The carbon isotopes do not lie; the facts in evidence by the isotope ratios reveal that the current rise in carbon dioxide is due to combustion (heavy carbon is produced by high-energy combustion) and not a “natural” process.

Progressive Culture | Scholars & Rogues

Update: To read other articles in this series, click here.

Climate scientists who study the history of the Earth’s climate (also known as paleoclimatologists) know that modern carbon dioxide levels are at their highest level in the last 800,000 years. They tell us this because they’ve been able to measure the carbon dioxide in air that is actually 800,000 years old. So how do they do that?

Scientists know how much carbon dioxide was in the air hundreds of thousands of years ago because they actually have small samples of ancient air stored in glacial ice. To get a feel for how this works, consider the following examples.

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Posted by: josephsiry | December 22, 2016


” . . .  a democracy, if you can keep it.” Attributed to Benjamin Franklin 1789.

This was the week democracy died in the sense that the two-million plus popular vote winner was not selected as the countries’ Chief Executive Officer –POTUS. That bit of history was due to a system invented to protect a minority of slave-holders in the many slave states in the 1790s when selecting the President. The Electoral College system is a hold-over – for strict constructionists – from a time when members of the Senate were selected by the state legislatures and the second most vote getting person became Vice-president. Originally slaves were discounted, legally considered as property but could be used as three-fifths of a person in terms of counting votes, and the number of “electors” in the Electoral College. Three of the four antiquated and undemocratic facets of the early Republic were altered, yet today we have the anachronistic situation where popular votes, nationally (and we were a nation once, were we not?) are discounted in favor of small, rural, and voter-repression states that have long controlled the levers of power.

Few will mourn the death of democracy; many will argue that such an announcement  is premature. Nonetheless death comes for the Republic in not merely the decline of expanding the franchise, but in the growth of the private military, the extension of seventeen or more security agencies, actual media empires that harness attention by commercializing time and space, and extensive international corporations with more leverage and liberties than most of the 190 nations on Earth.

In the final assumption that the body politic is dead; or comatose for those yet unaware of the dramatic shift of power in our life-times from the working-class to the investment class, it becomes clear that the Earth too is contributing to the imperceptible death spiral we are now entertaining. Now we are at this juncture of our traditions’ clash with reality and few can sense the actual extent of teh shift in our sensitivity to the civic, international, and ecological world surrounding our country. Older national vestiges of authority remain, but with new and less merciful faces in charge than we ever thought possible even a decade ago when “compassionate” was considered a virtue for even “conservatives.”


Dead also is the actual meaning of words; hence the comic refrain of using the word “truthiness” for this world where we are now “beyond true” and living in a “fact-free” realm of finding the least false assertion among competing false assertions. One great example is the idea of a sale. Buy this item and “save” some trivial amount of money. Of you did not by the item you would save even more currency. But the death of the word conservative is actually more startling because what is it conservatives wish to “conserve?” Clearly it is not the species, ours or other species. Clearly it is not the original intent of the constitution since the person who came in second would be Vice-president, or those without property could not vote. Clearly –though some want to restore it– it is not the gold standard by which to monetize value in currency. Clearly it is not a small military made up of the young eligible citizens and non-citizens. Conserve, ought to mean protect the basis of the nation’s commonwealth of public lands, wildlife, fisheries, air, water sources, and rivers. But few conservatives ever stress the need to save for today what we may need to harvest tomorrow. Instead they favor tax relief for the few, inequity in taxing labor at a higher rate than unearned dividends, and huge spending to bolster the military bases thousands of which litter the planet.

In mourning the decay of reason, the termination of true-accuracy in witnessing events, and eulogizing our loss of meaning in a mean-spirited world bent on crushing crusades and faith-infused jihads, I am reluctant to send the body-politic to the coroner’s office just yet. In the post-mortem phases of this  decline few of us will ever be capable of pinpointing precisely when the life of our body-politic expires. Necrotic tissue spreads as the gangrene of “distractive politics” infuses our information media, news reporting, and public notices. In a world where money is convoluted into “free speech,” corporations are “people,” and sociopathic behavior is widely
seen as admirable, death may be a public good.

Having lost our way, can we in the maze of misinformation, ever find our way back to pre-preposterous ways of communicating lies as falsehoods and facts as real? For your sake, I hope that we can. Perhaps that in the end is the meaning of this despair you must feel all about us. Hope is not a virtue for the good-times; but indeed hope best flourishes when there is no future, when death has robbed us of thriving ambitions, and morbidity feeds on the spirit of deception. Renewal will come, only when exhausted, moribund, and devastated we agree that we need to setback to the facts. As Lincoln suggested in the darkest days of the divided union, mercy is all that hope demands if we are to recover the ways in which people truly thrive.


“The only kind of writing is rewriting.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (1920-p.h. 1964.) review

I take writing and rewriting to be a means of revealing a person’s thinking, or cognitive ability to express their thoughts. Cognitive is related to cognition that field of neurological research that explores the contingent and complicated actions of mental, emotional, and physiological activity we associate with active attention to discernment.

If you look for the definition, “Cognition is the set of all mental abilities and processes related to the acquisition and expression of knowledge, attention, long-term memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and “computation”, problem solving and decision-making, comprehension and production of language, and the capacity for coherence in the use of logical attention to discerning the crucial from the unimportant details.”

I redefine that as a conscious use of symbols, words, phrases and quantities in speech and writing that reveals a reflective, if not a critical thought process.

Any process is a set of related steps taken, or a sequential execution of related operations to achieve a desired outcome, purpose, or end. Here is an example of a process:

  1. How do you prove that you know something?
  2. How do you show that you may distinguish facts from opinions?
  3. What is significant?
  4. When is it important to show the means by which you arrived at the significance of facts, people, events, or concepts that make up big ideas?
  5. Where is your evidence in the examples that you have presented?
  6. What examples have you assembled from your list of findings?
  7. What means did you use to extract the evidence from your findings?
  8. Who has influenced you?
  9. Summarize what you have discovered.

Ultimately meaning – that is the definition of concepts from the level of significant certainties to even trivial uncertainties of a case – comes from applying some method and expressing the sense of that procedure in a clear, developed, informative, verifiable, and considered manner.

All of our written work is evaluated and judged (or ought to be valued) on how well you convey the discoverable meaning of what you write and say.

That said,

Structure and how form follows function is crucial to consider in expressing meaning.

Might I suggest three things; A and B:

  • A) There are possible means of arranging an argument; these are:

                  Dualism –              the writer displays contrasts and comparisons.

                  Dialectical – writers construct a synthesis of a thesis and its antithesis.

                  Paradoxical – the argument is expressed as incongruous.


  • B) When pre-writing, you might want to work backwards from the most recent works, chapters, concepts or books you have read and determine if or not — the meaning of your argument {in the making} 1) adequate, 2) misleading, or 3) only part of the story of historically what we know happened, as you understand it.
  • C) I would make a list of where these authors agree on events and where they diverge when interpreting the same events. Build a case –yes your biases and findings of facts are important but so is a general recognition of whether the selected facts of any case support the argument. — hence the list needs to be reorganized in a logically perceivable way by more than one person.

Another Definition:

Incongruous, means an inharmonious or logically inconsistent but nonetheless true condition; that is to say accurate rendition of the facts.

While the word could mean out of step with the context, that meaning is not what I meant when suggesting even facts can lead to divergent conclusions and irreconcilable findings.


Joseph Siry,  Web-based writing guide with links. ‪Writing and subject guide to this site

How to write about concepts using a clear thesis. “Maybe I wanted to learn how to think. Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. “ Delillo, Don. The Art of …

For more sources of my influences after nearly 44 years of learning and teaching:

[1] Flower, Linda and John R. Hayes. “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing”. CCC 32.4 (1981): 365-387.


The Web of Meaning: Essays on Writing, Teaching, Learning, and Thinking

The title of these eleven essays and talks comes from Lev Vygotsky (1934) famous observation that writing is elaborating the web of meaning.


[4] Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature

Gregory Bateson, (1904-1980)

Bateson’s rules | Mind and Nature | Mind as evolutionary | Meanings | Vocabulary | Sources. Dr. Bateson argued that in the inherent and essential feedback or …’-laws_site.html

[5] Shephard, Paul.  Coming Home to the Pleistocene (1996)

“When we grasp fully that the best expressions of our humanity were not invented by civilization but by cultures that preceded it, that the natural world is not only a set of constraints but of contexts within which we can more fully realize our dreams, we will be on the way to a long overdue reconciliation between opposites which are of our own making.”

– See more at:

[6] Hardin, Garrett. Filters Against Folly (1986)

[7] Percy, Walker. Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-help Book. (1983)

[8] Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species. (1859)

[9] Carson, Rachel. The Sense of Wonder. The photographs by Charles Pratt; New York, Harper & Row (posthumous, 1965).

[10] Williams, Terry T. The Open Space of Democracy (2004)

Justice Gerard E. Lynch defends liberty in a world of secrecy.

Weblog at the edge of the world

What have we seen and heard to which we bear false witness by either turning a blind eye, or taking a distracted glance to get our minds off of the destructive acts we have become habituated to seeing?

“We live in a country where telling the hard truth with clarity has become a taboo.”

William Greider, Come Home America, (2002) p. 1.

“the government does not even suggest that all of the records sought or even necessarily any of them are relevant to any specific defined inquiry.”

GERARD E. LYNCH, Circuit Judge: ACLU v. Clapper (May 7, 2015.)

 “considering the issue of advocacy in the context of deliberations involving alleged state secrets, and more broadly, the ‘leak’ by Edward Snowden that led to this litigation, calls to mind the disclosures by Daniel Ellsberg, that gave rise to the legendary ‘Pentagon Papers’ litigation.”

Judge Robert Sack wrote in a concurring opinion.


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What have we seen and heard to which we bear false witness by either turning a blind eye, or taking a distracted glance to get our minds off of the destructive acts we have become habituated to seeing?

“We live in a country where telling the hard truth with clarity has become a taboo.”

William Greider, Come Home America, (2002) p. 1.

“the government does not even suggest that all of the records sought or even necessarily any of them are relevant to any specific defined inquiry.”

GERARD E. LYNCH, Circuit Judge: ACLU v. Clapper (May 7, 2015.)

 “considering the issue of advocacy in the context of deliberations involving alleged state secrets, and more broadly, the ‘leak’ by Edward Snowden that led to this litigation, calls to mind the disclosures by Daniel Ellsberg, that gave rise to the legendary ‘Pentagon Papers’ litigation.”

Judge Robert Sack wrote in a concurring opinion.

The ruling this week by a three judge appeals court concerning the National Security Administration’s surveillance of domestic telephone conversations is unwarranted should cause thoughtful people to further reflect on the kind of power wielded in the name of “homeland security,” by our elected and appointed representatives. I am a complicit in this “national security state” as are those advocates who profess to support these repeated intrusions into our private conversations. I am complicit because I pay taxes. Unlike Henry David Thoreau who spent jail-time for refusing to pay a poll-tax in support of the expansion of slavery during the Mexican War, I am too comfortable, too responsive to other’s needs, and to enmeshed in contractual duties to stop paying my fair share to sustain this industrial machinery of war, terror, and subversion.

What is the purpose of electronically sweeping up every phone conversation beyond an exercise of control in the use of technically “sweet” opportunities to use available gadgets and sweep up the information about who is calling whom, when, how often and where? Is there an urgent, overriding necessity to listen to people’s allegedly “free” expression? To what ends are international security practices designed? Against what threats to the United States, its possessions, or its citizens –here and abroad– are we willing to sacrifice liberty of association and expression? If history suffices for the immediate backdrop to answer these questions, I am even more uneasy. The anxiety I have over the exercise of power for public or private ends is compounded by what the nation has done, not just now, but over the past seventy years in the name of “national security,” all the while arguing that we are really defending our ideals of four freedoms around the world.

Before we look past the “commercial curtain” at the work performed by our security agencies overseas, William Greider’s warning is worth reiterating because you may not believe my contention. I contend that we do not even see, comprehend, let alone take responsibility for, our actions or our nation’s intrusions around the world.  Greider insists ”The mass culture…marinates Americans in self-congratulation and triumphalism. We hear the same message from everywhere around us—politics, movies, talk radio, commercial advertising.” (Come Home America, p. 15.) We have been sold an image of our country as an unquestionable dispenser of justice and goodness in the world, despite any direct or indirect evidence to the contrary.

What do these other nations think of us? Where would we go to discover what our allies, adversaries, or other observers might think of us? Octavio Paz, the Mexican writer and diplomat, once called the United States a “Philanthropic Ogre.” Behind that oxymoronic image lies a trail of deliberate deceit on the part of national sources of information about the deeper motives of US foreign policy. Here a brief look at the nations in which the United States had a hand in destabilizing reveals a troublesome pattern.

A list of nations that the USA by covert action (of the OAS, CIA) destabilized & brought about regime change:

Place                leadership        (date)   Administration            comments


Cuba                Battista            (1940s)


Iran                  Mosodec                                             Shah of Iran

Guatemala       Arbenz (?)       (1953)


The Congo      Lamumba        (1961)

Iraq                  Bathists           (1963)

Cuba unsuccessful removal of Castro

Vietnam           Ngo Dinh Diem (1963)



Chile                Salvador Allende (197?)

Indonesia         Sukarno


Afghanistan     (USSR invasion)




El Salvador

Bush I             Fall of the Soviet Union




Bush I & Clinton



The Balkans    Serbia & Kosovo

Bush II

Afghanistan     Taliban

Iraq                  Saddam Hussein

That adds up to 20 nations between the 1940s-2002, while –up until then– Congress had practiced a bipartisan foreign policy.  With the recent Egyptian, Libyan, and Syrian upheavals, and excluding the Ukraine, the repeated habit of the United States has been to seek regime change in those parts of the world where our intelligence has revealed real or imagined threats to US interests. The cost of these intervention in terms of human lives lost or injured, money and treasure is not the only tangible outcome of these recurrent actions. There is the less-than-quantifiable cost of creating opposition, lasting resentment, and widespread misunderstanding of what we say and what we do as a nation overseas.

The added burden has been called by Noam Chomsky of MIT, “manufacturing consent.” Now deceased, Neil Postman of NYU warned us when Ronald Reagan was in office that the nation, in near blind pursuit of commercial entertainment, was in danger of “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” So Greider is not without intelligent company, in this fear of losing our sense of what the nation has been doing in my generation and yours.

Greider insists that the United States has changed “From being a vigilant defender to being an adventurous aggressor in search of enemies.” (2009, 117.) And as if to reinforce the way the events of the century’s initial decade was reported, he insists that  “Ignorance has been a hallmark of modern American war making for decades.” (2009, 150.) So the roots of our actions and of our hampered reactions to these many foreign interventions are set deep in the character, social fabric, and constructed narrative of the nation. Chomsky as well has developed his arguments that may be traced back to C Wright Mills 1956 work The Power Elite where he contended that democratic theory was undermined, if not replaced, by an experienced military, corporate, and politically astute elite.

Ungrounded anxiety was what I hoped was my response as I read the reports of the Appeals Court judges in telling the NSA they were without merit in listening ever so closely to everything we say, just because they can. But the more I think we pay to be spied upon, we pay to listen to commercials, the more I wonder how mad we have become in the craziest of all possible worlds. Justice Lynch correctly narrowed the purview of this suit filed against the federal government to the matter of   “whether a surveillance program that the government has put in place to protect national security is lawful.” That these three Justices had the intellect, experience and correct context to render the verdict is is the silver lining in the dark cloud that is our national security state where corporations are people and free speech has been equated with the use of money to influence elections. While the court recognizes the real and existing threats to national security, Justice Lynch argues that  “As in the 1970s, the revelation of this program has generated considerable public attention and concern about the intrusion of government into private matters.” At an even more sophisticated analysis of the claims in this case, Justice Lynch pointed out that “The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” He emphasized “and seizures.” because  the “Appellants contend that the collection of their metadata exceeds the scope of what is authorized by § 215 and constitutes a Fourth Amendment search.” As a means of arriving at the three-judge decision, the finding of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals asserted: “We think such collection is more appropriately challenged, at least from a standing perspective, as a seizure rather than as a search.” Lynch’s argument here points to the fact that the collection of all phone records allegedly under the Patriot Act’s many provisions amounts to a seizure of personal information and thus violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (The Bill of Rights.).

At even a deeper level of analysis of these arguments the court found ” When the government collects appellants’ metadata, appellants’ members’ interests in keeping their associations and contacts private are implicated, and any potential “chilling effect” is created at that point.” And in so arguing the Justices pointed out a violation of the First Amendment. The decision sets out several arguments that evaluate legislative intent, statutory authority, and threats to the security of the country. In summing up the decision, Justice Lynch  concluded “we conclude that the district court erred in ruling that § 215 authorizes the telephone metadata collection program, and instead hold that the telephone metadata program exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized and therefore violates § 215.” (ACLU v. p. 97.) Heartened that the rule of law and the precise letter of the law must prevail over interpretations to the contrary, the decision is a tribute to a wise and timely intervention. This Judicial moderation of the widespread acquiescence to and popular support for excessive exercise of administrative practices is a wise move in fanatical times when many would  curtail liberty in the face of threat. When the power of a technology in the hands of an unchecked administering body goes without scrutiny, we risk, in this ubiquitous loss of perspective, the necessary will to defend the very freedoms we allegedly fight to sustain around the world.

William Greider. Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall of Our Country. (2009) Chapter 7, Chapter 8, The Next War.

C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite. (1956) Oxford University Press.


Full title of the case:

“AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, NEW YORK CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, NEW YORK CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, Plaintiffs‐Appellants, — v. — JAMES R. CLAPPER, in his official capacity as Director of National Intelligence, MICHAEL S. ROGERS, in his official capacity as Director of the National Security Agency and Chief of the Central Security Service, ASHTON B. CARTER, in his official capacity as Secretary of Defense, LORETTA E. LYNCH, in her official capacity as Attorney General of the United States, and JAMES B. COMEY, in his official capacity as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defendants‐Appellees. “*

Posted by: josephsiry | November 5, 2013

Where do we put an additional third of our residents?

Beneath the tinted glasses how bright is your future?

Joseph V. Siry


” Over the next 40 years, demographers estimate that the U.S. population will surge by an additional 100 million people, to 400 million over all.”

“Relax, We’ll Be Fine,” By DAVID BROOKS.

New York Times, Published: April 5, 2010


Paul Ehrlich, Stanford biologist, criticizes the sentiment expressed by columnist David Brooks some three years ago in the midst of the worst recession the nation ever experienced. I say worst because of the numbers affected and the wealth lost when compared to a much smaller nation in 1930. With just over 41 people per square mile the nation’s population was about 120 million people during the start of the “Great Depression.” Currently 308 million people exist here at more than double the density of 88 people per square mile. The current economic stall has adversely affected, as many people or more than in the “dirty thirties.” But is there more beneath the surface of how much land we occupy or labor we use or to meet our country’s growing needs?


I am struck by what eighty to ninety-five million more Americans would mean for the nation. Many novices will look at states like Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arizona to suggest we have plenty of room. They of course disregard the water needed for those people, their hygiene, electricity and nutrition. While it does not all come down to water, I am struck by how many people just think of do we have the space for fifty more Manhattans or thirty more San Diegos. New York already needs the Catskill Mountains for its watershed to provide sufficient water and California drains the Colorado River and parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains. More people will mean the necessity for more forested mountains.


If the nation switched to geothermal energy sources, more folks could migrate to the arid western states, but water would have to be re-used several times over since the west is in the worst drought in centuries. But water is only a piece of the problem. Certainly adding more people means changing our dietary habits. Currently many American children receive insufficient food calories on a daily basis. Do we propose to feed the additional population as we have our existing residents? That too takes water, but food also requires fossil fuels to grow, transport, refrigerate, package and get to our tables. Some studies show ten calories of energy are needed to put one calorie of food into your diet. Can we sustain that sort of deficit for another forty-five years? Still there are people who think we have enough space for ninety million more neglecting the area needed for transportation, energy, watershed, and disposal of our un-recycled wastes.


Land fills the size of mountains exist in many American cities to collect and store our refuse. Some regions make parks, golf courses, and even school sites out of these mounds. Additional people will require that sort of creative re-use of structures, places and dumps. Some Americans may be able to live at the density of existence that Japanese families take for granted. But our consumption of acres for roads, public institutions, and homes will have to change radically if water, food, and electricity will be sufficient for even fifty million more people. Critics will say that the Dutch use greenhouses for growing food and decorative plants, they build walls to keep out the flooding sea, and they preserve their farmland, orchards and fields. But there are few American regions that match the density of the Netherlands or Japan, we do not even match those nation’s transportation systems, let alone copy their regulations for land-use and water conservation.


When you hear people ignorantly suggest population growth is good remind them of what we need. Ask them are they prepared to live on the water use levels that Israel consumes where every new construction is required to have solar thermal installed? Ask if they are ready to set aside forests, fields, and sacred areas, as have the Japanese. And ask them if they will live as do the Dutch with very high levels of re-use of scarce materials and strict zoning for protecting agricultural and flood lands. I think you will find that–as we in America need a quarter of the world’s resources to sustain only four percent of the world’s population; and we borrow already more money than we produce to live as we do– we are not prepared to have forty, fifty, or sixty million more people in our already exhausted countryside. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, for example in one study, “The productivity of some lands has declined by 50% due to soil erosion and desertification.” In a comparative study, evidence that topsoil loss was occurring at a declining rate compared to 1982, but “In 2007, 99 million acres (28% of all cropland) were eroding above soil loss tolerance (T) rates. This compares to 169 million acres (40% of cropland) in 1982.” Thus before the great financial collapse we were still dangerously degrading nearly 100 million acres representing over a quarter of our arable land. 

Image Rice terraces in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

If more people are going to be here, ought we not do better to conserve our cropland, energy sources, and watersheds?

828 words. – comment-11585

Posted by: josephsiry | September 3, 2011

Sweet land of liberty . . .

In determining the origins of the United States, scholars have called this union “Nature’s Nation,” A country “invented by reason,” or “democracy in America” as a socially embedded desire to self-govern if not always exercise self-control.
This author, Terry T. Williams, in a series of essays based–on her unwelcomed remarks at a graduation ceremony given at an invitation to speak in her native state of Utah–is just one of the many stories associated with the brutal events of September 11, 2001. [A link to stories]

On that day when the nation awakened to terror, terrifying images and a confused response to attacks on our: airlines, New York City’s financial hub, and center of military power in Washington, emotions engulfed reason. Despite the confusion the nation’s vulnerability was self-evident in a country that runs on electronic media and automatic pilot. A wave of repression, torture, and military adventurism unsurpassed since the Civil War (1861-1865) swept the nation.

Williams recoiled, as did many writers, from the justifications for a war on terror that silenced differences in a sea of quiet conspiracies to spy on, search, and question citizens about their loyalty, ethnic identity and religious practices. For a Mormon woman, the signals were all too clear that we as a people were on the verge of reverting to prejudice, bigotry, and uncontrolled fear in pursuit of an internationally widespread and timeless “war on terror.”

Recall that Mormons throughout their history had been driven out of their farms in places east of the Mississippi River for their faith and social contract that seemed so divergent from the national Protestant norm. Mormons were not tolerated in the decades before they discovered refuge and settled on the Great Salt Lake.

This author also feared that under the label of “eco-terrorism” that those acts of civil disobedience to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of our natural heritage would be swept up in the frenzy of arrests. People who had tried to stop logging of old growth forests were incarcerated as terrorists because of their destruction of property. Those who professed an allegiance to wildlife and resisting pollution were targeted along with “enemy combatants” as threats to the security, safety, and exploitive hunger of the nation to allegedly protect our values against an “International Islamic jihad.”

Wild lands once protected for their scenic, biological, and functional integrity were now thrown open to mineral exploration in the name of “freeing ourselves from dependence on foreign oil.” We nonetheless consumed imported oil at record levels throughout the war on terror (2001-2009) which Congress endorsed to the point of even creating a new national bureaucracy ominously call “Homeland Security.”

To many loyal and environmentally aware people the tone, the actions, and the consequences of excessive rhetoric were combustible fuel to an ongoing use of excessive force. That excessive use of military forces led to authorized invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan which have now been counted as the longest, if not most inconclusive, wars ever fought by the US.

In such an atmosphere of mounting alarm, creeping surveillance, and growing distrust, Williams addressed the graduating class of the University of Utah calling for sobriety in the use of our language, restraint in the use of our mortal powers to destroy entire neighborhoods, and a recovery of our national tradition of tolerance.

Only she was met with anger, disbelief, and accusations. Many people think that Williams made traitorous remarks and expressed anti-American sympathies in her speech. In contesting her loyalty and devotion to duty Williams was forced to continue the conversation in writing articles to further explain her motives and message.

“The Open Space of Democracy” is the collected justification for her reminding us about the importance of minority rights, the enduring necessity for tolerance in times of critical actions, and the sanctuary equally afforded all people by the natural heritage of the nation’s accessible preserves of land, air, and water.

648 words
J. V. Siry
Saturday, September 3, 2011

Posted by: josephsiry | August 4, 2010

At the Threshold of Fictions Lies an Anxiety in Knowing

At the Threshold of Fictions Lies an Anxiety in Knowing that we are at our best when we doubt.

There are times when in all certainty what we believe to be so is just as certainly not so. What then can we describe, glean from and use when such a situation is manifest and we are at loss because our challenged beliefs are insufficient to meet the exigencies of a perilously new period?

What exactly occurs when a cherished notion confronts an undeniable reality?

  • Denial, this can’t be happening.
  • Bargaining, well if it is the case maybe I can figure some way out?
  • Acceptance, inevitability is a harsh recognition.

Is an abbreviated set of steps we go through according to Elizabeth Kublai Ross[1] as we approach news of our own deaths, and what can be a greater challenge then to contemplate the sureness of your own mortality? For many, the loss of love, a loved one, or significant influence in ones life sets this dissonant process in motion. For most adults this seriously disturbing quarrel with events happens when they lose a job. Reality collides with personal ambitions that in our society include our self-respect since work in post-Protestant culture is regarded as a virtue.

Dissonance is the result of a clash. The collision is a result to two disharmonious elements experienced simultaneously. A conflict arises from our attempt to reconcile two or more contradictory feelings that arise from and perhaps sustain our beliefs. Brought from music theory, the term is applied to mental tension with the term cognitive dissonance. Everyone who is reflective experiences such tensions from clashing beliefs sometime in their lives. Many of us, probably experience this feeling of being at odds with what we anticipated multiple times in our lives if we are curious about life and experiment on the edge of acceptable behavior. One can welcome such disagreements between the expected and the actual outcome, because it promotes our deeper comprehension of the paradox in which the world, so often resides.

The richness of the Book of Job arises from this very quarrel inherent in our beliefs about our own worthiness in a just and orderly world and the experiences that jar our emotional and rational composure. Whole groups can experience such a situation as occurred in Salem Village in the seventeenth century when matrons were charged with evildoing witchcraft, like countless experiences in European villages before and during the Reformation. Personal upheavals are perilous, but social dislocation is dangerous as was the case in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, The Rwandan civil war, Stalinist Russia, or Nazi Germany. In many historical situations when social order changed reorganization from the initial disorganization of beliefs, behavior, and sympathies was the inevitable condition in which people had to live. Epidemics are particularly nasty examples of the process whereby we call into doubt everything we had once believed about our personal value and views of the world’s complexity.

What is this process of cognitive dissonance that leads to a reconsideration of our situation? Influenced by technology of nuclear reactors, some call it a “meltdown.” Popular in the 1940s and 1950s was the phrase “nervous breakdown,” Both terms suggest an unhealthy –as opposed to natural sequence of events—condition to which unstable people are prone. Weakness is at the heart of these and other terms for such personal and society-wide convulsions. Depression is an example of the pejorative association between instability and the incapacity to cope with unexpected challenges to one’s self-composure.  Personally many view this process of reappraisal as debilitating and associate it with signs of emotional disorder. However physicians at the Mayo Clinic point out that “Nervous breakdown isn’t a medical term, however, nor does it indicate a specific mental illness.”

So, what should we call a process of reevaluation based on a sudden, shocking or difficult to believe situation? The context is at once personal and social in that abrupt realignments happen, as in people’s lives when faced with unanticipated losses and in nations, such as South Africa when ethnic cleansing and apartheid –twin policies of the regime–were replaced and Nelson Mandela, once imprisoned for his opposition, became the nation’s President.

The setting wherein one set of beliefs was reinforced is altered and a very different set of assumptions becomes the norm, this some would call a revolution, but that is not precisely accurate. While complete changes can be revolutionary for a society, quite often, political revolutions retain much that is unchanged and unchallenged. Clearly the word we need here is not associated with pathology of mind. Instead there is within many people confronted by unanticipated tragedy for which there is no valid explanation, a willingness to face new realities in a resilient and emotionally reassuring manner. In search of neutrality some have used the phrase “paradigm shift.” The suggested meaning, though open to doubt, here is that an entire way of thinking about something is altered. Paradigm–meaning an archetype underlying the changing surface features of our world, or a model of reality, or a theory of how the social and natural order ought to work–can be misconstrued. The word and its associated phrase seem inaccurate, pretentious, and wildly subjective. Important changes deserve clearer language than a word that may mean three different things. While the author of the phrase Thomas Kuhn is precise in calling these shifts ” tradition-shattering,” the misuse of the term paradigm since his application of the term to serious scientific changes has been trivialized. So what would accurately depict the shattering consequences of abrupt changes in our emotional, cognitive, and spiritual lives?

Mystics have argued for the word epiphany because it means a moment of sudden revelation tinged with a different insight from any we have previously experienced. Is such a change of hearts and minds in a society, or in the core beliefs of any person really an epiphany, where the heretofore “hidden qualities” are manifest for all to see? I do not think so. Clearly St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or Charles Darwin on the death of his daughter Annie experienced profound changes in their lives. These if anything are threshold moments, where the capacity for people to retain once cherished beliefs is challenged and we pass on to some new outlook. Critical events Aristotle told us for in the drama the climax occurs when the very ground of the narrative shifts bringing with it a new understanding about which we were earlier mistaken. Oedipus has not, after all, avoided his fate and we see in the tragedy his recognition of his hubris, his culpability, and his need for reconciliation. While epiphany is more accurate than paradigm shift for these threshold moments the axial quality of their importance is not fully conveyed by “epiphany.”

On the opposite side from mystical language is the terminology from science “a quantum leap,” as if the world of the infinitesimally small could have some application to people, or socially shattering circumstances. People use the term quantum leap to suggest a big change in something we observe. It implies an abrupt, coherent, and circumscribed change, because as Einstein and Bohr theorized–and experiments bear out–the light quantum exists in measurably separate and distinct states; that is electrons are not just spread out around the atomic nuclei, but instead stick to one place or another. How the reference to the smallest imaginable behavior of electrons was shifted into a term meaning big changes may be because quantum mechanics revolutionized physics, but that is speculative. Societies or people do not behave like electrons, despite the seductive power of the simile.

If meltdown, paradigm shift, revolution, epiphany, or quantum leaps all miss the point is the absence of a word to best describe these radical adjustments in hearts and minds that occur as we are confronted by the unbelievably unexpected conditions of the world a paradoxical oversight? That is to say, we are confounded when trying to express the contradictory patterns of how we perceive the world and then change our minds. Each of these words approach but never fully capture that anxiety ridden threshold when we, for no rational reason, have –in the words of W. H. Auden and Ghandi– “a change of heart.” In some deep sense both men grasped the emotional depth that comes with shattering transformations in beliefs, behavior, and comprehension. At the core of any threshold moment is an authentic awareness of our own culpability, gullibility, and inability to know. At the very limits of our understanding we become open to the enriching possibility that if we are wrong, we can change.  The Japanese suggest that the word is “satori.”[2] The sudden emotional recognition accompanying enlightenment means to see passed the surface fascination to the pit of existence and liberate our illusions. Jammu Krishnamurti calls it “freedom from the known.” And Karen Horney suggested it is a healthy step in overcoming the neurosis of perfectionism in that we cannot know without uncertainty and due to this “tyranny of certainty” we seek in life can mislead us into comforting delusions that are, none-the-less, an illusion.

Just how one learns to feed our curiosity and pursue these thresholds to exercise our capacity to transform what we think, feel and interpret is one important aspect of an educated, or at least an educable personality. Anyone can learn to reinforce his or her prejudices and call it knowledge. In freedom from the known Krishnamurti argues that we are biased by personal doubts and reinforced in our illusions of certainty by society. The willingness to pursue contradiction, understand the paradox of knowing, and walk down a forking path of mounting uncertainties is the first step to satori. But this passage in search of threshold moments is no guarantee that we will become enlightened.

It is merely a down payment on an insurance policy that we will not forever be deluded by our fictions, fantasies, and fables.

1643 Words

8:45–3:44 PM

Wednesday, August 4, 2010; 8:57:40 AM

[1] In Death and Dying she posited five stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

A shorter list is proposed by Dr. Roberta Temes:

Numbness (mechanical functioning and social insulation)

Disorganization (intensely painful feelings of loss)

Reorganization (re-entry into a more ‘normal’ social life.)

[2] Satori (悟り?) (Chinese: 悟; pinyin: wù ) is a Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment that literally means “understanding”. In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to a flash of sudden awareness, or individual enlightenment, and is considered a “first step” or embarkation toward nirvana. Satori is typically juxtaposed with the related term kensho, which translates as “seeing one’s nature”. Kensho experiences tend to be briefer glimpses, while satori is considered to be a deeper spiritual experience. Satori is an intuitive experience

Posted by: josephsiry | November 5, 2008


The moment when our nation changed forever.




Not since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has a person been elected President at a more propitious time in the history of the Republic; that he is of African and American descent marks this day November 4, 2008 a watershed in the nation’s political culture. As an urban, educated, Christian and Black Senator, President-elect Barak Obama will define this era of engagement, of hope and can do spirit for our troubled nation in ways that will defy our old categories of partisanship.


It has been said that President Lyndon Johnson, when he was signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, recognized he would change the complexion of the country’s electoral alignment and seal the fate of the old segregationist-prone Democratic Party in border and Southern states. But yesterday’s election reveals that Johnson’s vision also enabled this fragile democratic process to work and to effectively deal politically with the nation’s troubles by electing Barak Obama, yesterday. We and he stand now together to face among the greatest threats we have ever encountered: war, financial collapse, scandal, rising social inequality, a deteriorating technological infrastructure and ecological support system.


President-elect Obama deserves our uncommon support for unifying the nation to face the twin domestic and international fractures that threaten to bring down the very rights we all cherish as free people. His opportunity –in light of our history, our Civil War, and our political culture– is a watershed moment. That is, a defining period in which we will never again be the same because we have crossed an invisible barrier in the flow of events.


Savor this moment, invest in our national success and demand a renaissance of freedom that this new opportunity gives to us all. In the narrowest of views based on our political history, the Senate of the United States, by offering up three of its own members in this now finished presidential race, re-asserted its proper right to take back this nation’s power from those who had squandered their mandate, sullied the constitution, and bankrupted two generations of working Americans.


The wave of change you are feeling today is a convergence of desires for a fair and constitutional nation, a people resisting racial prejudice, and an electorate expressing its fatigue with the politics of distraction while a foreign policy of unilateral-preemptive war robs us of our allies in a world too small to tolerate provocative policies that divide us.


Congratulations Mr. President-elect and all 100 million plus Americans who voted — together all of us made history.


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Posted by: josephsiry | March 29, 2008

Do Things fit together, or do we fit them together?

Four weeks out from the end of term and I have paid special attention to global warming, lost cities, staggering declines in bird populations and a talk I am to give on Charles Darwin. There is of course my attention to the papers I have been reading, evaluating and placing a value on, but there is also the attention I have given to interpreting Octavio Paz to my classes and to Karen Horney. Both of these people were in the early 1950s concerned with identity.

What was in the air that a German doctor and psychoanalyst and a Mexican diplomat while in Paris would both pay such attention to this matter of what it means to be a human being? They were living in post fascist, cold-war torn Europe and America, subjected to the brutality of war, the holocaust and the iron curtain. The conclusion of both the World Wars certainly had a profound impact on my parents and their parents generations. I suspect the questions raised by these basically European civil wars –and savage conflicts they were, where people were reduced to insignificance first my machines and then by the “dogs” of war only to be turned into slaves and commercial products in concentration camps– can never be fully answered. Clearly, Paz and Horney , like Jung, Fromm, and dozens of writers were appalled and assaulted by what had transpired in the twentieth century. The irony of senseless wars amidst some of the most astounding technological achievements and scientific discoveries were not lost on historians, cultural critics, or the reflective personality.

As we approach the memorial month of VE or Victory in Europe day, I am reminded by the readings I assign that identity or the loss of a tangible and comprehensible identity is a preoccupation of the post war period.

Being concerned about your identity, is at first glance, the apparent preoccupation of –well, someone with time on their hands. The very fact we have the capacity to ask the question, suggests a certain level of comfort that more pressing questions such as what should I work to achieve, how can I survive, with whom should I confess my sincerest doubts, and for whom do I serve are all questions that have been answered.

Horney insists that we are capable of losing ourselves and that some neurotic people suffer from a syndrome called “psychic fragmentation,” which is a sort of loss of integrity because you do not experience yourself as a unified or integrated personality. There are many aspects of life such as demands made upon us by others, or the desire to escape some real or imagined hideousness about our character that we may desire to avoid and thus we become detached, even from ourselves.

I am not sure that people living from hand to mouth have such preoccupations, but clearly the people of the leisure class and those of us with secure work can fall into the “loss of identity” preoccupation. And if it is true that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then I suppose self-reflection may be turned into an attribute. For Paz the diplomat and Horney the therapist humanity and not the individual was their motivation for understanding why humans behave so badly to one another. Each understood that personal drives are dialectically complicated and that we are composite beings, neither fully one kind of person nor fully another. Both recognized the fact that we tend to externalize the “other” from wich we are estranged in our own beings and then place blame on that externalized other so as to relieve our own responsibility for the things we do.

This externalization is I would argue part of what is needed to survive in a war and that every combat condition or each assault on enemies an civilians brings out this need for people in a society to externalize the deamons they perceive and to suggest that the “other” deserve to be degraded even to the point of erradication.

We of course, today are in a war, and I help pay for that war everyday I go to work. Every time I fill up my car’s tank with petrol I cast another stone at my externalized enemy, who really is me. Why — well because I need this car and its precious fuel to get to work, to pay the bills and to keep my taxes flowing into the machinery of dehumanization and war.

Some will say it is a defensive war –whatever that means– since Germans in 1939 thought they were defending themselves from Poland. But I am complicit. I am guilty and I inflict carnage at arms length on a people in Afghanistan and Iraq whom I actually have nothing against. So I write of a profound sense of fear that I cannot fit things together anymore, unless I realize that I am responsible for the carnage, the boken lives and the 4,000 Americans who died to keep me driving around in senseless circles of consumption, just so I can keep from understanding the world and in the meantime get paid to talk about how writers in the twentieth century have felt that we suffer from a loss of identity and we lack coherence as psychologically healthy beings.

Both Horney and Paz –for different reasons– believe that the greater purpose of people is to strive for something greater than their own preoccupation with their fractured souls. Both decried the emotional narcissism and externalized alienation that were so characteristic of their times and mine. Horney felt there was a sort of evolutionary gyroscope that enabled people to be more whole and moral beings, to recognize the actual conditions of the world and our place in that cosmos. Paz believed taht we could transcend the “nightmare” that is our collective and personal histories and unite to make sense out of the “senseless, torture chambers of reason.” I would, of course hope they are correct. But my generation, far from improving the world, is going about fracturing what little is left of humanity and devouring the natural capital that keeps us alive. That is, the natural storehouse of services we extract from the biological world. These storehouses of capital –accumulated over centuries– are all that stands between nature foreclosing on our hyper-industrial culture and from calling in our debts to the millions of other species with which we share this planet. So my need to fuel my car is an even greater egregious act than I can be aware of, because I am unravelling the fabric of nature so that my country can unravel the fabric of Iraqi society.

If there is an order –as Darwin suggested there is an order, or as Einstein insisted there is that order external to our perception of the world– then I have been tearing up parts of that order to fit them into my needs, as opposed to fitting better into the order of the world that created me. By that I mean the world that I am born into, live in and the ecology that sustains my needs and nourishes my curiosity. All of that world helps to create me.

I cannot keep breaking up the world’s ecological and social order. I must change and in so changing, I must consider a means of restoring, even a piece of the world, so that I –in the end– don’t break-apart something really important. For if, by my actions, something really vital to the functioning o fthe world could be harmed, then I destroy my nest, my niche, and my noosphere. If my actions and those of others end in destroying the resilience of the world and not just the social comity that binds me to you and you to me, then what have we done?

As John Donne insisted, “everyman’s death diminishes me.” Four thousand deaths later I am not a better person for having ignored the immoral war my nation engages in and which I work to support. Blessed are they who can worry about their identity for they shall be unable to see that hey, like we all are responsible for a great wrong. My life has been diminished by their deaths and I must in some way make amends, that is all I know to do, since there appears to be no way out of this hell. And the diversions will not last. So will I act and repair the damage, and if so when?

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