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Archive for the ‘Dan Black Posts’ Category

May God watch over Eli Israel; and if we cannot summon God, then let us watch over him ourselves.

The US.-led invasion into Iraq and the occupation that continues to ensue in its wake constitute international crimes of war. This truth is widely known and accepted, supporting evidence abounds, and counterarguments have steadily diminished in strength; there is nothing left of meaningful, emotion-neutral dialogue

…and still the cannons blaze.

It is for want of willful action on the part of the people, not for insufficient knowledge or awareness, that the prominent decision makers responsible for this horrible conflict are still able to enjoy their privileges and prestige without fear of reprisal for the evil they have committed and the suffering they have caused. Innocent blood saturates the sands of the Middle East, replenished daily as every yesterdays’ victims fade into the searing heat, and survivors of the lost can be confident they’ll be soon to follow. This uninterrupted cycle of violence and injustice is enabled by the masses who suppress their sympathy and refuse their intervention, those who instead mouth empty platitudes of patriotism and allegiance to a war-loving god. There may be no hope in these masses.

The hope for justice, for the return to peace, rests solely in the potential and the willingness of men and women to act, to resist the repugnant but seductive leadership practices, and the cultural norms they seed, of a government that openly detests and deters foreign states’ right to self-determination and self-governance on their own terms.

We are fortunate, as citizens of a free democracy, to have such an opportunity for action; I am fortunate to write the things I write without fear for my own personal safety. I need fear nothing but the frustration that accompanies the exercise of free speech unmet by a forum of concerned citizens.

But not all are so lucky. Eli Israel, a soldier currently deployed in Iraq with the Kentucky National Guard, has discontinued his involvement in a conflict he believes is illegal and unjustified. This is the sort of precedent that can reestablish a global order of peace, recover global norms of nonintervention upon which stability is based, and at long last restore honor to the American identity. But without support, it cannot do any of these things. The precedent will wither and die if not taken up collectively and sustained by the people, by us.

People of comfort, such as ourselves, can do much to protect those brave few who have the strength and courage to boldly act on the front lines. Opportunities to act on the popular but abstract adage “Support our Troops” have never been clearer.

“Please rally whoever you can, call whoever you can, bring as much attention to this as you can. I have no doubt that the military will bury me and hide the whole situation if they can. I’m in big trouble. I’m in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by people who are not on my side. Please help me. Please contact whoever you can, and tell them who I am, so I don’t ‘disappear’”– Eli Israel

Post written by Daniel Black

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Sustainability science at a glance, borrowed from the journal

Returning to the issue of alternative energy sources, a few noteworthy facts about ethanol and AAAS’s endorsement of it remain unaddressed. Consider ethanol in the context of another lucrative avenue for profit- generation touted by corporate tycoons as our culture’s salvation from oil- dependency; it has no realistic potential for providing a sustainable solution to our energy crisis. Whatever observable short-term gains we may acquire from its pursuit and achievement, we can be confident that the crisis will resurface. It is disheartening to observe that the traditional American approach to problem solving, “solution-via-consumption”, has been selected to rescue the natural world from peril. If this is the only model we’ve got, then perhaps we should cannibalize it. We must appreciate all that is at stake and proceed thoughtfully. Central to the issue of alternative energy is, as with any issue, the inherent interconnectedness and codependency of progressive causes.

Eradicating world poverty, ensuring universal access to quality health care, establishing peace and stability in conflict-ridden regions of the world, implementing social/political/economic models that protecting equality and fundamental human rights; these sorts of humanitarian endeavors do not succeed or fail in isolation, rather they influence one another intensely. This is why our commitment to these causes must be socially conscious and mutually intertwined on multiple fronts. Growing corn on unprecedented scales for the sole purpose of extracting its energy content is a self-defeating solution inasmuch as it is obscenely indifferent to the prevalence of persistent hunger in developing countries and the Third World, and in the arena of sustainable energy, this incontrovertible truth is significant.

Maybe you feel that allocating agricultural resources in this manner is acceptable, that thousands of children dying each day of starvation are making reasonable sacrifices for a new method of powering your car. If these egregious imbalances in human rights don’t bother you, then pursuing further discussion on the subject is pointless.

What ought to bother you, in any case, is the evidence that images such as corn escaping a gas pump on the wall of AAAS passively avoid but render painfully clear: that this direction, this technological azimuth if you will, is the one that our society shall take and that its support shall be generated through advertising.

These two precedents, though deep beneath the surface of the energy crisis, must be addressed openly in dialogue; people must be informed and conscious. While the aforementioned social issue, that of world hunger, may only concern one side of the debate, the greater issue of environmental preservation concerns all creatures universally. Environmental issues are not merely the poster subjects of far-left hippies that suffer as subjects of barroom jokes; they are the interest of all who have parented children and would like to see those kids someday raise a healthy brood of their own. They should concern all people who depend, daily, on the availability of clean drinking water, breathable air, and sufficient crop yields to sustain their existence.

Those individuals to whom these criteria do not apply may reasonably argue on the opposing side. It’s really just that simple; there can be no less partisan issue. Global sustainability is essentially the campaign to continue our species’ presence in our world’s ecological communities for all generations to come; it is the scientific equivalent to hope. Those who oppose it -whether for economic ideological disparity, corporate loyalty, deregulatory “free-market” interest, political affiliation, or the general liberal-bashing that lately seems to be in vogue- should be recognized for what they are: obstacles to the very preservation of our kind. What political camp advocates causes more important or urgent than the continuance of humanity?

– -Daniel Black

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Protestors gathered on Capitol Hill this past Sunday to express their disapproval of U.S.-supported Israeli occupation of Palestine, an occupation that now exceeds 40 years. A small but diverse and lively crowd, the protestors collectively argued for adherence to applicable U.N. resolutions and international law, protection of Palestinians’ individual human rights and cultural right to self-determination, and the restoration of justice as a practical means of achieving peace.

On the other side of 3rd Street, a counterdemonstration of about 50 “pro-Israel” protestors gathered to express their disagreement. Oddly, these protestors argued for the same abstract principles as their counterparts up on the hill. They claimed to be on the side of peace, supporting democratic values and human rights, and their chief argument centered on denouncing violence and terrorism.

Both groups of protestors allege that truth and moral high-ground was on their side, exclusively. If two groups of people, so diametrically divided over something, forthrightly espouse the same interests, then how can there be conflict?

The conflict, as I understand it, is preordained simply because only one truthful and accurate historical record exists. Each argument, however, employs its own version of history, allowing each to claim fundamental superiority over the other, and on the same ostensible pretenses of justice. Either selective ignorance of historical events or outright dishonesty is at work in one (or both?) of these arguments. An open-minded and independent review of history is necessary in order to responsibly choose a side.

Respecting that the stance of the American Government has been continuously and unconditionally supportive of Israel for nearly 60 years, it is wise to look outside our own mainstream sources so as to eliminate bias. The results of such inquiry, I have found, are unpleasant for those sympathetic to the Israeli cause, and the arguments of the counterdemonstrators, I had noticed, bespeak shameful but silenced awareness. Consider the substance of their central arguments (and logical rebuttals):

1. Israel has the right to exist (this perspective is undisputed by the other side; it succeeds only in distracting people from the pertinent issues)

2. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East (ignoring this argument’s irrelevancy, for democracies are as capable of human rights abuses as any other government, it is a distortion of the truth. Many pro-Palestinian parties in the Middle East -alleged terrorist organizations by the U.S. and Israel- are characteristically democratic and have acquired legislative representation in Middle Eastern governments peacefully through free elections; it is typically the governments of the United States and Israel that behave undemocratically)

3. Israel departed the Gaza Strip but has sustained over 1000 rocket attacks since. (Israel also built a wall around Gaza, isolating its inhabitants from participation in social, cultural, and political life outside. In omitting Israeli violence, which claims the lives of nearly nine times as many children as Palestinian violence, this argument does not present any new information fairly or constructively. It also fails to address the issue of occupation in the West Bank and Golan Heights, far more strategic land areas than Gaza)

4. Israel is the only country that outlawed the use of torture (also irrelevant, also a distortion, it might be worth considering that confessions obtained through torture are admissible in Israeli courts -a different discussion point for a different debate)

5. The Israeli occupation of these territories constitutes “prophecy-fulfillment” (this is an ideological perspective, effortlessly refuted by presenting an opposite ideology that is also conveniently exempt from factual or logical support)

While my personal bias is unabashedly on the side of the Palestinians, I feel these talking points are worthy of examination from any angle. Recognize that as Americans, our culture is not neutral on this issue, that outside the United States and Israel, there is widespread disapproval of Israel’s human rights record, and that this is not a politically contentious issue in the international arena, where violations of international law affect political causes negatively.

-Daniel Black

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For all the reasons to de-prioritize ethanol as an alternative source of energy (see An Unusual Sight, an Unexpected Choice), there is one solid truth that would explain why it might be pursued over the others in scientific research, the last disconcerting truth that piques my skepticism,

…ethanol, which already accounts for two percent of what’s mixed into our transportation fuels, promises growth for agribusiness that any stakeholder of any industry would die for, that is, if it becomes the alternative fuel of choice to replace oil.

This may be the deciduous factor between ethanol and all the others: a powerful lobby behind it. (Keep your eye on Presidential Candidate Barack Obama; Illinois stands to gain or lose a fortune on this issue).

Wealthy constituencies (and their handsomely-paid congressional representation) proceeding with their agendas independent of public health or environmental preservation concerns is commonplace, but to observe symptoms of such behavior in the American Association for the Advancement of Science is alarming. The organization is the largest society dedicated to the public advancement of science understanding in the world. It is not-for-profit, autonomous from government, and in addition to advancing science, it is (by self-report) dedicated to serving international society. From the minutes of its first ever meeting, now nearly 160 years ago, the organization committed its endeavor “not exclusively for the benefit of any nation or age.”

Within this large organization are numerous initiatives that reflect their commitment. Progressive programs to further the causes of human rights and social justice account for a great deal of what AAAS does. Specifically focusing on developing the public understanding and appreciation of science, especially among the world’s poorest, AAAS charters projects that ensure all people of the international community, independent of ethic or racial origin, geographic location, or political/ideological background, will be prepared for changes that accompany advances in technology and civilization. With an eye to our natural habitat, other projects focus on “sustainability“, and AAAS provides abundant scholarly resources, an international forum on sustainability science, research and project opportunities, and encouragement for widespread education and pro-environmental action.

For all these accomplishments, the AAAS has my admiration, but for endorsing ethanol, they cause me bewilderment. What of the billions of people in the developing world –cited on the AAAS website– that live in abject poverty? Shall we grow staple crops for their potential to power cars, not for their potential to feed the world’s poor? Are sustainable sources of energy less appealing than those that are profitable? Are these two issues, the issue of poverty and the issue of the environment, unrelated?

– -Daniel Black

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Bike-riding down H street NW toward our nation’s capitol every morning, I frequently see an ear of corn, picked and shucked, protruding from a gas pump.  Intriguing, I suppose it must be, to the unfamiliar eye; captions underneath this unusual image invite the observer to learn more about alternative energy on the advertised website.  More specifically, the alternative energy ethanol on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The creative rendition appears on the south-facing wall of AAAS’s office building on New York Avenue, Washington D.C.

AAAS Building, Washington D.C.  With many initiatives underway to find an energy source that reduces dependency on foreign markets, decreases negative environmental ramifications, is renewable and sustainable, and carries few harmful side-effects on public health, this organization chose ethanol.  Several disconcerting truths pique my skepticism.  To name a few,

…ethanol provides a small amount of energy relative to the energy expenditures necessary to acquire and harness it.  The ratio is unfavorable and it is unlikely that science can significantly improve it;

…while appealing in that it will ameliorate our foreign dependency, there is scant hope for a long-term continuous supply of this energy source; a host of intervening variables impinge on its reliability that simply don’t affect the petroleum industry’s to say nothing of the fact that global warming effects and agricultural performance are most undesirably but undeniably intertwined;

…although substantially cleaner than fossil fuels, the combustion of ethanol is still combustion, and no doubt carries untold consequences if burned on the colossal scale that oil is today.  (easily dismissed as baseless, this perspective should be considered with an open mind; the best scientists a hundred years ago couldn’t have foreseen our current environmental turmoil from observing the running of a single gas-powered vehicle.  We should demand of ourselves and our representation this sort of forward-thinking)

Why would AAAS espouse this energy source, specifically and exclusively, on its wall?  Why does it seek support through the medium of street advertising?

– – Daniel Black

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The environment has become a hot topic in politics lately, seemingly everyone on all sides of the political debate acknowledging that we have a serious problem.  About half asserting that global climate change threatens the survival of life as we know it, the other half asserting the problem is the first half itself.

The story appearing “in the spotlight” of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ homepage today, under the title “Global Warming Obscured by Politics,” offers some indication of the current debate’s substance and quality.  Because the scholarly inquiry into global climate change has been so seriously defiled by the biases that invariably accompany environmentally crass political agendas, the scientific community has been forced to pursue authentic inquiry through their own independent means.  Government supported inquiry has proven valueless because the ends it seeks always have an eye to corporate profit, a reality that effectively compromise its utility.  The issue of whether our home planet can sustain our current lifestyle -or even sustain our continued presence as a species at all- is, it would appear, unworthy of anything beyond the deceitful and subversive political tactics that typify most other social concerns.

The environment, it is important to realize, differs sharply from other political issues; this is one topic of political debate wherein contempt for the perspective of science is more than just foolish, it is suicidal.  The stratagem of the leading skeptics is hopelessly misguided, and quite shameless, I believe.  Few people, I think, are able to acknowledge reality for what it is, with all its discomforting implications, and continue to believe as they wish against all evidence suggesting that they shouldn’t.

When the United Nations’ experts appeal to our national conscience, asking that we open our minds to the possibility that grotesque over-consumption could be responsible for impending ecological catastrophe, the United Nations itself is baselessly discredited as threatening our “American way of life” or attempting to attack our global economic sovereignty.  When scientists publish a report exposing the urgency of environmental crises, corporate lobbyists offer other scientists cash incentives to dispute the reports, or they simply attack the credibility of the scientists that have the audacity to suggest something contrary to the corporate agenda, no matter how grounded in objectivity the report might actually be.  These practices, though common among large environment-wrecking corporations, are well-known but somehow escape public scrutiny.  When measured in terms of its likely consequences, the truly criminal nature of this corporate behavior cannot be overstated; it is conceptually reducible to murder for profit.  In that its aim is to threaten the survival of humanity as an undivided collective, solely for the purpose of self-interest, intervention of this sort is more serious a crime than is genocide.

The most urgent arguments regarding global climate change are rarely even addressed in our culture’s narrow spectrum of public debate.  The conventional lines of even the most liberal solutions offer little hope in saving the human race from self-destruction.  Constructive solutions such as “E85” (an alternative fuel source attained through mixing ethanol and gasoline at a ratio of 17:3) are patchwork solutions whose hope of restoring our environment’s health and stability are nil.  It is as though we cannot face the inescapable truth that meaningful environmental improvement demands significant lifestyle change.  Efforts toward other objectives are tantamount to attempting improvement of one’s health by switching cigarette brands or transitioning to smokeless tobacco.

Unless our attitudes change, it is reasonable to assume that the fate of the earth’s people will ultimately be decided by a scant 4% of its population, an influential few who thrive on poorly presented lies which survive not for their logical viability but merely for the fact that they are more attractive than the plain, undeniable, simple truth.  Science matters; the consensus of leading international scientific enterprises are more discussion-worthy than some unaccountable gargantuan corporation’s ability to hire some hack with a PhD to lie.  These are facts we must accept, or we shall die with our denial.

— Daniel Black

 

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Sir Francis Bacon’s immortal words, though centuries old, have enjoyed a revival in our culture these recent years. “Silence,” asserts Bacon, “is the virtue of fools.” Although I invite everyone to contribute their thoughts and ideas on the subject, I worry they’ll be dissuaded from doing so by our current government, a government that is encouraging other Americans to join the distinguished group that Bacon describes. Silence, though not yet a public mandate, is clawing its way into the minds of the mainstream, attempting even to affect our children.

Two examples of stifled thought and word, which both occurred this past week, shall suffice. If you think the following words of a serviceman deployed to Guantanamo Prison Facility, “Yeah, this one detainee, you know, really pissed me off, irritated me. So I just, you know, punched him in the face,” would lead to disciplinary action, you are correct. The speaker, however, (the man who undoubtedly is “gathering intelligence” and contributing to the “noble calling of our time”) is not the object of such action; the individual who repeated them is, instead. Sgt Cerveny, a legal aide who spent a week in Guantanamo, repeated these words to investigators and subsequently made herself a target. The investigation was discarded by a superior officer of hers, who called the entire process “oppressive”, but the ordeal is thought-provoking nevertheless. Attempted repression of free speech is alarming even in cases where it does not succeed; the criminality (in constitutional terms) of this behavior is not diminished by the incompetence with which it is executed. I don’t think that anyone could have predicted the remarkable ineptitude with which our political leaders fight our wars, but their crimes are crimes whether committed in fashions sloppy or slick.

Another assault on first amendment rights reached into a public school classroom just before the weekend. On the other side of the Hudson River, a class of fourth graders has been stripped of their right to speak out against “the war.” These kids have written a song appealing to the public conscience to, among other things, be respectful and responsible, end the violence and save humanity, and, ultimately, to “end the war”, but the song was pulled from the program; these children cannot perform the song they wrote together because it is “to political”. Although which war “the war” specifically refers to is never overtly specified in the song’s lyrics, it is the belief of the Goshen PTO that preserving some individuals’ willful ignorance of world affairs supersedes the rights of these children to creatively express themselves and voice their values as a class. A triumph for democracy, I suppose, is known to nations other than ours. Although Francis Bacon’s words might have sounded a bit general or abstract when he expressed them, there’s certainly no mistaking their meaning today.

– – Daniel Black

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