April 29, 2020

Permanent Changes Are Needed in Politics, Economics and Culture - Otherwise, We Remain Doomed

A Collection of Charts, Graphs and Maps Exploring
the Global Oil Industry

The Globalist
April 28, 2020

Just how big is the oil industry? Much bigger and more invasive in our lives than I thought. It is tied to almost every product and service we consider modern necessities and desirables. See the above link for eleven graphics providing facts on the global oil industry.

The last chart from The Globalist (see above, top) shows a selection of consumer products that can be produced from one barrel of oil.

Along with our technological efforts at fixing, ameliorating, and redirecting oil dependency we need a radical reset of our values and beliefs, especially those about our relationships with each other, and with Earth.

Regrettably, this involves efforts in politics and economics, areas where the vast majority of humankind have little to no control.

I say regrettably because of the deep dysfunctional and economic cronyism of current US and global politics. The troughs provided by the wealthy are bottomless and tasty. Leading these political minions of the rich manufacturers and service providers in a better, more humane direction is difficult to nigh impossible, and dangerous.

Some of you think, and have said, I am a contrarian doomsayer. I am, but not without good reason.

am, to a degree, (reluctantly, skeptically), supportive of technology and new ideas to change our modern ways. However, I am reluctant to support the insatiable consumption and inequity at the heart of capitalist modernity.

I also support having hope and supporting activism no matter how dire the present and future look. Some of you think I don’t, but I do.

I am nevertheless going to remain a contrarian, a doomsayer until I see radical, permanent changes in three areas; indicators of which count far more than technology, hope, and activism:

1. Economics. Big oil, manufacturers, and service providers must shift, in word and deed, from infinite growth to sustainability. They must also acknowledge and publicly admit the harm their activities have had on Earth, and Earth as a habitat for life. They must also allocate far more money and resources than they have to other-than-oil-based activities, products, and services.

2. Politics. This vastly complicit lot of money-chasing, power-addicted, preening parasites, mostly (but not all) on the Right, must radically change their legislative and leadership activities, in word and deed.

Laws, leadership, and funding must change to support better, more humane ways of thinking and behaving toward each other; and toward economic policies that are more humane, and Earth and life sustaining. This must be done in a way that is permanent over the long term, not temporarily to suit politician-preferred short-term re-election cycles.

3. Culture. Beliefs, values, and preferred ways of behaving in the minds of persons matter most. They define and support all political, economic, and religious ideas and actions. A radical change is needed. A radical movement is urgently needed away from: human exceptionalism (secular and divine); libertarianism; international and domestic Social Darwinism; and comfort and convenience regardless of the cost to our fellow humans and the planet. This change in culture, within and between societies, must become permanent and sustainable.

None of the above three changes are anywhere near permanent and sustainable. Not even close. Nor do they show significant signs of moving in such better directions. In fact, a good case could be made that the current individualism, populism, and cutthroat hyper-nationalism, in the US and elsewhere, are hallmarks of our current catastrophic direction, and things are getting worse by the day.

Until radically better laws, leadership, economic policies and activities, and new ways of thinking about humankind are permanently and sustainably in place, we shall remain doomed. And I shall remain a contrarian, doomsayer.

This is not another plug for I have announced and plugged it already, but my latest book has scattered through it some suggestions for making these other-than-technology-hope-and-activism changes. Here’s the link:

April 21, 2020

Forget "Tribe" - Become a Citizen of the World

Photo: Raising Miro: On the Road of Life

Ligaya Mishan
April 13, 2020
The New York Times T Magazine

Some things, the writer of this essay gets right, IMHO. Others, she does not.

Writer at large, Ligaya Mishan, declares she is going to rescue "tribe" from "decades of anthropological study that privileged Western civilization." Okay. I guess. But that would be a tall order in a short New York Times T Magazine essay. Yes, the British Colonial Office hired anthropologists in the early-mid 20th Century to further colonialism, and help expand the privileges of Westerners beyond Europe.

I am not sure what decades of anthropological study the writer wants to rescue "tribe" from. Because later she rightly refers to American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins who objected to the term in the mid-20th century; and who was quickly joined by virtually all other American anthropologists, especially within US cultural anthropology. Within British social anthropology, on the other hand, is where the term "tribe" took root in academia and far beyond in the early-20th century. However, even among the Brits its professional usage declined significantly, especially so by the middle of that century. Regrettably, the British, via BBC, still to this day like to report on "tribal clashes" in Africa.

More importantly, there is much more to the anthropological use of "tribe" that Mishan does not address. At the end of this post, for example, there is a link to the use of "tribe" with reference to African ethnic groups, a very good article readers will find informative.

All that said, there are more important fish I want to fry here than the history of anthropology shortcomings in Mishan's essay. The real problems with her essay begin when she tries to "square this [early human within-band bonding] with the ethos of individualism."

Book Review: "Augustus" by John Williams

Caesar Augustus (63BC-14AD)

Over the past year or so, I have been reading ancient Roman history and biographies of notable Romans of that time. I have done so out of interest and at the recommendation of my doctor, a good friend who insists I need some mental popcorn to balance the nonfiction staple of my literary diet. Rather than the fiction he recommends I have opted for the grandeur that was Rome!
I finished my most recent book, Augustus, this morning, in my bed. I mention where I was to express how grateful I am to be retired and have the time to read as much as I want, of what I want. Happily, government reports and white papers, emails, congressional inquiries, immigration law books, have not appeared before my eyes since November 2007. With that and having in mind my friends many of whom are also in their good, old age, I offer below some excerpts from the last pages of Augustus. Pages that focus on the emperor’s final days, his summing the counts of his personal life and the accomplishments of his rule. As background, a good summary of Caesar Augustus’s life may be found here.
Augustus was written by John Williams, a native Texan who was educated at the University of Denver. Williams obtained his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Missouri in 1954, and thereafter returned to the University of Denver to teach literature and creative writing. Williams’s previous books include Butcher’s Crossing (1960) and Stoner (1965). I have read neither.
Augustus was published in 1972 and received the (US) National Book Award in 1973. This book fits best in the category of historical fiction. The contents are factual but the book is no straightforward narrative of events through time. Its format is that of a collection of fictional letters and journal entries by members of Augustus’s family, friends, comrades in arms, enemies, and the prominent poets and historians of his time.
The entries are arranged in an out-of-sequence manner. For example, in one instance you will be reading a letter from 22BC and next a journal entry from 4AD. Then you might go back to 20BC. This took some getting used to for a non-classicist like me, but I adjusted. The method was effective for narrating events and for conveying deeper meanings from the reflective depictions and reminiscences of the writers.
Not being deeply knowledgeable of European classics and geography, I found using Google Maps and Wikipedia useful. I even listed the main characters in chronological order of the dates of their lives. One does not need to go to these lengths to enjoy and learn from this book. It is a true page-turner of mostly short entries written in a clear style, but a notch-up characteristic of the literati of that time. The editors and proofreaders of this great work were meticulous.
From the first page, I simply let my eyes flow and mind relish the vivid imagery of Rome, its people, and their Empire. I did not mark this 305-page masterpiece with marginalia until I reached its final forty pages or so. I then began very minimally placing brackets and asterisks in the margins. I would have begun marking key events in the earlier pages when I was younger. But now, I wanted to focus on writings about living, meaning, dying; understandings of such arrived at by Roman men and women at the close of long, virtuous and often unvirtuous lives.
It is from Augustus’s final letter my excerpts begin. This one is to historian, biographer, and the emperor’s friend, Nicolaus of Damascus. Nicolaus was a Jewish historian and philosopher and intimate friend to Roman client King Herod the Great of Judea. The following are for all of my friends and readers, young and old.

April 1, 2020

New Book by James E. Lassiter - From the Unknown into Uncertainty

James E. Lassiter

To purchase this book click the image or title above, or here.

From the Unknown into Uncertainty is a compilation of my essays and commentaries from 2010 to the present. Most of the material is from my blogs, Facebook (before I jumped ship), and published articles. I revised or rewrote all of the original writings. Much of the material in the essays and commentaries is new. Some essays contain extracts from written communications I have had with a few of you - presented in the book anonymously, of course. Revisions include eliminating run-on sentences and unnecessary jargon, adverbs, and adjectives, curses of my speaking and writing style.

This book is not the breezy, catchy read I somewhere in my mind wish it was. There are breezy, sometimes funny passages in it. But it is really a thinker’s book, of sorts. Something to study, criticize, and learn from. It provokes thought and persuades a reconsideration of a person’s ideas and values. 

From the Introduction and Preface:

The origin, evolution, and future of our species is part of the process of change over time in the universe, one of billions of stories of matter and energy in motion - ever changing, ever responding, often unpredictable; sometimes successfully adaptive, sometimes not. Most important for humankind in this evolution of the universe’s matter and energy has been emergence and agency.

March 11, 2020

Human Nature - Red in Tooth and Claw?

Ashley Strickland
March 10, 2020

Above is a link to a good report on recent archaeological evidence about human prehistory. Below are excerpts of key conclusions from that report. These findings are the results of only one of many excavations over many years and at many places around the world.

“Modern hunter-gatherer societies, like those in southern Africa's Kalahari Desert, use ostrich eggshell beads to begin and maintain a relationship with other groups. The process is called hxaro, ‘kindling and cementing bonds within and between communities,’ according to a new study. The word hxaro has become synonymous with ‘beadwork’ and ‘gifts.’“So it stands to reason that the network exchanging them has a time-honored foundation.”
“‘Humans are just outlandishly social animals, and that goes back to [sharing this] information that would have been useful for living in a hunter-gatherer society 30,000 years ago and earlier,’ said Stewart. ‘Was Ostrich eggshell beads and the jewelry made from them basically acted like Stone Age versions of Facebook or Twitter 'likes,' simultaneously affirming connections to exchange partners while alerting others to the status of those relationships.’”
“Stewart also believes the beads were exchanged during a time of climate shifts, between 25,000 and 59,000 years ago. This way, they could turn to each other when the weather worsened, sharing and pooling resources. Not only were the beads shared and exchanged over large distances, but also long periods of time. It hints at why modern humans survived.”
“‘These exchange networks could be used for information on resources, the condition of landscapes, of animals, plant foods, other people and perhaps marriage partners.’"

Archaeological artifact extrapolation and inference, and ethnographic present analogy are not direct evidence of prehistoric behavior. However, they do provide insight into how human groups related to each other before the beginning of sedentary agriculture and urbanism.

We in the West like to think of human nature as “red in tooth and claw,”* as the 19th Century Social Darwinistic saying goes. That is, this thinking goes, we were brutes until we settled down and became civilized. Before that, many of us like to think, we were dirty, tribalistic, cutthroat competitors.

Something I natter on often is my firm belief that our true human nature is cultural not biological - one of learned beliefs and behaviors supporting cooperation, and conflict avoidance and amelioration. This is who we are at bottom and were for the vast majority of the 200,000 years of human existence. We changed relatively recently, beginning between 10-15,000 years ago.

We turned away from a face-to-face cooperative way of relating to each other when we started growing food, amassing surpluses, living in increasingly dense settlements, and succumbing to authoritarian rulers and high gods.

January 13, 2020

You Choose - Democratic Socialism or Civilizational Collapse

Long Title
You Choose – Continue Satisfying Your Personal Passions or Begin Serving the Greater Needs of All. The First Will Lead to Tyranny and End in Revolution. The Second is Your and Humankind’s Only Possibly Viable, Sustainable Option

Politico Magazine
December 27, 2019

In each of the paragraphs in the above linked compilation are descriptions of what Americans (citizens of the U.S.) were and what we have become, and the precarious social, economic and political perch from which we and much of the rest of the world are now embarking into the future.

The good news is Humankind’s current problems are now more starkly revealed than ever before. The bad news is the stakes are higher because the decisions Americans and the rest of Humankind make to address these problems are more likely to be catastrophic if we choose to act wrongly, and more difficult to sustain if we decide and act wisely. We, US citizens and the rest of Humankind, are facing yet another crucial decision point in our species’ cultural evolution. At each previous point we chose directions that served our short-sighted and short-term interests.

Primal Accommodation
At Humankind’s first species-evolution decision point 200,000 years ago, the demands of the East African environment forced our earliest hominin ancestors to rely on complex language, high tool dependency, in-group egalitarianism, and out-group cooperation and occasional conflict. It worked. This newest mammalian accommodation of both individual and group needs proved adaptable in an evolutionary sense. Homo sapiens survived and produced viable, fertile offspring. In the process, we also began having more highly learning-dependent progeny. The norm was an in-group balance of liberty, equality, and brother/sisterhood. Out-group relations, despite occasional violence, were more often than not, maintained through periodic ecological knowledge and technology exchanges, and most importantly through extended family kinship ties. Politics, economics, and sociality functioned as an accommodative unity, within and between groups.

Settled Agricultural Autocracy
Next, as certain of our numbers grew, our store of ecological and technological knowledge advanced, and life-sustaining environmental conditions for hunter-gatherers in Mesopotamia worsened. In response the human inhabitants of that region chose settled agriculture, urbanism, and autocratic governance. This socioeconomic innovation also worked because it was supported by in-group food commodity accounting, laws, and out-group militarism. Populations grew in size and became ever more dispersed. Liberty declined in response to laws and autocratic dictates. Equality declined in that political power was moved from individuals to autocrats and their agents and functionaries. Local fraternal allegiance was retained but ultimate allegiance shifted from one’s personally known fellows to autocrats and their system. The unity of politics (liberty), economics (equality), and sociality (fraternity) ended.

Democratic Oligarchy
At the next decision point, the best thinkers among early Western Humankind gave their attention to moral philosophy and efforts at answering the most fundamental and perennial human question: How might people live optimally, both individually and collectively? This attempt at defining and implementing optimal living was different from those of 200,000BP or 10-15000BP. The impetus was less on addressing environmental challenges and more on achieving sustainable peace and prosperity. Liberty, equality and fraternity became the exclusive province of the free and wealthy, in particular, one’s male aristocratic fellows.

First, the Greeks followed by the Romans chose governance forms of exclusive, restrictive democracy. Women, slaves and the poor were excluded from participation. There was a degree of liberty for a self-exalted few but equality and fraternity in their broadest sense were not served. 

November 29, 2019

Taking the Hero's Journey by Ramona Leiter

Kudos to Mona Leiter on her November 12, 2019 Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds presentation, "Taking the Hero's Journey."

Mona's take on myths and myth-making based on Joseph Campbell's work, as templates for molding persons and as entertainment, was truly exceptional.

For those who missed it please find a PDF copy of her slideshow here, and a PDF resource file of the videos she showed at the meeting and other references here.

Again, great job!

}:> ~:)

November 27, 2019

End of Owl & Ibis Meetings

retreat: a period of time when somebody stops their usual activities and goes to a quiet place for meditation and thought.


Beginning December 1, 2019, Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Mind will stop holding in-person meetings. 

I need a break along the lines of the definition of a ‘retreat’ given above.

I have been allowed my full say at O&I, at other local freethinker meetings, and on my websites on a wide range of matters. I have also learned a lot from each of you. For all this I am grateful. 

The matters on which I’ve expressed my views include many of what I think are the most important issues in anthropology, the other social sciences, the natural sciences, the humanities, religion, and in current US and world affairs. Regrettably, many of these issues give me grave concern about the future of Humankind and Earth. 

It is time for me to critically examine my views on these matters and others, and change my thinking and behavior as needed.

November 25, 2019

Natural and Theological Virtues

Peter J. Leithart
First Things
November 22, 2019

“Dante’s Commedia draws on the tradition of the seven virtues, four ‘natural’ (justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude) and three ‘theological’ (faith, hope, and love). ... Exceptional pagans can achieve natural virtue, but, with very few exceptions, the habits of faith, hope, and love are beyond their capacity.”

Above is a link to a short essay you might find as interesting as I do.

It addresses an existential dilemma others with far greater minds than mine were in, yet found a way out. See for example, Kierkegaard and C.S. Lewis. I am currently in a similar if not the same dilemma.

The four ‘natural virtues’ given in this essay are also those of Stoicism - courage, justice, temperance, and wisdom. I certainly cannot claim mastery of any or all of them. Besides, to do so would make me a saint and a sage. Either is a very rare achievement.

I do not sniff at or take sagacity or beatification and canonization lightly. However, either might well be an undesirable achievement, for would it not make one boring, predictable, and lazy from having no inner personal challenges left to face? Then again, sages and saints by definition must know how to deal with such pedestrian problems. Besides, sagacity and canonization should be honors conferred upon one by others, rather than pursued as personal achievements. All that said, I have made some progress in my pursuit of the natural virtues over the past few years through Stoic study and practice. Progress, not sage- or sainthood, is all I have sought and seek.

Still, I have not found the happiness or contentment I wrongly hoped the study and practice of Stoicism would bring me. I say ‘wrongly’ because Stoicism does not promise happiness or contentment. It simply suggests a method to respond personally, and optimally, to the vagaries of life as they arise. Stoicism does not offer, say, the relief and contentment Kierkegaard and Lewis found in the three ‘theological’ virtues of faith, hope, and love.

October 24, 2019

5G - The New Cellular Network by Steve Yothment

Kudos to Steve Yothment for his October 22, 2019 Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds presentation, "5G - The New Cellular Network."

Steve took us from the first generation of cellular phone technology up to the present in a concise and clear manner. Steve, an electronics engineer, was most patient and accommodating of the attendee's many questions and concerns. Steve also showed six short videos about 5G.

Those who could not attend the meeting may view Steve's slideshow as a PDF document here. Live links to the videos shown are on the last two slides.

Other questions came to mind but there wasn't enough time to discuss them fully. Here's a sampling of thoughts Steve's presentation elicited:

  • How did Humankind progress from radar and television as new and awe-inspiring technology around the time of World War II to today and the astonishing capabilities of 5G and other electronic technologies?
  • Who exactly is controlling or driving the development of 5G?
  • Will 5G replace real-time human interactions?
  • Is 5G's promise of selling more phone units that have faster download speeds and that are cheaper a "good" thing?
  • Does the world really need robotic surgery, self-driving cars, more service technologies? Shouldn't the best minds and high tech money be used for more practical human and ecological problems?
  • Will 5G contribute to hastening the ever-increasing rate at which humans speak to each other, and our reading more broadly and faster, but not necessarily more deeply? And will this thereby lower our ability to understand complex matters, especially social problems and human ethical and moral questions, in more depth?
  • Cyber spying and cyber warfare were touched on especially in the videos but just how concerned should Humankind be about these life-threatening, existential matters?
  • Will our deepening dependence on 5G and other electronic services make us more vulnerable to personal and social crises under such conditions as power outages and natural disasters?

Although we did not get to cover all of the above questions and concerns, readers are invited to comment on them below and continue the discussion.

Thanks again, Steve. Great job!

}:> ~:)

October 21, 2019

Going Local, Again: Escaping the Lonely, Destructive Wilderness of Modernity

For over 200,000 years Humankind has made every effort it can to escape its “primitivity” and thereby flourish. These efforts include choosing:

·       Food production over hunting and gathering;
·       Metal over stone tools;
·       Vehicular conveyance over foot travel;
·       Cities over movable campsites;
·       Surplus wealth accumulation over subsistence economics;
·       Tribal state politics over small band egalitarianism;
·       Science and reason over myth and religion;
·       Hydro-power and fossil fuels over human and draught animals;
·       Democracy over autocracy;
·       Nationalism over empire:
·       Globalism over nationalism; and
·       Capitalism over socialism and communism (ongoing).

Now, with the West in a state of full-fledged modernity, many non-Western nations on the verge of joining them, and all the others working hard and dreaming to follow and enjoy the fruits of modernity, there is a big problem.

The West, swaddled in all its financial and material wealth, is suffering from angst, anomie, and xenophobia. Capitalism has led to unsustainable economic inequality and ecological decline tipping points that many believe are immune to reform and amelioration. Many of these points have been reached or surpassed in some parts of the world.

Non-Western nations on the verge of or beginning to solidify their own modernity, as well as the poorest nations envious and hopeful of some day following the more-developed ones, are beginning to see the White Western Way for what it really is – neo-colonial; imperial; self-serving; rigged against them; hypocritical; morally hollow; and ecocidal.

The solution almost all nations are just now seriously beginning to call for is reform while ameliorating the decline and crash of capitalism and its lethal poisoning and climatological disturbance of the environment.

How should Humankind reform and ameliorate its impact on itself and the planet? There are many good ideas out there, some of which are being successfully implemented. But no-one knows if they will work. Regardless, we are right to make the efforts anyway on the slight chance that Humankind and the environment can retain some level of humaneness and livability.

This extended essay is a look at some things to consider as we approach and suffer through the coming collapse; and during which we are forced to peer out from our houses at our neighbors and ask: What must I, we, do to survive?

First, I will present which collapse of all the possibilities I think is preferable and most likely to occur. Then I will look at going local socially, and finally at the personal aspects of the rebuilding and resetting our “modern” psyches that collapse recovery will require. That is, a change in our psyches that have been consumerized, depersonalized, and morally calcified by religion or economic theory, or morally hollowed out by secular modernity. If you’ve ever felt like a shell of a person, you will understand what I’m getting at here.

As reforms and ameliorations pick up pace and kick in, it is becoming clear that if they work, and that is a big if, they will not allow Humankind to return to near unrestricted crony consumer capitalism. Nor will they allow us to continue to live and think of our individual lives within the dreamy, progressive panorama of savagely competitive nationalism; or allow us to return to our hip, chic lives besotted by the myths of consumer abundance and personal exceptionalism pumped through to us by our computer and TV screens.

Humankind will have to revert to thinking of “being” human as something local, very local. Race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, and political and economic ideology cannot be jettisoned. They will have to be “shrunk” to what can be accommodated locally and individually, and into something that will work in our forging relations with other local groups.

Along the way there will come those who want to, through persuasion or force, consolidate groups along the lines of those old familiar divisions – race, nation, etc. - that helped propel modernity. Such occurrences will not be inherently bad. What will be telling is if we return to complex consolidated societies, will we do so based on what we learned from the errors of the ways and means of our first go at modernization.

However, for now, let us consider collapse and the preemptive going local that has already begun.

Brave New World, 1984, or The Handmaid’s Tale?

Which is the greater future Americans should fear, asks Andrew Postman in the Guardian essay cited below: “an information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state” as depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 published in 1949; or “a technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble” as described in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932? Let us also throw in for consideration Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale published in 1985, another dystopian novel set in a near-future totalitarian theocracy or theonomy that overthrows the U.S. government.

The Self is Not an Illusion in Any Meaningful, Useful Sense

“Phenomenal consciousness is a fiction written by our brains to help us track the impact that the world makes on us.”
Keith Frankish
September 26, 2019

The above is a worthless, self-contradictory essay from Aeon, an otherwise good source of information and ideas.

The essay’s argument is an example of thinking that continues to undermine the social sciences and mislead the public, and gives an off ramp and free pass to those who wish to absolve individuals and society of moral responsibility for individual behavior and group action.

This line of thinking goes something like this: “We really can’t help ourselves. What we think and do is determined primarily and at bottom by our genes and physiology, over which we have little to no conscious, volitional control. We need an evolutionary biology of human behavior because religion, secular moral philosophy, and the social sciences have failed to deliver an exact, predictive science of human behavior as physics and chemistry have for matter. As we continue to tease out and get to the real roots of the biological bases of our behavior, that is, in our nerves and brains, and metaphorically in the so-called ‘moral foundations’ of our deep prehistory, let’s turn to medication to fix or ameliorate these material substrates that are the causes of our moral and behavioral failings.”

The British author of the essay in question, Keith Frankish, repeatedly uses the pronouns ‘we, us, I, you’ in his essay, yet blows right by and never directly addresses arguments for the reality of an embodied self as described by the following thinkers, to list only a few:

September 28, 2019

Africa and China - 'When China Met Africa'

My sincere thanks to those who attended the September 24, 2019 Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds meeting where we viewed and discussed the 2010 documentary, When China Met Africa. For those who have not viewed this film, it may be downloaded free on Tubi TV here.

This 75-minute film followed the activities of three people residing and working in Zambia between 2007 and 2009: a Chinese private farm owner; a Chinese private company road construction engineer; and Zambia’s Minister for Commerce, Trade, and Industry.

The documentary covered multi-faceted Chinese-Zambian social interactions in the areas of commercial farming, road building, and bilateral international development relations.

Among the concerns expressed during the O&I discussion of the film was whether China’s so-called ‘debt trap diplomacy’ was intentional or not.

The O&I gathering also voiced concern over the climate change, inequality, and potential global economic collapse consequences of the further spread of capitalist modernization within the lesser developed regions of the world. That is, the consequences of modernity being rapidly spread through public and private sector ‘international development’ via investment, trade and aid from China and the West.

The O&I group wondered:

September 13, 2019

Africa and China

A sincere thanks to those who attended Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds on Tuesday evening, September 10, 2019. At the meeting yours truly presented a slideshow on the relationship between Africa and China from ancient times to the present. The discussion, questions, and comments were excellent!

A PDF of the presentation slideshow may be found here: Africa and China.

This short, 25-slide presentation has eight slides containing links to the latest videos or websites on China's plans and actions in Africa, and significant mention of China's intentions and efforts in other regions. The pluses and minuses of China's activities, as well as push back from the U.S. and others, are also covered.

These links are identified on the slides with these characters ***. If the links are not active on the PDF, one can easily access the videos and websites by typing in the title of the link given on the slide and searching for it on any Internet browser.

On Tuesday, September 24, O&I will air the award-winning documentary When China Met Africa as Part 2 of 2 of this presentation.

All are welcome!

}:> ~:)

September 2, 2019

Why I Write

Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself.... It's a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent. – Harper Lee

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us…. Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. – John Steinbeck

Some of you complain that my blog essays are too long, too esoteric, use too many big words unnecessarily, and/or are too flowery.

The same readers claim that I could reach more people, be more effective in getting my ideas across, and be more persuasive with my points of view if I wrote shorter essays, used simpler less intellectual language, and got to my point more quickly and directly.

I welcome this criticism and agree that my writing could use some improvement. Concerning the readability of my essays, you may not agree but I honestly think that with a little time and effort anyone can read and understand them. Anyone. I am happy when people take the time to go through and study my essays. I’m even happier when they point out the flaws in them and shortcomings in my thinking. To those readers who have no complaints and who write to me supportively, thank you. 

Here’s why I write as I do.

August 21, 2019

After the Collapse of Modernity

Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.
- Lewis Carroll

Modernity: A historical category marked by the questioning or rejection of tradition; the prioritization of individualism, freedom and formal equality; faith in inevitable social, scientific and technological progress, rationalization and professionalization; a movement from feudalism (or agrarianism) toward capitalism and the market economy, industrialization, urbanization and secularization; the development of the nation-state, representative democracy, public education, etc. - From Wikipedia based on Michel Foucault 1977

This is a detailed continuation of my recent lyrical essay, “The Fatal Myth of Human Progress.” It covers the connections between U.S. politics and environmental protection in the late 20th Century. It also discusses what actions and supporting stories Humankind must come up with as we near ecological and economic collapse.

By Nathaniel Rich
Photographs and Videos by George Steinmet

The New York Times
August 1, 2018

The above exposé is a good late 20th Century history of how the U.S. missed perhaps its best chance at ending its environmentally destructive ways, and leading the rest of the world to do the same before it became too late.

The Ronald Reagan and John Sununu types in power at the time, the 1980s, were not going to do that. Passing legislation containing environmental pollution restrictions on U.S. industry would go against their small government, free enterprise credo. To them, the scientifically established risks of continuing to produce ever more CO2 to the detriment and perhaps end of Earth’s life-sustainability were worth taking. Here is what they did:

“After the election of 1980, President Ronald Reagan took office and considered plans to close the Energy Department, increase coal production on federal land, and deregulate surface coal mining. Once in office, he appointed James Watt, the president of a legal firm that fought to open public lands to mining and drilling, to run the Interior Department. ‘We’re deliriously happy,’ the president of the National Coal Association was reported to have said. Reagan preserved the E.P.A. but named as its administrator Anne Gorsuch, an anti-regulation zealot who proceeded to cut the agency’s staff and budget by about a quarter. In the midst of this carnage, the Council on Environmental Quality submitted a report to the White House warning that fossil fuels could ‘permanently and disastrously’ alter Earth’s atmosphere, leading to ‘a warming of the Earth, possibly with very serious effects.’ Reagan did not act on the council’s advice. Instead, his administration considered eliminating the council.”
“When the beaten delegates finally emerged from the [Noordwijk Ministerial Conference of 1989] conference room, [the Sierra Club’s Daniel] Becker and [environmentalist Rafe] Pomerance learned what happened. [Yale nuclear physicist and Science Advisor to President George H. W. Bush, D. Allen] Bromley, at the urging of John Sununu and with the acquiescence of Britain, Japan, and the Soviet Union, had forced the conference to abandon the commitment to freeze emissions. The final statement noted only that ‘many’ nations supported stabilizing emissions — but did not indicate which nations or at what emissions level. And with that, a decade of excruciating, painful, exhilarating progress turned to air.”

Sununu, White House Chief of Staff under U.S. President George H. W. Bush, had thereby prevented the signing of a 67-nation commitment to freeze carbon dioxide emissions, with a reduction of 20 percent by 2005. In doing so, he singled himself out as a force for starting coordinated efforts to bewilder the public on the topic of global warming and changing it from an urgent, non-partisan, and unimpeachable issue to a political one.

Here is what Rich’s article says happened after that:

“More carbon has been released into the atmosphere since the final day of the Noordwijk conference, Nov. 7, 1989, than in the entire history of civilization preceding it. In 1990, humankind emitted more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. By 2017, the figure had risen to 32.5 billion metric tons, a record. Despite every action taken since the [1979] Charney Report* — the billions of dollars invested in research, the nonbinding treaties, the investments in renewable energy — the only number that counts, the total quantity of global greenhouse gas emitted per year, has continued its inexorable rise.

“Like the scientific story, the political story hasn’t changed greatly, except in its particulars. Even some of the nations that pushed hardest for climate policy have failed to honor their own commitments. When it comes to our own nation, which has failed to make any binding commitments whatsoever, the dominant narrative for the last quarter century has concerned the efforts of the fossil-fuel industries to suppress science, confuse public knowledge, and bribe politicians.”

Also interesting in the article is the claim that Exxon and others in the private sector were at one time receptive to the inevitability of some form of less carbon policy and laws. They stood ready to retool and redirect their industries away from oil, natural gas and coal if they were going to be forced to, if for no other reason than to keep their operations profitable. It seemed they simply could not deny the science, much of which they had produced, unlike the politicians of the time.

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