Archive for August, 2007

070829 – Wednesday – Starbucks insights

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

I go most mornings down to the local Starbucks and several of us chew the fat there over what ever we’ve got going for the day or what ever we’ve been reading or doing. It’s casual and, as a group, we’re a pretty diverse collection. Some of us are strong liberals (like myself) while others are equally staunch conservatives.

We’ve had a few discussions along the fault lines that divide us and they’ve all been done with respect and tolerance on both sides even though in many ways, we’re worlds apart in what we think is important and right. But, for the most part, we steer into blander subjects like motorcycles, travel and what the weather’s up to. The group is heavy on folks who ride Harley Davidson motorcycles and I come in for a lot of good natured ribbing for the 700cc Honda I often bring to the party with the milk-carton strapped onto the back.

Last night, my son and I watched one of the three parts of Christiane Amanpour’s CNN special, “God’s Warriors”. This part focused on the Christian faith while the other two parts will focus on Islam and Judaism.

I couldn’t avoid the strong recognition that things have changed here in the US and that the Christian faith (or at least the more activist portions of it) have become a major force to reckon with. The days of a quiet and taken for granted separation between church and state are gone. This part of the show traced the rise of Christian militancy here in the US and interviewed many of the central figures in the Christian political activist movement.

So, over coffee this morning, I mentioned to everyone (AJ and Ed at the time) that I’d watched the show and I went on to disparage the increasing influence of Christian militancy on the country and the consequent break-down of the separation of Church and State.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a preaching to the choir situation.

AJ, who is fairly conservative in his views and very keen student of history, expressed the view that the seculars have been pushing the Christians back and back in this country for many decades now and that the current rise in Christian militancy is merely those same folks standing up to reclaim what was theirs originally.

I replied that this country was founded on the idea of being religiously neutral as a reaction to the kinds of abuse that folks were leaving behind in Europe when they came here. AJ replied that if you read all of the founding documents, you will not find this view expressed there anywhere. I then mentioned that Thomas Jefferson had written that a strong wall needed to be erected between the church and state and AJ replied that this was written by Jefferson in a personal letter at the time and was not part and parcel of the official goings on during this country’s creation. Clearly, the man was well read.

We continued on for a bit and it became clear that as AJ saw it (and perhaps it is true), what the colonists were on about was not being religiously neutral with, say, respect to Hinduism or Islam, but only with respect to the other various flavors of Christianity that were about at the time. After all, many of these folks had come from the state imposed tyranny of the Church of England and wanted the guaranteed right to practice whatever form of Christianity they saw fit.

So, according to AJ, the issue of Christianity vs. other faiths was never on the table in the days of the founding fathers. The issue was always about tolerance for the other flavors of Christianity which were about.

AJ went on to say that each of the thirteen colonies expressed these protections differently and each perhaps favored the flavor of Christianity which was most dear to their hearts and that all of this can be read in the original founding documents of the various colonies.

I’m not much of a debater because I’m afraid I listen to the other folks points far too much – though I like to think that this quality improves the probability that I’ll get down to the real truth where ever it lies – rather than just getting better and better at defending my own position.

Well, at this point, I was pretty well stalled in this conversation because I thought AJ had some good points.

Somehow, from there, we went on to discuss science and how the Christian right seems to feel free to pick and choose what it likes from among the fruits of science. I mentioned the absurd (to me) image of folks discussing how arbitrary the ‘truths’ of science are while talking to each other on hi-tech cell phones sitting under electric lights in temperature controlled rooms.

AJ launched into the idea that all of the dating that supposedly supports the theory of Evolution is based on circular reasoning and is therefore useless. Apparently, he’d read a discussion about the limitations of carbon dating methods and felt that since the method couldn’t go back very far, how could we really claim to know that, for example, a specific rock was a billion years old?

I pointed out that there were many other dating methods that were able to yield dating results over very different spans of time. I don’t think he was very impressed and seemed to me to feel that it was all a put-up bunch of stuff to make evolution seem plausible.

But in the end, I think we were all left with the main theme of the discussion being that today’s Christians are just taking back the territory that the seculars have pushed them out of in recent decades.

After I left I mulled all of this over. The view AJ expressed about whether or not this country was ever originally and intentionally religion neutral seemed good to me. Indeed, in the world of the 18th century, it is hard to imagine Christian people extending freedom, compassion and equality to other non-Christian faiths – they were still struggling with each other mightily. But the business about picking and choosing among science’s products for the ones you feel conform to your world-view seems, and has always seemed to me, to be a profoundly bogus view.

AJ is a history buff and that got me to thinking about using history to trace the relative explanatory powers of natural science vs. the church from the time of the Enlightenment forward until now as a way of explaining why it might be considered natural and right that secular explanations of the world should be gaining in ascendancy over time.

Back when the Enlightenment was just a gleam in Roger Bacon’s eye, the Church owned the acknowledged power to explain virtually everything. But, as natural science gained traction, many things which had always been the domain of the church to explain – began to have alternative explanations. These new explanations never seemed to supplant the old ones without struggle. Witness the church’s condemnation of Galileo’s heliocentrism in 1616 as contrary to Scripture.

Newton’s genius

But, over time, the trend has been increasingly clear and one-way and that which the religions claim to explain has given way again and again to the explanations born of natural science.

I think someone could and should (LA?) write a great coffee table book which would go back and examine all the many many places since the Enlightenment where something new like the steam engine came along and all the church pundits spoke against it as the seed of the devil and the certain destruction of society and morality if not stopped.

What I’m talkin’ about…

Over and over again, we survived the unsurvivable. And over and over again, the church had to slowly give ground to science and its explanations of how the world worked.

But all of this takes place over decades. Few people today remember the dire predictions that attended so very many of the advances given to us by science. We are, most of us, mired like a fly in our own time. My generation remembers the dire fears that accompanied long hair and the advent of the birth control pill. The resistance to acknowledging that black people should have the right to ride where ever they want on the bus and sit down at any sandwich counter in the country.

I think an awful lot is forgotten. It would be hard, maybe impossible, to find a passionate conservative today who still agonizes over whether or not the sun goes around the earth, or whether the advent of the steam-engine is a terrible thing. No one defends the idea that smallpox and such arise from ‘bad humors’ in the evening air. Historically (hysterically), the conservatives scream and defend the old ways and then they lose and forget what they thought was so important when the world doesn’t end – and then do it all over again. And all the while, the shift from religious explanations to seculars ones advances relentlessly – if you look at it all over the decades.

But, the wheel turns and now we’re faced with certain destruction if it is actually proven that man is just another animal evolved just like the rest and that regardless of whether or not a Deity of some kind created it, this world has evidently been here for several billion years.

So I think I can see why secular explanations and opinions are slowly sweeping history along with their insights and convictions. It’s because the secular view is most closely aligned with the revelations of science. And as science claims dominion over explaining more and more of the existence around us and religion cedes more and more, the secularists are simply acceding to the obvious.

If someone tells me that women have to kowtow to men because it says so in the Bible but science says that for all practical matters we are equals, I know which way I’m going.

If someone puts this coffee table book together … can I write the forward?

The 11th Hour

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

I have some great friends that I correspond with privately via E-mail. We have great raging discussions about all of the same stuff that I frequently post about here on Samadhisoft.

But I’ve noticed that these private conversations are qualitatively different that what I and other bloggers post.

I think when we post as Bloggers, we’re trying to muster our points while speaking into a silence that probably won’t reply. And, we’re also aware that what ever we post will be out there for a long time unless we go and pull it down. I think it causes a kind of formality and stiffness in what we put out there.

Our private conversations, however, are much more nuanced and subtle. We know what our readers can deal with, we know what’s been discussed previously, we know that a response is highly likely and we know that the half-life of what we say can probably be measured in hours. Conversations like this, even when slowed by E-mail exchange speeds, still flow and ebb organically.

Most of the time, my private correspondents prefer to keep our conversations private so that no one has to worry about doing themselves harm through and excess of candor. But, recently my friend and correspondent, LA Heberlein (, wrote a fine and thoughtful review and reaction to a new movie called The 11th Hour and he’s agreed to my sharing it here.

Personally, I wish that more of what we do in our on-line Blogging was of this quality.

Here’s LA:


Every now and again I reflect back on something Dennis talked about one day at lunch after watching the David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago. The emotional experience of identifying with those characters was so profoundly moving, he wondered why our writers haven’t been able to create a similar experience which would wake everyone up to the emergencies in our biosphere. If everyone could go to the movies on Friday night and walk out feeling as strongly for the fate of humanity on earth as we feel for Lara, Dennis postulated, maybe they’d go out and do something.

(Lord knows I’ve tried. And failed. I haven’t even been able to get my 1996 ecological novel published, let alone see it transform America’s consciousness.)

I find myself restive at NPR’s series “This I Believe.” I imagine submitting a testimonial in response: Believing is easy. Anybody can believe. The human mind is way too hardwired to believe. The average American probably has 42,000 palpably erroneous beliefs about the operation of common household appliances. Don’t let’s even get started on metaphysics. What we need isn’t more list of things people believe. What we need is people willing to suspend their belief-making apparatus and say, “I don’t know, let’s see if we can frame a testable hypothesis.” Belief is what got us here, it won’t get us out. Still, one does tend after a few years on the planet to accumulate a bag of heuristics which one doesn’t subject to daily testing, just “believing” that because you’ve seen it work that way enough, this time it will probably come out the same way again. In that way, if I did have to list some set of “beliefs,” way high on the list would be the heuristic that for any human problem, education is a main part of the answer. I know you can list counterexamples. But, even in cases where education by itself is insufficient, it’s certainly a necessary part of anything that is sufficient.

So I watched with interest to see what effect Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth would have. And I think we’d have to say that it nudged the consciousness. X percent of Americans knew what was in the movie and weren’t affected. Y percent rejected the message entirely, preferring to see it as a political ploy on behalf of those whose politics they do not favor. But Z percent took in the message, heard things they hadn’t heard, internalized the concepts, and were more attentive thereafter to other information whose significance they might previously have missed, more open thereafter to arguments for action. And Z was not a small number.

I anticipated the arrival in theaters of The 11th Hour, an environmental wake-up movie produced by and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, partly in hopes that, since it was not associated with a partisan politician, perhaps Y would be a smaller number. But my guess is that, even though it’s not a terrible movie, its Z will approximate 0. One reason for this is that, even though Gore was tainted with the stain of a political party, he has more gravitas than a Hollywood pretty boy. And even though DiCaprio has been turning into a really pretty interesting actor (c.f. Blood Diamonds), he’s still associated with youth, and in any event lacks any standing to bring serious issues before us. A second reason is that the film tries to do too much. Admittedly, the crises in the biosphere are many, and if you start pulling on any thread, you find it related to all the other threads, but in order to tell a convincing story, you would have to artificially isolate one thread. The 11th Hour tries to summarize everything, so it’s a 10,000-foot flyover, breathless, like the Monty Python 30-second “Summarize Proust” contest. The biggest reason for the failure, though, especially by comparison with Gore’s movie, is the lack of focused intention. Gore has given his slide lecture hundreds of times. He has learned what works, what questions audiences will have at what point in the presentation. So at that point in the presentation, he stops and addresses that question. This movie is a one-shot which has not had the chance to benefit from a similar refinement toward a goal.

The film has some big-budget footage, some beautiful landscape photography, and some Koyaanisqatsi moments that try to show the crazed frantic out-of-balance effect of human activity on the landscape. But the most interesting parts for me were talking heads. The writer/directors have assembled a group of people I loved listening to: Sylvia Earle, Mikhail Gorbachev, Paul Hawken, Stephen Hawking, Bill McKibben, David Suzuki, Andrew Weil, James Woolsey. But again, I would have preferred a movie that gave me one of these people, and let them reason and explain at length.

The favorite discovery for me was Thom Hartmann. Alan, I’m sure that you’re quite familiar with his work. Hartmann would peg the meter on the quality I was ascribing above to Gore. He has explained this so many times that he knows exactly the words to bring it across. “Here, let me show you,” he seems to say, in a calm voice you instantly trust. For tens of thousands of years, humans had to live on an annual solar budget. They couldn’t spend more energy in a year than the energy they harvested from the sun that year. Then about a hundred years ago, we found a way to tap a huge reserve of stored solar energy. We spent that ancient sunlight in a quick, brilliant burst, and it allowed us to do a million things, it was what made all of our amazing technological and economic progress possible. Now we’ve used up the ancient sunlight and we need to learn how to go back to living on an annual solar budget.

My evolutionary psychologist friends frequently point out that I trust too highly in the power of reason. “You think, L.A., that if people just come to understand it, they can change the way they behave. But in fact, changing behavior is really hard. We have hugely strong evolutionary imperatives, and doing otherwise than they drive us to is incredibly difficult.” Yes, but it does happen. If you look at recorded history, you’ll see many ways in which human behavior has changed dramatically, and some of these changes were caused by changes in awareness. Slavery was once a near-universal phenomenon. Now it has been largely stamped out in most of the developed world. This change was made directly into the wind of evolutionary imperatives, confronting property, wealth, and power head-on.

So call me naive, but I think if everybody could have Thom Hartmann sit down and explain it to them, it would make a difference.

(I also really liked Woolsey. Partly for Z-cred. Hey, I’m not some tree-hugging hippy. I used to run the CIA. And I’m here to tell you some hard facts about what we need to do to make business keep working the way we like it to work.)

If you tried to imagine the shape of this movie before seeing it, you’d probably be about right. After 80 minutes of trying as hard as it can to scare you, it would have to end with fifteen minutes of hope, right? No one wants a downer. Got to end positive. So, along with some exhortations to change ourselves spiritually as well as ecologically, we basically have to rely on technological hope. “The technology exists now to have our present lifestyle while spending 10% of the energy budget on it.” If you had us all move to different corners of the room based on our affinities, I’d probably sort myself out with the techno-hopers myself, but I thought “The 11th Hour” presented a particularly facile and thin version. (Again, what would have been much more interesting to me would have been a whole movie just on the techno hopes.) The result here was to weaken the effect of what had gone before, to leave the movie without drive. “This is an emergency! It’s not the eleventh hour, it’s 11:59 and 59 seconds! Oh, but we’ll just design some cool new airplanes and everything will be okay again.”

The New York Times just ran a long article about pollution in China. I had an interesting conversation with one of my daughter’s friends who just came back from a year in China. “It’s not just the cities,” she said. “It’s everywhere in the country. They’re burning so much coal everywhere, that even in little villages, you can’t see all the way down main street.” The stats in the NYT piece were ugly, ugly, ugly. If the Legion of EcoSuperHeroes showed up today and volunteered to go to work, you’d send all of them to China. Anything you can do over here on this side of the pond would make a fraction of the difference of helping China find a sustainable way to develop.

I am thinking about this Blog

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Rodins The Thinker

I’ve been thinking about this Blog and what I’m trying to do here.

When I was in Eugene, my friend Alan suggested that I rework it so that what I write is directed more towards explaining and demonstrating the Blog’s central focus which is the Perfect Storm Hypothesis. I think he was right about that and I’ve been wondering how to go about it.

He gave me a general idea which was to simply discuss and reveal the interrelationships among the many contributing factors that comprise the coming storm. But, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m looking for something that is at once both succinct and expandable. Something that reveals more and more as it is added to and developed and yet doesn’t get tangled up in itself as it goes along.

One idea I’ve had is to see each story that’s related to the Perfect Storm Hypothesis as a cause and effect pair of nodes. Here are some examples:

– Global warming will cause rising sea levels.
– Rising sea levels will cause increasing environmental refugees.
– Decreasing oil supplies will increase the probability of resource wars.
– Overfishing will reduce future food supplies.
– Reduction of food supplies will lead to increasing political instability.

In one pair, a given node might be a cause and in another, it could be an effect as in ‘rising sea levels‘, above. The scheme would form, in aggregate, a multidimensional matrix. And it would be perfect subject material for hypertext oriented documents.

Within the structure, a reader would always be considered to be located at a particular node. And if that node was currently being seen as an cause, then effects would radiate from it. And if it was being seen as an effect, then causes would lead to it. One could progress through the system from node to node by following cause and effect links forwards or backwards.

And perhaps, as in neural networks, the links could be weighted to indicate an estimate of the relative strength of the contribution of the several causes to any given effect.

Such weighting could be most interesting. It could be inverse. For example, when women’s educational levels rise, their contributions to birth rates would fall.

I think the main challenge would be to specify the nodes well. Especially when dealing with soft non-quantitative cultural notions like human rights and women’s equality. These might seem clear but I have the feeling that they could become quite squirmy in practice when seen from different points-of-view.

But, if it was set up right, each Perfect Storm related story I encountered could be added to the mix and would labeled to show that it binds two nodes in a cause and effect relationship.  And over time, the aggregate would be the story I’m trying to tell.

I’m still mulling all of this over. Any comments would be much appreciated.

End of an Era in the Woods Creek Valley

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Some friends of ours are departing for Britain on the 27th of August for life in a new country. They will be missed here for their intelligence and their civic minded spirits.

It is sad that these folks are going because it’ll leave our community poorer for their absence. But I fully understand their motivation. Rolf is a college professor and the opportunities offered to him in Britain were so superior to what was happening for him here at the University of Washington that it was, as they say, a no-brainer when it came time to choose.

I’ve written before here and here about the brain-drain that’s slowly eroding the United States’ scientific talent base. And so much of it is due to the current swing in the US towards religious conservatism and the concurrent suppression of science and scientific truth when it doesn’t fit the prevailing religious and political climate – as if objective scientific truth is malleable or negotiable.

Witness these stories among many many others: , , , , , I came up with these stories in just five seconds by simply Googling, “Bush suppresses report”.

And then the most recent bit of amazing scientific suppression wherein a federal judge had to order the Bush administration to produce a national global change research plan that was due by July 2006; and a scientific assessment of global change that was due in November 2004. Reports which the administration has been sitting on.

So, our best scientific minds are looking elsewhere to find nations which value science as it should be valued. But those of us left behind shouldn’t worry. We’ll have plenty of Christian theme parks to visit to fill our time.

Ah, but let’s get back to why I’m writing this piece. Which is to honor Rolf and Katy as they move from our community to a new and hopefully better life in Britain.

I know Katy’s work best of these two. She’s made a big impact on our local community here. She began and led the Monroe Arts Council here which today is a thriving organization which promotes the Arts in Monroe, Washington. There’s a large mural decorating a wall here in town as a direct result of her tireless work. And there are numerous other projects up and running which would not have come into being without her efforts.

The River of Life Mural

Some years ago, when Katy and Rolf came to Monroe, they bought a piece of property with an old about-to fall-down farmhouse on it and over the intervening years have changed it into a beautiful home with barns, river walks and a tremendous sense of environmental integrity about it. Down by the river, they’ve helped to preserve some of the largest original trees left in our valley. Last week, Rolf took me on a walk through their place to areas down by the river where I’d never been and I could see what a wonderland they’ve created and preserved and how hard it must be to leave it all. We can only hope that place’s next owners do as well with it as the Aaltos have.

Katy’s become a Blogger in the last six months and has written extensively about their hopes and fears regarding the move to the other side of the world. It is a story full of emotions, intelligence, passion and poignancy all at once. I highly recommend it both for the story and because she’s a fine writer.

Katy’s a very direct and strong person which are qualities I treasure immensely. And Rolf is a PhD. world-class academic in the study of rivers and how they transport mass. Together, they are a powerful couple and their presence and influence in Monroe will be missed. We can only hope that this country regains some of its sense of what’s important and wakes up before we lose all of our best and brightest.

Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

T.S. Eliot – Little Gidding

My very best to you, good travelers and friends.

Your money for nothing…

Friday, August 24th, 2007

What we’re talkin’ about…

Who can have missed all the stories about bottled water of late?

Like, here’s some tap water placed into a nice looking bottle which we sell you for an inflated price and you get to ‘think’ you are drinking something that’s better for you than straight city tap water while we get rich and smile all the way to the bank.

And still, when I go into the supermarket here, I see huge displays of bottled water and folks queuing up to buy them. It’s a problem, worldwide.

Trust me, Comrade…

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Ah, it’s good to be back in the Blogging saddle. Yee-ha! Full of coffee, opinions and certainly no lack of material.

Yes, material. For I see the world hasn’t improved a whit since I wandered off into the hinterlands and stopped watching for a week or so. So far as I can see, everything appears to be tracking straight and true on its pending Perfect Storm trajectory.

Some people probably think I’m a depressed pessimist, but it isn’t so. The world is a mess and it’s distinctly getting worse. But, it is what it is. And yes, I’d like it to get better; but the world of men will largely do whatever it will do and it will have to be fine – however much I might wish it otherwise.

What I mean to say is I’m not putting on the hairshirt here and agonizing. Nope, I love my life and my wife and business and animals and I recognize my life has a huge number of blessings in it and I live accordingly – happy but engaged, peaceful but working for change, accepting even as I suggest it could all be a hell of a lot better. My thought is that we should always, always give away what we want.

So, where to start with the ‘material’?

Travel Sentry Logo

Well, my wife purchased some special keys which are Travel Sentry Certified. You can recognize these keys by the symbol, above. What this means is that the airport security folks have a master key so they can open all such locks at the airport for any necessary security inspections without needing to cut the locks off and thus ruin one’s security further on down the line. Mmmm.

It’s not a bad idea, I suppose – so long as access to the master keys is well controlled. Now, am I the only one who has thoughts like this?

Well, she came to me a few minutes later and pointed out that these locks we bought, under the Brinks label, say ‘Made in China‘ in the fine print. Oh yeah. That made me feel a lot better about how well the access to the master keys will be handled.

Yep. It’s a done deal. All you have to work out as your homework assignment is – who’s been done? Happy traveling….

070821 – Tuesday – Workin ourselves up…

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Yep, we’re workin’ ourselves up to do our next posting here at Samadhisoft.  Don’t go away….

Working on the next post at Samadhisoft

A new Blog worth reading

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Michael Tobias over at Only in it for the Gold posted about a new Blog called SkepticalScience that does an excellent job of pulling together virtually every argument that’s been made against the idea that climate change is being caused by mankind.

Anyway, I went over and had a look and really liked what I saw so I’ve added SkepticalScience to the list of Blogs I recommend in my Blogroll area.   Nice job, John Cook!

070818 – Saturday – After traveling

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Well, I never intended to stop Blogging that long. I haven’t posted here since August 5th, just as I was about to leave for California.

But, the trip was too jam packed with stuff to Blog along the way and once I returned, my work and post-trip unwinding stuff was piled up so high there was no time for much of anything else.

Leaving for Kansas for a week and then three days later for California for another week has put me way behind the eight ball. And, in a week, Sharon’s leaving for New Zealand for a month so that’s causing a bit of a stir amid all the rest.


Thanks so very much to Joel, Gertraude and Alan and Rita who were all my hosts on the California trip. It was a wonderful trip and seeing all of you was very nice. And driving the California coast from San Francisco to Eureka was spectacular as well.

I’ll be posting some photos from the trip soon.

Duncan’s Landing, California

070805 – Monday – Traveling again

Monday, August 6th, 2007

This morning I’m off on a trip to california to visit a friend in the Bay Area. I’ll also be making stops in Vancouver, Washington on the way south and in Eugene, Oregon on the way north to visits friends. I’ll be gone a week and it should be a lot of fun. I’ve got a nice Pontiac G6 rental to speed me on my way.

I may post along the way. It’ll depend on whether I can get access to the Internet easily and if there is time between driving and socializing.

Best wishes to all until I next post.