Sunday, February 24, 2019
written 17 February 2019
published 24 February 2019
As finite humans, contemplating the infinite universe, everything we know is either wrong, or at best incomplete, demanding a degree of humility. Acquiring new information, skills, and patterns is hindered by the certainty of our knowledge and our preference for the familiar. Learning is more than accumulating facts, and often requires a new perspective. Most of us have had an "aha" moment of sudden awareness: nothing external changed, but we see the situation differently.
There is a spectrum of how skillfully and gracefully we gather in new information. One end of the spectrum can be described as "to the wise, a word is sufficient". A person lightly attached to their concepts and perspectives can experience a cascade of shifting awareness triggered by a single word, opening a path to new understanding and action. The other end of the spectrum is what I call the "head through the windshield school of learning". The image says it all.
I had a friend who learned this way. He denied that he was addicted to alcohol, insisting he was in control. For years he refused to accept the truth, degrading the quality of his life until he eventually crashed his car. Fortunately for him, he lived through his windshield encounter, and embraced the need to change his perspective. Not everyone gets the message even at this point.
Our society is following this "windshield" learning process by repeating old patterns with certainty and denying our addictions. Take the economy and the climate for example.
President Trump and his Republican sycophants boast about how well the economy is doing. The billionaire class is thriving, but everyone else is only staying even, or losing ground. The stock market traded in the same narrow range for the last 14 months, and real GDP growth is barely 1%, despite the $1.5 trillion tax give away that was supposed to make the economy boom. Profitable corporations pay no taxes, while working people get smaller refunds. The government shutdown, tariffs from the "easy" trade war with China, and the general slowing of the global economy due to debt saturation, have increased business uncertainty and adversely affected the consumer economy.
The number of jobs has increased, but the quality and pay are poor. Most job growth is in the minimum wage service sector which can't be easily outsourced. The number of high paying jobs is shrinking due to robotic automation. Millions of Americans have stopped paying their car loans, and 80% live pay check to pay check. The low price of gasoline hurts domestic oil producers, and the high price of diesel hurts the transportation industry. More real estate listings have "price reduced" banners, and the international production of computer chip has plateaued.
Trump's response is to reduce public aid, kill affordable health care, support payday loans, and bail out corporations by eliminating regulations which protect worker safety and prohibit poisoning our air, food, and water. Such denial of our real economic needs means the next economic downturn will be a big "windshield" event, but the consequences of economic denial pale in comparison to the outcome of climate denial.
In his State of the Union speech, the president never once referred to the climate issue. Almost 200 million trees are dead in California and the firestorms of the last two years have bankrupted PG&E, America's 10th largest utility. The northeast is having one of the coldest winters in decades due to the shifted Polar vortex. The global populations of a third of the insect species, including the Monarch butterfly, are crashing. Coral reefs, which support millions of species and feeds 1/6 of humanity, are bleaching and dying due to the increasing ocean temperatures. Extreme weather cost the American economy $300 billion last year, 50 times what Trump wants for his wall.
The alarms bells are ringing and the canary in the coal mine is long dead, but our "leaders" are deaf and in denial, still laboring to preserve the short-term financial gains of a few already rich people. However, the economy rests on the environment. When this slowly accelerating disaster hits a critical tipping point, the climate "windshield" event will affect even the wealthy "preppers" fleeing to New Zealand.
Sunday, February 17, 2019
written 10 February 2019
published 17 February 2019
An individual living within the illusion of separation cannot understand their real worth, disconnected as they are from their fundamental reality. The isolated self perceives the world as "other", in eternal hostile competition, rather than experiencing life as a nourishing cooperative. This hostile perspective gives rise to a strategy of domination, where one either dominates or is dominated, and establishment of the pecking order is the primary function of society.
There are at least five major distinctions in our cultural domination structure; money, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. This puts rich, male, white, Christian heterosexuals at the top. Individuals lacking any of these distinctions are down the domination ladder, placing a poor black, lesbian Muslim woman on the bottom rung. As the separation illusion inevitably fails and society slowly evolves toward expressing the fundamental unity, the impact of each factor of the domination structure changes.
Domination by wealth is the most pernicious, amplifying other distinctions. The present inequity of wealth threatens our democracy, which is based on the radical concept that all are equal under the law. This ideal has always been more concept than absolute, as America's founding "fathers" were all white male landowners. They rebelled against the domination of the British, and wrote the Constitution allowing themselves to dominate instead, but this has evolved due to the social pressure of an evolving population.
The different distinctions of dominations hold different weight. Over time the female majority of the population demanded inclusion, and their struggle coincided with that of blacks wanting to be included after the Civil War. Black men were granted the vote in 1868, but women had to wait another half century until 1920. We have elected a black man president, but never a woman. This demonstrates that the domination class is more threatened by women than black men, a sad commentary on the "macho" ethic.
These voting rights were only partial victories, as various laws have been put in place to limit registration of poor and non-white voters, including poll taxes, voter ID rules, and gerrymandering of districts. However, the drive toward inclusion is constantly challenging these domination attempts, and the new House of Representatives is more diverse than ever before.
Despite the fact that religious outcasts founded this country on the principal of religious freedom, there have been persistent efforts to dominate America with a Christian theocracy. The current attempt is funded by conservative Catholic organizations, despite the chronic moral corrosion within their own faith, combined with an older generation of male Evangelical leaders, who are out of touch with their younger members. Their efforts to destroy abortion and birth control rights for women is alienating half the population that has grown up expecting these rights as part of being a free individual.
The fifth domination aspect of this culture is the gay/straight issue. After decades of effort, the first state to legalize gay marriage was Massachusetts in 2003, and by 2016, it was legal in all fifty states. Domination of LBGQT individuals is still rampant, but the social support of this has shifted.
Specific applications of domination ebb and flow, and American leadership is currently retreating from its democratic ideals. The Trump administration, with his billionaire cabinet members and their Republican enablers, are working to destroy as much social justice legislation as they can before being voted out of office.
In a society free of domination structures, each individual would be recognized and honored as being absolutely unique. There is no such thing as average in reality, it is only a mathematical concept. Therefore, we are obliged to be the individual we are. This is a massive challenge, not only for each person, but for us as a culture. Traditional roles are no longer absolute. Men can be caregivers and women can be generals. Gender issues have become more amorphous. Surgical transgender operations allow an individual more options, and gender neutral or non-specific are becoming recognized.
As we realize we all have both male and female traits, strengths and tendencies, we can explore our whole self in this life. We can see ourselves in the other, no matter how they appear at first glance, and the world becomes more cooperative and nourishing.
Sunday, February 10, 2019
written 2 February 2019
published 10 February 2019
In 2009, a group of six elementary school students from Meadow Vista, California, near Auburn, won the Innovate Award at the Children's Climate Action in Copenhagen, Denmark. Their idea was to place wirelessly connected cameras in the forest to enable early wildfire detection. The group, aided by the University of Nevada Seismological Laboratory and Sony Europe, installed a single demonstration camera at Lake Tahoe in 2010. Within a few years, this evolved into a system called ALERTTahoe, which contracted with the Nevada Bureau of Land Management to expand the network eastward into northern Nevada.
In the summers of 2014-16, new contracts with the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho Bureaus of Land Management and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE), allowed further expansion of fire cameras and microwave locations. Now a third generation system called ALERTWildfire, the consortium of University of Nevada Reno, University of California San Diego, and University of Oregon, has installed cameras in 100 locations throughout California and Nevada.
Most fires are reported as 911 calls. ALERTWildfire's array of internet accessed Pan-Tilt-Zoom high definition video cameras with infrared capacity and associated software help firefighters and first responders quickly confirm and accurately locate the fire. Playback displays the growth and scope of the fire, allowing quick and appropriate response of fire-fighting resources. Software allows video access from any platform, including cellphones, so every responder, including the ground crews, can monitor the fire behavior, as it is contained, and eventually extinguished. During firestorms, enhanced awareness of the overall situation helps evacuation planning. In areas where camera arrays have been installed, the incidence of large fires has plummeted.
In 2017, the devastating North Bay Complex and Thomas fires emphasized the need to quickly expand coverage across the western US. Deploying new equipment is time consuming, requiring tower construction, accompanying solar array and battery pack, power management electronics, and installation of the camera and the radios needed for internet communication. In 2018 the decision was made to install cameras on existing third-party microwave networks, building regional coverage more quickly. These "towers of opportunity", owned by utilities, state and county services, and other private point-to-point communications systems, already have a tower, power, and internet connection, so outfitting them as fire camera sites is a matter of hanging the camera and plugging into the existing internet router. Sites like these cover 50%-80% of the desired range, with the potential to allow one hundred or more cameras to be installed in a year.
Even simple installations are expensive to maintain, and it is estimated it will take 1000 sites to adequately cover California. However, the devastation of the last two fire seasons has galvanized powerful resources. Based on good results for SDG&E, PG&E contracted to fund installation and maintenance of 600 cameras over the next 3 years, despite the recent bankruptcy filing. The State of California has committed to installing several hundred cameras each year. During the 2018 fire season, construction expanded throughout existing microwave networks, installing new sites in Sonoma and Orange County, and other locations throughout five states. ALERTWildfire is currently in discussion with Mendocino county for installation of more than 10 sites this summer.
Video is incredibly data intensive, so extensive planning went into managing this "big data" volume. Each camera can be viewed real-time by the public. Certified first responders can steer cameras to respond to specific fires, and view speeded up replays. The video files are available for a period of time, and then taken offline, decimated, and stored as long-term archives. The cloud-based website is designed to be viewed across all platforms, handling over a million simultaneous viewers without crashing
The public has access to this expanding system, bringing to reality the dream of a socially engaged population in the fight against wildfire. Concerned volunteers could monitor the cameras in their region during red flag weather, speeding up fire detection. At exactly the time we need this kind of system due to the expanding climate crisis, the technical capacity is available. For further information and access to the current cameras, go to www.alertwildfire.org.
Saturday, February 2, 2019
written 26 January 2019
published 2 February 2019
In 1971 Edgar Mitchell was the sixth man to step onto the surface of the moon. On his return trip, he saw Earth suspended in the black of space and had an epiphany: it is all connected. Two years later he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), dedicated to helping shift worldwide consciousness toward recognizing the interconnected whole. From 1978 to 1997, the president of IONS was Willis Harman.
Harman wrote "Creative Work" in 1990, pointing out that two centuries of industrial progress had created effective labor saving devices which allowed 10% of the working population to produce everything needed. However, our Puritanical culture requires everyone to work in order to participate in the economy, so 90% of the workforce is busy producing things we don't need, or they are forced into poverty.
He was obviously correct, as we are drowning in stuff that is not necessary for life, and the advertising industry spends billions insisting this stuff will make us happy. We have more stuff than we can fit into our homes, and storage units are a growth industry. This flood of stuff depletes resources, wastes energy, and doesn't seem to make us happy, evidenced by the rise in anti-depressant consumption.
Decades of outsourcing jobs to countries with cheaper labor reduced domestic employment. This was made worse by the economic disruption of the Internet, which came into being since Harman's book. The explosion of the online economy, the growth in computer aided manufacturing, and the rise of robots, has furthered the collapse of meaningful work. Even China, the definition of a cheap labor country, is investing in robotic design and manufacture. Silicon Valley is aware that artificial intelligence and robotics are destroying the economy as it is now structured, but they are still obsessed with building self-driving vehicles, which will displace hundreds of thousands more workers in the US alone.
Adjusted for inflation, wages haven't increased since 1980. This lack of buying power has hollowed out our society. Though the stock market is booming and houses keep increasing in price, most of the prosperity has accrued to the few at the top of the economic heap. Each day in 2018, the billionaire class of 2200 individuals, increased wealth by $2.5 billion while the poorest 3.5 billion on the planet lost $500 million. The recently concluded government shutdown highlighted that 40% of America lives paycheck to paycheck, with little saved for emergencies.
What will happen to the consumer economy with the trend toward elimination of most jobs? This question deserves serious thought. One idea being considered globally is Universal Basic Income (UBI), which decouples income from employment. This would be a payment to every citizen, without regard to other income. Understanding the world as unity, all citizens should benefit from the larger economic system. This would be an economy that works like our bodies, where the support and thriving of every part is the definition of good health. A UBI stipend would allow people to develop their own potentials, engage in activities that inspire them, independent of the economic return. Money is a very limited measure of real social value. People would be able to provide services that are of value to society, which are not currently funded with a living wage. Wage slavery and working a job one hates would become a thing of the past.
Many cities and regions are currently experimenting with limited forms of UBI. The big question is how to fund such a system. Alternatives range from tax reform to collective ownership models. People would receive equal shares, like the Alaskan Oil Dividend, so UBI could replace most existing social welfare systems, eliminating the expense of massive bureaucracies dedicated to means testing. A simple Google search will provide more details.
The real barrier to this idea is the belief in separation, and the punitive belief in salvation through work. The fact that meaningful, well paid work is going away is demanding a new consideration. As long we believe the poor are lazy sinners and the rich are blessed by God, as reflected by the latest Republican tax scam, we will accelerate the decay of our civilization and hasten collapse of the economy.