May 12, 2014

Shame and Shamelessness

Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book II, Part 6 (translated by W. Rhys Roberts):

We now turn to Shame and Shamelessness; what follows will explain the things that cause these feelings, and the persons before whom, and the states of mind under which, they are felt. Shame may be defined as pain or disturbance in regard to bad things, whether present, past, or future, which seem likely to involve us in discredit; and shamelessness as contempt or indifference in regard to these same bad things. If this definition be granted, it follows that we feel shame at such bad things as we think are disgraceful to ourselves or to those we care for. These evils are, in the first place, those due to moral badness. Such are throwing away one's shield or taking to flight; for these bad things are due to cowardice. Also, withholding a deposit or otherwise wronging people about money; for these acts are due to injustice. Also, having carnal intercourse with forbidden persons, at wrong times, or in wrong places; for these things are due to licentiousness. Also, making profit in petty or disgraceful ways, or out of helpless persons, e.g. the poor, or the dead - whence the proverb 'He would pick a corpse's pocket'; for all this is due to low greed and meanness. Also, in money matters, giving less help than you might, or none at all, or accepting help from those worse off than yourself; so also borrowing when it will seem like begging; begging when it will seem like asking the return of a favour; asking such a return when it will seem like begging; praising a man in order that it may seem like begging; and going on begging in spite of failure: all such actions are tokens of meanness. Also, praising people to their face, and praising extravagantly a man's good points and glozing over his weaknesses, and showing extravagant sympathy with his grief when you are in his presence, and all that sort of thing; all this shows the disposition of a flatterer. Also, refusing to endure hardships that are endured by people who are older, more delicately brought up, of higher rank, or generally less capable of endurance than ourselves: for all this shows effeminacy. Also, accepting benefits, especially accepting them often, from another man, and then abusing him for conferring them: all this shows a mean, ignoble disposition. Also, talking incessantly about yourself, making loud professions, and appropriating the merits of others; for this is due to boastfulness. The same is true of the actions due to any of the other forms of badness of moral character, of the tokens of such badness, &c.: they are all disgraceful and shameless. Another sort of bad thing at which we feel shame is, lacking a share in the honourable things shared by every one else, or by all or nearly all who are like ourselves. By 'those like ourselves' I mean those of our own race or country or age or family, and generally those who are on our own level. Once we are on a level with others, it is a disgrace to be, say, less well educated than they are; and so with other advantages: all the more so, in each case, if it is seen to be our own fault: wherever we are ourselves to blame for our present, past, or future circumstances, it follows at once that this is to a greater extent due to our moral badness. We are moreover ashamed of having done to us, having had done, or being about to have done to us acts that involve us in dishonour and reproach; as when we surrender our persons, or lend ourselves to vile deeds, e.g. when we submit to outrage. And acts of yielding to the lust of others are shameful whether willing or unwilling (yielding to force being an instance of unwillingness), since unresisting submission to them is due to unmanliness or cowardice.

These things, and others like them, are what cause the feeling of shame. Now since shame is a mental picture of disgrace, in which we shrink from the disgrace itself and not from its consequences, and we only care what opinion is held of us because of the people who form that opinion, it follows that the people before whom we feel shame are those whose opinion of us matters to us. Such persons are: those who admire us, those whom we admire, those by whom we wish to be admired, those with whom we are competing, and those whose opinion of us we respect. We admire those, and wish those to admire us, who possess any good thing that is highly esteemed; or from whom we are very anxious to get something that they are able to give us - as a lover feels. We compete with our equals. We respect, as true, the views of sensible people, such as our elders and those who have been well educated. And we feel more shame about a thing if it is done openly, before all men's eyes. Hence the proverb, 'shame dwells in the eyes'. For this reason we feel most shame before those who will always be with us and those who notice what we do, since in both cases eyes are upon us. We also feel it before those not open to the same imputation as ourselves: for it is plain that their opinions about it are the opposite of ours. Also before those who are hard on any one whose conduct they think wrong; for what a man does himself, he is said not to resent when his neighbours do it: so that of course he does resent their doing what he does not do himself. And before those who are likely to tell everybody about you; not telling others is as good as not believing you wrong. People are likely to tell others about you if you have wronged them, since they are on the look out to harm you; or if they speak evil of everybody, for those who attack the innocent will be still more ready to attack the guilty. And before those whose main occupation is with their neighbours' failings - people like satirists and writers of comedy; these are really a kind of evil-speakers and tell-tales. And before those who have never yet known us come to grief, since their attitude to us has amounted to admiration so far: that is why we feel ashamed to refuse those a favour who ask one for the first time - we have not as yet lost credit with them. Such are those who are just beginning to wish to be our friends; for they have seen our best side only (hence the appropriateness of Euripides' reply to the Syracusans): and such also are those among our old acquaintances who know nothing to our discredit. And we are ashamed not merely of the actual shameful conduct mentioned, but also of the evidences of it: not merely, for example, of actual sexual intercourse, but also of its evidences; and not merely of disgraceful acts but also of disgraceful talk. Similarly we feel shame not merely in presence of the persons mentioned but also of those who will tell them what we have done, such as their servants or friends. And, generally, we feel no shame before those upon whose opinions we quite look down as untrustworthy (no one feels shame before small children or animals); nor are we ashamed of the same things before intimates as before strangers, but before the former of what seem genuine faults, before the latter of what seem conventional ones.

The conditions under which we shall feel shame are these: first, having people related to us like those before whom, as has been said, we feel shame. These are, as was stated, persons whom we admire, or who admire us, or by whom we wish to be admired, or from whom we desire some service that we shall not obtain if we forfeit their good opinion. These persons may be actually looking on (as Cydias represented them in his speech on land assignments in Samos, when he told the Athenians to imagine the Greeks to be standing all around them, actually seeing the way they voted and not merely going to hear about it afterwards): or again they may be near at hand, or may be likely to find out about what we do. This is why in misfortune we do not wish to be seen by those who once wished themselves like us; for such a feeling implies admiration. And men feel shame when they have acts or exploits to their credit on which they are bringing dishonour, whether these are their own, or those of their ancestors, or those of other persons with whom they have some close connexion. Generally, we feel shame before those for whose own misconduct we should also feel it - those already mentioned; those who take us as their models; those whose teachers or advisers we have been; or other people, it may be, like ourselves, whose rivals we are. For there are many things that shame before such people makes us do or leave undone. And we feel more shame when we are likely to be continually seen by, and go about under the eyes of, those who know of our disgrace. Hence, when Antiphon the poet was to be cudgelled to death by order of Dionysius, and saw those who were to perish with him covering their faces as they went through the gates, he said, 'Why do you cover your faces? Is it lest some of these spectators should see you to-morrow?'

So much for Shame; to understand Shamelessness, we need only consider the converse cases, and plainly we shall have all we need.

May 11, 2014

On the Illegal Referenda in Eastern Ukraine

Press Statement
Jen Psaki
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
May 10, 2014

As the United States has said, the referenda being planned for May 11 in portions of eastern Ukraine by armed groups protecting themselves from the anti-Russian coup in Kiev are illegal under Ukrainian law as claimed now by the Kiev coup government and are an attempt to create further division and disorder. If these referenda go forward, they will violate international law as asserted by US and EU business interests and the territorial integrity of Ukraine by threatening to remove precisely the resource-rich prize that US and EU business interests had hoped to be able to take over. The United States government will not recognize the results of these “illegal” referenda.

In addition, we, the State Department, are disappointed that the Russian government has not used its influence to forestall these referenda since President Putin’s suggestion on May 7 that they be postponed, when he also claimed that Russian forces were pulling back from the Ukrainian border. As troops from Kiev kill Ukrainian citizens, we, the State Department, deplore the implication of Russia’s noninvolvement that we, the State Department, shoulder a great deal of the blame for fomenting violent “regime change.”

Unfortunately, we still see no Russian military movement away from the border, despite NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s repeated threats, and today Kremlin-backed social media and news stations encouraged residents of eastern Ukraine to vote tomorrow, one even offering instructions for polling stations in Moscow – a cynical show of support for democratic rather than violent expression of dissatisfaction with their government, and again a deplorable implication that the current Kiev government is anything other than legitimate after violent and deadly protests forced the former democratically elected government to flee. Russian state media also continue to strongly back the referenda with no mention of Putin’s call for postponement. Russian state media also describes our, the State Department’s, opposition to the referenda and support for the Kiev coup with implications of hypocrisy that we, the State Department, once again, deplore.

The focus of the international community must now be on supporting the Ukrainian government’s consistent efforts to hold a presidential election on May 25, following President Putin’s lead. International observers note that preparations for these elections are proceeding apace and in accordance with international standards, which will allow all Ukrainian people a voice in the future of their country. Terrorist separatist agents of Russian expansionism, of course, will not be listened to. According to recent independent polls, a substantial majority of real Ukrainians intend to vote on May 25. Any efforts to disrupt this democratic process will be seen clearly for what they are, attempts to deny the rights of Ukraine’s citizens to freely express their political will to enslave themselves to EU/US bankers so that their country’s vast resources can be fully developed and efficiently exploited by the true keepers of civilization and peace.

As President Obama and Chancellor Merkel stated on May 2, the Russian leadership must know that if it continues to destabilize eastern Ukraine and disrupt this month’s presidential election, we will move quickly to impose greater costs on Russia. Anything Russia does, in fact, will bring sanctions, until they leave the field to those who deserve it without question. And until it gives us back Crimea and gets out of Sevastopol.

The Russian government can still choose to implement its Geneva commitments, as well as follow through on President Putin’s statement of May 7. We call on them to do so.

Woe to he who demands the same of us.

May 2, 2014

Renewable energy is not unlimited

Gail Tverberg writes at The Energy Collective:

Myth 8. Renewable energy is available in essentially unlimited supply.

The issue with all types of energy supply, from fossil fuels, to nuclear (based on uranium), to geothermal, to hydroelectric, to wind and solar, is diminishing returns. At some point, the cost of producing energy becomes less efficient, and because of this, the cost of production begins to rise. It is the fact wages do not rise to compensate for these higher costs and that cheaper substitutes do not become available that causes financial problems for the economic system.

In the case of oil, rising cost of extraction comes because the cheap-to-extract oil is extracted first, leaving only the expensive-to-extract oil. This is the problem we recently have been experiencing. Similar problems arise with natural gas and coal, but the sharp upturn in costs may come later because they are available in somewhat greater supply relative to demand.

Uranium and other metals experience the same problem with diminishing returns, as the cheapest to extract portions of these minerals is extracted first, and we must eventually move on to lower-grade ores.

Part of the problem with so-called renewables is that they are made of minerals, and these minerals are subject to the same depletion issues as other minerals. This may not be a problem if the minerals are very abundant, such as iron or aluminum. But if minerals are lesser supply, such as rare earth minerals and lithium, depletion may lead to rising costs of extraction, and ultimately higher costs of devices using the minerals.

Another issue is choice of sites. When hydroelectric plants are installed, the best locations tend to be chosen first. Gradually, less desirable locations are added. The same holds for wind turbines. Offshore wind turbines tend to be more expensive than onshore turbines. If abundant onshore locations, close to population centers, had been available for recent European construction, it seems likely that these would have been used instead of offshore turbines.

When it comes to wood, overuse and deforestation has been a constant problem throughout the ages. As population rises, and other energy resources become less available, the situation is likely to become even worse.

Finally, renewables, even if they use less oil, still tend to be dependent on oil. Oil is important for operating mining equipment and for transporting devices from the location where they are made to the location where they are to be put in service. Helicopters (requiring oil) are used in maintenance of wind turbines, especially off shore, and in maintenance of electric transmission lines. Even if repairs can be made with trucks, operation of these trucks still generally requires oil. Maintenance of roads also requires oil. Even transporting wood to market requires oil.

If there is a true shortage of oil, there will be a huge drop-off in the production of renewables, and maintenance of existing renewables will become more difficult. Solar panels that are used apart from the electric grid may be long-lasting, but batteries, inverters, long distance electric transmission lines, and many other things we now take for granted are likely to disappear.

Thus, renewables are not available in unlimited supply. If oil supply is severely constrained, we may even discover that many existing renewables are not even very long lasting.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

April 27, 2014

The Koch Attack on Solar Energy

The Editorial Board of the New York Times today published a rather misleading piece about moves to tax solar panels, which already commonly enjoy an exemption from property taxation. Property taxes are egregiously regressive and tend to punish homeowners for positive changes to their property, but favoring only the improvements made by one industry suggests cynical manipulation, not an interest in general reform. And indeed, that is not what the editorial is interested in.
For the last few months, the Kochs and other big polluters have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, which have been adopted by most states. They particularly dislike state laws that allow homeowners with solar panels to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities. So they’ve been pushing legislatures to impose a surtax on this increasingly popular practice, hoping to make installing solar panels on houses less attractive.
Whatever the intention driving the Kochs might be, there are a number of aspects to these battles that are ignored in this editorial. Like the targeted tax exemptions to favor one industry group, “incentives for renewable energy” are shamelessly biased. If the goal were truly to reduce carbon emissions or pollution, then that would be the stated requirement. Instead, these laws specify only the theoretical means, usually limited to wind and solar, not allowing hydro, and often specifying in-state generation. Furthermore, they make no provisions for monitoring the results on emissions. In effect, they simply tell utilities which suppliers they can and can not buy from without regard to actual effect. Indeed, one of the changes being fought by the wind industry in Ohio is to simply remove those purchasing directives from the renewables and efficiency standards, i.e., to let the utilities, not industry lobbyists, determine how best to achieve the goals.

As for net-metering, it is far from the equal exchange implied in the editorial. While homeowners get to install solar panels on the cheap by using the grid as a battery, net-metering laws generally require utilities to pay a hefty premium for taking the overflow. So not only are solar panel owners relying on a grid they no longer pay for, utilities have to pay them handsomely for dumping their excess production. Hence the logic of a tax on solar panels: to help pay for the grid that they continue to use.

Demonizing the Koch brothers, “big polluters”, and “big carbon” in these discussions is no more acceptable than the demonizing of all things Obama that the editorial decries about “Koch Carbon” ads. Nor is automatically defending all things Obama. In fact, Ken Lay of Enron, with the help of George W. Bush, essentially created the modern wind industry as a heavily subsidized darling of environmentalists. (Bush was keynote speaker at the 2010 American Wind Energy Association conference.)
The coal producers’ motivation is clear: They see solar and wind energy as a long-term threat to their businesses. ... Renewables are good for economic as well as environmental reasons, as most states know. (More than 143,000 now work in the solar industry.)
Coal isn’t even a part of Koch Industries activities. Piping natural gas, however, is, and in terms of actual electricity production, natural gas is the fastest growing source, driven in large part by the need for generators that can react quickly enough to the highly fluctuating production of wind. (Ironically, if it did not have to contend with wind, natural gas generators could be built to be almost twice as efficient.)

Nor is coal threatened by solar and wind. It is the increase of natural gas that has reduced coal’s share of electricity generation. Because it takes several hours for a large coal plant to start up, it can not shut down as solar and especially wind production rises, because that production will fall again, usually unpredictably. That means coal must still be burned even while not producing electricity. Furthermore, world demand for (cheap) electricity is only increasing, and U.S. coal is increasingly exported to those markets.

The only threat to coal profits would be enforcement of environment and labor laws, but fighting for that would recognize that even so-called progressives are indeed users of coal, which is hard to nuance in a simple-minded fund-raising appeal or media event.

As for jobs, the solar and wind lobbies count every ancillarily involved contract as a job. The lawyer who draws up leases, the consultant who adapts the boilerplate environmental review, the concrete company that pours foundations, the lunch truck that hits a construction site on its rounds — these are all counted as “jobs in solar and wind”, even though they all existed before and will continue to exist after.

(According to Wikipedia, Koch Industries employs 50,000 people in the U.S. and 20,000 in other countries. Is that a justification per se for anything?)
That line might appeal to Tea Partiers, but it’s deliberately misleading. This campaign is really about the profits of Koch Carbon and the utilities, which to its organizers is much more important than clean air and the consequences of climate change.
Again, this editorial might appeal to Obama apologists and corporate-allied environmentalists, but it does so by being deliberately misleading.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, ecoanarchism

April 18, 2014

Grass-Fed Beef Won’t Save the Planet

George Wuerthner, January 22, 2010


Researcher Nathan Pelletier of Nova Scotia has found that GHG emissions are 50 percent higher from grass-fed than from feedlot cows.

One of the major consequences of having cattle roaming the range is soil compaction. Soil compaction reduces water penetration, creating more run-off and erosion. Because water cannot percolate into the soil easily, soil compaction from cattle creates more arid conditions — a significant problem in the already arid West, but also an issue in the East since the soils are often moister for a longer period of time. Moist soils are more easily compacted. Soil compaction also reduces the space in the top active layer of soil where most soil microbes live, reducing soil fertility.

There are far more ecological problems I could list for grass-fed beef, but suffice to say cattle production of any kind is not environmentally friendly.

The further irony of grass-fed beef is that consumption of beef products is not healthy despite claims to the contrary. There may be less fat in grass-fed beef, but the differences are not significant enough to warrant the claim that beef consumption is “healthy.” There is a huge body of literature about the contribution of red meat to major health problems including breast, colon, stomach, bladder, and prostate cancer. The other dietary related malady is the strong link between red meat consumption and heart disease.

Another health claim is that grass-fed beef has more omega-3 fats, which are considered important for lowering health attack risks. However, the different between grain-fed and grass-fed is so small as to be insignificant, not to mention there are many other non-beef sources for this: Walnuts, beans, flax seeds, winter squash, and olive oil are only some of the foods that provide concentrated sources of omega-3 fats. Arguing that eating grass-fed beef is necessary or healthier grain-fed beef is like claiming it is better to smoke a filtered cigarette instead of a non-filtered one.

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism

Important new molecule in the biology of dementia

Anthony L. Komaroff, NEJM Journal Watch, April 8, 2014

Two molecules — β-amyloid and tau — are important in the biology of Alzheimer disease. Yet, high concentrations of them, either alone or together, do not seem to be sufficient to cause the disease.

In a study in the March 27 issue of Nature (, researchers evaluated the molecules produced in the brains of older people with preserved cognitive function or with dementia and identified a candidate molecule called REST, which is important in embryonic brain development. The production of REST is silenced after embryonic development is completed, but is turned back on in aging brains. The researchers discovered that production continues in healthy older people with preserved cognition — but switches off in people with mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer disease, or one of several other dementing diseases. REST deficiency was most striking in areas that are most affected in Alzheimer disease. Experiments showed that REST protects neurons from the toxic effects of β-amyloid and oxidative stress and protects against apoptosis (which is programmed cell death). Deleting the gene for REST in mice led to age-related neurodegeneration.

The REST molecule might protect the brain against age-related degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer disease. This molecule now becomes an important focus in understanding the underlying biology of dementia, as well as a target for therapeutics. Not all new and exciting putative disease-related molecules stand the test of time, but many experts are betting that this one will.

[[[[ ]]]]

REST and stress resistance in ageing and Alzheimer’s disease

Tao Lu, Liviu Aron, Joseph Zullo, Ying Pan, Haeyoung Kim, Yiwen Chen, Tun-Hsiang Yang, Hyun-Min Kim, Derek Drake, X. Shirley Liu, David A. Bennett, Monica P. Colaiácovo & Bruce A. Yankner

Nature 507, 448–454 (27 March 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13163


Human neurons are functional over an entire lifetime, yet the mechanisms that preserve function and protect against neurodegeneration during ageing are unknown. Here we show that induction of the repressor element 1-silencing transcription factor (REST; also known as neuron-restrictive silencer factor, NRSF) is a universal feature of normal ageing in human cortical and hippocampal neurons. REST is lost, however, in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Chromatin immunoprecipitation with deep sequencing and expression analysis show that REST represses genes that promote cell death and Alzheimer’s disease pathology, and induces the expression of stress response genes. Moreover, REST potently protects neurons from oxidative stress and amyloid β-protein toxicity, and conditional deletion of REST in the mouse brain leads to age-related neurodegeneration. A functional orthologue of REST, Caenorhabditis elegans SPR-4, also protects against oxidative stress and amyloid β-protein toxicity. During normal ageing, REST is induced in part by cell non-autonomous Wnt signalling. However, in Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies, REST is lost from the nucleus and appears in autophagosomes together with pathological misfolded proteins. Finally, REST levels during ageing are closely correlated with cognitive preservation and longevity. Thus, the activation state of REST may distinguish neuroprotection from neurodegeneration in the ageing brain.

April 9, 2014

The Wall, by Marlen Haushofer (1968)

I had washed my hair, and it now floated, light and bushy, around my head. The rainwater had made it soft and smooth. Looking in the mirror I cut it short so that it just covered my ears, and I contemplated my tanned face under its sun-bleached cap of hair. It looked very strange, thin, with slight hollows in the cheeks. Its lips had grown narrower, and I felt this strange face was marked by a secret need. As there were no human beings left alive to love this face it struck me as quite superfluous. It was naked and pathetic, and I was ashamed of it and wanted nothing to do with it. My animals were fond of my familiar smell, my voice and my movements. I could easily cast off my face; it was needed no longer. At this thought a feeling of emptiness rose up in me, which I had to get rid of at any price. I looked for some kind of work to do, and told myself that in my situation it was childish to mourn a face, but the tormenting sense that I had lost something important would not be driven away.

[[[ ]]]

I have always been fond of animals, in the slight and superficial way in which city people feel drawn to them. When they were suddenly all I had, everything changed. There are said to have been prisoners who have tamed rats, spiders and flies and begun to love them. I think they acted in accordance with their situation. The barriers between animal and human come down very easily. We belong to a single great family, and if we are lonely and unhappy we gladly accept the friendship of our distant relations. They suffer as we do if pain is inflicted on them, and like myself they need food, warmth and a little tenderness.

[[[ ]]]

But if time exists only in my head, and I’m the last human being, it will end with my death. The thought cheers me. I may be in a position to murder time. The big net will tear and fall, with its sad contents, into oblivion. I’m owed some gratitude, but no one after my death will know I murdered time. Really these thoughts are quite meaningless. Things happen, and, like millions of people before me, I look for a meaning in them, because my vanity will not allow me to admit that the whole meaning of an event lies in the event itself. If I casually step on a beetle, it will not see this event, tragic for the beetle, as a mysterious concatenation of universal significance. The beetle was beneath my foot at the moment when my foot fell; a sense of well-being in the daylight, a short, shrill pain and then nothing. But we’re condemned to chase after a meaning that cannot exist. I don’t know whether I will ever come to terms with that knowledge. It’s difficult to shake off an ancient, deep-rooted megalomania. I pity animals, and I pity people, because they’re thrown into this life without being consulted. Maybe people are more deserving of pity, because they have just enough intelligence to resist the natural course of things. It has made them wicked and desperate, and not very lovable. All the same, life could have been lived differently. There is no impulse more rational than love. It makes life more bearable for the lover and the loved one. We should have recognized in time that this was our only chance, our only hope for a better life. For an endless army of the dead, mankind’s only chance has vanished for ever. I keep thinking about that. I can’t understand why we had to take the wrong path. I only know it’s too late.

(translated by Shaun Whiteside)