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Showing posts from 2017

Good Neighbors Make Low Fences

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Regarding migration, which Samuel P. Huntington called "the central issue of our time," the Green Party takes a humanitarian, internationalist view. In the long run, the Green position is that North America should become more like the European Union with regard to border policies, rather than building walls on the U.S. southern border.

This week may be decisive as to whether Blowhard's promised wall will be built. He wants to get it into the bill that continues funding the government, but the 60% majority needed for its passage appears to be out of reach. He's even threatening to shut down the government for his pet project.

Spending oodles of tax dollars on a big wall to keep Latinos out would be a net negative. If Jared Diamond's observation that good international relations with neighboring countries is key to avoiding collapse, then we would probably be better off without a giant wall.  Good fences might make good neighbors in New England farm country, but th…

First they came for the Muslims, but I did not speak out - Because I was not a Muslim...

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George Calvert's vision for Maryland was a religiously tolerant colony where citizens would be entitled to live as landed gentry.  Lord Baltimore had embraced Catholicism, though much of Europe was turning to Protestant puritanism. As a consequence, Maryland became a refuge for all faiths; for Catholics especially.

It is not unlikely that there were even some Muslims among those who settled early in Maryland, but most came later to the colonies as slaves. It is estimated that up to 1/3 of the slaves in the colonies were Muslim. Their faith did not flourish in the new world, however, as religion was just another part of their liberty that their Christian overlords decided to withhold.

Repression of Islam by American society (like that which occurred in the early years of our democracy) has surfaced again since we became embroiled in constant war in the Middle East. A homegrown propaganda industry has warped many Americans' perception of Islam no less than the Russian propaganda…

Roots

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Being a Navy brat, and later navigating my own Navy career, nothing I could call home ever left much dust on my shoes before being washed away with the next tide. Having retired in the same southern Maryland town where I finished my Navy career, I haven't felt anyplace drawing me back home. Yet, intriguing information that my older brother just discovered, now makes me feel like Calvert County, Maryland is where I belong anyway.

According to my brother, who has long been curious about the Gillett family genealogy, our
great¹¹grandparents are Leonard R. Calvert and Alicia Grace Calvert through their daughter Mary and son-in-law Isaac Chapline. George Calvert, my great¹⁰grandmother Mary's brother, was responsible for arranging the chartering of Maryland as a colony apart from Virginia. He was a baron with the title Lord Baltimore, after which there followed six others with the same title. I've long had a vague sense of being deeply rooted in America because family oral hist…

Before Letting the GeNe Out of the Bottle...

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Applying the Precautionary Principle to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we support a moratorium until safety can be demonstrated by independent (non-corporate funded), long-term tests for food safety, genetic drift, resistance, soil health, effects on non-target organisms, and cumulative interactions. - Green Party Platform (Agriculture)The Green Party would probably like to idle CRISPR until we better understand all of the ramifications of making changes to an organism's DNA, but its inventors have come out with a benign version that can be used just to detect a particular disease. It does this through matching RNA of the virus or other pathogen, typically from a blood, urine, or saliva sample. The fact that the new system, named SHERLOCK, can be impregnated into paper and stored there until needed makes it very cheap to produce by the millions for bedside detection of communicable diseases, cancers, and other urgent conditions. Each unique RNA sequence being checked (Zika…

America's Weak Immune System

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While weighing the possibilities of launching more Tomahawks on parts uncivilized, Blowhard has paid scant attention to a threat far more perilous than chemical weapons; even far more likely than a nuclear attack, but more deadly. That threat is from viruses in our environment that can mutate, spread, and multiply too quickly for us to respond if we are not organized and prepared. Once a virus is on a rampage, the result of unpreparedness could be millions of deaths in just a few weeks... for months on end.

Those viruses may seem to favor squalid and exotic places, but globalization, decay of our cities and towns, and wild changes in our climate make the U.S. a better breeding ground than we would care to admit. Neglect of the environment only increases the chances of a pandemic. Blowhard is not only guilty of such neglect, he is also failing to appoint officials who can prepare us for any outbreaks that do occur - indeed, he is calling for drastic budget cuts to agencies whose job it…

The Solution to Pollution is Economic Revolution

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It may have escaped most people's notice that availability of the earth's resources has been swiftly declining for decades. This will soon be reflected in a declining rate of goods available to the average world citizen, including food. Widespread hunger will be a faithful witness that we lack the basic necessities to sustain a growing world population. Those of seared conscience will begin to take notice when they sense it in their gut, if not in the food line.

This predicament simplifies decision-making considerably. When decisions deal with feeding a starving population in the interest of the common good, choices that improve food production and distribution should receive highest consideration. Problems that weren't formerly seen in those terms are brought into stark relief when recast in the context of famine.

Many issues could be boiled down to how well the possible solutions improve food availability, but one salient example in my neck of the woods is the health of …

The Chesapeake Bay in Greater Peril Than Ever

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While the estuary on a stick known as Maryland girds for legal battles over continuing the federal program to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the global force of climate change will increasingly hamper the region-wide effort even if the program ends up being fully funded in the official federal budget.

We are already able to discern the impacts of climate change on the Chesapeake. For example, though most of the world is losing access to water, the northern Chesapeake Bay area where I live has gained 6.6 inches of annual precipitation over the last century. In some respects, this is beneficial, but the major negative effect of more heavy rain is runoff into the bay and its tributaries, causing pollution by nutrients and sediment. This is exacerbated by urbanization throughout much of the watershed. Building codes and local governments are racing to keep up with the problem of stormwater runoff caused by development.

Rising temperatures affects a number of other aspects of the bay ecosyste…

Smoke on the Water

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While states in the southwest dicker over who gets the last slurps of the Colorado River, here in Maryland we are at odds with other states in our region over the spillovers from their industries on our air and water. The paralysis at the EPA over budget cuts and policy changes leaves us hanging.

The water pollution in question is that affecting the Chesapeake Bay which is almost wholly located in Maryland and Virginia, though polluted water may enter the bay from the four other states in the watershed. Farming is often assigned culpability, but urbanization is more and more to blame. It has taken decades to get the six states and D.C. to agree on strict pollution reduction measures. Without the EPA to manage this agreement, it will be difficult to ensure that all parties abide by it.

The air pollution comes from several more states, mainly to the west of Maryland. The EPA has been less instrumental in helping Maryland and the bay with this problem. The problem stems from power plant …

Raiders of the Lost Watershed

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Maryland has decided to forego the fracking craze! One of the major reasons is the damage to aquifers from use and disposal of fracking fluid. Water is life.

If anyplace exemplifies that statement, it is Las Vegas. They need lots of water to make their desert village seem like an oasis to visitors. They get it from Lake Mead on the Colorado River. Unfortunately, like frackers pumping every ounce of oil or gas they can reach, Nevada has tapped Lake Mead all the way to the bottom in their desperation for water. If the long-term drought continues (though snowpack this year promises some relief), by 2030 there will not be enough water to conduct business as usual in Las Vegas.

Southern California, which would also lose its supply from the Colorado River, could at least start desalinating sea water. Vegas doesn't appear to have any realistic alternatives besides conservation which, gauging by the falling level of Lake Mead, hasn't been enough to beat the drought. I doubt there was a…

Sticky Tarheels vs. Loose Wildcats

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Today's plans include a homemade pizza
(pepperoni, mushroom, green pepper), a boilermaker, and CBS at 5 pm (EST) where UK and UNC vie for a spot in the Final Four. My several reasons for taking time to watch a televised college sports match are that (1) I have close family in both states (one being a UNC alum), (2) I have lived in both states at different points in my life, (3) I like watching sports, and (4) these two teams represent a clash between player aggrandizement and competition for team glory.

UK is an NBA player factory. High school superstars go in and professional players emerge a year or so later. North Carolina is not about that. High school superstars go in and they remain homeboys through graduation and beyond. Since I abjure professional sports, I'll be rooting for the Tarheels.

North Carolina is one of the top five states for Division I basketball recruitment, three others of which are concentrated around North Carolina. This gives UNC an ample recruitment p…

Putting Away Childish Things

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Richard Branson lost an airline today. However, he has another in the works under the Virgin brand; more precisely, a spaceline: Virgin Galactica. Maybe we should just call it a high end airline - elites only, one of whom is pledged to be Stephen Hawking.

Stephen isn't the only disabled person getting a boost. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools must develop challenging curricula for every learning disabled student according to their capabilities. No longer can schools claim success with these students by teaching to the level of the lowest common denominator. In other words, special education students are going to be getting special treatment.

In sports, special kids are rising to challenges with the special olympics which is just about to wrap up for winter in Austria. For the rest of us, sports festivals are a kind of special olympics for not so special athletes. They help us keep fit and raise money for charity. Beyond that, adults competing in sports are, l…

New Worlds Coming?

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Besides the return to industrialism (and later, agrarianism), another resemblance the U.S. has to Russia is our continuation of costly space programs. Spin-offs of these efforts do compensate at least partially for our investment, but space programs that support continuation of globalism (for example) may not pay off very well as trade dwindles due to diminishing resources. Another longshot, or rather, moonshot, is the proposal to NASA by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin to set up infrastructure on and around the moon that will be the beginnings of an effort to support "millions of people living and working in space."

That sounds like it could become a bit expensive, even if undertaken by fanatically dedicated engineers. I can't help but wonder if the urge to populate space stems from a Plan B choice regarding the carrying capacity of Plan A (Earth). If that is the motivation, then it seems to me that we could get along fine without Plan B if nations would be willing to live …

Losses in Space

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Artificial intelligence, though developed with benevolent purposes, might soon open up IT to catastrophes that would turn us away from technological overreach. Combining AI with robotics raises the possibility of a Frankenstein scenario. An intelligent computer that wanted to solve the world's problems might conclude, through machine learning, that we humans must be culled in order for life on Earth to continue. Inside a brigade of self-arming robots, that knowledge could spell trouble. Yoshimi, we may need you soon.

On the way to creating Frankenstein's monster, intelligent computers will be employed in fights against one another. Most IT systems are developed with information security and anti-tampering tools added on, rather than included from conception. As a result, early versions are often more vulnerable to hacking than those which have matured. If AI systems incorporate self-taught protection from cyberattacks, the cycle is likely to become shorter, provided the system…

Rogue Agencies on Steroids

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Tim Berners-Lee, co-inventor of the Internet, had some points to make at SXSW concerning disturbing trends that point to the Internet becoming a tool of political forces to manipulate user opinions, thus placing even more power in the hands of political elites.

More disturbing still is the rapid growth in recent years of artificial intelligence which enables computers to take actions based on experiential learning. Aside from elevating more geeks to the privileged classes, many abuses of power and miscarriages of justice are possible in an AI dominated system that presumes to interpret human traits and behavior.

While the Internet may be a tool to manipulate the masses, AI and cyber surveillance are tools more suited to regimenting the elite. Under ostensible democracy, non-elites can be fed propaganda tailored to their world views which may suffice to determine the outcome of elections. Elites, however, need to be more regimented, because deviations from the norm by those of their ra…

The First Step's a Doozy

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It is ironic that 1974, the year that John Michael Greer ascribes to the commencement of our catabolic collapse, corresponds to the emergence of tech entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who brought IT into homes, cubicles, and pockets all over the globe. Collapse was taking place in the rust belt industries as silicon became the raw material of choice. The industrial sector giving way to the information sector is not unlike farmers abandoning the plow and moving to the city. It doesn't necessarily indicate impending collapse. Instead, it marks a point when the underlying economic elements of one era have matured to the point where more of the same isn't essential to sustaining society.

Nonetheless, if our industries continue to undergo neglect and decay, the scene could begin to look like a William Gibson novel with all manner of esoteric virtual reality gadgets strewn among the detritus of the Industrial Age.  The SXSW festival itself is something of a virtual realit…

Bye-Bye Miss American PI (Post-Industrialism)

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Back around 2011, when I first began reading The Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer detailed his outlook for America in posts about "catabolic collapse." He throws that term out often and even describes it in macroeconomic terms, but all it means is collapse that feeds on itself, just as the opposite (anabolic growth) means compounding growth caused by self-reinforcing vitality. Though Greer frames his analysis around individual civilizations, he arrives at pretty much the same place I did by drawing from the World3 (Limits to Growth) and BEST models - America eventually becomes a herder/cultivator society. He sees America's collapse starting in 1974 when the rust belt started seriously rusting, and occurring thereafter in stages wherein America devolves into a contented third world country (or several countries) as early as 2030 and continuing to decline if we ...
Fast forward another few decades, and another round of crises arrives, followed by another respite, and an…

Future Farmers of America: You and Me

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If the U.S. collapses all the way back into a herder/cultivator society, that should alleviate many of the problems inherent in our food system, but it won't necessarily protect us from the ravages of climate change. But, since farming will be so popular, more people could learn climate farming. Jacke and Toensmeier, in Edible Forest Gardening, express the opinion that food forests will be essential to feeding the population, given the pressures of climate, energy, and biodiversity. +Albert Bates is writing a series that discusses climate ecoforestry, which includes agroforestry along with permaculture. The Green Party platform includes many important points on the topic of forestry, but fails to explore its vast potential for restoring the environment and creating livelihoods.

Over the past four years, I have become minimally adept at making and using biochar, gardening, raising mushrooms, and mitigating stormwater runoff. Forest gardening is an ongoing interest. Now would be a g…

Riding Out the Storm

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The world is entering what is likely to be the most horrifying period in history. Civilization is about to collapse globally for the first time. Not that it proves anything, but has there ever been a time when so many large-scale hunger crises have occurred simultaneously? Somalia, S. Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen are just the beginning. We have a choice to help or to abandon other parts of the world as they undergo collapse. Our choice should depend on the global context.

Neil Howe would have us understand that The Fourth Turning applies not only to the United States, but to most of the civilized world. With the rise of globalism, the cycle of collective consciousness, disenchantment, destruction, and revival has taken on more synchronicity among developed nations. In foreign policy, Trump/Bannon would cede upholding liberal democratic principles to the assumption that fourth turnings will spawn nationalism around the globe. In addition to cutting foreign aid, they can't see much ret…

Can Capitalism Save America?

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It helps to remember that DJ T-Rump is not in charge.  He is a showman, not a true leader.  Things he says are contradicted with impunity by his direct reports in their public comments and their discussions with leaders outside the U.S. The people making the real decisions are those he has brought in as cabinet members and advisers.

His chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, is a particularly intriguing example since his worldview is strongly influenced by the same theory I have referenced several times in this blog - the secular cycle of history as explained in The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. In a Washington Post article that points out Bannon's affinity to this construct, Howe includes a very succinct explanation of the book's main idea.

The Fourth Turning is geared to the cycle of changing generations as each couple of decades pass. The four cyclic turnings are all driven by the recurring generational archetypes that repeat in what Strauss and Howe claimed…

Escape from Trumpism

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Aside from the devastating effect on liberal Californians of seeing Trump win the presidency, another big influence on the rise of their secession movement was the 'leave' vote in Great Britain that triggered Brexit. Some of the same elements of populism that drove the UK's decision are also at play in the YesCalifornia campaign. Perversely, it was Trump's populist appeal to the working class that vaulted him to power after they had been sorely neglected under recent neo-liberal administrations. In an article published last August, Marxist Martin Jacques described how neo-liberalism is in its death throes, with Trump as an example of how class inequality is now the main issue:
[Trump's] arguments mark a radical break with the neoliberal, hyper-globalisation ideology that has reigned since the early 1980s and with the foreign policy orthodoxy of most of the postwar period... But Trump is no man of the left. He is a populist of the right. He has launched a racist and …

Califoreignia Dreamin'

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In order for America to emerge from the fourth turning as a federation of confederations, the transition will need to begin soon. Due to our crisis of presidential leadership, it is suddenly conceivable that the watershed event triggering a complete geopolitical realignment of these United States is now before us.

That event would be the passage of a ballot measure aiming for California to secede from the union. Once California passes their measure, the secessionist urge will snowball to include several more states. Depending on the popularity and success of the YesCalifornia movement, there are several other states with long-standing secessionist movements likely to follow suit. These include Hawaii, Texas, Vermont, and New Hampshire, all being spurred on by the election of DJ T-Rump. Washington, D.C. will not be able to prevent these departures because there is no component of the U.S. military that will agree to take up arms against any of the states, especially California. Especia…

Of Choke Points and Checkpoints

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Of the 55,710 bridges in the U.S. that need structural reinforcement, only about 1,700 are on interstate highways. That is only 3% of the 56,448 interstate highway bridges. Another 10,000 or so (18% of all interstate bridges) are inadequate for the role they should be able to perform, e.g. they lack capacity. These typically result in traffic choke points.

The interstate highway system was built over several decades beginning in the mid-1950's. Back then, its bridges were built to last about 50 years, so the first refurbishment/replacement cycle began about a decade ago and will roll on for the majority of this century. If we were to keep pace with repairs of deficient bridges, deteriorating roads, and anticipated traffic growth on interstates, the maintenance cost would be about $1 trillion over a 30-year period.

DJ T-Rump wants to spend that amount over ten years to upgrade all vital U.S. infrastructure. If $33 billion per year of that $1 trillion is spent on interstates, then a …