Radio Talk

Radio Talk

In High School, shortly after Bill Clinton was elected President, I discovered Rush Limbaugh and talk radio.  I have been a regular listener every since.  In recent years I have become a little bit more picky about whom I listen to, filtering out those who seem to be mere spin-doctors and mouthpieces.  Yet still sometimes my car is playing a CD, but just as often it is tuned to AM talk.

Currently, the big topic of talk radio discussion has been the current TSA screening procedures and scanning machines.  Today I heard Rush Limbaugh loudly telling America that we must not stand for this personal intrusion into our lives, that we must fight back.  He wasn’t telling people to take up arms, but that we needed to push back against our government in order to protect our freedom.

It is very true that we must be constantly vigilant to protect our personal freedoms, especially from a government that is always expanding and looking for more power and control.  Governments will always look to expand and exert more hegemony over their people, and there is no better check against government domination than an ever-vigilant populace.

Further, screeners putting their hands down people’s pants are a gross intrusion that is unacceptable.  Using terrorism as an excuse to confiscate personal liberty is an Orwellian nightmare that cannot be allowed in this country.  Our founding fathers warned us of this.  They even the Fourth Amendment into the bill of rights guaranteeing us that the government could not search us without probable cause.  This amendment is used to as precedent for things like the “right” to abortion, but is being ignored in this case, where the government is literally doing the thing prohibited.  Basically, Rush is right.

But as I was listening, I started to wonder how Rush’s conversation might have been different if President Bush were still in charge.  There would have been people out protesting.  The blogs would be full of people CAPS-ing vitriolic about how “the regime” is destroying American’s freedoms.  Rush would be on air telling people that the government was doing all it could to prevent another attack on the homeland.  He would be comparing this to all that America had to do during World War 2, and showing that it was really nothing in comparison.  He would tell listeners that, ‘we are at war and there is an enemy putting bombs in their underpants, trying to kill innocent Americans.’

The point is, that life is always more complicated than the pundits and partisans and talking heads would lead us to believe.  The TSA is staffed by people with advanced intelligence information that certainly includes ways that terrorists are actively trying to kill us.  All it would take is for some bombs to go off, and people would be crying out for more security and asking why these things weren’t done in the first place.

While it seems that this is a gross intrusion on the government’s part, talk radio and others are constantly seeking to increase the volume and frenzy of political debate.  They do this not just for ratings, although that is certainly a motive, but also because their goal is to motivate the people into action against the opposing side.  Active people lead to desired change.  It is dramatic and functional.  It also makes for good radio.

Unfortunately, riled and rowdy masses seldom act prudently.  Passionate people tend to pay attention to things that validate their world-view, and dismiss evidence to the contrary.  But it is pretty obvious that this is seldom an accurate picture.  In this case, while it seems clear to most people that this is a clear breach of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Americans, it is also obvious that there are strong indicators of impending terrorist threats that the government is straining to prevent.  While Americans must be vigilant in protecting freedom, we must enter into this conversation with the type of sobriety that people like Rush aren’t likely to give us.  -Ryan

Adventures in Capitalism

Electric Meter Header

On Monday, Oncor electrical supplier installed my new Smart Meter electrical monitor.  Typing this makes me feel like I have an advanced engineering degree, but basically it means that they replaced the little thingy that spins outside my house to let them know how much to charge me each month for my electricity.  It might also appear that I just got some fun electronic gadget.  But really the only perk is that now they have all sorts of new and exciting ways of charging me more money.

Oncor has been preparing me over several years for this momentous event.  It all started a couple of years ago when I went to one of those fairs that towns in Texas love to have, like Grapefest, Peachfest, and any other word that ends in fest and allows the city to charge vendors for the right to charge exorbitant prices for turkey legs and lemonade.  I don’t remember which one I was at this time.  But right in the middle of the square, stood a mobile home-like trailer sponsored by Oncore Energy, the electrical provider.  I was pulled helplessly toward this shining beacon of applied technology.

Inside, the polo-shirted representatives told us all about new tech that would soon be available, and would transform life as we know it.  They showed a computer hooked up to the Internet which could turn appliances on and off.  I wondered why that was necessary when I could have just hit the on/off button, but it was through the Internet, so I smiled assuming that it must be awesome.

They showed our growing crowd of happy revelers a kitchen setup being monitored by a laptop, also hooked up to the Internet.  As the attendant turned on a lamp, we watched and oohed as the laptop showed the energy use increasing on a little display.  The nice promotion staffer explained that we would be able to monitor and control our energy usage from anywhere through the Web.

“That way,” she explained, “You can reduce your energy consumption at peak times when energy costs the most.”

“Umm, so you are saying that energy will now be billed to me at a variable rate according to when more people are using it?” I asked.

“Well, when these meters are installed, they will be able to change the price per kilowatt hour depending on when demand is highest.  That will help people conserve.”

“Charging more money for a product when I most want to use it sounds more like a good way for the power company to make money than a benevolent way to help me.”  I replied with a frown.

I walked away after assuring her that I knew it wasn’t her fault.  She was just a paid pitch-woman.  The thousands of dollars of Oncor’s money (which I have given them over the years) that they had tried to spend convincing me of the greatness of their new monitor had now created the opposite effect.  I was now paying close attention to how they were planning to take more of my money, while trying to convince me it was for my own good.  When they sent me a letter informing me that I wouldn’t receive mine until Fall 2010 made me both happy that I had over a year, and sad that doomsday was approaching.

Many lawsuits and TV news stories later, Oncore came and installed this new Orwellian reverse ATM at my house.  It came accompanied by a little door hanger explaining many of the details.  It told me that this new device would help me someday in the near future, to be able to monitor and control my energy usage through the Internet.   Oh and by the way, they would be charging me a monthly fee of over $2 for this new gadget through 2012.

So let me get this straight, Oncor will now not need to pay a meter reader to come to my house each month.  This gives them more money.  They will now be able to charge me more for my energy when I am using it most.  This gives them more money.  They can now slowly and quietly raise energy costs by bumping variable prices incrementally, giving me a constantly raising energy bill.  This gives them more money.  For the joy of taking more of my money, I get to pay Oncor each month for this new technology.  What a deal!

Knowing how much Oncor is looking out for me, I wish to kindly decline their benevolence.  They can pick up their new meter and reinstall my old one any day now.  Unfortunately though, I don’t get to opt out.  I have no choice in the matter.  Don’t you love capitalism? -Ryan

Science and Poetry

Science and Poetry header

I had one of those deep conversations with a good friend the other day where we shared the kind of deep nagging philosophical questions that we grapple with during long nights and lonely times.  At one point, my friend said:

Sometimes, I think about how all of the things we see and hear are mere stimuli to our senses, which just create chemical reactions that get processed by our neurons.  Even happiness and sorrow are only biological functions of our cells.  When you think about it, you wonder if anything we experience is actually real at all.*

Immediately, I disagreed.  As for the science, my friend is right, of course.  But my mind bristled at the idea that we are no different than organic Roombas bouncing around from wall to wall as we reproduce and build, and clean the floors.  For me to believe that would be to deny all of the wonder and beauty that is in the world,  ignoring both the joy in all that is good, and the horror of great evil.  This issue has been on my mind ever since.

G.K. Chesterton said in the pages of Orthodoxy, “Poets do not go mad, but chess players do…Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite.  The result is mental exhaustion.”  The more I think about this statement, the more I agree.

Now Chesterton was not speaking against the purpose and facts of logic and science, but the tyranny that in their frailty these disciplines often fall prey to.  It is because of this, that art will always be the master of science.

Now, I say this not as some luddite, stuck on ancient ideas of religion, but as a true scientist at heart.  During our aforementioned conversation, I talked about growing up enamored with science, nature, and cosmology.  As a young child I recall constantly picking the shells off of snails piece-by-piece.  I did this not to torture, but because I was fascinated by the inner workings of this strange creature.  I bought my own telescope at the age of 8, and I spent my afternoons wondering how machines worked and reading about science and technology.  And so, I became an artist and philosopher.

The passions that drive art and science are far more alike most people will ever realize.

Biologists learn about the inner workings of creatures because in their hearts they are fascinated by the wonder of life.  They realize that what makes a bee able to fly is truly a fascinating mystery, creative and wonderful.  The astronomer learns about the heavens because he has spent hours staring up into space and pondering the immensity of the universe. The mathematician does what he does for reasons no one can explain.

In a similar way, the musician learns to master the violin because she hears the sounds of a beautiful orchestra and wants to explore the beauty of that creation.  Some artists lose sight of this in their training and become obsessed with the exactness of every note and aural perfection.  These people always end up leaving their instruments behind to gather dust.

This is because at heart, the artist knows that the beauty of music cannot be reduced to single notes and rests.  If it does, music loses its purpose and becomes utterly pointless.  But science often runs headlong into this fallacy, even claiming that it is the very goal.

The biologist, who joins the field out of a passion for exploring life, ends up sitting at a desk and learning about how all of life is just a series of chemical reactions.  The mystery of life is explained away as mere atoms and digital instructions in DNA. Of course, DNA is a fact and it should not be ignored.  But the scientist who loses his wonder in order to understand complex equations governing semi-permeable membranes is no different than a musician who spends all day studying the wavelengths of sound waves.

In his book Planet Narnia, Michael Ward says of C.S. Lewis’ philosophy;

The glory of science is to progress as new facts are discovered to be true, and such progress means that ‘factual truth’ is a provisional human construct.  Which is why the wise man does not think only in the category of truth; the category of beauty is also worth thinking in.

The scientist comes to science because of a passion and wonder, and so seeks to explore the inner-workings thereof, but often becomes beaten into passionless recitation of facts until the whole universe is an existential transfer of atoms.  Some scientists find their way back to wonder and beauty.  While the artist, not denying that waves of light and sound form the structure of their craft, refuses to build any bridges over that infinite sea, but to dive into it headfirst and swim.

That is why poets don’t go insane, and  why science will forever be mastered by poetry.

My friend, please don’t forget that you are at heart, a poet.     -Ryan

*My quotation here is more the servant of my purpose, and less a journalistic reporting, thus I took certain liberties in my account.