Sunday, July 14, 2019
written 7 July 2019
published 14 July 2019
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." On the 243rd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it's time for a quick update to see how we are doing.
The Republican Supreme Court supports partisan gerrymandering, corporate personhood, and big money in politics, while refusing to uphold voter rights, thus gutting the core of our democratic system to maintain their party in power.
America, the largest global weapons exporter, spends more on war than the next four nations combined, leaving less money for social issues. We are a global bully, creating ill will with few results. North Korean negotiations have stalled. Trump unilaterally welched on the international nuclear deal with Iran and applied ruinous sanctions. The results are increased Iranian uranium enrichment, the risk of regional, even nuclear, war, and oil price chaos. So, he held a military parade.
America takes five times our share of global resources, but Trump, desiring more, started a tariff war with China, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. This middle-class tax hike risks global recession. The stock market has stalled for 18 months. The corporate tax giveaway did not stimulate the economy or pay for itself. Three men control half the wealth in America, and homelessness is endemic. Unemployment is low, but wages are stagnant, and artificial intelligence is going to eliminate even more jobs. Housing prices are declining, long term bond rates have inverted, and the Fed is preparing for the next crash.
American health care is more expensive, and covers fewer people, than other developed countries. Opioids kill thousands while making big Pharma billionaires. Chemical and radioactive contamination of our air, food, and water has caused cancer rates to double, and childhood cancers, once rare, are now a leading cause of death. Monsanto has lost three multi-million dollar lawsuits claiming Roundup causes cancer, and thousands more are pending. Glyphosate, the active ingredient, is wide spread, found in most people's blood, and even in rain water. Plastic trash has been found everywhere from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the peak of Mount Everest. Plastic gyres exist in all the oceans, and microscopic plastic particles are found in our blood, where they act as hormone disruptors and sites for bacterial growth.
Atmospheric CO2 content passed 415 ppm, last seen 3 million years ago when the sea level was 100 feet higher. July temperatures in Anchorage hit 90° and the mid-west is still flooded. The heavy runoff washed nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a larger than normal dead zone. Insect populations have declined 40% and starving sea birds and grey whales are dying, washing onto west coast beaches. The California fire season has started, and PG&E plans to cut power for five days at a time, creating a third world power system in the world's fifth largest economy.
This spring, the Arctic ice field is melting early, allowing shipping through the Northwest Passage. Climate change currently cost the American economy $350B per year, and Wall Street is beginning to pay attention. Scientists tell us we have a decade to cut our emissions by 50% if we want to avoid near term human extinction. But Trump and his anti-science Republican supporters, insisting climate change is a hoax, are working full time to destroy environmental regulations and renewable subsidies, while funding economic and environmental losers like the coal and nuclear industry. The Democratic National Committee isn't much better, as climate change received only 15 minutes of discussion in four hours of debate.
Our country was founded on noble ideals, if incompletely achieved, rooted in a vision of unity. Like other attempts to evolve our species, these ideals have been hijacked for the short-term profit of a very few, now risking the fate of our species. I am proud of America's goals, but sad to see how far we have to go. Even in the face of the threat of extinction, it is important to declare again what we stand for, and work to become our best. That is the true American way.
Sunday, July 7, 2019
written 1 July 2019
published 7 July 2019
Our experience of separation seems validated by the material world, which appears as parts.
Atom, coming from a Greek word meaning "uncuttable", defines the smallest indivisible part of an element. Classical Newtonian physics views atoms as discrete and specific, like very tiny billiard balls. One gram of hydrogen contains 600 billion trillion atoms. But deeper investigation of atoms shows they are made of parts that are even smaller, and rather than being solid, atoms are relatively empty.
A hydrogen atom, the simplest of atoms, has a single proton in the middle and one electron defining a sphere surrounding it. If the proton was as large as a bowling ball, the electron would be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, located almost 3 miles away from the bowling ball, enclosing an empty spherical volume of 99 cubic miles.
Looking more closely, material reality becomes even stranger. The proton and the electron of the hydrogen atom contain all the mass of the atom, but we now know that mass is condensed energy, from Einstein's famous equation, E=MC2. As I mentioned in a previous article, the mass equivalence energy of a full bottle of Boont Amber beer is 13 megatons of TNT, 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. So, every speck of mass represents a large amount of energy. But the very structure of space/time, even when empty of mass, contains an even greater amount of energy, called zero-point energy.
I first came across the concept reading Physicist David Bohm in the 80's. He presented that a cubic centimeter of space/time contained as much energy as the mass equivalence energy of the entire Universe, an extremely large number. This suggested that, despite representing a huge energy equivalence at the human scale, the presence of mass is really a very small fluctuation in the total energy field.
At the time, I was working at the University of California, San Diego, and called the physics department for further information. The researcher tasked with answering calls from the general public was very polite, and confirmed my understanding of the fundamental concept. Many years later, I was on a cruise up the inland passage to Alaska, and two of our dining table companions happened to be theoretical physicists. I sat with them one afternoon and got further clarification, and information that zero-point energy had been verified in experiments.
In the quantum view of reality, matter is not a specific "thing", but a distribution of probability which has no sharp edges. At the edge of detection, matter seems to appear as a froth, "manifesting" out of nothing and disappearing again very quickly. This frothing was used to detect black holes, demonstrating their physical reality, which had previously been a theoretical consideration.
The material world is now understood as an exceedingly fine ripple structure on the surface of a vast energy ocean. What we experience is the shape of this energy surface, where each apparent speck of matter is a small relative increase of energy perceived against the entirety of the ocean. But in our macroscopic experience of the world, matter seems to endure in time, and can be arranged to serve some form of purpose. How might this work?
The Newtonian world view assumes that matter is the ground of reality, and consciousness is a result of material complexity, specifically in the brain. There is growing evidence in quantum research that this is backwards: that consciousness is the ground of reality and the material world is an object within consciousness, like a dream we perceive. Matter may be a four dimensional, space/time surface, existing within a higher dimensional volume that is conscious. To bring it down to something we can actually imagine, if matter is like the surface of an ocean, the shape of matter might be created by patterns in consciousness, similar to wind blowing over the ocean surface, creating surface shape, but not part of the surface. Matter may be a consequence of conscious intention, which answers the question of how it can seem to endure, and serve a purpose. All of a sudden, the New Age aphorism that "we create our own reality" might not be limited to just perception.
Monday, July 1, 2019
written 23 June 2019
published 1 July 2019
President Trump is not the problem. Climate change, wealth inequity, chemical contamination, misogyny, racism, religious fundamentalist, another stupid war in the Middle East: none are the problem. They are but symptoms of the same problem: the belief is the perception of separation. You see what you believe.
The text of "A Course In Miracles" describes it thus. "Perception selects, and makes the world you see. It literally picks it out as the mind directs. What you look for you are far more likely to discover. Perception is a choice and not a fact. On the sights you choose to see, depends your whole belief in what you are." If you choose to see separation, "you will see yourself as tiny, vulnerable and afraid. You will experience depression and a sense of worthlessness. You will believe that you are helpless prey to forces beyond your control. It is your faith that makes reality." Choose instead to see the unity of the world.
I was educated in the tradition of western scientific investigation of reality. Material atomism, defining primary parts, and reductive analysis, where large systems are broken into smaller pieces, are core assumptions, which seem relatively accurate. This powered the industrial revolution, transforming the planet. A century ago, western science evolved quantum mechanics, which showed the world to be whole and fundamentally irreducible. It also brought consciousness into the center of investigation as a causative force. What you pay attention to shifts. The observer and the observed are effectively connected. The repercussions of this shift are still evolving in western civilization.
Classical physics assume that space and time are the ground of reality, a stable stage upon which matters plays. But modern physics has shown that as one approaches the speed of light, time contracts to the point that there is no time at all when moving at the speed of light. From the point of view of a photon, a unit of energy that can only travel at the speed of light, it leaves the sun and arrives at a solar collector on Earth at the same time, and experiences no distance. From our point of view, it took over 8 minutes to travel 93 million miles. Photons bind the Universe together, instantaneously from their perspective, suggesting a fundamental unity, despite our perspective.
Light travels a path of least time, described by Fermat's Principle. When traveling in a constant material, that path is a straight line. However, traveling through a mixed media, with different transit speeds, for instance water and air, the path of least time is bent, and calculated as the angle of refraction. Imagine a life guard rushing to a drowning person. The quickest path is not to swim directly to the person, but to run along the beach until the path through the water is the shortest, as that will take the least amount of time. A photon travels a similar path, minimizing the time in the slower media, to make the overall path the shortest in time. But the life guard knows both his location and the location of the swimmer before starting on his path, allowing for the least time. Since the photon is already at the end point when it "starts", perhaps it also knows both the starting and end points. Eastern scientific investigation of reality has long known the unity of the world, and the primacy of consciousness as a creative force.
Once we open our mind to the perspective of unity, there are a couple of simple practices which help. The first is gratitude, which is giving thanks for all that you have already received, as opposed to praying for what you want in the future. As you expand awareness of what is already working in your life, the difficult parts are tempered. The other practice is to be in the moment as often as possible. The only part of time that is real is now, this moment. All the rest is story, just concept, still being considered in the now. A photon is always in the now, and is connected to the universe. Perhaps we can be as well, and the world would be a more pleasant place to thrive.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
written 16 June 2019
published 23 June 2019
The recent plan by PG&E to shut down the grid to prevent wildfires demands considering what a power resilient community would look like.
Calistoga experienced several weeks of lost power during the Tubbs fire in 2017. Even though it never burned into the town, businesses lost revenue, schools were closed, residents lost perishables, and there was great uncertainty about duration of the shutdown. In response, the city has funded a study to design a stand-alone micro grid, using solar and geothermal sources, combined with battery storage, allowing critical parts of the city to function even when the grid is down.
Montecito has come to the same micro grid conclusion resulting from their experience with the Thomas fire the same year. They are exploring a system where phase one would power the Fire and Water department headquarters, key wells and pumps, and emergency centers and supply facilities, defined as the local school, a small market, a gas station, a bank, and the post office. Phase two would expand the system to include a large grocery store and pharmacy, the sanitation district and several restaurants.
Unlike Calistoga, Ukiah has no local geothermal source, but there are two small generators (1 MW & 2.5 MW) at the Lake Mendocino dam, which could become the foundation for an emergency micro grid for the City. At best, this would cover a portion of the 300 MWhrs consumed on an average day, depending of water levels behind the dam. But in an emergency, a little power is much better than none at all. The existing city grid configuration is not designed to power specific facilities in an emergency, but that could be changed.
At a minimum, phase one should include essential city services, such as Fire, Police, and Sheriff headquarters, and especially their respective communication centers. City water and sewer headquarters, and all the wells, pumps, and treatment facilities should be included. The City has yet to clarify what part of the water and sewer system can work with no grid power, or how long their backup generators can function, or if they can power the entire system. Even if these diesel generators are adequate, we will be shifting from a normal of 70% green power to 100% brown power during a grid shutdown, which is not sustainable. A power down could happen during a triple digit heat event, requiring one or more emergency cooling centers, also helping people with medical needs that require power.
This bare minimum might be provided with a city grid redesign, powered by local hydro power, existing backup generators, and some added battery storage in key locations. But PG&E reports there could be as many as 20 shutdowns a season, some lasting for several days. The disruption to the community, and the economic losses incurred, will be significant. Unfortunately, the way the climate is trending, 20 shutdowns a season might become a low estimate. A power resilient community could be designed to thrive despite intermittent power.
Ideally, every home and business would have the capacity to collect and store power as it is available, wired to power critical circuits during a grid emergency.
Grocery stores and gas stations would have rooftop and parking lot solar arrays, with onsite power storage, allowing some functions to continue during a power shutdown. Businesses, particularly restaurants and banks, would also have collectors and storage to allow them to continue to serve the population during an emergency, as would schools and the hospital. Since phone communication is essential for fire preparedness, all cell towers would need to operate during a grid shutdown.
Our current system was built expecting power be available as needed, so we must re-build our systems to respond to this new normal. Electricity is so cheap and plentiful we waste it, but we can survive on much less for short durations. We don't need to create local systems to provide normal daily consumption. Only a fraction will be required, but it will make the difference between economic chaos with life-threatening disruptions, and a viable, resilient community.
This won't happen overnight, and the cost will be significant, but the cost of doing nothing will be even higher, so we need to start now.
Sunday, June 16, 2019
written 9 June 2019
published 16 June 2019
After WWI, France and England divided up the Arabian Peninsula, which had been controlled by the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. Neither country wanted to occupy any part of the region, but supported individual tribal leaders to act as their agents. One of those chosen was Ibn Saud, who went on to defeat local rivals, consolidate territory, and form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. Eight years later, vast oil reserves were discovered in eastern reaches of the country. These fields were brought into production by American oil companies a few years later as WWII began, generating enormous wealth for the Saud ruling family.
Shortly after the prophet Muhammad died in 632, a dispute over succession split Islam into two denominations, Sunni and Shia. Both revere the Quran as the literal words of the prophet, but there are differences in the interpretation, which have led to violent conflict over time, much like the Catholic/Protestant division. Approximately 85% of the world's Muslims are Sunni, but Shia are majority in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and Iran are the current leaders of their respective denominations, and the religious dispute is played out in their geopolitics.
Two centuries ago, an ultra-conservative Sunni preacher formed Wahhabism, with very narrow, inflexible interpretations of Islam, and aligned himself with the Saud family for mutual political gain. As the Saud family gained power and wealth, so did Wahhabism. After WWII, oil revenues helped spread the message throughout the Islamic world using books, media, schools, universities and mosques. Like other rigid religious fundamentalists, Wahhabism has no tolerance for other religious belief, and is particularly harsh with regard to Shia Islam, which it regards as heretical. Within Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism controls the education, law, and public morality courts, in exchange for ignoring the flagrant disregard of these mores by the ruling family.
When American domestic oil production peaked in 1972, control of the price of oil shifted to Saudi Arabia. A year later came the first oil boycott against the US for supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur war, which quadrupled the price of oil. To get oil flowing again, America made a deal to supply economic aid, modern weapons, and military training. In return, Saudi Arabia would demand that oil be sold in dollars alone, giving the US an enormous economic advantage, and those dollars were deposited in American banks.
Although Saudi Arabian oil wealth continued to grow, it was unevenly distributed within the country. Currently, the Royal family is estimated to contain 15,000 people, with a total net worth of over $1 trillion, ruling a country of 32 million people with a per capita worth of $21K. Popular discontent at this inequity is controlled within Saudi Arabia by the Wahhabist religious structure, but outrage has exploded into action around the world in the form of terrorism against the western economies, particularly American, that fund this arrangement. The majority of Islamic terrorist groups in the world are Sunni, inspired and funded by Wahhabism with Saudi oil money. The five deadliest are all Sunni: Al Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram.
America's addiction to oil caused us to align ourselves with Saudi Arabia decades ago, and we continue to pay a huge price for that alignment. With no stake in the Sunni/Shia schism ourselves, we automatically take the Sunni side in the conflict with Iran. Ignoring Saudi Wahhabist cultivation of terrorists, we vilify Iran as a "terrorist" state. We recently sold the Saudi's advanced weapons worth $7 billion and Trump is giving them nuclear technology, while sanctioning Iran for its own nuclear development. Our weapons kill children in the Sunni/Shia conflict in Yemen, and even though Congress voted to end involvement in that war, it continues to this day.
While we are loath to think of America terrorizing parts of the world, we should at least take a look at what our "allies" are doing with our blessing. Not only do we lose moral standing with the rest of the world, but these attacks kill Americans as well. Surely there is more to our country than exporting weapons and endless war in exchange for oil, which is changing the climate and killing our children's future.
Sunday, June 9, 2019
written 2 June 2019
published 9 June 2019
Misuse of antibiotics eliminates moderate and beneficial strains, insuring virulent varieties thrive. A similar problem occurs in geopolitics.
For 2500 years the Persian culture has occupied the crossroads between Asia and Europe now known as Iran. Despite being invaded and occupied by numerous other cultures, it still endures. Independence was granted by the Allies after WWII, with a constitutional monarchy and an elected parliament.
Oil was discovered in 1908, which British Petroleum developed, while keeping the profits. In 1951 the popular prime minister nationalized the oil fields. A British supported coup against the prime minister was put down in August 1953, and the Shah went into exile. One month later, a coup organized by the CIA returned the Shah to power, who handed the oil resources to American oil companies.
American foreign policy supports hard line governments in regions of "interest", for American corporate advantage. The Shah of Iran became our agent in the middle East, building the strongest military in the region. Aggressive repression of dissent by US trained secret police created a radical religious reaction. In January 1978, popular demonstrations began, the Shah fled the country, and Iran became an Islamic Republic in April 1979.
Iran demanded $2B deposited in American banks be returned, which the banks didn't have on hand. The US government helped by admitting the Shah into the country for cancer treatment in October 1979, expecting a reaction from Iran. One week later students overran the US embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage and the US froze Iranian bank accounts and other assets. In a cynical piece of geopolitics, the Reagan election committee made a deal with Iran. In exchange for arms, Iran agreed to stall negotiations for the release of the hostages for 444 days, until after the 1980 presidential election, which helped Reagan defeat Carter.
The same year, taking advantage of Iranian turmoil, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein launched a surprise invasion. To punish Iran for deposing our pet middle East dictator, the US backed Hussein, making him our new agent in the region. After eight years, the war ended with borders back where they started. One million Iranian had died, many from chemical weapons supplied by the US, further cementing Iranian hatred for America.
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, America pulled together a coalition which defeated Iraq in such short order it disturbed other nations in the region.
To protect itself from America's thirst for violent regime change, Iran began to expand their nuclear program with Russian help, which increased further after the second Iraqi invasion in 2003. America responded with crippling economic sanctions.
By 2007, Israel wanted to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, but American strategists were concerned this would bring the US into the conflict while we were still bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush knew there was little public support for another war. Working with Israel, the US secretly attacked the Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities with a sophisticated computer virus. This plan delayed the Iranian program for a year, but was bungled. The virus spread worldwide and became public, making a sophisticated weapon available to everyone including the Iranians. A cyber weapons attack on infrastructure was unprecedented, and by doing it first, America normalized such behavior.
In late 2013, Iran signed a deal with nuclear powers China, Russia, England, and the US, putting a verifiable cap on their enrichment program in exchange for removing economic sanctions. In 2018, to spite Obama and bolster his own ego, Trump unilaterally welched on the deal, ignoring reports from other countries that Iran was complying. Trump re-imposed harsh sanctions on Iran, threatening the world if they didn't follow his lead. We haven't resolved our last middle East war yet, but National Security Advisor Bolton has ratcheted up tension in the Persian Gulf, ignoring the fact that disruption of oil shipments could crash the US economy.
Like presidents before him, Trump thinks American is supposed to be the only meddling bully on the planet, and resents competition or defiance. In addition, he knows that a foreign war is a good distraction from his growing domestic problems. Iran has suffered American aggression and domination for 70 years, but we call them "terrorists".
Sunday, June 2, 2019
written 26 May 2019
published 2 June 2019
At the request of citizens, the County voted to form a Climate Advisory Committee. While I agree that another $100,000 director is a questionable first priority, I was disappointed to see the local cynics pile on to kill the messenger. Denigrating people for concern about climate change is arrogant foolishness masquerading as cleverness. Fortunately, reality has given us a real issue to consider: PG&E plans to shut down the gird this summer to prevent wildfires.
For decades, PG&E has deferred infrastructure maintenance to boost executive salaries and shareholder returns. The last two fire seasons have demonstrated the bankruptcy of this plan. To avoid incurring further liabilities, PG&E has instituted a plan for preemptive grid shutdown whenever there is a red flag weather advisory. This strategy has been used successfully for several years by Southern California Edison, in conjunction with investments to measure weather conditions, model fire behavior, and reorganize the grid to make a strategic shutdown with minimal disruption. Coming late to the game, PG&E has made none of these investments, so our grid shutdown will be less graceful.
With few exceptions, the electricity used in Mendocino County is shipped over long distance transmission lines owned by PG&E. Fire Chief Jennings reported at the recent FireSafe council meeting that PG&E estimated these lines could be shut down as many as 20 times during the fire season. The company plans to give notice 24 hours beforehand. A shutdown could be for as little as 12 hours, but could last a few days. Regulations require that a transmission line be visually inspected before being re-energized to avoid starting a fire with damaged equipment.
We count on having electricity 24/7 in our homes and workplaces for cooking, lighting, refrigeration, air conditioning, communication, entertainment, water delivery and sewage disposal. The new normal will be intermittent electricity, just like a third world country. Because of the short notice, we are unprepared and this summer could be rough, like an unexpected camping trip. As individuals, and as a community, we should begin planning now.
PG&E has a web page with some suggestions: https://prepareforpowerdown.com. The following information and suggestions were presented to the FireSafe groups. PG&E shutdown notice will be by NIXLE alert (cell phones) and Sheriff MendoAlert (emails & cells). When you receive a notice, charge your cell phones, and fill your cars with gas. If you have garage door openers, park cars outside the garage. Most gas stations and food stores don't have backup power, and the few that do will have limited supplies. Consider what makes sense to purchase in advance. Have cash on hand as the banking system may not function during the shutdown. When the grid goes down, cell towers may go down as well, so a transistor radio with batteries, or a crank powered radio, is a good option. Consider solar-powered or crank-powered lights, and flashlights with extra batteries. People on oxygen should have an extra cylinder on hand. People with other health needs must consider their alternatives and prepare. Business owners should decide what functions can still be provided, if any.
The City of Ukiah is working to set up cooling stations, as a shutdown may happen during high daytime temperatures. If there is enough water behind the dam, the hydroelectric plant at Lake Mendocino can power the Ukiah High School as a cooling station, with kitchen, cafeteria, and gymnasium space. The Ukiah hospital will retain electricity with their own backup generator, but will not be a cooling center, and they may be overwhelmed by the emergency. The City of Ukiah has said that the water and sewage systems will still function for most of those on city services, but anyone outside the city should consider how to provide those services for themselves.
This is a climate driven emergency. Decades of corporate denial of the magnitude of the climate crisis have squandered the opportunity for easy solutions, so the situation is now disruptive. The choice has never been between the economy and the environment: there is no economy without a healthy environment. We will probably survive this fire season, but we must begin to envision and build a resilient community. The time for complacent denial is over.