Thursday, November 29, 2012

Still A Space Cowboy (After All These Years)

I'm a space cowboy, which ain't a fer real cowboy, but it's pretty real. Yeah, it's real. Man.

Gotta credit Steve Miller for the phrase, maybe a better word for hippie, and it ain't that bad of a song:

All you back room schemers and small trip dreamers
Better find something new to say
Cause you're the same old story
It's the same old crime
And you got some heavy dues to pay.

What it's really about was in 1957, I'm sitting in my pajamas, Mattel Fanner Fifty strapped to my thigh, half pint ten gallon hat on my head, and I'm watching Have Gun Will Travel on Saturday night. Fast forward a dozen years, and Neil Armstrong is conquering the moon, I'm dropping acid like popcorn, in protest of the Vietnam War.

I'm sure you know where it's at.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Quotes From "Angels"

A couple of quotes from VIII Metalogue: "Secrets" in Angels Fear, by Gregory and Mary Catherine Bateson. The Metalogues were dialogues between "Father" and "Daughter." Most of them were written by Gregory ("Father"), but this one is by Mary Catherine ("Daughter"), written after Gregory's death. Neither quote is the main point of the Metalogue, or even complete thoughts, just kind of interesting.

"We have so largely lost track of the sacred that we are becoming incapable of committing sacrilege."

"The story is about the need to limit or control knowledge or communication across species lines and across gender lines -- the basic discontinuities of natural history."

Mary Catherine put both quotes in Gregory's mouth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Human Progress Real!

Sometimes I wonder if there really is progress, or if we just keep rearranging the furniture. I mean, finally there's going to be entropy, but you can arrange it so that some subsystem of the universe prospers by increasing entropy in the rest of the big system.

Life miraculously does this. According to Newton, you and I  are not really supposed to be here. But from the human point of view, can we learn as a species and find a way to live with each other and the rest of nature?

Somebody, maybe Derek Jensen or Jared Diamond, suggested that agriculture was humanity's biggest mistake. With ag, we got hierarchies, private property, women and children as chattel, war, slavery, depleted soil, the beginnings of all the heartaches that we wonder and anguish over in the 21st century.

As agriculture outpaced forager depletion of the environment, industry has outpaced agriculture. The best, most nearly complete model of the world economy predicted economic collapse in this century, absent certain changes. There may be cameras on Mars and a Worldwide Web, but things like that happen at a cost.

I'm working on some projects that I think demonstrate human progress.

I'm working to bring Nora Bateson's cinematic portrait of her father Gregory, An Ecology of Mind, to the Twin Cities. Bateson thought that an epistemology that was neither superstitious nor materialistic could bring us into a relationship with our planet that could last and make us happy. The trick will be to get a speaker to answer questions. Bateson was a very -- um -- knowledgeable fellow and can be hard to follow.

I'm helping neighbors to build relationships in south Minneapolis that we hope will allow a smooth transition from an oil economy to one that will let us thrive on down the corridors of time.

My current Face of Wisdom for Zenith City Weekly is Dimitri Mendeleev. Mendeleev took the handful of elements isolated by the 1860s, and arranged them as we know them in the Periodic Table, leaving spaces for elements remaining to be discovered. In other words, Dimitri took the dribs and drabs that had been discovered, and teased out their relationships. He gave us the beginning of a theory of matter!

List other global understandings of existence: genetics from Mendel to the Human Genome Project, quantum mechanics, cybernetics, chaos theory, natural selection, ecology. These indicate progress in that our noodling around and trying to understand every single thing by itself has given us a comprehensive and accurate understanding of our place in the universe.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Growing The American Economy

In the recent presidential election, one side said that the way to grow the stalled economy was to relieve employers of the burdens of taxation and regulation, while the other said that getting new money into the budgets of middle class families would do the same thing by increasing markets for the employers to sell to.

"How do we grow our stalled economy?" is the wrong question.

A better one is, "How do we assure 300 million Americans of livelihoods, now that the economy has grown as far as it will?"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Deliverance And Integrity

Spent Thanksgiving with my family in Macomb, Illinois.

We celebrated at a rented lodge, four buildings in the woods built by a demented millionaire during the 1920s. It belongs to the university today, and a previous guest left a copy of James Dickey's Deliverance.

Dickey's great; everything in the story is imagined accurately and in scrupulous detail.

Ed Gentry -- the Jon Voigt character in the movie -- tells the tale. He is a partner in a pre-computer graphic design firm, and comfortably trapped.

Ed's friend Lewis -- the Burt Reynolds character -- manages inherited rental properties. Explaining to Drew, another suburban businessman, why Drew should prefer to share a canoe with Lewis, Ed tells him, "Fine. But you probably ought to know that he can handle a canoe pretty well, and I can't. He's strong as the Devil, too, and he's in shape. I'm not." Drew says, "I'm a-goin' with you, and not Mr. Lewis Medlock. I done seen how he drove these roads he don't know nothing about."

Ed introduces himself in the book's first section. "Before," and early in the second section, "September 14." Several of September 14's pages are a conversation that introduces Lewis. It's Friday morning and Ed and Lewis are in one of two cars, headed into the mountains to canoe a wild river that will soon be dammed for development.

" 'I had an air-raid shelter built,' he said. 'I'll take you down there sometime.' " Deliverance was published in 1970, when bomb shelters were already an anachronism, but Dickey may have been working on the novel for several years, and the shelter doesn't make another appearance. " 'I decided that survival was not in the rivets and the metal, and not in the double-sealed doors, and not in the marbles of Chinese Checkers. It was in me. It came down to the man, and what he could do. The body is the one thing you can't fake; it's just got to be there.' "

They drive on and Lewis tells Ed that he would move to the mountains, hunt and farm, if there were a nuclear war.

" 'Oh, I don't know,' I said. 'If you wanted to, you could go up in the hills and live right now. You could have all those same conditions. You could hunt. You could farm. You could suffer just as much as if they dropped the H-bomb. You could even start a colony, How do you think Carolyn would like that life?'

" 'It's not the same.' Lewis said. 'Don't you see? It would just be eccentric. Survival depends -- well, it depends on having to survive. The kind of life I'm talking about depends on it's being the last chance. The very last of all.'

" 'I hope you don't get it,' I said. 'It's too big a price to pay.'

" 'No price is too big,' Lewis said, and I knew that part of the conversation was over."

There's a piece of foreshadowing later in this conversation. They are talking about the integrity of fitting into your own fantasy. Both men have hunting bows.

" 'There're lots of other kinds of people to be than what you are,' I said.

" 'Sure there are, But this is my kind. It feels right, like when you turn loose the arrow, and you know when you let go that you've done everything right. You know where the arrow is going. There's not any other place that it can go.' "

Two days later, Lewis is lying on a beach at the bottom of the river gorge, with a compound fracture, and Ed has to scale a cliff, stalk a woodsman who has sodomized one canoeist and killed another. He must save his own life, Lewis' and the rape victim's by killing the man with bow and arrow.

At the critical moment, the man realizes he is in Ed's sights, and faces him. Ed's concentration evaporates, and he lets the arrow fly. It hits the man, but Ed falls from the tree he's used as a blind, breaking his bow and putting an arrow through his own side.

The man shoots at him, and Ed hides behind a rock. He watches his victim's agony, wishing death would end it. Ed passes out, and wakes to find the man gone. He follows the trail of blood to the woodsman's corpse, and can't be sure that he's killed the right man.

" ' know when you let go that you've done everything right. You know where the arrow is going. There's not any other place that it can go.' "

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Conundrum of Our Time

It's clear to me from yesterday's blog that some occupations that are a drag on the economy. Armed Robber. Pimp. Corporate CEO.

If you accept Schumacher's claim that natural resources are capital and not income, and then -- thought experiment -- eliminate oil, everybody's broke.

Simplistic it is. Yeah, yeah, yeah, if we're gonna dig our way out of this hole, we're gonna need a shovel and tetanus shots, etc. Somebody's gotta pump the oil, dig the taconite, and inactivate the tetanospasmin.

Buckminster Fuller suggested pensioning everybody off. (Quotes are from page 266 of Critical Path.) "Obviously the first step is to pay people the handsome fellowships to stay at home and say to themselves, 'What was I thinking about before I was first told, convincingly, that I had to "earn a living" by doing what someone else said I had to do?' " "With complete freedom of choice, much of humanity will begin to discover that it loves to work at tasks of its own choosing -- that it loves to discipline itself to demonstrate its competence to others -- that it will compete with the many to demonstrate its competence to serve on one of the multitude of production teams."

Aint' gonna happen.

But consider this: It's the hard-working middle class, whatever they do, that has the heaviest ecological footprint. There are too few rich to make much of a difference, and the poor don't consume enough. Corollary to "the poor don't consume enough," it's absurd to say subsistence is too much.

I have a schizophrenic friend who lives on less than a thousand dollars a month -- SSI, I do believe. He fouls the nest much less than I do, because he's so fucking poor, and he keeps trying to make a difference, persuading people to an environmentalist point of view.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Social Media and The Limits to Growth

I've been writing a column for Duluth's Zenith City (semi-) Weekly, profiles with portraits, of the kind of people I've covered on this blog. That's taken me away from here for a while.

I came back with the idea of short, frequent comments, and found that the software had changed, gone beyond what my decade-old iMac could do, beyond what I could upgrade to.

The IMAC is a great old workhorse. Congratulations to Apple for making something that's easy to use and that lasts!

One of the suggestions that The Limits to Growth made for limiting industrial investment to depreciation, and avoiding worldwide economic collapse, was producing long-lasting things that are easily repaired. Think of the old Volkswagen Beetle, or the chest freezer in my basement that's probably as old as I am.

Changes in Blogger (and other social media site) software doubtless fit Google's (and other companies') business plan and contribute to their bottom line, but they force us to scrap perfectly good tools, or opt out of the civic conversation. Do wrong or be disenfranchised. This depletes society's actual wealth, even though it employs and enriches some. It's an example of how individuals' interests can be contrary to society's, of how the short term preempts the long.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jeremiad on the Economy

Did anthrogenic climate change cause Hurricane Sandy, the current midwestern drought, and the rain that started right after you washed your car? The standard answer is "You can't say." What you can say is that higher levels of "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere will cause weird weather in general, but there are too many steps between letting energy into the system and not letting it our, and any one event. And not much point in lingering over the argument.

You can also say that it's valid and legitimate to discuss the composition of the atmosphere when something unusual and unpleasant has happened.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I'd throttle back my energy use, and so should you, if I'd never heard of "global warming." I want to use climate change as an analogy for something else.

I've mentioned The Limits to Growth before. Limits was a 1972 report on a computer study that predicted global economic collapse in the 21st century unless the world limited births to deaths and industrial investment to depreciation. Australian Graham Turner surveyed the trends that Limits modeled: population, industrial production, agricultural production, services, and pollution. 1972 to 2000, those trends were as predicted.

Can we blame Greek and other European economic problems on Limits' predicted economic collapse? How about post-Sandy gas lines? 8% unemployment? Lockout at the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the NHL?

Sure. Take them as warnings.