26 December 2011

'Tis the Season

Wisdom of the West is celebrating its fourth anniversary!

My little hobby started out great guns with this mission statement: 
"For the past few years I have been writing a book with the title of this blog. Its subjects include such things as first principles, faith vs. reason, life on earth, meaning, communication, love, work, diversity, controversy, knowledge, time, change, power, law, freedom, technology, history, property, economics and markets, the environment, war and peace, religion, and government. I will post my thoughts on these and many other topics in the hope of engaging you, the readers here, in a dialogue about what wisdom our Western civilization is contributing to the great project of humankind here on planet Earth."
And I've been poking away at pretty much that very thing—being all over the place—for four years now. My first year, with all the enthusiasm of the nube/rube, I managed well over 200 posts. Since then I've fallen into a rhythm averaging about half that, like 2+ posts per week. Some weeks I might post 5 times and others none. I've put up some 555 posts in that time

My earliest posts were mostly text + pics (gleaned from the 'net). In recent months, I've taken to posting music videos and compiling linkage. That is to say, there has been less original writing and more entertainment and aggregation—though I do try to make my vids and links topically meaningful. And lately I've taken to posting pictures I've taken: pseudo-photo essays, if you will. One reason for this change is I've been more active writing fiction and trying to get my stories and novel published—however unsuccessfully—and I've been running more (more about that in a subsequent post). And that's okay from my point of view, but it may detract from your experience. For that, I appreciate your continued readership.

Some highlights from over the years (I can't believe I can actually say that) include: my 16-part serial post about my abject chickenshit failure to skydive entitled Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again and my Ur-Story series, being a substantive analysis of a number of literary works from my own perspective as a writer. If you're interested, all my serial posts can be found under the heading "Pages" on the right side. Specific titles are itemized within the "Jim's Book Club" label. I've even posted the first five chapters of my novel "EULOGY", labeled as such. As always, you should read from the bottom. [FYI: Comments on any earlier posts (including critiques of my writing) still arrive in my designated email account, so don't be shy. I shall respond, but you'll have to check back.]

I have no plans, at present, to discontinue this little blog o' mine. Though changes may be in the offing. That being said, I do not intend to change the Rembrandt background: "Aristotle with a Bust of Homer." The artist portraying the philosopher contemplating the epic poet: there's something evocative about that for me.

And I hope to keep contact with all those of you who pop in from time to time to read and comment. Making cyberbuddies has been one of the unexpected pleasures of this little pasttime. Thanks.

Finally, in case you missed it the first time, I wanted to re-post this amazing video from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Ostensibly, it is Movements 7 and 8 of Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. But it is more. I urge you to watch it to the end of Part 2—and, no, this has nothing to do with the closing of the Mayan cyclical calendar later this year. It's one of the best things I've found in the vast vastness of the information super-highway. It is a thing of sheer beauty. Enjoy:

24 December 2011

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me

Going to the gro to pick up some chicken for dinner, and what did I spy?

How seasonal!

Then lo, a miracle appears:

That can't be a real lane, can it?

Who'd believe it? In the same neighborhood, no less. Wait, wait: what if they cross? How cool would that be? No, surely they don't.

Wait for it...

Atlanta, man. From my blog to you(rs)!

22 December 2011


I've been away without blogging for a week now. Visiting family in NC. Giftmas. Great weather, food, & family there. Horrible driving today—blinding rain. But we're all home and safe. I've been pretty much without access to the so-called "Information Superhighway," (other than on my portable, hand-held cellular device) so if I haven't commented at your place, it's not you, it's me.

A couple of things: Václav Havel, former DFH & president of Czechoslovakia, died this week. He was not only a politician but a playwright. He led a democratic movement to liberate the Czech people from the USSR and got thrown in the slammer for same. And, in keeping with the Zappadan theme of the last few posts, he was a lifelong fan of Frank Zappa. One of his first official acts as president was to invite Zappa to Czechoslovakia. Liberation, courage, democracy, thoughtful, (counter-) cultural literacy, Zappa, writing: don't know that much about him, but he sounds like my kind of guy.

Oh yeah, "dear" leader Kim Jong-Il died, too. Managed to catch the faux mourners, paid keeners, whore wailers, on the News. Twerp.

Take heart, all: from here on until June, here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days get longer and the nights shorter. Happy Solstice!

Again, sorry I missed the last days of Zappadan here. So, shut up 'n' play yr guitar—this is the indulgent, enduring, musical stuff that I just keep coming back to again and again:

[h/t to TheZappaDiscography over at the YouTubes. When I first starting posting during Zappadan a few years back, most of Z's stuff was unavailable on the internets.]

14 December 2011

Who Will Save Our Souls?

This is a momentous day:  
'President Barack Obama marked the end of the U.S. war in Iraq with a salute to American troops at a military base central to the fight and a pledge to support veterans who are returning home to face a difficult economy.
'As your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words,' Obama told soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army Special Operations Command. 'Welcome home.'

A promise to end the conflict in Iraq was a central element of Obama's campaign for the presidency in 2008. When he took office in January 2009, there were almost 150,000 troops in Iraq. That number has shrunk to less than 8,000 and the number of U.S. military bases in the country has fallen to five from 505. When the pullout is complete, the U.S. presence will be at the embassy in Baghdad, with an array of diplomats, military advisers and contractors.
'There is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long,' Obama told troops."
Indeed there is. Former President George W. Bush, using a duplicitous and fraudulent Congressional authorization, invaded Iraq under false premises in March 2003. The bases for that authorization—that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and maintained active links to al Qaeda making it a direct and imminent threat to the U.S.—were utterly false.

Declaring a doctine of pre-emption, Bush claimed the right for the U.S. to invade any country anytime U.S. leaders perceive an imminent threat to U.S. national security. Many, even some in the military, believe this doctrine and the actions justified by it are in violation not only of "just war" theory but also international law. In other words, the war itself is a war crime.

As a result of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld criminal push for war, 4,483 U.S. troops died in Iraq, 3,531 in combat.  As well, official sources note 33,183 U.S. service -men and -women were wounded in Iraq. That number is disputed, and some believe it may be three times that many.

The number of Iraqi civilian dead cannot be reliably estimated, but, based on a study that appeared in the British medical journal Lancet, some have estimated the Iraq body count to be over one millionOfficial tallies fall way short of this number but are nonetheless substantial.

This is why President Obama's announcement today marking the official end of the war in Iraq is so momentous. It puts an official stop to this criminal war. It puts an official stop to the 'justified' wholesale killing of civilians.

But the costs of this war go beyond body counts. The direct economic costs of the war in Iraq, by most accounts, are well over $1 trillion. This does not include the costs of extra spending to care for veterans from combat through 2050, which may itself total over $1 trillion. Nor does it account for interest to be paid on funds borrowed to fund the war.

In 2008, Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz estimated the costs of the Iraq war at $3 trillion. He has since determined that estimate to be too low.  As WoW pointed out at the time, that estimate did not include opportunity costs or what he calls "what if" costs:
"two years on, it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict's most sobering expenses: those in the category of "might have beens," or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only "what if" worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?
The answer to all four of these questions is probably no. The central lesson of economics is that resources -- including both money and attention -- are scarce. What was devoted to one theater, Iraq, was not available elsewhere."
WoW's point was that if those funds squandered in destructive warfare had been put to creative use—investing, say, in green energy sources, shoring up Social Security, developing universal health care, seeding new, productive industries here and even abroad, reducing poverty worldwide, etc.—the potential return on those investments would have made a hugely positive contribution to the standard of living world-wide. Stiglitz, of course, notes that the financial crisis we are currently experiencing is almost certainly attributable to this war.

And this gets to the final component of the costs of this war: the price of our souls. Primarily, the companies that profited from this war are those engaged in arms and weapons manufactury, those providing contractual paramilitary services, and those involved in oilfield services industry. These are the destructive angels of our nature—the killing business, the resource exploitation business. Then, of course, there's their bankers and financiers—the speculators and parasites. The Iraq war has made these folks the Masters of the Universe—or at least elevated their mastery to a whole new level.

We may be able to pay back the economic costs of this war, but it will take time and sacrifice. We might even be able to reclaim our collective souls from the destructive forces that currently have us in their clutches. Occupy, I'd say, is a good start. We can never, however, recover the lives lost, U.S. or Iraqi.

The costs in human lives, the economic and financial costs, and the costs to our soul as a civilization: let us hope that the end to this war can reverse this self-destructive trend and put us on the road to a more creative, healthy, and productive future.

Thank you, President Obama, for putting an end to this atrocity. Frankly, it's about time. I know it has taken a great deal of time and energy on your part. I know you have had to battle the entrenched, corrupt forces of militarism and bureaucratic inertia and war-profiteering to get to this point. But it was the right thing to do. The project now is to figure out how to pay for this disaster without sending the entire world into a further economic tailspin and, simultaneously, recover our wounded souls—the better angels of our nature.

From Uncle Meat:

Now shut up 'n play ur guitar:

08 December 2011

Sun, Sun, Sun: Here It Comes

I've been tracking this for years here @ WoW: the cost of photovoltaic solar energy is nearly on par with that of mainstream utilities. Here's why. First, the price of solar panels has plummeted.
"Since 2009, the cost has dropped 70 percent," says Pearce. But more than that, the assumptions used in previous studies have not given solar an even break.
"Historically, when comparing the economics of solar and conventional energy, people have been very conservative," says Pearce. To figure out the true cost of photovoltaic energy, analysts need to consider several variables, including the cost to install and maintain the system, finance charges, how long it lasts, and how much electricity it generates.
Pearce and his colleagues performed an exhaustive review of the previous studies and concluded that the values given those variables were out of whack. For example, most analyses assume that the productivity of solar panels will drop at an annual rate of 1 percent or more, a huge overestimation, according to Pearce.
"If you buy a top-of-the-line solar panel, it's much less, between 0.1 and 0.2 percent." In addition, "The price of solar equipment has been dropping, so you'd think that the older papers would have higher cost estimates," Pearce says. "That's not necessarily the case."
Stated another way, we're not talking about any abstract "price discovery" here, even though a truly free market economics would demand it:
The price of solar energy-generated electricity, calculated by a legitimate levelized cost of energy (LCOE) method, is now competitive in many regions with the price of electricity generated by conventional sources.
To be clear, this review of solar photovoltaic LCOE is not one of those “if coal and nuclear paid for the real harm they do” analyses. It is a hard look at the actual numbers.
And what's more, apparently the financial data are bearing this out:
Renewable energy is surpassing fossil fuels for the first time in new power-plant investments, shaking off setbacks from the financial crisis….
Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data. Accelerating installations of solar- and wind-power plants led to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal.
This from those DFHs over at the Bloomberg.

This is important. Lower priced energy correlates with higher productivity and, often, a higher standard of living—especially if the energy is not monopolized and Corporate is not skimming the profits created by increasingly higher productivity the way they have been over the last twenty years (h/t Occupy!). Think, for example, of cheap, portable desalination of water. Such a technology could stave off at least one future resource war, not to mention save the lives of peoples everywhere. And solar is not the only natural, renewable, abundant source of energy.

Though I do my level best to avoid them, metaphors abound. (h/t blogbud BDR, from whom I'm always stealing turns of phrase.)

Big Picture: Occupy! is not just about the U.S. middle class.

Big (down-the-road) Problem: How do we handle the additional heat thrown off by all this increased energy without cooking the planet?


οἱ οἱ οἱ

Time magazine has named Occupy Wall Street the story of the year. Yep. So what's happening? The DC occupistas are showing serious strategic savvy: they're taking it to K Street, lobbying central, the funnel through which Corporate money purchases its (non-)governance. It is the crucial supply line. And, in grand '60s-style street theater, they've occupied the U.S. Chamber of Commerce holiday party by rolling out the red carpet for the lobbyists' and their Corporate masters' arrivals. Check it:

Brilliant. Who says this generation is lacking in imagination?

On yet another front, occupistas are attempting to occupy unoccupied foreclosed-upon houses. Keep up with them here.

For οἱ πολλοί:

God bless us, every one.

06 December 2011

'Tis the Season

Once again, DFH's from the '60s and '70s have launched their yearly War on Christmas by interposing their ludicrously invented celebration of so-called Zappadan in honor of the 12/4 anniversary of the death of Frank Zappa. It runs until the 12/21 anniversary of his death. Each year, WoW runs some clips of the sorts of things these degenerates have chosen to venerate and, in so doing, detract from the annual feast of the birth of our Loud and Savior—more specifically, from its Advent-itious anticipation. This year promises to be no different. Thus:

Now fall down and worship, bitchez:

01 December 2011

A Slumgullion of Linkage

Wisdom of the West's Man of the Year, Julian Assange, has, despite his legal troubles,* done it again. Wikileaks has published a devastating set of files documenting the use of surveillance technologies by governments world-wide: "Mass interception of entire populations is not only a reality, it is a secret new industry spanning 25 countries. It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but as of today, mass interception systems, built by Western intelligence contractors, including for ’political opponents’ are a reality. Today WikiLeaks began releasing a database of hundreds of documents from as many as 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry..." It may not be that anyone is actively monitoring what you do at any given moment, but if someone with access and reason wanted to find out say, at some point in time, where you were and what you were doing at any given moment, they might be able to discover it via your smartphone or PC or GPS.

[* Agreed. Sexual assault is sexual assault. If Assange is guilty of same, he must answer for it. Same with Herman Cain^—who, as an establishment Republican, will never be treated as shoddily as Assange, despite the very real evidence of his behavior. What evidence? you might ask: Cain's employer, the National Restaurant Association, a U.S. lobbying firm for mostly fast-food, unhealthy joints had to pay settlements to not one but two female employees totaling some $80,000, who claimed Cain sexually assaulted them when he was the head of that company. Gag orders were imposed as the price of these agreements. That being said, Assange is not seeking election to the highest office.

{^ Does anyone not see the telltale, semi-covert, yet ham-handed machinations of Karl Rove (and his Crossroads SuperPac) all over the serial character assassinations of Mitt Romney's opponents (Palin, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, & Cain) in the Republican Presidential primary race? Really?}]

Meanwhile, Bradley Manning, who allegedly gave Wikileaks access to tens of thousands U.S. diplomatic communications—documents which Wikileaks released—is still somewhere under a jail awaiting formal court procedures.
Speaking of criminal activity,
"Amnesty International is calling for the arrest of former President George W. Bush while he is traveling overseas in Africa.
The human rights group issued a statement Thursday calling for the governments of Ethiopia, Tanzania or Zambia to take the former president into custody. According to Amnesty, the 43rd president is complicit in torture conducted by the United States during his administration and should be held pending an international investigation. 
"International law requires that there be no safe haven for those responsible for torture; Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia must seize this opportunity to fulfill their obligations and end the impunity George W. Bush has so far enjoyed," said Amnesty senior legal adviser Matt Pollard in a statement."
Good luck with that.
Yeah, the Bush administration. Seems that Hank Paulson, Bush's SecTreas, acted in concert and collusion with the 'too-big-to-fail' Wall Street banks without Congressional knowledge and/or oversight by giving them a heads-up about forthcoming government action w/r/t FannieMae and FreddyMac and providing bailout monies of over $7 trillion, ten times more than was disclosed to the public. This from that radical news org. Bloomberg News. It isn't surprising that Paulson's buddies used these taxpayer funds to enrich themselves while the U.S. and, in fact, the world economy tanked.

Is there a crime there somewhere?
While we're on the topic of finance, here's a good Reddit discussion about the advantages Hedge Funds have over retail investors. It's a Wall Street type who's in sync with the Operation Wall Street crowd. The comments are particularly instructive and should be read. One interesting point is Warren Buffett's standing bet that an S & P 500 index fund will beat any hedge fund's returns over a ten-year period. The point being: if you're going to do any investing as an individual (and some of you might have that option in a workplace 401k, e.g.), a buy-and-hold strategy is best, and one which sits in a fund that apes the returns of the S & P 500 is about as good as you can get.
While we're on the topic of OWS: whither thou? OWS has become part of the news landscape. It's almost become like following the local weather. Rather than fade away, WoW hero George Lakoff recommends that the movement translate its cultural influence into electoral power much the same way the Tea Party exerted itself: to wit,
"gain power within the Democratic Party and hence in election contests all over America. All they have to do is join Democratic Clubs, stick to their values, speak out very loudly, and work in campaigns for candidates at every level who agree with their values. If Occupiers can run tent camps, organize food kitchens and clean-up brigades, run general assemblies, and use social media, they can take over and run a significant part of the Democratic Party.
To what end? All the hundreds of the occupiers' legitimate complaints and important policy suggestions follow from a simple general moral principle: American democracy is about citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that care.
The idea is simple but a lot follows from it: a government that protects and empowers everyone equally, a government of the Public - public roads and buildings, school and universities, research and innovation, public health and health care, safety nets, access to justice in the courts, enforcement of worker rights, and practical necessities like sewers, power grids, clean air and water, public safety including safe food, drugs, and other products, public parks and recreational facilities, public oversight of the economy - fiscal and trade policy, banking, the stock market - and especially the preservation of nature in the interest of all.
The Public has been what has made Americans free - and has underwritten American wealth. No one makes it on his or her own. Private success depends on a robust Public."
In local news, the Atlanta Fulton County Sheriff refused to carry out an eviction order against a 103 year old woman. Bravo, dude. Score one for the good guys and humanity.

By contrast, former Republican Sheriff of the Year, Patrick Sullivan of Colorado was arrested for selling meth for gay sex and was sent to the eponymous Patrick J. Sullivan Detention Facility. You can't make this stuff up. I mean, if I attempted to use this story for a novel, it wouldn't pass the laugh test.*

[* More on my latest project—and the cool serendipity that generated it—later. Or not.]
Now some rockin' toons: