In what was easily the most dispiriting passage of all three debates so far, President Obama and Governor Romney vied to demonstrate which one of them was more committed to increased production of the fossil fuels that are currently choking the life out of the planet.
Romney accused the president of having “not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas, or Mr. Coal”—the equivalent, to anyone who’s been paying attention, of accusing him of not being “Mr. Drought, Mr. Emphysema, Mr. Death.” Barack Obama responded by insisting that his administration was putting more money than ever into the most ridiculous shibboleth of all, “clean coal.”
This is what we’ve come to in twenty-first-century America: a studio and a television audience that sits passively by while both candidates swear their undying fealty to the most lethal fuel source of all time. A mineral that has killed countless millions engaged in its extraction, through cave-ins and black lung, and explosions, and sheer, back-breaking toil. A fuel that even in the best of times blackened our skies and shortened our lives.
But hey, a few, dying coal counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and maybe Colorado can still swing either way, so the fate of the world can be ignored for another four years. Never mind that the industry itself is molting jobs left and right, and compensating through the practice of simply slicing off mountain tops and hurling the debris into valleys and streams. Coal must be with us forever, and also oil, and all that natural gas, fracked out from around the shale with chemicals to poison our groundwater in perpetuity.
This is the worst nightmare of our democracy, pursuing a ruinous long-term course in favor of our immediate electoral needs and short-term economic improvement. This is the moment when a leader—a real leader—must be able to point out the peril to his people, and offer a real alternative."Kevin Baker, “The Right Time”, Harper’s (me and Steph were also talking about this during the debate last night, albeit not as eloquently)
Governor Romney, your party adamantly denies that global climate change is occurring, or insists that, if it is occurring, it isn’t man-made, and that there is nothing we could or should do about it. Much of your party also refuses to believe in evolution. Given the number of scientific disciplines related to these subjects, most of your supporters must per se believe that the vast majority of the world’s scientists—biologists, paleontologists, climatologists, geologists, etc.—are engaged in massive, decades-long hoaxes designed to fool the rest of the population. Do you agree that they are indeed perpetrating these massive frauds?"just one of my favorite questions from “Unlikely Questions for the First Presidential Debate" by Kevin Baker and Jack Hitt at Harper’s (don’t worry, there are plenty addressed to that Obama guy, too)
Mammalian life is social and relational. What defines the mammalian class, physiologically, is not dependence on the female mammary gland or egg-laying but the possession of a portion of the brain known as the limbic system, which allows us to do what other animals cannot: read the interior states of others of our kind. To survive, we need to know our own inner state and those of others, quickly, at a glance, deeply. This is the “something” we see in the eyes of another mammalian creature: the ability to look at the other and know that he or she has feelings, states, desires, that are different from our own; the ability to see the other creature looking back at us, both of us knowing we are separate beings who nonetheless communicate. This is what people mean when they say they communicate with their dogs or cats, horses or bunnies: mammals reading each other. We don’t go looking for this in ants or fish or reptiles; indeed, when we want to say that someone lacks that essential spark of life, we call him “reptilian.” What we mean by this is that he lacks emotions, the ability to relay and read the emotions of others; that he is, in short, robotic.
If sentience is a mammalian trait, and what distinguishes mammals is the capacity for social life, then sentience must have its root in the capacity for rich social and emotional interchange. That is, sentience begins with social life, with the ability of two creatures to transact their inner states—needs, desires, motivations, fears, threats, contentment, suffering, what we call “the emotions.” Moreover, the more avenues a creature has for understanding and expressing its emotional states, the more intelligent we say it is. Ants were not a good place to look for rich social interchange; the logical inference engines of early AI were a particularly poor choice of model; computer software running in the astringent purity of a machine won’t find it. To get at the heart of intelligence, we should have started by looking at the part of human life ordinarily considered “irrational,” the opposite of “logical,” that perennial problem for computers: emotions."Ellen Ullman, “Programming the post-human: Computer science redefines ‘life’”, Harper’s Magazine (found this mammalian summation in an older Harper’s article and can’t think of a better one)
“Africa is a country. The Taliban rule in Libya. Muslims are terrorists. Immigrants are mostly criminals, Occupy Wall Street protesters are always dirty. And women who claim to have been sexually molested should kindly keep quiet.”
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Republican Party. Or rather: to the distorted world of its presidential campaign. For months it has coiled through the country like a traveling circus, from debate to debate, from scandal to scandal, contesting the mightiest office in the world — and nothing is ever too unfathomable for them… These eight presidential wannabes are happy enough not only to demolish their own reputations but also that of their party, the once worthy party of Abraham Lincoln. They are also ruining the reputation of the United States.
They lie, deceive, scuffle and speak every manner of idiocy. And they expose a political, economic, geographic and historical ignorance compared to which George W. Bush sounds like a scholar. Even the party’s boosters are horrified by the spectacle…
Platitudes in lieu of programs: in serious times that demand the smartest, these clowns offer blather that is an insult to the intelligence of all Americans. But as with all freak shows, it would be impossible without a stage, the U.S. media, which has been neutered by the demands of political correctness, and a welcoming audience, a party base that seems to have been lobotomized overnight. Notwithstanding the subterranean depths of the primary process, the press and broadcasters proclaim one clown after the next to be the new frontrunner, in predictable news cycles of forty-five days."