23 March 2015

By George

By George! there's an insidious movement afoot in the United States to dissuade people from using terms like climate change, global warming, and sea-level rise.
In Senate testimony, top Rick Scott adviser won't say 'Climate Change'.
Historically fascists are the recognized masters of doublespeak. Doublespeak is
deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language
Doublespeak is the antecedent of today's Political Speak. Political Speak is the disingenuous practice of
changing two way discourse into one-way communication; sticking to the party message no matter what the other is saying.
Urban Dictionary
Having eschewed science, having angrily dismissed noble laureates and academicians, having willfully ignored data that conflict with deeply held notions, and having exhibited a diminished capacity for empathy, neocons and tea party conservatives, like the infamous fascists from our not-yet-banned history texts, are left with language manipulation as the sharpest arrow in their quiver.

Let's consult two Georges to explain.

New George

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff is the most eloquent contemporary author writing about how language is manipulated to frame political discourse. Lakoff makes the link between biology and perception.
We categorize as we do because we have the brains and bodies we have and because we interact in the world as we do.
George Lakoff, Philosophy in the Flesh
Lakoff chides progressives for political naiveté.
If you believe in the eighteenth century view of the mind, you will look and act wimpy. You will think that all you need to do is give people the facts and the figures and they will reach the right conclusion. You will think that all you need to do is point out where their interests lie, and they will act politically to maximize them.
George Lakoff, Don't Think of an Elephant
Old George

Lets not forget the futurist insights of George Orwell. The term doublespeak was popularized by Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four.
Prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.
George Orwell from the essay “Politics and the English Language”
Our Melons

Rapid news cycles stimulate the amygdala to condition us by fear. Fear is the basest of human instincts.
Facts are the sandbags we use to divert the flood of misinformation.
I am hopeful for an neurological adaptation favoring empathy.
The biology of empathy allows us to comprehend our connection to each other, to other living things, and to the physical world that supports life.
― George Lakoff
Gray's Anatomy, Plate 718


17 March 2015

Rounding Up Evil

A couple of codgers in my coffee shop were discussing RoundUp® and whether or not it was "evil".
Glyphosate molecule

Defining evil is tricky, but I'll give it a try.

There is a suite of Monsanto herbicides that continue to foul soil, groundwater and surface water. Much of our fouled water resources are no longer potable without engineered treatment.

Fresh water is a finite resource. Fouling the biosphere threatens the thin planetary life raft we inhabit. Monsanto's products & practices have generally degraded the biosphere.

As an impressionable consulting engineer fresh out of engineering school, my first job was to make a computer simulation of Atrazine migration in partially saturated soil and groundwater. Atrazine is a Monsanto herbicide. My simulation was based on contaminant transport equations meant to address, in the best back of the envelope sense, the question:
Where does atrazine go after soil moisture carries it into shallow groundwater?
The answer is that the dissolved herbicide finds its way into shallow wells or streams and rivers. Atrazine is a known endocrine disrupter in mammals. In the United States atrazine was the most commonly detected drinking water contaminant in 2001.

I learned first hand that Monsanto spends millions upon millions of dollars supporting stables of lawyers, consulting hydrogeologists, and consulting engineers to defend their products and practices.

One can only imagine how much money Monsanto can now funnel into influencing Congress as a result of the disastrous Citizens United v. FEC decision.

RoundUp was first commercialized in 1976.

I would never use RoundUp. I would never knowingly use any Monsanto product, yet their suite of products are omnipresent in the food chain.

It doesn't take a MacArthur Fellow to interpolate between killing a few harmless weeds with RoundUp and unintentionally degrading human health particularly in light of the fact that humans share 15% of our DNA with mustard grass.

I'm not trained in biochemistry so I probably can't defensibly decree that the RoundUp molecule is evil.

A more reasonable argument could be made that Monsanto, and their products and practices, have not served the common good, and thus Monsanto could be considered by you and me to be an evil entity needing an earnest regulatory harness rather than the wink-wink complicity of a corporate-backed Congress.


15 March 2015

Sizing Me Up

Walking on Mississippi River Boulevard this morning I was drawn down the river gorge to the shoreline by the sight of a bald eagle jousting with a murder of crows.

I have seen soaring eagles on my river walks but I was unaccustomed to seeing an eagle cavorting on the ground like a garbage-pecking shorebird.

I descended the gorge to the water's edge. The eagle was distracted by the rowdy crows. I sidled closer. He had moved to a perch on a low-hanging branch that bent out over the water. This enormous bird was staring down the cheeky crows who reminded me of the cartoon magpies Heckle & Jeckle.

I sidled closer using a tree to block his line of sight. When I was within 50 ft, I reached into my pocket for my camera. He cranked his head and trained his eye on me. I was still. I foolishly hoped he hadn't noticed my approach.

Seconds later he launched low across the river in a splendid arc that soon had him soaring 100 ft above me. In a minute he was joined by a soaring companion.

The two eagles circled overhead sizing me up. Maybe I seemed like an oversized raccoon. Or maybe I had interrupted their search for a nesting site. Surely the anthropomorphic cartoon crows had already discouraged them from settling in the neighborhood.

Panoramic view of the Mississippi River from down river South (left) to up river North (right) standing on Saint Paul shoreline looking across to the Minneapolis shoreline.

10 March 2015

Destiny is Bunk

Destiny is a human construct. Your dog and your goldfish probably don't fret about destiny.

It's understandable that we'd invent destiny to allay the disturbing notion that carbon-based life-forms probably have no purpose and no destiny. We unwittingly delude ourselves with language. The word destiny gives the notion destiny false legitimacy.

Like other species, humans once had a biological purpose to procreate. Today it's a different story.

Our biological success has depleted earthly resources. Our biological explosion has degraded the life raft engulfing the planet. Human population is an existential threat. If humans have a biological imperative, it has toggled from procreation to population control.

To proclaim a personal destiny, we assume a bogus exceptionalism which is laughable knowing we share 36% of our DNA with fruit flies.
Don't get your undies in a bundle over the bogus construct of destiny. 
We're not meant to do or to accomplish shit. Rather, we simply live life to the fullest. Our journey begins with learning what's most meaningful. For me it is to love and be loved.
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
Alan Watts, The Culture of Counter-Culture: Edited Transcripts