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.