Archive for February, 2012
We have done nothing to change course, despite the rapid rate at which we are exhausting the Earth’s resources. In a recent TED talk, Australian Paul Guilding tells us that it is beyond dispute, beyond any margin of error, that “the Earth is full.” To sustain current human activity, we’d need 1.5 Earths. Therefore, we are at the “end of growth,” and Guilding says it’s well underway. The evidence is all around us.
So how are we going to respond and react to this crisis?
And now for an opposing point of view, also at TED: Peter Diamandis makes a case for optimism — that we’ll invent, innovate and create ways to solve the challenges that loom over us. “I’m not saying we don’t have our set of problems; we surely do. But ultimately, we knock them down.”
OK, so one expert says we’re in massive trouble and the other says things have never been better. No wonder people are so suspicious about experts.
Like many people, I’m a collector of quotes. This batch includes some of my favorite quotes concerning the freedom of speech and press:
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freedom of
“The one thing that’s worse than hearing about all that violence and all that bad news on
television is not being permitted to hear it.”
“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution–not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”
John F. Kennedy http://surftofind.com/secrecy
“When the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”
“The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to
keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without
newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the
latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading
“If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”
“Nothing could be more irrational than to give the people power, and to withhold from them
information without which power is abused. A people who mean to be their own governors must
arm themselves with power which knowledge gives. A popular government without popular
information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps
“To the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs
which have been obtained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.”
[More . . . ]
Consider the kinds of things we see and hear on the campaign trail:
“Vote for me because I have a square jaw, because I support the troops, because I’m tall, because I wear denim like you, because I wear a flag on my lapel, because I read rousing speeches and because I believe in God. I also stay in shape, I can recite the pledge of allegiance.”
Notice that politicians are doing all kinds of things to show us that they are capable and likeable. Lost in this commotion is that none of them are showing us that they are well-informed people who know how to lead a country. They don’t know how to show us that they are good leaders–that would be an expensive signal in order to be reliable, and very few politicians could pass this Zahavian test. Instead, they are engaged in a beauty pageant, showing us a lot of things that might impress us and resonate with us, hoping that we assume that they are also good at governing. In their efforts to get elected, politicians are heavily relying on the “halo effect.”
In his excellent new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), Daniel Kahneman describes the halo effect:
If you buy a house, you have a right to know whether that house was the site of a homicide, a suicide or some other felony, right? Not in Missouri. Section 442.600 RSMo provides that sellers of such “psychologically impacted real property” need not disclose these things to new buyers. Therefore, you don’t have a right to know if the husband of the woman selling you the house hanged himself in the room you are about to call your new bedroom. This same statute provides that sellers have no duty to disclose to you that someone with HIV occupied the house.
It’s a different story if the house was used as a meth lab (BTW, in 2011, Missouri led the nation in the number of meth labs seized). If the seller knows that his or her house was once used as a meth lab, this must be disclosed, regardless of whether those operating the meth lab were convicted of any crime. Section 442.606 RSMo.
John F. Kenndy discusses the importance of the press in a speech he gave at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on April 27, 1961:
Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution–not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.
Are the people who live in Aghanistan taking their protests to the streets because they resent our “freedom”? Are they angry merely because of isolated infractions by American soliders? Glenn Greenwald says no.
[J]ust imagine what would happen if a Muslim army invaded the U.S., violently occupied the country for more than a decade, in the process continuously killing American children and innocent adults, and then, outside of a prison camp it maintained where thousands of Americans were detained for years without charges and tortured, that Muslim army burned American flags — or a stack of bibles — in a garbage dump. Might we see some extremely angry protests breaking out from Americans against them? Would American pundits be denouncing those protesters as blinkered, primitive fanatics?
We are spending $2 Billion dollars every week doing more of the same in Afghanistan, while claiming ten years of success in a campaign that lacks any discernible objectives other than serving as a make-work program for American military personnel and their high-priced private contractors. BTW, more than 400 of these American contractors died on the job last year. And then consider that the U.S. is propping up a massively corrupt regime in Afghanistan, we are (whether we like it or not) part of a system that distributes record amounts of opium and our own “infrastructure” money for Afghanistan has been largely wasted. To facilitate this unimaginably large waste of American taxpayer money, the U.S. military has fed Congress and the public an unceasing stream of lies that things are going well over there.
When one also considers that dollars are fungible, and that these warmongering dollars could have been used to house, educate and feed Americans, the military occupation of Afghanistan ranks as one of the most immoral enterprises in the history of the United States.
[W]hile watching the debates last night that it finally hit me: This is justice. What we have here are chickens coming home to roost. It’s as if all of the American public’s bad habits and perverse obsessions are all coming back to haunt Republican voters in this race: The lack of attention span, the constant demand for instant gratification, the abject hunger for negativity, the utter lack of backbone or constancy (we change our loyalties at the drop of a hat, all it takes is a clever TV ad): these things are all major factors in the spiraling Republican disaster.
Most importantly, though, the conservative passion for divisive, partisan, bomb-tossing politics is threatening to permanently cripple the Republican party. They long ago became more about pointing fingers than about ideology, and it’s finally ruining them.