Friday, July 15, 2016

Humans Extinct by 1900!

County Cork, Ireland, 1847, in a time of climate change:  Several wet summers in succession have allowed a blight, Phytophthora infestans, to ravage the Irish potato crop. These potatoes, propagated asexually, have low resistance to the blight since they have almost no genetic diversity.  Even though Ireland has continued to export meat, grain, and dairy products, the peasants live almost exclusively on potatoes.  Now that crop is failing and the peasants are starving.
This is just as the Rev Thomas Malthus predicted forty years ago in 1800.  The Irish, ignorant Roman Catholics, multiplied faster than their food supply.   As Malthus commented, “The population should be swept from the soil.”
There could be more far reaching effects.  As plague jumped from rats to people, P. infestans could affect other members of the Solanaceae family: eggplants, tomatoes, and tobacco.  Not only that, in half a century, it could affect all agricultural crops. We just don’t know what kind of Black Swan event might occur.   When world agriculture fails, so will humanity. Human extinction is possible by 1900!

Well, all that could have happened, but how much to worry about something depends on the probability of it happening. An asteroid could fall on my house, my house could burn down, or a tree could fall on it.  I get homeowner’s insurance, but not asteroid insurance, since there’s only an asteroid landing big enough to create a crater only every five thousand years or so.
Be reasonable!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

You and Me or Aedes?

In his 2012 book, Merchants of Despair, Robert Zubrin traces the antihumanism movement, beginning with Malthus, who claimed that population grows exponentially while productivity grows arithmetically; on to eugenics; on to the Nazi Holocaust.  These movements advocated getting rid of excess people.  Malthus urged, “We should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases and those benevolent but much mistaken men who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders.”  The eugenics movement sterilized the surplus population;  the Nazis killed them.  Zubrin then explores antihumanism’s modern incarnations, population control and radical environmentalism.
The current incarnation of antihumanism, the school of thought that the balance of nature must be preserved at the expense of human beings, is alive and well. The June 2016 Smithsonian Magazine has an article detailing how genetic engineering techniques could bring the Aedes aegypti mosquito to near or complete extinction.  Since more than a million people die every year from diseases such as yellow fever, dengue fever, and Zika virus, transmitted by these bugs, it would seem like a no-brainer to get rid of them. Not so fast say those who value the balance of nature over human flourishing.  From the comments to the article:
Vera Gottlieb says: “As pesky as these critters may be, they are part of the chain of life on this planet.  We are all interconnected and we should NOT upset this balance.  We have already messed up enough.”  Does Gottlieb believe that respect for the interdependent web of life takes priority over respect for human beings?
DV says, “Kill all the mosquitoes and we wipe out the bats, frogs, and numerous bird species.  If we don’t, Mother Earth will come up with some other way to quell the human infection.”  Human INFECTION?  Are human beings no better than Zika virus?
The most outrageous of the commenters, Patturk, says, “Eliminate the diseases and instead contribute to an even greater population explosion of humans, leading to more wars over dwindling resources such as fresh water and  more humans killing each other.  Hmm, death by mosquito or by war.  When will we learn that nature knows best?  Why is so much effort put into curing death?  Or, more humans living longer, crowding out other species until all that’s left are people, sheep, pigs, and cows.  Great idea.”
Is it a better idea to let millions of human beings die of preventable diseases?  Shades of Malthus, the original antihumanist, who likewise recommended not treating diseases.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sexual Dimorphism Denial

The UUWorld Summer 2016 “Families” page suggests that leaving gender specific pronouns out of our speech will ensure fair treatment for all genders. According to the article, girls and boys would not be limited by their gender in such a culture.
Let’s examine a historical example of this thesis.   The Chinese language does not have gender specific pronouns – “he” and “she” translate as “zee.”   Nevertheless, for a thousand years in China, girls were subjected to the cruel and crippling practice of foot binding.  Deliberate disabling is limiting, to say the least. Foot binding was outlawed for the first time in 1912, but continued in the remote provinces.  There are a few surviving elderly women with bound feet, although the last store selling “lotus” shoes closed in 1999.
Due to Western influence, written Chinese began to distinguish pronoun gender in 1917  even as the foot binding custom was decreasing.  It seems gender specific pronouns are not linked to gender-based oppression.
Politically correct or not, a few plants and most animals, including humans, come in male and female, a phenomenon called sexual dimorphism, the technical term for gender binary. The female provides quality gametes; the male provides a quantity of gametes.  The reshuffling of traits at fertilization helps the organism adapt to changing environments.  For instance, bananas, which reproduce asexually, were predicted in 2003 to become extinct in ten years.   https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17723784-800-going-bananas/
Animals have sex; people have sex and gender – the feeling of being masculine or feminine.  Usually sex and gender coincide, but if they don’t, individuals like Ben (trans boy featured in “Families”)  should be treated with kindness and fairness.  Nobody should be forced into doing something because “boys don’t” or “girls have to.”
Many years ago I met a young person whose sex I could not determine.  I felt disconcerted at first.  How should I relate to this person?  Then I realized since I wasn’t dating this person what did it matter?  Maybe at some future time when everyone can be bisexual and attraction depends on the personality of their date, physical sex won’t matter except to get sperm and egg together.
Pronouns are irrelevant, but denial of sexual dimorphism by not using “he” or “she” is as unscientific as climate change denial.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ten Books that Modified My Thinking

Members of my book group listed the ten books that had modified their thinking.  Here’s my list:

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 1884. An outcast understood the contradictions of slavery, showing individual conscience can be more discerning than the prevailing mores.
The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1959.  Darwinian evolution is compatible with Catholic theology and symbolism. Important to me because I was a practicing Catholic when I read it in 1961.
Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor 1984.  Dogs and other animals can be taught without force or violence. Applies to people, too.
Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos 1988.   Innumeracy (lack of facility with numbers and probability) is both widespread and has serious consequences.  Do the math and do it right!
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond 1997.  Differences in technological advancement among cultures are not because of differences of ability among races.   Before I read this book I thought history was factoids about dead people, but history written by scientists reveals interesting patterns.
Non-Zero by Robert Wright 2001.   Win-win prevails over zero-sum.  IMHO, the Force that drives the Universe and human history.
Authentic Happiness by Martin EP Seligman 2002.  Optimists thrive, building on their strengths.
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley 2010.  Although pessimists are considered wise, they’ve almost always been wrong.
The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker 2011.  Masses of data demonstrate that humans have become ever less violent over the ten thousand years of our history.
Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin 2012.  Anti-humanist Malthusians, wrong so far, have hijacked environmentalist movements.

I see  all the titles confirm my bias toward bottom-up evolution leading to peace and prosperity for all.  The moral arc is long but it bends towards justice.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Who Has Enough?

Mother used to tell me, “Finish your vegetables because of all those starving children in China and Africa.”  But how were my veggies supposed to get to the Chinese or African children?  Like Jeffrey Lockwood in UU World Spring 2016, I’d had enough.
        Lockwood says, “[we need to] worry about a species that can’t say enough.”  However, he is concerned that, “In a warming world, we’ll run out of [there won’t be enough] ice caps, arable soil, coral reefs, fresh water, coastal cities, livable land, sea walls, and air conditioners.”
Lockwood says planet and life will be OK because it’s survived high CO2 levels before.   However, he says we should stop emitting CO2 so the planet will return to its “original” temperature.  Which original? The original of the Ice Ages when most of Europe and North America was covered by glaciers? Or of the Little Ice Age when the Thames froze over?  If those originals are too cold, what about the Eocene 55 million years ago when Earth was 10° C warmer?
It’s true that some of us have more than we need, but that doesn’t mean we all have more than we need. Nearly half of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day.  One quarter of all humans live without electricity — approximately 1.6 billion people.  80% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day.
Mother could have sent the veggie money overseas to buy food for the poor children. Oxfam estimates that it would take $60 billion annually to end extreme global poverty--that's less than one fourth the income of the top 100 richest billionaires.    However, redistribution of wealth, generally frowned upon by those who already have it, would be only a partial solution. Also, those that already have barely enough wouldn’t accept the redistribution solution.  Would there be enough for everyone to have enough or will everyone be poor after redistribution?
But what if we can produce enough for everyone to have enough? We’ve done it with food.  Despite Malthus’ and Ehrlich’s dire predictions, there’s enough food for everyone on the planet to have an adequate diet.  Let’s continue the work of the Green Revolution (including GMOs) that has already saved hundreds of millions of lives.  Let’s harness energy from the sun, the wind, the water, the nukes, and yes, fossil fuels to free human beings from backbreaking labor and poverty.
Lockwood claims a better legacy would be a world where we learned to say “enough.”
I disagree.  I say there’s not enough until every human being on our planet has enough.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Great Katamarchism (Jaywalking) Crisis

Looking back, it seems incredible that our whole society was taken in by The Great Jaywalking Crisis of the early 21st century.  Although jaywalking had always been illegal, psychologists realized that the behavior was a symptom of a deeper pathology since almost all sexual predators, sociopaths, and terrorists had a history of jaywalking.  The aberrant behavior of  jaywalking was labeled katamarching.   So now not only was jaywalking wrong, it was the sick behavior of katamarchism.
Those who claimed katamarchism was nothing but ordinary jaywalking were labeled deniers.  Since 97% of psychologists believed in the insidious dangers of katamarching, the science was settled.
As katamarchism became more evident, the media leapt into the fray.  The internet  displayed graphs showing the growth of katamarchism.  Math experts pointed out exponential growth increases forever and ever faster.  Our cities were about to be inundated with katamarchers.  When scientists applied the random walk theory to katamarchism, they showed that the streets would be so filled with katamarchers that straight walkers would no longer be able to cross the streets.  Pedestrian traffic would be a Brownian motion tangle. As Paul Ehrlich said in The Population Bomb, “The streets seemed alive with people . . . People, people, people, people.”
Activists jumped on the katamarchism bandwagon, yet the matter soon divided along liberal versus conservative lines.  Conservatives who favored social order supported the campaign against katamarchism; while liberals who supported fairness and equality for all called the campaign a vendetta against individual liberty.  There were marches, demonstrations, and protests for and against katamarchism.  When jaywalking mothers were seen leading their children across streets, the anti-katamarchists cried, “They recruit, save our children!” Slogans multiplied.  “This is the last year we have to stop katamarchism.”  “Katamarchism threatens the American family,”  “Katamarchism is a human right.”
Those with katamarching tendencies learned to exercise their proclivities in the dark.  However, when a katamarcher was caught, he was held by the police until he named others of his ilk.  It turned out there were more katamarchers than anyone expected.  These deviants were infiltrating American institutions.  They had to be ferreted out and removed.
An obscure Congressman from an obscure state used the campaign against katamarchism to further his political career.  His committee forced people to answer questions such as, “Are you now or have you ever been a jaywalker?”  If they lied, they were liable for prosecution for perjury;  if they told the truth, they were liable for prosecution for katamarchism.
Lives were ruined.  Katamarchers lost their jobs, became poverty stricken.  They congregated in homeless camps where they didn’t use electricity, own much, drive cars, or heat their dwellings.  They used little water because they didn’t flush toilets or wash their clothes or bodies often.
Radical environmentalists understood that the homeless live lightly on the earth.  These elites joined the conservatives in the campaign to rid the world of katamarchers, thus forcing more people into poverty, thereby saving the planet for their own grandchildren.
Eventually, people crossed streets as the situation required, which led to a workable balance of freedom and order.  Fears of katamarchism faded away as did the fears of Y2K, nuclear winter, eugenic degradation, and New York’s and London’s streets being buried  in horse manure.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Recovering Unitarian Universalist


At my congregation, I used to hear, “I’m a recovering Catholic,” spoken with an air of smug condescension, now that the speaker had seen the light of Unitarian Universalism.  Since UUs are called to honor the wisdom in all religions, why would any religion be something to recover from? Nonetheless, I’m recovering from the current local version of Unitarian Universalism.
My mind stands with David Kipp who writes to the UU World Winter 2015, “. . . a person who dares challenge any central tenets of political liberalism, which masquerades as social justice, is openly scorned, mocked, and made unwelcome by UU congregations.”
Some social justice issues prioritize the planet over the people living on it.  Elite UUs driving Priuses to the Co-op can rail against fossil fuels, GMOs, and non-local, non-organic food.  My values lie with people who need low-cost fuel and food.
My journey away from UU green liberalism began when I did the food miles math and discovered long distance semis use less gasoline per pound of food transported than a family Prius going to a local farm because the semis carry so much more freight per trip.  Details in 12/5/15 blog entry: “A Fine Line.”  If they lied about food miles, what else are they lying about?
With the focus outside the congregation, rather than within it, individuals don’t matter much. Turnover is high.  “[People] find comfort and stimulation while here, then move onto something else,” according to the congregation’s newsletter.  Although the writer was describing, not prescribing, there’s a structural reason why congregations are quick to drop people from the rolls; they are taxed for each voting member.  Congregants are only as good as their last pledge.  http://dawncooley.com/2015/05/28/people-are-not-hot-potatoes/
My heart stands with Teresa Soto who blogs,  “I’m going to be angry when people are indifferent to barriers keeping me and people like me out of buildings where they are indifferent to our participation.” UU World Winter 2015.
The air is so polluted inside my home congregation’s building that I cannot enter it without suffering a debilitating cough caused by chemical sensitivity that I acquired due to inadequate safety measures while ameliorating a Superfund site.  No other buildings in town give me trouble. A gas mask will protect me from the bad air, but not the gauntlet of stares and rude remarks.  http://www.uua.org/accessibility/chemical/26972.shtml.
When I offered to help purchase a ventilation system, I was told Board Policy prohibited special contributions.  I appealed to the appropriate committees. The Building Committee was bonding with each other; the Environmental Committee was saving Earth from carbon dioxide; the Accessibility Committee met once.



The irony of a Green Sanctuary in a sick building! The double irony of an organization that professes to be accessible to all but isn’t! The triple irony of an organization that focuses on saving the environment being inaccessible to a person who was injured while improving said environment!