Archive for March, 2008

Intelligent Life and Cows

Posted in Zen and Modern Life on March 25, 2008 by cheappaper

While commuting to work today, I got stuck behind a slow moving car. The driver put on his left hand turn signal. As I prepare to drive around him to the right, he turned right, almost colliding with me.

It is commutes such as these that get me thinking about signals and intelligent life. More specifically, humankind’s search for some signal that intelligent life exists in the universe. I have always been skeptical of these efforts. I do not understand why scientists spend so much time looking out into space for intelligent life.  If they looked around down here, they would see that we are surrounded by intelligent life. (With the possible exceptions of cows and commuters).

Our search for intelligent life reminds me of an insecure property owner.  The kind of person who is embarrassed by his neighbors.  He keeps looking down the street and hoping someone more like himself will come along and move in next door.

It is easy to predict the result of our contact with extraterrestrial life.  One of three things will happen:

  1. If the creatures are dumber than us, like cows, we will eat them.
  2. If we are dumber than the creatures, they will eat us.
  3. Otherwise, we will fight with each other.

Why do I pick on cows? I have spent many hours in free range country. Every time I have met a herd of cows on the road, all the cows on the left side of the road have exited to the right and vice versa.  Any resemblance to commuters is purely a coincidence.

The Argument Culture

Posted in The Middle Ground on March 19, 2008 by cheappaper

A favorite is Deborah Tannen’s book, The Argument Culture. In it, she points to similarities that can be drawn between war and public discourse. She observes that in order for a public discourse to have sizzle, (my word, not hers) there must be conflict.

This morning, I found an example of the sort of thing she describes. Dan Schur, in his guest blog on the NY Time’s site, made the following statement:

Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments would seem to have forced Senator Obama to choose sides — to either stand with Reverend Wright and others who support his condemnations of the United States, or with those who think they should be rejected out of hand.

I commented there and elaborate here.

I disagree that Reverend Wright’s statements required Obama to “choose sides.” Choosing sides is helpful in creating dramatic tension for Schur’s article but of limited value in bringing people together. The Reverend’s actions were divisive. But so is Schur’s suggestion that Obama, and by implication the rest of us, should all choose sides.

We have just seen that Eliot Sptizer, held up by the public as a rock of integrity was, in fact, human. So too, it appears, is the Reverend Wright. I am not without sin. I will not be the first to cast stones at either of these two men.

For those of you who may have missed Obama’s speech, he both rejected Wright’s remarks and stood with him as a decent human who cared for people of all races.

Collaboration and healing take place only when differences are acknowledged honestly and openly. Collaboration and healing take place only when individuals are brave enough to stand the middle ground and see the virtue — and the sin — in those individuals, like Schur and Wright, who have chosen their respective sides.

Contrary to Schur’s thinking, I think Reverend Wright’s actions were a call to Obama to hold the middle ground. I think he did so directly and with honesty. All the more brave for a man on the stump.

Biodiesel — The Real Flower Power

Posted in Environment on March 16, 2008 by cheappaper

I like to look out the window when I drive. This can slow me down. So it was without surprise when, recently, I was cut off by a careening two-story SUV. It was driven by a young man with his cell phone pressed to his ear. He was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to flip me his middle finger. The last thing I saw of his truck was his bumper sticker, which read “Biodiesel — The Real Flower Power.”

The SUV got me to thinking. How could such a large vehicle, driven so recklessly, be doing anything good for the environment? I don’t know much about science. But my experience with grocery carts leads me to the conclusion that to get heavy things moving you need “uumph.” I’m guessing the same is true with cars. I would also guess that for any specific car, you probably need the same amount of “uumph,” regardless of whether the “uumph” comes from gas, electricity, or some other place.

Later the same day, I read in the New York Times that a bio-fuel plant in Alabama is polluting a nearby river, called the Black Warrior River. It seems that oil and grease is left over after making biodiesel fuel. The substance, which is like salad dressing, is being dumped into the local river. Apparently this is just too much of a good thing and the local fish and other wildlife are falling prey to death by dressing.

Which leads me back to “uumph.” It seems to me that for whatever we do, we’re going to use some kind of “uumph.” “Uumph,” in turn will leave an environmental footprint. So changing the source of the “uumph” doesn’t get rid of the environmental footprint, it just leaves the footprint in a different place. It is sort of like trying to decide whether you want to track mud in the front door or in the back door.

So I suspect the SUV driver is no greener for burning biodiesel. He is still using the same amount of “uumph.” Instead of sucking oil out of a pipe in Alaska, however, the driver’s choice of “uumph” is killing fish in Alabama.

I thought this was a real original thought. Just to check myself, I Googled it. Son of a gun. Wouldn’t you know. Someone thought up the same thing almost a generation ago.

Just goes to show. No thing in this world like an original idea.

Caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Posted in Zen and Modern Life on March 11, 2008 by cheappaper

I am reading that Eliot Spitzer has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. (Cute pics).

What an opportunity for some Applied Yin and Yang.

The premise:

The person without sin is most often without virtue.

The question:

Where is the bigger hypocrisy? Is it with Spitzer, who lies with those he judges, or is it with the public, which first ignored Spitzer’s sins and now ignores his virtues.

Gasoline, the clean alternative.

Posted in Environment on March 7, 2008 by cheappaper

Catching up on reading after vacation. Seems like the rush to ethanol and other biofuels is increasing, rather than decreasing, our carbon footprint. This leads me to my first law of environmental protection:

Anything that is good for the environment, when done by enough people, will be bad for the environment.

Gasoline, now the bad-boy of global warming, was once the clean alternative. Remember what came before that? Railroads. And railroads used to burn lots of things down. (Apparently they continue to do so).

So if I’ve got this figured out, now we cut (and sometimes burn) our forests in order to plant corn so we can drive our cars on clean fuel.