presents more of a blog variant
These are more dated drafts, without full polishing, so expect errors in both content and details of execution. For more finished work, please refer to my formal publications page.
The latest rough rants are at current blog.
The content of the following does not reflect the point of view of any known institution (if it does, please let me know; I need to get in contact with them!).
Enjoy the following despite its flaws; its goal is shared entertainment, and to improve the quality of lives.
23 December 2006
With large-scale military movements towards Iran being made, and desires to increase forces in Iraq expressed at the highest level, the following takes on special poignancy and relevance.
In cleaning out some files, trying to reduce clutter, and looking back at the past years, I ran across first someone’s comment about Iraq, “who could have predicted the mess?”, and then a counterpoint from a prescient essay that I had emailed to some in my family on 18 September 2001:
“After the initial deeply felt shocks, including the ones that come from my years as a volunteer firefighter and the very particular sympathy that brought, we've been feeling more than a bit beleaguered by the all-too-expected, yet no less frightening, know-nothing governmental and popular responses.
“This past spring, we were privileged to view the exhibit ‘Requiem’ at the Eastman House in Rochester. It is comprised of photographs by and of photographers who were killed in Vietnam. It was the single most powerful visual display I have ever seen, almost too close to being there. We saw no one from our generation come out from it, whether protestor or veteran, with dry eyes. By coincidence (?), last Monday I had picked up Nanci Griffith's newest CD, much of which is awful, but whose best song grew from the photograph from that exhibit of Dickey Chapell receiving last rites. All current decision makers should be required to walk through that show, now. War rarely leads to satisfaction, even when it seemed to be a reasonable response at the time.
“When the Russians went into Afghanistan, I happened to be in the middle of M.M. Kaye's novel Caravans, which should become required reading at this point. At that time it was bleakly amusing, making it so easy to predict that the great bear was going to get its nose thoroughly bloodied, but the collateral damage continues to expand, not least to the attack on New York. Kaye did a nice job of underlining how the British tried going into that country a while further back, and did not either accomplish their goals or come out unscathed, to put it mildly. The likelihood that we will fare better, by anything beyond a pursuit couched at the level of individual justice, is so near zero that it should not have been worth exploring. Unfortunately, unthinking top-level rhetoric already uttered has fettered that possibility.
“The word ‘nobility’ still needs to be remembered. We have been hurt, deeply, and we have the sympathy of nearly the whole world with us. But an even a slightly blunt-edged military response would evaporate all that good will in short order, especially among the billions of folks who have much less comfortable lives and possibilities than we do. Afghanistan is not Yugoslavia. That whole area has a lot less to lose than we do. Our society may indeed be composed of inherently strong people, but our seemingly ever-increasing reliance on technological help makes our collective existence fragile in ever so many ways. It took just 16 men to bring all of us to an extended standstill, leaving a long list of noticeable changes that will continue to pop up for a very long time in most of our daily lives. Their comrades have even more powerful tools available.
“Meanwhile, our electoral system continues to select against thoughtful people. As our founding fathers so well understood, maintaining a large standing army inevitably leads to seeking direct military ‘solutions’ to problems. Relatively innocent parts of the population (on all sides) have always then been left to bear the greater eventual cost. From the look on Colin Powell's face in an AP photo, he seems among those who have forgotten that even the seemingly surgical Gulf War did not achieve its deeper goals. It all makes me extremely uncomfortable about our future, even more than my often pessimistic nature would have it be. Having a unit of ROTC cadets march silently by, in full uniform, just two feet away, with a huge flag at their lead, while I sat outside for lunch a few minutes ago, did not help. Such actions have always been satisfying for those who can to rattle sabres loudly, especially when rightfully proud of their capabilities. It is far less comforting for those who have more carefully studied either the consequences of historical wars, or contemporary life in the Middle East.
“To genuinely triumph against terrorism, the U.S. must instead concentrate on attacking the lack of restraint in human population growth, the consequent environmental degradation, and the religious and poverty-fired ignorance that are their underlying causes. That progress can never be accomplished with F-16s, or by further restrictions to our own freedoms.
“We all also ought to be rethinking, too, where the misguided points of increasing societal sensitivity to attacks have grown up around us. Particular ones that come to mind are biotech research, which is busily creating easier means of access to the most powerful terrorist weapons of all, along with the shorter-range air traffic that so clogs airports, since that travel would be much better accomplished by improved rail; nuclear power, whose future costs for waste (and other dangers) never have been applied fairly to current use; and long distance food supplies. Subsidies for these including the insidiously separate ones like airport expansions and unrealistically low fuel taxes should not be continued. Without them, a great many inappropriately high dangers would neatly disappear.”
In retrospect, it’s particularly weird how different things could have been if the U.S. had only followed its own precepts of justice, of innocent until proven guilty, and even more importantly, individual responsibility for actions. Only a very small number of people were involved in the 9-11 attack, and they could have been pursued far more successfully as individuals, especially with the whole world supporting the search, as it was quite willing, than happened through W’s crew of zealots having an army of a size that should not still have existed attacking whole countries as if their entire populations were guilty entities.
I also found a clip emphasizing how the U.S. constitution reads:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be
for a longer Term than two Years;…”
Since WWII, Congress and the executive have been in consistent violation of those precepts. War has not been declared since 1941, and the Army, once the last war that was declared had ended, was never properly demobilized. The various messes, with those in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq as only the most obvious among other unfortunate excursions, would never have happened if the Constitution was being followed. Yes, yearly appropriations may have been made, without proper consideration, of course, so that part of the letter of the law might have been carried out, but the original meaning has been disregarded, to everyone’s detriment. A Navy (of which an Air Force is a variant, since it also cannot occupy territory) and a part-time militia for true defense were rightfully considered separately, and still should be.
13 December 2006
In my rant about teaching science and testing teachers (on 5 December, below), I missed a bit on both ends. For the stuff that students will need to know, there is not enough simplicity, with my particular ax being the effect of weight on vehicle behavior and atmospheric chemistry. Students need to know that stuff, but frictionless examples of falling bodies, with memorized equations couched in symbols difficult to relate to what they mean, are not likely to get them there. They also need to appreciate that all answers to questions from any form of science will have at least some error associated with them. They need to be able to have criteria to judge accordingly, from the very start.
For the part where science does not yet know enough, I mentioned DNA and inheritance. Mine is not a religious argument, but one typified by asking how do the chemical geneticists explain the transmission of long distance navigation and nest building behavior by birds, mammals, and insects? They carefully avoid talking about such things is their approach. Structural evolution can be pretty well explained, predictably, at the individual or species level by DNA. Unfortunately, what happens to ecosystem- and higher-level interactions when humans start messing with those structures also gets a practical bye within chemists' capabilities to either effectively understand or predict. But genetic engineers are being given immense amounts of money to go ahead and play. There are few certainties in life, but increasingly rude surprises from such actively cultivated ignorance are surely ahead for us all. Because their emergence is likely to begin subtly does not help defend against the consequences.
Some things really are impossible to do successfully or safely. Wisdom should include knowing which ones. Plenty of satisfaction remains within wholly realistic limits.
12 December 2006
Was reading Gary Snyder during my insomnia moments last night, and encountered his contention that Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals both had greater brain size than contemporary humans, with this correlated in his view to paying more active attention to the world around them. My smaller brain then linked that to memories of well-supported arguments in other literature, of how hunter/gatherers clearly had more leisure time than is common now, and of how pre-Columbian California and Australia had more rationally managed, sustainable ecosystem interactions than later, insanely arrogant practices. Taken together, these had me picturing a Gaussian curve of evolution for humans, with us well past the peak, despite our vaunted abilities to do things like write, not least these dubiously valuable words.
I have long very much admired Snyder's thoughts and writing, but cannot forget his very personal umbrage when I once asked him how he could reconcile preaching a core need for lower human population numbers (however much I might agree with that), after conveniently for the selfish gene pressure within all of us, siring at least three children of his own. Living heroes remain hard to find (with no illusions of personal perfection myself, and less good poetry to show for my time).
The cliff of societal and planetary collapse feels particularly close this dreary, listlessly snowy morning. It’s morbidly amusing in the context of having been reading the latest book about the making of Frank Herbert’s Dune, with all the emphasis therein on heredity. One paragraph in particular encountered last night ranted about how the greatest ill that could be was to allowing one’s surname to die along with oneself. As the almost certain end of one line such line, that felt pointed towards me. However, it becomes as ironic as it should be, from my recent discovery through a distant relative's research, that the surname, in my case, was made up from whole cloth about 250 years ago. So much for defending family values, eh?
As usual, the two directions coincide. Something needs to be done, but the usual response remains that the other guy will be the one to get the short stick. Personal responsibility, and not just in obvious ways, is something I do happen to believe in. But the whole thing is more than somewhat imaginary anyway...
11 December 2006
High Country News had a letter in the issue that arrived today ranting about people being Fascists for telling others how to live their lives. At times, I’m sure I sound like I am, but my goal is to be first a truth-teller or scientist, and second a prophet, not worried about preaching to anyone else must or must not do, but pointing out what choices inexorably mean, especially when extrapolated to all those who do or could make that choice. If one buys an SUV, one will increase one’s chances of killing or injuring someone else by a significant amount, more often slow other traffic, and certainly increase by threefold or more the amount of energy use, damage to roads, and pollution of all other forms for each mile driven, when compared to a more thoughtful choice, even among the pathetic alternatives now available. Choosing to drive more miles in any “personal” vehicle will do the same. There are many other examples of how private options and choices unarguably affect others.
Accordingly, I am not a Fascist for stating what will happen to everyone else when any one person makes a choice. Facts are not Fascism, despite often being both uncomfortable and absolutely limiting. Try stepping off a ledge for a start. Is it being a Fascist to point out what that choice will do? Claims for personal freedom cannot repeal gravity. Effects of unrestrained human population growth, vehicle weight, energy use, and lack respect for other species are just a little bit more subtle and may not be so immediate, but are provably no less consequential, to individuals as well as the whole.
5 December 2006
Spent the best part of a couple days working through an example version of the state of Texas certification exam for high school science teachers, as part of seeing if I might fit into their at least reasonable-paying approach to get approval to teach, since my Ph.D. and 30 years of professional experience in the sciences isn’t considered to be good enough. After 35 or more years since I’ve studied the kinds of questions that they ask, I got a 63% on their theoretical exam. At least half of the specific inadequacies could likely be made up before taking it for real by studying up on the key equations, like the precise makeup of Ohm’s and Boyle’s laws, and those for chemical reactions, which I have blundered my way through from memory at least once before. In daily life, should one ever need them, one can take 2 minutes to look up the exact forms for the requisite equations. Keeping them in ready memory, unless one is in situation where they are routinely needed, and especially given that the way the things for the test are written in thoroughly outmoded codes, is a waste of brain space for students and teachers alike.
But for at least 15% of the value of the exam, I came out disagreeing vehemently with either the structure of their questions or the purported results, and usually both. The overall difficulty with the exam as constructed was really greater, because in other cases that I did not keep track of, I could guess what they wanted to hear, as I used to do to get high test scores while still in school, even if it made my skin crawl a bit, and checked what I knew to be the answer they wanted to hear.
This makes for another reason of wondering if I really could teach in a public school, especially now that the goal has more universally become to prepare students for a similar set of exams, We had it long ago with the NY Regents exams, which among other things taught me that “right” answers always came out even, making dealing with the real world all the more difficult. Among the assumptions retained by such testing is that there are an unchanging set of absolutes to be either learned or discovered about every possible issue. Unfortunately, this universe is filled to the core with ambiguity.
What we do have from science are some more or less usefully descriptive tools, from which humans can accomplish some things, but which need to be applied with serious caution because of what they inevitably leave out, as a part of being not quite right at best. The more general the concept, the more subject it is going to be to error and eventual reinterpretation. Examples include the “big bang” and inheritance of information being purely controlled by DNA, no matter how popular each theory may be at the moment. One can work quite usefully with and within these, but ought to know where they start to break down. Such limits, and the likelihood of future information bringing dynamic changes to perception, are neither understood nor being taught by those who write this kind of exam. Potential consequences of the limitations are at least as important as the core of the after all imaginary, no matter how sophisticated or “proven”, concepts that are being tested for.
Sometimes science does seem straightforward and trustworthy, like the dynamics of falling bodies. However, being frictionless is an essential condition to the equations for these within the tests, which should provide, even there, a clue to what I am writing about. The real world is never frictionless, rather anything but, which is part of why Galileo came as such a shock; feathers do fall drastically more slowly than bowling balls through air. The equations for chemistry and physics, and the word pictures for ecology and biology, are all varying sophisticated guesses about what is going on. However useful, and thereby important to be aware of, they work at best moderately well within some very specific surrounding conditions, but nevertheless remain human representations of the world, not its reality, and always incomplete or inaccurate to some degree, despite being improvements on perceptual approaches, including religions, that went before.
We like to think we have it down now, but ask again in a hundred years, and if there is anyone then to do the asking, much of what we currently believe will be at least as laughable as propagation of waves through ether (and not the one that used to be used as for anesthesia—and is now considered inadequate or dangerous) or phlogiston to explain the process of burning.
The flip side, of course, remains inadequate appreciation of the explanations that do work well enough, which is why science teaching needs to become more pervasive, including concepts like why heavier vehicles indeed do more damage in every possible way, and what happens as a result of exponential human population growth. However, practically critical stuff like that tends to get swept under the teaching rug; neither of those issues showed up on the test or being commonly appreciated. The one environmental question that was included, about fish deaths in ponds, was absurdly wrong in its approach:
“Students in a science class are doing a research project on a small pond near their school. The students know from a microfilm archive of the local newspaper that the pond once supported a healthy fish population. There are currently no fish in the pond. Which of the following activities would best engage the students in developing a scientific hypothesis? A. Have students measure the pH of the pond and compare it to the pH of other ponds in the area. B. Ask students to develop a list of possible sources of chemical pollution that could have killed the fish in the pond. C. Have students search the newspaper archives for stories dealing with the declining fish population to identify possible reasons for the decline. D. Ask students to use the Internet to find a method for measuring the oxygen content of the water in the pond.”
Their answer is C! To go to “news” accounts, written by people almost certain to be seriously ignorant of science, filtered by other people equally ignorant, who are being paid by richer folks who explicitly are not wishing to have anyone find out about how problems actually begin… Just how is this going to teach students how to go out and find genuine answers? This is Aristotelian or worse, faith-based, not science. At least educators ought to start with Roger Bacon’s (and Aldo Leopold’s) process of actually going out looking at, and measuring the world, which is what genuine science is all about. Yes, there are things to be learned from newspaper articles, but in my world those are called “history”. This is not to denigrate history, which is vital to understand, and usually ignored (not least by politicians) as well.
27 November 2006
Cokie Roberts (whose name is easier to remember) and spouse, purported NPR liberals, this morning had a newspaper column that fell under classic business pirate wool, praising without restraint “free trade”, without recognizing either that unfair wage payments or refusal to operate under environmental and health restrictions come back to haunt even those not directly affected. Just like NPR and the BBC routinely leading by posting Bush propaganda sound bites is seen as harmless, this kind of stuff is insidiously deadly. The US is hardly a perfect example of how to protect either labor or our surroundings, but compared to China, we are way ahead. What progress there has been came neither easily or without immediate cost. But immediate cost is not the only concern of those who wish to live either comfortably or long on this planet.
Lies of omission are still lies. Coming from those who have a reputation for fairness makes them all the more problematical. Seemingly small increments add up, yes, but in both ways. Costs versus benefits of a few pennies deserve more detailed scrutiny, as do where overall cash flows get allocated. For example, moving factories abroad largely trades what were higher wages for greatly increased transportation energy costs. That is hardly a good move at any possible level of analysis but one. There, because energy is not currently taxed in proportion to its global or even local consequences, its use continues to give corporations a balance sheet break, one passed on as attractive to ignorant consumers – and columnists. Screwing those who actually do the work and ignoring environmental consequences also allows more of overall corporate income to go to executives and “owners”, the people last on earth to genuinely need more, or likely to care much about others.
We need fair trade, not “free” trade. The free lunch principle applies (there ain’t one).
24 November 2006
This morning’s newspaper conundrum was a pair of articles, one bemoaning falling numbers of disadvantaged students at Utah universities and another the “falling behind” of presidential salaries at the same places. There were about 2,500 students involved, and salary “problems” for each president of $250,000. That’s at least $100 per student, and I cannot help but believe that society would get more out of giving the $100 to each of those students than it would for another $250k to an already grotesquely overpaid executive.
Of course, the executive pay thing goes back to the currently still expanding scam of calculating compensation in comparison to means or medians, which, when one salary is raised, mean that so is the benchmark, in an endlessly rising spiral. No one is asking whether the guys are worth either what they are now paid, or whether further increases make any useful difference in how their jobs are done. I contend that increases beyond the ten times the minimum rule always make things worse, for the individuals involved and for society. They start thinking of themselves in terms of the glittery such excess buys, while everyone else suffers from the unfair diversion of resources.
The median salary of those paying the executive salaries is not much more than twice minimum wage, while the executives (and other "professionals") are already getting insane multiples. Social security is a far more distant economic problem than this one.
22 November 2006
Speaking of those manicured lawns, kept that way with such effort, so much noise, and so many poisons, my neighbors, who never use their grass for any purpose but mowing or raking themselves, not even pausing to look at it except for impurities, have for the second time this year some children visiting (the first time being hours after they had thoroughly poisoned it). The kids are carefully avoiding the grass, playing instead on the driveway and street. Damn stuff isn’t just ugly and dangerous, it’s useless to anyone, for anything but annoying to everyone kinds of work, and silly waste.
When we were kids, we did play on them, but lawns weren’t quite such a fetish then, not being as constantly noisy or smelly, and had more interesting stuff than just bluegrass in them. Like their owners’ vehicles (all those lonely SUVs, not getting stuck in traffic, deep mud, or snow, never leaving damage behind), the only place they function the way they are imagined to is within commercials for them.
21 November 2006
The digging nearby is literally shaking this house. To ice the cake, they who when asked said the project would be running on the other side of the street, have built a pressure overload or drain pipe all along the edge of our property, cutting down several small trees and almost certainly ruining the root systems of several fully mature trees in the process. Last summer, I caught a surveyor on our property, who when confronted, said it was for a pipe to the creek. There are no easements for that, and they didn’t bother to ask for permission to do the survey, and I am willing to bet would have just gone ahead and dug if they hadn’t been caught in the first stage. Since that land is being coaxed into reverting to natural beauty, it’s assumed by the manicured lawn types to be unwanted. I told him that he was trespassing and not to come back, that they would never get permission for their pipe. That path would have done even more damage. At the property edge, we have no recourse, because there is a 25 foot “public utility” easement. Thus, developers do even more damage to those of us who notice such things, and give us less than nothing in return.
So I got to vary my day of pacing back and forth on crutches from bedroom/workroom to the bathroom with some time watching their destructive antics from the window. My wife came home late and upset with what she saw. I told her there was nothing we could do, but that the damage might even help us in time of flood, allowing it to blow through the earth around the inadequate culvert (which can back water up to our house), since they were ignorantly tearing up the concrete collar that had been placed to protect the road above it.
Like almost all heavy construction, the work was dumb in concept and worse in execution.
17 November 2006
Funny how I get personally tortured so routinely by the very phenomena that I have been decrying because of their impacts on the larger scale (although the answer comes that most Americans are so used to it as to not notice, and thus leave their blood pressure and Prosac problems unconnected for them from what is an important part of their cause). Two weeks ago, the nearly constant heavy construction that has created so much noise and pollution for more than two years while building a megamansion kitty corner to our property was finally more or less completed with the pouring of asphalt over nearly half an acre, filling the originally narrow riparian zone. So this week, heavy equipment is back, despite the season, on the other side of the property, shaking the house and my ears, with the neighboring town having conned into constructing a new water line to serve the taking over the last of its bench level agriculture for hundreds more ticky-tack boxes for excessive reproducers.
It thus becomes some small comfort that I have been confined by the healing repairs to my foot injury to the room furthest away from the destructive stupidity. Of course, effects of this waste are being felt not just by me, but by all the life along the chain where the energy is being mined and passed through to provide its possibility.
As I’ve been working on alternative mythologies that might allow a more rational future, I realized that the basis for Ray Bradbury’s hypothetical Martians was a background of silence. One can’t hear water or unamplified music without it. Fossil fuel use creates noise orders of magnitude greater than nature’s, extending for surprising distances to those who have not paid full attention. Inside our home with closed windows, which drops noise levels at least 20 db from those outside, the machines at the moment are overriding a stereo cranked to moderate listening volume. And these are on government contract, so they have quasi-operational mufflers (i.e., factory originals), unlike those run by many private companies. But no muffler can hide the consequences of that much waste. Just the cooling fans are louder than nature for long distances, let alone what they are doing to the air, plants, and ground.
11 November 2006
Beginning to recover from foot surgery, and as a part of the goal during that time, trying to compare what really was written in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles versus what I picked up from it, particularly as a basis for a presentation of alternative ways to an energy intensive lifestyle. The crux was there, amusingly enough from his own 1997 introduction, where he says inspiration in part was from early childhood visions from King Tut’s tomb and the Icelandic Eddas, but given that, not surprisingly was a much more violent and wholly intolerant society that I didn’t see, being off into the possibility of the lightweight magic.
Fascinating counterpoint, then, this morning, from my usual mixing of sources, with George Packer “The Megacity: decoding the chaos of Lagos” in the 13 November 2006 New Yorker (p. 62 ff). He talks of 5 hour “go slows”, traffic jams of insane proportions, and the other horrors of extreme poverty and pollution experienced by at least one quarter of the world’s population. Also the increase in same, as rural folks come in to the morass, on holidays taking back examples of what they have purportedly gained, and thus encouraging more to come in. One result, “…the West African countryside is being rapidly depopulated.” is hardly all bad. Perhaps the best future of humanity is concentrated abscesses of humanity surrounded by a recovering planet? Probably too much damage being and having been done to allow that, especially since the abscesses are fossil-fueled, but nevertheless any wider possibility of a wilder commons is potentially useful.
But still, I need to address at more length how all those lives are being spent. They, too, could improve from lightening up, not least from efficient public transport (made free to users, so there would be less excuse for not using it, and less for stupider alternatives?) However, as always at the core of hope is that there are just too many humans.
A central issue of no new standing is found on page 67, “In the village, you’re not free at all, and whatever you’re going to do today you’ll do tomorrow.” This has driven in folks from farms for many centuries, and is an illusion, as they move into Dickensian London or worse, with lives still controlled by various sources, often through violence. Some did get through, some will get through to “better”, and for a few it even will be. My own desire to return to the country is not to the one of the kinds of suffering that they left, which I know well enough to understand.
Packer concludes that the Lagos poor are superfluous to the global economy, so that their present and future is irrelevant, even though there are a lot of them. However, when there are enough, as there now are, they do affect global processes that do affect everyone, even though their individual contributions may be less than their better-equipped parallels of despair so common in American suburbs.
Gary Snyder’s riders on the fringe (another parallel bit of reading; my words for one of his books of collected essays) does have more of an answer in this regard, in reorienting the direction of lifetime quests (as religions have so long tried to). At least recognizing quality, and consequences, is the best start. Quality in this regard is not attached to quantity, and thus not to others’ profit.
Not surprisingly, my concern over the Nigeria issue is related to my wanting new directions to be possible for literally everyone. Some say that is taking on too much responsibility, but that part of Jesus I still appreciate. If it misleads one, it will mislead many, and harm still more.
The counterpoint is provided immediately by The New Yorker, with an article by Cynthia Zarin, “Seeing Things: the art of Olafur Eliasson”, which brings out how that state of seeing better may require money, and not be sharable by everyone, although neither premise may be true. I at least continue to see art as gaining money for the artist, and worth doing in part for that reason, though some of the very best, like Van Gogh, did not have that happen in the right time frame for the artist.
31 October 2006
I had the Alfa out for a bit yesterday on a blustery but pretty day, and got partway up the Tony Grove road when I encountered a long patch of ice. The new tires are supposed to be all season high traction, but just going straight at 25 mph on that 6+% slope made it want to go sideways, and definitely felt very loose, trying to slide backwards even when stopped. The tires are quite a bit wider than the ones the car came with, which does not help when things get slick, nor does the considerable available power. This is the kind of stuff that makes people frightened of light cars.
However, as I’ve long said, the first difference is that lighter and tighter may indeed come loose a bit sooner than the barges, but my kind are much more likely to be able to recover when they do. The second, even more valuable, point is that they give the driver enough information to tell things have gotten too slick to stick before the problems are likely to become serious. Four wheel drive may help one start, but it's useless for stopping, and where lighter is always better.
Last night as I was drifting towards sleep, I realized that there was a much larger connection to energy utilization than the obvious one of the general needing better training before they can comfortably switch to lighter cars (as well as better quality lighter cars). That is the scourge of salt (and its magnesium alternatives), both directly for the environment and for the hastening of the demise of machines already built. Of course, getting rid of the barges sooner is a plus (and I am strongly suspect that simply recycling them all into smaller units, right now, would be a global impact plus, even economically, considering all the kinds of costs they bring with them). But only they, or careless hands, require salt at all. Both have to be gotten rid of to successfully use lighter transport.
That is anything but impossible, with examples ranging from Sweden, with its winter long snow, but refusal to use the stuff, requiring drivers to be properly equipped and have the necessary understanding to deal with roads without it, to old time Fort Collins, where the occasional snows were dealt with by hunkering in, which I still contend has plenty of compensating benefits. Few types of work cannot wait out a few unexpected days a year – and usually have to anyway. The costs of staying open no matter what are almost certainly greater for society as a whole, let alone the individuals whose lives and health get trashed by the inevitable vast increase in the number of wrecks, or the even more certain decay of their second largest investments.
The damn road salt doesn’t even work at all when the temperatures are low enough (much below 20 F or -10 C), but gets applied to start damaging everything anyway. Give me a plow to push aside the deep stuff, and benign cinders to grip in the rest.
What difference would stopping its use make? The biggest change could be to have manufacturers begin making vehicles that were not considered to be throw-aways. My car is 32 years old, and the only reason I won’t drive it year-round is the winter salt. Almost every functional part was carefully engineered to be the best possible, replaceable when worn out, so the car could continue, and even improve over time, as those that weren’t so well done get swapped with better (e.g., crappy vinyl seat covers with good fabric or leather). Factories would make less, but better throughout. Employment could then spread to smaller facilities throughout the country, where working conditions and environmental relationships (the two being closely connected) could become seriously better. The work would no longer be so repetitive and resource intensive. Incomes would go to a far wider clientele, and more money would be available for other kinds of purchases.
13 October 2006
Meditating on what I wrote yesterday, what to do when a problem or potential is isolated always has to go beyond strict, or even rough science. It has to reach into human behavior, economics, historical interpretation, and morality. Leaving Vietnam eventually became easy, in that there was no economic involvement beyond war profiteering, and the place was as far away from other interests as possible. American leaders, and others, could simply ignore what happened, for long enough that memory would fade. But in Iraq, since greed for oil still matters, and it is closer to other things leaders care about, there is a drive for quicker resolution towards a neutral status.
Getting better is possible, by doing the right thing, which is hard to contemplate as a likely possibility. What happened was basically a giant case of criminal trespass. The extrapolation for resolution then holds, with what is needed is to first stop trespassing, even if some pain is involved from investments in doing so. Then, those guilty must be very visibly punished, and, in the best possible case, apologize for their errors. That punishment must be at level that affects those punished, meaning more than seemingly large fines that are not large in proportion to the wealth of the individuals, nor is humiliation to those incapable of seeing it.
Of course, a clearly criminal element still remains at the top of the U.S. government and the corporations that control it, who dominate through money, guns, and other forms of power the rest of the legal and political structure, while the majority of people, through ignorance and their propaganda, doesn’t care enough about the situation to take action anyway. It is not difficult to continue to predict that what is needed ain’t gonna happen.
Then, too, the situation in the Middle East will continue to become worse whether or not America does what’s right, because destructive chaos is guaranteed by excessive human population numbers, and by greed for oil that should be instead used sparingly, not pissed away in the highest possible volumes. Those problems are at least as intractable as the obvious one at the moment – although more amenable to logical and humanistic solution, since neither has true benefits to anyone, at any level, if they could but see the truth. Those getting, or who have gotten, apparently rich from their continuation could actually increase their comfort by shifting their investments to more rational and better long-term choices, while the option remains to do so.
12 October 2006
Thinking about the Iraq graph in the shower this morning made me realize that I need to give myself more praise than I usually allow, and that I told a very interesting story indeed. Most government officials, and most people in general, are basically ignorant of history, other cultures, or mathematics/science. For starters, I have seen too it that I am not ignorant of those things. As my wife pointed out, I have built large databases of national level information, and analyzed them before, first for energy use in the beef industry, making predictions that remain true, then for productivity and condition of the forest and range, which is still being used by Forest Service decision makers. The Iraq case proves that I’ve not gone senile, that I can still connect some disparate pieces, and put sense to them that virtually no one else has.
When Bush et al. first suggested going in to Iraq, I immediately thought one word applied: “stupid”. I have studied Islamic history, among other facets of looking at the past as it blends into the present, and physically spent time in Kuwait before it became fashionable for Americans. The entire area is grossly overpopulated--in relation to its resources--and growing fast. The dominant religion has highly visible adherents who are no more rational than any other form of religious fundamentalism, being wholly intolerant of any but the most simplistic points of view, and then of any difference from their own. Of course, there are many local differences that are bitterly fought over, no matter how trivial, but always subsumed when there is an outsider to threaten what does overlap. The main point is that friendships beyond clan levels tends to be exceedingly thin, especially when they are arrogant heathen outsiders, as the U.S. is to them.
That, however, is an underlying tangent to scientific proof. The quality of government lies was beginning to parallel the Vietnam war, which I both lived through as an adult and paid very close attention to, since among other things the preceding generation of foolish leaders wanted to sacrifice me, personally, to their should have been obviously lost cause. This made me want to look carefully at their numbers, putting to work what I’ve learned about statistical inference in the interim. The result turned out to be surprisingly clear, with the surprise being only that no one else seems to have noticed it. A year ago, my plots of soldier deaths showed an approaching full formal statistical significance for a linearly rising death rate, with enough time in place to project securely that as an ongoing trend. I could not find a buyer for my article, so published it myself online.
Statistics is a plastic art, full of ways to go wrong or to misrepresent. It isn’t enough to know how to turn the cranks, especially with the razzle-dazzle variants. What I have learned is first to keep it simple, because the fancy stuff almost always hides inadequacies (input data is rarely good enough), and second when to believe what I see. The Iraq graphs may no longer meet the typical formal significance rules, but the trend, as predicted when they did, is still rising a year later. Nobody else seems to have caught on yet, though the website I get the data from, and some others, have made rumblings in the right direction, that the problem is inexorable unless we solve it the same way we eventually did in Vietnam. When one shouldn’t have invaded in the first place, there will never be a clean way to leave. The quicker done, the sooner the chance for the situation to heal.
Unfortunately there is a difference, because Vietnam had nothing material America wanted. Of course, the dominant culture in America is addicted to oil, of which the Middle East has the most. It doesn’t seem to have dawned on the fools in executive suites that the longer they try to mess with either oil in vast quantities, or using the military to control someone else’s supplies, the less comfortable their, and a whole of other people’s, future is going to be. There are a lot more people overseas than there are of us, for starters (20 to 1 is not good odds), and, as I have been pointing out elsewhere, staying addicted to large energy flows, whatever their source, is self and other destructive anyway.
Another factor that receives almost as little discussion is how the invasion and occupation of Iraq have wrecked the American army as a threat to anyone else. That probably isn’t such a bad thing, because as the attempts to use the army since there was a valid, equivalent, and actively threatening foe, as in WWII, have been uniformly failures, and always will be. Violence, other than to repel a valid threat of the same, always has been. Once done with the repelling, the military structure needs to be dismantled, at least to the level of being ready to repel (not attack!) any remaining possibilities. Having an army large enough to even theoretically carry out an aggressive invasion leads consistently to trying to use it, and then to disaster for all concerned. On the other hand, as George Washington and John Adams understood, navies, and their airborne variant, can be effective defense investments, since they cannot occupy territory, but can keep others from trying. Funny how little has truly changed in 200 years.
The point for my own related potential value to others is that I can put together exceedingly complex pieces, come out with a picture that accurately describes what is going on, and even more importantly for businesses, predict to some extent what key future trends will be, so that effort can more effectively be focused. I think that skill ought to be worth some major bucks to someone in return.
11 October 2006
When I was living in the DC area in 1984, I was struck by how the Washington Post had been routinely critical of Ronnie Raygun during the winter, pointing out for one how he had a GS-14 level (with a current equivalent exceeding $100k/year) government-paid flunky to cut wood for him on his “ranch”, but as the election drew nigh, they, like the rest of the press, slipped quietly into sycophancy. Updating my Iraq Blog today, I found that casualties among the occupiers have risen rather dramatically in the past couple of weeks, beyond continuing the generally upward trend I’ve been reporting online for a year now. Yet, from the general media, one would have no clues.
This dovetailed ever so neatly with a paragraph that I encountered during lunch,
“The Nuremberg Court in 1945-1946 categorically dismissed superior orders as an excuse for criminal acts. If it had not done so, all the great criminals of the last century, from Heinrich Himmler to Lavrentii Beria, could have invoked that excuse. In Hungary, the high court’s recent invocation of the concept of superior orders has disturbing implications. If this view becomes widely accepted, it would mean that the small number who gave their lives fighting the Nazis and the many who died fighting the Communists in 1956 would be seen more as terrorists than the people who killed them in defense of illegal, totalitarian regimes.” István Deák. 2006. ‘Scandal in Budapest’, New York Review of Books 53(16): 62.
It would of course apply to the American Revolution, but is particularly scary in light of last week’s revocation of habeas corpus protection and legalization of torture by the current US administration, along with the quote from the honcho of the locally dominant religion at the beginning of the Iraq fiasco. [“The President of the Mormon Church on Sunday pleaded for peace in Iraq, while assuring church members that God would not hold those in the military responsible for what their leaders require them to do.” — AP. 2003. Logan Herald Journal, 7 April, page 1.]
Freedom, truthful expression, and responsibility—at all levels—tend to erode together, most effectively in small increments, the quiet death by a thousand cuts. It isn’t a problem just in Hungary.
15 September 2006
The newspaper and other sources have been whining about crops rotting in the fields and on trees because there are not enough immigrants coming through to pick them. Once again, it’s Americans not being willing to face the underlying problems. Ostensibly cheap food is not necessarily a bargain. I really should have photographed the strawberry fields we saw so close up while our train through California this summer was stopped, waiting for track repair delays. Basically, agricultural work like planting and picking these huge fields has long been very nearly slavery (Woody Guthrie’s songs show that it’s not a new issue), certainly not paying wages those who buy the product would be willing to do any kind of labor for, let alone be considered enough for painfully hard work, especially in the midst of a brutally hot emptiness extending almost as far as one can see, and saturated with a worse than witches brew of deadly chemicals.
The anything to save a penny, damn the consequences to anyone else, philosophy that has encouraged the dominance of WaldeMart et al. has eroded fair compensation and decent working conditions at every step along the way. Big profits are stolen, legally or otherwise, by a few white collar types, while unreasonably high pay goes to truckers and a modest number of others who are still doing destructive to self and others tasks, albeit somewhat more comfortably, while the much poorer numerical majority gets shat upon, financially, physically, and in the quality of the products we can afford.
It all ties directly to what I wrote about yesterday. Where sharing and caring for environment and each other do take place, it is better for all concerned. The Amish still make more money, whether calculated per acre or per dollar invested from their fields than chemical/slave agriculture provides. A lot of money flows through the latter, but almost all of it goes to machinery, petroleum, chemicals, and buzzards at banks, not to the folks doing the work or managing the land. Some of the latter do make big bucks, but from government subsidies paid for not for quality products but instead quite literally stolen from the rest of us.
The Amish are destroying themselves, too, of course, by refusing to understand the consequences of exponential human population growth, while being squeezed from outside by the mechanical multiplication of impacts from life beyond the constraints they do maintain. There ought to be a way to do as well, or better, without their cloying religion, too, but there are tragically few lasting examples.
It has been said repeatedly and persuasively that no society can function effectively if the highest salary is more than ten times the lowest, even though I cannot cite the long ago read sources at this moment. Ben and Jerry’s was started, and grew magnificently, within that constraint, although they, too, were unable eventually to restrain top managerial greed. Both business through its ranks and product has suffered accordingly, although may yet be better than most.
The explosive growth of administrator, government, and related already comfortable job salaries, largely based on the statistical fraud of meeting national averages locally, which of course has each raise then raising the average in a never ending spiral, has played a not insignificant role in the degradation of fairness. Typical salaries now exceed those received by 80% of women and two thirds of men. Administration, clerical, or teaching is not hard or uncomfortable work in comparison to most agriculture, construction, repair, manufacturing, cooking, serving, cleanup, or most of the other stuff that makes the nation go. That typical drone wage is more than five times, while the even dronier Congress gets more than 20 times (when health care and retirement set asides are included), the minimum, or even the common rate, they mandate for others.
This is where the finger needs to be pointed when shortages of pickers come up, not immigration policy. Fairer payment and safer, better working conditions are the problems, not lack of illegals or others too desperate not to complain or ask for fairness. Beyond paying salaries we would be willing to work for ourselves, Americans could also stop poisoning our crops, and so have better food. We could provide the shade, rest breaks, and other amenities that would make agricultural work something that we ourselves might be willing to do. If not, why then are we arrogant enough to expect someone else to do it?
If it can be shown to benefit down the line, not for rippers off along the way, I’ve long been willing to pay considerably more for that product. Paying more becomes easier if the product is clearly better in quality, as it routinely is when it’s been manufactured, grown, and/or harvested with more care and fairness. Better taken care of employees make for better products, as does a better cared for environment. Telling the story more clearly of product origin and pathway to the purchaser is an essential adjunct, which should apply both to the crap now sold and to better alternatives. Everyone should know just what they are paying for, including who suffers to make the price that way, and what damage comes with it, along with any legitimate advantages that come from paying a bit more.
The biggest problem remains of getting any price increases back to the people who deserve them, and not skimmed off as usual by ripoff administrators.
14 September 2006
Last night finished Kim Barlett’s 1977 The Finest Kind: the fishermen of Gloucester, a very close to individuals picture of life with the offshore boats, small and larger, in the waning days of utter free for all. A lot of the story was one of distrust, of the captains hiding where they went and how much they were catching, and dealing with fish buyers as choosing the (hopefully) least thieving at that moment. No serious regard for limitations within the resource entered anywhere into the story, or the possibility that the whole thing could be done more sanely and thereby more comfortably. The reading segue into Michael Howard’s 1990 Strategic Deception in the Second World War was fascinating, with on page ix, “The commander who wishes to impose his will one the enemy—which is, after all, the object of all military operations—will seek also to deceive him; to implant in the adversary’s mind an erroneous image which will not only help to conceal his true capabilities and intentions but will lead that adversary to act in such a way as to make his own task easier.”
One of my most serious problems in dealing with life has been through consistently perceiving that cooperation, honesty, fair sharing, and respect for the world that supports us are superior ways of behavior, in both long and short runs, whether for overall profit or any other measure. Logic and science underline this contention, and serve as appropriate tools for carrying it forward, so I have concentrated my efforts there, and with those expectations. Give examples, be an example, and the rest of the world will follow. Wrong world, this, for the most part, it seems, for that to be sufficient.
Some parts do feel the same way, “Aquaculture—fish farms and hatcheries—costs billions of dollars, Ames said. The ocean is free. All you have to do is let the fish breed and keep the fishing boats out of the nursery…It’s there year after year, as long as you take care of it.” [Alec Wilkinson. 2006. ‘The lobsterman: how Ted Ames turned oral history into science.’ The New Yorker 31 July, p. 65.] To me, they still offer hope, but all too often those who do try to better the situation get run over by the Waldemarts (and their ignorant customers), as the temporarily richest hurry everyone towards oblivion—along with those who think they can solve problems by using physical weapons against other humans.
7 September 2006
This morning, thorough wakefulness came at 5AM instead of earlier. First worried through, once again, rebuilding old decks to save large trees, after finding that the bottoms of the joists on the 30 year old construct in front our home were still in good condition. I concluded it might be possible to just disassemble the thing and flip the joists over, replacing only the worst bits instead of the whole, as is usually done. Where there is rot, it’s less than an inch deep in 10-inch wide boards. That’s enough when it occurs on the top to make first the nails pop up, then the supported parts become uncomfortably loose. Wondering went on about gluing and screwing versus no glue versus nails, realizing that wood needs to expand and contract, and none of these fastening techniques allows crossed pieces to do so. Nails in particular wind up digging bigger holes around themselves, which allows rot to commence. Then, their failure to hold pieces together tightly allows more area for water to penetrate where it can’t evaporate as easily, making for increasingly wider rot.
Cabinet makers use floating panels, and have other tricks, most not relevant to outdoor environments or simple assemblies made from softer woods. When houses were built to last longer, they were constructed with mortise and tenons or pegs at the joints, which did allow some movement, but that approach required even bigger pieces of harder trees.
Then I went on to more generally realizing how I have come to consider much outside work as doable only during the 4 months of spring and fall here, when it isn’t so unbearably hot or cold, and when one is less likely to be assaulted by painfully noisy (and otherwise toxic) neighbors’ machines. That’s among the learning we all do as we age, part of finding experiences that have been uncomfortable or worse, so we don’t want to repeat. Too often, these add up without being questioned, and what we have done is build mental cages around ourselves.
For closely related reasons, most people never go outdoors in any meaningful way anymore, whatever their age, since Americans (among others) have made the world around them so damn noisy and/or obviously dangerous to health. They have given in to various forms of isolation that are intensively, pervasively hawked as superior, including this computerized form of social exchange. Even though most Americans can no longer hear well, they have come to expect temperatures and lighting to be within a very narrow range, and even when the exterior falls within it, most stay secluded from direct contact with any unwalled space, rushing as quickly as possible from one form of shelter to another.
Those who defy the rule, for work or other reasons, tend to be less seasonally constrained venturing forth. However, many, if not most, of those who do get paid to deal with external spaces by unconscious choice join the always-cowering majority during their time off. Once again, I flash back to watching for so many hours, ironically through closed windows, during our long train trips, when we almost never saw a human out of doors, even though the weather was often superb. I am guilty at the moment myself, since I could take this laptop outside. At least most of our well-screened but very large windows are open, and what is outside them is regularly, often between sentences or even words, actively appreciated. I can hear the wind and stream, while the music from the radio (or CDs) serves as comforting counterpoint to passing machinery and the truly idiotic backup beepers from further away.
6 September 2006
Patrick Smith reported in Salon: “...more than 2 million people depart aboard more than 20,000 commercial flights in the United States each day...Worldwide, boardings in 2005 broke the 2 billion mark for the first time.”
That may sound like a lot, and it does add up to about 800 million US boardings per year. However, many of those boardings are legs on individual trips, and need to be divided among 300 million Americans. From my own observation, 5 to 10 percent of airline passengers on any given trip are very frequent fliers. By subtracting all the multiples, then dividing by the population, the result remains consistent with the contention that less than half of Americans ever fly at all, and of these, only a much smaller percentage do so regularly. Certainly, this clear minority are most visible in the press, but they come from the richer segment, who are most in the public eye—while stealing from those poorer than themselves—in so many other ways, too. The rest of us pay dearly to subsidize this minority’s traveling so many ways, some of which I’ve enumerated before.
For the rest of the world, with its 9 times higher total (subtracting our internal boardings), the US has but one twentieth of the world’s population, so the seemingly impressive airline use abroad is actually a notably smaller part of the total of potential ridership, less than half the already small fraction of users here. This should hardly be surprising, given that the rest of the world is less rich, less hurried, and less wasteful than America.
Meanwhile, overall service is, not just seems, ever more awful, with what remains of comfort vanishing – with the partial exception of things like in-airport food, which actually operates in a somewhat capitalistic fashion, mostly independent of hidden and open subsidies, so prices and returns reflect quality and costs of services rendered. Sure, most of it is still junk and the facilities grossly ugly (just like everywhere else), but at least there are some edible possibilities and more or less comfortable retreats from the mass and noise in most airports. Alternatives 30 years ago simply did not exist, even though the planes themselves were often a better trip. Critical mass, in part, to support a fringe makes it possible, plus knowing there will be nothing even possibly worthwhile onboard, and the waits for a higher percentage extending ever longer.
5 September 2006
Last night I was up again for much of it from the pain in my foot and the deteriorating calf muscles associated with the main problem. In the middle of the night radio came a new song from Graham Nash (with David Crosby), “puppeteer”, with a line I’ve heard twice now as, “we’re all equal when the light goes out.” My perception of it is fascinating counterpoint to most religions (some variants of Norse paganism possibly excepted), and far more in keeping with what science suggests about death.
It bears directly on where my mind went when I awoke with the sun, meditating on risk when entering a hospital. My dad regularly joked about not wanting to go into one, because just read the obituaries and see where people die. He was 58 before he ever did (for his work x-ray induced cancer), and never really recovered, although he would have died much more quickly if he hadn’t. More generally, more than twice as many people die from medical errors as from highways, which is a lot, as just beginning to be quietly admitted. The relative risk strikes me as very likely to be even higher, given the length of exposure (i.e., defining risk per unit time), but it’s a complex question, given that folks going into hospitals almost by definition tend to be already in problematic situations, including my dad (not that his issue was error, but limits to the techniques available). On the other hand, notable contributions to medical errors come from the immense number of medicines that most Americans seem to be taking, at least from the point of view of one like myself, who rarely touches anything stronger than ibuprofen, and even that with extreme care. There are a lot of places in the chain for things to go wrong.
My luck so far with health, paired with excessive/inadequate knowledge, never having had to face major surgery, makes me especially frightened of the admittedly greater than 1% chance of checking out permanently, and a larger one of unintended related damage. Like so many other important areas to daily life, not least medical insurance, medical errors do not receive the kind of discussion they deserve. They aren’t easy to calculate or trace, and those who make them do not want the scrutiny, in part because lawyers are standing by to screw the mostly innocent even more than the thoroughly guilty. At least flying still pursues errors, and tends to fix the ones it finds. But they tend to be much less diffuse, and less commonplace… At best, surgery is bloody difficult to do right; the parts are not well standardized, among other problems
With medical insurance, the direction is the same as with corporations, where by far the most benefits go to a precious few. In the case of medicine, it insurance pays for obscenely expensive treatments that have mostly trivial benefits, in nearly exact parallel to the frou-frous of the very rich, with the burden of relative payment as always falling on the average Joe. Few routine phrases have bothered me more than, “oh, insurance pays for it”, like that makes costs magically go away. Most people are tragically incapable of extrapolation. Thus, continuing subsidies to large families, global climate change, other pollution, and highway mayhem...
Quote of the day: “Beckett’s work can lay a strong claim to universality: not everyone has a God, but who doesn’t have a Godot?” 2006. Benjamin Kunkel. ‘Sam I am’, The New Yorker. 7-14 August, p. 89.
9 August 2006
Was awake during the night thinking about perceptions of interior lighting, paralleled by the recent newspaper report that claimed half of Americans still believe that there were WMDs in Iraq at the time of the US invasion there. At my most recent physician visit, the factotum that led me into the examining room flipped on two banks of overhead fluorescents, even though the room was brightly lit already by reflected sunlight from two windows. She said the doctor needed them to see. He didn’t show up for the usual 20 minutes, and then after that wasteful period of the lights doing nothing for anyone, did not notice that I had turned one of the banks off. People just do not care to pay attention to providing only the light they actually might need, after testing. The special irony here is that fluorescent strips are, by my own and others’ comparisons, especially obscuring of detail, the very thing the physician should be looking for.
This was paralleled further by an image from the air of suburban sprawl in the latest High Country News. Here are people driving for hours each day to reach homes that have less physical and visual isolation from their neighbors than they would have in a well-constructed apartment building. The illusion of separation has a very high cost indeed to the system. These are the same kinds of folks who clog roads with RVs and park them even closer together while “camping” amidst the roar of air-conditioners and generators for their TVs.
For stores, which routinely turn on lights to advertise that they are open, there are cheaper and less destructive ways to denote that openness. There have been numerous studies to prove that shoppers unconsciously prefer places with windows and natural light to the horrendously wasteful cave-like big boxes that are so tragically common. Yet, we cannot get them to turn off their own silly waste.
7 August 2006
Got another curious effect a few minutes ago. I’ve been working downstairs this afternoon, because it’s hot again. Concurrently, KRCL is having a new kind of reception problem here, so I was also using the old stereo system downstairs. The unit upstairs has highly efficient Klipsch speakers, and I’ve regularly been impressed how little one can hear of them outdoors, even when cranked up perceptually loudly, and with windows open. However, with roughly the same distance from me working down here, when I went outside to do my stretching exercises, the sound from my older, electronically inefficient speakers was quite perceptible, and of the unintelligible, boomy bass typically heard from other houses and cars. This even though inside there is only a modest difference in the quality of sound. In particular, the balance between bass and treble seems quite similar.
It makes me wonder if a significant part of the reason the Klipsches can be so efficient overall (in converting electronic signals into output sound) is that they project information more cleanly, even though it doesn't show up on typical sonic measures. This is backed up by when one can hear their sound outside it tends to be much more intelligible, present and well distributed across the audible spectrum, instead of just carrying muddy bass. My older speakers are of the much more typical “acoustic suspension” design. If this is true, then this could be another great example of how reducing energy waste could be improving quality of life. If one has to hear other’s music without choice, as one so often is forced to all too often in contemporary society, better to hear all of it, not just the thumps, to hear it more cleanly, and less often. Another benefit of improved efficiency, and a reflected problem with common tools used for measurement!
1 August 2006
“The Limey and Erythrina argued that sprites, reincarnation, spells, and castles were the natural tools [in cyberspace], more natural than the atomistic twentieth-century notions of data structures, programs, files, and communication protocols. It was … just more convenient for the mind to use global ideas of magic as the tokens to manipulate the new environment.”
Vernor Vinge. 1981. True names, republished in Vernor Vinge. 2001. True names and the opening of the cyberspace frontier, ed. James Frenkel. Tom Doherty Assoc., NY, p. 271.
Just how much we need to know to live effectively is the question of the moment. From Marvin Minsky, the beloved by many instigator of artificial intelligence, in his 1983 closing essay to the above book, writes, “For in the end, no one really cares about how a program works, but only about what it does – in the sense of the intelligible effects with which the user is concerned.” (p. 337) He also says “… you guide the immense momentum of a car, not knowing how its engine works, or how its steering wheel directs the vehicle towards left or right.” (p. 340). I’m with Robert Pirsig (Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance) on this issue, that much of what is wrong with contemporary society comes from just that kind of ignorance, not least in assuming that all vehicles have the same capabilities, likely impacts, and/or do not require the full attention of their drivers. Knowing what I’ve learned about how steering works through its various mechanisms, and the effect of weight and balance on it, has helped dramatically in keeping me entertained and safe, and others from me.
He referred as part of “knowing” to atoms and metallurgy, brushing them off as inadequately understood or understandable, but that seemingly more esoteric part also has helped put vital pieces of appreciation together, making my individual vehicle more responsive and efficient, and appreciating its, and others’, role in global function, at many levels. Energy flows, and upsets from them, are not all that difficult to follow. Wider understanding of this sort could make great strides in dealing with the many problems within and radiating from humanity. Minsky himself wrote, “We incur another risk whenever we try to escape the responsibility of understanding how our wishes will be realized” (p. 337), but failed to make this connection. Tolkien also said something about devices being perilous to all if they were beyond their users’ understanding.
The vehicle impacts from limited understanding are more obvious. From computers, and the mathematics that parallels them, the booby traps may seem more subtle, but are nonetheless important, and not impossible to appreciate. Linear thinking in non-linear situations, exponential consequences, and magnified effects of missing or misapplied parameters, especially when information flows are made not easily traceable, jump to mind from experience among these. Distrust data quality, and recheck all outputs with alternative tools, and compare against other parts of learning.
In this, he, like most, overestimates greatly the complexity thereof, and its differences from other animals. I remain greatly impressed by the capabilities of migrating hummingbirds and butterflies, and refuse to see human language as so greatly different from communication in many other species (other than misleading ourselves, perhaps).
What ties all this stuff together for me is that brain function is neither serial nor parallel, in the computer processing or chemical senses. I have long believed it to be functionally holographic, which works with the opening description, yet does not preclude a deep appreciation of its basic functionality, and vitally, inherent limits and likely problem areas. This way, one allows for the amazing orientation capabilities of hummingbirds (try getting across 2,000 miles, without a map, to within a few feet on each end of the trip – on the first try) from comparatively simple processing structures, and simply adds resolution and additional sets of (potentially related) imagery in humans. It also accounts for the deadliness of image manipulators like Hitler/Goebbels and Karl Rove, who can twist images’ power when populations refuse to pay careful attention. One has to be able to unmask the flaws.
Even more speculatively, then there’s the other side of history, which also still could fit, like the coincidence (?) of Hitler and Roosevelt’s birth and death dates. Like with Reagan, one asks from time to time, who is the director, or is there one? Is there a larger order? If so, it isn’t likely to have been discovered, or at least identified correctly, by Brigham Young. He seems more in the destructive dictator class, along with a host of other “religious” types. If there is a set of movers, the Greeks and Norse had it closer to right descriptively. The gods stumble, too.
It’s interesting how it matters little whether the issue is a magician’s spell, a vehicle, chemical/biological changes to foods, or pesticides, to name but a few, failing to understand the basics of how they work, especially including how their working affects things around them (including how they will react back) and varies under differing circumstances, will tend to result in serious problems for the motivator and a variously large circle around.
Links to more, from earlier 2006, later 2005, early 2005, 2004 ... or most recent
Text, Design, and Images © 2006 by Terence Yorks
all rights reserved -
further distribution or postings in any form without written permission is strictly forbidden -
however, hotlinks to what you find interesting are encouraged, as is feedback
Concept created 1 December 2004; Updated 6 January 2007.
yorksite homepage / origins /projects / education / experience / publications / quotations / web trolls
Text, Design, and Images © 2007 by Terence
all rights reserved -
further distribution or postings in any form without written permission is strictly forbidden -
however, hotlinks to what you find interesting are encouraged, as is feedback