It’s a Wonder-Full Life

I am happy to be often stopped in my tracks by wonder, but I wonder what exactly that is.

I know it when I feel it (or mostly when I have felt it, too immersed in the object of that state to be conscious of it or to care beyond the minor rapture of the moment.)

Attention-awareness is part of it; and curiosity; and a tacit sense of once-ness in the passing of the object or idea or scent or gestalt of the moment of wonder. Moments of wonder are benchmarks of real-ization out of a life of rote routine, habit,  and sensory numbness.

Wonder is a kind of deep-sight into ordinary reality around us.

  Are you prone to wonder? What draws your attention and curiosity and won’t let you go?  

 

I like the way Caspar Henderson has put it:

…wonder is, among other things, an act of deep attention. As I try so show in the book, it’s a radical openness in which we think clearly and feel good, and connect to phenomena or people beyond ourselves.

When one has these moments, it makes one think what more is going on here? What’s the context in which this is happening? Why, as a briefly-alive, historically-situated being, why am I wondering at this rather than something else?

What role does this experience play in my own sense of what makes the world meaningful? Where does that come from? Where is it going? In moments of wonder—this is my experience—you’re aware of your own ignorance, your own limits, your smallness, your mortality, and, also, I feel okay with that.

The best books on Science and Wonder — a Five Books interview https://fivebooks.com/best-books/science-wonder/

Big-Data Big-Brother NewSpeak

There are, of course, those who say that this big-data psychometric neurosociological element had nothing to do with the Trump win. What do you think? Twig from this quote from Cambridge Analytica’s own boast on their website on November 9 and go from there:

“We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communications played such an integral part in President-elect Donald Trump’s extraordinary win,” said Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica. “It demonstrates the huge impact that the right blend of cutting-edge data science, new technologies, and sophisticated communication strategies can have.”

The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine – Scout: Science Fiction + Journalism – Medium https://medium.com/join-scout/the-rise-of-the-weaponized-ai-propaganda-machine-86dac61668b#.7r0en8xp7

Cambridge Analytica Congratulates President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence
https://cambridgeanalytica.org/news/pressrelease/1293

““We have a massive database of 4-5,000 data points on every adult in America,” Alexander Nix, CA’s chief executive, cheerily told me. This sounds weird, if not creepy. Indeed, when I first encountered CA a year ago, I initially wondered if they were cranks. But CA has built a business serving commercial and political clients.”

NOTE: Much of this comes from Facebook polls and such. Caveat emptor.

The Data That Turned the World Upside Down – Motherboard https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win

Cambridge Analytica | Political revolution: How big data won the US presidency for Donald Trump https://cambridgeanalytica.org/news/press/1465

How Donald Trump utilized big data to win the US presidential elections http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/political-revolution-how-big-data-won-us-presidency-donald-trump-1602269

Who’s Your Data? ( on Fragments From Floyd)  from January 2014 contains this astounding quote, now much less far-fetched that a mere three years ago:

The big data revolution, as it matures from data collection to data interpretation to data-driven implementation across all aspects of human existence, will wield an impact on humanity’s future course that is no less revolutionary than the coming of the spoken and then the written word.

Featured image found in media archives. I confess I put the Nook in the hands of the damsel in the dark-peach dress.

Sense of Presence: Earth Places

I am one of those former young adult dreamers about far-away places that feels like a dream has come true. It is called Google Maps/Google Earth. It can take me any where, any time.

And when (increasingly often) I need a diversion from what passes these days as reality, I fire up the engine and head off: to Glacier National Park; the Smokies; my old stomping grounds in Birmingham or back to survey the Carolina Bays that continue to fascinate me.

If you lack the driving force to drive it yourself, hang on to this 2.5 minute spin around the planet to visit mostly human-made landscapes, but also a few natural places.

Earth: we just couldn’t stay here without you.

Be sure and turn on your speakers (or use headphones as the producers suggest.)

Matter of Scale

Do aggregates of humans  in business suits lose their soul beyond a certain number under the same corporate roof? 

Does the myopic quest for efficiency and profit to the exclusion of all other common good turn proper intention toward the dark side?

Can we survive in the era of BIG? 

Those were the questions rising in the steam from my first cup of coffee this morning. And so my morning pages took the shape of the following screed (also posted to Medium.com for a potentially wider audience than you, mom. TLDR. But that’s okay. I feel better now.)

BIG IS KILLING US

John Muir famously said that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

I have new concerns about a near-by deforesting project and have started digging into it. And what I find is that logging Lick Ridge down to the dirt brings me squarely back into the currents that have been sweeping the western world to the brink now since the Great Acceleration.

It’s all about efficiency of the process and profit for the shareholders, and in the end, money drives the machinery of the age. This is our purpose, our raison d’etre, what America, at a certain aggregate level, is and for too long has been all about. And the rest of the world — at least until recently — wanted to walk in our boots and follow our way forward. That way does not lead forward but a few more steps, so it’s urgent that we go another direction.

Big Ag, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Fiber, Big Finance, Big Risk: What all of these giants have in common is that, in the end, and in spite of slick ads and creative greenwashing, people and planet do not matter. The future does not matter other than that the graphs of share prices trend upward. The vitality and well-being of particular living creatures and Earth systems play no part in the business equation. Those messy abstractions limit power and profit and make shareholders unhappy and tend to shave a few million from CEO portfolios.

Through all the BIGS runs the thread of self, of haughty and callous indifference, of arrogance, of denial and of greed. To hell with your soil, your drinking water and air, your pitiful little investments, and your health. Those effects are simply collateral damage of good business. The worse these things become, the higher goes the GDP. If things are not broken, if there is not the perpetuated fear of insufficiency, then we don’t need more natural gas, more pesticides, more Happy Meals, more health/life/property insurance. Well-being is steady-state talk, and the board won’t like it.

There is a divide here, somewhere near the bottom line, of people on the one side who are champions for the living, for the sustainability of place, for the dignity of differently-colored people on the other side of the globe and for the health and well-being of far-future generations. And those on the other side who are champions for the cold dead figures on a balance sheet.

There is a gulf fixed between those who think them-there-then and those who think me-here-now; those who don’t get Mr. Muir’s ecology of all things.

The former understand the frail marvel that is a cell, a coral reef, an intact forest, or a unimaginably-complex spoonful of topsoil and they feel some sense of duty to honor that creature, that living system that was here long before us, whose ongoing integrity sustains our own.

The latter see nothing alive, only resources to transform into commodity, and suckers who must pay The Man from their puny wages for toxic drugs and toxic policies and toxic food and old-growth wood pellets to keep their families alive but unwell.

This cabal has always been immensely powerful, so that the Old Story, business as usual, has driven the ship towards the brink during the Modern Era — during the entirety of my boomer lifetime. BIG has trammeled small for a century, but never like we will see in the coming years when Goliath reigns.

A single writer stands perplexed in the middle of his field looking at a strip-mined once-forested ridge one valley over. What is he to do with the round pebble in a leather sling? Is there a vulnerable place on that thick beetling skull where enough humans with good aim and with enough centrifugal force can fell the giant, can write the script of the New Story where people and planet matter more than profit?

I once thought so. Today, I am not so sure. But we should all keep that small hard river rock in our pockets, turn it in our hands often over the coming months and years, and remain vigilant for vulnerable targets to bring BIG down to human scale. BIG is at war with nature. And so we wage peace. Small is beautiful.

The Technosphere: The World We Have Created

Earth’s ‘technosphere’ now weighs 30 trillion tons — ScienceDaily

“The word technology comes from two Greek words, transliterated techne and logos. Techne means art, skill, craft, or the way, manner, or means by which a thing is gained.”

And so, over the not-so-many millennia of our species’ thumb-and-brain-powered rise to power, we’ve used our art and dexterity to shape the natural world of bone and sinew, fiber and ore, fire and fuel into over a billion different forms of future techno-fossil: 30 trillion tons of man-stuff. Most of this will outlive our civilization, buried in the strata of the unknown future.

It is largely our techno-waste (ballpoint pens, pop tops, toothbrushes, chicken bones, asphalt and radioactive fallout) that will say “we were here” in the Anthropocene to come. The total mass of the technosphere outweighs its progenitor and source, the biosphere.

“The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet — and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly.

“Compared with the biosphere, though, it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials, as our burgeoning landfill sites show. This might be a barrier to its further success — or halt it altogether.”

Wouldn’t that be a fine epitaph on the headstone of our species:

“They turned the planet into plastic and gas, and thus, their end.”

Mt Valley Pipeline Hits a Speed Bump

In case you once followed the progress (or potential devastation) of the 42-inch Mountain Valley Fracked-unNatural Gas Pipeline but had wandered away from the topic, seeing its opposition as a spitting-into-the-wind lost cause, you might want to take a few minutes to come up to speed.

It seems Mt Valley does not have a free pass to our forests, mountain vistas, ground water and precious places just yet. But the fox is now guarding the henhouse, even as likely thousands of late-indigenous Appalachians would put their own safety and freedom on the line, as my friend David Seriff (of a potentially MVP-impacted Blacksburg neighborhood) suggests:

Seriff: Will Standing Rock happen here? – Roanoke Times

Standing Rock Part 2? 16,000 Sign Petition Demanding West Virginia Gas Pipeline Be Stopped – Washington DC, DC Patch

EPA finds fault with environmental review of Mountain Valley Pipeline | Nelson News | newsadvance.com 

Regional governments bash pipeline impact statement | Nelson News | newsadvance.com 

An environmental news group from Roanoke ends their last newsletter as follows, indicating the fat lady is yet to sing:

The Bureau of Land Management states that:

FERC has failed to show a need for the project and seems to be concerned with the needs of the pipeline company rather than the needs they should be addressing for the nation The use of federal eminent domain from so many landowners – and BLM states that they listened to landowners – requires a very strong public need, which has not been established.
Hopefully we could have the following process outcomes recommended by DOI:

• A new or supplemental DEIS that meets the legal requirements identified by the DOI and others
• An additional comment period
• True public hearings by the BLM in areas affected by the pipeline proposal – rather than the sham hearings held by FERC November.

Leaf-blown: The Wind from Hell

leafblower noise fallows atlantic

The guy lived two blocks away in our in-town community, so however agitated it made me, his nearest neighbors  probably took turns calling the sheriff’s department every Saturday and/or Sunday morning in the fall and spring to complain (to no avail) when the leaf blower cranked up.

Out of curiosity I walked up that dead-end block once just to see what massive landscaping project might require the use of a military-grade wind generator.  The homes and yards were modest and small there, as I expected. So the Blower Guy could not have had to do anything  that the old-fashioned, human powered and completely silent leaf rake could have accomplished in almost the same number of minutes–that seemed like hours.

But no. The blower strapped to his back must give him a testosterone rush. I AM THE WIND! Behold: the before; the after. Oh the power!

Oh the acoustic litter, the exhaust fumes, the waste of gas, and the disquiet of another neighborhood morning shattered.

Turns out I am not the only person in the world who hates leaf blowers referred to as Lucifer’s Trumpet or “the Devil’s Hair Dryer.” Just one awful statistic to dis-recommend these machines to one and all:

“Simplest benchmark: running a leafblower for 30 minutes creates more emissions than driving a F-150 pickup truck 3800 miles,” Fallows writes. “About one-third of the gasoline that goes into this sort of engine is spewed out, unburned, in an aerosol mixed with oil in the exhaust.”

Or if you want to dig deep into the altered state of leaf blower mentality, James Fallows in the Atlantic offers an exhaustive series of explorations into the good, bad and the ugly of leaf wrangling at 100 decibels.

“If it can be done, it should be done” was said to be the motto of the US Corps of Engineers when I was in college. It has many applications since. If we can invent something to sell and make a profit that appeals to a certain (almost exclusively male) demographic and pitch it as “more efficient”–to get said blowhard to the fairway sooner of a Sunday morning–then there is no reason not to promote the leaf rake’s Jetsons remake.

I think of the gas-powered leaf blower as the boombox of the suburban middle-class yard-snob.

“You can’t stop me from exerting my rights within my property to create a public nuisance that crosses said property lines and I don’t give a damn. I’ll shoot my gun and let my dogs bark too, and I don’t give a rat’s acetabulum if it disturbs your peace. I pay my taxes so I get to choose how I use my property.”

Yep. It’s legal. But it is not thoughtful or neighborly or healthy to ears or lungs or the ambient leaf-scented air.

Reminds me of a phrase I once read: You can do things in an uncrowded world that you should do in a crowded one. Some of us have not made that adjustment and the cowboy mentality persists.

Okay. Watch your blood pressure bucko. I just have a thing about acoustic litter and the arrogance and self-absorption of those who produce it, though I am happy to report that I have only once heard a leaf blower nearby during our Goose Creek years. Knock on wood.

Lastly, just to show you I’m not just a whining backwater curmudgeon complaining while not proposing an alternative, I’ll point you to the sustainable human-powered answer to our offending lawn-maintenance appliance. Its designer calls it the Scottish Leaf Blower. First, find a set of used bagpipes….