Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Quiet Earth

The Earth's been through a lot in its 4.5 billion years. About 700 million years after its initial formation is when it's estimated that the first hints of life surfaced. And through the incredibly slow and lengthy process of evolution, we've only called it home for a fraction of that, roughly 100-200 thousand years. We can only theorize with science and evidence what 4.5 billion years looks like and I don't believe the majority of humans can conceive or even fathom exactly what the Earth is beyond the confines of their own homes, property, conveniences and country.

In the past 500 million years, there have been 5 mass extinctions that have decimated life here on Earth. 99% of all life that has ever existed on Earth has been dispatched into oblivion. The largest, known as the Great Dying, took place about 252 million years ago. The reason behind it, was climate change.

As a species with the luxury of sentience, reasoning and intelligence, we've been able to carve an existence on Earth and change its very landscape to suit our increasing needs. Unfortunately, our intelligence seldom revolves around forethought. We're a reactionary species, which is likely a by-product of our evolution. We seldom go out and try to fix problems that aren't there or that are outside our perception. We await events like those experienced in Fukushima Japan in order to correct how we do things such as the notion that building a nuclear reactor on a fault line, is perfectly reasonable. However, even our greatest minds and pioneers with all their caution and planning are not immune to occasional catastrophe like the one witnessed by NASA and the Challenger disaster. We're human and with that comes the ability to be wrong. So let me put things into perspective for you regarding what we currently know about this wonderful planet.

Resources are not indefinite. Eventually you can run out of something if you simply use it without any consideration for its origins and the methods in which they are created. The current energy consumption of the world, roughly 86% of it, predominantly revolves around fossil fuels. The time it takes to create them is longer than humans have been walking the Earth. Yet, somehow, we've become entirely dependent on them. We've only recently enjoyed this technological boom thanks to the industrialization of the world for roughly a couple of centuries and depend entirely on a fuel source that takes millions of years to resupply. Does this sound like an intelligent practice to you? Well even Bill Nye has said that we will never run out of fossil fuel. Now I agree with him on a lot of things, however his statement is a drastic oversimplification. Albert Bartlett showed this using simple arithmetic. The OECD paints a rather stark picture of what it will mean when we hit peak figures by 2050. This means that the entire world will be at its maximum ability to supply before resources start to decline. There will be shortages and the world will frantically be looking for alternatives to try to keep the juggernaut, which is humanity, going. Whether this will be a slightly turbulent or disastrous transition is anyone's guess. It's likely that it won't matter though.

Since I've been in grade school, over the span of a couple of decades, the population of Earth has gone from the 4.6 billion mark to about 7.1 billion. That's almost double. We still can't even manage to feed everyone or provide clean water despite us having the ability and the resources to do so. For now. Current models are already putting our current food supply in question. First world countries are already buying land at unprecedented rates in order to meet the demands of tomorrow. So what happens when the hungry inhabitants from those places realize that their own land is being used to feed others who already have more than their fair share of resources? What happens if a world food shortage occurs in tandem with an energy crisis? These are the sorts of things I contemplate lately on Earth day.

It might already be too late though due to the facts that have surfaced regarding the consequences for the methods in which we've erected our civilization. That consequence is climate change. Sea levels will rise burying once prominent cities in water. Temperatures will rise causing water shortages and increasing problems regarding agriculture. The oceans will acidify causing life to die out, something that's already visible in Sylvia Earle's lifetime and demonstrated in the documentary Mission Blue. We still don't have solid figures on what this will do to Earth's oxygen supply considering 50% of it comes from our oceans. Life on this planet is about to get extremely unpleasant and soon.

More people, less food, less water, less fuel and an increasingly difficult time producing those key components for our survival. Does this sound like a sustainable operation to you? The Earth however will continue to go on. It's already had 5 mass extinction events it's recovered from with time. What's a 6th going to be in the grand scheme of things? It already might be too late for us. We might not even have the luxury of being able to breathe in open air the way things are going. We're too worried about lines on a map, skin pigmentation, what our imaginary friend in the sky thinks, what new toy we can add to our collection, or how much paper with dead people we can accumulate in order to give meaning to one's life. So much so that we defund organizations such as NASA that are providing this critical information so we can get more things that will be irrelevant when we're all dead. Being able to control asteroids, you know, something that may have played a part in previous extinction events might be important if one happens to be barrelling towards us to destroy all life as we know it on Earth. But no, lets defund that so we can increase defence spending to attack other countries, kill people and secure a foothold for the future of our little piece of land separated by lines that were drawn a long time ago. It's absolutely absurd and is the key reason we're all fucked.

So here's to Earth. That impressive timeless planet that's been a home to myriad species. May the next one surpass humanity's shortcomings and not be the total self absorbed, selfish, naive  fuckups we all were while fulfilling petty needs and delusions of grandeur.

Or maybe, maybe, just maybe, those who survive this mess will have enough sense to make things right so the Earth doesn't have to wait another billion years to repopulate. Now that would be something.

*****

I've decided to revisit this a year later, on Earth day to see if there's been any change in my assessment. I have been met with zero responses challenging my claims and have promoted my opinion on this matter, which happens to be supported by facts, several times over the year. 

Since then, I've been made aware that the global water supply itself is in jeopardy. Most of it, to be fair, is locked away in glaciers. You know, the things that are now melting at record rates. I've talked about peak fuel, but a concept you're going to be hearing about, and very soon, is peak water. The scary thing? We're not even sure if we're there yet.

Without water, there's no food. Without food, there's no us. "But the world is made up of tons of water!" Yeah, sure, that's salinated. Desalination, that is turning ocean water into fresh water, is not without problems. First of all, the particulates left over can't simply be dumped back into the oceans without impacting the environment. Remember that whole "50%+ of the oxygen supply comes from our oceans" thing I mentioned? Then you have the small hurdle where the majority of wildlife around these desalination plants just fucking die.

First the water's going to go, then the food, then each other fighting ourselves over imaginary lines drawn in the sand to get at the food and water that's left. The pros will be, hey, we'll have less people around to take up the resources! The con is that what's left isn't going to be much of anything worth living for. 

One of the sticking points for immediate action at the moment are those taking the lazy, apathetic and/or self absorbed position of thinking the problem will solve itself through the magic of science and human innovation. The other is fuelled by the notion that there's some magical imaginary friend in the sky that won't let anything bad happen to this planet, or more importantly us. 

Between these two immovable objects, we're faced with two choices. Either we die slowly and painfully or take out as many people on the planet as we can that are taxing it. Neither is morally justifiable but when push comes to shove, the latter will likely be the reality humanity chooses. And I really hope I'm wrong about that.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Shouting from the drumhead

Recently, I became aware of the events that occurred at the Calgary Expo where occupants of a booth were summarily ejected for having done something terrible. They had a difference of opinion and chose to vocalize it during a panel held by various presenters within that convention .

So the hooligans in question must have been disruptive right? Well, unlike most people, I actually took the time to listen to this so called deplorable behavior. Seems to me that all they did was try to engage in discourse via an extremely polite and nonabrasive manor. This was also seen at a recent event held by Christina H Sommers where feminists held up signs. The difference is that the people holding up the signs were in no way ejected from the premises or diminished by the establishment for their peaceful protesting. And this is where I step in and have a problem.

One of the reasons I decided to take the time to elaborate my position was because both Anne and Wil Wheaton, two rather awesome individuals, tweeted about it and took the position that it was perfectly alright for the Honey Badger Brigade to have their booth closed. My reaction was "Wait, this can't be right? They're actually promoting silencing a group because they happen to disagree and challenge what feminists are saying?" And yes, this actually happened. Wil "don't be a dick" Wheaton. a man who I think is awesome beyond measure, as well as his equally awesome wife Anne are actually suggesting that the Honey Badger Brigade are somehow malicious enough to warrant expulsion. I'd never heard of them before this story broke and to me, people who collectively call themselves the Honey Badger Brigade, don't really strike me as militant belligerent assholes that deserve that kind of treatment. So I listened to their recorded exchange and guess what? They're just expressing a different opinion and challenging other people's ideas. Has it become a social norm now that to even criticize or scrutinize what people are saying merits silencing?

I'm actually reminded of a Star Trek episode that I recently watched quoting a fictional judge by the name of Aaron Satie. It goes: "With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured...the first thought forbidden...the first freedom denied – chains us all, irrevocably." That episode was written by Jeri Taylor and directed by Jonathan Frakes. It happens to be one of my favorites dealing with the very essence of individual freedoms. The message is that whenever society deems it ok to trodden on an individual's ability to speak, think or simply exist everyone is damaged. The equally important idea that removing freedoms can backfire is present in Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons". There's a scene where there's an exchange between a prosecutor and the character of Sir Thomas More. Moore asks the prosecutor “You’d break the law to punish the devil, wouldn’t you?” The prosecutor responds: “break it? I’d cut down every law in England if that would take it to catch him”. To which Moore replies: “Yes you would, wouldn’t you?” And then “When you would have cornered the devil and the devil would turn around to meet you, where would you run for protection, all the laws of England having been cut down and flattened? Who would protect you then?”

Not only was the reaction of the Calgary Expo unwarranted, it was completely over the top. Now they and the owners have every right to refuse access to the facilities for whatever galactically stupid reason they deem fit. But I'm not going to be quiet about it, that's for damn sure. Whenever anyone prevents another from doing something as basic as defending their opinion by using speech as the means to that end, I will defend them regardless of my feelings towards what they are saying. I do this because at any given moment, for exactly the same broken headed reasons, someone might decide to silence me or others for matters I hold dear. This is the fundamental principle of free speech. In a world where human beings are being murdered over cartoons, I'm gobsmacked that anyone would challenge or oppose any other individual's right to a public forum so easily. It's careless, unprincipled, immoral and reprehensible. As for Anne, Wil, the Calgary Expo management and all others who have chosen this approach or promoted this behavior, I urge you to reconsider your choices. None of which I plan on offering continued support if this behavior continues. This kind of thinking leads to loss of freedom and in extreme cases to the events we're witnessing with Raif Badawi. A man who's only crime was to start a blog and try to change the moral landscape. That's why on this matter, there is no debate.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

If he only had a brain.

Things have been going drastically down hill for Cenk Uygur seeing as he's recently devolved into the position of a common smear merchant. Unfortunately, no one in his immediate surroundings seems to have a level head regarding these matters or knowledge of the subject. As a result, everyone at TYT simply nods at anything coming out of Cenk's gob.

Here's the most recent smear job focused against Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This is a direct result of him being called out regarding his statements referring to Ayaan and Sam Harris as neocons. In Ayaan's case he stated that she's a maniac on top of that. Now anyone who spent enough time looking into the ideology of Islam in order to better understand it has likely come across Ayaan at some point in time. Either she's in a debate, presentation or an interview. Simply looking up her name comes up with myriad results giving a very clear narrative on her thoughts about Islamic religion and its impact on the world, and more specifically, the Muslim world. Most importantly it sets the stage on why it's so important to criticize these matters in the hopes of change through reformation. The one question I kept asking via twitter and was hoping for an answer was, if Ayaan was such a bigoted neocon maniac, why is she looking for reformation in the hopes of helping the very Muslims she supposedly hates? Despite my attempts at getting an answer by Cenk, I found none in this video. All I found unfortunately was oversimplification, quote mining and, ironically, strawmanning of Ayaan.

Lets deal with the first part where Cenk skimmed over the interview of Ayaan by Sam Harris. Right off the bat Cenk tried to diminish the interview because Sam didn't ask Ayaan any "hard" questions. Cenk made reference to the 3 hour interview he did with Sam as an example. At the beginning of the interview, Sam was critical of Cenk's journalistic integrity. Roughly at the 6 minute mark is where Sam makes the point that Reza Aslan and CJ Werleman were basically left a platform to speak unchallenged. The uninformed viewer/reader would have never been aware of what Sam actually said and dismissed him as a genocidal maniac. And even after the 3 hours he spent at TYT clarifying his position, Cenk still managed to misrepresent him and dismiss him as a neocon. Yet in that very interview he said he opposed the Iraq war. This proves precisely why Sam's grievance is a valid one. As for hard questions, what exactly should Sam do when he's asking Ayaan about AEI? Put her in a strangle hold while he's posing the question? Yell at her? All I see here is Sam being civil, paraphrasing answers to make sure there's no confusion and getting a clear narrative of who Ayaan really is. Cenk could learn a lot from him. Note how Sam started his interview by listing the various accomplishments and a short biography on who it was he'd be speaking to. Yeah, I didn't see any of that mentioned in Cenk's video either. So for the casual viewer one would simply think that Ayaan is the most reprehensible human being ever. This is why Cenk's nothing but a smear merchant. Not even the slightest hint or mention regarding any of her work.

One thing I want to establish for this portion is the definition of what it means to straw man. Also the reason why I just had to use this title for my blog. A straw man is when you misrepresent's an opponent's position. Cenk seems to think that it applies to statements like this: "It never ceases to amaze me that when one complains about Muslim theocrats abusing Muslim women and freethinkers, one inevitably gets accused of anti-Muslim bigotry". It doesn't. Here's an example of an actual straw man. Note how you can clearly see an interaction between two people? One person is clearly telling Sam what he said and Sam has to clarify as a result. That's a straw man. Sorry to take you by the hand like that but when grown ass men still can't comprehend this, I'd rather this be crystal clear in stead of redefining the English language. In any event, Cenk's response to the so called "straw man argument": "No one's ever said that, you can't find any examples of that". Well here's one saying "You're a bigot end of story". This is all too commonplace for individuals who are actively criticizing Islam's bad ideas. Just because Cenk never personally experienced it, doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Cenk barely, barely covers anything revolving around Islam yet the stories I see with ideological motivators are occurring almost daily. The rest of Cenk's presentation is repetition. He reads the quote and says it doesn't happen. Yet when I make any critical statements regarding such events, I either have people flat out call me a bigot or present me with an example of western intervention where people died due to Agent Orange for instance. Hop outside your own little universe and get involved in a conversation outside your own twitter feed and you'll come across it. Like an actual death threat. All in all his analysis of the interview is simplistic, one sided and does nothing to tell you what kind of a person Ayaan actually is. Here's the actual interview. How anyone can summarize that into the oversimplified quote mined turd Cenk presented would get anyone a failing grade in journalistic academia.

In transition, Cenk can't help himself to do a little more quote mining, taking another stab at Sam. Sam: "The faith has no truly moderate wing". This is classic smear merchant nonsense. When read in context an entire conversation is taking place between Sam and Ayaan. What Sam is saying within the paragraph in question is that there seems to be little resistance regarding current questionable practices surrounding Islamic ideology by Muslims. Polls show this. He's not denying moderates exist. Hell he's writing a book with Maajid Nawaz, an ex radical. This is also something I pointed out to Cenk. It's rather peculiar for Cenk to accuse Sam of making so called blanket statements when he's co-authoring a book with a Muslim in the hopes of progressing the discussion. Sam's even mentioned before that the greatest victims of Islamic atrocities are Muslims. But see, that's the problem. The second you look at the entire context of the discussion, the notion that Sam is some malicious hate filled lunatic, just dissolves to any rational human being.

The actual meat and potatoes from Cenk's beef with Ayaan seems to revolve around everyone's go-to-guide in order to show what a despicable human being she actually is. The interview is a fairly lengthy one yet, as always, certain quotes are lifted and presented as abhorrent truth.

And now we add a new fallacy to the mix where Cenk inevitably links Ayaan with AEI. This is called guilt by association. It would be like stating that Cenk is for the marriage of minors because he's from Turkey. What one would need to do is provide evidence of her direct involvement in the questionable matters regarding AEI and its practices, which Cenk fails to do. Working for a specific company isn't an actionable offense. After learning of Enron's questionable practices, they didn't throw every employee there in jail as a result. Stop this nonsense.

Only at 12 minutes in do we get to the heart of the matter. Cenk's position is that she's identifying herself as liberal and her only position is war and bombing. This is yet another fallacy called no true Scotsman. Everything regarding Ayaan's career where she brings focus of women's rights in Islam screams liberal. In fact, this is what the majority of her time, debates and interviews revolve around. She's already responded to these allegations in the past but there's never a mention of it. Neither is there ever a mention of her body of work looking to change the moral landscape of Islam. But that's the thing with blog reading so called journalists today, they don't try to look at past accomplishments nor do they look to what's being said in the present. They simply line up a target, find all supporting evidence for their bias and pull the proverbial trigger. You never see recent pieces where Ayaan is pushing for reform stating "You can't drone bad ideas out of people's heads". Rarely do you get the 5ws, the core of journalism. Here's a woman who was a full fledged practicing Muslim and only after decades of living in that world did she break free and flee towards a more rational alternative. Here's her speaking about her experience so hopefully you can get the full narrative the Young Turks fail to present.

The story could have ended there with Ayaan as a free woman but despite everything that pushed her away, Ayann turned around to confront Islam head on. She started working with women in shelters who were victims of spousal abuse but didn't want to leave their husbands in fear that they would go to hell according to Islamic teachings. She became involved in the political landscape, shared her story and spoke out against the abhorrent practices of Islam. In 2004, after working with Theo van Gogh, the short film Submission was released and both her and Theo received death threats. All they did was report precisely how Islam treated its women and, shortly after, Theo paid for it with his life. Even more unsettling was a letter pinned to Ayaan's colleague repeating the threat against her life. So yeah, maybe 3 years after that event, when the Reason interview took place, she's going to be a little curt when speaking about Islam and not catering to everyone's sensitivities. Even as that interview took place, Salman Rushdie was still living in fear until 2008 due to a fatwa called on his life by Iran. This should give you pause and make you think. Yeah, a leader of a country calls for the death of an author over a god dammed book. That was back in 1989 and was reaffirmed by future administrations there until 2008. That's almost 2 decades of living in isolation. Because of a fucking book.

This is the true problem with Cenk. He has no inclination or interest in representing people for who they are in full. He'll just read one source and run with whatever broken headed notion enters his large oily cranium. He'll also fail completely to provide the context, timeline and reasons for why certain things are being said. He'll just quote mine things, present them as truth and watch the views come in justifying his galactically stupid opinions. This is the how a disingenuous ignorant smear merchant like Cenk operates as well as many others. Unfortunately, I was one of the people who supported him. You'd think for someone who used to have opinions on the right side of the political spectrum like Cenk did, he'd actually have integrity regarding evaluating human beings. But no. As a result I can no longer support the Young Turks. They've devolved into an organization that's simply out to make points using only selective sources regarding world news. And if the world is looking to realistically progress, a professionally constructed account of the facts is necessary, which you won't find with Cenk and other members of the Young Turks. And that's a damn shame.