26 April 2010

A Nest of Bunnies

Keeping with the Earth Day theme, while gardening this week we discovered the above nest of adorable bunnies in a bed of ivy. We called our Vet to ask whether we should rescue them or move them or just leave them be. The doctor told us not to touch them. The momma bunny would come by every evening to feed them. Rabbit milk, apparently, is very rich, and they only need to be fed once a day. They have been growing each day, their burrow hidden from preying hawk eyes by the ivy and the Bradford Pear tree in the side yard.


HH 901/902 Details
Source: Hubblesite.org
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. This has been one of the great and marvelous successes of the human race. We are privileged to have lived during this remarkable period of discovery. Hubble can peer back nearly to the beginning of the first appearance of starlight in the universe, some 13.1 billion years ago. Unfathomable. And yet there's so much we do not know about our universe.


Following up on an earlier set of posts, Parameters of the Last Ark, I found this quote from Sir Stephen Hawking, widely viewed as one of the smartest men who ever lived: “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the native Americans.”

Such an encounter need not be a replay of Roland Emmerich's Independence Day or James Cameron's Avatar. Certainly, if a migratory alien civilization discovered us in our little Earthen bunny nest anytime in the near future, we would be as vulnerable to them as those little bunnies are to us human gardeners, for they will have mastered interstellar, if not intergalactic, travel. Much would depend, then, on the aliens' motives for travel: survival, discovery, conquest, colonization, predation, etc., and their own resourcefulness.

One of the arguments I attempted to make in my "Parameters of the Last Ark" posts was that at some point life as we know it is going to have to evacuate Spaceship Earth, whether as a result of natural disaster or to avoid one. Depletion of resources, death of our star, meteor collision, nuclear winter, etc. If, I pointed out, we had attained such an advanced degree of civilization as to be able to escape en masse—i.e., we had become a Type 1 or Type 2 civilization, that is to say we could harness the entire energy of a planet or a star (or even a galaxy) to fuel our escape—we could surely produce self-sufficient means of transportation, perhaps even movable planets. We might not necessarily need to destroy another civilization to survive. Certainly, a planetary home would be nice, but not absolutely necessary.

The same, it seems to me, would apply to aliens on the move.

The only question would be whether we'd be able to take the bunnies with us.


UPDATE: By popular demand, here's some more bunny cuteness—feel free to click and download:

23 April 2010

Earth Day, 2010

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary celebration of Earth Day. Without WoW turning into a Facebook page, I'll celebrate by posting some nature pics I've taken in the last couple weeks. (Click 'em, yo!)

Here's Jake and Lily frolicking in the Gulf and a picture of the State Park on St. George Island, FL:

Here's a pic of black water from Tate's Hell Swamp and the Apalachicola National Forest:

Here's some pics of my backyard. I've lived in Atlanta for ten years, and this is the prettiest Spring ever. (Thanks El Nino) The azalea blooms are gargantuan, the fringe tree blossoms cottony, the Japanese maples extravagant, the Carolina jasmine imperious, and the dogwoods and cherry blossoms (pretty much gone by now) were fragrant and beautiful. And the greens are deep and varied. It's a riot back there:

Enjoy! Have a nice weekend.

20 April 2010

Taxing Time: The Dangerous Game

As most of you are probably painfully aware, last Thursday, April 15, was the deadline for filing taxes in the U.S. Such being the case, it is probably a propitious moment to take note of the budding right-wing, populist, libertarian, anarchistic, anti-tax, gun-toting, militia, and paramilitary movement that seems to be gaining steam here. The face of the movement is Sarah Palin (call her, along with Michelle Bachman, its spokesmodel). Its senior statesman is Newt Gingrich, a disgraced former Republican Speaker of the House of Representative. Its libertarian ideologue is Ron Paul, currently a member of the House. Its PR front consists of the FoxNews commentators (Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity) and talk radio bullies (Rush Limbaugh, etc.).

This movement is a study in contradictions. But if you scratch the surface, you will find a coherent political strategy aimed at delegitimizing the Democratic party and re-establishing Republican rule.

Historically anarchism was a left-wing, anti-monarchism movement. By contrast—and incongruously—today's right-wing anarchy is aimed at representational government. The Tea Party and the militias claim that they distrust big government, by and large, even though they seem to want to protest against elective governments and taxing authorities all the way down to the municipal level. Moreover, polls here have shown that many of these so-called Tea Party members receive either Social Security or Medicare assistance from the government or served in the U.S. Armed Forces (the major elements of the U.S. government budget).

There is a populist strain to their protests, but many of the things they protest would seem to be in the best interests of the vast majority of the American people, such as health care/insurance reform and financial consumer protections and environmental protection and even budget=balancing measures.

A constant refrain in their protests is that they want to take their country back. It is not readily apparent from whom they wish it reclaimed.

They rail against what they term 'socialism'. But this is not a readily identifiable doctrine which anyone who has studied rudimentary political science would recognize. By this term they seem to mean they don't like being taxed. We in the U.S., of course, have had a long history of attacks on our Internal Revenue Service.

They also claim they are Constitutional fundamentalists. Funny thing that: the current President is a noted Constitutional scholar and the current conservative Supreme Court majority recently extended Constitutional free speech rights to corporate entities. But to acknowledge this contradiction might make their heads explode; they like Justice John Roberts but despise President Barack Obama.

In short, they are a paradox and only tend to make noises when Democrats are in office. To my ears, these folks sound a lot like a resurgence of the movement we saw in the 90s, coincidentally the last time Dems held majority status in Congress and controlled the White House.

What's troubling is that the rise of Tea Party protests and other right-wing activism is coupled with a growing sense of paranoia by gun rights activists and people calling themselves militia who, as well, have become increasingly vocal and active. I don't find this at all coincidental.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (a big government program [instituted under George W. Bush's massive reorganization of the government] if ever there was one and one none of these anti-government activists seemed concerned about at the time) released a draft report about the potential dangers of anti-government activists and right-wing extremism.

DHS Report on Right Wing Extremism
At the time there was a great hue and cry from the right. Yet, since then we've seen some troubling things:
• A group calling itself the Oath Keepers, which claims to consist of a group of soldiers and police who worry they might be asked to do certain sorts of things that are the hallmarks of tyranny, has organized within and among the U.S. military and in local police and first-responder organizations. Is it coincidental (or merely accumulative) that many right-wingers actually question the legitimacy of the current U.S. President, challenging his U.S. citizenship and his Constitutional duty as the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Armed Forces? (My guess is that these Oath Keepers would break anywhere between 6 and 10 of their so-called oaths if a Republican president asked them to organize to take out a drug cartel that had its grips on a Rio Grande city, whether it was Amcits or not.)
• A man flies his private airplane into a building in Texas housing U.S. government offices, including those of the IRS. Apparently he didn't like paying his taxes.
• Another armed man, a self-proclaimed White Supremacist and Holocaust denier, opens fire at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. killing a security guard.
• Yet another armed man, an anti-government, private property activist, opened fire at security guards in the Pentagon.
• And yet another armed man strolled up to a man as he was ushering parishioners at church and shot him dead. The killer was a right-wing anti-abortion activist.
• A group of people from the state of Michigan calling themselves a militia is arrested because of an alleged plot to kill a police officer in the hopes of fomenting an anti-authority revolt.
• Members of the legislature of the state of Oklahoma indicate they would like to institute a militia (in addition to the National Guard) to potentially keep the feds at bay.
• A number of rallies, including one in favor of Second Amendment gun rights on the Mall in D.C. and another an open-carry gun rally in a park just across the Potomac from the U.S. Capitol, are held around the country on April 19—coincidentally[?] on the fifteenth anniversary of the one of the most infamous acts of right-wing domestic terrorism: the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Starbucks announces it will permit patrons to carry weapons openly in their coffee shops if the states in which the shops are located allow it.
• The Republican Governor of the state of Texas, Rick Perry, makes noises about the right of Texas to secede from the U.S. (as if we didn't have enough trouble with that issue back in the 1860s).
• The Republican Governor of the state of Virginia declares April Confederacy month, but fails initially to include any reference to slavery.
• The Republican Governor of the state of Mississippi agrees that the legacy of slavery need not be a major consideration in celebrating the Confederacy: it's "diddly".
All of the above (and I'm sure I've missed some things) clearly evince a trend, and our ubiquitous media has picked up on it—but only in a piecemeal fashion. They are either supportive (FoxNews) or can't quite put the bigger picture into perspective.

Some first-rate investigative journalism by Rachel Maddow & staff on MSNBC, however, has shown that the Tea Party movement and gun rights activism and anti-environmental reform and anti-health care reform, among other trends, is the result of a heavily-funded public relations barrage on the national media (which, in a classic Bushian/Rovian tactic, the protestors simultaneously mock and intimidate). The organizers and funders of this movement are hardly populists: disgraced former Speaker of the House Dick Armey, the billionaire Koch brothers (Texans and Republican stalwarts all, by the way), among others. (I suspect there's a Bush somewhere in there calling shots as well).

To me, this is reminiscent of the Republican 'courting' of the evangelical movement in the 80s—Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, etc. At first it seemed like a fringe phenomenon, below the radar, but then-candidate Ronald Reagan's appearance before the Southern Baptist Convention was the moment the movement solidified.

The idea is to arouse the passions of the base (often sloganeered as 'God, guns, and gays'): igniting their passions in the hope of tipping the balance in the election. The trick is to co-opt the movement. This is a two-step process. Step 1: demonize and delegitimize the opposition party, in this case the Democrats who currently have control of the Executive and Legislative branches of government; make them the enemy, scary, threatening, perverse, alien, etc., and block their every effort to accomplish anything. Step 2: promise this activated base they'll have a seat at the table when the political pros move in.

You can read a very good expose on the phenomenon here: Sedition in slow motion.

But here's the problem with this psychological warfare strategy. Once you ignite the violent passions of the fringe, it becomes increasingly difficult to control their excesses. Witness Timothy McVeigh who, himself, was tangentially involved in the armed, right-wing militia movement of the 1990s.

Of course, the political pros and their PR media flacks know enough to keep their fingerprints off the actions of the extremists they've set in motion. The movers and shakers, like Armey and the Kochs, work in the shadows until called out by intrepid journalism. FoxNews—Murdoch's and Ailes's acknowledged Republican propaganda outlet—merely reports the outrage and the activities of the political front groups like the Tea Party, the militias, the guns-rights activists, etc. This provides plausible deniability for the political organization (the Republican party) even as it stands poised to reap the benefits.

Here's how it works though; there are several layers to this onion. (Think IRA and Sinn Fein: a violent, underground action organization and a political front group/propaganda organization.).( UPDATE: Josh Marshall agrees and gets it straight from the horse's mouth.)There are the funders and organizers, the faces and the activists, and the underground. It is the underground that has the potential to get out of control, especially when it has violent propensities.

“Other than suicide missions, little can be accomplished at this time. Small cells and lone wolves are the only practical methodology at this time; great bodies evolve from small cells. The most fearsome pack of wolves are a collection of cells. The future is moving quickly toward us. Power is moving toward us also. By jettisoning unwise and un-needed weight, and by being in great shape with strong will, I see little reason why our forces cannot be ready to grab the brass ring of power at a critical juncture in the not-too-distant future. Good Hunting.” Tom Metzger, White Aryan Resistance leader
March 1999 Editorial in WAR Newsletter (online)
Anger, ignorance, paranoia. Bigotry and loss of majority status by whites. These are the hallmarks of the right-wing, anarchist movement the Republicans are seeking to stir up and then co-opt. Yet, at its core this same movement professes its bedrock belief in American exceptionalism in the face of increasing globalization—that is to say, American neo-imperialism, the ambitious and costly (neo-conservative) program that pretty much bankrupted this country in the first decade of this century.

Yet, this anarchism is merely the face of the political machination of the hard-core Republican shadow organization who are in it more for the emoluments of being in power than for the good of these ersatz populists—useful idiots all. And the emoluments of power include the power to command the military and the parasitic paramilitary organizations G.W. Bush mobilized to further his dreams of oil and empire.

Militarism is such an entrenched habit with this bunch that when they are out of power they still feel the need to emphasize the violence of their wants and desires—their passions—that they resort to these unofficial sorts of guns-rights and militia and paramilitary threats. It's simply their style.

Can I rightly call it a conspiracy? Perhaps. Secretive big money, shadow government, activism, and militant anti-government sentiment all seem to be working hand-in-hand with the Republican minority party to delegitimize and oust the current Democratic party in power. It's a dangerous game.

02 April 2010

Spring Break

There's more to come here at WoW, but it's Spring Break time here in the ATL. Once again I'll be taking a week off from blogging and probably from browsing. Don't worry; I'll check back in with y'all when I get back.

Thanks so much to all of you for taking the time to read my scribblings. I do try to make it interesting for you.

Jim H.

01 April 2010

Articles of Faith: Parameters of the Last Ark — Pt. 2

(cont'd from previous post)

In his book Physics of the Impossible (2008), Michio Kaku (no, not the book reviewer for the New York Times) refers to Nikolai Kardashev's theory of the stages of civilization.
"If we look at the rise of our own civilization over the past 100,000 years, since modern humans emerged in Africa, it can be seen a the story of rising energy consumption. Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev has conjectured that the stages in the development of extraterrestrial civilizations in the universe could also be ranked by energy consumption. Using the laws of physics, he grouped the possible civilizations into three types:

1. Type I civilizations: those that harvest planetary power, utilizing all the sunlight that strikes their planet. They can, perhaps, harness the power of volcanoes, manipulate the weather, control earthquakes, and build cities on the ocean. All planetary power is within their control.

2. Type II civilizations: those that can utilize the entire power of their sun, making them 10 billion times more powerful than a Type I civilization. ... A Type II civilization, in a sense, is immortal; nothing known to science, such as ice ages, meteor impacts, or even supernovae, can destroy it. (In case their mother star is about to explode, these beings can move to another star system, or perhaps even move their home planet.)

3. Type III civilizations: those that can utilize the power of an entire galaxy. They are 10 billion times more powerful than a Type II civilization. ... They have colonized billions of star systems and can exploit the power of the black hole at the center of their galaxy. They freely roam the space lanes of the galaxy." (145-46)
I'm not interested in science fiction or extraterrestrial civilizations; such creatures may have developed efficiencies that render the Kardashev typology obsolete or, interestingly, not chosen such a materialistic path. This typology can, however, help us understand our own situation because it is based on the model of our own civilization's progress, i.e., energy consumption.

Based on this scale, Kaku and others have postulated that we Earthlings are still a Type 0 civilization—0.72, to be exact. In his earlier book Hyperspace (1994), Kaku states:
our Type 0 civilization is "one that is just beginning to tap planetary resources, but does not have the technology and resources to control them. A Type 0 civilization like ours derives its energy from fossil fuels like oil and coal and, in much of the Third World, from raw human labor. Our largest computers cannot even predict the weather, let alone control it. Viewed from this larger perspective, we as a civilization are like a newborn infant. ... [Yet] [g]iven the rate at which our civilization is growing, we might expect to reach Type I status within a few centuries. ... Our technology is so primitive that we can unleash the power of hydrogen fusion only by detonating a bomb, rather than controlling it in a power generator. However, a simple hurricane generates the power of hundreds of hydrogen bombs. Thus weather control, which is one feature of Type I civilizations, is at least a century away from today's technology." (278)
However, the progress of human civilization is by no means a given. For example, our own nature might be our worst enemy. As a species, human beings may ultimately have a suicidal bent, allowing our fears and prejudices to paralyze us in our struggle for life. As a Type 0 civilization
"we use dead plants, oil and coal, to fuel our machines. We utilize only a tiny fraction of the sun's energy that falls on our planet. ... [But our civilization is] still wracked with the sectarianism, fundamentalism, and racism that typified its rise, and it is not clear whether or not these tribal and religious passions will overwhelm the transition [to a higher order civilization]." (PI 146)
{This raises an interesting question—one I hope to address at some point down the road—as to whether Life itself is necessarily wedded to homo sapiens sapiens or whether we are only a stepping stone for Life to evolve/create a more advanced form of itself. Life, I suspect, has no need of us; we, however, are utterly and abjectly dependent on Life and should constantly bear this in mind.}

Now I am sure that President Obama has weighed the costs and benefits, the risks and rewards of his newly announced policy to allow some off-shore drilling for oil and natural gas—environmental, economic, political, etc.—and made the judgment that the upsides ultimately outweigh the downsides. I do not pretend to be privy to these deliberations nor to the weights assigned to any of the factors that entered into his decision. Nor do I claim to understand his strategic thinking. I feel reasonably safe, though, in assuming that his calculations, unlike those of his predecessor, gave greater consideration to the costs and risks to the coastal and oceanic environments: maybe not as much as I would have wanted, but certainly more than Bush. At least I would hope that it did and that his ultimate goal is to move us toward a more sustainable energy basis, toward an even grander environmental goal.

Solar, tidal, wind, geothermal: these are stepping-stone forms of energy that, when tapped, could raise the present state of our civilization to a higher order. Their prevalence would render obsolete the sorts of destructive resource wars that have plagued us throughout our history. Their abundance would fuel intellectual, creative, and peaceful progress—potentially even evolutionary advances as we find ourselves overcoming some of the struggles for mere survival that have made us so bellicose to begin with. Their cheapness would make such projects as desalination of sea water feasible (even now corporate and state actors are moving to privatize and control potentially potable water resources; there was even a rumor that the Bush family [alongside, apparently, the Sun-Yung Moon enterprise], inveterate oil resource hogs, has bought up 100,000 acres of land in Paraguay on top of the central aquifer for all of the South American continent).

I have long advised my teen-aged children that they are entering a new era, an era where focus on green, sustainable energy technologies will be the path to job security and financial well-being in the future—as well as making this world a better place. My sense is that, as with personal computers in the late '70s, we are at the starting line for an entrepreneurial boom in this area that will not so readily go bust.

The Anthropocene epoch arrives perhaps too soon. The paradox of human nature is as yet unresolved. I worry we have not yet shaken off the existential insecurities that accompanied the rise of our civilization over the last 10,000 years. And with those insecurities come the sorts of fears and animosities that drove us into the global wars and genocides and environmental disasters that reached near apotheosis in the last century.

We have to ask whether humanity is essentially Life-affirming, or whether its dark undercurrents will once again surface in this new epoch. I hope and, at base, believe that, though it is not inevitable given human nature, we as a race will ultimately stumble into a solution that works to preserve our environment, ourselves, and, thus, Life itself.