presents more of a blog variant
These are more dated drafts, without full polishing, so expect errors in both content and details of execution. More finished work may be found on my formal publications page, and the latest rough rants and commentaries are at current blog.
Enjoy the following despite its flaws. The essays' goals are shared entertainment and to improve the quality of living.
31 December 2007
A quote I entered last night seems appropriate to cite for the last official day of the year:
“…how handsome and considerate my dear father looks, by the light that fire, where he stands viewing the havoc of the game. He seem melancholy, as if he actually though that a day of retribution was to follow this hour of abundance and prodigality!” James Fennimore Cooper. 1823. The Pioneers. (reprinted as The Leatherstocking Tales, Volume 1, 1985, Literary Classics of the United States, NY, p. 264).
The father he was writing about was his own, thinly fictionalized, in the year 1794. This observation was about spectacularly wasteful seining of lake fish. It followed excruciating descriptions of the rape of the forests, where trees materially worth thousands of dollars each today, let alone considering their ecological virtues, were being cut and burned in piles to simply “clear” the land for small grain farming, along with a full chapter description of shooting with all possible means the passenger pigeon flocks, written before that species became extinct, or it was thought it could. We’ve heard so much over the years of the prescience of Thoreau and Muir; the Coopers had them beat by generations. Yet, not many have listened, or are now listening, as the planet becomes ever more rapidly impoverished of its ever so long evolved and developed natural resources.
As I’ve commented previously, our own property is in better shape than most around it, but the effects of the surrounding societal disregard are making it ever shorter, thinner, and less interesting than it could be or should be. Cooper’s observations are far more explicit than I remember them being, clearly targeted towards outlining how spectacularly stupid the destructions were, and the need to be more respectful. With almost 200 years behind them, how can they be heard, if they’ve been ignored for so long?
Since they are so rarely cited, one also wonders how many preceded them. I begin to suspect one could find Roman, Greek, and Egyptian warnings, if one sought for them. It would make for an interesting, and perhaps useful collection.
There is plenty in between that I still hope to transfer.
9 November 2007
I had written to a friend who also owns an Alfa that I’d finally found a source calculating that our cars were even more scarce than I thought, only 649 spiders being made in the year mine was. He wrote back, “Even more so now that mine is in the 'twilight zone' of body repair shops... Had a Suburban run over me 2 weeks ago. Kid on a cell with his girlfriend yelling at him from the passenger side decided to turn, without signal, into me from the opposite lane in the middle of an intersection. Claims he didn't see me. Nose, hood and associated hardware, including radiator, were damaged. His insurance tried to 'total' it but I held my ground and they finally agreed to repair it. The process has just begun.”
I responded, in part, “The last time I was involved in an "accident" (in quotes because they are almost always like what was done to you, a result of careless stupidity) was in my wife's RX7 some 15 years ago in a parking lot. I was stopped, boxed in, when a woman driving, of course, a Sloburban (what Dave Barry refers to as a 'Chevy Subdivision') pushed a shopping cart, which was completely invisible to her, into our driver's side door. She was outraged that I required the cops to be called, and that I asked her in their presence, what if that had been a child? After two goes with the best reputation local repair shop, the metal is still visibly rippled, and we ended up having to repaint the whole car, because uneven fading had made it impossible to match.
“The high seating position of the monstrosities makes their drivers feel like they can see ever so well, when in fact it requires a lot more effort, which must be active, to look down for stuff that's ever so important, like smaller cars, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, and animals. It's no accident that SUVs are more than four times as likely to hit these, not just because they can't stop or turn, or that 100% of Utah kids backed over in the past 20 years were by these, or their pickup/van variants.
“For us, looking straight out at dangers, instinct is on our side. Our brain stems, as well as our brains, are at work in looking out for trouble. It does make a difference. The first time I drove one of the lunkers was as a student in Fort Collins, in a friend's 50s Willys station wagon, when I very nearly hit a cop, complete with lights and siren, because I was looking over his top as he was running through an intersection and red light, where I didn't expect to have to look down. I could hear him, somewhere, but not see him. Most drivers never learn that lesson, all too often with consequences even worse than yours. But the powers that be continue to refuse to notice this problem.”
It kills literally thousands of Americans every year, leaving aside the still greater property damage and injuries, and a lot more animals. Ask Stephen King, nearly killed as a pedestrian by a van, for just a more famous example. Not to mention, once again, that the bigger and heavier the vehicle, the greater its energy consumption and pollution output, even when it hasn’t been doing more obvious damage…
My wife has a simple solution: outlaw power steering. Nothing else would be likely to more quickly bring some sanity to the road transport sector, or cut energy waste so dramatically.
6 November 2007
Amused to realize this morning the appropriateness of the juxtaposition on TV sports shows, since I’ve recently watched the World Series and some of a pro football game, of saturation ads for the purported control capabilities of huge pickup trucks (with the examples of course conducted under highly misleading circumstances), and for a Salt Lake City group of what used to be called ambulance chaser (“personal injury”) lawyers. The latter, who also line the local interstate with billboards, have an appropriately diverting corporate name, one at first glance the same as the gay animal trainers, Siegfried and Roy. Those who believe that trucks, of any presently manufactured size or design, could possibly be either safe or usefully controllable in emergencies, provide the meat for the overwhelming majority of their prospective customers, so it fits, tragically neatly.
18 September 2007
This quote deeply struck me last night: “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” [James Baldwin, quoted by Jane Fonda. 2005. My Life so Far. Random House, NY, p. 359.]
Cogent possibilities for me appeared first within my observation, “I’d rather have a meadow than a lawn” (see the 6 August entry, below, for one aspect, and natural flowers for another). In a country obsessed by commercially driven, grotesquely water wasting, intensive noise and chemically trespassing, expanses of utterly useless (kids now prefer streets, and adults staying indoors), close cropped bluegrass monocultures, how might addicts to this form of destructive silliness be led to view the situation differently than they now do?
Reaching more widely, “how many dinosaurs died for this?” With under the earth and sea resources increasingly obviously limited, extraction of them literally deadly on so many levels, and increasingly expensive in the future, how can people who refuse to appreciate the importance of large numbers begin to see what their choices mean at the personal level? There are absolute limits to every resource use, especially with an expanding human population, which tie directly back to the millions of years it takes to make each morsel of the appropriately titled fossil fuels, and the exceedingly small fraction that became successfully stored. Perhaps seeing cared-for creatures, and not just a few, providing each and every increment of wastefulness--could it begin to matter?
11 September 2007
I've added a footnote for this memorable date to my story about being poisoned by mercury.
9 September 2007
Thinking more about the computer games, first going through a possibility for their value as getting folks to think and act cooperatively and cumulatively. Then realized that the games give immediate feedback rewards, which wouldn’t happen, unless one could cleverly enough figure a way, for things like scientific analyses and political action. The games draw goes beyond simply providing a better visual world than most users have, and the means to avoid thinking about or even perceiving the rest of their surroundings. They allow risk taking without real risk or effort. No physical exertion involved, no mosquitoes, excess humidity, or hot sun, let alone pain, either to self or others. Unlike the real world, all actions are reversible, and at worst one can start over. No long-term consequences, hidden or obvious. Out here there’s no restart. Unlike in religion, within the games, resurrection not only works, it’s pretty easy.
The best simile I could come up with is the hard wired pleasure brain rewards, whether for humans or animal stand-ins, because the immediate feedback gratification doesn’t even make one fat, like food rewards do. The rude surprises that follow are particularly for those who take the games as a literal equivalent, and join the army, where the risks can be real, and the pain even without the most serious exposure is certain. The worst comes with parallels to guys like Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and their ilk, who have lived simulations of life with rich kid gratifications, including being able to avoid meaningful military service or other real risks to themselves, and then have been able to send a whole lot of very real people into major horror. Still are getting to do so, without punishment, with big paychecks and even bigger perks. To them, it's just a game, from which they are safely isolated (at great cost to taxpayers), in which they are certain not to be physically involved.
7 September 2007
A retired computer programmer cousin of mine has been inveigling me to get involved in games for quite a while, and has me closer with World of Warcraft, a favorite of his, which theoretically works on the Mac, and whose name surely fits our muggle one. The positives could be finding out more directly how a significant part of the population spends its time (they claim 6 million players), and a chance to reinvestigate what I would choose to be if I could start over, as well as learning to cooperate more effectively. Among the available game divisions, I came up closest with “Night Elves” and the name Glyf popped into mind (with the Encarta definition closest for the more common current spelling being “3, a nonverbal symbol such as one used on a road sign”).
I continue not having a real interest in even imagining myself as any level of thug, despite passing thoughts of killing heavy vehicle, ATV, power lawnmower, chemical poisoners, and their ilk of destructive trespassing users. In more or less real life, I gravitated early on to attempting to predict long-term problems and their solutions, thinking it important for someone to do so, respecting most the term prophet, eventually finding that there were indeed quite sustainable solutions, but all involved substantially fewer humans than were already present on this planet, and for those remaining, a lot more thought and care for non-human entities. Neither turns out to be remotely likely, except an inevitable reduction in numbers following the dire results of not doing the reductions voluntarily. This dead end leads to an alternative imaginary conception for myself as a healer, of people and plants, not least a bringer of low resource use art. A more elvish St. Francis or Schweitzer, with leaving no footprints a goal.
As I read further into it, the game has a hell of a lot of rules, not so much what one has to or cannot do, but how to interact, with restrictions encouraging a lot of carefully structured participation time. As an old modeler of systems, I quite understand the need for these, but my immediate response is, if so many can be bothered to learn so much, why not something useful, like the concepts of exponential growth and the real costs of energy and heavy vehicles? This arises from still smarting over a cover article in a recent newspaper supplement about the many people who commute insane distances, of course justifying their choice with assumptions that only the pump price of gasoline counts in their calculations of costs, either to them or others. The reporter didn’t encourage deeper thought, rather obviously thought they were of positive interest, instead of utter fools. The monsters we really need to worry about are amenable to better study.
For myself, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about computers is their ability to interact with my own rather random patterning of time usage. Responding to the day with how one’s body feels, in response to the day’s natural characteristics, is something I’ve always sought and felt more comfortable with. The alternative is like using those machines in cubicles, whose parameters most closely resemble a prison, and one cruelly without windows. Why choose to do that, or impose it on someone else? Even regularly scheduled work hours have always grated. Get up with the sun, okay, but keeping in step is something one ought to grow out of, useful during learning, but one ought to be getting more, rather than less, diverse. Of course, too, everyone ought to be getting outside more, without hiding inside a machine or structure. The universe is crying like the mythical Tommy, “touch me, hear me, see me, feel me…”
5 September 2007
So it was an image, albeit combined with a carefully chosen few words, that got me going last night, in a good reflective way. It’s “Nothing Lasts”, of Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster original bus ‘Further’, overgrown with moss and ferns, returning to earth, not as rumored in the Smithsonian. I saw one of the busses in their psychedelic heyday, in northern New Mexico the summer of 1969 or 1970, when my lady of the time and I had stopped to watch a tarantula cross the road, and its crew stopped to watch us watching the creature. They were very likely on their way to the "great bus race", so fascinatingly documented in context by Lisa Law. Right time, right place.
What made this picture especially poignant was realizing how few people I knew would so deeply get what I was seeing. I’ve read most of what Kesey wrote, some more than once, long followed the Dead and other connections, not least the Beats like Kerouac and Snyder, believed for a while deeply that something really different was happening, and tangentially flowed along with it. The picture is a summation of how illusory it all was, like all humanity before, and presages what’s to come, if even the ferns survive our follies, though the dead husks of trees are probably more like it. Mosses are tough.
The quest for peak experience has been on my mind of late. Lane Wallace wrote eloquently in the August 2007 Flying magazine about rides in a fully evolved open biplane, which have often meant so much to those who have shared one. “How many times in a man’s life today do you think he gets that excited, or feels that alive?” (‘the magicians’, 134(8):104). For me, the defining similar one was in an MG-TD, when both the car and I were very young, and it was thoroughly exciting, even if just in a large parking lot. Both biplanes and genuine sports cars involve open air, with complete access to sound of genuinely fine machinery, tuned not just to be noisy, fully employed, with complete feel of wind, smell, and open horizon sight. Neither can be sustained, although I know with my car, which operates in the same dimension, the brief but intense satisfactions can occasionally be touched again.
My wife, as is her wont, pokes some holes in my theories, by commenting that the average person these days, beyond lack of intelligence and ruined hearing, has so many interior walls up to protect themselves from their cacophonous surroundings that they not just do not, they cannot, make the necessary differentiations between the outstandingly refined experience and the just plain noisy thrills.
Motorcycles enter the same area, in potential, but I remember the danger potential just gets out of hand, as the banker who listened to my spiel in 1972 about how I could purchase a Triumph Bonneville, ride it all summer in Europe, and bring it back, either to sell or ride it on, for less than I could buy one in the US. I no longer remember the exact number, but it was at least 10% of the loans he issued for bikes wound up with that rider dead. Some danger is necessary to get the intensity of the thrill, but… For Europe, I chose the train, and as a reward beyond simple survival was thereby able to concentrate more directly on both scenery and people, not having to pay attention mainly to driving.
Driven in once again by a combination of Labor Day heat and noisy neighbors, this time a wood chipper, I had been meditating on the difference between quintessentially ephemeral conversation and writing, I ran across, “… ‘el dulce comercio e pasatienpo por escriptura’ (‘the sweet commerce and pastime of writing’): the collection presents literary composition as an emphatically social act, a means of establishing a extended network of friendships bound together by the love of letters.” [Julian Weiss. 2006. ‘What every noblewoman needs to know: cultural literacy in late medieval Spain’. Speculum 81(4): 1118]. Interesting aside here, that MS Word’s choice of languages does not include Latin. How far we’ve slipped as a civilization!
All human interaction is ephemeral to a considerable degree, of course, but writing does allow debates over its content, and inspiration from it, to last long beyond individual lifetimes, and the borders of physical travel. It gives more of an illusion of immortality, and allows reflection before commitment. Even most of the great speeches, and their multiples in plays, started as written words.
A not entirely trivial example, with written words back to the auditory: , the one by “Chernobyl Kid”, in response to another truly stupid statement by a politician, this time Bill Richardson -- for whom I had had some respect, but the related interview showed him to be another ignorant fool. Even if the writer doesn’t fully appreciate the limits that I’ve been describing, he writes with more humor, which means more likely to be heard, perhaps. He points out neatly the differentiation between what it takes to move people and ancillary weight, which in most vehicles the latter is 20 times or more as great. Unfortunately, Salon is for the already literate and at least somewhat caring.
The Internet, and blogs, with related personal networks do offer unprecedented ease in literate communication, albeit one all too likely to be especially ephemeral, given both technology and the numbers trying to deal with life. But, it’s almost over now baby blue, anyway, without needing or getting intercession by any gods. On the other hand, it can deepen the enjoyment of the time that’s left, including the feeling that not everyone is as colossally idiotic as daily experience might indicate.
2 September 2007
Just discovered that my hearing is still good enough to distinguish between Internet radio at 128 and 192 kbps rates. The former has been difficult to listen to for me, having clearly audible distortion on my reasonably high quality headphones. Today, I found a couple of stations on the broadcast list at the higher rate in the iTunes collection, which quickly confirmed that I wasn’t making up the problem. That makes it easier not to be tempted by download at a price services, and the related Ipod. Amusingly, but not surprisingly, it’s the French providing the better quality signal, with fun content too from a couple hours survey, at La Grosse Radio.
To include better feedback about the Zeitgeist movie my friend suggested, which I've now watched in toto, and whose goal is not artistic, as I had wrongly guessed from its introduction:
I was not aware of a third tower collapsing in the same way as the airplane hit ones on 9-11. With that, not least how it has been hidden, and other engineering details, they do make a more interesting case for a conspiracy than published accounts I've seen. Imaging this government killing its own civilians is hardly difficult, since they are doing that somewhat more subtly in so many other ways. The harder bit come with believing that a bunch who have been so incompetent in so many other areas could carry off something that complex (e.g., rigging huge buildings, used by thousands of people, with explosives, and misleading NORAD, while getting more than one group to kill themselves in airplanes, on a tight schedule), especially without leaving more obvious bungles and security leaks in their wake.
However, about press manipulation to cover those, first, is how Bush press releases are still dominant over real reporting in newspapers, and on the BBC and NPR radio news, despite so much proof that all they say is classic propaganda, and second, was the destruction of Dan Rather, without a peep, over a bit of easily placed forgery, with the real questions he was asking buried beneath it, and even now conveniently unanswered, like so many others.
More badness is possible from the top than almost anyone who has not carefully studied Russian, German, and French history, with respect for the intelligence of their populations relative to ours, is willing to believe. Like mayhem on the highways, the most amazing thing remains is that it hasn’t been worse than it has. However, history does not predict the future, it simply offers cautions and likely paths that can repeat.
Much of the movie's religious stuff was no surprise, but the tidbit about the 3 kings and the solar orientation at the solstice was a neat tie in. All was fun to hear, especially in Mormon country, though, and well produced.
Their condemnation of bankers has some weaknesses, among them like the other political targets, disbelief in their competence to manipulate something that complex. FDR did a lot to reign in banker excesses, in opposing fact to the movie producers’ vilification of him. On the other hand, there is no question historically about entry to all four wars being a result of cynical manipulation. Again, among them, the data I've seen, and studied in some detail, indicates that FDR was more targeting his chicanery to help his very persuasive longtime buddy Churchill, stemming what had become threats that did legitimately seem, with the data he had, to need more active countering. Where he was wrong about that need was how Mao was bleeding the Japanese in China, picking off officers and others behind the line, with projected Japanese collapse coming by 1947 without US intercession, and how Hitler's megalomania and consequent errors also leading to inevitable collapse, again without our intercession, through Russian and other responses. The key is that neither Japan nor Germany could handle as many annoyed people and as much space as they had bitten off by armed invasion, any more than the current US can successfully occupy the entire Mid-East, at least for long.
I would add another layer of questioning, arising from my European auto supplier sending me Chinese made bearings. The movie makers need to add the successful destruction of American unions, gutting functional environmental laws, ending progress towards widespread birth control, and the shipping of almost all manufacturing to China, the latter especially begun during the reign of Richard Nixon, and always for the benefit of the richest few… It’s not the bankers, it’s the WTO and their patsies that harbor the villains of the piece. Unfortunately, as long as the public remains innumerate and illiterate in their daily lives, the fools can prevail.
25 August 2007
A friend sent the URL of an artistically interesting on-line movie, which starts with especially graphic scenes of military and misguided-religious initiated violence. I couldn’t deal with it. Later, I realized that I had come to appreciate another of my mother’s points of view, albeit after 50 odd years. She would never watch war movies or documentaries on TV, saying she knew too much about the deaths being depicted. During childhood, like most boys, I thought blowing up stuff was neat. Kathleen commented about deaths needing to be personally known in order for them to be deeply appreciated. I figured in the shower that I’ve seen enough death now to do so even without the particular imagery being personalized, following my mother’s ability, which applied not just to the war she knew all too much about, having lost at least a brother to it. She’d seen plenty of death and other suffering up close.
I never did like tearing living things apart, whether plant or animal, like so many kids do, and always felt sorry for the sad clowns, so a lot of the preparation was there. Now, I’ve lost enough friends to wars, and seen enough death, from vehicles and disease, up close enough, for it to fit into the ability that has increased with time to fit lots of details together into large-scale coherency. I can know deeply what images and stories mean, to those involved, and to the world that is linked and follows. It’s not being omniscient. I still make mistakes in interpretation, and I certainly can’t seem to affect outcomes.
About my mother, it also clicked when thinking about her of why she went into nutrition as a science. When introduced to the concepts, it became quickly obvious that some of her own health issues stemmed from inadequate feeding. The world fell apart for my grandparents when she was 3, and they stuck it out on their Montana dry farm for 10 more years, critical ones for her growth, without either always enough to eat or regular balance and proper quality when there were enough calories. Finding out more about what was needed, and what to do so it wouldn’t happen to others would be intrinsically appealing to one with a very strong family respect for science and religious impulses to be do gooders.
For myself, it was theory of so many during the Vietnam days, residual positive religious words and acts, the adding of one of the few people who was genuinely nice to me in high school to the names that eventually filled the wall in Washington, and, of course, the upfront and personal threat to become part of the activity myself that were most prominent in my changing attitude towards war.
On a not wholly unrelated issue, the morning newspaper headline was about the conviction for “trespassing” of a woman who had offered birth control advice on the bus to another woman who quite obviously had too many children. A few minutes ago, while I was quietly hanging clothes on our solar drier outside, my ears, as so often is the case, were trespassed upon by neighbors simultaneously operating ATVs and lawnmowers. They, like their pervasive ilk, won’t get prosecuted.
More importantly, neither will those who have more than two children, even though their choices are intrinsically more arrogant and serious forms of intrusion upon others’ rights. This world simply cannot absorb the effects of the humans it already has, let alone more. The ongoing general failure to understand exponential growth is terminal. Participating in it should be a seriously expensive offense, as should financial support for others who do it, especially through subsidies – including tax deductions – as is now tragically so common.
17 August 2007
In our safe is a bank stock share document from the 1920’s, with my grandfather’s orange crayon scrawl across it, “busted”. I‘ve long described Wall Street as Las Vegas East. The stock market and its associates is an outfit that long since divorced itself from capitalism, if that is supposed to mean generating money to build things and to pay the people who do. Today’s Salon has a well written explanation of some of the current details, as the pinstripers, let loose from their already minimal, and well proven to be useful, regulations, by a few greedy fools, are once again well on the way to plunging the planet into economic chaos.
In a by no means unrelated situation, since it occurred, like too many others, because of regulations kept meaningless by an overlapping set of greedy fools wearing expensive suits, and who do no real work themselves, the uncle of a good friend was killed this week by a pesticide explosion. No question this time of the cause of death, yet the news about the situation is being kept quiet. The was a second grade teacher with a large family, who worked applying agricultural chemicals in the summer to supplement his income. Not one word of why he died made it into the newspaper. He was visited on his deathbed by the chemical company president. Coincidence?
Irony becomes particular, for in the same newspaper issue that published his causeless obituary was a featured a legal notice from the county about how our taxes were going to be raised to increase the amount spent on “mosquito abatement”. Last night at midnight, an ignorant kid on a county sprayer came up our street, spewing poisons a time when mosquitoes were quiescent, and along a place they are particularly unlikely to be found (a road verge) – but where people and mosquito predators do live. Worse than a total, utterly stupid waste. The kid, one can be sure, wore no respirator, and has no knowledge of the even greater to him than to those along his destructive route. I killed a mosquito on our screen this morning, the first I’ve seen in weeks.
Meanwhile, in the calculation of the day while doing my morning walk, for those who think roads are free, and their use is fairly distributed, I concluded that my car weighs less than half the average, is driven one-fifth as far, and needs at most two/thirds the width of road, making my impact and needs for roads roughly one twentieth as great. Yet, the county roads are constructed and maintained from funds that do not take any of that into account, so I pay taxes based on the assumption of average. Even the roads that receive funds from gasoline taxes, those pay only a small share of their overall costs, as the recent bridge collapse should have underlined. Once again, my taxes wind up subsidizing my own ill health and discomfort, for the advantage of those too careless to notice what they are doing to themselves, others, and the future, freeloaders who claim to be conservatives. In fact, thieves, and locally, thieves who want to dramatically increase spending on roads, all from general funds, which do not reflect their own contribution to the costs.
14 August 2007
Last night I was meditating on meanings, with the image of our dying from cancer neighbor and friend close at hand. My vehicles have had a kind of closeness to zen, offering brief moments of near satori, encouraging (by their unreliability and effort required to keep them functional) lesser use, and unusually frugal, because of their small, and often increasing value, which requires lessened total attention to their maintenance and use, with more time for meditation and action on potentially greater things. I was amused to reflect on the times that I’ve spent with those who’ve chosen the alternative, more common course, of investment in the “new and better”, and how often that has turned out like the one moderately extensive ride with my careful choosing, impatient brother-in-law, whose Lexus, among the prissiest of brands, had its radiator blow up on the freeway, causing hours of most uncomfortable grief. Similarly, when I had my Lancia running, its previous owner, who had replaced it with a new Mercedes, wanted to drive the resuscitated relic briefly, just to feel its far superior steering and general responsiveness once again.
12 August 2007
“But that was in the dawn of days, when mighty men still dwelt on earth and sea…Gone, all glory gone. Men were smaller now. Their lives had grown short.” George R.R. Martin. 2005. A Feast for Crows. Bantam, NY, p. 380.
Interesting in retrospect how many tales of the human past are set around such a vision, of men and/or gods that were greater than we have become, instead of the evolutionary truth that we are, on the average at least somewhat larger and longer lived, if no smarter and almost certainly worse managers and appreciators of ourselves and our surroundings.
July was officially the hottest month ever recorded in Salt Lake City.
8 August 2007
The first hint of fall came in last night, and continues in breaths through the course of the day. There will necessarily be more foul heat, and drought, but August is no longer the monolith of suffering that July is for the recalcitrant, who refuse to give in to the siren call of air conditioning, with all its hidden and greater discomforts, for selves and others (not that I never use or appreciate it when available). This is one of the days where I am so aware of Michelle Vennema’s stricture for me, that I should stop feeling responsible for all of the world’s problems. I just can’t keep from reaching towards the ideas that might be the lever to move us, and the rest of the planet’s residents, toward a better place, or falling into a depressive funk either because I am not doing it well enough, or there are so many religious and other ignorant fanatics out there, who so greatly outnumber the caring, and even a few can so easily undo any genuine progress that does get made.
What I am able to do is the small stuff, dealing with the problems I complain about at a fixable level. Our house was built 30 years ago, in the days when aluminum framed windows were thought to be the hot set up, for their durability and ease, with double paning thought to be sufficient for energy efficiency. Of course, that aluminum is a powerful heat sink, both in summer and winter, but simply throwing them away, replacing them with far less durable currently popular vinyl frames, is hardly energetic or any other kind of logical either. So I finally got around last year to having some plexiglass inside covers made for the parts that don’t open, leaving the aluminum’s durability on the outside, and protecting the inside from its conduction and consequent condensation.
The relevant windows were decoratively framed with cedar boards on the inside, so I had thought that removing those boards and screwing them tightly back into place would be sufficient to hold the plex. It worked for a couple where the whole window was covered, and where the plex was in its own thin frame. It didn’t work well where the plex was unframed, because of bowing (and/or lack of squareness in it or the windows), nor where the windows had bottom opening sliders, where as the house swells and shrinks (being basically a plywood box) the plex has tended to slide down.
So this morning, I finally got around to taking some scrap cherry wood from a long ago project, making small screwed in keepers to stop that sliding, and put them into place. Neither conception of what might fix the problem, without being intrusive or destructive of the purpose, nor the execution, were utterly simple. The former took figuring out appropriate strategy and materials for it, while the latter required a considerable number of measurement, carefully cutting and drilling in awkward places, and still more fussing (shaving with my penknife) when, as Murphy would have it, not quite right.
But, the additional effort should be worth it, because the plex made a notable difference in temperature and condensation problems, on both frames and glass last winter, and with heat transmission this summer. For the double panes that haven’t split and fogged inside yet, it may also extend their resistance to that problem, which was exacerbated by the thermal stress created by the translucent, triple thickness insulating curtains we cover them with, during the sunny part of the day in summer, and at night in winter. Raising or lowering them thermally shocks the windows, and apparently, according to a friend, obviates warrantees if one replaces them. We haven’t wanted to change them anyway, not just from waste and expense (there are 500 square feet of them), but because many go to the floor level, and changes in building code since make one have to buy wavy tempered glass instead of their genuinely transparent plate glass. The original plate ones, when fogged between panes, have more clarity than tempered glass pairs do when new. One more vote for fixing what already is instead of throwing away and buying anything but cheap, resource intensive replacements.
Most people would consider all the work and thought not worth it, for seemingly trivial issues. But that’s how I don’t have to work in hostile environments the way they do, and don’t have as large an impact on everyone else, besides living more comfortably from the result. It’s 15:00 (3 PM), and 30º C (85º F) outside, but just 21º (72º) inside, on the main floor, without the waste and noise of AC. I didn’t get paid for the time, but saved several hundred dollars, immediately, and an unknown, but not insignificant, amount more over coming years.
Yesterday’s entry is an of-repeated theme for me, which I keep trying to do better at presenting, since it is so pervasively not understood and/or ignored, yet so important for quality of life, and so easy to fix. Of course, most of those who need to be reached are functionally illiterate; if they read at all, it goes no deeper than the sports page, repetitive scriptures, or pablum level “news”. Most will never pursue print far enough to appreciate such content, no matter how well written. However, even a few would be a plus for the planet, and all of their neighbors, even if none actively notice.
The basic concepts of drifting noise and chemicals could be effectively visualized, animated. Toxicity and advantages of diversity slipperier for the absolute majority, who are ignorant of chemistry and biology. Trespass and respect for others ought to be part of religious training, but seems to be taught only in the narrowest of terms, not as Jesus intended. Advertising and greed consistently trump that message, especially when its would-be purveyors are involved deeply in thoughtless commerce themselves. Of course, the alternatives to lawns do require a bit more effort and care, while being less consistent, more cyclical, all of which frighten the couch potato avoiders of thought.The desire to blend, other than in a diverse environment, has never appealed to me. I think more of being involved in complex counterpoint, dancing with moving, not stable targets. More work, but more fun, and so much more satisfying when one gets it even momentarily right.
6 August 2007
Today brought a new low in my ongoing battle with sonic and chemical trespass. I was halfway through washing my car in my driveway, a very occasional task that incidentally during this drought uses less water than my neighbor’s automated and poorly adjusted irrigation system wastes on my concrete driveway every night while he tries to outsmart God and keep fluorescently green a species of grass that does not even belong in this state, and naturally turns brown during hot weather. The second part of his unnatural biota was that a truck with chemical sprayers showed up at that middle moment, prepared to start their poisoning, even though the wind was blowing at a higher speed than application instructions allow--towards me--with the property line literally at the edge of where I was working. I suggested, as bluntly as I could, that if they started trespassing with their poisons, being worse far for neighbors than the perpetrators, I would return the favor by putting my hose on high pressure, and since they didn’t care about how they were killing themselves and others, trespass directly upon them, and let them at least be uncomfortable from something they could less easily ignore. Afraid of water, they left.
It needs to be noted that these owners of that property take care never to be at home when their hired assassins arrive to do their worst. I started washing because he had abused his lawn, and our ears and lungs, with his stunningly noisy power mower just two days ago, so I thought it might actually be safe to use my own property outdoors for a few minutes. Wrong. The plot thickens, because even if the stuff being sprayed weren’t toxic--although it can’t do what is desired for it unless it is deadly--even fertilizing in August is spectacularly stupid from a biological sense, including for the species that he is trying to encourage. Adding nutrients during a drought, because it more than doubles water demand, is especially silly, whether or not it ever was a useful idea. But then, so does cutting grass short, because water demand also increases as root depth shrinks, and root depth varies with top height.
The neighbor is too lazy, of course, to pick out the “weeds” physically, which we do, and so have far less of a problem with them than he does, even with all his expensive and deadly sprays. Some plants do indeed to be restrained, because humans in this area have been doing so much abuse for so long. But, physically weeding is both healthy (at least whenever a fool’s poisons aren’t drifting by), and averages less than a half-hour per week of work. It teaches us about the yard’s condition, and uncovers a lot of interesting information about other plants for the observant. Nature, incidentally, provides both fertilization and pest control through species diversity, which brings with it a panoply of flowers and other beauty. Would you rather have meadow or a lawn? The choice is a real one.
The irony continues because the reason that I have the car that I was washing is that its previous owner was killed by lawn chemicals. How do I know? It may not absolutely certain, but he died in his early 50s from brain cancer, and the two most likely cancers that the few lawn chemicals that have been studied in detail tend to cause are brain and breast cancer. Each of those terrible diseases is subtly epidemic in suburban areas, which should not be surprising to those who bother to look with sufficient care.
I was trained to do just that, with a Ph.D. including biochemistry, with an emphasis on toxicology. What I saw 25 years ago when I worked for the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences, the latter with one of the world’s leading experts on the epidemiological effects of pesticides, would be enough to stop any rational person from believing in pesticide or herbicide safety, even if their parents hadn’t both died from effects of “safe” exposures to products of technology, as mine did, later to be proven unsafe as much to others as it was to them, or had not been poisoned severely by working in the chemical industry oneself, after being told not to worry, as I was myself. Unfortunately, many toxins are immensely profitable to those with power, and their effects are diffuse, hidden within a plethora of competing ways humans have discovered to make lives less healthy than they should be.
Not irrelevantly, I stopped eating trans-fats more than 30 years ago, because of some aspects their chemistry that should have been obvious to others, too. They are just being withdrawn from use, albeit not yet by government action in most places. Lawn chemicals have a constant turn over, with each new product marketed being theoretically safer than the previous models, which are inevitably found to be bad enough that even the government had to respond. History suggests that each commercial pesticide will take between 20 and 50 years before the reason it never should have been used in the first place becomes apparent enough to ban it. Pesticides and herbicides have to kill to their work, and all species are more closely related than chemical pushers want to admit. This should be obvious point just never seems to penetrate. Meanwhile, the deadly stuff does, killing neighbors even more often than those responsible for the applications, because we are the downwinders.
That real kicker comes in how gasoline mower abuse to neighbors is so closely related to the chemicals, just like ATVs, snowmobiles, SUVs, and pickup trucks, not least when left idling. All are carefully calculated to carry their toxic and noisy effects away from the perpetrators of the abuse. If the exhaust pipe went into their user’s face, the use would change drastically. Instead, it is pointed at their neighbors. Mowers are especially obnoxious, because like idling vehicles, they are doing no useful work (how many horsepower does it take to cut a blade of grass?), since internal combustion engines are vastly less efficient, and therefore put out many times as many pollutants, when they are not doing real work.
The irony continues that a push mower, if as much care is put into building and maintaining it as the powered ones, actually takes less effort to use, since it should be lighter. Unfortunately, they do require care in use, including a few minutes of sharpening, which is too much thinking for the average American. Worse, like decently engineered and constructed light, and therefore more controllable, less wasteful, and less deadly vehicles, industry can’t even be bothered to make what is needed. I gave up on my good one, not because it was too effortful, but because it could not be set to cut high enough for drought conditions.
Later, it occurred to me that the timing of my appreciation of the danger of pesticides is important. I got the basics in graduate school, but it was the farmer in Eastern Washington who put the pieces together for me, about 1982, with his commentary about all of them eventually proving deadly, and having to be removed from the market. I followed by going to work for the EPA, working in registration of new industrial chemicals, trying to identify potential issues for use before they hurt people. But pesticides were not included, with the scuttlebutt being that none could pass even the modest restrictions and testing that we were essaying.
The problem was Congress, which actually did move in response to Rachael Carson, and the dreams of the sixties, before relapsing into somnolent acceptance of industrial and military control. It is interesting about the reining in of DDT and dioxin, though, the first from appearance of issues after about 30 years, when they become obvious enough no longer to be ignored, like the trans-fats, or when the stupidity is so great as to appear sooner, as with Agent Orange.
The congressional aspect of the issue appeared very personally about the same time, when I was able to spend time with an ex-Congressman from our district, who had quit because he was honest, and had gotten so disgusted with the corruption that surrounded him, realistically having had it proved that one man, especially not rich himself, could not stem the corporate tide. He couldn’t stem it, so refused to continue to be tarred as complaisant with what was being let go. That pesticides and herbicides have never been made to be tested seriously before dispersal, or those in use already examined, is what allows people to feel like they are okay, when the facts are that they are unsafe, utterly, and the only reason that proof for that does not exist is that the right people are actively being kept from finding out before the damage becomes so extensive that it can no longer be ignored.
Meanwhile, their corporate funders keep rolling out new versions, which keep the dangers fresh. There can never be a safe pesticide or herbicide, whether chemically applied, or worse, placed inside by genetic manipulation.
The rub locally, and it has its national variations, is the historical and religious ignorance that keeps alive the parallel false belief that Jesus, if properly petitioned, will come back and solve all of our problems. What the current folk do not appreciate, again because they have not bothered to make the effort to look, is that people literally a thousand years ago (and more) were far more holy and effortful than any I have met currently in trying to fulfill the biblical conditions, and failed to bring about that fantasy. The likelihood of Him bailing out fat, cheap suit wearing in hot months SUV drivers (or short sleeved in winter), with too many children (and who effectively torture them, their wives, and their dogs, while killing every natural creature or plant) in a world already grossly overcrowded with humans is so low as not to bear a moment’s thought – except that they control the government.
They are quite literally killing the rest of us, and their planet, through their willful ignorance. If they spent as much time actually learning about the world they live in as they do being brainwashed by the same old crap, over and over again, there could be hope. Their primary difference from the suicide bombers is a lower level of courage. Like their hero, W, they pay others to do their dirty work, and hide from looking at the consequences.
We’d started the day listening to the Buffalo Springfield at the local bakery, which underlined what I had been thinking about the failure of the dreams that I, and quite a number of others had, about changes the would follow what was appearing at that time. It was another chimera, albeit a particularly pleasant and hopeful one at times. Quantitatively, what was accomplished was brief at best, with some of the best following the wrong drug connections, like their more conservative peers, and the rest drifting back into the cyclic flow one way or another. The numbers say that vehicle weights are even higher than they were fifty years ago, and while better engineering has raised their mileage by fifty percent or so, they are being driven more than twice as far yearly, so the net wastage is much greater, and so is their cost, and death rate, environmentally and directly, since the population has more than doubled as well. That’s just one parameter, with housing having increased insulation, but also more than doubled in average size (and distance from useful destination), with the especially expensive in all senses air conditioning having gone from an affection of the rich to a constant for all but the very poor.
In the latest Salt Lake Weekly was a calculation paralleling one of my own, with theirs having the upward curve of energy greed projected to take only a couple of hundred years to exceed the gross inflow of energy from the sun to earth. Like my students concluding how quickly the human population would be filling every square meter of ground with upright people, taking little longer at current rates, such is simply impossible to achieve in practice, not just unsustainable for any extended period. There will be a collapse, and it will come surprisingly soon to the fantasists. I will be gladly dead, or near enough to it, while they, or their offspring, reap the benefits of their, and their ignorant cohorts, lack of foresight.
3 August 2007
Minnesota’s most heavily traveled bridge has fallen into the Mississippi, at rush hour, killing surprisingly few in the process, but surely tangling transportation even further, for an extended period of time. Of course, the real key to that collapse is being overlooked, that the traffic has been so heavy. Designers of interstate bridges anticipated ever increasing numbers, but did not factor in how much individual vehicle weights have risen since those bridges were put into place. There was no expectation that the current situation would be far worse than it was in the ‘50s, with the average now exceeding the heaviest Detroit bomber of that era, because so many have chosen SUVs, vans, and pickups, with cars, too, seeming to inexorably get weightier. Once again, heavier transportation is not safer, especially in the aggregate. Obese vehicles don’t just make potholes deeper and appear faster, or more pollution, they also punish structures.
I remember again with this my wife’s single law solution, one that bypasses all the energy and pollution diversions: outlaw power steering. That’d get people to lighten up.
29 July 2007
Can’t help but wonder if this might be an issue that even the locals who call themselves might join me on, if I can just say it the right way. County officials want to raise taxes, no just on property owners, but through the most regressive tax, sales tax, to build more roads, having rejected first even allowing the public to vote on increasing support for public transit. Who benefits from this organized theft? Only the richest segment, those who want to live still further away from the center, and get back and forth therefrom, at least for a while in relative comfort. Like the airlines, whose primary benefit is for a surprisingly small minority, putting general taxes for these purported economic benefits is the worst kind of socialism, one that takes from the many to gratify, in this case, a particularly stupid few.
“Free” roads have always been a destructive chimera. There has been a cost, and not a small one. But, when that cost gets hidden, especially when gets borne by someone other than those with power, other wrong choices always follow, to the detriment eventually of all. “Free” roads begat crowds of overweight vehicles, because their true cost of operation was hidden, and in turn, pollution, congestion, and other cumulative insults, which are leading directly to global disaster, beyond ever increasing local discomfort.
Dwight Eisenhower bears a strong responsibility for this seemingly underailable mess, having found the Nazi Autobahns convenient for moving his troops, but not realizing that he was the invader, so calling them useful for defense was the simplest form of stupidity. But he did, other folks didn’t think either, so he was able to steal from a tax on railway passengers to built the Interstate anything but freeway system. Then, truckers have never paid more than a quarter of their cost of using the system, and like other users, increasingly less over time. But, because people didn’t have to pay for any of it directly, it seems free, to those who refuse to think things through.
Because I have been involved with mathematical analysis of how large systems work for so long, taken responsibility seriously at all levels, and care about the costs of my personal life for practical reasons, I do know how much it really costs to drive. If I drove a new car, it would come to well over 50 cents a mile, not even considering the long term costs of pollution, oil imports paid for with IOUs and soldier deaths, and the rest of system wide effects. Beyond the various parts of roadway construction and deferred maintenance, and other costs that are not being covered by taxes on weight moved over distance, which is what eventually defines costs, gasoline, if users paid for even all the easily measurable effects of using a gallon, would now exceed $8. If it did cost that much, people would be making far more rational choices than they do hereabouts. I’ve seen that proven by spending time where they do.
This is not an argument for more money for oil executives, who will number among history’s worst villains, if enough humanity lasts through the effects of their greed to still write history. Locally, it means something far more accessible, and exactly within the conservative ideal. Stop letting one small group steal from everyone else, especially for things that have so many hidden consequences, and worse than no benefit. Let those who destroy the most for others start paying the most, for a start. There has not been in my 20 years in Cache Valley a more misguided proposal than the one just put forth by the County officials. These are the same folks who are so grossly overpaid, I might note, through another misuse of the public’s, and their own, statistical ignorance.
26 July 2007
A lot of the stress in modern American life can be reduced to a short phrase, “sonic, chemical, and electronic trespass”, for human actions that do not respect boundaries. So much emphasis is given to “private property”, yet each of these intrusions can make territory increasingly worthless, as each can personal space when outside the paid-for area demarcations. The perception of a gasoline lawnmower, for example, as louder than most natural sounds for roughly a mile in all directions is one derived by repeated personal measurement, not theory, although it is not surprising that way, either. Most people simply don’t have sufficient area to test the concept; there is too much unnatural noise, from that form of trespass and so many others, mostly equally useless, or even more destructive.
If a typical suburban lot is ¼ acre, there will be a potential of 2500 houses within a mile of a single mower, or other similarly stupid machines. Of course, a quarter of the potential housing density is removed for asphalt and concrete, which is used by even noisier constructs. That noise is clearly equated with stress has been found in every study that has looked at the issue.
Our stream measures 65 dB, when one is standing on our little bridge directly over it. That is, by interesting coincidence, the normal level that I listen to the radio. Human voices at conversational levels are close to the same. My neighbor’s lawnmower measures 70 db inside our house, when the windows are closed, and over 75 dB with them open, which is a conflicting necessity, since he mows only when it is cool, when we are trying to cool our house. Outside, I’ve measured his hellish device at 78 dB from our deck, which is the same as I measured for the average of traffic at the intersection of the 2 busiest streets in Logan, carrying more than 30,000 vehicles a day. That is the level where the EPA and OHSA start requiring hearing protection for extended exposure. It’s also more than 20 times the noise level from the stream, because the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear, and the stream is the loudest natural sound in our area. In the past there was occasional thunder, but summer rain seems to be becoming extinct around here, thanks to machine generated global change.
The point of the numbers was just reminded for me by another neighbor, since the evening was both pleasant and quiet, and since the number one obnoxious man was away again, when the secondary threat lit up his machine, right at sunset, and is still going. We have only 10 possible fools within a mile, not a couple of thousand, yet we still get painfully rung up the ears at seemingly every possible moment. That much of the rest of the world suffers more does not make us do squim any less, since the easier possibility of being better being more obvious leads to thinking how unnecessarily bad it is perhaps all the worse. Almost good enough may be even more frustrating that not good at all, especially for those of us who understand how much better it could be, and do less evil ourselves, albeit without claims of perfection, including not having different sorts of negative impacts upon others. But we do try to restrain the damage, and not just to other humans.
25 July 2007
I lost my footing, even while paying fairly careful attention, on one of those ATV loosened stones while walking this morning, of course stressing the one with the ankle that is recovering following $20,000 worth of painful surgery. T’aint a trivial issue, and I’m not likely to be the only one it seriously affects. The difference is in making the connection to the source of the problem.
24 July 2007
Since the outside day started earlier than we wanted it to with the noise of our neighbor moving ATVs and their big trucks around, I remembered another addition to arguments about the machines as playtoys. They aren’t just noisy, rising far above almost any natural sound for a rough average of a mile in all directions around them, depending upon terrain and muffling. They leave dust plumes extending hundreds of yards, unlike hikers. Their stink from their deadly pollutants follows over similar trail distances. Think those fumes are not an issue? Shut yourself up in a garage with one running. All these annoyances are obvious to all except the 1% of the population who uses the damned things.
What most don’t recognize, however, is how all their wasteful power loosens stones, so even after they are gone, they have provided a potentially serious annoyance for all other land users.
How much power? If they have 50 horsepower, a number that too often forgotten means that their energetic disturbance, is by most basic definition quantified to be as much as 50 horses, all working together, can do. Not surprising then the machines, as small as they may be, spew dust, noise, and stones over wide areas! Translated into human terms, since most of us are able to do no better than ¼ horsepower--and the energy it takes to move a 1,200 pound horse versus a 200 pound human suggests less--it ought to be obvious why mechanized recreation is so much different, so much more impactful than muscular effort.
But it doesn’t even take wrestling with numbers to notice the difference. Just watch, breathe the air, and listen to one. The immediate stress points don’t count what the big, by any rational standard, trucks needed to move the things to the place where they do their immediate damage are doing--and not just when they are being used with their obnoxious, horrendously expensive even on a direct cost basis, playtoys. That extra weight kills, daily.
19 July 2007
Good news on the hummingbird front. With the larger of the two babies perched on the uphill side, the nest is approaching almost level again. They are both looking around now, reaching and stretching, testing their wings a bit. The rough picture is from yesterday evening.
Spent a couple of hours in the night and this morning thinking about my own relationship to animals, particularly all the hours spent while younger filling my mind and journals with worries about and pursuit of ladies. Nearly as many went into if not actually fighting, reading about it, along with more devoted to the most virtual forms of sex, i.e., from someone else’s imagination, and related issues. It does make me suspect, now even more than then, that there might have been a more productive and satisfying use of all that time.
Speculation went on to my relationship to appearances, which I sometimes bothered with, and more often pursued quirky tangents to the mainstream. These are how one jockeys for social position, partly for sex, partly to assure food and space for oneself and offspring, and partly for the slightly more complex (and vastly more destructive) embroideries that humans add to their lives and interactions. Even before I started questioning a lot of these (like lawns, sprawl, and heavy vehicles) for environmental reasons, they were dubious in what they so obviously tended to lead to, from religious perspectives and just plain direct observation.
Of course, I profited considerably from what led to sprawl, the desire to use roads and live a bit apart, in ways that are simply no longer possible because of the dramatic increase in human population size during my lifetime. The illusions of freedom, and of the possibilities for individual mechanized travel…
Last night I was going to add how with just 10 neighbors within a quarter mile, it continues to seem a perfect overlap that whenever the temperature gets comfortable enough, and I feel that I have the time to go out and enjoy the deck, one of those neighbors will get out their power mower to further mutilate their overwatered lawns. Not only will I receive their ear shattering noise, which does not respect boundaries, the wind will be blowing their cloying (and even more dangerous) fumes my way, too. It’s like starting to have some real fun with my car, really concentrating on its flow, and catching flashing cop lights in the mirrors. There are so many forms of trespass, where I do not meaningfully cross others’ borders, but they trample actively within mine. Then, for the first time in more than a month, we got some rain, enough to have to use the car’s wipers on our way to do some errands in town. However, when I checked the gauge on the deck, the total collected was all of one drop. But the computer failed to wake from sleep…so I couldn’t complain immediately, having another one to add to my list, for like so many others, Apple has moved its manufacturing to China, and machining quality on my new laptop is very seriously below past standards.
Little things add up; less than careful workmanship, a result of poorer pay and working conditions, means the latch mechanism and other connections do not function as well, so that users, as well as employees below the executive offices, and the rest of the planet, all pay for the greed of an effectively stupid few.
Similarly, the supposed benefits of suburbia are vastly worse for those more densely surrounded. Quiet there is a myth, along quite a few others. Just one mower in action, because they are so wasteful, makes as much noise on neighboring property as the average for traffic at the intersection of two main streets in Logan, as measured with a profession quality sound meter from the adjacent sidewalk and driveway. The insults are both additive and cumulative.
Not a classically satisfying day, and this one has been little better, starting as it did with a neighbor’s dog barking at intervals, too short to fall asleep between, beginning well before 6 AM. I’ve been trying to get a print that looks great at the test level from Photoshop to print the same way from the new version of InDesign, and failing (at $5 or so a pop) for some obscure reason. The instructions make it all sound so straightforward, but like so many other things I’ve been trying to do lately, it just don’t work that way, including my new internet service. One or more steps is missing, cannot be configured correctly (options not being allowed), or something deeper is not working correctly, like how the Apple and its programs sometimes remember changes and instructions, and sometimes don’t, seemingly at random. Apple blames the software, and vice versa.
16 July 2007
The July-August 07 Utne Reader reprinted an article by Mary Vance [the original is available online at http://www.ecologycenter.org/terrain/article.php?id=13578] as “The dark side of soy: Is America’s health food making us sick?” (pp. 61-65). That doesn’t have much in the way of references, but does hint that another set of issues that I noticed 35 years ago as a grad student are slowly bubbling their way to the surface. That was at the same time when I started avoiding trans-fats. At an initial discussion about hormones, since the inventor of DES ear implants to augment cattle growth was working at Texas A&M, and was really upset about what became a successful removal of them from use, he spoke to one of our food safety seminars. His point, as I remember it, was that eating an entire railroad car load of livers from cattle, even if improperly handled while using the implants, and given that added hormones concentrate in the liver, would give consuming humans less exposure to estrogenic activity than a single tablespoon of vegetable oil from soybeans.
Vance’s article emphasizes the naturally balancing alternative chemicals in soybeans, loosely categorized as isoflavones, which restrain hormone activity, either natural or added, in those that consume the beans or particular by-products from them. These isoflavones, however, have become such an issue of concern as to be regulated for lactating women by the Israelis for one, and implicated as problems elsewhere, not least in the rapidly changing hormonal stress period of menopause. In retrospect, shockingly little research has gone into monitoring estrogenic effects of foods. Of course, the industry doesn't want to know.
What is only tangentially appreciated is that that this problem is just part of a more general difficulty created by humans dissembling natural foodstuffs in sophisticated ways, and then consuming the pieces separately, especially when the pieces have been chemically or otherwise modified along the way. Originally, there tended to be some balance in the hormonal activity and restraint, otherwise the plant or animal in question could not function, itself, effectively. Taken separately, particularly when either plant of animal had relatively large concentrations, the potential consequences ought to be obvious. Instead, these downside possibilities have been ignored, as is all too usual for industrial operations, who take their limited liability seriously, and could care less for anything much but short term profits. This kind of dissasembly is not at all like physically pulling apart an animal or plant to cook or preserve separate bits. Using hexane and high pressure to pull oil from soybeans has no evolutionary precursors, and no potential adaptations. Nor do the creation processes for “soy milk”.
While riding my bike this morning to get away from my neighbor’s incredibly noisy and smelly brutalizing of his poisonous biological desert of a “lawn” with a many horsepower mower, it occurred to me that humans as a group are a lot like I was as a child, good at pulling things apart, including rather complex stuff like radios, but not so good at putting them back together so they will work within their original design constraints. When we do likewise with foodstuffs, we get results like the trans-fats, which may initially appear to be useful, but turn out, virtually inevitably, just like pesticides, to have quite serious downsides, especially when used widely.
Past tinkering has been bad enough, with more booby traps eventually appearing from it, but what short sighted engineers have been doing at the crude chemical and macroscopic level has nothing close to what will almost certainly be coming from tinkering within the genomic sphere. Yet, government and industrial research seems ever more focused on messing with genetics, despite trivial at best value obtained from it so far, and virtually inevitable consequences from it, at levels that defy the imagination to exaggerate. Like “global warming” and violence from overpopulation, the only questions are the form that they will emerge and when, not whether, they will eventually be catastrophic.
On the other hand, the otherwise much more rational Amish and Hutterites, who have been so much more successful than industrial farmers, no matter how one chooses to measure economic and quality returns, because they have kept closer to literally wholesome functioning in managing production from the land, tragically have not managed to incorporate an understanding of the consequences of exponential human population growth into their lifestyle planning. Thereby, with their overly large families, and no more land to house or feed them, has meant that they too, have incorporated a literally fatal flaw into their own, and their neighbors’, future.
In a longer historical sense, tinkering with separation of materials has been advantageous in a large number of short-term aspects, from turning trees into ships, to separating metals from rocks and assembling them into computers. Even the Amish use iron tools. However, in every case, the values are quickly compromised, at all sorts of levels, by expansion of use with lack of respect for how limited all resources are. Their products, and their production, absolutely must be done in a respectful fashion, preserving the value gained, using as little as possible, and watching to minimize damage during the collection phases. The more humans there are, the more important these principles become.
With foods, the point is straightforward: don’t fool very profoundly chemically or physically with the characteristics of either the products or the soils from which they came, at least beyond using the tools that were evolutionarily (i.e., naturally) available. These for foods do include fire, cooling, freezing, and drying; for the soil, application of manures and selective incorporation of other plants into a mixture. The useful possibilities go as far as selecting particular seed characteristics, as long as not done as large area monocultures. But care is still required. Management should mimic what nature does, in dietary composition and assisting the growth where the inputs for it originate. This requires many species and parts thereof working together, with change among them the constant, never spread with any single form dominant over larger areas or time, not more petroleum and synthetic chemicals. Dynamic balance is the underlying principle, at every level of analysis, but operating well within limits developed by 4 billion years of prior experimentation into what works well and what doesn’t.
Humans, incidentally, are not the only ones to make engineering mistakes. The hummingbird nest just off our deck is now listing at nearly a 45º angle, with it seeming doubtful the fledglings will be ready to fly before it falls. However, one hummingbird’s screwups affect only its own family, and no other species, unlike arrogant human possibilities for error…
11 July 2007
After another frustrating day trying to make computers work the way they claim to, and too often failing, I ran across an encouraging riposte a few minutes ago, from someone who had actually gone ahead and done what this moment makes even more tempting. It does come perilously close to those prettified email chain forwards, and the Desiderata that preceded them, but like the best of them still says something calming and appropriate.
“Professor Grene’s favorite farming activity was plowing with horses; mine is caring for chickens. This other two-legged creature teaches me prey wisdom: Stay alert. Greet each new day with enthusiasm; you are still alive. Display your beauty. Delight in simple things. Jump for joy and keep dancing. Recycle and transform refuse into jewels. Snuggle into the earth. Cuddle at night. Slow down. Take flight and enjoy the chase. When your time comes, surrender.”
-- W. Shepherd Bliss III. 2007. ‘This agrarian life’. University of Chicago Magazine. 99(6):7.
As we become closer to the other creatures of other species, we indeed can find more satisfaction. Was that not Jesus’s real message, too? Of course, I do find it ironic that one of my seminal meetings, way back in 1977, was the Kentucky horse-based farmer, Wendell Berry – but he had arrived at the meeting site, where he so amusingly debated an International Harvester VP, the same way I had, by airplane, and his further fame would not have been likely without modern media, not least computers.
10 July 2007 Looking at the two baby hummingbirds, with one stretching a wing for the first time just a couple of minutes ago (at least as seen by me) in their nest just a couple of feet from the place I’ve spent so many hours on our deck gave such a different feeling from the disgust I felt for the slew of human babies and their slobby parents that I saw when doing some errands downtown this morning. Hummingbirds are both bright and aggressive, but do not damage their planet the way the humans do, especially those who reproduce to excess—which means more than one these days, since there are already way too many humans for this planet to support.
8 July 2007
On one of my favorite themes, the impact of weight on the environment, I ran across:
“Just 1kg less per seat can save some 40,000 liters of fuel per airliner per year.”
-- Anon. 2007. ‘Fear of flying: a special report on air travel.’ The Economist 383(8533):20.
4 July 2007
Up early again this morning, among other things looking at global moisture flows with the new (to me) broadband computer link. Seeing from them how what used to be a monsoonal pattern that brought summer rains to the southwest US has concentrated into a narrower band, which is being pushed eastward along a more intense high pressure zone that is based, according to the NOAA pundits, in Alaska. Thus, places in the past moist during this season are now deadly dry, and others inundated. The same kind of concentration and intensification is at the moment drying out Iceland while soaking Britain and southern Norway.
How can these concentrations, seemingly opposite to entropic expectations, occur? They are magnified vortexes that often appear when energy is added to systems, which make for denser concentrations of flows at localized spots, at varying speeds. These can become very intense, like tornadoes, and huge like hurricanes, or more so in planet and star formation centers in gas clouds. Very natural resolutions of energy and material unevenness, with varying time scales, from exceedingly brief to quite stable.
Life as we know it could be seen as a particularly complex set of these, appearing as possibly no more than a candle flicker in geological time. Like the flicker, it can be highly variable in its details. No gods needed to make it happen, though they can be created to describe it. Those that are definitely not necessary are the kinds used to justify killing their name, whether of humans or other species, for purposes other than careful eating.
When I quoted my words to my wife, she responded that she kills a variety of weeds and insects, albeit very selectively, ones that she is very much not willing to eat. My response upon reflection is that there are indeed functional weeds among humans, but they are much more difficult to selectively eliminate, and like the plants and insects thus categorized, most have useful components or roles in time and space, just as otherwise undesirable pioneering species like dandelions have deep taproots that open up compacted soils for us, while others provide some soil stability, like halogeton, where nothing else can take root. All historical winnowing processes among humans have even worse track records than broadcast use of chemicals or plows do among plants. The bad pun would be to say they have fatal flaws, which apply as much to their initiators as to their victims.
The process of applying treatments among humans, whether by courts, armies, or vigilanties, tends to attract the very most inappropriate individuals for the tasks of judging and practical execution, just as sadists are most likely to seek out jobs as prison wardens. The possibility for intelligence does retain, though, hope that some directionality for flows can indeed be imposed, but brings with it the immediate conclusion that the smaller the lever in scale, the less the likelihood that useful flows will be inappropriately diverted or changed. This one works on both human and natural system scales.
The intelligence is then associated with knowing how much force to apply, with what tool, when, and where. The need to minimize all of these remains a constant.
3 July 2007
Every morning when I log on, the first thing that gets checked is the weather, just as more elementally, I look out the windows when arising. I very probably might have been more profitably employed by pursuing that deeply set interest from the start of collegiate education, but was stymied by the program’s reliance upon heavy mathematics, an approach that is still not comfortable for me. I have come to terms with descriptions based on things like differentials, but because they rely upon a non-intuitive translation for meaning, this makes for an inherent jink in the perceptive flow, and thereby a more serious one for creative application of concepts. When I cast about inside the brain for an example, deltaT popped up as the mathematical substitute for the words ‘change in temperature’, with the irony there being that I’ve used it for so long that the symbol has crossed over into direct meaning for me, so ∂T surely could as well. I just couldn’t shift linguistic gears at the time, and did not encounter anyone, in person or in print, who could help.
Calculus is part of the inclusion into a kind of priesthood, that requirement to be facile in an alternative language, which is all mathematics is, especially in its more esoteric reaches. The symbol filled equations that so dominate the associated literature, and the blackboards before setting into print, are shorthand, convenient especially in the days of chalk, utterly unnecessary in the days of computers, but remain in use because that’s how things have always been done, and using them keeps out the hoi polloi, like the bouncer at a private club. Even more of practical importance to its users, it protects high salaries, because it looks so difficult, and as a variant of incantation, preserves the associated respect and willingness to be fleeced among those who actually generate products on which all income is based.
The downside is this variant upon secretiveness keeps democracy from happening, keeps vital principles from being properly understood, and even restricts the dispersal of logical processes that could help in so many other ways. Thus, ‘heavier is safer’ continues to be believed on the roadways, and exponential growth is not feared sufficiently in that and so many other areas. Only a tragically small minority can follow the very simplest of related calculations, especially when they become non-linear.
Back at the weather, the model builders do use equations, but the folks who interpret their results rarely, if ever, do. Even good model builders have to back away, and use more visual or otherwise intuitive logic to judge where their output is reasonable, in whole or in parts.
Meanwhile, in today’s Salon is a piece about another physicist, Paul Davies, with a tangent to yesterday’s essay. I’m not the only one who speculates. However, as usual for mine, what seemed so clearly written yesterday gets less so when reread. On the other hand, my logic seems deeper, and more likely, than his.
2 July 2007
One day short of a month ago, I entered a multilevel quote that originated with Douglas Hofstader and Kurt Gödel, about the potential for a higher level of order than individuals and species. I cannot claim following either of them that well into the intricacies of the arguments, but the snippet does tie well with another heard long ago, an interpretation by a fellow grad student of expressions of thermodynamics, of free energy and entropy from 19th century physicist Willard Gibbs. The argument then was that life processes were the exception to universally increasing entropy, representing a pathway where particular kinds of increasing order in reaction pathways that would move in that direction preferentially. There was a well toward which mass and energy moved, and not that of the simplest form of equilibrium. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Gibbs free energy, it appears that Erwin Schrödinger in 1944 weighed in more or less similarly, and thereby might have been the or a source for the grad student speculation, which was not well referenced at the time, or perhaps even properly interpreted. These, of course, were just underlain by mathematical descriptions of logical speculations—but they have continued to make even more sense for me as I progress to what I hope is the wisdom of age.
On the deck yesterday I began by wondering why species would do things like create fruits, at considerable energetic cost and risk, just to enhance their genetic spread, after or during their own lives, when it might well compete with their own survival, either in current or future years. That did fit with the quote from Adami / Hofstader / Gödel about the possible likelihood of a superorganism to which we and fruit trees are as mitochondria or bacteria, just functional pieces. That, in turn, adds yet more depth if we consider not just James Lovelock’s Gaia hypotheses, but also J.R.R. Tolkien’s marvelously synthesized creation folk tale, “The Ainulindalë”, based on Norse and Finnish myths, and published as the first section in the 1977 Silmarillion. This has an organizing spirit who emphasized harmony. Fruit makes sense in this regard, being an obvious example of organisms providing for one another’s needs, with some doing the fertilization and genetic spreading, and being given vital nutrients they could not otherwise as easily obtain.
Even disease, death, and predation fit into the superorganism much as they do within Tolkien’s outline, because they provide the basis of rhythm, in part, as having initially unexpected benefits for what might seem uncomfortable disharmonies. These allow cleaning and resolution of negative, conflicting buildups and constricting dominances that would otherwise occur, just as Tolkien’s Lucifer parallel Melkor early on brought darkness and ice into the working universe, which created rhythmic patterns of balance to previously simpler harmonies, thereby enhancing beauty and functionality, just as rhythm does to music.
Working with extant rhythms and harmonies in a respectful manner is correctly understood by the folklore piece, which sums a lot of older wisdom, to be the most satisfying and productive, at all possible levels. Unfortunately, this is exactly where most contemporary religions get it wrong. Like Joseph Smith, they have imputed that individual and group sinning is deleterious, but they miss which are the most important areas to be looking out for. These in fact involve interactions not just among one’s own species, but the rest. They also include expansion of harmony to its play with the rhythm of the seasons, as one best hunts and harvests most species in the fall, not trying to pervert evolved patterns for one’s own convenience. The medieval monasteries, among others, appreciated some of this, with rituals including daily and seasonally explicit rhythms. But, like corporations and their regulators, the almost always fell out of harmony with the reasons they began after a couple of generations (or sooner), needing to die and be recreated.
Respect also includes limiting growth in numbers and resource use, by individuals and species. All are finite, especially in more restricted areas.
Tolkien and almost all religions, though, still require a prime or continuing mover to make the process happen. I am increasingly suspecting that the answer is the very opposite, that from nothing order will evolve because it is more efficient overall, so overall complexity will naturally increase, with evolution not just towards cells, individuals, and ecosystems, but on towards higher levels of organization. One can write equations that describe it, but mathematics remains as nothing more than another form of description, albeit a particularly useful one in some situations. This sense of evolution does not preclude localized or general forms of dissonance, from fires and epidemics to volcanoes, impacting asteroids, or supernovae. But these are hiccups in the flow, for in a universe as large as this one, there is essentially an infinite time and a difficult even to imagine number of localized foci for experimental directions to develop. The system does not have, and is not likely, to move from a creator in the folklorist sense. Instead, it is moving towards becoming something more like the one that was envisioned.
What will be hardest for most folks to envision and grasp is the probabilistic nature of experience within the universe. Ours is just one out of an immense number of experimental trials in systematic self-assembly, and is by far most likely to develop only towards (another, like untold numbers before it) eventual failure, perhaps coming very soon, an encounter with a planetary sized cricket bat of fate, affecting not just individuals through unexpected death (like the robin that recently jinked left after taking off from the road ahead, then right, and finally missed clearing my 75 mph windshield by a centimeter) but wholesale. Whether it is a comet or collective consequences of arrogant stupidity does not matter so much in making the conclusion the same. Another group or locale gets to try, or becomes further ahead as they do. What makes humans different is that there is a possibility to guide the evolution more rationally, although there is at present strikingly little reason to hope for that.
However, given the mathematical and other likelihoods of assembly of matter and energy into increasing levels of order and complexity, some of the experiments will eventually, or already have, turned out better than our own. Even as this one appears to be winking rapidly out, in the face of inability to restrain either human population size or resource greed, let alone to work with instead run roughshod over naturally evolved fellow species, our existence still has its moments of glory and satisfaction. These probably differ little from those of whales, porpoises, otters, swallows, and red-tailed hawks, to name a few species that seem particularly to include at least moments of what has to be considered enjoyment in their days.
Like the robin whose death my machine and I were the proximate cause for, fate does affect individuals, becoming particularly likely if they pay insufficient attention to rising threats. Some just can’t be evaded. Fate even more surely impacts whole groups and assemblages, whose responses to change are even slower. Just as we have difficulty with bacteria inside our bodies when one set goes rogue, even though we could not live without a variety of others, working silently with us and each other to digest our food for us, the superorganism level can have fits in responding to organisms like disrespectful humans.
The current global climate instability, with its included general warming trend, can thereby even more rightly viewed as a form of fever, symptomatic of an underlying disease, with humanity playing the role of destructive bacteria or viruses.
1 July 2007
This morning’s newspaper set off was a throw-away line somewhere about curing America’s economic woes by having employees become better groomed and dressed. The counterpoint came with Margaret Talbot’s 2 July article in The New Yorke,“Duped”, about how difficult lies are for people to detect, and how many people make their decisions about truth based on appearance. That neatly nails it, because real human progress, and truth do not tend to come from people who fit neatness or style criteria of the reigning majority. The American revolution was begun and more battles within it won by a ragtag bunch, some of which were neat and “orderly”, but others more importantly were more willing to be creative in their approaches, both appearance-wise and functionally. The very worst historical, destructive brutalizers were those pushing absolute neatness and order, like Caesar and Hitler. No one has ever pushed clean-cutness more than the latter – and what he carried with him were assuredly among the worst (so far) collection of lies.
Tolkien, once again, had the best summation of what to look out for, people who “look fair and feel foul”. Outward appearance does have some utility in lower level situations, where cleanliness at one level may tend toward cohesiveness in another, as in the humdrum, but needing to be intensely careful business of commercial air travel. But those are not ones where creativity is either very often necessary, nor rewarded. The greatest outpourings of musical creativity come from the opposite standards, and Edison was no neatnick. The hardest part is differentiating which kinds of order are important, and which are not. In a darkroom, finer automotive repair, and chemistry labs, I learned how important cleanliness, simplicity, and exact routine placement of tools can be. But in none of these does how one cuts one’s hair matter (though if long, tying it back may be necessary), while wearing an expensive suit is downright foolish.
29 June 2007
“Montana had the deadliest roads, with 2.3 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Massachusetts roads were the safest, with a death rate of 0.8.”
-- Billings Gazette
Not coincidentally, and as usual not noted, is that the number very neatly reflects the relative average momentum (weight times speed) of vehicles on the road in those states, with weight being the dominant difference. Having spent considerable time in both states, I can testify that the difference is emphatically not driver aggressiveness.
28 June 2007
This in my daily email from Daily Grist seems apropos to pass along in full:
“IT WAS SUNNY IN SEATTLE: Global weather is bad and likely to get worse
“Within the last week, excessive heat -- think 113 degrees Fahrenheit -- has killed dozens of people in Greece, Romania, and Turkey. Storms killed some 150 people in India and about 220 people in Pakistan. Britain has been deluged by flooding. We like to think of these severe weather incidents as coincidental, but some crazies claim they're a wake-up call. Recent natural catastrophes "are indications of what might happen more frequently and more severely across the globe as a consequence of global warming," says Salvano Briceno, director of a U.N. agency that tries to convince governments to prioritize risk reduction from natural disasters. The U.N. urges measures such as early warning systems, construction of flood shelters, and protection for houses, hospitals, schools, and water, power, and transportation systems. "We cannot wait to be taken by surprise," says Briceno. "We know what is going to happen and we can prepare for it." Which just makes it even more depressing that we probably won't.”
“straight to the source: Planet Ark, Reuters, Iulia Rosca, 27 Jun 2007;
straight to the source: Planet Ark, Reuters, 26 Jun 2007;
straight to the source: Yahoo! News, Agence France-Presse, 27 Jun 2007”
27 June 2007
“The common man is no longer able to understand what these environmental organizations want. They never offer any solutions.”
-- Bob Wharff, quoted by Hal Herring. 2007. ‘Predator hunters for the environment’ High Country News 25 June, p. 15.
I suppose in some critical ways they don’t, because their issue foci tend to be precise, and the bigger ones’ leaders are overpaid, over-consumptive individuals, like their corporate models. The problem is that neither wildlife nor land management can be adequately considered without including human population growth rates and energy utilization. The solutions for these are not politically comfortable, even if I think that they could be understood by the “common man”. Unfortunately, the logical lead organizations, religions, are even more inappropriately focused on irrelevant details, with change fare less likely. Being more respectful of people and planet, including becoming far less wasteful of material resources, do fit neatly with Jesus Christ’s recorded messages. He said nothing whatsoever about birth control (that not being an issue then), but I cannot imagine that if functional today, He would object to keeping humans from destroying their own collective future by simple restraints, each of which would have immediate benefits as well.
The solutions are less people, using less energy, each being more respectful of one another, of the land, and its other naturally evolved residents.
Speaking of the impacts of energy,
“Hall Sawyer, a wildlife specialist with western Ecosystems Technology… found that elk avoided roads in the area in all seasons of the year. During the summer, elk in the study favored places that were 1.7 miles away from the nearest road. During the winter when traffic on back roads almost disappears, elk still preferred habitat that was three-quarters of a mile away from the nearest road.”
-- Chris Madsen. 2006. ‘Gas fields wildlife’, Wyoming Wildlife. 70(3):14-15.
The story went on to say that other wild critters behaved similarly, and when weather-driven need drove the animals closer, the result was drastically increased death rates.
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