Climate Strike

I was the chauffeur last Friday who took my youngest granddaughters to the Climate Strike demonstration in front of the Fayette County, KY, Courthouse. I did this at the request of their mother, my daughter, the hydrologist who works for the Kentucky Environmental Protection Agency.  The young women are a teen and a pre-teen on the cusp.

These may seem to be odd arrangements and relationships for someone, such as I, who has a very decided stance on global warming. Just last week, I wrote a blog entry that criticized those who would hide behind complexity.  But I will hasten to add that global warming is very complicated — too complicated for humans, apparently.  Let me make some observations:

  • I supported my granddaughters and my daughter because I support their spirit of civil disobedience.  The point of the climate strike was that school children would skip school to express their impatience with the seeming complacency of their elders.
  • I was concerned for the safety of my granddaughters.  This turned out to be misoverestimated, but I am a contemporary of those gunned down at Kent State University, so I always get queasy when people come up against the police state.
  • I had lots of time on the 60 mile round-trip to Lexington to share information with my granddaughters — and I have the rest of my lifetime as well, just so long as we expect one another to be rational.
  • Most of our climate information comes to us from people whose hair is on fire — the media, the deniers, the protesters, the promoters, and the politicians.  How many pictures have we seen just this year of the edge of the ice.  There is always an edge to the ice!  Somewhere!  The Earth is not covered in solid ice.  Yet these photos are presented to us as evidence that all the ice in the world is melting at a breakneck pace.
  • At demonstrations, you will nearly always hear that you must vote.  I pointed out to the young women that those of us who are over 18 only get to vote against Mitch McConnell once every 6 years, while the coal industry gets to vote every day, with dollars.  The deck is stacked.
  • One of the entities at the Lexington event, distributing flyers and speaking through a bullhorn, was the Kentucky Democratic Socialists.  They claimed to have an environmental project to justify their presence, but one suspects they have a project for every occasion.  Their agenda suggests that they were politicizing this event.
  • The crowd was underwhelming.  About twenty minutes in, I counted just over forty people, and school children were less than half of that number.
  • Three suits watched us from the vestibule of the federal courthouse.  US Marshals?  FBI?
  • Most of the high school students who spoke at the event were articulate, but they are the outliers.
  • Although I am a scientist, I am jaded about people who claim that authority as their main argument for a holding.  As a scientist, I always suspect fortune telling and handwaving.
  • It would not surprise me if the world were indeed in a warming phase, of some finite duration.
  • It would surprise me to find that there is some set of incontrovertible evidence predicting the future.  I am reminded of Butch Cassidy‘s movie prognostication that “The fall will probably kill ya.”  Are we sure that nothing else will get us before global warming does?
  • Do we think that politicians even care?  Do we think that corporate CEO’s, who are concerned only with this year’s books, care about the future?
  • Anthropogenic is the 50 cent word we use to show we are smart enough not to insist that humans take the blame for global warming.  Human nature is part of Nature.  We are the ones who buy extended cab pickup trucks and Mercedes SUV’s as soon as gas prices dip slightly.
  • Do we think that people, who have been engaged in war throughout their history, will suddenly do something that makes sense?
  • Do we think the Earth was created only for the short term health and welfare of the few generations living today?
  • I am not a denier.  I am not a decrier.  I am not a seer.  I am not a fearmonger.  I am not a scientist who thinks he is part of a priesthood.

— Verbal Vol

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One Institution at a Time

The institutions of America are crumbling, it says here, but none so time-honored and none so precipitously as the Fourth Estate.

I’m not sure when I stopped reading newspapers, but they fell out of my favor when I was a freshman in college.  My professor for Advanced Composition used the local papers in every class to present to us examples of horrendously poor writing.  Sometimes he would even use the eminences such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Louisville Courier-Journal.  He implied that eventually we would become dolts, as a national population, because of the habitual trashing of the language.  And, no, he wasn’t a grammar zealot.  Rather, he was one who suggested that the media were pursuing false ideals.

For the next decade, I got my news from Rolling Stone and National Lampoon.  We did not own a television.   News was like tuning in to a soap opera every year or so — the plot lines were still the same, as were the lack of quality.

But my purpose here is not to write a history, but to examine where we are today.  To do this, I have decided to review a typical day’s throughput on popular WWW newsfeeds.

Here are the headlines, except for sports-related ones which could be written by reassembling confetti:

  • [A celebrity] pleads not guilty to multiple charges of criminal sexual abuse — Undeveloped Sex Drama (to be continued)
  • [An alleged disruptor] was carrying toy gun, police reveal after shooting him dead — Jackboot Drama (to be continued)
  • [National] police detain hundreds in [provincial] sweeps — Jackboot Drama (to be continued)
  • Pro-life movie ‘Unplanned’ gets unexpected R rating — Divisiveness Drama (to be continued)
  • A stern memo about [a convict to be sentenced] says he ‘brazenly violated’ law — Veiled Courtroom Drama (to be continued)
  • Every Angle of the 2019 [new product] — Untried Consumer Product Drama (to be continued)
  • [A country’s] [royal personage] becomes country’s first [female] ambassador with [another country] role — Veiled Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • The [nationality] do not have a moral compass in the way they do business — Abstractly Referenced International Commerce Drama (to be continued)
  • AOC: ‘Is It Still Okay to Have Children’ in the Age of Climate Change — AOC/Fear/Climate Drama (to be continued, incessantly)
  • ‘Unhinged madman’: Former U.S. budget director says [POTUS] is ‘conducting 4 wars on the economy’ — Opinion on Opinion (to be continued, incessantly)
  • Airlines admit having cameras installed on back of passengers’ seats — Anti-Corporate Drama (to be continued, incessantly)
  • [A national capital city] Postcard: Children hope to give [a leader] comradely welcome — Opinion on Sideshow / Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • Oscars 2019: The worst-dressed stars including [celebrities A, B, and C] — Opinion on Sideshow / Celebrity Drama (likely to be continued, incessantly)
  • Tunnels, civilians slow capture of [militant group]’s last [a nation] pocket — Pseudo-concrete Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • [A celebrity]’s alleged plan to manufacture outrage diminishes impact of real hate crime — Opinion 0n Hate Crime Drama (to be continued)
  • Tornado tears through [a locale] leads to first tornado death of 2019 — Weather / Fatality Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Flood threat persists in [a region] while severe storms diminish in the [larger region] — Weather Futurism Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Snow emergencies in [northern latitude] — Weather Persistence Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • [A military] officer, self-described white nationalist, planned terror attack to ‘kill almost every last person,’ feds say — Terror / White Nationalism / Fed Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Harry and Meghan meet Moroccan girls during official tour — Royal Drama (never ending)
  • [A politician] attracts crowds in [a primary state], but leaves questions about what she believes — Unsupported Assertion / Unverified Supposition Political Drama (never ending)
  • [A country] breaks diplomatic relations with [another country] over aid, [a politician] says  — Pseudo-concrete Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • Iceberg twice the size of New York City about to break off Antarctica, says NASA — Help me!  I’m melting!  (Every earthly ice mass has an edge from which pieces break)

As Cliff Arquette might have said, “it goes on … ”

I once lived in Manhattan, NYC, for 3 months in 1985.  It was the apparent practice of every “news” outlet to have at least one story every day for both Donald Trump and Rudolph Giuliani.  I learned subsequently that each of those egomaniacs probably planted those stories.  Today’s news mavens, it seems, have taken pages from those books by making sure that certain genre of accounts appear in every release.

— Verbal Vol


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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Voluntaryists

I was taught the seven habits of highly effective people by my youngest granddaughter, when she was in elementary school.  I thought of them as being positive for 3 reasons:  1) my granddaughter was no average public school student, 2) her school was no ordinary public school, and 3) I had some new and useful principles around which to organize my voluntaryism.  In another post, I will address how these principles derived from Stephen Covey’s book apply to the life of a voluntaryist, then I will discuss other, more specific habits that relate directly to the practice of voluntaryism.

Habit 1: Be Proactive. …
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind. …
Habit 3: Put First Things First. …
Habit 4: Think Win/Win. …
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. …
Habit 6: Synergize.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw.

The following habits could be thought of as behaviors which are sprung from Habit 7 above (Sharpen the Saw).

Voluntaryist Habit 1:  Think of non-political solutions to political problems.
Voluntaryist Habit 2:  In understanding, remember that everything is as different as it is like something else.
Voluntaryist Habit 3:  Allow for spontaneity.
Voluntaryist Habit 4:  Observe natural law.
Voluntaryist Habit 5:  Be careful of which numbers you count.
Voluntaryist Habit 6:  Study truth.
Voluntaryist Habit 7:  Think Win/Win One-to-one.
Voluntaryist Habit …

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What is Voluntaryism?

Finding the challenges …

I was, in fact, challenged as to “What is a voluntaryist?”  I will, from time to time, read a piece, in the SIG for Writers to which I belong, where I will claim to be a “voluntaryist.”  Although curiosity will kill the cat, someone decided to query how and why I was using the word, “voluntaryist.”

Let me lead off by declaring what a voluntaryist is not:

A voluntaryist could do any of those things but is not a voluntaryist thereby.  For instance, I was born in Chattanooga, TN.  For another instance, the formulation by Auberon Herbert comes close.  For a third instance, in seeking brevity, I often label myself a voluntaryist — it is not inaccurate, but it is not complete.

As I identify myself as a voluntaryist, I hold the following principles to be true:

And so forth.  Both lists are open-ended.

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Influences IV

This is another disparate group of influences, R. Buckminster Fuller, Edward Tufte, Douglas Hofstadter.  The first is from the 60s, the second from the 90s, and the third from the first decade of the 21st Century, in the order that they came into my life.  But all three think outside of the boxes which have contained so many of us.

R. Buckminster Fuller

He was a native, like my Mother, of Milton, MA, but twenty-seven years older.  He was a navy man, like my Grandfather.  He was revered in the urban planning field, although he had none of the instincts for socialism which plagued that following.  I was briefly in graduate school to study urban planning when I discovered Bucky Fuller.  He also had some false starts before becoming himself, maybe it was his experience with that which made me flee so soon from central planning.

I had the wonderful opportunity to see one of Fuller’s geodesic domes at the Expo ’67 site, in Montreal, QC, Canada, in the summer of 1968.  In 1971, I saw the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO.  I suppose that RBF may have been the most famous architect in America after Frank Lloyd Wright.  Not because he created styles that are with us in residences and public buildings today, but because he took architecture in a very different direction.  His mind was obviously consumed with self-organizing phenomena.

I remember very clearly, not verbatim, but conceptually a thing that he said which sticks with me today:  the everyday man has been serving, has been owned by, the king, but the direction of history shows that more and more has been spread from the king to the common man.  Such that most of us have things like smart phones and good food to eat — things that the richest man in the world could not have owned just a few generations ago.  It was this optimism by Fuller that made me the optimist I am today.

Edward Tufte

Like Buckminster Fuller, I have been a tinkerer all my life.  I began tinkering with computers in the 1970s.  I was most impressed with their potential, not with their effect at that point in time.  Their potential was in reaching user goals, in getting things done, in allowing new approaches.

I very quickly learned that it was in terms of improving human communication that the computer would become the ultimate human tool.  Communication is made of information, communication is of no small degree.  An information system exists with every human endeavor, therefor it’s primary component is people.  The glue that holds the system together is communication.  Computers have been evolving to provide ever greater communication, self-ordered as information, among people.  The geeky parts like hardware, software, data, and procedure are critical too, but they are incidental, able to be shaped to serve the fundamental relationship between sentient beings, beings in communication with one another.

Edward Tufte was the first person I became aware of who could see that fundamental relationship.  He could see that the great purpose of information was knowledge, and beyond that, wisdom, but within that, practical and correct decisions.  To me, the first compelling case that Tufte made was the story of how data was misrepresented in the events leading up to the Challenger disaster of 1986.  Tufte has said “The minimum we should hope for with any display technology is that it should do no harm.”  The slides viewed in this tragedy were flawed, with life and death criticality.  I soon ascribed to the goal of eliminating usability problems in information.  The second famous case that Tufte pursued was that of the Florida butterfly ballot which affected the course of history.

Tufte also said, ” … nature’s laws are causal; they reveal themselves by comparison and difference, and they operate at every multivariate space/time point.”  In this I saw further evidence of the connectedness of reality

Douglas Hofstadter

I saw Douglas Hofstadter speaking from the stage in Memorial Hall at the University of Kentucky.  His topic was Endless Beauty.  For examples, he played recordings of Billie Holiday.  They were “This Year’s Kisses” and “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?”  He said in a WIRED magazine interview, ” … take Billie Holiday, singing with some of her accompanists in the 1930s – playing and improvising. Now, if all that incredible poignancy turns out to be something that can be mass marketed on a chip, it will destroy my image of something very deep and sacred to the human spirit. I’ll just have to eat my words and say, “Well, I guess all that complexity was just another kind of circuitry we can manufacture.”  For an individualist this is gold.  Hofstadter had confirmed my conviction that beauty and uniqueness are found everywhere, but cannot be replicated mechanically.  They can be simulated but not replicated.

Even if you find that things in your life are tedious, repetitive, and humdrum, it is true that your responses to those things are unique and can be changed by you.  Instead treat tedium as an endless generator of unique instances.  Look for the differences … and the similarities.  The differences are infinite, the similarities are astounding.  Dwell on probabilities and possibilities, not on the way that events can overwhelm.

Here are some of the observations about the world that Hofstadter has fashioned:

The nice thing about having a brain is that one can learn, that ignorance can be supplanted by knowledge, and that small bits of knowledge can gradually pile up into substantial heaps.

Relying on words to lead you to the truth is like relying on an incomplete formal system to lead you to the truth. A formal system will give you some truths, but as we shall soon see, a formal system, no matter how powerful—cannot lead to all truths.

One of the basic tenets of Zen Buddhism is that there is no way to characterize what Zen is. No matter what verbal space you try to enclose Zen in, it resists, and spills over. It might seem, then, that all efforts to explain Zen are complete wastes of time. But that is not the attitude of Zen masters and students. For instance, Zen koans are a central part of Zen study, verbal though they are. Koans are supposed to be “triggers” which, though they do not contain enough information in themselves to impart enlightenment, may possibly be sufficient to unlock the mechanisms inside one’s mind that lead to enlightenment. But in general, the Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Reality includes creating every real connection and reference.

It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.

Meaning lies as much
in the mind of the reader
as in the Haiku.

How gullible are you? Is your gullibility located in some “gullibility center” in your brain? Could a neurosurgeon reach in and perform some delicate operation to lower your gullibility, otherwise leaving you alone? If you believe this, you are pretty gullible, and should perhaps consider such an operation.

Sometimes it seems as though each new step towards AI, rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not.

The key question is, no matter how much you absorb of another person, can you have absorbed so much of them that when that primary brain perishes, you can feel that that person did not totally perish from the earth… because they live on in a ‘second neural home’?… In the wake of a human being’s death, what survives is a set of afterglows, some brighter and some dimmer, in the collective brains of those who were dearest to them… Though the primary brain has been eclipsed, there is, in those who remain… a collective corona that still glows.

And so forth.

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I scarcely noticed in 1960, when I was a sophomore in high school, and it happened so fast.  All of the lunch counters and soda fountains in Frankfort, KY’s drug stores and dime stores disappeared overnight.

The catalyst was the phenomenon of sit-ins, or so it was said.  I was pretty much uninvolved.  I was distracted by being the new boy at the newly consolidated county high school.

Frankfort was a sleepy little town, among the three smallest state capitals in the USA.  We only had three drug stores, and I can’t even remember a dime store.

Up on the hill where US 60 headed east for Lexington, there sat Kentucky State College, an 1890 land grant college, that was the segregated, separate but equal, institute of higher learning for negroes (as we called them officially then).

Those of us in the town had little or no knowledge of their existence.  The negroes who lived in the city school district, lived in a section known as “the craw” or “the bottom.”  There were 3 colored students at the county high school — a sister and brother and another.  Of the 2 males, one was a football star and one was a basketball star.  The siblings, I deduced years later, were the children of a Kentucky State professor.  The three were part of a student body of greater than 700.  I do not know how stressful their school lives may have been, for they got no friction from me and they returned none.

Again, they went unnoticed by me, except for the gratuitous labels they bore.  Similarly, to this day I can tell you who were the two jewish students.

What went on in the mystery territory of the college campus could just as well have been the cavalcade of life on Mars.  This did not affect the speculation, however, in the Caucasian meadowlands.

The campus had to be a hotbed of agitation.  Interlopers from the big northern cities were putting strange ideas in the heads of those students.

It seems strange, today, to look back on this time.  In subsequent years, nearly 3 decades later, I got my second college degree in Computer Science from Kentucky State, now a University, now called an HBCU (historically black college or university).  I went on to become a professor — part of KSU’s reversed affirmative action program.

I don’t know how it worked in my salad days that I was so sheltered from diversity, but I could count the number of blacks, or other minorities, with whom I had even the most infrequent association on the fingers of my two hands.  Where were they?  They could have been hiding from the white world.

I was born and raised in the South.  I have told previously the story of my mother’s being open to black people on the Chattanooga buses.  It was there, in my first 4 years that I had any prior exposure outside my own ethnic group.

My mother was a New Englander from Boston.  It was on trains going to and from Boston that my other exposure came.  And then there was the time in high school when Duke Ellington and his band played a concert in the gymnasium.

This is it.  I have told you about every encounter that I had outside the white European-descended world, by the time I was 16, in less than 600 words.  I don’t mention Hispanics, because there were none.  I don’t mention orientals, because there were none.  I may have met a Mormon at 12 or 13, but I am not sure.

Therefore, it can hardly be a surprise that I did not feel the Earth shift on its axis in 1960.  The civil rights revolution began its first uneasy steps during a short time in the South, during just a week in Frankfort.

I remember thinking, “why would those drug store owners cut off their noses to spite their own faces?”  How could they sacrifice that lucrative soda fountain trade?

I realize now that they gave up very little.  I’m sure that the two smaller stores were glad to have the square feet, space they could turn to more profitable uses.  The big store was already a general store, almost a department store — the place where I would begin my jazz record collection soon.  They probably didn’t even notice a ripple.

The little town also survived.  There were plenty of restaurants.  None closed.

But those young people from Kentucky State College won the day whether I noticed or not, whether local merchants thought they had won or not.  America would never be the same again.

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