Monday, September 19, 2011

Feedback cycles...and why we need to know about them

In various scientific areas of investigation researchers have long known that sometimes a chemical or even a mechanical interaction will accelerate rapidly of its own accord. Most often, this is the result of some element of the process becoming energized by an action or interaction within the process itself. Hence the term, 'feedback'. For instance, let's say a machine has a problem with harmonic vibration. This can happen in high-intensity engines with many parts moving at furious speeds in relationship to each other. So, a very high rpm shaft develops a vibration that has a harmonic aspect to it, and it sets up vibrations at other levels in addition to the simple one that is the source of the problem. And, as this process develops the secondary and tertiary vibrations begin to cause a break-down in the tolerances of the bearings and pretty soon the machine is vibrating so badly that it will likely tear itself apart if it isn't shut-down. It's the old, 'one thing leads to another.....and another' thing at work.

With regard to climate change and the phenomenon of global warming--still regarded as a myth and conspiracy by the likes of Michele Bachmann and Ric Perry--scientists have discovered a number or elements in the overall process that have feedback potential. A good example is that of changes brought about by the shrinking of the polar ice in the arctic. Instead of a white sheet of ice--which reflects the heat of the sun very well, thereby preserving the cold temps of the ocean beneath it--as the ice retreats, it is replaced by dark green sea water and that accepts and absorbs the energy from the sun much more the warming of that region speeds up accordingly. Voila! A feedback cycle.

Another example--a more powerful one which is much less predictable--is that of methyl hydrates, frozen methane gas. It exists in vast deposits, both on the ocean floor, and in the tundra regions of the arctic north. As the ocean continues to get warmer, and as the perma-frost in the tundra melts, incalculable amounts of methane are being released. But, despite not being able to clearly monitor or calculate how much is becoming gaseous methane and escaping into the earth's atmosphere, scientists do know--beyond any doubt--that the amount is very great, and that methane is a 'hot-house' gas with even more ability to warm the atmosphere than carbon-dioxide. This has the potential to become a runaway feedback cycle and completely invalidate all the scientific calculations about the speed with which global warming is happening. It's not magic, but the results could seem magical in terms of how surprisingly fast the entire process could become. (Click on the title of this piece to read an article on this phenomenon.)

There are other feedback cycles in this process. Years ago it came to my attention that the vast majority of photosynthesis is performed NOT by the plants of our planet, but by blue-green algae in the oceans. The forests and jungles perform only about 25% of what is required for the maintenance of life on Earth. So, if the blue-green algae in our oceans stop producing oxygen...and up-taking put it scientifically....we are SO screwed. If the oceans continue to get warmer, some scientists think this is exactly what might happen. But, not to worry, they're clearly making all this up just so they'll have jobs, in the non-existent future.

I hope that you find all of this not merely 'scary'. That would accomplish NOTHING. What I really am hoping you will do is throw the weight of your opinion and your energy behind the fact that we need to stop lolly-gagging and insist on action across the board to do the only sensible thing intelligent beings should do......CHANGE WHAT WE HAVE BEEN DOING TO CAUSE OUR OWN DEMISE.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So who's savage now......?

In the decades before Native Americans were subjugated, by means of the self-assigned authority of the white man's laws relegating them to reservations--and with the sickening power of our culture, including alcohol, and psychological desolation--we condescendingly referred to the members of this proud warrior culture as 'savages'. We treated them according to the European tradition of treating all indigenous illiterate children who didn't know what was good for themselves, much less how 'civilized' people should live. When I was in Utah and Arizona last spring, my son and I saw once again constant reminders of how the vast majority of Native
Americans still suffer. We probably could have subjugated them and destroyed their culture without firing a shot, just by giving them all the alcohol they wanted. It is heart-breaking to see the results of our history with them.

But, now a new kind of 'savage' is stalking the American landscape. And, far from being a noble being with deep connections to the natural world, this 'new savage' is a true beast. He and she are inclined to dominate with power--political power at this point--but, the single most salient quality that sets them an astonishing lack of compassion for any other beings, animal or human. They cheered raucously the other night when Ric Perry's accomplishment as the governor of Texas was mentioned. He now holds the esteemed position of being the governor on whose watch more people have been put to death than any other in American history. And, the tea bagger crowd loves this.

When Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if people who do not have health insurance should be allowed to die, a savage in the audience shouted his approval. Others cheered as well. If one is a student of human history, i.e.,did more than just squeak by a U.S. history class in high school, and has some overall sense of how the human race has evolved, it soon becomes clear that we are only able to avoid sinking to our lowest impulses when we cultivate the idea that COMPASSION is as important as life itself. When we forget to pay attention to this we have our little moments, don't we? Things like the Holocaust happen. Ouch! Didn't mean to do that....just kinda forgot there for a few years what makes us 'human'.

So, here we are at another pivotal moment in our history. We are on the verge of making some very critical decisions about how we will behave towards our fellow human-beings, indeed our fellow Americans....and we are pulling back from the notion that what separates us from the beasts of the forest is ONLY our ability to feel compassion, to empathize, to care about others in a meaningful way. Looking out across the land, and even the entire planet, one now sees a clear tendency to isolate in social groupings, to defend a viewpoint that discounts the needs and the vitality of others. Perhaps this is the ultimate outgrowth of a culture where the worship of material goods and possessions has supplanted a more spiritual outlook. But, even religions that were intended to become a source of guidance in this process of being human and to make us better at it....are being co-opted and used to isolate and attack 'other'. Regardless of the vehicle or the excuse we use, we are identifying our own needs as paramount, and we will not merely allow violence, but are increasingly willing to commit it--in a variety of ways--on those we perceive as a threat to meeting our own needs.

So, it might just be that we have now come to the point where we have morphed ourselves into the kinds of beings that we looked down on so condescendingly for so many generations.

The heretofore 'civilized' human being has now become the savage. It should be noted, however, that even when we declared ourselves to be civilized we were not acting in a civil manner towards most other sentient beings. Since our Cro Magnon ancestors were thumping each other over the head with clubs and sticking animals (okay, yes, each other too) with spears, we have learned a phenomenal amount about how to invent and create 'things' that serve our needs....and foremost among our inventions: WEAPONS. An early hominid could scarcely have dreamed of the weapons we now take for granted. Hell, a soldier in the Civil War could not have imagined that only a couple of generations into the future we'd be able to incinerate a city with a single bomb, delivered by a missile traveling many times the speed of sound. We are living the stuff of science-fiction...only a few decades ago.

So, who is the real savage now?

Of course, there is a percentage of the population that will desperately cling to the idea that being a true Human Being means you possess a quality referred to by mystics for millennia as 'Heart', and that it is via this aspect of our being that we are able to feel compassion for all other beings...and not just human ones either. It may well be this decreasing number (relative to the number of savages who are on the increase) of souls among us that becomes our last life-line to our humanity.

But, as of now, the savage beast in us is advancing to the fore. When I contemplate why this is happening...despite all the lessons of our past....I have to believe that this is just one more episode of our needing to learn lessons that have apparently not sunk in. We apparently need one more turn on the anvil, in a state of red-hot malleability, to shape us in a way that we can once again remember that our only purpose in living has been all along and become Human Beings.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I keep looking....for an optimist.

Over the last year or so, I have consciously spent time talking with people about what they think is in store for America, and the planet. I have tried to make an effort to not sway these conversations in any particular direction, but rather to listen and find out what people think, feel, sense is happening now, and what it might lead to. There have been many such conversations. And, in every single case what I have found is a uniform sense of dread, of fearful foreboding that the train is speeding down the tracks towards a fiery wreck.

Again, I have not tried to insert my own opinions, nor sway anybody else's opinion. I considered this quest as a kind of impromptu research and I remain genuinely interested in hearing how people from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds are perceiving our present predicament....and it is that. With 14 million Americans unemployed, many of them long-term and without hope of finding a job, housing stagnated, mortgages continuing to be foreclosed at an alarming rate, the stock-market (where so many have their futures invested) with a permanent case of the jitters, slamming wildly up and down on seeming whims.....Americans are collectively holding their breaths and waiting to see what this political season brings.

The media have made sure we know how abysmal Barack Obama's approval ratings are--at 44%--but, they seem to slide over the fact that the approval ratings for the entire legislative branch hover somewhere near or in the single digits. Congress is acting like a bunch of adolescent brats, each with his or her personal agenda, and unwilling to compromise, despite the suffering it imposes on Americans at large. The Tea Party has legitimized itself by getting into league with CNN now....and yet they apparently make up only approximately 18% of the population. But, because they are so loud and obnoxious in their presence, one might think they were the majority. Far from it.

So, here's the bottom-line: I am still looking for a single intelligent person who is expressing a solidly grounded optimistic view of where all this is leading. I have not been able to find such a person for over a year now. At a pre-wedding gathering a month ago, I met a remarkable person. John Howe is a retired engineer who held patents on exotic sports equipment and made enough to retire to a hill-side farm here in Maine thirty years ago. (click on the title bar to visit his site and see what he is all about) In his mid-seventies, John is a mensa bright soul, and his strength has always been his left-brained ability to quantify problems, leading to, of course, a sound engineering solution. Well, he's been crunching the numbers for some years now on the amount of oil, rate of population increase, rate of development in India, China, etc. He has spent considerable energy gathering and quantifying all the factors that are in play with regard to how we will be conducting our lives as we proceed into the future. And, he looked at me, at one point in our conversation, and said, "I used to think none of it mattered because I wouldn't be here anyway. But, now I know I will because we're right on the 'tipping point'."

Think about it. What he's saying is that by our own actions, with our stultifying unwillingness to address even problems that we know are potentially going to cause our own extinction....we have managed to accelerate the speed of that train as it hurtles down the tracks.

And, the GOP candidate who leads in the polls today.....says that climate change, global warming, is not scientifically proven. The person who is quite possibly going to be the dominant 'decider' in our near future.....thinks it is all 'made up' by some ill-intended scientists who just want to make a big deal out of it.

He also gleamed his great big ol' Texas smile when the crowd of Tea Baggers at the CNN-Tea Party debate the other night, roared its approval of his unprecedented execution rate as governor.

Yesssuh.....we be in a heap o' trouble. One big ol' steamin' HEAP.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What we really lost that day......

Chris Hedges is a journalist who writes a column for the webzine Truthdig. If you click on the above title you can read a column he wrote on 9/11/11. I have read NOTHING else that comes as close to expressing how I feel about that terrible day ten years ago....and the ensuing events of the last decade.

In the aftermath of the violence, we were a nation in mourning, and we were also seething over the heinous assault on innocents in our midst. The result of that collective anger, indeed outrage, was a national resolve to somehow 'get even' with the bastards who did this to us. As a result we signed-on for two wars and countless other acts of violence on our own behalf.....none of which really landed a body-blow on the actual terrorist organization that conceived and carried out the attacks of 9/11. Not until we finally caught up with Bin Laden himself did we really effect anything constituting 'justice'.

Read the article if you are willing. I do not believe there is a sound argument against what Chris Hedges is saying.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Time to really pay attention.......

While Ric Perry has now established a firm lead in the polls of Republican and Republican leaning voters, it has been a matter of days since he once again voiced his opinion that 'global warming' is a matter of conjecture and a conspiracy engendered by the left as a way of pushing their agenda, especially with regard to environmental policy.

He just said, echoing Michele Bachmann as he did so, that if he was elected president one of his first actions would be to abolish the EPA, i.e. the agency that stands between corporate America and the health of our air, water, resources. He, and Bachmann, would toss all that to the wind, and let the big companies do whatever they need to do to make all the money they want. And, following typical conservative logic, when they are happy with huge profits, we'll all benefit. There will be jobs for every person who wants one, mortgages will get paid, retirements will be secure once again, and we will all sail happily into the sunset.

And, I still cannot get over the fact that any middle-class or working class American believes this is true. The facts of our present situation prove that it simply is The Big Lie in action. Corporations are making windfall profits, paying fewer taxes than they have in generations...and sitting on trillions in capital....and STILL NOT HIRING. The fact is, they have down-sized, streamlined and cut costs so heavily that they now know they can be wildly profitable in their new exactly what is their motivation for hiring more workers?

There is none.

So, let's take a look at what every single one of the GOP candidates is proposing: a new playing field. It will allow corporations to pollute, plunder, destroy and generally run rough-shod over the environment. Amazingly, tea-baggers and 'foxies' all think this would be just fine. Really? Rampant pollution, fewer measures to abate global warming, fracking, drilling, stripping....all just fine. Good God!!!! What do they think we will drink when our wells are polluted by frackers? What will we breathe when our air is loaded with the residues of coal-fired power plants (which it already is.....but could get much worse)? How will we survive when global warming becomes so virulent that it interdicts ocean currents that are the only thing standing between us and a new ice age?

The scope of this idiocy is so stunning that it remains almost incomprehensible. Click on the title above and see today's stunner about how fast the Greenland ice cap is melting. One of the scientists reported that on seeing the scope of the melting he was 'gob-smacked', simply incredulous.

So, we are seriously considering putting any one of the goddamn idiots on the GOP ticket in a position where they could have the authority to give big industry the green light to pull back all the controls on their desire to pollute in order to raise profits from merely windfall levels to astronomical levels.

This is the 'Looter Elite' in action folks. This is how they function, with absolutely no regard for anything but making their profits as vast as possible...and with no sense of responsibility for the long-term impact on all of us.

If I was reading of these events and possibilities in a novel, I would be snorting my disbelief and muttering about how inept the writer was, because nobody could be expected to believe such a stupid story-line. But, WE'RE LIVING IT.

It's real. And, that has to qualify as the greatest horror movie of all time.