’t notice it. But you’d soon notice if you had to carry a few extra 15lb weights on your back.
  2. Atmospheric pressure is crucial to life because without it the air is too thin to breathe.  On Mount Everest, for example, which is some 8,000 metres above sea level, mountaineers need bottled oxygen or they would asphyxiate.
  3. Human culture goes back thousands or maybe millions of years to the dawn of human evolution, some one million to five million years ago. It weighs a ton, but as it is as normal as the air your breathe, you hardly notice it.
  4. Like atmospheric pressure, human culture is crucial. Without the accumulated knowledge and culture of our billions of ancestors we couldn’t farm, cook or even speak. We’d barely know what to eat as our instincts are almost defunct.
But here’s the rub. Although necessary our culture is oppressive.  It embodies features like sexism, racism and militarism, which contribute to human suffering. It is only when you start thinking critically about it that you notice how hard it bears down and how hard it is to shift it. In free-thinking Western societies it appears to have no resistance – like air at sea-level – yet it bears down relentlessly. It is man-made so it can be changed. The first step is to acknowledge it is there, rather than ignore it, as we tend to do with atmospheric pressure.

1 Jun 2012

Failed UN response in Syria

Johan Galtung, interviewed on DemocracyNow! 17 April 2012, suggests the way to peace in Syria is to establish a federation government, with peacekeeping forces from Islamic countries. This is one of the most helpful commentaries on Syria that I've heard. (I'm swayed by Johan Galtung's reputation as a principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies.) What Johan Galtung is saying here is that if the UN removes Assad and has nothing to offer instead but the probable dictatorship of the Sunni majority, the UN won’t get a ceasefire. 

JOHAN GALTUNG: With due respect for Kofi Annan, I think the [U.N. Security Council is] putting the cart before the horse. … [Syria] is run by an Alawite Shia dictatorship, headed by Assad, father and son. It’s a dictatorship. Introduce democracy in that one and let a Sunni majority have the power, it will be a majority dictatorship. The Shias are afraid of it. The Jews are afraid of it. The Christians in Syria are afraid of it. The Kurds are afraid of it. They are scared to death by the prospect of democracy in the sense of the dictatorship of majority. Now, you may try and use a ceasefire, but a ceasefire without any type of solution. And the solution, in my view, would be a federation, a federated Syria. You see, if you have democracy, in the sense of majority rule, in a country with so deep contradictions, with the fault lines so absolutely almost unbridgeable, then the majority rule will be majority dictatorship. And they’re heading in the same direction in Iraq, but there the Shias are in the majority, 61 percent. So then you have two countries—one Sunni, one Shia—neighboring countries. It couldn’t be worse. And this is the outcome of U.S. foreign policy.  ...

The way to peace is a federation, linkage with neighboring countries, peacekeeping forces—not by NATO, anything like that, but again, by Islamic countries in cooperation with UNSC. But first have a solution before you talk too much about ceasefire. People are not giving up their arms if they don’t see a solution. Why should they? They are fighting for their lives, and they are scared to death by what might happen. So you have to be closer to a solution. Put the horse before the cart.

(My edit of the DN! transcript)