Heedlessness   (2017Nov26)


Saturday, November 25, 2017                                          11:40 PM

Heedlessness   (2017Nov26)

On the recent PBS documentary, “Rolling Stone At 50”, Hunter S. Thompson says something to the affect that American voters crave a ‘used-car-salesman, lie-cheat-and-steal, win by any means and destroy all others’-type of autocrat. Thompson offered as proof: the reelection of Richard Nixon to his second presidential term—the one Nixon won by an historic landslide—the one he would be forced to resign from, a year-and-a-half later.

If the average for expelling unfit presidents, whose campaign committed felonies, is roughly one-and-a-half years then we should be getting close to ejecting the present Fool-in-chief. Remember, patience is a virtue. In the meantime, I think it important to drill down on our national schism between Red and Blue.

Firstly, it is important not to make this a purely political division. Blue prevails in urban areas and Red in rural—there is an element of culture (or at least environment) at work here, as well. The people in the Red states are not naturally ‘conservative’ any more than those in the Blue are ‘liberal’—there is a healthy mix of both in every state, Red or Blue.

Then again, words like Liberal and Conservative have become the dogs that spin-doctors wag. Yes, they have literal ‘dictionary’ meanings—but in common usage, they are merely flavoring to whatever group is being fed the BS.

Here’s another word whose meaning is oft overlooked:

heed·less         [ˈhēdləs ] -adjective

showing a reckless lack of care or attention.

““Elaine!” she shouted, heedless of attracting unwanted attention”

synonyms:  unmindful, taking no notice, paying no heed, unheeding, disregardful, neglectful, oblivious, inattentive, blind, deaf

Heedlessness is often used to demonstrate power, as in—“I don’t care about your excuses, just get it done.”—a sentence that no one but a blowhard would ever dream of saying to another person. These blowhards that ask for 110% effort and total loyalty—are the same people who never really make one’s acquaintance, or remember one after one’s immediate usefulness has past.

America courts heedlessness, almost as a virtue. Freedom of Speech means we can all say what we want—and no one can stop anyone else from saying anything. Implicit in that is the need to be able to ignore what some people say—if you disagree with or despise the words of another, the only way to avoid losing your temper is to ignore what someone else says.

Naturally, in a perfect world, we’d all just debate our differences into oblivion—but that will never happen. People will always have differences—the point of politics is to build a consensus towards a compromise, leaving all parties equally unsatisfied. But, even if politics succeeded in doing that, all those differences which people have would remain—we would simply have integrated our differences into a patchwork that was fair for everybody.

Additionally, we believe in Democracy—we believe it is very important for the majority to hold sway. It becomes easy to confuse majority opinion with actual fact—since both hold equal importance in America’s value system. Even requiring a unanimous jury verdict to condemn a man to death is a form of democracy—and that vote holds the power of life and death. Any scientist will tell you that stating an important (proven) scientific fact has no such power over our daily lives.

I have personally witnessed over fifty years of obfuscation by greedy business-people, pushing back against the plain facts as presented by Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader, and a cast of thousands of well-meaning researchers whose only miscalculation was the amount malfeasance, smearing, and even violence they would face from those greedy, cold-blooded, ransom-their-heirs’-planet assholes.

Being willing to indulge in journalism that merely legitimizes their flimsy tissue of pushbacks, we end up looking like we’re actually that stupid—that we can’t see through their greedy defense against plain truth. Yet, at the same time, we wait for each of the fighters to fall—like tobacco did, like coal did, like asbestos did—we wait for the full weight of history to crush their greedy pretense to ‘alternate facts’. We know it will happen—we just don’t know how many lawyers will retire off of each battle before ‘simple fact’ is permitted to turn to some new front.

Thus, media conglomerates stretch the principle of ‘hearing both sides’ to include the most self-serving, misleading, and hypocritical voices on the same screen as knowledgeable folks who are only there to speak the truth as they know it. It’s a very subtle judo, that’s not-so-subtly destroying our confidence in what we know—and thereby, the fabric of our democracy.

While the media faux-nobly upholds this ‘objectivity’ they’ve concocted, while con-men use false majesty to pretend that their egos have real worth, while Free Speech is fast becoming a ‘caveat emptor’-situation with regard to listening, and while autocrats stir up emotional frenzies to distract from the lack of plain justice and decency—I’m still waiting for everyone to remember.

Remember that information has a source—the only way fake news can fool you is if you don’t check your sources. Remember that the world is not your friend—some facts will be other than what you wish they were. Remember that democracy requires an informed electorate—we ignored the reality of our politics and half of us didn’t vote. Now we have the ‘president’ such lazy neglect deserves—a cross between a senile moron and an enemy agent, hell-bent on destroying the federal government from the inside—from the top, no less.

I get it. We thirst for distraction—we want videos and games and VR and concerts and sports events—we want beer and wine and booze and pot and speed and coke and opioids—we want talent contests, hot-dog-eating run-offs, star searches, dancing with stars, and bickering ‘real’ housewives. Nobody wants to face the dreary challenges of practical politics—the nuts and bolts of programs that will truly improve citizens’ lives, make us all safer, give us all more opportunity.

And the politicians certainly don’t want that! They want things as they are—where one’s public persona is all the fitness required to be given enormous authority and responsibility—where even squeaky-clean idealists can be smeared, one way or another—and where you can invent and stand by your own truth, reality be damned. They don’t want practical politics—that’s never been part of the equation—that’s never been what the game was about.

But a grassroots movement could create pressure to address practicality. We could start complaining that we don’t want any candidate who wastes time criticizing an opponent—or makes vague claims about very detailed, technical issues. We want candidates who brag about their support staff’s CVs, who release white-papers with detailed, in-depths plans to alleviate some unfairness, red-tape, or neglect in several issues—not just one (because the world is too big and fast these days).

We want candidates who will go after the big fish—and we shall know them by the amount of money the fat cats spend trying to destroy him or her. This world is on the express train to tomorrow—it’s changing faster than we can keep up with—it’s more complicated than any one person can even grasp—it’s coordinated to keep all the food and fuel and power distributed to all the people on a regular, non-stop basis. The world is a mighty machine that must be kept ticking smoothly—or we all die.

Now, if you’re a religious type, who hears ‘we all die’ and figures that’s ‘just the way (huh) God planned it’—you can pretty-please just go fuck yourself. The rest of us are going to live the hell out of our lives—and plan futures for our children and our grandchildren—and, should the fucking world come to an end, we will be too busy living to notice, until five full minutes after the Apocalypse. So, if you have faith in such bullshit—keep it to your god-damned self.

Getting back to the real world—it has a thin rind of fragile life all over its surface—and we have lain an even thinner, more fragile layer of technology over that—it is ironic that the machinery of humanity’s world is both titanic and flimsy, indestructible yet delicate.

Everyone knows that machines need order to function efficiently—but we avert our eyes from the obvious—that humanity needs organization, too, if it is to enhance society with machines. For one thing, this sovereignty thing, that hangs on—and stymies the intended role of the United Nations—that is a huge waste. And who do these boundary lines profit? Dictators, arms manufacturers, smugglers, and hate-mongers—that’s who. And don’t start whining about the UN—if you don’t like the UN, start another one—just don’t oppose global unity because “the UN’s broken”, you lazy ass.

I’m waiting for us all to get wise to these salesmen-politicians, selling us a story instead of governing (never mind governing well) and start paying heed, instead, to people with credentials, people without a dog in the fight—even when those people say stuff that threatens some fat monopoly’s bottom line. I’m waiting for us all to pay heed to the clock that’s still ticking—that one that the GOP tells you doesn’t exist—environmental impact.

I’ll tell you a little secret—some of the filthiest-richest people on Earth make their money by being the most toxic, the most destructive, and the most unethical. If you ever wondered why we’re still discussing environmental issues fifties years after the first warnings were made—that’s why. And that’s another thing we have to heed—Capitalism was great stuff (as far as it went) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—but it has metastasized into something dark, cruel and hungry in this new century—and we have to start punching back at what is now a tiny enclave of people, each with more money than is good for one’s mental health.


The Ephemeral Nature of Knowledge   (2017Sep09)


Saturday, September 09, 2017                                          11:14 PM

The Ephemeral Nature of Knowledge   (2017Sep09)

In 1975, the two parts of the Apollo-Soyuz mission took off—Soyuz 19 launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Apollo from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That’s how things were in my day—information was free, research was shared, all classes were open to audit. Oddly enough, science had to court interest back then.

Now that information has been commodified, the focus has turned to how the new data or discovery can be cashed in on for the highest price—even if it’s just a nuisance lawsuit against an actual inventor. If you want help with your computer, you have to pay for it. In the past, if something broke, you only payed for parts and labor—in our brave new world, we have to pay for explanations about products and services we bought in good faith. That may be the norm, but no way does that make it right and proper.

We see this info-hoarding effecting education, too, in scam seminar universities, scam online degrees, predatory school loans, and a general consensus among the business world that it is now okay for someone to be charged for information—and as always ‘caveat emptor’. Conversely, as Bill Maher addressed in his ‘New Rules’ last night, people can be charged for what they don’t know:



There is another side of the information situation—YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, Gutenberg.org, et. al—the Net-Neutrality crowd, so to speak—which allows anyone with computer access to self-educate, up to and including PhD-level science lectures from Ivy League professors on YouTube. The only catch is that it is all public-access, public-domain. For example, let’s look at http://www.gutenberg.org (The Gutenberg Project)—their mission was to make the text of every book available, online, for free.

When I first found this site, I was blown away. Previously, I had spent childhood in the library and adulthood in the bookstores—and neither could ever offer ‘every’ book, much less without leaving home. Gutenberg allows free text downloads of every classic in English literature—the only catch is, they can only offer what is in the public domain. Amazon started selling the for-profit books, the latest, the bestsellers, anything really—it was a bibliophile’s dream, even before they started in with e-books.


Today, when you go to Gutenberg’s site, it has been hybridized, offering the same free downloads, but with a Kindle e-book-file download-option—so users can keep their reading material all on one device. The oddest part is that some of Gutenberg’s offerings have been re-issued as e-book classics by the publishers of the hard copy—making it possible to buy a book (say Jane Austen’s Emma) on Amazon, that is available free on Gutenberg. I know because I have done it—and keep both editions on my Kindle out of sheer cussedness.

But my point is that if you read every book they have (I’m joking—an impossible task, in one lifetime) you still would not be acknowledged academically in any way. The same is true for whatever you learn online—even the degree-issuing online institutions are condescended to by the analog schools—as if being on-site really impacts most of today’s workplaces.


However, you can do things with knowledge—that is its ultimate purpose—so even if education can’t get you a job, it can still help you invent your own. Nevertheless, the sheepskin (as a ticket into a well-paid position) is a commodity now—and must be paid for. But all these conditions are just the extremes of greed brought out by the commodification of knowledge.

The real danger is the stagnation of research and development. Not only are the greed for profits skewing the directions of researching, but the findings themselves are kept confidential.


The boom days of Thinking are over. In Einstein’s time, German universities were hubs of intercourse between academics and scientists, as were the great schools of Britain and the rest of Europe—and American institutions as well. Traveling to mingle with others in one’s field, holding conventions and seminars on the challenges of the day—it was as free as a bird. Nobody knew what an NDA was—hell, scientists at NASA were challenging the government’s Security strictures (mid-Cold War) because they claimed that science could only exist as a global effort, with shared information. Imagine.

And it is worth mentioning that the guy who ran IBM, who put up signs around the offices with the one word ‘THINK’—was not being cute. After two world wars, people didn’t waste time sitting around thinking—no one had had that kind of leisure in living memory. But it was exactly what IBM needed its employees to do. He had to actually encourage them to remember that thinking was their job now.


The reason for the change was that academics had entered the everyday—it had started with autos and radios and such—but now people had electrified homes, TVs, rocket ships—and as the IBM staff thunk, it only got more complicated and scientific. Now, I’d have to write several paragraphs to summarize all the modern stuff in our modern lives.

But the dichotomy is still there—we still believe that achievement should make you sweat. We still believe that just sitting and figuring something out is a waste of time—‘things are okay as they are’. We are wrong to believe that.

We have accepted all the gifts of technology, but pretended that it was all for free. We are close to recognizing that technology has a cost on our environment—several decades have been spent on that inconvenient truth—and there are still those who refuse to acknowledge the bill coming due.


We haven’t even begun to address the cost to our society of technology. If we are going to have our children growing up around wireless electronic devices, we need to start calculating the parameters of how much their development will be influenced, or even damaged, by certain gadgets, apps, and games. We also need to address the asocializing effect which smartphones have on both children and adults.

Beyond that, it would be nice to have a grown-up discussion about the fact that half of society has integrated itself with the Internet, to the point of total dependency on its reliability—while the other half is finding ways to disrupt online systems for political or profitable gain, assuring us that the Internet can never be secure in the way we need it.

Yesterday’s announcement about the Equifax hack, exposing private info on millions of Americans and their finances, leaves all those people vulnerable to ID-theft and bank fraud. And this is the same system that runs our banks, our government, our phones, and damn near everything else—while totally unsecure. I’d like to talk about that—wouldn’t you?

Still, the ‘big boss’ paradigm persists—the idea that a strongman like Trump is America’s best choice for a leader, here in the twenty-first century—should be a joke. A man who can’t even use Twitter without typos is the wrong guy to be in charge of an online, subatomic, robotic world, okay? Bluster is still very effective—a lot can be done with bluster. But like many American workers today, having an old skill-set leaves one obsolete for the challenges of today.

And while all the fat cats are getting rich off of each new boner pill or wireless ear-pod, real forward movement in science is relatively crippled by the secrecy and the patent lawsuits and the proprietary research that’s kept hidden.

It’s time for one of my ‘true stories from history’. In ancient China, the emperor’s court was very exclusive—successive layers of the grounds were off-limits to the public and to lesser officials. One of the innermost places was the workshop of the Emperor’s scientists and engineers. When one emperor’s reign ended, the new emperor would appoint new scientists and engineers. In this way, many inventions and discoveries came and went.

In eighth century China, an artificer created the first escapement clockwork—but the usurping Emperor caused all record of the clock’s design (and the clock) to be destroyed. Clocks would disappear, until they were reinvented in Europe, in the fourteenth century.

People tend to focus on firsts—who gets credit for inventing a new thing—who gets credit for noticing some physical constant for the first time? But this story struck me not as a story of invention, but a cautionary tale about the ephemeral nature of knowledge. If the machines break, if the books get burnt (or locked away), if the kids don’t get educated—all technology, all knowledge—just disappears. And information is a lot easier to keep than it is to find.

The way to preserve information is to disseminate it, print it, teach it, put it online, make a movie about it. The way to lose information is to hoard it, to dole it out for a price—as we have seen, when information becomes a commodity, a lot of cheap knock-offs get sold—fake news, scam universities, corporate climate-change denial. The truth is precious is its own right—putting a price-tag on knowledge only corrupts it.


We All Better Hope (2017May12)

Friday, May 12, 2017                                               4:06 PM

We All Better Hope [ or – The President’s Tweets – ]     (2017May12)  

One of Trump’s tweets today was to the effect that “Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our dinner…” And I find this representative of Trump’s virtuosic ability to appropriate the culture of the liberals. Every time we find a new way to express our dismay, it is flipped back at us. People have been using the phrase ‘we better hope’ a lot lately, mostly in terms of the few things that stand in the way of Trump’s autocratic vision of the presidency—and his dark purpose in destroying the established order in DC.

So, of course, the phrase turns up in Trump’s PR blasts, i.e. his tweets. He glories in his ability to obscure the truth in any paradigm: he’s done it in his rallies, his interviews, his debates—and now that he has a five-person team to further explain both what he said and what he meant—well, let’s not even talk about the 25 or so news-anchors who add their own translation of what those five (and the president) said, and what they meant—plus, what he Tweeted.


I saw Sean Spicer say to a reporter today, “The president’s tweet speaks for itself and I have nothing to add.” This was the response for four questions in a row—and on the fifth try, Spicey said, ‘I’ll move on now.’ So, somehow, the President’s Tweets have become some sort of oracle which the press secretary is excused from divining—it’s just supposed to be read—like the Ten Commandments or something—can our president become any more publicly unhinged than he already is?

I also enjoyed his whining about how a busy president finds it hard to coordinate his messaging with his staff—and an ex-press secretary commented, on air, that “Yes, it was difficult, but the former president felt it was important to get accurate information to the public.” I think that news-panel was overlooking the extra time involved in getting the narrative straight—as opposed to simply transferring the facts, without embellishment—I think that may be what the present president is too busy for—lying is hard work—even harder as a team of people who don’t really trust each other. Or should I be polite—and change ‘lying’ to ‘spin’?

This business about loyalty—that takes us to a new level of crazy. Trump isn’t satisfied with being president—he wants his ring kissed, or his dick sucked, I don’t know—he needs to be kowtowed to, overtly—he’s really quite pathetic.

I remember when Obama whined about having to surrender his Blackberry PDA upon taking office—it was considered a security threat, because it was vulnerable to hacking. Obama felt the loss of a technology that allowed him to more easily keep up with a complex agenda. It’s a stark contrast to the Tweeting moron who holds the office today—the national security threat here is what Trump wants people to hear—not what secrets he’s keeping.

My overwhelming reaction to President Trump is shame—not just for what he is—but for the army of fools who voted him into office—at the prodding of Putin’s spies. It’s just like when Bin Laden flew two planes into our biggest skyscrapers—and misled America into decades of panic and hysteria—starting wars by mistake, bankrupting our banks, dumping half our people into unemployment—make no mistake—Bin Laden won that fight—hell, we’re still fighting—and he’s been dead for years. America’s new image in the world is, apparently: the Most Gullible Stooges on Earth—go ahead, trick them—they never look past the nose on their faces—it depresses me to say this—but I can’t lie.

And because Trump embarrasses me, as an American, I burn with a desire to see him impeached—just to say to everyone, here and abroad—‘fool me once…’

I can understand that, in the heat of a two year campaign, all of Trump’s shock-jock tactics kept everyone off-kilter. But for us to allow him a full four-year term of malfeasance and misanthropy—that would seal our reputation as the country that voted itself to death. His incompetent pretense must not stand.


Ceding Power To The Pig (Snort!)   (2017Jan03)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017                                                6:22 PM

20141019XD-StandardsSunday (35)To many people someone like me is going to seem like an alarmist, an inciter, a stirrer-up of trouble—trying to upset the boat when everything is mostly working out just fine. What’s so wrong (I imagine them asking) with the world today—especially with the United States—with the status quo? And truly I have no rebuttal to that—for many millions of people, life is better than it has ever been before, in the history of all mankind. The tremendous lace-work of global civilization, with its titanic industries and giant manufactories, with the endless cycle of tons of material—necessities and luxuries—that circle the globe by sea, by rail, by truck, and by air, the smooth operation of all the stores and shops, restaurants and theaters, schools and hospitals, universities and laboratories—our world is a marvel.

And if the United States of America isn’t the epicenter of that marvel, I don’t know where else it could be. Everything is state-of-the-art: communications, transportation, engineering, entertainment, agriculture, medicine—most of the modern world originated here, if not literally, then in spirit. And I wish us all the best—me, you, whoever—I hope the whole thing outlasts all the neglect and abuse heaped on it by we who have come to take it all for granted.


But, just as a person may be very good at securing a high post, yet have little ability to do the job once hired—it’s looking like the USA was well-equipped to invent the future, but has given no thought at all to maintaining all its healthy ambition, now that Babel has reached thunderbolt-calling altitude.

An older America, full of empty space and potential, loved rapid growth—we suffered boomtowns and cities choking on their own waste—conditions were such that a modern business or local government could never get away with the health risks, the dangers, and the unfairness inherent in an open town, with more traffic in change than in civilizing influences.

And the laws and ordinances that prohibit such chaos today were enacted only after the rush of development had settled and slowed to the point where people started to care about their homes and communities as much as whatever commerce was going on.


Plus, new business in the present would not be filling a void. Today’s new business is far more likely to impinge on some other business’s market. The kind of growth that made America a ‘big-shouldered’ country—that’s all over. And the cracks that allowed people to avoid being imprisoned by Capitalism have all been filled.

When the power of Capitalism was more potential than actual, the idea of ‘every man for himself’ made things as fair as such things can be. But now we have a mature Capitalism, fully formed and, more importantly, entirely owned already—by a surprisingly small group of people. They not only own all the old stuff—they are strategically poised to acquire any new stuff from the puny inventors or entrepreneurs that find new ways to break through the status quo.

But it is not simply a stranglehold on the common man or woman, whose chances of making it big from scratch are on par with winning the Lotto—it is a stranglehold on the culture. Our legislators and our courts spend virtually all their time and energy on serving the wealthy—good governance and justice have become antiques, found only rarely, in tiny, out-of-the-way places.


Our obsession with absolute property is itself a symptom of the stagnation and stultification of mature Capitalism—corporations own people’s likenesses, they own people’s silences—they even pay scientists to do research, insuring that, if they can’t own the truth, they can at least obscure it.

Capitalism, Progress, the American Dream—whatever you want to call it—its job is done. We don’t need to build empires anymore—they are built. We don’t need to access our natural resources anymore—they’ve been accessed. We don’t need to build a Republic anymore—it’s been given infrastructure, industry, wealth, and power—all its citizens can talk to each other, from any place at any time—we are the envy of the world.

Our biggest and only problem is recognizing that the ends our forebears worked towards have been reached—period—full stop. Our job is not to keep hammering our heads against the family wall—it is to take stock of what we have—of where we’ve arrived—and try to find some new way forward. Hopefully it will have something to do with taking responsibility for the deprived victims of our present system. Hopefully it will reverse our present system’s tendency to empower the entitled, elitist pigs, like our fresh-baked president-elect.

Christmas Retaliation   (2016Dec17)


Saturday, December 17, 2016                                           2:32 PM

There are only five weeks left—after that the Oval Office will be de facto unoccupied. Sure, there’ll be someone sitting there—and they’ll be causing any number of new problems. Still, there will be no one presiding over the nation, looking out for the public good or concerning himself with our national security.

We’ll miss that—it was frustrating enough having a real president, and have him be stymied wherever and whenever possible by the cowards in Congress—replacing Obama with someone who doesn’t even try… Well, at least we won’t get the agita we would have seen if Hillary had had to take up the fight where Obama left off—all those cowards are still comfortably ensconced.

Congress—ha—just a bunch of pols-who-would-be-trump—I guess that’s what they see in him—he does all the bad things they do, but he has no shame about publicly demonstrating his lack of character. Cowardly Trumps—that’s what Congress is made of—a whole institution full of men who are just as selfish and craven as our president-elect, but with just enough self-awareness to know shame.

But they did alright, really—this whole worm-tongued, alt-reality world of living lies was their idea—they paved the way for the King Clown—and if he steamrollered over a few of them along the way, they still deserve credit, along with the media, for forging this brave new world of Doubt, where nothing is true if you don’t want it to be.


So, I know what I want for Christmas—President Obama, please follow through on your response to Putin’s hacking (and denial of hacking, as if he were Trump, too). I want you to make that bastard feel it. I want your cyber-warriors to wipe that Russky smirk off his ugly face. President Obama, you’ve been a model of probity and restraint for eight years—you’re the most well-behaved and civil president this country has ever seen—and that’s great.

But there’s only five weeks left until Doofus takes your chair—so, no more mister civilization, Barry—give this guy what for. He’s got it coming, like nobody’s business. That SOB has already gotten away with it—don’t pass up the opportunity to, at least, make him regret he ever fucked with the USA. And so what if you leave a little mess for your replacement to deal with? What’s good for the goose….


Time: the 4th Dimension   (2016Nov26)


Saturday, November 26, 2016                                          10:14 AM

One of the ways in which my inner ‘math geek’ expresses himself is by dating things. For instance, people born in the 1980s are in their thirties now, people born in the 1990s are in their twenties now, and anyone sixteen or younger has never set foot in the twentieth century. Any movie released before 1991 is over a quarter-of-a-century old. The Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies were premiered when my parents were toddlers. Most of the interstate highway system was built during Eisenhower’s administration—making it a little over sixty years old. No wonder we have infrastructure problems.

One of my favorite movie lines comes from “Kate and Leopold” (2001). Leopold (Hugh Jackman) having left Kate’s 21st-century apartment to wander New York City, comes across the Brooklyn Bridge, and wonderingly exclaims, “Roebling’s erection—he completed it!—and it still stands…” (which cleverly lets the audience know that Leopold was transported from the past, sometime between 1870—when construction on the bridge began—and 1883—the day the bridge opened).

The passage of time fascinates me. In studying physics, one comes to accept Time as a dimension—it is even used to name a distance: the unit of measure known as a Light-Year is the distance Light can travel in one Year’s time. That’s a pretty parochial unit-naming system, when we consider that a Year is defined as the time it takes for our planet to orbit the sun—a unit of time which means nothing to anyone from another planet—and other planets are the only things that are light-years away. Not to mention that our planet’s orbital time will increase with entropy over the millennia—a million years from now, a Year will be a different amount of time. Will we then change the unit-of-measure name, or its value?

Then again, all units-of-measure are iffy—that’s why there are institutions whose sole purpose is to maintain standards for a unit of measure. A gram was once defined as a cubic centimeter of water. But water is tricky stuff—and a centimeter can be measured using many different degrees of precision. Nowadays, according to Wiki, there’s a chunk of metal stored in a secure facility that represents exactly one gram.

It reminds me of the time I was a lab assistant at the Old Life-Saver factory in Port Chester, NY—it had been converted into the research and development labs for Life-Savers chewing-gum products. One of my duties was weighing a stick of gum (they had to have standard dimensions and weight) and they had an electronic gram-scale that was accurate to three decimal places. After tare-weight adjustment of the scale, I’d put a piece of gum on the weigh-in plate. The weight of the gum was displayed digitally—but it was not standing still—it was counting down. The lab-worker training me explained that the declining weight value was due to evaporation of water from the stick of gum—as the water left the gum, the gum got lighter. You had to round off the value—because the gum was getting microscopically lighter every moment. I suppose the Weights and Measures guys had similar difficulties when using water as a weight-related constant.

All units of measure are parochial and serendipitous—when you get down to it, science is a club—school is where you learn the secret handshakes. It is in the nature of science—it starts with labeling and categorizing and inventing words for measurement systems that never existed before someone in the lab needed to make measurements. Not that a lab is required—Euclid apocryphally drew his geometric diagrams in the sand—Oppenheimer and his team required a whole desert for their test-bench. We say ‘lab’ a lot, talking about science—it is the one thing that society never had before science—a laboratory. Obviously one doesn’t need a lab to do science—it was only science’s increasingly complex and stringent needs that required the laboratory’s invention.

And so I size things up—just as another person might estimate the weight of everyone they meet, or their shoe-size—by Time. Having read a lot of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens, I’m familiar with the evolution of language over time—I can pin an author down to their century by dialect alone—down to their decade, for the more modern writers, who saw faster changes.

That’s another cool thing about time, with regard to people. It doesn’t just flow at a steady pace—in many ways it accelerates. Population growth, for example, can be a geometric progression, depending on the mortality rate and the average life-span. Celebrities don’t just plod their way to stardom—they explode into a ‘fast lane’ of success.

Technology, which builds on all of its previous work, can’t help but rush onward, almost faster than people can keep track—today’s professionals are required to return to school-classes, periodically, for the remainder of their careers, to stay current. Gadgets that once cost thousands of dollars now get given-away as free gifts—or remain, as standard-components in more advanced gadgets—data storage, processing power, ease of use—it all grows from its last best ideas—and it never throws out the good ideas—technology is in many ways a runaway train.

I’m not sure about acceleration being consistently ‘cool’, though. We have entered a time when things can change so fast that we lose ourselves—computer AI approaches the singularity; robotics destroys the labor market, creating a crisis for Capitalism; genetically-modified foods replace less-efficient seed stores, without the millennia of field-testing (you should pardon the pun) the less-efficient seeds contain in their genome; and genetic modification also looms over our own genetic heritage, offering us the chance for customized in-vitro improvement—with a side order of the risk of extinction.

Money used to be the limiting factor—our safety-line. No one could afford to build so many factories that the air itself would get dirty—no one could manufacture that many cars—no one could build so vast a fishing fleet that it would sweep the seas of life. No one could build so many fracking-wells that the state of Oklahoma would collapse in on itself. And Money kept us safe for most of the industrial revolution. But Time has stepped in and given Money a hand—that many factories, that many cars, that many fishing boats and fracking wells have been built—not by one greedy tycoon, but by thousands of ambitious capitalists over decades.

Like all accelerations, pollution and habitat-loss started out slow—hardly noticeable. But they’re really getting on their horse, now—a terrible time to elect a climate-change denier (if you’ll allow the non-sequitur). Time is becoming our hostile enemy—tipping points have already been reached—and worse ones are close behind. Yet climate-conservancy and habitat-preservation remain subjects of debate, rather than hard targets for global effort.

My own, personal time-line is inching towards its end-point. Unfairly, we who have created the mess will not live to suffer the consequences of our neglect. Time doesn’t give a damn about me—it was going before I got here and it’ll just keep on after I leave. And it will do the same to all of you—evaporating the water out of your old chewing gum, giving you children to raise, rushing you out existence’s doorway, without a moment’s thought to your own schedule.

Yet time is good. It adds an undeniably sweet flavor to our days and nights—nothing bad lasts forever, and if nothing good does either, that’s a fair trade, really. And it gives our minds something to play with—when we’re scared, the mind slows time down—when we’re happy, the mind rushes time right along, before you know it. And it makes a nice change from Height, Length, and Width, don’t you think?

It’s Kinda Complicated   (2016Sep21)


Wednesday, September 21, 2016                                              1:14 PM

One of my friends wrote a poem. One of my friends died. One of my friends came to visit. One of my friends got divorced. I don’t know how to feel. I wake up every morning wondering.

As a young man, the life I live today would have made me crazy with restlessness—but I see chaos all around me and all I can think is, thank god the tornado missed me today. Not that I’ve ever even seen a tornado, except on TV—a big storm is the worst it ever gets around here—no earthquakes, no floods, no disasters (not since 9/11, anyway).

Some morning I’m going to wake up and everyone will be busy at work; all the kids will be studying in good schools; all the countries will be trying to get along; and things will get better. Well, maybe not—but if other people can play Lotto, I can dream too.

The world keeps going faster, getting more complicated. A lot of people aren’t embracing that—they’re running away from it. Maybe we have to start thinking of two new groupings of people—those who want to intern at Google, and those who want to live in a meadow—if you know what I mean. The world is sprinting forward—maybe some people would rather be left in an enclave of simplicity. If we don’t recognize this schism, it will become a point of friction. If we do recognize it, we have a shot at working out a compromise.

Maybe there’s a way to have our science-fiction future come true for some of us, and leave a bit of Lothlórien behind for the rest of us. We have to start thinking about this stuff—not everyone wants to live in Nerd Paradise. Just as robots are assuming manufacturing jobs—raising the question of where to find consumers when there are no jobs?—we need to address the fact that human IQ averages are not going to grow in proportion to Moore’s Law.

In olden times, when no one typed except secretaries, and making change was the big science/math challenge, lots of people had trouble dealing with even simple arithmetic. Now we expect every adult to choose a health insurance plan, apply for a bank loan, file a tax return, remember ten or twenty passwords, pin numbers, SSN#’s, and devise a retirement investment strategy. Our devices have manuals. Our phones contain more answers than questions. Our online footprints are at risk from hackers. What’s a C student supposed to do? Grow an extra brain?

Back when computers were new to the office environment, I was the computer guy. Every else asked me what to do when the screen confused them, or when the printer jammed. That seemed natural—thirty people, and only one of them had the interest or the intellect to get into the details of using a computer—now we’re all expected to learn it in grade school. And most do. But we are still asking a lot more from humanity than the last 30,000 years have asked of them. And we have to address that.


The Wizard   (2016Jun06)

Monday, June 06, 2016                                            6:13 PM

Walt Disney created the animated film “The Sword In The Stone”, based on part one of T. H. White’s classic, “The Once and Future King”—it is a well-known story of how young Arthur grew and learned from his tutor, Merlin. Aside from all the magic and wonder of the story, my young, book-worm self was jealous of the young king’s schooling. Not that I wished to study nature by being turned into a fish or a bird for an afternoon—though that was certainly cool—no, I wanted an old scholar to inundate me with arcane and disparate knowledge. I wanted to delve into gigantic, dusty tomes and perform burbling, sulfurous experiments with curlicued distillation-piping and whatnot. I wanted to learn the proverbial ‘everything’.


There’s a reason why pre-digital civilization impressed on youth the value of a ‘liberal arts’ education. Metaphors, analogues, and cross-references form a large part of our intellectual development—learning about one thing teaches us about much more than that one thing. The reasoning went that a greatest possible multiplicity of things learned allowed the greatest possible number of avenues for reasoning and problem-solving. In modern terms, it created the most complex network within the brain.

Science of old, starting from way back, when it was still alchemy and ‘sorcery’, had an image problem—outright scientific study was a good way to get burnt at the stake or run out of town. Secrecy led to obscurity—and early scientists went to great lengths to complicate their elucidations, making them seem more impressive—and excluding those without the drive to wade through all the double-talk. You can still observe this behavior today, in the insider-speak of tech-geeks.

In addition, science could only cut across the Old World’s many cultural boundaries by using a lingua franca—or two, really—Latin and Ancient Greek. That is why the nomenclature for many scientific terms is derived from these dead languages—they were only ‘dead’ in the technical sense. The pope could issue a papal bull in Latin and send copies to every church in Western Europe and beyond.

Both the church and the early philosophers used these languages to provide a standard that crossed boundaries of local language—and originally, a Classical education was a literal term—students learned the classics, which meant learning the classic languages they were written in. You’ll tend to see a lot more Latin in the arts, and a lot more Greek in mathematics and the sciences—there are reasons for that which I won’t get into here.


Digital enhancement of education techniques, job-market prep, and economic competition are all factors that tend to reduce the educational experience to a monaural playback, trimmed to its ‘essentials’. And that, of course, is when the educational system is functional to begin with. But education is the perfect example of something being more than the sum of its parts—and the more parts to an education, the greater the total sum.

Merlin wasn’t trying to teach Arthur to become a wizard—but he was trying his best to give the boy a wizard’s perspective—a knowledge of, if nothing else, the breadth of knowledge. He did this because he knew that a king could never be wise without some perspective. And if the history of technology has taught us anything, it is the importance of perspective—burning oil can be very useful, but burning too much oil is a problem; growing a lot of food can protect us from famine, but eating too much food can make us unhealthy.


And now, as global warming re-shapes our coastlines and submerges islands, as low-earth orbit becomes a navigational hazard due to decades of space launches, and as YouTube makes it possible for terrorists to indoctrinate teens a half a world away, we need breadth of perspective like never before. STEM is a great initiative, but as our science progresses, we are more than ever dependent on our ability to extrapolate and explore the consequences of each new and changing aspect. Engineering new gadgets is just the starter pistol—what happens when the whole world gets a new ability, a new insight? Sometimes you get Angry Birds, sometimes you get ISIL online—sometimes both.

Narrowing our field of view to the mere engineering and manufacture of new tech, without the humanities, without history, without the insight of creative expression—that’s a recipe for disaster. Yes, keep STEM—it’s a great idea—but don’t stop there. The more advanced we get, the less we can afford the luxury of shortsightedness. People always want more tech, or more money, or more guns—but the smart people always want the same thing—we want more ‘More’ in our vision—because we know that that’s where all that other good stuff came from in the first place—and much more.

Balance is an unappreciated virtue—as an example, consider: we have made so much progress in digital programming that we are possibly on the cusp of creating a machine that can out-think us. Cool, right? But those with a broader perspective have pointed out that a machine that’s smarter than us just might be a risky proposition. Well, I don’t expect humanity will be overwhelmed with common sense overnight—so I guess we’re about to find out. Are you ready to meet the Wizard?




Time Passes Slowly   (2015Nov15)

Sunday, November 15, 2015                                            12:12 PM

“Time Passes Slowly” was one of my favorite Judy Collins songs when I was a teenager—I only wish I could still sense that stillness of time. Here in my aged future, time passes far too quickly—and with less happening in it, to boot. At the moment, it seems last spring was only a few weeks back, that last summer was yesterday, that Halloween came and went while I was glancing at something else—and Thanksgiving is only seconds away, to be followed an hour later by Christmas. That’s what being old feels like (in between the groans and the wheezing, of course) a maelstrom of time that gives not a moment’s rest.

As promised, I purchased Amazon’s only listed biography of Joseph Henry, the American discoverer of electromagnetic induction (Michael Faraday is given the historical credit, in the cliff-notes version). If you remember, I wanted to discover why his name is so unknown today, when he was so revered by scientists for over a century. While that project is still under weigh, I have come up with one thought to share.

Joseph Henry was born in 1797—George Washington was still alive. Henry lived in Albany, New York—recently made the new capital city of New York State. Sloops made regular trips up and down the Hudson River to New York City though by 1807, Fulton’s “Clermont” was steaming over the same route—to be followed by numerous other steam-powered vessels throughout Henry’s youth. As a young teacher-to-be, he made a trip down to West Point to attend a teacher’s conference and learned there of a new invention for the classroom—a black board, which could be written on with chalk, then wiped down and used again—it was a breakthrough in classroom demonstration—the i-pad of its day, if you will.

Henry would continue his experiments with magnetism while teaching Chemistry—Physics would not be recognized as a separate study for some time. And native Americans still lived in the Albany area when he was young—many pioneers passed through Albany on their way west—the North American interior was still very much a separate world. Both the United States and science would grow, slowly but surely, over the years.

It occurred to me that science progresses quite slowly. Euclid’s geometry was written down in the third century BC. Alchemists would work with metalworking, refining, colored dyes, pigments, and other useful materials for centuries, providing the foundation for the Chemistry to come, while being hunted as Satanists. Medical science and astronomy would work through similar resistance from religious institutions to reach understandings of basic human anatomy or the course of the planets through the heavens. Men like Ben Franklin, Alessandro Volta, and Luigi Galvani would spend lifetimes studying electricity without even connecting it with magnetism.

Likewise, it would be almost a century before Henry’s own discovery of induction would produce practical devices such as Morse’s telegraph, Bell’s telephone, or Edison’s dynamo. All of science and technology would crawl along, taking years, or even centuries, to take a single step.

But here’s the thing—as a student in the 1960s and 1970s, I was taught all of these wonders in the space of a handful of semesters. They were not presented as a ‘story of us’—rather as a mere list of rules and functions. It would take me years more to discover the story of humankind implied behind the bare bones of chemistry, calculus, and physics as taught in school.

As I read history, I learned of the life stories of these men and women, of how they lived and died, of the cultures they inhabited while ferreting out these secrets of the universe. I saw the steps taken, one person standing on the shoulders of all who came before—and becoming a foundation for those who would come after. I imagined the changing lives of people who went from caves to indoor plumbing, from horses to steam engines, from papyrus to Gutenberg’s printing-press, from leeches to open-heart surgery.

But I also realized that these giants of human knowledge were all geniuses of some degree—that the principles, the formulas, the mathematics that make up the education of modern children take time to teach because they are all gems of perfect understanding, insights that only our greatest minds could reveal. Their greatness is obvious in the sheer effort required by mortal minds such as my own to grasp what they saw—what they had the genius to recognize and to communicate to the rest of the world (no small feat of its own).

So, yes, it takes time to acquire a good education—because we are climbing on the shoulders of a crowd of intellectual giants. Even so, we are only learning the barest highlights of what they did—without even the names of the people who mined this treasure, much less their stories, or the story of how this knowledge percolated through civilization to yield the wonders of our modern age—no wonder children ask why they need to know these things—they are never told of the richness of humanity’s struggle to wrest understanding from an opaque existence. It’s as if we are loading their knapsacks with gold bars—and never telling them of its value.

So, to begin with, the story of Joseph Henry’s invisibility is the same as the story of the death of a liberal arts education—many people don’t appreciate the context of information as being of equal value to the information itself. We used to teach scholars ancient Greek and Latin—dead languages with no apparent face-value—but when using these old terms, by knowing their origins, we are reminded that some things are as old as ancient Athens or Rome, and that the people of that time were no different from ourselves. Context is its own wisdom—its own information.

Now we are inclined to pare down education even further, by renouncing the creative arts—a sure sign that we don’t appreciate the connection between music and mathematics, painting and chemistry, or dance and physics. We are educating ourselves as if we are machines being prepared to be slotted into a job after our training is over—not as if we want to raise humans with hearts and minds that find fulfilment and wonder in the world around them. Context is everything. I will continue reading Joseph Henry’s biography and I’ll keep you all informed of what I find.

Had a windy day yesterday:

TV, Then and Now   (2015Aug16)

Saturday, August 15, 2015                                       2:38 PM

Technology makes some things ridiculous. Where television programming once seemed an ever-shifting gem flashing first this rainbow facet then that, prisms and beams, swells and clarions of relentlessly changing light and sound, it is now listed on a menu. As of three years ago, iMDB listed over a quarter of a million films—268,000 since 1888. There have been 364 TV programs of 150-300 episodes each, 167 of 300-550 episodes each, 87 of 550-1,000 episodes each, 124 of 1,000-2,500 episodes each, 51 of 2,500-5,000 episodes each, 35 of 5,000-10,000 episodes each and 8 TV programs of over 10,000 episodes each (that’s roughly 101,426 episodes just from the top eight programs). Granted, only the majority of these programs are from the USA and Great Britain—(TV is alive and well the world over and they’re not just streaming the feed from the Great Satan). But that’s still more than a lifetime’s worth of original programming available to the English-speaking audience.

So, proved: there are more TV shows and movies than a single individual could ever watch in a hundred years—why then, in the summer, on the weekend, in the middle of the day, is there absolutely nothing on TV that I haven’t seen a billion times? I would make a federal case out of this—but then I stop and realize that for the younger folks (like our kids) TV is no longer something you let schedule your life—you schedule it. Between On-Demand and Hulu and HBO-Go and who knows what-all else, everything is watchable when you want to watch it—worrying about when something is ‘on the air’ is something only old fogeys like myself are still doing.

Even PBS, which hasn’t the need or the capacity to follow all the latest forms of commercialization, like On Demand, has to make all of its content available on its website—just to make sure it gets seen by anyone under the age of fifty. But then, why shouldn’t they? I myself post whatever my videocamera records, to YouTube, almost daily—doesn’t cost a dime.

In addition to TV programming’s detachment from real-time, there’s the addition of all the ‘unfiltered’ content to be found on YouTube, podcasts, Netflix, Amazon, etc. Commercial interruption is no longer a given. Networks no longer work to give us an overview of our choices—they still push their own stuff during commercial breaks, but now that’s only a fraction of what’s out there. TV Guide, once a weekly magazine found in every household, is online—and even online, TV Guide still harks back to the 90s paradigm of broadcast-plus-cable—it’s impossible to list everything that’s available on every platform. It is easy today to miss out on a great new program, just because there’s no central entity that has an interest in guiding our viewing choices—no one central corporation, or group of corporations, gets a monetary return from driving our preferences or piquing our interest in new shows.

And even if there were such an entity, who would watch their commercials? Between muting them in real time, fast-forwarding past them on ‘On Demand’, and their relative non-existence on digital delivery platforms, commercials have also ceased to be the staple of entertainment they once were. Marshall McLuhan’s ‘global village’ has been decentralized and demonetized. It’s a free-for-all out there.

I do miss the old ‘water-cooler’ atmosphere of the twentieth century—everybody had something to say about last night’s Carson monologue, or SNL skit, or Seinfeld episode. Everybody saw (and more importantly, discussed amongst themselves) Roots, Ken Burn’s Civil War, and other legendary programs that became cultural events simply by existing in the tiny, communal feed that once was shared by every living room screen, like a village bonfire we all virtually sat around. Stranger still, new offerings with the same potential impact are now being produced rather frequently—but their influence is diluted by the fact that they appear in little corners of our modern media landscape—seen by only a sliver of a demographic—rather than being spotlighted by a major network’s primetime.

Complexity, too, dilutes the impact of today’s ‘exposés’—where once we had an annual Jerry Lewis telethon for Muscular Dystrophy, we now have a panoply of documentaries about MS, ALS, AIDS, HPV, HCV, etc. In recent months I have seen a dozen different programs regarding new cures for cancer—genetically tailored, site-specific, cannabis-based, modified viruses—apparently, there will be no ‘cure’ for cancer, but a whole new industry, a whole new category of science, of cancer cures.

And diseases are only one aspect of public interest—racism has come from pure bigotry to the specifics of police brutality, job openings, educational barriers, the culture of ingrained poverty, drug criminalization, and on and on—and that’s just racism as it pertains to one minority. Sexism ranges from equal pay to electing our first female president. Education issues turn from funding to tenure to technique to classroom size, just to name a few of the countless issues. The Middle East has gone from basically the survival of Israel to a pack of different problems being faced by thirty different countries, several religious sects, and the international implications of each Middle East nation’s ties to developed countries either allied with or opposed to the USA. If that’s not complex enough, just add in the global thirst for Middle East petroleum resources.

TV becomes complex at the same time that the world explodes in complexity. None of the people my age or older would have predicted that the average person would be helpless in their daily activities without typing skills—but a keyboard is a far more consistent part of our daily lives than pen and paper ever were. Even space, which used to be a matter of getting to the Moon and safely back again (and maybe Mars) is now a matter of all nine planets and their many moons, the Kuiper belt, geosynchronous surveillance satellites, radio astronomy, space telescopes, space stations, commercial space flight, the search for habitable worlds in far-off solar systems, and more.

Science Fiction has been hit the hardest—what was once good science fiction is now a matter of everyday life—writing that goes beyond the sci-fi-ness of our present reality can result in ‘hard’ sci-fi novels that are so ‘hard’, many readers will complain that they read like physics textbooks. Today’s emphasis is on near-future sci-fi, since it has long become impossible to imagine what our civilization will look like in fifty or a hundred years—just looking at the changes of our last fifty years of reality is enough to send us reeling. Some of William Gibson’s novels don’t necessarily require any future at all, except for a detail here and there—mostly it’s just extrapolations of our present tech, with just a soupçon of accrued infrastructure.

Now, given that, it is especially upsetting to see a group like the Tea Party, or their present incarnation, Trump supporters, being taken seriously. ‘Childish’ is the only word that comes to my mind. These folks want all the advantages of new media, new science, and new technology—but they want all of that to leave their older memes untouched. By rights, they should be called the ‘cognitive dissonance’ party—they want to uphold the myths, morals, and mores of the mid-twentieth century while living in the twenty-first. It’s like an Amish person wanting to drive a Lamborghini—it’s understandable—everyone wants to drive a Lamborghini —but you can’t have it both ways.

The strangest thing about these overgrown children is that they have enough awareness of their basic wrongness that they speak in euphemisms. They know that their beliefs, plainly expressed, would be roundly condemned by the vast majority—but they don’t see that as any indication of wrong thinking. They continue to search for new ways to ‘teach the controversy’ (doubletalk-speak for ‘supporting the ludicrous’) by reacting against seemingly unassailable progressivism.

Take for instance the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. Any idiot will understand that this phrase is shorthand for “Black lives should matter as much as anyone else’s”. Their pretense of being blockheaded enough to misunderstand the phrase as ‘black lives matter more’ is so transparent that it becomes one of those things that make it hard to decide whether to laugh or cry. And that is their most popular weapon nowadays—to leave us so breathless at the profound stupidity of their words that we don’t know where to begin with our rebuttals!

No Headlines

Can it be true? Has it come to this? It was bad enough when ambitious, young entertainers could no longer dream of the day they’d be a guest on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”. Now the newspaper industry is dying—soon no one will be able to dream of someday being “in the headlines”! These social lynchpins connected us to each other, just as Sunday once brought communities together each week. People don’t ‘gather’ anymore. Well, sometimes they do, but it’s called “Occupy” Wall St., or wherever they happen to be gathering.

Summer campgrounds once gave us mini-communities, in which vacationing families would see each other as neighbors for the duration of the vacation—comments about how the kids have grown, or a new baby, or the latest Coleman camping accessory—even when we went away from our communities, we just formed new, temporary ones with whoever was at the same campground. No theme parks. No Hyatts. Just a bare patch of dirt in the woods, ready for tent-staking, and a lakeside beach for relaxing, while the kids ran themselves to exhaustion….

Where else have we stopped connecting with each other? Everywhere except the internet. But people give the Web too much credit—I bet a lot of people who are separated from each other find that ‘skyping’ is just as distant and unsatisfactory as a phone call used to be—communication, but no warmth, no flesh.

One of the things that contributes to culture shock when visiting some other countries is the total absence of internet access—and sometimes even electricity. It’s funny to think that in many communities around the world, people still are born, live their lives and die without ever using electricity. I suppose the Amish might understand, but I’d be at a total loss in such a place.

As time passes, I seem to focus more on the things that are leaving, or already gone, than the things that are new. Take ‘Skyping’ as an example—I have no desire to Skype somebody—but in my twenties, I would have lunged at that. Much of new technology guarantees two things:  (1) Something a bit more charmingly civilized will be lost. And (2) Our remove from our forebears (and from the present Third World cultures) gets wider and wider.

Think of this modern rash of ‘school shootings’—could we, back when we were students, have gotten away with anything like that? No, we were living in each other’s laps, compared to the way families live today. And obesity—that was a practical impossibility back in, say, the 1950’s—daily life simply required more movement and activity than is needed today.

That is not to say that all that communing was always a good thing—there were lynch mobs, riots, secret brotherhoods, lots of bad things—but a total lack of any ‘mingling’ in our daily lives is such a departure from our heritage. Is community activity a necessary part of a happy culture? Have we lost in Civilization what we gained in Progress?

I am, perhaps, more attuned to this, due to my shut-in-like lifestyle—most folks my age are still interacting with society a lot more than I do. But I can see in young people (including our own) a tendency towards solitary activity—even when communing with each other, they commune online. I think flash mobs are in some ways a result of the lack of actual connection between an online group of friends—they organize a brief meeting and an organized interaction, then all walk away like nothing happened. But, that may be the only time something actually happens in their lives, sans keyboard and mouse.

It worries me.

Unfortunate (Tuesday, December 18, 2012 8:37 PM)

For some pre-historic cultures, human sacrifice, even cannibalism, was an accepted part of the culture. In that context, being an overtly healthy and vital member of the community might have been considered unfortunate—for their being prime candidates for the rituals and feasts, etc. Even so, a slow-runner or a poor shot with a sling might just as easily die from starvation. At such a nadir of civilization one may suppose that all were equally unfortunate. Such is the perfect elegance of nature.


The more civilization imposed on the human animal, the greater the possibility that some people might be better off than other people. The chiefs of the villages might get the best food, or the most food, or both. The villagers at the bottom of the pecking order were plagued by a concentration of fellow neighbors eager to criticize and ridicule.


Some became unfortunate merely by being female—the absolute necessity of producing well-raised offspring was easily minimized by the breast-beating hunters and bullies. One of civilization’s worst aspects is its preferring of thoughtless categorization upon the individuals—both ignoring their special values—and assuming untrue attributes about anyone pigeonholed into any certain category.


The development of rope, and later metal-working, allowed the practice of enslavement—an unfortunate predilection of ours that continues in the darker places of the world even today. This brought our ‘pecking order’ habits into the realm of law—and kept them there—arguably, until the American Revolution, but, in some matters, arguably, still clutching us in its grip today.


The self-fulfilling philosophy of the older world’s elite—that they were bigger, better, and superior to those around them—was reinforced by the greater health and stature conferred by a superior diet, and the greater reasoning powers that some (but not all) people gain from a good education.


With both women (and their children) and slaves under some form of control, civilization has already improved some people’s quality of life even more than the acquisition of dogs and horses. Imagine a living robot that does whatever you say—and lives in fear of execution if it questions its status. What a sweet ride for the old-boys club, huh?


The story of civilization, taken (I admit) from a certain point of view, is a journey away from our natural, balanced, primitive state and ever closer to a civilized state wherein we maintain what individualism we can whilst living within a ‘shared’ consensus of patterns and rules. As a simple example, take airplane travel—at first, it was thought impossible; then it was considered an unusual spectacle, then a military weapon, then a necessity, then a danger. When the skies became crowded enough, a regulatory system began to control the air-traffic in congested metro areas. At this point, we must all adhere to the consensus rules of air travel (and military flights) that keeps all the flying machines from crashing into each other all around the world.


Many of our great technological enhancements require regulation, maintenance, infrastructure—all the rules and conventions and quality controls demanded by such industries as automotive, pharmaceutical, governmental finance, environmental protection, etc. We’re still getting used to shouldering the responsibility of the effects of our civilization on the natural world—keeping the water clean, keeping the air non-toxic—all those pesky details we did such a great job of ignoring for so long.


We may have left it untended for too long already. The population boom that ecologists warned of since the 1960s has brought us to a total of seven billion people on our planet. Let’s experiment with the concept of scale, shall we? Pick one thousand places on the Earth where you can support seven million people in each place. Then look around and see what’s left for the additional billion people born in the next few years (and remember that seven billion people can make an awful lot of babies).


But the schism between the high class and the low class is the most avoidable and irrational of our accommodations to civilization. We have gone from despising the mentally challenged, to imprisoning them, to trying to help them. They have made it into that exclusive club: the ‘unfortunate’.


Single mothers faced similar challenges and only recently (historically-speaking) have we been open-minded enough to consider them (and all their children) worthy of our help or concern. The physically challenged, the maimed, the deaf, the blind, all the people whose presence once endangered our peace-of-mind—they are recognized today, by all right-thinking people, as ‘merely different’ rather than as someone to be shunned and shut out of society.


We even have some legislation in place that tries to even the playing field between the upper class and the rest of us—but, when money is the root of all corruption, those laws are often side-stepped in a multitude of ways.


Having recognized this pattern—the ‘why don’t we all just get along’ pattern of social progress—there’s little reason for putting each new hurdle through all the hoops that anti-Semitism, anti-integration, and women’s liberation from male chauvinism had to jump through. But we can’t seem to learn this lesson, as a society. We are trying to soothe our cultural constipation about homosexuality as homosexuals (et.al.) take a more exposed position in our society—and their would-be condemners are moved more towards the fringes of modern society with nearly every passing law—as it should be.


And we gain also in the further refinement of our sensibilities (one of the many benefits of social progress) as when once, we lumped all these mentally challenged into one group. And, having accepted these benighted children as worthy as any other, we begin to perceive the various shades of what we once assumed was all the same, of Tourette’s Syndrome,  ADD, OCD, and the forms of Autism from high-functioning to low, and Asperger’s Syndrome. Not only do we then give more effective and customized support to these children—we also learn more about the human mind and, thus, about ourselves.


Scratch any old prejudice or ostracization, and we will find the benefits of overcoming our primitive repulsion in both the more humane approach to treating with the unfortunate as equal in dignity, if not capability or appearance, and, ultimately, a larger benefit to society as a whole and, again thus, to ourselves. Put more simply, being sensitive is being sensible. It is not charity—it is an inclusion of everyone in society, which can only make our civilization a more balanced and stable organism.


The problem of money, of rich and poor, shows no signs of changing in the near future. I have no suggestions on that score. However, I do have one thesis I’ve been incubating for a while now.


The jobs of pure, physical labor shrink more and more, and even skilled jobs are being more and more done cybernetically, especially in the big-factory assembly lines. We are looking at an undeniable disconnect between people who want to work, who need to make a living, and the number of jobs our high-tech civilization requires to get the work done.


With every step closer to the futuristic freedom from any labor or drudgery, we also draw nearer to the population of the existing employable. Before too long, we will simply have too few jobs and too many workers. And, on the face of it, we can’t really expect to create a support system (read ‘welfare-state-of-necessity’) with an open-ended population growth. Thus the specter of population control rears its ugly puss. But I am not clever enough to think of a proper way, an ethical paradigm, for controlling the birth rate—not to mention the inevitable loop-holes that young people will naturally create, out of desperation to have kids.


We are still struggling, in our present, with the ethics of willing, voluntary birth-control—so, the idea that we might allow governmental policy to control, in any way, our individual decisions concerning procreation seems total madness.


I would hate to be any part of a population-controlled society. Still, there is one thing that bothers me—if we don’t restrict our own population growth voluntarily, poverty and starvation will continue to do that for us, only in huger numbers and in places much closer than the third world nations of today.


That we in the USA already have starvation and malnutrition in depressed and remote areas is only one of the reasons for considering a National Minimum Policy—a program that ensures no one goes without food, clothes, shelter, transportation, online access, education, and medical care. I would suggest repurposing military installations as barracks and communities for any homeless or unemployed person—and their children.


Now that technology threatens to force us from our own lives, perfectly healthy, fairly bright people will join the ranks of the unfortunate—their plight will be just as dire, merely by reason of a lack of jobs that need doing. They will have no discernible disability except for not-being-a-robot.


If technology is making our lives easier, it must be making our jobs easier, too. And in many cases, here in the 21st century, we’ve made some jobs so easy that no one needs to do them. So what we gain in productivity, etc. we lose in job-security. In earlier times (like my childhood) there was no way to run a business without a crowd of people. Nowadays, five people with laptops and a hotspot can run nearly any business you can name.


We look at unemployment numbers in an old-fashioned way—those numbers used to reflect the overall economy, because more business always required more workers. This is no longer the case. Jobs will evaporate almost as quickly as the polar ice caps are melting—and the people in charge do not want the rest of us taking a serious look at these glaring problems. So they choose up sides and start a fake fight over a tenth of a percentage point tax rate change (up or down, it doesn’t matter) and they manufacture the image they allow us to see on mass media.


We are so blind. Changing one thing always leads to changing another thing—all things are connected, all people are interdependent. It is a truth that we ignore every time we insist that money is all that matters. All that really matters is what we can do with money—and what no amount of money can change. If we institutionalize money out of the survival equation, we make our lives better. Even if we have a good job, we will still feel better knowing that getting fired doesn’t mean we are cut loose from our communities, but rather that we are drawn closer by our neighbors and friends.


Once we iron out the initial wrinkles, we can look into designing original ‘support communities’ with their own special functioning in mind. It isn’t as though we want to keep a swollen standing military—but those communities where bases get closed will have the purpose, the heart, removed from their communities. And the poor, and orphaned, and seniors, and homeless, and the unemployed all need a place to stay.


Plus, of necessity, we will need to employ some of these people as day-care providers, free public-schooling teachers that don’t end at High School, but can offer Bachelors, Masters and PhD programs to anyone capable of doing the work, and administrators, care-givers, cooks and craftspeople. With the correct planning and support, these centers could easily become the cradle, not of a welfare state, but of a new renaissance of American progress, invention and know-how. And it will not all be the province of just the wealthy, ivy-league grads—it will be the new frontier for the whole population, a world without a death sentence binding us to the whims of those 1%, ‘Master-of-the-Universe’ A-holes.


Just as starvation now serves as our ‘population control’, desperation likewise serves as our present ‘social incentive’. A highly fragile, highly complex global society does not need a large mob of desperate, angry, hungry people with no jobs or hope or escape.


If we begin to tone down the competitiveness that has been our driving force ever since capitalism replaced monarchism, we can transition to a newer, post-capitalist ‘—ism’  that tries to impose a sounder stability than the rough and tumble of the global marketplace. Think of the International Space Station—those astronauts, men and women, are aware that violence and selfishness are completely out of place in an artificial environment. If they want to act out, they wait until after splashdown, when being sloppy or careless isn’t instantly fatal.


Our global society is even more complex and fragile than the ISS, yet we cling to the notion that ‘market forces’ and ‘competing in a free-trade market’ are not yet too volatile for an interdependent global commerce. We have to remove competition and replace it with cooperation, or everything will just continue to fly off in all directions, until we collapse under our own fantasy of infinite time, infinite resources, and the ‘benefits’ of a ‘healthy’ antagonism.