Communion Of Dreams

Oh, Al Gore uses it?? Sign me up!
June 24, 2009, 8:28 am
Filed under: Al Gore, Google, Humor, Marketing

Got this in my inbox this morning (happily, my spam filter caught it):

What is Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is a great technique that will enhance your thinking skills and memory. A Mind Map uses key words, colours and images to stimulate your brain.

Your brain has the ability to learn and remember large amounts of information. It works by linking ideas together. When you think, your brain starts off from one idea and radiates outwards to other ideas. This radiant thinking ability is natural and automatic.

For your brain to function effectively, it must express itself in a radiant form that reflects its thought processes. In other words, to use your brain effectively, you have to think radiantly. A Mind Map, when drawn, radiates from a central idea and can be considered an expression of the radiant thinking brain.
This workshop will show you how to use Mind Mapping techniques to boost your productivity. It will give you the knowledge and techniques to be a more effective manager.


By the end of the workshop, you will be able to:

* Use your brain effectively
* Increase your concentration
* Achieve a higher level of creativity
* Get a clearer organisation of thoughts
* Enhance your memory
* Boost your productivity
* Use Mind Maps for presentations, report writing, project planning and more

Just for giggles, I Googled the “institute” behind this, and came up with this site, where I also found the following paragraph:

Mind Maps ~
Al Gore, the former US Vice President, is counted amongst those who use Mind Mapping guidelines to support them in their disciplines. The May/June 07 issue of Time Magazine, which features Al Gore on the cover, includes a feature article with a photograph of Al Gore with his project Mind Map in front of him. The article points out that he uses Mind Mapping to help him keep control of his thoughts and that he used Mind Mapping software when working on his recent book.

Wow – Al Gore uses it?? Man, sign me up for that! Who’s with me? All we have to do is send an email to (no, seriously, that is the domain name, though not the specific address . . . though it might as well be) and hand over our credit card information to these great people, and we will soon be enlightened . . .

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

Ecclesiastes VIII 15

A good friend and I have a running joke about getting our six chickens and a goat, and retiring from the world to farm while things fall slowly into ruin.

But the thing is, it’s not a joke. Not really.

I’m not saying that everyone should fall into a paranoid spiral, become some kind of survivalist nut. I’m not ready to do that. But when you read something like this, it does make you wonder. An excerpt (please note, I added the embedded links in the following):

For decades, his [James Lovelock’s] advocacy of nuclear power appalled fellow environmentalists – but recently increasing numbers of them have come around to his way of thinking. His latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report deploys less dramatic language – but its calculations aren’t a million miles away from his.

* * *

On the day we meet, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign to rid Britain of plastic shopping bags. The initiative sits comfortably within the current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on – all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won’t make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.

“It’s just too late for it,” he says. “Perhaps if we’d gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don’t have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can’t say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do.”

Too late? Yeah, maybe so:

I opened the email to find an article about the most recent “comments and projections” by James Hansen. Hansen, you may know, is perhaps the most famous NASA climate change scientist. He’s the man who testified before Congress twenty years ago that the planet was warming and that people were the source of that warming. He’s the man who was pressured by senior officials at NASA, at the behest of the current administration, to tone down his reports about the impacts of climate change. Thankfully he seems to have resisted that pressure.

I read the article and then I read a related article by Bill McKibben. Hansen says, and McKibben underscores, that there is a critical maximum number of parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to heed to prevent climatic catastrophe. That number, he says, is between 300 and 350.

* * *

Can you guess how many ppm of CO2 are in the atmosphere now? Slightly below 350? Slightly above?

We’re at 383 parts per million and counting, well past the number Hansen suggests is critical. We are past it by a lot. We were at 325 parts per million in 1970! Um, I don’t think we can just suck all that carbon back out, ask billions of people not to have been born, tear down all of those new suburban developments, return to non-fossil-based agriculture, and innocently pretend it’s thirty years ago.

So, what to do?

Well, that’s the problem. Lovelock says that you might as well enjoy life while you can, as much as you can, before the shit hits the fan. The second passage, from a very long blog entry evidently by Sally Erickson, explores some options but focuses on the need to convince people that the shit has essentially already hit the fan, in order to radically change behavior sufficient to have a hope to save the world.

I am not sanguine about the prospects of making radical change, nor what that would really mean for our civil liberties. I think, unfortunately, that the mass of humanity just cannot deal with a problem until it becomes an actual, in-your-face emergency, but that once in it, we usually do a fairly decent job of slogging our way out.

This is one of the reasons that I decided to choose a pandemic flu as the cataclysm behind the ‘history’ of Communion of Dreams. As I have discussed previously, I made that decision for reasons of plotting, but also because I actually believe that we’ll likely experience some kind of mass die-off of humanity sometime in the next century, whether due to war, asteroid impact, plague, global warming or some other disaster. We’ve just been too lucky, too long.

But in a way, it is an odd sort of optimism, as reflected in the book, and as shared by James Lovelock (from the same Guardian article):

“There have been seven disasters since humans came on the earth, very similar to the one that’s just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we’ll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That’s the source of my optimism.”

And not to end it there, here’s a little something for counterpoint, I suppose:

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi here and here.)

Yeah, what he said.

There’s a very good column by Eugene Robinson in Friday’s Washington Post, about the need for someone with some smarts in the Oval office. From the piece:

One thing that should be clear to anyone who’s been paying attention these past few years is that we need to go out and get ourselves the smartest president we can find. We need a brainiac president, a regular Mister or Miss Smarty-Pants. We need to elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher’s pet with perfect grades.

When I look at what the next president will have to deal with, I don’t see much that can be solved with just a winning smile, a firm handshake and a ton of resolve. I see conundrums, dilemmas, quandaries, impasses, gnarly thickets of fateful possibility with no obvious way out. Iraq is the obvious place he or she will have to start; I want a president smart enough to figure out how to minimize the damage.

And even better:

Actually, I want a president smart enough to know a good deal about science. He or she doesn’t have to be able to do the math, but I want a president who knows that the great theories underpinning our understanding of the universe — general relativity and quantum mechanics — have stood for nearly a century and proved stunningly accurate, even though they describe a world that is more shimmer than substance. I want him or her to know that there’s a lot we still don’t know.

I want the next president to be intellectually curious — and also intellectually honest. I want him or her to understand the details, not just the big picture. I won’t complain if the next president occasionally uses a word I have to look up.

I wasn’t the smartest kid in my high school. But I was pretty damn close. I certainly wasn’t the smartest kid at my college – Grinnell was full of people as smart or smarter than me. But I have never, ever understood the instinct that some people have that their president should be someone “they’d want to have a beer with”. I don’t want to have a beer with them. I want them to bust their ass working to fix the myriad problems we face, or at least to mitigate the impact of those problems while we work to solve them over the long term. Not just Iraq, or terrorism, but Peak Oil, global warming, health care, the threat of a pandemic, rebuilding New Orleans, rebuilding the National Guard, et cetera, et cetera. I want someone who is at least as smart as I am, who is at least as well educated, who has some real life experience beyond just getting elected to office, and who has shown that they are actually competent in managing something more important than some bloody sports team. After six years of the Worst. President. Evah. you’d think that this would be obvious, but it is telling that it takes a columnist for one of the largest and most important papers in the country to come right out and say it.


Jim Downey

(Tip of the hat to Hank Fox for the link.) 

He said what???

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was interviewed yesterday morning by Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition. During that interview the following exchange took place, on the topic of global warming:

(Inskeep): Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?

(Griffin): I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change. First of all, I don’t think it’s within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.

This morning’s program had a follow-up segment about how this conflicts with the general consensus in the scientific community, and other reports in the media point out that it is at odds with NASA’s own scientists. Even President Bush just came out with a plan to address climate change concerns in advance of a big global warming symposium being held in Germany next week.

The callousness of Griffin’s remarks is what has most people upset, I think. Because under most scenarios studied, significant global warming is going to lead to the death of millions of people. James Burke did a good series on how this will likely play out called After the Warming, and then of course there’s Al Gore’s book and movie An Inconvenient Truth. To have the NASA chief say that it would be arrogant of us to presume that this is “the best climate for all other human beings” seems assinine, at best.

I believe in global warming. I believe that it is likely a huge problem facing us. For the world of Communion of Dreams, set about 50 years hence, I had to deal with what I expect will be the reality of global warming. Since I wanted to deal with other issues, I decided that I needed a way to explain why the effects of global warming hadn’t yet created additional huge problems for humankind. My initial choice was to have an asteroid impact kick up a lot of dust into the stratosphere, and thereby slightly alter the albedo of Earth. When that additional disaster seemed to be too much for my initial readers, I changed it to having a man-made source: limited nuclear exchanges in Asia, creating a mild “nuclear winter” effect. Given that this term was partly a product of Carl Sagan’s scientific research, it seemed a fitting solution. (As I’ve mentioned previously, Sagan was part of my inspiration for Communion.)

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see whether Griffin survives this little climate change in his job situation, created by his own hot air.

Jim Downey