Monday, December 24, 2012

On Organisation

It may be tautologous, or if you like nonsensical, but our future on this planet depends on not getting organized.  Or maybe on becoming unorganized.

My argument goes as follows:

Whenever men or man or humans collectively recognize that something needs to be done then an organisation is put in place to realize that shared goal.

I don't think it matters what the shared goal is, as long as a goal is deemed a worthy thing to strive for.  Thus the building of the pyramids, or of Stonehenge required a group recognition that the "thing" should be done, and an organisation had to be put in place, planning had to be done.  Similarly when planning a grape harvest and producing wine; when prosecuting the second world war; when creating the mafia; when introducing a new widget to the market; when running the Boy Scouts, an organisation has to be put into place to achieve the stated goals.

And boy have we been successful!  Without organisation we would not have the global civilization we have today.  Nor would we be about to destroy what we have by the wasteful proliferation of our species with its thirst and hunger for material things.

Implicit in an organisation is structure, and hierarchy.  There is a division of labour perhaps fairly according to those best suited to each of the different tasks needed to succeed; though also perhaps by fiat according to some elected or privileged director, or directrice.

For the organisation to succeed in meeting its goals, it then develops infrastructure.  In order to get together to discuss plans and progress meeting spaces are needed; in order to pay the bills counting houses with counting machines are needed; in order to communicate within the organisation, networks of communication paths need to be established.

And these places and things and networks need access to materials to build them.  Houses need bricks or timbers.  Communication networks, if roads, need stones, and if telephonic need wires and computers.  And all of them need labour.  And cooperative societies.

Once a structure or hierarchy is established, it tends to become ossified, and to resist change.  The privileges that are accorded to each level in the structure become expected by and of the people in those positions.  Without a continuing input of materials and labour an organisation cannot sustain itself.

Organisations then enable our progress, but become self-perpetuating and resistant to change.  The larger an organisation the more resistant typically they become.  A large organisation has difficulty in facing a new small competitor: it has difficulty adapting to the new challenge.  The same is true of large societies: we have difficulty adapting to new circumstances.

But it is the organisation that consumes resources.  Its size directs the need for more consumption in order to keep it running.  Its existence requires the continued input of resources to keep it alive.  this happens, and will continue to happen independent of the people running things.  They become the dupes and slaves of the organisation.  Often their jobs and livelihoods are dependent on the continued running of the organisations of which they are part.

Yet, it is this very consumption that has to end.  There is insufficient space or material on this globe to sustain a continued growth in consumption.  There is some considerable concern that even a zero-growth civilisation will continue to need additional raw materials that will be unavailable.

So if consumption has to come to an end, so too do the organisations that depend on that consumption.  We either need to create organisations that do not consume, quite likely an impossibility, or we need to dismantle our organisations, also well nigh impossible, if not highly undesirable.

Whither goeth us?  I'm not arguing for an anarchic future.  We see in the Congo what unlawlessness means.  I could not do what I am doing now without considerable hidden and very desirable organisation.  The computer I am using for which parts were assembled from places throughout the world.  The power supply that is needed to keep it running, which has come from all points of North America, though mainly Ontario.  The food that keeps me with a quasi normal heart beat.  Without many organisations, societal and corporate, none of this would be possible.

And I think it is desirable that I continue to be able to do what I am doing, among many other things, and for you to continue to do what you do, whatever that is.

Unless our organisations find a way to become unorganised, to be become radically different, a-consumptive organisations we will not be able.

(I don't feel that I have captured the essence of the idea I had on the greed of organisations and their immortality.  Maybe you my dear reader can add to or refute my simplistic incoherence.  I look forward to your comments.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Attitudes to Global Warming

I have been thinking about the breadth of attitudes towards global warming.  The topic has been under public discussion for thirty years or more, yet still does not appear to provide us with definitive direction.

There are deniers.  Deniers fail to accept the indisputable science that there is human induced global warming.  Whatever evidence they look at, does not present to them the view that the world is warming.  I make a distinction between the claims of science and any mitigation proposals.  Deniers deny the claims, and therefore the need for any substantive mitigation.

There was a recent article in the Financial Post, actually an op-ed, claiming that Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, was grossly negligent in claiming that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) has happened and is happening.  One hundred and twenty-five scientist signatories (few of them with climate credentials) claim that there has been no evident warming in the last fifteen to twenty years.

The web site published a rebuttal in which, for example, it claimed that whereas a simplistic view of the last fifteen to twenty years suggests no substantive warming, the trend line going back fifty years and more is clearly upward, with the warmest years on record occurring in the last ten.  Further the overwhelming force of scientific opinion, 99%+, is that man is to blame.  Numbers alone do not make it true, but as with any scientific claim, the probability of it not being so is now vanishingly small.

And there are alarmists.  Alarmists fully accept the claims of global warming, and are horrified of the implications, to the point that they are seriously alarmed that the impacts will be if not terminal to human life, certainly devastating.

The forecasts are of considerable change to our biological sustaining systems.  We, humans, are dependent on a sustaining environment.  We need water and temperate living conditions.  We need food.  We need a planet that refreshes itself in such a way as to keep our living conditions tolerable.  The forecasts that have been made are alarming in that they forecast dramatic changes in these conditions.  Temperate bands move northward in the northern hemisphere, and southward in the southern.  The tropics may become inhospitable not only to human life, but to many many other lifeforms.  We are losing, and will continue to lose corals from our oceans through acidification of the seas.  We will lose crop lands, through desertification.  The rise in temperature will give us both a loss of ice and a corresponding rise in sea levels.  Together these will result in large swaths of many low lying countries being submerged with loss of both habitat for people as well as livelihoods.  Let alone loss to and of our fellow-travelling biota.

These forecasts may be extreme.  We have no way of knowing.  There is reason behind them.  There is evidence of similar periods in earth's history, when dramatic changes in climate forced major species extinction events.  We know we are losing species at a rapid rate today.  But this alone does not give certainty to the extreme forecasts.  Perhaps Sandy and Hazel will convince some.

And there are also fatalists.  Fatalists are not necessarily alarmists, though they may be close.  A fatalist, accepting the science of global warming, basically says OK, dont lets worry about it.  Yes, the planet may be going to hell in a hand basket, but so what?  Let's enjoy the ride while we may.

Neither the alarmist nor the fatalist approach seems particularly constructive.  The fatalist approach, by not developing any explicit mitigation for AGW may actually accelerate the destruction we have begun.

Then there are climate optimists: yes we are ruining the planet, but we can survive the changes and will exuberantly do so.  I think of Sir Richard Branson in this context: unremittingly optimistic that we will find the solutions to the challenges which global warming presents.  We do not need to mitigate since we can and will adapt to the change.  We may need to curtail our profligate ways, we may in fact be forced by other factors to do so, but it is too late to reverse the changes and therefore must adapt in order to survive.

I dont know.  Perhaps we will be forced to adapt, but even then I dont know if we will succeed in maintaining our current lavish civilised style.  I like to think I am a realist, and certainly wish for a sustained existence for homo sapiens.  But I see some serious constraints that will soon impose their limits on our civilization:

1.  There are too many of us.  Already, 7 billion people and counting.  Forecasts are that we will have between 9 and 15 billion by late this century -- unless things change.  They will have to change since there is not enough arable land to feed 7 billion today, we have exhausted the resources of the sea, and we cannot destroy more forests without impacting the overall climate we depend on.  So while there are too many of us today, there have to be fewer of us in the future.  While that may be realizable, I do not see enough of us joining Jim Jones communities, and drinking laced KoolAde.  Without serious strife, our global population as too big.

2.  Growth is actually impossible.  Our global economy inextricably depends on annual positive growth.  The use of money requires that more is produced each period than the one before.  Our stock markets depend on quarterly improvements in revenues and profits.  We are critically dependent on growth to the point that economic depressions are cause for serious problems.  But any binomial growth exhausts the available resources.

Thus with a finite resource continual growth is impossible.  The earth is finite in size, though for most of our history this has not been evident.  There has always been a new world into which we can expand.  Whenever a mineral is mined, there is less available to be consumed later.  The more that is mined the sooner we will run out.  If we run out, we cannot produce any more, and growth will stumble and halt.

Some will say, ah but we can always find an alternative.  True, but that alternative is still subject to the same law of diminishing returns.  We are seeing this with the so-called shale oil plays today.  It appears that we have discovered vast new reserves of oil and gas in the shale deposits of the world.  They will run out as the traditional oil fields have run out, and maybe faster.  What we forget is that the oil shales are harder to extract than oil from traditional fields.  That is the cost of extraction is such that we are closer to the a nil net return: it will cost a barrel to extract a barrel.  Therefore it costs us more of what is extracted to extract what we get, such that the resource depletes faster.

Without a net increase in the input of primary energy we cannot grow.

3.  Human nature is against us.  In all the discussions of global warming, of carbon taxes, of additional resources, of asteroid mining etc, it seems to me that we forget about our fundamental nature.  By far the majority of us couldnt care less about global warming.  If we dont care, we will not be engaged (let alone enraged!) to do anything about it.  Its not that we dont care, we are unaware.  It is not relevant to our daily lives of working to earn a living to survive another day.  We are stuck in a groove, be it of commuting to a miserable menial job, or commuting to run a gigantic corporation.  The status quo is what is important.  And will always be.  We are fundamentally selfish and cannot see beyond the end of our noses.

So I dont know if that's a realist position or a pessimist position.  Its mine.  I will continue to drive my SUV and go on deep southern cruises.  Its what I enjoy doing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Nexen

There is talk of approving, or not approving, a massive foreign investment in a company called Nexen. The price of the acquisition is several billion dollars.

What I do not understand is how this is seen as a good thing for the country.

When you buy a company, you, whoever you are (in this case the Chinese government's oil giant, CNOOC), acquire the assets of the company for a price, ie you pay some money and then you own the assets, they are yours.

The trouble is that the money you pay for it is gone, it is no longer yours.  Once spent it then belongs to whoever were the shareholders or previous owners of the asset.  The asset itself does not benefit from the investment, since its value is transferred to previous owners, who then have no interest in it; and the ownership passes to the new owner who now has less money to enable further improvements to the asset!  (Though if you are chinese, you have no shortage of greenbacks!)

A new owner can only be interested in what he (or she) can get out of the asset he (or she) has acquired.  He may think, in the case of CNOOC, that his proprietary interest in the oil properties of Nexen gives him better access to those energy reserves, better being cheaper in that he will not have to pay world prices.  Typically, a new owner will look at his purchase, and ask, what can I sell to recover my investment, or where can I save money to reduce the operational costs of my new asset.  Neither of these last two strategies produces new investment.  He may also say, where can I reallocate the resources I have acquired to generate more revenue.  Again, this is not investment, but rather new management, which some may call better management.

Whatever new investment will come from the re-investment of the monies paid by CNOOC for Nexen.  And who knows where that will be.  Some I'm sure of the shareholders in Nexen are Canadian, who may be willing to plough their proceeds back into Canadian ventures.  Many, given the fragmented nature of oil sands ownership, are not Canadian, and may be only too delighted to receive a return on their oil sands "play" for investment back home where ever in the world that may be.  If the enthusiasm shown by the Nexen shareholders for this deal says anything, it is that non-Canadians are the majority shareholders.

Anyway, what do I know.  I only ever ran a small business that went bankrupt.  Noone ever let me play with a billion dollars.  But I dont see where a net benefit exists for Canada in this deal.

Riding Redistribution

This sounds to be the driest of topics!  Yet some 60 people showed up at the hearings in Cobourg on November 12th to present their views on the reallocation of the boundaries of our political ridings.  And 100% of them were against the changes proposed by the Electoral Boundaries Commission for the riding of Northumberland Quinte-West.  Change, I guess we do not want.

The challenge of course is that change has to come.  The allocation of ridings in Canada is revised every 10 years following the decennial census.  Attempting to keep populations within ridings to about the same -- 107,000 people, inevitably means an increase in the number of ridings and the parcelling of some into others.

I too am against the proposed changes, and made the following submission:

"I represent myself more than anything else. I am a member of the Green Parties of both Canada and Ontario, and have been active politically in that context. The thoughts I am going to present have been shared with members of both Green Parties in our existing ridings. My own riding is Northumberland Quinte West (NQW). Discussions have been held, largely telephonic, with party members, and with members of other parties, in the adjoining ridings of Prince Edward Hastings, Oshawa and Durham. However, the views are in no way, formally endorsed by any of my correspondents.

"I want to say at the outset that I am a relatively new resident of this riding. I moved from Ottawa to Brighton in 2007, and thus have no first-hand knowledge of riding geography in the area prior to that. Having moved to Brighton, I take advantage of the services available throughout a day’s drive from my home. We shop locally, and in Cobourg and Trenton, at opposite ends of NQW. We shop further afield as well, in Belleville, Kingston, Ajax and Peterborough, as well as Toronto. We take advantage of entertainment facilities similarly, so that in no way do we consider ourselves constrained to our political boundaries.

"Having said that, I find it hard to understand why Northumberland County should be split in the proposed scheme of things. I want to argue strongly for the retention of the County as a political division.

"The Green Party has found it particularly hard to find party members in Trenton, as well as in Prince Edward County. Most of our activity and members in NQW come from the western end of the riding. From a selfish point of view, aligning with the County (Prince Edward County) will make our life more difficult.

"But that is selfish. From a more social perspective, my judgement is that residents of Brighton do not consider themselves PEC residents. Clearly, there is some overlap, but they are not us. There is a dividing line between residents of the County and those of Northumberland. Including Brighton (and parts further west) as part of the County does not make sense.

"Excluding Trenton from a Northumberland riding though does make sense. Not only have we found it difficult to recruit members in Trenton, but there is a substantial difference in social context between Trenton and the eastern parts of Northumberland County. Largely because of the military base there (and in the County), while there are dormitory features of eastern Northumberland, these differences will remove cohesiveness from a new riding incorporating both.

"There are those who I know disagree with me. There is even a move to alter the local council structure to incorporate Brighton with communities to the east. I do not share this view. We came to Brighton to live in Brighton, not to be part of a larger Trenton/Quinte city. As I am against the idea of incorporating differently, I am clearly against a riding redistribution that lumps Brighton in with areas to the east.

"It has also been pointed out that an alignment of the western parts of Northumberland County with communities to the west, will draw those parts of our county into a closer ‘big-city’ alignment, and would recognise a greater association with the conurbation of Toronto to the west.

"But this will belittle the interests of Northumberland as a whole. Northumberland is largely rural. In my experience a delightful rural environment, of beauty not found elsewhere in the province. Its beauty is not only in its farmland and hillsides, but in the communities found within it. Without doubt these communities benefit from the surrounding economies, but nevertheless have a character that will, given a continued existence of the Northumberland County Council, be diminished in a split representation.

"I recognise that this is an enormous jigsaw puzzle. You need to adjust boundaries as far as possible to produce ridings of about the same size, 107,000 people. You may need to recognise historical associations as well as contemporary alignments.

"Historically, there was substantial north-south interaction as the lumber of the hinterland was shipped out through the lakeshore ports. There was immigration from the County into the regions further inland. More recently, there has been an east-west association as the railways and road systems were built.

"NQW is also split by telephone area codes: 905 in the west, 705 in the north and 613 to the east. None of this history and geography is part of your proposal. And I would agree with that: I do not see them as polarising influences on our communities that should be reflected in our riding boundaries.

"In our case, NQW, if you can keep Northumberland County intact both in geography and name, you will earn I know the gratitude of more than myself. If not already, I know you will be hearing from the County itself, as well as others both political and social at other levels.

"In particular, recognising that NQW is currently about 17% over the desired size, I would urge you to consider allocating those parts of Quinte West in NQW and those parts north and east of the Trent River, to a more eastern riding. If necessary reduce those parts of Kawartha, now allocated to KPHC, in order to accommodate the retention of all parts of Northumberland in a single riding.

"I wish you wisdom and patience in considering the merits of all our submissions."

The strength of the views was not lost on the commissioners, who commented that this meeting in Cobourg was the best attended of all the public meetings they had held, but we will see if they are able to accommodate our feelings in their final report due later this year.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A tawdry debate

When I watched Kennedy, lo these many years ago, there was some fire in the presentation, there was some dignity and statesmanship.  There was some imagination and hope.  Not so last night.  Neither Romney nor Obama have it, though Mitt less than Barack.

Neither seemed able to see or spell out the real problems faced by the world today.  There was no reference (that I heard) to sustainability, or to climate change.  There was reference to the US debt being the greatest threat to the US global prestige, a comment that serves to show their failure to see that the economy is the wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, that the economy therefore cannot take precedence over the environment.

But the likely wholesale failure of the global environment, largely because of the US failure to curb its rapacious appetites, was not identified even remotely as the greater - if not the greatest, threat to the US empire.  Rather the challenger suggested that it was more important to further inter-american trade, which can only exacerbate our pressure on Gaia's ability to survive.

And the second problem, almost as important, was the absence of any reference to the fundamentalist nature of current world politics.  We, collectively since we cannot avoid being part of the world, have seen fundamental islam as the world threat to be addressed, ignoring the fact that our violent response stems from our own fundamental christianity.

There was of course, reference to the war on terror, that grossly misnamed figment of a Bush, who in its name has unleashed worse terror on some in this world.  Yes, we need to bring those responsible for the crimes of 2001 to justice (not that anyone has of course, since slaughtering by drone is hardly justice), but we also need to show compassion.  Such a christian virtue needs to be shown in other than a desire to bring democracy to the world.  Our democracy is badly tarnished, and in fact at the moment is being shown to be sadly lacking in the ability to operate even in a christian world, let alone a muslim one.

The evidence of last night only serves to confirm the serious problems faced by the west.  If Mitt and Barack are the best we have, we have lost the ability to drive this world.  We have most likely surrendered our democracy to corporations, epitomised by Mitt whose business under his command has out-sourced so many north american jobs, and who now proposes that he knows how to generate millions of new american ones, most in small business about which he can know next to nothing.

Mitt will without doubt in my mind be the worse of the two.  It is only to be hoped that the american voters (but a fraction of the american people) will agree with me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bullies, we're all bullies

When I was about 9, there was a weakling in the school yard.  A lad of my age, thin, unsure of himself, uncomfortable with the attention of others, keen just to be allowed to be.  Another lad, a ruffian, same age, same height but with muscles to go with it, picked on the weakling, wanting to needle him into a fight.

At the end of one yard break, having watched him work up to using fists, I could take no more and stepped in to stop the bully.  I think I took a punch or two, and delivered one or two, but like to think that I ended the unwanted attention that Randles (the bully's name) was showing to the other.  Certainly throughout my high school career, Randles never paid any attention to me!

(Randles of course, never improved.  He was destined to a low life from the beginning, and nothing the generous yet disciplined headmaster could do was going to change things.  On the day Randles was expelled from school, some six years later, he proceeded round all the boy's washrooms, punching out all the glass windows, literally with his fists.  Some time later he was caught in the Old Boy's club painting all the billiard balls, just for the heck of it.  Perhaps just a rebel, but with a nasty mean and uncivilised streak to him.  I've lost touch with him, havent heard of him (certainly not from him) since, but am certain he became a recidivist.)

Randles was a bully in the normal and frequently understood sense of an individual who would happily beat up on those judged weaker than himself.  We think of them as undisciplined, untutored, highly selfish and wanting to live by their own distorted rules, and not by those of a civilized cooperative society.

The story out of BC recently of Amanda Todd fits this mould:  A bully taking advantage of an impressionable young girl leading tragically to her suicide.  As does too the story of Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan:  A bully taking violent action against an idea he does not like, personified by a young courageous girl, who we are all hoping will survive the tragedy.

Everywhere we are seeing politicians calling for efforts to reduce if not eliminate bullying.  Our national politicians think we need an anti-bullying strategy, words for us to live by in combatting bullies in our schools.

But the real problem is not in the schools.  It is the adults themselves.  Until we can show public behaviour that is not bullying we will not provide the desirable non bullying examples to our youth.  We are surrounded daily with examples of adult bullies that it is hard to realise do not show the behaviour our youth should adopt for themselves.

- The way our prime ministers prorogue our parliaments, denying us fair representation.

- The way our leaders, leaders of all nations, happily wage war on defenseless people.

- The way the same leaders extol the virtues of their own returning corpses, but fail to recognise the loss of vastly many more non-combatant civilians in the conflicts.

- The way 'our' wars are now fought for us by drones.

- The way our business leaders ask for a level playing field, ignoring the fact that the bigger you are the easier it is to play in such a field.

If I thought longer and made this a longer blog, I could come up with a great long list of bullies past and present.

And we let them get away with it!  We are either bullies ourselves, condoning the activities of our 'leaders,' or they have succeeded in bullying us into submission.

Bullying on a national and international level, is setting the new normal.  Unless we stand up against it at this level, as well as the school yard, we are all accessories to bullying.

Monday, August 6, 2012


I am not circumcised but many are, to get my preputial prejudice out of the way.

But there's a rationale and a prejudice.  I plan here to be rational, and reasonable, but to be arguing against the idea that circumcision should be a normal practice of a civilised human society.  (There, I've probably blown that resolve already.)

The issue to me is not that there may not be medical benefits to circumcision, but that the loss of functional and physiological benefits do not justify any such medical benefits.  There may also be psychological benefits.

There are also clearly religious issues.  Two of the worlds great religions promote if not require, their male adherents to be circumcised, and in one expect many of their female adherents to be similarly excised.  I am not going to object to their practices on religious grounds.  Well I am.  I actually think they are babaric and sadistic.  But we live in a tolerant society and time, when if you claim the right to do something on religious grounds we let you, provided harm is not done.

Lets look at these benefits in that order: functional, physiological, then medical, psychological and finally religious.

By functional I refer to the physical properties of the foreskin in intercourse.  This may be considered a little salacious but is well documented in serious medical literature. (1)

The male foreskin appears to be unique in nature.  Many if not all mammals have a prepuce, a covering of the penis that on erection is retracted.  The foreskin provides the same physical protection to the unerect penis, but unlike a prepuce, is normally only retracted on intromission.  Retraction of the foreskin is then done by friction during intercourse.  The uncovered glans is now afforded the pleasures of sliding friction that encourages tumescence and ejaculation.

There is a further effect of the retracted foreskin that results in greater engorgement and thus additional sensitivity of the glans: the retracted foreskin gathers at the base of the glans, and restricts blood flow in the penis.  Blood enters the glans but because of the restriction less easily leaves, thus causing greater swelling.

These effects contribute to success in intercourse.  From an evolutionary, adaptation perspective, they serve to encourage copulation and thus increase the likelihood of reproduction.  A species that reproduces, survives.

Now there is no evidence that the absence of a foreskin reduces reproduction.  Nor that the reverse is necessarily any more true: absence of a foreskin does not improve reproductive success.  Nevertheless, one has to suppose that since we arrive equipped with a foreskin, it has contributed (and does contribute) to our reproductive success.  If that were not so, then through the many generations of our ancestors, evolution would have selected for its absence.

There is some published evidence that the absence of a foreskin changes the pleasures of intercourse.  This evidence cannot come from those circumcised at birth.  There is no comparison either group (uncircumcised or natally circumcised) can offer that is valid, our views will be far too subjective.  There is a group however that could offer some insight: those circumcised as adults, who can (maybe it will be argued subjectively too) offer comparisons of the before and after experience.  However there is no consensus in this group and it is no surprise:  It is impossible to design a thorough scientific experiment that could determine such benefits.  You cannot have a control group, and the experiment cannot be conducted blind, that is with the participants unaware that they have been circumcised!

There is, however, anecdotal evidence in the use of erection stimulating drugs, Viagra, Cialis etc.  Epidemiological studies show that there is a higher incidence of erectile dysfunction in North America than in Europe.  This can be correlated with the incidence of circumcision, which is far lower in Europe than in the USA. (2)  (Of course if this is really the case, you cannot expect the drug makers to be against circumcision!  They are clearly making a lot from erectile dysfunction.)

My final comment on the physical benefit of a foreskin, relates to its presence other then during intercourse.  For most of one's (male) life, one is content with a relaxed and unaroused penis.  Under these circumstances, the glans is covered, and protected from physical contact with clothes, and in early life from diapers.  This physical protection keeps the glans from becoming keratinised and by being hardened less sensitive.  The foreskin has a significant physical protecting role outside of congress. (3)

Now, though lets look at the physiological functions of the foreskin.

The foreskin has a large area, about 15 square inches.  The part in contact with the penis (well not continuous since the foreskin is multipli-folded) contains a large number of glands that secrete fluids around the glans.  Some of these are simply lubricating.  There are langerhorn cells as well that provide antibacterial protection in their secretions.  There are others, that contribute to smegma, a waxy lubricating substance that also contains sloughed epithelial cells.

There are also, highly significantly, a very large number of nerve endings in the foreskin.  Some have identified these in the millions.  Not only is the glans highly sensitive, because of its nerve endings, but the foreskin is as well, if not more so.  It is because of this of course, that we males find our erections so pleasurable and ultimately satisfying.  It is also for this reason that I find it hard to believe that the circumcised penis can be as enjoyable.  But I drift into subjective experiences.

If for no other reason, this seems to me to be the cruelest cut in circumcision: The removal of highly sensitive tissue.  The operation has to be excruciatingly painful, and it is no wonder that infants scream so much during the treatment, even I understand with a local anaesthetic.  The offer of whisky-soaked gauze hardly compensates.

From a medical perspective what goes wrong with the foreskin?  The one condition most often referenced in the literature is a condition known as phimosis.  In this condition the opening of the foreskin is so tight as not to allow the passing of urine. Since this is a painful condition and life-threatening, the resolution is often circumcision, particularly since usually discovered in infants when manual stretching of the foreskin is impractical as a solution.

The most likely cause of other conditions (inflammation of the glans and foreskin) is lack of reasonable hygiene.  When the foreskin is peeled back during normal washing smegma is easily removed along with other potential bacterial and and viral infections.

Other studies have claimed that HIV/AIDS can be controlled through circumcision, suggesting that the virus can harbour within or around the foreskin and be transmitted in intercourse.  This is hard to substantiate in a physiological sense, because HIV has actually highjacked the use of semen. (4)  It exists in the semen of infected individuals, not in their external tissues.  It is transmitted through semen not by direct contact, though clearly there can be auxiliary pathways following ejaculation.

In summary so far:
- the foreskin acts as a physical protection for the relaxed penis,
- the foreskin protects during intercourse,
- the foreskin provides lubrication during intercourse,
- the foreskin enables longer penetration during intercourse, and
- the foreskin provides hygienic protection.

In the absence of the foreskin, none of these benefits can exist.  More so, the absence of a foreskin inevitably leads to a less sensitive organ, through loss of nerves and keratinisation.

How about psychological benefits.  Here I am wandering way outside my fields of expertise and of research, and will immediately claim considerable subjectivity in my remarks.

One of the first things I will claim is that without a foreskin, the individual is no longer whole, he has been deprived, often at birth.  The deprivation may not be obvious and may be reinforced as a good thing depending on the nature of his childhood experiences.  This is not the same thing as being tonsil-less or appendix-free.  Both are beneficial operations that improve quality of life.  Neither is done until necessary, and are not therefore arbitrary procedures.  This is not the case with the removal of the foreskin on or shortly after birth.  Quality of life is not threatened by the foreskin, nor is it improved by its removal.

Next, as noted above, intromission without a foreskin is harder.  Not only harder, but potentially painful, for both parties.  This it seems to me can lead to alienation between the sexes: "What I want to do with you is painful, but highly desirable.  Therefore I will grow to hate and despise you."  If this isnt a significant source of misogyny I dont know what is.  (Ayaan Hirsan Ali talks about this from a female's point of view.)  Well maybe this is getting a bit extreme, but the potential for this effect does seem to me to exist.

Whereas with a foreskin neither of these psychological effects will exist.

Which I guess brings me to religion.  Why would the founders of our religions be so in favour of circumcision?

I would first advance the iron age hypothesis, that there was a time when hygiene was difficult, and that a significant incidence of penile disease existed.  Removal of the foreskin may have reduced this incidence.  In the hands of a self-selecting priesthood, disagreement with whom may have had serious life threatening results, the use of circumcision, may have solidified tribal loyalties.  With a group of tribes from the desert, where water would have been exceptionally precious, such procedures may have been more critical for survival.  In time this became codified in the religion of that and those tribes.

In time this may further have come to be seen as a measure to control the randy impulses of the young, both boys and girls.  There may have been the thought that circumcision would reduce the (supposedly) harmful effects of masturbation *.  But certainly I see circumcision as a controlling measure by the priesthood, and as such a highly sadistic and self-serving rite.

Some will claim that the change from youth to adult needs to be marked.  The Xhosa of Southern Africa require circumcision at puberty as a rite of passage.  The Bar Mitzvah customs of jews is a similar mark of passage to adulthood, though circumcision here occurred much earlier in life.

As a layman, I have great difficulty in seeing circumcision as a beneficial operation.  There is not a single medical college in North America, Europe or Australia that recommends circumcision as a normal procedure.  Ontario does not provide insurance coverage for the elective surgery.  The incidence of natal circumcision is still high in the USA (around 60%) but is declining; the incidence in Europe under 25%.  The incidence in China and India is well below 5%, in non Muslim and Jewish populations.

Well, food for thought?  Others have done a better job perhaps than I, but I am now shot of this rant!  Fire your comments at me!

* An interesting observation on masturbation follows from biological considerations.  Sperm have a limited life in storage of only a few days.  Unless implanted, they need to be replaced anyway.  Masturbation is the evolutionary adaptation that ensures this happens.  This should assuage the guilt many of us clearly feel!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ignorance Part II

Continuing to try to answer the question I posed near the top of my last blog: What is it that others see in Global warming that I dont, or why do I see things that others apparently don't?

If you search on the web for "Global Warming Denial," most of what you find relates to willing denial because the denier doesn't accept the basic science reported through the IPCC.  There is a reluctance to believe that such bodies are presenting valid results, or that they are pursuing their own strange motivations.  This can only arise from ignorance.

There are those who claim that the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were fairly recently at levels far in excess of those of today -- 1500 ppm has been claimed within the last few thousand years.  I don't know where these figures come from, since I have not seen them in the literature*.  Indeed the greatest they have been over the last 15 million years, has been less than they are today -- 380 ppm.  (  In our experience as a species, we have never been subjected to levels greater than they are today.  The earliest evidence of the genus Homo is from about 2.3 million years ago (WikiPedia) and of Homo Sapiens much less than a million years ago, perhaps as little as 100,000 years.

Another search I have tried is to find books that support the hypothesis that global warming is not happening, and they certainly exist.  When you search on "Global Warming" on Amazon, you will find 26,704 listings.  If you search on "Climate Change" there are 63,435 listings.  Substantial numbers.

If you go through, a site dedicated to debunking the science, and trace through their bookstore, there are only 22 entries.  If you search on Amazon for "Global Warming Hoax" you will find 384 entries.  Either the hoax site is not trying, or most of the references are not calling it a hoax.

In any case the overwhelming majority of published books are not calling it a hoax.  Man-made global warming is a fact.

But setting the deniers aside for a moment (or two), there may be something else at work here.  Maybe we should welcome the idea that the climate is getting warmer.  Despite many of the dire predictions of increased atmospheric turbulence, perhaps improvements will also appear.  Maybe its good that grapes will grow in the northern part of the Canadian Shield.  Maybe it is good that the Arctic will cease (for a time) to be ice bound, and the Polar Bear will go extinct.  Maybe its good that the Maldives will be flooded to of existence.  Maybe its good that the Antarctic ice shelves have vanished, and Penguins will go extinct.

Certainly there are those that embrace the change.  Sir Richard Branson has hosted a private conference of entrepreneurs (can't find a web reference to this though) asking, prudently, how to benefit from Global Warming.  If its going to happen, let's work out to get the best advantage from it.  On the other hand he has also set aside $25 million for work towards reducing global warming.  So maybe he's hedging his bets -- and I wish I could afford to do the same thing!

Personally I'm with Sir Richard, and Al Gore, and David Suzuki, and George Monbiot.  Unless we do something radical, we are heading for a precipice.  Unless we change directions we are heading to where we are going.

*  Going back many millions of years to the time of the dinosaurs and before that, there were periods when CO2 levels exceeded 20 times today's levels.  But that's not a climate that will or ever could sustain us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why ignorance?

Arrogance comes from ignorance; with knowledge comes humility.

It strikes me as absurd the way there are so many climate deniers, so many willing to believe that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that nothing can or should be done to disturb the course we are on.

Yet, for me, the course we are on is one of disaster, cataclysmic disaster.  What is it that others who do not share this view don't see?  Or that I don't see that they do?

The others of course are legion and include the prime minister of Canada, one King Stephen.  And the CEO of Exxon.

Now that's a staggering thought -- the person in charge of perhaps the largest corporation in history doesn't see the precipice: He was quoted recently as saying that technology will be the solution to global warming.

Well what's wrong with that?  Technology has got us a long way, surely it will continue to enable us to pursue our dreams?

The fundamental issue is that technology cannot get around the physical limitations of our planet.  There is a physical limit to the resources available to us.  That physical limit dictates how far we can grow, how big our economies can become, how many people the planet will tolerate.  Reducing our individual footprint -- how much of the planet's resources we individually consume, will help, but since we are already consuming (in the west at least) more than 4 planet's worth, the reduction to be made are enormous.  We have to reduce our individual consumption by 75%!  And continue our current living standards?  No way you say!  We want to continue to grow our consumptive way.  In fact, unless we do, our economies will suffer!  We will individually be less wealthy and that is not desirable.

What a conundrum!  We must grow to keep our economies vibrant.  We cannot grow because there are finite limits to our growth.

Which is the real problem of global warming.  Anthropogenic contributions to global warming are incontrovertible except to those who don't wish to know.  The rate at which the levels of CO2 are increasing are unprecedented and directly relatable to our human use of fossil fuels.  We show a staggering reluctance (and worse inability) to do anything about this, in the way of substantial reductions in the consumption of gas and oil.  We need an 80-90% reduction in order to avoid catastrophic ecological failure in this century.  Some say we have 10 years in which to take the appropriate action to avoid it.

Since the start of industrialization, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has grown from around 280 ppm (parts per million) a level known to have existed for millennia, to about 390 ppm today.  Global warming has already led to an increase in dramatic weather events, to the loss of very large chunks of sea ice from the Antarctic, the Larsen ice shelves, and to the substantial loss of the arctic ice cap.  350 ppm is the rallying cry to attempt to end global warming.  It is being suggested that if we reach 450 ppm, then the climate will become one that will not support life on this planet sufficient to support our continued existence: at that point coral reefs will vanish.  In other words unless we take action on this, and this is not technology, it is social action, we will be committing genocide on an enormous scale.  Technology is not the solution.

But there is hope.  There are many groups and individuals who are raising their voices to counter the ignorance of both the masses and of our governments, for example: The Post-Carbon Institute, Chris Hedges, Chris Martenson, the Via Campesina, the Degrowth movement, the David Suzuki Foundation,  the Transition Town movement, and many more.

Having got to here, I don't think I have answered the questions I posed in my third paragraph.  That, then, will be in the next blog.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Start up.

Hello blog readers!

Thought for today: How is it that evolution works when each incremental change can only be transferred one generation at a time?  No that doesn't make sense!  Since any change to the genome, can only influence survival up to the time of reproduction, a change that enables survival beyond that date, can have no direct effect on evolution!

Well I guess, continuing the stream of consciousness, it does, since it will operate on the next generation:  A change that enables longer term parenting, will have been passed on, even though the effect of that change will not be apparent until the offspring itself passes its genes on!  Self-reinforcing.

Convoluted!  No-one said that evolution was simple.

I have the view that most of the characteristics of mammals, were developed long ago in the primeval swamp.  All animals, have a similar skin; all livers function in the same way, etc.  The proteins and hormones that govern how nearly all our bodily functions happen were invented by biology long long ago.  The differences are subtle but because they are so similar, they must have been invented a long time ago, in order that the commonality we see in all species can exist.  We are a massive symbiont of (what is it?) some 300 trillion cells.  There are more bacteria in our guts than there are stars in our galaxy.

Just think on it, and try to deny the wonders of evolution!