December 22, 2005

Pause for These Important Messages [category: philosophy]

I recently tried to write a piece on how discouraged I am with the current administration in the United States. I came up against a couple limits. One was that I'm too passionate about the issues, so I can't talk about the current American president without using cuss-words, which would undermine my credibility. The other is I am damn busy/lazy to do all the research necessary to write a really compelling essay; I can wave my hands and say, "We have corporations running the EPA and destroying the actual air we breath," but that kind of statement is easily ignored by people who have already made up their minds against me; they just assume I'm playing politics by using vague, non-disprovable assertions.

Well, a reader forwarded me an essay from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. that is amazing to me. Robert talks the way I wish I talked. And he's done the research I wish I had the time and/or non-laziness to do. He cares about this stuff even more than I do; he makes it his life. I've never been a fan of anything with the name "Kennedy" before, but now I think their whole clan is justified by this one man.

I don't think you can disagree with this speech. I don't care who you voted for. You simply can't say, "Yes, I want to be slowly poisoned in a world that's dying, so that 8 or 10 guys can be a little bit richer."

I know it's cheap to just post links in one's blog. But, honestly, Robert's said it better than I can, than I ever could. I bow to him. I thought there weren't people like this left in the world; people who speak without blustering, passionate yet civil. I haven't been this moved since reading Thomas Jefferson. (And, for the record, I think Michael Moore is an annoying blow-hard, no matter how much he and I might agree on GWB2.)

Please read this. At least part of it. Read the middle if you don't have much time. Skim it. If you disagree, flame me all you want. But read it first.


Anonymous gse said...

Good lord, that's sobering even though none of it is really surprsing.

I weep for my son, and for his children.

December 22, 2005 9:56 PM

Anonymous Chucky said...

"The other is I am damn busy/lazy to do all the research necessary to write a really compelling essay"

Kudos on knowing your limits. I hate when tech blogs stray into politics. When I want to read a politics blog, I read a politics blog. (TPMCafe is a great place to start, BTW. It's a collection of the smartest folks on the American left.)

And if you want to do more than just kvetch, tithe a bit of your income to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Help take America back from the Fundamentalist / Corporate cabal.

December 22, 2005 10:06 PM

Blogger acaben said...

As someone who worked as a campaign manager and money guy for democratic congressional campaigns, I can't urge you strongly enough to NOT donate to the DCCC. Donate to candidates you believe in and who stand up for your ideas. The DCCC is one of the worst-run organizations in politics. The money they raise goes to races targetted by the worst group of prognosticators in politics. They pour money into losing districts where the "conventional wisdom" says they should win, and completely ignore districts where a strong candidate could win, but gets no support because they wasted millions of dollars on corporate-whoring candidates who can raise money. Like Wil, I don't have the time to really spell out the arguments in a convincing way, but from my experience, the DCCC is the worst enemy of people who want to change the direction of the country, and the best friend of well-connected corporate DLC-style Democrats who lose election after election.

December 22, 2005 10:18 PM

Anonymous Isaiah said...

Thanks Wil,

Nothing too surprising, but it's the solid delivery that makes the facts unmistakable.


December 23, 2005 12:26 AM

Anonymous Matt said...

I guess the real problem is that you are not alone. too lazy to do the research means too lazy to stand up and do something about it.

I'm not kvetching at you, Wil, this is a problem endemic in Western Society. We're always going to wait for someone else to save our souls.

December 23, 2005 1:21 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...


I think I just said I give many tens of thousands a year to causes I care about. I also call my senators about once a month. If everyone did the same, I think we'd be in a very different society.

December 23, 2005 1:31 AM

Blogger Bloggerlicious said...

Thanks Will for posting the link. It's a great article. I live in the UK and I find the article extremely harrowing. We all know the UK is no different, quickly becoming an extension of the USA under the rule of Labour (and any other party would be the same to be honest).

I also believe we can do something to combat this. It's about repurposing the areas of your life that stop you from taking the appropriate action. You have to utilize the 'obstacles' that stand in your way to reach the people. (I know I sound like a nut, but please continue to read) - ;)

I feel the only way to combat the news corporations (I'm a fairly new Media graduate) is to go head to head and offer a public service for the people. Our generation is increasingly aware of the internet and the news sites available, PodCasts, Blogs and so on.

I have a project idea, a project to 'fill a hole in the market'. That market is an International News Station that reports the truth you are speaking of. This maybe an idea you (Will and others) would/could be interested in.

The governments and the corporations require the people to follow them and if we all make a stand and change our attitudes to the markets they are in. They will follow us, because they will follow the money.

It's like the food we have available to us. There is the normal chemically laced range that is killing our kids and the kids that produce it in other countries. Or there is the Organic/Fairtrade range that offers increased levels of morality and it is a market that grows year on year.

Just imagine an 'Organic' News station.

An 'iTunes-like' News Centre that people could download for free where you can find News reports, Case studies, Video and Audio PodCasts. The possibilities are endless. It's about the design, the content and the marketing at the end of the day.

There are celebrities like 'Chris Martin' (and Will, Guy and Johnny) of Coldplay that care about some of these issues too and I know they would help contribute to this station as a way to attract the 'wider' public.

This is one of the ways to fight the biggest obstacle of filtering the entertainment 'drug' that the majority is fuelled by and replacing it with the important issues.

This would probably lead to a quirky approach to the way the information would be presented and reported. But by getting the politicized celebrities involved we have a great chance of succeeding in transforming some of the minds plagued by the crap thrown at them by the alternate corporate stations. It's just about competing in new and exciting ways.

December 23, 2005 3:04 AM

Blogger cjwl said...

Funny this post coincided with the arrival of my Sierra magazine. The issues covered in the speech are definitely not new if you read the regular Sierra editorials. It's quite scary what the current administration is managing to do and without any mainstream media coverage. The VP scares me more than the P, he is operating just under the radar doing a lot of basically evil things.

Sad times for our environment ...

December 23, 2005 7:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say also one of the reasons Americans, and probably most people in the developed world are "uninformed" is that we are too busy trying to make money and support ourselves, we always say "I need to worry about my own life," "I'm just trying to survive" etc...

I'm sure the Chinese govt. likes all the new inustries and people comming to the city to work, most are just happy to get thier toys and luxuries (or try getting them) theres no time for democratic activism...

Its an interesting side effect of capitalism...

December 23, 2005 8:22 PM

Blogger cjwl said...

anonymous said "we are too busy trying to make money and support ourselves"

A common test I use for social and political situations is how does this situation relate to the average human a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago? What has changed and is it for better, or worse? Many things in the human history are pretty constant, being busy supporting oneself is one of them.

Since you bring up China, if you read the speech and think of a more "modern problem" appropriate commonality it is perhaps the media?

December 24, 2005 6:47 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good lord, I shouldn't have read this on christmas eve. I knew about 10% of this already, but man, learing the other 90% sucked.

December 24, 2005 12:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Lord, I wonder how much fuel your Lotus wastes.

December 29, 2005 5:33 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Anonymous wrote: Good Lord, I wonder how much fuel your Lotus wastes.

This is a good thing to wonder, and something I hope we all wonder about the vehicles we drive, the homes we heat, the clothes we wash, etc.

However, I can't help but think you suffer under a misapprehension about the Lotus. Lotus doesn't make 12-cylinder monster cars that weigh 12,000 pounds and burn a gallon of gas every time you rev the engine.

A Lotus is, quite literally, an aluminum go-kart with plastic bits bolted onto it to resist the wind. It has a standard 190hp Toyota Celica engine; the high performance of the Lotus comes from the fact that this engine is mounted in a car that weighs only 1,850 pounds. It is, in fact, quite a good symbol for the green movement; it is a minimal car that eschews weight and inefficiency, and instead achieves its remarkable performance by using less instead of more. That's why i bought it.

I do wonder why you "wonder" about this instead of just typing "Lotus Elise Mileage" into Google like I just did, so you could find out that this supercar gets a respectable 27 MPG highway, which isn't exactly a guzzler.

But, more importantly, consider that I work two blocks from my house. I actually use my car so little that, based on my yearly mileage, my insurance company classifies it as a "pleasure/second car" and I pay lower rates on it (with my feet being my first car, in this case).

You have to consider both your miles-per-gallon and your miles-driven-per-year when considering how green you are. I've avoided commuting more than a mile for the last 15 years, so I could drive the fucking space shuttle transporter and I'd still be looking pretty good.

December 29, 2005 2:58 PM

Anonymous Jim said...

I've avoided commuting more than a mile for the last 15 years, so I could drive the fucking space shuttle transporter and I'd still be looking pretty good.

lol! Thanks for the original post, Wil. An earlier comment (or combination of comments?) was spot-on: if everybody called their congresscritters once a month, a lot of this crap wouldn't be happening.

December 29, 2005 11:27 PM

Anonymous Eric Holeman said...

Nothing cheap about posting links if it's good stuff. Thanks for posting that one.

December 30, 2005 11:22 PM

Blogger Matthew Anton said...

Hey Wil,

First, let say I think your blog (without additonal comments mostly from your loyal worshippers) could be canonized.
Second, I am not very political but tend to want to defend Republicans and attack Democrats.
Third, To show my obedience to you I read the whole essay.

Suchly prefaced, Can I ask you if you like this essay and suggest it because you dig nature or you love to see Bush bashed? and....
Did he say Rush Limbaugh is in the White House?

December 31, 2005 11:10 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

I love nature. I don't consider "the truth" to be bashing. If it's embarrassing for him that he's done so much evil, he should try being less evil.

January 01, 2006 5:54 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wil Shipley said... [quote] A Lotus is, quite literally, an aluminum go-kart with plastic bits bolted onto it to resist the wind. It has a standard 190hp Toyota Celica engine; the high performance of the Lotus comes from the fact that this engine is mounted in a car that weighs only 1,850 pounds. It is, in fact, quite a good symbol for the green movement; it is a minimal car that eschews weight and inefficiency, and instead achieves its remarkable performance by using less instead of more. That's why i bought it. [/quote]

mmmmmmm this humble pie is like... ashes in my mouth.

I apologise for my previous cheap shot.


9/10 for the speech.

It was pretty good. He had me up until the point he proclaimed that a free-market would save the world. (The american in the wilderness bit was pretty ropey too).

January 01, 2006 3:31 PM

Blogger Matthew Anton said...

Yeah, all I am saying is the essay didn't really help me know how to take care of the enviroment better.

It did put a bad taste in my mouth for the following things:
Idiots that say: You can't safely eat fish from all 50 states expect the [2 retarded Republican] states that wouldn't take the test,
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and all his good ol' boy connections,
and politics (just in general).

I tell you want I am not going to do. I am not going to vote for Bush that is for dang sure.

January 01, 2006 9:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, no.

I'll grant you it's a passable speech. He uses some rhetorical devices to good effect: like citing the paucity of states in which you can eat fish from any river, without acknowledging that this is a gross measure that obscures the fact that the number of rivers from which you can eat your catch continues to increase. I also liked the separation he achieved between the paragraphs where he states he doesn't want to make this a partisan issue, with his final paragraph where he calls the administration a bunch of Vietnam war draft dodgers.

I didn't find the meat of it all that convincing. One of the things I've always like about science is that you have actual data to examine. I haven't read his book, but for all the statements about air and water pollution he makes in this speech, he never mentions the EPA readings for any pollutants. I suspect this is because these readings continue to decline, as they have for past 40'ish years.

All this stuff is quantifiable, and there are a legion of people measuring it each and every year. This year is cleaner than last, which was cleaner than the year before. All the tables are at

Which sort of negates his asthma claims. I'm sorry to learn about his kids, and he's correct that the rate of asthma diagnoses has blossomed over the last decade, but whatever the cause of this phenomena it's not airborne particulates, which continue to decline.

As to his claims regarding his personal mercury loading, I'm skeptical. If my physician told me I was suffering from heavy metal poisoning, and didn't send me for chelation therapy I'd sue him for malpractice. Also, where was he supposed to have imbibed this amount of mercury? One way to read the essay is that it's a result of his being down wind from coal fired power plants. But that can't be right, or everyone east of Ohio would have the same problem.

So when all is said and done I'm left with the fact that he doesn't like coal. He doesn't like mining it. He doesn't like burning it.

Which is OK with me. I'm not a big fan either. However, I'd like to see him go a step further and suggest how we're going to generate our electricity.

His recent actions demonstrate he doesn't want wind power if he has to see the mills. Again, I'm OK with his position. I might be a NIMBY myself in his place, although my own concern is that even the most optimistic numbers for this generation method don't scale.

Anyway, as a partisan speech to a friendly crowd this is moderately good. However, it fails as an accurate description of the state and trends of environmental pollution in this country, and it lacks any suggestion for policy direction.

Jack P. Starrantino

January 02, 2006 8:21 PM

Blogger the unknown rider said...

Jack: Maybe Kennedy was hoodwinked by those treehuggers at the Department of Energy? On December 22, the UK's Guardian Newspaper reported that "Emissions of global warming gases from the United States have nearly doubled in 14 years and reached an all-time high in 2004, ..."


"The US energy department report shows emissions rose 2% in 2004 and stood one year ago at 7,122.1m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year - about 25% of the world total. The rise was the greatest in five years and is part of an accelerating trend. Revised figures also published showed emissions in 2003 were at the second highest level."

I had a look for the figures you mentioned at the EPA, but I couldn't find anything that contradicts the Department of Energy.

Mercury mostly makes its way into the human food chain through freshwater fish. The Environmental Working Group cite Government studies that "show that one of every six pregnant women in the U.S. will give birth to a baby whose blood is contaminated with mercury at levels above the federal safety standard."

A study presented by Professor Rod Dietert in October links asthma to a child's exposure to even low levels of environmental toxins including lead and mercury, so it's possible that coal-fired power stations have contributed to the asthma in Kennedy's childern.

It's a manageable disease but not without a consequences. A good friend - an elite athlete - was recently forced to withdraw from the 2006 season because of asthma.

I can understand the NIMBY reflex, but as someone who does have a windfarm in his backyard - actually about a mile up the road - I think it's pretty cool. I don't know anyone in the area who opposed the facility when it was in planning - and I haven't heard anyone complaining about it since it was built.

People talk about it like they talk about the weather - are the turbines at full pelt today? It's part of the fabric of rural life, and an alternative income source for the farmers that owned the not-very-fertile windswept hillside.

Thanks Wil, for linking to the post, and thanks also Jack for giving me the impetus to go off and find some facts for myself.

January 03, 2006 6:53 PM

Anonymous Zed said...

Sadly, this is just politics. I have yet to see much of anything by way of actions that makes me think the democrats are any better for any of this stuff than the republicans. Ultimately it always gets down to politicians saying one thing but their actions primarily being self serving.

When you dig into the details, there are many examples from both sides of doing nothing, little or just in general making things worse. If you think otherwise, you aren't being realistic.

Either way... it's depressing.

January 04, 2006 11:12 AM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...


The huge tragedy for me, the crime, is that the Bush administration is dismantling the very EPA that was the source of the improvement in our environment for the last 40 years. (The same EPA set up by a Republican president, way back when.)

The effects of his corruption may not be felt for years, just as attempts to reverse the effects took years to be felt as well. I don't think it's worth it for us to wait around until things are measurably horrible before we say, "Gee, it might be a bad idea for us to put coal executives in charge of the EPA," or "Gee, maybe we shouldn't relax every single law which is intended to keep our air breathable and our water potable."


That kind of defeatist attitude helps nobody. You don't have to love Democrats or think they are flawless, but they certainly never demonstrated this level of corruption combined with disdain of common sense or decency. For god's sake, Bill Clinton's big scandal was he got his rocks off and refused to answer inappropriate questions about it, and Gore's "scandal" was that he (correctly) stated that he helped fund the original ArpaNet, thus leading to the Internet.

January 04, 2006 2:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an old usenet user, and I really, really, really don't want to engage in a flame war of any type.

I'm also a charter member of the "a pox on both their houses" Party when it comes to politics.

Finally, I'm currently time-poor, working to master cocoa and mathematica in my evenings.

So, in what follows, if I'm wrong I apologize in advance and I'd appreciate being set right.


Kennedy didn't mention CO(2) etc. in his speech. He spoke about air-borne mercury, particulates, and acid rain; which in this context I think is a reference to NO(2) and SO(2). These were the substances I was referring to when I said that the published values continue their long term decline.

I don't know where the Guardian got it's numbers. I did a very quick check at the DOE site and picked up their featured emissions paper ( I scanned it _very_ briefly. I certainly see a long term upwards trend, but I do not see the Guardian's numbers here.

It may be a matter of how you slice and dice it.

I find your observation that human uptake of mercury is mostly via freshwater fish interesting. My reading of Kennedy's speech was that he was implying that the source was airborne mercury from coal fired power plants.

I know nothing about the Environmental Working Group, however, this smells wrong to me. Unless I'm missing something this implies that at least 17% of pregnant women have blood mercury levels far in excess of the EPA numbers.

It also implies that no one has attributed any measurable ill effects to neonatal mercury levels in excess of the EPA recommend levels. Which, if true, is interesting in and of itself.

I'm not familiar with Dr. Dietert's work either. I will certainly grant the possibility that there is some causal link between airborne mercury and childhood asthma. However, I wonder why we wouldn't have seen this a long time ago when we burned a lot more coal, and why we're seeing an increase in asthma over the past couple of decades, when our coal use has decreased during this period. It also begs the question as to why the asthma phenomena affects the west coast.

FWIW, over the last couple of decades I've been interested in papers regarding the health effects of construction techniques designed to conserve energy, and the introduction of new synthetic fibers in buildings. My "favorite" is the observation that mice die when they are forced to breathe air that is filtered over certain kinds of new carpeting.

I've never seen a modern windmill, so I don't have any personal feeling about them one way or another. I'm glad you find them inoffensive.

My point in this regard was actually off topic. I just thought it amusing, given his personae, that Kennedy would oppose their use off Cape Cod.


I acknowledge your sincerity and concern, and I think I can give you good news.

First, by any objective measure, things continue to get cleaner and cleaner, and nothing this administration has done will reverse this trend.

Sure, the Sierra Club doesn't like the people this administration has slotted into the different agencies. But what did they expect? They actively backed the losers. The results are normal politics.

This hurts the SC's professional wonks and helps their marketing people, but there's no reason for the rest of us to care per se.

Look at what Kennedy's claims are. In the cases I recognize, the administration is not changing the rules that have, and will continue to, reduce the amount of pollutants. What they've done is decline to further tighten the restrictions.

So the historical trend for things to continue to get cleaner will continue, we just won't have the change in slope that the SC wants.

Which means you don't have to worry that things will get measurably horrible. That's not the issue. The issue is delta T, not direction.

And I think I can offer you hope as far as the EPA goes as well. As far as I can tell by looking at the federal budget, far from being dismantled, it actually continues to grow. (Whether this is a good thing or not is an issue I'll leave for an other time.)

Finally, I submit to you that where we are right now is both objectively and historically quite good. With the exception of tropospheric O(3) concentrations in the summer I can't think of any national air pollution problems that trigger recognized health problems. There are still local problems, obviously.

I see similar improvements on water quality, though this depends are the which river/stream you are looking at. Still, I remember sitting on the banks of the Cuyahoga river outside of Cleveland OH, watching it burn; now my camping gear includes a water purifier designed to remove biologics. Again, I'm aware of some local streams that are still bad.

Be of good cheer. Things on this front are pretty good, and continue to get better.

Jack P. Starrantino

January 05, 2006 12:14 AM

Blogger Mike Sugarbaker said...

Thing is, Republican rank-and-filers don't have the time to make good arguments either. They don't need to. For forty years, research firms like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute have been making the arguments for them.

We have no such institutes on our side. Or, more correctly, we have them, but fewer, and they're featherweights compared to the extremely-well-funded right wing institutes.

If you're looking for a better donation target than the DCCC, you might consider the Rockridge Institute. You might also look into RI cofounder George Lakoff's book on these and other such topics, Don't Think of an Elephant (the highly relevant first chapter of which is outlined here).

January 13, 2006 4:30 PM

Blogger Bill said...

Uh, you know the Kennedy has a speech writer to craft this, and a research guy to handle the backstory, right?

January 26, 2006 4:36 PM

Blogger Wil Shipley said...

Bill: No, I don't know that. I know George Bush doesn't write his own speeches, because he's nigh-illiterate, but I don't know whether Kennedy writes his.

Nor do I much care. In politics, I'm more interested in the efforts of the team than I am in whether the team is a single person or a whole troop. If you consistently surround yourself with amazing people and they do amazing things with you, then you've got my vote.

On the other hand, if you surround yourself with yes-men and force everyone under you with any sense of ethics to resign because of your pig-headed, "God told me I'm right so shut the hell up" attitude towards any issue, then you need to be removed from office.

January 26, 2006 4:54 PM

Blogger Dave Chiu said...

You might be interested in some other articles Kennedy has written on these subjects which have appeared in Rolling Stone magazine:

Crimes Against Nature


Deadly Immunity
(and the followup to this article.)

I'm currently working on my thesis, which deals with some of the issues raised in the comments here, namely: how do you go about SOLVING some of these problems? I'm tired of hearing what sounds to me like a couple of lobsters in a pot debating the exact temperature of the water. Seems to me their time would be better spent dealing directly with their predicament, not endlessly discussing it.

The answer is, unfortunately, not contained in the wave of a magic wand but in small steps of individual people. Perhaps we can tackle these larger environmental problems using the same "citizen activism" that Larry Page has talked about.

February 03, 2006 8:47 AM


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