Saturday, December 19, 2015

santa Crow 2015

This year's winter card is well under way but not painted yet as I'd hoped.
Ah well, I hope you'll like it as it is at the moment.

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.

More soon and Happy Holidays from Crow and me :)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

another whistle stop

A lady who traveled by train to a village in the southwest of England arrived at the station to see nothing but countryside all around. She asked the station master, 'Where is the village?' The man replied that it's about 2 miles away, down the hill. The lady then asked 'Wouldn't it have been better to build the station near the village?' To which the station master replied, 'Yes madam, but we thought it better to build it near the railway.'

Decades ago I was living in England and loving to travel by train whenever I got the chance. For me it was a return to some bucolic yesteryear when the landscape was unspoiled. Imagine my surprise to read that my experience wasn't shared by the Victorians when railway travel expanded enormously in the mid 1800s. Many of them described the havoc wreaked upon urban centers by railways, such as driving up real estate prices, devastating working class housing, and adding to urban congestion. They also protested the effects of the new transportation technology upon the pristine countryside:

'Once it were a capital county, I say. Hah! you asks me what have happened to it. You take and go and look at it now. And down heer'll be no better soon, I tells 'em. When ah was a boy, old Hampshire was a proud country, wi' the old coaches and the old squires, and Harvest Homes, and Christmas merryings. — Cutting up the land! There's no pride in livin' theer, nor anywhere, as I sees, now.'

'You mean the railways.'

'It's the Devil come up and abroad ower all England!' exclaimed the melancholy ancient patriot.

Within a few decades the term Railway Mania was used to describe a huge speculative bubble. Reporting the investment frenzy of the time and the subsequent crash author Charles Reade wrote:

'When this sober state of things had endured some time, there came a year that money was loose, and a speculative fever due in the whirligig of time. Then railways bubbled. New ones were advertised, fifty a month, and all went to a premium. High and low scrambled for the shares, even when the projected line was to run from the town of Nought to the village of Nothing across a goose common. The flame spread, fanned by prospectus and advertisement, two mines of glowing fiction, compared with which the legitimate article is a mere tissue of understatements; princes sat in railway tenders, and clove the air like the birds whose effigies surmount their armorials; our stiffest Peers relaxed into Boards [of Directors]; Bishops warned their clergy against avarice, and buttered Hudson an inch thick for shares; and turned their little aprons into great pockets; men, stainless hitherto, put down their infants, nurses included, as independent subscribers, and bagged the coupons.'

Remind you of anything we've witnessed since then? People are always looking for a way to get rich quick.

The coming of the railway age was a watershed in the history of Great Britain. Some Victorians were happy and others mourned the changes that came with the new technology. Nowadays I often feel like one of those genteel cynics who sees our society heading full speed across a goose common where there is no track. Then again, perhaps all is well and I'm just getting old and cranky.

“Intelligence may indeed be a benign influence creating isolated groups of philosopher-kings far apart in the heavens…On the other hand, intelligence may be a cancer of purposeless technological exploitation, sweeping across a galaxy as irresistibly as it has swept across our own planet”
– Freeman Dyson

Friday, November 27, 2015

the aunties *

The only time I ever visited Newfoundland was when my mother and I flew to England for a lengthy visit with family. This was so long ago that Toronto's airport was still named Malton after a nearby town; you walked out on the runway to climb a staircase to your plane while your friends and relatives stood on the roof of the terminal from which they could wave and shout last minute advice; the planes all had propellors which made the landing at Gander, Newfoundland necessary. Why, my younger readers may be asking themselves? Well, it was because the flights that were slow and took ages required refueling before making the big leap across the Atlantic.

There were several reasons we went at that particular time, one of the main ones being that my mother wanted to attend the wedding of her younger sister - a second marriage that would, hopefully, be a happier one. Back then, even in England, second marriages were rarely celebrated in churches and this one was no different. But after the ceremony at the Registry office they had a wonderful party - one that spilled out of the saloon bar at the local pub onto the lawn. The aunties danced.

Ah, how sweet to remember those bygone days when people could be silly without the risk of hearing the next day that videos of their antics had gone viral on youtube.

"Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business."
~ Tom Robbins

* faded pictures of fading memories

Friday, November 20, 2015


Am I alone in thinking that all times past were more innocent? Even this time a week ago appears to be much more naive a period than now. Then there are those much earlier eras in my life when the world was fresh and alive with possibility in every moment. One of the great delights of the few short years I lived in England was making journeys away from London. While I spent some months in Paris at the latter part of that time, in general, my lack of fluency in any language other than English made long stays in European cities difficult. It may be hard to imagine now but tourism in the mid-60s was mostly limited to the well off who could afford high fares and to stay in places that catered to their needs - including mono-linguists. Not to say there weren't already lots of students adventuring in groups, but I wasn't one of their number and hitchiking to India by myself didn't seem wise.

So, instead, I often travelled to out of the way places in England by train, sitting in little private compartments like this one whose door would open onto the platform and an inner door to the corridor where you could stand at the windows to watch the other side of the countryside pass by. As a fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies that weren't very old at the time, the confined space on board heightened the feeling of drama, intrigue, romance and adventure - all played out at high speed as the train made it's relaxing kacunkachunk rattle over the sleepers. Being a witness to the world and yet remote from its troubles was a boon to maturing - a little, at least.

It turns out I did all that at a very good time because within a few more years most of those railway lines between idyllic country towns had been torn up and sold in order that highways could be built instead. A very similar thing happened in North America with the promotion of the interstate highways and airline travel. It could be argued now that high speed rail lines in Europe and Japan have done much to destroy a more relaxed and humane way of getting from one place to another. Then again, I'll admit to always giving equal merit to the journey as well as the destination.

“My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.”
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

stations along the way

While there may be some things I can draw a bit better than others I'm not sure architecture is among them. Still, among my favorite memories of living in England are the great railway stations of London. Paddington, King's Cross, St Pancras, Euston, Charing Cross, Victoria,  Liverpool Street, and Waterloo are names and places to remember for their names alone, never mind their grandeur. Sometimes I'd visit them just to enjoy the atmosphere - cavernous sheds, seemingly endless platforms, and always lots of interesting characters. Other times, the best ones, were the days when I had a ticket and a place to visit somewhere along one of the lines.

Here's a story told by Terry Jones about something that happened to Douglas Adams at a large railway station around the time I lived there:

Early for a train, Douglas bought The Guardian, a cup of coffee and a packet of biscuits, and sat down at a table, putting the folded newspaper down so he could do the crossword. The packet of biscuits was in the middle of the table.

There was another man already sitting at the table and this man now leant calmly across, tore open the packet of biscuits and ate one. Douglas said he went into a sort of state of shock, but — determined not to show any reaction — he equally calmly leant forward and took the second biscuit. A few minutes later, the man took the third and ate it. Douglas then took the fourth and tried his best not to glare at the man.

The man then stood up and wandered off as if nothing had happened, at which point Douglas’s train was announced. So he hurriedly finished his coffee and picked up his belongings, only to find his packet of biscuits under the newspaper.

Somehow, I can't imagine that happening at an airport.. or maybe not anywhere now.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

a fawlty assumption

This one didn't work out quite the way I'd hoped but it's enough to give a general idea of the time I went up north (north being the little village of Eastgate in Co. Durham) to visit my grandmother. I'd been in England, living on my own in London, for a couple of months by then and a visit was already overdue. What was I? 18 or 19, perhaps? Goodness knows, I thought I was about as grown up and sophisticated as a girl could be. My grandmother was probably 80 or maybe a bit older by the time I arrived on her doorstep - the first we'd seen of each other since 1958 when my mother and I had spent 3 months traveling the country visiting family. Naturally we'd been in Eastgate a lot. My granddad had died two years before so she was on her own in the two storey cottage they'd shared in retirement.

So there I was back with my grandmother for what I'd imagined would be a relaxing few days of quiet teas, long walks, and early bedtimes that would let me unwind from my busy life in the south country. What happened instead is that I'd hardly got in the door that evening before she put on her fur collar and her sparkly earrings, refreshed her lipstick and perfume, and hustled me out the door and around the corner to the local pub. My grandparents had been publicans among their many occupations over the years and had always been well loved in the area. So, unsurprisingly, just about everybody from the village and roundabout was there waiting for us to arrive, including the village bobby.

Now I never was much of a drinker, but people were buying rounds for my grandmother and me and the only way she was going to get another glass of blackcurrant brandy was when I'd finished what was in my glass. Nanna enjoyed her drink as much as a good joke and there were plenty of both going around the tables that evening. As it got later I comforted myself with the knowledge that soon the landlord would call 'Time!' and everybody would finish their drinks and go home. I'd had a very long train ride and a bus trip to follow so I was tired to say the least. Finally I heard the little bell ring and the landlord's call for last drinks. The policeman left. Five minutes later he was back wearing his comfortable clothes and the party continued for three more hours.

I could tell you some stories about some of my grandmother's exploits but it's late now and I should go to bed. I'm not the woman my nanna was. :)

Friday, October 30, 2015

elektronik kinder Hallowe'en


I can't remember having done a Hallowe'en post before but I just can't resist showing you the children of the Kinder der 1. Klasse at GTS Lemmchen Mainz-Mombach school performing Kraftwerk's 1977 number The Robots, while dressed in homemade cardboard costumes. Truth to tell, I got a tear in my eye when they started to sing.

Kraftwerk was a great band and did a lot to introduce electronic music to the world at large, although Raymond Scott's Manhattan Research Project probably started the whole thing. Anyhow, maybe you remember them yourself - if not, and if you're wondering about The Robots here's a performance they did a couple of years ago.

Remember to wear some reflective clothing when you go out to trick or treat.. and don't eat too much candy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

future then and now

For some time I've kept a copy of an essay titled 'In Praise of Idleness' written by Bertrand Russell in 1932. Famous in life as a philosopher, mathematician, historian and political activist, as well as being a Nobel Prize winner, I'm sure he needs no introduction here.

A few days ago I came across an interview on Vice Magazine called: The Man Whose Job It Is to Constantly Imagine the Total Collapse of Humanity in Order to Save It. That man is Vinay Gupta, a philosopher, engineer, computer programmer, and one of the world’s leading thinkers on infrastructure theory, state failure solutions, and managing global system risks. Whereas I'd never heard of him until a few days ago and generally don't have a high opinion of modern futurism I found his reasoning to be most humane.

Part way through reading the interview with Vinay Gupta, having by then determined it resonated in a very profound way with what Bertrand Russell had written 83 years ago, I decided to try pulling pieces out of both compositions and setting parts next to one another to form a conversation. Maybe this was a silly thing to do (both originals are far longer and provide a more complete view of the individuals thoughts) but the following dialogue is the result that I hope you'll enjoy. That there can be such mutual philosophical reinforcement across so many decades I find very reassuring. With apologies if it's too long:

Bertrand Russell: I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

Vinay Gupta: A global minimum standard of living is the way to go here, and it's cheap to produce if you think of it as "manufacture and distribute for free" rather than trying to hand out cash and hope people will buy what you want them to buy.

BR: First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.

VG: Nobody will admit that we are apes with ape problems. Everybody is carrying around the essentially colonialist fiction that we are in some way more than the other animals, and once that error is made, our heads fill with imaginary needs and imaginary stories. We can pretty much perfect the happy ape level of consciousness in this world, and all that it's going to cost us is our history of over-complicating all of this with our pre-evolutionary mythology about the nature of humanity.

BR: From the beginning of civilization until the Industrial Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work little more than was required for the subsistence of himself and his family, although his wife worked at least as hard as he did, and his children added their labor as soon as they were old enough to do so. The small surplus above bare necessaries was not left to those who produced it, but was appropriated by warriors and priests. In times of famine there was no surplus; the warriors and priests, however, still secured as much as at other times, with the result that many of the workers died of hunger.

VG: What if the objective isn't to level out the game between winners and losers, but to make life as good as possible for the losers? If we accept that most people will be losers at some point in their lives, how do we design a good life for losers, for the mediocre, the untalented, the unlucky – for every single human being, no matter how "undeserving" they may appear to some means-testing meritocratic aid bureaucracy. This is "decentralisation" certainly, but not in the usual sense that people use the word.

BR:  A system which lasted so long and ended so recently has naturally left a profound impress upon men's thoughts and opinions. Much that we take for granted about the desirability of work is derived from this system, and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern world. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.

VG: Refugees, homeless people, disaster victims, migrants, all these people often face the same basic challenges: staying warm, staying cool, avoiding hunger, thirst, illness and injury. For those of us left scrambling in the dirt – that's a billion people today in the slums, and another two billion barely making a living on tiny little mud hut farms all over the world. For those people to make a decent life, that has been my goal.

I don't know how to fix inequality. But I do think we can – with safe, available, even cheap technology – stamp out nearly all of the suffering that poverty causes. As Gandhi said: "Poverty is the worst form of violence."

BR: Of course the holders of power conceal this fact from themselves by managing to believe that their interests are identical with the larger interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true; Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilization which would have been impossible under a just economic system. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.

VG: People who have to leave where they are because staying will get them killed aren't necessarily fleeing political oppression or war any more, now we have to increasingly contend with climate-induced famine and economic factors. Where are these people going during the period of their dependency? They've largely abandoned jobs, and their savings won't last long. Where are they to go in the short term, and who is to house and feed them.

The truth is that we could solve that territorial problem right now pretty easily if we made an all-out assault on solar water desalination: all the dry coast and most of the desert in Africa, America and especially Australia would become habitable if there was abundant, affordable fresh water. So colonising the desert areas would be a big win. There's a huge leap of imagination to take our existing physical resources and purpose them into this kind of pseudo-utopian project, but it's only a leap of imagination. We have all the technology, right here, right now, this very day. It seems to me that the obvious solution would be for the oil-rich Gulf States to take them in en masse – build a couple of new cities instead and do some of that "make the desert bloom" stuff in Saudi Arabia, and settle a few million people there. Problem solved.

BR: Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war (wwi). At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world.

VG: When we admit that the allegedly-temporary status of "refugee" is actually the permanent status of "displaced, never to return" maybe we could start to design a lifestyle that works cheaply enough for the international community to continue support, while at the same time producing a high standard of living to the point where refugees have some real utility. My proposal, along those paths, is that we turn the refugee camps into universities. If we won't let them get jobs and work, let them get PhDs on the internet and become huge academic centres of excellence. There is no problem in this world that access to 150 million more educated human beings would not improve. At a technical level, we can certainly build as many temporary cities or countries as are required, at very reasonable prices, but surely we can do better than shoring up these broken legal fictions.

We need a legal replacement for the "refugee" concept, in the age of people being forced off their land by climate crises. All the rest comes from that. Global citizenship?

BR: Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

exotic space Crow

Crow, having all the advantages of being either a material or immaterial being depending on his mood, recently sojourned to one of the more exotic locales in our galaxy. You can see him here in the company of an otherworldly friend enjoying the sights on a moon of a gas giant planet that circles a star a few parsecs away from Betelguese - which is not the name the locals happen to know it by.

On his return he was amused to see the news that a strange phenomenon has been discovered by scientists monitoring the Kepler Space Telescope. The light pattern they saw seemed to indicate a big mess of matter circling the star (KIC 8462852 in astronomer speak) in tight formation.  This would be no big deal for a young star – things get pretty messy during the early stages of solar system formation.  The problem is that KIC 8462852 is not a young star, it's much older than our Sol and considerably larger too, and scientists seem to agree that all the potential explanations in terms of conventional physics and natural phenomena are found wanting. One astronomer, Jason Wright of Penn State University, blithely noted that the light pattern observed was consistent with a “swarm of megastructures”, and after examining the data more closely cautioned, “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

Oops. That was the point where lots of people began to remember the Kardashev Scale* - the classification of possible civilizations depending on energy usage that basically looks like this:

Type I civilizations control all available energy on a single planet.
Type II civilizations control all available energy in a solar system (for example, using Dyson spheres).
Type III civilizations control use all available energy in an entire galaxy.

I'm pretty sure we can't build a Dyson Sphere yet but surely that will come soon now we've got Google Glass and the i-Phone 6S.

Crow: Hold on just a moment there. Your Earth doesn't even count as a Type I civilization yet. You can scarcely predict the weather more than a few days in advance, never mind control it. The only space travel humans have done is a couple of brief forays to the moon decades ago and every so often one of you goes to sit in the Space Station. You spend incredible amounts of energy and resources bickering over idiotic political boundaries and ideological differences. Environmental problems and global resource depletion are beginning to wreak havoc with our climate and infrastructure.  In 1965, Buckminster Fuller said that you had all the necessary technical knowledge then to create a globally sustainable civilization for everyone on the planet to live like billionaires. So why haven’t you?

Ah well, it's more likely than not the scientists haven't discovered a Type II civilization. Who says beings so far beyond human would even want to spend the time and energy to convert the power of an entire sun, never mind using up every scrap of material in the solar system and beyond as raw material for such a construct? Humans can only think like humans, after all, and you lot have barely begun to communicate with the other sentient beings that share the place with you. If you think about it for a moment there's a distinct possibility that advanced civilizations could decide that moving out into space in the traditional expansive convert-the-universe-into-computronium agenda is not be the best way to go.

Maybe they all got smart enough to enjoy the worlds where they evolved. Cold, dark, airless, vast and empty space may not be the right environment for living beings of any category. So far the machines you make seem to be much better at exploring and sending back news of what has been found. How likely is it anyway you will find a place better suited to you and us, your friends and co-residents?

Perhaps there is an advanced alien race that is enclosing their local star. If they plan on coming here next you people might be best off turning off the lights and staying very quiet.

God thought to hide his secrets in a secure place. ‘How about on the moon’ he reflected. ‘But then, one day human beings could get there, and it may be that those who arrive there would not be worthy of such knowledge. Maybe in the ocean or deep underground?’ But that again was dismissed for the same reason. Then the solution occurred to him – ‘I shall put my secrets in the inner sanctum of their own minds. Then only those who really deserve it and seek it will be able to find it.' **

*Nikolai Kardashev, Russian astrophysicist, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, and is the deputy director of the Russian Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
Not Kardasian - an entirely different kind of scale.

**Told by a tribal ayahuasca user.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

arctic Crow

Last week while Crow was visiting an old friend in the far north he was witness to an unexpected, albeit happy, event when the Shell Oil deep sea drilling rig was towed away from the Alaska coast. After more than eight years of planning and drilling, costing more than $8 billion, Royal Dutch Shell announced that it is shutting down its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. The bombshell announcement dooms any chance of offshore oil development in the U.S. Arctic for years. :)

Of course, if we want to continue having nice things like polar bears, healthy forests and decent air to breathe what really needs to happen is that most of the fossil fuels that remain in the ground need to be left right where they are. You can read more about that here. As you can well imagine, the big oil companies don't think this is a good idea at all.

Maybe the day will come when a spare $7 billion here and there will be used to develop useful strategies for alternative energy and public work projects. Such things have been known to happen.

Crow was glad of his snifter of Remy Martin when he returned from this journey.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

now it's late September

This is a noria, one of the great water wheels of Syria. The origins of them are obscure but it is thought that they were invented in India or the Hellenistic Near East in the centuries preceding the birth of Christ.  It is also believed that they were pivotal in the Muslim Agricultural Revolution which started in the eighth century and lasted several hundred years. Islamic Spain also used the noria and there are still a number there too.

The noria of Hama were almost industrial in their capacity. The largest has 120 water collectors and was capable of delivering almost one hundred liters of water each minute to the aqueduct.  Although none of the larger noria are now in use they are being maintained by the Syrian government so that future generations can witness the ingenuity of centuries gone by for themselves.

We have the money, the power, the medical understanding, the scientific know-how, the love and the community to produce a kind of human paradise. But we are led by the least among us – the least intelligent, the least noble, the least visionary. We are led by the least among us and we do not fight back against the dehumanizing values that are handed down as control icons.

~ Terence McKenna

Having spent September telling myself tomorrow is the day I'll get around to drawing a picture and writing a blog post that particular tomorrow remained elusive. Do you ever have times like that?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Crow shares

This afternoon while Crow and I were chatting about this and that the subject of the sharing economy popped up as it often will. It does, doesn't it? Don't we tell our children to share their toys; don't we share a plate of cookies with a friend; don't we share space when we chat with an old friend? Sharing happens all the time  as a natural part of life. You can imagine my surprise when Crow informed me that all the above is not what is meant by the words 'the sharing economy'.

Crow: The problem with these 'sharing economy' companies is that although they hold themselves up to be champions of the people they are actually exploiters. Renting isn’t the same as sharing. When someone pays someone else to sit on the back seat of their car they've rented it out. They've rented the person who drives the car. They rent a couch for the night or a spare bedroom or an apartment when the owner or official renter is away. There is no sharing in the 'sharing economy'. In actuality, what they've undertaken is to participate in a black market economy.

me: Aren't these companies better, cheaper, more convenient?

Crow: Why are they cheaper and more convenient? It's because they bypass normal regulatory frameworks. The laws of a country. Where do laws come from and why do they arise? Well, the law follows and reacts to circumstance. The laws on installation of heated water systems for example arose after several disasters with boilers during the Victorian era. The laws on regular maintainence of fire safety equipment have arisen similarly. Hotels and other public places comply with those laws in order to protect people. Air BnB is cheaper because those who host on it do not have to comply as they are private residences, therefore they avoid legitimate overhead costs. 

me: But people who provide these services need the extra money.

Crow: These businesses can only succeed if the people undertaking the work break the law and/or have no employment rights or protection. For example - Uber only works because the company doesn't care about disability legislation or taxi licensing laws. Air BnB only works because people renting their houses out ignore the raft of legislation that hotels and B&Bs have to comply with.

If the regulators get involved because these microbusinesses are breaking the law, the sharing economy company either stands back and says 'we are only an internet platform' or campaigns that the 'old economy' is trying to stifle personal freedom while conveniently forgetting the fact that much of the legislation is in place to protect the customer.

While putting across the view that they are small, hip, entrepreneurial companies, they are in fact bankrolled by companies like Google and Goldman Sachs and are simply a computer platform with a very good legal department and extremely well-funded Government lobbyists. Posing as martyrs of progress and bastions of the free world, all they are is a company trying to create a global monopoly with little regard to any of the social effects their technology entails. The Ubers of this world are just strip-miners. Posing as some kind of 'champion of the people' they use the fruits of the public realm, ie. the internet,  public education, roads, etc, to diminish the wealth of that same public realm by killing jobs and thus eroding the tax-base.

me: I guess I won't be putting that 'Couch to Share - One Night Only' sign in the window. Goodness knows what laws I'd be breaking with that one.

With thanks to Olivier Blanchard.

note: Hope you won't mind seeing a reprise of Crow's Sanctum picture from a few years ago. It's still one of our favorites.

Monday, August 24, 2015

dragon days of summer

As you can see, I did come up with one picture in recent days but the heat and humidity of August has made it uncomfortable enough that I can't stay at my table very long. So - a simple picture of two friends meeting after a little absence is something of a character study rather than an illustration for anything in particular. One of these days I'll get that story done..

Now that I've mentioned a story but don't have one of my own, here's an old favorite you might like:

When Grandma Goes To Court

Lawyers should never ask a Mississippi grandma a question if they aren't prepared for the answer.

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?" She responded, "Why yes I do know you since you were a little boy, and frankly you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you'll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes I know you.

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?

She replied, "Why yes I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him."

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice said:

"If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you both to the electric chair."

Meanwhile, I hope you've been enjoying the great outdoors as much as we have. Til next time.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

on the wagon with Crow

Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Most jobs in today's world depend on not understanding nature.

The lack of discussion of how to adapt to climate change is the great blank spot in current debate because most of the people having the discussions are still trying to use the threat of an ugly future to bully people into joining a movement. You have to love the simplicity of climate change movement when the rhetoric revolves around the measurement of the amount of CO2 ppm like a speed cop on the side of the road believing that all the ills/accidents are the result of 'speeding'. Just because it can be given a number of measure does not make it more important. Our destruction of the environment is far more critical to our long-term survival as we wipe out forests, over-fish, pollute drinking water, turn soil into a lifeless conglomeration, etc. The earth will go through ups and downs in term of temperature with or without us. She is not the one at risk, we are.

If there is one thing I've come to see, it's that environmentalism was a failed movement, and precisely because a truly serious environmentalism asks too much of a rethink of industrial civilization. I can only hope that natural systems are more resilient than we realize. Of course, in enough time it will all wash out anyway, as life adapts... but I hate to admit that everything will only get worse for a long time.

There is a trajectory to every type of technology and it will find its mark with certainty. We and future generations might as well blame that first human ancestor who left the trees. Or maybe it's these damned opposable thumbs that Crow talks about.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

my own social media

Sir: I haven't got a computer, but I was told about Facebook and Twitter and am trying to make friends outside Facebook and Twitter while applying the same principles.

Every day, I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do for the rest of the day. I give them pictures of my wife, my daughter, my dog and me gardening and on holiday, spending time by the pool. I also listen to their conversations, tell them I 'like' them and give them my opinion on every subject that interests me.. whether it interests them or not.

And it works. I already have four people following me: two police officers, a social worker and a psychiatrist.

~ Peter White, Holbrook, Derbyshire


Friday, July 31, 2015

serpent of summer

A couple of days ago when walking along one of the more hidden paths in Point Pleasant Park we found a little guy who looked something like this. Actually, he looked a lot like this. Isn't he beautiful? Definitely a garter snake, but a smallish one, probably only very recently born, he was in a wooded area where  moss, granite outcrops, surface roots and pine needles were lit by dappled sunlight. As I walked between two closely spaced trees I could easily have stepped on him if it weren't that his surprised stare stopped me in my tracks. Yes, he was looking at me with what appeared to be a shocked expression but it may be they always look shocked - at least until they react. Neither of us had seen a snake in the park before so we knelt down and all three of us looked each other over. After a few minutes he gave a snakely shrug and slithered sedately over a root and into a hollow at the base of the tree. We watched him curl into the space and then continued our walk. Next up was the frog chorus among the lily pads of the old quarry pond. You'd never guess a simple walk could be so entertaining, would you?

While I hate snagging internet pictures the problem now is I seem to be in the midst of an unexpected, and entirely unplanned, drawing and painting hiatus this summer. Okay, I could have drawn a snake - it's not like that would be very complicated, is it? Anyhow, I felt like telling the story without going to my drawing table first. I hope you don't mind and I hope the anonymous snake photographer won't mind either. I'm sure the snake won't care.

Meanwhile, I did find a wonderful article called 'Web Design: The First 100 Years'. If you take a peek the mid-90s layout style is a design statement. This is a great talk, well worth reading, especially if you're curious about why the gazillionaires who run Silicon Valley are bonkers.

Quote of the week:
 “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”
~ E.O. Wilson

Monday, July 20, 2015

untethered *

Have you ever heard of Grooks?  They're quite new to me. A grook is a short, aphoristic poem, revealing in a minimum of words and with a minimum of lines some basic truth about the human condition. Grooks were created originally during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. They began life as a sort of underground language just out of reach of the understanding of the Germans. They have since become one of the most widely read forms of composition in the Scandinavian - and English - languages. Grooks are the product of one of the most ingenious minds of this or any other century. Piet Hein (1905-1996) was a philosopher, mathematician, designer, scientist, game inventor and author who asserted that the great cultural divide was not between the haves and the have-nots, but between the knows and the know-nots.

A Psychological Tip

Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
and you're hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No -- not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you're passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you're hoping.

Out of Time

My old clock used to tell the time
and subdivide diurnity;
but now it's lost both hands and chime
and only tells eternity.

The Miracle of Spring

We glibly talk
 of nature's laws
but do things have
 a natural cause?

Black earth turned into
 yellow crocus
is undiluted

The Egocentrics

People are self-centered
to a nauseous degree.
They will keep on about themselves
while I'm explaining me.

Thoughts on a Station Platform

It ought to be plain
how little you gain
by getting excited
and vexed.

You'll always be late
for the previous train,
and always in time
for the next

The Paradox of Life

A bit beyond perception's reach
I sometimes believe I see
that Life is two locked boxes, each
containing the other's key.

The Road to Wisdom

The road to wisdom?
-- Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

* the painting, not Piet Hein

Monday, July 13, 2015

shipping news

That was fun. A few days ago on the way home from a decently long drive and a longer walk we decided to stop by the grocery store - the one that's separated from Pier 21 by some railroad tracks. Looming over the parking lot that day was the Queen Mary 2. As residents of a seaside city seeing ships and boats of all kinds is a fairly routine experience, one never really taken for granted, but you do get used to seeing sailboats, cruise ships and container ships (you wouldn't believe how many containers filled with 'I Halifax' t-shirts leave the port). The ships we always look forward to seeing are the Tall Ships - especially when they arrive in largish numbers. Square rigged wooden sailing ships are a marvel to behold even if they aren't nearly so numerous and magnificent as the ones that sailed the world in centuries past.

Still and all it was amazing to come across the largest cruise ship in the world right here in our own little harbour. Once again I didn't have a camera so the pictures here are from local news outlets.

The first one is of the ship arriving in early morning when it sailed past the container port docks. That's Point Pleasant Park in the distance.

The second is her arrival in Halifax Harbour as she passed the lighthouse on George's island.

The third shows her docked at Pier 21 (taking up at least two spaces). The grocery store is the large grey roofed building in the foreground.

The last one is interesting because it shows the relative size of the QM2 to the Titanic.

From a sailing cruise ship, everyone on board spots a long bearded old man a ways away who is yelling and wildly waving his arms like a crazy fool. “Who is that there?” one of the passengers asks the captain. The cruise ship captain replied, “Sorry, I never figured that out. For the past 10 years when we pass that tiny island, he seems to show off more and more.” 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Crow relates to Kurosawa's Dream

It's summer again here in the Northern Hemisphere and we're happy to report our cherry tomato plants are doing nicely. Not so well, perhaps, as the ones that grew in this earlier garden that Crow visited, but well enough for a large clay pot on a west facing balcony. While I'd rather have a garden, the good news is the pot doesn't require much in the way of weeding.

This afternoon Crow reminded me of one of Akira Kurosawa's movies - his last, in fact, called 'Dreams'. In the final section a young traveler from our age comes to a village where the only machines are wooden water wheels. Having walked and gazed in wonderment he stops to talk to an old man:

    T: There’s no electricity here?

    OM: Don’t need it. People get too used to convenience. They think convenience is better. They throw out what’s truly good.

    T: But what about lights?

    OM: We’ve got candles and linseed oil.

    T: But night’s so dark.

    OM: Yes. That’s what night’s supposed to be. Why should night be as bright as day? I wouldn’t like nights so bright you couldn’t see the stars.

    T: You have paddies. But no tractors to cultivate them?

    OM: Don’t need them. We’ve got cows and horses.

    T: What do you use for fuel?

    OM: Firewood mostly. We don’t feel right, chopping down trees, but enough fall down by themselves. We cut them up and use them as firewood. And if you make charcoal from the wood just a few trees can give you as much heat as a whole forest. Yes, and cow dung makes good fuel too.

After pausing to take in the sounds of nature, the traveler continues to listen to the old man:

    OM: We try to live the way man used to. That is the natural way of life. People today have forgotten they’re really just a part of nature. Yet, they destroy the nature on which our lives depend. They always think they can make something better. Especially, scientists. They may be smart, but most don’t understand the heart of nature. They only invent things that in the end make people unhappy. Yet they are so proud of their inventions. What’s worse, most people are too. They view them as if they were miracles. They worship them. They don’t know it but they’re losing nature. They don’t see that they’re going to perish. The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water and the trees and grass that produce them. Everything is being dirtied, polluted forever. Dirty air, dirty water, dirtying the hearts of men.

A few days ago in escaping the news of droughts, wars, migrations and imminent financial collapse I spent some time reading some old Archdruid posts. I've slightly paraphrased a passage he wrote toward the end of this article as it fit so well with what Kurosawa's old man told the traveler:

A truly advanced civilization, here or elsewhere, might well have much in common with a community like this one: it might use very modest amounts of energy and resources with high efficiency, maximize sustainability, and build for the long term. Such a civilization would be very hard to detect across interstellar distances, and the limits to the energy resources available to it make it vanishingly unlikely that it would attempt to cross those distances; this would hardly make it a failure as a civilization, except in the eyes of those for whom the industrial-age fantasies of science fiction trump all other concerns.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Oh! Canada..

Imagine seeing a place like this

turned into this.

Stephen Harper has decided it's a good idea to build a 10 storey Colossus memorializing Canada's military history along the rugged, windswept coastline of the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The statue will be part of a proposed "Never Forgotten National Memorial" inside the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The plans for the memorial, brilliantly conceived by food-packaging baron and "enthusiastic patriot" Tony Trigiani were described to the Globe and Mail:

Mr. Trigiani is planning to place a "We See Thee Rise Observation Deck" in front of the Mother Canada statue, and behind it "The Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love," a low wall featuring metal plaques naming the international cemeteries where Canadian soldiers are buried. He's also planning a "With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary," as well as a restaurant, souvenir shop and interpretive centre.

Siting any structure in a National Park sets a precedent that calls into question the very reason to even have National Parks. If a consortium of wealthy individuals can ride roughshod over the Parks' legal protections, then the Parks are no longer safe.

The names of the fallen will not be commemorated by this monument - only those of the sponsors will appear, carved in stone. That is, after all, the incentive for getting them to contribute in the first place - it is there, for all to see, on the official website. They are paying to have their name and/or brand immortalised on this so-called 'monument', while the names of those it is meant to honour will not be. That isn't patriotism, it's marketing, and to use the dead to sell stuff is an insult to their sacrifice. A monument should remember those who sacrificed their lives for their country, not those who sacrificed a small proportion of their disposable income for brand awareness.

 Finally - it's really, REALLY ugly.

Just in case you need to know more about this project there's more news here. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with just a few of the hundreds of comments made to the Guardian:

* Not to mention the I-Love-Me Harper Hall! Plus, what names! What grandiose, egocentric, egotistical megalomaniacal names! What typical of tyrannical regimes names! Amazing the approach is not being named the Avenue of Glorious Leader Harper!

* Sitting Bull and other Lakota described Queen Victoria as 'Grandmother England' and thought of Canada as a place of sanctuary - just stick a big statue of Victoria facing the US.

* They should build a statue of a giant oil sands truck and call it "mother of all fuck ups".

* Not so much "Mother Canada" as "The Mummy" Canada".....

* Perhaps instead a statue of Pierre Trudeau doing his pirouette? A monument to the last Canadian prime minister with any real character or brains.

* War already does a pretty good job of eradicating natural beauty, so yeah, let's commemorate that by eradicating some natural beauty.

* Interesting to compare the triumphantly open-armed Mother Canada with the bowed and grieving Canada Bereft Vimy memorial, which at least makes the point that war is a desperately sad business. An example of a new mood of sentimental jingoism, now that WW2 is more than half a century away.

* Meanwhile about 120 First Nations communities in Canada are on boil water advisories, some for as long as 20 years. Typically the Harper government would rather spend our tax dollars on self congratulatory projects like this than improving the third world conditions of Canadian First Nations living in one of the richest countries in the world.

* A final insult to the east coast before Harper goes. To sell out national parkland to a private enterprise for such a stupid idea is just plain wrong. You're not allowed to pick a single flower in these parks and he wants to pour concrete all over Green Cove. The gratitude we have to our fallen soldiers is felt by all, but to use our sentiments to sell this piece of tacky schlock is pathetic.

* The bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities.

* This is not the only oversized piece of controversial memorial "art" that Harper's Conservative government is working on. They are going to build a massive "Monument for the Victims of Communism" outside the Supreme Court building on Parliament Hill.
No indication where the "Monument for the Aboriginal Victims of Canada" is going to be located, thus proving that it is much easier to commemorate other people's victims.

* I think Cape Breton needs a 100' statue of the McKenzie brothers, hockey sticks draped over their shoulders, a beer in the other hand of course, and big smiles showing the requisite 3 or 4 missing teeth. Now that says everything about the Canadian psyche that needs to be

Happy Canada Day on the 1st of July
Happy Independence Day on the 4th

We'll try to be back sooner next time :)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

on human flight

A walk in the park is never boring but usually we see things we expect to see - people, dogs, squirrels, crows, bluejays, chickadees, gulls, clamshells, crabshells, flowers, grass, trees, the sea etc. You get the idea. Sometimes we see the unexpected. One day last week we came across a scenario just unusual enough that I have to share it. Unfortunately, since I'm not in the habit of carrying a camera you'll have to settle for a more elementary image.

That day, after passing through a narrow section of the beachside path between some old wwII bunkers, we were surprised to see an older man standing on the shore holding the ropes of a very large parasail*. In actuality he was wearing a harness, knee pads and elbow pads as well as the helmet, plus there were a few more ropes. I hope you'll excuse me being a bit too lazy to draw all that. He did look a somewhat worried. I don't know if you're familiar with the sport of parasailing - I'm certainly not - but what I do know is that the general idea for getting up in the air is as follows:

You want to begin by standing high up on a reasonably steep grassy hillside with the sail spread out on the ground behind while a fairly brisk wind blows up the hill. The pilot then grabs the ropes in the prescribed manner, runs forward, throws his hands high over his head, and, if God is merciful, the glider inflates - floopf. A brief downhill run and the pilot feels the earth dropping away under him. He is flying. Unless, of course, he crashes. The flying and landing parts are beyond the scope of my story.

The man we saw wasn't doing any of that. Instead, he was holding tight to the ropes as the parasail (about 30 feet across and therefore much bigger than I've drawn) shuddered above him in the breeze. The fact the breeze was blowing out to sea might have been part of the reason he looked worried.

We'd barely had time to take in this unusual spectacle before a little boy out walking with his mother caught sight of the man and his apparatus. Transported by sheer delight the little guy ran laughing and shouting across the grass, 'Hey! Hey! Mister! What are you doing?'

It was great.

We kept walking and the little boy went back to his mother. I turned back to see the man spreading the parasail on the grass in preparation of folding it up. I wonder if he's found a suitable hillside?

Before man walked, he yearned to soar, as if on feathered wings. Ever he has sought, in supreme affirmation and ignoble pride, to float upon the wind, high above the mute and pitiless ground. Icarus lives in archetype: Children remain convinced a bright cape will let them fly like Superman.

* references to parasailing should probably say paragliding
(thanks, Lindsay)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

historic Crow

Crow came across this postcard in his files a few days ago. It's one I hadn't seen before and neither of us can remember if it's from his past or his future. I'm hoping the future.

While humans have been inventing things ever since some enterprising  homo habilis first knapped a flint then figured out how to rub two sticks together, it's definitely true the pace picked up over the last few hundred years. Crow, who had a front row seat at many discoveries, regaled me with stories about developments he witnessed:

'As I recall, it was nearly five thousand years ago in Sumer, when a bored farmer decided to improve the performance characteristics of his oxen-driven plow by getting rid of the plow and yoking his team up to a platform on wheels. The new vehicle, the first chariot, was a novel source of fun for many centuries until the people began to realize that these chariots would go no faster than an ox could lumber. About 2500 BC, people began importing wild asses from western India and yoking them up to their chariots. The history of the chariot, and non-human powered vehicles in general, has been a steady quest for speed. In the millennia since that time, there have been quite a number of these wild-ass innovations - some, obviously, better than others.'

Here's a brief summary of more recent developments:

1876 and 1886: internal combustion engine, bicycle, electric lightbulb, electric transformer, steam turbine, electric railroad, automobile, telephone, movie camera, phonograph, linotype, roll film, dictaphone, cash register, vaccines, reinforced concrete, flush toilets and the machine gun (the typewriter arrived in 1868)

1890 and 1950: adding machines, automobiles, diesel engines, airplanes, radio, motion pictures, computers, disposable razors, wireless telegraph, frozen food, rockets, air conditioning, submarines, the vacuum tube, jet aircraft, helicopters, television, electron microscope, refrigerators (and a raft of other home appliances), as well as revolutionary advances in manufacturing processes (oops, can't forget The Bomb)

All of that in just 75 years. For some reason what came next doesn't seem all that impressive in comparison. Then again, it's not easy to see the nano in nanotechnolgy.

If you could choose just one of these two inventions, indoor plumbing or the Internet, which would you choose?

I think I know how I would answer.


ps: please let us know if you've seen the postcard previously

Saturday, May 23, 2015

pillowcase talk

I may be alone in this but I have a particular fondness for old sheets, ones that have been washed so many times that their touch is like an instant return to the security of childhood. In those days sheets were washed, hung out on a line to dry, and often ironed before being put away in a cupboard to air. In fact, I learned to iron by practicing on pillowcases and my father's handkerchiefs. I'm not even sure anyone irons anything anymore, or at least not often and even then, probably not sheets and handkerchiefs. Not even me. But I do have some old sheets that I like a lot. A few days ago when I was making the bed I must have tugged a little too hard on the top sheet as I pulled it into place because, before I knew it, a large part of the top band had separated from the rest. Oh dear. While trying to imagine how I might fix that one I got another set of sheets from the cupboard. All went well until I shook one of the pillows into its case and the pillow bounded across the bed while I was left holding the band. Oops. Dammit. I hate it when that happens.

So it turned out to be time to go to the department store, one of those activities that hasn't been that much fun for me these past few/many years, but occasionally necessary. Happily, sheet buying hasn't become any more complicated than I remember - at least not at a still old-fashioned place like Sears. Of course, I could have purchased my sheets online and had them delivered too, but I'd rather see them first. Speaking of online purchasing, did you ever foresee the day you'd be asked to give the book, dvd, or widget you'd ordered a starred and/or written review? It seems this has become such an entertaining activity for bored (or broke) shoppers that there are number of people who have taken up reviewing as a hobby. Sometimes I wonder if the reason for this is that we like to have some input and, since we're more used to being known as consumers these days rather than citizens, it gives us a place to express our frustrations with the system.

Anyway, it's time I begin training two new sets of sheets. Maybe I'll iron them - if I can remember where I stored the iron.

ps: Some very good news I read yesterday is that the government of France has made it a law that all grocery stores must donate unsold food to charity. It's a start.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

dream stream

This is another of those pictures of mine that has no story attached - at least none that I'm able (or willing) to tell. While there are earlier pictures it still seems to me there there are some missing, ones that would add more depth to what's turning out to be a strictly visual narrative. I'm liking the dog more and more and make no bones of the fact they are my favorite species (naturally, Crow doesn't count). Over the years I've had two canine friends of my own, but none now and none for a long time. Full-time jobs and apartment living don't combine to make a happy environment for a being that needs both love and regular outdoor exercise.

German shepherd or poodle, it's funny to think that all dogs are closely related to wolves. How they came to appear so diverse makes a fascinating exercise in considering just how long they have been close to us and one could make a somewhat reasonable argument that dogs and people began evolving together some thirty thousand years ago. Just as most dogs don't look like wolves neither do we (again, most of us) resemble Cro-Magnons, the people who first welcomed dogs to their caves and camps.

There are lots of theories, but one among them written by Donald A. Mackenzie, (1873-1936) in a book called 'Ancient Man In Britain' caught my attention:

The introduction of the domesticated dog may have influenced the development of religious beliefs. Cro-Magnon hunters appear to have performed ceremonies in the depths of caverns where they painted and carved wild animals, with purpose to obtain power over them. Their masked dances, in which men and women represented wild animals, chiefly beasts of prey, may have had a similar significance. The fact that, during the Transition Period, a cult art passed out of existence, and the caves were no longer centres of culture and political power, may have been directly or indirectly due to the domestication of the dog and the supremacy achieved by the intruders who possessed it.  There can be no doubt that the dog played its part in the development of civilization. As much is suggested by the lore attaching to this animal. It occupies a prominent place in mythology. The dog which guided and protected the hunter in his wanderings was supposed to guide his soul to the other world.

It was Will Rogers who said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went”.

and Woodrow Wilson suggested that, “If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”

That the NDP can win big in Alberta proves miracles still happen!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

climate control Crow

Here's another of those hastily made travel postcards sent by Crow after he viewed one of the proposals put forward by the Gates Foundation toward geoengineering a solution to Anthropogenic Global Warming. The device you see is a very very large vessel that will suck up ocean water and blast it into the atmosphere in an attempt to make clouds. Projects similar to this, called Albedo Modification, are proposed to reflect sunlight back into space through one or all of several methods. The wildest one is the idea of using orbiting space mirrors to deflect the sun's rays (unknown weather effects, fails to prevent acidifying oceans); another is to spray aerosols into the stratosphere (risk of ozone depletion as well as unknown weather effects and ocean acidification); cloud seeding by using atomised sea water (same possible negative consequences). 

A number of other geoengineering proposals have been suggested including fertilizing the ocean with iron filings to stimulate plankton growth or pouring tons of ground limestone into the sea to absorb CO₂. The effects on the ecosystems by these methods are also unknown.

Naturally enough, Crow had some thoughts to share about all this that he appears to have written on a number of tiny scrolls that began arriving by carrier pigeon earlier today. Here are a few I've been able to decipher so far:

First and foremost, the idea of geoengineering is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what climate is, and why it is important. Although I have the greatest respect for many climate scientists and engineers, most do not understand ecology, or have a particularly good grasp of it. I have not, for instance, found any of them flying with condors or guarding eagle nests.

The failure in thinking about geoengineering is it wrongly assumes that the only issue is temperature, and that if you simply bring the temperature back down, then the problem is solved. This is so ecologically naive that I may need a shot of brandy before I start. Ahh, there - deep breath. Even if geoengineering did manage to bring the temperature down, it is likely to fundamentally change how ecosystems experience climate, or have other serious ecological impacts - ones that are inherently unpredictable and likely to cause far more problems than they solve. Ecosystems don't just experience climate in terms of crude average temperature. There's the amount of sunlight, precipitation, wind strength, wind direction, humidity and so on. In crude terms, it would be creating another type of climate change.

Geoengineering is based on the credulous concept that the world is rather like a giant room, and you can just raise or lower the temperature, and the rest or room stays the same. In reality, ecosystems interact with the climate in very complex and circular ways. They not only are effected by climate, but they also effect the climate. The geoengineering concept is based on a fundamental failure to understand the dynamic and highly interlinked nature of the natural environment and natural ecosystems. Any whale or dolphin could tell you this.

Geoengineering is essentially a convoluted form of denial saying that humanity should carry on as usual, to the extent of taking absurd gambles to try and control the climate. Missing the 'big picture' entirely, this thinking does not take into account that the present economic model (and industrialization) is highly unsustainable, even if climate change never existed. There is ongoing massive biodiversity loss, ocean depletion, the depletion of natural resources like water, human  population growing out of control, and a 1001 other environmental problems, which geoengineering will not address, and might make worse. It is an artifact of people who reject the idea that the global system has to change to make it environmentally and ecologically sustainable. 

Anticipate my early return, dear susan, and a period of relaxed enjoyment when we can discuss these matters more fully. Meanwhile, you may feel free to share my thoughts with our friends. Please keep the brandy warm and the fruitcake moist.

Your Crow

ps: Perhaps they should try their experiments in an environment where no living beings are likely to be hurt - Mars, for instance.

On a lighter note, here's some video evidence that sometimes a regular person can make a difference. You can see it now and I'll show it to Crow when I see him:

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21 or CMP11 will be held in Paris, France in 2015. The objective of the 2015 conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

Shall we keep our fingers crossed?

Saturday, April 18, 2015


 Here is the latest in the mysterious ongoing adventure of a girl child and her not always entirely faithful canine companion. It could well be said of him: "I'm a good dog, but sometimes I do bad things." I'm still not sure where this journey is headed - time will tell.. or maybe not.

Meanwhile, I found myself reading some mystery novels by Oakley Hall about his only mildly fictionalized version of Ambrose Bierce, a writer very famous in 19th century America who lived through several battles in the Civil War. The experience left him somewhat jaded. In 1914, in his early 70s, Ambrose Bierce went to Mexico to participate in Pancho Villa's revolution, a journey from which he never returned.

The first chapters of the books I read all began with quotes from Ambrose Bierce's 'Devil's Dictionary'. I thought you might enjoy reading a few of them:

“Apologize: To lay the foundation for a future offence.”

“Bore, n.: A person who talks when you wish him to listen.”

“Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum -- "I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;" as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.”

“Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.”

“Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are not as they ought to be.”

“Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.”

“Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.”

“Inhumanity, n. One of the signal and characteristic qualities of humanity.”

“Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.”

“Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills.”

“Patience – A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.”

“Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.”

“Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.”

“Selfish, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.”

“Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.”

Good wishes to all until next time,
and yes, not only is the snow going fast, but yesterday I saw the first stinkweed flower of spring. Although they may not be as beautiful as snowdrops and crocus, they were a welcome sight.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

our singular satellite

Some years ago I read a story about a man who was trying to sell a movie idea proposing that if you wanted to meet real aliens all you had to do was to go to a part of the world where a full eclipse of the sun was about to occur and look around for odd creatures. Perhaps there'd be one or two peculiar beings wearing long coats and breathing apparatus or you might notice some strange sealed vehicles. You see the idea the man had was that solar eclipses seen from Earth may be one of the wonders of the universe and there could very well be tourists from distant places who come to witness them.

Have you ever wondered how marvelous total eclipses are?

It is a very strange quirk of fate indeed that the disc of the Moon should seem, from an Earthly perspective, to be exactly the same size as the Sun. While we take it for granted that the two main bodies seen in Earth's skies look the same size, it is actually something of a miracle. Most people are fully aware that the Moon is tiny compared to the Sun but that it is much, much closer to us causing them to appear equal in size. To be precise the Moon is 400 times smaller than the star at the center of our solar system, yet it is also just one 400th of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

The odds against this optical illusion happening at all are simply huge - but how bizarre that both values are the same, perfectly round number. Isaac Asimov once described this perfect visual alignment as being:

"The most unlikely coincidence imaginable".

Even more amazing is the fact the Moon also manages to very precisely imitate the perceived annual movements of the Sun each month. The full Moon is at its highest and brightest at midwinter, mirroring the Sun at midsummer and at lowest and weakest at midsummer when the Sun is at its highest and brightest.

Life is strange. I'll check outside again to see if there's an alien waiting for the moon to rise. Maybe the snow will be gone.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crow contemplates space

Mars is very far away. While Crow and I sipped brandy and nibbled on pieces of the fine antique fruitcake saved for his homecoming, our conversation turned to an enterprise that's been widely reported this past year or two, namely, the all volunteer mission planned to colonize the planet that's even further from the sun than this one - Mars One. The general idea behind the plan is that it will be a televised reality show whose ultimate goal is to see how four human beings will react during a 7-9 month flight to Mars where (all being well) they will land near some habitat buildings sent separately. Considering the fact it's to be a one way journey the televised program will then see how they get by - the ultimate Lost program.

It sounds pretty silly to us for many reasons, but we wonder just how ill informed these volunteers must be. Do you suppose they've received all their information about space travel from reading the novels of Jules Verne? Just a brief look at the Wikipedia article titled 'Effect of space flight on the human body' is enough to curl one's hair - or feathers as the case may be. Without taking into account the dangers of vacuum on the human body, there are aspects of travel inside current space vehicles that should make any sensible person realize that base jumping off Mt. Fuji or street luging are far safer activities. Here are a couple of examples starting with what their ship has to dodge on its way out of Earth orbit:

There are spent rocket stages, defunct satellites, explosion fragments and even needles, bolts and paint chips up there, reminding us that we are very good at littering. Imagine how a bolt traveling at 17k mph could ruin your travel plans.

Increased radiation levels: Without the protection of Earth's atmosphere and magnetosphere astronauts are exposed to high levels of radiation. Crew living on the ISS are partially protected by the magnetosphere. Radiation can result in immune system damage, cancers, and cataracts. In 2013, NASA scientists reported that a possible manned mission to Mars may involve a great radiation risk based on the amount of energetic particle radiation outside Earth's perimeter.

Weightlessness:  Zero gravity has a nasty effect on the human body; over the course of a trip to Mars, it could result in a loss of 20% of muscle mass total and the loss of 1.5% bone density per month. When gravity is taken away or reduced during space exploration, the blood tends to collect in the upper body instead, resulting in facial edema and other unwelcome side effects such as increased intracranial pressure. This appears to increase pressure on the backs of the eyeballs, affecting their shape and slightly crushing the optic nerve. Great. You probably don't want to know about the toilets.

Motion sickness: 45% of astronauts suffer from this but generally for no longer than 72 hours.

Rest: Sleep patterns are badly disturbed by space travel, and more than half of astronauts on long-haul missions take sedatives to help them sleep. Fatigue and lethargy result in impaired cognitive functions and an increase in critical errors, which is why astronauts only have 6.5 “fit” work hours per day.

No human being (other than my friend, Andrew Scott) has left low-Earth orbit since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and the effect of long-term space travel is not a major topic in the annals of scientific medical literature.

Supposing our intrepid amateur astronauts arrive at their destination (there have been 43 unmanned missions to Mars so far - 21 have failed), they will learn for themselves:

Mars is freezing, minus 62 degrees Celsius on average.

It is barren, nothing much to see but reddish rocks.

Mars has almost no atmosphere, burned off over billions of years by solar winds, leaving the surface exposed to deadly amounts of radiation. Roughly every five years, the planet is blanketed in a dust storm that blocks the sun for months at a time.

Gravity on Mars is only 38% that of Earth’s. Effects on people are unknown.

Sunlight on Mars is very weak. Vitamin D deficiency can cause loss of muscle and bone density, can suppress immune strength, and at its most severe causes blindness.

A lack of energy can be exacerbated by the limited diet astronauts must subsist on. Once their initial supplies run out, Mars colonists would eat only food they could grow themselves - whatever that might be.

Depression, anxiety, listlessness, hallucinations, and chronic stress have all been reported in live missions and training simulations. As have communication breakdowns and conflict among crews and between mission command. Lastly, there is no way to know how a human mind will encounter passing the threshold of no return, when the Earth recedes from sight, and the pitch black enormity of deep space and the impossibility of ever turning back sinks in.

So I drew a picture of Crow with one of his friends standing outside a Mars colony base. Is it inhabited or did 2024 arrive and they'd all found something better to do?

All this may be moot since a young professor of Crow's acquaintance, Dr. Joseph Roche, who has PhD's in physics and astrophysics left the program after discovering Mars One is very likely a scam. Who could have guessed?