Archive for the ‘question’ Category

Larger than life with a small ‘l’ – ant colonies and the big mind

Friday, March 19, 2010

I don’t know how this can be explained purely by the neo-Darwinian idea that the purpose of life is to propagate one’s genes. (Could such architecture be programmed within the genes of a single ant???)  And I don’t know how this can be explained without some notion of supra-organism intelligence or mind. Watch and wonder at our world –

– and consider the supra-human mind of which we must be a part. Might there be a dimension to Life with a capital ‘L’ that we forget in our ‘own’, individual lives?

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A memorable traditionalist? On Obama’s inaugural

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The file left, on the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, by former President George Bush for the forty-fourth president, Barack H. Obama – courtesy of the Boston Globe

Some have said they’ve been disappointed by Obama’s inaugural speech, saying it lacked a memorable poetic line in the tradition of FDR or JFK.  What?!  After a mere sixteen hours, they think they are in a position to evaluate the memorable-ness of a speech? Come on!  FDR died almost fifty-four years ago, and JFK just over forty-five years ago: it takes time for history to define what might or might not emerge as memorable.  For goodness sake.  (For what it’s worth, my money is on his offer of friendship to leaders around the world who will renounce violence and corruption in favour of mutual respect –

[…] we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.)

Here is an excerpt from Andrew Sullivan’s take

Mulling over the address yesterday, I felt in retrospect that the restraint and classical tropes of the speech were deliberate and wise. From the moment he gave his election night victory speech, Obama has been signaling great caution in the face of immense challenges. The tone is humble. We know he can rally vast crowds to heights of emotion; which is why his decision to calm those feelings and to engage his opponents and to warn of impending challenges is all the more impressive. He’s a man, it seems to me, who knows the difference between bravado and strength, between an adolescent “decider” and a mature president, between an insecure brittleness masquerading as power, and the genuine authority a real president commands. He presides. He can set a direction and a mood, but he invites the rest of us to move the ball forward: in a constitutional democracy, we are always the ones we’ve been waiting for.

He is not a messiah and does not act or speak like one. He’s a traditionalist in many ways.

Only in America? Europe, not so much

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Keith Richburg, writing in today’s Observer, reflects on why America is leading Europe in terms of race relations based on his experiences as a journalist throughout the world –

[…] it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a Barack Obama emerging in Europe soon.

One reason is that Europeans for the most part do not talk about race and race relations as openly as we do. In America, we wallow in it. We self-analyse and form committees, workshops and seminars to talk about it. There are countless organisations and associations dedicated to racial issues. Bookshops stack shelves talking about our racial history and problems. We take measurements of pretty much everything, from black student school test scores to minority living standards.

France, to take one example, is on the other extreme. For a story on the state of minorities in France, I once asked for the statistics on how many blacks were on each political party list and it was like dragging a dead cat into the room and tossing it on the table. Race is simply not openly discussed.

What’s more, many Europeans can’t even bring themselves to call their minority residents what they are – citizens. They are still often referred to as ‘immigrants’ or ‘outsiders’, even if they were born in the country, speak no other language, know no other home.

A European Obama seems unlikely to emerge soon because of the parliamentary systems in place, in which a newcomer to politics has first to find his way on to a party list and work his or her way up through the ranks. In Obama’s case, this newcomer leapfrogged far more experienced and better-known candidates – think Hillary Clinton – to take his case directly to voters in primary states.

A year ago, no one here would have predicted that a black candidate would become the nominee of a major party and have a more than realistic chance of winning the White House on 4 November. And it’s a testament to Obama’s considerable skill that he has largely managed to make his race an afterthought. America is on the verge of something historic and it almost seems anticlimactic.

But black Americans are still pinching themselves, still not quite able to believe what has been achieved. And all Americans should pause from the heated political rhetoric and reflect on the sense of accomplishment, win or lose, that his candidacy represents – an affirmation of that American ideal.

I think back to my father, who suffered terrible racism in the south, still believing for his son: ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ That means any little boy can even dream of being President. And that really is only in America.

The parliamentary systems in Europe, with the party vetting of potential candidates that that implies, mean that there is more room for calculations based on entrenched perspectives, and less room for surprises. There are benefits of this – in terms of stability and the conservation of ‘useful’ and ‘good’ traditions – but the downside, in terms of flexibility, and responsiveness and openess to change, should now be more obvious.

Why he’s winning: leadership, judgement, and stonking oratory

Saturday, October 25, 2008

For some, including for Time magazine’s Joe Klein, Obama’s rise and campaign management has been bewildering.  Klein’s recent article captures beautifully the personal qualities and decisions made that have generated such momentum for the Obama campaign.  For example, Obama’s policy of ‘no dramatics’ within his campaign team paid off in the primaries against Clinton.  And his instinctive judgement calls as to when leadership could most effectively be deployed enabled him to reflect on the issue of race in America, and neutralise Jeremiah Wright, in a speech followed by a press conference; and, it enabled him to keep his cool during the banking bail-out fiasco.

Here’s how Klein finishes up

If an Apollo project to create a new alternative-energy economy is his highest priority, as he told me, why hasn’t he given a major speech about it during the fall campaign? Why hasn’t he begun to mobilize the nation for this next big mission? In part, I suppose, because campaigns are about firefighting — and this campaign in particular has been about “the fierce urgency of now,” to use one of Obama’s favorite phrases by Martin Luther King Jr., because of the fears raised by the financial crisis and because of the desperate, ferocious attacks launched by his opponent.

If he wins, however, there will be a different challenge. He will have to return, full force, to the inspiration business. The public will have to be mobilized to face the fearsome new economic realities. He will also have to deliver bad news, to transform crises into “teachable moments.” He will have to effect a major change in our political life: to get the public and the media to think about long-term solutions rather than short-term balms. Obama has given some strong indications that he will be able to do this, having remained levelheaded through a season of political insanity. His has been a remarkable campaign, as smoothly run as any I’ve seen in nine presidential cycles. Even more remarkable, Obama has made race — that perennial, gaping American wound — an afterthought. He has done this by introducing a quality to American politics that we haven’t seen in quite some time: maturity. He is undoubtedly as ego-driven as everyone else seeking the highest office — perhaps more so, given his race, his name and his lack of experience. But he has not been childishly egomaniacal, in contrast to our recent baby-boomer Presidents — or petulant, in contrast to his opponent. He does not seem needy. He seems a grown-up, in a nation that badly needs some adult supervision.

Bingo.

Consuming for the economy or the future?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alastair McIntosh was contributing BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day yesterday.  Here’s an excerpt –

Our conundrum is that we need more consumption to save the economy, but less to save the planet.

Spending our way out of a recession is therefore only a stop-gap measure. It’s methadone for our planetary heroin addiction.

We simply feed the habit if we think that today’s problems can be tackled at conventional political, technical or economic levels. If we’re redefining our “central mission”, we must press further.

Technical fixes are certainly part of the solution. But I’d put it to you that the deep work must be this: to learn to live more abundantly with less, to rekindle community, and to serve fundamental human need instead of worshiping at the altars of greed.

The crisis of these times is therefore spiritual. It calls for reconnecting our inner lives with the outer world – an expansion of consciousness. And that’s an opportunity that we neglect at our peril, for as I once heard an old Quaker woman say, “It is perilous, to neglect one’s spiritual life.

Words from the wise on Palin – and Putin

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

So Sarah Palin the Republican Vice-Presidential Cadidate likes to hunt and shoot bears. And Putin, premier of Russia, released photos today of him having just killed a tiger. What’s to say? Apart from all the usual ethical stuff, I see them as cowards and bullies. Intelligent primates with modern guns will always win against animals. Take away their weapons and give them spears or axes. And then, if they win, make sure that every scrap of meat is eaten and every sinew and patch of hide used productively. And give prayers of gratitude. – Naively, I want these people to be more empathic and, as leaders, lead us into a more harmonious future.

– from William Bloom’s blog entry of September 2nd, 2008.

Showdown Time: Sarah Palin Vs. Polar Bear

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tonight sees the Vice Presidential Debate between Republican, Governor Sarah Palin and Democrat, Senator Joe Biden. The big question is, who between them and the polar bear is the endangered one?  From today’s Guardian

Polar bear v Sarah Palin

When the US government decided to classify Ursus maritimus as an endangered species earlier in the year, Palin sued in attempt to overturn the ruling, fearing the label would deter oil and gas exploration in Alaska. The case of Palin v Polar bear will be heard in January. Here’s how the contenders size up:

Range
Polar bear: Found across the Arctic regions of five countries; the US, Canada, Russia, Norway and Greenland.
Sarah Palin: Not quite as well travelled. Lives within sight of Russia, but has never ventured there, possibly because of diminishing sea ice.

Conservation status
Polar bear: Vulnerable, largely due to climatic change and the resulting habitat loss.
Palin: Also vulnerable, because of a lack of experience and controversial stances on abortion, creationism, global warming, same-sex marriage and the environment.

Predatory armoury
Polar bear: Possesses razor-sharp teeth, a powerful build and a sense of smell that can detect a seal a mile away under three feet of snow. Still unlikely to triumph in a direct confrontation with Palin however, unless the Alaska legislature suddenly decides to uphold the right to arm bears.
Palin: Licensed gun-owner, avid hunter and crack shot. Palin also supports a policy of shooting wolves from helicopters in order to increase the Alaskan moose population so that Alaskans can shoot more moose. Deadly.

Impact of climate change
Polar bear: Length of hunting season has diminished, birth rates have fallen and it now has insufficient fat reserves.
Palin: None observed.

Biggest supporters
Polar bear: Greenpeace, the US department of the interior, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey.
Palin: Hockey moms, the National Rifle Association, rightwing fundamentalist Christians, climate change deniers, the oil industry, God (endorsement unconfirmed).

Biggest threat to survival
Polar bear: Sarah Palin.
Palin: Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, feminism, belated national reality check brought on by global economic crisis.

The end of the US Republic as we know it

Friday, September 5, 2008

This has to be seen to be believed. In the clip below, the person being asked the question, Nicolle Wallace, is a former White House Communications Director who now acts as a senior strategist for the McCain campaign. Wallace is asked about the policy of protecting Sarah Palin, John McCain’s candidate for Vice President, from the press – preventing anyone from ever asking her questions and only wheeling her out to make scripted speeches.

And so ends the great conversation – between people and their politicians, mediated by the press – that defines modern democracy. Shucks.

Land (and ecological) rights will be the new frontier

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Who owns land? Indeed, can one rightfully claim ownership of what were originally, before the rise of homo sapiens, ‘neutral’, ‘free’, or ‘unclaimed’ places? These are profound questions, ones that go right to the root of Western, industrialised, secular society.

You may have read in the media recently about the ‘previously uncontacted tribe’ in the Amazon (although the organisation that campaigns on their behalf, Survival International, never claimed the tribe was ‘previously uncontacted’).

Survival campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, one tribe of which, the Amazon Makuxi Indians, lives on a specially demarcated reserve. The official recognition hasn’t stopped a local farmer from using his political muscle and resources to intimidate them, however.  Here is troubling footage of what is happening to the Makuxi, conveying in a small way what has been happening for centuries all over the world; don’t watch it if you’re squeamish or young.

No doubt, rising oil prices, biofuels, the cost of food etc. are all playing their part in pressuring farmers and landowners. But what’s been happening in the Amazon, in Zimbabwe (land grabbing farmland ‘back from’ whites), Botswana (diamond prospecting ousting the Kalahari Bushmen) and elsewhere could just be the thin end of the wedge.

I suspect that people’s rights in relation to what some call ‘ecological services’ – healthy water, air, soil and, I’d perhaps add, experiences of wildness – will be the next frontier for those interested in society’s development, i.e. coming historically after democratic, women’s and civil rights progress in European and US social trajectories.