Tuesday, 11 February 2020

What I've Been Reading, January 2020



In this section you will find some articles that I am simple at a loss as how to classify, and a few others that might well have gone in another section, but I think are important enough that they deserve a place at the top of the list. I'll leave it up to you to discern which is which.

  • I Was Google’s Head of International Relations. Here’s Why I Left, by Ross LaJeunesse, Medium—Business
    "The company’s motto used to be “Don’t be evil.” Things have changed."
  • A Simple Explanation of White Privilege That Anyone Can Understand, by Mark Greene, Medium—Equality
  • Here’s A Riddle That Might Expose Your Blind Spot, by Rebec Ansar, Medium—An Amygdala
    "Don’t scroll to the end! That’s where the answer is."
  • George Monbiot on the unholy trinity of ideologies trashing our planet, by Brendan Montague , Open Democracy
    "The invisible ideology referred to is neoliberalism. But when I caught up with Monbiot at his home in Oxford this month he had already extended the scope of his speech to include capitalism and consumerism. This is the holy trinity: capitalism is the father, consumerism the son and neoliberalism the holy ghost."
  • Yuval Noah Harari and Fei-Fei Li on Artificial Intelligence: Four Questions that Impact All of Us, by Briana Brownell, Medium—Towards Data Science
    I won't deny that we need to be aware of the "new problems" that AI presents us with if we are to deal successfully with them. But I find it disturbing that while focusing on those problems, the discussion seems to be losing sight of the fact that the "old problems" are far from solved. The systems and supply lines we rely on for the necessities of life (air, water, food, shelter, fuel) are by no means secure. Not even here in the developed nations, and certain not in the developing nations. And that is why my focus is mainly on the old problems.
    Much of what Harari has to say is full of a naive eagerness about what AI can do today, and might someday be able to do, with seemingly very little awareness of the limitations of the current generation of AI advances. Those advances have brought us some success in a few very narrow fields, but there is no clear path to a wider, more general, application of AI. But I agree that we need to be concerned about how even those limited successes are being (or may soon be) used by capitalists and the governments who serve them.

Capitalism, Communism, Anarchy

  • The Nobel Prize for Climate Catastrophe, by Jason Hickel, Pocket—Foreign Policy
    "Growth versus life. The conflict between economics and science has never been clearer."
    "We can improve people’s lives right now, without any additional growth at all, simply by distributing existing income more fairly."
    "If we think about the growth conundrum from this angle, then it comes down to a much more obvious choice: between living in a more equitable society, on the one hand, and risking climate catastrophe on the other. I imagine that most people would have little difficulty choosing between the two."
    Convincing the upper class, the oligarchs who are running things, will prove quite difficult.
  • Capitalism is the Planet’s Cancer: Operate Before it’s too Late, by George Monbiot, You Tube

The New Fascism, and Antifa

I hear a lot of well educated people saying that the people some of us are calling fascists don't meet all the criteria for being "real" fascists. Others have even accused us of calling anyone we disagree with a fascist. I predict that a few decades from now those same people will be saying they wish they hadn't been quite so fussy with their definitions, and had acted sooner to oppose these "new fascists", even if they weren't identical to the fascists of the twentieth century.

  • Would you stand up to an oppressive regime or would you conform? Here’s the science , by The Conversdation,
    I have always had a lot of trouble going along with authority, but I finally learned that to resist effectively, it is best to keep your head down and maintain the appearance of going with the flow, while participating in "underground" activities. Those who resist openly are soon dealt with and find themselves in a position where they cannot resist.
  • How Capitalism Torched the Planet by Imploding Into Fascism, by Umair Haque, Medium— Eudaimonia and Co
    "Catastrophic Climate Change is not a Problem for Fascists—It is a Solution"
    A good essay, but as usual Mr. Haque misses the effects of economic contraction due to declining surplus energy. But even so, there is no excuse for those in the lower classes who have supported neo-fascists leaders.

Eco-Modernism, Decoupling and the Religion of Progress


Australia is Burning




Peak Oil

Climate Change

Economic Contraction and Growing Inequality



Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that this section was paid for by Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its product. Millions of dollars are being spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.

  • ‘Regenerative Agriculture’: World-Saving Idea or Food Marketing Ploy? by Nathanael Johnson, Medium—Environment
    "Let’s just hope that power is put towards pragmatically improving agriculture, rather than abandoning science for religious adherence to an idea."
    We definitely need a replacement for conventional agriculture that is (unlike "Certified Organic") more than a marketing ploy, and is based on something more than the "naturalistic fallacy".


Genetic Engineering

Before jumping to the erroneous conclusion that this section was paid for by Monsanto, stop for a moment and understand that organic agriculture/food is a multi-billion dollar per year industry that relies on fear to get people to buy its product. Millions of dollars are spent to convince you that non-organic food is dangerous. In fact both conventionally grown and organic foods are equally safe. Sadly neither method of agriculture is even remotely substainable.

  • Panic-free GMOs, A Grist Special Series
    "It’s easy to get information about genetically modified food. There are the dubious anti-GM horror stories that recirculate through social networks. On the other side, there’s the dismissive sighing, eye-rolling, and hand patting of pro-GM partisans. But if you just want a level-headed assessment of the evidence in plain English, that’s in pretty short supply. Fortunately, you’ve found the trove."
    A series of articles that does a pretty good job of presenting the facts about GMOs.
  • The GM safety dance: What’s rule and what’s real, by Nathanael Johnson, Grist

Practical Skills

  • All about willow, by Hanna van Aelst, on her own website
    This page presents information about growing, harvesting, sorting, soaking and steaming willow to prepare it for weaving. On You Tube Hanna has a number of videos about various aspects of weaving baskets.

American Politics


  • On est là /Here we are! by Bernard Dreano, Open Democracy
    "Macron faces widespread protests against his proposed reforms, but the roots of discontent run deeper and are beginning to join up."


Debunking Resources

These are of such importance that I've decide to leave them here on an ongoing basis.

Pseudoscience, Quacks and Charlatans


  • Is Betelgeuse About To Explode? by Ethan Siegal, Medium—Starts with a Bang
    "It’s a supergiant star in the final stage of its life, and it just dimmed by an enormous amount. What’s going on?"

Science Based Medicine

Lacking an Owner's Manual

The human body/mind/spirit doesn't come with an owner's manual, and we continually struggle to figure out how best to operate them.

Gender and Sexuality

There is No God, and Thou Shall Have No Other Gods

I don't think I've made any secret of the fact that I am an atheist, but I may not have made it clear that I think any sort of worship is a bad thing and that believing in things is to be avoided whenever possible. Indeed, I do not believe in belief itself. That's what the "Thou shall have no other gods" is about—it's not enough to quit believing in whatever God or Gods you were raised to believe in, but also we must avoid other gods, including material wealth, power and fame.

Further, many people today (including most atheists) follow the religion of "progress", which is based on the belief that mankind is destined to follow a road that leads from the caves ever upward to the stars, and that however bad things seem today, they are bound to be better tomorrow due to, technological advancement and economic growth. This is very convenient for those who benefit most from economic growth, but it is hardly based on any sort of science and leads to a great many confused and incorrect ideas.

  • Trump is Impeached, and We’re Leaving the Church, by Crissi Langwell, Medium—Religion
    Or maybe stop clinging to Jesus and realize that believing means claiming to know things that you don't actually know and leads to just the sort of thing that you're complaining about.
  • Everything you know about the Gospel of Paul is likely wrong , by David Bentley Hart, Aeon
    The point I like to make about religion (both in St. Paul's time and now) is that the people who are doing it are making it up as they go along. The only reality religion reflects is about the character of those who are inventing it, and frequently that reflection isn't very pretty.

Intelligence and Consciousness

Refugees and Migration

Poverty, Homeless People, Minimum Wage, UBI, Health Care, Affordable Housing

Artificial Intelligence


These are great times for political satire.




  • Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, by Giacomo D'Alisa (Editor), Federico Demaria (Editor), Giorgos Kallis (Editor)
    "This overview of degrowth offers a comprehensive coverage of the main topics and major challenges of degrowth in a succinct, simple and accessible manner. In addition, it offers a set of keywords useful for intervening in current political debates and for bringing about concrete degrowth-inspired proposals at different levels—local, national and global."