Category: rant


climate revolution

March 8th, 2015 — 9:32pm

I am reading a lot of depressing guardian articles about it. And i have a new t-shirt. So I am thinking about the things that have to change to tackle climate change:

1. the planet has to be seen an extension of our own body, our own wellbeing. It’s health is our health.

2. decision making needs to be as intelligent as possible and for the good of the whole of humanity.

3. there are no vested interests with enough power to threaten that decision making.

it is as simple as that. but in order for these things to come about, a total revolution needs to occur.

To change our view of 1) we need to reorganise the whole economy to value the health of the earth, and protect it as we would protect our own body from abuse.

To change 2) a new way of governing the world needs to be invented. I am not as enamoured with open democracy as I was a few years ago. Instead I wonder if intelligent decision making for the greater good might come from computer enhancement in a few years time. But that could be a dead end. Anyway such government will need to be essentially singular.

to change 3) it is necessary to strip the power from most people or corporations who currently have it, and use it as described at 2) where it can benefit of the whole race.

I suppose that such a simple idea still allows there to be a thousand arguments about ‘the best kind of government’ etc. but I will not despair just yet. And it might be possible to survive climate change with a less than perfect government, but the damage in the meantime to our civilisation will be so much more.. why can’t everything be simple alex?

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Heil Φrasar!

May 16th, 2014 — 3:18pm

Last night I saw the Right Hon Malcolm Fraser speaking at the ANU about his new book, Dangerous Allies, about the US influence in Australia. He described the current diplomatic core and bureaucracy as having been “duchessed” by the US, for want of a better word he said, but I enjoyed this turn of phrase. Later I spoke to him as he signed a copy of his book for me, which I have bought as a present for someone, and forgot to ask anything interesting, although I have thought of lots of things I could have asked him since the opportunity has passed.

449px-MalcolmFraser1982

I dimly remember Fraser appearing the television as Prime Minister when I was about 4, and dad pointing him out to me – it was probably in the 1983 election period when he was up against Hawke. It was one of the first exposures i had to the idea of who was “in charge” – I have since had similar conversations with my own son about who is “in charge” of everything, he also seemed to need to get that sorted out in his mind remarkably early on.

I remember then the rectangular jowls and comb-over, the greyish suit in washed out television colours, the slightly menacing smell of power. It is an image which came to represent the look and feel of Australia in the late 70’s to me, just as much as does a metallic hazel brown holden HZ with hot lino seats or an orange sunnyboy ice block sticky and dribbling through the bottom of a schoolbag.

Nowdays Fraser is an energised and ‘ancient’ (by his own description) whipper snapper, forthright and jovial with a liquid baritone, long grown out of his younger callow prime ministerial years. He was questioned closely by Dr John Blaxland from the ANU who challenges the logic of ending the US alliance. Later when he was signing my book and i mentioned that i was an avid twitter follower of his, Fraser tried to tell me something about Blaxland and twitter, but i’m afraid i didn’t understand what he was getting at.

I have just discovered Loomio, although my initial excitement has slightly diminished as i realise it has been there for a year without me knowing it and without the world being revolutionised by it already… but it is good to see there are so many people working in this space, inventing tools. Other tools are Humanity Online and Democracy OS – although i haven’t found these so easy to plug in and go with yet. Dr Roslyn Fuller has written a great article about open democracy which gives airing to all my inarticulately expressed ideas made on this site and elsewhere regarding open or liquid democracy, and she has the same enthusiasm and optomism as i have for the inevitable changes OD will make to society.

In other news, the new BJM album Revelation is fuzzing me out right now.

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the running man – from Henry George to Aaron Swartz

January 12th, 2014 — 2:18pm

The internet mind is growing. It is sorting the threads of sticky intelligence, categorising memes, getting to know itself. There is not yet much policing of the internet. When it is established (probably after many turf wars) will it come from within? Or be enforced from outside? I wonder if the guerrilla battles which already take place online will spill out into the real world. That would be the moment that the significance of the internet as a seat of power becomes manifest. Hackers are dragged out of their homes onto the streets and shot in broad daylight by other hacker groups. Coordinated attacks on server farms tear apart shelves full of hard drives, the culprits disappearing back into the city before a response can be organised. Undersea cables are dug up by automated robots. The Google website is hacked. Will this all happen? I don’t know. But the flux of power will be sorted out just as is in the real world, until everything settles into equilibrium.

In the future people will spend most of their time on the internet. These early days will seem so archaic, but it is here that we will plant the seeds for tomorrow’s forests. Countless memes are beginning right here, to accompany humanity forward in time for perhaps 1000 years. This is the first of rain on a new land surface, sculpting the channels that will one day be canyons. We are lucky to be the first of those online, much power is in our hands.

I think my views on the problems with copyright will be borne out over time. The free transference of information is what makes the internet work. But it is not just the viewing of this information which is transformative, but the recycling, the churning and winnowing out of detail.. and this is what needs to occur unhindered by concerns about who owns what. We all need to share our intellectual property. There are comparisons with the great land grabs which occurred in the 18th and 19th century (the enclosure acts), where common land ostensibly owned by the people became the private property of the rich. Indeed the use of the word ‘intellectual property’ is a clue to how ownership of this elusive substance – information – is envisaged to enrich the same wealthy set.

There is definitely an egalitarian ideal that drives my ideas on the common ownership of IP. Some of the most heated battles might occur not with large corporations but with individuals who are concerned that their work stays under their control. I would encourage such individuals to lessen their grip on these fabricated possessions for the greater good. Society at the same time needs to look after these people and reward their creativity, its needs to provide the situations for them to exist healthily within society (which it doesn’t do much of at the moment).

455px-Henry_George

I see myself as a modern day Henry George. The sphere of ‘information’ is much like the terrestrial globe. Sure, the universe is effectively infinite and so is the potential for new information and ideas, but there is in both cases some property which is intrinsically valuable because of its location. It is local and useful to all. Those who squat out on these patches of ground and demand rent from every passer by are profiting off the accident of their birth, or of fate, which placed them there. They are doing no service to anyone. They operate on the same principles as a parasite. He who discovers a great invention, or writes a poem, was really just the right person in the right place at the right time. It is pointless to continually reward them forever after by granting them ownership of the idea, which at the same time hinders its usefulness. Instead, society should be ensuring that it creates situations for the emergence of these ideas in abundance, whether that means putting researchers in labs, or poets in garrets, or musicians in studios. Anyone can put their hand up for the job and receive a stipend but the return to society is that their output is for the benefit of all. Everyone wins, and the information is let free to move about and change the world.

Innovation and creativity would be supercharged. In fact, it always was, in most places until mid way through the 20th century. Only then did it become easier to enforce these artificial intellectual property rules and so innovation and creativity has become entangled in lawsuits while at the same time becoming the preserve of large corps who have the strength to fight them. The internet is encouraging some undoing of this mess with creative commons licencing (which doesn’t go far enough) and the gradual acceptance of the ubiquity of cut and paste, as well as occasional stands being made by the likes of Aaron Swartz (who died one year ago today). But there is still a long way to go and it can probably only occur with a big shakeup of the structures of the world, probably much as along the lines that Henry George was arguing over 100 years ago.

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the lover, the lunatic and the poet

June 23rd, 2013 — 9:38pm

I was reading Russell’s essay on scepticism recently, which was written in 1928 between the wars. He is fearful of the irrationality of the general populace – and quotes the following scene:

russell

“In 1919 I saw The Trojan Women acted at the Old Vic. There is an unbearably pathetic scene where Astyanax is put to death by the Greeks for fear he should grow up into a second Hector. There was hardly a dry eye in the theatre, and the audience found the cruelty of the Greeks in the play hardly credible. Yet those very people who wept were, at that very moment, practicing that very cruelty on a scale which the imagination of Euripides could have never contemplated. They had lately voted (most of them) for a Government which prolonged the blockade of Germany after the armistice, and imposed the blockade of Russia. It was known that these blockades caused the death of immense numbers of children, but it was felt desirable to diminish the population of enemy countries: the children, like Astyanax, might grow up to emulate their fathers. Euripides the poet awakened the lover in the imagination of the audience; but lover and poet were forgotten at the door of the theatre, and the lunatic (in the shape of the homicidal maniac) controlled the political actions of these men and women who thought themselves kind and virtuous.”

Although the scale is different, it reminded me of the politics in Australia around immigration and asylum seekers. The general population of Australia seems to have lost its head at the moment, and is on the brink of voting into power by a huge margin a real gumball of a man whose politics are rooted in vulgar arguments on many issues. Apart from the deep embarrassment I feel over the whole situation, as well as the idle hope that he doesn’t lead us into some new war or destroy our precious wilderness, it leaves me despairing of the future of Australia and humanity generally. I have to check my impulses sometimes – i used to think of myself as fairly centrist and not at all an intellectual. But faced with this kind of situation i find myself wiring money to the wilderness society and quoting Bertrand Russell.

Yet i need to defend the irrational. I normally dip liberally into the ice cream tub of the irrational when i am writing here. But that is only because there is so little that we truly do know about anything. I am at heart a sceptic. And when one lives as a sceptic, knowing how little we truly know, then Love and Poetry are the green and red guiding lights through the black waters on the harbour of lunacy. Russell’s insight i think was that scepticism, by reminding us of how little we really know about anything, should leads us to act more humanely towards each other, and to do so would in fact be more rational in the end.

Update: since Gillard has been humiliated and deposed there have been some thoughtful articles on her time in power and on Australia’s problems with its anti-intellectual and misogynist attitudes. For the record I think she was a great PM; “If Sir Alex Ferguson was picking a team of premier league world politicians, she would be there in the starting line-up.” as John McTernan says here.

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a ‘belief sphere’, induction, and stained glass flarf

April 11th, 2013 — 12:46pm

There is plenty of promise held in the future’s tightly clenched fist, and I look forward to prising those surprises from its grasp as the years unfold glorious and slow.

I want to explain a concept i have had lately. I would like to introduce a thing I call a “belief sphere”, which occupies the space beyond the horizon of our understanding. This unexplored vast space is by definition unknown, and so is able to contain any idea or thought that you can posit. It contains all the crazy Flying-Spaghetti-Monster type theories, the amusing thoughts and mental daydreams which do not seem to belong to reality. It is of course infinite in size, as there is nothing that cannot be fitted into it. In fact what i am describing simply resembles the imagination. I have been thinking about how to define it for a long time, because i think it has its own ‘reality’ and is also composed of a few different elements.

Anyway the first point is that even though this space is continually encroached upon by progress in knowledge, the accrual of ‘new knowledge’ it always remains whole and intact. It cannot ever be lessened or dissolved, for even if every possible phenomena was known, that knowledge cannot ‘know’ itself, so there remains a bit of ‘left over’ knowledge still to discover (a bit like several paradoxes such as godel’s theorem make clear). Also, if theories obey the law of Occams razor and so must take the most efficient route in explaining phenomena, it implies that something is left out. So perhaps the only complete theory is also the most complex, and in fact occupies the entire fabric of the reality it explains – and so is in fact that reality (I wrote a poem about Occam years ago).

brain_star
Image courtesy of t.abroudj on flickr

I tend to think that reality is fractal, so that it is possible to grab a small part of it and generalise upwards, but it gradually becomes imperfect the further up you generalise. So you have to grab a larger chunk of it to make a better generalisation, a better theory. Ultimately though, the only perfect way to describe reality is to grab the whole thing. This explains why theories are getting more and more complex generally – there is nothing wrong with that – it is just the same as how our tools and technology are getting more complex and operate at finer and finer tolerances in order to do their work for us. Theories are like tools – in fact they are inseparable from the tools of experimentation. Fractals have simple equations underlying their complexity, but chaos theories explain that if you want to find the reality of a precise location you need to do a lot of computation – you basically need to a computer as big as the universe to do the whole thing, and it will take all of time to run the program. We need to somehow step out of the system and just observe it as it is.

The problem of induction seems to be a problem with time, and the fact that our brains don’t experience it completely, but rather are drip-fed the reality of it day by day. So we can never know what is just around the corner – even if we recognize a pattern and can make guesses about the future, it is never certain, because patterns can change suddenly and chaotically. This is not a problem in the natural world because we can see a shape in its entirety and say “that is a circle” – end, i suppose, of story. But when we want to say ‘the sun will rise tomorrow’ even though we have a fairly established pattern, there is no knowing because we have not experienced tomorrow. If on the other hand we were eternal beings that could step out of time as freely as stepping out of a river, then there would be no problem with making such a statement – the knowledge would be there simply by looking at the reflection in the water.

I read an interesting article in the Guardian yesterday about the work of Sam Parnia in resuscitation, and his thoughts about the nature of mind as distinct from brain/neronal activity. He states that “Even prominent neuroscientists, such as Sir John Eccles, a Nobel prizewinner, believe that we are never going to understand mind through neuronal activity”.

This clicks with me. To clarify, I believe that mind is something that is eternal and can experience the past and future, as well as different life trails (see this earlier post for a bit of a mashed up description of this idea). There are lots of people who believe this in some way or other (read some of the comments on the Guardian article to get a few). The problem is that these days, unless we are ok with being crazy, we need to justify our beliefs in terms of scientific truths. But does this take us back to the first paras of this article, where the justification of such justification is itself a belief, and one built through flawed inductive reasoning at that? So there is a problem here, if we want to put an eternal mind inside the same ‘system’ as ordinary reality. I don’t think it can be resolved through simple scientific proofs.

However there might be a test – if we become able to read images out of the mind (and there are already successful attempts out there at doing this) then it might be possible to pick up something from this ‘belief sphere’ – of course there will be loads of stuff from the past, i.e. memory. loads of stuff that is just ‘imagination’ but there should also be stuff which turns out to be from the future. Sifting it all out is the problem. I personally have had impressions of future events which strike me as being sound and true – but proof seems hard to attain through metrics. Instead, it might come through capturing images, if these can be resolved out of the mind somehow. It might not be ‘proof’ in an ordinary sense, but if it could be shown to resonate sufficiently deeply, then we might have something tangible for people to accept as true.

flarf

Flarf has got a bit of press lately with the inclusion of some flarf poems in Norton’s 2nd ed of Postmodern American Poetry. There is a really gratuitous and amusing discussion going on about it on htmlgiant. I was reading this at the same time as i was reading a paper about the Devonian Hodgkinson Formation in Norther Queensland, and imagining Conodont faunas swimming in ancient red sandy bottomed lakes (my Ettrema trip was primarily to visit a contemporaneous Devonian reef on Jones ck). Anyway the whole lot got smashed up in my mind and all evening i had this sensation like I was observing things through a blue stained glass window, like a petrographic thin section, a matrix of intergrown materials which do not exactly coalesce or form a solid solution but have to live alongside each other somehow in my brain. Like a flarf poem cut and pasted together, or winnowed down through selective deletion.

And this sensation, of chaotic interlinking but distinct objects forming a translucent window, this to me is what a slice of time looks like when you hold it up to the light of eternity. That is when events and ideas have distinct shapes which can be mapped and known for what they really are. It’s just an image but it captures a truth for me.

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nogood midnite post

March 28th, 2013 — 11:49pm

ooh what a contradictory mess. bjm + fart + bandwagon + idiot wine + corck + bagawan at 6 to midnight. what about the water pissstol?

i think there is a sort of revolution about to happen. I always think this. bulle and pull the titoff. methodrone strange juxtposition.

Methodrone

i refuse to agree that i am mad. the whole entire rest of the world = yes. me = no. this is the jewel attained through advaita. the subjunctive drowns all of it in insubstantial essenses.

so i suppose you are some lonely thing out there one century from now. well, welcome to my reality. I am pleased to see that civilisation has preserved a few bits over the intervening aeon. if not, then i am just reading myself again, sad reality of mine. this loneliness might realise something useful one day.

wine and destruction. i am the roman empire..

was thinking about a new hierarchy the other day. A sort of world government that had an aescetic nature which governed the planet, preserved the human race like a sort of zoo exhibit. I wrote about it already in the SUM part of the unwashed SIN SUM SON trilogy. Its representatives the ‘internationals’ forgo allegiance to any brand or nation and renounce wealth (i suppose) to .. oh but already it sounds hackneyed.

like the breakup of el38 or even moreso ef86s.. things are nicer when they are ruined. don’t we all want to know what occurred in the dark ages?

one redeeming thing i managed to do tonight was find and spontaneously purchase a copy of David Godman’s new translation of Sorupa Saram. I eagerly await this arriving in the post. Parcels from India are such enigmatic things, wrapped in different papers and bearing strange postmarks, I hardly ever want to unwrap them.

sorupa

Image courtesy David Godman.

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The end of the War on Drugs

June 2nd, 2012 — 12:36pm

Good to read the article in the telegraph about the prohibition of pot coming to an end. I do hope that pot becomes legal, it is such an peaceful drug.

Update: and coming from the other side, today I read an article in the Conversation calling for a ban on tobacco in Australia.

Two smokable substances, each with a manifesto that puts them on a collision course, somewhere on the road between illegal/unregulated and legal/regulated.

Made me think that everything that has a cost to society should have that cost (insofar as it is known) worked into its sale price. If you like, the Goods and Services tax (aka VAT) component could have a modifier, which was determined by this cost. In this way, items which had a benefit (to health) could have a negative (or <1) multiplier which acted as a sort of subsidy, whilst very harmful substances had a very large cost modifier which made them more difficult to obtain. Obviously very harmful substances would need additional restrictions, based I suppose on some kind of personal maturity measure for which age is an approximation. Although I generally agree with the moral stance that it is better not to consume any drugs, there is no doubt that some of these substances can produce positive, interesting experiences or health benefits. It is a murky ethical area. As for the argument that prison is a disincentive, well it is, but so would be disembowelment. In fact I don't think that anyone except the criminally insane should be imprisoned. There are other ways in this day and age, to take away a persons liberties, so as to neutralise their ability to harm others or put them on a safer path through life. Throwing people in gaol achieves nothing, and should only be necessary where that person poses a continuing risk to the wellbeing of society and so needs to be physically restrained from interacting in it. I am also astonished that rape and violence seems to be an accepted part of any gaol term (for men) - how can that be the case in a modern society?? Have we no values or humanity at all?!? In any case, injecting drug users into the rotten system achieves precisely nothing of any benefit to anyone.

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