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BlueRevolutionCover

WATER AND POWER RANT leading to “THE LOCALIST SOLUTION”


We need to adopt less resource and capital intensive methods of producing electricity,
and we need for the sources of production to be physically closer to the demand for
electricity. We have to view water as a precious, vital and infinitely recyclable resource
and treat it accordingly. And we need to live in buildings which use less energy overall,
especially when nobody is home.

Water and power are inextricably linked, and have been so for millennia.
Early civilizations arose as a result of harnessing available water
resources: Egypt harnessed the Nile, The Sumerians harnessed the
Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Dravidian/Harappan civilization harnessed
the Indus, and so on. Water was the basis for large-scale agriculture and
rivers, lakes and seas were arteries for transport and trade. Rivers and
seas remain important arteries of trade, but, in the last four centuries, water
has come to be used in ways of which the ancients could not even
dream. Water wheels have been in use for thousands of years, but it
wasn't until the beginning of “the industrial revolution” in the 18th century that
their potential finally began to be realized. Instead of just irrigating fields or
grinding grain, water wheels drove complex machinery which produced
everything from cloth to cannons.

The steam engine saw water harnessed in a completely different way, and
with an even wider variety of applications. Now one no longer had to have
immediate access to a source of water – one could “take the river with you,” in a
condensation tank. As revolutionary as it was at the time, 200 years
ago, one would think that since the advent of automobiles and
electricity and such that we have moved past the age of steam, but
that assumption would be incorrect. With a few minor efficiency
increases, the process of producing electricity today is nearly
identical to that of 120 years ago, and it starts with heat being
transferred from a source into water to produce steam. Whether it is
coal, oil, gas, nuclear or even solar thermal, the process is
basically the same, and the process involves a whole lot of water.
First water is heated... a lot... until it becomes superheated steam,
where the steam ranges in temperature between 400 and 1000 degrees F.
The pressure from the steam turns a turbine, which either spins
magnets around coils, or coils around magnets. The end result is
electricity. Essentially what this amounts to is an old fashioned
steam engine hooked up to some magnets, and the technology dates back
to the 19th century.

Conventional power plants require 26 gallons of water for each kilowatt hour
produced. The average American household uses 30 kilowatt hours per day...
but that ain't the half of it. 52% of all electricity “produced” in the US is
“wasted” between the place where it is “produced” and the
user for whom it was “produced.” (Energy cannot actually be
created or destroyed, but it can be converted). This “waste” or
“loss” is due to resistance, flux and “drain” in transmission
lines. The longer the distance from the power plant to the user, the
more electricity is converted to heat or flux. This means that a
power plant has to produce at least twice as much electricity as is
demanded by the end users, so 26 gallons becomes 52 gallons per
kilowatt hour, per household, per day. That is 1560 gallons of
water per household per day for electricity
.

Nuclear reactors use even more water
per user (because some is used for steam, and some is used for
cooling – if certain parts of a nuclear reactor get too hot the end

result is what is known as a “catastrophic cascade” - which, if
unchecked, terminates in either a major hydrogen fire followed by
widespread radioactive contamination [like the Fukushima Daiichi
reactor after the tsunami], a core meltdown [like Chernobyl], or the
reactor exploding [think Hiroshima, 1945]. As Steve Martin said in
the classic 3 Mile Island SNL sketch, “You can never have too much
water in a nuclear reactor.”). Most solar thermal arrays also use
water, and lots of it.

While over half of this water is
eventually returned to reservoirs and rivers, a significant minority
is lost to evaporation or is rendered unfit for use due to
contamination. The contaminated water then has to be either
extensively treated or isolated and stored for long periods of time,
rendering it vitally and functionally useless and essentially
removing it from the hydrologic cycle for months, years or decades.

42% of all “processed” water
(water that humans have diverted for their own uses) is used to
produce electricity
, and that percentage is rising with the
global demand for electricity (currently increasing at a 4% annual
rate, mostly due to India's 8% annual increase in demand and China's
11%). This is more water than is used for irrigation in commercial
farming, and WAY more than is used by businesses or residences for
other purposes. Contemporary power production represents the
single greatest use of water by humans in our entire history
.
This intense use of massive volumes of water by utilities is why
energy companies often administer rivers, canals, lakes and
reservoirs – they require more water than any other group of
entities or individuals due to their inefficient and archaic methods
of production and distribution.

And get this... 12% of all the electric
energy consumed... is used to move water from one place to another.
68% of all electricity is used in buildings, mostly for heating and

cooling, but also to move potable water in, and waste and storm water
out. This is completely nuts. Because of the water-intensive way we
produce electricity, nearly 1/8 of our electric usage addresses an
artificial “water problem” created by... the water-intensive way
we produce electricity! This is what my old friend George Wright
would call “a stupid cycle.” It is a positive feedback loop with
some very negative results.

Conventional power plants are very
capital intensive, and require a lot of resources, labor, equipment
and maintenance to remain useful. They are also relatively
inefficient, mostly due to the number of energy conversions involved
to power a conventional dynamo.

No energy conversion is 100% efficient
– energy is always lost, usually to “waste” heat. Each time
energy is converted from one form to another force is lost. In
traditional conventional electric production, fuel is converted
through combustion to heat, which is transferred to water where
another conversion happens (a state change from liquid to gas). The
energy from the expanding gas is then converted into mechanical
energy to turn a turbine, and, finally, that energy is converted into
electricity. The maximum theoretical efficiency of a combustion
engine, if one assumes that the process is adiabatic and reversible,
is 48% (the process is neither entirely adiabatic nor is it
reversible, but it makes the math easier and yields roughly the same
result). Actual efficiencies are always lower than 48%. According to
the EIA, 3.1 btus of coal, oil or gas are required to produce 1 Btu
of electricity, so the actual efficiency of the contemporary version
of traditional electric production is about 30%... which is quite
good, considering the fact that it starts with combustion and
involves four different energy conversions. Compare that to a car,
where combustion is converted directly into mechanical energy: the
average car today is about 36% efficient, meaning that for every ten
gallons of fuel consumed, 3.6 of those gallons propel the car and
only 6.4 of those gallons are wasted to heat. Over the past 120 years
combustion engines overall have become about 30% more efficient. The

fewer the energy conversions, the better; the more local the fuel,
the better. What would be ideal would be on-site fuel sources
requiring only one energy conversion into electricity (egs:
photovoltaics, small solar concentrator systems, wind turbines,
micro-hydro). What would be really cool would be on-site generation
systems which required little to no water.

Of the electricity produced, as
previously stated, less than half actually reaches the end user,
making the production and distribution process less than 15%
efficient under the best possible circumstances. The hotter it gets
outside, the more electricity is lost to resistance in transmission,
so in the summer the production and distribution process can be much
less efficient. Which is unfortunate, because that is also the time
when there is the greatest demand for electricity, due to air
conditioning: according to the EIA residential electric demand jumps
from its average of 98 billion kwh to approximately 150 billion kwh
in July and August, with commercial rising from 102 to 133 billion
kwh in the same months (figures are averages derived from 2000-2010
annual reports of usage by category). While there is less seasonal
variation in electric demand for industrial users, they account for
less than a quarter of the overall demand, with residences accounting
for 62% of total demand. This is way up: a century ago the
relationship was reversed. It is also a sign of profligacy: in
industrial and commercial spaces, electricity is used to produce
products and services; in residential spaces it is used to maintain a
comfortable environment for the inhabitants, even for inhabitants who
are absent. The average residential electric consumer spends less
than half of their time at home, but their absence only reduces
electric consumption by about 30% (EIA again). So, here is what this
means: over 40% of electricity is produced in the US to meet the
“demands” of residential housing units which are temporarily
unoccupied
. A lot of this demand is HVAC systems, which are
typically switched on whether or not anyone is home.

We currently have “power shortages”
and “water shortages,” but both are artificial, created by the
wasteful and inefficient ways we obtain, distribute and use both of

these resources.

This isn't scarcity, it is stupidity,
and, while there are many possible solutions, this one is mine. I
call it “The Localist Solution.”


1. Produce energy closer to where
it is consumed
. Making the electric grid “smarter” isn't
going to solve the problem. The electric grid itself IS the problem:
produce and consume electricity locally, using methods which are
much less water intensive. Nobody wants to live next to a coal
plant: they stink and they pollute the air and water. The same goes
for most types of conventional electric power plants. So long as
these are the primary methods of production, long transmission
lines, and wasted water and power, will remain. Photovoltaics in
sunny places, wind turbines in windy places, and newer and more
efficient gas and bio-fuel plants closer to where folks live and
work are the solution. Don't use electricity for frivolous or
unnecessary purposes. Water isn't just some clear liquid that comes
out of a tap, it is a precious resource, essential for life, a truly
wonderful and amazing substance, and is about 4/5 of the mass of
your body. Treat it with respect and don't squander it.

2. Use methods of electric
production that require much less water. Design buildings that use
less water, where water is re-purposed and recycled instead of
shunted down a drain. Design buildings that require less energy to
maintain comfortable temperatures.
Capture as much water locally
as possible, and use it wisely and efficiently. Retrofit existing
buildings to conserve water and electricity. Use daylight, and
employ more efficient artificial lighting. Use locally available
natural resources as much as possible to meet needs. The farther
something travels to its destination, the more energy it takes to
deliver it, and, as I've stated, more energy means a whole lot of

wasted water.

Sources:

Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis
Cynthia Barnett (2011), Beacon Press, Boston; ISBN: 978-0-8070-0328-2.

International Energy Agency@
http://www.iea.org/

US Energy Information Administration@
http://www.eia.gov/


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Comparative Review of Two Very Different Books Which Are About Related Topics –

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, and,
WhyNationsFail


Unintended Consequences by Edward Conard.



Both of these books are about different aspects of the competition for and defense of relative status. Why Nations Fail takes a similar viewpoint to that of Max Weber (he is quoted several times within the work), while bifurcating the world into polities with predominately “extractive” institutions and processes, and ones with primarily “inclusive” institutions and processes. Unintended Consequences is, at its heart, a work of social Darwinist philosophy with a lot of “supporting statistics”, and is a sort of contemporary version of the socio-economics espoused by 19th century social theorist and proto-sociologist Herbert Spencer. Interestingly, while approaching related issues from radically differing points of view, both works start with similar fundamental assumptions. Both works believe that “creative destruction” is a socio-economic boon; both works assume that all valuable or potentially transformative resources are scarce, (Or possibly that scarcity itself confers value? Or that the perception of relative scarcity makes things seem valuable?); and both works tacitly accept that competition is natural and inevitable and that it produces positive long-term outcomes, both for societies and for their constituent individuals. Both seem also to accept some form of the labor theory of value, although it isn't directly discussed in either work. The former work is focused on the factors which contribute to relatively just, egalitarian and sustainable societies; and the latter is ostensibly focused on debunking popular economic “misconceptions” following the “financial crisis” of 2008, but in reality goes much further. Both books were “informative”, interesting and amusing reads, despite pronounced differences.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, should more properly have been titled “Our Definition of National Success and How to Emulate It.” Daron Acemoglu is an MIT economics professor; James A. Robinson is a political scientist with extensive experience in developing nations. Acemoglu has studied development for years, and Robinson has lived it; both bring informed opinions of what works and what doesn't in development. This is a historical analysis of comparative success and failure in both economic and political development throughout the world over the last five centuries, and features copious historic and contemporary examples from both developed and developing nations. It offers different contextually-dependent iterations of roughly the same hypothesis, in attempting to explain everything from the inequities and ongoing developmental retardation caused by European colonization of Africa and the Americas, to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rapid but uneven growth of Asian economies in the last four decades. I would excerpt and include the hypothesis, but that might tax you as a reader, as there are six different contextually-dependent iterations of it included in the book comprising nearly eighteen pages, and each one substantially differs from the others just enough that to fully do the work justice I might have to include them all. “Succinct” is not a term I would use to describe this 529 page long book. However, don't let its length daunt you: even if you aren't a political history, economics, social science or development “geek”, this book is well-written and accessible to the general reader. It is a mine of historical economic information presented as a sequence of related mini-narratives (“stories”), which are punctuated by iterations of the central theme of this mega-essay. Imagine a long, well-written dissertation with stories and jokes.

Here is my interpretive summation of the book's lengthy hypothesis:

The conditions under which prosperity occurs are created by economic institutions. Economic institutions are created by society and depend upon political institutions. Political institutions must have the power, authority and will to create the necessary conditions for prosperity, but also must represent a broad coalition or a plurality of popular interests in order to be considered inclusive and legitimate. When states lack power or are insufficiently centralized they cannot create the conditions under which prosperity may occur. States which possess sufficient power but in which either economic or political power or both are wielded on behalf of an individual or an elite group are not inclusive but extractive, and extraction is an unsustainable economic process which does not create widespread prosperity. So, societies which prosper over time have centralized authorities which include a plurality of interests. Societies which lack centralized authorities are considered chaotic “failed states;” societies in which authority is centralized but in which only the interests of an elite are represented typically feature exploitive and extractive economic institutions. Autocratic or oligarchical polities create and maintain extractive economic institutions; economic elites tend to create absolutist regimes, and to flourish under autocratic or oligarchical polities. In short, pluralism creates prosperity and a positive feedback loop ensues which creates a relatively prosperous and inclusive society; elitism creates inequity and a positive feedback loop ensues which creates a relatively impoverished and exploitive society. Contingencies can disrupt either feedback loop and impede or reverse the respective cycles.

The book cites dozens of examples. The United States, Great Britain, Australia and South Korea are used as examples of inclusive societies, and there is a very long list of contrasting extractive societies, including nations from North and South America, Africa and Asia. While my knowledge and experience of Britain, Australia and South Korea are either very limited or nonexistent, I've lived in the US for decades and I'm quite familiar with its past and present. There are certain conditions which are cited that don't necessarily pertain to the US as I've experienced it.

There are certain implicit assumptions which underlie this text: that each individual or group will vie for as much power as it can attain, and then seek to establish and maintain conditions under which it can extend or expand that power for as long as possible in order to accrue maximum wealth, using any mains available or necessary, unless held in check by other groups or bases of power; that “prosperity” is a laudable and desirable state to achieve; and that the “success” or “failure” of a nation can be measured in money or material. Relative status is what matters, and most human endeavors are directed toward this end: to raise the status of oneself or the group with whom one is associated in contrast to other individuals and/or groups within a society. In many cases war can be viewed this tendency extended to nations. In the Bruce Springsteen song “Badlands,” there is a verse which succinctly summarizes this egoistic, grasping, competitive obsessive compulsion which seems to infect and inflame so many:

“All men want to be rich,
Rich men want to be king,
And the king won't stop,
Until he rules everything.”

This is traditional Western materialism, albeit in a kinder and gentler form than that of the contrasting work which I next review.

In Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told About the Economy is Wrong, Edward Conard officially attempts to debunk myths concerning how the US economy actually functions, while in reality he advances a tired, dated philosophy of the merits of inequality, greed, intense competition and social Darwinism. While there is some good information in the book, especially when he addresses how the US economy experienced rather spectacular growth despite running up large debts and trade deficits, much of the rest of the book defies logic, reason, sound economics, everyday observations and common sense. Conard gained his “expertise” as a partner at Bain Capital Management between 1993 and 2007, and has degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan. He has done a lot of research and statistical analysis, but his conclusions are distorted by his underlying Social Darwinist perspective, which calls the entire work's validity into question. Here is a quote from the introduction: “Darwinian survival of the fittest largely governs the economy. It tests real-world alternatives against fierce competition for scarce resources – food and sex in the case of biology, customers and capital in the case of economics.” I suppose the validity and veracity of that assertion depends upon one's definition of “scarce.” While the competition is real enough (although not absolutely necessary), the scarcity is artificial and illusory. With a global population that has more than doubled in the last century and a half and is now rapidly approaching seven billion people, all aggregated in one interconnected global economy, neither sex nor potential customers can be said to be especially scarce. If anything, both may be a bit too common! Over half of all food produced is not consumed... and the global population continues to grow, so, apparently, famine and starvation aren't so widespread as to limit population growth. In biological terms this is known as a“relative abundance” of food. If anything this points to artificial surpluses, overproduction of food, and inefficiencies in food storage and distribution – overabundance instead of scarcity. But what about capital? Capital is assets put to economic use. Assets can include machinery, buildings and financial instruments (like money, stocks and bonds). Basically anything that isn't labor but can be used to produce something is capital. OK... we just experienced a building boom followed by a recession where the values of all real estate declined and there were too many available buildings relative to demand... when one has too much of something terms like “overabundance”, “glut” and “surplus” are applicable... “scarce” is not. So no scarcity of buildings. What about machinery? Later on in the same book, Conard boasts about how outsourcing and “offshoring” of production between 1990 and today has created an abundance of inexpensive mass produced goods, including production machinery... so, by his own admission, no scarcity there. What about money, stocks and bonds? Money, stocks and bonds can literally be created out of nothing, as needed, any time. Any market-wide or economy-wide scarcity of any of these three financial instruments is either an aberration or has been intentionally created to produce a certain effect or range of effects. So no scarcity there... no scarcity at all. In fact, humans live in an abundant world which is an infinitessimally tiny speck of nothing in an infinite universe; not only does absolute scarcity not exist in this universe, it cannot exist (that which is infinite being by nature inexhaustible). While the Earth is finite, it isn't a closed system: if a single day's sunlight were captured and stored in usable forms it could supply our energy needs for decades, and typically 400-800 million tons of new stuff falls into our atmosphere from space each year, much of which has potential vital or economic uses. With efficient schemes of production and distribution coupled with widespread reusing, recycling and repurposing human populations could continue to rise for decades if not centuries before we experienced anything like real scarcity (as opposed to artificial scarcity). “Fierce” economic competition is a product of capitalism, one of many schemes by which economies can be structured and directed, and the intensity of capitalist competition is artificial, optional and relative and not natural, obligatory and absolute. It is because capital is created by debt and obligation, and capital is required for production, that intense economic competition exists. One cannot honestly equate an entirely artificial system which has directed the activities of some of the members of a single species for a few hundred years to a natural, organic process which has directed the development of all known life for the past three billion years. The phrase “delusional hubris” comes to mind. I'm not saying that economic competition is bad, nor am I denying its existence, just that it isn't, as Conard suggests, dictated by some inviolable natural or physical law.

Later in the book Conard suggests that eliminating the minimum wage and dramatically lowering the average wage which laborers are paid in the US is one way to grow the economy. I suppose he means by reversing the trade deficit, attracting foreign capital investment... basically “priming”, which is producing value-added goods for export (it worked for Japan and is currently working for China). In the US this would be economic suicide, and it would lead to a long term global economic depression. Consumers drive our economy, and ours is the world's largest consumer economy, one which supports a large complex global system of production and distribution. If our consumers like something, there is a good chance that consumers elsewhere will too. If one has the capacity to produce for our entire market, then one also has sufficient economy of scale to produce for the world. Our standards are as high as nearly everyone else's (with the possible exception of some European nations), so little to no retooling would be required. The demand of our consumers drives global production. One of the reasons our economy is in trouble is because, even at current wage and price levels (relative prices have rarely been lower, by the way), “our reach exceeds our grasp.” For some time now, collectively, our consumers have had more demand than current capacity to purchase (we want stuff we can't pay for), and have been purchasing goods using relatively high interest unsecured credit (buying stuff with credit cards), and purchasing relatively illiquid secured assets with credit, assets that have had either inflated relative values and/or whose relative value has depreciated over time (went deep in debt to buy too much house for too much money, or went into debt to purchase automobiles, electronics or other items which depreciate in value over time; this is a violation of Isaacson's 22nd Law of Financial Freedom “Never finance anything that depreciates unless it is absolutely necessary for your trade or profession.”). What would happen if wages dropped dramatically? Since our consumers are generally our wage earners, our capacity to consume would drop dramatically, but demand would remain constant. This would mean a whole lot of broke frustrated consumers who would then have to default on their current debts and dramatically scale back consumption to subsistence levels. This in turn would effect both domestic services and international production and finance. Domestic producers would continue to be employed, but both their per hour wage and the number of hours they worked per week would drop (less global demand for produced goods due to less capital circulation). The service workers who once depended upon the wages from providing services to these productive folks would be out of work because the producers could no longer afford to pay them. Such service workers are like 40% of our economy. An infusion of capital would keep the economy from entering a critical death spiral, but no capital would be available due to consumer defaults which would cripple or kill many existing financial institutions. So, with most of the service and financial sectors out of work (which amounts to like half of our workers), then it gets really bad and stays that way for a long time... So, yes, the US economy would eventually end up producing a lot of inexpensive high quality goods for export and run a trade surplus, but only after twenty years of misery, unemployment and depression. This belief that somehow lowering compensation for those who actually produce things in an economy would somehow increase overall productivity, or "grow" the economy as a whole, or lead to any real and lasting conditional improvement, is contrarian and in complete opposition to actual practice, as things really work out in the "real" world.

Say one has a million dollars that one must give away, and one can't give it to charity or invest it in, but must just give it to an individual or individuals. If one gives that million dollars to a single individual, that individual will consume so much, and then save and invest the rest. If one were, however, to divide that money amongst 100 families, the vast majority of it would go toward consumption, but a certain amount would be saved or invested. The former case generates some economic activity; the latter case generates much more. This has to do with three things: the capacity to consume, diversity, and the velocity of money. In the first case, our recently made millionaire will probably use some of his million to buy things, but both the quantity and quality of those things will differ substantially from that of our hundred families. How many washing machines does one person need? How many cars? How many houses? While none of these are absolute needs, they are things which are in popular demand, and this demand tends to endure regardless of specific economic conditions. These are called "normal goods" in economic terms, whereas cash for the laundromat, bus or rent are considered "inferior goods." The difference between the two is that, as income rises, one's demand for the former increases and one's demand for the latter decreases. Such is the process of economic enfranchisement, or empowerment if you will. There also exist a third class of goods for which there is no demand below a certain income or wealth threshold, and these are "luxury goods." Economies run on the demand for normal goods, not on the demand for inferior goods or luxury goods. Production of normal goods creates the greatest amount of economic activity, and creates the greatest opportunity for creativity and innovation. When our millionaire gets his money, he will probably not spend it on inferior goods, but on a limited amount of normal goods, and possibly quite a bit of it on luxury goods, with the remainder being invested. Economically, luxury goods are a dead end. They are not productively useful, in that their possession does not increase the productivity of the person who possesses them, and their "use" contributes very little to the economy generally. When was the last time someone "yachted" to work? Or "learjetted" a pizza? While the production of luxury goods employs people, it does not generate the quantity of economic activity that the production of normal goods does. Our one millionaire can only consume so many normal goods, and then he must either put his remainder into the economic dead end of status symbol luxury or into an investment instrument of some type. Such investments generate economic activity, and are the only truly "productive" activity in which the relatively wealthy engage: enabling those with skills to produce. Contrast that with the relative spending spree that would result from the distribution of our money to a hundred families: more normal goods would be consumed, and the investments made with the remainder would be much more diverse and tend to promote greater future productivity (your average middle class family saves for things like education for children and future normal goods purchases; these things perpetuate the cycle of productivity). The increased spending of our hundred families would move more money through a wider variety of arteries in our economic body... they would spend faster. Which brings me to the vital economic concept of the velocity of money. In college (a long, long time ago) I was having difficulty with economic modeling, and I worked closely with two assistant professors to come to an understanding (of economics and math... the two disciplines involved in economic modeling). One was a guy who later became famous in the world of applied mathematics, Donald Moser. He explained money to me this way: “Money is like force in physics. In order for it to work it has to be applied... it has to circulate... it has to move. Money that just sits there has potential energy... money that circulates has kinetic energy. It is the velocity of money, its function as a medium of exchange, that allows its transformative potential to be realized. When it moves it works, when it doesn't it doesn't. If an economy were a body money would be its blood. If the blood doesn't flow the organs are starved and begin to atrophy. And that is exactly what happens during a depression... the organs of the economy atrophy... they are starved of capital and die.” He also explained to me that math isn't just about quantification, counting, but about describing relationships, how interrelated processes effect each other. By the end of his course I had begun perceiving math working everywhere. Radically lowering the wage base of a nation of consumers is like starving a body of blood, or levering a great weight into place and then fixing it there... the blood stops flowing, and the weight gets stuck... the patient gets sick and toxins accrue in the blood, and the potential of the stone to lift persons and objects is arrested until some great effort pries it loose.

More of his Social Darwinist mumbo-jumbo, this time about cooperation and competition (with my comments in parenthesis):
“Lions around the carcass don't invite others to enjoy the spoils – they fight to keep them out... (a rather vivid metaphor which does not actually conform to observed pride behaviors) Money doesn't motivate us as much as status does (ah, his first sociological comment with any merit, one actually supported by years of experiments, many of which were designed by Max Weber [see, it does all connect]). It's primal (actually it is sociological, a common but not universal human trait which varies in form from one culture to another rather than a universal fixed action pattern). Skill doesn't win sought after mates; relative skill does, and then only if the differentiation is large enough to be recognized... In everyday life, people buy fancy cars, expensive suits, and homes with large entertainment spaces they rarely use in order to display their success. Men seek beautiful women – even unintelligent, unfriendly ones – for the recognizable status of having attracted a desirable mate. Academics seek recognition for their intellectual prowess. It's all the same. Money is just a means to these ends. That's not to say that status is the only motivator, only that money and status are powerful motivators – the most powerful motivators – of economic risk-taking, and that money is the predominant way talented people pursue status. Few people have enough talent to pursue status in alternative ways, and the economy does not offer many such opportunities. It's not so much the rewards per se that motivate people, but the lack of status that comes from not having achieved them. The cost of shame is far greater than the value of success.”

This, in a nutshell, is everything that is wrong with both capitalism and the culture which inevitably arises from it.
I will refute each statement in the order in which he makes it.
Humans aren't lions. While lions live in extended family groups called prides, their behaviors are less cultural and more instinctive, and they are less “social” mammals than are we. Instead of coordinated pack behaviors involving strategy, communication and tactics, lions will, en masse, rush selected prey. A group of lions brings down larger prey by persistent pursuit, mobbing, biting and scratching until the prey is brought down and killed. There is no deft maneuvering into position, hamstringing, or any of the other pack behaviors associated with more social and intelligent animals, such as wild dogs, wolves, meat-eating cetacians (dolphins and orcas) and people. Lions are the sharks of the savannah, well adapted to their particular environment but relatively stupid, venal and vicious. Of course, if one has a preconception that humans are generally stupid, venal and vicious, one will see in them lions. It is all a matter of perception, and this guy's perceptions are distorted by his underlying Social Darwinist views.
Relative status is a huge motivator among ignorant and unenlightened humans living in hierarchical societies. “Relative status” implies that you are aware of how others perceive you, the value that certain members of a group have assigned to you, and that you actually care. Since one can never fully see oneself through another's eyes, this becomes a recursive reflection or projection of self-assessment; a sort of comparative ego extension, like metaphorically waving one's genitals around in a room full of mirrors – pretty ridiculous. Even more absurd is caring about the assessments of others; unless those assessments could kill or seriously injure you it really isn't worth worry or even a moment's consideration. Unfortunately, ignorance abounds (but is finally beginning to diminish), relatively few humans are enlightened (although the number is growing), and the majority of humans remain trapped in hierarchical societies (although, as a percentage it is gradually declining). It is far from primal (derived from “being of first principles”), and is actually a secondary or tertiary trait which developed relatively recently in the history of the species. Among pastoral nomads, the ancestors from whom most of us descend, there is little or no differentiation in status. Everyone in a nomadic group has roughly the same set of skills and abilities, “leadership” is relative, contingent, tentative and ephemeral, there is little difference in lifestyle between a “leader” and a “follower”, and accumulated goods are all purposive, frequently shared, and kept to the bare minimum that is practicable (as a nomad must move everything that he or she owns frequently, and too many possessions decreases speed and increases difficulty of travel). There is little differentiation in status among subsistence farmers in villages, because, again, everyone has roughly the same knowledge, skills and capacities. “Leadership” remains relative, tentative, contingent and ephemeral. It is only once surpluses have been achieved, specialization has occurred and leisure begins to develop that a society can support castes or classes, and that stratification can begin in earnest. Still, it takes quite some time for this to be fully developed into a hierarchy and for such an unnatural system to become the traditional unquestioned culture of a people. In humans the process took nearly 200,000 years. If this were actually a primal trait humans would long ago have been extinct. We would have competed ourselves right out of existence. It is only by cooperating in the face of adversity and putting the needs of the group ahead of those of the individual that we have survived. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one” is not just a catchy phrase that Spock utters at the end of a Star Trek film, it is the essence of humanity, one taught by nearly every major world religion. It is that which has allowed us, collectively, generally and relatively, to “live long and prosper.” It is that which truly separates extractive from inclusive institutions (see, there was a reason I reviewed these two books and compared/contrasted them), and it is in being liberated from the bonds of status that can constitute the first step on the path to moksha.
Developing relative, recognizable skills is important, provided that those skills are useful and result in something which serves the legitimate needs of the group. Those skills should be developed for their own sake, but if it takes recognition before the group and the awarding of special status in order to stimulate individuals to develop such skills, then it should be done. As for mating... I've done a lot of that, I've had several long-term relationships, and at least four women have expressed a desire to breed with me. That has never interested me much. While I respect parents and acknowledge the useful and necessary role which they perform, I've never much felt one way or the other about breeding. I don't have an especially novel or impressive skill set, I'm a pretty average guy in most ways, and for much of my life I was kind of an asshole. A lot of the guys that I know who are married or partnered or have kids roughly fit the same description, so his statement about developing relative skill sets doesn't conform to what I've observed. In my experience, if you are kind and caring, have a sense of humor, aren't a complete idiot or hideously deformed and can hold down a steady job, you will have many opportunities to mate. The expensive material status symbols and “bling” are unnecessary and wasteful... unless your ideal mate is shallow, materialistic, easily impressed and more interested in a cash machine than a human with whom to mate. If that is what you are looking for, then by all means work your ass off to acquire, “fancy cars, expensive suits, and homes with large entertainment spaces.” “Men seek beautiful women – even unintelligent, unfriendly ones – for the recognizable status of having attracted a desirable mate.” Wow, I barely know where to begin on this one. I've never given a damn what my women have looked like, and perhaps that is why I've been with so many amazing, talented, intelligent and funny women. The opinions and perceptions of strangers and most other people stopped mattering to me a long time ago, and I've generally been happier, more content and fulfilled for it since. Most of the guys I know who are happily married did not choose their mates based on appearance, but upon the substance of their characters, and how well their personalities and goals meshed. Common orientations and interests seem to be good indicators of a successful partnership. Physical attraction is great when one is younger, and for short-term “hook ups”, but marriage and long-term relationships are not about sex, at least not the deeply fulfilling relationships, and I don't know anyone over the age of 25 who would stay in a relationship with someone simply because they were “hot.” There has to be some deeper connection, there has to be something more. One does not form a life-long partnership to awe the dudes or to impress strangers with one's status, unless one has extremely low self-esteem, one is quite shallow, or one dwells in a state of perpetual adolescence. Mr. Conard really needs to open his eyes and his mind, leave the narrow confines of the corporate boardroom and take a long walk in the real world. And then he dwells on money and status some more... blah, blah, blah... and gets to the crux. There are few economic alternatives in a conventional capitalist system to money for either achieving or expressing status: it is that which confers status, that which rewards achievements, and that which can be traded for things associated with status (the status trappings, some of which were previously mentioned... or as I like to think of them, “the status trap... pings”). So, let me get this straight: in order to impress people you don't need to impress, whose perceptions and opinions you can never really know with any degree of certainty, you spend time and money obtaining skills and developing talents, and then more time working and honing your skills and talents, so that you can buy stuff that you really don't need, to visually and/or tangibly display your relative social status, so that you can feel better about yourself and who you are, which actually has little to do with your status trinkets. This is sort of like joining a cargo cult and then having to negotiate a difficult and dangerous obstacle course to get down to the beach where you have to compete with others for an opportunity to collect things that you don't need and can't use, which take up space you could be using for something else in your home, and risk possible loss or theft of these things to some similarly status conscious cultist. This is completely insane. Why not just like yourself, or better yet, stop caring? And that fear/shame manipulative bullshit about “feeling a loss of status,” that is old-school in group/out group stuff. “I'm currently included in the group, but, if I fail to conform in some way or live up to a certain set of expectations I may disappoint people and let them down to the point where I'm seen as more of a liability than an asset and I might be expelled from the group, and the group may cease being part of my identity, diminishing my sense of self.” The fear of failure is a big motivator. I used to have that fear until I realized that every successful person has failed many, many times. Thomas Edison tried and failed to invent the light bulb nearly a thousand times, but it was that thousandth time that counted. In science a failure can be as valuable if not more so than a success. Failure teaches humility, patience and perseverence, in addition to being generally instructive in its own right. Every failure is a learning experience. It is better to try and fail than to live to regret not having tried.

About every five to ten pages in this book Conard makes an assertion that defies logic, observation, reason and common sense. While the resultant rationalizations are interesting in a “what trick will he use to get out of this hole?” kind of way, and a lot of the research and statistics cited are stuff that I had never seen before, so it was totally worth reading, I find his underlying philosophy to be erroneous, misguided and repugnant. This guy is totally “lost in the world of maya (illusions)”. Stuff that he finds axiomatic isn't, and he has a very distorted world view. His little bubble is very small and most of it is opaque, his vision is narrow and the view is restricted to left field. If you want to talk to your ultra-conservative or libertarian grandparent in language that he or she might understand, then this book might be useful to you. If you are already an economics geek, then this book might interest you. If you are under the age of 50, not likely to converse with a geriatric relative in the near future, not an economics geek, and live in the real world, you will probably not be able to relate to the contents of this book at all.

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MONKEY DREAMS

Since I was seven years old I've been having dreams involving monkeys. In many of these I am a monkey. They have come with decreasing frequency and intensity, but I still dream them occasionally. I've been trying to determine their origin for at least a year, and I think I may have discovered their source.

When I was seven:

1. My mother began taking my brother and I to the zoo, where we spent most of our time in the primate house.
2. My brother obtained a painting of an orangutan which he hung on his wall – it stayed there prominently displayed for several years
3. We lived in a community near several universities, and to make a bit of extra money folks in our neighborhood rented out rooms to graduate students, many of whom were from other nations. One of these lived on our block, and, as a parting gift, he gave me a picture book in which the main character was a sort of monkey. In retrospect this gent was from India, and the story in the picture book was an English translation of a traditional myth involving the half man half monkey demigod Hanuman, “The big blue guy” (an avatar of Vishnu?), possibly several other figures from the extensive Hindu pantheon and a giant talking bird. Due to the vivid illustrations and the exotic subject matter, this was one of my favorite books that year.

Last fall I read an English translation of The Mahabharata. While large portions of that excellent work were previously unknown to me, certain passages seemed vaguely familiar due to that little illustrated book which I read and re-read when I was seven. I didn't put all of the pieces together until about a week ago when I was reading a book recommended to me by a friend, Autobiography of a Yogi.

So, as a result of going to the zoo, a painting of an orangutan and a children's book, I've been dreaming about monkeys for over thirty years. The subconscious is a wild and wonderful place.

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MAKING THE POTENTIAL EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE “REAL AND RELATABLE”

Mel and I have been watching the PBS series “The Abolitionists.” One of the commentators stated:

“People knew slavery existed. People in the north were opposed to slavery in general, but their opposition was more of an abstraction. They were opposed to slavery in principle. Many of them had never met a slave, had never actually seen slavery up close. William Lloyd Garrison and Fredrick Douglass wrote and went on lecture tours for years, but abolitionism remained something of a fringe cause. It wasn't until Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin that the cause of abolition gained a widespread following in the north. After that book became a bestseller, no politician or statesman could avoid the issue. It became central to political discourse.”

Story is central to how humans perceive the world. One could have available all the facts which demonstrate the necessity of a change, yet still fail to create sufficient impetus for change until the facts were connected in some compelling narrative. While logic and facts are useful in making decisions, it is emotion that actually drives the majority of human actions. A story can demonstrate a point while integrating it with emotional content. This is one reason myths have persisted for thousands of years – they demonstrate philosophical principles or make statements regarding the human condition or anthropomorphize natural cycles and forces in stories featuring characters to whom the audience can personally and emotionally relate.

The facts are in: regardless of cause, climate change is happening. In fact, change is really the only constant in the universe, and major shifts in climate have occurred hundreds of times during the “life” of our planet. The fossil record would indicate that each time one of these major shifts happens it is followed by mass extinction. While the extinction of any species is tragic, the extinction of humans would mean the end of intelligent life on the planet (depending upon how one defines intelligence, of course). I like people, and really don't want that to happen.

What is needed for most folks to personally connect to and emotionally engage with climate change is a compelling narrative, a sort of neo-mythos. The speculative fiction genre always starts with the question, “what if...?” As such it is the ideal vehicle for answering the question, “what if all of the predicted climate change events occurred?” Mel and I are collaborating on a series of connected speculative stories set in the relatively near future in which all projections regarding climate change have occurred, conventional civilization has broken down as a result, and people are experimenting in the face of vital challenges. I'm envisioning the first “book” as a quasi-allegorical travelogue, a sort of Gulliver's Travels meets The Voyages of Marco Polo. In Dune Frank Herbert created a fantastic mythos around the House Atreides. I intend to borrow a technique brilliantly employed in both Frank Herbert's Dune series and Octavia Butler's Earthseed series – introducing chapters with excerpts from fictional historical, religious and philosophical texts in order to inform context. When attempting to create myths through speculative fiction one could do worse than by imitating great authors who have already successfully done so. Also, in tribute to some of my favorite speculative fiction authors, I'm going to include the character Sandor, first created by George Alec Effinger and more recently employed in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. The character has been used in at least a dozen stories by various authors, and tends to be complicated and tormented, and debilitated disabled or disfigured in some way. The character faces a sort of moral dilemma and a personal challenge and is eventually redeemed in a fashion by the end of the story, sort of like the Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader character from the Star Wars cycle (another wildly successful mythic speculative fiction series).

I don't intend for this to be a conventional post-apocalyptic “everything has gone to hell and evil stalks the earth,” type of story cycle. That is just depressing, and there have already been altogether too many of those. Instead of focusing on the “disaster” aspect of things, I intend to focus on the opportunities afforded by great change, and the dynamic and varied strategies for coping with it or profiting from it which a species of clever monkeys like us can devise. My brother lived in New Orleans for several years during the 1990s, and I visited a few times. While the food was (and remains) awesome, and New Orleans was (and remains) a musician's and alcoholic's paradise, the city was then dirty, crime-ridden, dilapidated and occasionally depressing. And then disaster happened. I visited the city with Mel a couple of years ago, where one of her very cool best friends and her awesome husband put us up for a few days and acted as tour guides. Despite a bad sinus infection, I had a great time. I was amazed at the transformation. The “new” New Orleans has a much lower rate of crime, is comparatively clean and new, and is a much nicer place to visit and a safer place to live. This is because residents rose to the challenge of rebuilding, envisioned an improved city and collaboratively worked to make their ideals real. I saw something which really blew my mind and inspired me: a totally “off grid” house (solar panels, rainwater collection) in the 9th ward, an area that was once a notorious slum with some of the least efficient housing in the nation. The same thing could happen for the country or the world, all it takes is informed planning, collaborative effort, a positive attitude and the will to persevere. That is the perspective I wish to impart in these stories.

I'm going to open this project for submissions once I've developed it a little more, and the “rules” regarding how things are to function and what is possible in this postulated world have been sufficiently established (without rules there is no structure; without structure a story lacks coherence; an incoherent story is just noise). Very few rules have been established so far, but one is: “nothing supernatural; no zombies or vampires.” Like the creatures themselves, just when you think they've been done to death, some uninspired author resurrects them and suddenly they are everywhere, sucking the lifeblood of creativity and consuming the brains of readers.

More on this as it develops.

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I was once, and may still be, asleep.
I was once, and may still be, an arrogant judgmental asshole.
I was once, and may still be, delusional.
I was once, and may still be, an alcoholic.
I was once, and may still be, a self-important blowhard.
I was once, and may still be, an ingrate.
I was once, and may still be, annoying.
I was once, and I hope that I continue being, a very silly little man, because a sense of humor helps one realize that nothing is really that important, helps one to appreciate the absurdity of existence, and helps one to cope with the headwinds of adversity. And laughing is both healthy and enjoyable.

Since I stopped drinking and started listening to others:

My memory has improved significantly; not for events which occurred in the two decades during which I drank the most, but for more recent events, conversations, and physical and intellectual experiences. I still suck at remembering names, but I'm going to hypnotize myself in january and 'suggest' that I 'always remember the name of everyone I meet.'
My life has been immeasurably enriched, and I've been informed and inspired by dozens of contemporaries.
My relationships with others have grown deeper.
I get more out of everything... reading, working, helping people, watching films, listening to music... everything.

Autohypnosis, meditation, new directions in spirituality, a more fulfilling occupation, time and space to read and contemplate, a significantly improved life partnership, and local regional and national acquaintances with knowledge skills and plans that are mind blowing... for all these I am grateful. I doubt that I deserve any of it, but that is the nature of gifts - they are not payment for former good works, nor an obligation to perform some future task, but are freely given in love and with care.

And I've learned how to cook.

In the last year and a half I have overcome my former prejudices against: clergy, organized religion, hippies and camping.

My relationship with my family has improved, even though I still get frustrated with them from time to time (and think and say intemperate and bitter words as a result), but I'm better now than I was and I will continue to work on this.

Before I was merely existing, being as I was, unaware of the potentials. Now I am working upon improving myself that I may better serve my family, friends and community, in order to make a positive difference in the world. What a difference a year makes!

As a result of listening to people and being open to new experiences and associations, I've been informed and inspired in more ways than I could possibly list or express, but I will give one example. I share an interest in mythology with a friend. I recommended two works to him and he recommended a work to me. The works I recommended were Joseph Campbell's four volume Mythology set, and The Myth of the Eternal Return by Mircea Eliade. At first I thought that I had been short-changed in only receiving one work recommended for what amounts to five books, but I thought wrong. He described the work he recommended as "the single greatest work of mythology... ever," which seemed a bit much. It wasn't. The book he recommended was The Mahabharata, and it is, indeed, "the single greatest work of mythology... ever." Imagine a single work that is the ancient Indian equivalent of The Bible plus The Odyssey plus a collection of most of the writings of the philosophers from an entire Greek philosophical school, and you have the Mahabharata. It is a huge tome of approximately 2000 pages (more or less depending upon which translation and which edition of which translation one consults), containing the collected wisdom of nearly a millennia of Indian civilization, and a rip-roaring adventure tale including war, sacrifice, enlightenment, honor, rebirth, the mixing of the sacred and the profane, several techniques for meditation and yogic practice, wisdom, a world view, and a heck of a lot of common sense.

I have a lot for which to be grateful, and I have been and am truly blessed.
Amen.

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Just watched this.

REVIEW OF THE FILM GOD BLESS AMERICA

A charming little film about a misanthropic schlub, a jaded girl and their killing spree/road trip. Vaguely reminiscent of the Michael Douglas film Falling Down (one of the best films of the early '90s), the film starts with a sort of heavy-handed commentary on the vacuous idiocy and casual cruelty that passes for contemporary American popular culture. Hyperbole abounds, and Americans are shown to be self-indulgent whiny materialists with inflated senses of esteem and self-entitlement, generally lacking self-awareness. When the middle-aged misanthropic antihero is diagnosed with terminal cancer and then fired from his job selling insurance, he decides to commit suicide, but only after killing the spoiled brat star of a popular reality television series. While committing the act he is observed by a teenaged girl. The girl turns out to be similarly disenchanted with society, confronts him in his hotel room and convinces him not to kill himself, but to instead kill others, those who “truly deserve to die.” The parents of the reality television star are the first to go, rude teens in a movie theater are the second, and it continues from there (sorry, no spoilers here). The film then becomes a sort of Norman Rockwell hybrid of father-daughter bonding movie and Natural Born Killers. That I haven't seen before. It was chancy, it was risky, but it totally works – someone with a spine and balls (at least metaphorically) greenlighted this one.

The cultural commentary features only the obnoxious and the unconscious, and is an exaggerated reflection of only the most commercial of broadcast popular culture. It exists mainly to provide context and rationale for what later transpires, and consumes perhaps fifteen minutes of the film. Targeted are the usual objects: the cult of celebrity, trashy reality television, morning radio programs, the undeserving rich, the overindulged, the unaware and the unappreciative. At least they went for something other than the usual Hollywood knee-jerk corporation bashing.

The film was directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, one of my favorite “edgy” stand-up comedians, and features his flavor of somewhat twisted humor. Veteran character actor Larry Miller, who is usually featured in more traditional comedies, was the only actor I recognized, which means that the cast is largely comprised of relative unknowns. This was intentional: it would be ironic if a film that criticizes celebrities features one or more.

There are several parody sequences within the movie, including: the shooting scene from Oliver Stone's JFK, and a famous scene from Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.

The dialogue between the main characters definitely has some jokes.

Favorite dialogue:

“You did a good job (range shooting).”
“I was imagining the targets were the cast of Glee”
“What's wrong with Glee?”
“It stereotypes and homogenizes homosexuals. Plus it ruined Rocky Horror forever.”

More about this film:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1912398/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1


Superfluous superficial post-review comment: there are two gorgeous women in this movie - the delicious Melinda Page Hamilton, and the striking Dorie Barton. Both of them also happen to be good actors, so, barring some unfortunate disfigurement or disability, they should continue to be successful thespians for some time.

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I have a chronically ill relative in my care, one whose health is unstable and gradually deteriorating. I love this person very much, but their needs, both physical and psychological, are challenging, time-consuming and sporadically depressing. I try to balance this with sources of hope in my life: my association with inspired and inspirational people, my quest for new ideas and modes of being, my exercise of compassion toward my relative and others, but especially in my aspirations and personal life goals. Aspiration is a form of desire, of working one's will in the "universe," and conflicts to an extent with both my understanding and practice of Buddhism, and with my basic realization that all actions are ultimately futile, that the answer to T.S. Eliot's question from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," 'dare I disturb the universe?' is moot - because it ponders an impossibility, that humans are grains of sand on an infinite beach (insignificant specks), and any pretensions to the contrary are silly unaware hubris. These 'aspirations' (from the Latin word for 'to hope') involve avocational associates I've cultivated over the last several years, especially those involving the realization of my life partner's ever-expanding vision. This is a really interesting and eclectic group, and I derive a great deal of satisfaction and knowledge from this association, especially in assisting them with a wide variety of projects and events. While I am committed both to the long-term care of my relative and to assisting associates in achieving their dreams, neither of these commitments directly corresponds to my own aspirations in life, that which I wish to accomplish before my eventual deterioration and demise. I spent many years "asleep" in a sort of self-imposed internal exile, sedated by alcohol, distracted by fantasies, in a self-soothing solipsism devoid of greater intent and larger awareness. In getting sober, 'waking up' and engaging with others in action, I temporarily escape the depression and hopelessness of both my relation's condition and the universal condition of all that exists. My personal aspirations, that which I hope to achieve in life, involve ideas and creating a new form of human culture (now THAT is hubris!). I think all of this is silly. Why is it not possible simply to exist? To be in the here and now, fully aware, with no other purpose or intent than to simply breathe and experience?

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My partner Melanie and I have been working on chakras. We are transitioning from the chakra associated with feelings to the one associated with action, so I picked an action film with emotion at the center of its plot.

The film selected for the evening is Equilibrium, an action film written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, who also wrote screenplays for several other well-known films, including: Total Recall, Salt, Ultraviolet, The Thomas Crowne Affair, The Wolves and Sphere. It stars Christian Bale, and features well-known character actors, including: Sean Bean and Emily Watson, two of my favorite British character actors.

We will be barbequeing in the backyard, and a meal will be served before the film. After the film we will have a fire pit in the backyard where a round-table discussion of the film and/or anything and everything else may occur. It should be fun. If you are a friend of mine in the Austin metro, feel free to contact either Mel or to let me know you are coming and to get directions.

Meal: 6:30-7pm
Movie: 7:15-8:40pm
Discussion: 8:40-10pm

EQUILIBRIUM
The promotional description from the box:

"In a futuristic world, a strict regime has eliminated war by suppressing emotions: books, art and music are strictly forbidden and feeling is a crime punishable by death. Cleric John Preston (Bale) is a top ranking government agent responsible for destroying those who resist the rules. Whe he misses a dose of Prozium, a mind-altering drug that hinders emotion, Preston, who has been trained to enforce the strict laws of the new regime, suddenly becomes the only person capable of overthrowing it."

MOVIELINE SYNOPSIS OF FILM:

"Equilibrium is set in the futuristic, and dystopian city-state of Libria. The film explains how, in the early years of the 21st century, a devastating Third World War breaks out, the impact of which brings civilizations across the planet to their knees. After the war ends, world leaders fear that the human race cannot possibly survive a Fourth World War, and so set about building a new society which is free of conflict.

Believing that human emotion is responsible for man's inhumanity to man, the new leaders ban all materials deemed likely to stimulate strong emotions, including art, music, and literature. These materials are rated "EC-10" for "emotional content" (a reference to the MPAA film rating system), and are typically destroyed by immediate incineration. Furthermore, all citizens of Libria are required to take regular injections, called "intervals," of a liquid drug called Prozium, collected at the distribution centers known as "Equilibrium".

Libria is governed by the Tetragrammaton Council, which is led by a reclusive figurehead known as "Father". Father never interacts with anyone outside the ruling council, but his image is omnipresent throughout the city in a strong cult of personality. The Tetragrammaton Council strives to create identical lives for all Librians and uses its police state apparatus to enforce unity and conformity. At the pinnacle of Librian law enforcement are the Grammaton Clerics, who are trained in the deadly martial art of Gun Kata, an art which teaches users to predict the actions of opponents during firearm combat. The Clerics exist for the purpose of locating and destroying EC-10 materials and for pursuing, apprehending, and, if necessary, terminating "sense-offenders"people guilty of feeling emotions.

Despite the efforts of the police and Clerics, a resistance movement exists in Libria, known as "The Underground". Members of this movement are responsible for terrorist activity against Libria, specifically against the Prozium factories. The leaders of the Underground believe that if they can disrupt the production and distribution of Prozium for a short period of time, even a single day, then the Librians will rise up and destroy the Tetragrammaton Council. The Underground operates within Libria itself, but also has contact with resistance groups residing in "The Nethers", the ruins of cities destroyed during World War III. These outsiders hoard objects and artifacts from the old society before World War III, including art and literature. Subsequently, they are the targets of Librian death squads composed of police and Clerics.

The film's protagonist, Grammaton Cleric First Class John Preston (Christian Bale), is Libria's highest ranking cleric. He is a widower whose wife (Maria Pia Calzone) was executed after being revealed to be a sense offender, leaving him with two children, Robbie (Matthew Harbour) and Lisa (Emily Siewert). After a raid on a group of resistance members in The Nethers, Preston notices that his partner, Grammaton Cleric First Class Errol Partridge (Sean Bean), has personally taken a copy of the poems of Yeats under false pretenses. Preston discovers that Partridge has not turned the book over for destruction and follows him to a ruined cathedral in The Nethers, where Partridge speaks of emotion and forces Preston to aid him in suicide by cop. Shortly afterwards, Preston accidentally breaks the vial of his morning dose of Prozium, and begins to experience emotions..."

There is more to the synopsis, but I'm not a big fan of spoilers and it reveals the ending.

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Personal Journal Entry at 11:58pm on 10-25-2012

I am grateful for this day and for all those with whom I shared it.

MOVING LOGS, MEDITATION V. CONTEMPLATION, LOST NOTES

Today I moved logs. It sounds mundane, but it exercised my body and got my head to a good place
(these things are relative and entirely subject to interpretation). For me, manual labor is a form of meditation, as is hiking, cycling and gardening. Sitting still is good for contemplating, for planning,for applying reason and logic, for thinking about persons places or things; contemplation and meditationare not the same, and, in fact, are mutually exclusive. If one is contemplating one is cogitating, and when one is cogitating the mind is active. One of the main objects of meditation is to quiet the mind, to rid oneself of thought. Typically one focuses on some aspect of the body as a distraction for the mind, then gradually eliminates that. Then, for as long as one can maintain it, one simply IS.
Meditation is the pause that refreshes.

For me chi gong is like a mental and physical recharge: it raises my energy level, makes me more aware of sensations, and after I'm finished with a session I feel really good. It isn't yet a form of meditation for me, but I can see how it could be, because it also starts with a focus on the body and moves to something else.
If one is using meditative forms for focused thinking on a particular subject or range of related subjects, one is contemplating, not meditating. If one isn't thinking about anything but is merely experiencing the moment, then one is meditating, regardless of the form that takes. Meditation is floating on the stream of flow.

During a short break after moving logs I got some ideas for potential sites for raised gardens, pondered the contours of the land and made a mental note to survey along one prominent contour where the land declines somewhat sharply from being near level, where the plain turns into a hill. I think that particular contour line would be make an excellent swale/berm line, with deep taproot plants at the bottom of the swale. It would allow rainwater to permeate the porous limestone that passes for subsoil here, storing some water and allowing
more to slowly percolate out to the roots of plants and trees. Along this very same contour line we lost nearly half our trees in the drought of 2011. With more water available over a longer period that might not have happened.

I also looked for this one vital notebook that contains extensive notes from the permaculture design course I took at the end of August, and business plans for two friends. I've been looking for the notebook for two months. I gave up looking, and will be going over to my friend Sam's place on saturday afternoon to re-interview him. I kind
of needed to do that anyway, because he's been working on some things and has detailed notes on a white board in his living room that I would like to read. I'll be keeping all of the interview materials and everything pertaining to his business plan in my black messenger bag, which I've owned for fifteen years and have never lost.
That should solve that problem.


MEETINGS, PHILOSOPHIES

I attended two meetings this evening: one in Bastrop with a natural builder and alternative energy contractor, and the service/fundraiser at Creation Flame in Cedar Creek. The natural builder runs Biotechture Training, a builder of earthships, alternatively fueled vehicles and aquaponics systems. They not only build these things, they also train others to do so in the process. Their earthships are of the monolithic dome type and they use styrocrete as
the main material. They also convert machines to use biogas, and have a method for obtaining biogases from wood chips. Mark, the guy from Biotechture, also mentioned harvesting methane from septic systems, using multiple filters to turn rainwater and grey water into drinking water, and using radiation-resistant basalt fiber. I'll have to check into basalt to understand its properties, which forms of radiation it blocks, how it is processed worked and used and where to obtain it in this area. Basalt is typically found in the vicinity of active or dormant volcanoes, and we don't have any of those around here. Biotechture is currently seeking funding to purchase heavy equipment including: a backhoe, tractor, concrete sprayer and concrete mixer. It was an interesting meeting. While I've been aware of earthships for some time, I was previously unaware of what it took to build one.

I'll be visiting an earthship build and participating in its construction on saturday.

The service at Creation Flame was simultaneously amazing and confusing, as usual. We came late, having just finished attending our previous meeting, and arrived during a point where everyone was speculating on what the next couple of months would hold, both for themselves and for the world. I've learned not to expect or anticipate anything, because what happens happens, and the universe seems wonderfully capricious in its unpredictable variety of manifestations.

If you expect an occurrence and something else transpires, then you have to abruptly change your plans or mentally shift gears, having to swim across the current in the stream of happening. If one has no expectations one flows with the moment, surfing the standing wave of time. Expectations are a major source of psychological dissatisfaction and living with a lot of expectations can be a frustrating experience. Anticipation of future events shifts one's focus from the present, which is where a person lives all of the time, and it is the only moment that really counts anyway.

So I was asked to do something that I've trained myself not to do: speculate about the future. I plan today, I look forward a week or two and try to allocate enough time and resources to do what I must and to do those things which I feel will accomplish my life goals. If it isn't happening in the next couple of weeks, I'm probably not thinking about it.

Others were speculating about what might happen in the world; the world is too big for me. I'm a trees person, not a forest person when it comes to people, objects, events and the physical world. I'm only a forest person when it comes to ideas, and possibly in my nascent spiritual development. Several of the speakers spoke of "good" and "bad" possibilities. The main speaker spoke of the popular cultural obsession with zombies as being an outward projection of inner darkness. Good and bad are relative values which we assess subjectively. Nothing is objectively good or bad in itself. Shit happens; it is how we perceive that shit, how we deal with it, what we learn from it, and what we make of it that determines whether, for us, it becomes good or bad.

This particular group of people has more serious issues with dualism than I do, but I think we mean different things by the term. Three of the speakers bashed dualism. Apparently among this group Rene DesCartes stock is WAY down. I was shocked by this bashing: generally folks in this community are relentlessly positive with a "can do" attitude. It is one of the things I like the most about them. So this bashing and negativity, particularly during a meditation meeting, was kind of jarring. It made me realize just how positive most of these folks are the rest
of the time.

There is a large and interconnected collection of different circles of association in Central Texas that makes monist statements, but seems completely unaware of the ancient Greek monists. I'm guessing that there is a philosopher in that greater community, but I have yet to meet him or her. Since I'm consciously circulating and socializing more frequently, perhaps I will meet this philosopher.

Thanks to one and all and the One in all; blessings.

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Current Location: Georgetown, Texas
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