Sunday, June 29, 2008

Framing the sky

While leafing through George Lakoff's new book, The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain, I was quite happily surprised to discover that an entire chapter was devoted to promoting Peter Barnes's idea of a "Sky Trust" as a means for fighting air pollution.

So, what exactly is a Sky Trust? Peter Barnes (entrepreneur of Working Assets fame) has been promoting the idea of trusteeship as a way of managing common natural resources for quite a while now, including in his excellent 2006 book Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons (read it online right now!) It's hard to imagine dividing up an atmosphere into conventional units of private property, but by creating a private, non-for-profit trusteeship that "owns" the entire atmosphere over an area, giving everybody in the area a non-transferable share in ownership and charging those who pollute or damage the air (and redistributing the revenues to the participants), the economic value of the air can be dealt with in a way that discourages pollution and abuse while also preserving the integrity of the common resource. All of this works in a manner similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund, or the single tax of Henry George, in a way that is consistent with market principles.

As global warming becomes a major issue, finding a way to deal with air pollution becomes an ever more urgent matter, and the sky trust is a rigorous yet simple way out. And it's not hard to see why liberals would find it appealing. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Lakoff also finds the means as well as the end congenial, in fact specifically stating that the sky trust is desirable because it maximizes the use of market principles and encourages entrepreneurship (to the point where even babies are participating, since everyone gets dividends from birth on) while minimizing the role of government and thus being immune to lobbying, and being administratively simple without creating the sort of bureaucracy spawned by regulatory administration.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Carl Sagan in the zeitgeist

Jim Lippard recently devoted an excellent post to a thorough takedown of Zeitgeist: The Movie, a weird, conspiracy theory-centered movie that's been spreading virally online (it can be viewed on Google Video in its entirety) for the past year. This is pretty pitiful even by the very low standards of CT movies like Loose Change or America: Freedom to Fascism (both of which Zeitgeist borrows directly and heavily from); as Lippard puts it, Zeitgeist is a "piece of pernicious nonsense" which is "almost entirely garbage, dependent on crackpot sources". Plus, it's heavily dependent on video and audio footage "borrowed" from other sources, and crude and cheap motion graphics, to fill out its running time. But I find it interesting, almost despite myself, for two reasons:

1: It juxtaposes conventional CT subject matter in its last two-thirds (about 9/11 and the Federal Reserve) with a first third about the origins of Christianity, which echoes (in a confused, Dan Brown sort of way) some traditional freethought views, with quotes from Robert Ingersoll and George Carlin. In fact, it apes Brian Flemming's documentary The God Who Wasn't There so closely that there were even rumors that it was made by Flemming! (Although this section is filled with errors that aren't in Flemming's original, and Flemming has specifically said that one of the reasons he got interested in the area of Jesus-myth revisionist scholarship was because it was unlike the culture around CTs, which he researched for his previous movie Nothing So Strange.) Even though it really never attempts to explain the connection between its three thirds apart from just putting them side by side, as Jay Kinney puts it in his review:

Exactly how all this fits together is left to the viewer’s imagination or, presumably, the film-maker’s hash pipe. Are those who manipulate Christianity for control purposes in cahoots with the Bankers, and were the Bankers in on the 9/11 caper?

Although there is some parallel to the way that the Aaron Russo-style CTs about the Fed and the income tax in the final third of the movie echo the more reputable libertarian critiques of those institutions; in fact, Lippard cites both Bill Woolsey's Liberty magazine article "Who Owns the Fed?" and Sheldon Richman's series "Beware Income Tax Casuistry". This, in turn, brings to mind how little overlap there is between those who hold unconvetional views on religion and on monetary systems, with some exceptions like the Robert Anton Wilson-influenced Douglas Rushkoff (who, in fact, has commented on the parallels between Zeitgeist and his work, with some reservations about "the agitprop nature of its assertions").

2: It includes a brief clip of Carl Sagan in Cosmos at the end (1:56:47 in, to be exact), after the CTs are exhausted and the tone switches abruptly (to quote Kinney again: "Incongruously, after spending nearly two hours trying to scare the bejeezis out of its viewers, Zeitgeist ends on an oddly upbeat note, telling us that Love — not Fear — is the answer, We are all One"), in which Sagan lays down a call for planetary unity: "The old appeals to racial and sexual and religious chauvinism, to rabid nationalist fervor, are beginning not to work. A new consciousness is developing which sees the Earth as a single organism, and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed." (Adding to the WTF factor is the fact that the shot is letterboxed, cropped from its original full screen ratio to widescreen with most of Sagan's lower body missing.) JHB readers know I'm interested in any and all forms of Sagan's influence, and there's something to seeing it in such an unexpected place; after all, the chance of a CT movie quoting Sagan is, well, about the chance of one quoting Ingersoll. Or as James Randi Educational Foundation forum user boloboffin put it far more colorfully in the forum thread devoted to the movie, "OMG, they used a clip of Carl Sagan at the end! Sweet Sufferin' Jeebus."

UPDATE (6/28/2009): I've received an email asking for the specific source of the Carl Sagan quote, and decided to clarify my somewhat vague reference. The quote used in Zeitgeist is from the 13th and final episode of the TV series Cosmos, "Who Speaks for Earth?" (which is freely viewable on Hulu here); the quote appears 24 minutes into the episode. A somewhat different version of the quote also appears in the corresponding chapter of the book version of Cosmos, on page 332 of the oversize illustrated edition and page 275 of the text-only edition (the latter of which can be viewed on Google Books); it runs as follows: "The old exhortations to nationalist fervor and jingoist pride have begun to lose their appeal.... A new consciousness is developing which recognizes that we are one species."

Friday, June 06, 2008

Is this blog worth $50?

A couple of days ago, I received an email offering to buy my blog for $50. I turned down the offer, but I've got to say that amount is far more than I've ever made from my blog, and I wonder just how much I'd have to be offered to sell it. Throw in a few zeroes at the end, and who knows....

Anyway, I needed something to write about to get back in action after the longer-than-usual lull, and that might as well be it.