Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Oslo, Norway:   Today the Nobel Committee announced the winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize will for the first time be not a person, but a device: the drone. “It seemed a logical extension, to us, of all that had gone before,” said Helmut Reiksgaard, spokesperson for the committee. “President Barack Obama, our 2009 recipient, has made it clear that the drone is critical in all the peace-keeping operations his country undertakes, and is increasingly seen as essential by all other nations for this purpose as well.” Detractors pointed to the fact that drones in their use are less than descriminant killing machines, but the committee rejected this argument, said Reiksgaard. “The same could be said of dynamite, the invention of our founder, Alfred Nobel, whose wealth accrued from that invention makes this prize he established possible.” He further justified the choice by coining an American idiom: “What is it you say? To make an omlet, you have to break a few eggs.”

—1/19/2013   thanks to Victoria Best for the title

Dear FCC: media accountability, not media consolidation

 8/31/2006  LOS ANGELES:

Thank you for coming to Los Angeles. My name is Charles Fredricks. I was preparing for a career in broadcast journalism until I interned in an NBC news department during the summer of the O.J. Simpson trial.

Broadcast media’s obligation to public service has devolved  to a perfunctory hour between two and five a.m. The further ownership is removed from the communities served, the less relevant are the needs of communities to ownership. Media then exists only to reflect the owners’ desires to our communities.

As staff positions easily replaceable cogs, employees quickly learn that in exchange for a paycheck and if they’re lucky a moment before the lights, the last thing they are expected to do is pass on  any  information that those who write their checks might consider challenging.

For example we been subjected to seemingly endless coverage of Joan Benet Ramsey’s killer, but there has been scant mention of the case moving through the courts challenging this administration’s right and to form a database of all the phone calls of every citizen in this country, in clear violation of the Constitution. How is it that even today, a substantial percentage of the public still believe the falsehoods this administration dictated to reporters, who repeated but never verified, in order to justify their aggression against Iraq?

No longer gatekeepers, news managers have become purveyors of Video News Releases, commercials that masquerade as news, and infotainment that uses fear, peer pressure, and arrogance to inform the public how they are expected to think.

How are we to make appropriate decisions for our future when the appropriate information is spun or withheld altogether by corporations who stand to gain from these actions.

Our civilization as currently configured is  un-sustainable.

We are entering an era where we are  not only losing the ability to make decisions to preserve our democracy and civil liberties, but we are losing the ability to make decisions appropriate for the preservation of life,  not just quality of life but  life itself,  on this planet.

This is what the short sightedness of programming for the bottom line is costing us, and what we stand to lose if we allow increased media consolidation, rather than increased media accountability.

Thank you.

Just don't get climate denialism

Amazing people argue over this; I guess denial is not just a river in Egypt... Let's just think about this simply for a minute. About two hundred and fifty years ago we began to turn to the use of fossil fuels for energy. In so doing, we no longer were limited to using the current crop of hydrocarbon bonds produced by plant photosynthesis (burning wood for fuel, or oil derived from animals that had consumed the plants), but were able to tap into the hydrocarbon bonds that had been sequestered under the Earth from millions of years of plant growth.

As we use coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas, these bonds are broken yielding energy. The bonds were created when the plants drew CO2 from the air and water from the earth and used sunlight to put the hydrogen from the water together with the carbon from the air, releasing oxygen back to the air in what we call photosynthesis. When we burn the wood or the coal or the oil the process is reversed; Oxygen is taken from the air (if you want to put a fire out deprive it of oxygen) and water vapor, CO2 and energy are released.

So, in the last 250 years we've been poring millions of years worth of carbon back into the atmosphere. Even the climate deniers  admit we've used up around half, maybe more, of the global oil supply; it's all downhill from here in terms of oil supplies (also known as Hubbert's Peak, after the guy who first recognized this and explained it back in 1956: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubbert_peak_theory). While we have plenty of coal and natural gas for the time being, we also have a problem. All that carbon has been collecting in the atmosphere faster than plants can take it out— especially since we are collectively cutting down more forests, and using more fossil fuels as the rest of the world moves through industrialization and seeks the same affluence as the U.S. and western Europe, with the majority moving to urban centers. The result: there is twice as much carbon in the atmosphere presently as has been the highest level in the last 650,000 years (!!) that we can measure (http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence).

This results in climate change, only the beginnings of which we have seen (think, Hurricane Sandy every year), due to the greenhouse effect of all that carbon in the atmosphere. When sunlight hits an object on the Earth, the wavelength changes, and some of the energy is released as heat (that's why you feel pleasantly warm in the sunshine compared to the shade). The energy that is reflected back is of a lower wavelength and does not get radiated back out into space, but gets bounced around in the atmosphere by all that extra carbon, warming the atmosphere and the surface (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_effect).

Frankly, anyone who still thinks the science to back human caused climate change isn't there might as well believe the world is flat (http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence). The increased heat is leading to mass species extinction (this is already happening), large portions of current agricultural areas will become desert, low lying cities will be building dikes (New York City, Miami, Bangladesh, the Maldives etc.) and many areas will have to be abandoned, increasing competition for diminishing resources-- or, we can get our s___ together, cooperate for our mutual benefit, and embark on a crash program to save the planet as we have known it, by switching to alternative energy sources that lack these problems, i.e. renewables: solar, wind, tidal, wave, geo-thermal, pumped storage-- the technology is available, but as yet our leaders lack the political will to go against the entrenched lobbying power of the energy industry in its current configuration. The same PR firms that were hired to deny the connection of smoking and cancer are the ones churning out the supposed doubts about climate science.

Nuclear is a nonstarter because the energy necessary to mine, refine, transport the fuel, build the reactor, store the highly hazardous waste, and decommission the radioactive reactor at the end of its useful life, make it the most expensive form of energy available, even setting aside the considerable safety concerns from: spent fuel, terrorism, and the hazards of plant operation-- reactors are typically sited near a body of water, either rivers or the ocean, and thus susceptible to hazards from climate change caused flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis from earthquakes as in Fukushima. Mistakes/accidents can lead to areas contaminated with radiation for hundreds of generations (the half-life of plutonium, in mx fuel is on the order of 250,000 years). So nuclear is out.

Really, the Earth is teaching us how to be proper stewards, and we better listen. If we don't get the message we're history. If you think this is all going to make Jesus come back, I wonder what choice words he'll have to say to those who destroyed their beautiful world, rather than cherished it and each other with gratitude. Yeah, I think there were a couple parables about that, something about reaping and sowing...

Answering the question

ANOTHER ATTEMPT  to explain life, the universe, and everything:
the philosophy of science, the right and wrong of religion, and the price of bread. A work in progress.

The famous tennis player Billie Jean King was once asked after an amazing display of competitive prowess, what it felt like to utterly destroy her competition. Her answer reflected nothing of the awareness of competition. “It felt great. I just got everything that was in me, out.” 

What is in us. What are we. How are we to solve the problems we face. What about suffering. What, am I?

Science and religions provide answers or partial answers to these questions, yet we are forced to ask, if the answers are satisfactory, why would they not be universally recognized as such by everyone, ending the conflicts we see that arise between opposing views.

Regardless that we share the same planet at the same moment in time, different points of view on our existence persist. The easy philosophical answer to this conundrum, we all tend to employ to a greater or lesser extent, is to suppose that our particular point of view is the correct one; those in conflict with it are, by definition,  inaccurate, incorrect, wrong. While this provides individual solace, it does little to equip us to live together in harmony. In fact, quite the opposite. We have (at times at least) trouble recognizing others’ views as valid, because only ours we have lived.

Scientists attempt to avoid subjective confusion, and claim objectivity by relying on an interpretation of reality firmly rooted in observation. Hypotheticals must be verified through analysis, through the process of experimentation.

This is great as far as it goes, but when relied upon exclusively this approach trends to compartmentalized thinking, leaveing our understanding unresponsive to the multiple influences on a component acting in a vast complex system. The approach does not prove satisfactory in all situations at all times, and falls short as a guide to the experience of the totality of life.  For example: 1) write the formula for how to tell your wife you forgot her birthday, again; or, 2) see how far you get in the Sahara desert with the formula for water (H2O)  rather than a full canteen. At a certain point our symbolic language fails, reality takes over. The human condition equals the continuous experience of reality, not our continuous contemplation of its symbolic interpretations.

Religions attempt to explain the human situation with symbolic language that defines existence into codes of proper conduct: Life is suffering, but if you do it right you go to heaven instead of hell after you die (Christianity, Judaism, Islam); or, life is suffering, but if you agree to go through the whole thing without ever completely enjoying it, you won’t have to go through it again (Buddhism, Hinduism); or, live your life so as not to piss off your ancestors, because they’re watching and they’ll get even (Confucianism). Such fear based approaches created to deal with tribal superstitions are unsuccessful formulas for finding full enjoyment of the reality in which we find ourselves, for enduring happiness.

Then there are the political ideologies for social organization. We seem obliged to subscribe to at least one, or by dint of necessity to mix and match:

Capitalism: Self interest and mutual interest in the larger sense are synonymous: greed is good, it makes the world go round. Go get rich, it’s what you’re meant to do. Therefore, the more you have the better you are. Since it’s what you’re meant to do, it doesn’t matter what or who or how many you have to step on in the process. Don’t worry about pissing them off; the more successful you are, the more you can leverage that success into the power to protect you from the envious and morally corrupt (anybody with less, obviously), and start a charity as a tax write-off to salve your conscience.

Marxism: When the proletariate succeeds in making the bourgeoisie disappear by killing them or frightening them into yielding their privileged position, life will naturally resolve into paradise, organized by the central committee, who will assure everyone an equal share.

Democracy: The majority may not always be right, but since they’re the majority, you can’t say no. Well, you can say no, but it wouldn’t make any difference, and you might end up in jail.

Socialism: Life works best when government works to assure the welfare of its citizens.
a) If I’m poor I think this applies to everyone like me.
b) If I’m rich “      “       “       “        “        “    “   “ .

Despotism: Just do what I say and don’t ask why.

Our values are derived by interaction with our immediate culture, awash in these and other symbolic interpretations. Hence we find ourselves most sympathetic to the needs and beliefs of our immediate family, then to our circle of friends and what we loosely define as our tribe (professional relationships, class, ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc.); even while being aware that people everywhere are pretty much the same, or potentially so. Those who would deny this are the closeted or un-closeted bigots and boors; most extended families can lay claim to at least one.

So what are we, anyway. This is not what Billie Jean King was talking about. What is it in us that demands to be let out, seeks expression through what we do.

To review:

Science says, knowledge can be derived from observing natural phenomena that act in predictable, repeatable ways. From such observation we derive its laws. The human then resolves to be a complex programmable biological machine.

Religion says, this doctrine is my truth, live your life by it and you will be rewarded in the hereafter or avoid rebirth to a life of suffering; fail to live by it and you will be punished (in fact, if I feel threatened enough by your example I may not wait for God to do it but will have to punish you myself).

The shaman/mystic, on the other hand, says, to know the truth of the world you must first experience it within you.

Within the realm of the shaman/mystic there are observable laws. If I approach the infinite with a question, the answer I am open to receiving is limited by the nature of my question. Hence flashes of “inspiration”1 come to the scientist and the religious, and they find there answers in the symbolic pattern respective of the manner the question was posed. The answer to the question of “who am I?,” when asked with sufficient humility, can call forth a deeper questioning, and a deeper answer. This is due not to morality, but rather its own sort of physics, which is sometimes described by its lack.
For example, if you hold your cup above the tap, the water may flow, but never into your cup. Or: A student approaches a teacher intent on asking a question that will display how much he already knows.
    “Would you care for some tea?” the teacher responds. The student assents. While the student continues his explanation/question, the teacher fills his cup to overflowing, causing hot tea to splash out and burn the student’s hand.
    “Stop! What are you doing, my cup is already full?!” exclaims the student.
    “Yes, and similarly, when you come full of your own ideas, how do you expect me to add anything?” 

We cannot fit a Lincoln Continental into the trunk of a Fiat, yet this is what we attempt to do when we approach the infinite with our mind, and attempt to define it. The result is passionless science masquerading as reality, and despotic spiritual doctrine, masquerading as truth.

While our mind excels at interacting with the limited realm revealed by our five physical senses in order to preserve our body, it is less capable of perceiving connections to each other and the world beyond our senses, which also exist. Which is not to say that they cannot be experienced. In fact, we are experiencing them all the time. It is the recognition of the experience of connection that we lack. Descartes’ famous “I think, therefore I am,” resolves to “I think, therefore I do not experience all of my self; I only experience my thoughts.”

To develop the sense to consistently experience our connection and explore into that interior space which is likewise infinite; this is within human capacity. For recognition to occur, for the reality to take the place of the symbol, we must practice emptying ourselves of the continual conversation with limited symbolic representations of reality; our thoughts. The answer to the question “who am I” requires a complete emptying of our concepts, not for moral reasons or because faith is required, but because the answer is too large to fit them; larger than anything we can conceive. Our favorite tool for perceiving the world, our mind, proves mostly an impediment in this regard.

As our mind attempts to incorporate all new experience into symbolic language, distortion is inevitable. Hence it is incumbent to have our experience of reality be current, fresh. Our mind shall, for as long as we draw breath, likely concern itself with turning our experience of the unlimited into the disposable, but we do not always have to pay attention to that process, and our perception may be clearer when we avoid it.

           Charles Fredricks

 When the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are, infinite.
    — William Blake (1757 - 1827)


DREAM 8/18/02: What does it mean to you?

I am with a group of people in a southern state, probably one of the meeting rooms in the Charlottesville, Virginia library, with my son. I listen as they discuss various topics in a moderated way, one person at a time taking the floor.  One person after another gets up, extolling the beauty of their place, the preeminence of their state, that indeed everything is quite perfect. It is an open format, a practice at spontaneous oratory. I am moved by their responses to rise and ask to speak as well.
            “I believe that much of the strife within this country can be traced to our inability to resolve the issues that created the Civil War.”
             This opening statement is met with hisses and groans, and half the members present get up and move en masse to an adjoining room connected by a large opening, before which I stand. This causes me to falter for a moment, but then moves me to such fury I am barely able to speak, but then do so forcefully. 
            “Our Declaration of Independence set forth the intended course  for this nation clearly; “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all humans being are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights…” but do we know what this means?  If you were given a car by our parents, it does not mean that you know how to drive it. They may have toiled long ours to acquire it but that does not mean you have earned it. Your father may or mother may have studied and practiced their study to understand the ins and outs of its operation and become master mechanics, but that does not mean you know how to fix it if it is broken. Each generation must master anew the significance of the words, “self-evident truths. Inalienable rights."
            “Unfortunately, our system is such that each generation can pass on to the next the fruits of their labors, creating a sense of entitlement without the accompanying wisdom necessary to steward those resources for the betterment of humanity. From the beginning there has been a dark side to our nation’s creation. This expression in its inception did not encompass the rights of women, the cruelties of slavery, or the obvious injustice of the ethnic cleansing of the native population of their land and resources. We were after all a colonial  extension of  European imperial expanse, and while justifying our course toward freedom our values were not that far removed.
            “We set into motion a new stage in the fulfillment of human destiny, however. Now it is incumbent on us to recognize our position. In order to fulfill our dream we must awaken. The clinging shadows of our inception must be exposed, inequalities addressed. We behave in a manner unbecoming to our professed beliefs. Like a high school kid who looks down on his comrades, proud in his possession of his first car, until it breaks down and he lacks the knowledge or income to fix it, so we squander our heritage and the goodwill of our neighbors. We practice one set of values for the citizens of this country, another for those of other countries; one set for white male citizens, another for people of color and women; one set of justice for the well-heeled, another for those without means; one measure of acceptance for those of Christian faiths, another for other faiths, one set for heterosexuals, another for those of other persuasions.
            “If we are to understand the meaning behind the words ‘self-evident truths’ and ‘inalienable rights,’ we must awaken from the American dream and recognize that these values are not unique to citizens of our nation. Their transcendence arises from their power to accurately describe the human condition, the promise in the hearts’ of all human beings.
            “That it fails to exist in the world around us is our failure, because we act in denial of the principles we ourselves demand. This is not in our long-term self- interest, nor that of humanity, nor of the Earth, as we know it. We are we intent on descending into a self-destructive malaise of greed and violence. We must wake up, grow up, and act like the human beings we profess ourselves to be.             “This has been the doctrine of our greatest statesmen, and those individuals throughout history who have sought to awaken these same values in our hearts. Shall the efforts of these brave souls be wasted on those who will not follow? Who will follow? We have allowed ourselves to be lulled into the pursuit of greed by greedy leaders. We’ve failed until now to recognize the preciousness of that which they have stolen from us. To follow them means certain destruction, not a path to continual prosperity which they promise, but which resolves to but a diminishing few.
“What does it mean, “We hold these truths to be self evident: That all beings are created equal …”
“What does it mean to you?"

“My reason to end the Iraq war”

  — answer to question on Code Pink website:                                                        11/26/2008

If you are concerned about the war on terror, it is making us less safe.
If you are concerned about the economy, it is stealing resources from all social public services and bankrupting us, our children, and their children.
If you are concerned about the environment, it is an attempt to forestall the inevitable—our much needed shift from petroleum.
If you are concerned about the troops, it is turning many young men and women committed to serving their country into confused and broken individuals, attempting to cope with their feelings about their participation in a war based on lies, largely alone without the necessary psychological help to do so.
If you identify with our country, it is a disgrace to the nation.
If you identify with god, it is an immoral tragedy.
If you identify with humanity, it is a calculated genocide to control resources.
If I had to state one reason only, it could be the name of any one individual of any nationality or religion, who died needlessly or otherwise became a casualty in this conflict. There are literally millions to choose from.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Media Disconnect: paper of record fails to record

Dear Washington Post Ombudsman,

While the Washington Post runs a photo of an Oakland Policeman petting a cat [ASK THE POST: Occupy Oakland: What's with the Kitten photo?],
a veteran who survives two tours in the Iraqi war [Scott Olsen] gets critically injured from a projectile fired by the same police force, and this is relegated to the video blog. While this can be viewed merely as unfortunate timing, the placement and presentation leaves little doubt the two incidents exemplify the Post's inside-the-beltway disconnect from what concerns the majority of Americans, both within their city and the nation. Below is a still from a YouTube video showing the explosion of a flash grenade tossed by police at protesters as they attempt to come to the aid of the critically injured veteran serviceman. The irony is increased by links at the bottom of today's Post web-page under Special Reports that include "Faces of the Fallen," and "The Civil War 150," with no update on Scott Olson's condition, which remains critical. Is it any wonder the younger generation abandons newspapers for the internet for their news. Surely this is worthy of ombudsman comment, or has the Post really abandoned all concern for relevancy to the public, and only wishes to reflect to those holding the reins of power views which they find most comfortable. The vacuum created by such professional ineptitude means more suffering must occur before the inevitable course correction by leadership can occur.