Yeah, I’m not a fan of the Democrats at all. Or the two party system or the system that we have in place now. It needs a complete renovation from the ground up. Even so, this is worth a watch.
Category Archives: Citizenship
May 19, 2022
So, former president George Bush, who was responsible for the invasion of Iraq in 2001 was speaking at an event and said this: “The decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I mean of Ukraine.” Of course, his assault on Iraq was brutal and unjustified. And it’s a shame that more US citizens fail to account for it.
Climate Change and Personal Responsibility
It seems that once a year I end up writing a post about climate change and personal responsibility. It’s a repeating thread based on a long running frustration that I have with this notion that we humans are somehow incapable of affecting change.
We act as though the government that we all consider broke, the government that has, thus far, refused to address the problem of our time in any meaningful way, is suddenly going to fix it. It doesn’t and so things get worse. Year after year the climate reports keep coming and they always report that the situation is more dire than previously thought. Our response is to throw our hands up in the air. We gnash our teeth and rend our garments in despair (some anyway) but we keep on keeping on. We keep driving. Keep buying. Keep heating and cooling to our comfort. Keep flying. Keep doing everything and anything. As if we need the government to force us to behave better.
We say to ourselves that it’s really industry that is the problem as if global capitalism operates in a vacuum and for no reason. Somehow we conveniently forget that capitalism operates to feed our manufactured desires (and of course, for their profit).
In the absence of meaningful action for 20 years taken by government, industry or citizens, we now find ourselves here and now. And we still insist that we are powerless to make changes. I think we can and should do better.
So, here we are, February 2021. A new president, a Congress controlled by Democrats and we will see if any progress is made. It’s clear that Biden wants to push hard to not only undo the backward steps by the previous administration and go even further than Obama did. That’s great. But we can see that, as expected, there will be obstructions and the interests of energy producers, particularly those based on coal, will fight back. So, we can expect, as usual, a few steps forward but it won’t be enough. And when power swings back the other way progress will again stop and possibly push back the other way.
All that said, when I look around at the U.S. in 2021 I see a lot of confusion about basic truth and reality. In a world of delusion, when half the population seems guided by conspiracy theories, it’s increasingly difficult to have much hope in rational, science-based thinking and decision making be it in personal life or any level of government.
November 2, 2020
I’ve not posted much about the shitstorm that is 2020. For that matter, I’ve not posted much about the swamp that is the Trump presidency.
Here it is, short and to the point.
Trump is a criminal, bully and generally of the lowest character possible. I voted against him in 2016 and again in 2020. The Republican Party has shown itself to be criminal and racist, not a surprised. The people that have come out of the cracks in the past 4 years to support Trump… well, that’s another whole discussion involving racism, white supremacy, pent of frustration with the U.S. political system and economy and more. Another time.
The Democratic Party is another sham. Criminal in it’s own ways. Representative not of people but of global capitalism (just as the Republicans are) but with a more reasonable, psuedocompassionate face. But again, the establishment.
The two party system is obviously broken. Politics in the U.S. are broken and toxic. What we have serves corporate interests and it needs a complete re-write in a different, completely rethought and new form.
All that said, social media and Trump have illustrated just how broken, toxic and divided the general culture of the U.S. has devolved into. We’re a long, long, long way from the important solutions to our immediate, mid-term and long-term problems. It’s going to get uglier. There might be others out there framing it all with a more constructive, positive light. It’s a crisis and often the disruption of crisis can also be the groundwork for new solutions and progress. We’ll see. But in the short term, yeah, ugly. Dangerous.
December 14, 2019
An excellent thread on Twitter in coping with the constant flow of lies and the integrity of democracy. I’d argue that what we have isn’t really a democracy anyway but that’s another discussion.
This is an extremely important question.
We are being drenched in a Tsunami of Lies.
The better people understand the goal behind those drenching us, and how to respond, the better chance democracy has of surviving.
— Read on mobile.twitter.com/Teri_Kanefield/status/1204791540771504129
Internet Growing Pains and “Social Media”
In my previous post I spent a few minutes reminiscing about my early time on the internet and my webiversary. While I was out for my walk yesterday I was pondering how I used to think of the internet, say, in 1998. The web was just emerging and I, an anarchist activist in my Memphis community, thought it would eventually prove to be an important part of the democratic process. At the time it seemed the roadblocks to a more meaningful democracy were ignorance and apathy. I thought that as the footprint of the web grew, that it would become a tool that would inevitably lead to a better informed citizenry which would lead to a less apathetic citizenry.
Oh how wrong I was.
Of course at the time “social media” did not exist, at least not in the modern, popular form. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, no YouTube. LiveJournal would be the first to gain a foothold in 1999. Others soon followed, Friendster in 2002, MySpace in 2003. But none had the reach of Facebook in 2019 which for many people is the web.
Rather than a diverse web we have a web largely dominated by a few huge entities, Google and Facebook being the best examples. I’m not going to do a deep dive into the many problems that might be explored here. Suffice it to say that the pervasiveness of Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter (in approximate order of influence) have arguably increased ignorance as they have decreased apathy. The dynamic that has been put into play is a citizenry that is emotionally manipulated away from understanding or even attempting to understand present day social, political and scientific facts. Rather than a more informed citizenry engaging in a more active democracy, based upon knowledge and reason, social media, as the face of the modern web, has led to an increasingly fractured and hostile social experience based on rumors, conspiracy theories, pervasive misinformation. I’m using the term social experience to encompass our digital social interactions as well as our “real life” interactions, which is to say, the experiences we have face-to-face in our families, with friends and co-workers.
By chance I came across this post Ryan Murphy at Fulcra which, in a way, touches on some of this dynamic but from a different direction. He starts with a quote from Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. I’ve mention this book by Sagan before and this quote fits well here too:
I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…
Murphy, in his post, mentions a thread on Reddit about the growth of anti-intellectualism and conspiracy theories. I confess I’ve not read through that thread yet so I’m not sure what ground it covers but Murphy ends his post with:
People in the Reddit thread point out that these seemingly recent trends have been taking root for a long time. While this is true, it’s also true that (just like seemingly everything else) these phenomena have been moving much faster and growing much larger in recent years. Which leads to a curious tangent: how do accelerated scales of change play on our biases? Does the interaction between these biases and our accelerated experiences change our perception of the world?
I think the answer to his last question is yes. The accelerated experience is a part of the dynamic. I deleted my Facebook account in 2015 after being on it for 5 or more years. Almost every family member and friend that I can think of are still using Facebook. According to Statista, there are 190 million active users in the U.S. Wikipedia’s Facebook page provides an excellent overview of the influence that Facebook has had including its rapid rate of growth and the many issues/scandals/controversies that have surfaced.
It seems obvious that the processes of modern social life have, in just 10 years, become deeply influenced by social media, specifically Facebook. What is less clear are the long-term implications and effects as well as the response to this new dynamic. As of 2019 there have been numerous serious scandals that have been broadly reported by the media and thus far the company seems immune with the user base seemingly uninterested. From the 2016 elections and likely to the 2020 elections we see far reaching affects in U.S. electoral politics but also on family and community relations.
We’re just over a decade into the online social media experiment and while we seem to have shed some of our apathy, our new-found enthusiasm for engagement is less informed. We’re allowing ourselves to be tweaked by algorithms designed to manipulate us so that our attention and our data might be sold at great profit. Why? We say it’s for baby pictures. We like the fun memes about animals, the clever jokes and pranks. We tell ourselves it’s our way of staying connected. But the social media software engineers behind the scenes will tell you that your engagement, your attention is more about dopamine and social reward.
Rather than a diverse World Wide Web that leads to an informed humanity and better democracy, we have a comforting interface that is designed to stimulate the chemistry of our brains into a range of emotions that will keep us clicking and tapping, consuming but not actively thinking. A tool for keeping us entertained so that we can be sold and, to some degree, controlled.
I’ll end with a modification of Sagan’s quote updated for 2019:
…when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our smart phones and nervously consulting our social media feeds, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…
April 19, 2019
Get your copy of the Mueller Report.
Exploring the Universe Together
|NGC 4594, the Sombrero Galaxy|
Recently Kaleesha put up a pretty fantastic couple of posts. The first, Creation, the Big Bang or Both? is one in which she shares her current attempts to better understand the Big Bang. It has been very interesting to read about her intellectual journey since her rejection of Christianity several months ago and inspiring to see her push on in her search for truth. In her second post, Astronomical Scattershooting (what a great phrase, eh?), she provided a wonderful description of her current explorations of the universe as an amateur astronomer. My post here is something that grew out of my initial comment to her on her blog.
What I enjoy most about being an amateur astronomer is learning about the Universe through a blended process of observing distant objects and then reading about those objects in the Wikipedia which is usually supplemented by a related episode of Astronomy Cast. It adds so much to my life to be able to look up through a telescope and view the Sombrero galaxy, to really take it in and ponder its existence. I wonder, who may be there and are they looking out in this direction? In my last viewing of that galaxy I spent nearly 30 minutes allowing my eyes to adjust and taking the time to notice the details. After a time of looking through the scope and seeing so many beautiful objects, supplemented by the research, I can say that now when I look up with my naked eyes I see it all very differently. There is now a deeper awareness brewing in me, fermenting knowledge, of the details and I more fully appreciate what I see and the emotions I experience as a result.
But of course we don’t explore this Universe alone do we? At the forefront we have a global community of scientists cooperating and collaborating and challenging one another through this amazing process we call science. This open community, based on finding the mistakes and correcting the theories and adding in the details as they are discovered with newer, better instrumentation, sets the example for how we can better get at the truth. It is a never ending process, an ongoing adventure and exploration of our Universe and one we can all take part in. Those of us that are not scientists have a role as well.
As citizens of our planet it is our responsibility to make our own effort to learn and to explore. It is our responsibility to reach out, to share and engage with one another and with the knowledge being produced. The internet is allowing for increased communication between the public and the scientific community. For those interested in astronomy and related fields there are the sites I mentioned a couple days ago: CosmoQuest, the Planetary Society and the Citizen Science Alliance, all of which have at their core mission an attempt to engage the public and even to create a space for them to participate. Most of these groups are also involved with Google+ hangouts which allow for real-time video conferencing with the scientists doing the work. If you can’t be around to watch live they are all archived on YouTube. For example, here’s the Planetary Society’s Channel.
It is perhaps one of the great failings of the past 60 years that we have come to think of ourselves as alone and with that we have come to feel isolated, alienated. In that kind of world it is easy to become fearful and when we live in a culture of fear and insecurity we tend to avoid failure. We avoid growth out of fear of failure and we avoid accepting our mistakes because to do so is to admit we are fallible.
Fortunately, for us, the Universe that we actually inhabit is not one in which we can ever be alone or alienated, at least not physically. We might come to feel separated and alone in our minds due to our perception and our culture, but as far as the reality of the physical Universe that we live in, we are all very much connected:
When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than most of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity — that’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on and activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson
It is natural for us to share what we know or think we know and it is natural for us to be curious. It is these natural desires, coupled with critical thought and the scientific method that we can lift ourselves up and, just as importantly, lift one another up. We have great challenges before us but in teaching one another and encouraging one another we can do remarkable things. In our cooperation we have the opportunity to co-create something beautiful: each other.
We truly are in this together. There is no such thing as alone in this Universe and the sooner we remember that, feel that, and understand that, the sooner we can get on being whole again. We are but one species sharing this planet sharing this cosmos. I did not know Kaleesha or her husband or children until just a couple months ago and am thankful to Bill (another of our community and local librarian) for sending them my way when they indicated interest in astronomy. As a result they have become an important part of our little outpost of science advocates in this out of the way rural community. As long as I’m expressing my appreciation I think I’ll also mention how happy I am to have connected to Frances, Russ, Angie and Karen, all humans with which I am grateful to have met since moving to this little corner of the Universe and who have shared the exploration with me.
Advocating for Science Literacy and Reason
I’ve always been a big fan of getting at the truth of things no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable we may be getting there. It’s something I’ve insisted on and many times in my life it has caused me a good bit of trouble. That said, I don’t feel I have much choice in the matter. It’s the activist and the radical in me. It is, perhaps sad, that insisting on the truth might, today, be considered radical. I suppose when you look at the definition of “radical” it does speak to the search for truth. According to the New Oxford American dictionary, radical is: “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”
In recent months my small town life got a bit rough in terms of some of my relationships. Specifically, those relationships which I’d developed with local conservatives. It was my intent to cross lines, to try to relate to my fellow humans as humans regardless of their political or cultural leanings. As a result, I’d gotten to be “friends” with quite a few folks that I tended not to agree with on many things. They knew and I knew those differences existed but we made a go of it. But eventually those differences presented themselves front and center and some of those friendships ended in turmoil.
What I am coming face to face with in rural Missouri is the hard truth that many rural residents are not comfortable with having their beliefs challenged, most notably their religious beliefs. Some are able to co-exist with science and accept the possibility that their belief in a higher power can be retained along with an acceptance of science. Others don’t seem able to bridge the gap but tend to remain neutral. Some are resistant to the point of hostility.
I have pondering for some time what seems to be an innate tension that exists between religion and science. This is a very real and very serious problem and manifests itself in important and basic elements of science education, namely the teaching of the Big Bang, evolution and climate science. Creationism and intelligent design (a version of creationism promoted by the Discovery Institute) are not, in any way, valid alternatives to evolution. Nor does the fundamentalist Christian community provide any kind of explanation or description of the origin of the universe and yet, they have established an influence in public education on this as well. While the U.S. has downgraded and simplified math and science education other countries are making great progress.
My intent here is to explicitly advocate for science literacy and reason. Evolution, the Big Bang, climate change are all areas of science that have been, to a great degree, settled. While there are many in this and other rural areas who do understand the importance of science as a method for understanding the world and as a basis of progress, there are many who do not. A part of the problem comes from the churches, from organized religion who are crossing lines in terms of social and political advocacy which cannot be tolerated. Another part of the problem is the confused and sloppy thinking that comes from religious belief. I would argue that religion, as it is based on faith, actually requires a level of rejection of reason and the scientific method. At the core, science is the search for truth while religion is advocacy of a belief in something that can never be shown to be true.
I’d like to explicitly support a few organizations that are doing important work that you can support and in some cases actually participate in via citizen science projects.
CosmoQuest is one of my favorites. From their website:
Our goal is to create a community of people bent on together advancing our understanding of the universe; a community of people who are participating in doing science, who can explain why what they do matters, and what questions they are helping to answer. We want to create a community, and here is where we invite all of you to be a part of what we’re doing.
There are lots of ways to get involved: You can contribute to science, take a class, join a conversation, or just help us spread the word by sharing about us on social media sites.
Like every community, we are constantly changing to reflect our members. This website will constantly be growing and adding new features. Overtime, we’re going to bring together all the components of a research learning environment (aka grad school), from content in the form of classes, resources, and a blog, to research in the form of citizen science, to social engagement through a forum, social media, and real world activities.
Another is the National Center for Science Education.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents, and concerned citizens working to keep evolution and climate science in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific and educational aspects of controversies surrounding the teaching of evolution and climate change, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. Our 4500 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious and political affiliations.
Last but not least is The Planetary Society, co-founded by Carl Sagan and currently headed by Bill Nigh.
The Planetary Society sponsors projects that will seed innovative space technologies, nurture creative young minds, and be a vital advocate for our future in space.
Why we do it
Our Mission is to create a better future by exploring other worlds and understanding our own.
Current projects include:
- Fighting for funding in Congress
- Developing new technologies to deflect asteroids
- Hunting for Earth-like planets
- Searching for intelligent life in the Universe
- Creating a global network of EarthDials
- And flying our very own solar sail spacecraft, Lightsail-1.
Interested in getting your hands dirty with some citizen science? Of course you are! Check out the Zooniverse which is a project of the Citizen Science Alliance.
The Zooniverse began with a single project, Galaxy Zoo , which was launched in July 2007. The Galaxy Zoo team had expected a fairly quiet life, but were overwhelmed and overawed by the response to the project. Once they’d recovered from their server buckling under the strain, they set about planning the future!
Galaxy Zoo was important because not only was it incredibly popular, but it produced many unique scientific results, ranging from individual, serendipitous discoveries to those using classifications that depend on the input of everyone who’s visited the site. This commitment to producing real research – so that you know that we’re not wasting your time – is at the heart of everything we do.
Real Science Online
The Zooniverse and the suite of projects it contains is produced, maintained and developed by the Citizen Science Alliance. The member institutions of the CSA work with many academic and other partners around the world to produce projects that use the efforts and ability of volunteers to help scientists and researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them.
My favorite thus far is Planet Hunters which I have participating in. It’s very easy and exciting to know that I’m actually doing some of the preliminary work required to find planets around distant stars.
Of course there are others but these are the ones I wanted to mention today.
Pondering the Future
Specifically my personal future and also thinking a bit about this blog. I’ve obviously not been very consistent with updates. Honestly, I put some of the blame for that on Facebook. I’m sure I am not the only one who spends too much time there. While it is great for sharing I thing the downside is that much of that sharing is just reposting. I am also leery of so much content being under one roof so to speak.
So, still here. With the crazy heat and drought of this past summer my garden suffered as did the many trees and bushes I put in over the past four years. That said, almost all of my perennials survived even if they didn’t thrive. Luckily the veggie garden was, by chance, smaller. The climate future looks increasingly scary for those of us that want to eat food, wink wink.
As for my project here, it will continue for the time being though I struggle to remain enthusiastic with the annual veggies. Something about three months of intense drought and heat seems to make my garden time outside a bit less enjoyable. Our well is shallow which means I either need to haul water from the lake or invest several thousand into a new well. Climate change is ugly.
So, I’m thinking that it is time to add in a new element of activity which reflects a new interest (actually a childhood/life interest that has been sitting in a corner of my mind): astronomy! Well, science in general, but astronomy especially. While I have no intention of abandoning the permaculture work I think having another primary activity is a good thing and in the winter when growing is out I’ll have something very interesting to explore, namely, our universe.
Which brings me back to one my thoughts on the blog. I’ve not been consistent in writing about my permaculture/homestead efforts but do think I might be more consistent in reporting on my astronomical explorations as it is the sort of interest that lends itself to data collection and reporting. Should I do that here as a supplement to my other interests or do I start an astronomy based blog? Actually, I think I just sorted it out as I write. I’ll keep it here but will not just add in my astronomical observations but will also add in other science related material.
Actually, and don’t laugh, but I have this vision of humanity (or myself?) that connects to a few episodes/films from Star Trek that have always stuck with me. In particular, those which seem to showcase small, egalitarian villages in which science seems to not only co-exist with daily life, but informs a deeper and greater understanding of the relationship between humans and nature and the larger universe. Contrast this to our modern manifestation which seems to have largely become a tool for corporate profit with little regard to ethics. A great example would be GMOs and modern industrial agriculture as it might compare to a decentralized permaculture-based system informed by local and thoughtful observation.
One outlook, the modern corporate/capitalist/industrial, uses science primarily as a tool for the accumulation of wealth. The other uses science as a method for deepening our understanding of the natural world around us not just for technological development, but for the sake of understanding. In this second outlook the ethics of use would be an important part of the overall process and would include all sorts of new questions and concerns in any sort of possible application of scientific knowledge. In fact, one might say that the second view represents a kind of democratization of applied science.
Wow. I didn’t expect to take this post in this direction but it is interesting and it is something I’ve thought about off and on over the years so, yeah, I’ll be back to this at some point. Another area that I’d like to explore is science literacy and critical thought. There has been a long trend in the U.S. which seems to be gaining a bit of steam when, in fact, it should be losing steam and that is the movement against science. Such a movement can only happen when there is a lack of communication of knowledge. When people are ignorant of established scientific knowledge and the basic method which serves as its foundation there is room for manipulation.
So, you can expect that I’ll be spending some time discussing not just science but specifically science literacy. I’m not a trained scientist but I think I know enough to discuss some issues as a citizen. Specifically I’m likely to dig into the entwined relationship of politics, religion and global capitalism have been used to undermine science literacy to further their capacity as control agents: social, political, economic, ecological… everything from the genetics of corn to humans, from crowd control to the “entertainment” that comes out of the glowing screens in living rooms. Science and technology can be used in many ways for many different and often opposing agendas. I think that will be some interesting exploration.
There is also some real life stuff I’m hoping to make happen that reflects all of this, specifically a few ideas for how I might further science literacy here in rural Missouri where it is greatly needed. I’ll share that as well.