Friday, December 31, 2010

Lynn Margulis

I never believed what they told me, I believed what I saw myself.

                                                                                          Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis was born in 1938. She is a biologist and teaches in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Margulis is interested in how the cells that we're made of came to have parts called "organelles." She believes that complex cells, called "eukaryotes," are the descendants of simpler cells. The ancient, simpler cells tried to eat each other. Instead they began working relationships. They became parts of something new. Margulis says a cell isn't like a bacterium. It's "a microbial community."

 When Margulis first published these ideas, scientists didn't believe them. Now they are accepted by most biologists.

She believes that new species happen when existing species take on genes from other species. The traditional theory says that genes mutate, and if the mutations help, the new species survive. Margulis also helped originate the Gaia Hypothesis. The Gaia Hypothesis says that life works to keep the world's oxygen and other elements at the levels that life needs.

Marie Curie's Beauty Tips Department: Margulis was married to the late astronomer and television personality Carl Sagan, and is the mother of five.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Julian Assange And Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian scholar, born in 1911, died 1980, author of the books The Mechanical Bride, Gutenberg Galaxy, and Understanding Media among others. He is the author also of the statement "the medium is the message," and the phrase "global village." In fact another of his books is titled The Medium is the Massage, its idea being that media are extensions of our senses, whose use condition our nervous systems differently from each other. In other words, a television watcher will be have different, but no less real strengths than readers. McLuhan claimed that electronic media condition people in this culture to behave more like pre-literate villagers than like our great grandparents.

Julian Assange is an Australian-born activist and journalist, the editor of Wikileaks, the publisher of government and corporate files submitted by whistleblowers. Assange is currently in England battling extradition to Sweden to face charges of multiple sexual assaults. He asserts that he is resisting extradition because Sweden would be more likely than the UK to extradite him in turn to the United 
States. PayPal and various credit cards have stopped handling donations to Wikileaks, Wikileak apps are verbotten on the iPhone, and Wikileaks' Swiss bank has frozen its accounts. My take on it is that Wikileaks is the first of a phenomenon -- along with Stuxnet, improvised explosive devices, and extraordinary rendition, part of war as the planet now wages it -- and that whatever happens to it, the idea of an internet platform for whistleblowers to publish documents from the vaults of transgressing governments and companies is established and will co-evolve with efforts to defend against it.

There is a systematic tendency on the part of human beings to avoid accountability for their own decisions. That's why there are so many missing feedback loops -- and why this kind of leverage point is so often popular with the masses and unpopular with the powers that be, and effective, if you can get the powers that be to permit it to happen or go around them and make it happen anyway.

                                  Donella Meadows, "Places to Intervene in a System"

In 1986, the US government required that every factory releasing hazardous air pollutants report these emissions publicly. Suddenly everyone could find out what was coming out of the smokestacks in town. There was no law against these emissions, no fines,no determination of "safe" levels, just information. But by 1990 emissions dropped by 40 percent. One chemical company that found itself on the Top Ten Polluters list reduced its emissions by 90 percent just to "get off that list."

                                  Donella Meadows, "Places to Intervene in a System"

Missing feedback is a common cause of system malfunction. Adding or rerouting information can be a powerful intervention, usually easier and cheaper than rebuilding physical structure.

                                  Donella Meadows, "Places to Intervene in a System"

Real total war has become information war. It is being fought by subtle electric informational media -- under cold conditions, and constantly.

                                  Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

A new form of politics is emerging and in ways we haven't yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing everything.

                                  Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

The instantaneous world of electric informational media involves all of us, all at once. No detachment or frame is possible.

                                   Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.

                                   Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

(Wikileaks defends itself against litigation)  by using every trick in the book that multinational companies use to route money through tax havens, Instead we route information.

                                   Julian Assange

Friday, December 10, 2010

Altgeld Portfolio

In 1986, I rode my bicycle from Minneapolis to Macomb, Illinois. In Macomb, I spent a week cleaning stalls at the Pres Oder Stables, and seeing friends. I spent a lot of time thinking about  permaculture -- although I didn't know the word -- and the adventure energized me. Back in Minneapolis, I did a comic I called "Altgeld Portfolio" about Altlgeld, a fictional college town which had found a way to thrive in a time when other small towns were dying. (John Peter Altgeld was an Illinois governor who sacrificed his career to behave with integrity toward labor, and toward three condemned activists who were framed for murder.)

I showed this thing all over the Twin Cities energy and environmentalist scene, but the nicest reaction I got was back in Macomb, where Rick Meloan told Joe Alexander that they should get John Long to travel around West Central Illinois buying up derelict VW Bugs, and bring them back to Alexander's farm for rehab.

Permaculture Comic Book (1987)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Honor a Neighbor Sketch

Sean Gosiewski and Rachel Hefte came to the Corcoran Neighborhood, a decade ago, to be near the Farmers’ Market and the Midtown YWCA. They and their eight-year old, Marianna, live with books cats and a piano, on a block where life-long Minnesotans like themselves (White Bear Lake and Fergus Falls) rub shoulders with transplants from Morales, Mexico.

Marianna is a lively kid, learning piano from her mother, and ballet (she wants to switch to tap), and swimming outside. She is a student at Dowling Urban Environmental School, and fascinated by her class’ current unit on “Westward Expansion.” While we talked, Marianna showed me a Conestoga wagon she had made from other toys and household odds and ends. She enjoys working in the family garden, and is a champion bean and carrot harvester.

In 1987, Rachel, in her middle twenties, picked Nicaraguan coffee. Her labor was useful, but another reason for the presence of young gringo coffee pickers, in Nicaragua, during that country’s civil war, was to make the Contra revolutionaries think twice about attacking the laborers. Rachel protected by young men with Kalishnikovs, and escaped massacre by one village. Since then she has taught, traveled to Namibia, and trained Anoka County workers in alternatives to violence. She is part of Garden Matters, working with community gardeners, and works as a professional facilitator, helping groups do vision and strategic planning.

Sean is the program director for Alliance for Sustainability, a Twin Cities-based organization whose mission is to promote just, humane, and ecologically and economically sound projects that will help civilization through its current rough patch. I met with the Hefte-Gosiewski household the day after the Sustainability Networking Fair at South High, organized by Sean. The Fair’s keynote speaker was Richard Heinberg, author of The Party’s Over and other books about energy and economics, a thinker who is planning for a sustainable energy mix around 2075. The Fair also hosted break-out sessions that discussed solar power, the Midtown Market, raising city chickens, and more. Sean says he likes making linkages between people and organizations. He’s a member of Corcoran Grows, this neighborhood’s Transition group, and one of his goals for Saturday was to see other Twin Cities neighborhoods form similar organizations. I asked him how he organizes an event like the Sustainability Networking Fair. He said that it takes “holding a vision of the day, and getting people to come.”

I came away from chatting with Rachel, Sean, and Marianna impressed and a little jealous of a family whose life together seems of a piece, and dedicated to a world which Marianna will see mature, peaceful and prosperous with solar income.

Hags and Hagiography

I write and draw a monthly neighbor profile for my neighborhood paper. I think of it as a sort of people magazine for ordinary people. I'm interested in people who do interesting things, and especially people who have ideas or have made things that will let civilization endure.

The three scans come from Grosset and Dunlap's 1931 offering, Minute Biographies: Intimate Glimpses into the Lives or 150 Famous Men and Women by Samuel Nisenson and Alfred Parker, and from a show of paintings by Rob Shetterely, Americans Who Tell the Truth. Some of those 150 men's and women's stock has gone up, and some down, in the seventy-nine years since Santa gave my eleven year old father Minute Biographies; Adolph Hitler is not among the 150, but Vladimir Lenin is included as the "Russian Emancipator." Shetterly's oil portraits are attractive, and his choices are exemplars of integrity and justice. My own preferences would be of people who know how to expedite those virtues in society.

Monday Night Drawings

My live drawing is going through a slump. I'd like to think that there's something happening that's inaccessible to my conscious notice, some synthesis or growth, so I keep plugging away.

These are drawings from Monday night. The young man, Garrett from Brisbane, was kind enough to model for our group, kept nicely still, and was in good humor throughout something like ninety uninterrupted minutes. Emma gave him the watercolor she painted, and Lisa photographed everybody's efforts for Garrett to take back to Oz. I feel like I'm coming along, and this drawing has its moments (look at the hands), but my measuring is uneven, and what I see is too raw.

The other drawings are of regular, Laura. Laura posed with a blanket-sized piece of tule, the stuff of bridal veils, looking to push us to new levels of composition. The damned stuff is stiff, transparent, white, and makes many complicated folds that rearrange themselves with the model's slightest fidgets. Even the mass's silhouette kept changing. I really do want to learn to draw drapery, but if I were going after tule, I'd start by setting it up in a series of still lives, and use scratchboard.

Tom Roark

I'm planning to expand this series of drawings, that includes Odum, Schumacher, Teilhard, and Hardin. The one above is a self portrait. The point of the exercise is to get adept at drawing from photographs, although my choice of subjects so far is fairly tendentious.

Garrett Hardin

The laws of our society follow the pattern of ancient ethics, and therefore are poorly suited to governing a complex, crowded, changeable world.

                                                                      Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin was a Texas ecologist (b. 1915, d. 2003), whose most widely read work is called The Tragedy of the Commons. In it, he discusses population, and lets population stand for any human choice that affects the environment's carrying capacity for humans.

His metaphor is a pasture (a "common") upon which a community of herdsmen feed their families' flocks. Each herdsman, as a rational being, will try to maximize the common's benefit to him by increasing the number of animals he runs. Any one of these pastoralists would be responsible for only marginal wear and tear on the pasture, but together, the community overgrazes it, and reduces the number of animals it can support, ultimately wrecking it.

This is parallel to human overpopulation, and to various other issues in which the interests of communities, or humanity as a whole, are different from those of individual, rational, economic beings. Hardin urged us to arrive at and regulate a consensus to regulate population, and those other issues.