Monthly Archives: May 2013

Renouncing the Pleasure Principle Globally

The surface temperature of the planet Venus is 800°. Why? Runaway global warming. Planet Earth is undergoing global warming on a scale not seen in 3 million years. Unless Earthlings leave fossil fuels harmlessly sequestered in the bowels of their homestead, the damage will be catastrophic.

There’s a simple solution: renunciation of the Pleasure Principle, that is, making Republicans put their money where their mouth is when speaking of their oh-so-precious grand kids. Look at it this way:

Let’s assume Homo sapiens became Homo sapiens sapiens 100,000 years ago. Since life was nasty, brutish and short, we’ll figure four generations per century. You and I are one generation, our kids a second-generation, our grand kids a third-generation and our great great grandkids a fourth. So we come up with 40 generations every thousand years, and 4000 generations since we became the smart saps we are.

All we have to do to keep our terrestrial home livable is for us and our kids and grandkids and great grandkids renounce the Pleasure Principle. We reduce fossil fuel burning to a level that brings CO2 under 400 ppm – which means giving up numberless goodies.. For example, we Americans comprise 4.6% of the world population and hog 22% of its energy. No more. We are going to mend our profligate ways. While we huddle in our unheated, darkened homes, ride bikes to work, toss our TV sets on a land fill so that Jon Stewart can’t seduce us, and while living up to our name as sapiens sapiens we forswear the Pleasure Principle. Fortified by the realization we are protecting 4000 generations and that’s just the next hundred thousand years, we work like hell on renewable energy so that a mere two or three generations down the line Homo sapiens sapiens can once more enjoy all those yummy-yummies with which he has so brilliantly enriched human life..

And to show we mean business, or maybe even understand that the 196 million square miles of our planet is a finite number, we will insist every Eve use the pill and every Adam a condom. Now that’s a minor tweak of the Pleasure Principle.

Witch Hunts

I listened to Lou Dobbs yesterday. He interviewed former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Sen. Jeff sessions from the deep, deep South and a few other Republicans. First time I ever heard Big Lou. As he wandered around the political landscape now dominated by Pres. Obama, I suddenly realized he was conducting a witch hunt. Keep in mind there are good and bad witches, analogous to blue and red states. As regards gender, some witches are male and some are female. What then is the defining characteristic of a witch hunt?

Karl Popper, one of the great philosophers of science, identified it a long time ago. In his masterpiece, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, he called it, “The problem of demarcation.” Put simply, Popper wanted to know what differentiates a science from a non-science? What is the defining line? And here’s what he figured out:

Science sets out to falsify a given hypothesis. It operates on the assumption one can never verify a truth. Even if one verifies 1 million times an hypothesis, science continues to attempt to find the exception that falsifies it. Any truth is provisional, never verified. Focus on verification is the hallmark of every non-science enterprise. The problem of demarcation is falsification versus verification.

Lou Dobbs is not a scientist. He began his show by postulating the White House had to have a hand in the Cincinnati cherry picking of 501 (c) (4s). Obama, like Nixon, used the IRS for political purposes. Big Lou then set about trying to verify this assumption. Any hint of data that suggested falsification got snuffed. Rather, he relentlessly urged his guests to join him in the verification business. They were only too happy to enter the lists. Verify, baby! Before the show started, or the week for that matter, this gang of witch hunters knew for a fact etc. etc. etc. The task at hand was simply to verify what they all knew was true. Once I realized I was watching a witch hunt, Lou Dobbs and company were wonderfully entertaining. After all, as far as I know, the show was not beamed from Salem.

While we are on the subject of witches, how many witches were drowned, burnt alive, strangled (after being properly verified ) during the three centuries witch hunts were carried on throughout the Western world? The present estimate is from 40,000 to 100,000. That’s considerably lower than the 500,000 number estimated until recent research.

Pax Obama

The critical difference between Obama the Candidate and Obama the President is their relationship to Time. A candidate proposes a Time Future, a president works within the constraints of Time Present. This differentiation as regards Obama assumes the power and prestige of The Presidency have not fundamentally changed him, but he remains at heart the community organizer who spent three years in the South side of Chicago, choosing not to find a lucrative corporate job.

We liberals agree with Justice Warren’s operating principle, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” In our time zone as liberals and voters, we live in Time Future (more accurately, “Are we there yet!”) President Obama delayed for too long the ending of the war in Afghanistan, the use of drones, the closing of Gitmo, the FBI pursuit of leaks, and so forth. Most critically, he failed to redefine War On Terror as a perpetual but sustainable pursuit of pseudo-ideological thugs, not WAR, that is, but the policing work of chasing down bad guys. President Obama in his magnificent speech this week made plain that the Time Future of candidate Obama had now entered Time Present.

In my judgment, Obama’s greatest gift is waiting for the “Fullness of Time.” As history vividly documents, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s recognition that civil rights in 1963 and 1964 had entered Time Present, which he signaled by his speech at Gettysburg as noted by the New York Times today, was a stroke of political genius.The Ship of State is far bigger than the biggest oil tanker. It moves forever through narrow straits. Turning it around requires exquisite timing. Unless this fact is recognized, you will find most pundits complaining that what President Obama said this week is right on, but too long delayed. That’s sad. Following the Ship of State, even when a political genius is at the helm, does not give many occasions for joy. It is hard at times not to jump ship. This week gave me great joy.

Incidentally, the so-called “Three Scandals” aren’t scandals at all. The Benghazi e-mails released by the White House showed no effort to manipulate the information that Susan Rice reported on national television. End of Scandal One. The IRS cherry picking in Cincinnati wasn’t remotely a political decision, but cobbled together by overworked bureaucrats trying to survive an avalanche of 501 (c) (4)s, most of which were trying to scam the system. End of Scandal Two. As for FBI pursuit of leaks, it was in that business, in full gallop, by 2005 at the latest. I agree with Obama, a shield law is needed. I agree with Eric holder that the leak in question put American citizens at risk – “and that is not hyperbole.” End of Scandal Three – but a problem to be solved. Or simply fixed, as The President says.

a chorus of moral maniacs

Steven Miller, the axed IRS Commissioner, is my hero. Not since Muhammad Ali has anyone used the Rope-a-Dope more effectively than Mr. Miller. Here’s how it worked:

He began by acknowledging the IRS had provided horrible service to the American people. “I apologize,” Mr. Miller said, crouching low behind his table, his eyes barely peeping from behind his disorganized hair. That posture of mea culpa went on and on, interrupted by firm assertions he always spoke the truth.

And what is the truth? A congressional statute in 1954 that social welfare organizations EXCLUSIVELY do good deeds got arbitrarily changed by the IRS in 1959 to PRIMARILY, leaving IRS workers with impossible judgment calls. There was no targeting. Only bureaucratic overload. Do you really think exhausted working nobodies gave a flying hoot whether an application for a 501c (4) was from a lying conservative or a lying progressive? Or did they wonder where the hell did 70,000 applicants come from! “70,000! Omigod! It used to be half that many.”

POW!

“Well,” huffed the Republican moral maniacs, “why didn’t you train your workers better?” Because the IRS budget was cut by $1 billion. Left unsaid, “By the Republicans.”

Pow!

It was the Rumble in the Jungle all over again. Wonderful then. Even better now.

 

 

The Irrational Made Rational

Doris Kearns Goodwin was offered the job of Peace Corps director. “When I declined to consider the job and gave my family as the reason, that was perfectly understood. But when I added in that we were Red Sox season-ticket holders and that I couldn’t miss the 50 or so games I attended each year, there was a puzzled silence at the other end of the phone, as if to say,’ ” ‘Thank God she didn’t take this job. She sounds a bit irrational!'”

She then adds, “Perhaps there is something a bit irrational about waking up happy or depressed depending on whether the Red Sox win or lose.”

If it is irrational, Goodwin’s response is universally distributed. Some 200 nations join the Olympics, each unfailingly happy or depressed on whether its athletes win or lose. That doesn’t sound irrational. Just love for one’s country. For both patriot and fan, winning is more fun than losing.  What’s the problem?

Losing!

Losing registers like the end of the world. Winning is great, but losing is catastrophic. Nothing but emptiness. Gone is a sense of future. Of course it’s not the end of the world. It just feels like it. I submit If the global experience to losing rouses feelings of disaster, Goodwin’s depressive response to a Red Sox loss is a living relic of group life going back hundreds of thousands of years. We experience in our belly an aspect of the hunter-gatherer world.

I will cut to the chase. Transient feelings of emptiness and depression following a loss are on the trivial side. “Wait till next year.” However, if a loss is associated with annihilation, that’s another matter. What Darwin referred to as the “social instincts,” evolved to guarantee the cohesiveness of a group upon which its survival depended; these became codified as the Moral Sense, unleashing throughout history the limitless destructiveness of moral mania.

 

Dummy Republicans

How can we be so smart and end up with Republicans? How smart? Let me give you one example.

Looking for life on other planets is now a science and not a science fantasy. Since 1995, thousands of so-called exo-planets have been discovered. There has to be billions of them, and some  will be the right size, in a habitable zone and provide terra firma, just like earth. When a planet crosses a star, it affects its velocity, something like 10 or 20 cm a second. Coming at you, the light from that star shifts to the blue side of the spectrum, when going away the light shifts to the red side. If you can believe it, a giant telescope can “see” this from 25 trillion miles away, giving giant computers lots of business.

It gets better. You know how bright our sun is. In that blaze of light, our earth-like planet chug-chugs across the face of its sun. Telescopes, being ground and polished as we speak, will be able to “see” the atmosphere of that exoplanet, its spectroscopy telling us whether there is water and oxygen and other vital goodies that suggest life.

We have to hope our giant telescope finds no evidence of a Jim DeMint or a Paul Ryan running around in the environs.

A Crumb from Congress

Congress returns from vacation today. The 435 members of the House are forever on vacation, despite earning a salary of $170,000 a year. Worse yet, when in session they do little or no work. They drive voters up the wall. Many folks I know have to wear a mouthpiece at night to keep from grinding their teeth.

So it’s with a sense of beating the devil I’ve come across a crumb from this outfit of crumb bums. What the House has made clear is that we have a government centered on the legislative branch. I know we hear over and over that the executive branch has become dominant, and that such an arrangement is not what the Founding Fathers intended. It is true under conditions of war, American presidents have gone authoritarian. True for Lincoln, for Woodrow Wilson, for FDR and for W. When at issue is peacetime legislation, however, power lies with Congress.

Ask Pres. Barack Obama.

Krugman’s Austerians

Krugman’s Austerians think of economics in moral terms, not scientific. The overriding priority is for the good guys to teach the bad guys a lesson. “We estimate maybe as high as 47% of the population,” pontificates the good guy, “just like the Prodigal Son, choose to ‘waste their substance in riotous living.’ They’re children! Sinners, if you will. What else do you call practitioners of greediness and gluttony and sloth, welfare specialists? They’re the ones sending our economy into debtors’ prison. What really takes the cake is that they think they’re entitled to hand-outs from the government. They actually want to do the unthinkable –  raise taxes on the good guys. No way. The first order of business is to get that notion out of their head. Then we can get on with balancing the budget.

Until that day dawns, austerity is just the ticket to get us out of debtors’ prison. And to teach the ‘prodigal kids’ a lesson.”