Sunday, December 27, 2020

Testing The Integrity Of America

                                                                                             written 20 December 2020

                                                                                         published 27 December 2020



            According to, the US added one million new Covid cases in 25 days in September, 19 days in October, 5.8 days in November as the winter surge built, and just 4.4 days last week.  This rate is expected to shrink further as the holiday season becomes a super spreader event.

            Mortality rate has averaged 1.8 percent.  About 12 percent of those infected need hospitalization, with one in five requiring intensive care.  At least 20 percent of those infected have lingering medical effects, ranging from simple extended hospitalization to scarred lungs, damaged hearts and other major organs, amputations due to blood clots, diminished brain functioning called "brain fog", and detectable dementia.

            Since numbers can be numbing, I will use the population of Ukiah (16,000) as a unit.  New cases in the US last week were 100 Ukiahs and almost 2 Ukiahs will die.  Of those infected, 20 Ukiahs will suffer some form of lingering health damage.  12 Ukiahs will require hospitalization, of which almost 2.5 Ukiahs will require intensive care.  Since there are less than 5 Ukiahs of intensive care beds in the entire US, half of which are currently used for "normal" health emergencies, medical professionals are concerned.  Southern California has already hit their ICU capacity.

            All in one week.  

            Next week is likely to be worse.

            ICU infrastructure can be expanded, but finding more trained staff is problematic.  Previously, when the infection was more localized, trained staff was shifted from other parts of the country.  Covid is now everywhere, leaving no surplus to share.  When ICU capacity is exceeded, some people who would get better will die instead.  As general hospital capacity is overwhelmed, even people not normally requiring intensive care will die, as will some folks with medical emergencies other than Covid.

            Other nations, with competent national leadership, created a coordinated health and economic relief plan.  To squash infection rates, coherent public health guidelines were distributed, business and social activities were curtailed, and strategic economic relief allowed people to survive the shutdown without going bankrupt.  Some nations effectively eliminated further transmission.  But the coming of winter has seen the virus surge, even in some nations that had coordinated plans.  America has the worst Covid infection on the planet because Trump, supported by Republican "leaders", lied about the virus, refused to create a coordinated health plan, and continues to resist effective economic relief.  The result is an out of control infection combined with increasing economic devastation.  

            Two vaccines have been approved for emergency use, but available doses are currently limited.  Several months ago, Trump passed on the opportunity to reserve an additional 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.  Further, as much as 40 percent of what is on hand is not being shipped to the states.  Trump blames production problems, but Pfizer says nothing has changed on their end, claiming lack of shipping instructions from the federal government.  Perhaps Trump wants to kill more of his "enemies", or is saving those doses for his "special" friends, or plans to sell them at profit, or maybe his administration is just incompetent.

            Trump's inability to acknowledge any mistake means that he and his administration are still pushing the conflicting narratives that the virus is a hoax, that the virus is not "that bad", and that everyone should go out and get infected as soon as possible, while being first in line for the vaccine and taking credit for its development.  Having swallowed the lie that Covid is a hoax, his supporters justify all manner of insanity, ranging from the recent UDJ letter blaming school closures on the greedy teacher's union, to armed intimidation of public health officials trying to stem the tide of the pandemic. 

            America is proud of its rugged individualism, which values self-respect, self-reliance, and self-confidence.  But absolute self-sufficiency is an illusion.  The individual is always in context with, and dependent upon, their environment and their society. Public health during a pandemic is a test of our integrity and unity as a nation.  Under Trump, that integrity has been polarized and weaponized for his short term political gain, creating a sick and bankrupt nation.  This period in American history is forcing everyone to examine who we are, and what we believe.  United we stand, divided we fall.



Sunday, December 20, 2020

We Can Do Better

                                                                                             written 13 December 2020

                                                                                         published 20 December 2020



            Sedition, a federal felony, is defined as "inciting revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the goal of destroying or overthrowing it."  Members of the Executive, Senate, and the House swear an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

            Deranged want-to-be-king Donald has cheated and lied his entire life, made over 20,000 documented lies as president, never admitted making a mistake, never taken responsibility for his actions, and always insisted he is a winner.  Understandably, he has difficulty facing he lost.  He is within his rights to request recounts, but each recount confirmed he lost.  He is within his rights to make his case to court, but he has lost 56 of the 57 cases so far.  His complaints are so completely without merit, legal standing, or facts that his team has been admonished even by Trump appointed judges.

            His lawyers claim fraud in public, but in court admit there was no fraud.  Even Attorney General Barr has declared there was no fraud.  But Trump persists in claiming the election was a massive fraud and he actually won. Trump's actions edged toward sedition when he invited state officials to the White House, unsuccessfully pressuring them to throw out their state's election results.  

            Republican "leaders" collude in this sedition lie.  Despite election certification in all 50 states, only 27 of the 249 Republicans in the House and Senate acknowledge that Biden won.  This denial has convinced half the Republican voters that Trump won, and their response is increasingly belligerent. 

            Although state's rights used to be a Republican principle, Texas attorney general Paxton brought a Supreme Court case, joined by 17 other Republican states, to overthrow the election results.  126 members of the House joined this attempted sedition and should be held accountable.  The Supreme Court rejected the case unanimously.  In perfect irony, Paxton is under investigation by the FBI for securities fraud and misuse of his office for personal gain.  

            Through corruption and sedition, Republicans show their contempt for the idea that we all have a right to vote.  Americans are better than that.

            The progressive newsletter Hightower Lowdown usually discusses corporate capitalist corruption and the greed of the 0.1%, but the recent issue focused on what is good about Americans.

            "Most people are fundamentally fair minded, kind, and generous.  Decades of behavioral studies, recurring surveys, in depth conversations, cultural histories, and real life experiences, have by and large produced the same findings: the great majority of people are guided in their daily actions and relations by deep values of fairness and sharing.  The established order assumes people are at heart wicked beasts who must be constantly constrained, least we return society to kill-or-be-killed barbarity.  In fact, it turns out that humankind is overwhelmingly kind."

            "One of the most trying tests of civility is driving in heavy traffic.  Only 1 in 10 American drivers is oblivious, demented, incontinent with rage or obsessed with never being passed.  When faced with irritating, unexpected lane closures, the great majority of drivers slow, yielding peacefully to one another so they all get past the blockage in a timely fashion."

            "In an exercise to find out how people envision a "just society", participants were asked to draw up their ideal society, focusing on principles and structures that best served their own interests.  However, they were not to know who they would be in the society they designed.  Over and over, participants from every social status and ideology designed worlds with deep, broad egalitarian structures to ensure that the least well-off, most marginalized person would be treated justly.  After all, they might be that person."

            "Trump was raised to see only killers and losers, but the animal kingdom suggests a better route to winning is cooperation.  Some of the most successful species are not the strongest, but rather the ones that work together in a sharing society, building family and group homes, nurture and teach their young, share the available food, and mourn their lost ones."

            Last week the rains returned, the FDA approved the vaccine, the Supreme Court stopped Trump, and the Electoral College certified Biden as president.  Next week we celebrate the Winter Solstice and Christmas.  Here's to a joyous future.



Sunday, December 13, 2020

A Modern Miracle

                                                                                               written 6 December 2020

                                                                                         published 13 December 2020



            The first case of Covid-19 was recorded in China on November 17th, 2019.  Despite initial attempts at secrecy by local authorities, the Chinese national government announced the problem to the world on December 31st.  Samples were shared globally, and within weeks the entire genetic sequence was determined. 

            Research labs around the world began designing vaccines, and multiple companies went into production.  Phase 1 trials started in mid-March, with a few dozen participants in each, testing for safety, dosage levels, and confirmation of immune system activation.  Phase 2 trials began the first week of May, using hundreds of participants with diverse health characteristics, as an expanded safety trial.  Phase 3 trials began in late July, involving tens of thousands of people.  The first preliminary results were announced in mid-November, and compete data from several different vaccines was released a few weeks later.  England has already approved a vaccine for distribution, and US FDA approval should be granted about the time this article is published, however, mass production and vaccination of the entire population will take many more months.

            Our bodies have two immune systems, the innate, with which we are born, and the adaptive, which develops over time in response to changing conditions.  The adaptive system, comprised of specialized lymphocyte cells designated B and T, is always searching for foreign cellular material.  When B cells encounter something, they create antibodies, which biochemically match, and lock onto, part of the target cell.  This effectively attaches a flag to the disease cell, telling the T cells to kill it and take out the trash.  Our bodies remember antibody patterns, but it takes time for production to ramp up, delaying protection against infection.  

            Vaccines use safe examples of a disease, usually weakened or dead cells, to teach our body about a germ, allowing antibody production to get ahead of the curve.  Historically, vaccines production has taken years because manufacture required cultivation in horse blood serum or egg yolks.  To speed production, these new vaccines use advance biochemical techniques to synthetically manufacture the piece of RNA genetic code which directs construction of the protein forming the spikes on the surface of the Covid virus.  

            Billions of this piece of code, each protected in a small globe of fat, are injected into the muscles of a patient, which then move to the interior of their cells.  Once inside, cell biochemistry reads the RNA and produces the spike proteins.  These proteins then trigger antibody creation, preparing the body to fend off invasion of the actual Covid viruses.  In regular vaccines, a protection rate of better than 50 percent is considered a success.  These synthetic RNA vaccines seem to provide better than 90 percent protection.

            The modern miracle of complete genetic sequencing, rapid vaccine production, with the projected protection levels, couldn't have been accomplished even a decade ago.  This resulted from constantly evolving medical science, the very science that a large portion of our Trump believing population has denied and belittled.  It is sadly amusing to see how Trump took credit for pushing the "warp speed" program that helped produce these vaccines, and was upset that it didn't arrive in time to help get him re-elected, yet still denies the seriousness of the pandemic, and belittles the scientific medical community that produced this miracle.   

            The conspiracy addicted portion of our society is already building resistance to vaccination.  They distrust all science and medicine, while expecting the benefits of living in the modern world.  This will make dealing with Covid more difficult.  Estimates are that at least 70 percent of the population should be vaccinated to make sure community spread is eliminated.  Without that, hospitals will continue to be assaulted, and perhaps collapse, and real economic recovery will be delayed.  

            There are still difficult times ahead.  The surge in the US, already the worst it has been, is growing larger daily. The logistics of rapidly vaccinating everyone has never before been attempted.  These vaccines need to be kept unusually cold or they become ineffective.  So far, there has been no mention of cost, and big pharma has a history of price gouging.  The test trails are small compared to the entire population, so there could be unknown side effects.  But with all that, this is still a time for hope. 


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Republicans Lied And Americans Died!

                                                                                               written 29 November 2020

                                                                                              published 6 December 2020


            President Eisenhower said, "if a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power."  The Covid-19 pandemic has tested the country, and Republicans have failed Eisenhower's challenge.  

            Trump, who takes credit for everything, and responsibility for nothing, shrewdly knew that the virus would be a problem for him.  His first response was to ignore it, then he minimized it, declaring it a hoax perpetrated by fake news and the whole world, just to make him look bad.

            Travelers brought the first confirmed cases to the US in late January.  By late February, community spread was confirmed, growing from 30 cases by the first of March to almost 200,000 cases by the first of April.  With no federal leadership, the states were forced to deal with this on their own, leading to a variety of responses, from total lock down to business as usual.  The economic dislocation was widespread, the stock market dropped 37 percent, and a $2 trillion CARES economic relief act was passed in late March.

            By May first the case load was 1,091,038 (, with an average daily increase of 29,459, and 68,326 dead Americans.  At that point Trump realized that the economic collapse threatened his re-election, and began insisting that businesses and schools open up, getting "back to normal", contrary to advice from medical experts. Trump's denial of reality is understandable, given his brittle fragile ego, and his niece's report he has always lied for sport.  

            But Republican "leaders" supported his lies.  Perhaps they naively believed their religion would protect them from infection.  Perhaps they cynically believed the virus was only an urban blue state problem.  Perhaps they feared the vengeful wrath of an emotionally unstable president.  The result was an abdication of responsibility in a craven pursuit of power, fulfilling Eisenhower's description of a conspiracy.  

            With Republicans urging people to ignore the virus and get back to business, America experienced case load surges after the holidays in July and September.  The center of infection shifted from the northeast to the south, and then diffused across the entire country, hitting the upper mid-west hard.  Not wearing a mask, and denying the validity of the virus, became tests of Republican loyalty.  As the election neared, Trump predicted that after election day nobody would talk about Covid again, and Texas Senator Cruz claimed that all the Democratic states that were restricting business would immediately open up again in November, implying Covid was just a political ploy.  Rank and file Republicans still believe their "leaders", even screaming "Covid is a hoax" as they gasp for breath, while being intubated to save their life.  

            But Covid is real and didn't "go away like magic".  Colder weather is forcing people inside and for the third time, cases are surging exponentially, straining health care capacity, so even red state governors are now ordering restrictions.  On November 28th, US cases hit 13,525,501, with a one day increase of 241,718, and 271,628 Americans dead.  It took 10 weeks for the first million cases, and 6 days for the most recent million cases.  The holiday season will only accelerate this pace.

            To add to this insanity, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court overturned New York State's limit on the size of religious gatherings during the pandemic.  The founding fathers were ignorant of the germ theory of disease, let alone RNA viruses, but these Constitutional originalists, four Catholics and an Episcopalian, put religious practice above public health.  Given that the core of Christ's teachings, the Golden Rule, directs the individual to act with regard for our fellow man, this ruling is disingenuous.  This is the result of Republicans choosing to pack the court rather than pass further pandemic economic relief.

            Society is a balance between individual rights and collective responsibility.  Trump is a poster boy for the disaster of an unfettered ego.  Democracy is an attempt to moderate those excesses, and public health is an extreme need for social restraint on individual action.  Republicans demonstrate by their words and actions that they are just a conspiracy for power, uninterested in the welfare of even their own supporters.

Sunday, November 29, 2020


                                                                                                 written 22 November 2020

                                                                                             published 29 November 2020



            Thanksgiving is a national day of gratitude, but a regular practice of gratitude can be personally beneficial on many levels.  

            According to psychologist Robert Emmons, "research has shown that people who practice gratitude have a stronger immune system, are less bothered by aches and pains, have lower blood pressure, take better care of their health, sleep longer, and feel more refreshed upon waking.  Psychological, they report higher levels of positive emotions, are more alert, experience more joy and pleasure, and are more optimistic and happy.  Social they are more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving, outgoing, and feel less lonely and isolated."

            "Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret: emotions that can destroy our happiness.  Gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression.  Grateful people are more stress resistant, and have a higher sense of self-worth."

            "Just because gratitude is good doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  Practicing gratitude can be at odds with some deeply ingrained psychological tendencies.  One is the “self-serving bias.”  That means that when good things happen to us, we say it’s because of something we did, but when bad things happen, we blame other people or circumstances.  Gratitude goes against the self-serving bias because when we’re grateful, we give credit for our success.  Gratitude also goes against our need to feel in control of our environment.  Sometimes with gratitude you just have to accept life as it is and be grateful for what you have."  

            "Finally, gratitude contradicts the “just-world” hypothesis, which says that we get what we deserve in life.  With gratitude comes the realization that we get more than we deserve.  This goes against a message we get a lot in our contemporary culture: that we’re entitled to the good fortune that comes our way.  If you feel entitled to everything, it makes it a lot harder to be grateful for anything."

            (Excerpted from "Why Gratitude Is Good", Greater Good Magazine, 16 Nov 20).

            The relationship between the individual and the collective involves many types of exchanges, like inhaling and exhaling.  More than a polite response to something received, gratitude is a facet of love, the other end of a sustaining emotional dynamic.  Gratitude is a heartfelt expression coming from recognition of immanent connection to a larger context.  Unlike future oriented prayer, gratitude is recognition of something that is already happening, fundamentally rooted in the "now".  

            This is a perspective as much as anything else: a matter of noticing things that are already going well.  These can be as minor as finding a parking spot when needed, or as fundamental as the ability to breath, which must happen every few seconds.  Each oxygen molecule has been produced within the last 6 months by plants or algae, and none of us pays for it or earns it.  It is a gift from life which can be acknowledged by gratitude.  

            Even "problems" can be viewed differently.   I have bad eyes, needing glasses since elementary school, and am now developing cataracts and glaucoma.  Rather than focusing on the limitations, I am very grateful that I can still see and read.  

            Gratitude can be an active practice.  I love rain, and appreciate living where water still falls out of the sky.  As the rains began again this year, I bundled up and sat on our covered deck to experience the rain, giving thanks to the water and blessing it on its passage downstream.  Water researcher Masaru Emoto demonstrated that intentions shape the way water crystals form, and gratitude is one of the most powerful positive intentions.  Gratitude is found in every spiritual tradition on the planet, a measure of its fundamental power.

            Problems are easy to see, and they can be serious and existential, without a doubt.  But if I start by focusing on difficulties, the list is endless and I never get around to noticing what is already working.  By starting with gratitude, if I run out of things to list, I have built up an account to balance against the problems.  These days, when so much of the world seems to be in chaos, with division and hatred rampant, a regular practice of gratitude is an act of personal empowerment.  In every moment, we have the opportunity to choose gratitude.  We are unstoppable.  



Sunday, November 22, 2020

Still An Optimistic Catastrophist

                                                                                                 written 15 November 2020

                                                                                             published 22 November 2020


   reported that on Friday, November 13th, American Covid cases increased by 222,056, passing 11 million, and 1,846 more died, for a total of 250,681.  To put that in perspective, the largest passenger aircraft is the Airbus 380, with 853 seats, and a fleet of 242 planes.  If one Airbus 380 crashed every day for eight months, wiping out the entire fleet, it would account for only 80 percent of our current death toll.  Friday the 13th was more than two Airbus 380's in a single day.  Imagine the news coverage of such an ongoing disaster.  Imagine how the government would respond.

             In contrast, since the election (which he denies losing), Trump has said little, and done nothing, about Covid.  Instead, he played golf, filed multiple lawsuits to challenge the vote, fired people, and began planning his next administration.  As the economic devastation of Covid continues to grow, Republican Senators have done nothing for the economic relief of their people, their cities, or their states, let alone the rest of the nation.  Instead, they work to appoint more conservative judges and support Trump's fantasy that the election is in question.  This is what passes for leadership in our country today.

             Some people feel that all this will pass, it is just a final Trump tantrum, and Republican "leadership" is just humoring him, or afraid of vengeful retaliation.  Another explanation is that Trump won't open the White House to the Biden transition team because it is such a clown show of incompetence that he is embarrassed to reveal it to adults.  Others fear a more malevolent root, that this is in fact a slow-moving coup and the end of the American democratic experiment.  

            I have noticed that liars believe that everyone else is lying.  Crooks believe that everyone else is a crook.  Trump's entire career has been built on cheating and lying, so it is no surprise that he sees fraud all around him.  His father taught him there are only killers and losers, so accepting that he lost is a structural psychological problem for him, and such a public loss could actually derange him further.

            But democracies require national consensus to function.  Much like agreeing to always drive on the right side of the center line, we must agree to abide by the result of an election, and accept a peaceful transfer of power.  For Republicans to question the integrity of the vote erodes our democracy, and threatens the very republic these people claim they represent.

            The addiction to power can erode the original integrity or principle of any organization.  For decades, the Republican party has been working to suppress the vote in order to stay in power.  I am sure they are very frustrated that despite all their efforts, Trump still lost.  You can see the reaction in Georgia, where Republican senators called for the resignation of a Republican Secretary of State, because the election didn't turn out their way.  This is autocratic thuggery, not what we expect in a democratic republic.

            These are unprecedented times, and we don't know how this will turn out.  My hope is American democracy is still strong enough that Biden will be sworn in on January 20th, 2021.  If there is any irony in the universe, Georgia will elect two more Democratic Senators on January 5th, 2021, allowing Vice President Harris to break ties in the Senate, possibly causing Mitch McConnell's head to explode.

            But even that happy scenario will play against a backdrop of an out of control pandemic, an economic collapse rivalling the Great Depression, deep partisan divides, a dying planet, and an increasingly chaotic climate.  Once again, the Republicans will hand a crashed nation over to Democrats to fix.

            But I trust that there is more going on than what we see or understand.  That egos, and the power trips they support, are only part of what makes us human.  That we are in fact expressions of a unified whole, which nourishes every part, with compassion and wisdom.  That the evolution of humanity is a journey to transcend the limited self and experience that unity in our daily lives.  That is the more perfect union referred to in the Constitution, and we are here to help make it so.







Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Fuse Is Lit

                                                                                                 written 8 November 2020

                                                                                           published 15 November 2020



            News agencies have called the election for Biden, though there are still votes being counted.  Trump says he will contest this in court, and there is no telling what his supporters may do.  But at this point, the American democratic process seems to have survived this polarized election cycle, and that is something to celebrate.  

            However, almost half the country supported Trump, even after four years of experience.  I acknowledge I am an unapologetic progressive, and live in the blue bubble of Mendocino county, but I am still surprised at the apparent lack of self-preservation and critical thinking required to support Trump.  

            For example, Trump has denied the seriousness of the pandemic from the beginning, claiming the whole world and the news media are lying in order to make him look bad.  Last week he announced that "no one will talk about Covid the day after the election", and that the numbers are high because "doctors are on the take".  Yet American cases have exploded, with the daily case increase hitting 150,000, for a total of 780,000 cases and 7,100 deaths in the one week since his crooked doctor statement.

            But Trump supporters apparently believe him and ignore evidence to the contrary.  Red states are some of the hardest hit, because their Covid denial has allowed the virus to spread unchecked.  Surely some people there have noticed their hospitals being impacted, or their friends and family members getting sick, maybe even dying.  But the political divide means half the nation is in denial of inconvenient facts.

            This does not bode well for the future of our country.  As it stands now, the Senate is still under Republican control, and McConnell has declared his intention to block anything President Biden tries to accomplish, as he did during the last of Obama's administration.  This might change with the January 2021 Senate runoff elections in Georgia, or maybe in the 2022 elections, but we don't have years to waste.  Covid, and the economic consequences, require unified action, and they are not the only the serious problems facing us.

             Denial of Covid has been made a test of Republican purity, as is denial of climate change.  Covid has grown in impact because it was ignored, and so has the climate problem.

            One of the global climate tipping points is Arctic methane.  Atmospheric methane only lasts two decades, but is 80 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.  Several trillion tons of methane are frozen in the Arctic Ocean seafloor.  Where there is surface ice, the methane stays frozen, but as ice disappears, the seafloor warms and the frozen methane transitions directly to a gas, which is released into the environment, accelerating warming even further.  

            The Arctic is already warming several times faster than the rest of the planet.  In the middle of last winter, the temperature at the North Pole rose above freezing.  In addition to increasing air temperatures, warm water is coming in from the Atlantic Basin.  In 2020, Arctic sea ice receded faster and earlier in the spring, reaching the second lowest summer minimum, and began refreezing later in the fall than any time since Arctic sea ice records began.  

            Last year, small seafloor methane plumes were detected in hundreds of locations.  The Oct 2020 Guardian reported this year an area 6 miles by 90 miles was found to be releasing methane, with concentrations 400 times above normal at the seafloor.  Most of the methane is still being absorbed into the water, but levels at the surface were 8 times normal, suggesting the oceans ability to absorb is becoming saturated.

            A release of 50 billion tons, just a few percent of what is there, would raise the global temperature 1°F within a few years.  Think about that for a moment.  Our current warming of 1.8°F has occurred over two centuries, a rate considered to be 1000 times faster than the geologic record of previous warming periods.  Such a methane induced heating would be 100 times faster, a methane bomb.  The fuse has been lit, we just don't know how long we have.

            Our culture is unsustainable.  To avoid collapse, we must work together, at a global level, to make fundamental changes.  Our current partisan divide makes this more difficult.








Sunday, November 8, 2020

Heavy Heart, Light Heart

                                                                                                 written 1 November 2020

                                                                                             published 8 November 2020


            I am writing this on November 1st.  By the time you read it, the voting will be over, and the vote counting will be well underway.  Unless there is a blue tsunami, we may not know the outcome for weeks, if then.  Last week, with the confirmation of Justice Barrett, the Republicans completed a project started forty years ago: packing the courts with conservative ideologues, regardless of competence.  Three of the current Supreme Court Justices (Roberts, Kavanaugh, and Barrett), working as lawyers in 2000, helped the Supreme Court interfere in that election.  As Trump and McConnell celebrated their victory, they reaffirmed their intention to challenge this election in the Supreme Court.  My heart is heavy.

            Justice Ginsberg died on September 18th.  On that day, reported 42,555 new American Covid cases, for a total of 6.9 million, and 201,751 deaths.  From then until now, while the Senate focused on ramming through Barrett's appointment days before the election, with voting already in process, an additional 2.4 million Americans caught Covid, the daily case increase jumped to 105,425, and 34,504 more Americans died.  McConnell celebrates, and my heart is heavy.

            This week the Trump administration stated they have abandoned the fight against Covid, and have no intention of trying to control the virus.  Trump simultaneously claimed he has defeated Covid.  It's not clear if this is just another one of his twenty thousand lies, or if Covid and the steroid treatment actually damaged his brain. 

            The Trump administration supports the idea of "herd immunity", and encourages everyone to get infected as soon as possible.  This plan, already considered fringe lunacy by most in the medical profession, got a little riskier this week.  Reports show antibodies disappear more quickly than expected, more long-term damage has been documented, and a more infectious mutation of Covid is rapidly spreading through Europe.  Trump's crowded, mask-less rallies are documented Covid super spreader events, responsible for more than 30,000 cases and 700 deaths, mostly in red states.

            We are in the third wave, with the virus increasing in most states, and mid-western red states lead the pack.  North and South Dakota have the second and third worst cases per capita numbers on the entire planet, and their per capita death rate increased 95 percent in October alone, compared to 10 percent for the entire US, probably the results of the massive Sturgis motorcycle rally held in early September. Trump celebrates, and my heart is heavy.

            Republicans have become the Party of Corporations and Billionaires (PCB), and like the chemical, they are toxic to life.  Because their agenda is so narrow, Republicans have won the popular vote only once in the last 30 years, and must cheat, using voter suppression, gerrymandering, and court packing.  In less than four years, with McConnell rushing the process, Trump has appointed 1/3 of the Supreme Court, and more than 242 Federal judges, about 30 percent of the total, more than most presidents during 8 years.  

            The House passed the Heroes Act Covid stimulus package in early May, recognizing that the pandemic is crushing working people, schools, and state and local governments.  At the time, Senate leader McConnell said there was no need for more stimulus, and he would wait to see.  Since then he has stated that he was willing to "let states and cities go bankrupt".  Instead, the Senate took a vacation, then returned to continue packing the courts, confirming 31 more judges since May, but doing nothing to help Americans or the economy, which is in crisis.  Businesses have closed that will never reopen.  People are hungry.  Even the stock market has begun to reflect reality, recognizing our president is delusional and distracted.  My heart is heavy.

            My antidote is morning meditation.  I sit on our deck, and practice quieting my mind, noticing it running on, but allowing a distance from its story.  The pauses in the narrative get longer.  I sit in awareness of my heart beating and the breath in my chest, just noticing, without evaluation.  I am.  Here.  Now.  Eventually the timer goes off.  I say my closing affirmations, and open my eyes.  I see the clear blue sky, the lovely hills of the Ukiah valley, and hear the sounds of our community.  My heart is light.







Sunday, November 1, 2020


                                                                                                 written 25 October 2020

                                                                                           published 1 November 2020



            We may be heading into another drought, but must prepare for the alternative as well.

            In November and December of 1861, heavy snowfall had covered the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.  Beginning in late December, months of heavy warm rainfall, over 100" in some areas, quickly melted the snow, flooding the entire Central Valley.  A shallow inland sea formed, hundreds of miles long by dozens of miles wide, putting Sacramento under 10' of water.  During the 6 months it took for the water to subside, the capital moved to San Francisco, and California went bankrupt.  Whites had never experienced this kind of flooding in California, but the native people moved out of the valley some weeks before the storms started. 

            In the last century, climate science developed an understanding of the long period cycles of California weather, which is shaped by our local geography interacting with two large Pacific Ocean patterns: the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO).  ENSO arises from conditions in the tropical Pacific, with a period of 6-18 months, and PDO is tied to conditions in the northern Pacific, with a period spanning decades.  These two oscillations shift the jet stream, and thus winter storms, now called "atmospheric rivers". 

            California tends to be wetter than normal during the El Niño phase of ENSO, and dryer during the La Niña phase.  The PDO cycle affects California rainfall similarly.  Since the two cycles run at different rates, sometimes they compete and cancel each other out, but when they are in synch, we get severe drought or inundation.

            Paleoclimatology is the study of climate from before modern record keeping began.  Using sediment cores from river floodplains, estuaries, and lakes, the evidence of previous floods and droughts can be determined.  We now know an inundation like 1861-2 happens every 150-200 years or so, and some of the previous events were several times larger. 

            As the details of this scientific investigation come clearer, the full impact is slowly growing among emergency planners.  The U. S. Geological Survey Multi Hazards Demonstration Project pulls together scientists, emergency planners, businesses, and governmental agencies to investigate possible natural disaster impacts to better prepare our society.  The first project, the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario, published in 2008 focused on the impact of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in southern California.  In 2010, their second project, ARkStorm (Atmospheric River 1000 Storm), examined the impact of a storm similar to 1861-2, with the following conclusions. 

            "The Central Valley experiences hypothetical flooding 300 miles long and 20 or more miles wide.  Hundreds of landslides damage roads, highways, and homes.  Property damage exceeds $300 billion, most from flooding.  Agricultural losses and other costs to repair lifelines, dewater (drain) flooded islands, and repair damage from landslides, brings the total direct property loss to nearly $400 billion.  Power, water, sewer, and other lifelines experience damage that takes weeks or months to restore.  Flooding evacuation could involve 1.5 million residents in the inland region and delta counties.  Business interruption costs reach $325 billion in addition to the $400 billion property repair costs, meaning that an ARkStorm could cost on the order of $725 billion, which is nearly 3 times the loss deemed to be realistic for a severe southern California earthquake, an event with roughly the same annual occurrence probability."

            "An ARkStorm raises serious questions about the ability of existing federal, state, and local disaster planning to handle a disaster of this magnitude.  Responders and government managers at all levels could be encouraged to conduct risk assessments." 

            Climate change will increase the potential impact of such a storm, because a warmer ocean provides more moisture for a big storm.  As we have seen in hurricanes, the damage is not only, or even primarily, from high winds, but from heavy rainfall and flooding.

            Large natural disasters are difficult to comprehend in advance, but increased awareness of the possibility is helpful.  California has known about big earthquakes for over a century.  Evolving building codes and emergency preparedness has reduced the loss of life, the recovery time, and expense.  ARkStorm is a first step toward increasing public and governmental agency awareness about this kind of natural disaster.

            Information in this article is from "The West Without Water", by Ingram and Malamud-Roam, and from the USGS ARkStorm report.









Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Corrupting Power Of Elites

                                                                                               written 18 October 2020

                                                                                           published 25 October 2020


            Spirituality is the direct personal experience of the larger whole, transcending material reality.  Religions are organizations that arise to promote that spiritual experience, but quickly become subverted to accumulate wealth and the political power to dominate populations.

            A case in point is the Catholic Church, which became the official religion of the remains of Roman Empire about 400 years after Christ.  Despite teachings "to love the other as self" and "thou shall not kill", the church grew to sanction domination of the world by the Spanish and Portuguese empires, with instruction to convert or kill everyone they encountered.  In the process, the church became very wealthy, and very corrupt.  After the schism of Protestant Reformation, Christians began slaughtering other Christians, as the religions battled for political power and dominance.  

            All religions have a similar problem, distracted from the personal spiritual experience by power and domination.  The Shia-Sunni split, the root of Islamic conflict and terrorism, is a power struggle over inherited lineage between a cousin and an uncle of the prophet.  But in the US, the problem is Catholic political power.  Despite declining membership due to increasing irrelevance of church doctrine to modern life, and the persistent issue of pedophile priests, the Catholic Church dominates the Supreme Court of the United States.

            Five of the sitting Justices are Catholics put forward by the Federalist Society, with the support of Opus Dei.  According to US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, "a secret part of the Federalist Society does not care about conservative principles like judicial restraint, or originalism, or textualism, but is the vehicle for powerful interests, which seek to acquire control of the judiciary to benefit their interests, and rig the system in favor of its donors."  From Their Kingdom Come, by Hutchison, “Opus Dei uses the Catholic Church for its own ends which are money and power for its members: a transnational elite.  They seek to colonize the summits of power." 

            America was founded with the goal of forming a more perfect Union, based on the ideal that all men are created equal.  This was a radical experiment at the time, because most governments were based on dominance of the population by a small elite.  Some have pointed out that in practice, America shifted from domination by a distant elite of hereditary royalty, to a local elite of male property owners.  But the ideal was still there, and over time, voting franchise has expanded to include male non-property owners, then women, then people of color.  But there has always been an elite which works to distort the ideal of equality in favor of privilege: private law.

            The Republicans fear they are going to lose power this election, so, without popular support, they are rushing to place yet another conservative Federalist Catholic on the Supreme Court to lock in control over legislation for decades.  They are doing this rather than deal with the economic hardships caused by the pandemic because enriching the elite and corporations has been the primary Republican agenda for decades.  In the last few years, the five unelected Federalist Supreme Justices eliminated a century of legislation limiting campaign funding and 60 years of legislation protecting voter rights.  With another Federalist Justice on the court, the current concern is not only the integrity of this election, but elimination of health care for millions, abortion rights, gay rights, and perhaps even the 100 year history of the right of women to vote.

            In addition to being un-Christian and un-democratic, the entire concept of an "elite" is absurd from the perspective of a unity reality, which understand the fundamental connection between all apparent "parts".  The Covid-19 pandemic and the rapidly changing climate are global issues, effecting everyone. 

            What happens when people have no health insurance, and the hospitals are overwhelmed by an out of control pandemic?  How can the American economy, based 75% on consumers, function when so many people are out of work, and perhaps forced out of their homes?  How can the economy survive when increasing natural disasters, like floods, hurricanes, and wild fires, repeatedly destroy infrastructure to the point that insurance companies leave the region? What kind of long term investment is safe in such a world?  

            There is no planet "B" where the elite can escape. 






Sunday, October 18, 2020

Cultivating Empathy

                                                                                               written 11 October 2020

                                                                                           published 18 October 2020


            Prompted by William Russell's October 4th UDJ letter to the editor, I re-read Roberta Werdinger's August 19th essay "Poetry and empathy: The power of individual story", where she urges more sharing of personal experience through storytelling and empathetic listening as a mode for healing the divisions in our culture.

            Werdinger suggests that ideas are used to beat up the "other".  But it is the identification of "self" with specific ideas, that is the fuel for conflict, not the ideas themselves.  This is made worse by a cultural devaluation of empathy.  We have only to look at our current president to see that our political system does not prioritize empathy, and in economics, rational analysis is considered a virtue, while empathy is considered a liability. 

            For decades, I searched for the root of social ills, and eventually settled on the myth of separation which sees the "other" as enemy.  But it took longer to find how this become so endemic.  Leonard Shlain's book, "The Alphabet Versus The Goddess" suggests the rise of alphabetic literacy tipped the scales, prioritizing left-brain processes of differentiation and sequence.  Ideas, concepts, time, and the individual sense of self reside in the left brain, preoccupied with the past and the future.  The right brain processes whole systems, operating in the eternal now of experience, and is the seat of emotions, empathy, creativity, and inspiration.  

            In his recent book, "Leonardo's Brain", Shlain points to Leonardo Da Vinci as an example of an integrated left and right brain producing creative genius.  The two hemispheres are connected by a massive nerve bundle called the corpus callosum, which tends to be larger in women, artists, left handed people, and gay men.  That goes a long way to explaining our current social distress! 

            We rarely just experience the world as it is, but immediately interpret each experience within a framework of concepts, or stories.  Our internal story accumulates over time, beginning from the moment we are born and learn to speak, for language is a synthetic symbolic structure, processed in our left brain.  We constantly harmonize our collection of stories to maintain a unique, coherent worldview, which shapes how we view ourselves, and how we relate to others.  Werdinger's solution relies on strengthening right-brain qualities of empathy, overcoming left brain patterning, transcending the internal story.

            Much of our conceptual story is unconscious.  Without noticing we have identified with a story, we become trapped in its limited conceptual framework, internalizing the fears and biases of our family and culture, perpetuating misunderstandings and prejudices, while believing we experience reality clearly.  Racism, misogyny, tribalism, and classism are passed from generation to generation, an enduring legacy of sorrow, misery, and hatred.  

            Jill Bolte Taylor, author of "My Stroke Of Insight", described her experience of a massive left-brain stroke and her eight-year recovery.  When it happened, she lost all sense of her individual self and all her stories, including her language.  With the left brain quieted, she experienced a deep feeling of peace and a profound connection with everything in the world.  This is the domain of the right brain.  As her recovery progressed, her stories returned to her, but from her right brain perspective, she was able to evaluate which ones she wanted to reintegrate and which she could eliminate as no longer useful.

            For those of us dominated by left-brain concept, short of a stroke, how can I intentionally shift?  With attention, I can begin to notice the stories I am operating within, without judgment, just recognition.  The very act of noticing creates a slight distance between my awareness and my story, and begins the process of de-identification.  With practice, this space expands, and I have an opportunity for choice.  In this space, something new can arise.  Sitting meditation helps me cultivates this aware presence, increasing possible access to the domain of my right brain: empathy, inspiration, and creativity.  

            We face a world where old patterns are breaking down, and there is need for more creativity.  Intentional cultivation of greater cooperation between our left and right brain perspectives will help.  Humans are a young species, and have yet to experience the fullness of human potential. 

            Rumi summarized this beautifully.  “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field.  I will meet you there."