politics, morality and evolution

I started writing about this ages ago, but have not finished yet… but in a discussion with Michael, the idea came up again, and I wrote a long comment there, which I’ll reproduce here (slightly redacted):

***
my theory of morality is this: moral ideas are cultural constructs that sink or swim based on their ability to “improve” lives & societies, where improve means: makes it easier for a bigger number of people to be well-provided-for, to solve problems they want to solve, and generally to be more happy.

here is a thought experiment: what if increasing individual liberty, abolishing slavery, providing public education (etc) resulted in: mass pandemics, death, misery, and a collapse in the economy. would we see liberty & public education etc as morally good? i’d argue no.

if you read the bible (and, I presume most religious texts), you realize that much of it concerns very practical rules of life (how to build things, how to eat things etc), in addition to more abstract spiritual things … those “rules” are helpful for keeping a society functioning smoothly, and well, and helps us continue to solve problems we want to solve.

so while making “moral” choices is important, to me the compelling argument (in politics) is that “moral” choices are actually ones that tend to improve lives, and be effective. (i think this is part of why the religious right is so strong in the USA: our “free” (and empty) society has resulted in people being unhappy … and a set of moral rules (work hard, be honest, help others, be true to your wife etc) helps you get better at doing the things that, over the past 3000 years, have proven to help make people happier, on balance).

Much of this theory comes out of watching LibriVox evolve, where free-form anarchy is employed only to the extent that it helps us make audiobooks, and not for abstract reasons. so when we decide on issues, we measure against making audiobooks, and not against abstract notions of freedom etc. This, i believe, is how societies and morality develop over time…rules of behaviour that are “helpful” become codified as morally preferable traits: honesty, courage, kindness etc.

regarding democracy & political engagement, my personal feeling is that i can accomplish much more outside of the political system right now. the political system is very rigid (like academia). it’s “better” than fascism, but it could/should become even more responsive to people’s needs, i think, by adopting more small-a-anarchist approaches to problems. i believe eventually i might become re-engaged in the system, i hope in ways that help the democratic system start playing with some of these ideas, to see what could be helpful, and what not. that is, i do not believe anarchist projects are good because they are anarchist, but only if they can be proven to help people do things they want to do (manage a health system, education system, environment etc).

civicaccess.ca is a perfect example of this: idea is: big groups of people with access to data over the net may be better at solving some problems than the government is, and the government should be responsive to exploring where these areas might be, and supporting movements/technologies/ideas that help bring decision-making tools into the hands of citizens, rather than keeping them in the rigid and compromised government systems as they exist now.

as for representative over direct democracy, again, i have no particular preference, except to the extent that one or the other can better address problems I see with the world; which includes protecting small groups from the abuse of big groups.


Categories: best, personal, writing

no-jargon 10-point pledge

Jargony text & talk drives me crazy. I wrote previously pleading with you, dear readers, never to use the word “utilize” when all you mean is “use.” This stuff infects the pages and html of techies, marketing people and academics, and unsuspecting citizens as well. It’s contagious and dangerous.

I am going to do my part. I’ve decided to take a no-jargon pledge.

Because I value clear concise prose, I promise never to use the following 10 words or phrases when I write:

  1. concretize
  2. modality
  3. paradigm
  4. stake out (a/its/your/my) position
  5. drill down
  6. leverage (unless I am talking about moving rocks)
  7. utilize
  8. empowerment
  9. is informed by
  10. flesh out

This list can be lengthened, please suggest words and phrases to add.


climate (& iraq?)

According to a recent Globe & Mail poll, suddenly, strangely, climate change has become the most important issue for the majority of Canadians (climate change topped the list for 26% of Canadians, followed by health & security). A curious and surprising event, perhaps an interesting result of the democratic system.

When the Liberals (as a centrist/left party, theoretically more enviromentally friendly than the right wing Conservatives) were in power, they did NOTHING on climate change. No policy, no effective strategy, no concrete action, and no results, except a 30% increase in CO2 emissions. But when the Liberals were in power, the official oposition was the Conservatives, right wing, oil-based, and hostile to policies addressing climate change (which will have a big impact on the oil industry and energy-intensive business). So agressive climate action on the part of the Libs would have resulted in strong opposition from the Conservatives. So the Libs did nothing.

Now, the Conservatives are in power, and they just got slaughtered (by the Libs, Bloc and NDP, and public opinion) for their weak stand on climate change in their recent Clean Air Bill (tho, in their defense, at least they tabled serious policies/laws with actual impacts on industry: the Libs never did). Stephane Dion is leading the charge, and in all the hooplah, climate change lands at the forefront of issues in the mind of Canadians. Harper shuffles his deck, and climate change becomes the Conservatives shiny new focus.

So, strike one up for Minority government as a good way to get things done that people actually want: those who pull the strings in power (the Conservatives) are forced to adjust their policies according to pressures from the other side of the spectrum. Which, theoretically at least, is a good way to ensure balanced government…And one hopes, a step in the direction of taking climate change seriously as a problem.

Hopping from government to media, interesting shift in the Globe and Mail this weekend too. Rex Murphy is the Globe’s shrillest climate alarmist-alarmist (he worries endlessly about the climate change propogandists and doomsdayers that run the National Academies of Sciences in all the biggest countries and economies of the world). He has spent the last 5 or 6 thousand years scoffing at, sneering about, and dismissing climate change, with few updates in his rhetoric for annoying things like the scientific advances. But even Rex seemed to back off in his weekly column yesterday. Well, almost. He presents a couple of examples of climate research gone wild (an Italian study linking suicide with climate change, and Al-Qaeda’s insistence that the US sign the Kyoto Agreement) as evidence that the rest of the scientists are single-minded fools. Yet he after all that silliness, he finally says:

“If we believe global warming is as big a problem as the world’s experts are telling us, we also have to believe the world’s politicians are capable of fixing it.”

And concludes that their inability to fix potholes suggests they won’t be much good at fixing climate change. He might have a point there, who knows? But there was a subtle, grudging, shift, almost imperceptible, but present. A back-handed acknowledgment that maybe, perhaps, it’s possible that all those damned scientists might be worried about something worth worrying about. Even if he does not trust politicians to do anything useful about it.

Margaret Wente is another of the Globe’s usual “climate change is bullshit” columnists. A sample of her headlines from the last few years (the Globe is subscription only, so you can’t read the articles): “Ice the ‘polar bears are drowning’ theory,” “Will we freeze or will we fry?” “Kyoto always was a fantasy,” “The collapse of climate ‘consensus'” “The Kyoto-speak brainwashers” … etc.

In an article in this Saturday’s Globe, Wente finally, finally, finally actually talks to some mainstream climate scientists, instead of the odd-ball guys she fished up in previous articles (it’s all good and well to say there are scientists who don’t agree with the consensus, but they are a small minority, and often not active scientists, and more often not regarded as very serious in their research).

In any case, her article in Saturday’s Focus section of the Globe, is titled “A Questionable Truth.” She has spun her argument something like this: Al Gore’s movie an Inconvenient Truth exaggerates the likelihood of bad effects from climate change. And mainstream scientists think the probability of catastrophic climate change is … uncertain. In fact, much of climate science is uncertain. So …

And here is the interesting thing. In the past Wente’s “So…” used to be followed by, “So the climate alarmists are a bunch of propagandists, and we should ignore them…”. But this time she ended (almost, as well as a swipe at Gore) with: “So what can a worried citizen do?” To answer, she quotes Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University, who answers: “Lobby the politicians to put policies in place immediately that put a value on the environment … Drive your car to Ottawa if you have to. The most important thing is to get policies in place that are intelligent.” Translation (I think): we have a problem here, and something should be done.

(Not content to leave it at that, however, Wente finishes with a swipe at Al Gore, “even though much of what he says is dubious or just plain wrong, he’s going to win that Oscar anyway.”)

But when you read the text of her article, and what the actual scientists say (rather, what she decided to quote them as saying), it’s a funny thing. There is not one scientists there arguing that climate change is not a major problem worth addressing. Not one person saying: climate change is not happening. Not one person saying: humans have no impact on the climate. Not one person saying: there is nothing to worry about. Not one person saying: we should do nothing. The scientists she interviews, instead, are cautious, level-headed, and, like most scientists, uncomfortable with sensational headlines. Says one, “The probability of another metre of or sea-level rise in the next 50 years isn’t zero, but it isn’t 90 per cent either. And if you pinned me down to tell you what it really is, I couldn’t do that.” That is, there is a risk of serious problems, and scientists can’t pin down just what that risk is. Which hardly suggests: a) that there is no risk, or b) that we should do nothing.

Another interesting thing: Wente and some of her pals at the Globe (the paper probably has had a 50-50 split on the issue) have spent the last ten years pillorying the Kyoto Protocol. Yet when discussing how to address climate change in this article, she writes: “But climate economists generally agree that the first and most important thing to do is to put a value on the atmosphere. You do this with carbon taxes and emissions caps. If emitting carbon costs money, then people will have a big incentive to cut down on it.” The Kyoto Protocol was a loose international framework whose objective was to a) get nations to agree to emissions caps on their national emissions, b) provide a timetable to try to meet those targets, c) provide some loose mechanisms to meet them. The Kyoto Protocol does not say ANYTHING about how any one country should meet their targets; that is left to countries figure out for themselves. (Which is why the “Made in Canada” solution trumpeted by Harper is hogwash: Kyoto’s objective is to get every country to come up with their own solution). Wente’s main expert’s opinion about how to address climate change suggests, essentially, that we should have started working within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol years ago. Wente manages make it sound as if she had just uncovered a sensible and innovative answer to this climate problem, a solution ignored by the hordes of rabid alarmists with Kyoto as their bible as they made their joyful march to climate apocalypse. That’s pretty disingenuous. The whole point of Kyoto was to do exactly what she seems to agree with here. And she has spent 10 years mocking Kyoto. At least, Ms. Wente, have the decency to utter a quiet little mea culpa. There is more dishonesty (intentional or accidental, I don’t know) in that article, but Rome was not built in a day. Ms. Wente has written her pivotal article on climate change, hovering on both sides of the argument, but she won’t go back to her old ways. She will continue to be distrustful of the enviros (which is fine), but I’d wager that she’s now convinced that things must be done.

I wonder: does the Iraq debacle Iraq have anything to do with this sudden turn-around in the public’s climate opinions? After all, those for the Iraq war tended to be, on balance, those against doing anything about climate change. And personally I always found it strange the dichotomy between the logic of spending billions on Iraq as compared to billions on climate change. Both threats (Saddam’s WMDs/climate chaos), according to their proponents, could have catastrophic impacts on all of us. Both would take massive amounts of resources, effort and policy will-power to address. Yet Iraq will gobbled up an estimated $1 trillion, with probable results of: destabilizing the Middle East, weakening the American position internationally, both among friends and foes, exposing the US as bad failed occupiers, stretching the military to the breaking point, and emboldening enemies (after all, the US can hardly make any military moves now, and Iran is the big winner in their blunder). All this sold by the same folks who told you not to worry about climate change (including Wente, including Murphy). So, maybe this is the effect of a little reality settling in. If the right was SO wrong about everything in Iraq, maybe it’s time to wonder what else they might have gotten wrong. Is the collapse of the Neocons and their grand vision for Iraq a chance for thier more moderate cheerleaders (in the press and public) to examine everything they sold with a new eye? After all, you only buy a lemon from a car salesman once. After that you steer clear.

It’s pretty hard to believe anything the current President says these days. It always was, for me; but it seems the naked emperor and his disastrous war has been revealed. So if you don’t have any more faith in the guy who is President, maybe it’s time to take a look at what the other guy, that guy who *could* have been President, has been parroting on about for the past few years.

I didn’t like the movie, and sure he goes too far in parts, and gets some things wrong. But hark: that’s the sound of Wente and Murphy reevaluating climate change. A good sign.


Climate Change & Blogging

Veeeerrrry interesting. I wrote a little post on Climate Change (a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail regarding Rex Murphy’s latest bit of climate idiocy). And I got two comments from people who have certainly never been to this site before. I presume there is a concerted blog/commenting effort, probably funded by PR companies, to troll through the blogosphere and make “grassroots” comments. I noted this kind of thing before on my Zune post a while back, and if I were a PR company, I would be doing this too. Good, cheap, and very direct way to get your message out. Even if you don’t reach the writer (in this case me) you might sow some doubt in other readers of the post.

I was going to answer these fellows in the comments, but it’ll take some links etc, so I’ll do it here instead.

First, Ken Ring from predictweather.com has explaned his position onglobal warming: here. He’s from New Zealand and predicts weather partterns using moon cycle analysis. Here is his comment, and my response below:

Instead of berating Murphy, how about listing the ACTUAL evidence that the world is warming. By the world I don’t just mean the tiny areas occupied by the cities, I mean the oceans, icecaps, swamps, craggy monutain ranges, deserts etc that comprise, without human habitation, 98.4% of the Earth’s surface. Oh bother, there aren’t any thermometers in those places. (Now aint that the inconvenient truth..)

Evidence coming, but first some propositions:
1. earth’s climate is a complex system
2. human civilization has developed in a period of relative warmth & climate stability (allowing for agricultural food production)
3. global temperature is directly correlated with CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
4. if CO2 concentrations rise, there is a good chance that temperature will rise too
5. if the temperature rises significantly, the complex system of the climate will be destabilized
6. if the climate system is destabilized, our ability to manage a global agricultural system will be destroyed
7. if we cannot manage a global agricultural system, human civilization as we know it is finished.
8. CO2 is rising, partly due to human emissions of CO2

Now for some evidence, the most powerful piece of data I have seen in climate change science, from the Vostok ice core:

vostock ice cores

Note CO2 concentrations follow temperature. Note also that the past 10,000 years (far right of graph, blue) have seen something extraordinary: relatively warm, stable temperature, also the period when human civilization developed.

Now perhaps doubling or tripling or quintupling C02 concentrations is fine. But if I were a betting man, given a graph like that, I would say there is 50% chance that rising CO2 will raise the temperature. And knowing a little about the history of the earth, I would say we don’t want temperatures to go up, and we should do what we can to make sure they don’t.

If you want some more evidence, in counterpoint to climate-denial, a good place to start is this article from Realclimate.org: Wall Street Journal vs. Scientific Consensus.

Regarding Ken’s other comment about measurement of temperatures out of cities, I’m not sure that’s even worth responding to, but satelite data, and the Vostok ice core (from Antarctica) are a good start. For more reading, see: NASA’s GISS Surface Temperature Analysis. For less theoretical evidence (ie. the kind you can feel in your cold, wet toes) here’s an article about the melting Arctic.

I think that’s all for Ken.

Now for the other commenter, Jeff Jones, no URL. Here’s what he had to say:

Notice how the doomsayers claim, as the host does, that each year the scientific community gets more certain. Which scientific community? Certainly not the 19,000 who signed the Oregon petition.

It’s the kind of dishonest device that the Church used to deny Copernicus and Galileo.

Maybe you mean the scientific community made up of political scientists like David Suzuki whose goal is to destroy the corporate basis of Western democracy.

So, the famous Oregon Petition is widely regarded as bunk. There was no control on petition signers, no required proof of academic creditials, no stated affiliation with academic institutions. I did a cursory search through the signatories, and of 15 names I checked I was able to find three academics: Earl Aagaard, professor of biology at Christian creationist university; Arthur Ballato, an Electrical Engineer with the US Army; and Daniel J Cantliffe, a biologist at University of Florida. None of whom has any direct experience with climate science, as far as I can tell.

But rather than spend time on the discredited Oregon Petition, better to answer the question directly: Which scientific community does get more certain? Well, for one (sorry, for eleven) the National Academies of Science of the following countries: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and the USA.

Say these Academies, in the following document (Joint science academies’ statement: Global response to climate change-pdf):

We urge all nations, in the line with the UNFCCC principles, to take prompt action to reduce the causes of climate change, adapt to its impacts and ensure that the issue is included in all relevant national and international strategies.

As for scientific literature, Naomi Orseskes did a random study of 928 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, with the key-words “climate change.” Of the articles, about 75% of them deal with the question of causes of climate change, 100% support the view that a significant fraction of recent climate change is due to human activities.

And what exactly is the consensus? According to realclimate.org, the consensus is:

1. The earth is getting warmer (0.6 +/- 0.2 oC in the past century; 0.1 0.17 oC/decade over the last 30 years)
2. People are causing this
3. If GHG emissions continue, the warming will continue and indeed accelerate
4. (This will be a problem and we ought to do something about it)

So … as they say: who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?


Rex Murphy and Climate Change

I just sent this to the Globe and Mail:

To The Editor,

I have read Rex Murphy’s climate articles with a sort of wonder for ten years now. Each year the science gets more sophisticated; each year the scientific community gets more certain; and each year more effects predicted in climate models are coming to pass (demonstrating the robustness of the models, while also showing that we are moving faster along a dangerous path than anyone expected).

Yet each year Rex Murphy’s climate articles remain exactly the same: the thousands of scientists who study this issue are alarmists and politically motivated; and those who disagree with overwhelming scientific evidence (like Mr. Murphy himself), are oppressed, unjustly attacked, and deserve to be heard with the same seriousness as the people who actually spend their careers studying climate change.

So my question, for Mr. Murphy, columnist, pundint and human: could you please list for us the evidence that *will* convince you that climate change is real, and worrisome? So that when, in a year or two, we have crossed those markers, we can all agree that it’s time for you to stop berating us with these inane columns on scientific issues, where you display total lack of interest in science?

What, I wonder, did Mr. Murphy, Newfoundlander, have to say about warnings that the cod fishery would collapse?

If you are interested what Rex Murphy did have to say about the cod fisheries, watch this wonderful video from the CBC archives, 1994.


art, society, data, stability

I haven’t written a ramble in a while. Here’s one:

I had an impromptu drink with Boris the other night – unfortunately the other brain I seem to be feeding off of a lot lately wasn’t there.

We rambled about art, data, open source, society, flexibility, stability, evolution to touch on a few things.

My experience with the open project LibriVox has been very interesting, and has influenced my thinking about a lot of what we talked about: it started small, and grew and grew; in about four places it encountered major environmental challenges – mainly having to do with putting together the structures to let the project accomodate more volunteers, and more projects. At 10 people and a couple of projects it was OK with me running the thing, and some help on the website design; then it went up to 50 volunteers and 10 projects, and I needed help, and a new mode of managing people and projects; the help appeared. It cranked up to 250 volunteers, and 40 projects; more help & organization was needed; it appeared. We’re now up to 1000+ volunteers and something like 150 active projects. Needing more structure and more support. It came.

Because the project was open everytime a major problem presented itself, someone seemed to be there who had just the skills needed (designing the site for clarity, setting up a forum, cataloging, documenting, setting up a wiki, a promo poster, catalog software). Like an organism encountering environmental challenges, LibriVox was flexible and open enough to easily evolve into something able to handle the new demands. One hopes it will continue to do so.

Is there anything in the little microcosm of LibriVox worth thinking about in a bigger context?

Boris gave this interesting visualization about society. (Boris can you draw it so I can link to a pic?) Imagine a bell curve, moving from left to right along a time axis. Stick a couple of wheels under the middle of the curve: the wheels are industry – driving things forward; the big hump is regular society who go along with things; and the front angle part of the bell-curve/snowplow are the out-there artists at the far tip, and then creative types who interact with industry making up the rest of the angle. There’s some interaction between the two. The artists are at the forefront, are misunderstood, and suffer the greatest amount of attrition because they are battling directly against the universe – in a way they both lead the way for the rest of society, and introduce us to, and protect us from, the new. You can go on about this metaphor, but probably there’s an optimal steepness of the curve – steeper meaning more arty & creative types.

I’ve seen two arty shows recently: Marie Chouinard’s dance show Body Remix/Goldberg Variations; and Anslem Kiefer’s Heaven & Earth. Neither was “beautiful” in any standard sense, but in both cases my mind was flying the whole time I was experiencing them. I don’t know what I was thinking about, but these two big shows — both very intellectual, and very abstract — had my mind whirrling around at top speed. There was something about the depth of the data transfer to me — chaotic and not really articulable by me — that influenced me in profound ways both times. And I think this is what Boris was talking about, about art, especiallly challenging art, communicating information about the universe that we are not really able to comprehend in any systematic way: we can take a bash at it, we can define & systematize, but the chaotic and big nature of out-there art is precisely powerful because we can’t describe it properly. By it’s nature it’s beyond a complete intellectual definition; so much data referring to so much, interacting with our own particular data processing systems. But somehow there is great value in that process, because it forces me to *try* (we are, after all, so earnest we humans) to process the data, and in doing so I reform my brain paths, and evolve my brain to try to cope with a changing universe.

And this, maybe, is why the free software/open source and open data movement is actually of huge importance. An open source approach to problems, along with an open data approach to the world will allow “us” to a) have access to the data we need to solve problems and b) allow all of us to contribute to the solving of these problems in open source projects.

I have a feeling that the world will become more chaotic soon. Two things in particular make me worried: climate change, and oil supplies. Those two issues are catastrophic in ways that most people aren’t willing to admit: human civilization has developed over a small band of time, the last 10,000 years, with relatively warm & relatively stable climate (scroll down to chart: “Temperature of Lower Atmosphere Last 400,000 years“). If things get unstable, we’ll be in trouble. As for oil everything in our modern world is based on cheap available oil, particularly our food-supply system. Without cheap fuel for farm equipment, and food transport, we’re in big trouble.

So if you consider that:
a) major environmental challenges (ie. global upheaval) are on the way
b) successful organisms are those that best adapt to environmental challenges
c) providing the maximum amount of data to maximum number of people will allow maximum adaptibility
d) and supporting open source solutions to problems is the most flexible & adaptable approach

Then any society that does not support open access to civic data; and open source solutions to problems … is likely to have major troubles soon. This is the next level of democracy … data democracy, and is I think crucial for our survival. Maybe that’s too much; but a country (say Canada) that embraces data democracy, will inevitably become more flexible, more nimble and more innovative in its solutions.

Do you think our politicians are at all ready to think about this? There’s a new, not yet public project, called civicaccess.ca, that will try to convince governments to start. Good work Mike.


stress & brain development, the open movement

From Seed: Reinvention of the Self:

To understand how neurogenesis “the process of creating new brain cells” works, Gould’s lab studies the effect of two separate variables: stress and enriched environments. Chronic stress, predictably enough, decreases neurogenesis. As Christian Mirescu, one of Gould’s post-docs, put it, “When a brain is worried, it’s just thinking about survival. It isn’t interested in investing in new cells for the future.”

On the other hand, enriched animal environments “enclosures that simulate the complexity of a natural habitat” lead to dramatic increases in both neurogenesis and the density of neuronal dendrites, the branches that connect one neuron to another. Complex surroundings create a complex brain.

This applies to my post about open data too, I think. A brain becomes more sophisticated in a situation when faced with “enriched environments” … chronic stress stops things. Note there’s a big difference between chronic stress – which puts you in constant survival mode; and discrete stress, which forces you to find a solution to a specific problem. I would argue that having a complex brain, stimulated by “enriched environments,” allows you to overcome discrete stress (call that environmental challenges) in more creative and effective ways.

As this applies to society: we will be best able to meet complex challenges if we expose society to “enriched environments.” Enriched environments mean, I think, access to maximum amounts of data; and public domain, open data movements mean just that. A vibrant public domain (free software, art, civic data, scientific information, agriculture) will mean a more vibrant and innovative society, better able to meet major challenges (say: climate change, peak oil, avian flu). The connections between art & software & science & civic acess are not yet clear to the world at large. But some are working hard to forge these links, across a spectrum of areas, seeking to increase data exchange, and give the tools of data production to new people. Others don’t quite get it yet. Still others seem intent on shooting themselves in the foot, by fighting the obvious. That’s OK. You can’t expect everyone to get it. But you can keep pushing.

(tip to: Tech Monk & mtl3p)


Categories: art, best, free software

openmovement: my first vlog

Brett issued a challenge in his last vlog, which was a response to the recent intense discussion we had at Laika about the open movement, what’s going on and what it all might mean. I wrote a long post about that discussion below, and here is my effort to make a vlog about my thoughts. Some notes:

Recorded Sunday March 26, 2006 at 8:15-8:45am while walking around my home at de Bullion & Pins in Montreal. It was a bit wierd talking to myself while walking around with a camera in my hand.

In this video I refer to this post about our Laika meeting here; and my description of Boris’s snowplow analogy here.
And, here is my first vlog:
openmovement-hugh.mov


violins, librivox, and beauty in chaos

Posted on the LivriVox forum, but I thought it was worth repeating here on dose.

One of the things I (personally) like about many podcasts is how … crappy! … they are. I don’t mean the facetiously, I mean that very honestly. I like that people cough and you hear the trucks roll by, and things are messy and badly-produced etc. It is like real life, unlike the polished stuff you get on TV and Radio & movies, which is fantasy.

And this is something I love about LibriVox. It is a bit of a revolutionary act to say: I wish to listen to a book recorded by a bunch of people, only some of whom are good readers! I want to listen to the words, and to the voices of these average joes & janes reading, the same as I remember my mother reading to me as a kid, and the librarian who used to read to us in school. It’s a rejection of the need for polish, for perfection, for style; choosing instead the substance of the text, and the reality of a real real flawed person like me doing their best to read something they love.

And I think this notion is not so easy to understand – why would I want to listen to something imperfect? Well, for me, because that perfectiion is a sham, and it’s unnecessary and it distracts from the text in a way.

I have a friend here who is a improvisational jazz violinist, Malcolm Goldstein.

the first time I head him play I thought “what the HELLL is this? It’s noise!” But what he’s asking you to do is listen to OTHER things, not the melody & harmony and all the easy things we associate with music, but something else, the underpinnings of the sound, the textures of the noises, the surprise, different cadence. And this is tied in with what the world is really like: it is not so ordered, so clean…it’s very messy and chaotic, but we are trained not to like this aspect of the world, not to like the flaws and imperfection. One reason we are taught to want perfection is that if we don,t like flaws we are easier targets for corporate marketers who sell perfection. Yet there is such beauty in that mess, if you pay attention to it in a different way, there is so much to be learned from chaos and flaws and mistakes. But you have to unlearn how to listen for it.

In the same way, I think (and this is just my personal take) LibriVox is a place that celebrates the flaws, the beauty in chaos, the messiness of life, but interpreted through the great works of literature of the world. we take raw materials and build with our voices something different, but I think something revolutionary, and we say: because it sounds like THAT over there, does not mean it has to sound like that here. We give you something different, and you can give something different too.


politics, instability, open source, stability

Some other general political thoughts – and a reference to open source & computer networks at the end. There has been a general tendency recently in the developing world to elect what could be called “anti-US” governments: Hamas in Palestine, and, say the sweeping leftism in South America: Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Bachelet in Chile, Lulu in Brazil, Vázquez in Uruguay, and maybe Kirchner in Argentina. There are likely more, elsewhere.

All of these are considered “worrying” by the policy-makers in USA; yet most of these elections were considered fair. The question worth asking is, why do countries in the South keep electing governments that the US is opposed to (publicly and privately)?

And I suggest that the answer is this: the policies that the US exports, and the governments they support, have not done a very good job of providing for their populations. So the global status quo (as defined by US and its allies) is not a very stable system – or at least it won’t be unless the Northern policies are adapted to accomodate the shifts in the south.

Something similar happened during and after the 1929-39 Depression in North America. The late 1800s to late teens of the 20th C saw a radical shift in industrialization; huge production, technological advances, etc twinned with terrible conditions for workers. To avoid revolution, and total chaos in our governing and social systems, we built a social safety net, worker safety conditions, worker rights etc. Which in fact either brought on, or at least paralleled the most prosperous era in the history of humanity. Is that a coincidence?

Capitalism, unfettered, leans towards massive exploitation – of workers and consumers – monopolies, and destruction. Unattended capitalism will tend to be very lucrative for a few, and very destructive for the rest.

Socialism, unfettered, leans towards inefficiency and unnecessary government intervention.

Somewhere between the two is a balance that’s probably the optimum for the global system (though the variables are changing: oil prices, and climate change being the two biggies, I think, which are likely to throw everything out of whack in the near future). We’ve seen a massive shift to the right in the US; and much of the rest of the world is shifting in the other direction. And I suggest that if the US starts creeping towards the centre the balances on the other side will too; but the US – being the powerful beast – needs to examine why the rest of the world is reacting the way it is, and where they need to change their policies, not just their communication strategies.

All this makes me think about (much less complex) open source systems – like LibriVox, or more obviously wikipedia – that are self-stabilizing through open input; and also extremely efficient at producing “useful work” from idle hours. I’m not sure what the connection is exactly, but I keep thinking about politics from an open source perspective: how to bring the efficiencies and stability inherent in open source systems to our political structures?

Anyone know the answer?