Monthly Archives: January 2007

if you think it’s cold

Then you should read this article from the New Scientist.

As bad as you think, it’s worse. A couple of scientists did some of what scientists do, and came up with some rough predictions for the next 100 years. It’s not just global warming although it will certainly be that–most if not all of the next 100 years are each expected to be the hottest on record. Climate change will lead to smaller forests, more floods and droughts. We’re really in for it unless things start to turn around. Dinosaurs ice-skating through the jungle indeed…

Also check out wsoft.heart‘s post on the environmental justice implications of climate change.


Freezing rain

I took some pictures of the aftermath of a couple of days of freezing rain here.

Robert Anton Wilson RIP

Robert Anton Wilson died yesterday. He wrote, among other things, The Illuminatus Trilogy, which I would say has had a huge influence on me in my life. I read it in high school and was really into it at the time. Basically it is a very entertaining story about an ancient conspiracy, psychedelic drugs, the future of the human race, etc. RAW was one of a group of pop psychologists and philosophers who were highly supportive of the use of psychedelic drugs as tools to explore one’s consciousness. I used to read a lot of RAW and his associates like Timothy Leary, Terrence McKenna, John Lilly.

After a few years of readings these folks I started to become more skeptical of RAW and friends’ philosophy that I saw as essentially based on hedonistic self-interest. I started to realize that the vast majority of people on this planet that don’t have the privilege of being able to do the exercises in RAW’s Quantum Psychology. Many people are struggling against colonialism and violence is so many different ways. I think that it’s not responsible to talk about eight-fold consciousness without struggling against oppression and exploitation on the economic and structural levels as well.

I don’t think that a dry, boring, political approach to the world’s problems is sufficient. But I also don’t think that RAW’s ideas had enough substantive political analysis. Some of the most inspiring work out there has a mix of both.

None of this is to say that I regret readings Illuminatus or any other of RAW’s work. Go out and get a copy of the Illumanitus Trilogy. Hopefully you will appreciate its absurd, intelligent humor, and maybe it will make you a little more open to life’s mysteries.

Children of Men

I’m pretty into science fiction, and one of my favorite sub-genres is the dystopia. A dystopia is the antithesis or “evil twin” of a utopia. Instead of a future (or other world) in which our society’s problems have been solved, it is a world where they are amplified. Very often a dystopia is a comment on the real world–1984 as a critique of Stalinism, for example.

But I think that in most of the dystopia genre, the story is that of a world that has come through a tremendous crisis period and of a society that has emerged far more stratified and repressive. In other words, there is a discontinuity of some sort, like a large jump into the future without a real filling-in of what happens between now and then. In 1984, for example, The Party already has ultimate control when the story starts. In 12 Monkeys a virus has already forced humans underground. In We the One State has already built its glass city.

Rarely does a dystopian story take place during the collapse itself. Stories that involve time travel (Woman on the Edge of Time and 12 Monkeys come to mind) might have their protagonists travel between the future (after the collapse) and the present (before the collapse), but we don’t see 12 Monkeys‘ virus take its toll or the civil war of Woman start.

Children of Men, on the other hand, takes place during the collapse itself. It is set only a few years in the future (2027) and some of the themes are so relevant today: prison-like refugee camps, global war, police states. In Children of Men, the dystopia is in the process of creation. The world is in the process of falling apart, but it is not yet done falling apart; there is still hope. That aspect, and the fact that the world depicted is so eerily similar to today’s, makes the film so ultimately unnerving. I don’t think it entirely matters that the story was set in the UK; you can’t have a ‘department of homeland security’ being shown putting hoods on people and torturing them without it being seen as an indictment of the US and its policies today.

There is way more to say about this film but I think one important parts is that the first (and only) woman to become pregnant in 20 years is black. Maybe the title ‘Children of Men’ can be understood an indictment of patriarchy. But I think if you think about what happens to the characters (don’t want give away too much here), there is also a very strong antiracist theme as well. The power of reproduction is returned to a woman of color. If the story is a take on the nativity story (which it seems it must be; besides the plot connections, the film opened on Christmas Day) then it is a race-conscious take.

Only the US could turn Saddam Hussein into a martyr

Maybe a present-day variation on an old Vulcan proverb. Sunni, Shiite, Kurd…the US has ultimate responsibility for everything that is going in in Iraq right now–and the repercussions that occur throughout the “Muslim World.”

It takes real genius to create a martyr out of Saddam Hussein. Here is a man dyed deep with the blood of his own people who refused to fight for him during the United States-led invasion three-and-a-half years ago. His tomb in his home village of Awja is already becoming a place of pilgrimage for the five million Sunni Arabs of Iraq who are at the core of the uprising.

But life did not get better after 2003. Face-to-face interviews with 2,000 Iraqi adults by the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies in November revealed that 90 per cent of them said the situation in their country had been better before the US-led invasion. Only 5 per cent of people said it was better today. The survey was carried out in Baghdad, in the wholly Sunni Anbar province and the entirely Shia Najaf province. It does not include the Kurds, who remain favourable to the occupation.

Cloned meat: “safe” but not smart

The FDA has announced that it has deemed meat from cloned animals safe for human consumption. I didn’t know that the FDA was even considering this, but when I read some different responses to the news, I wasn’t all that surprised. Biotech companies rejoiced–after all, why bother with a potential profit-reducer like breeding when you can clone the same animal (and of course its quality of meat) over and over again. Consumer groups criticized the decision (pdf), saying that cloned meat might be dangerous to eat.

But to me it seems that cloned meat would be equally as safe to the consumer as non-cloned meat. In fact, it would be indistinguishable due to the nature of cloning, which is essentially making an exact copy. This was exactly the FDA’s rationale for approving the meat for consumption. But just because something is safe to eat in the short term doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Did the FDA consider the effects on biodiversity–the fact that a herd of cows of the same genetic stock will be more vulnerable to diseases? How about the fact that, according to previous legislation, the US Patent and Trademark Office can now issue patents for animals “created” through biotechnology?

Already farmers in many parts of the world are forced to pay for seeds each year, because biotech companies have discovered how to genetically engineer plants to not produce them. These are, in many cases, they very same indigenous crops that farmers have grown for thousands of years. In India, biotech giant Monsanto provided pressure that helped pass laws that makes it illegal for farmers to share seeds with other farmers.

In this context we should see the FDA’s decision as a further step in the industrialization and bureaucratization of the world’s food supply. Cloning animals to produce meat will not make meat cheaper or more nutritious. It will not mitigate the harmful effects on the environment of factory farms. It will not increase food security. It only serves to allow these companies to increase their control over the world’s food supply.