Saturday, July 20, 2019

EXPERIENCE HOPE. THERE'S REASON TO HOPE (AND VOTE) FOR A BETTER TOMORROW



You survey your cultural landscape. You're looking at a boundary. Well, perhaps more than one. Many?

Down below, you see the fence? On this side of the fence, a patio. Note the potted bamboo to the left. I bought the plant in Seattle about ten years ago, planted it in a tub and hoped for growth. But my hope for beautiful bamboo wasn't realized. The plant stayed alive, but barely. I sometimes thought of dumping it.  ("Toss it out! Toss it out!"}

But I always decided that I liked the plant, maybe because of nostalgia. It reminded me of the Greenwood neighborhood where I bought it, very close to the Tibetan monastery. Despite its weak looks I saved it anyhow.

When we moved to Newberg, OR, the bamboo traveled in the moving van. Here, amazingly, now it's really, finally prospered. Same tub, same care, but lots more life and more green. Hope realized? I'd say so. Finally. But only after a very long wait.

(If  Trump reads this he'll invent a new campaign cheer: "Green It Up! Green It Up!" But he'd probably be thinking of American paper money, not bamboo.)

In the photo, beyond the fence and across the street you'll see another reminder of hope. The building is known as Marquis Newberg. This specialty business supplies licensed nursing care for people in need. Patients often experience despair during bouts with serious illness or injury.



Image preview



A typical example: an older person is admitted to a Portland area hospital for surgery. The hospital sees improvement and discharges the patient for post-op care at Marquis Newberg. Here, just across the street from my patio, just past the bamboo, ill and recovering patients arrive every day by ambulance, medical transport van or private car. I visited a patient in Marquis. He was grateful for the staff and their skills. . .just what he needed at that point in his recovery. They give hope beyond. 

Those are signs of hope I see when I look out of the window at the patio and the neighborhood. Scenes of hope up close.







People weaken and stumble if they don't have hope. Looking at America across the pond from Asia or Europe or Africa I know it's difficult to be hopeful about America's role in the world. It's not like the days of President John F. Kennedy, when the U.S. began to send Peace Corps volunteers to assist communities in Africa, Asia and elsewhere with their needs. Many, perhaps most, of Americans themselves are losing hope also.

What to do? Take a few days to rest and recovery, like a patient in skilled nursing. Get the emotional care you need--maybe from a group you've joined or from your reading or meditation. Come back to hopefulness, like the bamboo. The potential is there; we need to create the right conditions.

If you regain hope, others will too. Together, we can move our nation, our world, back to our central values: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, peace and justice. It won't happen without proper care and cultivation. When the time comes, vote for candidates that espouse hope. "One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."






Wednesday, July 10, 2019

HUMAN-COMPUTER-- THE NEAR FUTURE. Reviewing Harari, "Sapiens."



My "implanted computer chip" told me to review this book:





How long has "mankind," (hereafter referred to as "Sapiens" to be consistent with Harari's usage) been around on earth?

Where did humans originate?

What about the domestication of plants and animals: when, where?

How and when was the planet knit into a single area by Sapiens?

These are  questions addressed by Harari, but also by previous scholars.

So how is Harari unique? What's different about his book that makes it worthwhile reading?

Harari points out that history writers tend to focus on great thinkers, warriors, saints and great artists. (P. 396.) That focus leaves a big gap--a lack of attention to the happiness and suffering of individuals. Specifically, in his chapter entitled "And they lived happily ever after," he writes that ". . .happiness consists in seeing one's life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. There is an important cognitive and ethical component to happiness." (P. 391.) He intends to fill the gap, which makes his history of Sapiens unique and worth reading.

But the final chapter is a true denouement, a real surprise. After writing for four hundred pages on the amazing rise of us Sapiens, he ends the book with Chapter 20, "The End of Homo Sapiens."

In Chapter 20, Harari asserts that "the replacement of natural selection by intelligent design could happen through the engineering of human beings. (P. 399.)  ". . .there seems to be no insurmountable technical barrier preventing us from producing superhumans." (P. 403.)  "Tinkering with our genes won't necessarily kill us. But we might fiddle with Homo sapiens to such an extent that we would no longer be Homo sapiens."

Even now, researchers are attempting to create cyborgs: ". . .beings which combine organic and inorganic parts." Imagine humans with bionic arms that are operated by thought. Even more revolutionary, think of a two-way computer-brain interface. (P. 407.) 

Harari writes that "culture is releasing itself from the shackles of biology." (P. 409.) Future technology will be able to change "Homo Sapiens" , including emotions and desires. Perhaps his strongest statement: ". . .all the concepts that give meaning to our world--me, you, men, women, love and hate--will become irrelevant."

Questions that occur to me:

1. Who, exactly, would program the control computer that directs the future cyborgs?  

2. Would a democracy be possible in a cyborg world?  

3. Are there any safeguards designed to safeguard freedoms such as freedom to believe?

I admire Harari's writing style. He's dealing with heavy stuff but writes in a popular and witty manner. That's a strength of the book. Another strength: his concern for us Sapiens and our futures. 

My advice: get the book, read it, react to it.














Friday, June 21, 2019

SOME GOOFY SOLSTICE PIPE-DREAMING


We know the exuberance of it. But do we know the why?

You need only go to simple science to understand the mechanics of the solstice.

Each year there's a solstice, right? Yes, but in fact there are two summer solstices. One per year in the northern hemisphere of the earth, one more per year in the southern hemisphere.

Whatever, the soltice makes people go crazy with celebrations.





Seattle Solstice 2019 photos

Another twist. While Seattle celebrates the longest day of the year with the Fremont Summer Solstice Parade  (photos above) and England celebrates with activities at Stonehenge, Southern Africa turns on the lights for the shortest day of the year. My granddaughter lives in Seattle, near to the Fremont neighborhood. Just now, however, she's on an expedition in southern Africa. Imagine: she'll have two shortest days this year because she jets back to Seattle before the northern hemisphere shortest day. I'm thinking it's disorienting, really.

How astonishing is that? Simply by bouncing from north to south or south to north on just the right days of the year you can double up on two important holidays. You must only cross the equator with good timing. 






Summer Solstice over Stonehenge, England
Sunrise with jet trails to boot
Photograph by Andrew Dunn, 21 June 2005.
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en
via Wikimedia



The most noticeable thing is not that the length of days varies, but that it varies in the same pattern year after year. How long has this been going on? A very long time. 

Could the seasonal thing ever stop? Yes, if the axis of the earth were brought to an exact parallel with the sun. Would there be any benefit to such a change? Well, yes. I can imagine several. For example, a person would need only one wardrobe of clothing, matched to a climate that never changes. 

 But for now, at least,  I wish you a. . .solstice.  Happy. Full of good dreams. Promising of a better, more fun-filled world.

(Seattle photos courtesy of my Phinney Ridge family.)


Friday, June 7, 2019

GOD GAVE US SPRINGTIME FOR A REASON

Watching the world of nature--it's absolutely wholesome for your self. For your psyche, I really want to say. Or maybe your soul, your spirit.

Artists like Claude Monet enjoyed painting nature. Millions have been trilled by Monet's depictions of the seasons. Here's a famous Monet depicting Spring.




Claude Monet  

"Spring by the Seine"

Public domain; thanks to Wikimedia Commons


Monet makes springtime to be glorious. But in some respects a realist will find that it's a mess. Here's a photo of a sidewalk in my neighborhood, taken in early June, 2019. On my walk for happiness, I wondered:
  • The weeds are invading the sidewalk. Can anything deter them?
  • The drying out--the aging--of the vegetation. Is that a one-year lesson on the human life cycle? Here today, dried out soon, gone tomorrow. Bent and broken. Then gone for good?




The Lesson of the Weeds

Weed growth and even weed death convey some of their own truths, steeped in realism. But don't focus only on the ugly. Keep in mind other values of the plant cycle and the weather cycle.

Here's a brighter side:




Patches of Sunlight

Come spring and nature has a ton of goodness. In the woodland scene above, you can see an intriguing path from dimness to bright light. No, it's more than that.  It's the bridge, too. A human creation set into the natural world, leading to the light.  

It's like each spring is a bridge from the dark days of winter to the growing light of a new summer. 




This Week's Special Spring Treat, thanks to Head Culinary Expert


How quickly time passes! Seems to me as if the flowers have just begun blooming, but in fact I'm wrong and many one-time flowers have emerged as ripe. All of that happened in a flash of time. That's how it seems to me. Does it seem that way to you?

So, the flower fades; thus the bees must necessarily be very busy in spring. Otherwise they'd miss their cue. Humans are no different, though their seasons stretch out over a few short decades.

For me, observing nature leads to a better frame of mind than I could attain if I were limited to reports of brawls, barriers, blunders, and. . .well, power struggles and battles that mark so much of human effort to control others in order to benefit self. These days, yes, but also in the past.

Let's focus on springtime mode and on keep the dark side in its place. That's a hope. That's a possibility.

Here's a real-life example on 6/8/2019, just in: The American White House tried to block scientific testimony on climate change:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/08/climate/rod-schoonover-testimony.html.  That's part of the brawl, currently. The weedy side of spring. The efforts of conservationists and environmentalists in all walks of life--that's best of the springtime. It's happening all at once. Focus on the light.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

HOPEFUL FUTURE DESPITE MORAL CHALLENGE OF MUELLER REPORT


This past week the President of the U.S. threatened trade sanctions, his blunt weapon of late, to push neighbor Mexico to control hopeful immigrants. Trade sanctions would penalize Mexico, the amigo south of the border.

First, to carry out work normally assigned to United States border patrol. 

Second, the tariffs raise the cost of Mexican goods in the U.S. 

We’ve already seen a huge cost of the president’s trade dispute with China. Increased tariffs hurt producers on one end of the trade and consumers on the other.

Now Mexican goods too? Do you own something, anything created in MX? A car? A radio? A paring knife? My wife and I use a lovely, super-useful Mexican-made refrigerator.

Well, there’s a direct cost of Trump's blunt bludgeon to American consumers. 

And an indirect cost to Americans and others too. American stock markets have been in a frightening funk since May 1, 2019, when investors began to show concern about the trade wars. The loss in just that one month is about -6.7%. using the Standard and Poor’s Index as the measure. (Recognized: the market is highly variable; the trend could shift from down to up at any moment.)

So, every American whose savings or retirement account is invested in American stocks (and whose isn't?) is a loser. Imagine this: “I’m sorry, dear, but I’ve just been informed that our retirement income will be lower beginning next month.” That’s a conversation that’ll be heard across America. See what the notable market commentator, Jim Cramer, has just said about the financial risk.

Beyond financial risk, there’s another risk particularly to persons of faith. It’s the faith risk, never more capably defined, in my opinion, than by Jim Wallis, the leader of the Sojourners organization, in his post of the current week, “Applying a Moral Lens to the Mueller Report.”

Wallis concludes: Faith is now at stake. Democracy is now at stake. The evidence of conscience must now be revealed by us.”  


Pastors, Sunday school teachers, synagogue leaders, Friday prayer leaders: PLEASE DO be aware of Wallis’ thought. Read his article at the link. If we can step up to Wallis' challenge, there'll be a hopeful future.

What's hopeful? That more and more Americans would vote in 2020 with the intent to give Trump a short leash of only one term. I hope that we have a chance to vote. I think that Trump, and I'm knowing him pretty well by now, might find a way to cancel the election to keep himself in the president role.


Monday, May 27, 2019

"DON'T THANK YOUR VETERAN FRIEND/NEIGHBOR ON MEMORIAL DAY"

Meet Nick Kardonsky, U.S. military veteran and former neighbor of mine from when I lived across the street from Nick in the town of DuPont, Washington (U.S.A.). (DuPont is located near Joint Base Lewis McChord (Lewis is U.S. Army, McChord is U.S. Air Force. J.B.L.M. stretches for miles alongside Interstate 5 between Tacoma and Olympia, Washington.)

My wife and I were civilians amongst military families and spent many happy moments with the Kardonskys.

Nick posted a very thoughtful piece on Memorial Day thanks-givings, posted on Linked-In, and asked that readers share it. I'm happy to share it as my post of the week. Please read it and the accompanying reader responses.

Click on this line to get to Nick's piece.




American Military Cemetery, Morocco
(In the public domain via Wikimedia.)



Sunday, May 19, 2019

NEIGHBOR LOVE AT YOUR BORDER



Saturday evening, May 18, 2019, and my family settles down for a television evening. We tune to OPB, the public television for Oregon, and watch “Poland Rediscovered”. What an episode! Focused on the charm of Krakow, then the horror of Auschwitz. Result: the pairing of two opposites of human experience, located oddly within miles of each other in the 1940s. 

Krakow today: presented as a charming city of baroque city architecture and a vibrant cafe and food scene.

Auschwitz eighty years ago: a “camp” run by Nazi Germany, the conqueror of Poland of that day. Through Auschwitz and other such “camps,” European Jewry was practically annihilated by Hitler’s government. Weep for the sins of humanity against a vigorous minority.


Auschwitz: The Wall of Death
photo in public domain

Here, prisoners were lined up for execution by firing squad.
Bodies then dumped in gravel pits.



I ask: What’s the dynamic whereby the human brotherhood amongst nice neighbors prevalent in German towns and cities morphs into living hell? How do evil beings like Hitler win power through democratic elections? Answer: they build electoral majorities by building visions of some supposedly frightening a public danger and then presenting themselves as the savior from that danger. That is the story that Rick Steves tells about Hitler, the Nazis, the Jewish population in W. W. II.

Who sees through the sham? . . .the inhumanity? In the case cited in this post, travel guru Rick Steves, whose “Poland Rediscovered” show dramatically portrays both good and evil.

It’s up to watchers to ask whether anything like Auschwitz is occurring today. Is it occurring in North America, along the southern boundary of the U.S.A.?  The link may be tenuous and stretched. Or not. It's a question to be raised.