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Just returned from a trip to the Big Bend country in west Texas. For those not familiar with this region it is a place of mystery and profound beauty. A land of vast desert landscapes broken by mountain ranges and inhabited by reptiles, artists, folks who would rather not be found, and some of the toughest, most resilient ranchers one might encounter in this parts of the world.

I’ve been out here a number of times but never traveled as far west as I did on this trip. Highway 170 from Lajitas to Presidio hugs the Rio Grande for miles. The geology is breathtaking. The landscape is harsh and stunningly beautiful. The river that separates two nations is a short hike below. When one is here, the idea of two nations is seen for what it is, a temporary human construct. Mother nature laughs at human folly. The idea of building a wall across this land for the purpose of preventing the movement of humans is so utterly bizarre that it should be called out for what it is – sheer madness. It will never be done. And the beauty and mystery of this place will remain long after the few humans that roam these parts become part of the fossil record.


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Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is do you, Mr. Jones? -Bob Dylan

Germany’s political establishment doesn’t know how to react to the Pirate Party, which now has seats in two state parliaments and owns the debate on Internet issues…..

After all, one of the goals of the Pirate Party is to distance itself from the usual political rituals. While conventional politicians usually do little more than simulate participation through dialogue with citizens, the Pirates promise more around-the-clock participation in the political decision-making process.

Digital channels like Twitter, or the Liquid Feedback voting software which is closely associated with the Pirate Party, provide the party with a high potential for mobilizing people. This makes it so attractive for like-minded people — and so unpredictable for the established parties.

The entire article in Spiegel Online is well worth a read. The Pirate Party seemed to come from nowhere. It rose quickly. It caught the establishment off guard. It brushed aside the old anti-establishment party as well. And they even gained a voice in legislatures. They are not being co-opted by parties in either existing political wing because frankly, the people in those parties do not fully comprehend their concerns. But their concerns are central to the way our world will operate in the very near future. Their concerns are how some form of democracy can function in that world.

Change is happening. Maybe we can only recognize a full blown seismic shift with a bit of hindsight but my intuition tells me that we may already be there. Just like the older crowd at (Mad Men reference here) Don Draper’s 40th birthday party standing around with martinis and looking a bit perplexed as the 60’s began to opened into full bloom, something was happening but they just didn’t understand what it was did they, Mr. Jones?

Not sure how any enterprise, be it business or sovereign could reverse these fortunes with the bailouts under discussion. There’s an old saying in business that if you are borrowing money so that you can make payroll, it’s time to shut the door. There is an article in Der Spiegel that argues for bankruptcy of Greece. And then a type of Marshall Plan to help it back. It would be money better spent that what is currently under consideration.

I’d say, well, what does a Bach cantata or a Picasso painting do for us? I think the point is we are human beings, and one of the most wonderful aspect of being human beings is being creative and asking questions and trying to understand our place in the universe. And it is absolutely true that understanding the beginning and end of the universe is not going to produce a better toaster. But I’m always amazed that people – for me, one of the great virtues of science is it’s a cultural activity, like art and literature and music. It enhances the experience of being human, and it addresses the questions that I’m sure you’ve asked about your own existence.

And if we can get new insights into our own existence and our place in the cosmos, well, that’s what happens when we attend a good play or see a good painting. It gives us a new perspective of our place in the universe. And I happen to think that is worth it for its own sake. Plus, I happen to think these ideas are among the most remarkable and astounding ideas human beings have ever come up with. And we owe it to – we scientists owe it to the people to try and explain what’s happening, and I think they enhance the quality of our existence.

The entire interview from NPR Science Friday can be found here.

I find Stewart Brand’s pragmatic approach to environmental issues refreshing. Ideologues of any stripe are tiresome at best and at worst, reek havoc on the very things that they profess to hold dear. The Edge article hyperlinked above and associate articles in the recent edition are worth a read. He can be quite provocative.

(via economicsofinformation)

This week the Skepticalwalrus has been attending a work related conference in sunny (and much cooler than Houston) San Diego, California. What he learned during the week long extravaganza:

1. Technology is cool, as long as someone else is in charge of making it work on a large scale.

2. The Skepticalwalrus does not play well with corporate types, their policies and procedures, schemes that amount to little more than shell games and in general, all of the collected asshattery (sp?) that passes for doing something productive in the corporate world. Frankly, a person who mixes a first-rate Bloody Mary and produces a perfectly baked artichoke, fontina and roma tomato pizza is the one society should hold up as an ideal. At least they made something! Which bring me to my final point.

3. Tending bar in a Costa Rican beach community becomes a more attractive career option with each passing day.

Going to San Diego is a lot like going to an upscale strip club. There’s some pretty cool stuff to look at but it’s gonna cost you a lot of money before you get out of the place. Be on an expense account if you can swing it. Still, it’s a nice break from Houston in July and a recommended place for a four day weekend of exploring historical nautical themed venues, catching a Padres game at Petco park and enjoying a bowl of first-rate ciapino down by the yacht marina.

My existence has now been completely documented by This American Life. (via Kottke)

“We’ve done it,” said senior producer Julie Snyder, who was personally interviewed for a 2003 This American Life episode, “Going Eclectic,” in which she described what it’s like to be a bilingual member of the ACLU trained in kite-making by a Japanese stepfather. “There is not a single existential crisis or self-congratulatory epiphany that has been or could be experienced by a left-leaning agnostic that we have not exhaustively documented and grouped by theme.”

About a year and a half ago in rare flash of extroversion, I jumped into the world of facebook. Today I jumped out of that world. Without going into too much detail, after an initial period of contacting old acquaintances and exchanging a bit of small talk about family and careers, the entire thing just sunk into a bizarre voyeuristic experience. Bizarre in that the lion’s share of postings I saw were related to farmville, or mafia wars or billiard games. Frankly, it was too damn close to watching a bingo game at the old folk’s home for me. I’m not ready to go there yet. Or ever. So I played the nuclear option and deleted the account.

In retrospect, the facebook epoch was like a psychological springboard for me. Something I needed to do as a touchstone to a part of my past in order to shift gears and move forward. And now that’s done. So time to move on.

Charles Moore, photojournalist who brought us images of the civil rights struggle in the South, died last week. This morning’s New York Times has a feature on his legacy and the evolving nature of the craft in a world of ubiquitous image capturing devices. Not to be missed is this slide show of some his work from that tumultuous era. Charles Moore was an intrepid professional and those who seeks to inform the public of important events by way of still images stand on the shoulders of this giant.