Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"In Wildness is the preservation of the world"

    One of my favorite activities is people watching. When Jean and I take Amtrak to our various destinations, we love to sit in the terminals and watch the never ending panoply of human beings passing by. What an amazing biodiversity! So much variation, one has difficulty realizing that Homo sapiens is a single species.

    One species we are, however, characterized by an almost infinite ability to change with the times, adapt, accommodate, get by, and respond to changing conditions through any mechanism other than evolution.

    The most pressing problem I see now is that the majority of humans have distanced themselves from the "natural" world through a manufactured infrastructure. This has resulted in an almost complete disconnect from Nature, certainly a widespread lack of understanding of natural systems, ecology and interrelationships among humans and life in general. Here's a particularly egregious example of the outcome: Photos of beach tourists prove they are disconnected from Nature.

    The result is a government and regulatory structure that responds to human centered demands at the expense of the natural world, with little regard for the effects of economic and human population growth on habitat, species, and resources for all life. We see it every day here in Santa Cruz, a supposedly "enlightened" populace, concerned with all manner of things "progressive" (sic), except, in almost every instance, things environmental. Supposed "environmental" excuses are trotted out to support most any project the Powers that Be wish to pursue, for their own economic and social reasons.

    Thus, the once Greenbelt (no longer), Arana Gulch, was destroyed and turned into a playground for humans, based on the excuses of saving an endangered species and "getting people out of their cars and onto bicycles" (another lie, proven false). The Santa Cruz tarplant has now been extirpated from its only home, as a result of neglect and active destruction of its federally designated critical habitat. More cars now drive to Arana Gulch than ever before, and those who traveled by bicycle before the destruction continue to travel by bicycle on their preferred routes.

    "Forcing" change resulted in a continuation and intensification of the status quo, and increased loss of natural habitat.

    Ignorance of ecology and the natural world, coupled with a political system dominated by corporate interests and money has resulted in self-centered, destructive and ultimately suicidal societies that have reduced the biosphere to marginal viability, bordering on self-destruction.

    The only way to stop or even slow down the destruction is to tear down the barriers to human understanding of Nature and natural systems. Get rid of cell phones and cell phone towers. Eschew automotive travel and get back on our feet, walking upright and free, not crammed into spam cans on our butts. Tear up half the roads and unstraighten the rest, unpave the parking lots and return them to native vegetation and animals. Round up the growth maniacs and send them off to an island in the South Pacific where they can build sand castles to their hearts content. Retire airlines and cargo planes and use the metal to build light and efficient railroads, linking villages and communities spread aesthetically across the continent. Stop city growth at an ecologically sound limit, and don't give in to development pressures to build more and more housing. Create incentives for residents to stay and live in place and stop moving on to "new" territory when they see the smoke from their neighbors' BBQ.

    Get kids away from computers in school and out into the natural world. Let them lead their parents back to natural understanding of the real world, the natural world, our true home in the wild.

    “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Henry David Thoreau

Friday, September 11, 2015

Making politics local

The environmental perspective, based on an understanding of ecology, anthropology and science in general, is the orphan child of the political process.

There is no candidate for national office, with any prospect of election, who acknowledges, let alone supports preservation and protection of the natural world, finite resources, steady state economy, conservation, human population reduction, energy demand reduction, topsoil depletion, species extinction, natural habitat loss, potable water depletion, GMO dispersal, organic agriculture, adaptation to natural climate variation.

In other words, there is no candidate for national office I could vote for. Political gamesmanship (hold the nose, vote for the lesser of many evils) merely continues the status quo. I have no stomach for "strategic voting." I vote my principles and only support candidates who have demonstrated their understanding of our place as cooperating and contributing members of the natural world. If there be any.

It makes my task pretty easy, albeit frustrating. 

Why is there no national democracy in the United States? The corporate oligarchy that runs the United States government has fashioned the political system to respond to dollars, not votes. The candidates that are elected are prechosen by the system that eliminates all but a few with the proper obeisance to corporate power and control, who have paid their dues along the way, toed the corporate line, mouthed the corporate platitudes and emerged in the election process wearing the corporate seal of approval.

Not to blame it all on corporations, of course. The voting public has just as much responsibility for the outcome as the corporate sponsors of political candidates, corporate lobbyists and think (sic) tanks. If consumers didn't buy the products that corporations produce, corporations wouldn't market the products for consumers to buy. That includes political candidates as well as cheap plastic crap from China. If voters would stop voting for those whose loyalties lie elsewhere, they'd stop being elected.

That leaves local elections as the last vestige of democracy in this country. Let's keep our politics close to home, where we can keep an eye on elected officials, hold their feets to the fire and make sure they do what they said they would do when asking for our vote and support. It's a full time job, this keeping an eye on local politicos. Its fun, challenging, occasionally gratifying, always interesting, offering opportunities for pleasant walks to community meetings, confabs with friends and neighbors, occasional exercise for the bile and bladder. Long after the election season has passed, the process of community government continues apace.

Some day, after the End of the Age of Oil, local politics will be all that's left. That Great National Asylum on the Potomac will be a passing memory, a faint rumor, something to tell stories about on blustery winter nights around the wood stove, fairy tales to teach the children about the evils that lurk beyond the horizon. Politics in Place, where we live our ideals and principles every day.

Sounds to me like something to work toward.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Digital Media is not the Same as Print

    As I grew up, in the analog world, I was taught cursive handwriting, reading skills and critical thinking skills because the written word was the medium of cultural transmission. Throughout my work life, I worked in visual media, first photography and motion picture film, then video, and finally, reluctantly, digital imagery and computer graphics, web pages and email.

    As a photography lab manager and museum curator, I was concerned first and foremost with archival preservation of text and images. I quickly learned that the only archival preservation process is printing on low-acid materials, stored in archival containers and kept in stable storage environments.

    Nothing else lasts.

    No other information storage process is archival. All digital media will be lost in the future, unless it is transferred to archival materials, or constantly copied to the latest digital format in use. Left to their own devices, all digital media will degrade in 25 to 50 years, resulting in permanent information lost absent any further curatorial processes.

    As we contemplate a future with less energy available for industrial processes, the prospect for digital information storage is grim. Digital storage requires immense amounts of reliable energy, available on demand 24 hours a day. No one knows how long we can keep up this energy intensive practice, much less how it can be expanded to meet exponentially growing information demands.
     Also, and maybe even more importantly, watching a video on a computer, or other electronic device, is not the same as reading a book. Information processing in the human brain functions differently when observing visual imagery than when reading printed words. Something about the left to right perception, translation of words to thoughts, pausing for reflection and review, create a perception completely different between the two media.

    Studies show that understanding and retention are less when watching visual material on a computer than reading the same content in a physical book. Taking notes by hand results in greater retention of the material than typing it into a computer. I know this from my own experience. Using a laptop, I can take notes of a meeting far faster and more accurately than writing by hand in a notebook, but I remember and understand less when written on the keyboard.

    I would caution against depending on a "tools course for visual literacy” for students coming into the world. Teach them the basics first, reading, writing and maths, then, when they've mastered the analog tools, teach them the digital shortcuts.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Breakthrough Institute, Breaking Through Environmentalism

    Have you heard of The Breakthrough Institute?

    From their website:

    "The Breakthrough Institute is a pioneering research institute changing how people think about energy and the environment. Breakthrough's mission is to accelerate the transition to a future where all the world's inhabitants can enjoy secure, free, prosperous, and fulfilling lives on an ecologically vibrant planet. Our core values are integrity, imagination, and audacity."

 This is a pro-growth, pro-nuclear power, pro-industrial agribusiness (pesticides and herbicides) and, of course, pro-GMO propaganda machine, aimed at Millennials, wearing the funny nose and glasses of a "think(sic) tank". Their chief propagandists are Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, 2004 authors of "The Death of Environmentalism," and, more recently, the "Ecomodernist Manifesto."
    "Ecomodernism" is a post-modern deconstruction of environmentalism that posits a "decoupling" of human civilization and technology from the natural world, as opposed to changing human civilization to exist within natural limits of raw materials and natural geophysical cycles. It emphasizes advanced technology (nuclear, GMO, industrial agriculture) and ignores any negative impacts of these technologies on the natural world.

    It's a very dangerous, highly funded (from the nuclear and industrial agriculture industries) movement. They have "interns," that is, young, impressionable (read: ignorant) acolytes, who swallow and thoughtlessly repeat their blindered rhetoric, sounding like a faith-based religion rather than science.

    I've been following them on social media lately, and they are, almost without exception, rude and condescending to anyone who doesn't automatically accept their propaganda and bow down in obeisance to their received "wisdom." Shellenberger appears everywhere, spouting his vapid rhetoric, twisting what other people say, accusing anyone who criticizes his outpourings as "afraid of technology," "afraid of radioactivity," "antiquated," "obsolete," and, no doubt, suffering from the heartbreak of psoriasis.

    This is the new religion of of the god of technology. Though receiving opposition from many quarters, they blithely soldier on, employing money as a substitute for thought and analysis, utilizing social media to infiltrate the minds of the Millennial CPIs (Cell Phone Impaired). Nature abhors a vacuum, including the empty human brain, which is being filled with unreality, wishful thinking and outright lies.

    I'll be reporting on this disgusting trend as I follow along, barf bag in hand.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The solution to Our Environmental Ills

Some folks say that we are the source of the environmental crisis increasingly apparent to even the most hardened conservative.  The “we” are us, ”we” created the problem and “we” possess the solution.   

Hmmm... must be some other "we." I didn't create the problem. However, I do have the solution!

The problem was in full bore when I was born. It must have been my parents who created it. But wait! It was going well when they were born, too. And my 11th Great Grandfather brought it with him from England, where they had been practicing it for centuries, when he came to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634.

As population increased in Europe during the Medieval Warm Period, consumption of resources increased until the plagues of the 14th Century and the "wood crisis" of the 16th Century that limited further increase. Europeans expanded outward seeking news sources of wealth and energy, prompting another increase in population. The Industrial Revolution led to further increases in population and consumption.

No one created the problem and no one had the solution. The problem was endemic to human evolution and culture.

The "problem" is the per capita rate of human consumption of natural "resources" (the word says it all), multiplied by the total number of humans in any given ecosystem. Human culture has reduced the human death rate and culture has increased the per capita rate of consumption. Thus we find ourselves at the aforementioned precipice, toes dangling in the breeze over the edge.

The solution is simple: reduce human population and/or reduce human consumption, such that humans do not consume more than is naturally replenished nor produce wastes faster than they are naturally assimilated.

There are two ways to accomplish these goals:

    1) Do nothing and wait for Nature to take its course. Continued human growth in a world of finite resources is impossible. Things that can't go on forever, don't. Human economies based on continuous growth will collapse; disease and famine will accomplish the rest. There won't be sufficient resources left for a human culture to ever again regain its present state of development. The future is less not more.

    2) Decide to voluntarily reduce our population through serious birth control, emancipation and empowerment of women to control their own reproductive lives, and elimination of incentives for large families. And reduce per capita consumption and organize distribution such that everyone in the reduced population has sufficient resources to live a full and satisfying life. The future is less not more.

There's no reason to think that humans have the political will to pull off Option Number 2, certainly not before Option Number 1 begins to take effect. Humans are too much like the monkey with his fist stuck in the jar, unwilling to let go of the fruit in hand to save himself from the approaching tiger. Even those who take climate change seriously and bang on unsparingly about its dire effects are unwilling to change their own lives enough to make a difference. Millions of cars and trucks clog the highway every day beneath glaring billboards proclaiming climate doom and gloom.

This cannot, and will not, long continue.

As Jean has said many times, a thousand years from now everything will be OK.

As it must.

    “To aid and abet in the destruction of a single species or in the extermination of a single tribe is to commit a crime against God, a mortal sin against Mother Nature. Better by far to sacrifice in some degree the interests of mechanical civilization, curtail our gluttonous appetite for things, ever more things, learn to moderate our needs, and most important, and not difficult, learn to control, limit and gradually reduce our human numbers. We humans swarm over the planet like a plague of locusts, multiplying and devouring. There is no justice, sense or decency in this mindless global breeding spree, this obscene anthropoid fecundity, this industrialized mass production of babies and bodies, ever more bodies and babies. The man-centered view of the world is anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinature, antilife, and--antihuman.”
― Edward Abbey, Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

California Drought and Anasazi Transformation

    Lots of arm-waving, gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair on the Left Coast these days over The Drought. Of course, those whose interests are served, and pockets lined, by spreading fear of GLOBAL WARMING, and other myths, pound on about how climate change is the cause of The Drought, and, of course, humans are the cause of climate change.

    Rather than sorting through the rhetoric, I decided to ask someone who might know about these things, atmosphere, weather, climate, etc. Here's what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program 
Office has to say about the California drought:

    "The current drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895. Key oceanic features that caused precipitation inhibiting atmospheric ridging off the West Coast during 2011-14 were symptomatic of natural internal atmosphere-ocean variability."

    So there we are.

    This doesn't let Homo sapiens californicus off the hook by any means. There's still plenty of growth maniacs running wildly about the place, ignoring natural limitations of resource availability, planning new housing developments, industrial parks, airport runway expansions, new dams on rivers, if there are any rivers and creeks left untrammeled. No matter what the human problem is, from poverty to urban crime to childhood obesity, growth is the first solution pulled out of the hat.

    It's time to stroll down to the local haberdashery and get a new hat.

    What's needed is a whole lot less growth and development and a whole lot more simple adaptation.

The Anasazi of 12th Century New Mexico figured it out. When times got tough and rain scarce in the Southwest, they abandoned their Great Houses in Chaco Canyon and vicinity and scattered into the uplands, where summer temperatures were cooler, rain more frequent and predictable. They reinvented themselves as Pueblo people and continued to live in place. They've lived there for 800 years or so, far longer than the upstart Europeans who repeatedly tried to drive them off or wipe them out, and failed.

   Now it's our turn to be the Anasazi, if we're smart enough, if we care enough. The imported European lifestyle just doesn't work on this coast or this continent. Natural cycles far outspan the puny timescale, unbounded hubris and unrealistic aspirations of American endeavor. If we are to continue as a culture, a prospect looking increasingly doubtful, it will have to be as a very different culture, one which lives as a part of the natural world, not apart from it.


    Not to worry. Those things that can't go on forever, don't. Mother Nature bats last. It's hard and it's fair.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Chicken Little Comes Home to Roost

Over-concentration on climate change as the greatest challenge to human civilization obscures the fact that humans have been operating unsustainably since fossil fuels were developed as the basis of human population increase and industrial production.

Fossil fuels are a temporary energy source, based on accumulations of millions of years of solar based photosynthesis. We are using up these energy reserves in hundreds of years, 10,000 times faster than were originally produced. We are now well into the end of the Age of Oil, the energy source of choice for Western civilization.

It’s just a coincidence that we are also discovering that our energy choices are influencing naturally occurring climate variation in ways that make our global environment less well suited to the patterns of development of Western Civilization. We are producing wastes, in this case carbon dioxide and other gases, faster than they can be assimilated in the biosphere through natural cycles.

This deadly, to humans, combination of borrowing energy from the past and limiting human energy choices in the future, in resulting in the unavoidable demise of our way of life, Western civilization. In order to significantly change the outcome we face, we would have to stop all greenhouse gas production, stop all burning of fossil fuels and reduce human population by a third. Even then, atmospheric and terrestrial processes already set in motion will continue on their present path.

As a result of our dominant social, political and economic systems, our governments do not have the will to change our way of being by taking the steps necessary to make a significant difference in the outcome. Like it or not, the future will have less energy availability, less food, less money and more and more strife and chaos.

The good news is that after human population and industrial activity decline, things will be better, for the remaining humans and the rest of the living world. Fortunately for all, there will be insufficient energy for our descendants to rebuild the same society we see crumbling about us today. Our ancestors will be forced to live within their means, unlike us, and will return to life as a part of Nature, not apart from Nature.

It’s hard and it’s fair.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Living in a natural soundscape

Noise pollution is making us oblivious to the sound of nature, says researcher | Science | The Guardian

It's happening here, even in Our Fair City.

Here in Santa Cruz, just a mile from the beach, we can hear the sound of the surf, at least at 2 AM when there's no automobile traffic on local streets.

Two hundred years ago, locals could hear the surf all the time, from anywhere in this area now inundated by roads, parking lots, houses, shopping centers and commercial buildings ... and the noise they generate.

Imagine the audio landscape experienced by the original human inhabitants of Coastal California throughout their daily life. Elk whistling on the mountain slopes, shorebirds calling and chuckling on the beaches, songbirds in every bush and tree, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles surfing the morning breeze, crows, scrub jays and mockingbirds filling the air with their critical observations on the human condition. The riffle of raven feathers as they fly by. The prehistoric clack of great blue herons seeking their roosts in the cypress.

In a natural sounsdcape, one can learn the time of day, the seasons and the weather on the mix and variety of sounds wafting on every breeze.

In our noisy world, this rich natural complexity of the soundscape has been greatly simplified, reduced to automobile noise, motorized leaf blowers, car sound systems set on stun, and the ubiquitous electronic technobabble plugged into most every pair of ears. The demanding jangle of modern sounds allows no respite for thought, contemplation or even quiet enjoyment of natural sounds, soothing to ears and brains that evolved in a meaningful audio environment. Even libraries are no longer a quiet place for reading and introspection.

It's no wonder that Santa Cruz City parks planners contemplated including a Quick Response (QR) Code on interpretive signs for the Arana Gulch Amusement Park so that children could listen to bird songs on their cell phones.

Let's use our ears for something other than auxiliary input jacks.

Let's listen to the natural world and learn its glad tidings.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Future is the Here and Now - Only More So

The future changes faster than we can keep up.

Here within the confines of our Coastal County, the future is changing so fast that local government officials and institutions haven't kept up with the way the future was, let alone with what the future is fast becoming.

City and County governments are still responding to the current economic implosion by promoting more and more economic and infrastructure growth, not realizing that it is growth that is creating the local economic implosion.

As I've said several times before, bureaucracy plans for the past, rarely for the future.

Our Coastal County has reached a state of permanent diminishing returns, in which continued investment in increasingly complex infrastructure results in an increasing inability of the County to maintain and pay for what it already has, let alone what it continues to build. As complexity increases, non-lineal returns take over, such that historic methods of responding to municipal crises no longer work; even worse, they are counterproductive, producing more problems than solutions.

For example, the recent $6.5 million permanent pink permeable pavement shortcut through Arana Gulch, rammed through the City Council as a Public Works make-work project, has resulted in an expanded physical infrastructure handed over to City Parks and Recreation, who have no funds, staff, resources nor even any desire to adequately maintain it. The two extravagant ("wandering beyond") bridges and their connecting cement umbilicus will remain a financial drain on County coffers until they crumble in well deserved decay and return to the earth from whence they came.

As William Howard Kuntsler tells us, eloquently: "The future is telling us very clearly: get smaller, get finer, get more local, get less complex, get less grandiose, do it now." (The Broken Template)

This means get off the growth wagon, tell AMBAG what they can do with their continued, unrealistic demands that the County accommodate growth in a world of finite resources. There's not enough water here for the people who live here now. "Water neutral development" is just a poor euphemism for increased efficiency and reduced per capita consumption, which is held hostage and ultimately overshadowed by population increase. We cannot optimize our way out of the reality of finite resources. Ocean water desalination is no answer either, as finite energy is as restrictive as water, in the long run more so. The post-fracking future bending toward us is the death knell of cheap energy and the inevitable long slide down the muddy slope of energy availability.

The future is less, not more.

And that's a good thing. Without the distractions of the new and bigger and glitzier, we can relearn to be content with the present, the adequate and sufficient, the resilient, the modest, the tried and true.

We can settle into our own and become indigenous to this place where we live. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

‘It is profitable to let the world go to hell’

    In a Guardian article, ‘It is profitable to let the world go to hell’, Jo Confino describes the 42 year frustrating struggle by Jørgen Randers to inject a note of sanity into government climate policies.
    "It is cost-effective to postpone global climate action. It is profitable to let the world go to hell.

    "I believe that the tyranny of the short term will prevail over the
decades to come. As a result, a number of long-term problems will not be
solved, even if they could have been, and even as they cause gradually
increasing difficulties for all voters."
    We see this inability to include a long term perspective down to the local government level.  City of Santa Cruz Water Department managers are unable to view future water supply challenges in terms of population growth, insisting that water neutral development, that is increased water use efficiency, will allow population growth indefinitely into the future.

    Of course, increases in efficiency are a short-term solution, since efficiency can only increase to a point of diminishing return. Population increases will inevitably overcome efficiency of use.

    But the bureaucratic mentality cannot embrace this viewpoint, because that means the entire capitalist consumer approach must be abandoned on the scrap heap of history. So the blinders remain fully in place as the opportunities for meaningful and effective change swoosh rapidly downstream to the ocean.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Finding Balance Between Individualism and Society

One thing I learned studying anthropology is that all societies deal with the struggle between the needs of the individual and the needs of society. Society requires stability, knowledge of the rules, the consequences of ignoring the rules, and participation by all members of the society in its maintenance.

The core problem in modern “liberal” societies is the fact that the majority of their members are inadequately prepared to function as contributing members of the society, instead encouraged to act as individuals in pursuit of individual “rights” and “freedoms.”

We see this in daily social discourse here in Santa Cruz. At a recent County Commission meeting, public comment on the dogs off-leash issue was dominated by an unruly demand by a small group of dog owners that County government give them what they wanted, which was freedom to pursue their individual desires with no consideration for the broader public good. The meeting devolved into intimidating mob rule, rather than consideration for others and cooperative participation in the course of local government.

Organized religion once was the domain of family and societal values, a place where members of a society learned the rules and the means and methods of carrying out public life within those rules. Since the Enlightenment, religion has lost its place as the arbiter of public values, with nothing to take its place in a society dominated by science, with its lack of overt values, and industrial commercialism, with its overweening values of independence, individualism and consumption.

In addition, schools have been stripped of their responsibility to teach values, and therefore, young parents no longer have the skills to teach values to their children. And children, being the learning vacuums they are, pick up their values ad hoc from popular culture: their peers, popular music, film and television. 

We therefore live in a society that no longer knows how to conduct itself in its own interest. The desires of the individual are paramount, while the needs of society are left wanting. 

As we move into a time of increased societal stress, as a result of environmental changes piling up due to corporate structured, value-free society, this lack of social nurture will bode ill for the survival of our society. 

That which cannot go on forever, won’t.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Where can I take my dog off-leash on the beach in Santa Cruz?

It seems that everyone wants to come to Santa Cruz, California to let their dogs run off-leash at the beach!

Even during the winter, a percentage of visitors to the beaches of Santa  Cruz County are from out of town. It must be the sun... or something. A percentage of those visitors bring their canine charges with them as  well and can't wait to get their dogs sandy and smelly at the beach. Go figure!

How are they to know - before they get here - that their off leash dogs are not allowed  on Santa Cruz County beaches (except Mitchell's Cove before ten and  after four)? Or that there are five beaches (Main Beach, Cowell, Natural Bridges, Wilder Ranch and Scott Creek) that don't allow dogs at all?!

As it turns out, there's an app for that, or at least, a web site.

Click HERE for the answer to this and other questions at Santa Cruz Off-Leash Beach!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Parks Commission Gives in to Bullying Dog Owners

   Late last year the off-leash dog controversy came to a head with the December 15 meeting of the Santa Cruz County Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission. Over a year ago, the Commission requested that County staff produce criteria for off-leash dog facilities and an inventory of County Parks properties suitable for fenced or unfenced off-leash dog parks. 

    The four Commissioners in attendance on December 15 listened to the Parks Department Staff Report, which concluded “County Parks does not recommend further consideration of unfenced shared use areas where dogs would be permitted off-leash.” 

    Following the Staff Report, the meeting was opened to public comment on this agenda item. Many comments from off-leash dog proponents were loud and peppered with foul language, as they demanded that the Commission “give them” an off-leash dog area on “their beach.”
The F-word was heard as often as in a modern motion picture.

    The atmosphere created by off-leash dog supporters turned ugly and intimidating. Members of the audience expressing support for the Staff Report were repeatedly interrupted by rude remarks. When the public comment was closed and the Commissioners began their discussion, the off-leash proponents continued their interruptions, moving forward toward the Commissioners, waving and gesticulating, and taking pictures with their cell phones. At times the gathering felt more like a religious revival than a Commission meeting.

    The process of careful government deliberation was destroyed by the unruly behavior of the off-leash proponents, replaced by
an escalating mob atmosphere by those intent on getting their own way.

Unfortunately, the Commission Chair failed to control the abusive outbursts, even beyond the public comment period and into the Commissioners’ discussion that followed. Even worse, two Parks Commissioners rewarded the off-leash proponents and gave them legitimacy by taking their demands seriously and proposing a motion to recommend that the Board of Supervisors look into a pilot program for off-leash dogs on a County beach.

    What message does this send to the public that looks to County Commissions to advise their Board of Supervisors on County policy? Is abusive and bullying behavior to be rewarded by obsiquious Commissioners? Is County policy to be determined by those who shout the loudest with the most foul language?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Enlightened Local Government

Local government today suffers from a crisis of ineptitude.

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."
― Thomas Jefferson

Participation in the process of government requires an educated, enlightened citizenry. In a society where rational discourse, critical thinking and evidence based decision-making is not taught in schools and is discouraged by popular culture, those who populate local commissions, committees, boards and councils are left with no basis for "wholesome discretion."

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
― Thomas Jefferson

Beyond those who actively participate in the process of government, the general public is uneducated in the day to day role of citizens in a democratic nation. Public meetings have become rowdy expressions of entitlement and unreasonable demands. Mob intimidation has replaced cogent comment and supportive participation. Individualism and personal consumption have displaced concern for the common good.

If we must have government, it should arise of itself from an educated populace, not be imposed from above by a powerful elite minority.

“Government should be weak, amateurish and ridiculous. At present, it fulfills only a third of the role.
― Edward Abbey

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Nature of Humans

As I've commented before, I'm wary of distinguishing between "Nature" and "Not-Nature" with regard to human beings.

Humans are part of "Nature," that is, Homo sapiens is a species of animal that co-evolved with all other species. It’s important that we internalize this reality. 

When we deny the reality of our basic “Nature-ness,” we allow ourselves to engage in behavior that is destructive to the world of Nature. We ignore the fact that what harms Nature harms us as well. We give ourselves license to take from Nature without giving back, to take from Nature faster and in greater amounts than can be naturally replenished. We allow ourselves to create waste and “throw it away,” into Nature, faster and in greater quantities than can be naturally assimilated. We forget that there is no “away.”

It’s also important to understand that humans cannot bring about the “End of Nature.” Even if humans fail to end our profligate ways, resulting in global environmental “collapse,” Nature will abide. It may be that Nature will change to a form that does not support intelligent (sic) upright featherless bipeds, but it will still be Nature and natural systems will continue to operate as they have since the beginnings of life on this planet.

Nature Bats Last is not just a bumper sticker.

There’s no getting around the bitter fact that we can’t do anything we want and get away with it. We might as well get over it and get on with the task of becoming responsible members of the community of life on this tiny, much abused, whirling mudball we call Earth. Our friends and neighbors on the planet will welcome us with open arms, legs, wings, flippers and pseudopodia.

An article in Mother Earth News, Coming Home to Nature, speaks elegantly about the unity of humans and Nature.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Can humans survive themselves?

After decades of environmental activism and organization, I've come to the reluctant conclusion that nothing can be done to prevent, or even mitigate massive environmental disruption, habitat destruction, species loss, air and water pollution and modification of natural climate variation.

This may seem obvious to some, and, I suppose, it is. It doesn't make it stick in my craw any less.

Looking back, there have been victories: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act. These legislative actions helped slow the rate of destruction, at least for a while.

Stacked up against the totalitarian hegemony of the global growth at any cost economy, and the failure of democracy as a form of enlightened government, these gains are insufficient to forestall inevitable environmental degradation and resulting economic collapse.

This startling revelation walks hand-in-hand with another: humans are basically stupid and uncaring. I don't mean ignorant; ignorance can be cured by the application of information. Stupid means unintelligent, even to the point of willful ignorance.

In the human world, Homo sapiens has removed itself from the natural process of evolution. In the natural world, intelligence, the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, is a required attribute for evolutionary success. Since humans no longer respond to selection pressure, intelligence is not required for success as a human being.

While this is bad enough among the general population, unintelligence has become concentrated in one critical area of human society.

To paraphrase Mark Twain: Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a government bureaucrat. But I repeat myself.

Government bureaucracy has become the universal haven for all manner of unenlightened twits, worthless ninnies, mental feebs, recalcitrant do-nothings, corporate toadies, and status-quo apologists. They have perfected the Peter Principle and taken it to new heights of development.

Dealing with these obstructions to progress, in any sense of the word, is like trying to walk through a wall of marshmallows. Every effort to bring the light of day into the gloom of government offices is misdirected, mislaid, misfiled, obscured with coffee stains, glued into incomprehensibility with sticky-bun detritus, crumpled and basketballed into the round file of oblivion, benignly ignored or actively resisted.

As if that were insufficient, government bureaucrats (GBs) are unequaled in their ability to act as if they're doing something while all the while effectively emulating the Rock of Gibraltar. They've all gone to Bureaucrateze language school and each have the Official Bureaucrats Thesaurus (1875) close at hand for ready reference. Missives between and among GBs are replete with inaction phrases, weasel words (apologies to the genus Mustela), obscuratanisms and obfuscations. They excel in Concentric Bird logic (that which goes round and round in ever decreasing circles until it disappears into its own fundament).

The worst part of this appalling situation is that nothing can be done to change it. GBs are in control of the world and its social institutions. City Councils, Borough Assemblies, state legislatures and even that Great National Asylum for the Criminally Helpless in Washington, DC are all held in close thrall to the ministrations of the Government Bureaucrat Conspiracy.

"Is that a conspiracy theory?" whines the wag in the back row.

Yes, it is. GBs do indeed get together in conference rooms and plan how to build and maintain their throttle-hold on the reins of public process. Here is a web site, which, true to form, is slow to load, poorly organized and archaically non-interactive: Top 25 Government Conferences.

Back to my thesis: There's No Hope.

Any prospect for substantive change in the relationship between human societies and the natural world is dependent on an organized group of humans who don't care, don't know, and worse, know what they don't want to know about the effects of their actions on the broader biosphere, on which, ironically, their own future depends.

Thus, in answer to the title of this screed, the Cosmic Joke arrives at its inevitable punchline:

Homo sapiens will go to its long deserved grave laughing its empty head off.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Daniel Ellsberg Challenge

Jeff Morley, in his article: JFKfacts - The Ellsberg challenge, asks two questions posed to him by Daniel Ellsberg, liberator of "The Pentagon Papers":

"What do you want to happen as a result of your understanding of the JFK [assassination] story? What, if anything, does it require the American government to do in 2014?" 

Unfortunately, "the government" cannot and will not do anything regarding the Kennedy / King / Malcolm X assassinations, because the legitimacy of the United States government is held hostage to the truth. 

There will, of course, never be a grand reveal of the truth that strips away the fog of amnesia from the minds of the American public. This will not be allowed. While there may be startling revelations at some point in the future, they will be stage-managed by the mental manipulators, such that their effect on the perceptions of the public will be minimized, if not entirely negated. The Emperor's nudity must never be allowed to be revealed.

We already know, with little doubt, of the complicity and outright authorship of activities by United States government security agencies such as the FBI and CIA, in COINTELPRO-like programs to discredit the reputations of public figures, internationally and domestically. It is only a tiny step from disinformation (lying) and propaganda to averting the official eyes from more active interference, and yet a smaller step, once on the path, to participation. The result of the officially sanctioned oppression of the 60s is the prevailing surveillance state we experience in today's enemy-deficient world, where Terrorism has replaced Communism as justification for the recision of Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. 

One can hope that if documentation of government complicity in the 60s assassinations were to be globally distributed, say, by a WikiLeaks type action, such widespread opening of the collective eye would indeed destroy the legitimacy of the United States government sufficiently to cause its downfall and replacement by a democratic parliamentary form of government. This would, unfortunately, require a degree of public participation in the process of government now sadly lacking. But let us not discount the ability of the American people to rise to an occasion when sufficiently motivated. We are long past due our responsibility to "water the tree of Liberty with the blood of tyrants."

Unless and until the documented truth is revealed, there is nothing the government need do, and nothing the awake and aware public can do about our ineluctably corrupt government. The corporate oligarchy controls access to information, inescapably surveils the public for signs of unrest and incipient rebellion, creates and maintains an atmosphere of fear of fictive external enemies, and maintains a monopoly of force against any potential or actual uprising.

In Oliver Stone's words, as Jim Garrison in his 1991 film, JFK

 It may become a generational
 affair, with questions passed down from
 father to son, mother to daughter, in the
 manner of the ancient runic bards.  Someday
 somewhere, someone might find out the
 damned Truth.  Or we might just build
 ourselves a new Government like the
 Declaration of Independence says we should
 do when the old one ain't working.

 An American naturalist wrote, "a patriot
 must always be ready to defend his
 country against its government."

That "American naturalist" was Edward Paul Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire, Fire on the Mountain, and The Monkey Wrench Gang, anarchist, gadlfy, curmudgeon, and inspiration to a generation of patriots who continue to defend this country, and its natural habitats and species, from an overweening government. 

There's plenty of work to do and time is on our side.