Many people associate that date with Columbus, the year he returned with 17 ships and the multi-century salvation massacre of indigenous North Americans commenced. We don’t know our own history and this creates all sorts of cognitive dissonance and other cultural blockages not at all unrelated to sustainable issues. We recognize who we are in what we’ve done – we identify ourselves with wars and conquests in ways that most, if not all, of those more malign events happen of their own volition and/or the hand of destiny – we just don’t know who or what is responsible for those. That our popular entertainments mostly exacerbate this self-re-certification in terms of all we know as good and true, and hence lead to indictments of culture and entertainments, are crimes which appear to be their own punishments.

And if it’s too early in the week for you to follow that kind of Calvinist logic, remember: the best way to discover anything to be willing to find out.

Take it from a no good coward, an American, too. (A North American, that is).

You Don’t Say

One of the Rupert WSJ blogs, enigmatically titled ‘Environmental Capital’ (get it?), asks whether the world can really afford to roll back carbon emissions. Choice quote:

“It’s the cost of doing nothing that’s going up,” says Frank Ackerman, an economist at the Stockholm Environment Institute at Tufts University and lead author of the report. “There are costs [to tackling climate change], but nobody is going to be living in a tent without electricity.”

Unless they are, in which case we’ll see a return to the group hug directed at self-preservation, otherwise known as keeping warm. We’ll use daylight for reading and when night falls we’ll only speak and relate stories until we don’t recall any more old ones and are forced to make up new ones. Night poetry and everything it stands for will see a resurgence – and this is to say nothing of things of which we shall not speak but merely delight and so must remain nameless because the words fail even when the people don’t. Hands searching in the dark, and for not a switch. Sounds hellish, I know. But even now, before night falls and the tents go up, before everything goes dark and the stars return, some are doing many of these things, even tonight. And they’re not even calling it practice.

Industrial Solar

Oh, man. In a stopped-clock-is-right-twice-day sort of way, I give you the Moustache of Understanding:

China now understands that. It no longer believes it can pollute its way to prosperity because it would choke to death. That is the most important shift in the world in the last 18 months. China has decided that clean-tech is going to be the next great global industry and is now creating a massive domestic market for solar and wind, which will give it a great export platform.

In October, Applied will be opening the world’s largest solar research center — in Xian, China. Gotta go where the customers are. So, if you like importing oil from Saudi Arabia, you’re going to love importing solar panels from China.

Maybe when our dimmer bulbs are spouting the bullfrog-obvious, it’s a sign of some sort of back-handed momentum that, while not the same as regular momentum, is also not the same thing your usual kind of hope. Wow. That… doesn’t sound so great either.

The Futility Boundary

No, not that one.

I’m not sure if we even realize how bizarre this is:

The upshot is fewer new medicines available to ailing patients and more financial woes for the beleaguered pharmaceutical industry. Last November, a new type of gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease, championed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was abruptly withdrawn from Phase II trials after unexpectedly tanking against placebo. A stem-cell startup called Osiris Therapeutics got a drubbing on Wall Street in March, when it suspended trials of its pill for Crohn’s disease, an intestinal ailment, citing an “unusually high” response to placebo. Two days later, Eli Lilly broke off testing of a much-touted new drug for schizophrenia when volunteers showed double the expected level of placebo response.

Okay, once again.

drug – any substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in humans or other animals.

placebo – a substance or procedure … that is objectively without specific activity for the condition being treated. It’s what the control group is given to judge results against what happens if you… do nothing.

So, apparently placebo potency (!) has grown sufficiently strong enough to knock off a few highly-touted new pharma cures, such that big pharma is now commissioning studies of the new placebo potency? What if they find out that it was all in our head? Can these results be kept secret and used as a new cudgel in the struggle against other things we don’t need… to take anything to correct?

What? And, how do we score one for the power of the mind when the same minds were so severely impacted in the production of this result? And is the lesson repeatable?

Answers, people. I want answers.

Urban Environmentalism

It doesn’t immediately come to mind – not when we usually think of vast forests at risk, the shrinking beaches/rising oceans axis, plus the gazillion acres of row crops used to feed us and our cows or grow transportation fuel(!) as the case may be. But, as usual, the cities are where the action is:

It’s the environmental movement’s own inconvenient truth, and it has tragic consequences. Blacks die from asthma twice as often as whites, and have higher cancer mortality rates than any other group. Nearly 30 million Latinos — 72 percent of the US Latino population — live in places that don’t meet US air pollution standards. Native American homes lack clean water at almost 10 times the national rate.

As a chilling reminder, this week marks the fourth year since Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, leaving behind it a path of destruction that decimated poor and minority neighborhoods. Many Americans bore witness to the sad truth that the people hit hardest in my hometown of New Orleans were from the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and it remains a tragic example of how our most vulnerable populations often bear the burden of our worst environmental threats.

That’s EPA chief Lisa Jackson making the case for the case for urban environmentalism to be made, and to be made more stridently, more passionately, more urgently. She leaves out a lot – transit, cities are not just about the poor – but tying environmentalism to social justice will be one of the more powerful cudgels to wield against the massive disinformation campaigns that will accompany attempts to pass climate change legislation. The healthcare debate is the warm-up. Wait until you see the kinds of stupid demagoguery that is on the way: Inflated tax numbers, telling you not to let the government get between you and your driveway or whatever… it will be humbling, but should be taken as a precursor (the forced humility that would be part and parcel to resource scarcity). But, on the upside, it should be open season for mockery. So Python up.

Opponents of climate change legislation are on the wrong side of the issue, and hence, of history – I know, I also sense a pattern. The sleazy tactics are already wearing thin, but this should be taken not as a reason to slack off but as notice to become more emboldened, more explicit about what is at stake. Read about it, learn more, sharpen your points for whenever this comes up with friends, family or at the post, because opportunities to confront bizarre notions will be on the rise. Green means fecund.

Conceptual World

“He’s an idea man.” And this is not a pipe. So be it.

Fine, if that’s your line. I’m not recommending or blaming LeWitt, but when wondering as we may what has happened over the last however long to deposit us right here, well… there’s your art over the last forty years, and your world over the last fifty-five. Your artworld? I’m  not saying who’s following who, but… Well, fine, it’s just another idea: but let’s see you and what army take the subjectivity out of that little construct. S’whatifigured.

Uh oh.

Art that is meant for the sensation of the eye primarily would be called perceptual rather than conceptual. This would include most optical, kinetic, light, and color art.

Since the function of conception and perception are contradictory (one pre-, the other postfact) the artist would mitigate his idea by applying subjective judgment to it. If the artist wishes to explore his idea thoroughly, then arbitrary or chance decisions would be kept to a minimum, while caprice, taste and others whimsies would be eliminated from the making of the art. The work does not necessarily have to be rejected if it does not look well. Sometimes what is initially thought to be awkward will eventually be visually pleasing.

To work with a plan that is preset is one way of avoiding subjectivity. It also obviates the necessity of designing each work in turn. The plan would design the work. Some plans would require millions of variations, and some a limited number, but both are finite. Other plans imply infinity. In each case, however, the artist would select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem. After that the fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work, the better. This eliminates the arbitrary, the capricious, and the subjective as much as possible. This is the reason for using this method.

When an artist uses a multiple modular method he usually chooses a simple and readily available form. The form itself is of very limited importance; it becomes the grammar for the total work. In fact, it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work. Using complex basic forms only disrupts the unity of the whole. Using a simple form repeatedly narrows the field of the work and concentrates the intensity to the arrangement of the form. This arrangement becomes the end while the form becomes the means.

Good to know. Color art… I love it. Only serious amounts of Contract Bridge crosstalk could make a cloud fall from this rain. And speaking of miracles, objective amusement has unleashed upon us all the most resplendent of logical exponents. After all, before long.

And people need jobs, don’t forget; you can’t just stand around all day scratching your head about some damn color art cryptogram one-act. Unless it’s really good.

Limited resources and contracts signed and molding in a safe somewhere are not, conceptually speaking, cases which can be rescued by beautiful execution. And though this may seem like an incoherent digression, you didn’t see what I didn’t write.

At any rate, enemies closer.

Managing the Advantage

I bring your attention to that least-sympathetic subset, the born rich. That would be you.

There is a difference between earning your living and doing what you’re supposed to be doing, e.g., that which challenges you and brings fulfillment while affording bread and shelter. This is a touchy subject, and many no doubt confuse one with the other. After all, aren’t we only meant to provide for ourselves and our children? For much of the world, securing this line of provisions is a great challenge. But just like finance, debt, food choices and room colors, we have expanded the meaning of this concept to cover much more than the essentials. Or rather, we have re-defined the essentials to include things and people other than those specifically ours.

Like it or not, this is a society characterized by distinct advantage, and advantage comes at the expense of someone or some thing. We get more food, more education, more attention as children, more time with family, more opportunity to pursue what we want than we likely deserve, especially in relation to people who happen to be born other places. And what do we do with all this advantage? Mostly waste it, zapping pixel spacemen and frightening ourselves that someone’s going to take something away from us, snorting garbage, building walls, worrying about taxes going for welfare (but not war). Expensive educations that only teach us how to make more money are a useless fraud and undermine our innocence at its most vulnerable point. We systemically remove that which is our only hope, and hence must fall back to dismal goals like mere sustainability.

I bring up the art of living very often on this site for a reason – its inescapable importance to contributing to some kind of forwardly manageable society – including its natural environment. You can learn how to do it but the window is tiny and requires a lot of unpleasantness like history, literature, science, philosophy, aesthetics and language. Relative unhappiness in your work might be the operative predicate for an effective sale pitch, but it’s a lousy reality. The backside of the Puritan work ethic on which this country was ostensibly built is that we come to naturally despise work – the implication being that if you love what you do, you’re not really working. If you doubt this, consult our lust for lotteries and other avenues to unearned riches. These are heinous and self-administered tricks, designed, like so much, merely to separate you from your money, and the cause of no small amount of suffering. Having the laugh on that count should be the whole point; revel in a seamless transition between work and life.

If we have to sell ourselves on a concept like altruism, enact laws – or worse, dangle the carrot of eternal salvation – just to get us to do the right things, we might as well just set the blender to puree, devolve into anarchy and start over again. There is a blatant self-interest in living well and actively supporting the same for others as a constituent part thereof. But it’s decidely not the self-interest we’ve been taught to admire and protect. The point is to expand the advantage. Do you know what that means?

Sustainability for Dummies

I regularly check /. (Slashdot), both as a part of my job keeping up with developments in science and engineering and as one of the many ways of generally training a wider eye. The great preponderance there is technology-oriented, and a serious plurality of that is gaming-related and so of little interest to me personally. But there’s a non-tech thread soliciting advice about marriage for geeks that serves as a good parallel to some wider points, green and other.

We should admit that the concept has become rather trite, even and especially as an advertising tool. I think it was at 80% in the first month, and has pulled up the remainder of the ladder in the time since.

Anyway, the /. poster made the point that he and his fiance were self-ID’d geeks and that most of the books about marriage were aimed at alpha-male jocks and submissive cheerleader wives and hence the incompatibility issues related to sports just didn’t apply to them. Commenters graciously pointed out, among other things, that ‘intelligent people do not need the rubberstamp advice found in self-help books’ and that honesty and openness were the paramount virtues of any marriage. Well put; those points alone open up all manner of questions about anti-elitism and best-selling books along the lines of ________ for dummies and what have you. That people are willing to self-identify as dummies in pursuit of some rudimentary guidance on basic human behavior is indicative of their token interests in the first place. Sort of like trying to figure out how to ‘go green’ with ease, without changing any of the larger elements of your life – you can just buy the right cleaner or bowling ball and Voila!

That’s as stupid as it sounds, itself a point that should be the subtitle on the Dummy Guides to Everything. Just as there is no circle drawn around your town demarcating a sustainable distance from work or play, there is no definitively green lifestyle, per se. Despite our fascination with collective experience, most everyone’s quotidian existence has certain unique aspects. It is these which are malleable and in play, open to alignment with planetary-mindedness, if that’s the idea, or allegiance to your favorite team, as the case may be. The point is not achieving a level of relative sustainability regarding what you are already doing but embarking upon a transition to less waste and better food.

We can’t superimpose sustainability on this system any more than we can mandate faithful marriages by tweaking the kinds of lies that are okay (or agreeing that men and women are simply – darn it – from different planets). We can identify ways to better living and begin to buy and vote accordingly. This will entail a lot of work and probably include reading many books and talking with people smarter than you (and me), but will definitely and without doubt result in better freedom.

Encoding the Model of the Object

Whether that object be of desire… of derision… of worship… of my affection… of a preposition. Staying with the quantum mechanics meme (and why shouldn’t we?), there comes the matter of no small consequence surrounding the, what’s the scientific term… uh, bizarro quantum world condition by which, even if you already have all of the possible information that is allowed to be known about a certain activity or event, you can still only talk about the probability of the event happening. Same for coin flips as a nanoscale bridge.

Quantum mechanics operates in a bizarro world that includes superposition, where atoms can maintain more than one state at a time. Matter can also become entangled so that it remains connected across vast distances — a ghostly phenomenon dubbed “spooky action at a distance” by Albert Einstein.

So, yes, the model of the object, a Hamiltonian; no, not that one. This one:

The energy conservation (quantum) law written with the operator H as the Schrödinger equation is fundamental in quantum mechanics and is perhaps the most utilized, mathematical computation device in quantum mechanics of systems with a finite number of degrees of freedom. There is also, however, the alternative approach in the Heisenberg picture, or formulation, in which the observable and other operators are time-dependent whereas the state vectors $ psi$ are time-independent, which reverses the time dependences betwen operators and state vectors from the more popular Schrödinger formulation.

It’s the thing, in other words. That says whether you’re talking about an electron or a bicycle. The first piece of information you need is the Hamiltonian of an object.

Ah, the rush of knowing… feels the same even when it’s about all you don’t know.

Now… there is an implication to the above, and I won’t say what it is, that is completely deterministic about the future. Do I already know what that is? Maybe. But since time is merely one factor among many, there’s really no rush.

Solar Eclipse

As seen from Yinchuan. Newscom/SIPA photo, via TPM

The Path of Totality

At sunrise on July 22, 2009, (the evening of July 21 PDT), the moon’s umbra—the cone-shaped part of the moon’s shadow—will fall on India’s Gulf of Khambhat. The shadow will sweep across Asia and the South Pacific before leaving the earth near the Marshall Islands about 3½ hours later. The path of totality will cover a distance of approximately 9,500 miles (15,200 km). The maximum duration of totality is an exceptionally long 6 minutes and 39 seconds, which will come while the shadow is over the Pacific.

Talk about your open source entertainment.