Not With a Bang…

From “Is Artificial Intelligence a Threat?”:

Imagine a machine programmed with the seemingly harmless, and ethically neutral, goal of getting as many paper clips as possible. First it collects them. Then. realizing that it could get more clips if it were smarter, it tries to improve its own algorithm to maximize computing power and collecting abilities. Unrestrained, its power grows by leaps and bounds, until it will do anything to reach its goal: collect paper clips, yes, but also buy paper clips, steal paper clips, perhaps transform all of earth into a paper-clip factory. “Harmless” goal, bad programming, end of the human race.

Isn’t that what a corporation is?

Iphones or Stones

“The stock narrative of the Industrial Revolution is one of moral and economic progress. Indeed, economic progress is cast as moral progress.” Thus begins this article in The Atlantic, titled “Is ‘progress’ good for humanity?”. Well if you have to ask the question…

This article appeared very promising, but then two paragraphs found midway through the piece forced my eyes—so very tired from all the rolling lately—to muster up the energy for one more glance upward. Together, they sum up both the critique and my critique of the critique (namely, that it’s far too weak):

Advocates of sustainability are not opposed to industrialization per se, and don’t seek a return to the Stone Age. But what they do oppose is the dubious narrative of progress caricatured above. Along with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, they acknowledge the objective advancement of technology, but they don’t necessarily think that it has made us more virtuous, and they don’t assume that the key values of the Industrial Revolution are beyond reproach: social inequality for the sake of private wealth; economic growth at the expense of everything, including the integrity of the environment; and the assumption that mechanized newness is always a positive thing. Above all, sustainability-minded thinkers question whether the Industrial Revolution has jeopardized humankind’s ability to live happily and sustainably upon the Earth. Have the fossil-fueled good times put future generations at risk of returning to the same misery that industrialists were in such a rush to leave behind?

…When we take these trajectories into consideration, the Industrial Revolution starts to look like something less than an “undivided blessing.” It begins to look like, at best, a mixed blessing—one that resulted in technologies that have allowed many people to live longer, safer lives, but that has, simultaneously, destroyed global ecosystems, caused the extinction of many living species, facilitated rampant population growth, and wreaked havoc on climate systems, the effects of which will be an increase in droughts, floods, storms, and erratic weather patterns that threaten most global societies.

How can one not be opposed to “industrialization per se” and still talk about sustainability, let alone a morality based on a respect for the living world? How?

And of course—of course—we don’t want to return to the Stone Age. Because it’s either iphones or stones. There are no other technological scenarios available to us. Come on, be real. Live in the real world here. If you think modern technology is making our lives worse, then you’re just being downright silly.

Note that the author is attempting to debunk that very kind of false dichotomy in the same article (“Those who criticize industrial society are often met with defensive snarkiness: ‘So you’d like us to go back to living in caves, would ya?’ or ‘you can’t stop progress!’”), but still must insist that we “advocates of sustainability” are not too radical; we still promote the violent and forced extraction of resources at the expense of entire ecosystems for the production of unnecessary gizmos solely for the entertainment of an insulated elite—we’re not crazy. Just tell the real story of the destruction of our only habitat, that’s all we ask. Extra points for quoting Thoreau.

The Industrial Revolution, after all, is but a “mixed blessing,” and a mixed blessing is still a blessing, right?

Helping Plant a Community Garden

Before:

fallplanting2

After:

fallplanting

Oh, and some milkweed:

milkweed

There’s no better feeling than getting up in the morning, drinking some coffee, and planting some milkweed. With a lot of help and some good cheer (oh, and some fantastically timed pork tacos) we were able to weed, mulch, compost, and plant the garden, including a small butterfly garden to the side. The garden is located at the 5604 Third Coast Activist Resource Center. If you want to get involved, look it up on Facebook or just go to the garden one Saturday morning. And now, to go swimming…

At the End of My Hours

A poem by Dana Levin:

here I’m here I’m here I’m

here here here here cricket

pulse — the katydidic tick

and then a pause) tick

and then a pause) in greening trees — tales

of a gratitude for water, the hollyhock’s

trumpet Yes, Tenderness

her glove and hoe — her bad trip

love/grief, her medic tent

talking me down, kissed fissures

in the world’s despair, what I’d

loved — alive for a while — a day called

Rip and Brood, a day called

Glorious Hour, the long hunt and the worm found

in the battered petunias — every

morning in summer

that last summer

before the bees collapsed and the seas rose up

to say Fuck You

II

perplexed by how it hadn’t been

unfailingly compatible, our

being numerous — how half the time

we couldn’t see the shapes

we were supposed to make

made grave our disasters — a god’s glass

bearing down

to burn the wheat crop — to keep time alive

inside a tomato, splicing

fish into fruit — some

wanted to defy limitation

were offered famine

bric-a-brac townships

virtual cities

where you could stand in market aisles

still expecting cherries

III

his rhythms were your rhythms

Murray the cat — sleeping à deux

draped your length from hip to knee

like a scabbard — unsheathed his yawn

tortured finches for breakfast

yowled and yowled round the ravaged bowl

till you fed him chicken

from your own plate

another mouth

pearling the wheel of appetite, coveting

a bloody mash

to keep it going — such a dumb rondeau

who invented it!

eating to live to kill to eat, even

cat on a stick when fields failed, no

crave for rain against the blasted scape

nor love nor god at the end

of my hours, but

garlic and butter

a splash of cognac

steak fries

IV

and when soil burned and order failed

and dogs then people starved in char I remembered

an extraordinary peace, the privilege

of being left alone with bread to eat

and famous butter “the chefs use,” the venues

of white sleep, cannabis and Klonopin

the soma-goods of art and when

my back went up against a blackened wall

for rumored beans in dented cans I forgot

my body — became a future remembering

how it got that way, some

blah blah blah — about hoarding rivers

and hiding gold, we

died in droves — we killed each other and we

killed ourselves until our bones wore out

their plastic shrouds

V

I couldn’t quite

quit some ideas — trees and chocolate

I couldn’t stop yammering

over the devastated earth

pining for nachos — prescription drugs

and a hint of   spring, though I could see

the new desert — its bumper-crop

of bone and brick

from shipwrecked cities — where now

the sons and daughters of someone tough

are on the hunt for rat — the scent of meat

however mean and a root

sending an antenna up, to consider

greening — what poems built their houses for

once, in a blindered age, teaching us

the forms we felt, in rescue — hoarded-up scraps

whirling around my cave

trying to conjure peaches

From the Poetry Foundation (with Q&A with the poet at the bottom).

This poem was sent to me by a friend who’s a poet herself, and obviously you can see why I thought it would be a good one to share. I like the quickness of the poem (the first seven lines, especially), which reinforces the need for hurry and urgency in our present state of affairs. Of course, the “new desert—its bumper crop of bone and brick” could just as well be the subtitle of this blog, couldn’t it?

And speaking of deserts, Austin is running out of water:

Should combined storage drop below 600,000 acre-feet, 30 percent of capacity, the LCRA Board will issue a Drought Worse than the Drought of Record declaration. Following a state-approved plan, LCRA would then require cities, industries and other firm customers to reduce their water use by 20 percent, and would cut off all Highland Lakes water to interruptible customers. LCRA now projects that the earliest that combined storage could drop below 600,000 acre-feet is January 2015.