presents more of a blog variant
What follows are more dated drafts, without full polishing, so expect errors in both content and details of execution. For more finished work, please refer to my formal publications page.
The latest rough rants are at current blog.
The content of the following does not reflect the point of view of any known institution (if it does, please let me know; I need to get in contact with them!).
Enjoy the following despite its flaws; its goal is to improve the quality of lives.
17 December 2004; revised on the solstice
Cache Valley’s latest Alice in Wonderland committee has just turned in their report on air pollution. They first grotesquely whitewashed the situation by trumpeting that the Valley has problems only on 10 to 20 “red burn” days each year. They obviously haven’t either bothered to look carefully across the valley or paid attention to what it feels like to breathe. Yes, my own lungs are badly scarred from past pollution exposure, so I am one of the sensitives; I have studied airborne chemistry in considerable detail; and I do serious photography, so I do notice air transparency on several levels. In truth, the Valley averages roughly 10 decent air quality days in recent years, with the rest of the time ranging from moderately to unspeakably foul.
One must remember that official air quality standards have to receive industry and other vested interest approval. Thresholds get set at levels where even the richest can’t ignore the health results. Unfortunately, just because emergency room admissions aren’t spiking does not mean the stuff is really safe to breathe for those of us who live here. This is especially true if one spends time near a major road, construction, or industrial operation, particularly ones including any level of excavation. Remember how the so-called Health Department folks had to move their first sensor from near the police station because the levels were too high? Those first results are what most living people, most of the time, have to deal with around here.
Pre-industrial fog was grey, except in unusual light situations. The brown, pink, or moldy blue stuff one sees almost everyday when looking down Main Street from Smithfield towards Logan can’t legitimately very often be called fog. One’s eyes and nose were put there for good reasons, among them being sniffing out lies. What looks and smells bad usual is, just like with all those pesticides and herbicides that the chemical industries would like you to think are safe. As with the air, they may not usually send you straight to the hospital. But 20 or 40 years from now? Have a helping of emphysema or cancer, now that it is difficult to trace origins. I know, beyond an all too detailed education, by having, despite being a non-smoker, collected a set of thoroughly damaged lungs, almost certainly from growing up in a place with air then as bad as Logan’s has become now. I came west to escape it. Fat chance. Our species has polluted our whole planet now, it seems.
Then there’s the “voluntary” vehicle inspection program that is supposed to help, which has an admittedly hefty fine if one drives without a sticker. That reminds me of the locally dominant Church’s concept of “agency”, where one supposedly has a choice about what to do, but if one transgresses any of the current Church leaders’ interpretations of the written rules (no matter how much those interpretations may differ from the originally intended meaning of those written rules), one supposedly will go to Hell, quite literally.
The deeper problem with the current idea of inspection is that the allowable levels increase almost exactly in proportion to the likelihood that any individual vehicle will pollute. With equivalent attention by manufacturers to controlling pollutant outputs and by drivers in subsequent operation, the heavier any vehicle is, and the bigger an engine, the more fuel will be burned, and therefore the amount of exhaust will go out the tailpipe, and thus the pollution created by that vehicle. But the way industry rigged the allowable exhaust measurement rules, the bigger and heavier the machine -- and the higher the total pollution it will necessarily produce -- the lower the standard it has to meet. This makes the inspections nearly useless from a practical standpoint, especially since Cache Valley’s traffic is overwhelmingly composed of the most massive, intentionally wasteful, and polluting sort, the very type that has the least constraints even when inspected.
The situation is really far worse than that for uselessness, in two other areas the committee avoided talking about. The first is how far each vehicle is driven.
Then, for the vehicles that do have pollution controls involving a catalytic converter, as almost all now do, their pollution restraining systems simply do not work until the vehicle reaches full operating temperature. That means that the thousands of lazy Cache citizens who idle their machines warm enough so they can avoid wearing a coat, which takes at least three times as long, and creates hundreds of times as many pollutants, will never be punished for their massive impacts on air quality. Fining every vehicle occupant who is seen without a coat when the temperature is below freezing would do far more to improve air quality than any inspection program within the current measurement constraints ever could.
That same common unwillingness to face up to dressing properly for the season ties into the second level of pollution generation that is so rampant locally: overheated homes, offices, churches, and shops. It takes energy to create that heat, and virtually all energy use, no matter what its origin, creates pollution.
Related to that in the seriousness of local pollution is that a great deal of it comes from upwind electrical generating plants. Merry Christmas from all those unneeded lights and other electrical waste, especially the immense quantities that so usefully light up clouds all night long! And Logan’s mayor wants to buy into constructing more of them.
So what would really help clear the air? A much bigger dose of what Bill Clinton rather limply tried, but the oil fed Republicans killed – a BTU tax. A thorough one should significantly punish those who waste energy, because almost all air pollution starts there. However, charging more money for energy use should not benefit the energy executives and “owners” of sources, who are already obscenely rich (and in large part by avoiding payment themselves for the diffused damage they are responsible for). Payment should instead be transferred as benefits to those most damaged by waste: children, the landscape, and health programs.
The full social cost of petroleum exceeds $8 per gallon, when pollution (including transport spills), health, eventual cost of replacement by more difficult sources, and military support are properly factored in, not to mention degrading of our currency’s value from the hundreds of billions of unsupported IOUs to other nations to pay for our wasteful ways. Charging a more nearly real cost at the pump would transform the air back into something worth breathing without filters. We might even turn to more rational transportation choices, and places far faster than we do now (the slowest vehicles on the planet are American SUVs after traffic lights turn green), and even lead to laying out communities more sanely.
Other energy sources do proportional damage, and should be taxed accordingly. There is no safe source, and never will be. Processing (and using) energy is both a direct and indirect interaction with the surrounding world, which will have eventual effects very closely calculable by the amount consumed. It’s a simple, unavoidable equation.
7 December 2004
It’s been said that most people will not read or listen to anything with numbers in it. Let’s try just a couple anyway. It is not an exaggeration to claim that more Americans die unnecessarily on our highways every single month than were killed in the 9/11 attacks that have so dominated political consciousness since. Neither is it an exaggeration to report that the Japanese bullet trains during their more than 50 years of operation have carried more passengers than American highways do in any month; that those trains have operated at speeds averaging more than 3 times those achieved in practice on American highways; and that no one, not one single person, ever, has died from “accidents” on them. Yet we spend more government money every day on highways, and much more on airlines (without whom there would have been no 9/11) every month, than we do on rail passenger service in any year.
Bullet trains were not built by private corporations; they were built by the Japanese government. Like considering the FAA and other ancillary services, whose operations are utterly essential to our air travel but are not paid for by the airlines or air freighters, the cost of operation of Japanese railroads is a complex budgetary item. They are considered as a service to the public, one not expected to have a clear quarterly return like a paper clip company. But given better railways' incredible advantages in safety, speed, fuel efficiency, comfort, and reduced right of way property incursions, why without active backing from Hell is our government even considering cutting funding for America’s passenger rail transportation system?
Certainly the existing rail passenger network, especially in the relatively diffusely settled heartland, has many problems. However, virtually all of them are a result of too little spending, not too much. What operations there are have been left with equipment and skills that are at least 50 years out of date, and schedules that are almost impossibly sparse. If we do not invest in improvements and alternatives, we will continue our national rush to suicide, environmental and personal. There is no more dangerous place for the average American than our highways, and no place except the airways that are more wasteful of energy and time. Rails can be faster for trip segments of any distance less than 1,000 miles (which contains almost all practical travel), while holding the potential to be more comfortable, and are quite certainly both more fuel efficient and safer for passengers.
2 December 2004
Every morning, it seems, something in the newspaper sets off my blood pressure. This time it was a report on a $4 million "upgrade" of a local school's heating and air-conditioning. It's bitter cold outside at the moment, -20° Celsius (-5° F), for perspective. The thermostats on that new system can only be set within the range of 70° to 76° Fairhenheit (about 21° to 23° C), which is too hot in winter and too cold in summer. The air, the planet, our lungs, and our pocketbooks all pay for this intrinsic wastefulness. One cannot dress appropriately to enter the weather outside, discouraging further going out there and noticing what is happening around us, let alone exercising and being more healthy.
I saw a neighbor of mine yesterday, with the temperature the same, driving his truck and wearing a short sleved shirt, with no coat. This means both that his home was grossly overheated and that he must have idled his truck up to a comfortable for him temperature before he got into it. Both help notably to create the filthy mess that passes for air in the narrow valley where we live.
Our thermostat is kept at 64°F (18° C) during the winter day, bumped up by a couple of degrees sometimes in late evening, and 55°F (13°C) at night. We have lovely, mostly hand-knit, sweaters and a good down comforter for the bed, paid for long ago by fuel savings, and are more comfortable than we would be inside at higher temperatures, and ready to go out when we would like. A comparison joker of most extent is that we do have radiant heat instead of forced air, and our heat source is more efficient at keeping people, rather than thermometers, warm.
We have no summer air conditioning, and do not need it, despite Utah's often violent summer heat, because the house with windows carefully adjusted can keep itself cool enough, again if one dresses for the season.
I then went into town (~15 km) myself, in one of my rare ventures there, having taken off my silk long johns and switched to a lighter sweater before leaving because I knew that the offices and other places I would visit would be overheated. They were. Walking about the university campus, a place with a brand new million dollar shortfall because of energy costs, with people's jobs being cut and useful services reduced from it, not only did I see windows open (though fewer than there used to be), I alo saw hundreds of lights on in places they were utterly unneeded. Alongside windows especially, they are worse than useless, making computer screens and anything else read actually more difficult to comprehend. Yet they blaze away.
I also saw hundreds of vehicles idling, many unoccupied, and the bigger the more likely. We need some more thieves (to raise a risk for the polluters to a level that they might notice), and better, some more common sense. The desire to run vehicles going nowhere is tied to the unwillingness to have interior spaces at temperatures reasonable for the season, and to dress appropriately, as well as to unawareness of consequences. It is both health and economic stupidity.
A number of years ago, I was fascinated to uncover a sea change among some of those that pay the most attention to health. Hospitals had long been kept quite warm in winter, on the quasi-logical pretense that patients would respond better, especially since they often had to be lightly or wholly unclad. Experiments then found that operating room survival rates increased dramatically with cooler temperatures. Now they are quite chill by comparison, helping both patients and their working staffs, with temperatures similar or below our home. Other area temperatures have also been reduced, although from experience not as far as they should be for optima, in part because testing is much more difficult. I have no doubt that results would be the same, althought the summer situation could be more complex.
On a larger scale for me, it's both fascinating and frightening to see how many of the values that I moved west to find nearly forty years ago have vanished. Less crowding by humans, natural vegetation, clear air, skies dark enough at night to see the glory of the stars, no salt on the roads to melt vehicles, emphasis on outdoor work that led people to dress appropriately for the seasons, and notions of frugality and smallness of facilities that led people to celebrate goods for their longevity and contact with one another.
1 December 2004
Was awake last night for a while thinking about the Bushies’ latest destructive lie to try to see action. After 9/11, W said one of the few rational things during his administration, that more money needed to go to rail transportation. Now his lemmings want to cut Amtrak’s “unprofitable” long routes. The particular irony of that news reports comes about because it so closely followed one about thousands being disrupted by an “FAA equipment failure” during a storm in Reno. That the support of the FAA, which is many, many times what goes to Amtrak, does not come from the airlines, but is an expensive form of subsidy for them, goes almost totally unremarked.
That subsidy, of course, is just one among many, not least the direct ones in the past two years, which alone exceeded in each year the total over Amtrak’s entire history. Amtrak could carry far more passengers than it does; they still do not keep track of the ones that they turn away because they do not have the cars to carry them. Try to book a sleeper reservation during any high season, especially at the last minute, and see about running empty! But cut connections still further, and see what that does to the utility of the system. There are all too many sad examples from the past. Remember in this that rails are vastly more fuel efficient, and less at least potentially less disruptive -- and safer -- than any other current travel alternative.
What Amtrak needs is substantial help to achieve their nearly infinite potential, not another kick in the cojones. They have to put up with grade crossings where the slowing and dangers are not their fault; being subservient to freight traffic; poor track beds and other outdated equipment; among so many other limitations, including years of incompetant management. They remain superior to their competition despite all that: I am both a frequent flier, ready to cash in enough miles to squeeze for free into one of the grossly uncomfortable aluminum tubes all the way to Europe, and as an American have driven too many miles on our overcrowded and deadly roads -- but I have also traveled nearly 11,000 miles by rail this year alone, so comparisons are not armchair claims!
On another subject entirely, the morning newspaper had an article about the Catholic Church whining because the Dutch were gently allowing infants who could not possibly live off life support to do what nature intended them to do. There usually is no simple traction for a response to the “moralists” who call letting folks who can no longer live viably go. It occurred to me though that by asking the question of what is the difference between keeping those in intense pain alive against their wishes, and/or when they no longer or never can have wishes, and torture may be one answer.
This is not to oversimplify the difficulties of a legal framework, for the many possible cases that could degenerate into true murder, particularly of older relatives for their money. But babies who cannot live, ever, without massive (not least expensive) help, and who cannot ever be comfortable? Extreme cruelty, as in the case of forcing raped women to bear their rapists’ progeny, including permanent damage to their physical as well as mental health, should never come within the boundaries of legitimate morality. Let the Pope and other so-called Christians suffer themselves if they want to, but just why force innocent children or mind-cleansed adults to suffer beyond their capability to believe for twistings of theology?
29 November 2004
Spent part of the day finishing digging out from the first big snow dump of the season. It’s gorgeous, as long as one doesn’t look at the mess on the roads; the pollution hasn’t built far enough to reach up here yet. That the roads are useless to anyone with any sense comes from subtle points that are overlooked by the majority of fools that keep on using them. First is salt spread to melt the ice, which does not work effectively at temperatures as cold as we have today, but does continue to eat the vehicles that encounter it, like it damages everything else it touches. Not just that, but even when it does melt snow, it would be unneeded if vehicles weren’t so heavy. Our lighter cars stop and corner not just fine without it, but better. It’s the big 4x4s and their ilk, so touted in advertisements for their bad weather capabilities, that can’t, and they have become the sad majority.
The second is closely related, the plowing that can no longer clean the road surface, because of the undulations and potholes created in the pavement in strict proportion to the weight traveling over it. And vehicles have gotten dramatically heavier in the past 10 years, because of an utterly chimerical association of weight and safety. I seem to be about the only one making this particular connection, in part because corporations, and the politicians paid by them, love the immediate profits of road construction, abetted by those same overweight vehicles, which isolate their occupants from some of the effects, at least until they result in more of their occupants deaths every month than happened on the much ballyhooed 9-11. I think about the death they deal especially in moments like this one, when my beloved is out there confronting them either on foot or in her more delicate, more responsible machine, watching out the windows and noting how the heavier the personal vehicle, the less careful of road conditions, realistic stopping distances, stop signs, and virtually any other measure of safe driving their operators tend to be.
All this ties back to my upbringing that tied in turn to simplifying religions, with many ancestors in such groups as the Mennonites and other get back to basics types. I was deeply fascinated by the Amish, but eventually realized a cardinal flaw that I continually run afoul of, that those who try to simplify, to be more responsible environmentally and less greedy get run over by those who don’t have such scruples. The Amish have to deal with all the negatives of petroleum vehicles: their pervasive noise, fumes, and dangers to less intrusive road users. They add themselves the impacts of unconstrained reproduction, of course, doubling the whammy, in part from refusing to learn mathematics and other sciences (not that supposedly better educated Utahans have the necessary clues…).
Where it leaves me is back at what to do. Europeans used to live more lightly, but continue buying into the same stupid heavy stuff used by Americans. Thoughtless greed can’t be gotten away from, it seems. In all fairness, they did some pretty horrible stuff themselves even when they were living more lightly, making my own questions even more difficult to answer.
24 November 2004
Walking on another gloomy, heavily polluted morning, after having recently finished Robert Graves Goodbye to All That about WWI, and entering a narrow canyon, I finally came to understand Tolkien’s placing of the elves as often living in such places, or ever underground. When the world turns threatening, as it did so violently in the trenches, and somewhat less so, but nevertheless unpleasantly when seen from the high benches here, retreat within more or less solid walls does provide surcease, no matter how much one may appreciate the sky and the stars. Our air here, seen though from a distance, is frightfully foul, and the gravel and other traffic that makes it so is fearfully noisy as well. As one snakes up the canyon, noise, destructive ugliness, and the weakness of the air itself all become less apparent. One can more easily concentrate again on the remaining beauty.
Standing high amidst the landscape has more potential for inclusiveness, for range of things to be seen, so I have always been drawn to it. As humans pull wider beauty down through their greed for ephemeral “order”, that innate desire has to be tempered with an understanding of what will then be seen and heard. Hiding a bit does not make one safe from what is going on, but it can make it seem more pleasant. The rub comes with how most people do this, assuming that by pulling the curtains what is wrong outside does indeed go away and can no longer hurt them.
23 November 2004
Yesterday’s local newspaper had a diatribe in which “intentional childlessness” was in the list of serious societal sins, headed with homosexuality, abortion, and divorce, as in need of more intensive regulation (i.e., outlawing and active persecution). This made me aware of how much difference in my thinking one book made, reading as an undergraduate, Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. Of course, all but a few of the know-nothings that voted for Bush and want more of his kind of ignorant “morality” have not read a book of any kind, especially recently. The few that have confine their literary explorations to those vetted by self-blinkered fellow travelers.
A phrase, “upscale favelas”, popped into my mind while showering last night for the contemporary suburbs I had been troubled by driving through recently. These differ greatly from the early edition that I grew up in, where true open space, of many ecological types, was never more than two blocks away. Early on, there was a working farm just over the back fence. No one spread poisons on their lawns, or created the associated sonic and fume cacophony that now tries so hard to keep every yard purely artificial. There were no dogs ruthlessly kept on chains or in cages. Kids, too, ran free, literally and figuratively (although more or less quietly watched over by adults), and could walk to little, friendly, neighborhood stores in any of several directions. Auto traffic was a small fraction of what it now is, and trucks of any size were both rare and careful. We even had a huckster in the summer months, who slowly brought fresh vegetables around, like the ice-cream and potato chip guys.
Yes, the air was bad from the factories, but they employed our parents, and made for better conditions than the same work and planetary output now does from China (or even Wyoming). But more people read, seriously, and the encouragement to do so, and to learn from people who knew the most, led me to find out how the world really works. Even TV tried hard at first to be balanced its views, uncover the latest in science, and explain what it meant for us all. It eventually taught me that there are already way too many humans, that we are not all that different from our fellow species in either value or innate behavior, and what would most make us different in the way religious fanatics would like it to be would be for us to have more restraint in both our impacts and our numbers. That lead to cleaning up the air some, which actually made those factories more profitable, enough so that they were gobbled up and destroyed by greedy corporate executives.
The science, and the teaching to observe directly and carefully, also taught me that succumbing to fanaticism and disbelief in irretrievable consequences of acts was by far a more likely outcome than rationally dealing with the problems we as a species have created, and that we would pass a threshold shortly after the millennium such that overall quality of life would spectacularly deteriorate. That prophecy seems to remain directly on track. Am I all that immoral for refusing to contribute to the destruction of the planet that I have come to love?
I also can’t help but wonder whether there is a significant connection with the imprisoned dogs, which did not occur in my youth and are so common where we now live, and the mental compulsions towards other humans. I learned so much from the one dog that shared her life with me, watching her attitudes towards the world around, and her explorations. Sure, I could have learned by having children, too, but not about similarities and differences to and with other life forms. Thinking that it isn’t necessary to care about anything non-human, or even different thinking human, seems reasonably correlated. If one doesn’t ask, one finds fewer honest answers.
The inclusion of increasing hysteria over abortion, and the very real possibility of its total outlawing, is particularly ironic given the Esquire article about Steven Levitt, professor of economics at the University of Chicago (p. 224, October 2004), who postulates that the observed drop in violent crime during the past 10 or so years is more than half accounted for statistically by the increased abortion of unwanted children following Roe vs. Wade.
Unwanted children do not only make lives miserable for themselves and their parents, they consistently and seriously affect wider society as well. Very possibly, much is not most of the other half, the incredibly huge imprisoned human population, are a product of anti-abortionists and their propaganda. Just what moral virtue is there in bringing about virtually certain suffering? It is then perversely funny to find those who punish women, and the rest of us, by restricting abortion are perfectly willing to kill an unwanted child when the inevitable happens and those children grown up murder someone.
This, too, ties to the twisting of the revolutionary words, “all men are created equal”, about which Prince Charles is the latest receiver of flack for commenting that all men do not wind up being equally qualified for all jobs (let alone my own research about including machines under that false equality blanket). We have a classic example of an intellectually unqualified man just being reelected to this nation’s highest job – and the whole world will suffer.
2 November 2004
Books (and higher quality magazines) are and always have been a central part of my life. I follow my father in that, including his intense eclecticism, mixing classics, hard science, history, art, photography, with escapism of thrillers, fantasy and science fiction, among other topics like philosophy, other cultural descriptions, and religion. Unlike most people, this reading has continued, even expanded. My dad was fascinated by radio, and brought TV into our home in 1949, when there was but one local station, and I was 2 years old. My parents did control how much time we spent at it, and shared most of what viewing was done. Starting with the experiment at its newest and possibly best made it particularly easy to give up for the most part 40 years later.
This reading makes continual surprising interfaces. Yesterday I wrote a bit about consciously not having children. In the evening I encountered this passage about the Pacific Northwest pre-Columbian societies: “The myths thus put two codes in a relationship of correspondence: incest and the rejection of or dissatisfaction with procreation, kinds of antisocial behavior, have their equivalent in the natural order where extreme modalities of turbulence and immobility can also be observed.” Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Way of Masks, in a translation quoted by Jonathan Raban, 1999, Passage to Juneau, Pantheon Books, NY, p. 36. My thoughts were of once again being considered the deviant, or at least the fringe, and then of what happens when the social survival paradigm changes, as when population levels reach unsustainable levels, rarely a problem when one had to gain a living from a violent sea using hand carved canoes.
1 November 2004
A key in appreciating both my future and interactions with the rest of humanity was my choice to knowingly marry a woman who did not wish to bring children into this world, largely from a view that humans are too destructive to all other species and to the planet itself. This meshed with my own views that there is too small likelihood of sufficient response to the problems we have and continue to create to avoid a desperately ugly future for those younger than our own generation. We have had the best lives humans ever are likely to have, unless there is a most unlikely rescue. Too many of us are reflected by George W. Bush, with the attitude that the future can cope with whatever we hand them, or after millennia of disappointments being rescued by some sort of messiah, instead of people like myself who deeply believe that serious restraint and care are utterly vital, and a much more likely possibility, for a non-catastrophic tomorrow.
Of course, as one far more aware of history than most, I am also aware that there have been doomsayers in most, if not all, preceding generations, honestly expecting theirs to be the best and last. Never before, though, has a group had both the advantages of energy and harvested resources to live extraordinarily well, or the human numbers and impacts of those resources to have such massive planet-wide consequences. Ours has an overwhelming probability to create a singularity, with a small chance to dramatically bettering circumstances, and an extremely large one of spectacular collapses of both human society and planetary support. Much like Sampson, we take the temple with us as we fall.
My most serious feeling of failure is in communicating widely enough and well enough what I have learned about what we have been doing, and how we could emerge from it with less pain for ourselves and all others, human and beyond. Unlike the oversimplified religious approaches, mine is a do it yourself possibility, with the notation that all the widely believed religious options, if read carefully, expect people also to do the do it yourself part before that rescue becomes possible. “Caring for one’s peers” is at the heart of those religions, at the heart of judgment for who gets saved. The difficulty is extrapolating what that caring includes. I have developed an assumption that caring contains a quality of life that includes chemical impacts and those on other species, along with the very landscape itself. What we do to and for others is not constrained to bringing lunch to shut-ins.
Knowing how things work is at the heart of the message I would like to leave. Robert Pirsig’s dictim that we should appreciate how the machines we use work, because we will use them both more respectfully and well, is just the first, albeit still important, step. We need also to know what happens when we use any machine, and how choices differ, not just for the job at hand, but for neighbors, for one’s health, and further through the system, from gaining the materials to make them, to what they release and where, through what happens to them after one is finished. These are less easily subject to experiment, and require better abilities to visualize, yet as one learns more about these pathways and consequences, truly vital understandings are gained. From them, one can begin to see limits in what we know and are likely ever to know, which goes on to the more difficult, but no less important (to say the least), issues of ecosystems, soils, and global processes like climate, ice cover, and ocean currents. It may not happen for everyone, but for me it has always been that the more I genuinely know about things, the more respectful of them I become, even for the consequences of ignorance and religions.
I do throughout look for beauty as well as problems. I’ve been trying to wring a poem out of the leaves giving us, however inadvertently, that evanescent flash of glory with their fall, yet immediately giving an even more powerful promise amidst the deepening dangerous cold and gloom, with the next spring’s buds so clearly revealed.
28 October 2004
Eschewing powered machines as much as possible, especially for silly purposes like mowing grass, has left my hearing extraordinarily untouched (at least for an American). The average male is not bothered, in part, by many of the things I am because he literally can’t hear them. Voice perception is the last to go during hearing loss. On the other hand, music and natural sounds have a complexity and detail that the losers have long missed, even if they bother to try to hear something other than their machines. This subtle beauty makes up for a lot of suffering whenever I can find the place to relate to it.
This morning, I found mention of another thing I have failed to protest adequately, the establishment of a local “mosquito abatement district”, commissioned out of fear of a new disease, to spread indiscriminate poison with tax dollar funding. Malathion, the tool of choice for this, was quite literally developed as a poison targeted at humans, one of the early and aptly named nerve gases. The education that I sought out taught me about effects of chemicals in great detail, both physiologically and on the surrounding system that supports us. Malathion is only different from the rest of much of what humans do that so bothers me because its effects are a bit more obvious.
Broadcast spraying for insects not only has direct impacts on humans in its path, it also kills many creatures we would not want dead if we bothered to pay attention to their importance, not least the predators of the ones we wanted dead in the first place, thereby and invariably exacerbating even the original problem over the longer run. But it’s only one symptom of a generalized disease, of refusing to seriously consider consequences of individual acts on others. The list of should be criminal stupidities includes broadcast chemical applications (all of which never respect borders and in order to work kill things), noise, untargeted light, energy waste (from leaving lights on when no eye is there to see by them to dressing improperly for outdoor conditions and trying to make up for it by heat or air-conditioning, and on upwards to the resource consumption of excessive sized housing and vehicles), the many of large families, to the gases from always useless engine idling, and so many more. All are tied together by not caring what happens from choices either to neighbors or the wider world. Often self pays, but like the rest, with subtle connections to the original act, and distant in time. I am blessed or cursed with having learned, and having had the original ability to be able to learn how to follow these consequences especially well.
In my own life, I have tried to minimize those consequences, and to warn others who have not made the necessary effort to appreciate the problems. But I have withheld having offspring because I have no faith that enough efforts will be made to hold off catastrophe. I do hope I am wrong, but do not believe I am. The best-known overall personal footprint-reducing group in more or less recent history were the Australian aborigine, with a culture based around effective invisibility as the highest form of behavior. They, of course, were overrun by resource glutton thugs, who used their waste in part to build heavier duty weapons. That path continues, with recent observations emphasizing how faith-based, rather than reason-based groups are actively increasing thuggish behavior in hopes that destruction of the surrounding environment will bring on the biblical apocalypse, from which only they will be saved. Faith neatly abrogates either further thinking or the possibility of considering that one’s point of view might be wrong. Unfortunately these folks have become politically dominant across a wide part of this planet.
I saw these views close up during my upbringing; my mother believed to her core that Jesus would be back during her lifetime. A good point I leave for that religion was that it did emphasize asking questions, at a serious cost to its own numerical growth. Those questions led me to believe differently. She died many years ago, and if Jesus did come back, He once again has had little practical impact, with others twisting what He did say into some pretty brutal, wholly uncaring for consequences upon others, misinterpretations. The likelihood He (or any other messiah type), even should they exist as believers imagine them, would come back or otherwise selectively save planet (or even individual people) destroyers has got to rank among the very most absurd concepts of all time. And yet millions so believe, and so we all, plant, soil, animal, and human suffer incredibly and unnecessarily. This is tragedy with a capital T.
Many may wonder if I search out the bad; it is rather the reverse. I always disliked art that focused on despair or destruction, other than the child’s amusement with things being blown up. However, learning how systems work, and searching actively for beauty both uncover problems, as one finds what should not be there, or is not working right. Juxtapositions become especially strong.
I did occasionally intentionally break things as a child, like dropping plastic models out of an upstairs window onto concrete. But even then, I got at least as much initial pleasure, which lasted far longer, gluing them back together again. As with fixing cars later on (not intentionally breaking those…), I found that while most of the time, one couldn’t make them as good as they originally were, but there were occasions where with care and creativity, one could make them even better than they started out.
19 October 2004
“ I read the Bible every day, trying to keep the demons at bay;
thank God when the sun goes down I don’t blow away.”
Patty Larkin. 1993. [‘I told him my dog won’t run’, Lamartine Music (ASCAP)/Four Five Two Music (ASCAP).]
Woke again early with thoughts of what I ought to be doing with my life. It’s a back and forth between the lower, mostly self-imposed stresses of lazy mornings, work as I choose to, nice surroundings, and exceedingly low pay versus “doing something more” with my time in return for assuredly higher stress and crappier surroundings. Most people miss out on daily interaction with pleasant environments, inside or out, instead living constantly with fluorescent ugliness, brutal noise, and uncontrollably bad air. I’ve heard excellent arguments for voluntary simplicity, and live at least in part by it, eschewing both unpleasant work and pissing away so much of our natural inheritance, but still wonder if I shouldn’t be doing more, or at least be more effective in what I do do.
The destructiveness of the typical American has been brought into focus by neighbors, especially a new one, who chose to move into the rare and fragile riparian zone of this basically desert area for its original attractiveness, but then utterly demolished what was there to build something massively else, while trashing energy and other distant resources in the process, along with quite literally wasting more money than I will earn in my life to accomplish that destruction. His larger tragedy is merely fitting with what most others around do, living in their windowless religious- and advertising-driven fantasies, expecting no negative consequences (at least that will directly affect them), and seeking “comfort and convenience” instead of respect for the picture they admired in the first place. The problem is not just Utah and Mormons; the Swedes, despite so many good efforts got the third worst wasters in the world award in a new report by the World Wildlife Fund.
Several other neighbors’ wholly unused lights glared into my eyes when I looked out into the early morning rain. Going through as much as possible, material and energy, is the underlayment for the sort of joke, “the one who wins is the one who dies with the most toys”.
But almost all admit that there has been less than no proven correlation of that strategy to genuine happiness, or health. I realized although assuredly I am an accumulator, that instead of a builder of new, and a ever widening pipeline of resources into waste, I have been for the most part a mender of the existing, and a reducer of flows. The new that I do account for has almost always been with a goal of doing better, longer with less impact, knowing that this care will be reflected in quality of use for me as well. Long ago, I thought seriously of going into medicine as a rewarding way of spending a life, but wanted to take a greater chance on wider learning and giving. The phrase that goes to the heart of what I have tried is indeed “healer”, but of things and surroundings.
I realized that our property is the only one in the area to have genuinely improved during the 12 years we have been here. It was brutally raped when the house was built, 15 years before our purchase, and had precious little help, aside from some thankfully planted trees, in that interim. It now has more native plants over more area (but fewer problem types), more overall species, and has become visually and functionally more interesting, as has the house itself. I assuredly have not done all I would like, but one of the nice parts of letting nature alone is that she works with one. No, the grass is not closely trimmed, nor are the shrubs, and I have found that the windows kill fewer birds if they are left unpolished. On the other hand, unlike most people, I do look out them, and like most of what I see, at least the parts I can keep from the destructive change that is taking place beyond our boundaries. I cannot change all that, but at least do some small things for a future.
Once again, the funny part is that the world I am building is exactly the one the others still seek themselves. It is where they haul their huge trailers to spend weekends and vacations, and is on the pictures they hand on their walls (next to their closed curtains over the windows they never look out of); rightly fleeing in their imaginations from the messes they have made of their own nesting sites, and going to the beauty that only nature can create. The tragedy lies in not understanding that they too could have what they instinctively want immediately around them, with so much less effort than they put into working for their expensive “toys”, and in assembling their horrendous artificiality.
I do not want to reenter the routinely commuting world. Too little about it is worthwhile, or at least could not be done more rationally. This does not mean that I couldn’t make better use of time out here than trying to write essays like this one, which has taken so much input cost for a state of the art, lowest-energy computer, with little financial return. Typing is bad for my back and arthritic hands. Words made this way are particularly ephemeral – but do I really want to try for something “permanent” – moderns do no better than Ozymandus, with vastly enhanced collateral damager in their attempts.
Looking again at our property after breakfast, I must admit to seeing more problems than I would like. However, the many dead branches and whole trees are primarily a product of air pollution and drift-in chemicals, compounded by six years of global-warming-exacerbated drought and record heat, with a kicker than in the midst of that drought, our stream was dried up for a period – to provide irrigation water for a deadly golf course. The question of how humans can live from more natural landscapes has been one I’ve provided what thoughts and data that I could through my life so far. The failure of this information to communicate is only in part my own fault.
So where does this rambling go towards what I should try for next? In the mailbox was another of the unrequested catalogs that we, as big box store avoiders, routinely receive, this one for “lawyers and other professionals”. It did make a career point, from a motto of physicians, “first do no harm”. Most people would do something else with their lives if they paid attention to that one; it goes a long way beyond simple applicability to treatments. Consider just the roar of vehicles outside our home, at the moment at least equal to standing near our meter wide stream, since the nearest even moderate sized road (by current standards) is nearly 2 miles distant. Then, most of the folks thereupon are not wearing coats on a freezing morning, indicating their homes, offices, and whatever are grossly overheated (as well as surely overlit, and that not from windows) – above and beyond what they are doing out there, and why.
I would like to be able to reach through to more of them. Others nearby have lately gotten involved in the controversy I spent a couple years actively fighting about, gravel extraction, because this time the proposed mine and line of trucks was nearer to them. I was looking at the dimensions of my car a couple of days ago, and realized that its five foot width, plenty adequate for the 2 who ever sit comfortably abreast in any vehicle, would allow roadways less than half the width what are now being built. Changing from typical present over fatness would reduce gravel demands by more than half, without other change. It would, of course, have many other benefits. But where is the practical mechanism for doing that reaching? It’s worth even more to those who have children than to me with none, so there ought to be recompense, beyond doing less harm.
Just having been for a walk, and after 10 minutes of empty road, encountering a “full sized” pickup truck, I realized again how difficult it is to communicate my views to others. Most Americans live in incredibly noisy and otherwise artificial environments; it’s hard to appreciate just how separated we have become from natural backgrounds without being able to place the two in full juxtaposition, and so realize just how immensely out of whack big machines are to living things. Where I have been able to live most of my adult life, one can really tell how a single gasoline lawnmower is louder than almost any natural sound within a circle at least a half mile in diameter. I have been places where one could hear a single, well-muffled car fully 20 miles away, where after viewing the stars with full night adaptation, the waste from a single “yard light” 10 miles distant could best be described as a “pimple on the face of God”. Where I now live, I can literally hear the hammers of “progress” that will all too shortly more thoroughly and immediately surround me again.
Text, Design, and Images © 2004 by Terence
all rights reserved -
further distribution or postings in any form without written permission is strictly forbidden -
however, hotlinks to what you find interesting are encouraged, as is feedback
Created 1 December 2004; updated as of the lead entry.
yorksite homepage / origins / current blog / projects / education / experience / publications / quotations / web trolls