Friday, August 25, 2017

The Earth is not Fragile


I found myself cringing the other day listening to a well intentioned, yet completely ridiculous, city slicking environmentalist tell a room full of us how fragile the earth is. I wanted to scream "it is not!" but decorum got the better of me and I stayed quiet. It isn't fragile, not in any real sense of the word. The earth would just as soon wash us all away in a flood than conjure up a gorgeous sunset.

One of the most punk rock things you can do these days, particularly at dinner parties in liberal enclaves like where I live, is say you're skeptic when it comes to what people view as scientific consensus. Usually people think climate change, and are immediately offended by the idea that someone may disagree with what they've been told is humanity's most desperate and urgent threat. This is not to say I don't believe the earth is getting warmer, I surely do, or that I believe humans haven't had an effect on the environment, we certainly have. It's not so much that I'm skeptical of the science, I don't know enough about it to have a helpful opinion, I'm primarily skeptical about the way much of this stuff is presented. And when someone tells you something as vast and complex as the planet you are living on can be summed up as simply as "fragile," you should have alarm bells ringing. 

I consider myself an environmentalist and a leftist. I'm proudly orthodox in both those beliefs. I trace this, particularly the environmentalism, back to my grandfather who was president of the Sierra Club for western Canada for years and on the board of directors of the organization for a time in the late 1990's. (The Winnipeg Free Press did a wonderful write up on him several years ago.) He is a chemical using farmer who had seven kids, so you can imagine how well he fit in at director meetings in San Francisco. But he knows the earth. And he knows how to talk and work with others who actually live on the land, something the Sierra Club has had scarce luck with. (I'm biased here of course, but if the Sierra Club would have taken his approach more seriously it might actually be seen as more than a hiking club for people who live in cities that also raises funds for the Democratic Party.)

But there is an ideology involved as well, this isn't just a strategic difference. I'm convinced a main reason many environmentalists don't trust farmers is working on a farm is trying to conquer nature one day after the other. You gain a respect for it, but you don't coddle it. The "mother nature" metaphor demands we infantilize our relationship with the earth. And of course, we are the bad kids engaging in a slow but certain matricide. This is really much of the impetus surrounding environmentalism. There is not much of an attempt at understanding a complex problem, few attempts at winning over the people who actually live on the land, and leftist talk of "conquering nature" has been silenced as the liberal left feels more at home with the politics of guilt, a petty bourgeois self flagellation for an audience of the like minded. Contradictions, where the true left lives and breathes, are simply ignored. 

That fundamental contradiction of development versus sustainability was on full display a few years back in Ecuador. The leftist government found oil in the Yasuni National Forest and decided that if the international community would come up with half the money they could get from developing the oil field they would leave the oil in the ground. The logic is pretty simple. Ecuador is poor. Many other places in the world are not. If the rich world would chip in a measly 3.6 billion dollars (maybe the US could hold off bombing a country for a month or two) then this supposedly priceless land would be saved. Even if you don't know what happened you can probably guess. No one paid much of anything. The drilling began.

A recent study points out that one hundred companies have produced seventy one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions since the early 1970's. How much of this is the result of services deemed necessary by society and how much is due to relentless profit seeking? This is where the solution lies. Gaining political power is our most pressing battle. It is crucial to the health of our species that we win this battle. But we shouldn't forget that the earth is far less fragile than many of the people who want to protect it. The earth will be fine, even if we're not. 

Friday, August 04, 2017

I'm Not Worried About Designer babies

It's in the news again, but I haven't taken the time to even think about the implications of "designer babies." The only class able to afford such a procedure if it was to become common, the professional and managerial class, is in the grips of a moral panic not seen since Reagan era "satanic panic" and/or the "repressed memories" scam. (The "repressed memories" thing is less well known, but for a time it became cryptically fashionable for people, usually upper middle class, to explain away how they managed to squeeze the fun out of vices, become drunk bores for example, by saying some poor babysitter buggered them years ago and it was so traumatic they unconsciously hid the memory. A lucrative cottage industry arose digging those memories out, or rather creating them altogether.) 

Anyway, I'm not at all worried because this class has been regularly confusing identity conjuring and oppression seeking with political resistance and a fetus with a "condition" is a prime opportunity to grab hold of a sympathetic identity. ("We don't use the word 'disease' in our household.") Do you really think people are going to use gene editing to cure MS and miss a perfect opportunity to re-brand themselves? Fat chance. This is a ticket to the frontlines of "the resistance." Think of how many twitter followers one could have after the NYT Op-Ed comes out! Regular articles in the HuffingtonPost, maybe a column at  Buzzfeed!! 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A ridiculous attempt to sum up Syria or PICK A SIDE ALREADY

I wouldn't lose any sleep if Assad ended up hanging from a street light. But that's not my decision, or yours, unless you are Syrian. Although these things are hard to measure during a war, it appears people in Syria aren't really looking for that. Most people live under government control and have taken it to be the least worst option. That's hardly an endorsement for life under Assad, but it is a recognition that people believe the opposition, at this point pretty well exclusively jihadists, would be worse. It's not difficult to see why, as these same people are setting up slave markets in Libya, a country that quickly went to hell after they lost their despot because of an American regime change project. This is hard for us soft first worlders to comprehend, as we've never had to make such an unclean choice. It doesn't sit well and our moralism demands we pick a side.

We usually only hear about the regime and the opposition. But if we must choose a side, you'd have to sympathize with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish leftists and Sunni Arabs who control a part of northern Syria, if you had any shred of humanity. That's not meant to be an exaggeration. These people, and it's important not to say "guys" here because they have a impressive contingent of Kurdish female fighters, are the only force that hasn't committed a massacre. They are the only force that isn't completely authoritarian or rabidly sectarian and reactionary. They also are good fighters, both the Americans and Russians consider them impressive. This is all fairly amazing given the context, and makes them a pretty easy choice.

The SDF is not a unifying force, however. They don't claim to be, and likely have no desire to be. The introduction of Sunni Arabs was a marriage of convenience and it's surprising it has lasted this long. They have a sort of strategic indifference to Assad's army right now, although they have battled in the past. They are absolute enemies to both Islamic State and Turkey, and (somewhat) allied to both Russia and the United States, which is quite impressive (and says a lot about how disgusting The Turkish regime is).

If the United States decides to oust Assad, the most organized groups within the opposition will take power in Damascus. This means the jihadists. This also means another civil war, certainly between the jihadists and the Kurds, but also between rival factions within the jihadists (e.g., Libya, Afghanistan). This also could very well bring Turkey back into Syria, as they are not one to miss an opportunity to attack weakened Kurds on their border. If the United States doesn't pursue regime change, and Assad is able to solidify power, there is a greater chance of some sort of agreement for Kurdish autonomy in the north. While this is no certain road to peace, Turkey would surely consider this a disaster and fighting could break out between different Kurdish groups and/or between Assad and the Kurds, it's also the best worst option.

Many in Syria understand this, which is why they aren't nearly as caught up in arguments over Assad's character as silly American pundits and much of the human rights industry. It's tough for us not to play hero, but history shows dead bodies pile up the fastest when we start thinking all these complex and murky choices are always ours to make.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

We could do this too

People left of center see Trump as someone doing something illegal, or even plotting a coup, primarily because we haven't really seen political power work for us. We haven't seen someone get elected and actually do what the base wants.

Compare right now to 2008. Dems had congress and the white house. People were ready for change. We could have pushed through a national healthcare system, Medicare for all for, something that would have changed the entire political landscape for generations. Instead a compromise was proposed, right from the beginning. We got "RomneyCare" nation wide. The republicans held fast. Not only did they offer zero support for the ACA, they nominated Romney and he ran against his own program! Now that's discipline. He, of course, lost. But the lesson learned was that he was too moderate. And that was right.

This idea that we shouldn't normalize Trump, that he is extraordinary, means he is a politician who actually does what he says to many people. Why do we reinforce this? Is normal a description we want to own?

Remember when Sanders had all these big ideas? I remember patronizing lectures on the limits of the executive branch. Yeah, yeah buddy. Nice ideas, but time to grow up. We couldn't get anything done even if we wanted to, the republicans won't let us!

There are a lot of liberals who understand rules but have no clue about power, both how to fight it and how to use it. This has to change. This means organizing a left wing within the Democratic Party and outside of it. The limits of electability have shifted and we can use that to our advantage. The centrists had their chance and they couldn't beat Trump. We can't afford to make that mistake again.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A meeting of the minds

As the station chief readied the parrilla for the next prisoner, he noticed a distant but approving stare from Donald. 

"We got off to a rocky start," he said, summoning the courage to address Donald directly. 

"We did." Donald approached him and grabbed the chief's shoulders in a familiar hierarchical way. 

"I had a feeling we'd become fast friends," Donald said with a chuckle as they both moved toward the exit. 

The piercing screams began but were soon muffled by the door closing behind them.