Category Archives: Science

The Power and Responsibility of Truth in Science and Politics

Mercury MessengerPeople can handle the truth. They may not always want it, and it may be confusing, but eventually they will handle it. As they learn about the world and themselves.

When you present people with disinformation they no longer learn about the world, or themselves in relation to that world. Instead, they learn only the world you present them. In a sense, you have taken away their sight, to be replaced with your own.

Tonight the Mercury Messenger spacecraft will spend almost 70% of its remaining fuel in its final major maneuver, with the goal of reaching orbital insertion around Mercury. No spacecraft has accomplished this feat. Mercury’s mass is very small while the nearby sun is enormous, which means the slightest miscalculation in the elaborately-winding path to Mercury will lose the Messenger to the heavy sun.

Disinformation would mean disaster. Even a small, honest mistake cannot be tolerated. The only chance of success is an almost religious adherence to truth – but not only truth; the accurate communication of information without any bias.

That’s not so difficult in the company of science, and scientists. But moving into the world of politics where exerting influence over large numbers of people is the goal, truth tends to become a tool to be utilized rather than an object of aspiration.

In its best light, disinformation is propagated not through lies, but through the strategic withholding of information. We find a current example in the nuclear radiation leaks at the Fukushima reactor in Japan, where scientists are calling for a release of more information so they might better understand and predict the impact of this disaster upon the Japanese people and the rest of the world.

In a worse light we see budgetary crisis with little or no explanation that are exploited to further political agendas and proffer economic prizes within a small circle, while providing citizenry with little more than sound byte propaganda with few and quite selective empirical facts.

And worst of all, the telling of blatant lies, that everyone is aware of – yet somehow these lies have become expected, tolerated and even considered business as usual.

We certainly wouldn’t get to Mercury with practices like that. With such ego-power-centric forces driving us, our Messenger would certainly miss its rendezvous, careening to burn into the sun, or flung out to slowly freeze in deep space.

It is our choice to know and discover truth. It is our choice to withhold what we know, or share it with others. It is our choice to manipulate and deceive people, to suit our own interests. It is our choice, to care or not.

Intel’s Defective New Chip and Your Lovely Machine

Digital Rights ManagementThe recent $300+ million Intel chip recall has an interesting sideline. Apparently the chips have a design flaw that will cause data streaming to your hard drives to slow down over time, eventually resulting in only a trickle.

Interestingly, the Sandy Bridge chipset on board have Digital Rights Management (DRM) hard-wired into the Intel chips. The chips are designed to allow movie studios and television providers to command your computer not to record video.

Of course, Intel claims they have not built DRM into the chipsets, but that their chipset “gives PCs the level of trust that the studio needs to make their content available.”

Personally, I don’t like the idea of my computer’s capabilities being controlled by outside companies or entities.

The Free Software Foundation considers DRM technology to be inherently defective by design, and there is a long, ongoing campaign against DRM with some very good information available at http://www.defectivebydesign.org.

Here is a little letter I wrote the president of Intel, Mr. Paul Otellini:

To: paul.s.otellini@intel.com
Subject: No DRM in Sandybridge Please

Dear Mr. Otellini,

Please do not build DRM technology into your Sandybridge chipsets, or any other.

In fact, please do not build any technology into your hardware that monitors in any way the data I am processing. I will not purchase such products, and will encourage others not to do so.

I very much like your chip products. But not irrevocably so.

Thank you,
Mark Rushing

Convoluted Coffee

It’s one of those days where too little sleep leaves me unwilling to work, yet not tired enough to go sprawl out in bed. Such is the season of gas-powered leaf blowers wielded by morning-fixated do-gooders, who you can’t really condemn because their sheer weight in numbers grants them some ephemeral right to produce blaring noise outside your window.

So I’ll kill some time writing about something most of you will find completely uninteresting.

Not long ago I started another big project that requires the use of programming languages. I was a late-comer to object-oriented programming, and never really understood it until I gritted my teeth and dug into the formal structures. This, despite several times asking Anthony to explain it to me, which he tried, valiantly to do. It is, perhaps, like the concept of recursion – it just happens to you one day, and from that day forward, it just makes sense.

I would have explained it better than Anthony, though, I think, who focused upon the semantics. Object oriented programming is almost exactly like procedural programming, except that your functions have their own namespace (class), and multiple functions can be grouped together within that namespace (methods), sharing variables (properties) between them, or with a scope limited to a given function (method).

I think that would have made me understand object-oriented programming much easier, but through hindsight, it’s impossible to say. My apologies, Anthony, if I drove you nuts back then, trying to get me to understand the concepts and their relevance.

Object-oriented programming has become fairly well the de-facto way of programming for most applications. The sales pitch is, you can create logical objects that can be re-used easily by other programs, and it helps keep your code organized, both physically and logically, simply by adhering to the tenets of object-oriented programming. And, you can make changes in one place, without worrying that it will break other parts of your system, as long as you adhere to your defined interfaces and abstractions. It’s almost like utopia, really. Well, until you get there.

Like just about anything, it sounds great until you bring it home and live with it for a while. Then you like it, and you hate it, and helps you, and it gets in your way, etc., etc. What it does do, more than anything, is force you to think in terms of fitting blocks together, rather than flows. Oh, certainly, you can think in terms of flow to some degree with object-oriented programming, but only as much as blocks are allowed to flow. It becomes a balance, and a trade-off. Creativity can be messy, while organization can be restrictive. And one can come up with all sorts of reasons why one thing is worth the costs within the other.

Java is the language I was most interested in working with for this project, mostly because in all these years, I have never bothered to learn it. When it arrived it was meant to represent the pinnacle of the object-oriented approach to programming, with a minimal set of syntactical requirements, and the rest of the language’s functionality coming from the objects people would begin creating. After a while, people made quite a few objects, and they were put into various libraries. And marketing forces caused some of these libraries to be the more complex, “premium” libraries, while others remained in the core. However, after years of accumulating objects that represent the way things are to be done, there are so many objects, so many libraries, so many different standards that overlap, or duplicate effects, or are wholly incompatible, that Java appears to have reached an odd state of senility through its adherence to these organizational precepts.

That’s all well and good, I suppose – I don’t mind senility that much. But I do find it very difficult to chart a good course through the maelstrom of methodologies and standards that does not leave me in a position of reaching some dead-end to the path I have chosen to adopt, if contingencies might come into play along the way. Of course, you can always wrap this object in that one, and connect it over to here, when the original two were incompatible, but who knows what mammoth-sized baggage you’ll have to pick up and bring in along the way. It leaves me wishing, somewhat, that I could have grown senile along with it. But more, I think, happy that I did not. I’ve spent some good time with it and have learned it takes a good deal longer to accomplish many things with Java than it does using other languages. But it’s performance, after the fact, is almost worth it. For this project, no.

It’s so easy to fall back on PHP. You know why. It just fits right into web servers. No muss, no fuss, no effort. But it’s hideous, and clunky. I considered Perl as well, for the free and open fields, being object-oriented where you want, procedural, or even functional. Nothing is more versatile, even after all these years. Unfortunately, its use has become arcane to most, and I am not at all fond of ModPerl, which lets it run fast in web servers. Python is still transitioning between versions, and is fascist. Scala looks wonderful, but carries a good deal of Java baggage along with it, in the libraries, which some consider a huge benefit, while others consider it a nightmare. I’m left with the same, sad question from last year: where is my Perl 6? I’ve loved every bit of how it’s coming together. It’s gorgeous.

I’ll shamefully confess I decided to at least prototype in PHP. I’m telling myself, for prototyping, it’s just too damn convenient. Yet I also know, after having so much prototyping done, laziness will likely keep me with PHP. I need to be kicked in the head, shaken by the throat, then delicately caressed into doing something better, and more aesthetically enjoyable.

It may well be that I should back out, and just enter into the dark, murky swamp of Java, with all its quicksand and grabbing tendrils. Even though creating things is more time consuming, there is a final, satisfying quality to it, when complete. But I also don’t like company logos hanging off the various approaches I decide to take, and Java is packed with them.

The road through senility might just be the best path.

Progress, Destiny, Endeavor and the Unity Module

Money. I’m sure everyone has heard by now that 1% of Americans have more money than the entire 95% of the rest of us combined. The fact seems to shock many people, but honestly, I don’t mind. As long as we are free and not torturing or killing people or things without the most ironclad justifications, and we can live a modestly comfortable life in our homes, without starving or suffering unduly from disease, I am, at least perfectly content with someone else having as much money as they want. In fact, others can have whatever fetish they feel they need.

I don’t even mind if their fetish is a notion of power instead. Sure, you go have a great time making the laws we must live by, or enforcing them, as long as you must live by them too, and they conform both in letter and spirit to the boundaries we have agreed.

I’m curious how the new Michael Moore movie will portray Capitalism. Will he demonize it, or will he educate us? With Capitalism, like all academic constructs, the reality is, they are meant to be examined and studied — learned from — and only rarely taken as absolutes. They are meant to serve and better us, as humanity, not we them.

Right now a great deal of confusion is being generated through the people and mechanisms of this self-important abstract system, called Capitalism, that we have adopted. So much confusion is generated that we are even turning on ourselves. In essence, it is a holy war we wage, caught up in our own creation, adopted within our cultural myths and beliefs. And on all sides, real human lives are sacrificed in growing numbers upon the alters of progress. But what progress, really?

Is our measure of progress and success an accumulation of numbers, like the bizarre old woman whose attic gets filled to overflowing by her obsessive accumulation of trinkets? Or is true progress and success measured differently, more acutely, as the astonishing and previously impossible undertakings we have shouldered for one another in the interest of progressing our species onward to a better life for us all?

In a very real sense, Capitalism is a primitive structure, rooted in our most primal, and even barbaric instincts: conflict, gaining advantage, greed and strict boundaries. I can imagine no quality of Capitalism that cannot be reduced to at least one of those four. It is a reflection of our current world. It is a reflection of our beliefs, a reflection of work, and a reflection of nations. For most of us, it is a reflection of ourselves, even more so than a religion will shape even the most devout among us.

So what about the big bad word used by politicians and money interests to throw the brakes on any policy, law or even idea that tries to give, even the smallest amount of our public money back to the people who need it most, the ultra poor and even the mostly poor now, middle class? That’s right, I’m talking about the “S” word; Socialism, which, through a long history of propaganda, conjures images of evil Communists, secret police with interrogation cells, constant phone taps on citizens, disappearances, torture, and the invasion of foreign countries around the world to promote their oppressive way of life. Oh, wait. Hmm. Is that us?

Of course, there will be some among us who will claim, through hopelessly wrong reasoning, that it is the few wisps of socialist thinking recently entering into our political dialogue, that is to blame for our descent into that same state we claimed was so evil – evil, that is, when it wasn’t us. But that state is us, committing wanton acts of evil, and we are not a Communist state, nor even by a long stretch, a Socialist state. States become evil when they try, at any cost, to maintain themselves, unchanged.

I am not advocating Socialism, nor any other political or economic abstraction. However, I am advocating a thorough exploration of modern ideas, as well as old ones. It is unlikely that any one system will be good. We know that reality rarely conforms to ideals. Socialism is flawed because it requires that we can genuinely trust one another to adhere to the best principles for us all, through rational means. But unfortunately, we still have far too many liars. We still have far too many people who want things for themselves alone, despite the existence of other people. As long as this is true, more modern and humane systems like Socialism will be in danger of exploitation. We must learn to be honest, and care for each other, and not just in our own self-interest. But that does not mean we should avoid taking steps in new directions. In fact, we should. How better to learn, than to explore, with both our minds and hearts set to the task?

Pure Capitalism does not fulfill our social needs.It is wholly inadequate, and its shortcomings even go a long way to fostering ill for us, socially. Good does not arise, on its own, from greed. Capitalism is not wholly evil, either. But it impact upon our social structures must be tempered by something more humane than mathematics. It must be tempered by our desire to help one another, which all of us, when we are interviewed individually, possess a strong predisposition to do. We want to help others. And there is nothing wrong with that. And there is nothing wrong with making certain that those among us, who have benefited so greatly from us, also, to some degree, return benefit to us. There is nothing wrong with saying that ethics are every bit as important as profit. Doing so is a large step up in our social evolution and is one we are beginning to understand, and believe, despite the monumental efforts of purely capital interests.

Capitalism is not freedom. Nor is Socialism freedom. In the US, our notions of freedom arise from our founding documents, from which all subsequent law must, in theory, conform. Capitalism and Socialism are abstract ideals that we can look to and study, adopting those qualities we feel are right, for a given circumstance. I have heard it said by both liberals and conservatives, that the economic bailout of Wall Street was an act of socialism for the rich. That is not Socialism. Socialism would have that money go to all of us, not the banks, to pay off the mortgages. It was, instead, an act of Capitalism, and a telling example of how Capitalism can actually undermine a democracy – just as the trends in health care reform are also currently headed: a boon for capital interests, at our expense, with possibly something beneficial for us, coming down the road.

You know, I have given up being surprised by how many things lead me back to the general exploration of our universe, beyond all these ridiculous machinations. Those of you who follow NASA are familiar with the Augustine Report, commissioned to study NASA and its programs, then report back to the government. The preliminary report suggests that NASA needs more funding. And the GAO finds that NASA has not done enough to “develop all the elements of a sound business case” for its current human space flight plans.

If we used the money we have spent on the wars, and money we spend on the military in just one year, we would fully fund NASA, and more, for over 100 years, which is twice the agency’s current age. What “sound business case” is there for these wars, let alone humanitarian justification? The justification is oil, and its impending scarcity, and subsequent rise in value, which is also at odds with alternative energy development. Capital interests should not trump humanity’s interests. The question should not be how much money can we make, but rather, how much better can we make ourselves, through our understanding of each other and the universe we inhabit?

Imagine what we might come to understand and accomplish if just some tiny fraction of money were diverted from our military industry, or we decided to transform our military industry into scientific research? If we could just change from thinking in terms of offensive capabilities, to defensive, the savings would be enormous. The resources we could devote to energy, science and exploration could begin a new renaissance in our human endeavor.

I was listening to an astronaut speak a few days ago about his first sight of the Earth during a space walk. He’s a big, goofy Italian from New York, with all the trimmings. He said, it’s one thing when you look at the Earth through the window of a spacecraft, but it’s another thing altogether when you see the Earth clearly, right before your face. This big lug said, he looked at the Earth and words can’t even describe how beautiful it is. He looked away from it and thought to himself, God didn’t mean for anyone to ever see this. Then he looked again. And he thought, this is what Heaven must look like, watery-eyed, and worried that the moisture would do bad things in his suit, and that he would be given hell by his fellow astronauts now for telling this story. And then he thought no, this is not what Heaven must look like, this is what Heaven is.

It’s time we pull our heads out of money, power and war. It’s time we pull our heads out of never-ending ideological struggles that do not elevate us. It is time we devote ourself wholly to our own betterment as a species, not just to our own betterment. It is time we evolve. It is time we remember how, to show the way, by our example.

A Higher Education – The Humanity!

It is always interesting when your past meets up with your present. Chris has just resurfaced after many long travels. This isn’t the Chris who is struggling with a sense of personal honor in relation to identity. This is the Chris who found it, probably by losing himself through the shedding of prior definitions, then reconstituted in his own truer terms.

Anyone who has traveled and had the courage to step out of their protective cultural bubble is forever transformed in inexplicable ways. It is the difference between a traveler and a tourist. A tourist merely looks, from an abstract distance, at the animals in the zoo, while keeping themselves safely separated behind the glass walls that define them. On the other hand, the traveler jumps right in. The traveler may not be fearless, but no one can say that the traveler is not courageous. It is not easy, letting many of our internal definitions slip away. But it is the only way to truly understand other people, as any modern anthropologist will tell you. And in return, it really is the only way we can better understand ourselves.

bkbldIt is said that through formal education people are also transformed. This is true, to varying degrees. Mathematics and the various sciences, through their rigidly narrow focus, provide some hint of transformation. But they are better equipped to provide logical obsessions to the reasoning area of the mind. And these obsessions can easily distract us from our own humanity, and the humanity of others. But there also exists within academia the study of Humanities. Nearly all science and business students groan at the prospect of having to take even a few Humanities courses as general university requirements. Because, if it were not for those educational requirements, they would rather not learn any more about humanity. After all, they are human, yes? What else is there to know? Just a bunch of crazy gobbly-gook?

What does it say about us, when we are unwilling to explore the incredible diversity inherent in humanity? In a culture where we are increasingly encouraged to find our small niche, or our well-defined cubicle, what place is there for humanity? Everything becomes oriented and limited to our function, rather than our experience of what it is, to be alive. In fact, if we happen to have flashes of self-insight, or question the function we have adopted and defined for ourself, many people are left in a near state of anxiety or panic. The study of Humanities does not exclude function. It embraces function. But Humanities takes it even further. Humanities embraces everything we can possibly conceive or experience, whether it appears reasonable or not. Humanities says, we’re all just human, and we’re all fundamentally different, and we’re all so very similar. Humanities says, sunshine, don’t worry (or do) — it’s okay. Let’s just look at this. Maybe we’ll learn something. And be better off for it.

It should be no surprise that as students increasingly devote their lives to business, humanities dwindle. Business and money are what draws people’s attention, while their their own nature as a human, and their fellow human beings, are less a concern. Of course you can rationalize that students enter into studying disciplines mostly devoid of humanity, with only the best intentions toward some indefinable humanity, and the positive role they might play, in the long run. Just remember that education is, indeed, transformational. Even business education.

Last month Chris Hedges wrote an excellent article called Higher Education Gone Wrong: Universities Are Turning into Corporate Drone Factories. Don’t let the somewhat cynical title put you off. It is worth a read. He is completely correct. I’ll take his piece a little further:

Academia is, indeed, still teaching critical thinking. However, critical thinking is no longer as much about truth as it is about “winning”. Even in the sciences, where truth remains mostly necessary, the motivation is more about the ego of the individual “winning” that truth, than it is about truth in and of itself. Students, and by degrees our society, are loosing the ability to think critically except within the terms that can somehow benefit themselves in some self-interested way.

This also is not very surprising, considering the enormous increase in corporate sponsorship of university schools and research. Public funding of universities and research comes with few strings attached, and as such, truth can be the primary concern. However, public funding of education has been drastically reduced, and in these economic conditions where even states are desperate for money, universities and education will only increasingly rely on private parties for their funding.

secrets_beyondAs I mentioned a few months ago in another piece related to education, there is a very small, yet interesting, trend happening in the humanities. Even as the number of people who devote themselves to the humanities declines, the number of people devoting themselves to philosophical inquiry is slowly, yet steadily increasing, though nothing as fast as business. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful sign. It means that more people are questioning the very foundations of their lives and their culture. It also means that more people are interested in what truly is right and wrong, independent of what any arbitrary religion or culture might espouse.

In philosophy, the study of what is right and wrong is called “ethics”. It is also no surprise that most students view philosophy students as freaks who are best at chasing their own tails. There is some truth in that preconception. But leaving it at that is a grave mistake. The study of philosophy is no simple task. It is as much about disciplining the mind with the clarity of reason than it is about any historical study of human thought. It is about applying reason to all things, not just the measurable. And to those people unaccustomed to reason truly being applied to their lives, the philosopher might come off looking like a lunatic, or an ass. But trust me, and you will have to, if you have not immersed yourself within philosophical inquiry — the clarity of reason applied to us, in all our many facets, causes most people to run away screaming in fear. Philosophy is the the root and foundation of all science. It is the root and foundation of our ability to understand ourselves and our world, even beyond the merely empirical. And when you apply this rigorous discipline to notions of right and wrong, through the study of ethics, even religion is left far behind in the dust and our lives, through our decisions, and the subsequent manifestation of a greater culture and society, are revealed in vividly naked splendor, both in its magnificence and its hideousness.

It is no wonder that corporate and money interests, and in turn, most students, de-emphasize the importance of philosophical inquiry. It is dismissed as impractical, at least when they are feeling nice. And it is dismissed as subversive, when they are feeling threatened.

Philosophical inquiry is the process of bringing truth, which is often obscured or hidden, out into the light of day. But truth threatens many people. One of the most effective ways of achieving any selfish end is through hiding truth. And in a culture which idolizes the self and the self’s greatness above all else, much truth must be hidden. Then, when lies are revealed or deceptions are unmasked, the perpetrator usually will not confront the truth or even admit any wrongdoing. They just simply, and predictably, attempt to obscure and hide the truth further, a little like a bug trying to hide in plain sight by hoping the colors of its shell blends well enough with the background noise. And, if cornered, the bug attacks.

So, you might ask, why have we given all this money to the people who have just taken all our jobs and money and homes? And who, exactly, are these people? And why does our government have to funnel money through AIG before it reaches the banks, rather than giving the money directly to the banks? And why are these banks, who are receiving our money, not lending the money back to us, but are instead, buying up smaller banks? And why is Obama disregarding the law by not taking these banks from their owners and restructuring them? And why is our Treasury Secretary Geithner saying that banks will need several trillion dollars more before the “toxic” mortgage problem is fixed, when we could just as easily pay off the bad mortgages so that people can remain in a home, and hence eliminate the toxic items?

Selling homes that have been repossessed is a booming business right now, if you have the money to buy them. Banks are selling people’s houses left and right, and the bottom feeder realtors are in a frenzy. Just recently I was asked to do a programming job for a small realty company that sought a better way to make repossessed homes more easily searchable, while at the same time, making people think that those repossessed homes were available only through that realty company. Thankfully the computer store owner who brought me the job, lied about the terms the contract while trying to lock me into other terms, and I could gracefully back out. But I was going to do the work for these carrion eaters, because the owner of the computer store was giving me a gift, and I liked him. And as such, I could rationalize helping these bottom feeders. But my rationalizations were weak, and I knew it. Yet I was going to do it anyway. It is a strange thing being happy that someone you like has lied to you.

Just as I was willing to do, too much evil is assisted and committed by people who rationalize that they are “just doing their job”, or who say “it’s just business”. Neither one of those statements satisfies even the most basic ethical criteria. Such sayings really mean, I know what I am doing is wrong, but I am going to do it anyway, only with a candy coating. Mathematics doesn’t cover this. Business school doesn’t cover this, except as to further business. The humanities do. And philosophy, in particular, covers it completely. That entire enterprise, from the bottom feeders and those who assist them, up to the original instigators, is a giant wad of ethical evil, where a great number of people continue to suffer while a very few people reap the benefits from this suffering, and all the while, the carrion eaters circle to grab what pieces of flesh they can, falling from the carnage. I was so happy when Zane told me he purposefully stayed away from repossessed properties when he bought his house, so many months ago. When I asked him, I expected him to answer that he did buy a repo. He didn’t. Cheers for Zane!

The same weak rationalizations are also used by people to invade other countries. Here, the carrion feeders are the military service industry and the reconstruction industry, both of which, involve Cheney in a prominent position — just like Geithner held a prominent financial position in the banking industry, as did his predecessor, Paulson. We see this, and we are aware of this. Yet somehow, we lack any outrage. We expect that our government will give our money to the bankers. We carrier to noise ratioexpect that our government will claim that we have no money left to help normal people. The essence here is, there is a massive shift of wealth heading up, yet again, to even a smaller few people, and our government is doing all that it can to make certain those few people remain in tact, even though, economically, there is no reason to do so, and every reason to destroy this “too big to fail” mentality.

If we can employ critical thinking, we can see our situation more clearly. Unfortunately, critical thinking is no longer considered useful, or even desirable by many, including universities. For the most part, universities teach facts and methodologies oriented toward specific purposes that align with business. Even in science. Without an ability to critically think and form questions, people are vulnerable to spin and hyperbole. And that is precisely all we get from what few corporate news sources that are left to us. Journalism is dead in the corporate media. What remains is merely propaganda, in the service of the very people who continue to take all they can, in whatever way they can, without a concern for ethics, and often without even a concern for law. And after propaganda comes sensationalism. This is our current American society, even with the harbinger of change in place.

Without an ability to critically reason, our population is left with two choices. Believe what is said through the media outlets, or simply ignore any larger concerns. The majority seems to ignore larger concerns. But either way, those who lack the ability to critically reason will focus almost exclusively upon immediate tasks which are in their own self-interest. From the perspective of the “power elite”, who possess a sea of people lacking the capacity to critically think, and who are well-trained in narrow skills, this is a harvest boon. They can easily hide from anyone those things they do not wish known, while offering up rationales and distractions to keep their machinations hidden. As was mentioned in the previous business ethics pieces, this behavior is similarly and readily adopted by even small business owners. Our culture is no longer an ethical one. It is all about who can get what for themselves. In other words, we have a hard time blaming the bad guys, because more than likely we’re bad ourselves.

But change is here now, right? We should not be looking at what was done in the past, but should instead stay positive and look toward the future. These are even Obama’s words. They are also the words of any business person, or person in power, who wishes to get away with something, and carry on business as usual. Unfailingly. It is a simple, yet effective, semantic trick. After all, who doesn’t want to be positive? Only assholes and crazy people, of course. Well, there you have it. Don’t look. Just keep going. Don’t rock the boat, and don’t be an ass.

As we lose more and more of the incalculable benefits of the Humanities, we find ourselves growing into an increasingly mechanistic lifestyle. This is also excellent news for the corporate state, for we are a vast army of well-trained cogs, gearing up for the battlefield of the newest millennium: the global economy. The war is between the US, Southeast Asia and soon the European Union. We are becoming a world of multiple poles. The Middle East is a strategic resource. Wars of one type or another are always necessary to keep power in place. Of course, we must keep the military/industrial complex happy as well, so really, killing wars will not entirely end.

It is also no surprise that with the blurring between government and business, private military armies are on the rise. Even in the Obama administration. Corporate armies have no allegiance to countries. They have an allegiance to money. And they have the added benefit that they are not bound by a country’s military laws or treaties, which also means that private armies can be deployed on US soil.

It is perfectly clear to even the non-critical observer that our government no longer functions in the interests of its citizenry. Obama has made no real change. He has strengthened our occupation of Afghanistan, he is taking military action within the boarders of Pakistan, he completely supports the suspension of habeus corpus for anyone he deems a terrorists or “enemy combatant”, he continues the Bush Administration’s declaration of a national emergency which grants his office sweeping powers and clouds of secrecy (with Congress’ blessings), he refuses to investigate or prosecute our country’s torturers, nor will he investigate or prosecute the CIA people who illegally destroyed the torture videos in their possession, and he is doing absolutely nothing to prosecute, investigate, or even bring to light any of the wrongdoings committed by the previous administration.  He has, however, invited a boatload of celebrity performers to the White House, including a special performance by Stevie Wonder, who was the reason, he says, that he and his wife were married.

Meanwhile, because some cultures on the planet are not quite as brain and heart-dead as our own, rioting is on the rise. The few media outlets who cover this, label it “class wars”. But the class wars were already fought. The poor and middle-class lost. Now, with their bottomless hunger still unsatisfied, the dominant players in world finance continue to squeeze for more, as people from all classes, except the very few at the top, become even poorer. This is why you see such large police forces in every city, wearing riot gear, and an increase in training academies for them, and consistent technical advances in non-lethal weaponry for crowd control, and body protection for these forces. It is well known that rioting will continue to increase. It is planned for.

But only as a last resort. Until people start rioting, we can expect things like the re-branding of issues that make us furious. After all, for people who don’t think critically, a re-branding will just slide right in unnoticed into happy land. For example, the private military contractor Blackwater has changed their name to Xe. Obama has renamed the war on terror to “overseas contingency operations”. He’s also changed the economic crisis into the bank stabilization plan, while making toxic assets into “legacy” assets — in word, at least, a thing of the past. Let’s just keep positive and look to the future, instead of the past. Never mind who’s getting the money for those “legacy” assets, or why those assets even exist. Never mind that the banks get payments for those mortgages from we people, and they get the properties from us when we can’t pay, and they get the money from selling those properties again with even more mortgages, and they get the bailout money from us, because they over-valued all those houses and assets to begin with, and are now insolvent as a result. Oh, and never mind that the Obama administration is breaking the law by not forcibly restructuring these banks. And yes, those banks are using the money to buy up all the smaller banks that might one day compete with them, and who would benefit from their demise. Change we can believe in. Riots in London at the G20 economic conference. 30,000 protesters in Europe near the German-French border at the recent NATO meeting, with three burning buildings left behind and almost 400 people jailed. Nearly all of Greece in turmoil, near the breaking point. And don’t forget the pirates! Mmm. Pirates.

But is re-branding bad? Looking at re-branding from an ethical standpoint requires that we look at more that just the act of re-branding, which is ethically neutral. We must ask, why is he re-branding? If it is an attempt to clarify issues, then it is ethically good. If it is an attempt to obfuscate issues, then it is ethically bad. If it is an attempt to disassociate himself from the previous administration’s policies, while still adhering to their core, that is simply a re-wrapping; an obfuscation, and that is bad. From an ethical perspective, this re-branding is a very bad thing, indeed.

All this amounts to one inevitable conclusion. Humanity is not as important as business. Is it surprising that students enroll far more in business than in the humanities?

Within the US right now, 1 out of 10 people are on food stamps. They need help from the government just to eat. More than double this number of people have no health insurance. This means that if you get sick, and could be treated, you will be left instead to die because you cannot pay (unless the illness is immediately life threatening). Even if you have money to pay a health insurance premium, but have even some small condition, it is very likely you will not be able to find a policy, unless you are working for a corporation that has an arrangement with a health care provider where they are required to accept you. And right now, we are also approaching 1 out of 10 people being unemployed. However, this is a little deceptive. The figure relies upon people who have been actively seeking employment. The real figure is between 30-40%. Yes, the math in these figures do not really make all that much sense. It’s best that way.

Perhaps our evolution into a corporate government is inevitable. After all, we provide details on all our friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and we even sign over the rights to everything we write, post or send through Facebook, to Facebook. Our personal statistics are analyzed, stored and marketed. We entrust all our personal and business email, and all our curiosities to Google, who similarly analyzes, stores and markets our identity. We allow our government to listen to all our telephone and email communications. And I assure you this is no joke, we even carry around our own government listening “bugs” with us at all times — our cell phone, which the government can turn on to listen at any time, as well as track our whereabouts. The FBI, even under FOIA will provide no details.

Technological developments such as cloud computing further centralize our information and dependence upon singular, larger corporations. Small agricultural farms are practically non-existent, while large, corporate farms grow our crops and livestock with close contractual ties to chemical and genetic companies like Monsanto who also control nearly all seeds. Public utilities such as power and water are being sold to private investment companies. So are our roads.

Many years ago, perhaps more than ten now, Battelle Memorial Institute did their best to convince me to join their ranks as an employee, rather than as contractor. I loved working with Battelle. Their slogan was, “Science in the service of humanity”, and for all that I saw, they meant it. For years they attempted to shed the label of being a “think tank”. They are a non-profit organization that offered a sort of refuge to some of the greatest minds in science, to come together, in a multi-disciplinary setting. However, they also we responsible for running a handful of our national laboratories, and relied heavily upon government funding. As such, before they would hire me, they wanted to sample my urine.

I had no real reason to keep my urine to myself, other than an ethical one. Should a company be able to sample our body’s makeup, or our genetic information, before hiring us? The question is not an easy one to answer. I leaned toward “no”. They ought not to be able to require me to pee for them. But I decided to leave it somewhat up to them. I told the director who wanted to hire me, and the director and staff of human resources that I would give them my pee, but only if they agreed to come out in the courtyard to watch me pee for them. If they could bring themselves to actually face what they were asking another to do, and the humiliation, then I would consider their job offer worthy enough to compromise myself. Needless to say, they would not agree, and I even received a couple unofficial apologies for the requirement. It is certain my life would be very different now, had I compromised my ethics at the time. I do not know how different it would be.

Ethics guides my life, in most respects. It is why I will not help some companies, or people, and it is why I will help others. It is why I try to be honest, even when honesty is not the easiest course. Adhering to ethics sometimes makes me seem like an ass. And sometimes it makes me seem like someone who just can’t leave well enough alone. And sometimes I fail. Other times, I manage to set an example. Almost always, I seem the lunatic.

Most people never bother to ask the foundational questions that arise from what they are confronted with. They simply do what will be best for them at the moment, in those given circumstances. Scientists like to believe they can think critically, but usually their perspective and the scope of their vision is severely curtailed by the edicts of natural law, which are wholly inadequate to critically engage the human and cultural condition. This is why I am encouraged by the slight rise in students pursuing the philosophical disciplines. These students will learn to think. They will learn to see. They will learn how and why and where they should question, and that is everywhere. And most of all, they will learn that few things are just givens, and rarely are things as they appear on the surface.

Ah, the games we play. The beliefs from which we cannot see beyond. And the mazes that contain us. Our hearts, that seek, feel and experience. This is the purview of the Humanities. This is what we must not forget. Because in the end, we always come back to it, if only in our quietest of times, when we are alone. But how much more majestic when we are together? How different would it be, exploring our humanity together, rather than just seeing who can manage to get what from whom? Humanity. Or who can get what from whom?

At the end of the day, our education is unavoidable, one way or another.