Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Confederacy of Art Haters: the Islamic State & etc.

What is Art, and what excuses its destruction?

Art gets trashed every day, and has throughout history. Artists often trash some of their own work as "not good enough." Some parents save their children's art, some throw it out.

Generally, if art starts having a cash value, it tends to get saved. If it does not have value, it gets trashed when it becomes inconvenient.

Old art, good and bad, tends to get valued, to be seen as "collectable," simply because it is old. Almost anything over 200 years old is of antiquarian interest, even if it was not very good art to begin with.

Some art gets trashed because some people find it objectionable.This raises the question: who gets to decide what art is objectionable?

Recently the Islamic State and other radical Islamic groups have been accused of destroying art, including ancient artifacts. For instance, it has been reported that soldiers of the Islamic State recently destroyed some of the ancient remains at Palmyra.

It is pretty easy for Americans to look down our noses at the citizens of the Islamic State for their lack of appreciation of the art of ancient civilizations. But America has a pretty bad record when it comes to destroying art. We just don't think about it, because we are trained to have a Nationalist attitude.

For instance, there was that statue of Saddam Hussein that American troops famously destroyed during the Second Iraq War. Pretty much all statues are art. Is it okay to destroy a statue of a person you don't like?

If it is okay to destroy a statue of Saddam Hussein, who gets to decide what gets preserved as Art and what gets destroyed as Statues of Hated People?

When Christians took over the Roman Empire they destroyed a lot of Art because it represented gods other than Jesus and "God the Father." Some statues were preserved by repurposing them as Christian saints. How is Islamic destruction of what they perceive to be false gods different from the favorite Christian pastime of smashing idols?

How much art was vaporized with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or burned with Tokyo and dozens of other German and Japanese cities that were firebombed during World War II? Is it okay to destroy art if it is just collateral damage to the destruction of enemy populations? [It should be noted that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or his advisors, did not allow Kyoto to be firebombed, because of its artistic and historic significance. But he okay'd all the other destruction, until he died and Harry Truman did the final okays.]

Now that I have desensitized you a bit, be prepared for a shock. There is a movement to destroy a lot of important, historic art right now in America.

This movement is not being done by Christian yahoos or right-wing thugs. It is being promoted by people who would style themselves leftist, progressive, or liberal (which is how I typically would style myself, except when I think leftists and progressives are acting like idiots, which is surprisingly often).

This movement wants to destroy art that depicts leaders of the Confederate States of America.

It is easy to understand the feelings of this particular group of would be art destroyers. The Confederate States of America was a complex phenomena, but central to that nation were the institution of slavery, and specifically a slavery based on "race," or skin color. Not only were slaves badly treated, but for about 100 years after the Confederacy was defeated in battle, descendants of slaves were denied civil rights (and economic rights) by the Democratic Party in the states that had been in the Confederacy.

If the display of a statue makes people feel bad (for whatever reason), should the statue be destroyed?

How precious is art, really? If we can throw away an old painting we don't like (by an artist who did not become famous), or a child's classroom work, can we throw away any art for any reason? For a good reason like not reminding them of slavery?

If so, there should be no problem with the Taliban or the Islamic State throwing away art, no matter how ancient. Nor should it be a problem to melt down statues of Confederate generals.

I favor preserving art, especially if it has become historic. I don't like Christianity or Islam, but I would not destroy the art of these groups.

I would not destroy a statue of Harry Truman, even though he is the only national leader in history to use atomic weapons against cities of civilians.

If we collectively decided to destroy statues of Confederate generals, should we not also destroy the statues of other slave owners, including Presidents? Should we not destroy the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument? Most of the Presidents before Lincoln were slave owners. That is a lot of art and history destruction to put on the agenda. And what about Indian-killer statues?

I think there are two things that are appropriate to do about Confederate statues and other artistic artifacts. One is to put up new plaques beside the statues, pointing out our present view that these were bad men who defended a rotten social system. We should not forget history. We should particularly remember the mistakes of the past, in the hope that those mistakes are not repeated.

The other option is to let governments make a little money, and let the free market decide what is worth keeping. Auction off the statues. If a museum or private collector is the high bidder, fine. If a materials recycler, or someone else who wants to destroy art, is the high bidder, that is fine too. Not all art deserves to survive forever.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Judge nations by per capital carbon emissions

Americans continue to generate carbon dioxide at unfair levels

Since Nationalist Public Radio (NPR) constantly says that China is the world's largest carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas producer, and they pass for liberal in these United States, I assume most Americans have a distorted view of how our nation fits into the problem of global warming.

If all people are created equal, we should set an average target allowance that is safe. Then everyone should work to push down the carbon emissions of those who are, in effect, cheating the rest of humanity (and all living creatures) by consuming more than their fare share.

So let's look at a few national averages, remembering that within each nation there are also high consumption carbon emitting individuals, and below average individuals. The following table is a sample. You can find fuller tables at Wikipedia List of Countries by carbon dioxide emissions.

Nation kilotons CO2 emitted tons per person
United States of America
European Union
Of the nations with large populations the U.S.A. clearly consumes far more than its share of carbon per person. The global average is 5.0 tons per day, so we are at over 3 times that.

There are a few nations with per person carbon emission higher than the U.S.: Australia at 17.3, a coal producing nation; and Saudi Arabia at 16.8 are notable. But the E. U., with a standard of living similar to the U.S., is under half.

China is, on a per person basis, is at 46% of the U.S. Its total emissions are higher than the U.S. because of its much larger population (1.38 billion vs. 322 million).

When you throw in history, the unfairness of the situation is heightened. The industrial revolution started in Great Britain in the late 1700s, in Europe in the early 1800s, and in the U.S. around the mid 1800s. So we have had very long periods of carbon emissions compared to the rest of the world.

In the aftermath of World War II pretty much every factory in the world had been damaged. Except the factories of the U.S. With our vast petroleum fields and array of factories, we dominated the world economy and dwarfed the emissions of other nations. Other nations' factories came on line gradually. By the 1970s Americans had to compete again, and had grown soft, and so began losing the economic competition to other nations. We were just so wealthy by then that it took a while for the truth to sink in.

China made stabs at industrializing going all the way back to the 1800s, but did not really start to grow production faster than America, Europe, Japan and Russia until the 1980s.

The competitive advantages to nations that continue to burn fossil fuels are enormous. Clearly, if it were about fairness, the U.S.A., which has done the most historic damage, should do the most to cut its per capita fossil fuel consumption. Instead gasoline and natural gas are cheap right now, so consumption is increasing rather than decreasing.

Fairness is all fine in a game of tennis or baseball, but in the real world people who are unfairly privileged typically don't want to play fair. I've talked to people across the spectrum of American wealth and poverty, and the response is almost uniform. People want scientists to fix the problem without any substantial personal impositions on themselves.

Scientists can't change the laws of thermodynamics. That is why they are called laws. It takes energy to keep buildings warm in winter and cool in summer. It takes energy to move cars and planes around. It takes energy to fertilize farms, plant and harvest food, and get it to markets. It even takes energy to separate silicon from silicon dioxide to make solar panels, or to extract and transport fossil fuels.

It is clear that their are too many people in the world and that their standard of living is too high. In the United States we should probably do our share by immediately limiting families to one child, turning off all air conditioning systems (except, perhaps, hospitals), and adding a punitive tax to sales of fossil fuels, something like $3 per gallon of gasoline. Also all flying of any kind should be prohibited.

But we won't. The rich will buy Teslas and pretend they have done their part. They will meet with politicians in exotic locations and pat themselves on the back for closing the occasional coal-fired generating plant and putting in a few solar panel. The middle class will continue to aspire to the luxuries of the rich, and the working class will aspire to middle-class luxuries.

The coral will die, and the plankton will die, and sooner or later crops will wilt. Nature will will unleash plague and famine, and balance will be restored. Hopefully when humans die off, it won't be entirely random. Hopefully the humans that survive will give birth to an improved species.

Agree? Disagree? You can comment on this post at Natural Liberation Blog at blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Atheists: A Little Tolerance for Christmas, Please

Christmas Can Be Secularized Through Toleration

The Founding Fathers of the United States seem to have included many atheists, agnostics, and deists (people who believe in a God that doesn't matter). It is also a historical fact that in the late 1700's there was a Christian religious revival, and that since that time a majority of Americans have been at least nominally Christian.

Officially the national government has always been secular, as enshrined in the Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exorcise thereof." And "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office of public Trust under the United States."

At times in America it was dangerous to say you were an atheist, especially if you were both a communist and an atheist. So atheists kept a low profile.

For decades now the separation of Church and State has become a battleground. Christians forget the historical fact that they were the ones who originally asked for the separation because they feared the doctrines of either the Church of England (now Episcopal) or the Roman Catholic Church would be imposed on them.

Atheists have led the struggle to keep Church and State separated. That is fine, but some atheists have become as intolerant as their Christian opponents.

I believe we can benefit, now, from showing a little tolerance. I believe that building up a culture of tolerance, including among religious sects, is something that atheists should help with, not fight against.

I believe our message of the priority of reason and fact-based culture over "revealed" religious tradition is winning. I believe that being nice to Christians (within reason) and people in other cults encourages dialog that leads to reason and fact-based beliefs.

So: I don't have a problem calling a Christmas Tree as Christmas Tree. I am not going to deny that Christmas Day is Christmas Day. I personally don't celebrate Christmas, I deny the divinity of Christ (and Isis and Zeus and all the other gods), but I'll take any holiday I can get. Sure, in my ideal world we would secularize Christmas by moving it to the Winter Solstice, but that is not a priority for me.

Let's start with the naming of decorated trees traditionally put up during the month of December. Most atheists, Jews, and other non-Christians want them to be called Holiday Trees or maybe Yule trees.

I can see the argument that official government holiday trees should be for everyone, not just Christians. But it is hard to get around the fact that they are associated with an official government holiday, Christmas Day.

But Christmas long ago came to have a meaning going far beyond the (probably not accurate) birthday of Jesus Christ, who certainly was not God, but was a historic figure and therefore must have had some birthday. Judging from the New Testament, he did not make a point of celebrating his birthday when he was alive. The holiday could be cancelled on religious grounds; the Puritans did not celebrate it.

Many Americans celebrate a non-Christian Christmas. Gifts and family and alcoholism and all that food.

We atheist are supposed to be the reasonable ones. We are the leaders in tolerance. So let the Christians have their Christmas and Christmas Trees.

Let's use the opportunity to talk about what is important: good will towards all people. Including immigrants, homosexuals, foreigners, and people of other faiths than our own. The ability of the Earth to renew itself (the evergreen trees being a symbol of that before being appropriated for Christmas), which is being rapidly lost.

The atheist brand has been tarnished over the centuries in a number of ways, most notably by scientific inventions gone awry, from atomic bombs to insecticides that are killing off bees. Joseph Stalin's mass murders did not help our image either.

If you want to attract people to atheism, the brand should have a positive aura. Fight for the environment, fight for justice, fight for truth. But be kind to those who have not seen the light of reason yet. Our brand should be a showcase of tolerance. We should not fight all the time just because we have gotten used to having to fight for our rights.

I'm going to celebrate Christmas as an atheist. I don't admire Jesus the way I admire Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. But to the extent he is symbol of the idea of tolerance (as when he stopped stonings) and substituting love for humans over the cruel laws of the Old Testament, Jesus is okay. If he were alive today, he'd probably be an atheist.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Air Conditioned Nightmare, a History

I was born on a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, in 1955, near the ocean. That is a temperate climate by most standards. It got hot in summer and cold in winter, but as a child I did not worry about it. We had no air conditioning, almost nobody did back then, but we certainly had heat. I remember being seriously cold only once, when Legendary Mother locked me out of the house during a snow storm in Greenville, Texas when I was four, to punish me (Legendary Father was stationed in Japan that year).

In 1955 the human population of the United States was about 165 million. The population of the planet Earth was about 2.6 billion.

When I was six years old Legendary Father was retired from the Marine Corps (they failed to anticipate the need for trained, reliable murderers starting in 1965 in Vietnam) and we moved to Florida. It was hot! But again, no air conditioning. Our house was in a suburb that had recently been a swamp. My grade school was not air conditioned either.

Then around 1964 we moved into a fancier neighborhood and the house had central air. Legendary Mother set the thermostat at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 degrees C.) In summer it was 70, and in winter it was 70. Whatever budget strains the family had, no thought was given saving a bit of electricity by letting the house vary from 70. The electricity, in that place and era, came from burning fuel oil.

In 1965 the human population of the United States was about 190 million. The population of the planet Earth was about 3.4 billion.

I have to admit I became a bit of a weenie. Cold was seldom a problem. I continued to play outside when I could, and I continued to sweat profusely while sitting still at school, in the fall and spring. But I also enjoyed walking into our air conditioned house and cooling off. At some point a new car was bought that had air conditioning.

In school I never, ever had air conditioning. Not in grade school, not in high school, not in college.

But in the winter of 1973-74 I ran into a different problem. That was a result of the Arab Oil Embargo. I had no budget for clothing for college (Legendary Father and Legendary Mother had thrown me out of the family), or I should say that working for minimum wage to pay for college made me extremely careful about buying anything. My freshman year I had endured the cold of New England dressed in Florida appropriate clothes. But at least the dorms and classrooms were well heated.

Not so the winter of 1973-74. My college economized. I was cold all the time, in my dorm room and in classrooms. But I did not die, and when Spring rolled around, I had largely acclimatized. My Florida clothes (now becoming rags) were adequate because my body had adapted.

In 1975 the population of the U.S. was about 215 million. The global population was about 4.1 billion.

My body had adapted to cold despite spending most of my childhood in Florida. In the meantime, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, America was converting vast amounts of fossil fuel into carbon dioxide. In 1975 Global Warming itself was still somewhat hidden among the ordinary fluctuations of weather, but we, the human race, had built a big ol' Greenhouse by burning fuel to run heaters and air conditions, cars and trucks, factories and armies.

Now political leaders (well, heads of state anyway) are gathered in Paris to pretend to do something about greenhouse gasses and global warming.

Couldn't they just agree to Turn Off the Goddam Air Conditioners! No one on earth had air conditioning until the 20th century. People can acclimatize to heat. They can wear shorts in summer, even at places of business. The first year will be tough, sure, as we get used to sweating again (and other people sweating).

Instead the Air Conditioned Nightmare (Henry Miller's term) is spreading like a cancer on the earth. As soon as people have the dough, they want their first air conditioner. Just like my Legendary Mother.

Sure, do all the other things. But turning off all air conditioners can be done quickly and would have a major impact.

An estimate of the current human population of the United States is 322 million, and of earth is 7.2 billion.

The other important item that should be on the Paris agenda is lowering the human population by setting up a global One Child policy. Half the population would produce only half the environmental problem. But sadly, that idea is not on the agenda. It is not on the agenda of most environmental non-profits, either, because they are afraid of the fundraising repercussions of speaking the real core truth to Power. Better to blow up skirts and reap the rain of donations.