For those who have not been closely follwoign the recent spat between Lindsey Graham and Harry Reid on twitter, it should be obvious given the recent politics that immigration is a much dearer issue to the Majority Leader than climate change. The bipartisan attempt constructed by Senators Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry is perhaps at its nadir, for Graham has effectively walked away, according to latest reports, should the Democrats consider immigration at all this year. Environmentalists, moreover, are not particularly happy about this bill. Greenpeace has already preemptively opposed. The reductions are weak, there are fairly extensive aids to coal companies, which is shameful. I am a rational enough human being to realize that while nuclear has some downsides, if you plan to do anything about climate change, you have to use nuclear and natural gas as transition fuels, while gradually scaling up wind, solar, and whatever other energies win the alternative fuel off. Coal is particularly bad, not just because of mountain top removal, but because it is the most intensive carbon fuel on the planet, and responsible for all sorts of other nasty pollutants. And CCS has never been anything but a myth. So in the first place the bill isnt so good, and in the second place, environmental penalty in elections isnt an especially weighty thing, as opposed to the backlash Democrats could suffer if they dont make token attempts at immigration reform.

The truth of the matter is that climate change has to be fought intergenerationally. There has to be a core of voters,that put the environment in general and climate change specifically at the top of their agenda. There has to be consequences for government for the way they act. This must be true on the local level, on the state level, and on the national level. Alternatively, powerful enviromentalist local leaders and executives can have large effects. Several small cities already aim for carbon neutrality. It is not difficult to find cities that have made positive steps on their own. Strong actions by municipalities, such as San Francisco, have changed the way individuals conceive of trash and environmentalism.
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theological musings

April 26, 2010

i suppose before i start, i should qualify the following remarks with a bit of autobiographical framing:

i am religious, yes.  jewish to be exact.  however, my type of jewish is an odd duck to hunt and then mount.  it’s rigorous, but it’s leftist.  it prefers the ecstatic fervor of the hasidim, but (and!) it is radically egalitarian.  it is clearly un-orthodox.  you might even call it heterodox.

so, this brings me to my musings.

the one thing that bugs me the most about the theological debate as it stands is the pathological obsession with biblical inerrancy.  first of all, the idea of the bible as lynchpin of faith is a distinctly protestant notion.   it is clear to anyone with the barest understandings of interpretive history that there is not really any such thing as “biblical literalism.”

even the debate surrounding this principle has ceded ground from the outset to this ridiculous position.  to be forced to represent yourself as “not believing in a literal interpretation of the bible” already positions you as a weak-tea version of the true religionist who has enough strength in his convictions to override modern lily-livered qualms and put the whole world in G?d’s hands.

whatever.

the jewish (and catholic and muslim and even protestant) traditions have a long and rich history of biblical interpretation.  but not only that.  there are whole scores of religious literatures which make reference to the bible and are grounded in it, but serve their own function as well.  in fact, the study of the bible in the world of the yeshiva (advanced jewish study academy) has relegated the bible to a distant fourth behind the talmud, jewish law, and ethical texts.  the bible is present, of course, but it functions more as the ground whence texts bloom than the dominant focus.

now, all that being said, i want to acknowledge the feeling of needing perfection.  the books of psalms tells us, “the Torah of the Lord is perfect.” (Ps 19:7).   i want to propose a radically difference understanding of perfection.  from plato on down, we have felt compelled to understand perfection as implying stasis, wholeness.  i want to suggest a more fluid understanding of perfection.  it is an organic perfection, one emerging from the amazing adaptations happening around us all the time.  michael jordan was perfect in that game, because he was able to provide what was needed at the time.  the clash was perfect because they were able to create the most wonderful friction.

the Torah is perfect because it is able to provide us with what we need in every time.  the bible is perfect because it will never stop being an incredible textual resource and framework.

we must loose ourselves of this silly notion of “biblical faith.”  all faith is “biblical” in some way.  we are always conditioned by the externalities that help form us into the people we become.  our bible hums around us at all times.

perfect.

Grist.org amatur ab me

April 17, 2010

Every morning I wake up. I listen for the town crier to give me the news and good Roman flour for good Roman citizens. Then I hit up grist.org. No site better aggregates and diffuses the ebb and flow of environmentalism. DS likes treehugger.org, but there is no filter there. Everything imaginable gets picked up. The current page ranges from renewable production in China, to state vulnerablilty to oil spikes, to EPA warnings about fleas and lice on pets. There’s just too much going on. Huffingtonpost green is also not so useful; it features cute animals just as much as real green news. The New York Times only hits environment stories once they get big. Nytimes also suffers from the way we live now mentality, which takes a few small stories and boils them together into some massive narrative about present American society.

Enter Grist. Small and lean (and Seattle based!), grist.org has regular columnists with assigned beats, long running series, and an active set of commenters. They cover long term environmental policy, specific sustainable practices that can be put into effect, notably through the Ask Umbra video and Indoor Gardening Girl video series, and recipes. They talk about food policy, international carbon trading regimes, and even, and perhaps most importantly, the changing face of the environmental movement itself. Some of the most interesting posts examine Greenpeace and Sierra Club tactics to see how they play out, and how these organizations have used Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to wage asymetrical and symbolic public relations wars against corporate actors. Grist has also covered Waxman-Markey and Boxer-Kerry, i.e. Lieberman-Kerry-Graham much better than anyone else. In a mainstream source, you might hear a miss contextualized quote or two from Lindsey Graham about energy, but you sure wont see this. There is no more important source for understanding climate change, the environment, and the politics of green than grist.org

Americans, according to the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, use about 18.5 gallons of water in their toilet daily. This is quite a bit of freshwater, and there is a very simple and easy way to diminish this rather high water consumption.

Step 1: Find a container that fits behind your toilet
Step 2: Fill it with water.
Step 3: Open back of toilet, put the container into the back of toilet, making sure that it does not disrupt the pump mechanism.
Step 4: Close the back of toilet. You are now displacing X amount of water per flush, where X equals the volume of the container you have placed in the back of your toilet.

The Accidental Modernist

March 26, 2010

I’m only about 70 pages into The Book of Basketball, but it’s already quite clear that Bill Simmons is Sholem-Aleichem’s heir to the title of mythologist of the mundane, transforming everyday occurrences into the stuff of legend. (Feel free to substitute Proust for Sholem-Aleichem if that better fits your frame of reference). Haverstam is right: Simmons is something of an accidental modernist. His “fan’s voice” is a unique, stylized version of language on par with Hem or Stein–though completely different–and his use of footnotes is unparalleled as a means for cultivating digressions. Modernism is both William Carlos Williams and Thomas Mann. And now, at a new century’s start, Bill Simmons.

Whither the TV Critic?

March 25, 2010

As you’ve no doubt heard, At the Movies has been canceled. That means that Yesterday’s Salad favorite A. O. Scott is out of a (second) job. Good Tony Scott: there’s always room for you at the Salad!

I’m really sad to see the show go. I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert and their approaches to film no doubt shaped my own. I always liked Siskel more, but the last few years of reading Roger Ebert have shown me how great a critic he really is. Amazingly, for someone whose fame derives from TV, Roger Ebert was a terrific writer, capable of writing long, penetrating essays and perfectly crafted reviews. It’s rare to find someone as adept at writing both short and long. Yet beyond style or a set approach to film, the most important lesson the show taught me was that films were something to talk about, something we could participate in long after.

But the reason I’m sad to see At the Movies go has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the present. A. O. Scott and Michael Phillips were doing great work. They were smart and funny and had a good rapport with each other. Sometimes they had to review too many movies in a week to make the show really compelling, while other times they got to focus on one or two films, taking the time to situate the movie within the context of an actor or filmmaker’s career.

It was incredibly smart–though it might not have been TV enough. I liked watching the show because I like to hear intelligent people discuss modern culture. Then again, this is also why I like the PBS Newshour. Both feature conversations between talking heads instead of conflicts between screaming interrupting heads. I hope A. O. and Michael can find a way to continue their dialogue. I hear people do great things on the internet these days and that someday someone will figure out a way to make it pay.

Price of Beatuy

I’ve now seen two episodes of the Jessica Simpson “Price of Beauty” show, and I have to say that I don’t quite know what to make of it. (Make what you will of my watching it.) It’s generally lighthearted, though every episode features a segment with a woman permanently scarred by pursuing beauty at all costs. These bits come comfortably in the middle of each episode, before and after various revelry. I also don’t know what to make of her friend “Cacee” (pronounced Casey, she seems to be testing the bounds of signifiers), while Jessica herself comes across as likable if bland. This is better than likable and stupid, although traces of idiocracy abound.

But mostly I like the show as an experiment in accidental anthropology. Jessica sets out to see how the rest of the world views beauty, documenting her experiences. She’s refreshingly unburdened by the critique of Western definitions set out in Said’s Orientalism: Jessica documents her others without worrying about her own complicity in the enterprise of representation. Nor does she worry about the Spivakian critique that her representation obscures cultural diversity. Instead, she happily recognizes that beauty is culturally constructed–and that even she isn’t beautiful in all parts of the world (She’s too short and curvy to make it as a full-time Parisian fashion model!)–and sets out to document difference. It’s not a grand statement in the cause of cultural determinism, though it is a return to an earlier type of ethnography, and a great start for Cable TV.

I can’t help but thinking, though, that the best part of the show is that success could lead to other celebrities accidentally taking on the roll of academicians. Maybe a show with David Cross as an accidental sociologist, deliberately sending out comical surveys to document responses; or Larry David as an accidental deconstructor, challenging the clear meanings of literary texts? Hey it could happen!