January 2010 Archives

Robert Sapolsky: What Makes Humans Unique


Six Minutes to Midnite

Doomsday Clock Symbol.jpgThe scientists at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the hand back on the Doomsday Clock from 5 minutes to midnite to 6 minutes to midnite.  That's big.  The Atomic Scientists was an organization established in 1946 by the scientists who had been responsible for building the bombs that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  The Bulletin scientists are aiming for a world free of nuclear weapons.  The minute hand hovered at one or two minutes to midnite for most the decades of the cold war.  The scientists moved the hands now because they saw signs of cooperation amongst leaders of the nuclear states to reduce arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material.  In addition, also for the first time ever, "industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable".  

They go on:

These unprecedented steps are signs of a growing political will to tackle the two gravest threats to civilization--the terror of nuclear weapons and runaway climate change. This hopeful state of world affairs leads the boards of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists--which include 19 Nobel laureates--to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock back from five to six minutes to midnight. By shifting the hand back from midnight by only one additional minute, we emphasize how much needs to be accomplished, while at the same time recognizing signs of collaboration among the United States, Russia, the European Union, India, China, Brazil, and others on nuclear security and on climate stabilization.
I can understand why people are frustrated with President Obama.  What I always say to people is "Watch what is happening two and three layers down, the things that don't get all that much press."  It takes years to push changes out far enough to make a difference.  This is an example of what is happening in every agency, some faster than others.  There has been little in the news about this cooperation between Obama and other world leaders, but clearly, it is occurring and occurring because of who Obama is, his style of leadership and his commitment to what he called the most important world issue - securing and limiting nuclear weapons.  

The post at DailyKos, by Plutonium Page, goes on to ask Richard Rhodes, an "atomic historian" of the highest order, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" about why, if this is so important the hands were not set back more.   His answer:

The real offender in terms of nuclear arsenals, without any question, is the United States of America. That's something we could do something about. I know the President is trying to move in that direction.
Plutonium Page goes on to say that there is already tremendous push-back from the atomic-industrial complex because they will lose money.  They will be yelling that we need these bombs for our safety.  Just watch them.  If the healthcare reform campaign has taught me anything it is that the forces arrayed against us the people are ferocious.  And they are not accustomed to losing.  

The Tragedy of Haiti

Haitian Girl Planting Tree.jpgNoam Chomsky writes about the history of Haiti.  In the book, "Year 501", written in 1993, he discusses the interactions between the US businesses/people who made money off keeping the Haitians from ruling their own country, US Governmental actions and proclamations, and the Press. 

OMG!  This is so critical and so depressing.  We interfered so consistently, making money for companies that worked hand and glove with the worst sort of rulers - over and over.  Would we be doing it now were there a Republican Administration in power?  How much of the imperialist behavior is going to happen with an Obama Administration?  Has there been enough time to get the worse Bush/Cheney people and policies out the door?  How much more pressure will Obama be under from our Shadow Elite?

Then breathe. . . . And be reminded of how much it matters that we have Democrats in the White House and in Congress.  Consider what it would be like if we had the same set of bungler-thieves in the White House that we had in the previous 8 years?

Luckily, Chomsky is far more staid and history-like than I have been here.  And there are footnotes.  It's very timely reading. 

Why I Like This White House

Years ago, back when I thought I was going to be a novelist, I had a writing teacher whose great rules of writing also served as great rules in life.  "Put your characters under pressure," he'd say.  "That's the only way you can see what they're made of."  

Well, sometimes life puts us under pressure, especially those people who are in the public light.  I've been impressed by the thoughtful responses of many leaders, Obama and Bill Clinton among them, to the earthquake aftermath in Haiti.  And on the other hand, we see the responses of people like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, people seemingly without a shred of compassion.  These are the times I am particularly glad to have Obama as President, to know that we have a government run by people who want to govern, who want to do what is right, who are connected to the world community.  

Robert Gibbs.jpgHere's a story about the way that Robert Gibbs, Obama's Press Secretary, responded to questions from the press about Limbaugh and Robertson from TPM.  He said the remarks by both men were "stupid".  Here's what Gibbs said about Pat Robertson's comments about how the Haitians had sworn a pact to the devil 200 years ago when they were overthrowing the French, the only successful slave rebellion in history  by the way.  

Asked about that today, Gibbs said:

It never ceases to amaze that in times of amazing human suffering somebody says something that could be so utterly stupid. But it like clockwork happens with some regularity.

Limbaugh had a rash of stupid things to say, pretty much all focused on President Obama - like the administration would use Red Cross contributions to gather information about donors.  Or use the contributions for other causes,  Or that Obama was quick to focus on Haiti in order to boost his credibility with Black Americans.  

Again, Gibbs:

In times of great crisis, there are always people that say really stupid things. I don't know how anybody could sit where he does, having enjoyed the success that he has, and not feel some measure of sorrow for what has happened in Haiti. I think to use the power of your pulpit to try to convince those not to help their brothers and sisters is sad.

I like how the White House has responded to this terrible natural disaster in Haiti.  And I think the American people will as well.  This is the best of who we are.

What Have We Learned from this Difficult Year?

I've been saying that this year has been a brutal awakening for those many of us who have worked for years to get a great Democratic President and a reasonable Democratic majority in both houses of Congress.  I expected that we would get a good Healthcare Reform bill,  a Climate Change bill, a Bank Regulation bill, an Immigration bill and a couple other progressive bills by now.  Instead, we are close to getting a so-so Healthcare bill plus a very difficult 2010 election cycle that may end all hope of getting much else done after this year.  

The HCR fight has made clear that we are dealing with an entire minority party that will not play ball.  At all.  Plus a dozen or so of the most unpleasant Democrats at the national level I've ever seen.  The progressive blogs have made the entire process more transparent to people willing to pay attention so we have seen the egotistic, greedy, and/or overly cautious responses from key Democrats to the immense needs of our time.  It has not been pretty and sometimes makes it hard to want to pay attention.

What it has taught me - when I am not frustrated - is that what we are up against is so much more interests ingrained and complex a system than I ever imagined possible.  Apparently I'm not alone.  A couple weeks ago, the Campaign for America's Future co-directors talked about what they have learned from the frustrations of this year in government and made a YouTube out of it.

Here are the four lessons that Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey shared that they have learned in the battle we are fighting for progressive change.  

  1. Change is brutal, and will always be resisted by powerful entrenched forces.
  2. No matter how popular a reform idea is, like the public option, it still faces the buzzsaw of the United States Senate.
  3. Progressives cannot wash their hands of the political process. We have to organize more, independent of the political parties
  4. This is still the best opportunity in 30 years for progressive reform.
These "lessons" make sense to me.  There is a lot to do if we are really going to take this country back.  We have just begun and my suggestion is that we organize more at the local level.  Apparently all these national phone calls are only moderately effective


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