Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In her obsessive compulsive madness Molly has added yet more links to this blog. Don't ask me for justification as the usage of these links seems to be few and far between, but it's at least useful to have them somewhere. as the owner of the 'I Love Physics' site commented previously on this blog, he and I were disappointed when Science magazine ended their 'Netwatch' feature. Even if only a few people find these links useful they are still worthwhile, especially as they fulfill the long buried dreams of a childhood insect collector and a frustrated librarians. Hey, maybe I should have tried to be a taxonomist. I's have little competition these days as people flock to "sexier" fields of science. Anyways...
Under the 'Scientific Links' I have added the following:
1)Mathworld : This bills itself as "the most extensive mathematical resource on the internet", and the claim may indeed be true. The links listed make up for the lacunae in the site itself. Not really for the uninitiated. tutorials are not us. Molly can catch the drift of some subjects such as "number theory" or "linear algebra" where she has had either previous training or a long interest, but some other things "fuzz her". My eternal efforts to keep up with calculus wouldn't be helped by a site such as this, but the links may guide someone like myself who had training but never used it for decades. I hope. Maybe. I'll try in my usual slow and lazy feline way to provide other mathematical links that can guide the totally uninitiated from "ground zero" sometime in the future. But this site is the "best" in many ways for those with at least a minor knowledge of various fields of mathematics.
2) Al Roth's Game Theory and Experimental Economics Page : A good comprehensive introduction and reference to "game theory". Contains at least a bit of introductory material. As you can guess from the title heavy on economics and "fading" in other applications such as evolutionary biology, anthropology, etc.. Still very good, but Molly once more plans to supplement this at a future time.
3) The Stephen Jay Gould Archive : A more or less "official" archive for the writings of the late Stephen Jay Gould, one of Molly's favourite popularizers of science, with emphasis on evolutionary biology. Despite disagreeing with some of his opinions Molly feels that Gould was one of the "greats". Which leads to a scary thought. Almost all my "favourite scientists" are now dead. Gould, Sagan,etc.. Once more, despite disagreements I hope that Margulis lives to be 100. I guess that Molly's fur is getting grey as she ages.
Well...enough of brooding on mortality. Under the 'Other Interesting Links' section I have also listed the following:
1) The website of Jerome Tuccille : As a socialist anarchist Molly cannot obviously agree with Tuccille, but, as I have expressed in a previous post, I find him one of the great writers in the American "libertarian" tradition. Always entertaining if not always right, though I suppose that my own disagreements with him are on the same level as those in science with people like Gould and Margulis.
2) The Library of Economics and Liberty : Well... here I can find things that are truly offensive as this site is from a conservative perspective in the hard "neo-liberal" American sense. Yet... this site is the repository of the online writings of almost all of the great economists in history. Their complete works are their for your perusal. Download either 'Das Capital' or 'The Wealth of Nations' as your fancy leads you. Amongst dozens !!! of other offerings. The absolute best source to see economics classics in their originals. Have a look.
That's it for now,
Kevin Carson has recently published an interesting article on his Mutualist Blog on the viability of the "alternative economy" ie the "consumers' and producers' co-ops, self employment, LETS systems, house gardening and other household production, informal barter,etc.". He introduces this article, published on January 18th, 2007 with an exerpt from the Ecodema Blog of Pierre Ducasse(see our links section under 'Blogs"), one time candidate for the NDP leadership who advocated and advocates a cooperative form of socialism as opposed to the statist form.
In his article Carson argues that the "counter-economy" can indeed be a viable alternative to our present economic system, to a large extent because it already is such a thing. Existence is very much an argument for possibility. He also argues for the need for further coordination of this economy as part of a viable mutualist strategy. Drop on over to the Mutualist Blog for the full article.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Last night was again a good night for viewing the Moon here in Winnipeg, though once more Molly was reduced to binoculars because she was too cowardly to set up in wind chills of 33 below. Because of that I could only observe the largest of features in this tour of the major mare of the Moon. This night's feature is the Mare Tranquillitatus, the Sea of Tranquillity (the item numbered #9) on the moon map to the left, located just a little to the left of the Mare Criseum discussed before. This is called "to the west" in lunar terminology, the obverse of Terran convention.
Even in a pair of binoculars the difference in colour between the Sea of Tranquillity and the Sea of Serenity is obvious. Tranquillity is something of a "steely grey" while Serenity shows up as a brownish "sea". It is believed that Tranquility is younger than Serenity. All of the present Mare are believed to have formed in earlier times when the Moon was still geologically active. The presumed mechanism is lava flows following impacts.
The main features of the area of Tranquillity visible in binoculars are the 'Sinus Amoris' the 'Bay of Love', extending to the upper right (northeast) towards Criseum and the 'Sinus Asperitatus', the 'Bay of Roughness' extending to the southeast (lower right) to the Mare Nectaris(#12 in the figure to the left).
Molly hopes to do at least a few more of these surveys in the time left in this lunar cycle. The next upcoming full Moon, the Full Snow Moon (See Molly's Blog, Dec 31, 2006 for a description of the traditional names of the full Moons of the year), will occur on Feb 2nd. Last night was great for viewing, with the Moon approximately 20 degrees towards the zenith above Orion. Tonight has been mostly overcast. I'll return to the Moon in future posts and hopefully get beyond this sort of rough description as time goes by, particularly if it is warm enough to crack out the telescope. More detail to give then. I won't finish the survey this cycle, especially as the best nights for viewing are also the coldest, but much more detail will follow.
Til then,

Monday, January 29, 2007

On the surface this book is about John Nash (1), the Princeton mathematician most famous for his portrayal in the movie 'A Beautiful Mind' (2)about a mathematical genius cursed with schizophrenia. Nash won the 1994 Nobel prize for his pioneering work in the branch of mathematics called "game theory", but his contributions to algebraic geometry were what actually won him the most fame within the mathematics community.
The subtitle of this book is 'John Nash, Game Theory and the Modern Quest for a Code of Nature', but the author ranges far and wide across a number of theorists, fields of inquiry and ideas. From Asimov to Lan Zhou, from 'The Age of Reason' to 'Zero Sum Games', it all plays out on these pages.
Siegfried is an award winning science journalist who has taken on a rather grandiose project in this book. While Nash is indeed important to the development of game theory and its applications as diverse as evolutionary biology, information theory and experimental economics one can't help but feel that the title and cover were designed more to capitalize on the success of the movie rather than to describe the contents of the book. In his introduction the author tries to give a brief overview of game theory and how it touches on such fields as those mentioned above and others such as neurophysiology, anthropology and even, according to the author, quantum physics. Nash himself is rather peripheral to the central thread of the book, that game theory may be the sort of "psychohistory" that Sci-Fi author imagined in his 'Foundation Trilogy', ie a mathematically precise theory that can describe the changes and stases in society in the same sort of statistical but testable way that statistical mechanics describes the behavior of such things as gases even if the behavior of each and every molecule is inaccessible to analysis. Asimov put it as "the science of human behavior reduced to mathematical equations", but Siegried makes much larger claims for the utility of this branch of mathematics, some of them already being played out and some of them quite frankly speculative.
Molly has to admit to a certain amount of scepticism regarding such claims. While there is little doubt of the utility of game theory in evolutionary biology and in experimental economics some of the other claims are the purview of the fringes of certain fields. But...I'm reviewing this book as I read it, so many my scepticism will be overcome by the time I reach the index. For now...
Chapter One: Smith's Hand: Searching for the Code of Nature:
There's an old libertarian book, written I believe by Jerome Tuccille (3), entitled 'It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand' . In this case it begins way before that. Siegfried goes back a lot further to a much more respected figure, the economist Adam Smith(4), to begin his story. Chapter one is all about the theories of Adam Smith, with special reference to his "invisible hand" and how it was a precursor to the sort mathematical science of society that he sees in game theory. Along the way he gives a brief biography of Smith, how he was influenced by the French physiocrats, especially Francois Quesnay, and of how he came to formulate his theories in reaction to theirs, especially in regards to the source of wealth which Smith believed was labour rather than land. Both Quesnay and Smith believed that most (certainly not all in the case of Smith) government interference with the economy disrupted a natural process of economic interaction that usually produced results much superior to those produced by government action. Both authors opposed the prevailing merchantilist theories of the day that encouraged ceaseless government action to produce a favourable balance of trade, and both held to a free-trade "laissez-faire" attitude towards most economic questions.
Where this connects with the 'Code of Nature' that Siegfried sees in game theory is that Smith's was the first systematic "inquiry" that tried to build a theory of society that examined how the efforts of individuals could produce "macro" effects such as the changes in price that result from a competitive economy. This was the "invisible hand", and it described in at least a partial way how an equilibrium resulted from actions taken by individuals that have no such goal in mind. Along the way the author corrects a lot of misconceptions about Smith. Adam Smith was not the dogmatic advocate of free markets in all things that moderns tend to think he was. He saw at least a limited role for government. He also wrote on "moral sentiments" and did not believe that "rational selfish calculation" explained more than a subset of human society and its developments. What Smith, however, pointed to was that there could be a "natural order" of society that could be investigated by scientific methods. The present day experimental economists carry out this tradition investigating the often messy and even non-rational ways that choices are made by real people in the real world.
The chapter concludes with a brief subheading on 'The Origin of Darwinism'. In 'The Structure of Evolutionary Theory' Stephen J. Gould (5)has traced innumerable influences on Darwin's intellectual development. Smith was one of them, but it was not 'The Wealth of Nations' with which Darwin was familiar but rather another of Smith's works, 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments' in which Smith argues in a manner quite different from what he is usually portrayed as today.
What Darwin took from the general culture, of which was Smith was an illustrious part, is not some fantastic turn of political opinion. What he took was the general idea that small actions could produce-statistically- large effects which were part of an 'emergent order' not immediately implied by the actions themselves. If individual competition can produce an economy with regular laws then natural selection can produce the origin of species.
More on this book later,
1) See also John Nash's home page at and his Nobel prize address at which gives the account of his life in his own terms.
2) The official site for the movie is at . The PBS Network did a much better biography on Nash that corrects many of the misstatements and omissions of the movie. this can be accessed at . The PBS site includes many more items on Nash including something of a "Game Theory for Dummies" guide.
3)Ahhh....Jerome Tuccille. In addition to the above link you can see his home page at . Tuccille is a long time libertarian, and one of the most amusing authors I have ever read. I can remember his 'It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand' from decades ago. At the time I read it as a leftist anarchist who had never met a libertarian in his life. The times have changed. At the time libertarianism was purely !!!! an American ideology. I had no end of pleasure of reading his account of attempting to form an alliance between the anti-statist realms of both the left and right at that time (the early 70s). I probably agree with him now about as much as I did then ie "only in a very limited sense", but his writing style was entertaining beyond belief, and I was as much gratified then as I am now by his descriptions of the "nuts on the right" and how it consoled me in my "hope" that insanity and creepiness was not just confined to my own position as a leftist. I can recommend Tuccille beyond all other writers with whom i disagree merely because of the skill of his description.
4) While researching this blog I came upon the on-line library of the 'Library of Economics and Liberty'. This site contains the online writings of a great number of economists, including Adam Smith. So, if you want to read the classics of economics go there. Everything from 'The Wealth of Nations' to Marx's 'Capital' is available there. The site is conservative in political orientation, but it is still the best resource for economics "in the original" that I have yet to come upon.
5)See also the Stephen J. Gould Archive at, a collection of many of his writings and a brief biography at
6)One thing that Molly became aware of during the writing of this blog is the general impression that great mathematicians have a much greater incidence of insanity than others, especially other scientists. The list of famous mathematicians who were demonstrably insane or at least unstable enough to commit suicide is long and impressive. It began with many Greek mathematicians who committed suicide when their theories were proven wrong and continues on to the modern day with people such as Cantor, Godel, Turing, Boltzmann and Eherenfest. Even that supreme example of a failed human being, the 'Unibomber' apparently studied mathematics during his academic days, though he can hardly be counted as a "great mathematician" as even an "adequate one" as he was as much a failure there as he was in the rest of his life. Is it the subject matter and the talent needed for same that leads to this connection between mathematics and insanity ? Is the connection real or merely a widely believed myth ? If it is not the subject matter is there perhaps something about the "culture of mathematics" that drives successes to insanity or suicide or failures(both professional and personal) such as the Unibomber to murder ? All that is the matter of another blog entirely.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The 23rd Congress of the International Workers' Association (IWA-AIT) was held in Manchester, England last December. The Congress was hosted by Solidarity Federation, the British affiliate of the IWA. In the public press releases the present IWW secretariat, based in Norway, was pretty non-committal about the decisions that were actually taken at the Congress. The Secretariat was to be taken on by the Serbian Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative, and the next Congress will be organized by the COB-AIT of Brazil in December of 2008.
Despite being the "official" International the AIT/IWA represents a small minority of active anarcho-syndicalists in the world today. To a large extent it is the creation of the Spanish CNT, and even in Spain the CNT is outnumbered by the CGT by at least an order of magnitude. In countries where the policies of the AIT have led to a split in anarcho-syndicalism, such as France and Italy, the "unofficial" anarcho-syndicalists also outnumber the official affiliates of the AIT.
The original split in Spain between the CNT and the CGT was over the issue of standing in "union elections", which the comrades of the CNT saw as "reformist". Similar splits in France led to the CNT-Vignoles becoming very much the public face of anarcho-syndicalism in that country while the purists of the CNT-AIT have been reduced to a propaganda group of only 100 to 200 members. The Italian USI-AIT also split over the same issue, but the remnant in the USI-AIT ended up participating in the "works councils" of that country anyways(1). Thus they are not in the same minoritarian position as the French purists are. In Spain the CGT has gone on to become the 3rd largest union in the country while the official CNT languishes with afew thousand members.
The REAL issues at stake in this latest Congress were not discussed in any public press releases. Anxious to avoid the loss of their Italian section the AIT avoided the question of the USI's participation in the councils, but this decision will undoubtedly come back to haunt them as it is the be-all and end-all of the whole split in international anarcho-syndicalism. The question of why the USI, which unlike the other sections of the AIT outside of Spain, actually functions as a real union, can "get away" with what others have been expelled for will come back.
The question of the German section, the FAU, and its planned participation in the upcoming I-07 conference in Paris, sponsored by the CNT-Vignoles of France was also "put off" with a reference to deciding whether they should be expelled at some future date. The question of the status of the American ex-affiliate, the Workers' Solidarity Federation(expelled in 2000), was also apparently on the agenda, but efforts by American comrades to gain access to the decisions concerning this matter have born little fruit to date.
Once more very little light. The larger Spanish CGT, along with the French CNT-Vignoles and the Swedish SAC, along with others, have begun a regroupment process in International Libertarian Solidarity and the European Federation of Alternative Syndicalism. The IWW tries to maintain friendly relations with both sides of this dispute, but they generally meet a much more fraternal response from the unions outside of the AIT.
This dispute is a sad reflexion on the present state of international anarcho-syndicalism. The purists, headed by the CNT, would be much more effective in debates within the growing anarchosyndicalist unions across the world. In their present state of isolation they cannot advance the cause of syndicalism at all, but they would be a much needed corrective to more opportunist tendencies in those organizations that have taken a more realistic approach.
For more on the 1979 split in Spain see the Wikipedia article on 'Anarchism in Spain' . The Congress and its "non-news" have been discussed extensively in the forums on Libcom and in the comments section of Anarkismo , often with little light being shed on what actually happened. Molly wonders if the actions of sending the Secretariat to Serbia and the date of the next Congress 2 years into the future and to the other side of the globe may be something of a "pulling a Marx" where the Spanish CNT would rather see the AIT destroyed than fall into the hands of its "competition". Marx did a similar thing when he maneuvered to transfer the First International to the USA rather than see his control of it challenged. This is, of course, just speculation, but it is something to think about.
1)In Italy both of the two USI's claim the name of the AIT/IWA even though only the "official" one named above, also known as the USI PRATO-Carnico, has the approval of the AIT as a whole. The other USI, the USI-Roma, is present in many areas of Italy where the "officials" are absent, and vise versa. BOTH appear to be functioning unions, unlike most of the groups in the AIT outside of Spain. Should the "official" USI be expelled from the AIT there would be little to prevent a reunification with the other USI.

The use of the name "AIT" has not degenerated into the legal wrangling stage that the use of the name "CNT" did at the time of the CNT/CGT split some years ago. Not that such a course hasn't been suggested, but the Italians have demonstrated a little more sense in this regard.
Molly's added quite a few more links to her blog recently. Almost all of them except that of the Movement of the Libertarian Left have been other blogs. As you may gather from the previous item I've also decided to add some libertarian (in the American sense) items to the contacts here, not because I necessarily agree with all that they say but because there is a wing of American libertarianism that is authentically anarchist and not just a front for minimal statism. They also present the case for individual liberty in a way that is often ignored not just amongst the "socialist anarchist" sector but also amongst some who claim the individualist label while tying it to things peripheral to anarchism. So here goes in no particular order. Those blogs that are libertarian are marked with an "(L)" after them.
A Rush and a Push
Anarcho Geek
Life During Capitalism
Wolfeblog (L)
Freeman (L)
The Doors of Deception (L)
@git Prop (L)
Anarchy Reloaded (L)
The Liberator (L)
Amor Y Resistencia
Many more to follow for sure,

I have already quoted the usual definition of "revolution" as a more or less sudden change in the political and socio-economic structure of a society. Until the year 1989 I was under the impression that no revolution was possible in any industrial country, that fundamental change would come either as a result of a slow and gradual process or by political agreements between warring political factions, as it did indeed come in South Africa. The collapse of the Soviet Empire proved me wrong in the narrow sense. revolutions are indeed possible in industrial societies providing 1)that the change involved is small enough so that most of society can "carry on as usual" while the process unfolds and 2)that one of the classical requirements for a revolution is fulfilled, that the ruling class is both demoralized and divided.
The end of Communist tyranny in eastern Europe fulfilled both these requirements. In most cases the initial change was one of political form which only later led to the end of one form of managerial rule and its replacement by another as the former managers looted the national stock of productive forces. Lights will still work, subways will run and water taps will deliver water while parliaments are dissolved and reformed. The political dream is basically irrelevant to the day to day running of a society. Yes, these events were revolutions, but ones that were more !!!! than slightly limited in what they proposed compared to one envisioning libertarian goals. The basic class structure of eastern Europe remained intact, and the second requirement was overfulfilled as many of the bureaucrats helped in the revolutionary process- or helped themselves which amounted to the same thing.
Even in those countries such as Romania,Serbia or Albania where parts of the old ruling class put up an armed resistance they were opposed by more forward looking parts of the same class. The violence was restricted in scope because of this division in the ruling class, and society did not have to endure a protracted civil war with all that that would entail. Usually history records that such civil wars result in a era of at least temporary tyranny. Eastern Europe mostly escaped this fate.
All this is, of course, irrelevant to the sort of social change that anarchists might envision. This change would leave little scope for the old ruling class to find new positions in the new order, almost by definition. This means simply that the prospect of a divided ruling class would be much !!!! less likely if such a revolution had libertarian goals. One of the essential conditions of almost all past revolutions would not be fulfilled. The canard that "no ruling class ever gives up its power voluntarily" can be thrown back in the face of the believers in "revolution". Yes, they do indeed do so because a portion of them see new possibilities for power in the new revolutionary society. A libertarian revolution faces an uphill battle that few other revolutions have in the past. Its very nature makes the division of the ruling class essential for success much less likely than in ordinary cases. Hence "revolution" is a far less attractive strategy for anarchists than it is for other political ideologies.
The chances of a revolutionary situation developing in an atmosphere of overwhelming libertarian sentiment anywhere today are quite remote. The best that anarchists can hope for is to participate as one of the forces amongst a plurality of revolutionary forces. This leads to the question of "corruption from below" in contrast to the "corruption from above" when members of the old ruling class come to power in the sort of "class suicide" that advocates of revolution claim, in the face of all the historical evidence, is "impossible. Both of the now almost "ancient" revolutions that anarchists point to as at least partially embodying their ideas, the Russian and the Spanish, ended up far from anarchism. Both had elements of both corruption from above and corruption from below that pushed them in a statist and tyrannical direction. They are special cases and have to be dealt with even if they are far in the past. In the Russian case many of the former rulers did indeed find place in the new order and supported its development, but the greatest fault was corruption from below. In the Spanish case the real revolution was long since defeated by the time Franco's troops moved in. The Communist Party provided a revolutionary refuge for all those non-fascist elements in Spanish life who could not accept Franco, and eventually they overwhelmed the CNT-FAI and their allies amongst the socialists. This was indeed a case of a division in the old ruling class which, just as in the Russian case, was no less revolutionary despite the fact that it turned on its anarchist allies.
But that is the subject of another post. For now lets note that the usual canard about ruling classes not relinquishing their power is obviously false as actual history proves. They do indeed relinquish it in order to regain it under a new form, and this act is actually a prerequisite of almost all revolutions. The chances of avoided this sort of end depend upon having not just a very large minority, as in the Spanish case, of the population influenced by anarchist ideas but actually having the vast majority influenced by same. If the Spaniards couldn't do it way back them what persuades people that it can be done now ?
More later,
This weekend at the Carnival of Anarchy site features the subject of "socialism and anarchism". Come on over to see the sparks fly. The COA is a site of 'anarchism without adjectives' where anarchists of various persuasions post and play. A meeting place for left anarchists and libertarians, for all those who value freedom above all. Have a look.
From the Amor Y Resistencia site, a bilingual (Spanish and English) site recently added to our list of links under the Blogs heading.
The anarchists of the state of Oaxaca, the CODEP, the CIPO-RFM, the Bloque Autonomo and the Occupacion Intercultural en Resistencia, played a vital role in the resistance of the people of Oaxaca to the government of Ulisses Riuz Ortiz. Since the final breaching of the barricades numerous activists have been hunted down and presently languish in jail. Amongst these are Oscar Santa Maria Caro (20) from Oaxaca and Sacramento Delfino Cano Hernandez (29) of the State of Mexico City. Both were arrested on November 30th, 2006 and have been abused in detention since their arrest. They are being held in the regional prison CERESO in Miahuatlan de Porfirio Diaz, Oaxaca in Hall B, Cell 5.
The comrades of Amor Y Resistencia have issued a denunciation of these arrests including the abuse in prison and the death threats issued against Oscar and Sacramento to try and force them to confess to trumped up charges. they have also denounced the other arrests, abuses and even murders suffered by the activists of Oaxaca since last November.
For more information see the Amor Y Resistencia site above or email the collective at (in Spanish). The collective is presently trying to set up a paypal account for financial contributions to the defense. for info on this email .

Saturday, January 27, 2007

In direct response to China's recent and successful test of an anti-satellite system, President Bush today announced a sudden and complete redeployment of all U.S. troops out of Iraq, and into space.
Bush said that the biggest threat faced by the country is now WSD-weapons of space destruction. Consequently the administration is implementing a plan called The New Way Upward.
The President also indicated that he would immediately bring back Donald Rumsfield to head the invasion, since Rumsfield was always considered the in-house space cadet. Bush further explained that "Rumsfield's favourite strategy of 'quick and light' is particularly well suited to a battlefield where there is no gravity."
Bush therefore announced that the tours of all active duty forces would be extended to three light years, to accommodate the long travel involved. In addition, due to the shortage of military resources caused by the lengthy war in Iraq, all U.S. space troops will be required to purchase their own heat shields.
To try to scare up public support for this venture, Bush has dispatched Vice President Cheney to the Sunday morning talk show circuit, to claim that in 2001, the Chinese had met with Mohammed Atta on the third ring of Saturn. Tim Russert did his damnedest to challenge Cheney's account, but could only extract a promise from the VEEP not to attack Buffalo.
Critics of the President point out that the Bush administration, prodded by the neo-moons, itself caused this arms race by refusing to negotiate a treaty regulating the weaponization of space. There is also speculation that Bush's true motive is to prevent the Chinese from shooting down the FOX NEWS satellite, which accounts for the 19% of "Cling-ons" who mysteriously still support the Administration.
To express their outrage over this latest belligerency, the Democratic Leadership is seeking a non-binding resolution that suggests Bush watch all episodes of Star Trek, in order to develop a healthy respect for outer space.
However, Ted Kennedy plans to introduce more ambitious legislation to "boldly send Bush where no man has gone before".

The Moon has just passed the first quarter (Jan 25th), and now is an excellent time to image the Mare Crisium, the feature labelled "12" in the map of the moon at the left. It is just to the "north" of the "Sea of Fecundity" and to the "east"(right) of the "Sea of Tranquillity" of moon lander fame. On the lower right of Crisium there is a cape like feature called the Promonitorium Agarum. Also to the left, about in the middle of the sea is the crater "Picard". Eat your heart out Jean Luc. Just on the left rim is the crater Yerkes, a little up from Picard. With a better pair of binoculars (or the telescope that I am too cowardly to set up in a wind chill of 34 below) you may be able to pick out the small Mare Anguis just to the upper right of the mare Crisium. The sea is a laval plain that flowed over previous impact features.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The latest proposal from the residents of Elmwood is that the City of Winnipeg simply "sign over" the ownership of the Kelvin Community Club to the Association and let it sink or swim on its own. This proposal has been more or less supported by our local MLA, Jim Maloway, who has expressed the suspicion of many residents of this neighbourhood- that the property will be subject to a "quick flip" for commercial development. One should note that none of us will ever be invited to the Mayor's Christmas parties. The best that Molly can do in that regard is knowing one of the "contractors" (fucking literally) who helped build up the decadent decorations for Sammy's soiree. So it is just a "suspicion" that the property will be opened up for friends at a less than fair bidding process. I would never suggest such a thing as reality. People have, however, expressed this opinion on talk shows in this town, and Molly is merely a good reporter here.
What Molly can say is that this idea is the idea that she has promoted all along, that Community Centres should be independent of the ever tempting "free money" from government, whether it be city or otherwise. It is the only path to true security. The Mayor and his coterie have been on the media recently claiming that they have no plans to close other community centres in this city- just like Mayor Katz claimed in 2005 that there would be NO forced closures of any community centres(see previous posts on this blog for the references). Residents of Elmwood have caught him up in this lie. The next items on the list will inevitably be other centres in poorer areas of this city. The powers that be have, after all, "promised" to review the matter annually (can we say "plot" ?) to see what happens if this test case goes through.
WELL...Kelvin becoming an independent cooperative, just like other likely victims going the same route, would certainly save the City tax money. The only losers in such a case would be real estate developers who salivate over the prospect of acquiring such properties. But, of course, such people never socialize with the right wing majority on city council. Even if they do there would be no paper trail. Amazing what can be done over a glass of fine wine.
Well... if Kelvin closes Molly can expect a few things. Being well skilled in handling Rottweilers she has little fear of the increase in gang activity very close to her on the south. Molly is one nasty bloody cat, and she's lived in worse places before. She feels sorry for the kids who will be caught up in such things as the right wing of City Council attempts to correct it by more police, but it is minor. What Molly is really concerned about is the kids who have to trek east through a rough neighbourhood to get to the Chalmers Community Centre or have to trek north to the Bronx Community Centre just north of Molly's cathouse. So far my "window of excitement" on Henderson Highway is merely for vehicle accidents. As I have said before this happens at least once a month. I have no desire to watch kids trying to cross this goddamn speedway where nobody slows down for pedestrians and having them killed in front of me. To date many people have been killed crossing this road, but they have always been either to the south or the north. I've tended to schmucked dogs out on the median. I have no desire to tend to a schmucked kid. It's bad for my blood pressure. I've seen a lot of shit on this road, and I have no desire to see the potential increased by a factor of ten.
One kid quoted on the media said it would take him 45 minutes to walk from Kelvin to Bronx. I live just south of Bronx. I can get to a bit south of Kelvin in less than 30 minutes. On the other hand in my younger days I was able to run a mile in less than 4 minutes despite my tiny short little feline legs. Some 2o year olds could make it in 20 minutes, but these guys could also lift 200 pounds. I walk that sometimes to rent a car because walking is faster than waiting for a bus in this town...a little something to think about when you consider how kids are going to get up here to Bronx. Also think about wind chills of 40 below, But mainly think about crossing Henderson. It is one evil graveyard of a road.
Well, maybe Mayor Katz doesn't live on a major thoroughfare, and neither do his co-conspirators. Maybe they don't live a short distance from "gangland", and maybe they think that making rules about "panhandling" will address the issue of crime in this city. Maybe they think all sorts of things, and maybe they think that they can bask in the glory of Olympic athletes while undercutting the communities that produce them. Maybe they think that this is "progressive"- an ugly word if I've ever heard one. Progress to where and what ? Maybe they think that Olympians should only come from their own "good people", and that the underclass doesn't deserve such opportunity, small as it is.
This is the "cleanest" and simplest issue that this City has seen in decades. It's not muddied by issues of race, like much in Winnipeg is. Elmwood is very much a multi-racial community. It's not muddied by matters of special interests demanding fat easy jobs. It is starkly an issue of class, of the poor and the working class and small business people versus those who attempt to control their lives. It calls for the support of all ordinary people across this city, and the support of small business who oppose a corporate agenda for this city. Think about it. The bulldozer may head towards you next.
Wayne Price of NEFAC (The Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists) has recently published an essay entitled 'Why I am Not a Pacifist' on the Anarkismo board. His essay makes some telling points (no, there was no way to remove Hitler without violence, pacifists mistake their actions for "non-coercion", etc,etc) with things that can best be styled "flights of fancy" (the only way to avoid the holocaust was through a 'proletarian revolution', Americans may have to call for an invasion from Mexico to "save their revolution",once more, etc.,etc.,etc.).
Now, Molly has actually met a very few real pacifists in her life. They don't include the majority of those who style themselves as such. Wayne's points about "coercion" can be telling in these cases. Molly likes these people even if she considers them wrongheaded. However "wrongheaded" they may be, however, they are less so than others whom Molly has met who are under some sort of delusion that a "revolution" in imminent in North America (or any European country for that matter) and especially that they can hasten this apocalypse by mindless acts of militancy. Mr. Price is, of course, not amongst this collection of fools. As a member of NEFAC he recognizes the value of patient organization and is at least somewhat aware of the broad outlines of reality in terms of how (un)popular a libertarian view of socialism is in North America. Yet, perhaps for 'romantic reasons' he clings to the idea of "revolution" as a Deus ex-machina that is both possible and necessary to achieve the goals of libertarian socialism in his country (the USA) and mine (Canada). Molly disagrees with both the term "possible" and the term "necessary", and I will try and explain this as I go along in this blog. Not all will be said in this post. I will also eventually reproduce Price's essay here and reply to it, but that is unimportant for now.
For now I refer the reader back to my previous post on 'Molly's Anarchism' and what I quoted professor Richards as saying. The non-statist trend of world socialism has always be present in Canadian socialism, just as it has been present elsewhere under different names, often taking the word "anarchism" to describe itself. In Canada non-statist socialism has been represented by the cooperative movement, whether it be that of Western Canada (with which I am most familiar), Quebec or the Antigonish movement of the East Coast. It has been represented in the unions, whether they were the IWW or the OBU of history or the more recent attempts to chart a course independent of the US based Internationals. It has even been present in a multitude of local community struggles for various things, struggles that presuppose that local communities should have a greater role than the feds, the provinces or even the cities in determining things in their immediate environment. Native struggles have been lighthouses in this matter, but they are hardly unique or even more than a minority of such struggles across Canada.
This socialism is different from that which has been the dominant strain in Canada to date. It has nothing whatsoever to do with "building political parties" whether they be social democratic such as the NDP or bizarre communist sects. It has everything to do with building cooperatives, both producer and consumer cooperatives. It has everything to do with attempting at all times to recover political power for the most local community possible and to expand the scope of democracy beyond that of a popularity contest. It has everything to do with the day to day struggle of working people to control the conditions of their work life and eventually to take the workplaces over and govern them by democratic principles.
This sort of socialism is neither pacifist nor revolutionary. It is merely "realistic". It recognizes and builds on popular struggles that have occurred throughout Canadian (and American) history and asks for the maximum possible clarity in regards to same. This clarity means that we have to "work with" those who believe in "political means" but that we should always be apart from them, with an ideal of total independence for the popular organizations as the ultimate goal. It means that we push bit by tiny bit towards this goal, navigating the possible, and not recruiting for some dangerous enterprise in the foggy future. It means that we agree to be pluralistic and not dream of some show of force in the future, a dream that would almost inevitably lead to disaster.
It furthermore means that we take the best of our own socialist traditions and build on them, and that we call ourselves "anarchists" because this is the best, though limited, name for what we want to achieve- a socialism that builds cooperation without the excessive burden of state imposed conformity. Look above to the graphic on this blog. This is the graphic of the Spanish CGT. Spain has always been the "heartland" of anarchism. There have been disagreements in Spanish anarchism for well over a century about how to proceed towards libertarian socialism. The present day CGT which represents about 2 million Spanish workers is the heir of one of these currents, the anarchism of Salvador Segui, of Juan Piero, of Angel Pestana (before he deserted the cause). This anarchism is the reborn anarchism of the Iberian Peninsula, an anarchism that is appropriate for the modern age. It is the same as the socialism of those here in Canada who advocated (and advocate today) for community clinics, for local control, for increased rights for workers, for producers and consumers cooperatives. It is the only socialism worthy of the name, and its name is anarchism. It does not imply a quasi-religious commitment to some future "revolution", only the commitment to advance the cause today in the here and now.
Molly is not a "revolutionist" for many reasons which I will detail later, but the main reason is that the "revolution" is a fantasy which is way in the future and far away from how we live today. But the struggle for socialism- well that I've seen every day of my life. It exists here and now. One more cooperative is socialism. One more victory against the state is socialism. I don't live in an utopia. I live in the here and now.
Much more later,

Today, January 25th, is the celebration of the radical democratic poet Robbie Burns. However much "yon birkie, ca's a lord, wha struts, an states, an' a' that" may try to disguise the democratic and socialist sentiments at the heart of Burns' poetry the flame is very much findable for anyone who cares to look.
Molly can suggest no better place to begin than Eugene Plawiuk's blog. Two years ago Plawiuk did a masterful piece on Robbie Burns. You can have a look at .
Ga on ovr an' ha' a peek. Now Molly's off to chase the haggis for tonight. More later. Til then we wait the day, as the poet says,
"Then let us pray that come it may,
(as come it will for a' that)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

After the Mother of All City Council Meetings, while Elmwood residents filled the Council chambers and spilled into the hallway- a very unusual happening for any meeting of City Council- councillors debated for close to six hours on the closing of Kelvin. Yet, in the end, the Mayor's circle held firm and the final vote was 11 to 4 to close the Kelvin Community Centre despite the fact that the "lack of volunteers" had long since been corrected and despite the fact that plans were afoot to raise the money for renovations outside of city grants. A motion to postpone Kelvin's closing under the expansion of the Bronx Community Centre was completed was also turned down. Emotional residents vowed that "this is not the end", and hopefully it will not be. More on this in days to follow.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair , which bills itself as "the largest Anarchist event in North America", has issued a "callout" for tablers, workshops, presentations and art exhibits. The Bookfair will be held on Saturday, May 19th, from 10am to 6pm and will be followed on Sunday, May 20th by workshops and presentations. The deadline for workshops is Feb 15th, 2007. The deadline for tabling, art exhibits, and films is April 1st, 2007. The Bookfair will be part of a month long 'Festival of Anarchy' in the Montreal area. For information on the Festival of Anarchy see . The organizers of the Bookfair can be contacted at the Salon Anarchiste website, by email at , by phone at 514-859-9090 or by mail at Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, 1500 Maisonneuve Ouest, Suite 204, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1N1, Canada.
Please note that the website gives a list of events and times from last year, the 7th Bookfair. This year is the 8th, and the website will hopefully be updated soon.
Christie Books , a British anarchist multimedia publisher has recently added the film 'The Wobblies' to its list of anarchist videos available via the internet. The Wobblies by Stewart Bird and Deborah Schaeffer is a moving study of the men and women of the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW. Christie Books now has over 165 films on file that can be viewed from your website. You can get instructions on the process from http://tinyurl/t8sta or . The Wobblies can be viewed by accessing . Steaming video.
Christie Books is financed by sales of its publications and posters as well as by donations. Instructions are available on the website.
The Anarchist Federation (Britain) has published a new pamphlet, 'Anarchist Resistance to Nazism'. This is an exposition of the historical resistance to fascist tyranny in the 30s and 40s. It concentrates on the resistance to Nazism in Germany and France, telling the story of the 'Edelweiss Pirates' (Germany), the FAUD (Germany) and the Zazous (France) . It also, however, speaks of the British Jewish organization, the '43 Group' who resisted fascism in England and the 'Arditi del Popolo' in Italy. The Italian movement, being one of the largest outside of the Spanish speaking world, put up a particularly vigorous resistance to fascism, and an appendix details to anarchist underground press of the time, both inside and outside Italy.
The pamphlet can be ordered in a print version from the website of the AF. It is available in both html and pdf versions online at the following addresses:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Molly has no great "revolutionary illusions" unlike the owner of one private anarchist empire who thinks he can rebuild the summit hopping fad such that "the crowd advancing towards the police will be so huge that they will run in fear". Actually in such situations look towards who will control the "Solidarity Fund" for those arrested, beaten and perhaps even killed. Human nature is the same whether it wears an "anarchist tag" or not.
This sort of thing is, of course, silly, and it could only gain currency in a closed subculture where criticism and contact with reality is considered the same sort of "mortal sin" as Catholicism defines so many things as. The owner of the empire has actually said that he will not tolerate any contact with the reality of other views "bad mouthing"the overblown rhetoric of anarchist triumphalism. Hard to build up a cult when the recruits are exposed to reality.
But that is neither here nor there. The same sort of nonsense appears on the site of the private empire as it does elsewhere in the anarchist "ethernet", that there is some sort of "security culture" that can prevent the state from knowing each and every time you burp. The whole idea that the supreme arrogance of such people leads them to imagine that they can brag in public forum about how much better they are better than organizations that have thousands of times more resources is actually quite stunning. This sort of arrogance can only exist where there is a deliberate effort to escape from reality. Not just ignorance but deliberate ignorance that will never have to be tested against the real world.
Fine and dandy. Leave those who wish to make a spectacle of anarchism to their games but warn them about the dishonesty of their leaders. What I find more disturbing is the reliance that anarchists who have a connection to to reality have placed on the Internet. One quick flick of a switch and all their communication ceases. That is neither here nor there for a reformist such as Molly, and it is certainly neither here nor there in the situation of most developed countries today. But it should be a matter of concern to those who hold revolutionary pretensions or who simply look either ahead or elsewhere.
Is the Internet overdone in terms of anarchist communication ? Something to think about.

Before it disappears from the front page of this blog I'd like to reproduce a comment that appeared under the "Marxism Under the Microscope' posting, from someone who signs themselves as "Joe". It is something that has to be answered because it goes to the heart of why I style myself an "anarchist" despite all the bad connotations that such a label evokes. "Joe" says,
"I would assume that there aren't many 'anarchist' professors as Marxist professors because anarchy is obviously not a workable system. Marxism isn't a workable system either as it appears to lead almost at once into brutal dictatorship. Personally I like constitutional republics."
"Joe" is an example of the intelligent ordinary person whom I have devoted decades of my life to talking to. I can pick apart what he said easily by pointing out that there is a difference between Marxism, as a way of organizing observations about the world (which I mostly disagree with by the way) and the organizational principles set down by what is known as "Leninism" which is probably what he refers to as "Marxism". There are numerous "Marxists" who differ so little from anarchists that the only reason I can see that they don't make the leap is the eternal human tendency to "mental conservatism". I can also point out that there are Marxists such as the Socialist Party of Chile (drowned in blood by the USA sponsored coup of Pinochet) who have been fully committed to the "constitutional republic" means of government, even if they were in alliance with a Communist Party which was not.
I can further point out that the degree of brutality varies from one Marxist dictatorship to another. Stalin's USSR was far more brutal in terms of "body counts" than his erstwhile ally and later opponent Hitler. NO government in human history has ever equalled the "body counts" of the communist dictatorship in China, and, whatever Noam Chomsky may try to say, NO government has EVER equalled the "body count as a percentage of the population" that the Kymer Rouge did in Cambodia/Kampuchea. YET... the dictatorship in say Cuba(which I have NO sympathy for, by the way) has been FAR less brutal than a great number of dictatorships sponsored in that part of the world by the "constitutional republic" of the USA. Without the consent of the citizens of said "constitutional republic" !
I also disagree with the idea that representation in the academy is some sort of litmus test as to the "workability" of a political ideology. History is far more complex than that. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of German professors in the mid 1930s to 1945 were good Nazis. Does this prove that German fascism was a "more workable system" than the alternatives. The answer was delivered by steel and bombs in the most direct way possible. The over-representation of Marxists in the Academy has roots in the situation in the early and mid 60s when there were viable Leninist models active in the world, when the working class entered the academy in large numbers and when anarchism was considered, unlike today, as an antique historical curiosity. Things are different now.
All that being said "Joe" is still right. His question has to be answered even if it was phrased in the wrong context. Is "anarchism" a realistic view of the world ? Maybe yes. Maybe no. It depends on what you mean by "anarchism". All that Molly can do is present her own view of anarchism, of why she calls herself an anarchist. In this exposition she will try to point out the varieties of anarchism-which is no one single thing. some of these varieties are very much "unrealistic" as Joe says. Some are simply insane and vicious. Some are idealistic statements of sainthood that lack a broader view of the failings of humanity. But....some are very much a workable political set of tactics, as Molly will hope to demonstrate. This series will continue on this blog as long as is necessary to give intelligent non-anarchists an idea of where Molly's own anarchism stands and how it relates to other strands of anarchism.
For now lets begin with an observation by the Canadian professor of political economy John Richards. This was originally stated, I believe, though I may be wrong, in his book 'Prairie Capitalism'. He noted that there were two stands in the agrarian rebellion that gave birth to such Canadian political parties as the CCF. Now, Richards is the furthest thing from an anarchist. His own political career is opportunism personified as he went from being a fervent supporter of 'The Waffle' to being an advocate of the extreme right wing of the NDP. His earlier work, however, named the cooperative and localist impulses of the movement that gave birth to the CCF as "libertarian socialist" as opposed to the "state socialist" of the majority of the Party. Molly sees herself very much in this tradition of "prairie populism" that is anarchist at its core. In future posts I will try and show how this tradition that didn't know its name connects with the larger worldwide tradition of libertarian socialism that is called "anarchism". I will also try to point out how there has always been a struggle for "the soul of anarchism" between various tendencies in said movement. That is not surprising. As an astute reader of the above can see there has been a struggle for the soul of Marxism as well. There have been similar struggles in all political ideologies, and such struggles continue today. So... see subsequent posts on this blog.
Molly has just added another item to her links list under the heading of 'Other Interesting Links'. This is the Ottawa based organization Democracy Watch which attempts to improve the state of democracy in Canada by various campaigns involving violations of same by both government and the private sector. this site is quite far from anarchism, but it is a meliorist campaign that shares one of the central concerns of libertarian socialism ie the broadest possible participation of people affected by a decision in the making of same. I highlight this item here because one of their campaigns, 'Honesty in Politics' relates very much to what I said in the previous post about our mayor's broken promises. The Democracy watch believes that politicians should be penalized for breaking their promises just like those of us out here in the real world are. Drop on over to their site and have a look.
Since the recent decision by Mayor Sam Katz's Executive Policy Committee to close Kelvin (see previous posts here), despite the fact that the "reasons" given are either wrong or outdated further support has grown to keep this Centre open. The community has a website, 'Friends of Kelvin Community Centre' where the Elmwood community's side of the story is presented in a downloadable factsheet. The final decision on kelvin now has to go to a full City Council meeting that will be held this upcoming Wednesday, January 24th, at the City Hall Council Building, 510 Main St.. The meeting will unfortunately be held at 9:30 am when many working people cannot attend, but the Friends of Kelvin urge all who can to attend this meeting.
Meanwhile local Winnipeg Free Press journalist Gordon Sinclair Jr. has taken up the issue in two columns in the FP, one last Thursday (Jan. 18th) and today, Saturday, Jan. 20th. He points out something that the Friends of Kelvin also point out in their fact sheet, that "false economies" in closing community centres in poorer parts of this city will have to be paid for by increased youth crime. The Friends of Kelvin mention how they have working with local youth who used to vandalize the Centre and now volunteer at it. It doesn't take many stolen cars and high speed chases ending in crashes to equal the cost of keeping a community centre open. One traffic light or street light taken down may equal a week of keeping a centre open. Never mind the cost to the car owners. Molly has a front row seat to look out on the Henderson Speedway (oops, I mean Highway), and not a month goes by without a good major accident visible from my front door. Many of these involve high speed police chases in pursuit of stolen vehicles. Closing centres in poorer parts of town ends up costing more than keeping them open.
Canadian Olympic gold medal winner Clara Hughes (cycling and speed skating) has also signed on board. She grew up in the Elmwood neighbourhood, and frequented the Kelvin Community Centre. She also promised to help raise funds for the Centre if it stays open. She features in a number of TV ads that our local MLA, Jim Maloway, will begin airing on Monday. his ads, paid for out of his constituency allowance, will urge residents to show up at the Tuesday meeting and also phone both the Mayor and councillors urging that Kelvin remain open.
Mayor Sam Katz has been more than willing to bask in the reflected glory of Winnipeg's Olympians in the past, once creating something of a controversy by likening himself to "Hugh Hefner" surrounded by the exclusively female gold medal winners. Ooops Sammy. Control yourself. maybe he should realize that not all of these athletes come from privileged neighbourhoods like his own. But that would be too much to ask.
Speaking of Sammy Molly went to his promotional website to find a couple of interesting items. One is a portal entitled 'Promises Made:Promises Kept' which supposedly lays out what an honest politician our Mayor is. There is also a portal to 'Media' which only features recent items. There is, of course, no "search function" or visible archives on the mayor's site. Perhaps out of wisdom.
Items posted on the internet can come to have a life of their own. They become cached, and can be retrieved even if one erases them from the site. Here's one example of a "Promise Made' by Sam Katz in the media section of his own site on April 15th, 2005,
"As I promised during the election, there will be no forced closures of community centres," said Katz, "but we will have to make decisions with the interest of the whole city in mind, and this strategy ensures the ownership for those decisions is retained by the community"
Which community ? Elmwood, the North and West End, Point Douglas ? Or maybe just Tuxedo ?
A bit of a misreading perhaps ? Here's another item from the minutes of the City's 'Civic Environmental Committee' on May 9th, 2005:
"As I promised during the election, there will be no forced closures of community centres" said Katz.
The Mayor went on to say that,
"I firmly believe that the people who live in these areas know them best, and by working with GCWCC, our community centres will have an enhanced opportunity to manage their own futures".
Unless, of course, they live in Elmwood or other poorer areas where they "don't know best" and "forced closures" have to happen.
Love them Promises Kept.

Friday, January 19, 2007

This is the second(1) posthumous book published and edited by Carl Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan(2). The subtitle is 'A personal view of the search for God', and this is because the book is a compilation of the 1985 Gifford Lectures (3)on Natural Theology at the University of Glasgow. Sagan himself describes "natural theology" in his introduction as "everything about the world not supplied by revelation" . A more apt description might be the attempt to read theological lessons from the natural world. I've recently finished reading this book, and these are my "midnight thoughts" on what the author says.
Sagan begins his lecture series with 'Nature and Wonder: A Reconnaissance of Heaven'. This presentation attempts to "travel outwards" from a terrestrial perspective to the furthest reaches of the visible universe. The slides that the author used to illustrate this journey are somewhat indifferently reproduced here- with updates from more recent astrophotography. Along the way to the furthest reaches the author picks up a number of historical turning points in humanity's conception of "the heavens", and how our sense of wonder has expanded as more and more of the vastness of "creation" is revealed, a vastness that makes many(most?) of our inherited religions seem paltry and petty by comparison.
Sagan used this first lecture to present the questions that he wished to pose to "natural theology", in particular the contrast between what are the really very parochial concerns and assertions of traditional theology and the huge scale of reality. as he says,
"...a general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the God portrayed is too small. it is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy much less of a universe."
In his second lecture, 'The Retreat From Copernicus: A Modern Loss of Nerve', Sagan goes further into this idea, relating the human tendency to "project" their own psychology (hence animism) and their own sociology (hence the illusion of privilege and class "reproduced in the heavens" with the privilege of the earth and humans) to the history of what he calls "a series of assaults on human vainglory". This is the very gradual growth of the virtue of humility in the face of actual knowledge. From the dethronement of the Earth centred Universe by Copernicus to the dethronement of even our ideas of time and space by relativity the march has been pretty well invincible. Attempts at reaction, from the Roman Catholic Church's prohibition on "modernism" to the present maelstrom of the "American Id" in all its technicolour varieties- from intelligent design to primitivism to post-modernism(4)- come and go and fail. Sagan devotes a good portion of this lecture to his disagreements with one of the more intellectually respectable "retreats from this advance", the anthropic principle. I guess this goes with his own cosmological concerns, though it hardly has an effect on the public consciousness, even amongst the "intellectuals". The alternative quantum theory of "many worlds" has something more of an "excitement value", though both show tendencies of where science can veer off into mere poetry.
In his next lecture 'The Organic Universe' Sagan proceeds into what was one of the central concerns of his scientific career, the origin of life and its possibility elsewhere in the Universe. He spells out the ubiquitous presence of organic chemicals in the astronomical field, and the vast stretches of time involved in the life of our universe. All this is tied in with his argument against the classical "argument from design". In lecture #4, 'Extraterrestrial Intelligence' he goes further into his own interests. This brings up the inevitable invocation of the Drake Equation and Sagan's views of it, including his own views that not every civilization will necessarily be technologically advanced and the possibility that those who are mostly self destruct.
Sagan brings up here the possibility of communication with such extraterrestrials which led him naturally into lecture five 'Extraterrestrial Folklore:Implications for the Evolution of Religion'. This is another aside into one of Sagan's other central concerns, the debunking of pseudoscience and occult faddism. Sagan uses this chapter to compare the claims that conventional religions make for their miracles with those made by obviously fraudulent modern "urban folklore", and the comparison is none too flattering for traditional religion.
In his next lecture, 'The God Hypothesis' Sagan finally goes right to the heart of the matter that is supposed to be at the centre of the Gifford Lectures, 'Natural Theology'. In this lecture Sagan goes into the full extent of the traditional proofs of the existence of God, and he also points out the very obvious point that there are many statements in the traditional Western concept of God that are actually quite separable. Omniscient is indeed quite separable from omnipotent as is the term "benevolent" and the term "eternal", and the term "omnipresent" (let alone its contradiction "transcendental"),etc.etc.. In actual fact the various terms inevitably contradict each other, and they are not always present in the description of "God" in either thinkers in the Western tradition or, especially, in other religious traditions. The heart of this is, as Sagan says,
"I therefore conclude that the alleged natural theological arguments for the existence of God, the sort we're talking about, simply are not very compelling."
In his next lecture, 'The Religious Experience' Sagan discusses the more "personal proofs" of the sacred ie "religious experiences" with emphasis on both its possible bases ie neurochemistry and evolutionary biology. This chapter is rather far ranging as it also compares these religious experiences across cultures and their content within various cultural settings and even their meaning within a broad sweep of human sociobiology. To say the least this chapter is sketchy as it is the subject of volumes of books and not a few pages.
Sagan then goes into lecture number eight, 'Crimes Against Creation'. This is a chapter that attempts to develop ideas that Sagan expressed previously, that traditional theology is actually quite a mixture of sometimes contradictory ideas, some of them benign and some of them quite toxic. In this lecture Sagan attempted to "set the stage" for some sort of alliance between humanists such as himself and those Christians who took the emotional content of "stewardship" quite seriously. This is particularly related to the centrepiece of Sagan's lifelong political commitment, the question of nuclear disarmament and nuclear war. One wonders what he would say today in the age of concern about global warming if he were alive today. Sagan had been arrested more than once in the course of protests against the American military machine.
Finally Sagan concluded his lectures with 'The Search' in which he ties all of what he has said together. He restates that his own vision of the immensity and beauty of the universe is just as valid an answer to the "big questions" posed by religion as the various dogmas are. With considerably more of the "cardinal virtue" of humility Molly may add. And with a much greater appreciation of the fragility of human life than any of the religious traditions provides. The book concludes with an appendix that consists of questions and answers from the various lectures. Molly concludes with the following quote from 'The Search',
"Now, another way of looking at this is as a conflict within the human heart, as a conflict between the bureaucratic, hierarchical, aggressive parts of our nature, which in a neurophysiological sense we share with our reptilian ancestors, and the other parts of our nature, the generalized capacity for love, for compassion, for identification with others who may superficially not look or talk or dress exactly like us, the ability to figure the world out that is concentrated in our cerebral cortex. Our survival is(how could we have imagined it to be anything else?) a reflexion of our own nature and how we manage these contending tendencies within the human heart and mind".

Molly apologizes if this review has not conveyed the full sense of what Dr. Sagan presented in his lectures. Inevitably one individual will concentrate on those points that interest them the most. I urge readers of this blog to go to the original book as it is far richer than I could hope to present in a brief review. Those who are interested in Carl Sagan in a fuller sense are advised to go to the Carl Sagan Portal maintained by his last wife and his children and, of course, the very enlightening and entertaining Wikipedia item on him.
1)The first posthumous book was arranged by Ann Druyan and published in 1997 as 'Billions and Billions:Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium'. 'The Varieties of Scientific Experience' was published by Penguin Press, New York, in 2006 (ISBN # 1-59420-107-2).
2)Carl Sagan had the good fortune to be married to three outstanding women in his lifetime. Ann Druyan was his third wife. His second was the artist Linda Salzman , and the first the scientist Lynn Margullis was the most prominent of all. There is little doubt that Margullis was by far a greater scientist than Sagan ever was, whatever his ability to capture the public imagination. Her concerns were with the origins of eucaryotic life as a symbiosis of various organisms. Her ideas about the origins of such organelles as mitochondria and chloroplasts have gone from being heresy to being orthodoxy. Her ideas about the origins of such things as flagella and cilia are somewhat more controversial, but they have something to be said for them, just as her rather extreme views about genetic interchange in modern organisms have. Time will tell. Margulis, by the way, stands in the tradition of Kropotkin and other Russian naturalists who emphasized the role of cooperation (symbiosis is the extreme version) in evolution.
3) The Gifford Lectures and their presenters read like something of a who's who of modern intellectual life. They have included William James, John Dewey, Albert Schweitzer, Reinhold Neibuhr, Gabriel Marcel, Michael Polonyi, Arnold Toynbee, Paul Tillich, Werner Heisenberg, Hannah Arendt, Noam Chomsky and Roger Penrose amongst many others with which Molly in her ignorance is not familiar. Sagan's inclusion in this company is an indication of the respect in which his ideas are held today.
4)Just as there is little to be said intellectually for the Catholic Church's attempt to "hold back the tide of modernism", an attempt that the Church seems to want to repeat again, there is little to be said for most of the more fashionable trends coming out of the USA today. Whether they be the pseudo-respectable babble of post-modernist academics who decry all rational thought and proclaim a new "triumph of the will", whether they be the dressing up of biblical literalism in pseudoscientific garb of design, intelligent or otherwise or whether they be the far !!! more marginal cultists who disgrace anarchism by saying that it must oppose such abstractions as "civilization". There are probably hundreds of other examples. All of them stand in the classic American tradition of "hucksterism". Academic ex-Marxists who babble on about "texts" can best be understood as pale imitations of the more successful Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. This may seem insulting, but it is true, even though the academics make a much more immediate financial profit from their output. But they have little staying power.
Anyways, down from the heavens and back to the earth soon,