Sunday, May 30, 2021

Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon

                                                                                                          written 23 May 2021

                                                                                                      published 30 May 2021


            The military recently acknowledged investigating "unidentified aerial phenomenon", formally known as "unidentified flying objects", or UFOs.  The rebranding may be an attempt to distract from their previous policy of denial of UFO existence.  

            After WW2, there were several studies of UFOs, culminating with Project Blue Book, to investigate the national security threat and give a scientific evaluation.  After 17 years, examining more than 12,600 events, including 700 that remained unexplained, Blue Book was concluded in 1969 with a summary that there was no security threat, no technological developments beyond modern scientific knowledge, and no evidence of extraterrestrial origin.  However, service members were told to keep quiet on the subject, under penalty of court marshal and loss of benefits.  

            Keeping the public calm was one of the "reasons" later given for such secrecy.  So much of our sociology and theology is rooted in the idea that we humans are the peak of evolution, or divine manifestation, that to even consider that there might be "others out there" was thought too risky for our fragile ego structures.  Fear of the other is so deeply ingrained (look at politics today!) that even discussion of extraterrestrials risked widespread panic.  

            Much science fiction has been written about malign aliens encountering humans, including movies such as "War of the Worlds", "Mars Attacks", "Independence Day", "Cowboys and Aliens", and the "Predator" and "Alien" series.  However, in the last few decades we've seen stories of beneficial alien encounters, like "ET", "Contact", "Arrival", "Close Encounters", "Paul", and "Avatar", perhaps opening our collective psyche to a very strange "other".

            Because UFO sightings persisted, another formal, yet unpublicized, investigation began in 2007 called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which later became the current Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force.  Last summer, the Senate asked for a report.  Last month, several videos showing UFOs near Navy vessel operations were confirmed as authentic, including multiple visual sightings, backed by video and radar recordings.  The objects moved very quickly in air and water, executing extremely sharp turns generating high G forces, with no propulsion trails, wings, or control surfaces.  The official concern is that these might be advanced technology from foreign adversaries, but it opens the discussion to include extraterrestrials.

            Wikipedia lists UFO sightings back to ancient times, long before manned flight.  The Nazca Lines in the high plains of Peru, dating back 2500 years, are drawings scratched into the earth, covering vast areas, best appreciated from high altitude.  

            In 1970's, Swiss farmer Billy Meier published photographs of numerous encounters with aliens, reportedly from the Pleiades.  They told him that humanity had a naive understanding of space/time and gravity.  He was denounced as a fraud at the time, but subsequent investigations have supported Meier.  In the last half century, quantum physics has confirmed the non-locality of matter and recent research indicates the non-locality of consciousness. 

            In the 1990's, Harvard psychiatrist John Mack became interested in the hundreds of cases of people who believed they had been "abducted" by aliens, as reported in his books "Abduction" and "Passport to the Cosmos".  He approached them as people who were seriously traumatized, without judging their beliefs about the cause.  His work helped his clients, and on the other side of their initial terror, many discovered the alien's message that life is whole, and that humanity must evolve to embrace that wholeness at the risk of extinction.

            Crop circles have been documented since the late 1600's, occurring regularly around the world since the 70's, challenging our complacent understanding of reality.  While commonly dismissed as man-made hoaxes, deeper investigation has shown anomalies in the structures of the affected plant cells and resulting seed growth patterns.

            Within the population open to UFOs, many have asked why aliens don't present themselves and help save us.  I believe humanity is at a tipping point: evolved enough to unlock the atom, but still so tribally fearful we immediately nuked our neighbor.  Like an oven timer going off, UFO sightings increased after those detonations.  Perhaps they want to see if we are wise enough to survive this new understanding, but only as witnesses, not to intervene.  If a person "helps" a chick struggle out of the shell, the resulting bird is too weak to survive long.  We humans have to figure this out for ourselves, before we can become embraced as good galactic neighbors.








Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Corrosion Of Our Society

                                                                                                          written 16 May 2021

                                                                                                      published 23 May 2021


            Some societies collapse suddenly, wiped out be natural disasters, such as a tidal wave or a volcanic eruption.  Some die slowly, the victim of gradually changing environmental conditions, or eventual depletion of a vital resource.  Others lose their vitality over time, corroding from within, to be overwhelmed finally by external forces, like a rotting building collapsing after one too many storms.  America may be experiencing the third option.

            The American economy peaked in 1972, defined by two major events: the floating of the dollar, and peak in domestic production of traditional oil.  This marked the end of an economic period that began after the Second World War, when America dominated the global economy.  We had the only industrial infrastructure undamaged by the war and vast oil reserves, which allowed us to control the global price.  But the rest of the world rebuilt, due in part to American investment, and our oil reserves were finite.    

            Within a decade, inflation soared, interest rates exploded, and Savings and Loans went bankrupt.  When the economy was growing, it was easier to share the wealth, labor unions were strong and living wages prevailed.  As the economy tightened, wages stagnated, the corporate war on unions accelerated, capitalist structures circled the wagons to preserve capital, and the society began to suffer. 

            Business schools taught that shareholder profit was the only purpose of business.  Reagan began expounding the idea that government is always the problem, and private enterprise is always the solution.  Big money became more open about funding and influencing politicians, and lobbying became a huge DC business.  Public health systems and social welfare programs declined due to constant attacks and reduced funding, as taxes were cut to promote the growth of the "job creators" while preaching "trickle down" economic theory.   

            Relatively non-political governmental functions changed.  At the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which had been a global resource for public health, the director was a merit-based, civil service appointment from within the system, maintaining institutional knowledge.  In the mid 70's, after a highly publicized failure of a swine flu vaccination program, the job became a political appointment.  The director changed with each administration, and reports became politically and economically influenced.  

            Under Reagan, a CDC finding that aspirin was associated with childhood death in certain cases was changed because the manufacturer was a big Republican donor.  Under Trump, the entire CDC response to Covid was stunted to fit his delusion that Covid was a hoax.

            Under Clinton, Perdue Pharmaceutical, and the Sackler family, sought Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of OxyContin, Perdue's new time released opioid, including the finding it was "believed unlikely to cause addiction", and then hired the FDA evaluator.  Perdue's aggressive marketing created a lethal, nationwide opioid crisis, killing 500,000, while profiting billions.  Local federal prosecutors assembled a case against Perdue, which the Bush Justice Department reduced to a plea deal, with just a fine and no jail time for any executives. 

            Sacrificing the public welfare for profits has been a constant problem with capitalism, but in America, the ideal of democracy has been a tempering factor.  What is truly sad about our current situation is that big money, and the Republican party it generously supports, has now chosen to sacrifice democracy as well.  

            In response to the divisive Trump administration, social activists worked hard to increase voter turnout, bringing previously disenfranchised voters to the polls.  Despite systemic advantages in the Electoral College (where the least populace states have 2.5 times the voting power) and the Senate (where 25 percent of the nation selects 60 members), the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress and the White House.             The action arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation responded with over 360 bills, introduced in 47 states, to make it harder to vote.  Republicans claim they are only "protecting election integrity", but they created the controversy by promoting Trump's discredited lie he lost the election through fraud.  An internal purge within the Republican party is now underway.  Principled conservatives are being expunged in favor of literally any lunatic that will spout the Trump lies.

            After WW2, Britain had to choose between their democracy, or their faded memories of global economic dominance.  America faces a similar challenge.  The 2022 midterm elections will determine if America will continue as a democracy.  I believe we will.








Sunday, May 16, 2021

What Is An Individual?

                                                                                                            written 9 May 2021

                                                                                                      published 16 May 2021


            I woke up again this morning to the ongoing story of my life, a continuity of memories going back decades.  I appear to occupy the same body I did yesterday.  At every waking moment, I have a unique perspective, subject to change as I turn my head.  I seem to be an individual.

            However, self-aware consciousness is a small part of what determines my personal activity.  Only 10 percent of what we "do" arises from conscious decisions, the rest is unconscious programing playing out in real time.  That doesn't even consider the functioning of my physical body.

            A few days ago, I scrapped my arm, tearing off a small flap of skin.  The healing process goes on without any conscious input from "me".  My body knows how to stem the bleeding, seal the wound and cover it with a protective scab, then begin the reconstruction of healthy skin underneath, which will eventually be indistinguishable from the rest of my skin.

            Current estimates are that a human body has about 30 trillion cells, with about 16 million dying every second, continuously replaced by new ones.  Over the course of a year, we replace our body weight.  Some cells are replaced faster than others.  The stomach cells in contact with food digestion are replaced every 5 minutes, and the entire lining is replaced every 4 days.  We get a new suit of skin every month, a new liver every 6 weeks, and most of our body is replaced every decade.  Without "my" awareness, I inhabit a dynamic flow of biological form, much like the shape of a whirlpool in a flowing river, which I can still recognize as "me", when I look in the mirror each morning.  

            But that isn't even the whole story, because more than 40 trillion bacteria live in symbiotic harmony with "me".  Every surface of my body, external and internal, is covered with bacteria cells, not as freeloaders, but providing services essential to "my" health and well-being.  The bacteria inhabiting my skin are protective, preventing dangerous bacteria from establishing themselves, causing disease.  That is one of the problems with washing with soap.  It strips away all these friendly bacteria, which must then repopulate before my skin is once again protected. 

            At a more proactive level, the bacteria that inhabit my gut are essential for the digestion of food.  Research has shown that the makeup of the gut bacteria population can affect obesity, diabetes, liver and heart diseases, cancers, autism, and depression, just to name a few.  

            Within each of the cells that are genetically "me", are between 2 and 2,500 mitochondria, a bacterium with independent genetics, that synthesizes ATP, the essential biochemical energy molecule for the cell.  These were once autonomous, but long ago became totally symbiotic, exchanging services for lodging and protection.

            This means that my "individual", in addition to being a dynamically transforming body, is also a massive, mobile bacterial collective, where "I" am completely outnumbered!  But it gets even stranger.

            About 98 percent of the individual atoms in my body are changed every year, another fundamental flux that occurs below "my" awareness.  The Newtonian physical model imagined each of these atoms as little, solid, indivisible billiard balls.  However, quantum mechanics has demonstrated that these atoms are not solid at all, but profoundly empty space, occupied by even tinier specks in the form of electrons, protons, and neutrons.  Further examination shows these specks are not matter either, but intense energy vibrations.  At the deepest level of examination, these energy manifestations flash in and out of existence a million, trillion, trillion, trillion times a second, no more enduring than the rapid flashes of still pictures we experience as movement in films.

             Looking inward, "I" seem to be a somewhat aware personality, inhabiting a dynamic physical structure, that is a massive collective of beings working in symbiotic harmony, being constantly reaffirmed at unimaginable frequency.

            Looking outward, we see the same kind of dynamic flux of cooperative structures that form our human society, living within the larger biosphere, which provides all the material essentials of life, such as air, water, and food.  There are no autonomous individuals, only massive cooperative systems, where the fate of each one is dependent on the fate of the whole.  Life knows this, and humans need to get with the program, or die.







Sunday, May 9, 2021

Why Republicans Fear Democracy

                                                                                                            written 2 May 2021

                                                                                                        published 9 May 2021


            As I have said before, the belief in the illusion of separation, within a unity reality, is the fundamental dysfunction plaguing human civilization.  The apparent dichotomy starts at the individual level, experienced as self-versus-other, and expands from there.  Society demands extending trust and cooperation beyond the solitary self, first to the family, and then to collections of families cooperating as a tribe.  The history of our species is an evolution of increasing spheres of cooperation, arriving at our current situation of nation states operating within global structures.  However, this evolution from tribal to global has been continually hindered by fear of the other, and the perception that expansion involves loss: the illusions of separation.

            I started writing this column four years ago, in response to the tribalism promoted by the Trump administration.  Trump, a deeply flawed individual, but master salesman, peddled fear of the other, appealing to the limited concept of American exceptionalism.  This was not new in the world, or in American history, but his personality disorder allowed him to say out loud what had mostly been kept secret before.  He catered to the narrowest tribal aspects of our population, promoting extreme nationalism, misogyny, racism, and religious bigotry, while operating one of the most self-serving, corrupt administration on record.

            Again, this political orientation is not new, but the magnitude was jarring, coming at a time when the global, inclusive nature of our reality is becoming more apparent.  Our economy has become more globally interdependent over the last half century, and America's economic dominance, which shaped the world after the Second World War, is fading, demanding global cooperation.  The supply side economic model of exclusive gain benefits the very wealthy, but produces destabilizing wealth inequity.  Women are becoming more empowered, running for office, and getting elected, demanding equality.  Civil rights and voting rights, established decades ago, empower people of color, and immigration has shifted our national demographics.  The rise of the Internet, with ubiquitous smartphone video, makes public the racial injustices that have endured for centuries in relative secret.  The climate issue has broken into larger awareness, particularly among the young, who know they will have to live with the dire consequences.  In addition to all that, we are experiencing the largest global pandemic in a century.  The demand for holistic, inclusive action is undeniable. 

            Trump and the Republicans, preaching nothing but divisive, hateful tribalism, lost power, and the country is now experiencing what competent governance can do.  America leads the world in vaccines administered.  The American Rescue Plan, to address the economic costs of the pandemic, was popular with the public across the political spectrum, but no Republicans leaders supported it.  The infrastructure bill, and even the new voting rights bill, are also publicly popular, but solidly rejected by Republican leadership.  

            An increasing majority of voters realize they are no longer served by Republican programs, but rather than evolve, Republicans have decided to make war on democracy itself.  Their justification is Trump's big lie the election was stolen from him by voter fraud.  Despite losing every court case, and numerous recounts and audits, Trump's personality can't admit losing.  Thinking that they could control him, the Republican party allowed an insane man to lead them, and now chooses to support that insanity rather than address reality.  Republicans believe their tribe is supposed to be in power, so they want to unilaterally change the rules, making it harder to vote and creating extreme partisan gerrymandering.  

            Democratic governance rests on the inclusive perspective that ALL citizens have a right to decide our collective fate, not just the wealthy and powerful elite.  Republicans may succeed in destroying democracy, and temporarily maintain their exclusive power structure, but the inclusive forces of reality, in the form of the virus and the climate, don't care about such suicidal tribal posturing, and the whole world will suffer.  There are now more than 700 identified Covid variants in India, risking the emerging success of the current vaccines, and financial institutions everywhere are realizing that climate change is an economic threat.  

            These realities demand a coordinated global response, recognition that we are all in this together, not as a progressive agenda, or a democratic ideal, or even a Christian virtue, but because it is the real world we inhabit.  Republican tribalism fears democracy because it fears reality.







Sunday, May 2, 2021

Living Within Our Energy Income

                                                                                                         written 25 April 2021

                                                                                                        published 2 May 2021



            Traditional fiscal advice for a sustainable life style is to preserve your capital and live on your interest income.  The cautionary tale is a person who burns through an inheritance, living beyond their income, and eventually winds up bankrupt.  This same basic idea can be applied to natural resources and energy systems.

            Natural resources have a rate of renewal, and harvesting at less than that renewal rate is a prudent, conservative strategy, sustainable in the long term.  Harvesting above that rate eventually destroys the resource and whatever society it supports.  The history of civilization is littered with societies that collapsed after exhausting one or more of their critical natural resource systems.  This can be food resources, water resources, or energy resources.

            All societies throughout history have depended on solar energy.  Biologic systems convert the daily solar flux into carbohydrates or structural fiber, and the stored energy is used by humans in the form of crops, for food and fiber, and timber, for construction and heating.  Food and fiber are generally an annual solar harvest, while timber can have several centuries of stored solar harvest.

            Air heated by the daily solar flux moves around the planet as wind, which has been used for nautical transportation for over 5,500 years, and for mechanical power for over 2,200 years.  Water evaporated by the daily solar flux eventually falls as rainfall, and flowing water has been used for mechanical power for over 2,400 years.

            Fossil fuels are stored solar energy in the form of decomposed organic material, which were deposited long ago, buried by subsequent sedimentation, and transformed by pressure and geothermal heat.  Oil and natural gas were deposited between 65M-540M years ago, and coal was deposited between 100M-400M years ago.  The large-scale commercial extraction and use of fossil fuels began about 300 years ago. 

            Coal was the first to be developed, and powered the rise of the British Empire, giving their navy superior speed and maneuverability relative to wind powered fleets.  Coal currently supplies 27 percent of global energy.  With the lowest hydrogen to carbon ratio of the three fossil fuels, it is inefficient and contributes more greenhouse gases per unit of energy.  Consequently, it is losing global economic competitiveness.  At current consumption rates there are 133 years of global coal reserves left, but it is likely much of that will remain in the ground. 

            Global development of oil began about 200 years ago.  With a higher ratio of hydrogen to carbon than coal, it is a more efficient fuel, and more versatile as refined transportation fuels.  America's abundant reserves allowed us to supplant the British Empire after World War 2.  Oil now supplies 33 percent of global energy.  However, global oil reserves are smaller than coal reserves, and depletion of existing fields has outpaced discovery of new fields for half a century.  America's production peaked in 1972, and most other large global oil fields have peaked since then.  Shell Oil recently announced their entire reserve will be depleted by 2040.  Global reserves could support current consumption for 42 more years, but not all of that can be recovered economically.

            Natural gas is generally found with oil, and began commercial development at the same time.  Natural gas lighting revolutionized civilization beginning about 200 years ago.  It has the highest ratio of hydrogen to carbon of the three fossil fuels, and has been touted as a greener "bridge" fuel.  But natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than CO2 over the short run.  Because it can't be refined into as many products as oil, it isn't as versatile.  The fracking boom of the last decade boosted natural gas production, but these wells deplete quickly, making it a relatively expensive energy source.  Reserves can support current consumption rates for another 52 years.

            Like the spendthrift burning through his capital, humanity has grown our economy by burning through our rapidly diminishing supplies of stored fossil solar energy.  Independent of climate concerns, to avoid an economic collapse of unprecedented proportion, we must shift our economy to living on our solar income within the next few decades, before we exhaust our stored fossil solar capital completely.  Fortunately, our solar income is enormous: 10,000 times our current global energy consumption.  Does humanity have the wisdom and commitment to make such a shift?