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"Forget the Rest" blog


Bulletin #160: Election over.  Challenges same.  Opportunities better?  We want you. 

November 8, 2012

Dear friends –

Finally, this important election is over.  Those who actively worked on campaigns might be taking a day or two off.  Those of us who merely voted and had opinions are hopefully ready for more satisfying fare.  More about that below. 

October 24 teach-in

In our last Bulletin (159) we invited those of you in central and northern New Mexico to a teach-in at the CloudCliff in Santa Fe on a cluster of related issues of great importance to us in New Mexico: climate change, “peak oil,” the future of our labs, and the debate that is about to begin on federal finance.  Carol Miller very kindly came down from Ojo Sarco to speak on federal finance and the role of the military in the state; I spoke on climate issues and (very briefly) on oil and nuclear policy.  We had a small crowd but lively discussion that included one of our more knowledgeable and sympathetic elected officials.  Trish has posted slides from the climate and “peak oil” parts of the presentation

Feds halt largest active construction project at LANL due to mismanagement

The next day we learned from alert journalists that a major LANL security project had been halted by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  (Here is NNSA's statement to Capitol Hill of Oct 24, 2012.)  Press accounts describing yet another breathtaking lapse in competence by LANS rapidly followed:

As mentioned in our press release, we suspected this project had gone awry, brought the matter to the attention of Congress, and had been trying to learn more from NNSA (to no avail).  NNSA deserves praise for coming down hard on LANS – which should, after this latest fiasco, be asked to show cause as to why the company should still be managing LANL given the CMRR-NF boondoggle ($635 million appropriated to date with no building and little finalized design to show for it), the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Plant (RLWTF) stop-work order, and other major problems. 

Neils, Mello heading to DC

This coming week Peter Neils and I (Greg Mello) will be heading to Washington DC to meet with a range of parties about nuclear weapons policy, focusing in part on NNSA plutonium programs and in part on broader reforms.  We also will raise climate change and related economic issues in the national security (and Energy and Water Appropriations) contexts, because these crises have now reached the point of urgent, obvious national security concern.  This is the first of two trips to DC we have scheduled this fall. 

Some of you will be interested in the request letter we sent outlining some of the issues, posted here.

Now that the election is over, what can I do?

You can do a lot if you want to.  How much we can do, no one – least of all ourselves – can see. 

We have no idea what cooperating circumstances may arise.  For example, who would have imagined that Mayor Bloomberg would be suddenly endorsing Barack Obama, because Bloomberg thought he was the better man to deal with climate change, just days before the election?  Climate change, which had not been mentioned by Obama up to that point, was suddenly very topical.

We have to have faith – not grandiosity, but faith. 

That we have but little faith is not sad, but that we have so little faithfulness.  By faithfulness faith is earned.
– H.D. Thoreau, letter to Harry Blake, May 2, 1848.
If you need to feel hope, you're courting despair, and if you court despair you will stop working. So try to wean yourself from this need to have hope. Try to have faith instead, to do what you can, and stop worrying about whether or not you're effective...Worry about what is possible for you to do, which is always greater than you imagine. – Archbishop Oscar Romero

There are barriers.  One is the enormous barrage of cynical flak one gets from sophisticated people who will have you believe that they know better than to undertake any sort of action.  This cynicism is passive, as is the ironic sensibility that has widely replaced moral engagement.  Indeed the consumer society is characterized by passivity from top to bottom, including passivity by those in leadership positions, many of whom simply have no idea of the power for good – the power to protect, judge, and inspire – they hold but do not use. 

Too many of us imagine ourselves powerless.  It is a deadly failure of imagination, related to the spiritual passivity called “acedia” in the Middle Ages.  It includes the tacit belief that our private interests should trump the public good.  To become non-passive, to actually care and act, may feel not just unfamiliar but “wrong” at first.  Action does have consequences, and we don’t know all of them.  There are risks.  

Another barrier is that we have to figure out what is real.  From the introduction to Robert Bly's Sibling Society:

…It is hard in a sibling society to decide what is real.  We participate in more and more nonevents. A nonevent transpires when the organizer promises an important psychic or political event and then cheats people, providing material only tangentially related. An odd characteristic of the sibling society is that no one effectively objects. Some sort of trance takes over if enough people are watching an event simultaneously. It is a contemporary primitivism, "participation mystique," a "mysterious participation of all the clan."

Kierkegaard once, in trying to predict what the future society would be like, offered this metaphor: People will put up a poster soon saying, Tonight John Erik will skate on thin ice at the very center of the pond. It'll be very dangerous. Please come. Everyone comes, and John Erik skates about three inches from shore, and people say, "Look, he's skating on thin ice at the very center of the pond!" A lecturer says: On Friday night we will have a revolution. When Friday night comes, the hall is filled, and the radical talks passionately and flamboyantly for an hour and a half; then he declares that a revolution took place here. 

We could each name barriers that seem in weaker moments to bar us, but this little discourse is already too much like a sermon.  

We can’t say it too often: a handful of people is enough.  We continually suggest that you come together to share and refine what you know, and then share that knowledge and the questions you have more widely and publicly, gaining knowledge, skills, experience, and contacts along the way.  Forget all concerns about the social scale of these endeavors.  That will take care of itself.  


Greg Mello, for the Los Alamos Study Group

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