Wednesday, May 30, 2012


    I say this ,not in a spirit of harsh criticism, but in a kindly, supporting way to my many friends among the greater Southern Baptist community: you simply can't advocate flying off to terra-form Mars AND  be a good Baptist.
   It simply isn't possible --- and you would know that, if you spent as much time reading the Bible as you do secretly reading POPULAR MECHANICS.... and other such soft techno-porn.
   If God had really wanted us humans to live on Mars, don't you think HE would have planted us there, instead of Earth ?

    Do you think HE is stupid or what ?
   You really do believe in Intelligent Design and God's Creation don't you?
      You aren't just saying so in public, but in secret (in your heart of hearts) actually believing in ever upward (and ever outward)  evolutionary PROGRESS, now do you ?
     Time was when conservatives and fundamentalists were the only ones that didn't* believe in the 1950s' shiny glistening dreams of socially engineered technological utopias - now it seems they are the only two groups in society that still do.
      How the worm turns.....

  ( *At least according to William F Buckley, in the very first issue of THE NATIONAL REVIEW in 1955 - and if anyone should know 1950s American conservatives it would be he, won't it ?)

SVE is a proud member of the "99% NEWS MEDIA NETWORK"

     It is well known that The One Percent (the 1%) control our biggest media (through private ownership or by controlling public corporations) and those media, in the crunch, only give you the One Percent's spin on the news of the day.
    Or, more often, those big media don't publish (or greatly downplay) the news that the One Percent don't want you to hear.
     The One Percent are those people whose combined family income is about $400,000 a year or more.

     But not all is lost, for today there are alternative sources for news and reasoned opinion : the Blogosphere , home to the news media run by the remaining 99% of humanity.
     People like me : my combined family income is about $20,000 annually, about 1/20th of what the wealthiest 1% enjoy.
    But the 1%'s blogs are no prettier, no more professional looking, no better read, than my own.
    Big Media run from the biggest metropolitan centres in the biggest countries in the world dominate the world of News and Opinion.
    As a result they fill us with the sort of information that big city elites (One Percenter people like Jessie Helms,Richard Viguerie,Tom Ellis, James Lucier and John Carbaugh) want us to believe about Climate Change and Public Medicine, for example.
     Jessie Helms' One Percent Tea Party elite control the big city media - it is time for us little people, living in the smaller cities and towns, to take some space back....

ALISON REDFORD alive , CAYDEN WOURMS dead, as DUTCH DISEASE claims new victims

      A Roman Catholic priest, Father Richard Doll, has told The Regina Leader-Post that Darren Wourms's family members had urged him not to return to his job in Fort McMurray, where his job had been taking a toll on him.
    But Darren was determined to get his engineering certificate and did return to "The Fort".
   Police had been called to his home in Airdrie, Alberta in April where his behavior had concerned his family and he was sent to hospital for a psychiatric examination and later returned home.
    This weekend, Darren 26, his wife Hayley 23, and his son Cayden 2, returned to St Walburg Saskatchewan to help plan the wedding of Darren's brother.
   Hours after attending mass, the bodies of the family of three was found in a nearby ditch, a .22 rifle near by.

   Police are not going on the record to call it a murder suicide (this is Canada after all !) but do say "they believe no one else was involved".*
    (* They have been taught in police academy to end this statement with a "pause, half turn, significant shrug of left shoulder, downward glance of eye, sincere expression of deep emotion, exit room" routine.)
   These deaths could not have come at a worst time for struggling Alberta premier Alison Redford, who has failed to overwhelmingly convince the rest of Canada that the future of Fort McMurray is so bright, that the rest of Canada should take up wearing shades.
    Some Canadians, not originally from Alberta, have been to Fort McMurray and returned, without seeing it in quite the same Panglossian glow that Mrs Redford sees it in, at least in public.
    True, jobs there pay a lot of money, but things and services also cost a lot of money: in fact, at "The Fort" , everything revolves around the mantra of : "money, money, money" .
    Some love it, some just wish they could find any sort of decent work back home in Antigonish.
   We know - all too well via TWITTER - what Alison Redford thinks of "The Fort", thanks to her responses to concerns raised by NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair  about the DUTCH DISEASE.
     But as to what young Cayden Wourms ultimately would have made of it, I guess we will never know ...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The coal-dark SILVER DART flight of 1909: VOLCANIC modernity ...

   Abstract: It is an irony much unnoted, that is was only thanks to the efforts of dirt-faced coal miners, labouring deep in the dark beneath the sea bed, was it possible for one of humanity's first flights into the bright ,clear, pristine skies high above the earth to occur.
Libertarians (aka DENIERS) the world over celebrate humanity's first flights in heavier-than-air craft, above all for flight's ability to slip Earth's surly bonds : no more kids, wives, bosses, mortgages, no taking out the garbage, no more picking up socks.
    "Thelma and Louise" : but for guys.

   Free, free as a bird,free at last, free to go anywhere, do anything at any time --- LIBERTARIAN bliss in any of the three dimensions.
   One such famous pioneering flight took place in tiny rustic Baddeck Nova Scotia, far from the scientific centres of the world - then or now.
    But in February 1909, a plane called the SILVER DART rose of the pristine ice of Bras D'or Lake and  slipped Earth's surly bonds for the first time ever in the British Commonwealth.
     Or did it ?
      Baddeck was the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell , an early and wealthy proponent of the possibility of humanity flying.
   His Baddeck summer home - thanks to the wealth of Bell and his wife - could afford the best workshop machinery in the world, circa 1909.
    Without that machinery, the SILVER DART would never have soared to the heavens.
   Machinery powered by electricity - electricity generated by burning local coal.
    "Sea coal" as the English used to call it.
    In this case 'sea' coal was still appropriate.
    This dark elixir was essential to mankind's hopes to soar into those clear blue skies, those broad sunlit uplands of unlimited liberty.
   But ironically, this coal came from not just deep under the dirty ground, but deep under ground and then along,further, to deep under the ocean floor of the Cabot Straits.
   Dirt-faced coal miners, struggling in the dusty dark on their knees to bring us the coal to fire our electrical-producing plants, are essential to manned flight - then and now.
   Not just coal either - all the exotic metals that make aircraft and space rockets possible come from the labour of miners deep under the ground.
   Ancient volcanoes take matter from deep under the ground and spew it high into the air.
   Man's High Modernity does just same --- and so ,ultimately, it is just as volcanic as Mother Nature.
   By contrast, life before 1870, and perhaps life again after 2070, was mostly built on biomass materials.
   Wood, bone, skin, glue, fibres animal and plant, food energy.
   Renewable energy - from lifeforms obviously, but also from sun, wind and water.
   Field rock. Plaster, glass and ceramics were manmade from materials obtained in small shallow mines - also the source of the tiny amount of metals in use.
   Life sustained itself from material obtained on the surface of Earth or a few metres down.
   The sky provided sunshine, air and rain.
   High Modernity, 1870-1970, changed all that.
   Now humanity went deep into the dirty dark earth to be able to soar high in the pristine bright clear skies.
   You may fault High Modernity's choice of decisions - fair enough, so do I.
    But what I find most horrific is High Modernity's lack of self consciousness, humility, sense of humour and of irony.
    No histories of the SILVER DART - or of Flight generally - honour the dirt-faced miners without whom it won't be possible.
    None sense the irony, the essential Fruede-Durch-Arbeit-ness of the whole affair.
    Viewed in this light, High Modernity's lack of irony - and of shame -  allows a direct line from Baddeck to Auschwitz...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

VICTORIA's CHILDREN : skygods versus earthlings

      Queen Victoria's long reign is frequently divided into two periods.
       The Early Victorian Age was from 1837 when she became Queen until 1870 and the end of her 10 years of mourning over the death of her husband Albert.
       1870 is generally regarded as both  the low point - and turning point - of her popularity.

      Because in the second period, Victoria I became uniquely popular world wide.
      So while this period from 1870 to her death in 1901, is usually labelled as The Late Victorian Age, it doesn't represent a diminishment of the age.
      Rather - and rather ironically - it came to represent what we think of today as characteristic of the most exuberant form of Victorianism.
    Part of the reasons for that characteristic exuberant flavour was the astonishing technological breakthroughs made in the 1870s and 1880s in many different areas of daily life.
    It was Queen Victoria's unfailing optimism and unflagging interest in new inventions that made these potentially-disturbing new machines socially respectable in this extremely carefully cosseted age.
   SVE is particularly interested in the scientists and technologists of this late victorian period, the generation born between 1870 and 1901, Victoria's children :  *skygod technology versus earthling science* .
    As I like to say, SVE is all about those scientists born after the birth of the dynamo and dead before the birth of disco : the men and a few women who ran our world between 1939-1945, if not before that, and who dominated intellectually until the mid-1960s ...

Like BOOMERS, High Modernity kids divided into early and late stages

     From 1873 to 1893 to 1913, people in North America went through first the 20 years of the long depression and then the 20 years of the long boom (in Canada much better known as the Wheat or Rail Boom).
   Children born early in the Era of High Modernity , say between 1870 and 1885, were old enough to fully enjoy the fruits of that long Edwardian summer of optimism and exuberance between 1893-1913.
   And then were often too old to enjoy the mud (and death) of the Great War.
   Those born after 1885 and on until 1900 felt cheated - they had missed the boom Edwardian Years but got to enjoy all of the mud and all of the death of WWI.

   The Twenties slumped except for a brief recovery in 1924-1929, then they had the Great Depression (The Ten Years Lost/LES DIX ANS PERDU) and the tight years of WWII.
   When the 20th century's long boom between 1950 to 1970 began, they were more than ready for it.
   In Canada, these now-elderly teenagers of the Edwardian Era were determined to relive their missed youth - this time right - and   the Canadian Natural Resources Boom of the 1950s (what I call  LES DIX ANS TROUVE/THE TEN YEARS FOUND) was wallowed liberally in late Edwardian hubris .
     Seen in this light of feeling long cheated, the Boom's promotors (BC premier Wacky Bennett a clear example) felt they had good cause to be free of any restraints upon their soon-to-be-fading powers.
    A cohort or generation is as important as to where and why it divides internally, as for what unites these 30 years worth of children from the generations before and after them...

Recession malaise and technological growth co-exist quite nicely ...

    As the Euro-woes and the American toxic mortgage scandals stall the global economy ( stall its growth rate a little - its not as if the whole world has stopped breathing or something), some sectors of the economy are still going gangbusters.
   As their cousins did during the long 1870s-1890s recession-depression and during the Great Depression 1929-1942.
    Currently it is mobile electronics that is absorbing all the free cash going, and asking for even more, as it throws up cellular towers and fibre optic links everywhere.
   New technological wonders alway find ready money in depressions as the 'smart money' tries desperately to get on board the next 'new thing' , whatever it might be, in an effort to survive and even flourish during hard times for the rest of business.

   Telephones, lightbulbs and anything and everything electrical did well during the 1870s-1890s business slump in the middle of High Modernity's first decades, as did synthetic chemical illusions during the grim 1930s.
   This is why technologically inclined youth often fail to be scarred by growing up and maturing during bad times - 'What bad times?' they ask - all they saw was The Future - and they were sure It Worked......

HIGH MODERNITY's technology versus its science...

    By 1900, as Vaclav Smil reminds us ,most of the technology (machines, 'things' in David Edgerton's sense of that word) around us today had been invented and was in active use: as well as being further commercially developed and technically improved.
   They are still in use, still under constant commercial development and steady technological improvement.
   They are the fruits of the generation of The Children of High Modernity.

   While those children and their children were excited by the technology of High Modernity, my generation, the grandchildren of those Children of High Modernity, tend to ignore them and take them as commonplace.
    But what does excite us, at least the science-minded among my generation, is the science of High Modernity.
   A bit late - yes - about 100 years late, but better late than never.
   And remember, if we grandchildren ignore the technology of High Modernity, it can be equally charged that The Children of High Modernity and their kids, ignored the science of that era.
   Quantum physics and all its implications, bacterial Horizontal Gene Transfer and all its implications --- the most ground-breaking science of that era, was nominally published in the scientific literature and then studiously ignored in popular/applied science.
   Only now, in the post-High Modernity Era, The Era of Global Commensality, are we giving them their due.
   Well some Children of High Modernity did give them their due - their full due - in their scientific and in their social dimensions.
   I am writing an account of one such exception to the rule : Dr Martin Henry Dawson.
   Less curious about what he did - though he certainly changed our whole world for the better, forever - than seeking to find out why he did it.
   Why ever did this archetype of The Meek decide to take on the whole world - and then, unexpectedly, win?

"The Children of HIGH MODERNITY" (1870 -1970)

     The generation of The Children of  High Modernity was born after 1870 and before the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.
     'Their War' was the Great War, WWI.
   They had children, usually when they were between 20 and 40.
    For their kids, 'their war' was WWII and they were flattered by being called "The Greatest Generation" by younger authors who wanted to sell lots of books to them.
    Their grandchildren were usually born between 1940 and 1960, the (Atomic) Boom Generation : 'their war' was Vietnam.
    For example, my grandfathers were born in the 1890s and served in WWI. Their kids were born in the 1920s and served in WWII.
     I, like virtually all their grandkids was born in the 1950s.
    While, as a Canadian, I wasn't expected to serve in Vietnam, some kids at my two high schools did volunteer to go do so.

     The possibility that a right wing government might send Canadian kids off, as right wing governments did in Australia and New Zealand ,was always on the minds of kids like me who were of prime draft age at the height of the Vietnam war.
   By the late 1960s, as one generation largely defended the Vietnam war and another one largely opposed it, The Children of High Modernity faded from the public discourse - through death or ill health.
   I wonder if they died angry, as they saw all that their High Modernity generation had done for (and to) the world, was beginning to come under sustained attack from their own grandchildren.....

Libertarian DENIERS to get physical over buses and bikes?

     HALIFAX - There has been quite an outcry among the libertarian majority in the Halifax public.
   (These libertarians are DENIERS of any limits to their freedom to do what they want).
    Their current whine is over the extension of bus and bike lanes in Halifax, because it reduces their absolute rights to see that their big SUVs (usually with just as single person in them) have ample curb space, whenever wherever.
    Agricola Street seems the current flashpoint but there has been other signs of ill-temper from car owners.
     In Ottawa ,a city famous around the world for being seen as health-conscious and bike-friendly, a similar big backlash has emerged against bike lanes from among the opponents to good health (again the unhealthy Medicare-addicted SUV-driving libertarian denier types).
     Laurier Street is the site of the latest Ottawa protest against bikes.
    Ultimately, SVE believes it is really a battle over TAX DOLLARS : between the healthy and frugal who saves them and the unhealthy libertarian deniers who wastes them.

    One side sees bike-riding as a way for both the planet and the rider to enjoy better health and reduce the cost to the hard-pressed taxpayer of paying to improve the health of citizens and the Earth.
     The other side, deniers of any restrictions on their rights to do anything they want, including among those rights their right to abuse their bodies and the planet and then expect the long-suffering healthy/responsible taxpayer to pay to repair the damage.
    Fat,lazy SUV drivers in Ottawa who never want to have to walk more than a few feet are highly incensed they may have to park their vehicle a block away when they to go to a shop for some smokes.
    Just as they feel they have a right to park close to the front door of the hospital , en route for their weekly (taxpayer-funded) 'chemo', for their 'lungs'. They aren't 'handicapped' you understand , just 'sick'.
   Yes, they certainly are.
    Sick,sick, sick. 
    And selfish,selfish,selfish.
    One can compare them to the non-renewable industries that feel they have a right to raise their profits (big shout out to the Tar Sands !) by off-loading all the clean-up costs onto the long suffering
taxpayer 30 years from now.
    Bravo to Thomas Mulcair for making this issue front and centre in the Canadian Parliament: why should future taxpayers have to pay to inflate the dubious profitability of the Tar Sand projects- when these same artificially-inflated projects drive up the value of the Canadian dollar and kill Canadian home manufacturing?
     The Dutch Disease: kill the planet and kill your national economy, all in one easy step.
   Bike-riding, healthy, environmentally taxpayers are getting fed-up having to pay damage caused by 'TAR', be it from the cigarettes smoked by SUV drivers or from the oil sands that fuel those SUVs.
   "Make the TAR-PEOPLE Pay" sounds like a pretty good slogan for a future taxpayer rebellion among Canada's health-conscious, environmental responsible citizens : cigarette tar in their's and our lungs and also tar sand pollution, again in their's and our lungs --- and in the lungs of this planet.
     TEA-party protests only in America, you say ? Pity.
   There haven't yet been fisticuffs in the bike-friendly streets where the SUVers and the cyclists duke it out physically - as yet "The News Story of the Century" remains merely an uncivil war of words - but it could get very ugly indeed....

Thursday, May 24, 2012

David Edgerton's 'mule spinners' and my grannie's lifelong optimistic disposition

    My father's mother, May ,was born in 1900 and was 15 in 1915.
    I must say I never saw any sign that the horrors of the Great War, 1914-1918, had ever effected her much.
   I think this was because she grew into her formative teenage years under circumstances never seen before or since in Manchester England.
  Her father Eddie made his living installing mule spinners into Northern England's cotton mills and I never appreciated just how good his business was, during May's early years ,until I re-read David Edgerton's SHOCK OF THE OLD.

  Britain's cotton mill industry's output and investment peaked in 1913, just as Canada's rail industry did, and for much the same reason : Edwardian optimism that went well beyond reason and well into hubris.
   All through that era  cotton mill factories were busy adding new mule spinners, so much so that when the inevitably crash came, no new mule spinners were needed from after WWI until the industry died in the 1960s.
   Instead of replacing worn out ones with new mules, the owners simply transferred better-working ones from their's or someone else's factory to replace those deemed unrepairable.
   Further, governments and owners worked hand in glove to destroy tens and tens of thousands of perfectly good spinning mules, to reduce excess capacity.
   I can't imagine a child raised in the home of a mule-installer after WWI could ever grow up with as sunny a view of the world as my grandmother obtained during Manchester's Edwardian Era - an optimism she retained until her death in the 21st century, 103 years later....


SVE 'MUST READ' book : David Edgerton's "SHOCK OF THE OLD"

     Re-reading British historian of technology David's Edgerton's "SHOCK OF THE OLD" recently, I found it a fount of zillions of ideas, stimulating my mind into overdrive, and forcing me to look at our world anew.
   Perhaps in light of my recent studies on the continuing impact of (mutated) Romanticism upon everything, I can better appreciate the force of Edgerton's main argument that histories of technology and science focus far, far, far too exclusively on 'priority' and 'original originality' ----- entrepreneurs,inventors and scientists all being obsessed with being original ,creative and 'the first'.

   Historians of science - unabashed fans and cheerleaders for the most part, have uncritically taken these techie-guys at their word and not probed any deeper or harder.
   THE SHOCK OF THE NEW does just that: showing by focusing on the use  ,not the invention, of technology's products , Edgerton's aptly named 'things', we get an entirely re-written history of the world.
    Use means adaptation and improvising and altering - all highly original but not the original original and thus ignored in the ongoing Mutated-Romantic Era.
   But earlier (Classically-oriented) ages were far more inclined to honor craftsman for improving ancient skill sets -- we should do the same today, in this new Pre-Scarcity Era, preparing for times ahead that will put a premium on frugality and inventive re-use, and the creolization of things...
    SVE is proud to add Edgerton to its must-read author listings....

SVE supports unmanned probes of Mars & Venus: makes our rare EARTH more precious still

     It won't be wise - would it ? - to use the EARTH as a laboratory to prove up the concept of what a runaway greenhouse effect can do to a planet.
   We don't have to - not that the libertarians/deniers/SF fans among us aren't doing their darnedest to try anyway.
    Instead we can just consider the latest science on Venus, a planet somewhat close to us in features, where a classic case of runaway greenhouse gases destroyed any hopes of Life on a planet somewhat similar to ours.

   But in the game of Life, somewhat close isn't even close to being good enough : it is the precise/exact/perfect constellation of a dozen or so features that makes Earth that rare - perhaps even unique - planet in the universe with human-like life upon it.
    Planets close to being like Earth are expected to number in the trillions throughout the entire universe. But if they have human-like beings all watching TV and playing the internet, we haven't yet detected even the faintest whiff of electronic pollution from any of them.
    As Fermi said : if Earth-like planets and Earth-like human beings are so theoretically common : "WHERE ARE THEY ?"
   The latest pictures from Mars, a planet even closer to Earth than Venus, in most features,  reminds us of how hard it is to get the exact/precise/perfect mixture of features right, to make a place inhabitable.
    Without a stable atmosphere and wind currents to even temperatures differences out, Earth would be like Mars - the day side of Earth hot enough to boil all known life - even the most extreme of extreme bacteria -the night side cold enough to freeze all known forms of life - even the bacteria.
  Die by day - die by night - die by day - die by night. On and on.
  Mars has a winter like Earth, as well - and during that period even the low energy (because unmanned) NASA OPPORTUNITY rover now on Mars had to hunker down, conserve energy and wait it out for months.
   It climbed to just the right spot to have its solar panels lined up with the weak low rays of Sun during the long Martian Winter , to give it just enough energy to keep it ticking over.
   If OPPORTUNITY was a fungi or a bacteria,we'd call it a 'spore' .
   Hardly an attractive place for a high maintenance, high energy using being like us Earthlings.
   But for the libertarian Skygods - a paradise - in their dreams anyway.
   There is Life and there is SF (F standing for Fantasy) : let us never mis-confuse the two...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Houston we have LIFE - a million years away"

    When Mariner 4 snapped its pics of Mars in July 1965, the delusion of humans living on other planets should finally have died - but it didn't.
    Bad ideas need perpetually teenage boys with bad arithmetic skills - an item never in short supply.

     Now some astronomers are willing to bet their primary lens to support their belief that they have discovered an "Earth-like" planet, 100% certain to hold "Life".
   I think they are being way way way too conservative - "Life" - if you mean simply bacteria - probably doesn't need anything as human-friendly as Earth to survive upon.
   But if in fact - wink, wink/ nudge,nudge you really mean Life=Humans, and I think most of these scientists do mean that but lack the courage to say so, then I think they are dreaming in Technicolor.
   Kool-Aid colored Technicolor.
   Take GLIESTE 581G, a planet that astrophysicist Steven Vogt of the University of California at Santa Cruz says  is 100% certain to contains "Life" and is also "Earth-like".
   No taxpayer-elected politician in today's or tomorrow's Congress is going to blew trillions of dollars into the air , simply to see if some invisible bacteria are clinging to grains of sand deep in some gully on Glieste 581G, so the key to this press-announcement of professor Vogt is the really that magic-dust word ,"Earth-like".
   We humans being hubris-ridden from birth, we instantly associate "Earth-like" with "humans-will-like-it-there".
   Glieste 581G doesn't seem, on closer examination (albeit at a very great distance) to be a near-exact Earth-clone, which is what human-like life probably needs to survive and enjoy itself.
  And distance from us ?
  Well, its a 400 trillion kilometre trek to get there and back.
   At about the fastest speed we have ever put an object into space (not one holding human cargo) that is a million year trip to get there and back.
    One million years of deep space cosmic radiation falling upon the lucky human colony inside that Star Trek vehicle ----- won't the DNA in their sperm and eggs be well and truly fried by time they arrive !!
     That is why I am an Earthling and why the Skygods are my sworn enemy: they all seem to be scientist-wannabes with too much calculus and not enough arithmetic....

Bugger-off Hippies ! - it was crewcutted NASA types what killed Modernity

    High Modernity was animated by a single generation of scientists,  children born after the invention of the Dynamo and who died before the invention of Disco: roughly after 1870 and before 1970.
   Alfred Newton (Newt) Richards, medical strong man of the famous wartime OSRD R&D outfit, whose dates (1876-1966) span the age almost perfectly, is an example of one such scientist who was influential when young and who continued to be highly influential up to the year he died.
   A lot of important scientific discoveries and technological inventions happened in the 1870s, but there were a few highly influential bloopers as well.

   None more infamous than what followed an announcement in 1877, when Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (yes his niece Elsa was later even better known than Giovanni - but for her high fashion clothing) thought he found water-filled canals across the face of Mars.
   Mars was a planet seen by most academic scientists as very much like Earth, albeit much more arid but with clearly visible polar caps.
   Proposals to build canals to move water and goods from the wet to the dry areas of Earth were the flavour of the month in the 1870s, so his idea took off in popular science, if not really in academic science.
  It fuelled a slew of fiction and quasi-popular quasi-factual popular science books/films/comics about life on Mars - the literal wet dreams of  High Modernity's cosmic cowboys.
  The idea wasn't firmly quashed for good until July 1965, when Mariner 4 beamed back some actual close up images of Mar's surface -showing it as dead as the Moon.
   Venus's clouds were pierced about the same time by NASA and its Russian counterpart, by flyby space probes, revealing a planet so harsh it made the Moon or Mars look benign by contrast.
   Only by contrast - nothing in our Solar System looked remotely attractive to human life.
    Now SF (Science Fiction) and the wild-eyed utopian end of academic science had to switch to PLAN B - interstellar travel to distant stars with Earth-like planets.
   Stars so far away we were basically imagining their planets to be Earth-like - if our visions of relatively nearby Mars were off base - the attractiveness of these new distant planets could be off by a factor of a million to one or more.
   In addition, Mars et al were at least reachable by our current technology - based upon upgraded technology and science from the late 19th century.
   But the speeds we'd need to obtain, to get to distant planets before the human cargo inside the tin cans died from cosmic radiation poisoning, was simply not in the pipeline yet, so here academic science had to lean hard on the ravings of hardcore SF in its  most Kool-Aid-drinking mode, to sustain the dream.
   (Insert here a big shout out to Freeman Dyson....)
   The original Skygod generation has sustained their vision of being above the Earth's woes by deluding themselves they could always start anew on a nearby human-friendly planet like Venus or Mars.
   NASA's crewcutted pipe-smoking set killed that dream, even before the hippies and students got going on Modernity, in May 1968.
   Ironic isn't it ???

18 TRILLION tonnes of stupidity raises ocean levels

     In just the last 50 years, humans have pumped up 18 trillion tonnes of precious  fossil water, non-renewable water from the rock deep below desert and arid parts of the Earth.
   Used wisely and slowly in some closed loop system - say waste water to enclosed greenhouse for example, it might have lasted for thousands of years for a small but frugal population on those dry lands.
   Instead we blew it - literally.
   Blew it up in the air through massive one kilometre long sprinklers to grow open air, water hungry crops like wheat.
   Yep, turns out that Saudi Arabia, for but one example, literally blew all of its water resources in a 30 year bid to become self sufficient in food.

    Why this death wish ? In part, because the alternative of burning oil to make agriculturally-needed levels of fresh water could  just as easily use up a heck of a lot of her other inheritance, this time in petroleum.
    Sadly, here is a rare, but morally valid environmental case, for this particular country selling her oil globally and buying her food globally, with the money earned.
   Why ? Because most of that precious water was almost instantly transported up into the atmosphere where it soon fell to Earth again as rain.
   So what is the problem ?
   Well that rain, by definition, rarely fell on the desert or arid land that had originally drilled and pumped it up out of the rock.
   Instead it fell on wetter lands and in the ocean. Eventually almost all of the water that fell on even wet land made its way into the ocean.
    The fraction that slowly,slowly,slowly descends deep into the earth and into porous aquifer rock does so over glacial (if not geologically) lengths of time - maybe 10,000 to 100,000 years, maybe never if a barrier rock now lies above the once-accessible  porous sandstone or gravels.
   As a result, by a small but steady and readily measurable amount, we have raised the overall water level in the oceans leading to stronger storms, flooding and erosion - all produced by greedy, technology-crazed, farmers in places like Saudi Arabia and in land-locked southern Alberta pissing away their great grandchildren's only hope for life-bringing water.
   I say technology crazed, in response to Vaclav Smil's pioneering work on the late 19th century 's inventions of new prime movers and newly
strong and sharp metals and ceramics.
   Now, by 1900, humanity really could drill endlessly into the Earth, punch through the hardest,most abrasive, hottest bed rock and pump endless amounts of matter in or out of Earth's hitherto hidden depths.
   It could - that was clear.
   But should it? That was unclear, and frankly rarely asked by these perpetually teenage boys playing with their new toys.
   Drilling and pumping up precious non-renewable water as much as and as fast as we can from aquifers means using up a life-blood far more precious than oil or uranium.
      We can always get endless amounts of energy in the desert from the Sun, but Ole Sol is more niggardly with the water she sends us in the form of comets.
    Morality, economics and science/technology must work together when we are given these new toys - their use is by no means value-free....


     I find the term 'denier' just a tad oblique: what these people deny, most fundamentally,is the idea of any limits on their freedom, aka humanity's potential, all bow down.
     (This is the latest variation of the age old war over the limits, if any, to the physical manifestations of humanity's rational and imaginative mental powers.)
    I prefer a variety of terms, some of them my neologisms, others are commonplace and readily understood.
    For example, Libertarians versus Limiters (rather than Deniers versus Doomers).
     Libertarians are fully comfortable with - only comfortable with - the familiar 'old shoe' of 19th Century Science of  Newton and Dalton and Darwin and Euclid that is still the only science being taught in most 21st century schools.
     By contrast, Limiters being those who ignore their high school teachers and who accept the latest findings of the science that there are definite biological and material limits (restraints upon) to humanity's potential.  
    Or Cartesians (dualists who see Man above Nature) versus Commensalists (Humanity entangled within Nature.)
    Why not Pie-in-the-Sky Utopians/Idealists versus Down-to-Earth Realists?
   Lab scientists versus Field scientists, aka Natural Philosophy versus Natural History?
    Plato versus Aristotle.
    Small "l" liberals versus small "c" conservatives.
    And finally - and obviously - Cartesian Sky Gods versus down-to-earth Earthlings.
    While it is an age old battle, this century is different.
    Because it is no longer simply a case of one philosopher debating another philosopher.
     Rather it is the fact that one side is, at last, fully able to try out its theory upon the world and the other side is busy crying out " Please God - dont ! - your experiment will go deadly wrong and destroy the only lab - the only world - that Humanity has."
   I will report this battle fully, fairly, but always from the general side of the commensalists, limiters and earthlings, making no bones that I am hoping ,above all else, to alter the course of that battle in my side's favour....

Sunday, May 20, 2012

You can never push a denier to water: only lead him gently with a dollar sign ...

    If solar cells had been introduced at 1950s era electric utility shareholders' AGMs by CEOs proclaiming, "They'll double our profits overnight !!", they be in mass use by now.
     Thomas Edison's light bulbs* were an instant world wide hit, despite being 100 times less efficient at converting electricity into light than current solar panels are at converting light into electricity.
   100 times more efficient !!! One hundred times !!!

    But you yawn and get into your SUV - "solar panels are unproven, much like those contested claims about 'carbon pollution in the atmosphere' ."
   In fact, the problem with solar panels is that they were actually introduced as something you would have to make do with, like it or not, when Mommy Nature refuses give you any more hydrocarbon Kool-aid.
   You don't like being told what to do (or even worse) being told you can't do everything.
    Who can blame you?  Your doting parents, teachers and politicians never told you anything like that, growing up .....

      * Readily available solar panels' efficiency - typical case - are currently about 15%. Edison's typical early light bulb was .15% efficient.
     Both have gotten a lot better from their earliest days - but marvel at how high the initial solar panel efficiency was - versus the hostility to it from the deniers,birthers, flat-earthers, tea partiers.
   The Sky Gods and Deny-Me-Nots and SF fans are not to be placated by mere Mammon, unless and until it also re-affirms their right to do whatever, whenever,however, wherever they want : they still are in denial , still claiming that human potential throughout our vast universe is essentially limitless.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

This un-civil war of words is "The News Story of the Century" and it is 3000 years old ...

    On one side : the SKY GODs , utopians clinging to outdated science, all to bolster their denial of any limits to humanity's potential in a limitless Universe.
   On the other side: the EARTHLINGs, realists accepting the newest science, believing that the Earth is a rare, perhaps unique, human-friendly planet that nevertheless operates under biological and material restraints that must be obeyed.

   On the question of whether humanity's carbon pollution of the atmosphere will change our climate in highly de-stabilizing ways, these two sides are better known as Deniers versus Doomers.
    I believe the new science brings us much good news along with the bad.
    The new post 1945, post-modern science's central metaphor of global commensality says that 'all life on Earth dines at one table, shares but one lifeboat' , that all life survives by taking in each other's laundry - recycling scarce biological resources over and over.
   It reassures us that Life has endured some hard knocks on Earth over the last 4 billion years, but it has surmounted them and flourished - by not having its grasp exceed its reach, Robert Browning to the contrary.....

'Facts' as the rhetoric of Prophets : the James Hansen case

   It is a rare - and unwise - prophet who limits themselves to proclaiming that x will happen by year y and leaves it at that.
   No, the prophet usually says, 'you will go to hell for sure - unless you change your ways'.
   Reduced to its fundamentals, it becomes 'x is certain to happen, unless it does not'.
   Not just hard, but impossible, to argue with that.
   Making it excellent fodder for all types of rhetorical 'discourse', as they say in the land of the tenure-stream bound.
    Not that people don't try: usually by taking prophecies out of context - this too is an age old rhetorical trick.
   Denier: 'Hansen said in 2003, temps would be up 5% in 2012 and that isn't so - he is wrong so why should we trust him?'
   Perhaps the denier is right.
    Or perhaps not : maybe what Hansen actually predicted was that temps will be up by 5%,  unless we cut car milage use by 20%.
  We did - and so temps stayed basically flat.
   I was moved to write this post, after reading something Halifax scientist Chris Majka wrote in entitled Thermometer Rising.
    Chris points to the un-snowball effect if consuming arctic-derived petroleum (newly available for us to use, thanks to existing global warming effects) warms up arctic ice enough to release global warming gas methane which in turns leads to more warming and more methane releases on a runaway train to hell.
    In particular, the arctic hydrocarbon flavour of the day for Big Oil is those same trapped methane gas in long frozen arctic deposits.
    But my eye - I am ashamed to say - was more caught on a brief para or two that Chris devoted to the prophets.
    The prophets of science.
     Prophet one : NASA climate change scientist JamesHansen and his claim about the Alberta Tar sands:
    'If all the hydrocarbons in the tar sands are consumed, the temperature will rise by x and it will be game over for CIV.'
    Some have responded to Hansen's claim by stating - as if it was a fact - that 'the future will reveal that not all of those oil sand hydrocarbons will be consumed'.
    What really is at work here are two prophets warring with words , about the unknowable future.
  'If all 100% of tar sands hydrocarbons are consumed the temperature with rise y degrees and we are doomed.'
   'If only 20% of tar sands are consumed, the temp will only go up z degrees, and we are saved.'
    Rhetoric is rhetoric - from scientists or not: the artful art of persuasion.
    We've heard an awful lot from scientists over Hansen's tar sands 'op ed' piece.
    But maybe they should go back to their field studies and labs and let the real experts in this field have their say.
   By that I mean the theologians and the politicians, the used car salesmen and the con-artists: past experts in creating - and dissecting - rhetoric and bluster....

Don't waste your time scanning newspapers of 1945 for reports of MODERNITY's demise...

      The current view that 1945 was the year that Modernity died and Post-Modernity was born wasn't shared by many in that crucial year - at least not consciously.
     No doubt, at all, that many in 1945 were alarmed by modernity's latest 'triumphs' - but even more found those triumphs exhilarating in their potential.
    No, 1945 was established as the year that Post Modernity was born (for once, a curiously apt metaphor) by senior university historians picking suspects out of a police line-up after their university had been occupied and trashed, in May 1968.

    Long-haired protester after long-haired protester: it was soon evident that the vast bulk of them had awoken to life, after 1945.
     (Age ??? I'm 22. Hum, 1968 minus 22 equals 1946, again !)
    Baby-boomers, in another words, were leading the charge against all that most 1960s era senior professors held holy: progress and modernity.
   But what boom - merely the regular boom in pregnancies after every one of humanity's wars or could it just be, perish the impure thought, the babies born post the atomic boom ?
   Post the boom and smoke of Dresden ? Post the human smoke of Auschwitz ?
    Modernity's hegemony was broken in 1945 - yes ! - but among babies not yet born.
   By 1965 to 1973 however, they were fully ready to deny that hegemony and did so - in spades....
   So, a revision: Post Modernity was conceived in 1945, but it first started voting with its feet, in 1968.....

Still raging : the age-old war over the limits - if any - to human potential

      HALIFAX - By all-party agreement in the legislature, it is the law in Nova Scotia that no one can express doubts in public that enormous amounts of oil will not be soon found off Nova Scotia's shores.
     So naturally the news that the province's last remaining oil refinery is to close or become a terminal only, hit many people here very hard.
   Because, because, because of who owns that that oil refinery.

   It is/was owned by Canada's largest oil company Imperial Oil, which itself is owned by the world's largest DENY-ME-NOT oil company Exxon-Mobil , aka Standard Oil The First, the House than John D Rockefeller built.
     If the biggest guys in the oil biz are having doubts about Nova Scotia's future oil prospects, shouldn't the natives on shore, awaiting their $24 in beads and trinkets, be getting a little worried?
   Exxon-Mobil, it is fair to say, are the most utopian corporation on a planet hardly short of utopian businessmen.
    It had funded virtually all of the usual suspects in the carbon pollution denial business and officially, at least, in public , at least, they see a bright future for oil for a long,long time and feel sure, if there is any carbon pollution of the atmosphere, human ingenuity can easily solve it.
    They are thus this planet's principal SKY GODS, Utopians who view human potential as essentially limitless.
    By contrast, those who embrace the metaphor of Global Commensality are Realists who fully accept that humans are mortal biological beings, with constant biological needs, living on a small rare human-inhabitable planet that is, none the less, materially restrained in most ways.
    Deniers versus Doomers ?
    More accurate, by far, to see this civil war as being between
Utopian sky gods, high * in the sky above Nature, versus down to earth Realistic earthlings.....

* High, only in the pharmaceutical sense, of course....

Halifax Naval Base to close, like Refinery & Coast Guard base ?

      HALIFAX - In the event of any all-out war involving Canada, the country's largest military base might be left high and literally dry, 'hors de combat'.
     So why in the name of God is it still here - why not move some of it to St John's Newfoundland and post the bulk of it to a base on Canada's Pacific Coast ?

     After all, that is where many experts are saying our next big global conflict is likely to take place - and fittingly, as it will be a fight over oil - at least British Columbia meets Canada's national security requirements for self-suffiency in the prime mover of war and violence: petroleum products.
   There are a number of pipelines from Saskatchewan and Alberta shipping petroleum to BC, but despite 85 years of talk still no pipeline from the Canadian West to the Atlantic Coast - and Canada's largest military base.
    If a shooting war means Atlantic Basin oil products are embargoed to bigger nations closer to the supply - or cut off from Canada by way of submarine action - the fuel tanks of the military ships and aircraft of CFB Halifax will be left bone dry and useless.
   Judged in that light, closing down CFB Halifax, at least in the eyes of the University of Calgary's smartest men in the universe, begins to make a lot of sense.
   This week, it was announced that the 95 year old Imperial Oil refinery in Dartmouth, the last of Nova Scotia three original oil refineries, will likely close or at best remain as a bare oil terminal.
  Next to it, Dartmouth's Coast Guard base, 55 years old, will also close.
   CFB Shearwater, also in Dartmouth, is more or less closed - a shadow of its former self.
   Victims of Canada's "Dutch Disease" as people and the smart money move West.
   In the summer of 1957, I rode through America when the Canadian dollar was $1.07 US.
   It wasn't hard to see why it was so high : moral hubris - the alter ego of moral panic.
   Everyone in the smart part of the world - the guys with degrees - just knew that nuclear was the wave of the future ( like the Tar Sands are so regarded today.)
    Canada had more uranium than anyone else : ergo bet on the Canadian dollar, the future's so bright we gotta wear shades.
   Just before we got to the American border, we had been delayed for days: every construction truck in the world was on the tiny two lane highway between The Sault (St Marie) and the dirt road to Elliot Lake.
   A zillion uranium mines needed to be built like yesterday, before the US bounty on uranium wore off.
    Canadians and foreigners didn't really believe that time limit on uranium was for real - Canada's uranium boom was going to last forever, or at least as long as today's current tar sands boom.
   But uranium crashed and foreigners fled Canada's dollar as fast - and as stupidly - as they had bought into it.
   Five short years later, the Diefenbaker dollar (size small) doomed the government that had lorded over Canada's short lived uranium boom.
   The western Canadian "TOMORROW COUNTRY" idiots in charge then ?
    Same as the idiots today : the naive,hubristic, full-of-themselves
Con  Party  .........

Harper: Let those Eastern Bastards DROWN in the Dark

     HALIFAX  Threats of rising sea levels kinda look different at the American University of Calgary, the intellectual uterus of the Deny-Me-Nots* and the Sky Gods* currently running the Canadian national government.

     The University of Calgary is a kilometre above sea levels and so feels little of the worries that shoreline residents here in Halifax are experiencing over the rising ocean level threats caused by human carbon pollution of the atmosphere.
     (The biggest single site source of that carbon pollution: Alberta's
Tar Sands...)
     So forget Premier
Ralph Klein and his promise to enjoy watching 'Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark'.
    Now Calgary can sit back and watch as the east 'drowns in the wet'.
    Mind you, if southern Alberta prove to be as bone dry as climate science scientists think it might become, thanks to northern Alberta's Tar Sand carbon pollution, a little of that
wet might go down a treat at a 2040s era suds night at UCal's Economic Department....

  ******  Okay we differ - alright ?!
     You call it the climate change war, between deniers and doomers.
    I say that is just a part of a much bigger and older war- the age-old battle over
Limits, a battle between Sky Gods and Earthlings.
   I am on the side of the Earthlings : because accepting 'global commensality' as reality means accepting that we humans are deeply embedded within all life on earth and all life on earth dines at one table, sharing a strictly limited recycling of scarce biological resources.
High Modernists continue to act like Sky Gods, believing humans are high above Nature and above Nature's biological restraints and material limits.

     I always wonder if the leading Deny-Me-Nots were spoiled rotten as young children, because their highly vocal objections to any sort of restrictions on their rights to do as they please with their dog, their truck, their woman and their planet seems at times pathological or at the very least, deeply rooted in their primeval subconscious.
    The rumours of High Modernity's death in
1945 have been greatly exaggerated. High Modernity still wins the support of the majority of humanity.
  What happened in 1945 and again between 1968-1973, was that its Hegemony was challenged.
   Now there is an ever-growing minority, maybe you among it, who reject it and all its claims.
    If so, please continue to read "
Global Commensality NEWS", to learn more about the good news prospects for our planet....

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Multi-universe Commensality NEWS" ? Nah - I'm just string-theorying you along ....

    It is arresting to chart the type of names Halifax ,Nova Scotia based  NGOs have given themselves over the years.
     It can tell us - muchly - about changes over time in communication and transport and how people alter what they conceive of as their home and region.

    Nova Scotia originally was much larger - making up most of the province of New Brunswick, all of PEI province, and all of Cape Breton (which itself was a short-lived province, and so should be again).
   These three provinces have long called themselves the Maritime provinces or more simply and more commonly, the Maritimes.
    After 1949 and the entry of Newfoundland and Labrador as Canada's tenth province, the powers-to-be in Ottawa found all four provinces "Down East" to be provincial beyond belief (this from 1950s Ottawa, that hotbed-not of worldly sophistication !)
   So they got lumped together as Atlantic Canada - neatly excluding the large portion of Quebec that is by any standards of science, in Canada and fully in the Atlantic coastal zone.
    Halifax has always been the capital and biggest city by far of Nova Scotia.
     And since WWII, it has been the biggest city by far of Atlantic Canada and its unofficial capital ---and one of five unofficial regional capitals of Canada.
    When transportation was so bad in Nova Scotia that all rural seats had to be represented in Halifax legislature by Halifax men with business or family ties to that rural area, what would be called today NGOs tended to be realistic and 1840s educators called their new NGO, the Halifax Mechanics' Institute.
    But once rail and steam ship travel was more reliable and speedy, one sees the Nova Scotia Institute for Science in the 1860s.
    By the 1930s, it was common to see NGOs calling themselves the Maritime School of Social Work.
      New post 1970 NGOs, set up by the boomer generation, tended to call themselves the Atlantic Filmmakers Co-op.
    (This was real hubris as this co-op of volunteer 'hands-on' amateurs really was effectively Halifax area based.)
    Recently, St Mary's university and the Atlantic School of Theology, two second tier post secondary institutions in national Canadian terms, and located in the smallest by far region in Canada in terms of wealth and population, set up The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs (CCEPA) .
   Chutzpah bravo !! Why should all the national NGOs have to be  run by default out of Ottawa or Toronto ?
      Now the "Global Commensality NEWS" - is my blog and journal an attempt by a Haligonian to bypass Canada and cover the planet ?
      "Global Commensality" is one concept, utterly indivisible - that is why it is in my blog and journal title and my key subject area.
      In fact, while I am thinking globally on this subject, I have tried to limit myself to reporting locally.
     I am working hard to find the hyper-local 'angle' to any international news stories about 'global commensality versus late modernity' (aka Doomers versus Deniers.)
    Can't see, though, why some local Halifax based physicist couldn't blog - straight-faced - under the moniker of Multi-Universe Maven : go for it !

My great-grandfather Eddie as my personal link to era of High Modernity

    The dates of famous scientist Lise Meitner, 1978-1968, perhaps better fits the contours of the age of Peak Scientism and High Modernity.
   But I never met her - I did meet and do remember my great-grandfather. He is my personal link, no matter how remote, to this era I write so much about, think so much about,dream so much about, but was not and never will be, a part of.

     Great-grandfather, Edmund Ormrod Collinge, was conceived in December 1879, as Romanticism laying dying and lived just long enough to see it return in the guise of the foppish clothing worn by all aspiring British pop stars in the mid-sixties, before dying himself in August 3rd 1966.
   As fitting his Era, he worked in Engineering, in the British sense of that term, in the North of England where 'muck is money'.
   He loved motorcycles and my grandmother May's first memory  (she was born in 1900) was riding on the back of her dad's motorbike with her baby brother beside her. This was well before WWI and not long after such powerful bikes were perfected.
   His sons love the new science of radio and radar - my father planned to follow along as an engineer too but ended up instead as a naval navigation/gunnery officer and a philosopher-painter.
    Eddie's great-grandson Richard did become a flying navigation officer in Canada's airforce, on Hercules aircraft, before becoming a project officer for an investment bank.
    My interest  in science and engineering- via this journal "Global Commensality NEWS" - is not in hands-on lab or field science but in these activities impact on society - and society upon them.....

"Peak Scientism" and the price of petro

     The period roughly bracketed by 1878 and 1968 has as many names as my partner Rebecca has relatives (a warm shout-out to the baby-makers of the Little Vatican of Antigonish County Nova Scotia).
     Call it Peak Scientism, High Modernity, Non-Renewable Modernity, Non-Renewal Progress, the Second Industrial Revolution, the Era of Positivism, the Counter-Romanticism Era.
   Many more names besides those - and that is just in English.
   Not easy, this close to the Beast, to get a consensus on its essence.

   But one Powerpoint image of the many, many that Andrew Nikiforuk flashed on the screen at SMU's Sobey's Business School Building in Halifax last night, (hey - he said the talk was a work in progress !) grabbed me by my intellectual short and curlies.
    It was brought to us by the handwritten capital letter M ;  aka a graph of oil prices in current 2010 dollars in the vertical versus the years 1850 to 2010 in the horizontal.
   The high price upper twin towers of that written capital M were just before the late 1870s and just after the early 1970s - the low price trough was the the exact period of the era of Peak Scientism and High Modernity.
  Interestingly, coal, not oil, was the main energy source throughout almost that entire period - oil, by contrast, is what has fueled the post-modern era of hippy-dippy baby boomers : the oil boomer kids , my generation.
   But that relatively tiny amount of petroleum was more than enough to fuel the mental/imaginative travel of billions - rather than fueling their actual - physical - travels.
   Cars - racing cars, motecycles - freedom to go down any and every road in a clud of fumes,dust and speed. Rockets to universes unknown - away from spouse, kids, take-out-the-garbage, mortgage debt, bosses.
    Personal airplanes as cars - not more bound to color along the lines of rail lines and two lane blacktop.
    Freedom !!
    "Global Commensality NEWS", that spokesperson for defending limits to personal freedom to do whatever you want to whoever you want when and wherever you want has two words to say:
        St Brieux, Saskatchewan

    In the air above this tiny remote community, two planes collided and all five on board died --- pieces of planes and body bits raining down over a one square kilometre area on the ground.
    The myth is that flying in the air promises totally freedom to go anywhere as your whim hits you.
   What actually does hit you, if you do give in to the urge to go just anywhere your fancy moves you, is someone else's wing tip : game over forever.
   Small plane owners have less ,not more ,freedom than car owners or walkers - they must file a flight plan, time and speed and direction indicated - and stick to it - or planes collide.
   This is with maybe one hundred thousand small plane owners in the air around the world at any one time - try to imagine 9 billion plane owners with a billion small planes crisscrossing the skies
randomly at any one moment.
    Disaster !
   This is Late Modernity's dream and delusion.
    Please help us stop that delusion before they crash our entire planet instead of just their personal plane.
   Or the song won't be "It's Raining Men" but rather "It's Raining Bits and Pieces of Men ! "......

Never invest in a stock that actuaries and accountants are bailing from....

     If seems a safe rule: if the number-crunchers and bean-counters don't like a project why should little old un-informed you invest your hard-earned pesos into it ?
   A current stock those geeks with calculators and glasses and briefcases (briefcases - in the 21st century !) are jumping ship and swimming away from as fast as they can is the Heartless Heartland Institute and atmospheric carbon pollution denial.
   Insurance company dudes mostly - the same guys that pay the giga-dollar bill bills when coastal mega-cities are flooded out in bigger-than-normal storms.
   They don't like the math.
   Neither does "Global Commensality NEWS" .

    Now I realize - their abject protestations to the contrary , that business people do not really rely on math but rather on faith,optimism, hubris (in equal parts) to seal the deal on any project.
    But that is in the CEO's manic phase.
    When she or he is in their depressive state, they do listen to accountants and angry shareholders with class action suits.
   European insurance CEOs have been to the black night of the soul on climate change disasters and fled the scene.
  Finally, thankfully, North American insurance is beginning to do the same...

Andrew Nikiforuk: Addiction to energy slaves fuels our heartlessness,violence - and OBESITY & SLOTH

   HALIFAX - Andrew Nikiforuk told a packed Sobey lecture hall at St Mary's University (SMU) last night that about the worst thing imaginable that could happen to humanity and this planet would be if we suddenly discovered a safe,cheap, abundant source of renewable energy.
  This is because it would actually worsen our current addiction to energy slaves, laziness and heartlessness - if only because, this time, we'd kid ourselves that at least our consciences were clear.

   Nikiforuk himself seems a fount of natural energy ,winning about as many major -  highly different- awards for writing and advocacy as he has written major - highly different - books and articles on a wide variety of subjects.
   May I venture that his latest book, "The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude", forthcoming this Fall * and which Andrew previewed for the first time in public at SMU, may vault
him out of the ranks of journalism and into the ranks of public intellectuals.
   Appropriate for a lecture delivered at a Catholic University and sponsored - in part - by that university's Philosophy Department and by CCEPA ,(Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Policy, itself a joint venture of SMU and AST (the Atlantic School of Theology), Nikiforuk referenced the moral impact that slavery has always had upon the masters of those slaves.
    In particular, Andrew focused on slave-owning's conversion, in the last two centuries, from something a relatively few families did (with a few dozen slaves each) to something all human families now do with thousands of slaves each.
    No longer human slaves (at least not usually in our homes - we prefer to hide them in factories in rural China), instead these are machine-energy slaves, with about the same (lack of) rights as past human slaves.
   Powered mostly by Non-Renewable-Modernity's greatest gift to ever-upward progress : fossil fuels, that gift from the past that does not keep on giving.
   Current obesity levels and addiction to GPS travel are really nothing new points out Nikiforuk : whenever slaves are abundant,obedient (on pain of painful death) and clever, masters will end up relying upon them for everything but eating and burping.
    Sloth neatly combines with a heartlessness to the slaves' continuing existence, as long as the violence of every master society and their armies, can keep bringing in new fresh supplies.
   Only when slaves are expensive and in sort supply does their treatment then to improve.
   But this depressing picture can be removed, Nikiforuk seemed to argue, if we morally re-embrace useful, healthy physical labour as a positive virtue and return again to the religious injunction against owning any slaves - human, animal or inanimate.
   St Benedict walked away from slave-owning and its mindset and set up a worldwide order, fueled this time by the practises of a small remote peasant village where healthy useful work was combining with knowing how to enjoy life, simply, with family and friends.
   What our world is waiting for - without even knowing it - says Nikiforuk, quoting approvingly from one of Global Commensality NEWS's favourite thinkers, Alastair MacIntyre, is a new St Benedict....

   *At all the biggest - not alway the best - bookstores.

Global Commensality NEWS : MODERNITY ain't dead - yet !

   Baring reliable dental records to the contrary, reports of the death of MODERNITY circa 1945 (as a result of collateral damage from the first Nuremberg Trial) have been greatly exaggerated.
   So here I am sitting at the GCN ("Global Commensality NEWS") obit desk trying my darndest to write an obit - 70 years later - for "the Era that refuses to die", but yet must die, if humanity is to live.

   This does not mean that instead of bringing you hopeful news of the new Era of Global Commensality, I will now turn the GCN journal into a sort of "Modernity Deathwatch Bulletin".
   I will have to balance both situations in my news reporting.
   But have no doubt exactly where I stand:
   GCN's mission, as I see it, is to convince you, all of you , that we must finally make our goodbyes with Modernity and warmheartedly embrace Global Commensality, if humanity and this planet is to survive into the next centuries...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Science entangled within Society, Society entangled within Science : dining at a common table

   "Global Commensality" is such a protean metaphor, n'est ce pas ?
    Global, of course in the French sense, means all-encompassing.
    Commensality - of course means "dining together", which has to be the world's second oldest intimate "profession".

    Science and Society influence each other so much, round and round and, it is as if they dine together frequently at some common table.
   Like Mr Dooley's Supreme Court, do the journals NATURE and SCIENCE follow (and review) the election returns -- and the Supreme Court?
  Of course, eventually.
   Just as the Supreme Court- most famously in "Buck versus Bell" - eventually follows (reviews) NATURE and SCIENCE.
  This is why GCR's name (global - commensality -review) is a bit of a tease and a bit of a pun: yes it is following and reviewing the eternal re-cycling of scarce life-resources among on all life forms on Earth.
   But it is also following and reviewing the co-mingling of the body fluids of Science and Society as they work with and against each other, stuck together on this tiny lifeboat we call our only home....


GCN's 'Back Story' : growing up a "LITTORAL" commensalist, becoming a global commensalist ...

  My own personal 'back story' actually.
  I was three and a half in 1955 when I first saw Chezzetcook Inlet - we were moving into our new home in Seaforth, Nova Scotia, along that half drowned river valley cum estuary.
   But it wasn't my first experience of living along a water's edge: far from it.

   My parents grew up along the edge of St Clair River, part of the Great Lakes system, in Windsor Ontario - a few minutes walk to the river's edge. It seemed an hourly occurrence to see large steamships sail past the end of their street.
  I was conceived there but was actually born born in Victoria, BC. Lived there twice, actually - both times close to the water's edge.
   I later lived in Milton and Southsea, water's edge sections of Portsmouth - itself basically an island of the ocean, so very very close indeed to the mainland of Britain that most aren't aware of it's island status.
   I lived for a time in Vancouver, but in the UBC Endowment grounds - at the very tip of Vancouver - the ocean minutes walking away, even for a small kid.
  I later lived for a time in Putney and Ealing - river's edge suburbs of London England.
   I live twice in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, the last time for 20 years  and now for 30 years in Halifax --- very close to the water's edge.
   However, like all my other homes bar one, still one not quite within sight of it.
 You see, despite all those years living near the water's edge, I never actually lived within direct sight and smell and feel of it - except in Seaforth.
   That it is why Seaforth was so important to my mental formation - that and the age I was when I lived there.
   I lived there full time for only brief periods - in 1955-1956 and between 1961 and1965.
   But both periods were critical. In the first I was just old enough to retain those all important firm first memories.
  In the second period, I was in my critical 10-14 period of maturation.
  In addition, I should say I was in Seaforth all summer between the ages of 14 and 18 and for much of the summer (and bouts of winter,fall and spring) ever since.
   Our family still owns land there - my parents moved back gradually to full time residency, after moving to Dartmouth full time for just 5 years.
   The next land fall our Seaforth house looks out seaward to, is I believe, Bordeaux in southern France. The open ocean is but 200 metres away---- and incidentally it is relatively rare in Nova Scotia to see the open ocean from a house- our province is a coast of deep bays.
   Ocean wind and rain storms lash our 150 year old house, built literally like a sailing ship, until it creaks alarmingly like an old sailing ship 'working' in high seas.
  But our part of Seaforth is only a tiny part of a much larger system : starting in the interior watershed for Chezzetcook River and Lake, it becomes a tidal flats cum narrow drowned river valley estuary, before emptying into the ocean between two guard barriers of resistance rock.
   The original soil is terrible, but Chezzetcook is blessed by being the centre of a vast field of red clay drumlins that form its arable hills, its capes and its inlet islands.
  Between drumlins and the rich marine life produced in such a littoral zone, the earliest settlers - first Micmac aboriginals and then their relatives among the earliest Acadians, eked out an adequate life here.
   In 1962, aged ten, I heard and read the uproar about Rachel Carson's article and then book "SILENT SPRING". It impressed my young mind muchly. ( I had just started reading adult books and magazines and listening to adult radio.)
  But may I confess ? I never could get far in her book - then and now - past the first chapter or two.
   No mind - our family, like millions of others, was pre-sold to believe her based on our enjoyment of her earlier- better - book : "THE SEA AROUND US".
   Our bible, every time we went to a beach or a rock pool.
   Soooooooooo - given my 'back story' ---- how could I not help but to grow up a littoral commensalist .
  And it was that  plus the fact I knew as a young kid that my morning glass of milk was likely laced with Strontium 90 fallout from an nuclear explosion half a world away ,made me a confirmed global commensalist from an early age....

 --- Michael Marshall

Two thirds of humanity are "Littorally" commensalists - and don't even know it !

   Two thirds of humanity lives along the edges of waterways - oceans, rivers, lakes : living in the Littoral Zone, as biologists and ecologists like to call it.
   Seaforth, along the Chezzetcook Lake/River/Inlet system is an example of but one such community drawn to the littoral.

   That place of half water/half land --- that highly biologically productive co-mingling of bodily fluids, that highly productive miscegenation of land and water - that bastard,mongrel, metis, half breed of  terra firma and H2O.
   It is that very high productivity that led humanity to the water's edge and kept it there - even in the days of Galton and Darwin when Social Darwinism proclaimed the degenerate dangers of mixing and half-breededness.
   But few within humanity are well taught in the public school system of the importance of water's-edge-living in the history of mankind and that is to be pitied.
   Because land and water mixing and sharing of each other - fresh and salt water mixing and sharing of each other ---- they are a textbook case of global commensality : littorally ....

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Science under the microscope: the old BIG question versus the new BIG question

   GCR is not at all interested in the old BIG question that animated so many researchers for so many years : how exactly are scientific discoveries  made ?
   The new BIG question for ordinary citizens/activists as well as for those academics in the areas of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and the History and Philosophy of Science (HPST), is this:
 How exactly are scientific discoveries made popular ?

   Not made public, mark you well : how are they made popular - popular enough in some cases to overthrow the old paradigms of not just professional scientists but of all world culture.
   In particular, GCR is driven to find out why the startling discoveries made in science between 1895 and 1935 are still not popular science.
    Popular as in, 'found in public school teaching and textbooks' or as in 'found in the mindsets of politicians,newspaper editors and CEOs - not to mention their voters,readers and customers.'
  Why did it take the Apocalypse of 1945 to even begin the process of popularization?
   And if Modernity did fall in 1945 as 'everybody* claims', why is it still alive and well in the 2010s - in fact, a very fit competitor to its fresh young replacement - Global Commensality ?
   (*Albeit the Deniers yet have not addressed this question, but rest assured - when they do ,they will deny this consensus as well. )
   Peering through this historical prism, GCR tends to see the current debate between Deniers and Doomers as a re-hash of the old,old debate between Sky Gods and Earthlings, from the time of WWII...

GCN's "P3" Theory of Communications

   GCN thinks there is absolutely no difference what so ever between getting your paper into NATURE, your play onto Broadway or your party into Parliament.
   They all follow the same wellworn "P3" path.

    Originating from secretly to semi-secret Private - via gatekeepers to nominally or widely Published via gatekeepers to currently or perpetually Popular.
   Note the audacious claim that there is no such thing as Public information....

Move over Mengele ; We're Number One , We're Number One !

    Hotly-contested Canadian election after election goes by and Canadians lament the results don't even rate a squib in most foreign news media.
   Diplomats inform them that Canadians rate below "watching paint dry", even below Belgians and the Swiss, in the most boring things on Earth contest.
   But not anymore, and for this, Canadians can lift their voices to the Heavens and in one loud voice proclaim : "Thank you Mr Harper - thank you, thank you, thank you !!!!"

   JAMES HANSEN is the best known and most respected scientist on the "human carbon pollution of the atmosphere is causing grievous climate change" brief.
  When he decides to pen an opinion piece in the pages of the New York Times, his comments get amplified and repeated in all the nations of the world's major media, bar none.
   Oops !
   Bar one ---- Canada.
   Maybe it's something he said.
   Maybe it's because he said that if Canada does proceed on its present course and fully develops its tar sands, it's "game over for the climate", for civilization and for 50% of all species.
   Hansen's opinion piece pointed out a fact that is rarely noted (at least in the servile mainstream Canadian media) : all the carbon bound up in the tar sands of Canada is twice the amount of all the carbon pollution we have already added to the atmosphere from all the nations' use of petroleum, throughout all of history.
   For years, we've been taught that Dr Joseph Mengele and his Nazi pals were the biggest threat to civilization and the planet.
  "Well, you'd sorta expect that kinda of thing from the Prussians now wouldn't you ?" went the sneer.
   "I mean - well - the Prussians aren't like Canadians, now are they? Not like that northern blessedly Peaceable Kingdom at all."
   No, the Prussians are not: they have stopped their nuclear plants and are devoting much of their highly respected brainpower to solar and wind science.
   By contrast - and thanks to Stephen Harper and that nice old couple down your street who put up a Tory sign in the last election - the Canadians are no longer considered 'boring' by their worldly neighbours.
   Forget "Apocalypse Now" - its "Apocalypse Eh !" - death by tar mixed with maple syrup.
   No, now words like 'evil' and 'mass murder' are what come to mind when other nations' citizens, investors, immigrants and tourists think of Canada.
  We're Number One, We're Number One, We're Number One    !!!!!!!!!!!!  ....

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why are we STILL teaching kids "FLAT EARTH" geometry ?

   Parallel Lines of Longitude : what lines ? Aren't parallel lines supposed to never meet , but don't parallel longitudes actually meet - at our North and South Poles ?
    What in the name of all public school math is going on here?

    Forget public educational authorities bowing to political correctness pressure from those who deny human carbon pollution of the atmosphere and that species evolve over time.
    Most of us believe the world is not flat but a sphere - a blue sphere - we've seen the photos of it taken out in space.
   But the math we teach in school comes across like it was handed down on tablets of stone to Moses.
   (Along with Commandant 11: "Thou shall not claim that fossil fuels will ever run out, though you also deny that fossils ever did run about.")
  It is called Euclidean Geometry and it has the outstanding advantage of being simple to demonstrate on a classroom chalkboard and thus in making even ho-hum mathematicians seem god-like.
   Where it isn't at all simple to demonstrate, is out in the physical world.
  Out there it is not actually correct  or true - at least not true like a law carved out on stone and handed down to you by G.O.D. Himself should be.
  It is actually a 'quick and dirty', 'close enough for the P. Eng', type of rough and ready 'field math'.
  Fail to believe, oh Earthling ?
  Take your bog-ordinary orange -- it looks a lot like the Earth - which it should as both are spheres or balls.
   Score it around the equator and then from North Pole to South Pole and back again - then turn it horizontally 180 degrees and again score it from Pole to Pole and back.
  You now have divided the Earth-cum-orange's surface into 8 equal parts: triangles.
  Or are they ?
   A triangle, as your dimly remembered High School teacher was always quick to remind you, is such that all of its internal angles always add up to180 degrees.
  Measure those 1/8ths of an orange carefully and then reflect.
  Don't add up to 180 degrees do they ?
  Welcome to the incredibly useful world of non-Elucidean math : the math of measuring land for land sales on this sphere we call Earth.
   Well, actually, unless the piece of land is very big indeed we are unlikely to note the error in measurement if we don't use non-Elucidean geometry.
   But it is there and it matters , or should matter, to the two thousand years of mathematicians who failed to even notice the error let alone chose to ignore it.
  Yep, the would-be "Masters of the Universe" turned out to be "The Gang who Couldn't Measure Straight "!
   Elucidean math is incredibly useful --- and long may we ordinary joes and josephines continue to use it in our ordinary daily lives.
   But let us also hear from the world's collected mathematicians a big and sincere apology, a sort of scientific Truth and Reconciliation, over them foisting Euclid's Geometry upon us and upon themselves as the only,the only possible, presentation of  physical reality.
   Yeah - as if that is likely !
    As if highly educated mathematicians are going to admit to us that they didn't notice the math implications of the fact that the world was round, long after even uneducated peasants knew it was round.
   If stuff like this gets around, then where will their pensions and their prestige be ....

DARWIN at his ethical worst : the Janet Browne biography

   Admitably GCR did rather hit out at Thomas Huxley in the blog post about Bernie Lightman at Kings College University.
   But no one was more critical of the hierarchical nature of Victoria Science than Thomas Huxley - and rightly so !
   Janet Browne, Darwin's biographer, frequently takes a useful forensic accounting approach to her subject's efforts.
    Pointing out that the cost of even the basic microscope his doting father gave him as a boy, was worth the annual income of *several* farm labourer families.
   Their kids might have better powers of observation that Charles, but were unlikely to make much of them without the ability to own a basic microscope.
   Darwin, not Wallace, got the fame for the Theory of Evolution, she points out, in part because the incredibly high cost of scientific illustrations favoured the rich amateur over the poor amateur -- both scientist and average reader responded better to lavishly illustrated articles in an age starved for visual information of distant or obscure events.
   And because Darwin could afford to use the (private) letter post to further his public aims by spending what was then the equivalent of a large middle class annual income simply on postage and paper.
   GCR asked Browne on a her visit to Dal whether some of the revelations* she uncovered had lowered her estimation of the personal character of Darwin, as it had done for us, and she was less than fulsome in her defense of Darwin it seemed.
   *Such as him stealing/borrowing a document he particularly wanted from the grieving widow of a poorer colleague, because he was sure he could get away with it. 
   Huxley's oblique response to rich amateurs (like his friend Darwin) was to publicly urge that if institutions (and thus ultimately the public) provided the equipment and lab rooms (and salaries), and individual scientists simply provided the brain power to use them, Society could then make use of the best brains around .
   Then the British would no longer be simply 'getting by' scientifically , by being content to just use 'good-to-average brains, but with rich daddies' ....

Thursday, May 10, 2012

NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN's "warbaby" now runs Canada's war on the environment

    Feisty "Jumpin' Joe" Oliver is 72 years young and unofficially is Canada's Minister of Natural Resources (officially he is the Minister responsible for the War on the Environment and Environmentalists.)
   To understand why he got the role of the pitbull in the Harperville movie, it helps to recall that "Jumpin' Joe" was conceived the week that Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany.

   Hard to say exactly what happened more than 72 years ago, but in every war and in every country around the world many, many couples suddenly get 'frisky' when war is declared.
   Because, at the very least, becoming a brand new daddy can help keep him out of the war.
   At 72, "Jumpin' Joe" is one of the oldest cabinet ministers since the heyday of the Old Man Canadian federal cabinets of the 1950s.
   But "Jumpin' Joe" wasn't an old man back then - far from it.
   He was still just 15 when Canada's fabulous Fifties Resource Boom got under way, in the days when cars had fins like dinosaurs and were the size of small aircraft carriers.
   If the age of fifteen is the time when our most formative experiences happen, that "Jumpin' Joe" never forgot those heady days after Leduc #1 gushed black oil and the sky was as big and as blue as the eyes of an Alberta rancher.
   Now finally - 50 years later - he is finally getting a chance to relive those teenage dreams.
   Limits to what Canada can do in Tomorrow Country ?
    Joe denies all that as just tommyrot from a bunch of defeatist young 'uns.
   In his youth, young people believed, they had faith.
   In Progress and in an Ever-Better Tomorrow.
    Joe is still 16 , still behind the wheel of a cherry-red '37 coupe.
   Only this time, the hot rod vehicle he is burning up the rubber with is called 'Canada's Tar Sands'.
   So look carefully, both ways, on any road this 72 year old 'perpetual teenager' might be joyriding down, behind his souped-up, Syncrude-sized, gas-guzzling machine.....