Monday, January 26, 2009

The Weather Makers (5)


Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Part 5

The golden toad was a beautiful small toad that lived in Costa Rica until the end of 1980s. It is now extinct, and Flannery calls it the "first documented victim of global warming." It was our gas guzzling cars and coal fired power plants that wiped out the delicate climate of its environment "as surely as if we had flattened its forest with bulldozers."

The golden toad was the first, but not the last. Enter RHEOBATRACHUS SILUS, the gastric brooding frog, formerly a native of Australia. This frog was first found in 1973. It was very unusual. The scientist who found opened its mouth to see a little tiny frog sitting inside. What was R. silus up to?

It had evolved to swallow its eggs which hatched into tadpoles in a special chamber of its stomach (where digestion would not take place) and when a tadpole turned into a little frog up it came into momma's mouth to be released into the world. Six years later there was no more R. silus. Although it too was killed by global warming the cause was not documented until after the cause of the golden toad had been.

There is a world wide die off of frogs, toads and other amphibians going on at this time. Many, if not most, are killed by a fungus SAPROLGENIA FERAX. But the reason this fungus is killing them is that climate change has weakened the amphibian embryo by allowing more ultra violet light to reach the Earth, and the rise in Earth's temperature is spreading the fungus and allowing it to attack more and more victims. Also the ponds that many tadpoles live in are drying up before they can turn into frogs and toads.

Some extra info. SCIENCE DAILY (online) for 1-21-2009 reports another major threat to frogs. The headline reads "Frogs Are Being Eaten To Extinction, Experts Say." Despite the fact that amphibians are "the most threatened animal group" hundreds of millions of frogs are being hunted to extinction for their legs. Frog legs are on menus throughout the world-- including school lunch menus in Europe. The crash in frog populations is similar to that of the marine fisheries. Bon appetit!

Some of the most serious consequences of global warming can be seen in the redistribution of rain fall patterns. As the Earth warms there is more rain at higher latitudes in winter, Flannery reports. This will, and has, produced more serious avalanches and flooding. Just watch the evening news!

But just as serious, in fact more serious, is that rainfall will also diminish in other areas where it has been plentiful. A new drier climate has been created in the Sahel region of Africa-- "an enormous swathe " of land from the Atlantic coast to Sudan. For the last 40 years the monsoon rains have failed to appear in this region, due to climate change caused by the European and American (and now Indian and Chinese) use of hydrocarbons for energy.

We have destroyed the rain and the consequence has been a rash of famines that have killed hundreds of thousands. All those starving Ethiopians we have seen on TV ever since the 1980s are starving because of our capitalist economic activity driven by coal and oil. Besides warming, "global dimming" is going on. The dust particles we pump into the air blocks sunlight from reaching the oceans and their cooling affects the rain fall and monsoons that are needed in the Sahel. The "moral implications" of this, Flannery says, "seems to have gone all but unnoticed in the world's news media." There is a direct causal link between our use of coal and other hydocarbons and the mass famines in Africa.

The tragic events in Dafur can also be explained by the West's causing of so much climate change. The camel herding nomads have been driven into the agricultural areas of Dafur seeking food and water for their animals and themselves due to climate change. Conflict broke out between them and the farmers in the agricultural areas. The two groups are classified as Arabs and Africans but, except for herding or farming, the groups are "culturally and physically indistinguishable" according to Flannery.

There are all sorts of political complications but "we see the west focusing on religion and politics as the problem, rather than the well-documented and evident environmental catastrophe that is its ultimate cause." We had better focus on the real causes because, "So big is the Sahelian climate shift that it could influence the climate of the entire planet."

If you remember, we live at the bottom of the troposphere which extends upwards about seven miles to meet the stratosphere-- the boundary region is called the tropopause. Flannery reports that in 2003 scientists discovered that the tropopause has risen by several hundred meters. This is important because this "is where much of our weather is generated." Greenhouse gasses trapped there heat up the whole planet causing more and more powerful hurricanes and other extreme weather phenomena.

These are some of the effects of this warming worth mentioning:
1. More flooding: 7 million people were flooded out yearly in the 1960s, but now the yearly figure is about 150 million.
2. More extreme heat waves. 26,000 people died from the heat in Europe in 2003 from July to September.
3. In 2004 the temperature in Egypt hit 126.8 degrees F. One of highest "ever recorded."
4. All the continents are right now in the process of shrinking. "This is because, courtesy of heat and melting ice, the oceans are expanding."

Part 6 coming up.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Peace in the Middle East?


Thomas Riggins

If the polls are right Benjamin Netanyahu is set to become the next PM of Israel after the elections on 2-10-09. President Obama has expressed interest in working towards a comprehensive peace in the Middle East between Israel and its neighbors and between Israel and the Palestinians. Almost every serious observer of the region thinks that peace is possible. There appears to be only one major factor to overcome and that is to persuade Israel to actually want peace.

Israel can have peace with a guaranteed security arrangement by doing three things. Giving up the land it has illegally occupied since 1967 and returning to the 1967 borders which will be internationally guaranteed. Allowing a Palestinian state to come into existence on the West Bank and the Gaza strip with its capital being East Jerusalem, and returning the Golan Heights to Syria-- as mandated by international law.

If Likud wins the upcoming elections and Netanyahu becomes PM it is unlikely that any of the things necessary for real peace in the region will be undertaken by Israel. Netanyahu gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal (1-24-09) in which he forthrightly stated: “We’re not going to re-divide Jerusalem, or get off the Golan Heights, or go back to the 1967 boundaries.” So what is there to talk about? It will be interesting to see how President Obama can get the peace process started again, and concluded, with this Israeli attitude.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Surge Dirge and Withdrawal From Iraq

Thomas Riggins

I am tired of hearing right wing pundits taking about the “success of the surge” and that the only reason “liberals” dislike W is because he was right about Iraq and about the surge working. The truth is we pumped money into the Sunni militias we were fighting and enticed them over to our side (in the old days it was called "paying tribute,”) but they have no loyalty to us at all.

The Shia militias have not been defeated nor disbanded but are laying low to see what happens next. The so called “success” could explode in the face of the U.S. at any moment. That’s not just my opinion. Ryan Crocker the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq [until February when he will be replaced] is quoted in the Wall Street Journal [1-23-09] as saying, “Anything can happen. That’s why my mantra has been that things are still fragile and still reversible.”

“Still reversible” means that massive cilvil conflict can break out again if the Iraqis don’t like how the U.S. and its dependent government are running the show. Most Iraqis want us out and the sooner the better. Obama says it will take 16 months. Crocker warns against “a precipitous withdrawal.” There is nothing “precipitous” about 16 months.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Thomas Riggins

Number 14 in a series on Chinese Philosophy from a Marxist Perspective

“Well, that was a good dinner Fred. Are you ready to discuss Lieh Tzu?”

“There isn’t much to discuss Karl. Only four pages of text in Chan [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy] devoted to him.”

“He has to be in there for something. What’s his claim to fame?”

“Why don’t you look in your Great Thinkers of the Eastern World book?”

“I will, then its back to Chan. James D. Sellman wrote this article on Lieh Tzu. Listen to this: ‘Liehzi is the third major classic of philosophical Daoism (Taoism). As with the other two classics--- the Laozi (Lao Tzu) and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), the author and the date of composition of the Liehzi are obscured by a lack of historical evidence...”

“At least we know we have the third Taoist classic-- all four pages of it in Chan!”

“And note this from The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. ‘Lieh-tzu was fond of transmitting his ideas and thoughts by reinterpreting ancient folk tales and myths. A characteristic feature of his view of life were mechanical processes, not admitting of free will.’”

“We will see something of that aspect of his thought in the last section I’ll read Karl.”

“It sounds a lot like Wang Ch’ung to me.”

“Let me tell you Karl, that I don’t think Lieh Tzu’s book is really third in rank. Chan says its unoriginal, except perhaps for his skepticism, and borrows heavily from Chuang Tzu. We should also note that the book dates from around 300 AD and that Lieh Tzu lived around 400 BC! so how many of his own views are present is questionable. The book is a compilation by much later scholars. Also the section right after Wang Ch’ung and before Lieh Tzu in Chan is on the Taoist Huai-nan Tzu. He dies in 122 BC and Chan calls him ‘the most prominent Taoist philosopher between ancient Taoism of the fourth century B.C. and Neo-Taoism of the third and fourth centuries A.D.’”

“So why did we skip him?”

“Chan says his ‘originality is negligible.’ He just reiterated Lao and Chuang. And he was very politically active not just taking the world as it comes. He had to commit suicide due to a failed plot of rebellion. He was also rationalistic like Wang Ch’ung and the Lieh Tzu.”

“So Taoism is not so passive as we have been led to think! Lets get back to ‘Lieh Tzu’ then.”

“The selection is divided into A and B sections. Section A is called ‘The Yang Chu Chapter.’”

“ Yes, I remember Yang Chu from our discussion on Mencius. Yang was the fellow who advocated egoism and wouldn’t sacrifice even one hair to help the world.”

“That’s right Karl. Here is the quote from Mencius: ‘7A:26. Mencius said, ‘Yang Chu’s choice was “everyone for himself.” Though he might save the entire world by plucking out a single hair, he would not do it.’ The ‘Yang Chu Chapter’ is included as one of the eight chapters (its actually number seven) of the Lieh Tzu, but it was probably a separate work, according to many scholars, and just ended up being part of the Lieh Tzu when it was eventually compiled in the Third Century AD.”

“Go ahead and read some of the chapter.”

“The following is Lieh Tzu’s view of life. He starts by saying how ‘Pain and sickness, sorrow and suffering, death [of relatives] and worry and fear’ take up so much of one’s life.’ Then he asks, ‘This being the case, what is life for?’ “

“If he were Sartre he might say its not ‘for’ anything!”

“But he has a negative view anyway. He says, ‘Being alone ourselves, we pay great care to what our ears hear and what our eyes see, and are much concerned with what is right and wrong for our bodies and minds. Thus we lose the great happiness of the present and cannot give ourselves free rein for a single moment. What is the difference between this and many chains and double prisons?’”

“The Buddhist view to be sure! Life is suffering.”

“He goes on, sounding Taoist to me, ‘Men of great antiquity knew that life meant to be temporarily present and death meant to be temporarily away. Therefore they acted as they pleased and did not turn away from what they naturally desired. They would not give up what could amuse their own persons at the time. Therefore they were not exhorted by fame. They roamed as their nature directed and would not be at odds with anything.’”

“Chan calls this Taoism?”

“He calls it ‘negative Taoism’. He says this compilation of writings came about because, as many scholars suggest, ‘that at the time of political chaos in the third century, some writers, trying to escape from intolerable situations, utilized the names of Lieh Tzu and Yang Chu and took refuge under the purely negative aspects of Taoism.’”

“That political chaos was occasioned by the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD and the contentions of three kingdoms fighting each other to build up an Empire again (the states of Shu, Wu and Wei.) Wei finally won out and set up the Tsin Dynasty which lasted until 420. Just thought you would like to know the history.”

“Thanks for the info Karl. I have one last quote from Yang here; ‘Yang Chu said, “The myriad creatures are different in life but the same in death. In life they mat be worthy or stupid, honorable or humble. This is where they differ. In death they all stink, rot, disintegrate, and disappear. This is where they are the same. However, being worthy, stupid, honorable or humble is beyond their power, and to stink, rot, disintegrate, and disappear is also beyond their power. Thus life, death, worthiness, stupidity, honor, and humble station are not of their own making. All creatures are equal in these, [that is, they all return to nature]. The one who lives for ten years dies. The one who lives for a hundred years also dies. The man of virtue and the sage both die; the wicked and the stupid also die. In life they were (sage-emperors) Yao and Shun; in death they were rotten bones. Thus they all became rotten bones just the same. Who knows their difference? Let us hasten to enjoy our present life. Why bother about what comes after death?”...’.”

“Spoken like a true Taoist, or perhaps, a contemporary secular humanist. What do we have from the rest of the Lieh Tzu?”

“Chan has two sections so we can get a ‘feeling tone’ from Lieh’s philosophy.”

“A ‘feeling tone’? An interesting term you lifted from Christopher Caudwell’s Illusion and Reality.”

“Actually I lifted it from you Karl. You use it a lot when we discuss art and I know you like Caudwell.”

“Its a good term Fred. In art or philosophy or a poem, when you experience these things, besides their rational content they should also provide a ‘feeling tone.’ Caudwell maintained that all our experience is a fusion of objective and subjective reality. I would say the larger our intellectual and emotional consciousness, the larger our understanding of the world. We have a larger intellectual world and a world of feeling tones (i.e., of emotional responses) for having studied Chinese philosophy as well as Western philosophy.”

“That’s why I said ‘feeling tone’ Fred. The type of feeling tone in this case is not just ‘pure’ emotion but a feeling we get from rationally directed emotional understanding. Reason ruling emotions in a Platonic or Spinoza sense. Does what follows ‘feel’ like Taoism from what you know about it. If it does and we can rationally explain why then our emotions and reasons are harmonious.”

“We are getting too far afield here Fred. Read the passages.”

“This is from the one on ‘Skepticism.’ We have a discussion between King T’ang of Yin [part of the Shang Dynasty] and his minister Hsia Chi. The King wants to know about the existence of the past and asks ‘don’t things have before or after.’ Hsia Chi tells him ‘There is no ultimate in the beginning or end of things. The beginning may be the end and the end may be the beginning. Who knows their order? As to what exists outside of things or before the beginning of events, I do not know.’ Next King T’ang asks, ‘Is there any limit to the above, the below, or the eight directions?’ Hsia Chi responds, ‘If there is nothing, then it is infinite. If there is something, then there must be a limit. How do I know?’”

“Looks to me like King T’ang should get a new minister since Hsia doen’t know anything.”

“Very funny Karl. But this is the nature of skepticism. I think Hsia is trying to make the point that people, even kings, ask a lot meaningless questions that don’t have much to do with the important things in life. Here is a more practical question. The King wants to know what the world outside of China is like. Hsia tells him the world outside China is just as the same as China. He knows from traveling around many places and talking to people from remote places. He then speculates, ‘ From this I know the regions within the four seas, the four wildernesses, and the four outermost regions are no different. Thus the lesser is always enclosed by the greater, and so on without end. Heaven and earth, which enclose the myriad things never reaches a limit. Likewise, the enclosing of heaven and earth never reaches an end. How do I know that there is not a greater universe outside our own? This is something I do not know?’”

“He has the same basic ignorance of the ultimate nature of reality as do our contemporary speculative cosmologists.”

“That he does. He ends by saying, ‘Those who maintain that heaven and earth are destructible are wrong and those who maintain that they are indestructible are also wrong. Whether they are destructible or indestructible, I do not know.’ He adds, however, that practically speaking this type of knowledge doesn’t affect our lives. ‘However, it is the same in one case and also the same in the other.’ In other words what difference does it make to us if, to use a modern example, if the Sun explodes in four billion years or not!.”

“This is a bit like Confucius’ refusal to discuss abstract metaphysical problems divorced from the real world. In Lieh it is called ‘skepticism.’ The feeling tone I am getting is that Taoists shouldn’t bother themselves with such questions.”

“What do you think of this last excerpt on ‘Fatalism’? ‘Effort said to Fate (Ming, Destiny), “How can your achievement be equal to mine?” “What effect do you have on things,” replied Fate, “that you wish to compare with me?” “Well,” said Effort, “longevity and brevity of life, obscurity and prominence, honorable and humble stations, and poverty and richness, are all within my power.”’ Effort is making quite a claim here. I guess we like to think these things may be in our control. But Fate produces examples along the line of ‘why do bad things happen to good people’ if its all due to Effort. Finally Fate says, ‘If what you mentioned were all within your power, how is it that one enjoyed longevity while the other suffered brevity of life [i.e., wicked King Chou vs. Yen Hui, Confucius’ favorite student, who died young), that the sage was obscure while a violator of virtue was in a prominent position, that the worthy had a humble station while the stupid enjoyed honor, and that the good were poor but the wicked were rich?’ Then ‘Effort said. “If, as you say, I have no effect on things, then are things, being what they are, the result of your control?” “Since you already speak of it as fate,” replied Fate, “how can there be any control? As for me, if a thing is straight, I push it straighter, and if it is crooked, I let it remain so. Longevity, brevity of life, obscurity, prominence, humble and honorable stations, and richness and poverty all come of themselves.”’”

“Well, Fred, it looks like Effort gets kicked out of the picture entirely. Perhaps it would be better for us, as opposed to Lieh, to agree that Fate pushes things along or leaves them alone, but that Effort joins in on the side of agents so that Effort is also present when the results ‘all come of themselves.’ “

“That makes more sense to me Karl, and I don’t want to get into a big discussion on ‘freedom vs. determinism’, but what you propose is NOT the negative Taoism of the Lieh Tzu.”

“C’est la vie.”

Well its getting Late, Karl. How about we meet for breakfast then come back here and discuss some more Neo-Taoism, especially Kuo Hsiang?”

“OK Fred, see you tomorrow.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Weather Makers (4)


Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Part 4

The most dramatic first results of global warming are to be seen at the poles. More specifically at the edges of the Arctic and Antarctic regions were most life is found. In southern Alaska, Flannery reports that since the 1970s the winters have become 4 to 5 degrees F warmer. This can result in more than the dramatic pictures of retreating glaciers that we see.

There is small insect named "the spruce bark beetle." The temperature increase has allowed more of its eggs to hatch and its grubs to mature and they are spreading and have now "killed some 40 million trees in southern Alaska, more than any other insect in North America's recorded history."

The Arctic proper is already treeless as it is a vast tundra. On this vast tundra lives DICROSTONYX HUDSONIUS. A tough little rodent better known as the lemming. It makes a meager living, but the tundra is its home. The tundra is also the nesting place of hundreds of millions of migrating birds.

Flannery says the ARCTIC CLIMATE IMPACT ASSESSMENT (2004, published jointly by the countries bordering the region) reports the higher temperatures are likely to result in a loss of 50% of bird nesting areas due to the destruction of the tundra by the invasion of forests that can now spread to the region. As for the lemming: "the species will be extinct before the end of this century."

The lives of the Inuit (Alaska, Canada, Greenland) and of the Saami people of Finland [Laplanders] will also be affected. They depend on caribou (reindeer) as part of their domestic economy. As the temperature rises it appears that "the Arctic will no longer be a suitable habitat for caribou."

We already know the polar bear is facing extinction. But so are the many other species that depend on the bear. The bear kills a seal for food but leaves a mess behind. That mess feeds the arctic fox, several species of gull and the raven, among others. Bears are not getting enough food to build up their fat supplies for hibernation. This is because less sea ice means less opportunity to find and catch a seal. Nevertheless they hibernate and simply die instead of waking up. The loss of the polar bear "may mark the beginning of the collapse of the entire Arctic ecosystem." And what is true for the polar bear is also true for the walrus and the narwhal.

After the poles, other areas of the world that show damage from greenhouse gases are ocean reefs. The reefs are actually getting a double whammy-- climate change and ocean pollution. Flannery quotes Alfred Russel Wallace (1857) on the coral reef he saw while sailing into Ambon Habour, Indonesia. He saw one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen-- a great coral reef covered with life: a forest of animals: "It was a sight to gaze at for hours, and no description can do justice to its surpassing beauty and interest."

Flannery went there in the 1990s but saw no beautiful forest of animals or beautiful corals. "Instead , the opaque water stank and was thick with effluent and garbage. As I neared the town , it got worse, until I was greeted with rafts of feces, plastic bags, and the intestines of butchered goats." So much for the wonders of nature.

Climate change is raising the temperature of the oceans. Coral is sensitive to warmer H2O and after a few months, if the temperature does not go down, the coral dies and we have a "bleached" reef-- a big dead spot. Prior to the 1930s bleaching was little known, and was so up to the 1970s when it began to be more noticeable. After 1998 a global coral dying was "triggered."

Lets just look at the Great Barrier Reef as example. In 1998 42% of it bleached. It recovered a bit but 18% was dead for good. In 2002 60% of the reef was affected by bleaching. A study the next year showed on 50% of the reef living coral had been reduced to 10%. A big loss!. The reef is being killed by "spiraling CO2 emissions."

Flannery points out that per capita Australia emits more CO2 than any other country. The government says it wants to save the reef-- one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. However, in 2004 its new energy policy "enshrined coal at the center of the nation's energy generation system." [Coal powered plants are the global enemy of life on Earth].

Note this was in 2004. Meanwhile back in 2002 global scientists had warned in the magazine Science that "projected increases in CO2 and temperatures over the next fifty years exceed the conditions under which coral reefs have flourished over the past half-million years." So we are posed to wipe out in 50 years what it took nature 500,000 years to produce. Hello! Meanwhile we will see zillions of ads on TV from American coal companies about "clean coal" and how we can become energy independent with coal fired power plants. The coal industry is just like the cigarette industry. They know they are killing us but will testify that their product is harmless, etc. All capitalists act this way.

More good news coming up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


More Disinformation from the NYT

Thomas Riggins

In a New York Times op ed [“Why Israel Can’t Make Peace With Hamas," 1-14-09] Jeffery Goldberg (ex-Israeli Army prison offcial now a reporter for the Atlantic) tries to explain why it is Fatah that must bring stability to Gaza. His article is just another piece of pro Zionist propaganda which I intend to demonstrate both from the facts and the INTERNAL inconsistencies of the article itself.

In the article Goldberg interviews some of the most extreme fundamentalist military leaders of Hamas leaving us with the impression their opinions are basically those of the whole of Hamas. During the interviews a Hamas leader resents being compared, negatively it seems, to Hezbollah. [Note: Hamas is Sunni and an outgrowth of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hezbollah is Shia and friendly to Iran]. The leader responds that “They have excellent weapons. Hezbollah moves freely in Lebanon. We are trapped in the Israeli cage.”

Another leaders says that Hamas supports Hezbollah and one of the reasons Hezbollah is more successful is that “They get all the rockets they will ever need from Iran.” The implication here is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza not only restricts the freedom of movement of Hamas but also prevents it from getting the weapons it needs. Most of its rockets are homemade.

It is important to note that Goldberg says, “Hamas is not a monolith, and opinions inside the group differ about many things, including engagement with the Shiites of Hezbollah and Iran.” Interesting especially in the light of the widespread Zionist claim that Hamas is just a puppet of Iran. Goldberg will soon ignore this caveat.

A ceasefire will surely come, and Goldberg says we must ask if Israel [and the U.S. since it is the Great Enabler of Zionism] should interact with Hamas “in a substantive and sustained manner?” Goldberg thinks not and for reasons his own article shows are not valid. First he tells about Hamas’ relation with Hezbollah. [I guess it is a given Israel doesn't want to talk to Hezbollah.] “For Hamas,” he writes, “Hezbollah is not only a source of weapons and instruction, it is a mentor and role model.” But he has just said that Hamas is NOT a monolith. As a matter of fact there are moderate elements in the leadership that don’t consider Hezbollah their “mentor.” He has also reported that Hamas leaders complain that they DON’T have the modern weapons that Hezbollah has.

Goldberg says this attitude towards Hezbollah is one reason "Hamas felt compelled to break its cease fire with Israel last month." Goldberg must think his readers are totally reliant on the American press and don't know it was Israel and NOT Hamas that broke the cease fire. That in November Israel made a military raid into Gaza and attacked Hamas forces BEFORE the resumption of widespread rocket fire, mostly ineffectual but nevertheless unjustified. Israel, in fact broke the cease fire from day one as one of its provisions was the lifting of the blockade, a provision Israel never intended to implement, and didn't. So all this talk about Hamas starting this "war" is so much baloney to misinform American public opinion.

Goldberg also says Hezbollah is "an outright Iranian proxy." This is nonsense. Hezbollah has deep roots in Lebanon and reflects a legitimate Lebanese politico-religious tendency. Having Iranian support because they have a common enemy doesn't make them a "proxy." It makes as much sense to say Iran is "an outright Hezbollah proxy." People making such claims appear not to be interested in a lasting peaceful settlement of the issues.

Goldberg also tries to show that Hamas would never agree to a meaningful ceasefire with Israel. He does so by quoting an extremist, now deceased because Israel killed him, his wives, and many of his children in a targeted assassination, who thought Israel wouldn't be around all that long. He ignores the many reports in the foreign press, and on some American TV shows (today's Democracy Now for example), that the political leadership of Hamas is pragmatic and has offered the possibility of a long term cease fire-- up to 50 (!) years with Israel [surely long enough to work out differences if you really want to.]

Basing himself only on the intemperate views of a few former Hamas leaders in the armed, not the political wing of the movement, Goldberg writes, "Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation." This is just false. It is propagated to justify the vicious inhumane attack on the people of Gaza.

Greenberg concludes that the only way forward entails that the "moderate Arab states [the American allies he means], Europe, the United States and , mainly Israel, must help Hamas's enemy, Fatah [a classic divide and rule formula for Israel], prepare the West Bank for real freedom [i.e., freedom supervised by Israel and full of settlers], and the hope that the people of Gaza, vast numbers of whom are unsympathetic to Hamas [or were until they and their children were massacred by the Zionists] see the West Bank as an alternative vision" to the leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas. In other words, real freedom the way we dish it out or, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Weather Makers (3)


Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Part 3

For the last 8000 years the Earth's climate has been stable and Flannery says this period of time has been the most crucial in the long history of our species. It allowed us to develop agriculture and create the industrial civilization we now have. Agriculture is older than the "long summer" but it was "during this period that we acquired most of our major crops and domestic animals...."

A few hundred years ago, after the inventions of Newcomen and Watt (Newcommen engine and improved steam engine) coal was in great demand as a cheap fuel. Flannery points out that Edison, in 1882, opened the first electric light power station in New York City and it was powered by coal. Steam engines are no loner in vogue and today coal is more or less confined to the production of electric power (there is some use of it in home heating but oil is more likely here).

Oil is a major source of energy production these days, but by 1995 it began to look like we might run out of it. Cheap oil [under $40 a barrel] was becoming a thing of the past and while we were finding new oil at about the rate of 9.6 billion barrels a year we were using about 24 billion barrels.

Flannery reports that scientists estimate it takes 100 tons of ancient plant life to yield one gallon of gas. You can imagine the vast sizes of the prehistoric forests of the Carboniferous period [286-380 million years ago] which now rest under our feet in great pools of oil. Oil is ultimately nothing more than fossil sunlight, Flannery says. How much sunlight did it take to grow 100 tons plant life in the Carboniferous period. It can be calculated. Flannery gives the figures for 1997. All the oil we consumed that year took 422 years of plant life to supply. In one year we consumed what it took 422 years "of blazing light from a Carboniferous sun" to produce.

Some of our resources are renewable and some are not. The oil in the ground is not renewable. As far as renewable resources are concerned, we are already using them up at a rate of 20% more "than the planet can sustainably provide." Flannery reminds us that in 1961 there where 3 billion of us on the planet and now we number 6 billion and growing. By 1986 we were using each year 100% of what the earth could reproduce for us in a sustainable manner. In that year we "reached Earth's carrying capacity." Every year since "we have been running the environmental equivalent of a budget deficit, which is sustained only by plundering our capital base."

Look at it this way. Our economy is tanking. Well so is the Earth. President Obama might get us out of the financial crisis-- but the crisis we are putting the Earth through, by maintaining capitalism, may finish us off. The oceans are more and more polluted, the coral reefs are dying, the fisheries are on the verge of collapse, the rain forests are being cut down, the Arctic is melting, and the Japanese still want to hunt whales.

If we don't get rid of capitalism, capitalism will get rid of us. The capitalist countries, despite all the talk about doing something, have no intention of taking meaningful action. This is all due to CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Hey hey, ho, ho, oil and coal have got to go! [And natural gas too.]

There have been two important years in the last thirty that stand out as having heralded major changes due to greenhouse gases. One is 1976. Before that date the tropical Pacific often had a surface temperature that often dipped below 66.5 degrees F. Since then the temperature rarely gets below 77 degrees F. This changes wind currents in the atmosphere and the distribution of rain. One of the biggest such disturbances happened in 1998 which dried out much of Southeast Asia which lost around 25 million acres to fire (50% was of old rain forest). Flannery says 2 million additional acres were lost on Borneo alone. The climate of the world has never been the same since.

However, climate change is slower in tropical and temperate zones. It takes longer to reveal itself. At the poles, however, Flannery reveals, "climate change is occurring now at TWICE the rate seen anywhere else." This is why, by the way, we all have been reading about the plight of polar bears and penguins and have seen on TV the glaciers falling apart and crashing into the ocean. All this drama is on its way here too. Its just a matter of time. Its already hinted at by the increase in the amount and intensity of the fires on the west coast of the U.S., the flooding in the midwest, and the number of hurricanes coming our way.

More info to come.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eyeless in Gaza

GAZA: The Mass Media Take from THE WEEK 1-16-2009

Thomas Riggins

While the world watches the Zionist massacre of Palestinian children as Gaza is turned into a free fire zone and the US Congress plays the role of cheerleader for barbarism, The Week (a news magazine that prints excerpts from different sources) presents some views about all this from the mass media. Here are 5 opinions two of them seem ok but three of them are outrageous. Most of the press doesn't seem to see what is going on before its nose.

From THE ECONOMIST: “the scale and ferocity of the onslaught on Gaza have been shocking.” [To say the least!] Israel’s actions are out of proportion and it had another option than mass killing. “If Israel had ended the blockade” Hamas could not have used it as a justification for firing rockets.

From the CHICAGO TRIBUNE: “What would be a proportionate response?” [Well a 100 to 1 does seem a little lopsided. The Germans were happy with a 10:1 kill ratio but they were fighting a real army or two]. The Tribune wants Israel to go all the way and wipe out Hamas not just eliminate the rocket attacks. [The plan seems to be to wipe out the people who voted for Hamas.]

From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Max Boot writes that Israel will have to take over Gaza and run it [you can’t trust Arabs to vote the right way] and “If Israel is to continue to exist, it will have to continue to wage low-intensity war [if Gaza is low intensity what is high intensity?] for a long time to come--- possibly centuries.” [There has got to be some problem with your conduct if you have to be at war with your neighbors for centuries. The U.S. has to pay for all this-- lets call the dogs back in-- who let them out?]

From SALON.COM: Gary Kamiya says “burning hatred” is what Israel’s actions produce [burning children too, now that white phosphorous is being dumped on Gaza]. Obama “must make it clear that the blank check is expired." Bush has been to uncritical. [At least he nixed Israel's plan to attack Iran.]

From THE ATLANTIC ONLINE: ROBERT D. KAPLIN informs us that Gaza is not really a territory of Sunni Arabs and a potential part of the Palestinian homeland. It is really a part of Iran. "Israel has, in effect, launched the war on the Iranian empire that President Bush can only have contemplated." It is really Iran that is being attacked. If Israel fails to win the U.S. won't be able to deal with Iran from a position of strength. We must stand up to the expansion of the Empire of Iran. "Now that Israel has launched a war [Kaplan is off message-- Hamas is supposed to have started the war], we need it to succeed." [What does that mean? Send in General Petraeus with a surge of armed settlers from Brooklyn if the IDF can't win?]

Well, that is some of what is in the bourgeois press.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Number 13 in a series of dialogues on Chinese philosophy from
a Marxist perspective.

by Thomas Riggins

“Well Fred, that was a nice lunch. Are we ready to discuss our next Chinese thinker?”

“You mean Wang Ch’ung? I am, but maybe you should put him in context. I’m not really familiar with the historical background. Chan speaks of the ‘Western Han’ period from 206 BC to 8 AD and the ‘Eastern Han’ period from 25 to 220 AD. Wang was living in this latter period, but there is a gap of sixteen years! “

“I’ll give you a brief update from where we left off in the Ch’in Dynasty. “

“I remember the Ch’in Dynasty from our discussion on the Legalists.”

Karl walked over to his book case and pulled down a blue paperback. “I’m going to base this on Jacques Gernet’s A History of Chinese Civilization. I read this book a few years ago when my TV was in the shop.”

“Fill me in.”

“Basically it goes like this. In the 3rd Century BC the Ch’in Kingdom expanded and conquered the six or seven other major independent states in China and by 221 BC had established the first historical empire in Chinese history. The Ch’in ruler, Prince Cheng, then called himself huang-ti or ‘august sovereign.’ Notice the word ‘august.’ By choosing to translate huang based on the title of Augustus Caesar we assimilate Chinese reality to a Western understanding. But no harm done in this instance. Huang-ti is the title of the Chinese supremo so we translate it ‘emperor.’ Prince Cheng is known as the first [shih] emperor so we call him by the name Shih Huang-ti. He lived from 259 to 210 BC. He died prematurely, please note, from taking Taoist [religious not philosophical ] elixirs for youth and longevity so this should remind us, especially the Taoists among us, not to mess with Mother Nature!”

“Get on with it!”

“The Legalists, as you remember, influenced Shih Huang-ti who was fairly intolerant. He thought that in order to hold his empire together everyone should basically think the same way-- his way.”

“We’ve seen how successful that tactic is!”

“In 213 BC Shih Huang-ti ordered the destruction of all books (he kept copies for his files) in order to get rid of different ways of thinking. So there was a big bonfire in his capital city Hsien-yang. He also wiped out all his critics that he could find. But he overdosed on his Taoist potion three years later and his son became emperor (Second Emperor). By the way, that big terra cotta army that has become so famous of late, as a big Chinese tourist attraction, that’s from the recently discovered tomb of Shih Huang-ti.”

“Oh yeah! That’s a famous discovery. You see stuff about the terra cotta army everywhere.”

“To make a long story short, after the death of Shih Huang-ti all sorts of revolts and insurrections broke out against Second Emperor and the Ch’in state was gone by 202 BC. It was replaced by the Han Dynasty founded by Han Kao-tsu (Liu Chi, one of the rebels). This dynasty lasted until 220 AD with one interruption by a usurper named Wang Mang who ruled from 9 to 23 AD. Wang Ch’ung lived right in the middle of this period, more or less, from c. 27 to 100 AD or so.”

“Are we ready to get into his philosophy now?”

“Almost Fred. I just need to point out that after the book burning of 213 BC a new script for writing developed and all the texts that survived were copied or reconstructed with this script. This was called ‘new text’ and, please note, that Tung Chung-shu’s philosophy was developed on the basis of the new texts.”


“So this. Under the Emperor Wu Ti (147-87 BC) a big discovery was made of a cache of the ancient Chinese classics from before the Ch’in period. They were found hidden in Confucius’ old house! These were written in the old script and a school grew around them called the Old Text School.”

“I see. There were differences between the same works depending on whether they were old texts or new texts.”

“That is exactly right. The upshot of all this is that the mystical magical tendencies of Tung derive from the new texts. Wang Ch’ung based himself on the old texts and these became the orthodox version of the classics. Here is what Gernet says (p.165)-- i.e., ' that the victory, after the Han period, of the old texts ‘was to cause the almost total disappearance of the vast esoteric literature of the Han period, and it was only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that certain scholars and philosophers took it into their heads to rehabilitate the forgotten tradition represented by the works of Tung Chung-shu’ and others.”

“So Tung really is only of historical interest.”

“Yes, and I should note Wang Ch’ung was dormant as well until a couple of centuries ago. Now, Fred, what have you got there on Wang Ch’ung?”

“Here is what Chan [Source Book in Chinese Philosophy] says, and I’m glad for the digression into history-- it makes Chan a little clearer. He lists six characteristics of Wang’s intellectual environment. 1.) Dominance of Confucianism-- thanks to Tung Chung-shu by the way. 2.) The Yin-Yang mysticism had corrupted Confucianism into less than rational positions-- also thanks to Tung. 3.) Man and Nature were reciprocally influencing one another. 4.) Omens and unexplained events were to be interpreted in the light of #3. 5.) Heaven had ends and purposes but it was ‘not anthropomorphic.’ Its ‘will’ could be determined by omens and such. 6.) Spiritual beings abounded and could also influence us by means of signs and wonders. ‘Wang Ch’ung rose in revolt against all these prevalent beliefs.’”

“Yes, he is considered a rationalist or a naturalist according to what I’ve read. But I don’t think he surpasses Hsun Tzu.”

“OK. The quotes I’m going to read to you all come from Wang’s book The Balanced Inquiries, or Lun-heng.”

“Lets hear them!”

“This is called ‘On Original Nature’-- chapter 13: ‘Man’s feelings and nature are the root of government by men and the source of ceremonies and music. Therefore as we investigate the matter, we find that ceremonies are employed to check the excess of the nature and feelings and music is used to regulate them. In man’s nature there are the qualities of humbleness, modesty, deference, and compliance. Hence ceremonies have been instituted to adjust them to their proper expression. In men’s feelings there are the qualities of like and dislike, pleasure and anger, and sorrow and joy. Hence music has been created to enable their feelings of reverence to be expressed everywhere. Nature and feelings are therefore the reason why systems of ceremonies and music have been created.’”

“Good explanation.”

“He continues: ‘Shih Shih of the Chou ( Chou Dynasty: 1111-249 BC) maintained that in nature some are born good and some are born evil. Take the good nature and cultivate it, and goodness will develop. Take the evil nature and cultivate it, and evil will develop. Thus in nature some belong to yin (passive cosmic force) and some belong to yang (active cosmic force), and some are good and some are evil. It all depends on cultivation.’”

“ Shih Shih was a third generation Confucian, but I don’t go for some are born good and some evil. I’m holding out for nurture not nature. I agree with Wang about ‘cultivation’ but I think in general we are born neutral and we turn out as we are cultivated in whatever society we are born into.”

“Well Wang seems to like Shih Shih as he goes on to maintain that both Mencius and Hsun Tzu are wrong about human nature being at birth one (good) or the other (evil). He also attacks Tung Chung-shu’s position that Mencius and Hsun Tzu were both correct as the former was talking about yang (nature) and the latter about yin (feelings). But Wang thinks its more complicated as both nature and feelings are a mixture of yin and yang.”

“How does Wang resolve all this?”

“His thesis is: ‘The truth is that in nature, some people are born good and some born evil. It is just as some people’s capacity is high and some people’s is low.’ And so he concludes, ‘At bottom I consider Mencius’ doctrine of the goodness of human nature as referring to people above the average, Hsun Tzu’s doctrine of evil nature of man as referring to people below the average, and Yang Hsiung’s (53 BC - AD 18) doctrine that human nature is a mixture of good and evil as referring to average people.’”

“Yang Hsiung?”

“Chan has a little three page chapter on him right before Wang. He is mostly remembered of the theory that Wang mentions.”

“There seem to be a lot theories about this Fred, and they all seem non-verifiable. Anyway, since all the sages agree that it is education that brings about the correct activity all the theories are practically equivalent. A pragmatist would think they are all the same in the long run.”

“Chan has a comment on this as follows: ‘Wang’s own theory is new but it is not a real advance, for the presence of either good or evil is not explained. In accepting Yang Hsiung’s theory of mixture as referring to average people, he seems to believe in three grades of human nature.... However, his main thesis is dualism. Inasmuch as the Western Han period is characterized by a dualistic approach to human nature, in terms of good nature and evil feelings, Wang’s own dualism, in terms of good and evil natures, shows little progress.’”

“So we have a dualism of some sort-- either of natures or of nature versus feelings?”

“Thus far Wang hasn’t particularly distinguished himself. I will now turn to ‘On Spontaneity’-- his chapter 54.”


“He says, ‘When the material forces (ch’i) of Heaven and Earth come together, all things are spontaneously produced, just as when the vital forces (ch’i) of husband and wife unite, children are naturally born. Among the things thus produced, blood creatures are conscious of hunger and cold. Seeing that the five grains are edible, they obtain and eat them. And seeing that silk and hemp can be worn, they obtain and wear them. Some say that Heaven produces the five grains in order to feed man and produces silk and hemp in order to clothe man. This is to say that Heaven becomes a farmer or a mulberry girl for the sake of man. This is contrary to spontaneity. Therefore their ideas are suspect and should not be followed.’”

“This must be the aspect of his thought that leads to his being called a naturalist.”

“I think you are correct Karl. He continues, ‘Let us discuss these concepts according to Taoism. Heaven (T’ien, Nature) gives forth and distributes material force universally into all things. Grains overcome hunger and silk and hemp save people from cold. Consequently people eat grains and wear clothing of silk and hemp. Now, that Heaven does not purposely produce the five grains and silk and hemp in order to feed and clothe man is very much like the fact that there are calamities and strange transformations but not for the purpose of reprimanding man. Things are spontaneously produced and man eats them and wears them, and material forces spontaneously change [in strange ways] and people are afraid of them. To talk otherwise may be agreeable to the minds of people. But if lucky influences from Heaven are intentional. where would spontaneity be, and where would non-action (wu-wei) be found?’”

“It looks like his naturalism stems from his study of Taoism. But this is also the Confucianism of Hsun Tzu or at least very similar to it .”

“Listen to this: ‘Someone asks: Man is born from Heaven and Earth. Since Heaven and Earth take no action [that is, Karl, they just are as they are] and since man is endowed with the nature of Heaven [and Earth] , he should take no action either. And yet he does take action. Why?’”

“A good Taoist question Fred. What does Wang say?”

“He says, ‘I reply: A person who is rich and pure in perfect virtue is endowed with a large quantity of vital force and is therefore able to approximate Heaven in being spontaneous and taking no action. Those who are endowed with little vital force do not follow moral principles and do not resemble Heaven and Earth. They are therefore called unworthy. By that is meant that they are not similar to Heaven and Earth. They are therefore called unworthy. Since they do not resemble Heaven and Earth, they do nor belong to the same class as sages and worthies and therefore take action.’ And he concludes, ‘Heaven and Earth are like a furnace. Their work is creation. Since the endowment of the vital force is not the same in all cases, how can all be worthy?...’”.

“I have a problem with Wang about this Fred.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t like the idea of transmission of virtue or worthiness being based on Nature. I understand that people are worthy and unworthy but I’m not going to grant that it is due to their original vital force given at birth by Heaven or some such idea. I don’t see that the view that some people are born good and some evil is actually an advance on Mencius or Hsun Tzu. They at least don’t break humanity into two contrary groups-- the worthy and the unworthy based on what we today would call hereditary principles. Except in rare and unusual instances Mencius and Hsun Tzu at least hold to the basic unity of humanity. We can all be sages with the right education in both of their systems. But in Wang’s I don’t see that this is the case. There is a ‘class’ of sages and worthies based on an original endowment of vital force. However progressive Wang is with regard to rejection of spirits and omens, etc., he is definitely a social reactionary with regard to his ideas on the origin of a ‘class’ of worthies.”

“I tend to agree with you about this Karl. But lets see what else Wang has to say.”

“Go on.”

“He says, ‘The way of Heaven is to take no action. Therefore in the spring it does not act to start life, in summer it does not act to help grow, in autumn it does not act to bring maturity, and in winter it does not act to store up.... When we draw water from wells or breach water over a dam in order to irrigate fields and gardens, things will also grow. But if rain falls like torrents, soaking through all stalks, leaves and roots, in an amount equivalent to that in a pond, who would prefer drawing water from wells or breaching water over a dam? Therefore to act without acting is great. ‘”

“I get it Fred. If we just follow nature things will work out for us. But, you know, sometimes we are forced to act whether we like to or not. Wang’s Taoist view, however, does have a lot of merit. Look what our economic system based on private profit is doing to the environment!”

“Here is Chan’s comment about all this. ‘The net effect of Wang Ch’ung’s naturalism is to depersonalize Heaven and to deny the existence of design in any form. One would expect that his rationalism and naturalism would promote the development of natural science in China. Joseph Needham, however, has suggested that instead of fostering the development of science, Wang actually deterred it, for according to Needham [Science and Civilization in China], there must be a lawgiver before there can be natural laws. If Wang Ch’ung were alive, the first question he would ask would be, “What is your evidence to prove it?”’”

“And quite rightly so Fred. Needham misses the ball here. Hsun Tzu had the same idea about Heaven and Naturalism before Wang came along so why didn’t he get blamed for retarding science? The reason is that major intellectual events such as the growth and development of science are not due to this or that individual but to the circumambient cultural forces of a given historical environment in toto.”

“So you don’t need a ‘lawgiver’?”

“I don’t think so, but at least the notion of regularity such as the nonpersonal nous postulated by Anaxagoras. ‘Spontaneity’ may be a confusing concept from the scientific point of view if it implies that there is no regularity involved, which I don’t think is what Wang and the Taoists mean.”

“Now we come to his ‘Treatise on Death’, his chapter 62. We have a view similar to that of Epicurus! Wang says, ‘People today say that when men die they become spiritual beings (kuei, ghosts), are conscious, and can hurt people.... If a man has neither ears nor eyes (senses), he will have no consciousness.... When the vital forces have left man... [The whole body] decays and disappears. It becomes diffused and invisible, and is therefore called a spiritual being (kuei-shen, earthly and heavenly spirits).... When a man dies, his spirit ascends to heaven and his flesh and bones return (kuei) to earth, and that is why an earthly spiritual being (kuei) [and a heavenly spiritual being (shen) ] are so called. To be an earthly spiritual being (kuei) means to return (kuei) .... To be a heavenly spiritual being (shen) means to expand (shen). When the expansion reaches its limit, it ends and begins again. Man is born of spiritual forces. At death he returns to them. Yin and Yang are called kuei-shen. After people die, they are also called kuei-shen).... After a man dies he does not become a spiritual being, has no consciousness, and cannot speak. He therefore cannot hurt people.’”

“Today we would call that a secular humanist position.”

“Chan also has additional selections of Wang’s views. This one, from Chapter Five, concerns ‘Accidence vs. Necessity’: ‘Crickets and ants creep on the ground. A man lifts his foot and walks across it. Those crickets and ants he steps on are pressed to death, whereas those he does not step on remain completely alive and unhurt. When fires sweep through wild grass, that which has been pressed down by wheels does not burn. Some ordinary folks are delighted and call it lucky grass. Now, what the feet do not step on and what the fire does not reach are not necessarily good, for the lifting of the foot and the spread of the fire are accidental.’”

“So what goes down, goes down not as a result of Heaven’s ‘plan’ its just sort of random-- i.e., accidental. He doesn’t mention necessity at all in what you read Fred. This more than anything might explain the failure on his part to have stimulated the growth of science, not, as Needham said, the lack of a ‘law giver’. We are like crickets and ants in the face of Nature.”

“This is his view on ‘Strange Phenomena’ -- chapter 43: ‘As the ruler acts below, the material force of Heaven comes after man accordingly. But I say: This is also doubtful. For Heaven can activate things, but how can things activate Heaven? Why? Because man and things are bound by Heaven and Heaven is the master of man and things.... Therefore man living in the universe is like a flea or louse being inside a garment or a cricket or an ant inside a hole or a crack. Can the flea, louse, cricket, or ant, by being obedient or disobedient, cause the material force inside the garment or the hole to move or to change? Since the fleas, louse, cricket, or ant cannot do so, to say that man alone can is to fail to understand the principle of the material force of things. As the wind comes, trees’ branches swing. But trees’ branches cannot cause the wind.’”

“Crickets and ants again! This is pretty good in some respects for the first century AD. Just think of the kinds of superstition about things like this even today. But there is a down side.”

“And what might that be Karl?”

“The science problem again. It's this passive attitude towards Nature or Heaven. Humans are different from crickets and ants in the Western tradition. We are rational animals says Aristotle. Bacon set out to understand Nature and control it. ‘knowledge is power,’”Nature to be commanded must first be obeyed,’ etc. So we learn about the material force, unlike the crickets and ants, and use it to our advantage. Failure to think in these terms inhibited the development of theoretical science more than a lack of a ‘law giver.’”

“You have a point Karl. Now, another question. Have you ever wondered why bad things happen to good people?”


“Well then, here is Wang on ‘Fate’ (Chapter Six): ‘With respect to man’s appointment of fate, when his parents give forth their vital forces, he already gets his fortunes and misfortunes.’”

“Sounds like genetic determinism! Don’t tell me Wang is a nature over nurture determinist.”

“Hold your horses Karl. Let me finish with Wang’s ideas here. ‘Man’s nature is different from his fate. There are people whose nature is good but whose fate is unlucky, and there others whose nature is evil but whose fate is lucky. Whether one is good or evil in his conduct is due to his nature, but calamities and blessings, and fortunes and misfortunes, are due to fate. Some people do good but get calamities. This is a case of good nature but unlucky fate. Some people do evil but get blessings. This is a case of evil nature but lucky fate.”

“So what can this mean? The transformative power is neglected here-- good and evil is by nature he says. And fate is due to the vital force from the parents? I think I know where he is coming from here, but I see you only have one quote left so let me return to this with a little end presentation I have here.”

“OK. I think we see the philosopher kings putting in an appearance in this last quote. It's from chapter 56 ‘The Equality of Past and Present.’ Here is what he says, ‘The world was well governed in earlier ages because of sages. The virtue of sages earlier or later was not different, and therefore good government in earlier ages and today is not different.... In ancient times there were unrighteous people, and today there are gentleman of established integrity [as in olden times]. Good and evil intermingle. What age is devoid of them?’”

“And that is the end of Chan on Wang?”


“Well, before we say goodbye to Wang, I want to be sure we have him down pat, as it were, so I will make a few concluding remarks.”

“Go ahead.”

First, I just want to list here the five ‘Major Ideas’ that are attributed to Wang. This list is from Randall L. Nadeau’s article on Wang in Great Thinkers of the Eastern World. The list sums up our discussion.”

“So list the list.”

“OK. 1. Natural events have natural causes. 2. Beliefs in gods, ghosts, and supernatural phenomena are superstitious falsehoods. 3. There is no correspondence between human events and natural phenomena; the processes of nature are not influenced by human behavior and have no moral significance. 4. There is no correspondence between moral virtue and personal destiny; fortune and misfortune are the result of fate. 5. Human nature may be good or evil; those of good nature can become evil, and those of evil nature can become good.”


“Just about. Our discussion and my list indicate that Wang Ch’ung was pretty much of a rationalist, but he had one weakness of his era.”

“Such as?”

“It appears that number three on the list above may have to be modified since he had a weakness for astrology. Jacques Gernet writes, ‘Criticizing the notion of individual destiny (ming)... he sees the diversity of human destinies as the result of three independent factors: innate physical and intellectual aptitudes, the chance combination of circumstances and accidents, but also-- and here Wang Ch’ung shows how much he remains a prisoner of his age-- the astral influences which acted on the individual at his birth (p.165).’”

“Well then, as they say, ‘his virtues were his own, his vices those of the age.’ Lets go have dinner. Then whom shall we discuss?”

“Take Chan along to bone up. We’ll talk about the Taoist Lieh Tzu or Liezi whose work dates from around 300 AD.”

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Follies of Religion

The Follies of Religion: Market in Albino Body Parts

Thomas Riggins

The New York Times (1-3-08) reports that there is a market in central Africa for the body parts of albinos [“Burundi: Albino Boy Killed for Parts.’) Agence France Presse says an eight year old albino boy was killed by three men with machetes who made off with his limbs. The men are believed to be associated with witch doctors who prize albino body parts to make magical charms as the local religious beliefs held by many central Africans teach that albinos “have magical powers.”

Kassim Kazungu of the Burundi Albino Association reported the crime to the press. The killing of albinos has been on the rise in the last year. Six albinos have been killed in Burundi since september. The body parts are thought to go to witch doctors in Tanzania. AFP reports, “In Tanzania, at least 35 albinos, mostly women and children, were killed in 2008, according to the Tanzania Albino Society.”

This is another example of the follies of religion and the harmful results that occur when society does not properly educate its members in a scientific world outlook. There is no more scientific evidence that albinos have magical powers than that a person can walk on water, be reincarnated, go instantly to paradise by blowing oneself up in a crowd of people, or that God has given you special property rights to certain lands (owned by other people) yet these beliefs motivate millions around the world.

Most of the deeds done under these motivations are not of the highest moral caliber. I suggest that all junior high students be required to read “Why I am not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell and given the assignment to extrapolate his arguments to fit non Christian religions. This may not put an end to religion (I fear not) but open a few minds and mitigate many of the unsavory practices we see in the daily press.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Weather Makers (2)


Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

Part 2

CO2 is not itself the only cause of global warming. Rather, Flannery says, its ability to "trigger" the production of water vapor is far more important. It creates a "feed back loop": CO2 warms the air thus producing more H2O vapor which warms the air even more, then CO2 warms this new air, etc. H2O vapor also makes up the clouds which play a dual role. Thin high flying clouds reflect heat energy back into space, low flying thick ones trap it and warm the atmosphere. The CO2 generated by fossil fuels is responsible for 80% of global warming as a result of these processes. One of reasons it is so dangerous is its longevity in the atmosphere. Flannery points out that 56% of the CO2 generated in the last couple of hundred years is still in the atmosphere.

Where does most of it come from? We are told it's from all the billions of motors we have made that run of fossil fuel. "Most dangerous of all are the power plants that use coal to generate electricity." It looks like every new coal fueled power plant is another nail in the coffin of our planet. The next most dangerous greenhouse gas is methane: CH4. This mostly comes from natural gas.

Nature has its own ways of removing carbon gases from the air-- unless we overload the system (which is what our profit driven capitalist system is doing ). The forests and the oceans have been thought to be the biggest carbon "sinks" but recent research has shown that only the oceans really count-- from 1800-1994 they stored 48% of the carbon put out by our system "while life on land has actually contributed carbon to the atmosphere." Please recall Ronald Reagan's astute observation that trees are also polluters!

Now we need a little history. Genetic analysis shows that about 100,000 years ago there were only about 2000 breeding members of out species on Earth. A very small population. Now there are six billion of us (not all of us breeding). About 10,000 years ago some of us took up agriculture and the industrial civilization of today is the result. There are still pockets of humans, in the Amazon for example, with cultures untouched by developments of industrial civilization (but not for long).

All humans lived as hunter gathers until the agricultural revolution. There is no evidence that we are any smarter today than then, or that present day hunter gathers are any less smarter than their city dwelling cousins. So what were we doing for 90,000 years until agriculture came along. Why didn't we become agricultural much sooner?

Scientists have been taking ice cores from the poles and from glaciers around the world. These reveal that violent climate changes and alternating ice ages and warm periods were taking place on off throughout the period of our early gestation. These periods show major CO2 fluctuations also occurring and being responsible for climate changes. But these CO2 fluxes were of natural origin. What is going on today is caused by our industrial system.

The last great ice age, of many, lasted from 35,000 to 20,000 years ago. Around 20,000 years ago another natural flux towards global warning began which led, by 10,000 years ago to the climate we have today. Between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago the Earth warmed up by 9 degrees F. This was a little under an increase of 2 degrees F per 1000 years.

But with our coal power plants and other fossil fuels we are slated to heat the Earth between 2 to 8 degrees F in this century alone. This will be an unmitigated disaster for life on Earth. It will lead to the greatest extinction event (it has already begun) since the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs 65 million years ago. [Since birds are dinosaurs they are not technically extinct.]

The long warming period that began 20,000 years ago was marked by a zig zag back and forth between alterations of hot and cold climates which finally stabilized about 8000 years ago in what scientists call "the long summer" [i.e., the climate since the agricultural revolution]. So what were humans doing up until then? Well, with the coming of the long summer we slowly left our caves and huts, populations increased, agriculture led to the founding of early civilizations.... and here we are.

Stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Weather Makers

Part 1
Reviewed by Thomas Riggins

This is an important book which explains the science behind climate change. Tim Flannery is an Australian scientist and climate authority and I intend to present what science thinks are the facts behind the changing climate of the earth and what we have to do. I will be giving a Marxist spin to some of these facts as I think it is the capitalist economic system fostering large scale industrial pollution and the emission of green house gasses that is the problem not "man" as the title suggests.

Flannery tells us that the best scientific evidence indicates that by 2050 we must reduce CO2 emissions by 70%. So we must keep that in mind in any policy discussions and suggestions that people or governments put forth. We must only support programs that aim at this level of reduction.

For purposes of explanation, NOT as a scientific fact, Flannery refers to the GAIA hypothesis which treats the Earth as a living interconnected entity. This is very poetic but Marxist dialectics accomplishes the same function of treating the earth as a unity in difference wherein each and every part influences each and every other part to a greater or lesser degree.

Flannery mentions something called Earth's ALBEDO. This word comes from Latin for "whiteness. The Albedo is the ability to reflect the Sun's heat back into space and away from the Earth (clouds, snow, etc.). We should note that 1/3 of all the heat reaching the Earth from the Sun is redirected back out into space.

We are also told that if we don't control global warming we could destroy our civilization and even our species. If we did that we would kill off so many other life forms along with us that "the repair job to Earth's biodiversity would take tens of millions of years." Only ideologically driven Ayn Rand type capitalists would trade off tens of millions of years and our species itself to pump a few more barrels of oil or open more coal power plants. Remember we only have to 2050 to get rid of 70% of the CO2 emissions!

Just as there a great ocean of H2O covering most of the Earth there is a great "aerial ocean" surrounding the planet: it this ocean in which we live.Generally called the atmosphere it is made up of four layers. We live in the bottom layer called the troposphere which has 80% the gases of the atmosphere. We live the first 1/3 of it which has 50% of all the gases. The 1/3 we live in is the only place where we can breathe. Flannery informs us that it is warmer at the bottom "its temperature gradient is upside down." Another fact is that the air in it north of the equator rarely mixes with the air south of the equator. Hence polluted air in the more developed north doesn't go south.

The second layer starts about seven miles up and is called the stratosphere.Going up to thirty miles we meet the mesosphere. Last, at fifty miles up comes the thermosphere which after another forty or so miles peters out into space.

The atmosphere is basically made up of three elements that we breathe: argon (.9%), oxygen (20.9%), nitrogen (78%). There are also trace gases, less than .05%.

Flannery says we have only recently recognized that the atmosphere engages in "telekinesis." What he means is that atmospheric changes can "manifest themselves simultaneously in distant regions."

Now, the subject of this book are the greenhouse gases, part of the collection of trace gases, but they all "share the ability to block long wavelengths of energy"-- the HEAT ENERGY coming from the sun. By "block" Flannery means "trap"-- they trap it in the atmosphere. It is instructive he says, to make some comparisons. The temperature of Venus at the surface is 891 degrees F and its atmosphere is 98% CO2 (a major greenhouse gas). If CO2 became 1% of Our atmosphere, the surface temperature of Earth would rise to 212 degrees F. I think you all know what that means folks.

Stay tuned for the next segment.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Obama, Gates and the Future of the U.S. Military

Thomas Riggins

This is the winner of our discontent, Barack Obama, and he is supposed to end the US attack on Iraq and its people and withdraw our invading forces and end the occupation of that country. Keeping Robert Gates, a Bush loyalist to the core, as his war secretary is not a promising sign. In this article I will outline what Gates thinks about the US mission in the world and the role of the U.S. military.

Anyone who wants to know in more detail what Gates is all about can read his article in Foreign Affairs for January/February 2009 ("A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age”).

The first thing we are told is that we can forget about getting out of Iraq. We may have a reduced level of troops but "there will continue to be some kind of U.S. advisory and counterterrorism effort for years to come.”

This should not be a shocking statement except for those who thought we might actually pack up and leave Iraq to the Iraqis. We should know our history. "Ever since General Winfield Scott led his army into Mexico in the 1840s." Gates says, "every major deployment of U.S. forces has led to a longer subsequent military presence to maintain stability." One way to do this is to "prop up local governments." The implication being that Iraq will never be stable and pro American without our troops there. This is the subtext of McCain's 100 years in Iraq comment.

But the U.S. military is facing a big problem according to Gates. It can't properly do its follow up mission if other areas of the government are not up to the task.

He says that since the 1990s (i.e., the Clinton years), "with the complicity of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, key instruments of U.S. power abroad were reduced or allowed to wither on the vine." He means the State Department in general, the Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Information Agency.

He credits the Bush administration with trying to reverse this: "through the efforts first of Secretary of State Colin Powell [who was dumped] and now of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the State Department has made a comeback."

The subtext here is that Obama's pledge to promote diplomacy over knee jerk military responses is just a carry over from what Bush has done and that Ms. Clinton will continue the good works of Powell and Rice.

There are still many conventional military threats ahead as we were reminded by the "images of Russian tanks rolling into George last August."

He can say this despite all the evidence showing that it was Georgia, not Russia, that started the brief war between the two countries last year. There are still rogue states to worry about-- i.e., the DPKR and Iran.

Currently the U.S. is militarily dominant and we must keep it that way. Actually, I don't understand how dominant we are if after six or more years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan we are bogged down with no end in sight.

There is going to be a lot of money lavished on the military industrial complex if Gates has his way. Because of the rise of China our Pacific rim bases and supply networks are at risk.

Therefore the U.S. must have the "ability to strike from over the horizon and employ missile defenses and will require shifts from short-range to longer-range systems, such as the next-generation bomber." And don't forget nuclear weapons.

"Congress needs to do its part by funding the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program-- for safety, for security, and for a more reliable deterrent." All the bombs we have now are not reliable enough?

What else does the future hold? Think about where our armed forces have had to go just in the last 40 or so years: "Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and more."

Therefore we must spend more money on "capabilities necessary to wage asymmetric or irregular conflict." What I find notable about this list is that not one of the places mentioned posed any real threat to the U.S. and we had no business sticking our noses into their affairs.

Also, except for Panama and Grenada, our military hasn't been particularly effective. Oh, I forgot, we did overthrow the democratically elected government of Haiti-- a big victory for our security .

Not to worry about civilians being killed all that often in the future. "A bomb dropped from the sky can destroy a targeted house while leaving the one next to it intact." Don't you believe it.

Looking at this sorry record of imperialist engagement, Gates concludes that: "The power and global reach of [the U.S.] military have been an indispensable contributor to world peace [he calls attacking countries and peoples all over the planet for 40 years 'world peace'] and must remain so."

I hope Obama doesn't buy into this. I want some change I can believe in. I want Denis Kucinich for Secretary of Defense.