Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Progressing Wisdom – the essay.

with 6 comments

What is wisdom?

On May 11th, Patrice Ayme published an essay entitled Science: Progressing Wisdom.  I found it deeply engaging. At the same time, I was frustrated because there was a part of me that wanted to know more about “Patrice”.

For some time, I had known that Patrice Ayme was a nom-de-plume and that his, or her, identity was carefully protected. Still that part of me that wanted to relate to the real person, for want of a better description, still wouldn’t quieten down.  I offered the following comment:

Patrice, you have demonstrated an amazing breadth of knowledge across your many essays. However, I did wonder if you would be happy to declare your educational experience? As in your specialisation at a degree or Doctorate level (I suspect you do hold a PhD!)? Best wishes, Paul

Patrice’s reply, which you are encouraged to read in full, opened, thus:

You are so funny, Paul! You have an Obsession-Compulsion about “qualifications”.

One of my main ideas, idea #956, is that the authority principle is severely abused. People with Philosophiae Doctor have nothing sacred about them. Goebbels had one (in humanities).

Do you think Goebbels’ authority in humanities is to be “declared”? There were even not just PhDs, but Nobel Laureates, who became Nazis, BEFORE Hitler (who had been sent to spy on them).

No doubt Hitler, a simple caporal, and gifted painter (he lived off it), was super-impressed when he met some of the most educated people in the world, and they were Nazis… Full of PhDs.

One should not confuse the message’s content and her bearer.

This site is about learning to think better. That’s why I go back to the basics.

The idea that, say, those with PhDs is Idionomics, are the only ones qualified to speak about idiocy, is, well, idiotic.

Another reader of Patrice’s essay, gmax, said this, in part:

You have to learn to judge knowledge, not just follow oligarchs like a bleating sheep to learn what’s true and what is not.

That really made me sit up and think! For the first time in my life (I’m 70 later this year), I realised that my own ragged educational experience, as offered yesterday, had left in its wake a personal insecurity over my education, and a consequential weakness in evaluating knowledge with me somehow needing to know the identity of anonymous authors. When Patrice wrote, “Please do not hesitate to make it a post, Paul! I was thinking of it myself, but, as it is, right now, I don’t seem to have the time.“, I couldn’t resist.

Here is my essay.

ooOOoo

Wisdom, knowledge and authority.

Abstract: Wisdom requires clarity of knowledge; no more and no less.

On Tuesday evening, Jean and I rented a movie.  We watched the film American Hustle.

american-hustle-poster

The film tells the story of brilliant con man Irving Rosenfeld, who along with his equally cunning and seductive British partner Sydney Prosser is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia that’s as dangerous as it is enchanting. Jeremy Renner is Carmine Polito, the passionate, volatile, New Jersey political operator caught between the con-artists and Feds. Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn could be the one to pull the thread that brings the entire world crashing down.

The film has received rave reviews (here’s a typical one in the Guardian newspaper) and was fun to watch; albeit somewhat confusing for much of the first half. At one point towards the end, the hero of the film, Irving Rosenfeld, reflects that, “People see and hear what they want to believe!“.

Bingo!

That is the challenge about accruing wisdom. How to be analytical and wise in learning new thinking and new ideas. In other words, in acquiring knowledge!

If the subject is simple (well on the surface!) as, for example, the effect of the Earth’s gravitational field then that’s fine and dandy.  It’s easy to become wise to the fact that falling off a tall building is likely to kill you.

But take an extremely complex, and highly current matter, that of Planet Earth’s changing climate, and it is extremely difficult for the average person without a scientific background to determine the truth.  Really, when I use the phrase “to determine the truth” in the context of this essay I should have written ‘to gain knowledge‘.

To illustrate that, my good Californian friend of more than 35 years, Dan Gomez, is highly sceptical about climate change as a product of man’s activities.  Recently, I sent him an email with a link to the NBC News report: American Doomsday: White House Warns of Climate CatastrophesThis was Dan’s email reply:

Think about it, Paul.

1. Consider the source and the timing of these new headlines i.e. the left-thinking Obama regime and current unfavorable political challenges.
2. A deflection from mainline issues confronting us today i.e., jobs, economy, healthcare, upcoming elections, Benghazi and IRS political issues.
3. Major opportunity to raise taxes unilaterally without Congress involved.
4. Major opportunity to redistribute corporate wealth from private sector to public sector.
5. Refocus of competitive, free-market energy sector to controlled renewables managed by a few very wealthy political contributors. A lot of money at stake.
6. Man, is empowered via a political party to “save the world” by changing the Weather. The only problem is, there is no solution, no global will and no participants to make anything significant happen i.e., China, Southeast Asia and another billion people scattered about.
7. Euro Zone and USA have already cut CO2 emissions by over 30% each to no avail. In fact, they say it is getting worse after hundreds of billions of dollars already diverted from private sector to public sector with no results. They are now asking for trillions.
8. Average person is not willing to give up his car, nor spend more for battery power (peel back the onion on the battery manufacturing and recycling industry vis a vis CO2 contributions). Much fewer cars, trains, tractors, jets, etc. to make anything work. Sacrifice begins at home.
9. Cows vent 20 times the CO2 emissions in the form of methane than man-made artifacts.  Just saying….
10. Check out the bacteria challenge facing Man. This will help put priorities in order for you.

As always, follow the money and you’ll get your answers…..

I am unable to respond to Dan in an analytical and precise manner. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to so do. Having an emotional response is fine – but it does not advance my personal wisdom.

On the 6th May, I posted an item that featured a TED Talk by scientist Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist no less.  His view is that, “You can’t understand climate change in pieces. It’s the whole, or it’s nothing.”  The TED Talk explains how the big picture of climate change illustrates the endlessly complex interactions of small-scale environmental events.

Just a few days ago, Jean and I had the pleasure of a couple of hours at the home of Leon Hunsaker, renowned meteorologist who has claimed that the 1862 Californian flood could happen again.

Leon Hunsaker has done the math, and he thinks Sacramento isn’t prepared for another series of storms like the ones that hit the state in January 1862.

Leon Hunsaker has done the math, and he thinks Sacramento isn’t prepared for another series of storms like the ones that hit the state in January 1862.

Leon lives less than 5 minutes from us here in Southern Oregon. I asked him what he thought of climate change and he said that the planet’s atmosphere was like a large chocolate cake and man’s activities were no more than the icing on the cake.

So there you are: a range of opinions about this particular, potentially very important, subject. Although in my own (emotional) mind the weight of evidence is in favour of the argument that man is having a deepening and worsening effect on our planet.

Take, for example, the report issued yesterday about significant melting of Antarctica’s glaciers now unstoppable. (Patrice has just released an informative post on the subject!)

People see and hear what they want to believe!” comes immediately back to mind. Dan wants to believe that the planet is going through normal cycles of change.  I want to believe that mankind can make a difference; for the sake of my children and grandson.

Let me turn to the subject of anonymous authors, my Obsession-Compulsion about qualifications!

I have admitted the flaw in my thinking. Here’s the rationale for my change of opinion.

Just two days ago, Tom Engelhardt published his latest TomDispatch, a guest essay by Glenn Greenwald coinciding with the publication of Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Security State. In that essay, Glenn Greenwald says:

On December 1, 2012, I received my first communication from Edward Snowden, although I had no idea at the time that it was from him.

The contact came in the form of an email from someone calling himself Cincinnatus, a reference to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who, in the fifth century BC, was appointed dictator of Rome to defend the city against attack. He is most remembered for what he did after vanquishing Rome’s enemies: he immediately and voluntarily gave up political power and returned to farming life. Hailed as a “model of civic virtue,” Cincinnatus has become a symbol of the use of political power in the public interest and the worth of limiting or even relinquishing individual power for the greater good.

The world now knows what Glenn Greenwald (and Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker) knew long before.  That Snowden’s anonymity was critically important in the run-up to his knowledge being made widely known.

I was convinced. What is important is not the name and identity of the author of knowledge.  What is important is the knowledge itself. No one would deny Snowden’s right to privacy. Indeed, millions of us would opt for email privacy if we fully realised the ease and extent with which our emails, indeed our communications in general, can be intercepted.

Many know that Patrice is a frequent, outspoken voice about the dangers of plutocracy and the slip-sliding away of democracy in the United States. His, or her, personal safety is the highest need of all. Patrice has a perfect right to privacy.

Which leads on to the final, obvious question. If we do not know the identity of the author of knowledge then how can we be certain that the knowledge is valid?

Answer: Through testing!

Of course!

In the best traditions of research, especially scientific research, testing the validity of a claim is the only certain way of determining the validity of knowledge; of being able to derive wisdom from that knowledge.

Let me give you a clear example.

Commercial aviation is incredibly safe. Many countries operate an equivalent to the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch. That UK AAIB website proclaims:

The purpose of the AAIB is:

To improve aviation safety by determining the causes of air accidents and serious incidents and making safety recommendations intended to prevent recurrence
…It is not to apportion blame or liability.

Keith Conradi, Chief Inspector

Critical to that purpose of improving safety (aka improving knowledge) is looking for trends. Any trends or patterns would be impossible to discover without testing and debate.

Thus what makes aviation safer is no different to what makes all of knowledge reliable: the testing of ideas and of the hypotheses behind those ideas. The identity of the author of those ideas, per se, is irrelevant.

Thus it is clear to me, clear now beyond doubt, that wisdom is the application of knowledge disconnected from the person who is the author of that knowledge. One might see it as a marriage of knowledge and intellect. Nothing more and nothing less!

All aspects of wisdom depend on trust, on the confidence that the knowledge is ‘reliable‘. Reliability gained from debate and testing.

Never forgetting that in the final analysis, as Patrice wrote it:

“Nature is the only authority worth respecting always.”

ooOOoo

In every which way that one can imagine, we have to return to the principles of fairness and balance so beautifully demonstrated to man by the breadth of Nature.  We have to embrace Nature’s wisdom.

In other words, we have to learn from dogs!

About these ads

The Natural order – fairness.

with 2 comments

I sense the levels of inequity in today’s world reaching crisis levels!

This is the next essay in my irregular series of The Natural order.  The last one, on life and death, was published a couple of weeks ago.

Now it would be tempting to rant on at great length about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ but there’s a sense of caution about so doing.  Because, to be blunt about it, the lifestyle that Jean and I enjoy here on our rural retreat in Southern Oregon is, compared to millions, a blissful luxury.

So all I will do is to refer to some recent articles and essays that seem, to me anyway, to speak volumes about the terrible and growing levels of inequity between the majority of citizens and ‘the 1%‘!

Patrice Ayme of the blog Patrice Ayme’s Thoughts has long written about inequality.  I recommend you browse his many essays on the subject of plutocracy but this one, USA: Rich Plutos, Poor People, comes to mind fairly quickly; from which I quote:

Plutocracy is a redistribution of wealth, power, income, from We The People to a small minority of controlling parasites. Plutocracy paralyzes the minds with a warped case of inverted decency. Plutocracy is neither optimal for the society, nor the economy.

Plutocracy affects the USA more than Europe, and the minds, even more than the stomachs. The fact that average Americans feel that they are much better off than in the rest of the world reinforces the plutocratization of the USA. Including astounding tolerance for the amazingly corrupt so-called Supreme Court (Supremely plutocratic!).

I’m “Black”, Mom Was White, & Thus We’re In The Black.

I’m “Black”, Mom Was White, & Thus We’re In The Black.

Turning back to this place, not so long ago I published a two-part essay on the loss of democracy.  In the first part, I wrote:

But if you think this is an American problem, let me take you back a couple of days to my post that reflected the feeling that it was all getting too much: I just want to throw up! Reason? Because in that post I referred to a recent essay by George Monbiot called The Shooting Party.  Here are the opening chapters (and you will have to go here to read the numbered references):

As the food queues lengthen, the government is giving our money to the super-rich.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 29th April 2014

So now you might have to buy your own crutches, but you’ll get your shotgun subsidised by the state. A few days after False Economy revealed that an NHS group is considering charging patients for the crutches, walking sticks and neck braces it issues (1), we discovered that David Cameron has intervened to keep the cost of gun licences frozen at £50: a price which hasn’t changed since 2001 (2).

The police are furious: it costs them £196 to conduct the background checks required to ensure that shotguns are issued only to the kind of dangerous lunatics who use them for mowing down pheasants, rather than to the common or garden variety. As a result they – sorry we – lose £17m a year, by subsidizing the pursuits of the exceedingly rich (3). The Country Land and Business Association – the armed wing of the Conservative party – complains that it’s simply not fair to pass on the full cost of the licence to the owners of shotguns (4); unlike, say, the owners of passports or driving licences, who are charged on the basis of full cost recovery.

Three days later – on Friday – the government announced that it will raise the subsidy it provides for grouse moors from £30 per hectare to £56 (5). Yes, you read that right: the British government subsidises grouse moors, which are owned by 1% of the 1% and used by people who are scarcely less rich. While the poor are being forced out of their homes through government cuts, it is raising the payments – across hundreds of thousands of hectares – that some owners use to burn and cut the land (helping to cause floods downstream), shoot or poison hen harriers and other predators, and scar the hills with roads and shooting butts (6). While the rest of us can go to the devil, the interests of the very rich are ringfenced.

Shortly, I’m going to refer to another Monbiot essay recently published that underscores, once again, the corruption of fairness that is happening in the United Kingdom.

Before that, let me remind all you great readers the lesson we should, and must, learn from Nature. Again, using something recently posted:

OK, I opened today’s post with the sub-heading “Probably just now the most important lesson to be learnt from dogs!” Let me expand on that.

Dogs, like many other ‘pack’ animals, have a relatively flat hierarchy across their group.  Typically, a wild dog pack numbered upwards of 30 animals although in modern times we have only the African Wild dog left to study.  Nevertheless, the African Wild dog offers mankind the key lesson about cooperation and social equality.  Here’s an extract from a National Geographic article [my emphasis]:

African Wild Dog Lycaon pictus

Known as African wild, painted, or Cape hunting dogs, these endangered canines closely resemble wolves in their pack-oriented social structure. Photograph by Chris Johns

Known as African wild, painted, or Cape hunting dogs, these endangered canines closely resemble wolves in their pack-oriented social structure.
Photograph by Chris Johns

The African wild dog, also called Cape hunting dog or painted dog, typically roams the open plains and sparse woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa.

These long-legged canines have only four toes per foot, unlike other dogs, which have five toes on their forefeet. The dog’s Latin name means “painted wolf,” referring to the animal’s irregular, mottled coat, which features patches of red, black, brown, white, and yellow fur. Each animal has its own unique coat pattern, and all have big, rounded ears.

African wild dogs live in packs that are usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair. The female has a litter of 2 to 20 pups, which are cared for by the entire pack. These dogs are very social, and packs have been known to share food and to assist weak or ill members. Social interactions are common, and the dogs communicate by touch, actions, and vocalizations.

African wild dogs hunt in formidable, cooperative packs of 6 to 20 (or more) animals. Larger packs were more common before the dogs became endangered.

So back to the domesticated dog.  There are just three ‘roles’ to be found: the female alpha dog, the male beta dog and the omega dog that can be of either gender. Even though in a group of dogs (we have eight here at home) the alpha and beta dogs are dominant and will eat first, there is no question of denying the other dogs in the group access to food, water and love from us humans.

The lesson we must learn from dogs is obvious and there’s no need for me to spell it out!

This, then, is the power of the natural order as it applies to animal ‘communities’.

Nature, one way or another, will show us that the natural order is the only ruling order on this natural planet.

So with those tones of mine hopefully ringing in your ears, have a read of this recent Monbiot essay republished with Mr. Monbiot’s kind permission.

ooOOoo

Land of Impunity

May 5, 2014

Politicians and government contractors now seem to be able to get away with almost anything.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 6th May 2014.

What do you have to do to fall out of favour with this government? Last month, the security company G4S was quietly rehabilitated (1). It had been banned in August 2013 from bidding for government contracts (2), after charging the state for tagging 3,000 phantom criminals (3). Those who had died before it started monitoring them presented a particularly low escape risk. G4S was obliged to pay £109m back to the government.

Eight months later, and before an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office has concluded, back it bounces, seeking more government business. Never mind that it almost scuppered the Olympics (4). Never mind Jimmy Mubenga, an asylum seeker who died in 2010 after being “restrained” by G4S guards(5), or Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old who died while being held down at a secure training centre in 2004(6). Never mind the scandals and crises at Oakwood, the giant prison it runs(7). G4S, recently described by MPs as one of a handful of “privately-owned public monopolies”(8), is crucial to the government’s attempts to outsource almost everything. So it cannot be allowed to fail.

Was it ever banned at all? Six days after the moratorium was lifted, G4S won a new contract to run services for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs(9). A fortnight later, it was chosen as one of the companies that will run the government’s Help to Work scheme(10). How did it win these contracts if, in the preceding months, it wasn’t allowed to bid?

When I first worked in Brazil, in the late 1980s, the country was widely described as o pais de impunidade: the land of impunity. What this meant was that there were no political consequences. Politicians, officials and contractors could be exposed for the most flagrant corruption, but they remained in post. The worst that happened was early retirement with a fat pension and the proceeds of their villainy safely stashed offshore. It’s beginning to look a bit like that here.

This is not to suggest that the people or companies I name in this article are crooked or corrupt. It’s to suggest that the political class no longer seems to care about failure.

The failure works both ways of course. As Polly Toynbee has shown, the pilot projects for the Help to Work scheme which G4S will run reveal that it’s a complete waste of time and money(11). Yet the government has decided to go ahead anyway, subjecting the jobless to yet more humiliation and pointlessness. Contrast the boundless forgiveness of G4S to the endless castigation for being unemployed.

A record of failure reflects the environment in which such companies are hired: one in which ministers launch improbable schemes then look the other way when they go wrong. G4S had to pay back so much money for the phantom criminals it wasn’t monitoring because it had been doing it for eight years, and no one in government had bothered to check(12). There is no such thing as failure any more, just lessons to be learnt.

Accountability has always been weak in this country, but under this government you must make spectacular efforts to lose your post. At the Leveson inquiry in April 2012, the relationship between the then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and the Murdoch empire that he was supposed to be regulating was exposed in gory detail(13,14). Though he was meant to be deciding impartially whether or not to allow the empire to take over the broadcaster BSkyB, he was secretly exchanging gleeful messages with James Murdoch and his staff(15).

We all knew what it meant. The emails, the Guardian observed, were likely to “sever the slim thread connecting Hunt to his cabinet job.”(16) “After this he’s toast … it’s over for Hunt,” wrote Tom Watson MP(17). “He cannot stay in his post,” said Ed Miliband. “And if he refuses to resign, the prime minister must show some leadership and fire him.”(18) We waited. Hunt remained culture secretary for another four months, then he was promoted to secretary of state for health.

On 2 September 2012, the Guardian revealed that the housing minister, Grant Shapps, had founded a business which “creates web pages by spinning and scraping content from other sites to attract advertising”: a process that looks to me like automated plagiarism(19). He had been promoting the business under the name of Michael Green, who claimed to be an internet marketing guru. Again it looked fatal. Two days later, in the same reshuffle that elevated Hunt, he was promoted to Conservative party chairman.

A real Mr Green – Stephen this time – was ennobled by David Cameron and appointed, democratically of course, as minister for trade and investment. In July 2012, a US Senate committee reported that while Lord Green was chief executive and chairman of HSBC, the bank’s compliance culture was “pervasively polluted”(20). Its branches had “actively circumvented US safeguards … designed to block transactions involving terrorists, drug lords, and rogue regimes.” Billions of dollars from Mexican drug barons, from Iran and from “obviously suspicious” travellers’ cheques “benefiting Russians who claimed to be in the used car business” sluiced through its tills(21). Out went dollars and financial services to banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh linked to the financing of terrorists. The Guardian reported that HSBC “continued to operate hundreds of accounts with suspected links to Mexican drug cartels, even after Green and fellow executives were told by regulators that HSBC was one of the worst banks for money laundering.”(22)

Green refused to answer questions and sat tight(23). He remained in post for another 17 months, until he gracefully retired in December 2013.

After it had become obvious to almost everyone that it was impossible for them to remain in the Cabinet, David Cameron refused to sack either Liam Fox or Maria Miller. Forgiveness and redemption, by all means. But they are not unconditional: without contrition or even acknowledgement that wrong has been done, there’s no difference between giving people a second chance and engaging in an almighty cover-up.

There has seldom, in the democratic era, been a better time to thrive by appeasing wealth and power, or to fail by sticking to your principles. Politicians who twist and turn on behalf of business are immune to attack. Those who resist are excoriated.

Here’s where a culture of impossible schemes and feeble accountability leads: to cases like that of Mark Wood, a highly vulnerable man who had his benefits cut after being wrongly assessed by the outsourcing company Atos Healthcare as fit for work, and starved to death(24) – while those who run such companies retire with millions. Impunity for the rich; misery for the poor.

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26958650

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23596541

3. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/mar/12/g4s-repay-overcharging-tagging-contracts

4. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/sep/11/g4s-failed-olympic-security-lord-coe

5. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/jul/09/jimmy-mubenga-unlawfully-killed-inquest-jury

6. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2007/jun/29/youthjustice.law

7. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/apr/29/tales-from-inside-oakwood-prison

8. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubacc/777/777.pdf?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=contracting-out-public-services-to-the-private-sector-forty-seventh-report-of-session-2013-14-report-together-with-formal-minutes-oral-and-written-evidence

9. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/supportservices/10768641/G4S-wins-first-central-Government-contract-since-tagging-scandal.html

10. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4f9118a6-ceed-11e3-9165-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz30pVTWOXh

11. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/15/help-to-work-punishing-jobless

12. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubacc/777/777.pdf?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=contracting-out-public-services-to-the-private-sector-forty-seventh-report-of-session-2013-14-report-together-with-formal-minutes-oral-and-written-evidence

13. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/apr/24/leveson-inquiry-jeremy-hunt

14. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/apr/24/jeremy-hunt-murdochs-bskyb-bid

15. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/may/31/jeremy-hunt-james-murdoch-bskyb

16. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/may/24/leveson-inquiry-memo-hunt-murdoch

17. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/24/jeremy-hunt-must-resign

18. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/apr/24/jeremy-hunt-calls-resign-bskyb

19. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/sep/02/grant-shapps-google-howtocorp-adsense

20. http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/subcommittees/investigations/media/hsbc-exposed-us-finacial-system-to-money-laundering-drug-terrorist-financing-risks

21. http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/subcommittees/investigations/hearings/us-vulnerabilities-to-money-laundering-drugs-and-terrorist-financing-hsbc-case-history

22. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jul/22/hsbc-lord-green-mexico-drugs-cash

23. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jul/24/lord-green-hsbc-scandal

24. http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/11112129.Government_admits_Mark_Wood_s_benefits_cut_before_he_starved_to_death__was_wrong_/

ooOOoo

 

The loss of democracy, Part One

leave a comment »

Probably just now the most important lesson to be learnt from dogs! (read to the end!)

I have frequently written about the many growing stresses in societies so, in a sense, today’s post is nothing new.  But the power of a recent essay over on TomDispatch was such that I couldn’t ignore it.  Especially as Tom Engelhardt has given me permission to republish it. I’m referring to the essay by Peter Van Buren under the title of Regime Change in America.

However, while that essay is published wholly as one by Tom, I’m going to break it down into two posts; today and next Monday.  Simply because it resonates so strongly with other items that I want to refer to.

But let me get started by offering you Tom’s introduction to Peter Van Buren’s essay.

The old words are on the rebound, the ones that went out in the last century when the very idea of a Gilded Age, and the plutocrats and oligarchy of wealth that went with it, left the scene in the Great Depression. Now, those three classic terms that were never to return (or so it once seemed) are back in our vocabularies. They’ve been green-lighted by society. (If they’re not on SAT tests in the coming years, I’ll eat my top hat.)

Of course, an inequality gap has been widening into an abyss for decades now, but when it comes to the present boom in old-fashioned words that once went with being really, really, obscenely wealthy and powerful, give the Occupy movement of 2011 credit. After all, they were the ones who took what should already have been on everyone’s lips — the raging inequality in American society — out of the closet and made it part of the national conversation. 1%! 99%!

Now, the stats on national and global inequality are everyday fare (and looking worse all the time). Meanwhile, the book of a French (French!) economist about how the U.S. is leading the way when it comes to inequality and possibly creating the basis for a future… yes!… oligarchy of inherited wealth is on the bestseller list and the talk of the town. And if that weren’t enough, a new study out of Princeton University suggests that, as Talking Points Memo put it, “Over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.” As the two authors of the study write, “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

In an America where, when it comes to the political system, the Supreme Court has now granted the dollar the full right to speak its mind, and ever more of those dollars can be found in the pockets of… well, not to put a fine point on it, plutocrats, we need a new (that is, old) vocabulary to fit our changing circumstances.

In all of this, one thing missing has been the classic American observer, the keen reporter setting out on the road to catch the new look of a land in pain and misery. Today, TomDispatch aims to remedy that. Peter Van Buren, former State Department whistleblower and author of a new book on American inequality, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, has been traveling the ever-expanding, ever-rustier Rust Belt taking the temperature of a land with a significant fever. Here’s his account. Tom

But if you think this is an American problem, let me take you back a couple of days to my post that reflected the feeling that it was all getting too much: I just want to throw up! Reason? Because in that post I referred to a recent essay by George Monbiot called The Shooting Party.  Here are the opening chapters (and you will have to go here to read the numbered references):

As the food queues lengthen, the government is giving our money to the super-rich.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 29th April 2014

So now you might have to buy your own crutches, but you’ll get your shotgun subsidised by the state. A few days after False Economy revealed that an NHS group is considering charging patients for the crutches, walking sticks and neck braces it issues (1), we discovered that David Cameron has intervened to keep the cost of gun licences frozen at £50: a price which hasn’t changed since 2001 (2).

The police are furious: it costs them £196 to conduct the background checks required to ensure that shotguns are issued only to the kind of dangerous lunatics who use them for mowing down pheasants, rather than to the common or garden variety. As a result they – sorry we – lose £17m a year, by subsidizing the pursuits of the exceedingly rich (3). The Country Land and Business Association – the armed wing of the Conservative party – complains that it’s simply not fair to pass on the full cost of the licence to the owners of shotguns (4); unlike, say, the owners of passports or driving licences, who are charged on the basis of full cost recovery.

Three days later – on Friday – the government announced that it will raise the subsidy it provides for grouse moors from £30 per hectare to £56 (5). Yes, you read that right: the British government subsidises grouse moors, which are owned by 1% of the 1% and used by people who are scarcely less rich. While the poor are being forced out of their homes through government cuts, it is raising the payments – across hundreds of thousands of hectares – that some owners use to burn and cut the land (helping to cause floods downstream), shoot or poison hen harriers and other predators, and scar the hills with roads and shooting butts (6). While the rest of us can go to the devil, the interests of the very rich are ringfenced.

So with no further ado, back to the first half of Peter Van Buren’s essay.

ooOOoo

This Land Isn’t Your Land, This Land Is Their Land

An Empire in Decline (City by City, Town by Town)
By Peter Van Buren

As America’s new economy starts to look more like the old economy of the Great Depression, the divide between rich and poor, those who have made it and those who never will, seems to grow ever starker. I know. I’ve seen it firsthand.

Once upon a time, I worked as a State Department officer, helping to carry out the occupation of Iraq, where Washington’s goal was regime change. It was there that, in a way, I had my first taste of the life of the 1%. Unlike most Iraqis, I had more food and amenities than I could squander, nearly unlimited funds to spend as I wished (as long as the spending supported us one-percenters), and plenty of U.S. Army muscle around to keep the other 99% at bay. However, my subsequent whistleblowing about State Department waste and mismanagement in Iraq ended my 24-year career abroad and, after a two-decade absence, deposited me back in “the homeland.”

I returned to America to find another sort of regime change underway, only I wasn’t among the 1% for this one. Instead, I ended up working in the new minimum-wage economy and saw firsthand what a life of lousy pay and barely adequate food benefits adds up to. For the version of regime change that found me working in a big box store, no cruise missiles had been deployed and there had been no shock-and-awe demonstrations. Nonetheless, the cumulative effects of years of deindustrialization, declining salaries, absent benefits, and weakened unions, along with a rise in meth and alcohol abuse, a broad-based loss of good jobs, and soaring inequality seemed similar enough to me. The destruction of a way of life in the service of the goals of the 1%, whether in Iraq or at home, was hard to miss. Still, I had the urge to see more. Unlike in Iraq, where my movements were limited, here at home I could hit the road, so I set off for a look at some of America’s iconic places as part of the research for my book, Ghosts of Tom Joad.

Here, then, are snapshots of four of the spots I visited in an empire in decline, places you might pass through if you wanted to know where we’ve been, where we are now, and (heaven help us) where we’re going.

On the Boardwalk: Atlantic City, New Jersey

Drive in to Atlantic City on the old roads, and you’re sure to pass Lucy the Elephant. She’s not a real elephant, of course, but a wood and tin six-story hollow statue. First built in 1881 to add value to some Jersey swampland, Lucy has been reincarnated several times after suffering fire, neglect, and storm damage. Along the way, she was a tavern, a hotel, and — for most of her life — simply an “attraction.” As owning a car and family driving vacations became egalitarian rights in the booming postwar economy of the 1950s and 1960s, all manner of tacky attractions popped up along America’s roads: cement dinosaurs, teepee-shaped motels, museums of oddities, and spectacles like the world’s largest ball of twine. Their growth paralleled 20 to 30 years of the greatest boom times any consumer society has ever known.

Between 1947 and 1973, actual incomes in the United States rose remarkably evenly across society. Certainly, there was always inequality, but never as sharp and predatory as it is today. As Scott Martelle’s Detroit: A Biography chronicles, in 1932, Detroit produced 1.4 million cars; in 1950, that number was eight million; in 1973, it peaked at 12 million. America was still a developing nation — in the best sense of that word.

Yet as the U.S. economy changed, money began to flow out of the working class pockets that fed Lucy and her roadside attraction pals. By one count, from 1979 to 2007, the top 1% of Americans saw their income grow by 281%. They came to control 43% of U.S. wealth.

You could see it all in Atlantic City, New Jersey. For most of its early life, it had been a workingman’s playground and vacation spot, centered around its famous boardwalk. Remember Monopoly? The street names are all from Atlantic City. However, in the economic hard times of the 1970s, as money was sucked upward from working people, Boardwalk and Park Place became a crime scene, too dangerous for most visitors. Illegal drug sales all but overtook tourism as the city’s most profitable business.

Yet the first time I visited Atlantic City in the mid-1980s, it looked like the place was starting to rebound in the midst of a national economy going into overdrive. With gambling legalized, money poured in. The Boardwalk sprouted casinos and restaurants. Local business owners scrambled to find workers. Everyone and everything felt alive. Billboards boasted of “rebirth.”

Visit Atlantic City in 2014 and it’s again a hollowed-out place. The once swanky mall built on one of the old amusement piers has more stores shuttered than open. Meanwhile, the “We Buy Gold” stores and pawnshops have multiplied and are open 24/7 to rip off the easy marks who need cash bad enough to be out at 4 A.M. pulling off their wedding rings. On a 20-story hotel tower, you can still read the word “Hilton” in dirt shadow where its name had once been, before the place was shuttered.

Trump Plaza, a monument to excess and hubris created by a man once admired as a business magician and talked about as a possible presidential candidate, is now a catalog of decay. The pillows in the rooms smell of sweat, the corners of doors are chipped, many areas need a new coat of paint, and most of the bars and restaurants resemble the former Greyhound bus terminal a few blocks away. People covered with the street gravy that marks the homeless wander the casino, itself tawdry and too dimly lit to inspire fun. There were just too many people who were clearly carrying everything they owned around in a backpack.

Outside, along the Boardwalk, there are still the famous rolling chairs. They are comfortable, bound in wicker, and have been a fixture of Atlantic City for decades. They were once pushed by strong young men, maybe college students earning a few bucks over the summer break. You can still ride the chairs to see and be seen, but now they’re pushed by recent immigrants and not-so-clean older denizens of the city. Lots of tourists still take rides, but there’s something cheap and sad about paying workers close to my own age to wheel you around, just a step above pushing dollars into the G-strings of the strippers in clubs just off the Boardwalk.

One of the things I did while in Atlantic City was look for the family restaurant I had worked in 30 years earlier. It’s now a dollar store run by an angry man. “You buy or you leave,” he said. Those were the last words I heard in Atlantic City. I left.

Dark Side of the Moon: Weirton, West Virginia

The drive into Weirton from the east takes you through some of the prettiest countryside in Maryland and Western Pennsylvania. You cross rivers and pass through the Cumberland Gap along the way and it’s easy going into the town, because the roads are mostly empty during typical business hours. There’s nothing much going on. The surrounding beauty just makes the scarred remains of Weirton that much more shocking when you first come upon them. Take the last turn and suddenly the abandoned steel mills appear like a vision of an industrial apocalypse, nestled by the Ohio River.

In 1909, Ernest T. Weir built his first steel mill next to that river and founded what later became the Weirton Steel Corporation. In the decades to come, the town around it and the mill itself were basically synonymous, both fueled by the industrial needs of two world wars and the consumer economy created following the defeat of Germany and Japan. The Weirton mill directly contributed to wartime triumphs, producing artillery shells and raw steel to support the effort, while Weirton’s sons died on battlefields using the company’s products. (A war memorial across the street from the mill sanctifies the dead, the newest names being from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.)

tomjoadAt its peak, the Weirton Steel Corporation employed more than 12,000 people, and was the largest single private employer and taxpayer in West Virginia. The owners of the mill paid for and built the Weirton Community Center, the Weirton General Hospital, and the Mary H. Weir Library in those glory days. For years the mill also paid directly for the city’s sewers, water service, and even curbside garbage pickup. Taxes were low and life was good.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, however, costs rose, Asian steel gained traction and American manufacturing started to move offshore. For the first time since the nineteenth century, the country became a net importer of goods. Some scholars consider the mid-1970s a tipping point, when Congress changed the bankruptcy laws to allow troubled companies an easier path to dumping existing union contracts and employee agreements. It was then that Congress also invented individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, which were supposed to allow workers to save money tax-free to supplement their retirements. Most corporations saw instead an opportunity to get rid of expensive pensions. It was around then that some unknown steelworker was first laid off in Weirton, a candidate for Patient Zero of the new economy.

The mill, which had once employed nearly one out of every two people in town, was sold to its employees in 1984 in a final, failed attempt at resuscitation. In the end, the factory closed, but the people remained. Today, the carcass of the huge steel complex sits at one end of Main Street, rusting and overgrown with weeds because it wasn’t even cost-effective to tear it down. Dinosaur-sized pieces of machinery litter the grounds, not worth selling off, too heavy to move, too bulky to bury, like so many artifacts from a lost civilization. A few people do still work nearby, making a small amount of some specialty metal, but the place seems more like a living museum than a business.

Most of the retail shops on Main Street are now abandoned, though I counted seven bars and two strip clubs. There’s the Mountaineer Food Bank that looks like it used to be a hardware store or maybe a dress shop. The only still-thriving industry is, it seems, gambling. West Virginia legalized “gaming” in 1992 and it’s now big business statewide. (Nationally, legal gambling revenues now top $92.27 billion a year.)

Gambling in Weirton is, however, a far cry even from the decaying Trump Hotel in Atlantic City. There are no Vegas-style casinos in town, just what are called “cafes” strung along Main Street. None were built to be gambling havens. In fact, their prior history is apparent in their architecture: this one a former Pizza Hut, that one an old retail store with now-blacked out windows, another visibly a former diner.

One sunny Tuesday, I rolled into a cafe at 7 A.M., mostly because I couldn’t believe it was open. It took my eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness before I could make out three older women feeding nickels into slot machines, while another stood behind a cheap padded bar, a cigarette tucked behind her ear, another stuck to her dry lips. She offered me a drink, gesturing to rows of Everclear pure grain, nearly 99% pure alcohol, and no-name vodka behind her. I declined, and she said, “Well, if you can’t drink all day, best anyway that you not start so early.”

Liquor is everywhere in Weirton. I talked to a group of men drinking out of paper bags on a street corner at 8 A.M. They hadn’t, in fact, been there all night. They were just starting early like the cafe lady said. Even the gas stations were stocked with the ubiquitous Everclear, all octane with no taste or flavor added because someone knew that you didn’t care anymore. And as the state collects tax on it, everyone but you wins.

Booze is an older person’s formula for destruction. For the younger set, it’s meth that’s really destroying Weirton and towns like it across the Midwest. Ten minutes in a bar, a nod at the guy over there, and you find yourself holding a night’s worth of the drug. Small sizes, low cost, adapted to the market. In Weirton, no need even to go shopping, the meth comes to you.

Meth and the Rust Belt were just waiting for each other. After all, it’s a drug designed for unemployed people with poor self-images and no confidence. Unlike booze or weed, it makes you feel smart, sexy, confident, self-assured — before the later stages of addiction set in. For a while, it seems like the antidote to everything real life in the New Economy won’t ever provide. The meth crisis, in the words of author Nick Reding in Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, is “as much about the death of a way of life as the birth of a drug.”

The effects of a lifetime working in the mill — or for the young, of a lifetime not working in the mill — were easy enough to spot around town. The library advertised free diabetes screening and the one grocery store had signs explaining what you could and could not buy with SNAP (food stamps, which have been called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program since 2008). The local TV channels were chock-a-block full of lawyers’ ads urging you to call in if you have an asbestos-related illness. A lot of health was left behind in those mills.

There are some nice people in Weirton (and Cleveland, Detroit, or any of the other industrial ghost towns once inhabited by what Bruce Springsteen calls “steel and stories”). I’m sure there were even nicer parts of Weirton further away from the Main Street area where I was hanging out, but if you’re a stranger, it’s sure damn hard to find them. Not too far from the old mill, land was being cleared to make way for a new Walmart, a company which already holds the distinction of being West Virginia’s largest private employer.

In 1982 at the Weirton mill, a union journeyman might have earned $25 an hour, or so people told me. Walmart pays seven bucks for the same hour and fights like a junkyard dog against either an increase in the minimum wage or unionization.

Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren

ooOOoo

OK, I opened today’s post with the sub-heading “Probably just now the most important lesson to be learnt from dogs!” Let me expand on that.

Dogs, like many other ‘pack’ animals, have a relatively flat hierarchy across their group.  Typically, a wild dog pack numbered upwards of 30 animals although in modern times we have only the African Wild dog left to study.  Nevertheless, the African Wild dog offers mankind the key lesson about cooperation and social equality.  Here’s an extract from a National Geographic article [my emphasis]:

African Wild Dog Lycaon pictus

Known as African wild, painted, or Cape hunting dogs, these endangered canines closely resemble wolves in their pack-oriented social structure. Photograph by Chris Johns

Known as African wild, painted, or Cape hunting dogs, these endangered canines closely resemble wolves in their pack-oriented social structure.
Photograph by Chris Johns

The African wild dog, also called Cape hunting dog or painted dog, typically roams the open plains and sparse woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa.

These long-legged canines have only four toes per foot, unlike other dogs, which have five toes on their forefeet. The dog’s Latin name means “painted wolf,” referring to the animal’s irregular, mottled coat, which features patches of red, black, brown, white, and yellow fur. Each animal has its own unique coat pattern, and all have big, rounded ears.

African wild dogs live in packs that are usually dominated by a monogamous breeding pair. The female has a litter of 2 to 20 pups, which are cared for by the entire pack. These dogs are very social, and packs have been known to share food and to assist weak or ill members. Social interactions are common, and the dogs communicate by touch, actions, and vocalizations.

African wild dogs hunt in formidable, cooperative packs of 6 to 20 (or more) animals. Larger packs were more common before the dogs became endangered.

So back to the domesticated dog.  There are just three ‘roles’ to be found: the female alpha dog, the male beta dog and the omega dog that can be of either gender. Even though in a group of dogs (we have eight here at home) the alpha and beta dogs are dominant and will eat first, there is no question of denying the other dogs in the group access to food, water and love from us humans.

The lesson we must learn from dogs is obvious and there’s no need for me to spell it out!

The second half of Peter Van Buren’s essay will be published here on Monday.

 

I just want to throw up!

with 10 comments

Apologies for feeling very dispirited!

Normally, there’s always a selection of bits and pieces in my LfD Blog folder from which to construct a new post.

But yesterday afternoon as I trawled a number of articles and blog sites I ended up feeling sick to the back teeth. Disgusted about the inequalities and injustices that seem to be in the news just now. (I use the word ‘news’ liberally!)

It started with me reading, even before I was out of bed, the latest essay from George Monbiot entitled The Shooting Party.

As the food queues lengthen, the government is giving our money to the super-rich.

Then I went back to re-read an essay from Patrice Ayme that came out on the 22nd called USA: Rich Plutos, Poor People.  Here’s a snippet from there:

Plutocracy is a redistribution of wealth, power, income, from We The People to a small minority of controlling parasites. Plutocracy paralyzes the minds with a warped case of inverted decency. Plutocracy is neither optimal for the society, nor the economy.

Plutocracy affects the USA more than Europe, and the minds, even more than the stomachs. The fact that average Americans feel that they are much better off than in the rest of the world reinforces the plutocratization of the USA. Including astounding tolerance for the amazingly corrupt so called Supreme Court (Supremely plutocratic!).

On to another of Patrice’s essays.  Or more specifically to a comment left by Eugen to a post from Patrice published yesterday.

I would like to share with you my thought about the major defaults of the economic system called “Market economy” or “Capitalism”, or in the language of this blog, the moral deficiency of the system run by Plutocracy.

The major problem of the contemporary economic system on the macro level is that it enabled on one hand to pour into the economy too much financial liquidity at times of boom and overheated economy, by investing too much money in wrong and too expensive assets, and on the other hand at times of bust, when the economy needs liquidity to sustain employment, the system is rather greedy with helping investments in the same assets for even very reduced price. This system a-priory has to cause bust and boom, situations.

The economist since the great depression of 1929-1933 which had disastrous consequences learned from the lesson, and since then the governments and the central banks took as their major task in economy (and be the price whatever it takes), to act as anti bust and boom instrument. This is why they made the economic stimulus of trillions that saved the banks and financial system from total collapse (luckily the collapse came during the time of republican presidency and they couldn’t resist this decision), and the quantitative easing that poured liquidity of government money into the economy as alternative to the private money from banks who stopped to borrow.

So if it is so easy to solve the economic crisis situations, what is the problem? Let the economy run on the waves of bust and boom, and whenever the bust comes the government interferes, and at the times of booms let the boys play and enjoy themselves. If economics would be only about mathematical formulas, probably it could work, but the truth is all the economic decisions have their moral-political aspects. [Ed. My emphasis] And here lies the problem.

Because it is morally and politically very hard to neglect the principle of punish those who do wrong and give tribute to those who has done good. And this is actually what happens when the government comes to rescue the “credit boomers”, the bankers who created a distorted financial system, that channeled the financial and material resources to wrong places to invest in wrong assets, and when the D day came, they did not have to pay the price for their wrong doings. The same happened to those who took the loans, without to ask themselves if and when are they going to pay them back.

These Financiers and their creditors, who get loans of other peoples’ money enjoy free lunch twice. Once when they give and get these loans with knowledge that it will never be repaid, and second time when they enjoy the debt reduction, when the governments come to rescue them.

On the other hand those who use the wealth generated at times of boom to accumulate reserves for the bad times have to pay twice. First time when they restrain their activities during the times of prosperity and reduce by it their profits, second time at times of bust, when still they have to fulfill all their obligations, and get no praise for their responsible behavior in the times of boom.

Of course this system of Boom and Bust causes with each wave a major shift of wealth from one sector to the other, and generally from the decent and responsible entrepreneurs to the irresponsible gamblers, who happen to make bid on other people’s money.

This is one of the reasons why the pension systems are all in deficit, the wages stagnate while the profits and mainly the rewards of corporate managers of publicly traded companies surge.

Isn’t this just unfair?

Then I forget how I ended up on the Animal Spirits blogsite.  But I did.  To read a short essay Sanctions salami tactics.

Sanctions salami tactics

Plutocrats have a certain grudging respect for one another. Naturally, they would like to put each other out of business unless it impacted their own business adversely. So I conclude that Obama’s sanctions are an attempt to isolate Putin from his plutocratic supporters (although perhaps supporters is too strong a word; Putin keeps his plutocrats on a pretty tight leash, just ask Mikhail Khodorkovsky).

But what if under the table the West is inviting Putin’s plutocrats to join them, where the grass is greener and you don’t have old Vlad busting your chops. We’re not going to mention that we’re going to give you a haircut on the way, but are you really ready for the rebirth of the Soviet Union? The London bankers must certainly be for it.

On the other hand, you have the Chinese promising big business… but China’s biggest real estate investor is unloading everything as China replicates the Western real estate bubble and collapse….

It’s tough being a Russian plutocrat these days. It’s tough being a plutocrat anywhere, really, with all this talk that plutocrats are *too* wealthy (and are actually mass murdering their fellow humans with their insatiable greed by hording wealth and depriving others of health care, education and jobs).

Come to America! Come to the UK! Plutocrats rule! This is the subtext of what the Russian plutocrats are hearing.

Finally, an essay published on Naked Capitalism had me reaching for the bowl. It was by Rob Johnson on the Breakdown of Democracy.  Read it.  It included this video.

Published on Apr 26, 2014
Rob Johnson: The influx of additional campaign finance dollars and central bank policies have contributed to the destruction of democratic institutions

That was enough for me.

Couldn’t take any more. Certainly wasn’t feeling inspired and creative.  Just wanted to go out and find a horse to kiss.

Sanity is a warm, loving horse!

Sanity is a warm, loving horse!

Sorry! Hopefully back to being more positively creative tomorrow!

The Natural order – life and death.

with 4 comments

Nature imposes herself on us humans in absolute terms.

I do not believe in any form of life after death.  Jean is uncertain.  Many good people do believe in some form of spiritual afterlife.

However, one thing is sure. Our living mind and body will die.

These few words are an introduction to the first essay under the broad title of The Natural order. On the 23rd April I introduced the idea of writing a regular essay “about the past, present and future of man’s relationship with Nature.

Thus it did seem entirely appropriate to ‘kick off’ the essays with reflections about life and death.

Alex Jones of The Liberated Way blog recently wrote a post under the title of ‘The circle of life and death‘.  I am republishing it in full with Alex’s kind permission.

ooOOoo

The circle of life and death

Posted on April 27, 2014 |
Nature reminds me life and death is a circle.

The circle of life and death.

The circle of life and death.

I visit a house, the noise of hungry little birds emanating from a nest hidden in the roof, busy parents flying in and out feeding their brood. Less than a week before summer (1st May) I encounter life all about me, like a vast fountain of creativity, as plant and animal erupt into growth and creation. I feel a sense of joy at the life all about me, like dipping my feet in crystal clear spring waters.

Amongst this carnival of life a reminder that with life there is also death. Helix our cat is an effective hunter, a blue tit is found dead upon the ground. I feel no sadness for the death, it is a natural part of the cycle of nature, my animistic viewpoint is of a small spirit returning to the source, and from then renewing. No anger for Helix, since this is the nature of cats, despite being fed, a cat must follow the primal instinct of its nature to hunt. I carry the dead blue tit to an overgrown spot of trees and grass, here I place the blue tit to decay and thus become part of the life of plant and animal of that place, such is the circle of life and death.

ooOOoo

There can’t be a single person on this planet who does not understand that our human life is finite.

Life span of early man: Until fairly recently, little information existed about how long prehistoric people lived. Too few fossilized human remains made it tough for historians to estimate the demographics of any population. Anthropology professors Rachel Caspari and Sang-Hee Lee chose instead to analyze the relative ages of skeletons found in archeological digs in eastern and southern Africa, Europe, and elsewhere. Comparing the proportion of those who died young, with those who died at an older age, the team concluded that longevity only began to significantly increase (that is, past the age of 30 or so) about 30,000 years ago – quite late in the span of human evolution.

In an article published in 2011 in Scientific American, Caspari calls the shift the “evolution of grandparents”, as it marks the first time in human history that three generations might have co-existed. ( Source: Longevity Throughout History.)

Thus given that living much past the age of thirty years is a relatively recent experience, it baffles me beyond comprehension that we, as in mankind, have become so short-sighted about reinvesting in the one and only natural planet that sustains us.

Beautifully expressed in another wonderful essay from John Hurlburt.

ooOOoo

 Notes on the Human Dilemma

The metanexus of Faith, Nature and Science form an integral vision of the reality in which we exist. We are components of Creation living in an emerging universe. As consciously aware life forms we are each and all responsible to the Nature of God in a steadily emerging universe. Change is both constant and inevitable. Species that don’t adapt, do not survive.

Our human problems are obvious.

The essential growth of human conscious awareness remains questionable.

There is a blatant disregard for Nature. The rate of Natural disasters is increasing everywhere on Earth

Civil unrest is bordering on a second Civil War and is already in that state in many other nations of the world.

Imminent economic collapse remains probable as long our world economy is based on a foundation that has been leveraged at least twenty-five times above any realistic material foundation on Earth.

Are we a moral species?

A steady increase in natural disasters worldwide is inevitable until we change in response to Nature’s warnings or become extinct. The collapse of morality threatens the existence of global civilization.

The virtual extinction of the human race in its present state is all but assured within the next century unless we adapt to the Reality we presently blithely ignore or chose to vilify.

We still have a choice.

Our alternative to what has been euphemistically referred to as “new reality” is the process of education, reformation and transformation on a personal level. The objectives are an obvious need to adapt to constant natural change and create a species renaissance in harmony with the reality of God, Nature and Science.

There is clearly a need for a global economy that is based on our primal need for clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy. We need to maintain our balance through gratitude for the blessings of the life we share and equal justice for all. We need to remember that we are not in charge of anything except our responsibilities to God, Nature and each other.

Under these simple guidelines, a healthy, growing future remains possible as we prepare to migrate from our home planet and relieve the consumptive consequences of an exponentially growing and ravenous demographic ruled by the artificial symbol of Money.

Sound impossible? Au contraire…

The world is being forced to re-evaluate its economic premises. Here are a few proven solutions to help create a naturally invigorated economy.

We can cut air pollution dramatically overnight by converting commercial diesel engines to far more cost-effective bio-fuels without a single change to the diesel mechanisms.

Bio-diesel distillation plants can filter and recycle the clean water we need to live.

We are capable of growing our own food with recycled organic fertilizers.

We have begun the process of harnessing the limitless clean renewable energy provided by the sun, the wind and hydraulic power.

Electric cars that may be fueled by solar energy are winning world class races.

The list of what we are capable of doing is only limited by our imaginations.

The questions to ask ourselves are:

 

Are we at the beginning of a new world or at the end of an old world?

 

Are we a part of the problem or part of a realistic solution?”

 

What will be the harvest of our lives?”

 

an old lamplighter

 

ooOOoo

Love, trust and faith!

with 2 comments

The most important lesson that dogs offer us.

The following photograph was sent to me by Suzann who in turn received it from Joyce.  Thanks to you both.  Included with the photograph is the background to the picture.

Indianapolis International Airport

Indianapolis International Airport

 “One of our photographers returning to the Indianapolis International Airport took this photo of a soldier getting special guard duty from man’s best friend as she catches a nap in the terminal. About 10 soldiers and two dogs were in a group at the airport tonight. It wasn’t clear if they were coming home or heading out, but we thank them (and the dogs!) for their service!” – WTHR-TV

I’m going to skip the many comments that have been attached to the photograph, however smart and witty they are, and focus on the fundamental lesson that dogs, and many other creatures, offer mankind.  It is this.

Our society only functions in a civilised manner when there is a predominance of trust about us.  When we trust the socio-politico foundations of our society.  When we trust the legal processes.  When we trust that while greed and unfairness are never absent, they are kept well under control.

Having trust in the world around us is an intimate partner to having faith in our world.

At a time when inequality is making frequent headlines and Russia is sabre-rattling over Ukraine let us never lose sight of the primary importance of trust.

For without trust there can be no faith and without trust there can be no love.

Here’s another photograph of the greatest ‘dog-teacher’ of them all; the German Shepherd dog.

Love, trust and faith.

Love, trust and faith.

What steps will each one of us take?

leave a comment »

Reflections on the Great March through Payson, Arizona.

In yesterday’s post The Natural order I referred to Payson recently welcoming the Great March for Climate Action in their walk from Los Angeles to Washington D.C.  I also referred to writing an essay on the event. That now follows, starting with a report from John Hurlburt, one of the organisers.

Thanks for your help for “the Great March for Climate Action”

“The Great March for Climate Action” arrived In Payson mid-afternoon on April 14. We had learned that the majority of the marchers are in the “younger” category (under 40), including two girls ages 10 and 12, walking for about a week of the journey with their Mom. But, impressively, quite a few are “AARP-ers”, in their 60′s and 70′s — walking all the way! Most of the group plans to continue on to Washington, D.C., being joined in various sections by hundreds of others! Our efforts aimed at making their brief visit to Payson as friendly and comfortable as possible.

They arrived at the meeting spot by the Event Center, having hiked up from near Rye, about twelve miles with significant elevation gain. Though weary, they were friendly and enthusiastic. Jim Speiser and family had set up their hot-dog cart, and we provided cold water and fresh fruit donated by Safeway — a case of huge premium oranges, and a case of bananas. The Marchers were delighted with the snacks, and extra fruit was given to their “chuck-wagon” for future days.

About ten local folk joined the Marchers on the two mile walk to the Payson Christian School, following their beautiful banners and signs. A local Boy Scout Color Guard led the procession and two Payson Police vehicles accompanied the March all the way. People in passing cars waved, smiled, honked and took pictures. Exhilarating and fun! A feature writer/photographer from the Payson Roundup covered the March, both along the route and at the school, where she took group photos and interviewed some of the participants.

Marchers who desired showers/clean laundry were transported to various Payson homes. Some of the group rested in their tents that were clustered on the sports field grass, and others helped with our dining room and kitchen set-up for the dinner. Food from our Payson volunteers began to arrive at five pm and by six the big buffet tables were loaded with delicious hot dishes, sides, snacks, beverages, salad and desserts, and the dining room was packed nearly to overflowing.

The evening opened with a Proclamation of welcome from the Mayor and Town Council, read by Ed Blair, and a prayer. John Hurlbert introduced the evening program that began with a talk about the History of Marches by Ray Spatti. Rob Ingram gave an overview of Payson, its achievements, water and forest issues, and future. Various participants in the March described their adventures, goals and dreams and asked about Payson’s outlook regarding environmental issues. Interacting with these dedicated Marchers was an education, a pleasure and an inspiration, perhaps motivating our Town to step ahead with sustainable solutions. In fact we heard that a young woman from here in Payson is going to join the “Great March”!

Our evening peaked with a delightful music performance by Cinnamon Twist and a sing-along. A number of Marchers were also musicians and they joined in with their instruments, resulting in a spontaneous “jam session” that brought the evening to a grand and joyful conclusion.

We couldn’t have done it without the amazing generosity and assistance from the Payson Christian School and their Staff, and without volunteers like you. Countless Marchers said they were overwhelmed by the friendly reception they received, and it was due to great team-work and local involvement. All the small things you did – offering showers, bringing food, walking with the Marchers, coming to the dinner – added up to a most memorable event. It is through small daily things that we can make a difference in our world — and all of you certainly have.

We can’t thank you enough!

The Organizational group for “The Great March for Climate Action” Payson visit 4-14-14: Ray Spatti, John Hurlburt, Jim Spieser, Dean Gooding and Vee Jeanne.

These were some photographs sent on by John.

TTPMarch1

oooo

TTPMarch2

oooo

TTPMarch3

oooo

TTPMarch4

But it’s no good just thinking how wonderful it was for Payson to be involved, and for the marchers in their nearly 3,000 mile walk from Los Angeles to Washington DC.  Each of us who cares for a sustainable future on Planet Earth must make a difference.  As is now a common plea: “Think globally: Act locally.”

One story that came out from the march through Payson struck me forcibly.  MaryAnne, a good friend of this blog, offered, as did others, laundry and washing facilities to two young marchers.  One of them, a young girl, was so committed to the message behind the march that she had vowed to remain silent from start to finish; the only exception being singing in the evenings.  I was blown away by that commitment.

Read the full details of the event from the Transition Town Payson website.

Will close by offering these two items.

The first is picking up the relevant Editorial headline from the Arizona Republic of the 17th April.

Our View: It’s time to move beyond denial and become part of the solution

The second is asking you to watch this short video.

Published on Jul 15, 2013
Apply to March here: ClimateMarch.org
Like and follow us here: Facebook.com/ClimateMarch

On March 1, 2014, 1,000 climate patriots will set-out from Los Angeles, CA, walking 2,980 miles across America to Washington, DC, inspiring and motivating the general public and elected officials to act now to address the climate crisis. This will be the largest coast-to-coast march in American history.
Credits:

Director, Producer and Chief Editor: Zach Heffernen

Script Writer: Melvin Baker

Studio Manager: Maddie Kain

Voice 1: Ed Fallon
Voice 2: Maddie Kain
Voice 3: Jami Bassman
Voice 4: Zach Heffernen

Editor: Ed Fallon
Editor: Shari Hrdina
Editor: Courtney Kain

The Natural order.

with 6 comments

Back to the basics of life.

Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will recall that just under a week ago I published an essay under the title of A bedtime story for mankind.  The post centred around an essay from Patrice Ayme.  Patrice’s essay could be summarised as follows: “At the present rate of greenhouse gases emissions, within nine years, massively lethal climate and oceanic changes are guaranteed.

Then just last Sunday, Patrice published a second essay reinforcing that first one.  The subsequent essay was called Ten Years to Catastrophe.  I was minded to republish that but upon reflection thought that there was a better option.  That was to explore the deep, core questions that both of Patrice’s essays raised in my mind and, presumably, must be raised in the minds of countless thousands of others.  Questions along the lines of a comment I submitted to that subsequent post from Patrice.

Do you have an idea, even a sense, of when global leaders, elected Governments, the ‘movers and shakers’ in societies, will truly embrace the global catastrophe that is heading our way?

And a supplementary question: What would be the indicators that Governments were acknowledging the task ahead?

Frankly, they weren’t especially good questions but they were an attempt by me to open up a debate on whether or not this is the “beginning of the end” of life for us humans.  Central to what was going through my mind was the core question of how did it all go wrong?

Welcome to Payson, AZ

Welcome to Payson, AZ

On Monday evening, I rang John Hurlburt, a close friend of Jean and me from our Payson, Arizona days and kicked around those questions .  It was a most enlightening conversation.  John is an active founder member of Transition Town Payson and Payson recently welcomed the Great March for Climate Action in their walk from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. (An essay on that event coming soon.)

Anyway, from out of that conversation with John came the idea of a series of essays here on Learning from Dogs about the past, present and future of man’s relationship with Nature.  The aim is to offer an essay on a weekly basis but we’ll see how it goes.  Wherever possible, I will use the essays and posts from other bloggers that reinforce the vision. As always, your feedback in the form of ‘Likes’ or comments will reflect on the value of the essays to you.

After John and I finished the call, he sent me an email with what could be best described as his vision for these essays.  Here is that email [my emphasis].

Integral Vision

Everything fits together. Otherwise, we’d simply be disassociated atoms.

Human beings are a consciously aware component of Nature. We have a DNA-level directive to survive as a species and as individual members of a species …. in that order!

We are consciously aware components of the conscious interaction between energy and matter in a predominently smoothly emerging cyclic universe with departures from time to time into pockets of chaos.

We disconnect from reality when we become self-centered, often during the various stages of our lives. When we are blessed we continue to live and learn.

Issues of ideology, rational thought, economics, politics, religion, history and science become insignificant in comparison to the whelming power of Nature.

Such is life. It comes with the territory. Spirituality, Nature and Science describe the metanexus in which we live.

Maintain an even strain,

an old lamplighter

Ref: Episcopal “Catechism of Creation”

Ideas, feedback and comments, as always, hugely welcomed.

A bedtime story for mankind.

with 24 comments

The latest IPCC report is more than dry science; it’s our future!

Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will be aware that yesterday I published a post called A bedtime story for Jimmy.  It was prompted by learning of an eight-year-old who was offered the opportunity of shooting a wild turkey early last Saturday morning.  The penultimate paragraph read as follows:

If we care for nature then we care for the health of our lands, for our forests and for our seas. We are careful with how we live our lives. If we care for nature then as we live our lives we do our best to leave things better for those that come after us.

Little did I know when writing my post that on the same day of publication would be a chilling post from Patrice Ayme; a post that Patrice has generously given me permission to republish in full.

Indeed, little did I know that when I composed my preface to Jimmy’s story and included these words:

However, this eight-year-old lad is facing a future that demands that he and all his generation accept that embracing nature, totally and whole-heartedly, is their only hope of not being the last generation of humans on this beautiful planet.

That less than twenty-four hours later Patrice’s perspective on the latest IPCC report made that sentence of mine far from hyperbole!  Here is that essay from Patrice.

ooOOoo

Terminal Greenhouse Crisis.

A CRASH TECH PROGRAM IS NEEDED, & HAS TO INVOLVE HYDROGEN.

At the present rate of greenhouse gases emissions, within nine years, massively lethal climate and oceanic changes are guaranteed.

Such is the conclusion one can draw from the Inter Governmental Panel On Climate Change of the UN (the IPCC, with its top 300 climate scientists from all over the world). About 78% of the emissions have to do with heating, cooking, and basic, necessary industrial activities, such as making cement.

They are not elective.

As Bad As An Asteroid?

As Bad As An Asteroid?

Notes: CO2 FOLU = CO2 emissions from Forestry and Other Land Use. F-gases = Fluorinated gases covered under the Kyoto Protocol. At the right side of the figure: Emissions of each greenhouse gas with associated error bars (90% confidence interval).

Only a crash program of construction of several hundreds of new technology nuclear fission plants, an all-out renewable energy program, with massive solar plants all over the American South and the (similar latitude) Sahara desert, plus a massive hydrogen economy to store the wind and solar energy could allow us to mitigate the massive lethal change incoming.

In other words, it is already too late to avoid the massive lethal change.

What’s the problem? Simple mathematics. It’s evaluated that human activities in the last century or so released 515 billion tons of greenhouse gases. The IPCC and the best experts believe that 800 to 1,000 billion tons of such gases would bring a rise of global temperatures of two degrees Celsius.

At the present rate, that’s nine years to reach the upper reaches: one trillion tons of GHG.

Most of the temperature rise will be in the polar regions, melting those, and inducing worldwide climate catastrophe, especially if emissions of polar methane turn apocalyptic. The polar regions are the Achilles heel of the Earth’s present biosphere. By striking there mostly, enormous changes can be brought to bear, as they would destroy the Earth’s air conditioning and oceanic circulation.

In 2014, trade winds in the Pacific had four times the energy they usually have, creating abnormally intense ocean upwelling off the west coast of North America, thus a high pressure ridge (thus a drought there), causing a world wide oscillation of the jet stream that dragged cold polar air down the east coast of the USA, before rebounding as continual storms and rain on the west coast of Europe, and so forth.

Nobody can say the weather was normal: precipitation in England beat all records, dating 250 years, whereas most of California experienced extreme drought.

At this point, warm water is piling down to 500 meters depth in the western Pacific in what looks like a preparation for a massive El Nino, similar to the one in 1997-98. If this happens, global temperature records will be smashed next year.

Massively lethal means death to the world as we know it, by a thousand cuts. It means cuts to democracy, privacy, life span, food intake. Some of these are already in plain sight: the Ukraine war is already a war about gas, no less an authority as dictator Putin says so.

Tom Friedman in “Go Ahead, Vladimir, Make My Day.” takes the situation lightly. “SO the latest news is that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev doesn’t pay its overdue bill, and, by the way, Ukraine’s pipelines are the transit route for 15 percent of gas consumption for Europe. If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy?

Because that is what I’m rooting for, and I’d be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain. Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale. So Vladimir, do us all a favor, get crazy, shut off the oil and gas to Ukraine and, even better, to all of Europe. Embargo! You’ll have a great day, and the rest of the planet will have a great century.”

It’s not so simple. The investments needed are massive, and all the massive investments so far have to do with fracking… Which is, ecologically speaking, a disaster. 3% methane leakage makes fracking worse than burning coal. And this leakage is apparently happening.

Unbelievably, some of the countries with coal beds got the bright idea to burn the coal underground. Australia, about the worst emitter of CO2 per capita, experimented with that. It had to be stopped, because some particularly toxic gases (such as toluene) were coming out, not just the CH4 and CO the apprentice sorcerers were looking for.

Carbon Capture and Storage does not exist (but for very special cases in half a dozen special locations, worldwide, not the thousands of locales needed). And CSS will not exist (profitably).

What technology exist that could be developed (but is not yet)? Not just Thorium reactors. The hydrogen economy is a low key, and indispensable economy. Water can be broken by electricity from wind and sun, and then energy can be stored, under the form of hydrogen. Nothing else can do it: batteries are unable to store energy efficiently (and there is not enough Lithium to make trillions of Lithium batteries).

The hydrogen technology pretty much exist, including for efficient storage under safe form (one thick plate of a material that cannot be set aflame can store 600 liters of hydrogen).

Another advantage of storing hydrogen is that oxygen would be released. Although it may seem absurd to worry about this, too much acidity in the ocean (from absorption of CO2) could lead to phytoplankton die-off, and the removal of half of oxygen production.

In this increasingly weird world, that’s where we are at.

Oh, by the way, how to stop Putin? Europe should tell the dictator he can keep his gaz. Now. As good an occasion to start defending the planet, and not just against fascism.

Patrice Aymé

ooOOoo

I can’t add anything at a scientific level to what Patrice has written.  But I can offer this.  Each and every one of us needs to make sure the message is spread as far and wide as possible (you are free to share and republish this post) and then do something, however small it may seem, to make a difference. And do it now!

For the sake of all the Jimmys in the world – and all the turkeys!

Written by Paul Handover

April 17, 2014 at 00:00

Trust, truth and community, Pt. 3.

with 6 comments

How a very ancient concept has modern attributes.

One might be forgiven for thinking that community is an odd bed-fellow with trust and truth.  Many might think that faith would be a more logical third leg, so to speak.

However, I hope to show that in today’s world where trust and truth are beleaguered qualities a rethinking of community is critically vital for the long-term health of mankind.

Community

Can’t resist a third look-up in Roget’s Thesaurus.

community noun

Persons as an organised body: people, public, society.

For me two words jump out from that definition: persons; organised.

The challenge is that the word organised is easily interpreted as an organisation with leaders and followers.  But that’s not how community is regarded in the context of this third essay.

“No man is an island”, John Donne wrote in 1624.

This is a quotation from John Donne (1572-1631). It appears in Devotions upon emergent occasions and seuerall steps in my sicknes – Meditation XVII, 1624:

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Thus for the vast majority of people on the face of this planet, we are linked to others and how we live our lives is fundamentally influenced by those others about us.  In a past life, I lived in the village of Harberton in South Devon.  The population of Harberton was 300 persons.

An E. M. Morison (Totnes) postcard, bearing a 3p stamp, which gives a sending date between Feb 1971 and Sept 1973.

An E. M. Morison (Totnes) postcard, bearing a 3p stamp, which gives a sending date between Feb 1971 and Sept 1973.

Now I was lucky when I moved into Harberton because my two sisters, Rhona and Corinne, had lived in the area for many years and it was easy for me to be positioned as ‘the brother’.  Nevertheless, the way that the village embraced all newcomers was wonderful and within a very short time one felt a settled member of the community.

Same for Jean and me as relative newcomers to our property just 4 miles from Merlin, Oregon. All of our neighbours have embraced us and helped us understand this new rural life that we have embarked on.  We feel part of the local community.

Yet it doesn’t stop there.

Obviously, I’m a WordPress user!  Learning from Dogs is a WordPress blog!  But were you aware of the size of the WordPress community? (As of now!)

How many posts are being published?

Users produce about 44.5 million new posts and 56.7 million new comments each month.

How many people are reading blogs?

Over 409 million people view more than 14.7 billion pages each month.

Even my funny little blog has 959 followers!

What that figure doesn’t reveal is how many of my followers have offered support, openness and real loving friendship. None better demonstrated than by the comments left by readers when I announced the recent death of Dhalia.

Think of the way that untold numbers of internet users rely on that ‘worldwide web’ for referrals, opinions or knowledge about anything ‘under the sun’.

So while there might be many aspects of our new technological world that create unease, the opportunities for having ‘virtual’ friends to complement our social friends make this era unprecedented.

I would go so far as to say this. That the way that knowledge and information can be shared around the world in no time at all may be our ultimate protection against those who would seek to harm us and this planet.

How to close these essays? Perhaps no better than as follows:

On Wednesday evening we were joined by neighbours, Dordie and Bill.  My post on truth came up in discussion. Bill mentioned that he had read about a person who had spent many years studying the texts of all the world’s major religions.  What had emerged was that across all those great religions there was a common view as to what the long-term health and survival of societies requires.

It is this: the telling of truth and the keeping of promises!

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,049 other followers

%d bloggers like this: