Thursday, August 28, 2014

Solving Intractable Problems

President Eisenhower warned us about the Military Industrial Complex (his term), but neither he nor any of his predecessors did anything to solve this problem.  Even after more than six decades of unnecessary and tragic wars, the political risk of shutting down the Pentagon has been too high for more than a few brave politicians to discuss. Those brave few have been effectively eliminated. At least since the fall of the USSR, a primary objective of US foreign policy has been to generate enough enemies to justify obscene military budgets. The emperor is parading through the streets naked, and all the children are pointing it out, but the tailors have not yet been called to task. The peace movement desperately tries to revive efforts that have repeatedly failed.

Perhaps it is time to try a new tack. You see, while the military has been creating nails to use its hammer on, a genuine threat has reared its head. If people, especially those in the USA, don't reign in our rapid use of fossil fuels, this planet may become uninhabitable for our progeny. This threat makes the WWII Axis powers and every other enemy since, combined, look puny. We're talking about the survival of the human species, and several others. It is too late to prevent serious consequences, but it's never too late to do anything we can.

So here is the plan. The Congress & POTUS must instruct the Pentagon to forget about blowing things up and killing people. Granted, that is all that militaries have ever focused upon, but it is an obsolete approach at problem solving that never really worked. Nobody is going to attack us if we do the right thing. Forget about that and let's get busy solving the real problem. Raise the debt ceiling and borrow as much as you need to save humanity from itself. We've got to quickly build the infrastructure of extreme conservation.

Envision a high speed train down the center of every Interstate Highway, powered by sun, wind, and tide. Local committees could plan to meet genuine local needs by sustainable use of local resources. Civil defense programs could teach patriots to get around by walking and bicycling, grow and share food in victory gardens, and give birth to fewer babies, but take better care of those already born. The military knows how to apply resources to emergent problems without wasting time. We don't have time left. We've got to move with all expediency toward a survivable planet.

Do you agree this is a great plan? Perhaps, like me, you've noticed that the Congress & POTUS aren't leaping to do the will of the people. It seems the ship of state is flying on autopilot into a wall. Having played the role of citizen lobbyist for five decades now, I can't muster much hope for the US government to suddenly do the right thing. It's as difficult to imagine government breaking the thrall of big capital as it is to imagine capitalists growing consciences. I guess the only sensible thing is to find an armchair from which to view Armageddon.

Not ready to lay down and die? Perhaps there is a sliver of hope. Since much of the change must happen at the local level, maybe our communities can begin to do the right thing without waiting for the feds, or even state government to catch on. What would happen if everybody who disagrees with the federal budget refused taxes and gave the money instead to deserving but underfunded programs? What if we refused to work for, invest in, or buy from corporations that exploit?

Each of us can learn to grow our own food, pedal our own bike, and care for our neighbors. Any one can speak truth as we see it and live as an example to all. All I really can control is my own behavior. That's challenge enough.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Climate Lobby

Please look carefully at the chart above. What is the biggest contributor to climate change? It’s not the red sector, but the blue one, transportation. See the numbers? Why is this chart skewed to hide the complicity of our cars?

Of all oil consumed in the U.S., 83% fuels transportation. Within transportation, cars and light trucks burn three-fifths of the oil. The quickest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to go car-free.

Government Investment in Transportation

Transportation Budget
Per Capita
Transit + Rail
Per Capita

Benton County

Politicians are positioning themselves as actively fighting climate change, but when we follow the money, it becomes obvious how hypocritical they are.

Consider the infrastructure installed by our government at every level to support personal automobiles. The U.S., with its 214 million motor vehicles, has paved 3.9 million miles of roads, enough to circle the earth at the equator 157 times. In addition to roads, cars require parking space. Imagine a parking lot for 214 million cars and trucks. If that is too difficult, try visualizing a parking lot for 1,000 cars and then imagine what 214,000 of these would look like. Satellite imagery might help.

However we visualize it, the U.S. area devoted to roads and parking lots covers an estimated 61,000 square miles or 39,040,000 acres. If you study any one of these paved areas, you will discover a microclimate approaching a barren desert. Plants are eliminated, soil compressed, hydrological systems disrupted and polluted, and animals become road kill. Multiply that microclimate to a global scale and you begin to realize the impact of pavement.

Our challenge is to move every level of government away from doing the bidding of the asphalt lobby and toward using traffic demand management to make it easier for everybody to use the most efficient, practical modes of transportation – walking, cycling, rail, bus, and jitney. Our opponents include big oil and the automotive industry, some very powerful corporations.

The focal point of this struggle is the state Department of Transportation. The Oregon Department of Transportation issued ODOT’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Report in April of 2012. To paraphrase, it says ”burning fossil fuels has caused the climate to change, so we’ll have to work very hard to keep the highways open so people can keep burning fossil fuels.”

ODOT issues permits for megaloads of tar sands mining equipment and refuses to hear any public opinion. Can we get our legislators to listen to our opinion of the $4B ODOT spends each year destroying our climate?

Which Corporations Control the World? | International Business Degree Guide

This is a great place to start your boycott list.

Which Corporations Control the World? | International Business Degree Guide

Friday, November 08, 2013

Revolution: An Instruction Manual - YouTube

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Turn Them Loose!

When I advocate for the Jubilee, I get a lot of nodding heads for the parts about canceling all debts and bringing all the soldiers home, but a lot of good people have reservations about releasing all the prisoners. Yes, that is one of the provisions of the Jubilee as described in Leviticus 25. Those who believe in the Bible would be well served by reading everything it says about prisons, but since I don't claim to live by the Bible, I'm not going there.

I truly believe that the world would be safer if we released every person now held in US prisons. This nation now imprisons more than 1% of all residents, a greater number than any nation ever has, and it's not making us any safer. Recidivism is up, at least partly driven by the insatiable greed of prisons for profit. The industry drives laws through the American Legislative Exchange Council mandating more and longer sentences, thus making greater profits. They exploit the prisoners for cheap labor and charge whatever they like for the most basic amenities, like shampoo, toothpaste, and phone calls.

Many prisoners when finally released have poor odds of staying out. They are often in debt and required to register their living arrangements with local authorities, who suspect them first of any wrongdoing. Stigmatized by society, they are part of a huge criminal under culture that sees no reason to respect the law. Since the prison profits from their return, they are given no substantial assistance in learning how to live legitimately.

A disproportionate percentage of prisoners are people of color, often locked up for things white folk routinely get away with. Please read Michele Alexander's New Jim Crow to begin to understand the tragic of infusion of racism in the program of mass incarceration in the USA. Poor white guards lord their power over prisoners and abuses are rampant, especially as draconian lawmakers justify treatment such as routine humiliation or extended solitary confinement, internationally recognized as torture.

What about the crimes these people have committed? About half are undocumented immigrants whose only real crime is being born in the wrong place. The USA is happy to import all the resources, but not the people who were dependent upon those resources. It is exceedingly difficult for those born in the global south to find a legal path for immigration. When they cross borders to find the only work available to sustain their families (due to international market manipulation like NAFTA), they submit themselves to occasional jail terms. The average stay in ICE detention is two years before inevitable deportation and many repeat this pattern through their lives.

The second biggest cause of imprisonment is drug offenses, primarily marijuana possession. It is now common knowledge that pot is safer than either alcohol or tobacco, but painstakingly slow to change old laws. Even if the drug in question is crystal meth or heroin, society would be better served by building effective treatment programs rather than prisons. It is draconian to lock people away for a medical condition like addiction. It's also a waste of money. The most common addictions are to alcohol and nicotine, which we treat differently than every other drug. Why? Addicts rarely have much difficulty getting a fix behind bars. What better place to learn how to steal & cheat to support a habit?

"What," you may ask, "about serious crimes, like murder?" Having lost my sister to murder, I feel qualified to answer this one. Locking up her killer did not bring her back, nor did it likely prevent any further murders, if we're honest about it.  The cascading of violence was unchecked. A man who was wounded in the same shooting was later sought for questioning about another murder in the same place. Prison did nothing to fix our pain or save others.

Murder historically has the lowest rate of recidivism of all crimes. People are unlikely to kill twice because killing another person is a very distasteful experience. Generally, murder is a crime of passion. People lose their head when they become killers. Knowing they have killed is the greatest punishment most murderers suffer. Some even seek relief on death row because they are unable to forgive themselves for such depravity.

There are serial killers who have somehow rationalized repeated killing. The vast majority of these sick people work for the government, either in a military role like JSOC or as state executioners. It is past time we join the civilized world and stop teaching and encouraging such behavior. Perhaps isolation from civil society is an appropriate part of the treatment of these people, but there are too few examples of such healing in prisons.

I will admit there are sociopaths and psychopaths in our prisons. The most difficult to reconcile are the rapists, who are very likely to repeat their crime. I wouldn't be the first to recognize that our society does a poor job of dealing with the culture of rape. High school heroes who commit heinous rapes get a wink and a nod, as long as the victim was considered insignificant by local officials. The majority of rapes do not lead to conviction and most convicted rapists are eventually released to rape again. Rape, both heterosexual and homosexual, is much more common in the military than in civil society, because the military is all about violent control.

Unfortunately, the prison system teaches this behavior.  Our reliance upon prisons increases the incidence of rape. Rape in prison is more common than outside, whether perpetrated by guards or fellow inmates. Misogyny and homophobia are rampant in prison culture. Indeed the existence of prisons as institutions stands as proof that brutal domination is the ultimate power.

But that's a lie. The suffering of brutality is shared by the perpetrator. The suicide rate among prison guards is 39 percent higher than the average for other occupations, an Archives of Suicide Research study found, almost as high as that of combat veterans. In prisons, guards and prisoners together wallow in the misery of inhumanity and it's not making anything better, because prisons are still part of the outside world and they are dragging us down. It is time for broad scale liberation.

Prisons, like militaries, are part of a government run protection racket. As long as you pay the boss your fealty and we don't have any reason to suspect that you come from a demographic likely to rebel, the government guns will protect you. If they suspect you may get out of line, or find a good way to make more money exploiting you, you're toast.

Because prisons are doing more harm than good, I favor a radical shift. Shut them down. Release all prisoners. Repurpose the resources to solve social problems. Prisons could be converted to voluntary detoxification centers, akin to Buddhist monastaries, where people could peacefully detoxify through simple work and diet. By removing the element of violent control, we open the possibility of genuine healing.

What do we do with sociopaths and psychopaths? Help them heal. Relieve their suffering and they will stop spreading it. The methods of psychologist Carl Rogers and his student, Marshall Rosenberg, have proven very effective for decades in encouraging the natural development of empathy and compassion. Everyone can benefit from reading Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication. Please study the work of The Freedom Project in Washington State prisons. This project has proven to be one of the most effective treatment programs ever, even for serial rapists.

Okay, say people rise up and demand a clean start. Crime is not going to suddenly go away. What do we do about crimes if we don't lock people up?

After the Jubilee, there may still be a role for prisons in our society, but on a much smaller scale than we now practice. Only those who have proven themselves to be an irresolvable threat to society should be locked away and they should get continual compassionate treatment, so that we don't fall back into the mess we now have. Nobody is beyond redemption, but some may die before they decide to learn how to live responsibly with others. The best we can do is keep giving them chances to prove their recovery. If we sink to treating them as irredeemable, we risk losing our own humanity and sinking to their level.

Perhaps the best examples of functional criminal justice systems come from places that have recovered from violent civil war, South Africa and Northern Ireland. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that a simple, honest examination of their violent past, hearing from the players on all sides of the violence, created better understanding and room to focus on building a better future together. Ireland's system of Restorative Justice sat convicted perpetrators of violence in mediated sessions with their victims. In most cases they were able to find avenues for perpetrators to express remorse and make amends, which freed the victims to forgive. It wasn't easy, but it was very fruitful and saved a huge amount of money that had been wasted on prisons, releasing men who became productive members of a healing society.

Violence is not inevitable. Every two year old learns that it is not acceptable to hurt others. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by love and compassion know a force more powerful. Let's all start living up to our own best ideals.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Talking Shit

Why do we consider it rude to discuss the natural nutrient cycle?

Why are most gardeners afraid to do what is best for their vegetables?

Why is the topic of excrement taboo?

Humans, like every other animal on the planet, pass most of what they eat through their digestive tract. Fungus and bacteria, many resident in the lower intestines, convert this waste into soil that is optimal for growth of the plants, which produce the food upon which humans depend.

Modern life seriously disrupts this fundamental cycle.

First, a word about the taboo… Babies are curious about everything, including their own poop. They test with their primary sensory organ, their mouth. Baby shit, being digested mother’s milk, is pretty benign stuff, and little damage is done. But mothers have a natural drive to defend their babies, so they teach them, in no uncertain terms, that once that stuff leaves your ass you leave it alone. Thus, each of us has learned a primal lesson. “No shit!”

For most of human history, that primary lesson was enough. If you drop it on the ground and leave it alone, animal excrement becomes soil that encourages healthy plants. Organic farmers know this.

The problem apparently started with urban accumulation. When people started living in denser packs, the process of soil construction was often shortened, leading to people inadvertently ingesting feces from each other and domestic animals. Many fecal bacteria, such as E. Coli, are disruptive in tissues outside of the colon. We don’t want them breaking down our skin or our upper GI tract they way they do food waste.

The concept of waste management was born from a rudimentary understanding of the infectious potential of soil creating organisms. With limited availability of sufficient land to process growing amounts of shit, people developed a process unprecedented among land animals. We began to defecate in the water.

This bought some time before we finally realized that when the people downstream drink what the people upstream crapped in, and we again had contamination issues. Being creatures of habit, rather than questioning the assumptions that lead to flush toilets, we developed industrial processes to clean the water. These have never been perfected, but the problem seemed more manageable.

Scientists have long recognized fundamental differences between aerobic and anaerobic decomposition. Virtually every human pathogen is anaerobic. When air circulation is present through the decomposing mass, processes tend to be dominated by thermophiles, microbes that create and flourish in heat. In the same manner as a patient’s fever can kill a disease, thermophiles eliminate pathogens in fecal compost.

Unfortunately, decomposition under water is always anaerobic. It is virtually impossible to reconcile flush toilets with the natural process of soil building. Although elaborate systems have been developed to biodegrade urban waste aquatically, they fail to take advantage of the natural processes through which we evolved.

Composting toilets have been in use for generations. They are perfectly healthful. Furthermore, composting our waste completes the natural nutrient cycle and eliminates the need for commercial fertilizers, most of which are derived from fossil fuels.

As the industrial era crumbles around us, how can we best use this knowledge to create a healthy future? It makes sense for us to build and use simple composting toilets, which will safely process our natural waste for eventual use in our gardens.  Having built and used several composters, I’ll give you my favorite design.

The compost should be in direct contact with the soil, even though some state laws prohibit this. This makes it easier to maintain the right moisture levels, invites earthworms & microbes into the process, and does not increase the likelihood of contamination. Living soil is beneficial. That’s the whole point.

Containment should be substantial and rot resistant. Concrete blocks, poured walls, or rock are ideal for the first three feet off of the ground. Build two areas, each able to hold about a cubic yard of compost. There is no need for a separation wall between them. You will be using one while the other processes. Plywood flooring works fine for the top.

Besides the hole above from which to deposit the compost, each tank will need an access through which you can turn or remove the soil.  Use mesh and screen to keep flies and other pests out, but to allow air to flow through. Seal the toilet seat & lid with gaskets to prevent bugs and odors.

Start the pile with small sticks and reeds. Cover and nest each deposit with straw or wood chips. This will improve the carbon nitrogen balance and provide channels for airflow. It’s okay to put any household or garden compost into the system. Many find that green plant material, such as leaves or grass, is better than toilet paper, but either will decompose quickly.

By the time the second tank fills, the first should be substantially decomposed and pretty much free of odor. If it doesn’t seem completely broken down, you can turn it onto a new batch of sticks to continue the process before introducing it to your garden. Simply cover the pile with plant material and wait until it is nothing but clean soil.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lessons Learned from Living on My Bike

--> Since I turned 50, I’ve pedaled over 15,000 miles through 33 states. That includes three trips across North America, northern US, southern US, and central US, down both coasts, and up the Mississippi. I’ve cycled alone and with a diversity of companions, including 4500 miles with an 11-yr-old girl and her 2-yr-old twin sisters. I’ve learned a few lessons in the process, which generally apply to life.
1.     Less is More. Put everything you think you need to live onto a bicycle and start pedaling. Before you crest the first hill, you will have figured out how to get along without much of it. Possessions are burdens.
2.     Anticipate the Best but Prepare for the Worst. The best way to dissolve fear is to know exactly what you would do in the worst-case scenario. Fear is not a healthy motivator, while love is.
3.     Lower Your Center of Gravity. If you carry your load in a backpack, besides being sweaty and heavy, it destabilizes. On top of a rack is okay for light things, but most of the load belongs in low riding panniers, where it actually stabilizes. Use your tools to optimize stability. Stay grounded.
4.     Breathe, Drink, Eat, Wash, & Sleep. You can’t do anything until you take care of the essentials, including lots of pure water, a wholesome diet, and bathing to avoid saddle sores. Long, slow, deep breaths are the most basic. Build routines around your fundamental needs.
5.     Fix it Before it’s a Problem. Daily cleaning of the chain prevents wear. Properly adjusted bearings last much longer. Lubrication before rust makes more sense.
6.     Stretch Regularly. After you pedal eight hours a day for a week, walking down a staircase can be excruciating, unless you do yoga too. You maintain flexibility and range of motion by regularly testing your limits in every direction.
7.     The Most Experienced Rider Follows the Pack. The lead rider should know the route and set a moderate pace. The sweep rider, last in line, should have the tools and knowledge to fix any problem that happens. From the back, you can see everybody and they can hear you. Most of leadership is supporting others.
8.     Hold Your Line. The safest cyclist is visible and predictable, riding steadily out from obstacles. Suddenly veering out to avoid something can get you killed. Plan a straight course by looking far enough ahead.
9.     Sometimes You Take the Lane. If there’s not enough room for a car to safely pass you, the safest place to be is in the middle of the lane. You’ve got to be brave enough to assert your right to the road. Timidity can be fatal.
10. Momentum is Our Friend. The speed you gain on the downhill can help a great deal going up the next hill. Go with the flow and use the forces of nature to achieve your goals.
11. Only Stop at the Top. Everybody needs an occasional break. If you rest in a valley, you’ll have a lot tougher time getting started again than if you rest on top of the hill. Wait until you’ve accomplished something big to reward yourself. Then look for a shady spot, because you can’t cool down well in direct sun. When you finally find shade on a hilltop, you'll have earned your break.
12. Concentrate on Spin. No matter where you ride, it will be easiest if you devote your attention to the precise application of your gears, legs, ankles, and feet to turning those cranks to an uplifting song(about 100 rpms). Stay in the moment.
13. You Can. I’m just a normal guy, not some super athlete. Living car-free for 17 years has greatly improved my life, mostly because it brought me a little closer to my own ideals. Please allow yourself to live up to your brightest dreams.7

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sacred Economics

Imagine if money could not be successfully hoarded. The longer you held onto it, the less it would be worth. You would need to spend it or lose it.  Having more money than you needed to spend would not be an advantage.

Now imagine living in a world where you didn’t have to pay anybody for the basic elements of a healthy life. It would be presumed that every person deserved to survive and that each would eventually give back to the community enough to support the next generation.

Even if you wanted to improve the world, you wouldn’t be allowed to take more than you needed from the natural resources we all share without paying the community. Each time you did something that harmed the community or the environment; you would be expected to make amends immediately.

Such an economy would encourage each person to invest locally. There would be no role for people who bring in capital, exploit local resources, and then run off with the profits. There would be communication between diverse communities, each of which was basically self-sufficient.

Rather than competing to exploit, we would collaborate for the good of the whole network. We would all recognize that the good of each was dependent upon the good of all. With a permaculture approach, we would foster an ecosystem that included us and supported our needs as part of a healthy cycle.

We would no longer be focused on forever building more and bigger. Like everything in nature, our creations would go through periods of decomposition and simplification. Continuous growth would be recognized as cancer and avoided.

Our behavior would be closer to human traditions than modern culture has been. Each of us would recognize that the greatest joy comes from voluntarily serving the needs of others. We would teach each other to home our empathetic skills. Healthy human interactions would truly be at the center of all our behavior.

This is the world envisioned in Sacred Economics: money, gift & society in the age of transition by Charles Eisenstein. Besides a thorough, intellectual discussion of the vision, Eisenstein gives us tips for how to get there. There are specific steps that each of us can take.

We can get in touch with the reality of human history. People naturally share with each other because we are an interdependent species. The current dominant system is an unhealthy anomaly.

Americans now suffer from “too much stuff.” We need to learn to get by with fewer things, which are built to last and shared appropriately with our neighbors. Certain items, such as cars, televisions, and flush toilets, do more harm than good. Most people throughout time around the planet have lived without these things, and we can, too.

Humans have apparently always been challenged by the desire to live up to our own ideals. We are great rationalizers, quick to forgive ourselves and to blame others, especially those just out of our influence, for “making us” misbehave. Personal responsibility for our daily choices would go a long, long way toward improving our world. How can we best inspire each other to live by our highest ideals?

Directly and indirectly, we want our time and energy to go toward making the world better. Spending or investing money has broad impacts of which we may be unaware. It is challenging, but worthwhile, to know where the things we consume come from. How do we support systems that either harm or help others?

How can we get back to a system where each person follows the heart and voluntarily gives freely in service of the genuine needs of others? How can we express our gratitude to those who are brave enough to live this way?

We can look forward to belonging to a community that brings out the best in each of us. Every day in many small ways, we can make it happen. We can live for the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible.