Technology

Airlines Stricken by Technology Cancer

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Published on The Daily Impact on August 13, 2016

Plane-Crash

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It was by all accounts a small problem, a little overheating last Monday in the electronic jungle that is the Technology Command Center for Delta Airlines at its Atlanta headquarters. This minor overheating event — okay, “fire” if you insist — caused a nearby voltage-control module to spasm and allow a surge to hit a transformer, which immediately shut down the power supply. No worries, there’s an app for that. It’s called a switchgear, and its job is to sense a power failure and immediately switch the circuit to a backup power source.

The switchgear didn’t work.

Instantly, much of the computer network with which the world’s largest airline tracks and controls its  planes, employees, and ticketed passengers worldwide, crashed. Airplanes on the ground were stopped in place. Aircraft in the air landed at their destination, and parked. A thousand flights had to be cancelled, tens of thousands of passengers were stranded in parked airplanes and airports. Another 500 flights were cancelled on Tuesday, and the airline continued five days later to struggle toward normalcy.

This is hardly an unprecedented event:

  • In July, Southwest Airlines lost its network for 12 hours and had to cancel 2,300 flights over four days. The failure of a single router brought the system down, and it took 12 hours to reboot it.
  • In September of 2015, an American Airlines system glitch stopped its flights to and from its hubs at Chicago, Dallas and Miami.
  • In April of 2013, a national computer outage at American Airlines wiped out a third of its scheduled flights.
  • August, 2012 – United Airlines experienced a two-hour crash of its computer systems that affected 10 per cent of its flights.

Note that the frequency of these events has gone from fewer than one a year (remember that each event costs the airline tens of millions of dollars and the passengers — well, who knows what it costs the passengers?) to two so far this year. Does anybody know why? Of course. Everybody involved knows why:

  • Each airline’s system was built in the 1990s. One of the basic assumptions was that it could be shut down at night for repairs and maintenance. Now the systems are global and it’s always daytime somewhere. The system is like an airplane that can’t land, and has to be fixed and maintained in flight.
  • Since then, the numbers of passengers and aircraft have grown exponentially. Patches and add-ons have been required so that the software can contain, search, sort and otherwise manipulate ever larger masses of data.
  • There have been numerous mergers, requiring that individual, proprietary systems be modified so that they communicate and work with each other.
  • Outside systems and networks — Internet travel agents and ticket sellers, for example, have demanded access to the airlines’ systems. Adding them to an oversized network while maintaining security has not been easy.

After 20 years of slapdash growth, Frankenstein grafts, temporary fixes, plug-ins, add-ons and extension cords, each airline has a system that is too big to fix, and increasingly prone to fail. You can’t fix it because it has to keep going, and it can’t keep going unless you fix it. You can’t afford to fix it, and you can’t afford not to.

This is Stage Four Technology Cancer, and it’s not affecting just the computer reservation and scheduling systems. A recent survey of maintenance personnel for the South American Airline LATAM revealed increasing worry about the effects of cuts in the numbers and qualifications of maintenance personnel, to save money. Giving credence to those worries, another study shows that since 2010, fewer than two commercial airliners per year have crashed worldwide. That was a worse record than that of the previous several years. So far in 2016, three airliners have crashed. The numbers are small so far, but the trend is in the wrong direction.   

This is what technology cancer does; it grows without restraint until it threatens the survival of its host. If its host is the sort who refuses to have surgery because it’s too inconvenient, death ensues.

Final Frontier Futility

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on May 8, 2016

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http://www.thespacereview.com/archive/1128a.jpg Back when I was a kid in the 1960s, I was a big believer in the future of science and technology, and that we would eventually Explore the Universe.  Along with the Hardy Boys series of detective stories, my other favorite series from my early reading years was the Tom Swift series.  Like the Hardy Boys who were Boy Genius Detectives, Tom was a Boy Genius Inventor.  The Nancy Drew series was the Girl Genius Detective version for young female readers, but far as I know there was no comparable Girl Genius Inventor to Tom Swift, which says something about gender roles in society of course.

In this period I was living in Brazil, where I saw my first Star Trek episode, dubbed into Portuguese with English Subtitles, w hich went a long way toward helping me get my Portuguese up to speed quickly. 🙂  I even remember the very first Star Trek scene I saw, it was of Spock beaming down to the Alice in Wonderland Planet where Kirk got inthe fight with Finnegan.  I was enthralled!

Upon returning to the FSoA, I read through just about all the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, both considered the Fathers of the Science Fiction Genre.  Both did their writing in the late 19th and early 20th Century as the Industrial Revolution was literally gathering steam, and when endless technological progress seemed on the horizon.  They set about imagining what it would be like in the future, and in some areas were quite prescient.  By the time I got back here, their novels were being made into movies, which further set my youthful imagination on fire.

http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/psdec62.gif Along with the fiction, I had my subscriptions to the (supposedly) non-fiction magazines Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, which each week had cool diagrams of projects that were usually just dreamed up by the writers and artists they employed, but sometimes had some basis in real fact.  There were designs for Fusion Reactors and for Space Stations and multi generational inter-stellar Starships.  Still more fuel for a budding wannabee scientist as I read both magazines cover to cover each time they showed up in the mailbox, in the pre-internet era.

Then came the real BIG ONE, the NASA Space Program, which JFK promised would put a Man on the Moon by the end of the decade.  I watched every space shot of the Apollo Program as broadcast by Walter Cronkite on CBS, even at Summer Camp where they rolled  a TV into the Rec Hall so we could watch Neil Armstrong take "One Small Step for a Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind".  Today, I'm not fully convinced that was real, and I wrote an article about that a while back, but I am willing to concede these days that it was possible.  I certainly believed it was fully real when I saw it though.

Following this, the Sci-Fi in the movies continued to become ever more visually realistic, beginning with the seminal Sci Fi film "2001: A Space Odyssey", with the huge Spinning Wheel space station and the cool interiors of the Starship run by the HAL 9000 Computer.  It seemed to be coming true in real life too, as the interior of Jets started to look more like the space ships, and even the cars with brightly lit display panels seemed to look like the cockpit of a plane.

In the years since, Hollywood has continued to turn out more cool sci-fi, the Star Wars series of course, Blade Runner, Dune and many others.  However, at this point the Sci-Fi began to diverge from reality, and I began to lose my fascination with it.  What was occuring in reality?

In reality, both NASA and the Soviet Union space programs ran up against a few brick walls, money being one and making the technical leaps necessary to go past things like sending up sattelites into low earth orbit or small robotic craft to spurt out to photograph the other planets close up and to drop onto mars to roll around and dig up some dirt to send back telemetry about.  The Great Space Station that was supposed to look like a big Wheel in the Sky with artificial gravity by 2001 turned out to be in 2010 a few RV sized modules hooked together on a clunky scaffold, manned by 2 or 3 astronauts or cosmonauts running some test or another and shooting the occasional picture of a big cyclonic storm out the window.  The great Interstellar ship that was supposed to take Dave to a distant galaxy to meet up with the Monolith builders who brought Sentience, Toolmaking and War to the proto-Human Apes never materialized.  In fact even a spaceship capable of getting some Homo Saps to Mars and back has never materialized, although Elon Musk promises to send another robotic craft there sometime in the next decade.

The Fantasy in 1968 for 2001…

…and the reality of what we got in 2016

Back when Jules Verne & H.G. Wells were writing in the 19th century, it really did seem like technology could open up new Frontiers endlessly.  The Rocket Ships of the day were the Railroads, and they were opening up the vast Frontier of the "New World", which to them really was like Outer Space.  The Aliens of the Era were the First Nations people, generally considered to be Savages like Klingons and Romulans in need of elimination by the Phasers and Photon Torpedoes of the day, Rifles and Cannon.

So it didn't seem like a real big jump that someday we would send Rockets into Space and explore and conquer the Final Frontier, as the intro to Star Trek described it.  Courtesy of German Scientists like Werner Von Braun who scaled up the fireworks rockets made by the Chinese so they could deliver Death From Above on London during WWII, we DID get Rocket Ships capable of lifting up a few tons of material into low earth orbit.  There is a problem here in going past that though, which is that while you have energy enough to lift a few tons (at least for now), a Space Station like the Big Wheel in the Sky of 2001 would be 100s of 1000s of tons.  Figure something like that is on the scale of the Golden Gate Bridge, which weighs in @ 887,000 Tons.  The largest rockets ever built, the Saturn V, could only lift about 15.5 payload Tons per trip, and those were expendable rockets, you need to build a new one for every trip.  So to get all the stuff up there to build your Space Station, you need about 57,000 Saturn V Rockets, plus all the fuel expended for each trip up!  This obviously is not going to happen to begin with, but you're going to need the big Space Station up there as a platform from which to build your Starship..

Your next step in building your Interstellar Multi-Generational Starship gets even worse though.  Besides putting up all the hardware to build it, it's also going to need a propulsion system that is NOT fossil fuel based  and also a power pant to keep the inside nice and toasty warm while travelling through the near Absolute Zero temeratures of Interstellar Space.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_V2JZuLkPrjQ/Sj3KD0VogTI/AAAAAAAAHu0/OuN3G2k0kew/s320/Solarsail_msfc.jpg Some plausible schemes for deploying "sails"  for propulsion which catch the "solar wind" to accelerate the craft gradually once it is far enough away from the gravitational pull of the SUN☼ have been offered up, going back as far as the Popular Science era.  The Solar Wind is composed of particles ejected by the SUN☼ travelling at near light speed, so if enough of them hit these sails and they are big enough, in theory this will then drive the Starship by good old action-reaction.  Issue here of course is the size of these sails have to be orders of magnitude larger than the craft itself, and how are you going to get them up into low earth orbit?   Maybe you could manufacture them on the Space Station, but then it has to have a lot more equipment on it as well.  This is at least as unlikely as sending up 57,000 Saturn V Rockets to get all the necessary materials into low earth orbit.

It gets worse though.  Once out in interstellar space, the craft needs its own power supply.  You can't use Solar Cells anymore, because you get too far from the SUN☼ and the light is too dim, it looks like just another speck like all the other stars.  Try generating any power from Starlight and see how much voltage you get off your Chinese manufactured Solar Panel.  lol.

You also can't use fossil fuels even if you could store enough, because you need oxygen to burn them with, and you also need oxygen to breath.  You can't possibly carry enough oxygen even in liquified form to be able to burn your fuel for the whole trip to stay warm since the trip is going to take a few years MINIMUM at sub-light speeds to the nearest star.  Even if the craft can reach say 1/2 Light Speed utilizing the Solar Wind, it has a long acceleration time to get up to that speed, and then as you approach your Destination Star further time in the deceleration phase.  So you're definitely out there for minimum 20 years or so before you might even reach the closest neighboring stars, which probably don't have any habitable planets around them anyway, but forget that problem for the moment.

This leaves us with NUCLEAR power as our energy source while travelling for decades through interstellar space.  Of course Fusion Power would be nice, but so far we can't pull that stunt off even down here on earth, so for the forseeable future such a power plant would have to be fission.  That means along with 887,000 Tons of steel and aluminum you need to hoist into orbit to build the Starship to begin with, you will also need to hoist up a few thousand tons of Uranium or Plutonium or Thorium to use as power source for staying warm, providing lighting for your Hydroponically grown food, etc.  You will also need all the hardware for a full scale Nuke Plant capable of running a small city, along with Radiation Shielding from said plant.  This adds quite a few more tons to hoist up into low earth orbit for the building phase.

Is this power source perpetual though?  Well, if you happen to luck out and the very first star you point at and get to in 20 years or so it may hold up OK, most Nuke Reactors only have a life span of around 40 years before they need to be decommisioned because after so many years exposed to high levels of radiation, the internal parts all start to get brittle and subject to failure.  It's not like you will have an inexhaustible supply of Spare Parts out in Interstellar Space if anything breaks down either.  Fortunately though, out in Interstellar Space disposal of spent fuel is not a problem, you just eject them from the Starship as you zip through interstellar space.  lol.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/9e/38/07/9e38077f5842574282f03d751ce22ac2.jpg OK, for the purposes of this thought experiment, assume you have overcome all these basically insurmountable problems.  Are you now home free and finished with your challenges yet?  You arrive at your destination Star before the Nuke power plant breaks down, and LO AND BEHOLD! there is a Class M planet circling that star in the Sweet Spot where the temperature is JUST RIGHT like in the Porridge Story of the Three Little Bears capable of supporting Homo Sap life!  It also has plenty of Water and an Atmosphere with enough Oxygen to breathe.  It is down there though, and you are up in your aging starship!  How do you GET DOWN to this planet you are now in orbit around (skip the problem of trying to get into orbit in the first place just using solar sails, that would take some amazing tacking ability. lol)?

If you figure your Starship is around the size of the Starship Enterprise carrying a crew of 400 Human Souls and you don't have Transporters to Beam you to the surface, you need more conventional means of transport down.  Since it has an Atmosphere, you could use Space Shuttles of the design we used for a while, which go down as a kind of Glider.  However, each Space Shuttle we built only had a crew around 5 or so, figure maybe you could put 20 on each though, so your Interstellar Space Craft now needs to have aboard 20 Shuttles to get everyone aboard off the Starship and down to the surface.  It is a one way trip too, once they get down there, they aren't going UP anytime too soon unless there are fossil fuels to power rockets bubbling out of the ground to get them up off the planet and back to the Starship.  They'll also need to build refineries for the fuel and big Rockets to lift them back up to the Starship before they can get back there to retrieve some mor preps for life on the new planet.

Are we now FINISHED with all the obstacles here?  OF COURSE NOT!   I glossed over probably the biggest obstacle of all here, which is building a Self-Contained Ecosystem capable of supporting Homo Sap life for the decades it would take to do interstellar travel, barring of course those fantastic inventions like Anti-Gravity systems and Warp Drive allowing faster than light travel, which are wonderful Sci-Fi kludges to get around these issues but have zero basis in any real engineering being done.  Even the theoretical ideas behind such things are pretty questionable.

http://earthzine.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/SocioTownsley3.png

We have tried to build self contained ecosystems right here on earth and been unsuccessful in making any of them work for more than a couple of years.  That is with having Sunlight available as an energy source to run the system too!  Beleiving that we can create a self contained, self powered ecosystem that will survive the rigours of decades of interstellar space travel and recycle all the nutrients, keep the internal atmosphere at the right percentage of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide etc for decades is a LEAP OF FAITH I cannot make. It is just a Bridge too Far to cross for me, especially not inside the relatively limited timespan we have left here with some fossil fuels still available for pulling off all these stunts.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/db/d5/0b/dbd50bfb2a71cd91c5568b8d7a56463e.jpg Despite all of this, the meme persists and is BELIEVED by most people in Industrial Culture, even the top scientists and engineers like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.  Stephen Hawking has been quoted as saying that if Homo Saps do not get off the earth inside the next century or so, we are DOOMED.  The implicit argument Stephen is making though is that it is even POSSIBLE for Homo Sap to get off the earth inside a century, which as demonstrated above is seriously unlikely.  Correlary to that argument is that we should be investing our remaining resources in the pursuit of getting off the planet, and that is where Elon Musk comes in.  Stephen Hawking himself, briliant as he is has not come up with solutions to the many insoluble practical problems that interstellar space travel presents, but Elon Musk, Snake Oil Salesman par excellance sells that he CAN solve these problems!  "Investors" who run the TBTF Banks apparently believe Elon also, and they shower debt money on him to the tune of $BILLIONS$ to pursue projects like "Space X", which appears to be a kind of privatized version of NASA.  Is there any PROFIT in this company? Hell no, it loses even more money every month than his Tesla Motor EV Carz company does, all subsidized of course by Goobermint Debt taken out in the name of the Taxpayer!

limits-to-growthThe folks at the top of the heap here,even the Smartest and the Richest absolutely cannot and will not accept the idea that there are LIMITS TO GROWTH.  It is a matter of FAITH that Human Ingenuity can overcome all obstacles, even the vast physical ones of Gravity and the extraordinary distances between the stars.  The TRUTH is that we cannot and will not overcome these obstacles, and wasting our remaining resources in pursuit of these goals is plain stupid. We do continue to waste them this way though, because Theoretical Physicists like Stephen Hawking make it sound theoretically plausible, and Snake Oil Salesmen like Elon Musk sell their plans to the TBTF Banks who issue out IPOs for them to get gobs of debt money to waste in pursuit of their Pie in the Sky dreams.  It is total and complete bullshit.

Here on Planet Earth in the meantime, a whole generation of Financiers & Billionaires still invest in and promote the idea that Robots are going to take over all Jobs, from Self-Driving Carz to Robotic Surgeons who will operate on your Spine at a fraction of the cost for a Homo Sap Neurosurgeon who does the same task over and over every day fusing spines like mine.  How BORING!  It does pay the Neurosurgeon very well though!  lol.

What nobody has figured out or explained here with this pie in the sky fantasy is first off where all the energy is going to come from to produce and maintain all these marvelous new robots, and then after that how this works economically, when now in addition to the Luddite Weavers who lost their livliehood to Industrial Looms, you have put out of work all the Truck, Train and Taxi drivers as well as all the Neurosurgeons, Dentists and Chiropractors?  All the Homo Saps who buy the goods and services from these robots are issued Helicopter Money to buy them?  What?

For a while, robotics may continue to erode the deteriorating job market in manufacturing, but that market is being eroded even faster by the fact fewer people all the time have enough credit to buy any of the products of industrial manufacturing, or to fuel them and maintain them.  Whether the product is a Car or McMansion, the up front cost of buying it is only the beginning.  Both need constant inputs of energy, and both have limited functional lifespans before they need to be replaced, often enough before they have even been paid off, since big ticket items like this are almost always purchased on credit.

So on both the Economic and Energetic levels, this Robotic vision of the future is as much an Epic Fail as the Jules Verne-H.G. Wells sci-fi visions of rocketing to the Moon, Mars and Beyond.  It's just not going to happen, it will lock up from physical limits long before such visions come to fruition, which are the true and absolute limits to growth.  What the technophile cannot accept, whether it is a theoretical physicist like Stephen Hawking, an Engineer & Snake Oil Salesman like Elon Musk, a Singularity IT Guru like Ray Kurzweil or a Bond King like Bill Gross is that there ARE limits to Human Ingenuity and Homo Saps in general, and that we won't pass those limits, because they are very real.

http://blogs-images.forbes.com/alexknapp/files/2012/08/WolszczanRedGiantPlanet.jpg We're not going to get off Planet Earth, and at some point in the future likely long before the SUN☼ goes Red Giant we will be Extinct as a species, along with most of the species currently inhabiting the Planet Earth with us.  What our goal needs to be is not to try to get off the planet, but to keep the planet we currently depend on for our survival to be inhabitable for as long as we can, and to develop strategies for survival on a Planet that will become increasingly uninhabitable for our species, and many others.  If we marshall our resources and address the problems we face, there is a reasonable chance Homo Sap and many other creatures can continue to inhabit this planet for millenia to come.  If we waste our resources chasing Pie in the Sky fantasies of technophiles, we will have significntly less time left to live than that.

Like most of the people a good deal dumber than themselves, I think people like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are equally deluded and simply cannot accept the idea that Humanity is not destined for Eternal Life and Eternal Conquest of the Universe.  It's an extension of the inability most folks have in accepting Death as inevitable.  No matter what you do, you are destined for death, all species are destined for extinction and all planets die also.  However, the imperative of life is to live as long as you can, and this will not happen by wasting resources fueling Elon Musk's rockets.  We need to grow up here and let go of those fantasies from childhood and face a little reality here.

Homeless Internet Admin Electronic Preps

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on October 25, 2015

https://eljeejavier.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/no_internet_access-s406x309-50422.jpg

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LAST CHANCE HERE TO TAKE THE COLLAPSE PYSCHOLOGICAL PROFILE TEST BEFORE THE FIRST COUNT!

A couple of weeks ago I ran across a really fine article about how to negotiate and survive becoming Homeless, Homeless Survival : Practical Tips And Advice Derived From Personal Experience

In this article, the author details many good strategies for the Homeless person to continue onward looking like more or less a "normal" person who still has a home, although he didn't go over Homeless Cooking in the detail I have in some of my SNAP Card Gourmet articles.  He also covered maintaining Internet communications to an extent, using the Free Wi-Fi available in many places, but this was not detailed enough for me, because I am more of an Internet Junkie than most people.  So in this article I am going to detail all the hardware you need to not just get on the net, but to be able to Admin your websites, keep your hardware charged and operational, etc.

Internet-JunkieFirst thing for me is this is an ESSENTIAL, almost as important as my Food Preps!  I run or co-Admin about a dozen different Collapse Websites on the net now.  They are:

collapse.global Portal

Doomstead Diner Blog

Doomstead Diner Forum

Doomstead Diner Facebook

Doomstead Diner Twitter

Collapse Cafe You Tube

Collapse Cafe Soundcloud

Collapse Surveys

Doomstead Diner Legacy Blog

r/globalcollapse Reddit Sub

r/overshoot Reddit Sub

So I have a LOT of Internet responsibilities now to my fellow Kollapsniks TM!  It's obviously important to ME to run these sites (keeps me bizzy!), but it is important to the rest of the Diners too, and I don't want to let them down and not keep running these sites even if I become Homeless!  Which granted is not an immediate possibility since I still have money in the bank and the monetary system here in the FSoA is still working and there is a decent chance I will get my Bennies after becoming Disabled and a few Diners have offered me Shelter in the worst case scenario, but still I could become Homeless and without an official net connection and my own source of electric grid power for at least a period of time.  This could happen if for instance we had a major quake up here in the Mat Valley or if Mount Redoubt blows and drops a few inches of ashfall down which collapses the roof of my digs or there is a big wildfire in the neighborhood and I have to Bugout FAST!  Many Possbilities exist for my ability to Admin my websites to be compromised in some way!

Can I bring my Laptop and home electric security preps with me?  I have stuff like a generator, Deep Cycle Batteries, large solar panels, the WORKS here to survive a temporary loss of power in my location as long as the roof is still over my head and I can pay the rent.  However, either in a fast bugout situation or in the long term homeless situation, I can't be hauling these preps around with me all the time.  The Deep Cycle Lead-Acid Batteries are HEAVY!  The Yamaha Generator while probably the lightest and smallest in its class is ALSO pretty heavy.  So you can nix both of those for the Homeless person, although you probably could keep them in a Storage Unit.  No, what I need is a compact & lightweight kit for maintaining my websites in all but the most dire circumstances where the internet itself goes dark.  Then this whole bizness is OVAH and it is my time to Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM.  When the Internet Goes Dark TM, so does RE.  No more Reason to Live.  LOL.

What my goal here in creating the Internet Admin Survival Package TM was  was to put together everything I need to maintain connection to the net and do my Admin tasks until the day arrives that the Internet Goes Dark TM.  Most of the items in my Kit I already had, but I just invested in another couple I deemed necessary to complete the kit this week.  I will detail what they are as I go through the kit items.

bugout-electronics

#1- Smart Phone/Tablet Computer

The CRITICAL item in your kit is your Smart Phone.  Your choice of phones is important here, and you also need BACKUP!  This was driven home to me during our Diner Convocation down in Texas in 2014.  On that occassion, I destroyed my original Galaxy Mega Smartphone by dropping it on the concrete parking lot of our Motel Hell estabishment in ButtFuck TX where we stayed for the course in building Monolithic Domes.  In order to resolve this unfortunate problem, I had to borrrow Eddie's Mercedes and drive to the nearest ATT Store (a couple of hours away) to purchase a NEW Galaxy Mega at the full price of around $650 at the time.  Upon returning home, I was able to get yet another one of these devices for $150 off the Insurance Plan for having your device lost, stolen or broken, and I also have an older Iphone 4 which still works in the kit as well.  So triple backup on this lynchpin item.  If one craps out, I simply shift the SIM card over to another one and it connects to my ATT account., back on the net to do my Admin tasks. 🙂

The main PROBLEM with smart phones is generally their SIZE, and the fact they do not sport a real Keyboard.  You need to be a real Thumb Jockey to be able to even write a Twitter message of 140 Characters, much less the 3000 word articles I usually will write (like this one!  lol.)  So your Smart Phone is no good for real Admin work without a KEYBOARD!  "Have Keyboard, Will Travel!" 🙂

#2- Keyboard & Mouse

Perhaps some people can get along without these devices, but for myself doing Admin tasks without them is ridiculously difficult.  Fortunately, Folding Bluetooth Keyboards and Bluetooth Mice are available for the Android OP system the Galaxy Mega runs on, and in fact they work with the Apple shit too, so in the worst case scenario BOTH of my Galaxy Megas crap out, I can still use my Folding Keyboard and Bluetooth Mouse with the old Iphone.  Still a ridiculously tiny screen to work on though, so I hope things don't get that bad.  lol.

#3 Electricity

None of the above preps work without some access to electricity to keep them all charged up and operating.  You probably do want your own means of keeping your Comunications Equipment charged up, so I did invest in a couple of new items this week for this purpose.  First was a Folding 6.5A 5V output solar PV Array I could fit in my Kit Sack.  Probably not too necessary in most circumstances on the Homeless paradigm, I'll probably be able to keep my devices charged by going to the Library, a Coffee Shop and so forth and plugging in to their Grid Power..  For this purpose I bought  20,000 Mah external Li-I Battery which I can use to recharge the cell phone and the various other devices in the kit.  In conjunction with the Solar PV panels, on a decently sunny day in about 4 hours I should be able to charge up this battery in about 4 hours, and that then will enable me to keep the Smart Phones and Cameras and Diode Lites all charged up.

#4 Lighting

Since the smart phones themselves are lit up, you don't absolutely need auxiliary lighting.  However, if you are in a Tent or some other temporary shelter and want to be able to see your keyboard, you are going to want some other lighting besides the Smartphone itself.  Besides that, the Diode Emergency Lighting often is set up so that not only can your Crank Charge the light itself, but you can ALSO use this to charge your Smart Phone! 🙂

I have 4 lights in the Emergency Kit bag.  2 are Crank Lights, and also can serve to charge up my Smart Phone.

Light 1-  A Crank Up emergency flashlight which also has AM/FM Radio and can charge my smart phone.

Light 2-  A Lantern style Crank Up to give me enough light to keyboard by and also charge the Smart Phone

Light 3- A POWERHOUSE 350 Lumen Flashlight which runs on 3 AAA Batteries, rechargeable or single use, whatever I can get hold of.  This little light by itself can light up your entire digs pointed at the ceiling.  350 Lumens is BRIGHT!  You do not need any more than this to light up a room anywhere.    Trust me on this and do not look directly into the light.  You will go BLIND in an instant.  LOL

Light 4- A 100 Lumen flashlight which stands on it's own tripod and can be used together with my Camera in low light conditions to do an Interview.  Also works on 3 AAA rechargeable or single use batteries.

Ancillary Items

I have a few items in the Kit not absolutely necessary for my Homeless Internet Admin work:

GPS Units:  Not necessary for most circumstances, but handy for Locating myself anywhere if I need help from another Diner.  I can issue out the Lat & Lon coordinates within 10 feet anywhere on earth for an emergency pickup point.                                 

A/C & D/C Transformers to Charge 5V USB Devices: Essential Items to keep your equipment charged up as long as there is some Grid Power available somewhere or soe car that still has juice in the battery.

Audio Headse/Mict and Speaker.  Not essential in most circumstances, but for myself doing a lot of Audio interviews and the fact I like to listen to old favorite music, its and addition I like having in the kit.

Camera & Table Top Tripod for doing Video and Pics:  I can record with my Smart Phones, but even the El Cheapo Digicam does a better job for this than the Smart Phones.  As a modern era Reporter, I need means to get good pics and video up on the net, and a smart phone just is not good enough for this task in general.  OK in a pinch, but you really want a decent camera available if possible.  I have still better cameras then the El Cheapo, but I need a whole other bag for them.

Cables:  You need to be able to hook everything up of course, so you will need some USB cables.  USB comes in a few sizes, so adapters for these sizes are handy to have as well.

Now, all of this stuff is extremely light and portable and fits in a Shoulder Bag or Backpack and it is sufficient to fulfill my Diner Admin responsibilities if I need to make a Fast Bugout.  However, is this all I have for the bugout situation?  Of  course not. 🙂

If I at least still have my SUV to bugout in and to live in as a Homeless Person I can carry with me a whole lot more than this.

The next level up of Electric Preps is contained in a brief case. It consists of:

#1- 5W 12V Solar Panel

This panel is different than the folding one which outputs at 5V for charging the portable devices, instead it outputs at 12V good for charging typical automotive batteries.  However, because it is so small and only outputs 5W, to charge up a full size auto battery would take several sunny days without draining the battery for the purpose of charging other devices.  of course, if you have money to buy gas and do some driving each day, you probably generate enough electricity this way even without the solar panels.  In most cases though it will keep the battery nicely topped of with juice if you are judicious about how much you drain your other devices.

#2 10 AH 12V Deep Cycle SLA Battery

This is one of the spare batteries I bought for my Ewz Electric Scooter. It runs on 3 of these wired in series for 36V, but you can split them up and just carry one for the typical 12V use.  It is relatively small compared to an automotive battery and designed for deep discharge/recharge cycles.  Automotive batteries are designed to give a lot of cranking amps all at once to turn over an engine, not to deep discharge regularly.  SLA stands for Sealed Lead Acid, so despite being fairly small and compact, these batteries weigh a fair amount.  I would rather have a 12V Li-I battery which are lighter and generally do more recharge cycles, but they aren't available up here at Batteries & Bulbs, and getting them shipped here is bear also, since they are considered a Hazmat for air shipping.  However, since I am not carrying around this briefcase all the time, the extra weight doesn't matter very much.  They are also about 5X the price and that is hard to justify.

#3 200 W Modified Sine Wave Inverter

Your inverter converts the 12V DC to 120V AC which powers most household appliances.  The 200 W Inverter won't run stuff like a Microwave, but it will run low power draw items like a lamp, a slow cooker and most importantly, a REAL laptop instead of the Smart Phone/Folding Keyboard/Bluetooth Mouse combination.  While that combo works pretty good, it's still not as good as a real laptop for writing and doing Admin tasks on the net.

Other 12V aficionados often warn me about the dangers of using modified sine wave inverters and recommend I spend the extra money for a true sine wave inverter.  Reasoning being that modified sine wave can damage some complex electronics that run on AC.  Thing is, I don't use an inverter for running any such equipment.  Lightbulbs and the slow cooker don't care what the sine wave configuration is, and the Laptop actually runs on DC, you have a transformer between the inverter and the laptop which converts the electricity back to DC at whatever voltage your laptop runs on, which is usually somewhere between 15V DC and 22V DC.  These transformers don't care what the sine wave looks like either.

In addition to the 200W Inverter, I have a tiny 75W cigarette lighter size inverter, a larger 500W unit you clip to the battery itself and a behemoth 1000W inverter capable of running a Microwave Oven if you have enough juice and big enough battery to drive it.  You want to use the smallest inverter which will drive whatever device you are running, since there is more power wasted the larger the inverter.  The big ones require a fan to run to keep cool, which wastes still more power and is something else that can break down.  The 75W unit is JUST enough to run a typical laptop computer and keep its own battery charged up.

In order to reduce power wastage still more, I recently bought a DC-DC Transformer which takes 12V DC and directly changes it to anywhere from 5V to 24V to run just about any laptop computer on the market.  It also comes with 12 different Plug Tips that will fit any laptop you happen to have on hand for your Admin work.  I'm not sure precisely how much waste you are saving here, but I estimate about 25% which is significant if you have low storage capacity for your juice and limited generating power.

#4 AC-DC 6V-12V Battery Charger

This device plugs into the wall and will charge up any 6V or 12V battery you can scavenge up, so as long as power periodically shows up in your wall outlet, you can keep your batteries charged this way and then have power available for the times the juice is NOT flowing from the local electric plant into your outlets.  In normal daily use, I keep it hooked to a large 12V Deep Cycle Marine Battery about 2X the size of a typical car battery.  This battery when topped off (as it always is) will run all my portable electronics for at least 2 weeks, probably a month.  If I run my laptop off of it, probably still get a week without any generation from the Solar Panels.  This battery is of course way too big and heavy to carry around or drop in a brief case, but in a bugout situation with the SUV easily fits in the storage area of the vehicle.

Finally, in addition to the stuff that fits in the brief case, I have a larger 120W Solar PV Panel which can strap on to the roof rack of the SUV.  This provides plenty of juice to run all the equipment as much as I normally do without significantly draining the battery storage each night when I run a couple of diode lights and the laptop too.  The overall key here is to be aware of how much power your equipment is drawing, and choose low power consumptive devices as much as you can.

As long as you are just talking communications equipment and lighting, you really do not need a whole heck of a lot of juice available.  It's only once you start to add in stuff like Refrigeration to your bugout package that you need significantly more generating power.  As long as you can still get gas for the vehicle though and can afford it, your car alternator will provide plenty of juice to keep all your portable electronic devices charged up even without the addition of Solar PV panels.

Now, in most cases for the near future, I expect Grid Power to remain available somewhere, even if I am Homeless and can't afford to pay my electric bill.  For instance, if I go to the local Internet Coffee Shop where I did many of my early Collapse Cafes, at every table along the wall there is an electric outlet where I would plug in my laptop so as not to be discharging the battery unnecessarily.  This conserves the battery lifetime for your laptop battery.  Don't run it off the battery unless you absolutely have to.  In normal use they will last about 2 years of discharge cycles, mine is 4 years old and still going strong, because I simply do not run the laptop off of it's battery.  It's plugged in just about all the time.

In a real Homeless or Bugout situation, I could do more than just keep the laptop charged up though.  I could for instance walk into the local laundromat with a bag of clothes for washing and the big ass deep cycle marine battery below it with the 12V DC charger on my folding luggage carrier with wheels, disguised in a bag.  I plug this into the wall while my laundry is in the washing machine and drier.  In a couple of hours, I have scarfed up enough free electricity (for me anyhow) to not only power my communications equipment, but in fact enough to run a 12V Heated Sleeping pad as well so that I can sleep in toasty warm comfort in my SUV even if the outside temperatures drop to 20 Below.  You combine such a heating pad with a good sleeping bag and have enough juice to run it, you won't freeze to death no matter how cold it gets.  I can also cook my food in the slow cooker and not have to burn propane cannisters.  I can of course go into numerous Convenience Stores and use their Microwave and electric power to heat up more of my food.  Hot food, a toasty place to sleep, the only other thing you really need is water, which you can collect in a bottle each day at the convenience store in the bathroom sink as well.

Back to the main issue of communications and Internet Admin responsibilities though, once Homeless or in a Bugout situation, obviously you have lost your own high speed, high bandwidth connection to the net over cable or DSL, whatever you have at home.  You certainly want to keep your own 4G connection to the net on your cell phone, but this is an additional expense of around $50-100/month, which you may not be able to afford over time once becoming Homeless.

If that is the case, you're going to mostly need to use the Free Wi-Fi available at many internet cafes, libraries and even Mickey Ds.  You won't have a 24/7 connection to the net this way, but you can still do most of your writing while offline, and then simply upload your stuff when you do drop into a location with free wi-fi.  You're also going to want your own Skype Number for possible jobs to call you where they can leave a message and you can then call them back and seem like a "normal" person, not a Homeless one.  You can buy enough minutes for a Skype Number for this purpose for around $10, which probably lasts you a year given you probably will not actually use it for talking too much.  Most talking with friends goes across Skype itself for free skype to skype account.  In addition, you can use Google Hangouts for conversation with friends rather than the skype phone line.  The only purpose for this phone number is to have a number to hand out to possible jobs or perhaps the occasional person you don't want to give your Skype ID to.

Not being connected 24/7 to Global Communications is not something most of us net junkies are used to anymore, but of course this was the norm before the Cell Phones became ubiquitous.  In da olden days once I left the McHovel with its land line telephone, I was disconnected and nobody could get in touch with me until I got back home and checked the "answering machine", the predecessor to Voice Mail and itself an invention which only came around maybe in my early teens or so.  Prior to that, if you weren't home when a call came in, you simply missed the call and no message about it.  The person trying to reach you just had to do it again at another time.

The Homeless situation without your own (fairly costly) regular cell phone number puts you back in that situation more or less, and to maintain the illusion that you are still a "normal" person and not a Homeless one, you want to maintain a cell phone number and account as long as you can.  Once you drop below the poverty line, many of the cell phone providers offer a "basic" service for around $10/month which will at least allow you to get phone calls 24/7 and will take voicemail.  You won't have an internet connection with that service, bit it is cheap and keeps a line open for you even if you can't scarf up some free Wi-Fi somewhere.  Advisable to keep such a connection as long as you can afford it.

Now, this may seem trivial and inconsequential to you if you are more worried about FEEDING yourself with veggies grown in your raised beds or hydroponics tank, but it's not for me.  Internet Communication is Priority #1 for me!  The only reason I eat anything to begin with is to have enough energy to keyboard out some more Doom Newz!  LOL.

Seriously though, I think most people, even Doomers don't like it much when there is a Power Outage for one reason or another and their cell phone and laptop run out of juice after a day or two.  There are safety issues involved here as well, in terms of calling for help if you are sick or your house is floating downstream in a flood.  So you want to keep these things running as long as you can, and the above are my best strategies for doing that at a semi-reasonable price.  You DO NOT need a $20,000 Off the Grid Solar PV setup for your Doomstead to do it.  It can mostly be done in 1 or 2 bags with the right selection of preps.

Plugged Back In

ninja foxgc2Off the keyboard of Lucid Dreams

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Published on Epiphany Now on October 5, 2015

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After five years of resistance I'm back on Face Palm.  I blogged about the evils of Face Palm when I deleted my original account, you can read about that here.  I still agree with everything I wrote in that essay, but becoming a business owner has necessitated the removal of some idealism.  I got tired of losing business on Thumbtack because I couldn't respond quickly unless I was home with access to our laptop.  Often times people will select the first professional that contacts them (I know, I've been that professional several times).  We were also commonly receiving texts that said "no content," and I got tired of explaining to potential clients that I had an alleged dumb phone and all I got was "no content" rather than a text they had spent their time typing.  Several times they were long texts and I suspect that was the reason my alleged dumb phone couldn't handle it.  Still we fought on with our obsolete ways. 

Finally Wendy was off shooting a wedding and the phone went missing.  We decided we'd better just accept the fact that we needed smart phones, and so off to Sprint Wendy went to progress us into the 21st century.  I didn't go, but apparently the entire staff circled around my alleged dumb phone and made noises of amazement while they took turns passing around the alleged dumb phone marvel (it even had a touch screen, but we had fixed the phones so that they would not connect to the internet…it was a rumor touch from 2010).  They gave us two iphone 6's to replace our obsolescence.  The next day my laptop bit the bullet for the final time.  My laptop was a Toshiba Satellite that I bought in 2007.  I had the hard drive replaced and had to bring it in to the computer geek many times to have it fixed.  However, seeing as how an iphone is a computer, I found that by simply ordering a blue tooth keyboard for the iphone, along with an iphone stand, I could side step even needing a laptop.

Still, I resisted Face Palm.  I tried running my business Face Palm page, Ancient Earth Landscaping , using my wife's FB account on my phone, but that resulted in me posting to her page.  We couldn't figure out how I could run my page using her account on my phone, and it was just adding frustration to her life attempting to figure it out.  I thought about it and realized that I really had no leg to stand on where opposition to FB was concerned.  I had plugged back in, and that was necessitated by my need to run a business FB account.  You can't have just a business account.  All my opposition was doing was making my wife's life more complicated.  It was rapidly shaping up to my return to FB, and so here I am, completely plugged back in. 

I enjoy being able to listen to Spotify with blue tooth headphones anywhere I go.  The CD player in my truck stopped working years ago, so up till now I've been at the mercy of the radio.  I haven't listened to the radio in my truck since I got my iphone.  I have a camera, a video recorder, a calendar, a virtual jukebox, and the apps keep piling up (so far it's Thumbtack, Spotify, Weather, Blogger, Wikipedia, youtube, FB, and yes even Angry Birds).  It's great except for when I imagine myself holding that damn "phone" staring into the virtual world that I've detested for so long.  My world is the green world of plants and soil, not the virtual world of Face Palm and Instagram, except for the fact that these virtual places are part of my world now.  I'm embracing this inherent hypocrisy.  What am I to do other than accept it?

 


What is a reason to resist any longer?  The world went and got virtual, at least where people are concerned.  Now Wendy and I can lay in bed and be blissfully alone together in the evening (we have a healthy love life, but you know what I mean).  As far as privacy is concerned, what of it?  I'm amazed at how frazzled so many facepalmer's seem to be about the privacy issue with Face Palm.  What privacy?  Maybe some of my readers haven't heard about a federal agency called the "National Security Agency," or NSA, and the city they have in the desert that is five times the size of Washington DC dedicated to the surveillance of every communication of all stripes in the good ole Fascist States of America.  Every phone call, text, Face Palm message, email, and squeaky fart you let out is recorded and pigeon holed into your communication record at the NSA.  You can read about this fact here.  Here is a quick excerpt from the linked article:
 

 Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.


 So, if you are upset about privacy on Face Palm than you obviously have not been paying attention.  Of course there is the Patriot Act to consider.  If you don't know, that's the legislation that was enacted day's after 9/11 that makes it legal for our government to make you disappear and tell nobody about it.  You'll never be seen or heard from again and this is all legal.  They just have to suspect that you are a terrorist and away you disappear.  So if you don't want to have your privacy trampled on than you should no longer communicate with any kind of device.  Don't talk on a land line, don't use a cell phone, and don't use the internet under any capacity because even your google searches are being recorded by the NSA.  This brings me to the final issue I'll be tackling in this essay…that's right, gun control (and now for my promised trick where I make some Face Palm friends disappear).

In my opinion "gun control" is where you slow your breathing, keep both eyes open as you look through your iron sites (or scope), calm your nerves, and finally slowly exhale as you gently pull back on the trigger knowing that your aim is true.  I am not a violent person.  In fact, I don't believe in violence.  When I was training in Nihon Ghoshin Aikido my Sensei first taught me how to not fight.  He taught me how to use my words to diffuse any aggression and how to not get cornered and assure an escape route if at all possible.  Then he taught me how to use the energy of my attacker against him to cause controlled pain via joint locks and pressure points to further convince him that violence was not the answer.  Then he taught me how to kill with extreme prejudice and efficiency using my attackers weapon.  That's when I stopped training having achieved Ni Kyu or student instructor with all 50 techniques in the art and joined the Navy.

Firstly I'm not going to surrender my guns because I like them.  Occasionally I put venison on the table for my family to eat by hunting with my riffle.  This is 100% organic meat, and it's as organic as meat gets being that the animal has eaten from the wilderness it's entire life.  I could do this with a bow and arrow, but I don't have a bow and arrow right now.  I have guns.  Secondly all disarming the populace would do is to ensure that only our tyrannical government and criminals would have guns.  Law abiding citizens would be the only people without guns.  The hunting industry in the U.S. is a billion dollar industry and so removing guns would remove a lot of jobs from our atrophying economy.  If citizens don't need guns than why do police need guns?  Why does the military need guns?  Would the proponents of "gun control" agree that the military and police should surrender their guns?  I think not.  The fact of the matter is that guns exist, and so bad people have guns, and therefore I need guns.  If I could hockity pockety wokity whack every gun off of the planet I would do so, and I would happily hunt for my venison with bow and arrow, but I, nor anybody else on this side of mortal, have that ability.

Now for the school shootings, isn't this a bit like the terrorist bogey man?  You can't fight terrorism because terrorism resides in the black heart of the terrorist.  At any moment anybody can decide to be a terrorist, just as any kid can decide to go to school and start killing.  Let us imagine for a moment that all guns are completely eradicated from the Earth, even the world's military's don't have guns any longer.  Now some high schooler that's all bent out of shape because daddy left years ago and mommy has taken to prostitution to put food on the table and pay bills.  She's an alcoholic and on cussitol to cope leaving her virtually paralyzed to care for our bent high schooler.  On top of all of this he can't get a girlfriend to save his life, and nobody wants to be friends with him because he has bad hygiene and his breath constantly stinks.  He's also socially awkward.  Well he's had enough of this shit and decides he wants to die, but before he goes he wants to release his rage on the peers that have caused him so much pain.  He acquires a Samurai sword and spends weeks getting it as sharp as possible.  He goes to school one day and just as he enters the main hall minutes before the bell rings, he pulls out the sword and starts decapitating heads.  How many heads do you think he could decapitate before being stopped by the police?  Remember, there are no longer any guns, so I guess the local law enforcement would have to taser him?

Now, before you delete me from your Face Palm friend list, let me apologize for being so crass and brazen with making my point.  I am an Aspie after all, and I can relate to the feelings of the imagined high schooler I just created.  My father left when I was four and I have always been slightly awkward socially.  I was lucky enough to have the unconditional love of a beautiful mother (and I still do), and I was also able to find romantic love as a teenager, and I had a few friends to boot.  I'm not trying to make lite of the recent school shootings, or any school shooting for that matter.  I feel for all of the people caught up in these tragedies, but I also know that our government regularly kills innocent civilians with drones and that they drop bombs on hospitals, mosques, and red cross centers (I was on the USS Carl Vinson during Operation Enduring Freedom and I know this first hand).  There is no shortage of tragedies in our imperfect world.  Removing guns will accomplish nothing except making it easier for criminals to commit crime.  Guns or no, it's not guns that kill it's people.  Now go ahead and hit delete.  Your delusions will not stop me from telling the truth.

Stairway to Heaven

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on August 16, 2015

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"Let us stop talking about collapse, peak oil, and global weirding and begin a conversation about what is cool and what is uncool."

 

In Nine to Five Jane Fonda's character, Judy Bernly, is the office newbie.  In a scene evoking Lucille Ball on the assembly line, she pushes too many buttons on an enormous Xerox machine and fills the floor with blizzard drifts of copy paper.

 
Technocornucopians see the world of the future as a great 3D printer with an unlimited supply reservoir. Push a few buttons and we can fulfill everyone's wildest dreams. What need have we for terror or strife? Vivek Wadhwa, vice president of innovation and research for Singularity University says:
 
The next decade will be the most innovative decade in human history: technologies are advancing so rapidly, entire industries will be wiped out and new ones created out of nowhere. … We don't think about man-machine convergence or all this sci-fi stuff. We talk about practical implementation of today's technologies — harnessing advancing technologies to do good for mankind.
 
Think of each piece of paper flying out of Judy Bernly's grasp as just another great solution searching for a problem. Go ahead Judy, push that button again. The machine will know what to do.
 
It's not true that we can't solve big problems through technology. We can, we must, but these four elements must all be present: Political leaders and the public must care to solve a problem; institutions must support its solution; It must really be a technological problem; and we must understand it. The Apollo mission, which has become a kind of metaphor for technology's capacity to solve big problems, met these criteria. But it is an irreproducible model for the future. It is not 1961. There is no galvanizing contest like the Cold War, no politician like John Kennedy who can heroize the difficult and the dangerous, and no popular science fictional mythology such as exploring the solar system. Most of all, going to the moon turned out to be easy. It was just three days away. And arguably it wasn't even solving much of a problem.
– Jason Pontin, Can technology solve our big problems? (TED talk, Oct 2013)
 
Technology might even come up with a 3D printable stairway to heaven but that capability should not be confused with the availability of the natural resources required to fuel it or the machinations of humans allowed to control it.

 

 

Marc Andreeson, who developed the first internet browser and today runs one of the largest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley was interviewed by The New Yorker  earlier this year:

“Even if we could do perfect analysis, we just can’t know the future,” he said. “What if Google Ventures had access to all Google searches—could you predict hit products? Or perfect access to all of people’s conversations or purchases? You still wouldn’t know what’s going to happen. How is psychohistory going?” he went on, referring to Isaac Asimov’s invention, in his “Foundation” novels, of a statistical field that could predict the behavior of civilizations. “Not very fucking good at all! Which, by the way, is part of what makes this job really fun. It’s a people business. If we could revise the industry completely, we’d just dump all the business plans and focus on people—the twenty-three-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs.” He acknowledged, though, that his optimism dims once human beings—with their illogic, hidden agendas, and sheer bugginess—enter the equation. “We’re imperfect people pursuing perfect ideas, and there’s tremendous frustration in the gap,” he said. “Writing code, one or two people, that’s the Platonic ideal. But when you want to impact the world you need one hundred people, then one thousand, then ten thousand—and people have all these people issues.” He examined the problem in silence. “A world of just computers wouldn’t work,” he concluded wistfully. “But a world of just people could certainly be improved.”

 
Over the last couple of months Samuel Alexander has published two collections of essays, the first called Prosperous Descent: Crisis as Opportunity in an Age of Limits; the second Sufficiency Economy: Enough, for Everyone, Forever. Perhaps one of the better features of Alexander's writing, which tends toward tedious restatement of the obvious, is when he summarizes. Here, for instance, are 12 guiding precepts:
  1. Pursuing limitless growth on a finite planet is a recipe for ecological and humanitarian catastrophe.
  2. ‘Green growth’ is a dangerous myth that entrenches the status quo.
  3. ‘Degrowth’ (i.e., planned contraction of resource and energy demands) is necessary in the developed nations in order to move toward a just and sustainable economy that operates within the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet.
  4. Addressing poverty within a degrowth framework implies a redistribution of wealth and power on a much more egalitarian basis.
  5. Degrowth implies radically reduced energy and resource requirements compared to overdeveloped nations.
  6. It is not enough merely to live more simply within existing structures and systems.
  7. At some point, when the social movement becomes powerful enough, there will need to be some democratic social planning of the economy to ensure that the necessary degrowth transition does not collapse the economy.
  8. Degrowth is thus incompatible with capitalism.
  9. A swift transition to renewable energy is necessary to respond to climate change and peak oil.
  10. Climate change and peak oil are not the fundamental problems. Rather, they are the symptoms of the cultures and systems of consumer capitalism.
  11. Material sufficiency in a free society provides the conditions for an infinite variety of meaningful, happy, and fulfilling lives.
  12. Chances of success do not look good.
 
It is not enough to know what is wrong. You also have to be able to know how to fix it. Over several millennia keen observers have committed forests of paper to describing the wrong turn being taken by their respective cultures. Relatively few were able to forge a popular will towards making course corrections, and most of those changes were eventually canceled out by the law of unintended consequences. 

 

 

Consider Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, exposing corruption in the meat packing industry. Meat-packing unionized, the FDA was created, and today you will find it difficult to purchase non-GMO, grass-fed, ranch-slaughtered cattle and poultry, or raw milk. What about Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, the anti-slavery tome by Harriet Beecher Stowe? When introduced to Ms. Stowe, Abraham Lincoln is said to have remarked, "So this is the little lady who started this great war." From that book we get blackface minstrelsy and stereotypes of dark-skinned mammys and faithful-to-their-oppressor Uncle Toms.

 
Can we be more thoughtful about culture repair than we have been in the past? Alexander says:
First, we must adequately understand the nature and extent of the overlapping crises that confront us today. Secondly, we must envision the alternative world, or matrix of alternative worlds, that would adequately dissolve the current crises and provide the foundations for a flourishing human civilisation into the deep future. And thirdly, having provided an accurate critique and having envisioned an appropriate and effective alternative, we must meditate deeply on the question of strategy – the question of how best to direct our energies and resources if we are to maximise our chances of building the new world we have imagined. Then, and only then, are we in a position to ask ourselves the ultimate question: what is to be done? If that question is asked prematurely, or if it is asked having answered any one of the preliminary questions inadequately, then there is a great risk that one’s action, motivated by the best of intentions, is directed in ways that fail to effectively produce any positive effect and, indeed, may even be counter-productive to the cause.
 
Alexander follows in the footsteps, as he acknowledges, of the seminal work of Eugene and Mary Odum and in particular, their 2000 paper, A Prosperous Way Down.   Of the impending energy collapse, the Odums wrote:
We recognize four main stages of the pulsing cycle: (1) growth on abundant available resources, with sharp increases in a system’s population, structure, and assets, based on low-efficiency and high-competition (capitalism and monopolistic overgrowth); (2) climax and transition, when the system reaches the maximum size allowed by the available resources, increases efficiency, develops collaborative competition patterns, and prepares for descent by storing information; (3) descent, with adaptations to less resources available, a decrease in population and assets, an increase in recycling patterns, and a transmission of information in a way that minimizes losses; (4) low-energy restoration, with no-growth, consumption smaller than accumulation, and storage of resources for a new cycle ahead. The pulsing paradigm has always been in front of our eyes. Forest ecosystems never did anything different, with short pulsing cycles that we were able to see and understand. 
 

It was the Odums' hope that decisive changes in attitudes and practices can divert a destructive collapse, leading instead to conservation of resources and renewal. That is in large part why they took up teaching — as a way to influence future trendmakers. The "how" in Alexander's four step sequence was, for the Odums, to be found in changing the attitudes of the next generation.

 
Frankly, we find Alexander's kneeling curtsies to the slower students in mainstream culture less than endearing. Here, for example, is Alexander wringing his hands about capitalism:
Admittedly, this is a realisation that I resisted for some time, hoping that the social, economic, and environmental crises that human beings face would not require such terrifyingly fundamental change. Couldn’t we just reform capitalism? Eventually, however, I realised that there was no honour in deceiving myself and potentially others just because the challenge of replacing capitalism seemed, and still seems, like an impossible pipe dream. The first question to grapple with is whether capitalism needs to be replaced, not whether we will ever succeed in doing so, and the nature of capitalism is such that it is unable to deal with the crises we face.

 

 

Capitalism has a ‘grow or die’ imperative built into its very structure. At every turn participants in the market economy are more or less compelled to pursue profit or else risk being destroyed by competitors running them out of business. The technologies and products that are developed under capitalism are the one’s [SIC] that promise the best return, not the one’s [SIC] that are most needed. Similarly, the distribution of resources is determined by who has the most money, not who needs the resources the most. The structures and incentives of capitalism also create constant pressure for individuals and businesses to externalise environmental and social costs, making it impossible to price commodities in a way that ensures ‘optimal’ consumption and production. The consequence is that the justifications of capitalism based on wealth-maximisation and efficiency are rarely if ever reflected in reality. Furthermore, the vast amounts of private and public debt that have been taken on in recent decades depend on continued growth for those debts to be repaid. For all these reasons, the idea of reforming capitalism in a way that deals with the crises of civilisation entails irresolvable contractions. Perhaps the most compelling reason for why capitalism cannot produce a just and sustainable world, however, is because capitalist economies would collapse if existing structures tried to deal with the necessary degrowth of resource and energy consumption. This is especially so in a globalised economy where it is becoming increasingly difficult for one capitalist economy to defy the neoliberal world order. Localisation and contraction of national economies in such a context will require democratic planning of the economy.

 

 
In our 2006 book, we put it more simply:
What do we do when we can no longer grow the economy because we can no longer consume oil and gas at a 2 percent annual increase, but instead are having to cope with a 2 percent (or more) annual decrease in supply? How can capitalism function in a negative-growth scenario? What happens when there is little possibility of profit, interest, and net earnings to be reinvested?
 
Oil geologist M. King Hubbert told a government committee in 1974 that:
[M]oney, being a system of accounting, is, in effect, paper and so is not constrained by the laws within which material and energy systems must operate. [But in] fact money grows exponentially by the rule of compound interest …. [T]he maintenance of a constant price level in a non-growing industrial system implies either an interest rate of zero or continuous inflation.
 
Hubbert provided this advice to the Congressional Committee:
Since the tenets of our exponential-growth culture (such as a non-zero interest rate) are incompatible with a state of non-growth, it is understandable that extraordinary efforts will be made to avoid a cessation of growth. Inexorably, however, physical and biological constraints must eventually prevail and appropriate cultural adjustments will have to be made.
 
Alexander doesn't really offer anything new in this regard. Indeed, as near as we can tell he does not offer anything not previously covered in our own two descent-oriented cookbooks, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide (2006) and The Financial Collapse Survival Guide (2d Ed., 2014) or in the work for the past 20 years of permaculture, the Global Ecovillage Network and Transition Network.
 
What we have been urging here for all that time is a strategy of viral meme creation of the type discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000).
 
Let us stop talking about collapse, peak oil, and global weirding and begin a conversation about what is cool and what is uncool.
 

Miami condos that sell for $4 million today but likely will be underwater by mid-century are uncool. Hive villages designed to assemble light and mood to engender living and breathing spaces in service of humankind and the planet are cool.

 
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump mouthing words about redressing income inequality while growing their own private wealth are uncool. Bernie Sanders running for president as a socialist is cool.
 
Once-through consumables that generate more waste and disease than product and enjoyment are uncool. Biological systems that sequester carbon while making food, fuel, energy, and clean water are cool.
 
Conspiracy theories are uncool. Conspiring theorists are cool. That is why we welcome Alexander to the party. Just watch out for the green button on the Xerox machine.

Upward bound: Maintaining Our Collective Clunker

Off the keyboard of td0s

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 8, 2014

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My friend and I joke about techno-optimists. Both of us have wasted enough time on the internet reading the prognostications of self described technocrats, transhumanists, and even optimistic liberals who carry with them and promote a picture of the future that is near utopian in it’s advancements and its cleanliness. This optimism is shared widely by younger generations who cannot be bothered to understand the totality of the destruction wrought on the planet and its ecosystems over the last few hundred years. Advances in communications technology have people believing that anything is possible, and depending on their politics, their reasoning is essentially that either government, corporations, capitalists, or some combination of them is all that stands between us and a near workless future of global equality and abundance. A trip to the Apple Store and a copy of Popular Mechanics seemingly forms their understanding of not only what humans can do, but what they should do.

What is frustrating about these techno-topians is that for them, name dropping a technology is supposed to convince the rest of us that said technology has all of the prerequisite systems in place for its global implementation and that said technology can effortlessly be scaled up to replace current technologies. Further, the techno-optimist speaks as if technologies exist in an ecological vacuum where they can be designed, manufactured, deployed, utilized, upgraded, and ultimately dismantled when they are inevitably made irrelevant by new developments without damaging ecosystems and living communities. Arguing for the bright future society these technologies will grant us usually finds their acolytes rebuffing their potential flaws by name dropping another, then another, then another hypothetical invention or method, creating a fractal universe of innovations that are essentially non-existent today, but that we are supposed to have faith will rescue us from the crises that are meting deleterious effects right now.

Techno-optimists talk about Moore’s Law and the doubling of computing power that will lead to computers smarter than humans in mere decades. I’m not sure what these super smart computers are exactly supposed to provide for us. Bitcoins? 3-D porn? 42?

This is the rim of the rabbit hole. Computers are manufactured at great ecological and material cost. They are created with rare earth metals, plastics, copper, fresh water, slave labor in mines, near slave labor in factories, fossil fuel powered mining equipment, fossil fuels converted into materials, fossil fuel powered assembly lines, global shipping and distribution, and they are eventually obsolete which lands them in third world neighborhoods to be “recycled” by poor people who burn them to extract what of value they can. Of course, the techno-optimist is likely someone who lives in a wealthy nation, and it is likely that they primarily see the benefits of technology, not the drawbacks. They probably have never assembled an iPad or spent three days underground mining coltan by hand under the watchful eye of an AK-47 toting guard.

There are very real crises that are unfolding now. Solutions to these crises needed to be implemented years ago. In fact, crises like climate change, peak oil, deforestation, species die-off, top soil loss – all needed to be addressed decades and decades ago. Talking about them solves nothing. Chanting the words “Solar panels, wind turbines, hemp oil” over and over again does nothing to address the net energy decline of peak oil, especially as on the whole, industrial capitalism has clearly chosen to go full tilt with hydro-fracking for tight oil and gas and strip mining for tar sands bitumen and low return coal deposits. It is hard to join any optimism that refuses to look around and see that technology is not, right now, this moment, saving the day. Technology is being used to maintain the status quo as the train of industrial civilization hurtles towards a gorge.

Technology comes with costs. There are the ecological costs of the places destroyed so that raw materials can be extracted. There are ecological costs of energy acquisition necessary to power engines and electronics. There are ecological costs to discarding defunct and obsolete machines and products. There are human costs to communities displaced, sickened, and killed by extraction and technological implementation. There are human costs in the immiseration of labor forces which crawl into copper mines, work assembly lines, wither in cubicles, and work the fields picking vegetables to keep all of the above alive. There are energy costs, as no technology exists without energy. An electric car needs electricity flowing through an electric grid, and as it stands, that electricity is primarily created through the burning of hydrocarbons. Nuclear power should need no discussion as to its dangers, and all of the pie in the sky “renewables” are all dependent upon industrial processes and none are eternal.

James Kunstler wrote a book on the optimism of techno-fetishists who cannot seem to do the math on what a technological society begins to cost. In “Too Much Magic,” Kunstler tells an anecdote about a visit to the Google Campus where he gave a talk. After describing the “tricked out” offices laden with snacks and video games, he describes the question and answer session that followed his speech, in which the general statement from employees was summed up as, “Like, dude, we’ve got technology.” Kuntsler writes:

This informed me of something pretty scary: The executives and programmers at Google didn’t know the difference between technology and energy. They assumed that these were interchangeable, that if you run out of one you just plug in the other, which is inconsistent with reality.

Seeing the childishness of the office layout and employee dress and behavior, Kunstler comes to a realization about the type of playful creativity at the backbone of Google’s business model:

The childlike thinking at Google was a logical extension of this corporate culture: the belief in magic, in this case the magic of high tech. A lot of the high-level employees I spoke to in the auditorium that day were people who had become millionaires before they had turned thirty (thanks to Google Stock), mainly by pushing pixels around a screen with a mouse, that is, by making computer magic. They had magically become rich by making magic. Naturally, then, they were true believers in tech magic, and also, by extension, believers that any problem facing the human race could be fixed by applying tech magic.

The attitude Kunstler describes is permeating the masses in the west. It’s reasonable to assume that the advances in technology available to the general public in wealthier nations is partly to blame. Twenty-five years ago there was Nintendo, and now there is Playstation 4. Before either, kids played outside. Twenty-five years ago the cordless phone was a wonder, and now you can tweet your musings on a touch screen smart phone from pretty much anywhere. Yes, computer technology has advanced quickly and has been dispersed to wealthier masses. At the same time, Hollywood has applied this technology to story telling, creating visual spectacles which can make the imaginary seem very real. The problem with this, is that stories on the screen which themselves describe constant advancement in technology come to life in the minds of the audience members who come to believe they aren’t witnessing fiction, but a commercial for the world of tomorrow. Finally, life in the modern middle class west is in so many ways separated from the foundations of these advances. People who have access to yearly upgraded smart phones never see the regions of land deforested and strip mined to gain access to a mineral. They don’t live in the sacrifice zones where fossil fuel is refined so that a rocket can put a satellite into space. They are privy to almost none of the miserable labor that makes any of these technologies possible. That’s what makes technology oh so magical – because it appears out of nowhere. One day it just shows up at a Sprint store and then it’s yours! The witches brew of dead migratory birds, dead gorillas, dead forests, dead rivers, and dead people that made such magical technology possible is never seen or tasted.

This magical attitude is a byproduct of living in a nation that exports currency and forces the world to accept it at the barrel of a gun. In a nation where none of the “doing” happens, a mere hypothesis is just as good as a completely implemented and functioning process. It is impossible to have a productive conversation about the myriad costs of any one technology, let alone all technologies, with someone who thinks in plug-and-play fashion. Mention global declining net energy, and they will say “algae,” “hemp,” or “solar,” as if the problem isn’t complex and nuanced, but merely a lack of suggestions of things that we can burn. Mention declining stores of materials or the ecocide involved in getting at them, and they will say “asteroid mines” or “3-D printers,” as if just coming up with something conceptually is the first and last step towards making it a reality. Time after time I have tried to describe the depth of modern agriculture and its drawbacks; fossil fuel dependence, top soil depletion, chemical run off, destruction of bioregions, pollinator kill off, etc. and with near unanimity the response is a vague mix of the words “permaculture” and “cloning.” Of course, this is from people who have never gotten one potato to pop out of the dirt.

Last week in North Carolina the Dan River had thirty thousand tons of coal ash spilled into it when a pipe burst beneath a containment pond. In the last month there have been two massive leaks of toxic chemicals in rivers in West Virginia, one of which poisoned the water source for over three hundred thousand people. It was discovered just the other day that the Wanapum dam in Washington state has a sixty-five foot crack in it. Toss in recent incident after incident in which natural gas pipelines have exploded and oil pipelines have burst, and I cannot help but think about upkeep.

When people speak of the future and all of the things humans will be able to create, rarely do they consider all of the things humans have already created which need constant upkeep and maintenance in order to not fail critically. In his short film about hydraulic fracturing, Josh Fox details the necessity of concrete gas well casings to last indefinitely in order to prevent gas from seeping into groundwater. Fox goes on to document that these concrete well casings last on average for twenty years.

Many of us have owned a car, and we know that over time, the damn thing falls apart. Metal rusts, fluids leak, components fail, and in general entropy wreaks havoc until we realize that it makes more sense to scrap the vehicle than to try to repair it. Industrial civilization is our collective jalopy.

Speaking of cars, according to USA Today:

An Associated Press analysis of 607,380 bridges in the most recent federal National Bridge Inventory showed that 65,605 were classified as “structurally deficient” and 20,808 as “fracture critical.” Of those, 7,795 were both — a combination of red flags that experts say indicate significant disrepair and similar risk of collapse.

And these are just the bridges. Transporting all of our techo-gadetry, let alone our food, will require roads. Roads require constant repair. Repairing roads requires petroleum powered vehicles and well fed crews. As it stands, the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2013 “report card” for the US gave the roads a “D.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers also graded the water mains. They are apparently in about the same crappy shape that the roads are, as they were also given a “D.” Every year there are 240,000 water main breaks, which comes to about six hundred and fifty or so per day. The power grid on which all of the “World of tomorrow” fantasy technology will clearly rely was given a “D+” by the ASCE.

Of course, we could all scratch out a living without highways, water mains, and electricity, but what becomes downright concerning is the breakdown of existing infrastructure that can be fatal. How are the US’s nuclear power plants holding up? According to an Associated Press investigation into the aging of US nuclear reactors:

Federal regulators have been working closely with the US nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them. Time after time, officials at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards. Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes — all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident. Yet despite the many problems linked to aging, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years, even as the NRC has extended the licenses of dozens of reactors.

Add in the chemical weapons storage depots, the bio-warfare weapons depots, the thousands of chemical plants, fertilizer plants, oil wells, refineries, nuclear research facilities, nuclear warships and nuclear waste storage facilities, and it becomes hard to fathom how a point won’t come when a large portion of human effort won’t be dedicated to merely maintaining what civilization has built while attempting to mitigate disasters caused by aging and dilapidated infrastructure. All of this while trying to grow a civilization and its technological capacity as fish stocks disappear from the rapidly acidifying oceans and top soil blows away from drought parched and poorly managed fields.

—-

To believe in the techno-topian future is to ignore the concept of diminishing returns. Physicist Geoffery West gives a Ted Talk in which he demonstrates that living organism operate on a sublinear, bounded growth pattern. What this means is that across the living kingdoms, the larger a being’s mass, the less energy per capita it requires to keep said being alive. Of course, every living being has its optimal size, and no living thing grows forever. West goes on to point out that human cities operate on similar principles, except that their growth is superlinear, and that as populations grow, there is an increase in per capita energy required to maintain these systems. He points out that this makes cities unsustainable without innovation, with the added caveat that the innovations that prevent collapse in cities must also be innovated upon at an ever increasing pace. The question, according to West, is whether or not people can keep up.

Geoffery West also points out in his presentation that the growth of a city not only requires exponentially larger energy inputs, but that it necessarily will have exponentially increased levels of crime, disease, and discontent. Does it then not stand to reason that human innovations which provide the basis for growth also inadvertently sow the seeds of their own destruction? Every new band-aid technology which buys time for industrial civilization is itself a chaotic butterfly flapping its wings. Hydraulic fracturing temporarily offset declines in oil production while also causing Earthquakes, poisoning groundwater, and adding to climate change. Genetically modifying food crops to resist herbicides has led to increased herbicide use which increased the toxicity of ecosystems while simultaneously causing weeds to adapt to these chemicals. Yesterday’s solution becomes today’s problems. Eventually, today’s solution will be tomorrow’s cataclysm.

Of course, standing on a stage with a headset microphone and speaking to a horde of technophiles, I’m sure the on the ground reality of West’s suppositions is lost. Innovation isn’t magic. The resources and supplies that make innovation possible are not limitless. Right now, global net energy is on the decline. New sources of energy from “tight oil” plays to solar panels do not add more energy than is lost as conventional petroleum fields reach and pass their production peaks. Nor are the inventions of humankind timeless. An innovation may bring temporary gains, but then like a nuclear power plant or a gas well, the innovations themselves require ever increasing amounts of upgrades and repairs. This ever quickening race up an ever steeper slope is not one industrial man can win. In the interim, a particular class of human runs this race while throwing larger and larger swaths of everyone else into the furnace of development. When the eventual breaking point is reached, not only will civilization lose its ability to innovate and grow, it will lose it’s ability to contain its slumbering killers.

Obsolescence

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on May 6, 2015

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Snippet:

http://wealthydebates.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/radio-shack1.jpg…Radio Shack itself filed for Bankruptcy a couple of months ago, and as of today I read the carcass has now been acquired by Sprint for pennies on the dollar. They acquired 1435 Retail Locations now to be rebranded as Sprint stores hawking their wireless communication products. I don;t know if the Radio Shack store here in the Mat Valley is one of the ones they will keep open or not since the total number of locations was around 4000, so it's less than half. I'll have to cruise over there tomorrow and check. Even if they are still open, will they still be selling batteries for my 3-4 year old Samsung Galaxy Mega in a year or two? Will Sprint still be in bizness or acquired by ATT? WTF Knows?

On other fronts, you have your EV Carz, notably the Chevy Volt which GM announced it is discontinuing in its current form through the summer minimum, to be replaced by an All New & Improved Volt which will come out in 2016 I believe, along with a new all Electric Bolt. All electric as opposed to Volts, which are hybrids that have a small ICE engine that recharges a smaller battery pack than the all electrics have to have on board…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

The EMP threat

Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder

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Published on The Economic Collapse on April 6, 2015

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The EMP Threat: All It Would Take Is A Couple Of Explosions To Send America Back To The 1800s

EMP ThreatOur entire way of life can be ended in a single day.  And it wouldn’t even take a nuclear war to do it.  All it would take for a rogue nation or terror organization to bring us to our knees is the explosion of a couple well-placed nuclear devices high up in our atmosphere.  The resulting electromagnetic pulses would fry electronics from coast to coast.  Of course this could also be accomplished without any attack.  Scientists tell us that massive solar storms have hit our planet before, and that it is inevitable that there will be more in the future.  As you will read about below, the most recent example of this was “the Carrington Event” in 1859.  If a similar burst from the sun hit us today, experts tell us that life in America could suddenly resemble life in the 1800s, and the economic damage caused could potentially be in the trillions of dollars.  This is one of the greatest potential threats that we are facing as a nation, and yet Barack Obama has essentially done nothing to get us prepared.

The technology necessary to conduct such an electromagnetic pulse attack against the United States has become much more accessible in recent years.  According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, even rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran either already have or will soon have the capability to hurt us in this way…

Rogue nations such as North Korea (and possibly Iran) will soon match Russia and China and have the primary ingredients for an EMP attack: simple ballistic missiles such as Scuds that could be launched from a freighter near our shores; space-launch vehicles able to loft low-earth-orbit satellites; and simple low-yield nuclear weapons that can generate gamma rays and fireballs.

If a successful, large scale EMP attack ever did take place, it would be a catastrophe beyond anything that the United States has ever seen before.  The EMP Commission, which was established by Congress, says that it is likely that most of us would end up dead

What would a successful EMP attack look like? The EMP Commission, in 2008, estimated that within 12 months of a nationwide blackout, up to 90% of the U.S. population could possibly perish from starvation, disease and societal breakdown.

In 2009 the congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, whose co-chairmen were former Secretaries of Defense William Perry and James Schlesinger, concurred with the findings of the EMP Commission and urged immediate action to protect the electric grid. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Intelligence Council reached similar conclusions.

If you are a terrorist, a dictator or a fanatic that is looking for a “killshot” for the United States, those kinds of numbers would certainly get your attention.

And it was recently reported by WND that the Iranian military has already been playing around with such a scenario…

Peter Vincent Pry, who is executive director of a congressional advisory group called the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, raised the alarm as the agreement is about to be finalized.

He said U.S. military officials have confirmed such an Iranian plan.

“Iranian military documents describe such a scenario – including a recently translated Iranian military textbook that endorses nuclear EMP attack against the United States,” Pry wrote in a recent column in Israel’s main online media network, Aruz Sheva.

“Iran with a small number of nuclear missiles can by EMP attack threaten the existence of modernity and be the death knell of Western principles of international law, humanism and freedom,” he said.

Very chilling stuff.

And of course there are many, many others out there that would love to see the U.S. taken down other than just the Iranians.

Meanwhile, our power grid is far more vulnerable than most Americans would dare to imagine.

In previous articles, I discussed a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report which stated the following…

“Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.”

Are you starting to get the picture?

Our entire way of life depends upon electricity.  If you take away that electricity, our society is transformed literally overnight.

A successful EMP would be an utter nightmare for this nation.  Just consider what U.S. Representative Scott Perry had to say about a potential attack last year

The consequences of such an attack could be catastrophic; all electronics, power systems, and information systems could be shut down,” Rep. Scott Perry said in prepared remarks during an EMP hearing in May held by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security. “This could then cascade into interdependent infrastructures such as water, gas, and telecommunications. While we understand this is an extreme case, we must always be prepared in case a rogue state decides to utilize this technology.”

In essence, suddenly nothing would work and just about everything that we take for granted would suddenly be gone.

In a previous article, I spelled out some of the implications of such an event…

-There would be no heat for your home.
-Water would no longer be pumped into most homes.
-Your computer would not work.
-There would be no Internet.
-Your phones would not work.
-There would be no television.
-There would be no radio.
-ATM machines would be shut down.
-There would be no banking.
-Your debit cards and credit cards would not work.
-Without electricity, most gas stations would not be functioning.
-Most people would be unable to do their jobs without electricity and employment would collapse.
-Commerce would be brought to a standstill.
-Hospitals would not be able to function normally.
-You would quickly start running out of medicine.
-All refrigeration would shut down and frozen foods in our homes and supermarkets would start to go bad.

And as I mentioned above, all of this can happen even without an attack.

A direct hit from a major solar storm can cause the exact same thing.

In fact, NASA says that there is a 12 percent chance that such a storm will hit us during the next ten years…

NASA is warning that there’s a 12 percent chance an extreme solar storm will hit Earth in the next decade, sending out massive shock waves that would knock out grids across the world.

The economic impact of this doomsday scenario could exceed $2 trillion — or 20 times the cost of Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

In recent years, we have been really lucky.

There was a close call in 2012 and another one in 2013.

The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book that I have co-authored with Barbara Fix that will soon be published entitled “Get Prepared Now”…

Most people have absolutely no idea that the Earth barely missed being fried by a massive EMP burst from the sun in 2012 and in 2013. And earlier in 2014 there was another huge solar storm which would have caused tremendous damage if it had been directed at our planet. If any of those storms would have directly hit us, the result would have been catastrophic. Electrical transformers would have burst into flames, power grids would have gone down and much of our technology would have been fried. In essence, life as we know it would have ceased to exist – at least for a time. These kinds of solar storms have hit the Earth many times before, and experts tell us that it is inevitable that it will happen again. The most famous one happened in 1859, and was known as the Carrington Event. But other than the telegraph, humanity had very little dependence on technology at the time. If another Carrington Event happened today, it would be a complete and utter nightmare. A study by Lloyd’s of London has concluded that it would have taken a $2,600,000,000,000 chunk out of the global economy, and it would take up to a decade to repair the damage. Unfortunately, scientists insist that it is going to happen at some point. The only question is when.

So keep an eye on the sun.

The giant ball of fire that we revolve around has started to behave very erratically, and it has the power to end our way of life at any time.

In fact, scientists tell us that we are about to get hit with a “glancing blow” on April 7th…

A filament of magnetism stretching halfway across the sun erupted during the late hours of April 4th (22:00-23:00 UT). The eruption split the sun’s atmosphere, hurling a CME into space and creating a “canyon of fire,” shown in a movie recorded by the Solar Dynamics Observatory: The glowing walls of the canyon trace the original channel where the filament was suspended by magnetic forces above the sun’s surface. From end to end, the structure stretches more than 300,000 km–a real Grand Canyon.

Fragments of the exploding filament formed the core of a CME that raced away from the sun at approximately 900 km/s (2 million mph): image. Most of the CME will miss Earth, but not all. The cloud is expected to deliver a a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field could on April 7th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

The event of April 7th is not going to cause us major problems.  But someday there will be a solar storm that will.

Personally, I cannot even imagine what life would be like without electricity.

Because we have become so deeply dependent on technology, most of us would have absolutely no idea how to live without it.

An electromagnetic pulse attack would be one of the fastest ways to cripple America and end the dominance of the United States in world affairs.  And in this day and age, there are hundreds of millions of people around the planet that would love to see that happen.

So to not take steps to protect our power grid from such an attack is very foolish.  But that is precisely what Barack Obama (and presidents before him) have chosen to do.  We have technology which would mitigate the damage from an electromagnetic pulse, but rather than spend the money Obama has decided to just hope that it will never happen.

Up to this point, we have been fortunate.

But someday, our luck may run out.

Lemminged

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on September 1, 2014

Can we escape the siren’s blue light? (photo © Mopic, adapted by ASC)

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According to an Associated Press article,

Fish don’t know they’re living in water, nor do they stop to wonder where the water came from. Humans? Not much better, as we share a world engulfed by television. And the deeper our immersion becomes, the less likely it seems we’ll poke our heads above the surface and see there must have been life before someone invented TV.

Those are the opening words to the article “The Forgotten Edison of Television” which recounts the little known history of the television and its inventor Philo Farnsworth. Far from being a household name like a Thomas Edison or an Alexander Graham Bell, Farnsworth lived and died in relative obscurity in regards to being recognized as the inventor of television.

Unlike the flatscreen LCD and plasma televisions that are all the rage today, the no-longer ubiquitous cathode ray-tube-based television (those bulky TVs with the big bulge at the back) is based on an idea of Farnsworth’s whereby a series of combined horizontal lines would produce an image. The first demonstration by the self-taught inventor came in 1927 at the age of twenty-one when he transmitted the image of a single line to a receiver in the next room, while the first image ever transmitted was, lo and behold, a dollar sign. Illuminating factoids aside, what particularly interests me is the locale in which Farnsworth first got his idea.

[A]s a 14-year-old Idaho farm boy and math whiz… [h]e had been plowing a field [with draft horses] when, with a jolt, he realized an image could be scanned by electrons the same way: row by horizontal row.

No doubt, having formerly been an aspiring filmmaker myself and now an aspiring farmer of sorts, I was astonished to learn that it was horse-drawn farming methodologies that inspired the idea for television. For not only that, but years earlier I’d already learned that in 1877 American photographer Eadweard Muybridge had lined up twenty-four still-cameras to take a sequence of photographs of a horse trotting by, a tripwire being utilized to set off a motorized timer (the point of the exercise was to settle a bet of whether or not all four of a horse’s hooves were air-borne at the same time). Muybridge eventually combined various sequences as such onto revolving disks (known as “moving pictures,” the “zoographiscope,” etc.), and with these stop-action photos created the precursor for what we now call “motion pictures,” or, “film.”

So put aside the need for some melodramatic analogy describing our departure from the land to urbanized (and even rural) couch potato settings. Likewise, you can forget all those studies describing the dwindling amount of farmers that are left, and there’s no need to compare all that to the amount of hours of television and other media we and our children consume every day and the amount of advertising we get exposed to by the time we finish our teen years. For while the transition is only vaguely evident in the creation of film, it is strikingly blatant in Farnsworth himself, the location and means by which he got his idea, and the kind of exodus from the land that although having already been going on since the introduction of fossil fuels about a century and a half earlier, was influenced to expand even further.

As evidence over the succeeding years has shown, it is arguable that nothing has proven more adept than television at distracting and removing us from things than tangibly matter in the world. But what television is best at doing is transforming us into passive viewers disinclined to involve ourselves with improving the political, social, and economic conditions we live amongst, something that no amount of “community programming” could ever hope to overcome. For regardless of the content (which is essentially filler for advertisements), since television isolates people from one another and precludes social interaction and conversation, it is thus a large contributor to the destruction of community participation and family life. Similarly, while isolating us not only from one another but also from the natural world, it’s hard to imagine how we could ever have much informed concern about environmental issues when we lack much, if any, direct connection. As Michael and Joyce Huesemann put it in their book Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment,

Even if the message on TV is pro-environmental, TV viewing is intrinsically anti-environmental because it provides a substitute for experiencing nature first hand and because it encourages passivity, thereby undermining interest in environmental activism. In addition, because electronic media are able to make consumer products seem “more alive than people,” it is inherently biased toward materialistic consumerism, which is one of the causes of the environmental crisis.

So regardless of the content, television has abetted the creation of an increasingly unself-sufficient people who are not only sedentary and dependent upon professionals to entertain them, but are also complacent and acquiescent to the required advertising necessary to pay for the expensive technologies and equipment. In its own way, television has done its part in increasing the size of big business and contributing to the centralization of power in our societies, as well as in creating an increasingly consumerist and considerably helpless people who are thoroughly convinced they must continue buying more and more needless things.

Since the mass production of consumer goods requires mass consumption to keep the machines running, television – and thus mass advertising and mass media – has played a leading role in promoting and upholding these values. CEO Lowry Mays of Clear Channel, a media conglomerate with 900 radio stations in the US, plainly stated that “[w]e’re not in the business of providing news and information… We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.” Since television exists in a similar vein of selling what are mostly unneeded products, it’s fair to say then that what television props up is essentially a false economy, done so under false pretences.

The greatest accomplishment of television then has been to pass itself off as a conveyor of entertainment, news, and occasionally ideas, since its real purpose has been to maintain an audience receptive to commercial advertising; or rather, it doesn’t so much advertise products as much as it promotes consumption as a way of life. By bombarding audiences with an array of subtle and not-so-subtle messages aimed at breeding dissatisfaction in themselves, their cultures, and their values, the ultimate goal of television has been to convince people that human needs such as creativity, compassion, understanding, freedom, leisure and security can be replaced and satisfied through material consumption – and when that doesn’t work, to consume more.

In a similar sense, I recall being told by some seed savers in New Zealand that boredom has to be taught, a condition adored by consumer society since it allows for a person to be easily stimulated by the market. As author William Deresiewicz puts it in an essay from the book Digital Divide,

Suburbanization, by eliminating the stimulation as well as the sociability of urban or traditional village life, exacerbated the tendency to both [boredom and loneliness]. But the great age of boredom, I believe, came in with television, precisely because television was designed to palliate that feeling. Boredom is not a necessary consequence of having nothing to do; it is only the negative experience of that state. Television, by obviating the need to learn how to make use of one’s lack of occupation, precludes one from ever discovering how to enjoy it. In fact, it renders that condition fearsome, its prospect intolerable. You are terrified of being bored – so you turn on the television.

Since I don’t want to be accused of favouritism, let me say then that I see little difference between television and film, not simply because of their similarly high overhead costs, their digitization and melding with the Internet, the embedding of advertising in films, nor simply because of the narcissistic fervour that they both exist amongst. Rather, I see little difference between them due to film’s similar manner of undermining our sense of reality, whereby images of reality vicariously substitute for reality itself and the real world doesn’t so much turn more and more into what we are shown on screens, but that our interaction with the world is subverted by technologies whose expectations of us are to consume an incessant diet of images. The result is the abetment of an overly visual culture, not just from that of screens, but through our acceptance of being goaded with visuals that bombard our everyday lives. (Thus the academic term “simulacra” hardly even begins to address the issue.)

Our coddling by the film & television industries becomes all the more pertinent when we begin to ponder how long into this post peak oil world of ours will the film and television industries continue to be financially viable, and frankly, how much longer they’re going to exist for. But a less alarmist and a more useful question to consider is whether or not, as ardent watchers of film and television, we’re going to have the psyches and the needed time to make the changes to ourselves and our societies in order to address the realities of peak oil and other looming resource shortages. In other words, would it not be wiser to be more attuned to the tangible world rather than the vicarious world?

The co-founder and president of The Land Institute, Wes Jackson, has stated that “we need to leave the use of fossil fuels in agriculture before fossil fuels leave us.” If we’re to achieve such a transition, then for various reasons (which won’t be elaborated upon in this blog post), I think it’s fair to say then that we similarly need to leave film and television before film and television leave us.

To put things in perspective, a little history lesson and an addition to the English dictionary:

Do lemmings go to heaven? (photo © Cica1983, adapted by ASC)

While it’s commonly believed that lemmings – little rodents – commit mass suicide by voluntarily marching off cliffs, this “fact” is completely untrue. Turns out that in 1958, and as part of the True Life Adventure series, Walt Disney Studios produced a “documentary” called White Wilderness. While the sequence filmed in Alberta apparently looks convincing (so I’ve read), not only do lemmings not reside in Alberta and so had to be brought in from Manitoba, but the little rodents were actually herded off the edge if not thrown over the cliff by the filmmakers themselves. I thus propose the new verb lemminged, which shall henceforth be defined not only as “to be herded and/or thrown off a cliff by filmmakers,” but, and to add some present-day context, “to be herded and/or thrown off the peak oil cliff by filmmakers.”

p.s. That film with the lemmings in it? It went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

‘Nuff said.

Distraction, Surveillance, Peak Oil and the End of the Internet

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on August 1, 2014

 What happens to our computers when there’s little to nothing left to power them with? (photo © Americanspirit)

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights table inside the Diner

With this article, the Diner introduces a new  Cross Posting Blogger, Allan Stromfeldt Christensen from the blog From Filmers to Farmers.A former filmmaker now turned farmer (as the title of his blog suggests), Allan has been concerned with the issues of Technology and Peak Oil for a long time, but just recently relented in his quest to divorce himself from the Techno Age to begin his blog, basically as a promotional means to get the more traditional Book Writing thing going.He sent me one of his blogs to cross post, and after looking through his fairly new website his perspectives are ones often discussed on the Diner, so I will catch up here on the blogs chronologically, which begin in August of 2014.Allan has actually appeared on the Diner before, in a photograph taken at the Age of Limits conference in 2013, which one of the Diners also attended.  He’s the guy on the left with the Pencil in his ear.

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Allan should be available inside the Diner to discuss his perspectives and experiences thusfar as we move down the Collapse Highway. -RE

Let me be upfront about one thing: I don’t particularly want to be writing this blog. But as I am an unpublished writer completing his first book in this early twenty-first century of ours, for what should be obvious reasons, I am.

Why don’t I particularly want to be writing this blog?

For one, I’m not a very big fan of the Internet, and beginning in mid-2008 had spent more than five years (mostly) not using it – nor computers in general. To be more specific, I did still use computers at libraries to access their catalogues, after three years I did very sparingly start using email again, and after the fourth year I did occasionally ask a few people to look up various pieces of information for me online. (To be more specific, I wrote the first draft of my manuscript by hand, edited on top of that with a red pen to complete the second draft, typed that out on a circa-1930s Remington typewriter, then had an ever helpful cousin of mine transcribe that over to a computer for me.)

Secondly, when I say I “mostly” didn’t use the Internet, I’m fully aware how intertwined our lives are with the online world and the virtual impossibility of completely separating oneself from it. In this flush-happy modern world of ours, I have no doubt that the chlorine in the drinking water used to make my bodily “waste” go away was purchased, ordered, and delivered by services dependent on the Internet, and that the lever on the toilet might as well have been an “enter” button (or better yet, an “out of sight, out of mind” button).

Nonetheless, my abstention was significant enough to note, but upon moving to a new city in late-2013, where I knew no one, I of course couldn’t go about repeatedly asking my new housemates to give me a hand with various online activities – buying a used desk, chair, bookshelves, etc. So after a five and a half year hiatus I acquiesced, and since November 2013 I’ve been back online. (Note to prospective publishers interested in contacting me about writing a cutesy My 280 Weeks Without the Internet book – forget about it.)

In hindsight, and particularly in regards to writing the manuscript for From Filmers to Farmers, I can now see that abstaining from the Internet is the best thing I could have done those six or so years ago. I’ll digress.

Although I suppose that largely abstaining from the Internet for five and a half years is something someone would do for either highly ideological reasons or to perhaps secure a fat advance from a New York City book publisher (again, please don’t contact me), the rather anti-climactic reason for why I began my hiatus was little more than the result of a gut feeling. I suppose I was always irked by the fossil fuels I had to burn through in order to do a bit of online reading, my contribution to the destruction of the ecosphere in order to mine the rare earth elements necessary for the construction of my computer (partaken on my behalf by multinational corporations), as well as the amount of Asian coolies I used by proxy in order to assemble my computer’s components and all the others that made the network possible. So sure, although that stuff and more often went through my head, it wasn’t as if some moral epiphany had suddenly washed over me. Instead, having given up filmmaking – and so film and video cameras – a few years earlier, it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do in the natural progression of things.

It wasn’t until I was about two years into my hiatus (which, for all I knew, was going to last my whole life) that I got a strong confirmation for what I was doing. This came courtesy of what I think is not only the best book that has been written about the Internet, but the best book that can be written about the Internet. That would be Nicolas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I won’t give a summation here, but I will point out that the book provides ample scientific evidence of how the Internet hampers our minds from thinking very creatively or deeply, and that multitasking is much more of a hindrance than a benefit to our thought processes and productivity.

Although I didn’t expect it to be so blatant, Carr’s conclusions became readily obvious to me in the final half a year of my hiatus when I increasingly asked other people to open various webpages for me. And not only did I continue to access library catalogues, but I also began to heavily peruse the catalogues of online booksellers. As my usage increased I noticed my ability to concentrate on my research and note-taking significantly deteriorating, and I went from being able to sit down for hours at a time at the library to repeatedly “needing” to get up and log onto a computer, only to end up tapping away at the refresh button on my email account with repeated fruitless clicks. Not only that, but all this occurred even though I was readily aware that virtually nobody ever emailed me except for a few seed saving organizations I had joined and/or volunteered with, as well as various unsolicited organizations that repeatedly sent me what I presume were targeted emails with offers of various pills and other concoctions that promised to increase the size of my “member” (to this day I’m still not sure how the Internet and all its devious algorithms deciphered that well-kept secret of mine – curses that darn NSA!)

Anyway, having now jumped back onto the Internet bandwagon full-force (minus online video), my ability to sit down and concentrate on the research for my manuscript has been decimated. At best my work output is somewhere between a third and a half of what it used to be, and not simply because I spend a half to two-thirds less time at my work and in front of a computer instead; while I used to be able to read a book for hours on end, a half an hour is now an accomplishment for me. Similarly, when I’m sitting down at work the productivity just isn’t there anymore, more and more of my time being spent twirling my pen between my fingers and daydreaming about nothing of importance, probably deep down anticipating when I’m going to give in and let myself get up and log onto a computer again. And for what, you may ask? To log into my email account and find out that no one has emailed me; to discover that my website has had no new visitors since I last checked; and to perhaps visit one of the two news portals I peruse and read a few fairly interesting articles on energy supplies and/or about the latest tit-for-tat resource war shenanigans between those nations vying for the remaining dregs in this early peak oil era of ours.

In fact, this very website you’re on is the product of the distraction I’m talking about. While it’s hard to deny that the kind of book that I, an unknown writer, am writing in this modern era pretty much requires a website for promotional reasons, I also can’t deny that the construction of the site provided ample fodder for me to feed into my newfound Internet reliance (unless addiction isn’t too strong of a word). I spent about a month on and off building it, which included teaching myself how to code HTML and CSS, as well as how to manipulate (but mostly just copy and paste) JavaScript, PHP and Ajax that other people had coded. (I did this on a loaner as I don’t own a computer and haven’t bought one since I purchased a brand new Apple G4 back in 2000, and which was disposed of years ago.) When I then tried to take myself away from coding my site in order to work on the prep work for my last draft, I found my mind repeatedly unable to concentrate very well, it probably having gotten too used to the hyper-stimulated environment of clicking and jumping between links and pages on the Internet (again, see The Shallows).

That’s one of my two main gripes with the Internet. The other, contrary to what gets bandied about in fashionable circles today, has nothing to do with net neutrality or the whole Snowden/NSA brouhaha. For what concerns me is the longevity of the Internet, and what its demise portends for a civilization that without it, for one, would barely have any idea what to do with its own feces.

Let me be quick to point out that when I say “demise” I don’t refer to some imminent coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun or an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) unleashed by some rogue nation, both of which could theoretically cripple electronic infrastructures in an instant and usher entire societies into utter chaos virtually overnight. No. What I’m talking about is the slow and comparatively uneventful demise of the Internet due to peaking supplies of oil, other forms of energy, and the rare earth elements required for construction of the computers and the rest of the paraphernalia that makes up the Internet. In other words, not an overnight crash, but the decades-long slip into the up-and-coming dark ages.

As put in one of author John Michael Greer’s excellent peak oil books, The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered,

To suggest that the Internet will turn out to be, not the wave of the future, but a relatively short-lived phenomenon on the crest of the age of cheap abundant energy, is to risk running headlong into the logic of abundance… It’s essential not to get caught up in thinking of how many advantages the Internet might provide to a post-abundance world, because the advantages conferred by the Internet in no way mean that it must continue to exist. The fact that something provides an advantage does not guarantee that it is economically viable.

So while issues of online privacy and access may at best offer a passing interest to me, what really concerns me is how our uber-dependent society is going to manage without its ever-present www intravenous (or to be more specific, without cheap energy). How many businesses are you aware of that would still be able to function, or even know how to function, without the Internet? How about their suppliers? The transportation system which they rely on? It ends up being not much of a joke to wonder how long our porcelain goddesses would continue to woosh away, regardless of them not having a direct connection to the digital realm.

Falling through the looking glass (photo © Rangizzz, adapted by ASC)

Not exactly a topic du jour amongst polite company, how many of us are talking about this? Does Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State address any of this? No. Does Mr. Snowden? Not that I’ve read. Does The New York Times, The Toronto Star, The Melbourne Age? Fat chance of that. Even read through eco-oriented magazines and some peak oil writings and it’s not uncommon to come across pronouncements of the Internet as harbinger of a post-carbon era where a world of diverse local communities is bound together through the deliverance of ones and zeroes. I’m not sure if I should then call it a sad fact or not, but I suppose it should come as no surprise that pretty much all of what’s been written about the Internet’s demise exists, of all places, on the Internet.

Conscious of the fact that most of us seem to be giddily sleepwalking over the edge like a mob of true believers, I see no good reason why I should (re)create too much of a dependency on the Internet, it probably being a good idea to ween oneself and one’s community away from it as much as feasible. What kind of a timeline am I talking about here? Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea, but I certainly don’t expect the Internet as we know it to be around for the duration of my lifetime. (That being said, I think it’s fair to say that when the Internet does start to go down, for various reasons it’ll be rural areas that lose their connections first.)

But in the meantime, should we not be concerned with the recent NSA leaks and such? Well, sure, I’ve read 1984. And yes, the surveillance state will probably get significantly more uncomfortable for many of us before its existence is significantly threatened by the diminishing returns of a post peak oil world. But nonetheless, from what I can tell there’s absolutely nothing revelationary that the recent NSA leaks have pointed out (either because you’ve already read books by James Bamford and such, or you simply applied common sense), while the repeated libertarian cries for digital rights amount to what are basically little more than shrill cries of fossil fuelled privilege, the demands all the more delusional when we consider the Internet’s inherent bias towards surveillance. (Erroneous talk of technological neutrality is fodder for another blog post, along with another about our ever-ridiculous technological optimism. But those parts of the manuscript need to be elaborated upon before they can be copied and pasted to this blog.)

I’ll never forget that day I first read about the NSA leaks, a friend of mine later that evening whipping out his cellphone and showing me the PRISM logo, followed by some unpleasant words about being spied upon. Concluding our conversation, my friend then turned to his fiancé and said, “come on honey, let’s go set up your new media box” (a device with which to watch digital content on a television set). Frankly, I don’t think I could sum up my feelings more clearly than by quoting from one of the greatest books of this early twenty-first century, Andrew Nikiforuk’s The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude: “The people on fossil fuels [are] perhaps the most narcissistic and bankrupt cohort in the history of the species.”

And never mind the problems within a digital world, what about the problems outside of the digital world? Do you have any idea of the hassle and interrogation one gets crossing an international border when customs finds out that you don’t own a cellphone? (Hello Australia and the US!)

In summation, what should be the real story of importance here is not privacy rights or equal access to the Internet’s transmission lines, but what – if anything – our preparation for the Internet’s demise will be.

Update 01/01/2015: So as to not give the impression that I’m some computer-coding whiz kid, I’ll point out that at the end of 2014 I did spend another month on-and-off fiddling around with the website, as well as figuring out how to build a site for mobile phones (which I somewhat did). Although I still don’t own a computer and did all the coding on a friend’s netbook and on library computers, I do now own a cellphone. That is, a friend gave me his spare iPhone 4 so that I could build the mobile site. But that being said, I don’t have a SIM card, and so no mobile number either.

Technophilia

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on October 28,2014

schrodinger

Discuss this Rant at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner

Are you a Technophile?  Think Flying Carz and Hovering Skateboards are in your Future?  You might want to reconsider this idea…

Snippet:

http://www.blogcdn.com/green.autoblog.com/media/2007/01/jetsons.jpg…So for today I am going to look at a more theoretical Doom Problem, the Cornucopian/ Technophile idea that not only can we resolve our energy problems through more advanced technology, we can even go on to live the Jetsons Lifestyle,with the Flying Carz, Robot Servants and all the rest of the techno-shit served up here since the 1964 World’s Fair at least, but probably going back at least as far as the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Who FUNDS those World’s Fairs anyhow? Basically they have all been a Pitch for further Industrialization ever since they were initiated, a Celebration of the brilliance in accessing gobs of energy and using it to create such revolutionary living devices as the Iphone.

Every device we currently use and in many cases depend on was first promoted at some World’s Fair, from Carz to Airplanes right up to Video Phones, which just about everyone in the industrialized world now carries in his or her pocket courtesy of Apple or Samsung. So many of the devices first envisioned by Sci Fi writers like Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov and promoted at World’s Fair’s have come into REAL existence, that the general belief amongst the population is that in the course of due time, ALL of them will become available, like the Flying Cars yet to make the scene, or Fusion Power also off in the indeterminate distance, not to mention the Star Trek Food Replicators and Transporters which dissolve your body into Information to be reconstituted somewhere else in the universe along with Schrodinger’s Cat, neither Dead or Alive once you arrive, or both at the same time perhaps. LOL…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

“Climate March” Hides Real Culprits and Real Solutions

Off the keyboard of Anthony Cartalucci

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Published on Land Destroyer on September 21, 2014

climate_change_action_protest-537x356

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Climate march is silly at best – dangerously counterproductive at worst.


September 21, 2014 (Tony Cartalucci – LocalOrg) – Big business and the big political parties and politicians they own have converged in what is being disingenuously called the “People’s Climate March.”  MSNBC would report in an article titled, “The largest climate march in history kicks off in New York,” that:

They’re calling it the largest mobilization against climate change in the history of the planet. On Sunday morning, protesters from all over the United States and the world are converging on Manhattan to demand that global leaders take action to avert catastrophic climate change. Earlier this week Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental group 350.org, projected that the march would consist of “hundreds of thousands” of participants.

Not surprisingly little in terms of actual solutions are mentioned by the organizers and instead the march is meant to set the stage for political and financial deals to be made at the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, France. Organizing the march are institutions funded by the very governments and corporate-financier special interests that have helped create devastating environmental and socioeconomic disasters across the planet over the past several decades in the first place.

Also involved are profiteers who have taken advantage of the general population’s genuine concern for the environment to propose and benefit from scams consisting of everything from land-grabbing thousands of acres in Africa to peddling “carbon credits” and other financial gimmicks that make immense profits from doing literally nothing at all in terms of production and by creating a false sense of security, may even be compounding environmental catastrophes.

For those drawn to such “marches” and who are dismayed or disillusioned by the disingenuous nature of those trying to hijack their good intentions to peddle self-serving political and financial gimmicks, what can they do to develop and actually make good on the vague promises being made during this year’s “People’s Climate March?”

The Climate Always Changes – We Must Always Be Prepared 

The climate is always changing, and nearly everything human beings and nature do, both on Earth and beyond it, has an impact on it. A changing climate, like earthquakes and volcanoes driven by the constantly changing geological state of our planet, or diseases that sweep animal and human populations amid a perpetual biological arms race, will be a challenge humanity will always have to face.

Of course, human activity has an impact on the climate. The construction of our cities creates microclimates, emissions change the constitution of our atmosphere – regardless of how much or little – contributing to a much greater array of natural and anthropocentric variables that collectively drive and change the planet’s climate, among other things.

Image: Late Cretaceous period saw CO2 levels many times higher than they are today, with higher sea levels and Antarctica covered in temperate forests and teaming with dinosaurs. The climate has shifted radically long before humanity rose, and will continue to change regardless of what we do. We can prepare for it, minimize our impact on it, but we cannot stop it. 

Additionally, there is no way to predict with certainty, nor manipulate reliably the climate – at least not with the technology we currently possess – and surely not with the political solutions pushed forward by the very corporate-financier special interests staging stunts like the “People’s Climate March.”

While reducing humanity’s impact on the planet should be one of many goals we collectively pursue, even if we managed to reduce our impact to zero, the climate would still change, and would still change for both the better and for the worse of the ecosystems that inhabit this planet. Evolutionary, astronomical, and geological processes have all contributed to massive extinction events. Humanity must understand that the only way to truly protect this planet is not to “stop climate change,” which is impossible, but rather hedge and protect against it  through innovations that can weather climatic changes no matter what they may be or what may be driving them.

In many ways, agriculture itself is an expression of this. So is exploration and architecture. Continuing along the road of these evolving disciplines will give us the tools we need to always be prepared no matter what the climate throws at us.

Reducing Humanity’s Impact on the Environment 

Reducing humanity’s impact is a topic that in fact does get brought up by the ringleaders of the climate change movement. However, their vision of the future is one where the population lives in utter austerity under a planetary regime but a handful control. Left unscathed are the corporate-financier special interests that will create this planetary regime that, not surprisingly, will also bestow upon these special interests, unprecedented power, wealth, and influence. And despite the austerity they have planned for the masses, none of their measures seem to address what will happen if the climate continues to change – as it has for millions upon millions of years before humans walked the Earth.

There is an alternative solution that is often never mentioned – one that doesn’t hamstring human progress or demand resource rationing, or the curtailment of energy use or food consumption. It is not political in nature and does not involve one group of people dictating the lives and allowances of others.

It is never mentioned because it would be a direct, coordinated, global decentralization of the big-business monopolies and their socioeconomic and environmentally disastrous supply-chains, factory farms, sweat-shops, and the iron grip they possess over so-called “intellectual property” and research and development in all fields from energy production to biotechnology to medicine and mass transportation.

Local Development 

Local development of, by, and for the people, leveraging technology, open source collaboration, and focusing on pragmatic, technical solutions to our problems, including reducing our impact on the environment and hedging against natural disasters whatever their cause, is indeed the solution.

Consider the journey made by a plastic trinket found on the shelf of Walmart. It began in a sweatshop literally on the other side of the planet, hammered, pressed, painted, packed, and shipped off by people working under slave-like conditions using unhealthy chemicals and processes that would be unacceptable in the West.

The trinkets are driven by trucks to docks where they are placed upon ships that traverse the Earth’s oceans burning tons of diesel fuel, releasing scorching clouds of fumes behind them as they churn up the sea and all life within it. The trinkets arrive on Western shores where they are moved by trucks, vans, or planes from the docks, to distribution centers, to the mega-retail outlet it is finally destined for.

To pick up your trinket, you must drive your car to Walmart, walk beneath hundreds of lights burning sometimes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week over its warehouse-sized consumerist troughs, purchase the trinket, and drive back home.

Consider an alternative – a 3D printer on your desk. Open source designs can be downloaded and shared over the Internet with anyone in the world. Projects can be coordinated between designers and hobbyists anywhere on the planet. When you have obtained or designed the trinket of your choice, you print it out directly on your desktop. There is no car drive, no ships, no trucks, no burning lights over shelf after shelf in a mega-retail outlet. You print exactly what you want, exactly how many you want, without the waste associated with consumerist-driven assembly lines and mass production.

Even the plastic fed into 3D printers can be derived from plant oils grown locally. Plastic and other materials can also be recycled locally. Gone are the sweat shops, truck convoys, merchant fleets, and all the unwarranted power and influence their existence grants the handful of special interests they serve.

The innovations in manufacturing technology that are placing the means of production literally into the hands of the masses will be followed by similar breakthroughs and paradigm shifts in biotechnology, agriculture, and medical technology. Communities are already developing what could be called local collaborative institutions where technology is leveraged to solve the problems and desires of their residents. And while they are “local,” they are by no means isolated. They are connected globally to similar local institutions cropping up across the planet by information technology. Innovations will progress in parallel rather than in secret within the profiteering grip of traditional corporations, governments, and global institutions.

It will be these local institutions that pragmatically put an end to the waste, fraud, and abuse of immense corporate-financier interests and the negative socioeconomic and environmental impact they are demonstrably causing.

Personal manufacturing like 3D printing would do (and is already doing) more alone to undo harmful consumerist practices, faster, and in parallel than any top-down political solution cooked up at the Climate Change Conference in Paris could dream of doing.

What You Should Be Doing Instead of “Marching” 

Instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the very special interests that have created the current global system devouring our planet, activists genuinely concerned with human progress and the health and longevity of our planet’s environment should be shoulder-to-shoulder with local innovators seeking to solve local problems and in parallel with other innovators globally. Local hackerspaces or makerspaces, fabrication laboratories (FabLabs), DIYbio community labs, and other collaborative projects are providing the tools and resources needed to solve problems without the “help” of the very troublemakers that created them in the first place – big business and big government.

Image: Building solutions themselves, rather than begging corporations and
governments to do it for them – local institutions like hackerspaces and
makerspaces set new precedents in how we organize ourselves to work and
solve problems.  

After all, it is local people who understand best the challenges they face socioeconomically and environmentally. They understand the quality of their food, water, and air and what needs to be done to clean it up – not those attending the Climate Change Conference in Paris. And it is local people who will be motivated above all others to truly solve these problems as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

And if we decide not to act locally, and instead defer to politicians to “save us,” we can expect the same tricks and unfulfilled promises politicians make in every other regard. People who are willing to march in the streets, but not dirty their hands to come up with actual solutions to these problems are not genuine in their cause. Others who are willing to get their hands dirty should be spending their time exclusively doing so, rather than encouraging hot air from politicians and their self-enriching gimmicks that will cost us, not aid us in moving humanity forward with our best interests and the planet’s health in mind.

Peak mileage and the diminishing returns of technology

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on August 13, 2014

limits-to-growth

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This graph, from “economonitor,” is very interesting because it contains so much relevant information. (However, note one detail: the title of the graph, “Miles Driven” is somewhat misleading; it should be “mileage”, as the text of the post clearly says.) The relation of mileage to hourly wages is a parameter worth examining because it tells us a lot about the “systemic” efficiency of road transportation. What kind of efficiency can we actually afford?

Now, the graph shows a clear “peak mileage” which occurred around the year 2000, when Americas could afford the highest mileage from their cars in history. It was an efficiency peak of the road transportation system. But then, this efficiency diminished. How can we explain that?

The data of the graph depend on three factors 1) the cost of gasoline, 2) the average hourly wage, and 3) the average mileage of cars. Let see first the behavior of oil prices, which determine gasoline prices.

You see how oil prices spiked twice during the past 50 years, with the first and the second (ongoing) oil shocks. Amazingly, after the start of the first oil crisis, the mileage per hour worked increased, despite the steep price increases. But the opposite took place with the second oil crisis, mileage per hour worked rapidly decreased. Something must have compensated the price increase during the first crisis, but that is not occurring during the second. Why?

Of the other two parameters involved in the mileage curve, hourly wages play only a minor role. In real terms, wages have remained more or less constant in the US since the early 1970s, as you can see in this graph (source: income inequality)

What changed a lot in this period is the technology of cars. The first oil shock in the 1970s was, indeed, a shock. People reacted by actively seeking for technological solutions which would increase the mileage of their cars. And these solutions were easy to find: simply reducing the size and the weight of the monster gas guzzlers of the 1960s did the job. Look at these data (source):

You see how quickly mileage increased throughout the 1970s – it nearly doubled in less than 10 years! And you can see how quickly people forgot about the oil problem once prices collapsed in the second half of the 1980s. The graph also shows that, with the second oil crisis, mileage restarted to increase, but by far not as fast as in the 1970s. There is a reason: it is difficult to optimize something already optimized. This we call ‘diminishing returns of technological progress.”

In the end, it looks like the “peak mileage” of the late 1990s is the real one. In the future, the a combination of factors which led to the peak will never return. Oil depletion is destined to make oil less and less affordable, even though market oscillations may hide this phenomenon. Wages are unlikely to grow in real terms after having been static for the past 40 years. And technological miracles are unlikely. Even the Toyota Prius, technological marvel of our times, can only bring us back to where we were 15 years ago in terms of mileage per hour worked. As long as we remain within the paradigm of “road vehicle powered by a combustion engine” we have reached the limit of what we can do.

The result of the reduced overall efficiency of transportation we can see in this last graph (from advisorperspectives). In the US; people are driving less. Perhaps there are behavioral factors involved, but “peak mileage” suggest that they are doing that because they can’t afford to drive more.

h/t Giorgio Mastrorocco

Tech, Our Children & Our Future

Off the keyboards of the Diners

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Published on the Doomstead Diner June 10, 2014

Kid_phone

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Many of you new Diner Readers may not be aware that all the content of the Diner is not on the WordPress Blog here.  Besides WordPress, we also run a Simple Machines Forum where Diners can hash out topics of interest, start their own threads and even create their own “Micro-Blogs” on the forum without having to go through any of the issues of setting up Blogspot or Worpress Blogs of your own.Below is a recent conversation that took place between the Diners regarding the effects of Internet Technology and Smart Phones on the next generation of Homo Sapiens.We welcome you to join us in these discussions, and bring your own perspectives to the pages of the Doomstead Diner.  Click on the Forum Link on the Top Menu bar, and bring your perspective to bear as we witness the Collapse of Industrial Civilization together, for as long as the Internet lasts.
RE

Offline GypsyMama

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TECH, our children and our future
« on: June 06, 2014, 08:11:08 PM »

I’m currently reading this book:
“The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age”
by Catherine Steiner-Adair EdD.
http://www.amazon.com/The-Big-Disconnect-Protecting-Relationships/dp/0062082426

…and am a bit ANTI Tech at the moment.  I fear for our future as blue hairs… I fear for the freakin’ MENTALITY that is to come for children in our present who will become the “adults” of our future.  I regularly witness parents who ignore their children and coddle their smart phones.  I see toddlers wielding ipads.  I watch parents ticky ticky texty away on their phones while their kids play, un-supervised, as a child should at playgorounds.

I’m sure that parents of the ages before us have griped about the changes they see occurring with the parental youth of our future…but DAMN!  WHAT THE HELL is WRONG with these parents!?!?!?!  Why can’t they just be PRESENT for their children without an addiction to a freakin’ mobile device???

What has social media done to us?

We are losing the ability to communicate, although these folk seem to think  that they MUST link themselves up to their smart phones to “communicate” with their “FRIENDS.”

The book speaks of how our future generations will miss out on cognitive developments that are CRUCIAL to a child’s CHILDHOOD because of DIGITAL DEVICES which are sucking the NATURE out of NURTURE.  Creating apps to “learn about Mother Nature” while sitting next to an indoor window as Mother Nature herself is easily and readily accessible to give these children an UPFRONT and PERSONAL lesson about her if these kids would only drop the screen and GO OUTSIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What the Hell is happening to our culture???

A new leaf has turned in my mind.  I’m a bit frazzled (obviously) and also a bit truthful (on the vino)…but since I can’t freakin’ gripe about it on a SOCIAL MEDIA site, which is, unfortunately, the best way to REACH PEOPLE these days… here I am… gripin’ to you’z diners…since LD has thought of all of this before.  Since I seem to be walking the winding curve of the Nitrous propelled path.  Since no one in Facebookland seems to have a problem with this issue.  Since I’m such a counterculturalist hippie.  Since no one is connected to Nature anymore…

I think this book has flipped a switch within me.

How do you feel that TECH and addiction to “screen time” has/will affect the children of the present and the adults of our future?

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Re: TECH, our children and our future
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2014, 08:25:54 PM »

How do you feel that TECH and addiction to “screen time” has/will affect the children of the present and the adults of our future?

Certainly has made a clusterfuck in the current generation, but it is a temporary phenomenon.  MAX this nonsense has in terms of future lifespan is another 20 years, regardless of what Ray Kurzweil thinks.

It’s just the end stage of what has gone on since Radio first hit the scene in the early 1900s, and people would gather around the new Vacuum Tube Radio sets to listen to The Shadow or George Burns & Gracie Allen.  Then TV came along, and everybody gathered around to watch the bucolic suburban life of Ozzie & Harriet, and receive Parenting Advice from single dads like Fred MacMurray (My Three Sons), Bill Bixby (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), and Brian Keith (A Family Affair).

Now we got the Social Media, sinking to ever new lows all the time.

It is always Darkest Before the Dawn.  This shit won’t last.

RE

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Re: TECH, our children and our future
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2014, 09:09:54 PM »

How do you feel that TECH and addiction to “screen time” has/will affect the children of the present and the adults of our future?

It is always Darkest Before the Dawn.  This shit won’t last.

RE

It is terrifying. Children allowed to have unsupervised access to the wide wide world of the internet.
“Sexting” and bullying without remorse.  A serious lack of empathy.  Dropping vulgar and senseless, hurtful comments onto anothers “wall” through a keyboard so that you don’t have to see the reaction you’re causing the person on the other end of your comment to suffer.

This shit SUCKS.

But you’ve reiterated what LD said to me tonight at the Dinner table…  We’re on the decline.
Damn it.
This shit is depressing.

Best to try to stay positive, of course…
but when you take your kids to the library for story time and the parents who are at the LIBRARY (where educating yourself seems a bit more possible than in Walmart) are tethered to their smart phones… you know that the shit has been flung with monkey flingin’ force at the proverbial fan.

I wish, sometimes that I had my finger on the big red button that could put an END to the internet… but then I think of The Diner and the folks I have met because of it and I retract my center digit a bit…

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Re: TECH, our children and our future
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2014, 09:37:22 PM »

I wish, sometimes that I had my finger on the big red button that could put an END to the internet… but then I think of The Diner and the folks I have met because of it and I retract my center digit a bit…

Like everything else, the Internet can be a Force for EVIL or a Force for GOOD.

Here, the Jedi Knights of the Diner fight the Dark Side Lords of the Sith:icon_mrgreen:

Succumb not to the Dark Side, Gypsy Mama.

Win, we will.

No Dark Force can stand up to Grammar Bad.  :icon_mrgreen:

Yoda RE

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Re: TECH, our children and our future
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2014, 05:24:44 AM »

I have given a lot of thought to this topic.It would seem that the accountants are still totaling up the economic consequences of the disruptive force of the Internet. Think Amazon. By enabling the capacity for automation, the Internet has sucked the labor out of many thousands of operations. If you’re operating a business, who can resist the labor and cost saving opportunities of turning your service into a self-serve commodity? If that is at all possible? When you network many together, both opportunities and obstacles arise. Businesses have certainly sees the opportunity.RE sez

Quote from: RE

It’s just the end stage of what has gone on since Radio first hit the scene in the early 1900s, and people would gather around the new Vacuum Tube Radio sets to listen to The Shadow or George Burns & Gracie Allen.  Then TV came along, and everybody gathered around to watch the bucolic suburban life of Ozzie & Harriet, and receive Parenting Advice from single dads like Fred MacMurray (My Three Sons), Bill Bixby (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), and Brian Keith (A Family Affair).

I think that what we are seeing today is far more disruptive than a natural outgrowth of people using media. To my way of thinking, the constant and ongoing engagement with a network of individuals through a glass screen you can take with you is analogous to the difference between 2-D printing and 3-D printing. Back in the day, when people used to gather around the radio or the TV, it was an “appointment.” Even a family activity, shared experience. Now we are atomized individuals, each is unique as our own logon, and engaged in… What exactly? Sharing cat memes, “liking” someone’s Facebook post, bitching about what she wore at the Oscars. Feh. But the good news is that the NSA knows where you are, what your opinions are, what you share with others, and now as we learn this week, even what you look like. You and all your friends. So we’ve got that going for us. To the extent that it is media, it is self-created media, and something new altogether which bears watching.

GM, I certainly take seriously your observation in re-children and the Internet. Our first reaction would be to ask where the parents are? Giving a child unsupervised use of the Internet is like giving him unsupervised use of a loaded handgun. It seems that every nine-year-old now has his own mobile phone. As the person responsible for the bulk of the diners social media activity, I find great irony in this, but the use of Facebook, twitter and other networks to gain “friends” leads to a number of undesirable consequences. First of all, you neglect your real life relationships in many cases while staring at the glass screen. Secondly, many people find themselves engaging in pointless diatribes with unconvincing bull others regarding their opinions, especially political opinions, which most people hold more dearly than they do their own religious beliefs (should they have any.) What an utter and complete waste of time and effort. Thirdly, under color of the pseudo-anonymity that web activity seems to provide, people say hurtful things, the content of which may be quickly forgotten, but the feeling of never forgotten. And of course this, as it metastasizes, leads to the sort of cyber bullying and hazing that occasionally breaks through in the media.

Again one might ask, “where are the parents?”

But at least we have the dinner hour:

For the rest, CHECK OUT THE DINER FORUM!

RE

Wall Street has Always Been Corrupt…

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on May 14, 2014

…or about to be corrupted

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“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair – I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

“The U.S. financial markets had always been either corrupt or about to be corrupted.” Michael Lewis, Flash Boys

I finished reading Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys take-down of Wall Street banks, hedge funds, government regulators and high frequency traders last week when I had spare time created by a weeklong denial of service attack on my website. It appears to me technology is being utilized more frequently as a mechanism for malevolence rather than a mechanism for good. The smartest guys in the room are figuring out ways to steal you blind in the financial markets, pilfer your personal information, spy on your electronic communications, and censor your right to free speech by taking away your ability to communicate freely on the internet. After reading Lewis’ maddening tome and experiencing the frustration of an attack that reached 50 million hits per day on my website, I’m reminded of two quotes from the brilliant dystopian visionary Aldous Huxley.

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” ― Aldous Huxley – Ends and Means

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you mad.” Aldous Huxley

Technology has been pushed on the masses like a drug by the mega-corporation and mega-media dealers. Just walk down any city street and observe the technologically entranced zombies shuffling along the sidewalks staring blankly at a tiny screen, tapping away on an itsy bitsy keypad as if whatever they are conveying is of vital importance to the future of mankind. # Give me a break. God forbid if we had to go out in public without our iGadget attached to an appendage. We might actually have to use our brain to think. We might be able to look someone in the eye and smile. We might be able to say hello to a stranger. We might have to act like a human being.

Being connected electronically 24 hours per day is not progress. The technology being peddled to the masses by mega-corporations is designed to keep people amused, apathetic, distracted and uninterested in thinking critically. Our society has devolved into a technologically narcissistic, ego driven, submissive, trivial culture, asphyxiating in a sea of irrelevance and driven by greed and need to fulfill our every desire, rather than a technologically proficient, selfless, humble, critical thinking, civil minded society of self-reliant human beings who take responsibility for their own lives and refuse to saddle future generations with the financial consequences of living beyond their means. Our willful ignorance, misuse of technology, and inability to control our impulses and desires will be the ruin of our perverted civilization.

If the masses were capable of critical thinking and questioned the existing paradigm, they would conclude a small cadre of evil men has colluded to hijack the financial, political, and social systems in order to syphon off the nation’s wealth, while controlling the serfs through propaganda and luring them into debt servitude. Those who haven’t been brainwashed by media propaganda or amused to death by technology, are kept in check by thousands of laws, statutes, and regulations, enforced by millions of government bureaucrats and police state thugs. Technology is used by the state as a means of control, surveillance, censorship, and bilking the populace of their wealth. And if you don’t like it, the IRS, DHS, FBI, CIA, BLM, HHS, or some other three letter government agency will harass, arrest, fine, or kill you for not “cooperating”. And while the government is keeping you under their thumb, Wall Street shysters are stealing you blind.

The Truth Shall Make You Mad

“As soon as you realize that you are not able to execute your orders because someone else is able to identify what you are trying to do and race ahead of you to the other exchanges, it’s over. It really just pissed me off that people set out this way to make money from everyone else’s retirement account. I knew who was being screwed, people like my mom and pop, and I became hell-bent on figuring out who was doing the screwing.” – John Schwall – Flash Boys

As I continued reading Flash Boys I got progressively madder as more truth was revealed about the inner workings of Wall Street, the wasting of human intelligence on technological schemes to defraud the public, and the utter level of corruptness in the government agencies supposed to protect the public from the vultures in the financial industry feasting on the carcasses of dupes who still believe the “stocks for the long run” drivel regurgitated incessantly by the bimbos and slime balls on CNBC. The concepts of right and wrong, moral and immoral, honesty and dishonesty, and truth and lies are all purposefully blurred in shades of grey by those in power, in a blatant attempt to maintain and expand their vast wealth, immense power and complete governing control.

Michael Lewis focuses on our warped, rigged financial system, but his insights apply across the board to our entire society. Our economic, financial, political, regulatory, and judicial systems are all rigged. This serves the interests of the Deep State, Invisible Government, Oligarchs, Owners, or whatever other term you choose to describe the obscenely wealthy minority controlling this country. The existing establishment will never willingly change the system because it serves their myopic gluttonous interests.

“The deep problem with the system was a kind of moral inertia. So long as it served the narrow self-interests of everyone inside it, no one on the inside would ever seek to change it, no matter how corrupt or sinister it became.” Michael Lewis – Flash Boys

Flash Boys is the fourth Michael Lewis book I’ve read. I had previously read Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, and Boomerang. He is a masterful storyteller. He has the ability to humanize complicated financial concepts and cut through the purposeful complexity built into the financial system to reveal the corruption, criminality and moral degradation of Wall Street bankers and Washington DC politicians. He slices through all the spin, misinformation, and mistruths flogged by Wall Street and their paid-off media mouthpieces to reveal everyone on Wall Street to be in on the action when it comes to fleecing their customers (muppets). The stench emanating from the bowels of Wall Street banks, hedge funds, and high frequency trading bucket shops hangs like toxic smog over our bloated fetid crony capitalist corpse of a country. This cast of despicable felonious characters, scalps investors day after day, with the insiders pretending all is well and the man on the street is being protected.

“The reason is that everyone is a bad actor. There’s an ecosystem that has risen up around a broken pipe on Wall Street. You have high-frequency traders who are scalping the market. They pay exchanges for the tools they need to scalp investors; the exchanges pay banks to essentially mishandle the stock orders so high-frequency traders can maximize the take. It’s a system designed to extract taxes from investors.” – Michael Lewis –Wired

The average person believes the stock market is run on free market principles, with willing buyers and sellers paying and receiving the most efficient price with regards to their transactions. The American people have put their trust in gargantuan bureaucratic government agencies, funded with their tax dollars, to protect their interests and fight for their rights in the financial marketplace. They innocently believe a private bank – The Federal Reserve – owned and controlled by the Too Big To Trust Wall Street Mega-Banks, is actually enforcing regulations and looking out for the best interest of the small investor. They evidently haven’t been paying attention for the last fourteen years, as the Federal Reserve has purposefully created bubble after bubble with ridiculously low interest rates, money printing on an epic scale, encouraging complete deregulation of banks, inciting speculation, and ignoring criminal behavior by their Wall Street owners.

After reading Lewis’ exposes about these Wall Street scumbags, you realize Scorsese’s seemingly over the top portrayal of these people in Wolves of Wall Street is accurate. Nothing has changed since Lewis worked at Salomon Brothers in the 1980’s. The people inhabiting that culture are unscrupulous, greedy, obtuse, ignorant, and intent upon preying on the weaknesses of their “clients”, who they hold in contempt. They are the wolves and you are sheep. The comforting picture of a stock broker representing your interests on a small commission basis has been replaced by stock exchanges colluding with Wall Street banks, hedge funds and high frequency traders to fleece mom and pop out of hundreds of billions on an annual basis using their super-fast computers located within the stock exchanges. The people who know the truth have no interest in drawing the new picture because their massive paychecks depend upon not drawing the picture.

You can tell how accurate a portrayal is by the reaction of those being portrayed. Flash Boys and the subsequent interview of Lewis by 60 Minutes resulted in a broad based assault by Wall Street bankers, HFT dirt bags, corrupt stock exchange CEOs, SEC lackeys, Federal Reserve Chairwomen, bought off politicians, faux financial journalists, sellouts like Buffett, and of course the mouthpieces of Wall Street on CNBC. The oligarchs benefitting immensely from the HFT scams, Dark Pool schemes, and Stock Exchange pay to play swindles, attempted to ambush the good guys (Brad Katsuyama and Michael Lewis) on CNBC, the captured media pawn of the Wall Street ruling elite.

CNBC stacked the deck against the good guys with the President of the BATS exchange, William O’Brien, given the task of shouting the loudest in an attempt to discredit the factual assertions made in the book. The BATS exchange was founded by high frequency traders and designed to foster the predatory schemes of high frequency trading firms who paid the exchange for the privilege of swindling investors. He went berserk on-air, accusing Brad Katsuyama of lying and denying that his firm purposefully allowed high frequency traders to front run slower orders from regular investors. I guess he thought rage, fury, screaming and false accusations would convince the hoi polloi of his innocence. He was wrong. The traders on the NYSE and in trading firms across Wall Street stopped trading to watch the contest on their screens. They would cheer every time Brad Katsuyama calmly responded with truth based facts.

Michael Lewis described the encounter shortly thereafter in an interview:

“The substantial shocker from this encounter is that Katsuyama tried to get O’Brien to admit that the BATS Exchange uses one very slow data feed to give investors the prices in the market, while selling, for vast sums of money, a faster feed to high-frequency traders, the effect being that the high-frequency trader knows the prices in the exchange before your order. So he has the privilege of trading against you at an old price if he wants to. And O’Brien says no that’s not true. He lied, on national television, about a central fact about his business.” Michael Lewis –Wired

Under threat of prosecution, the BATS exchange had to admit its esteemed President blatantly lied on national TV. That seems par for the course when it comes to Wall Street executives. Deceitfulness, duplicity, and evasiveness are crucial requirements for the psychopaths occupying the corner offices in this warped world of high finance. The Wall Street Journal reluctantly revealed the truth:

BATS Global Markets Inc., under pressure from the New York Attorney General’s office, corrected statements made by a senior executive during a televised interview this week about how its exchanges work.

BATS President William O’Brien, during a CNBC interview Tuesday, said BATS’s Direct Edge exchanges use high-speed data feeds to price stock trades. Thursday, the exchange operator said two of its exchanges, EDGA and EGX, use a slower feed, known as the Securities Information Processor, to price trades.

 The distinction matters because high-speed traders can use powerful computers and superfast links between markets to outpace traders and trading venues that rely on slower market data, such as the SIP.

Would the BATS Exchange have revealed the truth if they had not been pressured by the New York Attorney General to do so? Not bloody likely. Wall Street never admits guilt for any of its crimes, wrongdoings, misconduct, deceit or deceptions. They pay $1 billion in fines to their government co-conspirators as a public relations ploy, without admitting guilt and after reaping $10 billion of criminally generated profits. Not a bad ROI. The principles of right versus wrong, moral versus immoral, honesty versus dishonesty, and clarity versus opacity are willfully evaded by the titans of Wall Street and create no dilemmas for these greed driven psychopaths. Money and power are their drugs and the Federal Reserve is their dealer.

Michael Lewis books strike a chord with the public because he chooses a good guy hero his audience can empathize with. He played the sympathetic character in Liar’sPoker. Michael Burry, the brilliant Asperger’s Syndrome suffering investment genius, plays the role in The Big Short. And Brad Katsuyama, the mild mannered good hearted hobbit-like Canadian, takes on the evil forces of Mordor in Flash Boys. These characters all have something in common. They don’t fit in. They question the existing paradigm. They refuse to give in to the depraved culture permeating Wall Street. They exhibit an inner moral strength that enables them to resist the temptation of ill-gotten riches. And they don’t surrender their principles for a buck. This passage gives you a glimpse into the soul of Brad Katsuyama:

“In America, even the homeless were profligate. Back in Toronto, after a big bank dinner, Brad would gather the leftovers into covered tin trays and carry them out to a homeless guy he saw every day on his way to work. The guy was always appreciative. When the bank moved him to New York, he saw more homeless people in a day than he saw back home in a year. When no one was watching, he’d pack up the king’s banquet of untouched leftovers after the NY lunches and walk it down to the people on the streets. “They just looked at me like, ‘What the fuck is this guy doing?’” he said. “I stopped doing it because it didn’t feel like anyone gave a shit.” –  Michael Lewis – Flash Boys

The apologists for the corrupt establishment attempted to trash Lewis and Katsuyama by contending the market has always been rigged and manipulated, therefore, the HFT embezzlement is just business as usual. Warren Buffett, king of oligarchs and apologist for the Wall Street billionaire club, assures the peasants the financial markets are fairer than ever. If Uncle Warren says it’s so to his girl Becky Quick on CNBC, how can anyone doubt him? It’s as if the supposedly mathematical genius billionaire forgot everything he learned in business school.

There is $21 trillion worth of U.S. stocks traded every year. Based upon Katsuyama’s analysis of how much high frequency traders, Wall Street dark pools, and the stock exchanges selling access were skimming on virtually every transaction, he estimated at least $160 million per day was being stolen from stock investors. That comes to a cool $40 billion per year, at a minimum. High frequency trading accounted for 25% of all stock trades in 2005. By 2008 high frequency traders accounted for 65% of all trades. They now account for in excess of 80% of all trading. The Ivy League educated Wall Street elite insist this extreme level of computer generated trading provides liquidity and efficiency for the markets. In reality, the actual trading results of the HFT firms, hedge funds and Wall Street TBTF banks prove the game is rigged. JP Morgan experienced ZERO trading loss days in 2013. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and most of the mega-banks have had virtually perfect daily trading results since 2010. If they are all winning, who is losing? Guess. Lewis provides further evidence of “investing” perfection:

“In early 2013, one of the largest high-frequency traders, Virtu Financial, publicly boasted that in five and a half years of trading it had experienced just one day when it hadn’t made money, and that the loss was caused by “human error.” In 2008, Dave Cummings, the CEO of a high-frequency trading firm called Tradebot, told university students that his firm had gone four years without a single day of trading losses. This sort of performance is possible only if you have a huge informational advantage.” – Michael Lewis – Flash Boys

Buffett, the financial “journalists” on CNBC, and all of the defenders of the Wall Street criminal cabal must have been asleep during their Stat class in college. The statistical probability of going four years or even four weeks without a losing trading day is as close to zero as you can get, unless the game is rigged and you are cheating. These results were not accomplished due to the brilliance of Wall Street big hanging dicks and their oversized brains. They were accomplished by front running stock market orders, bribing stock exchanges for first access, gaming the system with more powerful computers, ripping off clients in shadowy dark pools, and keeping the SEC at bay with promises of jobs and riches if they look the other way. This was all done under the veil of hyper-complexity designed to obscure, confuse, and cover-up the truth from unsuspecting investors.

And it is all done “legally” under the auspices of Regulation NMS, established by the SEC in 2007, to foster both competition among individual markets and competition among individual orders, in order to promote efficient and fair price formation across securities markets. As with almost every government regulation, law, or diktat, the new method of “protecting” the sheeple created fresh ways to fleece the sheeple by those who wrote the regulation. See Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act. I don’t need a law or regulation to tell me the difference between right and wrong.

When obnoxiously wealthy pricks with the ability to bribe stock exchanges to place their trading computers on the floor of the exchange and financially induce the Wall Street banks to funnel trades through their dark pools in order to know what is happening a nanosecond before everyone else, and use this information to front run unknowing investors to generate risk free profits, it’s wrong. It really is black and white. I don’t care that it is supposedly “legal”.  By complying with Regulation NMS the smart order routers of institutional investor firms like Vanguard, Fidelity and Schwab simply funneled naïve investors into various snares laid for them by the unscrupulous high frequency traders. The bad guys always win and the good guys always lose on Wall Street. And no one does anything because they are all on the take. Lewis puts it in terms the average person can understand.

“It was riskless, larcenous, and legal – made so by Reg NMS. The way Brad had described it, it was as if only one gambler were permitted to know the scores of last week’s NFL games, with no one else aware of his knowledge. He places bets in the casino on every game and waits for other gamblers to take the other side of those bets. There’s no guarantee that anyone will do so; but if they do, he’s certain to win.” – Michael Lewis – Flash Boys

If you aren’t mad yet, you will be after I go into the details of the regulatory capture, obscure deep pools within the bowels of the Too Big To Trust Banks, misuse of technology to defraud the public, and purposeful complexity built into the financial system to confuse and mislead the investing populace. I’ll tackle that in Part Two of this article.

Culture of Ignorance: Part I

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on October 27, 2013

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Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

– Thomas Edison

The kabuki theater that passes for governance in Washington D.C. reveals the profound level of ignorance shrouding this Empire of Debt in its prolonged death throes. Ignorance of facts; ignorance of math; ignorance of history; ignorance of reality; and ignorance of how ignorant we’ve become as a nation, have set us up for an epic fall. It’s almost as if we relish wallowing in our ignorance like a fat lazy sow in a mud hole. The lords of the manor are able to retain their power, control and huge ill-gotten riches because the government educated serfs are too ignorant to recognize the self-evident contradictions in the propaganda they are inundated with by state controlled media on a daily basis.

 

“Any formal attack on ignorance is bound to fail because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession – their ignorance.” Hendrik Willem van Loon

The levels of ignorance are multi-dimensional and diverse, crossing all educational, income, and professional ranks. The stench of ignorance has settled like Chinese toxic smog over our country, as various constituents have chosen comforting ignorance over disconcerting knowledge. The highly educated members, who constitute the ruling class in this country, purposefully ignore facts and truth because the retention and enhancement of their wealth and power are dependent upon them not understanding what they clearly have the knowledge to understand. The underclass wallow in their ignorance as their life choices, absence of concern for marriage or parenting, lack of interest in educating themselves, and hiding behind the cross of victimhood and blaming others for their own failings. Everyone is born ignorant and the path to awareness and knowledge is found in reading books. Rich and poor alike are free to read and educate themselves. The government, union teachers, and a village are not necessary to attain knowledge. It requires hard work and clinging to your willful ignorance to remain stupid.

The youth of the country consume themselves in techno-narcissistic triviality, barely looking up from their iGadgets long enough to make eye contact with other human beings. The toxic combination of government delivered public education, dumbed down socially engineered curriculum, taught by uninspired intellectually average union controlled teachers, to distracted, unmotivated, latchkey kids, has produced a generation of young people ignorant about history, basic mathematical concepts, and the ability or interest to read and write. They have been taught to feel rather than think critically. They have been programmed to believe rather than question and explore. Slogans and memes have replaced knowledge and understanding. They have been lured into inescapable student loan debt serfdom by the very same government that is handing them a $200 trillion entitlement bill and an economy built upon low paying service jobs that don’t require a college education, because the most highly educated members of society realized that outsourcing the higher paying production jobs to slave labor factories in Asia was great for the bottom line, their stock options and bonus pools.

Instead of being outraged and lashing out against this injustice, the medicated, daycare reared youth passively lose themselves in the inconsequentiality and shallowness of social media, reality TV, and the internet, while living in their parents’ basement. They have chosen the ignorance inflicted upon their brains by thousands of hours spent twittering, texting, facebooking, seeking out adorable cat videos on the internet, viewing racist rap singer imbeciles rent out sports stadiums to propose to vacuous big breasted sluts on reality cable TV shows, and sitting zombie-like for days with a controller in hand blowing up cities, killing whores, and murdering policemen using their new PS4 on their 65 inch HDTV, rather than gaining a true understanding of the world by reading Steinbeck, Huxley, and Orwell. Technology has reduced our ability to think and increased our ignorance.

“During my eighty-seven years, I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them has done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think.” – Bernard M. Baruch

The youth have one thing going for them. They are still young and can awaken from their self-imposed stupor of ignorance. There are over 80 million millenials between the ages of 8 and 30 years old who need to start questioning the paradigm they are inheriting and critically examining the mendacious actions of their elders. The future of the country is in their hands, so I hope they put down those iGadgets and open their eyes before it is too late. We need many more patriots like Edward Snowden and far fewer twerking sluts like Miley Cyrus if we are to overcome the smog of apathy and ignorance blanketing our once sentient nation.

The ignorance of youth can be chalked up to inexperience, lack of wisdom, and immaturity. There is no excuse for the epic level of ignorance displayed by older generations over the last thirty years. Boomers and Generation X have charted the course of this ship of state for decades. Ship of fools is a more fitting description, as they have stimulated the entitlement mentality that has overwhelmed the fiscal resources of the country. Our welfare/warfare empire, built upon a Himalayan mountain of debt, enabled by a central bank owned by Wall Street, and perpetuated by swarms of corrupt bought off spineless politicians, is the ultimate testament to the seemingly limitless level of ignorance engulfing our civilization. The entitlement mindset permeates our culture from the richest to the poorest. Mega-corporations use their undue influence (bribes disguised as campaign contributions) to elect pliable candidates to office, hire lobbyists to write the laws and tax regulations governing their industries, and collude with the bankers and other titans of industry to harvest maximum profits from the increasingly barren fields of a formerly thriving land of milk and honey. By unleashing a torrent of unbridled greed, ransacking the countryside, and burning down the villages, the ruling class has planted the seeds of their own destruction.

When the underclass observes Wall Street bankers committing the crime of the century with no consequences for their actions, they learn a lesson. When billionaire banker/politicians like Jon Corzine can steal $1.2 billion directly from the accounts of farmers and ranchers and continue to live a life of luxury in one of his six mansions, they get the message. Wall Street bankers are allowed to commit fraud, reaping profits of $25 billion, and when they are caught red handed pay a $5 billion fine while admitting no guilt. No connected bankers have gone to jail for crashing the worldwide financial system, but teenage marijuana dealers are incarcerated for ten years in our corporate prison system. The message has been received loud and clear by the unwashed masses. Committing fraud and gaming the system is OK. Only suckers play by the rules anymore. A culture of lawlessness, greed, fraud, deceit, swindles and scams was fashioned by those in power. Reckless disregard for honesty, truthfulness, fair dealing, and treating others as you would like to be treated, has permeated the beliefs and behavior of our society.

The ever increasing number of people in the SNAP program along with abuses committed by retailers and recipients, the skyrocketing number of people faking their way into the SSDI program, billions of taxpayer dollars lost to Medicare fraud, billions more lost paying out earned income tax credit refunds based on non-existent children, public schools falsifying test scores, students cheating on SAT tests, credit card fraud on a grand scale, failure to report income and falsifying tax returns, and a myriad of other dodges and scams are just a reflection of a moral and cultural collapse. The dog eat dog mentality glorified by the media, with such despicable men as Dimon, Greenspan, Corzine, Clinton, Trump, Rubin, Bernanke and Bloomberg honored as pillars of society, has displaced honesty, compassion, humanity, shared sacrifice, and caring about our descendants. Self-interest, self-indulgence, and a narcissistic focus on what is in it for me today has led to an implosion of trust and an attitude of “who cares” about our fellow man, morality, right or wrong, and the fate of future generations. We ignored the warnings of our last President who displayed courageousness and truthfulness when speaking to the American people.

“As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Me Generation has devolved into the Me Culture. While the masses have been mesmerized by their iGadgets, zombified by the boob tube, programmed to consume by the Madison Avenue propaganda machines, enslaved in chains of debt by the Wall Street plantation owners, and convinced by their fascist government keepers that phantom terrorists are hiding behind every bush, they surrendered their freedoms, liberties and sense of self-responsibility. There will always be evil men seeking to control and manipulate the ignorant and oblivious. A citizenry armed with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and moral integrity would not passively submit to the will of a corporate fascist oligarchy. Well educated, well informed citizens, capable of critical thinking are dangerous to rich men of evil intent. Obedient, universally ignorant, distracted, fearful, morally depraved slaves are what the owners of this country want. As the light of knowledge flickers and dies, we sink into the darkness of ignorance.

 

“No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.”Samuel Adams

Cult of Ignorance

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”Isaac Asimov

  

“While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.

In addition to these endless pleadings of self-interest, there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of man to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”Henry Hazlitt

America’s cult of ignorance, combined with the selfish interests of various constituencies, the character weakness of the people elected to office, a lack of understanding or interest in basic mathematical concepts, and inability to comprehend the long term and unintended consequences of every piece of legislation, have brought the country to the brink of fiscal disaster. But still, the vast majority of Americans, including the supposed intellectuals and economic “experts”, are basking in their ignorance, as the stock market reaches a new high, the local GM dealer just gave them a 7 year $40,000 auto loan at 0% on that brand new Cadillac Escalade, Bank of America still hasn’t foreclosed on their McMansion two years after making their last mortgage payment, and they just received three pre-approved credit card notices from Capital One, American Express and Citicorp. As long as Bennie has our back printing $1 trillion new greenbacks per year, nothing can possibly go wrong. Our best and brightest economic minds are always right:

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” – Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

“Many of the new financial products that have been created, with financial derivatives being the most notable, contribute economic value by unbundling risks and shifting them in a highly calibrated manner. Although these instruments cannot reduce the risk inherent in real assets, they can redistribute it in a way that induces more investment in real assets and, hence, engenders higher productivity and standards of living.” – Alan Greenspan – March 6, 2000

“We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis. So, what I think what is more likely is that house prices will slow, maybe stabilize, might slow consumption spending a bit. I don’t think it’s gonna drive the economy too far from its full employment path, though.” Ben Bernanke – July 2005

The profound level of ignorance displayed by economists, politicians, business leaders, media personalities, and the average American, regarding the mathematically unsustainable path of our fiscal ship is perplexing to me on so many levels. If the Federal government was a family, the budget ceiling debate would be put into the following terms. Our household earns $28,000 per year, but we spend $38,000 per year and add $10,000 to our credit card balance, which stands at the limit of $170,000. In addition, we owe our neighbors $2 million we don’t have because we promised to pay if they voted for us as Treasurer of our homeowners association. We celebrate our good fortune of getting approved for another credit card with a $30,000 limit by increasing our spending to $39,000 per year. Intellectuals scorn such simplistic analogies by glibly pointing out that the family has a crazy uncle with a printing press in the basement and can pay-off the debt with his freshly printed dollars. And this is where the deliberate and calculated ignorance by the highly educated Ivy Leaguers regarding long term and unintended consequences is revealed. They ignore, manipulate, cover-up and obscure the facts because their wealth, power and influence depend upon them doing so. But ignorance doesn’t change the facts.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley

Nothing exposes the ignorance of various factions within our society better than a debate about budgets, spending, and unfunded liabilities. This is where every party, group, special interest, and voting bloc ignore any and all facts that are contrary to their selfish interest. They only see what they want to see. The fallacies, errors, omissions and mistruths of their positions are inconsequential to people who only care about their short-term self-seeking interests. When I question the out of control spending on entitlements and our impossible to honor level of unfunded liabilities, those of a liberal persuasion lash out with accusations of hating the poor, starving children and throwing granny under the bus. Anyone suggesting we should slow our spending is branded a terrorist by the overwhelmingly liberal legacy media.

When I accuse Wall Street bankers of criminal fraud and ongoing manipulation of the financial markets, the CNBC loving apologists for these felons bellow about the market always being right. When I rail about the military industrial complex and our un-Constitutional invasions of other countries, the neo-cons come out in force blathering about the war on terror and imminent threats. When I point out the horrific results of our government run educational system and how mediocre union teachers are bankrupting our states and municipalities with their gold plated health and pension plans, I’m met with howls of outrage about the poor children. The common thread is that facts are ignored because each of their agendas requires ignorance on the part of their team’s fans.

The following chart of truth portrays an unsustainable path. Ignoring the facts will not change them. This isn’t a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. It’s an American problem.

 

“There are men regarded today as brilliant economists, who deprecate saving and recommend squandering on a national scale as the way of economic salvation; and when anyone points to what the consequences of these policies will be in the long run, they reply flippantly, as might the prodigal son of a warning father: “In the long run we are all dead.” And such shallow wisecracks pass as devastating epigrams and the ripest wisdom.” Henry Hazlitt

Henry Hazlitt may have written these words six decades ago, but they aptly describe Paul Krugman and the legions of Keynesian apostles whose bastardized interpretation of Keynes’ theory has led us to this fiscal cliff. How anyone can truly believe that borrowing to consume foreign produced goods versus saving and making job creating capital investments is a rational and sustainable economic policy is the height of ignorance. One look at this chart exposes the political party system as a sham. When it comes to the fiscal train wreck, set in motion thirty years ago, the ignorant media pundits peddle a narrative about politicians failing to compromise as the culprit in this derailment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Compromise is what has gotten us to this point. The Republicans compromised and allowed the Democrats to create a welfare state. The Democrats compromised and allowed the Republicans to create a warfare state. The Federal Reserve compromised their mandate of stable prices and preventing financial calamities by inflating away 95% of the dollar’s purchasing power in 100 years, while creating bubbles every five or so years, like clockwork. There are a myriad of facts related to the chart above that cannot be ignored:

  • It took 192 years for the country to accumulate $1 trillion in debt. It has taken us 30 years to accumulate the next $16 trillion of debt. We now add $1 trillion of debt per year.
  • If the Federal government was required to use GAAP accounting, the annual deficit would amount to $6.7 trillion per year.
  • The fiscal gap of unfunded future liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and government pensions is $200 trillion.
  • Using realistic growth assumptions adds another $6 trillion of state and local government unfunded pension benefits to the equation.
  • The Federal government has increased their annual spending from $1.8 trillion during Bill Clinton’s last year in office to $3.8 trillion today, a 110% increase. The population has increased by 12% over that same time frame, and real GDP has advanced by 25% since 2000.
  • Defense spending has increased from $358 billion in 2000 to $831 billion today, despite the fact that no country on earth can challenge us militarily.
  • The average Baby Boomer will receive $300,000 more than they contributed to Social Security and Medicare over their lifetime. Over 10,000 Boomers per day will turn 65 for the next 17 years.
  • The Social Security lockbox is filled with IOUs. The funds collected from paychecks over the last 80 years were spent by Congress on wars of choice, bridges to nowhere, and thousands of other vote buying ventures.
  • A normalization of interest rates to long-term averages would double or triple the interest on the national debt and increase our annual deficits by at least 30%.
  • Obamacare and the unintended consequences of Obamacare will add tens of trillions to our national debt. The initial budget projections for Medicare and Medicaid showed only a modest financial impact on the financial situation of the country. How did that work out?
  • Entitlement spending in 2003 was $1.3 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2008 was $1.7 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2013 was $2.2 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2018 will be $2.8 trillion, as these programs are on automatic pilot.

When you consider the facts in a rational manner, without vitriolic denials, bitter accusations, acrimonious blame, and rejection of the entire premise, you come to the conclusion that we’ve passed the point of no return. Decades of bad choices, bad leadership, bad men in important positions, bad education, bad governance, and bad citizenship have led to bad times. But very few people, across all socio-economic classes, have any interest in understanding the facts or making the tough choices required to save future generations from a life of squalor. We willfully choose to ignore the facts.

“Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” Aldous Huxley

Our degraded and ignorant society is incapable of comprehending their dire circumstances or acting for the common good of the country. We are a nation on the take. Greed really is good. Everyone needs to play the game. From the top floor corporate CEO suite to the decaying urban wastelands, we have chosen comforting ignorance to uncomfortable knowledge. Our warped form of democracy enriches the few at the top, while dispensing enough subsistence payments to the lower classes to keep them from revolting, while enslaving the middle class in debt and convincing them it’s really wealth. Mencken understood the pathetic impulses of the American populace decades before we reached our point of no return.

“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.” – H.L. Mencken

The only way a democracy can survive is if the population is knowledgeable, vigilant, skeptical, educated, individually responsible, self-reliant, moral, capable of critical thinking and willing to accept the consequences of their actions. A nation of takers, fakers and blamers will not last long. We’ve degenerated into a nation of knowledge hating book burners. Our culture of ignorance will lead to the destruction of our culture and the ignorant masses will wonder what happened.

 

“But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can’t last.”Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

In Part Two of this examination about our culture of ignorance I’ll explore the roles of technology, family breakdown, government, and propaganda in creating the ignorance that is consuming our system like a mutant parasite. If you are seeking a happy ending, I suggest looking elsewhere.

Occupy Monsanto: “What a piece of work is man!”

From the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on August 12, 2013

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in
reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving
how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!
in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the
world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem
to say so . . .

~Shakespeare, Hamlet, (Act II, Scene ii, 285-300)

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Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

The capacity for modern science to extend and improve life was brought home to me quite directly this past week. A childhood friend of 57 years standing was hospitalized last week with faintness and dizziness. My friend, aFor him professor of mathematics, is a former martial artist and has always been whippet-thin, wiry, and fit. Yet he presented with symptoms that required a battery of tests.

Long story short,  he had surgery to have a pacemaker implanted. It seems commonplace to us now, but such a miracle! An opening into shoulder cavity, insertion of wires through an artery into the surfaces of the heart, and voilà! A regulated heartbeat, with energy and color restored, and all right with the world.

Such advances in technology mean that through surgical and other means we can extend and save lives. A congenital heart condition and resulting arrhythmia are adjusted through the implantation of a small device– a moral and welcome use of technology. But what about immoral, and unjust uses? It seems apparent that our technological capacity has completely outstripped our moral dimension.

 Here’s one small example. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are, on their website, quite proud to claim 10 great public-health achievements in the 20th century that have added 25 years to the average life expectancy of people in the United States. Among these are:

  • immunizations
  • motor vehicle safety
  • workplace safety
  • control of infectious diseases
  • declines in deaths from heart disease and stroke
  • safer and healthier foods, healthier mothers and babies
  • family planning
  • fluoridation of drinking water
  • tobacco is a health hazard
  • future directions of public health.

Now I would argue the single greatest improvement to public health has been public sanitation. There are both aesthetic as well as public health virtues in getting shit out of the streets.

Beyond that, some quibbles. Without doubt  vaccinations have all but eradicated smallpox and polio from the United States. Yet other inoculations, such as Gardasil, are problematic. What “motor vehicle safety” and  “workplace safety” are doing on this list I have no idea, except that CFC staff needed to pad out the list to get to ten. The “family planning” item is laughable in terms of our current politics, as right wing politicians have both demonized birth control and made women’s health clinics virtually unable to operate. A sizable contingent thinks that flouridated water is a communist plot. But of the ironies on this list, none is more poignant than the one that lists “safer and healthier foods.”

 The CDC list  and accompanying article completely ignores the phenomenon of genetically modified food.  Those of us who actually consume foods in the real economy cannot afford to adopt  the CDC’s  position.

GMO foods are plants and bacteria which have had specific changes introduced to their DNA using genetic engineering techniques. Such organisms are designed to be treated with toxic herbicides and pesticides, chemicals which have been suspected to increase allergies and have been linked to decreased fertility, asthma, organ failure even cancer.

To briefly review the bidding on the dangers posed by genetically modified foods, we offer the following:  Animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food. The GM process creates massive collateral damage in the plant, with side effects that are often unpredictable. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has even asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.

Most of us are aware that the FDA, like many agencies entrusted with the public welfare now held captive by corporate interests, decided to allow GMOs to be sold without labeling. State-level attempts to require labeling of GMO food have been met with intense lobbying and millions of dollars pitched in opposition.

Why the drama?

Consider this handful of research findings:

  • Thousands of sheep, buffalo, and goats in India died after grazing on Bt cotton plants
  • Mice eating GM corn for the long term had fewer, and smaller, babies
  • More than half the babies of mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks, and were smaller
  • Testicle cells of mice and rats on a GM soy change significantly
  • By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies
  • Rodents fed GM corn and soy showed immune system responses and signs of toxicity
  • Cooked GM soy contains as much as 7-times the amount of a known soy allergen
  • Soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK, soon after GM soy was introduced
  • The stomach lining of rats fed GM potatoes showed excessive cell growth, a condition that may lead to cancer.
  • Studies showed organ lesions, altered liver and pancreas cells, changed enzyme levels, etc.

Problems posed by genetically modified food are magnified by the fact that unlike drugs, there are no human clinical trials for GM foods. The only published human feeding experiment revealed that genetic material transferred into GM soy stays inside our intestines and continues to function long after we quit consuming them. The food may be gone, but the altered proteins remain doing their work.

Thus we fail to study one possible vector of danger to public health that could conceivably create super diseases resistant to antibiotics, or, alternatively, turn our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories. Hopefully this will put the “good work” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and the captive FDA) in context.

Citizens are starting to get the word out and educating other citizens about the dangers of GMO foods.  As the Occupy movement  was suborned and destroyed by sweeps of militarized police under direction from DHS, the tents disappeared, yet the anger and disgust at our nonresponsive politicians has remained,  and has been transformed into specific, single-purpose movements.

One of these is  Occupy Monsanto, which has emerged to stage numerous protests at companies connected to the global trade of GMOs. Occupy Monsanto  is calling for a day of action on September 17 of this year.  Basic themes  include the idea that Monsanto’s push to control agriculture poses a threat only to consumers in this country, but also throughout Latin America Africa and Asia. Also, if GMO foods are perfectly safe, why not allow them to be labeled and compete in the market?

“There is something wrong when a chemical manufacturer, the same company who made Agent Orange, controls the US food supply.”  ~activist Jaye Crawford.

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Local groups in southeastern Virginia staged an anti-GMO rally in May of this year. We handed out leaflets, engaged passersby in conversation, and otherwise did our best to create awareness. Much like our government, the last thing Monsanto wants is people talking to people creating awareness and providing education about the real issues posed by GMOs. To that end, Monsanto has mounted its own public relations counteroffensive:

Plant Biotechnology Companies Launch “GMO Answers”

7/29/2013

The following release was issued by the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI). Monsanto is a member of CBI.

Washington, DC (July 29, 2013) – The agricultural biotechnology companies that develop genetically modified seeds — or GMOs — are coming together to launch a broad, new initiative to provide accurate information and answer the toughest questions about GMOs and how our food is grown. GMO Answers (www.GMOAnswers.com) is a new conversation, public Q&A, and central online resource for information on GMOs, their background, use in agriculture, and research and data in one easy-to-access public resource for the first time.

“GMOs are a growing topic of discussion today, with a wide range of questions and emotions,” Cathleen Enright, Ph.D., spokesperson for GMO Answers, said. “Food is personal, so we want to open the door for personal discussions. We recognize we haven’t done the best job communicating about GMOs—what they are, how they are developed, food safety information—the science, data and processes. We want people to join us and ask their tough questions. Be skeptical. Evaluate the information and decide for yourself. We look forward to an open conversation.”

<snip>

GMO Answers is produced by the members of The Council for Biotechnology Information, which includes BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences LLC, DuPont, Monsanto Company and Syngenta. Together, their commitment to openness and access to information is outlined in the GMO Answers five core principles:

  • Respecting people around the world and their right to choose healthy food products that are best for themselves and their families
  • Welcoming and answering questions on all GMO topics
  • Making GMO information, research and data easy to access and evaluate and supporting safety testing of GM products, including allowing independent safety testing of our products by validated science-based methods
  • Supporting farmers as they work to grow crops using precious resources more efficiently, with less impact on the environment and producing safe, nutritious food and feed products
  • Respecting farmers’ rights to choose the seeds that are best for their farms, businesses and communities and providing seed choices that include non-GM seeds based on market demands.

 

The statement of Dr. Enright notwithstanding, if Monsanto “wants people to join and ask tough questions,” and “looks forward to an open conversation,” then I am the rightful King of France.

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You want the truth? Follow the money. Open labeling of GM foods would permit an “open conversation,” but that is the last thing that the members of the Council for Biotechnology Information want. What they want is for you is to put your head down, eat, work, consume, and die. The last thing they want you to do is to talk to one another, to educate yourself and others on the real-life dangers of the poisons that have already entered our food supply, and the failure our so-called government regulatory agencies to do any actual regulating.


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Find a local action group, get the word out, and resist, resist, resist. And plant your own food before it becomes a crime to do so, and the moving thugscrum that used to be local law enforcement comes to make you tear it out.

As David Cobb of Move to Amend recently said in an interview, “There is no doubt that this government is afraid of its people.”  So too are the agribusiness giants who have gathered together to control the food supply of the American people in the name of profit.

As we collectively chase the daily profit motive, and busy ourselves in continued worship of Mammon, our actions stand revealed as far different from those of “the Angels.” Neither noble in reason, nor infinite in faculty, certainly not admirable. And as to “apprehension like a God?” We would settle for the apprehension of a single conscious human being with a decent regard for the welfare of his fellow man.

Wheel in the Sky

Off the keyboard of RE
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Published on the Doomstead Diner on August 11, 2013

wagon-wheel

Discuss this article at the Science, Technology & Inventions Table inside the Diner

I had an Epiphany the other day regarding the Invention of one of the most seminal devices ever to come out of the brain of Homo Sapiens, the Wheel.

To modern Homo Sapiens, this device seems so simple and so useful that one has to wonder why it took so damn long to invent in the first place.  The first Wheels don't turn up until around 4000 BC, and they really didn't get a whole lot of use until around 3500 BC.  Over here in the Americas, the early civilizations of Natives NEVER got the Wheel, it didn't show up here until after the European Invasion.

Now, all sorts of theories are proposed on why Wheels were not used earlier, one popular one is that it took the Domestication of Draft Animals to make it really useful.  This does not seem likely to me, since the use of the Wheel makes even the labor of Homo Sapiens much more effective.  Try moving around a decent amount of dirt without a Wheel Barrow after Digging a Big Hole of course.

As far as the Incas and other early civilizations are concerned, another reason proposed is that the Terrain they lived around wasn't suited to wheels, too mountainous.  There is probably some truth to that, but they also did have some flat land around, and they could have built roads too that wheels could work on even in mountainous terrain.  Switchbacks, as they are referred to.

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/24/102256401_8e5c2ffc7f.jpg

 

The development of the wheel as elucidated by anthropologists goes like this:

The wheel is everywhere on all our cars, trains, planes, machines, wagons, and most factory and farm equipment. What could we move without wheels? But as important as the wheel is as an invention, we don't know who exactly made the first wheel.

The oldest wheel found in archeological excavations was discovered in what was Mesopotamia and is believed to be over fifty-five hundred years old.

 

Development of a Functional Wheel

The following steps and developments took place to invent a functioning wheel, more or less in this order:

 

This is Heavy

Humans realized that heavy objects could be moved easier if something round, for example a fallen tree log, was placed under it and the object rolled over it.

 

The Sledge

Humans also realized a way to move heavy objects, with an invention archeologists call the sledge. Logs or sticks were placed under an object and used to drag the heavy object, like a sled and a wedge put together.

 

Log Roller

Humans thought to use the round logs and a sledge together.

Humans used several logs or rollers in a row, dragging the sledge over one roller to the next.

 

Inventing a Primitive Axle

With time the sledges started to wear grooves into the rollers and humans noticed that the grooved rollers actually worked better, carrying the object further. This was simple physics, if the grooves had a smaller circumference than the unworn parts of the roller, then dragging the sledge in the grooves required less energy to create a turning motion but created a greater distance covered when the larger part of the log roller turned.

The log roller was becoming a wheel, humans cut away the wood between the two inner grooves to create what is called an axle.

 

First Carts

Wooden pegs were used to fix the sledge, so that when it rested on the rollers it did not move, but allowed the axle to turn in-between the pegs, the axle and wheels now created all the movement. These were the first carts.

Improvements to the cart were made. The pegs were replaced with holes carved into the cart frame, the axle was placed through the hole. This made it necessary for the larger wheels and thinner axle to be separate pieces. The wheels were attached to both sides of the axle.

(Note from RE: HERE comes the Inflexion Point!)

Fixed Axles Make a Functional & Successful Wheel

Next, the fixed axle was invented, where the axle does not turn but is solidly connected to the cart frame. Only the wheels did the revolving by being fitted onto the axle in a way that allowed the wheels to rotate. Fixed axles made for stable carts that could turn corners better. By this time the wheel can be considered a complete invention. The rest is history…

So why did it take so long for the Wheel to come into common usage, and why first in the place it did, around Mesopotamia around 3500 BC or so?  The reason I came up with in my Epiphany is FRICTION.

A wheel has to turn on an Axle, and at the bearing point where the Wheel Spins on the Axle, there is tremendous friction going on, all concentrated down into this one spot.  Unless you have some means to reduce that friction, this spot is going to get very, VERY HOT as the wheel spins about. at least at any decent speed or for any length of time.

So imagine how hard it would be to make a working Wheel & Axle combination without Metallurgy.  All you really have to work with is Wood, Bone and Stone.

http://img.timeinc.net/time/photoessays/2008/10_cars/flintstones.jpgIf you try to make your Wheel out of Wood and Axle out of wood, without some really good Lubricant after just a little rolling around it is going to go ON FIRE!  Same idea as Spinning a Fire Drill of course.  Pasting it with some Bear Grease probably keeps it from lighting up long as you move slowly enough with it, but the joint still will wear out pretty rapidly.

So how about substituting Stone in some way?  Not really possible since it fractures so easily, even if you could carve the wheels and axles out of Rocks, Flintstone style.  Soon as you hit a decent size Pothole or Rock wheeling your Wagon about, something is gonna crack.  Bone also is pretty Brittle, so the same basic problem using this material, and it also does burn and will wear out quickly with this much friction.

Check out the Flintstones Car at right here and look at that joint between the Axle and the Car Frame.  Tell me this is not a Fire in the Making if Fred gets going here at any speed at all.  LOL.

The first Wheeled Vehicles of any sort don't turn up in the artwork until around 4000BC in Mesopotamia, just around the time Ceramics were getting made, and just as the Bronze Age was about to take off in this neighborhood.  They got there FIRST with the technology for smelting these metals and making some Useful Tools out of them.

File:Ur chariot.jpgSo one can imagine here that these early agricultural societies had an idea about how the Wheel works, they just could not build an effective one until they had the other technologies of making ceramics first and then bronze directly after that.  Perhaps in the earliest versions they used Clay dried around the would, then smeared with grease to keep the friction down.  Once the Bronze was invented, they could wrap the wooden axle with a Bronze Sheath, put a similar sheath around the inside of the Wheel Center, then again Grease it up to keep the Friction low enough not to get the Temps high enough to ignite the underlying Wood base.

So now they finally have enough Technologies together to make a Working Wheel/Axle combination, but it is still not real Useful for anything but some real slow moving about of stuff on pretty flat land.  So the Wheel is pretty slow to take off here as an invention, it does not take off as fast as Iphones for instance.  LOL.  In fact it took a good 1500 years or so for the Wheel to find its first real good use, in Warfare of course with the Chariot.  Chariots first got invented around 2000BC, but again don't really hit stride until about 1300BC, which is a very significant date for another Inventive Reason.  What is that?

1300BC ALSO generally marks the beginning of the IRON AGE in this same neck of the woods!  Iron was a huge jump over Bronze, it is much harder and more durable, and can be hammerred into shape by a Blacksmith besides being Cast.  So this is when they finally had a material strong enough and malleable enough to make an Axle out of that would handle the pretty high speeds of being dragged along by a Galloping Horse.  Whatever Army had a bunch of these early Tanks could literally Roll over the combatants on foot and outflank them as well.

So you can see in this very basic Invention how dependent it was on a slew of other Technologies to become workable, and beyond that how dependent it was on Available Energy to smelt the metals and to forge them into the right shapes necessary to make a fully functional Chariot, capable of high speed (for the day) travel.

What does this mean for the Future of Homo Sapiens, in a world where energy will by quite scarce to come by, especially in the quantities necessary to do heat intensive tasks like smelting metals?  It means in all likelihood that over time, even assuming we survive Climate Change, that even the Basic Invention of the Wheel will fall into disuse, for lack of materials and energy to create a working one.

https://www.e-education.psu.edu/files/egee401/image/lesson07/Parabolic.jpgIf you are believer enough in the Promise of Renewable Energy sources, using concentrated Solar for instance to create enough heat to smelt metals, perhaps you believe this day will never come to pass.  However, it is quite easy to see why it could be real difficult to make metal smelting completely Renewable from Solar Energy.

If you talk about TODAY, you probably could build a Solar Heat collecting plant that would focus down enough heat on a single target to get temps high enough to smelt metal.  Utilize big Fresnel Lenses, build huge concave reflectors in the desert, etc.  However, the big lenses you need and the large concave reflectors also take metal and/or glass and plastics to create, so they themselves are dependent these days on fossil fuel energy to make.

Then you have to imagine the problem of mining the ore, or even scavenging the metal from Skyscrapers to reform in these new Renewable plants and then Transporting said TONS of material to wherever this plant is located without fossil fuels. Maybe you could keep a well built Plant you build today in operation for 50 or even 100 years, but could you keep building new ones and keep getting the materials to them to keep making enough "stuff" to build new replacement plants AND have leftover energy enough to drive a mining and transportation system that delivers the Raw Materials to your Renewable Energy Metalworking Plant?  Seems pretty hard to imagine, especially as Trade begins to break down and you need to work with all LOCAL MATERIALS.

http://www.badassoftheweek.com/grylls.jpgImagine you are Bear Grylls or Eustace Conway or Urban Scout Peter Michael Bauer or some other super duper independent type who at least by the Hype can survive anywhere.  Could Bear or Eustace or PMB make a working Wheel/Axle combination with JUST what whas available to him out in the Bush?  I'll even give all of them a nice Hunting Knife, Hatchet and Campsaw made of Metal to start with!  Might be able to make a somewhat functional Wheelbarrow to move around dirt at low speeds, but nothing past that really without stronger and more resilient materials that nature does not provide.

The Wheel as a functional unit with the Axle is not a BASIC technology, though it is defined as one of the Simple Machines along with the Lever, the Incline Plane, Pulley and Screw.  It is a COMPOSITE technology, which can only function by utilizing some other technologies (metal working particularly) that are highly ENERGY DEPENDENT!  Unless some very effective substitute technologies get invented/implemented that do NOT depend on burning a lot of fossil fuels and/or trees, metal working goes Bye-Bye and then so does the Wheel!

Now, I am not saying this is gonna happen Overnight, and at least the way the Temps seem to be climbing here, there is a good chance we will be Extinct before we see this fully play itself out.  The Axles that can be scavenged off of Dead Cars and Trucks to use for your Oxen Drawn Cart or Wagon are likely good for a Century or two if well cared for.  However, in the absence of copious Available Energy to work metal, the Wheel is HISTORY here as one of our Inventions that disappears, along with the I-phones, Plasma TVs and Nuke Power Plants.  These suckers will of course disappear a bit faster than the wheel does, and the biggest reason for all of that is what David Korowicz discusses with Supply Chain issues in our Podcast, and in his papers on Financial Contagion.  Just one small part like an O-Ring manufactured far away in a Factory on another Continent can shut down yet another factory producing wheel spokes, and that then shuts down the wheel factory in yet another country.  If you cannot access ALL the parts necessary for production of ANYTHING, once the Global Supply Chain collapses, you are SOL manufacturing whatever it is you make, from Wheels to Iphones.

In the near term for the Doomer, the thing to figure is what you can reasonably build with what you can SCAVENGE locally, and what you have resources to REPAIR locally.  Then you have to calculate how much Energy it will take to repair said technology, and whether the ROI on repairing it is worth the expenditure of said energy.  Do you Burn a Forest to repair and reform Broken Axles made of Steel?  Is it WORTH it, or do you do without the Wheel here?

http://content9.flixster.com/question/40/33/80/4033807_std.jpgMost really high tech stuff will be completely irreperable once broken, you can't make a new Motherboard for your Laptop locally of course no matter what materials might be available in the neighborhood.  The more basic technologies can be repaired for a significant time period in theory, but even those will be difficult to keep working.

Accessing Energy early on in the development of Civilization underpins ALL the inventions we use to live the kind of Lifestyle we do.  Absent the availability of copious energy, this form of living cannot persist.  It goes the way of the Dinosaur when the Energy resources do, and they are already well into decline.  No indication as of this writing that renewables can substitute effectively in the multitude of areas necessary to keep the supply chain integrity intact.  So in all likelihood, when it does Collapse, it will Collapse FAST, in a Cascade Failure.

Best Bet?  Learn to live SIMPLE now, do with as little Tech as you can.  Learn to Scavenge and Repair.  This probably works for the next generation.  After that… in the Words of Mr. Spock…Stone Knives and Bear Skins, and no WHEELS either.

RE

Reaching Oil Limits – New Paradigms are Needed

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

Published on Our Finite World on April 30, 2013


Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Table inside the Diner

I have written in recent posts that oil limits are more complex than what many have imagined. They aren’t just a lack of a liquid fuel; they are inability to compete in a global economy that is based on use of cheaper fuel (coal) and a lower standard of living. Oil prices that are too low for oil exporting nations are a problem, just as oil prices that are too high are a problem for oil importing nations.

Debt limits are also closely tied to oil supply limits. It is actually debt limits, such as those we seem to be reaching right now, that may bring the whole system to a screeching stop. (See my posts How Resource Limits Lead to Financial CollapseHow Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse, Peak Oil Demand is Already a Huge Problem, and Low Oil Prices Lead to Economic Peak Oil.)

We have many Main Street Media (MSM) paradigms that mischaracterize our current predicament. But we also have what I would call Green paradigms, that aren’t really right either, because they don’t recognize the true state of our predicament. What we need now is new set of paradigms. Let’s look at a few common beliefs.

Inadequate Oil Supply Paradigm

As I stated above, indications that oil supply is a problem are confusing. MSM seems to believe, “If the US can be oil independent, our oil supply problems are solved.” If a person believes the goofy models our economists have put together, this is perhaps true, but this is not true in the real world.

Without a huge, huge increase in US oil production (far more than is being proposed), being “oil independent” simply means that we are unable to compete in the world market for buying oil exports. US oil consumption ends up dropping, and we end up on the edge of recession, or actually in recession. Oil exports instead go to the countries that have lower manufacturing costs (that is, use oil more sparingly).  See Figure 1 below. In fact, even some of the oil products that are created by US refineries end up going to users in other countries, because it is businesses in other countries that are making many of today’s goods, and it is these businesses and the workers they hire who can  afford to buy products like gasoline for their cars or diesel for their irrigation pumps.

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

The Green version of this paradigm seems to be, “If world oil supply is rising, everything is fine.” This is related to the idea that our problem is “peak oil” production caused by geological depletion, and if we haven’t hit peak oil production, everything is more or less OK. In fact, the limit we are reaching is an economic limit, that comes far before world oil supply begins to decline for geological reasons. See my post, Low Oil Prices Lead to Economic Peak Oil.

The real paradigm is, “Limited oil supply leads to financial collapse.” This is true for both oil exporters and for oil importer. For oil importers, the problem occurs because they cannot import enough oil, and oil is needed for critical parts of the economy. The belief by economists that substitution will take place is not happening in the quantity and at the price level (very low) that it needs to happen at, to keep the economy expanding as it has in the past.

Limited oil supply first leads to high oil prices, as it did in the 2004 to 2008 period; then it leads to government financial distress, as governments try to deal with less employment and lower tax revenue. By the time oil prices start falling because of the poor condition of oil importers, we are well on our way down the slippery slope to financial collapse.

Growth Paradigm

The MSM version of this paradigm is, “Growth can be expected to continue forever.” A corollary to this is, “The economy can be expected to return to robust growth, soon.”

In a finite world, this paradigm is obviously untrue.  At some point, we start reaching limits of various kinds, such as fresh water limits and the inability to extract an adequate supply of oil cheaply.

Economists base their models on the assumption that the economy only needs labor and capital; it doesn’t need specific resources such as fresh water and energy of the proper type. Unfortunately, substitutability among resources is not very good, and price is all-important. In the real world, growth slows as resources become more expensive to extract.

The Green version of the growth paradigm seems to be, “We can have a steady state economy forever.” Unfortunately, this is just as untrue as the “Growth can be expected to continue to forever.” Even to maintain a steady state economy requires far more cheap-to-extract oil resources than the earth really has. (US shale oil resources, which are the new hope for oil growth, can only grow if oil prices are sufficiently high.)

We are very dependent on fossil fuels for making our food supply possible and for our ability to make metals in reasonable quantity. Fossil fuels are also necessary for making concrete and glass in reasonable quantities, and for making modern renewable energy, such as hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, and PV panels. We cannot keep 7 billion people alive without fossil fuels. Perhaps the quantity of fossil fuels consumed can be temporarily reduced from current levels, but with continued population growth, any savings will be quickly offset by additional mouths to feed and by the desire of the poorest segment of the population to have the living standards of the richest.

Unfortunately, the correct version of the paradigm seems to be, “Overshoot and collapse is to be expected.” This is what happens in nature, whenever any species discovers a way to way to increase its energy (food) supply. Yeast, when added to grape juice will multiply, until the yeast have consumed the available sugars and turned them to alcohol. They then die.

The same pattern has happened over and over with historical civilizations. They learned to use a new approach that allowed them to increase food supply (such as clearing land of trees and farming the land, or adding irrigation to an area), but eventually population caught up. Research shows that before collapse, they reached financial limits much as we are reaching now. The symptoms, both then and now, were increasingly great wage disparity between the rich and the working class, and governments that needed ever-higher taxes to fund their operations.

Eventually a Crisis period hit these historical civilizations, typically lasting 20 to 50 years. Workers rebelled against the higher taxes, and more government changes took place. Governments fought wars to get more resources, with many killed in battle. Epidemics became more of a problem, because of the weakened condition of workers who could no longer afford an adequate diet. Eventually the population was greatly reduced, sometimes to zero. A new civilization did not rise again for many years.

Figure 2. One possible future path of future real (that is, inflation-adjusted) GDP, under an overshoot and collapse scenario.

Figure 2. One possible future path of future real (that is, inflation-adjusted) GDP, under an overshoot and collapse scenario.

It seems to me that unfortunately overshoot and collapse is the model to expect. It is not a model anyone would like to have happen, so there is great opposition when the idea is suggested. Overshoot and collapse is very similar to the model described in the 1972 book Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows and others.

Role of Economics, Science, and Technology Paradigm

The MSM paradigm seems to be, “Economics and the businesses that make up the economy can solve all problems.” Growth will continue. New technology will solve all problems. We don’t need religion any more, because we now understand what makes people happy: More stuff! As long as the economy can give people more stuff, people will be satisfied and happy. Economics even can allow us to find “green” solutions that will solve environmental problems with win-win solutions (assuming you believe MSM).

The Green version of the paradigm seems to be, “Science and technology can solve all problems, and can properly alert us to future problems.” Again, we don’t need religion, because here we can put our faith in science to solve all of our problems.

I am not sure the Green version of the paradigm is any more accurate than the MSM media version. Science is not good at figuring out turning points. It is very easy to miss interactions that are outside the realm of science, and more in the realm of economics–for example, the fact high-priced oil is not an adequate substitute for cheap-to-extract oil, and it is the lack of cheap oil that is causing a major portion of today’s problem.

It is also very easy to put together climate change models that are based on far too high assumptions of the amount of fossil fuels that will be burned in the future, because economic interactions are missed. If debt collapse brings down the economy, it will bring down all fossil fuels at once, meaning that the vast majority of what we think of as reserves today will stay in the ground forever. A debt collapse will also affect renewables, by cutting off production of new renewables, and by making maintenance of existing systems more difficult.

The real paradigm should be, “Neither science and technology, nor economics can solve the problems of humans. We have instincts similar to those of other species to reproduce in far greater numbers than needed for survival, and to utilize all resources available to us. This leads us toward overshoot and collapse scenarios, even though we have great knowledge.

Because of our propensity toward overshoot and collapse scenarios, humans have a real need for a “moral compass” to tell us what is right and wrong. If there is no longer enough food to go around, how do we decide which family members should get it? Is it OK to start a civil war, if there are not enough resources to go around? There is also a need to deal with our many personal disappointments, such as finding that the advanced degrees we worked so hard on will have little use in the future, and that life expectancies are much lower. Perhaps there is still a need for religion, even though many have abandoned the idea. The “story line” of religions may not sound exactly reasonable, but if a particular religion can provide reasonable guidance on how to handle today’s problems, it may still be helpful.

Climate Change Paradigm

The MSM view of climate change seems to vary with the country. In the US, the view seems to be that it is not too important, and that it can be adapted to. Perhaps the models are not right. In Europe, there is more belief that the models are right, and that local cutbacks in fossil fuel consumption will reduce world CO2 production.

The Green view of climate change seems to be, “Of course climate change models are 100% right. We should rationally be able to solve the problem.” There is only the minor detail that humans (like other species) have a basic instinct to use energy resources at their disposal to allow more of their offspring to live and to allow themselves personally to live longer.

Unfortunately, a more realistic view is that climate change may indeed be happening, and may indeed by caused by human actions, but (1) we are already on the edge of collapse. Moving collapse ahead by a few months will not solve the climate change problem, and (2) collapse itself is an even worse problem than climate change to deal with.  By the time rising ocean levels become a problem, population is likely to be low enough that the remaining population can move to higher ground, and agriculture can move to where the climate is more hospitable.

Climate change may indeed cause population to drop even more than it would if our only problem were overshoot and collapse. But because the cause is related to human instincts (having more offspring than needed to replace oneself and the drive to use energy supplies that are available), changing the underlying behavior is extremely difficult.

Over the eons, the earth has been cycling from one climate state to another, with one species after another being the dominant species. Perhaps natural balances are such that the time has now come that humans’ turn as the dominant species is over. The earth is now ready to cycle to a state where some other species is dominant, perhaps a type of plant that can use high carbon dioxide levels. If this is the case, this is another disappointment that we  will need to deal with.

Nature of  Our Problem Paradigm

The MSM’s paradigm seems to be, “Our problem is getting the economy back to growth.” Or, perhaps, “Our problem is preventing climate change.

In a way, the MSM paradigm of “Our problem is getting the economy back to growth,” has some truth to it. We are slipping into financial collapse, and in a sense, getting the economy back to growth would be a solution to the problem.

The underlying problem, however, is that oil supply is getting more and more expensive to extract. This means that an increasing share of resources must be devoted to oil extraction, and to other necessary activities (such as desalinating water because we are reaching fresh water limits as well). As a result, the rest of the world’s economy is getting squeezed back. See my post Our Investment Sinkhole Problem. Squeezing the world’s economy creates great problems for all of the debt outstanding. The likely outcome is widespread debt defaults, and collapse of the world economy as we know it.

The Green paradigm seems to be, “We have a liquid fuel supply problem.“  If we can solve this with other liquid fuels, or with electricity, we will be fine. Many Greens also emphasize the climate change problem, so their big issue is finding electric solutions for the liquid fuel supply problems. There is also an emphasis on local food production, especially with respect to perishable foods.

Unfortunately, the real problem seems to be, “We are facing a financial collapse scenario that is likely to wreak havoc on all energy sources at once.” Using less oil products may be helpful for a while, but in the long term, we are dealing with an issue of major system collapses. Using less of a particular product “works” as long as the supply chain for that product is still intact, including the existence of all of the factories needed to make the product, and the existence of trained workers to operate the factories. Banks also need to remain open. World trade needs to continue as well, if we are to keep our supply chains operating. The real danger is that supply chains for many essential services, including fresh water, sewage disposal, medicines, grain production, road repair, and electricity transmission repair will be interrupted. As a result, we will need to find local solutions for all of them.

The situation we are facing is not at all good. While we can do a little, it will be very challenging to build a new system that does not use fossil fuels. In the past, when the world did not use fossil fuels, the population was much lower than today–one billion or less.

Also, in the past, we started simple, and gradually added complexity to solve the problems that arose. This time around, we need to do the reverse. We already have very complex systems, that are too difficult to maintain for the long term. What we need instead is simpler systems that can be maintained with local materials. This is not a direction in which science and technology is used to working.

Creating new systems that require only local resources (and a few other resources, if transport can be arranged) will be a real challenge. Areas of the world that have never adopted modern technology would seem  to have the bast chance of making such a change.

Importance of Tomorrow Paradigm

MSM seems to assume that we can save and plan for tomorrow. Greens have a similar view.

Perhaps, given the changes that are happening, we need to change our focus more toward to day, and less toward tomorrow. How can we make today the best day possible? What are the good things we can appreciate about today? Are there simple things we can enjoy today, like sunshine, and fresh air, and our children?

We have come to believe that we can and will fix all of the problems of tomorrow. Perhaps we can; but perhaps we cannot. Maybe we need to simply take each day as it comes, and solve that day’s problems as best as we can. That may be all we can reasonably accomplish.

Can We Envision Future Homo Eusapiens?

Off the keyboard of George Mobus

Published on Question Everything on April 20, 2013

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

Why Try?

Quite likely many readers will wonder why I spend time thinking about the distant future, why I would speculate about where human evolution might lead when I could never possibly know what will actually happen. Undoubtedly their questioning is well founded. I myself wonder what motivates me! There is no way I could ever find out if my speculations were in any sense accurate. Why even bother to write any of this down?

There are possibly three arguments I can offer, all of which may still seem weak to many, but then again, maybe they are enough.

The first argument is very personal. Thinking that there might actually be a future for the human genus is comforting. More than that, thinking it is highly likely fills me with a sense that our lives have actually meant something good, ironically as it is, even as we work furiously to destroy the environment that nurtured us. We all have a deep biologically-based need for this kind of sense being fulfilled. It is the basis for so many humans accepting theistic religious doctrines. One needs to believe that there is a universal story that has some kind of a plot, and that our contributions to it are meaningful, even if bit parts[1]. I offered “Does evolution have a trajectory” sometime back, expressing what I hold to be a science-based teleonomic[2] explanation of the story of the Universe in which the operations of the second law of thermodynamics and the evolution of higher organization, seemingly antagonistic processes, could simultaneously lead to both dispersal of energy and pockets of life and meta-life (see also What is the Universe Up To?).

The second argument is, perhaps, a bit more pragmatic; or at least it might offer some insights to help us face what I take to be the impending population bottleneck (Catton, 2009). And that might be viewed as a kind of plan for how our species can traverse the bottleneck in a way that positions it for progressive evolution to a more eusapient species in the distant future. If we actually can have a vision of what that might look like, we just might be more energized in working toward making it happen. I have presented the case for making sure highly sapient people differentially get through the bottleneck.

The third argument is motivated by the fact that one has to fight the good fight right to the end. I am a scientist (and maybe a little bit of a philosopher) and driven by a need to understand the phenomena I see before me. I have long been puzzled by what I see in humanity. There is so much that seems irrational when one buys into the notion that we are a smart species. I’ve written extensively about sapience, or lack thereof, of course. But now I think I see more aspects of our human condition. It is all related to sapience but connects more dots than that previous thesis attempted. Moreover, it is the basis of an explanatory story about the present extant species. And that helps to explain why we are so neurotic and all too often psychotic (or at least suffer antisocial personality disorders to one degree or another).

We have much to explain about current humans, their beliefs, and their natures. Psychology, even neuropsychology will have difficulty explaining why we act the way we do unless it is framed in the context of the universal evolutionary process. The story goes from the origins and evolution of the hominids, brings us to the current situation, and then must recognize that the plot is written by on-going evolutionary forces that will propel us into a future that we might be able to vaguely conjecture. Every story has an arc.

We build all kinds of models of systems as we find them for the purpose of generating plausible if not probable future scenarios for those systems. Consider my exploration of the human condition as attempting to build such a model, at least in a mental form.

Mankind in Transition

The extant human species is in a difficult transition. It has just emerged as a species possessing the capabilities of mind that make it much superior in cleverness to all prior animals and the beginnings of sapience. It is in a precarious position. A dangerous position. As I have conjectured, humans, as we are, posses only emergent sapience. We show the beginnings of a capacity to use higher order judgements to obtain ecological closure — to manage ourselves consciously to live in balance with the Ecos. The evolution of cleverness had long preceded sapience and so had, so to speak, a head start. The emergence of sapience acted to accelerate the development of higher cleverness which ultimately led to our being too smart for our own good.

Unlike previous species that continually had to be tested for fitness, and balance was achieved by external feedback loops (predation, diseases, etc.), humans have seemed to transcend the normal bounds of biology and have leapt free of natural selection as it is normally understood in biology. This is, of course, only an illusion. Natural selection never sleeps. It may be true that our population growth has escaped the normal kinds of controls, but that only leads to different forces of selection acting on our raw material. As we have seen, and I have endeavored to report in some of these postings, natural limits are coming swiftly into play to curtail humanity’s unreasoned exuberance and finally rein in human expansion beyond the carrying capacity of the planet for our kind. We are deluded by our seeming success and it will soon become apparent. Not only will our numbers be culled but that new regime of contraction will act as yet another new way for selection to act.

This illusion was created by virtue of our evolved cleverness. We are exceptional in our ability to use symbolic communications and reasoning along with our incomparable capacity to invent technological ways to adapt to changing and challenging environments. We were so successful as a species that our kind now inhabit every continent on the planet and every type of environment has been colonized. And that success has led us into the trap of thinking that cleverness trumps all else. Due to our weak, emerging sapience we could be aware of our accomplishments, but not wise about how to use our cleverness. Van R. Potter (1971) defined wisdom as “knowledge of how to use knowledge”. We tend to use our knowledge to solve vexing problems like how to make more lethal weapons, or grow more food without ever asking whether we should or not. We never really consider unintended consequences when seeking solutions that make life more comfortable or allow us to go faster from point A to point B.

But even over the history of our emergence as a species and development toward complex global societies we have demonstrated repeatedly that we are dangerous to ourselves and to the rest of the Ecos. We have demonstrated repeatedly that we carry demons inside that when unleashed cause us to behave abhorrently. Even so, as Steven Pinker (2011) points out we have also emerged with a more highly developed eusocial tendency that has allowed us to reduce the levels of violence that our species lived with for so long. Civilization depends on socialization, the ability for individuals to cooperate with one another in order to achieve things that they could not on their own. And sociality has a biological basis.

Homo sapiens is at a nexus of evolutionary progress in which seemingly competing forces push and pull in so many directions. In particular we have crossed a threshold of consciousness such that we are aware of our own awareness. We can puzzle at our own experience of phenomenal experience. Moreover we can think about it and everything else in abstract language. We can communicate with one another through symbols; even our acts become symbolic. We are both sub- and consciously aware that others are conscious in the same way we are and so, from a deep level to the light of our conscious experience, we can feel and know what others feel and know by reflection onto ourselves. We are empathetic in ways no prior beast has ever been.

Our evolved moral sentimentality, the general behavioral rules of conduct we are compelled to recognize and judge in ourselves and others, has moved increasingly in a direction that compels us to feel a need to cooperate more than compete. We have evolved the capacity to form alliances beyond families and tribes. And we actively seek to do so in many situations. Cooperativity is at the heart of group success and reproductive fitness, hence has evolutionary appeal. However we need to always remember that this is a trait that is expressed “on average”; the range of expression or non-expression of the trait is still quite high. Unfortunately it seems that those who express the trait least tend to also take commanding positions in a culture of capitalism.

Beyond cooperativity we have evolved genuine emotional bonding, friendships and loves, that exceed the necessary levels for family life. Camaraderie, social clubs, and such involve deep personal attractions to others. We experience love of friends and have strong need of the esteem of others.

These are a few of the ways in which we humans have evolved to promote sociality as the primary route to evolutionary success. Unfortunately we carry yet a tremendous amount of biological history of competition (intra- and inter-species) for resources, mates, space, etc. And that hasn’t gone away. Evolution works by accretion and remolding any redundant facilities for new purposes. The brain’s structures reflect this clearly. The fact of our wonderful neocortex does not eliminate the need for or functions of the limbic centers. The prefrontal cortex does not obviate the need for the sensory, association, action loop of the rest of the cortex. We are an amalgam of old behaviors and more recently evolved ones. And the more recently evolved capabilities will necessarily not be in complete control. Ergo, we so often seem to suffer from dissociative identity disorder. We are literally many people in one. Some aggressive, mean. Others gentle and kind. Some of those personalities seem to prevail, others wither.

This makes us dangerous.

Even so, as Pinker (2011) points out, the better angels of our nature[3], generally come out when the conditions warrant. The problem is, and has always been, how do we make sure the conditions do warrant? How do we avoid conditions where our worst angels prevail?

The emergence of sapience gave animal life a foot into the door of sentient eusociality — the possibility for highly intelligent beings to achieve living together in harmony with one another and with the Ecos without becoming ant-like automatons in a rigid social structure. It provides a pathway for individual consciousness to abide without individualism causing us to resort to unfettered competition. We can form communities that exist in a steady-state flow of energy, sustained so long as that energy flows. Sapience amplifies one more attribute of cognition that emerged in primate evolution, the capacity to think about the future and about aspects of the environment that might not even seem to be relevant to one’s existence — strategic thinking.

It was a weak attribute, in the population on average, to begin with. And it was probably weakened further as a result of the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Something that isn’t used in biology generally atrophies, both physiologically, and, over sufficient time, evolutionarily (think of the eyeless cave fishes). Today the vast majority of people do not think strategically, not even some of the smartest people. They can be very clever at addressing immediate problems, and devise ingenious short-term solutions, but fail to see the long-term consequences of those solutions.

 

Eusociality is what Edward Wilson (2012) had originally defined (for eusocial insects) as:

  • Reproductive division of labor (with or without sterile castes)
  • Overlapping generations
  • Cooperative care of young

But more recently he has expanded the characteristics to include features that are common in species beyond the insect colonies such as the naked mole rats of Africa (see further discussion below).More recent thinking by social and evolutionary psychologists tends to apply the notion of eusociality to humans as well as a larger number on non-insect species. They hold that it varies in terms of mechanisms by which a stronger social network is constructed and maintained. But the end result is that individuals of the species have a compelling need to interact and cooperate with other individuals. In the case of humans this resulted originally in the tribal organization and more recently the larger scale of nation states. There is some doubt that the latter qualifies as a eusocial structure since regional and even local eusocial structures can often override the effects of the larger national structures. Nevertheless, the evidence that humans must operate in a eusocial structure in general is overwhelming.

Is it Possible to Imagine Future Evolution for Mankind?

In prior writings I have focused on the evolution of hominids that led to the emergence of sapience in the symbol-cognitive species we call Homo sapiens (see: Introduction or Evolution).

Sometimes the answers are right in front of you but you don’t see them for lack of perspective!

I will argue that there are three basic conditions of human existence that portend what future, highly sapient humans might be like that will achieve truly sustainable eusociality. By sustainable I mean that the societies of these future humans will be able to live in balance with the Ecos and not generate the stress on the environment, nor use up natural resources in consumption that the current species of humans has achieved by its attempts to grow.

I’ve been reading two very interesting books with greatly overlapping subjects but examined from different perspectives. My method has been to interleave readings from each so as to compare and find the common themes. They are The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson (2012) and Masters of the Planet: The Search for Human Origins by Ian Tattersall (2012). Both books cover the evolution of humans, essentially going back to the presumed last common ancestor of humans and chimps. Tattersall’s interests lay in the evolution of the tribal structure the progression of species phenotypic forms, their distribution geographically, and the cultures of early humans up to the current species. Wilson’s interest is in the development of social structures based on the biological basis of eusociality. Both examine how human intelligence and emotional aspects have evolved to strengthen the level of eusociality. Below I mention a third book that I had read some time ago, Frans de Waal’s The Age of Empathy. de Waal studies great apes, particularly chimpanzees and bonobos. His observations of the differences in social order and dynamics between those two were interesting. In an earlier book, Our Inner Ape, he explored the relations between human social interactions and those of bonobos, but particularly the comparison of sexual behaviors between the latter and the former. Humans are more like bonobos in many aspects of sociality and sexuality, namely, the latter is somewhat decoupled from mere reproductive purposes. In humans the decoupling appears to be even more.

The three conditions I alluded to above emerged in my mind from these readings on the evolution of Homo sapiens. They are: Language and shared abstract thinking; Empathy, the sharing of feelings and emotions; and Pleurisexuality[4], the evolution of sex as a mechanism for sharing pleasure broadly between all members of a group, decoupled largely from its reproductive role.

The suggestion I am going to make is that humans currently are caught between opposing forces of evolutionarily older behaviors and these three that have been emerging in us. And that is what makes us neurotic. Ironically, the evolution of sapience, which is strongly linked to these three traits, created this dichotomous tension. It will take a further evolution of the strength of sapience which is the mental capacity to quell the more primitive influences and allow these mechanisms for increasing eusapience to dominate in future humans’ behaviors. The future of human evolution may involve significant increases in these, and, hopefully, will lead to far less neurosis. Wiser people will accept the reality of how cooperativity can be strengthened by biological factors.

Let’s take a closer look at these mechanisms.

 

Language and Abstract Thinking

In my working papers on sapience, in particular, The Evolution of Sapience I have made a link between the evolution of language facilities and the evolution of the hierarchical management system of the human brain and social structures, especially the aspect of strategic thinking (see also: Sapient Governance III – Strategic Management). In order for human groups to achieve strategic management there had to be a means of having very abstract concepts of time, place, and relations of other systems in the environment and sharing those concepts between members of the tribe. The mental facilities for having such abstractions represented in neural networks gave rise to the capacity of tool making that our ancestors developed. The capacity to share concepts through language made it possible to construct mental representations of complex relations very efficiently.

Since I have written extensively about these subjects in the above references series of working papers I will not recapitulate that work here. Instead I want to focus on the impact of language on sociality and increases in cooperativity. Our languages are evolving in sophistication as part of our cultural evolution. Everyone experiences the problems of semantics when several people are saying the same words but mean different things by them. People can argue about a subject simply by talking past one another. But in certain fields or disciplines there has emerged considerable refinement of what specific words mean and how they are to be used in constructing complex concepts. I speak, of course, of the various sciences where there has been increasing consensus regarding the meaning of words and sentences owing to the background of how those words are invented and used in the practice of science. This shows how language can contribute to increasing cooperation. Even scientists who are competing for grant money can agree on fundamentals and even cooperate in advancing the state of knowledge while seeming to be at each others’ throats for publication priority.

In most other areas of life we tend to do OK most of the time. But as anyone who has gotten into a marital or familial dispute, or for that matter any kind of emotional dispute with anyone else knows language can fail. You can swear you meant one thing by something you said, but the other is failing to understand the intent, or what you really meant. This is partly a result of the inherent ambiguity that resides in much of language, especially in more complex constructs like sentences. So the facility of language for day-to-day interactions is still not sufficiently developed to support ordinary cooperativity to the extent we can imagine is possible, given the example of scientific communications. Here what matters is the further evolution of the human mind’s capacity for more precise representation that comes with increasing capacity for systems thinking. From my writing on sapience you would find that both strategic and systems thinking are features of a comprehensive capacity to develop tacit knowledge of how the world, including other humans, works. Weakly developed systems thinking leads to fuzzy concepts and ambiguous meanings and that leads to ambiguous language skills.

The evolution of stronger sapience should lead to a better capacity to use language and actually understand one another. This has to lead to a higher capacity to achieve cooperation and solve problems (the right ones) cooperatively. It should lead to an ability to describe problems abstractly and still ensure the concepts are shared among members. It should allow members to share proposals and arguments for/against without talking past one another. There need not be any further evolution of the language facility itself, only an improvement in the mental representations that languages communicate. Much of this involves the representations of others’ minds and beliefs. A more sapient mind would not harbor misconceptions about what someone else means by a phrase or word. If there were to be doubt, the simple solution is to ask questions until the meaning became clear. A sapient mind would be able to recognize that clarity when it emerged.

 

 

Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to similarly experience (feel) another individuals emotional states (affective empathy) and to recognize how that other must feel (cognitive empathy). At a conscious level we perceive that other person’s condition and think about it. Coupled with moral judgement, an individual may be strongly motivated to comfort someone in pain or congratulate someone who has just accomplished something great. In other words we behave in highly socially beneficial ways as a result of the interpersonal connection empathy provides us.

Between spoken language and “body” language it should be clear that we humans have a fantastic capacity for understanding what is going on in our fellow beings, often even when the other might be trying to hide it. There is something about our brains that is pushing us to become entrained in the inner life of our fellow beings. Neuroscience is starting to examine this phenomenon inside living brains.

There is a growing interest in a neuronal network system in the brain called mirror neurons. These neurons are involved in brain activities both when the individual performs an action and when that individual observes another individual performing the same or similar action. Thus the term ‘mirror’ It has been hypothesized that this neuronal subsystem is responsible for mental understanding of others’ actions and intentions and may be the basis for empathetic thinking. The scientific jury is still deliberating on these ideas. But it should be clear that there is something going on in neural networks that shows relatively narrow tuning of activity correlated with specific actions on the part of the actor and those observing the actor. My own suspicion is that mirror neurons are not directly responsible for encoding these actions, but rather are active as a result of the activation of specific mental models (in the neural medium) that entail the synchronized firing of a large network of representations of all of the relevant attributes of the action. Since most of those attributes are likely to be external to the actor, but observed and recorded as part of the action, when the actor observes these attributes applying as a different actor than themselves goes through the action, then it is not surprising that specific neurons, participating in that learned network, should differentially fire. In other words these so-called mirror neurons do not cause action-features learning but are merely an effect of that learning having occurred. In my own version of neural network coding this would be no different than what happens when we learn concepts. Concepts are encoded in relatively isolated networks that receive input from the various low-level features that constitute the attributes of the concept. See my working paper on The Neuroscience of Sapience. Search for the section titled: Representing Concepts in Neural Networks. In my view concepts are concepts, and everything that we encode, no matter what level of complexity, is simply a concept.

The important thing to recognize is that our brains are capable of seeing others go through actions that our own internal representations of us going through those same actions generate internal activations of the concept models and cause us to “virtually” experience them. There is no fundamental reason why this should not be true of emotionally-tagged actions, like making facial expressions relating to an emotional state, as well as simpler motor actions (where most of the work on mirror neurons has been done). This being the case we see that the brain has a built in mechanism for making strong emotional connections between individuals[5].

Humans have evolved the highest level of empathy of any mammal and any of the great apes (de Waal, 2009; Wilson, 2012). Wilson notes that empathy and altruistic tendencies are at the root of eusociality in humans. According to Wilson, et. al, these mental capacities were under very strong selective pressures during the rise of Homo sapiens. The nature of the selection mechanism is multi-level, but with the main emphasis on group selection wherein cooperation within a group led to more successful exploitation of the environment and thus more successful competition with other groups that sought the same resources. Given the emerging picture of humans as living in small tribal communities of hunter-gatherers that required large territories for support, it is not hard to picture this arrangement favoring mental development that promoted empathy and desires to help one’s fellow tribesperson.

In my working papers I describe the relations between moral sentiment and affect (see The Components of Sapience Explained). Empathy comes from our deep motivation to connect with and understand one another. It is biologically determined though it comes in different levels of strength. Narcissists, extreme libertarians, and extreme sociopaths may have very little, even no empathetic feelings for their fellow beings. Facultative care-givers, on the other hand, tend to be highly empathetic. Sufficiently strong empathetic feelings provide the motivation (desire and drive) to cooperate with our fellows. Empathetic feelings can promote communalism (as opposed to individualism) but is also at the root of the us-vs-them thinking that leads to between-group conflict. This is what is left over from our evolutionary past.

Nevertheless, we see that we humans have been able to expand the circle of what we mean by ‘we’. We did evolve a capacity to include those who we originally considered outsiders as members of our group. We’ve witnessed groups coalesce, nation states form, and so many other forms of strangers becoming neighbors if not brothers that leads us to think that empathy itself has been subject to positive selection and has thus increased as the world seemed to shrink.

In any case, it will have to evolve further so that the ‘them’ category shrinks to nothing. Sapience allows us to view strangers as potential allies and to think we understand what they are thinking and feeling. Eusapience must involve having strong empathetic feelings for everyone with whom an individual comes in contact. Increase in empathy increases the desire to cooperate for mutual benefit, necessary for eusociality to be dominant in a human species.

 

 

Plurisexuality

Warning: what follows may come as a shock or even as offensive to some readers. We take the subject of sex and sexual behaviors for granted. We assume that what we do now, in terms of things like marriage (pair bonding), courtship, etc. are normal behaviors for our species. That is why it has been so hard to shift the currents away from a strict social norm of heterosexuality to allow recognition of homosexuality as natural and allow that same-sex marriage should be recognized. That most recent shift in the currents shows that the truth will out! We need to reexamine our socially-constructed assumptions about the whole subject of sexuality. The evidence for a completely different understanding has been building and must now be examined anew.

Has it ever occurred to you that it is awfully strange that we humans are so obsessed with sex? With one known exception, we are the only mammals that engage in sex regardless of the ovulation state of the female. Other animals are not really obsessed with sex except in mating seasons. The exception is interesting. It is not really obsessed with sex either because it freely practices sexual behaviors with abandon. That is the animal that is thought to be our closest living relative, the Bonobo. (Pan paniscus) Bonobos, or pygmy chimps, use sex as a socializing way to reduce tension, minimize aggression, and, apparently, to just have fun. Moreover, the sex they practice is plurisexual, that is it can be homosexual, heterosexual, oral, and group. It has even been reported that a few bonobo brothers and sisters practiced incest though it is not known if pregnancies resulted. The only assumed taboo seems to be mothers do not have sex with adult sons. They even have sex with members of other tribes and do not seem to engage in the same kind of aggressions between groups that are common in the standard chimpanzees. These are animals in their natural habitat who have evolved the use of sex as a means to reach social harmony. And, to repeat, they are our closest cousins! We shared a common ancestor that may have very well been similarly pleurisexual.

Not only are humans obsessed with sex in what seems an unnatural, or at least an unhealthy way, they are obsessive about the sexual lives of their fellow humans. What week passes without blasting news stories about how some prominent politician or celebrity has been caught with their pants down (homo, hetero, or some combination thereof)? How much news time did Bill Clinton’s transgression against sexual norms take up, let alone the obsessions of the Republican members of congress? How much political energy has gone into the supposed moral questions revolving around same-sex marriage, or abortion, or sex education. As a species we are completely dominated by sexuality, our own as individuals, and that of everyone else around us. And it is a deeply conflicted obsession for many.

What is sexual deviance? There really isn’t a clear cut definition that, say, the psychology community can agree on[6]. Pornography abounds because there is a massive audience for it. Homosexuality and bisexuality abound. Pedophilia abounds, apparently, even among classes of people who have sworn off sex. And what makes some people so obsessed with making sure others don’t practice what they consider deviant sex? Homophobia and the hate it generates are a case in point. Could it be that homophobes are simply suffering deep anxieties about their own sexuality? Might many people who are so vociferous about the evil of being gay are simply suffering from subconscious guilt at having found someone of their own sex, at sometime in their lives, attractive?

Put simply, human beings are caught in a struggle between two conflicting urges when it comes to sex. On the one hand we evolved, in our small tribes, to form pair bonds, males and females, long enough to rear offspring to the point they were autonomous, say ten to fifteen years (see below for the differences between us and bonobos). The bonding was not based on what we today call “love”, though it obviously includes many forms and levels of affection. It was simply the only practical arrangement. The way our species and their predecessors occupied the land, along with the need to nurture children for many years, mandated a certain amount of male-female affinity and group selection strengthened the tendency. Tribes were small and some evidence now suggests that the exchange of females for mating purposes were problematic given the territorial ranges and group separations that made contact between groups infrequent. Recent evidence based on deformities in skulls that resemble those that occur in inbred populations have suggested that incest may have been more common in early humans simply because our numbers were so few and groups were sparsely distributed in Southern Africa. Mating for extended time has always been a difficult but necessary behavioral trait. The real question is, does this mean mating for life is a biological given? The frequency of divorces in western societies suggests we should not assume it is.

What if our genes for sexual behavior are more bonobo-like than we would have imagined given our current cultural state of affairs. We all take this state of affairs (marriage being the primary sanctioned mode for sex and child bearing) as the biological norm, but if that were the case why all of the extra-marital affairs and high divorce rates? Prior to the agricultural revolution it is possible that humans were far more like bonobos with respect to sexuality than we see today. Exclusive mating for life may not have been our natural proclivity. It is useful while rearing children, but even today it is by no means a biological dictum. A large fraction of our fictional “stories” involve sexual treacheries as posed against a background of the assumed notion of marriage. The latter is actually a fairly recent social norm which I suspect arose more to reinforce the stability of the emerging agrarian-based states than as a natural biological function. How else do you explain the fact that we tell ourselves fairy tales of fidelity but practice infidelity, often on a whim. We are not just inconsistent. We are deeply conflicted. How many marriages end in divorce? How many end because of an infidelity? How many end because of a desire for a change? The numbers seem to make it clear that biologically-speaking, we are not a bond-for-life species.

Bonobos do not have the same problems that we have associated with child rearing, namely the long development periods for youngsters, that requires male-female pairing. Bonobos reach autonomy in just a few years. Plus they are born able to cling to their mother’s fur and have a certain amount of self-sufficiency from an early age. Mother bonobos are not as restricted from foraging and other necessary living behaviors as are human mothers during their children’s infancies. Human mothers, on the other hand, require more assistance from mates and extended family members (the grandmother hypothesis is illustrative). It is likely that pair-bonding for the duration of family rearing evolved in the genus Homo in response to the need for longer development periods for children. So various biological mechanisms, such as oxytocin release from kissing and fondling, as well as hidden ovulation and female willingness to have sex outside of an estrous cycle (heat in most mammals) evolved to reinforce male bonding to females for this purpose. But it does not mean that the possibly older proclivity for sex outside that bond was submerged or lost. In fact, the modern patterns of infidelity simply point to the fact that they were not. Humans are still easily tempted to have sexual liaisons outside of any pair bond and this is true for both males and females, though presumably in different proportions.

What if marriage and life-long pair bonding are merely recent cultural inventions that do not conform to our basic biology but reflect an imposed belief thought needed to pacify males and maintain the social order. What if our current turmoil roiling around our sexual proclivities is just the exposure of our basic biological nature attempting to break out of this artificial enclosure. The sexual revolution of the 1960s, the apparent freedom with which teenagers today “hook up”, the rising number of pregnancies out of wedlock, and the rising numbers of non-married co-occupying couples in Western societies may be telling us something about ourselves to which we might want to pay attention.

Let’s suppose another theory. Suppose that humans really are not biologically predestined to heterosexual, pair-bonding for life unions. What if we are inherently much more like bonobos than we imagined? It would certainly help explain an awful lot about our obsessions and mental conflicts. On the one hand we have invented a social construct called marriage seeking social stability through nuclear families extending for the lives of the partners. On the other we are deeply inclined to enjoy sex for its own sake as a way of forming many different kinds of interpersonal bonds (and I am not talking about anonymous one-night stands here). Is it possible that we are simply witnessing the results of this conflict between a social norm, invented as a response to the settled lifestyle of agrarian societies, and a biological proclivity, evolved to enhance social cohesiveness. The current human species is, indeed, caught in a tragic nexus of evolutionary forces if this is so.

On the other hand, suppose that along with an increase in empathetic consciousness and refinements in our language capacity to share knowledge we also evolved a greater capacity to use sexuality in the same way the bonobos do. What if the proclivities we see in humans today are simply part of the on-going emergence of greater plurisexuality that would allow people to enjoy one another’s company in infinitely more intimate and physically rewarding ways with no hang-ups whatsoever? What if everybody were capable of loving everybody else without jealousy or persecution or coercion? And in light of a higher level of sapience people were wise enough to use this gift to achieve greater social cohesion and cooperation?

The current human species lives in a hell of sexual tensions that exhaust our energies and provoke behaviors that are inhumane. Bonobos do not live thusly[7]. The argument that the future evolution of humans will once again be dependent on strong socialization both within and between groups may very well favor plurisexuality as a norm in behavior because of its potential to strengthen the bonds of caring between individuals.

An additional benefit of evolution in this direction is the near complete uncoupling of sex from reproduction that might be achieved. Sex for fun and stabilizing relations has been at the heart of the movement promoting birth control. People today want to be able to have as much sex as they desire without suffering the consequences of unwanted pregnancies. If we accept that this is just one more indication that we share some propensities with bonobos regarding the use of sex for social bonding then the question is why shouldn’t it run to the (bio)logical conclusion that sex need not be about procreation as a primary function. Indeed, this possibility may be a solution to the problem of population control. Imagine a eusapient society in which children were conceived on purpose and only when the group deemed it appropriate, i.e. to replace those that had died. At such times the role of pair-bonding for purposes of child rearing might prove to contribute to the fitness of the species. Parents could bond for the time it takes to rear a single offspring, perhaps not with the ferocious singularity that our practices promote, but with a genuine fondness for each other as they share the work of bringing up a child. This offers the potential for controlling population size and with that the opening into maintaining a sustainable society in balance with nature.

How a eusapient society might decide on who should be eligible for procreation is another opportunity for a process I have called social selection, the practice that we already are seeing in our species of making semi-conscious decisions about who should mate with whom. Some societies have long practiced arranged marriages within classes or castes. In this manner, parents and society are conspiring to produce the ‘best’ offspring based on social criteria. So our species is already behaviorally practicing social selection now (and no one calls it eugenics!). A future eusapient species might couple the notion of population control with the desire for the best outcome of matings by choosing those individuals that are among the best of their kind. By uncoupling sexual attraction from determining mating pairs, the society is free to pursue such a program that ensures that every child that is born is highly likely to be a good ‘specimen’! It is an opportunity.

The Evolution of Eusociality in Humans

Social selection coupled with population size control as described above puts humans squarely within the definition of eusociality that Wilson put forth. In other eusocial animals reproductive rights are given up by all classes but one in order to ensure that work gets done and the presumed genetic continuity of the group. This is described as altruism (though of a purely mechanical sort) and had been believed to be the basis of eusociality evolution (see Wikipedia: Altruism, Evolutionary Explanation). It is certainly true that some form of reproductive rights relinquishing among members of a group is found in eusocial groups. For example in wild dogs the alpha female will kill any other pups not her own in her pack, reserving the right to be the principle reproducer for the pack until she is too old, killed, or taken down by some of her rivals. In humans everybody has babies, or at least is not particularly prevented from doing so, with the possible exception of eunuchs. With social selection and limitations on when and who gets to reproduce it is altogether possible that this will act as a similar mechanism to what we see in other eusocial animals which would then reinforce the further selection for eusociality in the future.

We are already highly social. We already evolved to be eusocial-like if not eusocial in fact. But there is something yet missing. Still, too much of our interactions are based on competition where cooperation might actually be better for us and our world. Think of the difference between capitalism as currently practiced, based as it is on the an unconstrained profit motive, and non-profit organizations (including some ordinary businesses) that seek only to produce a product or service that helps society and sells that only at cost. The latter are generally not operating on cut-throat principles. Consider a world in which all social organizations operated on the principles of cooperation and through higher sapiences wise coordination. Imagine if people develop superior communications and thinking skills to help facilitate cooperation. Imagine if people can strongly feel what their fellow beings are feeling and are motivated to use that understanding to help one another. Imagine if people so enjoy one another’s company by being freely loving as they feel to be that they carry those feelings of warmth into all aspects of life. Would those people not lead happier lives? Would they not be potentially more productive of the things they really need to live?

According to group selection theory, groups succeeded because of intra-group cooperation and coordination (by the wise elders). Inter-group competition was a result of the standard evolutionary principle that all life will attempt to expand (grow) if not constrained by higher-order coordination mechanisms (e.g. hierarchical controls that keep cells from growing beyond a certain size or individuals from doing the same). A growing number of groups, due to a growing population, had to compete for limited resources. But if everyone in the species is part of the same group (just as every cell in your body — micro-biota and parasites excluded — are part of the same body) and that group (population) is under regulations against unconstrained growth, then the further evolution of the species depends on exogenous factors and social selection to adapt to those factors. We don’t need to compete with other members of our species to survive and evolution depends on how our gene pool adapts to the larger world as it changes.

I’m not a believer in omega points or singularities as final targets of the evolutionary process. I have stated that my belief is that as long as there is excess free energy available and flowing through a system, that system will continue to evolve toward higher organization. Thus it is unlikely that we could say what a final configuration for life, including what kind of species humans might “end up as”, but what I have argued here is that it might be possible to get a glimpse of what the next step along the path might look like. I’m not making predictions but casting out a possible scenario. Luck may yet be the deciding factor. There could be a planet-killer asteroid with Earth’s name written on it. Nevertheless, if we really claim to be even minimally sapient and sentient and understanding of evolution, do we not owe it to ourselves to consider the possibilities for the future. And if we see something that seems like progress toward a more harmonious Ecos (the kind that existed before humans broke the symmetry) should we not actively pursue the path implied?

I’m sure many readers will continue to adhere to the conventional wisdom that the loss of fossil fuel energy and climate change (the double whammy) will reduce mankind to his Olduvai status. Others will remain convinced that humans will go extinct, plain and simple (and should by some reckoning). But others may see the possibilities of which I have written. Maybe they don’t quite agree with some of my more unconventional suggestions (e.g. pluerisexuality) but basically hold out an optimistic view for the future of mankind, that is, a new kind of mankind. For those I ask, what might you do to help nudge us into that future? My standard opinion is that learning and practicing permaculture (and possibly some hunter-gatherer ways) and helping others who seem to be aware of the real state of the world learn these skills will certainly contribute to there being some future population for selection to work on. Knowing how to find the basics of life will become far more valuable in the long run than purely intellectual understanding of what the future might be.

For my own part, however, I think the intellectual aspects of life are important and necessary in the long run. The knowledge we have worked so hard to gain cannot just be tossed away as so much garbage. We worked too hard to get it. And we paid a dear price for it. Therefore I continue to work on ideas for compressing and encapsulating knowledge of systems science in such a way that it will be preserved long into the future against a day when humans may emerge from more primitive technologies to a new, more wise, exploration of nature and science. Some of you may have heard about recent advances in encoding and retrieving text in DNA molecules which is something I had been considering for a while now. DNA is a highly stable molecule even in its natural state (especially when bound in protective proteins and RNAs in chromosomes). We can now design molecular structures that further enhance that stability making it theoretically possible to store DNA encoded knowledge for many thousands of years. What I envision is a compressed form of “seed” knowledge encoded much like a self-extracting application file such that under the right conditions the language of systems science will unfold to enhance the intuitive systems thinking that eusapient beings would possess.

Look. At my age it is OK to tinker and dream about good possibilities, and hope that I stay in the realm of feasibility! Perhaps my kind readers will provide corrective feedback when I venture too far outside that realm. We can’t break any laws of nature, but we sure can have an impact on how those laws shape the future.


Footnotes

[1] Nihilism as a philosophical position rejects this notion, holding that life really is meaningless, the result of mere chance. Often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher, (but sometimes wrongly attributed to him as a proponent – his thoughts on the matter were quite complex) who famously said “God is dead.” He saw those that adopted a nihilistic view had lost faith in a theistic god who, according to most religious views, but particularly Christianity, was the origin of morality and meaning. For those who mistakenly conceived of evolution as a purely random process — the prevailing concept at the time — there was no alternative but to think the evolution of human life a totally pointless, purely chance happening. While nihilism got some purchase as a philosophical perspective it also resulted in many people who succumbed to the notion falling into depression and despair, giving the common perception of nihilists as gloomy types. Today we would recognize this as a psychological problem. It would be hard to say whether people who are prone to clinical depression are prone to falling into the sway of nihilism, or people who start following the logical path of nihilism simply are led to the obsessive state that triggers depression is unknown. Perhaps its both. In any case, a strong belief in nihilistic ideas is seen as a sickness of mind. The majority of people cling to religious beliefs in order to avoid the conundrum entirely. A few of us look for meaning in the patterns of evolution that definitely show it to be progressive.

[2] Another term that may have bearing on the understanding of evolution is Earnst Mayr’s use of teleomatic to describe ‘automatic’ process that seem to have a purpose or end goal. I have been writing about what I call auto-organization as part of a larger view of evolution. Auto-organization deals with the way that entities (from quarks to people to galaxies) form interactive associations (networks) through forces and/or flows (by chance of proximity) that then are tested by whatever environmental competitive forces pertain. Stable, strongly coupled interactions persist in that kind of selection while weaker interactions are disrupted returning the components to the pool of potential interactors. When the interactions persist a new larger entity emerges from the process. In my view a distinction between teleonomic and teleomatic serves to describe certain details, but I consider the latter as a sub-category of the former. A universal principle of evolution involves chance interactions (e.g. phenotypic variations) being tested for stability by the embedding environment (e.g. selection). With aging the most fit entities are those that do persist. Biological evolution merely adds the mechanism of reproduction of the pattern (genotype) to amplify the process but is not fundamentally different.

[3] From the Wikipedia article about Pinker’s (2011) book:

The phrase “the better angels of our nature” stems from the last words of Lincoln’s first inaugural address. Pinker uses the phrase as a metaphor reflecting four specific human traits: self-control, empathy, morality, and reason.

[4] This is not a term currently in the dictionary! It is a word I invented to be descriptive of the nature of the form of sexuality as seems to be the case for humans and bonobos.

[5] Autism, for example, is one of a number of mental deficiencies in which normal emotional connecting is not occurring.

[6] The term paraphilia refers to what many would consider sexual deviant behaviors, of many kinds. However different cultures at different times have stricter or looser definitions of what is included under this term. That human beings as biological creatures even have to name and define a term like this is indicative of deep mental conflicts.

[7] Another interesting aspect of bonobo society is that the females tend to be the more dominant sex with respect to group governance. I don’t suppose anyone has noticed that in our species women are emerging as having more power in this regard. I suspect that stronger female influence and plurisexuality are linked biologically but this is just speculation at this stage.


References

Catton, W. R. (2009). Bottleneck: Humanity’s Impending Impasse, Xlibris Corporation.

de Waal, F. (2009). The Age of Empathy, Harmony Books, New York.

Marean, C.W. (2010). “When the Sea Saved Humanity”, Scientific American 303, 54 – 61

Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Viking, New York.

Potter, V. R. (1971). Bioethics: Bridge to the Future, Prentice-Hall, New York.

Tattersall, I. (2012). Masters of the Planet: The Search for Human Origins, Palgrave MacMillan, New York.

Wilson, E.O. (2012). The Social Conquest of Earth, Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York.

For a larger bibliographic selection of books on consciousness, evolution of mind, and other related topics see Bibliography

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