SocraticGadfly: 6/17/12 - 6/24/12

June 23, 2012

Accept failure! Accept half-empty glasses!

Boy, a great column here from The Guardian, and what looks like a book that might be even better at undercutting the New Agey myths about the unstoppable power of blind optimism than Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright Sided."

With a column title like "Happiness is a Glass Half Empty," followed by references to Stoicism, among other things, we've got real meat.

And, the book title, by the column's author, goes even further than Ehrenreich, in noting such potentially harmful thinking must be fought. Indeed, we need an "antidote" for such ideas.

The column delivers a good foretaste of this, including noting how it's OK to fail, and better than OK to accept the idea of failure.

The Museum of Failed Products
The column starts with a great "hook": a visit to a museum of failed products. It then notes that many companies, fearful of accepting failure, don't keep such products themselves.

But, Burkeman notes, products fail even more often than small-business start-ups. So, why can't we accept these and other failures?

He says that it's in part because we've forgotten some good wisdom from the past.

He doesn't specifically say this is connected to the relative ease of modern life, but maybe it is. Anyway, here's his dive into Stoic ideas:
Behind all of the most popular modern approaches to happiness and success is the simple philosophy of focusing on things going right. But ever since the first philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, a dissenting perspective has proposed the opposite: that it's our relentless effort to feel happy, or to achieve certain goals, that is precisely what makes us miserable and sabotages our plans. And that it is our constant quest to eliminate or to ignore the negative – insecurity, uncertainty, failure, sadness – that causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain or unhappy in the first place.
If you know philosophy, you know his idea, though he doesn't use the actual word: "ataxaria." It's more, less and different than detachment or dissociation. The idea of "acceptance" might get closer.

And lest one draws the wrong ideas from Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus, he steps in:
Yet this conclusion does not have to be depressing. Instead, it points to an alternative approach: a "negative path" to happiness that entails taking a radically different stance towards those things most of us spend our lives trying hard to avoid. This involves learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity and becoming familiar with failure. In order to be truly happy, it turns out, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions – or, at the very least, to stop running quite so hard from them.
Indeed. And, with some variations, beyond his hangups with sex and repression (while ignoring sexual abuse's connection to hysteria!) Freud talked about this to some degree. So, too, in yet another vein, Miguel de Unanumo arguably did this in "The Tragic Sense of Life." (To me, every Gnu Atheist who wants to bash religion in general should have Unanumo on his/her required reading list.)

Anyway, what about recent claims that blind optimism can improve one's actions in life? Not so fast, Burkeman says. Research shows that things like visualizing positive outcomes can actually backfire, by practitioners often refusing to do the work to get to those outcomes. Ahh, magical thinking, new variety.

And, there's other twists from the glass half empty. Here's one:

Psychologists have long agreed that one of the greatest enemies of human happiness is "hedonic adaptation" – the predictable and frustrating way in which any new source of pleasure we obtain, whether it's as minor as a new electronic gadget or as major as a marriage, swiftly gets relegated to the backdrop of our lives: we grow accustomed to it, and it ceases to deliver so much joy. It follows, then, that regularly reminding yourself that you might lose any of the things you currently enjoy can reverse the adaptation effect. Thinking about the possibility of losing something you value shifts it from the backdrop of your life back to centre stage, where it can deliver pleasure once more.

Burkeman then morphs back to the failed products. He says the flip side of not being realistic about failure is being unrealistic about the causes of success, including believing we have a lot of control over causing success when that's often not that true.

Or, if you want more reason to try to change your viewpoint, here's one:

Perfectionism is one of those traits that many people seem secretly, or not-so-secretly, proud to possess, since it hardly seems like a character flaw. Yet, at bottom, it is a fear-driven striving to avoid the experience of failure at all costs. At the extremes, it is an exhausting and permanently stressful way to live: there is a greater correlation between perfectionism and suicide, researchers have found, than between feelings of hopelessness and suicide. 

That ... the last part ... I did not know. Being somewhat pessimistic and a "negative" thinker, yet a bit of a perfectionist at times, that's words to take to heart ... accept failure! Failing at something doesn't make me a failure, does it?

There's plenty more ideas like this salted through this long column. Here's a good short one for conclusion:

Happiness reached via positive thinking is fleeting and brittle; negative visualisation generates a vastly more dependable calm.

Go read the whole thing and, like me, keep an eye out for this book.

#Rio20 a big fat flop - blame #US and #BRIC - and #China

Rio-20 is a big fat flop, the spin aside. Arguably, while the fault likes primarily with the developed world, the BRIC nations need to bear more scrutiny.

We need a three-tier, not a two-tier, ranking of nations. China would definitely be in that, as would Brazil. India might.

My solution would be a carbon tax here in the US, which, under WTO rules, if I am correct, allows carbon tariffs on imports. China, and Brazil/India, would have to get cleaner.

And, this would, beyod the eglobal warming angle, satisfy so many domestic US constituencies.

Non-wingnut US businessmen who manufacture here would knoiw we're not selling out domestic industry. That includes US utilities.

Labor/New Deal liberals know that part of the money from this could fund job (re)training, as well as be a price incentive to bring at least a few jobs back to America.

Environmentalists know that beyond global warming itself, this could help the environment more broadly. (That said, some fellow environmentalists need to get on the breeder reactor bus, IMO.)

So, let's do it!

Or, we can have business as usual.

That said - a bit of schadenfreude; red states will get hit worse by much of the change. That includes Texas and Oklahoma, definitely, Arizona and Utah most definitely. And, somewhat, Florida. Of course, purplish Colorado and split Nevada and New Mexico will also get swept up. In California, the more "red" southern Cal will hurt worse.

I'd love to be president and veto any and all agriculture disaster bills due to drought-related crop loss on the Plains until red-state senators knuckled under.

June 22, 2012

A #RonPaul-tard hits the op-eds of the NYT

Brian Doherty is a senior editor at Reason magazine, and has an obvious bromance with Ron Paul, as this New York Times guest piece shows. If not that, this "sue the GOP?" piece at Reason clearly shows taht.

Dear Mr. Doherty:

I am not a libertarian, BUT, I can set you straighter than you are now.

1. Gary Johnson is more of a libertarian than Ron Paul ever has been.

2. In case you missed it, Paul, like Ayn Rand, is hypocritical enough to now get Social Security. (And, in the past, and I believe today, Social Security had conscientious "opt-out" grounds, so don't give me the "he paid into it" bull.)

3. A certain percentage of libertarians are OK with national health care, even a single-payer system, viewing it as "legitimate" within libertarian mores. Why don't you ever discuss that?

4. Speaking of lawsuits, isn't it hypocritical for libertarian types to lead the big-biz push against lawsuit abuse under the guise of "tort reform" even as you appear to support the Paul suit, and lawsuits would be the only way of keeping biz in check in your libertarian dream world?

#Goose is right about #Clemens

Baseball Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage, often outspoken, is right on this: Roger Clemens doesn't belong in  the HOF until he confesses about the steroids and/or HGH most of us believe he used. (Goose likened the Clemens trial verdict to that of O.J. Simpson.)

I've said the same: Confess, then let's us do some "adjustment" estimates to your stats, then we'll consider the case of the likes of Clemens and Barry Bonds.

I think Clemens probably would have won 300 without the PEDs, and still be a first-round HOFer. But, we need to know the truth. When did you start and how serious of a user were you?

Bonds and Clemens, still definite first year picks, in my world. Rafael Palmeiro? Second or third year, maybe. Take away a lot of his power at first base, and he lessens. Gary Sheffield? More iffy. Take away many of his homers and remember his horrible fielding except when he was at DH. Mark McGwire? Not a chance.

June 21, 2012

Global warming, developing nations, A/C and ozone

The New York Times has an excellent story about the intersection of global warming, developing nations wanting the developed-world comfort of air-conditioning, and how A/C coolants that are more ozone-friendly are less global-warming friendly, price differences, and what could be called American hypocrisy.

First thing to remember is that three of the so-called "BRIC" countries — Brazil, India and China, are all at least partially in semi-tropical regions. Of course, except for mountain areas, all of India and Brazil are semi-tropical or tropical.

As a result, the growing middle classes there clamor for comfort. Including air conditioning.

Result of that?  As the story notes, A/C sales in India and China are growing 20 percent a year. 

And that's where the story really starts, and so do the problems and conundrums:
The oldest CFC coolants, which are highly damaging to the ozone layer, have been largely eliminated from use; and the newest ones, used widely in industrialized nations, have little or no effect on it. 

But these gases have an impact the ozone treaty largely ignores. Pound for pound, they contribute to global warming thousands of times more than does carbon dioxide, the standard greenhouse gas.

The leading scientists in the field have just calculated that if all the equipment entering the world market uses the newest gases currently employed in air-conditioners, up to 27 percent of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050. 
Oops. The most common one here in the U.S. is more than 2,000 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

What to do about it? Why, simple! Tell China and India not to be like us, or US, if you will:
The treaty timetable requires dozens of developing countries, including China and India, to also begin switching next year from HCFCs to gases with less impact on the ozone. But the United States and other wealthy nations are prodding them to choose ones that do not warm the planet. This week in Rio de Janeiro, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is attending the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, where proposals to gradually eliminate HFCs for their warming effect are on the provisional agenda. 

But she faces resistance because the United States is essentially telling the other nations to do what it has not: to leapfrog this generation of coolants. The trouble is, there are currently no readily available commercial ozone-friendly alternatives for air-conditioners that do not also have a strong warming effect — though there are many on the horizon. 
And, when they come out, they may be more expensive, and be patented by Western countries. Ditto for the new air conditioners, and refrigerators and such, using the next generation of coolants.

More on that here:
Phasing out HFCs by incorporating them into the treaty is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce global warming, said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development

But India, China and Brazil object that this could slow development and cost too much. All the acceptable substitutes under development for air-conditioners are either under patent, demand new equipment or require extensive new regulation and testing procedures.
At the same time, BRIC manufacturers have a "cut" in action, on the older HCFC coolants:
Politically influential manufacturers like Gujarat Fluorochemicals in India, Zhejiang Dongyang Chemical Company in China and Quimbasicos in Mexico (of which Honeywell owns 49 percent) have prospered by producing the coolant (HCFC-22, one of the older ozone-depleting coolants). They even receive lucrative subsidies from the United Nations for making it.

Othmar Schwank, a Swiss environmental consultant who has advised the United Nations, said: “In many countries, these targets will be very difficult to achieve. With appliances growing in India and China, everyone is making money, so they want to delay this as much as possible.” 
Gee, shock me. Global warming (and  ozone protection) versus money.

As noted, this is primarily a concern in air-conditioning, but refrigeration is also an issue.

And, speaking of refrigeration — it too is part of becoming more developed as a nation:
Refrigeration is also essential for these countries’ shifting food supplies. “When I was a kid in Delhi, veggies came from vendors on the street; now they all come from the supermarket,” said Atul Bagai, an Indian citizen who is the United Nations ozone program’s coordinator for South Asia. 
Beyond that, there's also the factor that all those air conditioners and refrigerators are using massive amounts of electricity. In all three warm-weather BRICs, a fair amount of the electricity for that comes from coal-fired plants.

And, then, there's the vicious circle angle, not covered in the story because it's not part of the angle.

Refrigerators spit out warm air into groceries and homes. In a hot climate, that has to be cooled by air conditioning. Of course, that air conditioning spits warm air out into the atmosphere, which then has to be cooled more. (That part of the vicious circle is here in the U.S., of course and not just the warm-weather BRICs.

Back in BRIC world, don't forget more paving of streets, more cars with air conditioning, more cars idling with air conditioning running on hot summer days, etc.

So, there's some big, big headaches ahead. And, we haven't even talked Gulf states that are getting more aggressive about both development for the general populace and diversifying their economies beyond oil.

To accompany this, the Times now has up a Room for Debate set of mini op-eds on what the global future of air conditioning should be.

June 20, 2012

#Creationism - #BobJones: 'Electricity is a mystery' #godless #socialism

Creationists, at least of the Bob Jones ilk, think "Electricity is a mystery." No, really!

That's from a homeschooling textbook from  the fundamentalist South Carolina university. Given that Bob Jones is approved by Gov. Bobby Jindal et al as a provider for Louisiana’s new school curriculum, this means, in a decade, Botswana will be ahead of Louisiana in science.

There is so much wrong with this, it ain’t even funny.

First, Bob Jones got the creationist, tea partier and general wingnut meme on this wrong. Not just kind of wrong, but totally wrong.

Electricity isn’t a “mystery.”

It’s socialist, dammit!

Why? It allowed for progress, which is always socialist.

It allowed for better working conditions. It allowed for more literacy. Those in turn allowed employees to be better able to stand up to bosses, which is of course socialistic.

But, it’s not just socialistic, it’s New Agey.

Electricity, after all is everywhere and in everything, with those invisible electrons. Especially since modern godless science says that those electrons aren’t even in one exact location, it’s just like those New Age gurus and their made-in-India (sorry, Gov. Jindal) fuzzy religion bullshit say!

And, it’s still godless. Because it comes from science.

Also, electricity is a stimulus. And, what godless, socialist New Agey president believes in stimulus?

So, nope, can’t teach Louisiana kids about electricity.

More seriously, I’ve got several other thoughts.

1. How long before Jindal retreats on at least the most egregious parts of this, and what lame-o excuse will he use?

2. Or will he retreat?

3. How long will it be, here in Texas, before the State Board of Education says, “Dammit, how did Louisiana beat us to this”?

4. How long will it be before Bob Jones changes the book to something else?

5. If you really believe electricity is a mystery, why do you use it? That’s like Barry Bonds saying the “clear” and the “cream” were a mystery, but he still used them while his head ballooned to Bob Jones creationist size. 

Thanks, #MoveOn! No thanks for the false dichotory

I didn't know that I was an official MoveOn "member," but thanks for letting me tell you NOT to endorse Obama.

However, no thanks for presenting a false dichotomy:
If MoveOn members vote to endorse President Obama, we'll campaign hard to re-elect Obama and to defeat Mitt Romney. If MoveOn members choose not to endorse Obama, we won't spend our time and resources on the presidential election. It's up to you.
MoveOn, have you not heard of the Green Party?

Teapot Tommy has a Warren Buffet bromance

Tom Friedman once again plummets to the depths of his political column inanity. About the only thing he could have done worse this time is actually mention Americans Elect, and I'm surprised he didn't, even though it's a dying dodo.

He says Dear Leader didn't use Buffett well enough. That's true enough. And trite and trivial enough, to boot.

But, from that, he leverages into an entire column that's yet another paean to the mythical inside-the-Beltway (plus NYC extension) "centrism," which ignores that Dear Leader is, with the stumbling exception of gay rights, a centrist.

If an Overton window exists in the GOP, it's because a parallel Overton window exists in the febrile minds of "pundits" like Teapot Tommy.

The Teapot Tommy who ignores that the reason the GOP didn't play ball with Obama is because he's Kumbaya. The Teapot Tommy who ignores that Obama created the Catfood Commission.

If Teapot Tommy wanted to write a good "wasted" column, he'd write one about the Peter Principle and how he's wasting good op-ed turf at the NYT.

That's ignoring the fact that Warren Buffett ain't such a centrist, either. Besides his pablum, how specific does he want to get as to HOW to have him pay more taxes than his secretary? When Buffett mentions limiting deductions for executive pay and raising the capital gains tax rate, then we'll know he's at least more serious than Teapot Tommy Friedman.

June 19, 2012

The Wisdom of the Grackles


I wish the grackles of Texas
Were like the ravens of Odin,
Laden with memory and thought
To give me wise counsel every day.
They seem drawn to me recently,
As if trying to tell me something,
As irrational as that may sound.
And so I follow after them
To pay attention, watch and listen,
Inwardly wishing that this is why they’re here
As irrational as that may sound.

Atheists do rub shoulders in foxholes,
But their heads may rest little lighter
Except for those most benighted
Than their believing kin.
They, too, seek comfort, security, insight
And though they will not bow the knee
To seeming nonexistent entities
The more broad-minded amongst them,
With insight into human mental depths
Acknowledge the psychology, the call,
And do not mock, nor disdain.

I wish the grackles of Texas
Were like the ravens of Odin.
I wish my mind, my ears,
Could understand like those of Odin.